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Island A Cappella chorus

Island A Cappella, PEI’s only female chorus singing four part-harmony in the barbershop style, is  [ ... ]

A Course in Miracles

Every Friday evening at 7 pm a group meets for an in depth study and discussion of the text “A Cou [ ... ]

Owning it

Profile: Ashley Condon

by Jane Ledwell

Ashley Condon (photo: Buzz)It wasn’t Ashley Condon’s plan to launch a full-length album of songs (Can You Hear Me, with many collaborators) and a brewery (Montague’s Copper Bottom Brewing, with her husband Ken Spears) within weeks of each other in one busy fall.

Ashley has found two ways to deal with surprising synchronicities: hard work and relentless planning. “It took six years to bring the brewery to reality,” Ashley says. “We pushed through so many resistances.” But the result of the hard work is, “A work ethic is showing up in all aspects of my life,” building not only a brewery but Ashley’s sense of herself as an artist: “I am enjoying owning being an artist 360 degrees,” she says.

But Copper Bottom Brewing right now is “all-consuming.” When Ashley met her partner Ken nine years ago, he was a huge craft beer fan, and she was “a middle-of-the-road Keith’s drinker.” She says, “He joked about having a brewery someday,” but as they built a home on PEI, and he built a career as an electrician and Ashley “was moving towards music, and doing it full-time,” the joke became a dream and gave way to a business plan for the first craft brewery in eastern PEI. 

Two years ago, Ken suggested Ashley be part of it in a bigger way—“but I was touring as a musician,” Ashley recalls. “I had all these other things going on…” 

Soon, it became clear to her it could be “a marriage of both our passions.” Ashley says, “As an artist, I like the sustainability of owning a business that stays in one place. There are trends in music that come and go, but there is no time of year that people don’t sit to drink a beer.”

As an artist, she also says the Copper Bottom space “is like a canvas, and … the colour palette is endless. We have had people approach us for so many kinds of purposes.” While music is at the top of that list, they want a space for all art forms, “an eastern space for projects to happen.” The brewery has already welcomed knitters, birders, runners, and musicians.

Ashley hasn’t yet gotten out to promote her latest album, Can You Hear Me, via live performance, but something is brewing. “I was really thoughtful about this record,” she says, “I worked really hard on the record.”

After a lot of collaborative writing, beginning with David Francey, producer of Ashley’s last full-length album, The Great Compromise, and continuing since, the singer says, “Really, for the first time in my life, I feel like a songwriter. I feel excited about … writing a song many can sing with conviction.”

The album, she says, is “a step outside the really personal.” She worked with Dale Murray as producer and says, “The production is very tasty, very warm, very inviting. There are a lot of musical ‘moments,’” where the track was kept “even if the vocal was not perfect—if the performance was interesting, and the feeling was there.” The album “is a representation of me in a place and a time, the only way it’s honest.”

Ashley says, “Music feels fun again, and I’m eager to play, and that was a feeling I was starting to lose. I was tired of the grind...

“I will get out to support this record in a way that works for me,” she promises. But she’s looking for more impact: less touring, more build-up—“almost a business plan for a tour,” she laughs. 

The combination of new album and new brewery made for an appealing story for national media, about what Ashley calls, “the changing landscape of music industry artists taking other roles.” For Ashley, the story is fundamentally about touring artists “getting back to your community.”

She says, “There’s so much value in building something in the community. It really fills my cup, growing something important.” Ashley reflects, “I’m passionate about showing artists that other paths and other journeys”—far from being a distraction—“only make you better as an artist. They make you realize how much work goes into creating something special.” 

School Break

Profile: Nikkie Gallant

by Jane Ledwell

Nikkie Gallant (photo: Buzz)Nikkie Gallant had been out of school for ten years when she went back in 2008. Her last award-winning singer-songwriter album came out in 2005. Three years later she started with business school, with the idea to support her music better. Ten years, a couple of diplomas, a degree, some library courses, some cultural resource management courses, and so on, she laughs, “Now, I can’t stop,” but chastises herself, “I need to start easing up on the school.”

The year Nikkie has lined up leaves little time for coursework. This summer, she was named site director of Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside, and this winter, she’s returning to the recording studio for an arts grant-supported EP of new songs.

In the past year, Nikkie gave herself the challenge to write thirty songs, and she has finished at least twenty. “That’s a lot for me,” she says. And, she adds, “I’m really trying to be experimental, and not direct it.” She may start writing one song on guitar, but another by piano, and another with a build-up of vocals as a backing track.

“Half [the new songs] are wacky and weird and not at all what I usually do, and the other half are strengthened by the experimentation,” she says.

Nikkie had slowed down on performing over the past years, and not only because of school. “Because I was not doing a lot of writing,” she says, “I had to perform songs I wrote ten years ago, and they didn’t feel as relevant to me… But I really miss sharing—that connection when a song that really means a lot to you means a lot to another person too.”

She has remained involved in other people’s music, especially artists who record at The Nest in Summerside, the studio co-owned by her husband. “I like supporting other people’s music with my voice.” She adds, confidentially, “I almost like doing harmonies more than I like doing lead.”

Nikkie says, “There’s something about doing harmonies that brings you back to being little and your first musical experiences, listening to music and singing along.” But with so many of her own new songs, she says, “I want to perform more. I want to do things that are part of me that are screaming to be done again. I am excited to have my muse back.”

Known for writing sad songs and social justice themes, Nikkie admits, “I’m already not the person you choose for your kitchen party.” She says her songs are more reflective than anthemic, and recording is the best medium for some songs—“People can sit with [the song] when they want to.”

Following her curiosity in coursework has also helped establish another kind of career in the arts, at Eptek Centre, which she describes as “a very inspiring environment. Besides its heritage aspects, [the Centre] supports local artists and gives them a ‘stage,’ letting them find their audience.”

Nikkie worked as the administrative and curatorial assistant for three years, half of a two-member year-round staff team. That job included tasks as varied as “mounting exhibits, taking sales in the gift shop, and making a lot of tea.” To that variety, as site director she adds new responsibilities: “program planning, getting ready for exhibits, writing funding applications.”

Is there anything exciting she can tell us about 2018 at Eptek Centre? She asks herself out loud, “Hmm. Can I tell you about this?” before remembering, “I’m in charge of deciding that now!” The secret is out: Eptek Centre will mount a show of Island comic book arts in the summer. Nikkie can’t wait. “The talent we have here in that medium is phenomenal.” She says she expects the show “will have a wider appeal than even I think.”

But before summer will be the new recording: “It’s happening. It’s a real thing. Thirteen years later.” With so much going on for 2018, Nikkie still seems to have to remind herself: “I have to slow down on school. I might just take one course.”

Practicing art

Profile: Glen Strickey

by Jane Ledwell

Glen Strickey (photo: Darrell Theriault)Little did Glen Strickey know as an eager-beaver twelve-year-old that some of his uncle’s Sunday afternoon jam-session guests, who welcomed him to play saxophone with them, were world-famous musicians like Oscar Peterson or Oliver Jones.

It may be Saturday nights in Charlottetown, rather than Sundays in Cape Breton, but Glen still plays his saxophone with guests in the Winterjazz series at The Pourhouse. With Glen, Alan Dowling, Deryl Gallant, and Ian Toms as the house band, Winterjazz is in its eleventh season, and Glen says he still plays “just for the joy of playing with those other three guys. We thoroughly enjoy playing together, and know each other and communicate musically so well,” he says.

“It’s better every year, with a stronger lineup of guests.” And the “magical part of the show” is like those magical Sunday afternoons: “We always back up our special guest.”

Proceeds from Winterjazz go to a scholarship fund which is parcelled out at the end of the season among graduating PEI students going on to study jazz. “For me, it’s been great,” says Glen with enthusiasm. “I remember when I was in high school in Cape Breton, where everybody plays the fiddle, (a scholarship to study jazz) was the validation for me, that jazz was a valid choice of career or course of study.”

Supporting students to continue artistic studies is Glen’s professional calling, too. His day-job is as an art teacher at Bluefield High School. “I have a job working with creative students all day,” Glen says. “It keeps me excited about art to be around these young, unbelievably talented students. It encourages me that the arts are far from dying. There are a lot of creative people here.”

He and another Bluefield teacher, Jill Coffin, have implemented an advanced academic diploma program in the arts at their school, including coursework, development of a portfolio, co-op placement in the arts, and visits to artists and to universities with fine arts programs.  “I think we have created a really strong core in our school,” he says. “I have seen so many students go on and have careers in the arts in all different disciplines, it gives me hope.”

When he was in high school himself, music and drama were his mainstays, but in university he branched out to visual arts. He credits the late Carlo Spinazzola with the inspiration to experiment with new media. But Glen’s busy life and diverse interests don’t give him time for the sustained attention he needs for drawing or painting—so he found his visual medium in photography.

“Outside my teaching job, photography is what I spend more time on than anything else,” he says. “Photography fulfills that part of my visual art–creating need. It fits well with my lifestyle.” He especially loves long-exposure nighttime photography that takes him into nature in the silent darkness.

He adds, “Once you learn the medium really well, the world opens up as far as what you can do with it.”

December will see him open an exhibition of photography with his wife, Rosalyn. He and Rosalyn imagined photographing the day-to-day life of the Island’s Buddhist monks and nuns for a year, “being on the inside, seeing the selfless things they do all the time, every day, baking bread for the food bank or shovelling snow,” he says.

Glen and Rosalyn ended up travelling for six months and didn’t have as much access as they hoped—but in travels throughout Nepal, Thailand, and South-East Asia, they got to “explore visually” the practices of Buddhism, and also Hinduism, “where it is ingrained in the culture.” Their photographic project, yoking photos of religious practice happening here and away, became “a year of learning what motivates people to be compassionate, through the lens of a different culture.”

Where do art practices intersect for Glen? He says, “I’ve always played in colours, textures, and tones—feelings and emotions… I am always thinking visually when playing music.” On the other side, he says, “Doing photography, that sonic awareness adds a dimension to the photography.” Like many Islanders active in multiple art forms, Glen adds dimensions to his days.

Singsong

Profile: Kelsea McLean

by Jane Ledwell

Kelsea McLean (photo: Buzz)Students at Morell High School where choral leader Kelsea McLean is music teacher say she sings when she teaches. She admits she’s been accused of being “singsongy.” “I don’t think I’m a ray of sunshine,” she says, “or even all that optimistic—it’s just the delivery!” She laughs, melodically.

“I know all the kids in the school,” she says, “even if they aren’t my own students—even if some kids don’t want me to know their name… I’m lowering their street cred in the hallway, one (singsongy) ‘hello’ at a time.”

Choir “hooks people into community,” Kelsea insists—and by that measure, she’s very hooked in, as artistic director of Sirens women’s choir (a choir “trying to produce a professional-level choral aesthetic”) and Harmonia girls’ choir (another choir “demanding excellence,” through “vocal training in a group focus”). She also has directed the Indian River Festival chorus for two seasons.

Kelsea’s commitment is to music education and learning. “A large part of what I do is give singers something to work for,” she reflects. And letting loose her inner teacher, she adds, “The repertoire is the curriculum.”

Kelsea was raised by music-educator parents: at her small-town Saskatchewan high school renowned for music programs, her father ran the band program; her mother, the choral program. “Home was a little intense at times,” she says. “It forced me to be critical of my own musical skills, to be self-reflective.” At one moment, she and one of her brothers, a band director, could have taken over the music programs at their old high school: “We could have stepped into our parents’ roles,” she says.

Instead, she ended up here on PEI, where her husband’s family originates. “I moved here in 2012 and didn’t know anyone in the music world—and it all just fell into place,” she says. “In Saskatchewan, everyone knew me by my last name”; on PEI, “I don’t have those endless connections that some people have here—but I feel I’ve been embraced.”

She arrived with “an assumption that on the East Coast, there would be choirs around every turn,” and while there are many, she had to find where she fit. She met Andrea Ellis and Jennifer Gillis who were just beginning Sirens. Kelsea was instantly desperate to join—“And it’s a funny story,” she says, “but apparently, when they told me about Sirens, I played it really cool. I wasn’t playing it cool on the inside!”

Sirens started without formal leadership, but when it needed direction to grow, Kelsea says, “It just happened that I became artistic director.” The Sirens family grew to include Harmonia Girls’ Choir, which is in its third year. Kelsea says, “When I see the way the girls relate to each other, it makes me so happy and joyous.”

The group has recently incorporated as a not-for-profit organization as Sirens Choral Association Inc. to raise funds and especially “to help support the education aspect of the work.”

Sirens is also working on an exciting commission of original music, in partnership with the Mi’kmaw community. “Sirens has done Canadian programs and the choir repertoire includes amazing Canadian folk songs,” Kelsea says, “But it feels like the Indigenous voice has been missing.” The challenge was to avoid cultural appropriation; the answer was collaboration.

For the commission, Matilda Knockwood has recorded a legend—“with a focus on the sea and sustainability and mermaids—very appropriate for ‘Sirens,’” Kelsea smiles—and this will be presented in parallel with music that draws inspiration from the legend. The world premiere will be at the “Podium” national choral festival in St. John’s next summer.

Despite her work with women’s and girls’ choruses, Kelsea is a champion of boys’ singing. “I’m so worried choirs get deemed as a female activity,” she says. The key, is to “keep boys singing through the intermediate level” (which coincides with a “tumultuous time” in teens’ lives – and boys’ voices).

“I grew up with a band program running alongside a choral program,” Kelsea says, “and I’m bound to make it happen.” Kelsea’s goal is a choir for everyone and everyone in a choir—one singsongy “hello” at a time.

Counting blessings

Profile: Adam Perry

by Jane Ledwell

Adam Perry (photo: Buzz)By the time October arrives, Adam Perry’s seventeen-and-a-half minute short film, A Blessing from the Sea, a “violent thriller” filmed on PEI’s west coast (near Tignish) with mainly Island talent, will have debuted as the closer of the short-film gala at FIN: The Atlantic International Film Festival.

“The film ends on a tense moment, a tense scene” Adam says intently, conjuring a sense of foreboding despite the sunlit comfort of his back deck, kids playing happily in the yard.

With the film he and producers Jenna MacMillan and Jason Arsenault dedicated thirteen months of intense care to, he wants to leave audiences asking for more—more of the story, more of his work as a writer/director, more of PEI.

A Blessing from the Sea is a story of found money leading to secrecy, fear, and violence. “The story is very strictly set in PEI,” Adam says. Unlike many Island stories, though, it’s “a dark thriller.” Adam says, “There’s so much beauty and joy exploited for tourism here.” To red cliffs and seascapes, Adam’s story adds element not part of the tourist picture: “turmoil,” he notes, and threat: “small towns on the collapse, people leaving for out west…”

Reflectively, he says, “Environment is what drives your actions. They say ‘write what you know,’ and I know this place. I know first-hand the hardships people face, the sacrifices they’d make for a bunch of money. A Blessing from the Sea scratches the surface of a much bigger story.”

For Adam, that “bigger story” is not only the bigger story of the secrets PEI contains, but also, specifically, a feature-length film from the same found-money narrative. He wrote a feature-length script, A Small Fortune, after his first child was born, and, the filmmaker says, “life slowed right down. I thought, if I’m going to stay at home taking care of this baby, I’m going to spend my days as a writer.”

The script unexpectedly won prestigious awards, and A Blessing from the Sea is a proof-of-concept to secure the support for Adam to make the feature. “I have to prove I have a great sense of this world I’m creating,” he says. “The found money story has been told countless times, but I want a fresh perspective on the story.”

Adam has created material that matches the length of a feature film before, web series like Profile PEI and Jiggers. But his paid work for several years was in food-focused productions, with chef Michael Smith. “I learned so much from travel and cooking shows, but (with food shots,) I couldn’t tell the stories I wanted to tell,” Adam says. With this first product from his own imagination since 2009, he is “exercising new knowledge and skill sets on a film of my own.”

He continues, “There are so many talented artists here on PEI. Filmmaking is the most expensive (artistic medium) because it is the most collaborative… If you can’t find money, you have to sacrifice (whole) departments.”

In a province with no film or TV tax credit, “Island filmmakers are experts in that field, making excellent, excellent work without funding,” Adam says. “I think with this film, people will see what we’re capable of with money.”

But even with some money, budgets were tight enough that making up a day of shooting lost to dampness in the camera cost the entire post-production budget. “Part of the sacrifices I’ve made in order to make this movie, I’ve had to give up work—paying work, contracts. Those are the strikes that hurt. You know you’re going to make something you love, and you know you’re only going to go home with about $1,500 for thirteen months’ work.”

Adam builds the suspense: “There’s a lot riding on this for me—a lot of doubt,” he says. “I can only make another film if it’s bigger than this film. If I direct a film, it’s got to be at least on a par with this film.”

Says Adam Perry. “It’s a very important film to me—to show the rest of the Maritimes what we’re capable of here in PEI… I like to say it’s my favourite movie.”

Full circles

Profile: Aaron Hastelow

by Jane Ledwell

Aaron Hastelow {photo: Buzz)“Where did the summer go to?” sings the cast of Anne of Green Gables on Confederation Centre mainstage. But Aaron Hastelow, the first Islander to win the role of Gilbert Blythe and performing the role for a second season, there’s no time to be wistful. With his first album released and a once-in-a-lifetime performance as a musical Hamlet, there’s little doubt where his summer has gone to.

Aaron saw Anne for the first time in 1998, at seven, and was onstage as a child of Avonlea in 1999, 2000, and 2001. He could recite the entire show by the time he was eleven. He saw “over ten” performers as Gilbert and understudied the role before earning it. Becoming Gilbert was the “highest, hardest goal” for Aaron.

“Because I dreamed so much of being Gilbert, I’m able to be myself (in the role). He makes one mistake – he teases Anne at the beginning of the relationships – and he really does try to make up for it… He uses wit and humour – but, of course, it doesn’t translate to Anne.”

Aaron says, “To make you like Anne and like Gilbert and make you want them to be together, they have to be real people,” and, he adds, “Real people make mistakes, and real people still find love.”

While playing Gilbert is a “full circle” experience for Charlottetown Festival–groupie Aaron (for him, “You can’t get more full circle than playing Gilbert,” he says), another full circle has been completed this summer performing the role of Hamlet in an in-concert revival performance at Indian River Festival of Kronborg 1582, a rock-opera based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Highlights of the show had been included in a 2004 Charlottetown Festival anniversary revue Something Wonderful, and Aaron saw that show about fifteen times, just to hear the song “That It Should Come to This.”

“When I was approached to play Hamlet by Adam Brazier and Craig Fair, I obviously said yes,” he says. He knew “one amazing song I adored” but had to learn six solos – “It was a gigantic undertaking on a short rehearsal schedule. I’ve never worked harder – or been prouder or happier,” he says. “The night at Indian River was electric.”

Kronborg 1582 will have a one-night only encore at the Centre on September 5. Is Aaron concerned that after a peak experience at Indian River that the encore will be a come-down? Nope. “There’s no point thinking it might be worse, because I know it will be better,” he says. “I learned so much from doing it at Indian River.”

Even though the show was first staged almost twenty years before Aaron was born, he can’t wait for more people to experience Kronborg: “It was ahead of its time back then – and people loved it then and love it now because the music is so good. People had never seen anything like it. It just shook everyone. I think it deserves another life past this.”

Between acting roles, “Now, anytime there’s two weeks off, there’s something to be done,” because he has launched a recording career with a first, eponymous solo album he describes as “one of the most exciting, most proud projects.” Part of the pride and the feeling came from working with his step-father, Jon Matthews, at the Sound Mill studio, and recording one of his songs, “The Bridge,” that Aaron says, “he wrote when he was twenty-five, and I recorded when I was twenty-five.” That was a meaningful moment for Aaron.

“I’d never really heard my voice by itself,” he says. “I wanted the listener to feel what I was feeling, without seeing me” – without costumes, sets, or dance. “I didn’t have a character to hide behind. It was equally as exciting, but it was really me – my music tastes and who I am.”

His career will go to Ontario for the fall (performing in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in Hamilton), part of the winter, and the spring (a North American premiere of a stage play version of Chariots of Fire in London, with “acting and running instead of singing and dancing”) – and next summer, who knows?

“I love PEI so much, and I love the Centre (the Confederation Centre of the Arts),” says Aaron. “Until I completely retire from theatre, I want to be on this stage. This is home. This building is home. It’s an easy yes. If there’s ever an opportunity to be on PEI, I’ll take it.”

Finding himself in his art has been a lifelong project for Aaron. “I was eight in my first season here (at Confederation Centre),” he recalls. “On a personal level, what the Centre and Anne and musicals gave me was a safe place to be – and to be myself. Growing up in a beautiful but small town, people didn’t always agree with you,” he says. “I found my family at the theatre – and I always knew it would get better, and I could be who I really am.” Aaron is emotional as he reflects on Anne Shirley’s journey to find love, family, and acceptance, and to accept love: “I know while Anne was aiming to be herself… I was too.”

Fiddler’s dream

Profile: Gary Chipman

by Jane Ledwell

Gary Chipman (photo: Buzz)"Listening to (Don Messer and his Islanders as a kid, I was just a kid dreaming,” says Gary Chipman. They were “the best band of its kind in the world at the time,” he remembers. And with an ear to CFCY radio, from the age of five (“about a hundred years ago,” he jokes), Gary learned traditional fiddle tunes in Don Messer’s distinctive style. Soon, he was invited to perform in some of Don Messer’s live shows at the Charlottetown Forum and even on a local production TV show from Strathgartney, before the band moved to Halifax for its top-rated CBC TV program. He went on to have fast friendships with members of the band and their families, but his lifelong relationship is with the music they played.

“It has always been a dream of mine to play that kind of music,” he says, and this summer, almost fifty years since Don Messer’s TV show was cancelled, he will bring that era and that music to life with a special Tribute to Don Messer at the Harbourfront Theatre, following the format of the beloved CBC show, with a full stage of performers working to truly “recreate the sound.”

In September, the show will play in Bright, Ontario, at Walters Dinner Theatre, a 150-person venue. “That’s going to be a real treat for me,” Gary says, looking forward to “new faces, new venues, and new people.” They were originally booked for six nights and now have sold out nine. “I don’t even know where Bright is, but we’ll find it,” he laughs.

“I always wished I could get into that kind of lifestyle, where you could make a living as a musician. But it is almost impossible,” he says. “It’s like being a fisherman, I guess. I’m in the same boat. I work hard in the summer and look for work all winter.”

When Gary started out, he recalls, “I was making more in one night than my father was making in a week. Then,” he smiles, “you find out that doesn’t go on forever.” Gary added guitar-playing to fiddling when “Elvis Presley and the boys came along, and the fiddle was ‘out.’” He played rock-and-roll for crowds of 800 with the Tremtones at The Rollaway and fiddle tunes at country dances. When the venues were full and plenty, and he was easily playing live music four nights a week with “modern and old-time” dances. “That faded away,” he says.

“I worked construction, I drove a taxi, but in the back of my mind, I always wanted to play music, and I couldn’t come to terms with it that I couldn’t make a living. I should have taken the advice I gave my son, to get the heck out of here,” he muses. But other than studying and touring, Gary never left.

Gary got a degree at Lakehead University in clinical psychology and later studied counselling psychology through distance education, “but,” he says with a rueful shake of his head, “it only made me a smarter fiddle player.”

“When you’re young, everything seems easy,” he reflects. “If I worked at 25 the same number of hours on the fiddle I do now, I’d be a lot further ahead. But I didn’t start to appreciate the gift I had until I was older. Not everyone has that gift. And I thought, ‘I’d better start watering this plant.’” Most days, he practices several hours a day.

Gary says. “These are the good old days, today.”

And yet, with music providing “no pension, no health benefits, no vacation,” Gary says, “I’m going to keep playing until I can’t play anymore.” Playing ceilidhs or pig-and-whistles Monday nights at Stanley Bridge and Thursdays at New London, he says, “The dream is still there for me. You gotta have a dream. Every night, you never know who’ll be in the audience, and maybe they’ll like it, and maybe they won’t—but maybe they’ll get you to play another time.”

Alive theatre

Mrs. Warren's Profession

Review by Jane Ledwell

When my mother was in school, she learned French from books: reading, writing, and parsing without hearing or pronouncing the language. When I was in school, I learned plays and classical theatre on the page. I have read and studied (and even taught) more plays-as-text than I have seen performed. Before last night, the closest I ever came to seeing George Bernard Shaw on stage was a Colonel Gray High School production of My Fair Lady (adapted from Shaw’s Pygmalion) in the early 1980s. Professional, non-musical theatre has been infrequently available to me here on the Island. But languages are meant to be spoken and heard. And theatre is meant to be played.

This is why I am so whole-heartedly grateful for the Watermark Theatre. 

Mrs. Warren’s Profession is a contretemps between a formidable madam, her somewhat ridiculous entourage of courtiers, and her headstrong and ambitious daughter. The 1893 play was banned from performance at the turn of the 20th century, and it speaks volumes that in 2017, I can’t name the secret of Mrs. Warren’s profession without placing myself on one or the other side of an unbridgeable divide between those who call it “sex work” and those who call it “prostitution.”

As the daughter, Vivie Warren, Leah Pritchard is forthright and no-nonsense, a lovely surprise from an actor with natural comedic instincts and a flair for nonsense. As her mother, Mrs. Warren, Gracie Finley is every bit the old pro. The men range from ironical youth (Jordan Campbell as Frank Gardiner) to dissipated, hypocritical age (Paul Whelan as his father, Rev. Samuel Gardiner). Ian Deakins as Sir George Crofts, Mrs. Warren’s grasping business partner, is properly seedy and unpleasant, and the standout performance for us was Jerry Getty, radiating kindness and good sense as Mrs. Warren’s friend Praed, the moral core of the play.

Direction by Robert Tsonos is very faithful to Shaw (no playwright is more bullying than Shaw about his text—he barks from beyond the grave to miss a line at your peril or to deviate from his stage directions on pain of death). As such, the words—so many words from Mr. Shaw—are delivered with intelligence and sensitivity, at the expense sometimes of movement. 

The sets (William Layton) and lighting (Renee Brode), as always at the Watermark, highlight the strengths of both the space and the actors. 

The performance, while blocked well for the Watermark’s thrust stage, with care for the audience seated on all three sides, is physically stilted. The beautiful costumes by Bonnie Dekin, which have to be perfect when the audience is so close, are indeed perfect, and yet need to be more animated with the physical manners of Shaw’s time.

Like hearing a language you’ve only read, seeing a play performed that you’ve only read takes a lot of mental energy: it engages the brain in constant, tiny acts of translation and self-questioning. I wait for the moment that the jumble of sounds and images becomes seamless with the text, and silences my mental murmuring, and in this production, that occurs in the final act, when the performances move beyond the text—and most move the audience. This is language of theatre alive: so much better than black lines on dry paper, experienced alone.

—Select dates at Watermark Theatre. Tickets/info at watermarktheatre.com.

Events Calendar

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Some Upcoming Events

Culture days

Free activities on September 29 at the Confederation Centre Culture Days is a three-day nation-wide [ ... ]

The Charlottetown Film Society & L’Ipéen...

Select dates
City Cinema Tickets at the door, cash only, all seats $10. (For movies in the same week [ ... ]

Confederation Centre: Art Gallery exhibi...

Daily
Confederation Centre Art Gallery Places, Paths, and Pauses Marlene Creates Running until Sep [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Drawing the line

Profile: Sandy Carruthers by Jane Ledwell Retired for a year now after twenty-five years teaching  [ ... ]

Filmworks Summerside

Film series is back for 7th season Filmworks Summerside opens for their 7th season on September 12  [ ... ]

An Island wish

On August 23, 4 year old Cooper Coughlin will arrive on Prince Edward Island soil for a once in a li [ ... ]