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A musical home

Profile: Mark Geddes

by Jane Ledwell

Mark Geddes [photo: Buzz]In April, Mark “Lefty” Geddes arrived at East Coast Music Week in St. John’s, NL, straight off a five-week tour of Australia with Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys. The roots musicians toured their energetic show through Australian outback towns in Australia’s own version of a Festival of Small Halls tour—inspired by PEI’s own Festival of Small Halls, which began with Mark’s roommate Ward MacDonald. Small world, indeed.

Playing in country communities of 100 people, seeing wild kangaroos, Mark loved “bringing live music to places that don’t usually have access to it.” In one town of 80, there were 150 people there for the show. He says, “It really felt like home – but it felt like an authentic Australian experience as well… There’s a guy out in back running a spit, and there are kids running around…”

After that, “Going to Newfoundland was like going to our other home. We were so close to PEI—but flew over,” he says, with an open, easy laugh. Homes away from home are important for a guy who tours seven months of the year.

Music has always been part of Mark’s life since he was sixteen and got his first guitar. “I played rock and roll and metal and teenage angst stuff, and I loved it—and I still kind of do,” he laughs. (When he plays with not-so-much-roots band The Love Junkies, he says, “That’s where I get that out.”)

He first came to PEI to do dinner theatre, and with only a few periods of uncertainty when he went back to school or took a day-job, he has been a PEI professional musician since.

“When I got here from New Brunswick and said ‘Yeah, I’m a musician,’ I heard, ‘Yeah, well so’s everybody else around here.’ There are no big egos. There’s no room for it.” He also says of the PEI music scene, “There are no cliques. Whether it’s rock or roois or hip-hop, people are very collaborative and willing to try everything out,” he says.

Country musician Nudie gave him his “first real band gig, doing original music. He said, ‘If you buy an upright bass, you’re in the band. I drove to Callais, Maine, with my brother to pick up a new bass, and it looked so new…” They panicked about paying duty. “We were scuffing it up so it wouldn’t look too new. Then we drove up to the border, and first thing the guard said, ‘So, what’re you bringing in other than an upright bass?’” They laughed, and he let them through.

Mark toured a lot with Nudie and then put down his musical “roots” in the PEI music community next with Grass Mountain Hobos, then with Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys.

“A lot of times we hear, ‘I don’t really like this kind of music, but I like this,’” Mark says, describing their energetic shows as “very visual, family-oriented. We keep it clean, fun, and upbeat.

“I am incredibly grateful to work with Gordie,” Mark says. “He’s the best entertainer you’re ever going to meet. He’s a dancer too, and I remember the first time I saw him perform, and I saw him start to dance. After the show, I was nervous to meet him!” On stage with the band these days, “I look at the audience and think about that moment I first saw him dancing, and now I see the same looks on people’s faces that I first felt.”

When not on tour, Mark works as a recording engineer specializing in “natural, acoustic sounds, and I really like if you can do things live or mostly live.” He’s currently working on projects with Liam Corcoran and with Kinley Dowling. The East Pointers album is one of his projects.

Mark loves that on PEI, he doesn’t have to justify music as a career. He finds people respect art-making as a job. “One thing I love around here is that nobody’s really impressed by money… Not very often do you hear ‘But what do you do for a living,’ or ‘How long are you gonna do this?’” It means for Mark that his music can always be his home.

A piece of the puzzle

Profile: Kate Gracey-Stewart

by Jane Ledwell

Kate Gracey–Stewart (photo: Buzz)What kind of business acumen does working in arts administration get you? Ask Kate Gracey-Stewart. The busy mother of three with an eye for detail can tell you that in an arts non-profit, where “it’s all hands on deck all the time,” the opportunity is there to learn everything.

“The line I use all the time,” Kate says of the joy of behind-the-scenes work, “is we all have the same goal—we just have different parts of the puzzle.”

Since an unexpected career twist ten years ago landed Kate in arts administration, she has worked with the East Coast Music Association, Music PEI, Atlantic Presenters, and the Cavendish Beach and Big Red Music Festivals on every aspect of the music industry, from artist relations to protocol to sponsorship to booking to marketing and communications, for artists and venues alike. She’s wound every gear that can make an event tick, and in December launched her own business, KGS Management Services.

“If I had tried ten years ago to get a career in the arts, I wouldn’t have known how to go about it. It was not my master plan,” Kate says with wide eyes. Willingness to try and confidence to learn have taken Kate far. More than once, sometimes more than once a day, Kate has been called on do work “not in her wheelhouse,” but she says, “We people in the ‘event’ world know each other, and we know we’re winging it. We’re finding solutions, and finding solutions in the moment,” and loving it.

Kate hasn’t had to seek out new clients, and jokes that she is “almost too busy to look into the future,” with contracts to work on block-bookings for Atlantic Presenters, sponsorship for the major Contact East industry event in PEI in September, ad sales for the Indian River Festival, and overseeing marketing and communications for the Credit Union May Run Music Festival & Bell Aliant Canadian Song Conference—two new components of what was formerly Music PEI Week. “My clients are my mentors,” Kate says.

Kate remembers some of her first work in the music industry with ECMA: “You did the admin-based stuff until the event happened, and then it felt like you were part of something special: you see there are people’s hopes and dreams on that stage, their hopes for a career.”

Access to arts administration is too valuable a puzzle piece to leave in the box, Kate realizes: “Artists don’t have the flexibility to hire people. They need the help and can’t afford the help. I would encourage them to join organizations like Music PEI, to take full advantage of every service they provide for members.”

It’s a win-win, because, she says, “What’s rewarding is when someone is moved by a performance… Or when a tour comes to town you worked on the year before, and sales go really well and the audience loved it, and you can say, ‘I brought that here. I had a part in that.’”

She adds, “The value of the arts is mental health and wellbeing, and every community deserves to have that in their community.”

What Kate wants to do, “once I get more established, is to do things that are really important to me.” She says, “It’s great that on PEI, people need people like me. Businesses need help, and they can’t afford to hire people full-time… I would encourage anyone who wants to try their hand at their own thing: there’s lots of room.”

Reflecting on music in her family and her future, Kate says, “I was married young and had kids young. I didn’t get out to festivals and theatres and shows.” Through Kate, her children have had a more direct link to performances. She recalls taking one of her children to hear Joel Plaskett and explaining, “I get this feeling in my stomach when I see a live performance. It’s like I feel full. I feel joy.” And her child said, “I know what you mean. I felt that too.” Kate knows the artists—and the less visible team behind them—make that feeling happen.

Taking a Shot

Profile: Suzanne Scott

by Jane Ledwell

Suzanne Scott (photo: The Buzz)Suzanne Scott has just had a photo taken as part of a PEI Business Women’s Association partnership with photographer Rachel Peters to give Island women entrepreneurs up-to-date professional headshots. Suzanne needed “multiple outfits,” to portray her multiple sides: an outfit to show “the casual laidback professional that being a potter is,” and “a blazer to portray the side of me that is doing speaking, training, and (being team leader for) Etsy Artisans of PEI.” (Etsy is the online artisan emporium.) Suzanne is a leading light among a new generation of Island artisans making and marketing handmade wares.

The headshot won’t include hats, but Suzanne wears lots of those. “Some days I wear all my hats in one day,” she laughs warmly. She recalls the PEI Craft Buyers’ Market, where “I was there as President of the PEI Crafts Council, as a buyer for Village Pottery” (where she’s a potter with her mother), “and as a speaker at a session on social media—and in the breaks was doing Etsy promos and on my phone tweeting communications for the Crafts Council. Those are the days I live for!”

There may be a number of those days in 2015, which is Canada’s Craft Year, a nationwide, year-long celebration of crafts, which will see special events across Canada, including a major exhibition at Eptek Centre. “I love that it’s a big survey of Island artisans and all mediums, all summer long,” says Suzanne.

Suzanne is team leader for Etsy Artisans of PEI, a team that supports artisans to do online selling but has also set up successful pop-up local markets in PEI. “It’s so exciting. I love being involved in this team,” Suzanne says. “Some of the best-selling Etsy Artisans are based here on PEI.”

Suzanne always loved both making and selling pottery. “As a little kid, I was so into being into the clay,” she recalls. As she got older, she loved being “out front in the neon sweater, hanging out in the shop,” and by the time she was a teen, she “loved interacting,” but her mom, Village Potter Daphne Large, also insisted, “Do something with yourself, make something—you can’t just sit idle.”

Suzanne says, “Sometimes I say I have a ‘bipolar career.’ In the summer, I’m commuting to New London and talking to tourists all day long. In winter, I’m in my studio in Charlottetown, not talking to anyone. I’ve just finished a new production space in town, with a new kiln, and am working on meeting production deadlines of 250 pieces of pottery a week.”

Suzanne’s focus on making and selling extends to her role as president of the PEI Crafts Council. Suzanne says, “I feel like a kind of bridge bringing together old and new.” She hopes she is helping “older artisans embracing the online, social media—creating more awareness that it’s where everything is going, especially for our seasonal Island.” She hopes she is helping the younger artisans by “showing that the quality has to be there. The PEI Crafts Council’s high standards are ingrained in me: the time you have to put into it.” Making a handmade craft “has to be done with love and thought, and over time you get better and better at what you do.”

Suzanne says, “I do see a lot of opportunity here in PEI. If you find a niche or something you’re passionate about, there is a chance to run with it. Village Pottery would not exist in Toronto. It’s so dependent on New London, on Anne of Green Gables, and on rural PEI.” Suzanne has lived and travelled all over the world but says, “I still feel like I’m travelling around the world every day at Village Pottery, through all these people I get to meet.

“I hate sitting at the computer now,” Suzanne says. “The clay really demands your attention. When the clay is getting dry, or a handle needs to be attached, I have to drop other things.” Her personal goal for the year is to “try not to do everything.” It may be hard. Potters are hands-on types. And whatever her headshot portrays, Suzanne says, “I still have clay under my fingernails.”

Living tradition

Profile: Sheila Fitzpatrick

by Jane Ledwell

Sheila Fitzpatrick (photo: Buzz)What makes the Maritimes unique? According to the new organization CLEF, the Celtic Learning and Education Foundation, it’s the living tradition of Celtic music and culture that enlivens the community from the kitchen party to the ceilidh.

As co-founder, fiddler Sheila FitzPatrick expresses it, “CLEF wants to make sure every generation gets exposure to traditional music. For the former generation, that was their music. Today’s generation doesn’t have the same opportunity to be exposed to it. We want to make it part of everyone’s everyday life.”

Sheila says, “I like other kinds of music too, but the unique thing that has propelled us forward in the Maritimes is keeping the Celtic tradition alive.” The founders of CLEF, traditional music players like Sheila, came together after the ECMAs in Charlottetown, where they perceived a major decline in the focus on Celtic music.

So CLEF’s founders decided, “If the ECMAs are not gonna do it, someone’s gotta do it.” They incorporated their foundation last September and began hosting events, building excitement, and raising funds.

CLEF’s current focus is exposing youth to traditional music. Sheila is quick to say that CLEF’s work is not a lament. “Traditional music is not dying,” she says. “There are young people getting involved in music and dance. But they still need audiences, too. We need to create a generation of people who go to these events.”

Sheila and CLEF have been approaching schools and youth groups to talk about programming opportunities, whether that’s a traditional musician for an assembly, a lunchtime cafeteria ceilidh, all-ages connections of grandparents and youth, dance lessons in phys ed, PEI and Celtic history in the classroom, or making bannock in home ec. “We want to show another way of engaging in society and the community… That’s what a tradition is—it’s there for every generation.

“We want to make Celtic music and culture front and centre to draw people to PEI and the Maritimes.” And, she says, it has to be a regional approach. “Cape Breton is known as the epicentre for all things Celtic,” she notes appreciatively, but the loss of population there threatens the continuity of tradition of both players and audiences. This is what CLEF will work against.

Sheila has also jumped feet-first into active support for community development by getting elected as a town councillor for Montague. “A municipality has the ability to set the tone for priorities,” she says, and she wants Montague to build on arts and culture. “You need to recognize the assets you already have,” she says.

Now that she is in local politics, her hope is “to get the town to a place where we’re rid of the small-town politics, where we work together on everything… I want to encourage younger people in councils. I know it’s a different world, and people are very busy… But if you commit to it, it happens. You find the time.”

Sheila’s other commitments include the group Treble with Girls, which, she notes, “is not just a Celtic group… There’s more variety of music, and I’m singing harmony more. It’s a good break from fiddle!” She still fills in with Fiddlers’ Sons “very often.”

She lives out her commitments as a mom. “My girls are three and six (almost four and seven), and… We take them to everything we can,” whether that’s sitting in on dance classes or sitting in the audience at performances. “It doesn’t need to be a public ceilidh—it’s at home.”

Her son Matthew is now 19, and as he was growing up Sheila dragged him around—and even on-stage. “I was always scared to push too much or not enough,” she says, but the youthful exposure she is working so hard to provide to Islanders through CLEF has paid off in her own family, in small ways—even if it’s just recognizing a fiddle tune as one that mom played. Sheila says her son’s iPod “is not standard for a 19 year old. And I’m happy with that. You don’t need everyone to be a fiddle player or a dancer,” though a community full of fiddlers would be no failure.

Sounds Amazing

Profile: Adam Gallant

by Jane Ledwell

Adam Gallant (photo: Buzz)Every day I watch a movie, and I would never go back to watching movies the way I used to,” says musician and record producer and film sound designer Adam Gallant. “I can watch a really bad movie and really enjoy it—if it has incredible sound design and special effects.”

Out of his home and his dedicated recording studio, The Hill Sound Studio, in “the old garage” in his backyard, Adam is working sound design, sound editing, and mixing on a full-length feature film for the first time, Sally’s Way directed by Joanne Johnson, a family drama for young audiences being produced out of Trinidad and Tobago.

Adam now listens to films with curiosity about the “storytelling standpoint and creative standpoint. I previously didn’t get this when watching a movie.” It’s like “adding thunder in a rainy scene: there’s a distinct purpose behind every little detail”—down to the pitch of the “silence” in a room, whether it matches or clashes with the music, to reassure or discomfit an audience.

When sound design works, Adam says, “It’s not even a question the sound is there; it’s an emotional effect.”

After establishing a strong reputation recording independent bands, including Racoon Bandit, of which he is a member, Adam has “just been getting into film work the last few years.” He has done work with Millefiore Clarkes on documentaries and on the dramatic short Islands, written by his partner Jill MacRae for an Island Media Arts Festival premiere. He and fellow–Racoon Bandit Roger Carter also did music for the Rainbow Valley documentary, which Adam describes as “a total blast.”

Working on an independent feature film is an enormous challenge. “Normally,” Adam says, “a team would do that on a big film.” This film—a family drama—is about 80 minutes, and Adam’s sound work takes about one to two hours per minute, “depending on how much repair work is needed.” Adam also is excited that there’s some music composition involved—“filling in the gaps with stingers and musical elements, and two more performance-length musical pieces.”

The key to a creative career in Charlottetown, Adam says, is “diversity.” It’s “being able to do twenty or thirty different jobs. The advice I got was to say yes to everything, and you have to do something every day to further your skills.”

Adam is in awe of the film-making process, which he describes as very collaborative. “It takes way more people to make films than to make an album. You have people like Mille, or Monica Lacey, or Jill, with these broad, sweeping skill sets and vision, and then people with highly specialized skills, like knowing how to slate properly, or making wardrobe and makeup work well on film.”

Working on sound for film doesn’t mean leaving behind the independent music scene. The Hill Sound Studio, in its downtown location, “is booked every day of the week,” for Adam or others to produce recordings and is available for rent.

Everything Adam has learned is influencing current projects. Adam’s band, Racoon Bandit, is working on a new full-length album. I ask his thoughts on the role of albums: with album sales so tough, are albums more of a hook to get audiences for live performance? “Maybe,” Adam says, “eight years ago, I might have thought of an album as a calling card. But more and more, I’m finding recording really gratifying. What comes out of the speakers can blow you away, or bring tears to your eyes. The more I treat recordings as an art form, the more impressed I am with sonics, and with mood.”

On the Racoon Bandit project, he and the band are more inspired by the question, “How can we make this sound amazing and really hit people with it?”

Sound in film is the invisible element in a visual format. He adds, “The burden is off the musical focus, so it can be way more subtle or way less subtle… A great reason to go to the movie theatre is the sound,” paying credit to a sonic art form through the art of listening.

Uncalculated Thrills

Profile: Leo Marchildon

by Jane Ledwell

Leo Marchildon (photo: Buzz)Christmas is a “fast and furious” season for St. Dunstan’s Basilica and Diocese of Charlottetown music director Leo Marchildon. “I want to give people a welcoming community to allow them to develop,” he says - which this time of year means helping a Christmas choir made up of many singers who don’t read music challenge themselves to fill the Basilica with the sounds of Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” cantatas, and carols. Many of the carol service accompanists will be accustomed to Leo’s baton, since he is also conductor of the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra.

Himself a pianist and organist active in church music since the age of 16, Leo says he challenges choirs and orchestras with “music that is a little bit beyond them” because, “as a musician, I love to be challenged.”

After the Christmas season, his next challenge engages his love of composing music. In January, he will be mounting the premiere of his composition “Canada: Our Dear Home,” with soloist Sylvia Mutch performing with the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra.

“Canada, Our Dear Home” had its origins in 1992, “when Canada was 125 years young,” he laughs, “when I wrote a little song of that name, an anthemic ‘yeah, Canada’ song, in the wake of all the other anthemic songs of the ‘90s, like ‘We Are the World.’” Another song written at the time, “We call it Canada,” got a little more airplay – “but ‘Canada, Our Dear Home’ was left on the shelf.” PEI’s celebrations of the sesquicentennial of the Charlottetown Conference revived the anthems, and he developed the idea of interweaving those Canada compositions with songs by PEI traditional music composers.

“There is lots of talent here on the Island, but to hear it you have to go to the ceilidhs and the kitchen parties, and it hasn’t been heard as much in the concert hall,” Leo says, “I wanted to give it the symphonic treatment, to bring it to a different audience.” Working with compositions by eight musicians, working with the composers themselves or their family members if the composers had died, was an inspiration. “I want it to be an homage to them. I want them to be celebrated,” he says.

“What was it about PEI that was so special to make it the birthplace of Canada? I think it was three very strong cultures. We have very strong examples of Celtic music, Acadian music, and Mi’kmaw music,” he says. What we had here, culturally, “was the seed of what would become the flower of our country – that’s the suitability that PEI was chosen for the birthplace.”

Making time for composition has always been a priority for Leo, whose childhood dream was to write scores for films. “Luckily for me, the job I do as music director for the Diocese is not a clearly defined nine-to-five job,” he says. There is room in his work for composition, and, he says, “I send new settings of the psalms to congregations to pick up and sing.”

The stages Leo works on here on PEI are smaller than some of the stages of his past.  Studying film scoring in California and working “with the best – a who’s who of Hollywood’s music department” was thrilling, but it led, accidentally, to a performance career in musical theatre.

While working on a project to transcribe and restore film scores for Looney Tunes cartoons, to present them on stage in what would become the successful show Bugs Bunny on Broadway, a scheduling mix-up for his supervisor led to an offer of free tickets for a first visit to New York  – a week before the show was to open. The jazz pianist slated to perform in the show was having trouble playing with the click track and kept missing his cues. Leo said, “I said, I think I can play that score.” The director hadn’t known he could play keyboard but heard him perform and said, “You just hired yourself for the next three years.”

It was an immensely successful run, and Leo then travelled the world with touring productions of the show, as well as Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, Kiss of the Spider Woman.

After returning to LA and working as a music editor on TV shows, doing film composition, still working in the industry, and also doing church work out there, Leo says, “In 2004, I came on a road trip to PEI. I went to the North Shore, to Cavendish, and it was one of those June days, when the lupines were out and the grass was greener than Ireland. I got emotional. I felt I had arrived home.

“We had just gone to see Anne of Green Gables the night before, because it was raining, and what do you do when you’re visiting PEI and it’s raining? You go to the theatre. I was with a writer friend, and we thought we should write a musical about Anne when she grows up. We came back the next year with Anne books in hand – and no sooner had we gotten to the visitors’ information centre in Borden than we saw the advertisements for Anne and Gilbert.” They made an abrupt change of plans and at the suggestion of the owner of the B&B where they were staying, they started to look at writing a story about the author. “Her journals were raising a lot of eyebrows… And, as often happens, truth is stranger than fiction. We wrote the Nine Lives of L.M. Montgomery in LA and workshopped it at Confederation Centre in 2007. That workshop was the instigating factor to leave my life in LA. We decided to produce the show at the King’s Playhouse,” Leo says.

“Sometimes thrills come at strange moments,” Leo says. “My most public moment was conducting Bugs Bunny at the Hollywood Bowl for 18,000 people. That was a calculated thrill. But the moment when all the forces assemble in you and around you… so many times those things just happen. Sometimes it’s best not to make them happen.” For the musician who loves to “move the heart,” it’s the “uncalculated thrill” that matters. He admits, “I love the gushy and sentimental. The Romantic. I love the moment the music surges up. That’s where the magic comes, and music to me is magic.

“Working in the pit, glamorous as the shows were, felt somewhat anonymous,” he says. “I guess you could say I’ve seen ‘Paree’,” Leo jokes good-naturedly, but on PEI, “people ask questions about you and are actually interested in you.”

Working with a community “means more to me than hearing a professional orchestra play everything note-perfect. I’ve had it happen that you hear an orchestra that is so professional, so note-perfect that you don’t hear the humanity, the connection to an organic process -- the rustic, raw, sound that is not finessed, it’s just there.

“But it is still an art. There is still an artistic desire to excel. I try to do it in a non-intimidating way.” As a composer, he says, “You have to put something on the page, to give you a design. But without interpetation, it’s lifeless.”

 “I could spend my life in LA working in the pit -- and it’s not that I aspire to recognition. But when I’m in the Sobey’s picking out asparagus, and someone stops me to say ‘Oh, I loved the music in church,’ I feel part of a very connected community. I don’t feel alone on PEI.”

Life in the Theatre

Profile: Marlane O’Brien

by Jane Ledwell

Marlane O’Brien (photo: Buzz)When the universe nudges me, I have to pay attention, because I don’t get nudged that often,” says Marlane O’Brien, with a wink. A professional actor in classical theatre, musical theatre, voiceover, television, film, and radio for 35 years, Marlane came to the Island for A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline and kept walking the red roads here. She says that a “nudge” doesn’t come with clear signs and signals: “I can’t say there was a specific thing—suddenly, I realized I was already on the path…”

The path she is on today is bordered with possibility. She can barely contain excitement for a new co-creation: “We’re in the process of establishing a professional winter theatre company for the Island.” The company, named Athena (for the “Greek goddess of both culture and business”) plans to commence its first season in September 2015. The company’s four women creators, from varied fields, have complementary skill sets, Marlane says, but all share a “tremendous passion for the creation of great art, in the performing arts.”

“We want a winter company that’s very intimate, very connected to the Island,” she enthuses. “We want the theatre to be respectful of up-and-coming theatre-goers. We want it to be—and I hate this word—but we want it to be ‘edgier’ theatre. We don’t want to push away established theatre-goers, but we’re ready for more controversial topics.”

Marlane says, “The Island has grown up—and grown up in such a hurry. Since the (Confederation) Bridge, the influences the Strait was keeping at bay have all arrived.” She reflects that as an Island culture, “We know what we want to keep from the ‘old’ Island, but we haven’t quite come to understand what we want from the new Island.”

Meanwhile, “there are company members (from the Confederation Centre summer company) who’ve bought a house here. We want to give them something to live here for, so they don’t have to go away six to ten months a year.”

Of those rare nudges like the nudge to create Athena, Marlane says, “I’ve reached a point like this maybe three times in my life.” The first time, she says was “when we decided we would produce (the original musical) The Maritime Star, at the Jubilee.”

“The second was producing Menopositive: The Musical,” she says—and which she “counts as a great success”—although “the pinnacle of the run through the Maritimes landed in Halifax the same day as Hurricane Juan,” she grimaces.

The third came in the form of new opportunities with the Charlottetown Festival. First, the chance “to play Marilla, a part I have coveted a long time,” in Anne. “My third year in the role, I am still finding new things about the part.” Marilla takes what Marlane describes as “a glorious journey—that the audience shares.”

To the thrill of playing Marilla, Marlane adds “to be so privileged to be part of the first production of Evangeline… Every single person in it—and I only had a small role—took part in that terrible story with our own hearts, our own passions, our own losses, so the audience cared about every character on that stage. This is what I became an actor to do.”

Beyond acting, Marlane is challenging herself to write for Athena’s upcoming first season, adapting short stories from Margie Carmichael’s book Stories from the Quilt: “The best way to leap in is to adapt something already written. The story and the language are already there.”

Marlane says of Athena, “I want to make sure the Island doesn’t get shortchanged. I sometimes think Islanders aren’t given enough credit for thinking for ourselves. We need to see things and make up our own minds… There’s an untapped audience out there that’s just waiting.”

Life in the theatre must be fed by life outside it. She says, “I am a woman who loves to get outside and smell the roses. To me, life is getting shorter all the time…” Marlane O’Brien says with conviction and a smile, “I have a reputation I should use for some good before I die.”

Working for Answers

Profile: Jan Rudd
by Jane Ledwell

Jan RuddJan Rudd has been renovating her Charlottetown house and reluctantly getting ready to sell her New York City apartment off Central Park. There, she spent much of 13 years, nine of them teaching in Harlem. A storyteller, writer, actor, comedian, and teacher, every act is a story. She is telling me – acting out, really – a DIY horror story about getting pinned alone at 3:00 a.m. under a heavy piece of cementboard in a bathroom, using all her might to escape.

“Once I get that bee in my bonnet that I think I can make something happen… Once I get going, I don’t sleep. Then, as you crawl out nine years later…” she laughs. “I’m not a very balanced person. I’m almost afraid of getting into something... I’m on high-speed or off.”

Leaving her post at Pedro Albizu Campos Public School 161, “PS 161,” in Harlem was another case of out-from-under the cementboard. She says, “I felt like I was on all fours getting away from this school” – and yet, she emphasizes (perhaps to herself), “Lots of good things had happened.”

That’s quite an understatement. Jan began as sole music and drama teacher for a school of 950 kids in K–8 “Actually,” she says, “the first year was hell. But I’m of that Protestant background raised to believe that if things are horrible, they are probably good for you; you’re probably learning something important!” The school was another culture, another world. Observing her fellow teachers, she says, “A lot of classes, the teacher’s role would be to stand at the door to keep students from getting out.” Teaching in the school, she says, “took every bit of my performing abilities and storytelling.”

Fortunately, Jan Rudd’s abilities are substantial. She finished her time at PS161 in a department that had two full-time music teachers and one full-time drama teacher. The school had started band and strings programs, hustling up dozens of musical instruments. Students had participated in projects with Rosie O’Donnell’s foundation for musical theatre, with Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble (“Yo-Yo Ma is an amazing person,” she says “He even came to committee meetings”), and with the Berlin Philharmonic.

The Berlin Philharmonic performed “with 25 kids from my school and 75 kids from other schools dancing to ‘The Rite of Spring,’ with choreography by an amazing choreographer from Berlin.” The students from Jan’s school worked with two dance teachers. “The project was crazy,” she says, not least of all because it included students from two violently duelling high schools. “We couldn’t even rehearse where we were supposed to… we needed a neutral space.” Jan says, “I love teenagers. I tried everything, but they were just awful, awful, awful. And it was so beautiful when they actually came together. But,” she admits, “it was the beginning of the end for me.”

She says with remembered exhaustion, “The last two years were almost funny.” She recalls her last day at PS 161: “My last day was 104 degrees (Fahrenheit), and I knew I was finished. Everything was good, our school had become a model school for music, but my last day, there was a memorial service for a student. A student from our school went to Columbia on scholarship, and she went on a school trip – and she drowned. It was awful.”

Jan was coordinating the memorial service in the heat, trying to make it meaningful. “The family came and the kids had poems…” Emotions were running high. “I was setting out the sound system and couldn’t get anyone to help me. In the heat, I almost had a stroke. Finally, I had it all set up, and the service started, and someone tripped on the thing and unplugged it. I went to play the piano and … nothing.”

Jan had seen students who would never otherwise have had opportunities get scholarships, go to college, or travel the world with choirs. Today, through a partnership with Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute, PS 161 is, literally, a “model school” for comprehensive music instruction, music curriculum, and incorporating music into all aspects of teachers’ professional development and students’ learning.

Jan says, “We had top musicians from Carnegie coming, doing master classes with the band and the strings program. We had students in the Young People’s Choir of New York that toured the world. We had students getting scholarships.”

Being a Carnegie Hall model music school for K-8 music meant a program with “comprehensive music education for all classes from K-8, professional development for all the teachers to the eight grade on how to incorporate music into other subjects – math, social studies…” Jan says, “The repercussions of it are huge – the students making friends with students they would not have met. The students are in another world.”

Being a model school also means “bringing in other schools, to show how they make it happen: How to get it so every single class has music.” Even though some of the other programs Jan was involved in ended before or after she left New York, Carnegie is still there.

As Jan says with conviction, “Even if you get music and nothing else, it forges really important connections in the brain.”

Years she wasn’t teaching in NYC, Jan’s one-woman play, Safety in Numbers, played off-Broadway and ran at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in 2004 – until, Jan says, “I had a health scare. I thought I had ovarian cancer. I played Safety in Numbers for a week knowing I had to have surgery at the end of the week.”

She recalls, “I had some really cool things happen. I met Sidney Poitier’s daughter, and she wanted to talk – but I was going in for surgery, so I couldn’t. There are things I wonder about myself. Things I have not followed up on… I wonder about myself, if I’m being afraid to succeed,” she muses. Thinking about the dynamic Safety in Numbers, she says, “It’s not like a normal first-person show, because I am talking to myself all the time. That was really difficult. I don’t think I could do it anymore.”

Through the summers, Jan was returning home to Charlottetown to teach the Confederation Centre Young Company, and through that came her most recent gig at the School of Performing Arts, where she’ll return next semester to teach. She teaches the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique that is her specialty as well as other acting styles and improv. After New York, she “almost thought of an adventure for a year, then I met the kids at SOPA, and I could almost look down and see myself outside of my body,” clapping delightedly, “saying, I can’t wait to have you in class.”

When her students last year proved marvelous improvisers, she worked with a group to create a sketch comedy show, “Ladies and GentlemAn,” to run late-nights at The Guild. “I really enjoyed helping with the kids – doing some writing, getting those chops back, finding gems in improv, seeing them shining. I love that,” she says.

“I love comedy. I love that place where tears and laughter are right there. Life is wonderfully, hilariously absurd. I can’t take it all too seriously. It just doesn’t seem right to,” Jan says.

“My background is so much about helping other people… I love teaching what I teach because I love the kids – I’m much more interested in the person, that expansion (of their lives), how they touch all those things…

“I was a minister, and now I am still not in any way an orthodox anything, but I’m still really interested in philosophy and theology and how we create meaning.”

Jan Rudd concludes, “Art is where the rubber of the soul hits the road. Touching something bigger than ourselves: it’s a need. It’s a human need. It has to be answered.”

Events Calendar

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The Ennis Sisters

Newfoundland sisters on the mainstage December 1
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