Image: A rollercoaster. Photo by Pedro Velasco on Unsplash.
As we gradually wrap up 2021 and celebrate the holidays, I’ve been taking stock of the past year. The good, the bad and the ugly. The holiday is both very different and much the same this year; we now have vaccines, but with the emergence of an even more contagious variant, we must continue to take extra good care as we gather with loved ones—not an easy thing to do, as we were all hoping to have more of a sense of normalcy by now. As of this writing, public officials haven’t said to stay home, but they are recommending reducing contacts—so, it’s hard to tell if my siblings, their partners, my nephews and I will be able to get together for our annual Boxing Day feast this year.
Personally, it’s been a year of extreme ups and downs. On the down side: struggling with health issues (both mine and my cat’s); a close long-term friendship was severed; navigating a particularly slow work period this Fall (making the extra expenses of cat health and laptop repair all the more stressful); and having to agree to disagree with my parents’ decision to resume their snowbird travels to Arizona, which has high case counts and low vaccine uptake. Witnessing the rollercoaster ride of this fourth wave (are we now in a fifth wave?), with government hesitation and inaction, and aggressive and violent citizen actions, have made an already challenging situation even more difficult for those who are doing all they can to keep themselves, their loved ones and health care system safe. And our already overworked, worn-out health care workers being subjected to aggressive and demoralizing protests—and even threats—not to mention salary increase issues.
On the upside: I got to workshop and perform in the digital production of Erin Jones’ new play Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday (Toronto Fringe and Calgary Fringe); and did voice-over tour guide narration for some ArtworxTO 2021 subway and neighbourhood art tours. The film adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s novel Scarborough, produced by Compy Films (which I have a small part in) ran at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF); it was first runner-up for the People’s Choice Award, received an honorable mention from the jury for the Best Canadian Film award, named the winner of the Changemaker Award, and included in TIFF’s annual year-end Canada’s Top Ten list for 2021. I was invited by my friend Valerie Gow to participate in Mindfulness Without Borders’ Mindfulness Ambassador Program (MAP) workshop; Valerie facilitated the first half for her certification practicum, then offered the second half as a fully certified facilitator. And I learned how to give insulin shots to a cat. Communities and public health units are bringing information and vaccines to where people are. And holiday food and toy drives are operating at full force in the face of great need. People are opening their hearts and minds—and accomplishing amazing things!
Despite the challenges of the past year, I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a supportive and loving network of family, chosen family and friends/colleagues. I was able to get vaccinated in a timely manner, including the flu shot; and my COVID-19 booster is booked and within walking distance for early in the New Year (still on the hunt for an earlier shot). Even with the recent freelance work downtime, I haven’t struggled with housing or food insecurity. I’ve used the lag time between work projects as time to read, make art, reorganize my storage spaces, sort through clothing and items I no longer use for donation—and take some physical and emotional R&R. And watch a lot of Netflix. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed letting my mind drift as I look out the window. Watching the clouds float by, the rain pelting down, the snow wafting through the air or the wind rustling the trees is a very peaceful, even meditative, exercise. And it’s a particularly lovely pastime when I have a soft, warm, purring cat stretched out across my chest.
Lately, I’ve been pondering my theme song for 2022. I was a bit late choosing one this year, so wanted to get on it sooner. I think I’ve got one now—stay tuned for my post in the New Year.
I hope that, whatever highs and lows you and your loved ones have weathered this past year, you’ve been able to find resilience and hope, and space for celebration. Have a happy and safe holiday!
Those who saw Brian Francis’ SummerWorks 2018 stage production Box 4901 will recognize the personal archive of unanswered male-seeks-male personal ad letters, and the cast of characters he draws from them, in his candid, humourous and sharply drawn memoir Missed Connections. Both self-deprecating and self-aware, the storytelling is nostalgic, introspective, and rife with the wisdom of age and experience—tying the past to the present with ruminations on body image, coming out, desire, relationships, and perceptions of masculinity and aging. Told from the perspective of a gay man navigating his own life and identity, from his small-town roots, to conservative city university experience, to big city life as a writer, Missed Connections is a funny, poignant and thoughtful testimonial to his 21-year-old self and the 13 men whose letters went unanswered.
Why I Was Late book cover, design by Emmie Tsumura, in collaboration with author Charlie Petch.Illustrated images of wrestlers, everyday objects, clothing, a dog, an outstretched hand, a saw.
I recently added a book blurbs page to the blog, as I realized it’s another creative pursuit that I really enjoy and wanted to share. Even though I’m no longer doing reviews, I thought it might be cool to write some blurbs for books I’ve recently read—for fun.
A genuine and compelling collection of poems, Why I Was Late weaves memory, observation, and reflections on sexuality and gender identity, into pieces that balance on the knife’s edge of haunting nostalgia and candid insight—the storytelling delivered with the sharpness of broken coloured glass, veteran entertainer timing and melancholy recollection. If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Charlie Petch perform live, you can hear the mesmerizing strains of the musical saw and the whimsical chords of the ukulele that accompany some of these pieces (music accompaniment noted at the beginning of each piece in the book) as they sit us down to tell us a tale. From takes on childhood, to working on film sets, Star Wars character slash, and wistfully gritty recollections of encounters and relationships, Why I Was Late is a moving, rhythmic, at times erotic and funny, exploration of love, life and humanity.
My cat Camille, a grey tabby, lounging by the window in the crow’s nest section of a cat tree, with a bit of gold ribbon beside her. Photo by the blogger.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic had many of us hunkering down and working from home, I’d already been working from home for most of the previous four years. After being phased out of my full-time position as the in-house copy editor/proofreader/writer at a Toronto social/market research firm, I took up freelancing as I searched for a new permanent position, which meant organizing a work-from-home routine.
This meant that I was spending a lot more time at home with my cat Camille, a grey tabby I adopted 12 years ago from the Annex Cat Rescue, when she was about two years old. And when things shut down during the pandemic, I found myself spending even more time at home. With the cat.
And something interesting happened. I’ve always been pretty observant of my cat’s behaviour—from both an entertainment and feline health perspective—but with even more time alone and at home, I found my thoughts turning to how many aspects of her life seemed to be pretty healthy. Inspirational even.
So here, in no particular order, are some things I learned about healthy living from my cat:
Stretch. It’s good for you and feels so good. This is especially important if you’re working a sedentary job. Get up. Give your neck and shoulders a gentle roll. Stretch those hamstrings. Be a little tea pot.
Rest. Good sleep hygiene is vitally important, especially during stressful and uncertain times. Taking breaks, downtime, vacation/staycation time—ditto. In the summer of 2020, I shifted to a four-day work week and loved it so much, I made it permanent (with flexible Fridays for urgent projects only). And, this year, I decided to take a couple of extra weeks off—long weekends and that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when my clients are shut down for the holiday, are just not enough.
Ask. Camille has no trouble asking for what she wants. Food. Cuddles. Get lost, human. Often, she even uses her words. This is a tough one for me, as I have issues about being a burden or a pain in the ass, but I’m gradually getting better at it. I also often use my words.
Detachment. Cats are really good at this. Doing their own thing when, where and how they want. Zero f*cks given. While I would caution against the cat extreme of this concept—we do, after all, live in society—I find it’s something that I’m mastering more and more with every passing decade.
Solitude. While Camille can be sociable, she’s also very good at taking space for herself. Aware that I require a certain amount of solitude, I’m pretty good at this too. And the additional isolation during the pandemic has made me realize where the edges of that envelope are for me. An introvert at heart, I need periods of solitude in order to regenerate and refill—and I find that social gatherings/events, even small ones with my nearest and dearest, drain my energy. A lot. Too much solitude, and I end up living in my own head way more than I’d like to be. And, trust me, you do not want to be hanging out in there too long.
Resourcefulness. Over the years, I’ve purchased a number of cool cat toys. What does Camille want to play with? Plastic/wire binding coils, bread bag tags, that little plastic stopper thingy you pull out of the milk carton spout, tissue paper—and boxes! Use what you have. This came in very handy during lockdowns, when non-essential stores were closed or money was tight (like when your monthly income is just a bit too much to qualify for CERB). I’d always wanted a white board; and found I had an extra piece of foam board with a shiny side that actually works with dry erase markers. Instant white board!
So there you have it. Stuff I learned about healthy living by observing my cat. Some, or all, of these cat life principles may be helpful for you too. Which of these resonates the most with you?
Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday poster design by Lynn El-Khoury. Image: A vintage watch disintegrating in a cloudy sky.
Hey, all—I hope you and yours are keeping well as we all continue to stay safe and get shots in arms.
As many of you know, due to ongoing public health measures, Toronto Fringe is going digital this year, offering several programming series for your Fringing fun and enjoyment from the safety of your homes. And I’m happy and proud to have worked with Wonder Jones Productions’ playwright, producer and actor Erin Jones, director Meg Gibson, and cast and crew, on the digital production Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday.
Four bereavement group friends meet via EtherWebb on Easter Sunday to embark on an unexpected and mystical virtual adventure of memory, revelation and closure. Written by Erin Jones, directed by Meg Gibson, with research/editing by Bruce Huston, costume/prop/set consulting by Andra Bradish, and video editing by Marcus Kage. Featuring Georgia Grant, Olivia Jon, Erin Jones, Dayjan Lesmond, Cate McKim, Twaine Ward, Jamie Joong Watts and Paula Wilkie.
Big shouts to our team of amazing Fringe student volunteers for their mad skills in editing, graphic design, and marketing and social media: Christine Ahn, Lynn El-Khoury, Melonly Manikavasagar and Kirsten Rowe.
Using minimal editing, with some additional effects and graphic elements added in post, Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday was recorded live over Zoom, including practical effects, to provide the audience with as much of a live theatre experience as possible.
Erin Jones is a writer, actor, playwright and emerging director who has performed in theatre and independent films across the GTA. After debuting her first play, Lovingly Yours, Olive in the Next Stage Community Booster Series at Toronto Fringe, she returns to this year’s digital festival with her new play Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday, produced by Wonder Jones Productions. She also supports the performing arts behind the scenes with publicity, articles, newsletters, social media, grant writing, governance, photography, director hiring committees, and Respect in the Workplace committees.
I asked Jones about Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday and the process of producing a digital theatre production.
Full disclosure: This project is near and dear to my heart; I had the honour of participating in the play development readings, and was invited to join the final cast for this Toronto Fringe 2021 On-Demand digital production.
Hi, Erin. Thanks for taking the time from your super busy schedule to talk about your upcoming Toronto Fringe digital production Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday. Tell us about Wonder Jones Productions and its creative vision.
Wonder Jones Productions was born out of a love for theatre! It began as a support to other theatre groups to promote live theatre and keep it alive. It evolved when I realized that I should be using it to promote my own projects. The creative vision is to tell untold stories that are relevant, positive, respectful and inclusive. A key guiding principle is to write stories that accurately reflect our community and our Canadian history. This means creating rich roles that engage many people, including BIPOC, ACPI and LGBTQ+ artists.
And what inspired you to write Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday and the themes it addresses?
I think many planets aligned the day that I began writing this play. I was inspired to write about a positive future, and I had recently finished another script that delved into science fiction. I enjoyed writing that story so much that I decided to keep exploring futurism, science fiction and the supernatural. My original goal was to explore Black Canadian history, and I realized I can continue to do that while exploring these genres. It was also inspired by a desire to preserve the memory and legacy of those we have lost—to give voice to those who may no longer be able to speak for themselves. The story explores how four people each deal with love, grief, forgiveness and healing with elements of intrigue, mystery and surprise. While they go on a very unusual Twilight Zone-type journey, their stories are relatable.
I wrote Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday especially for the Toronto Fringe Festival. They decided to go with a digital platform this year, to promote safety in light of the pandemic. They encouraged productions that could be delivered in a digital platform.
So, with all of these elements combined, I was inspired to write a play that could be safely rehearsed and performed remotely.
Due to COVID-19 health and safety measures, the development, rehearsal and recording process all needed to be done virtually—in this case, via Zoom. What was that process like for you, director Megan Gibson and the cast?
Theatre is amazing in that there are several moving parts and, somehow, we manage to pull it all together and create a show! This process required a lot of risk-taking, steep learning curves, planning and experimentation. Where to begin?
I workshopped the play to receive feedback and fine-tune it. This was an incredibly important step. I encouraged actors, writers, producers, and trusted colleagues from diverse backgrounds and lived experience, to give me feedback on the script. This was critical. Some playwrights don’t do this and it can result in characters that lack authenticity.
Casting was another important piece. It was essential that we cast respectfully to honour the diversity of the characters. This had a few challenges, but that was mainly due to scheduling conflicts and tight deadlines. Overall, this was a terrific opportunity to work with very talented actors that reflect our diverse Canadian diaspora.
Figuring out what technology to use and how to use it was important. This was a big learning curve for all of us, since we were used to in-person rehearsals, blocking, etc.
Planning the rehearsal and filming schedule was another step in the process. “Digital blocking” was a new skill! We all had to become our own technician, stage manager, prop handler and set designer! We worked collectively to figure out our settings, cameras, eye line, lighting, practical special effects and more. The key was to be flexible and work with what we each had. This was fascinating to watch how we each evolved with this.
Rehearsals and recording were cleverly planned so that we could honour live theatre while working digitally. What audiences may not realize is that the play was performed in real time. While the actors were in different locations, they still performed as an ensemble. Most of the effects were practical.
Post-production was another key aspect. Luckily, I worked with an editor, and we added sound and effects. This was another huge learning curve. It is hard to explain, but it was just as much work as all the previous phases!
You wrote the play with the digital Fringe in mind—and the play is set in a Zoom chat, so lends itself very well to this format. What creative opportunities and challenges did you encounter as a result of this hybrid stage/film production?
As theatre artists, we are used to being with each other in person. Using a virtual conferencing software is challenging because each person has a different computer, settings and internet services. We had to figure out how to work with those limitations. One of the biggest challenges was seeing each other on a screen. The actors had to look at their cameras rather each other. It was an adjustment to act to the camera rather than another person. However, the cast was terrific and they adapted beautifully.
How do folks get to see Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday?
With the Fringe On-Demand series, audiences will access content on Fringetoronto.com with the purchase of a membership pass. Tickets will go on sale July 7, 2021.
Now for the fun part: James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire.What’s your favourite word? I don’t really have one, but the word “grand” comes to mind.
What’s your least favourite word? I cannot repeat those! Anything profane that I won’t want my Grandma to hear.
What turns you on? Good manners.
What turns you off? People who have no integrity.
What sound or noise do you love? Ocean waves.
What sound or noise do you hate? Snoring.
What is your favourite curse word? I don’t like curse words. 🙂
What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Running a blank on this one. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a ballerina, scientist and movie star all at the same time.
What profession would you not like to do? Not sure. I just don’t want to get like some who doesn’t put their whole self into their work and become bitter.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Welcome. You are safe and loved. And don’t worry, your childhood pet cats are here too!”
Anything else you want to shout out?
I want to give a shout out to the cast and creative team. The actors gave their all. The director skillfully pulled out great performances! The video editor brought ingenuity. The student volunteers brought creativity. The Toronto Fringe Team brought knowledge and resources to support us. And finally, our loved ones who brought the inspiration.
Four bereavement group friends meet via EtherWebb on Easter Sunday to embark on an unexpected and mystical virtual adventure of memory, revelation and closure. Written by Erin Jones, directed by Meg Gibson and edited by Marcus Kage; and featuring Georgia Grant, Olivia Jon, Erin Jones, Dayjan Lesmond, Cate McKim, Twaine Ward, Jamie Joong Watts and Paula Wilkie.
Five dandelion seed pods float on the breeze in a clear blue sky. Photo by Kranich17 on Pixabay.
Back in October, I posted a list of firsts, interrupted by the second wave of the pandemic and the reintroduction of stricter public health measures. And, since the third wave hit—with accompanying variations of lockdown and stay-at-home recommendations and/or orders since the Fall for where I live—I’ve found it hard to hope, or plan what I’d do once public health restrictions are loosened or removed altogether.
Now that more and more people are getting vaccinated and/or eligible to book an appointment—despite some ill-planned provincial rollouts and misplaced priorities (that are finally and gradually being amended), vaccine supply interruptions and evolving information on safety issues, and vaccination booking challenges/confusion—everyday people are demonstrating that they want to do everything they can to get to the other side of this pandemic. In some cases, spending hours in lineups at pop-up clinics, or online or on the phone to book through the provincial portal or at a pharmacy, people are devoting significant time and energy to making themselves, others and the health care system safe—with many doing so in the face of work, household and vaccine inequity struggles.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself finally able to exhale—even if just for a moment—and, as I saw that more family; friends; and fellow Torontonians, Ontarians and Canadians were getting their first shots, I allowed myself to feel a sense of relief and hope. I found myself daring to dream about what life will be like once stay-at-home orders and other public health measures are relaxed, and we’re able to safely gather again. For well over a year, not socializing and deciding to pare things down to simple, necessary elements, I haven’t been wearing my watch and rings; and I’ve been super casual with the wardrobe—sometimes wearing the same pair of jeans for a whole week, and the same running shoes pretty much every day. Yesterday, I put on a different pair of shoes. Today, I put on fresh cotton pants, as well as my watch and rings.
And, gradually, I’m making a wish list, including—but not limited to:
Seeing family in person (fingers crossed for a gathering in my parents’ backyard on a weekend near the July 1 holiday)
Seeing friends in person (my friends Lizzie, Zoltan and Val have space on their building’s backyard patio for distanced outdoor dining and movie viewing)
Random, spontaneous stops at a convenience store or coffee shop
Collecting driftwood and beach glass (see location above)
In-store shopping at thrift and art supply stores, and book and record shops
Seeing live outdoor performances and art shows
Walks and coffee with friends
Getting a hair cut
And I’m feeling like, in the near future, these will be actual, do-able things.
In the meantime, I have a dental checkup booked for next week (my first since October 2019). And my parents and I are planning a safe visit for my birthday next month (similar to our Christmas visit, with masking and distancing, even though we all have our first shots).