Profile: Lisa Carmody
by Jane Ledwell
Lisa Carmody says that as a kid, when she planned out plays with her friends, “I would get so excited that I would have an asthma attack and end up in hospital. Really! I would have to call them up and say, “[Wheeze] Uh, guys, sorry—I don’t think [wheeze] I can make it.”
“I still get that excited,” she giggles, “but I take my inhaler.”
In her second summer back from living and working in Toronto, Lisa has two musical plays for children at the Beaconsfield Children’s Festival with Troubadour Children’s Theatre, and she wants to inspire breathless excitement in other children—albeit without hospitalization. “The philosophy behind Troubadour—we’re a little rag tag—is that we want kids to think they can go home and do it, too,” she says.
“I was one of the those kids that always had an outer dialogue going on with myself,” Lisa says. “It was a way to figure out real-life situations with play, with imagination. I was talkin’ it out…I guess you could say I was doing make-believe to a late age.” Her eyebrows rise, “A really late age, ‘cause I’m still doing it!”
She toured her first play, the fold-up-and-go production Adventures in LaLa Land, last summer with Troubadour. “All of us drove around on little day trips, ‘festivalling and eventing,’” she says. Wandering was fun, but, “All we did last summer was daydream about having one spot in Charlottetown we could go to every day.”
A job teaching music at Glen Stewart Elementary came up to keep Lisa home on the Island. Then last summer’s work to drum up festivals and events meant that LynAnne Love had her name on file when an opening came up for Beaconsfield—and with it a chance to remount LaLa Land and Lisa’s new show, Once Upon a Rhyme.
Rhyme, was still a work in progress. “The problem was, I didn’t know how I would find money to produce it,” Lisa says. A grant from the PEI Council of the Arts made it possible, with a little help from her friends: “I have this pool of friends who are weird little geniuses at what they do,” she says gratefully.
Lisa says, “The kicker for me is finding something to inspire me.” For Rhyme, the inspiration came from nursery rhymes: “there’s something in the young brain that is very satisfied with the aesthetic of rhymes or lilts.” She built a story and songs around nursery rhyme characters, with “the gist of the story [being] chasing a happy ending.”
She hopes the characters will resonate with both children and their adult friends. “I think if you take an idea and build in characters with their own flaws and characteristics and make them interesting, the story will do the work for you. But,” Lisa laughs, “I’m still working on that. So I throw in quips for the adults. While I’m polishing my craft, there’s instant gratification!”
Children’s responses are very particular, but, Lisa says, “All it takes is one kid to start, then it’s like a wave of giggles or gross-outs in the audience.”
Her day job teaching music helps her gain and gauge ideas. “Kids feed you material that is full-on, 100 percent good material,” Lisa says. “But at school, with routine and structure, imagination starts to drop away. Even by Grade Three, I see kids who have lost or put away that ability to just be free. At home, when they play, they return to it.”
Lisa reflects, “I just want to remind them more and more often that they can play and imagine and enjoy day-to-day life.” For her, the play’s still the thing. “I almost get depressed unless I let a lot of this stuff out of me, these little worlds of imagination,” Lisa says. “I think it shows my students that you’re not just this or that, not just a teacher or a performer. I just want them to have a notion that it’s possible.”