It’s been heartbreaking to see all the cancellations of live theatre performances—not to mention devastating for theatre companies, festivals and artists—with seasons being cut short or delayed indefinitely, and productions and festivals cancelled during the COVID-19 crisis. But there are still ways you can support companies and artists, and stay connected with theatre while we […]
Lizzie Violet. Photo by Zoltan Hawryluk.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with today’s new normal of staying home and following physical distancing guidelines—and we’re all finding the need to develop new routines and methods of navigating everyday tasks and errands in a pseudo war-time environment, with standard items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, flour and yeast becoming hot commodities. And all this while dealing with the emotional, financial and social impacts of living in a world with the invisible enemy that is COVID-19.
Writer, horror afficionado, zombiephile and avid bat watcher (and good friend) Lizzie Violet started a blog series called Stay the Fuck Home; offering practical and inspirational how-to and entertainment info and resources as we all hunker down at home. I asked her about the genesis of the blog series, and her thoughts on DIY and remote personal connection going forward.
Hey, Lizzie. Thanks for taking the time to talk about your Stay the Fuck Home blog series! What inspired you to start this series?
Thank you for interviewing me!
There were a few things that inspired me, to be honest. I was seeing a lot of people struggling with what was happening and the fact that necessities had vanished from our lives. When I say necessities, I don’t just mean food. Many of us, myself included, depend on many different types of resources, activities and interaction. Plus, blogging daily gave me something else to focus on. I also wanted to do something positive, and hopefully give others something else to focus on aside from the bombardment of news and negativity.
What post(s) was/were the most fun to write?
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a new wave of DIYers; and folks who didn’t previously make things themselves or bake, etc. have started doing so. (Necessity being the mother of invention and all.) What kinds of projects have you heard people undertaking for the first time? And do you think this experience will inspire rookie DIYers to continue DIYing after physical distancing measures have been lifted?
I hope people who either started DIYing out necessity and are new to it, or those who pulled out their sewing machine or baking tools after not using them for ages, continue to do so. I am fortunate that I was taught all of the skills I have at a very young age and have always used them. I have always said that you should know the basics of how to sew, knit, bake bread, can food and grow your own food. In the state of the world right now, these are necessities. Heck, I’ve even shared my sourdough starter with a few people. I truly hope people keep this going.
The main things I’ve seen being undertaken is sewing (mostly for masks) and bread making. It makes my heart happy, especially the baking of bread. Homemade bread is much healthier for you and really not that hard to do.
Needing to find new ways to conduct professional meetings and stay in touch with loved ones, a lot of folks (myself included) have also been introduced to, and become new users of, various video chat platforms like Facebook and Zoom, as well as performing arts live streams. How do you feel the use of this kind of technology has impacted our sense of personal connection during these unprecedented, uncertain times—and do you see this kind of remote connection as something that organizations, arts companies and folks in general will keep employing as we move past COVID-19 restrictions?
I’m actually really glad we have these resources available to us. Had this happened 10 years ago, this may have not been as possible. I do enjoy being able to see music and other forms of art through video platforms, but I personally would rather see all of it in person. What I am hoping for is once we are able to go out again, I really and truly hope that audiences start going out to live indie events again. I hope that they support artists and also smaller businesses, so they can get back on their feet. It was already hard enough as an artist to survive before the pandemic and they will need all the help they can get.
Anything you want to mention to folks about the blog series?
When I can, I am shouting out performers and artists I know and love. Please go support them! I’ve put links to them when possible. It was also a huge part of why I started doing the Stay the Fuck Home series.
Anything else you want to shout out?
I really want to shout out small businesses. They are doing everything they can to stay alive. They are being creative and innovative and deserve our love! Especially restaurants. They are trying their best, go order some take out from them!
Now, for the fun part. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:
What’s your favourite word? FUCK!
What’s your least favourite word? I have a couple. Umami and bespoke. Because no one uses them correctly!
What turns you on? Kindness.
What turns you off? Any kind of disrespect and that horking noise. Don’t do that.
What sound or noise do you love? Cawing of crows and ravens.
What sound or noise do you hate? The scraping noise the subway or street cars make.
What’s your favourite curse word? FUCK!
What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? It changes every once in a while. Currently, Forensic Anthropology.
What profession would you not like to do? Veterinarian. At one point I did want to become one, until I found out you had to euthanize animals.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Oh no! Not this one!
You can find Lizzie Violet on Facebook, and on Twitter and Instagram (@lizzieviolet13). She also curates and hosts Killer B Cinema with her partner Zoltan Hawryluk, offering monthly screenings of B movies. Normally hosted upstairs at See Scape in Toronto, they’re working on posting screenings on YouTube as we continue to practise physical distancing—and hope to be back at See Scape soon.
Lizzie posted this piece after we did this interview; it’s one of the most important ones yet: Stay the Fuck Home It’s Okay to Be Kind to Yourself.
Camille relaxing with a cowbell.
ICYMI: life with more cowbell is now on an indefinite hiatus as I ponder a new direction for the blog; for more info, please see my post from the end of January.
With the exception of a few shows I’d already committed to reviewing before the holiday (I have one more coming up in mid-April: Discord & Din’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt. Again.), I will no longer be booking reviews. I will, however, continue to broadcast boost, shout out and share/RT shows on social media—so if you’d still like to invite me, please do!
Enjoy Toronto’s rich and vibrant arts scene—and support your local artists.
Saskatoon-born, Toronto-based singer songwriter Melanie Peterson has been called “Mary Poppins with a broken heart”; writing and singing about life, love and friendship, her crystal-clear, emotive vocals and evocative lyrics combine bright positivity with a deep sense of longing and loss. Peterson will be heading into the studio to record her next album We Got This in September, and I asked her about the direction of this record. Here’s what she had to say about this upcoming project.
Hey, Melanie—Thanks for taking the time for some questions about your upcoming project We Got This! This will be your 6th full album? What was the inspiration for We Got This?
This will be my third full album. We Got This was inspired by a song I wrote in Edmonton after playing a wonderful music club there called The Blackbird. I had gotten to Edmonton thanks to the VIA Rail Artist On Board Program, where artists have the opportunity to play their way to the west coast and back; and had two days to myself before the train came through again, and I could continue playing my way to Vancouver. I decided to use my time well, and set myself the goal of writing a complete song in two days, one that I would perform at my show in Vancouver. I usually write about an hour every day, so a complete song in two days was something new to me. But I was in a city where I knew no one, it was mid-winter and I had this lovely hotel room all to myself, so I decided to write all day, both days, and ended up writing “We Got This”, which is now the title track to the new album.
The response I got to the song when I debuted it in Vancouver was very encouraging. I was playing in a noisy coffee house, with chatter and grinding expresso machines going on off every few minutes—but as soon as I began the song, the room got quiet and I knew then I had a special song on my hands. It wasn’t long before the idea of a new album, with “We Got This” as the title track, came to mind and I set about writing the album.
And what can you tell us about the overall tone, thematically or stylistically, for this one?
This is the first album I’ve written with an overall theme in mind. The theme being the journey from romantic devastation, to true and lasting love, with a few twists and turns along the way.
You’ve set up an Indiegogo campaign to help fund this album and you’ve got some great perks on offer! How’s the fundraising going and what tempting donor rewards are you offering?
The fundraising is going well. I’m at 15% funded and it is only week two, so I feel encouraged. One tempting donor reward is the “You Play on the Album” reward for those who have always dreamed of being on an album. They get the chance to come into the studio and sing, play an instrument, play the shaker or join in on a clap track, whatever they feel they’d most enjoy doing. There is also the “Ready for Your Close-up” reward for those who’d like to be featured in one of the music videos I intend to shoot for the album singles.
And the “Teach Me” reward, which involves four lessons with me, via Skype or Facetime if you are out of town, and in person if you are in town; I am offering song writing, guitar and/or singing lessons. I’ve been teaching for many years and am good at getting students who have wanted to be creative, but have put it off, to begin and really take themselves seriously as guitar players, singers and/or songwriters. And everyone who donates gets a signed copy of the album, their name in the credits and more, depending on what reward they choose.
Do you have an ETA on the album launch?
If all goes as planned, the album should launch in March 2020.
Anything else you want to shout out?
If anyone wants to hear my previous two albums, they can stream them on Spotify, and follow me there to be among the first to hear the new album. I’m also on Apple Music. And if they want to see pictures of this new album journey, follow me on Instagram and Twitter; my handle is @MissWatermeloni. And I’ll be playing the 2pm slot at the Bala Cranberry Festival on Saturday, October 19, if anyone wants to take in the festival and hear me play live with my trio.
Now, for the fun part of the interview. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:
What’s your favourite word? Cookie
What’s your least favourite word? Nipple
What turns you on? Love
What turns you off? Violence
What sound or noise do you love? Bubbles in a bubble bath
What sound or noise do you hate? Honking horns
What is your favourite curse word? Fuck
What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Lawyer
What profession would you not like to do? Doctor
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Did you bring your guitar?
Melanie Peterson will be heading into the studio next month to record We Got This. Check out the Indiegogo campaign and consider making a donation; there’s a lot of sweet perks on offer, plus you’ll be helping a local Toronto artist do what she does best.
New cowbells courtesy of my aunt Doreen Moore.
It’s Thanksgiving Monday here in Canada and I’ve been thinking about what I’m grateful for this year: friends, family, my colleagues at Nightwood Theatre—and you, dear reader.
I came out of hiatus in early September to cover INpulse Theatre Co’s production of Mockingbird Close at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Officially back, the cowbell blog will be operating in a reduced capacity for the next little while. Fall is a busy time for theatre companies—and, as I’m now working at a theatre company… You get the picture.
What are you grateful for this year?
It’s out, folks. I Hate Todd has officially released their YouTube video of their amazing, scary and sexy debut single “Zombie Love.”
Take a look at this rockin’ awesomeness:
Yet another reason to hate Todd. That bloody sexy zombie master.
Last week, I came across an interesting tweet from Toronto actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (recently featured in Soulpepper Theatre’s production of Ins Choi’s play Kim’s Convenience), who posted the question: “Is Theatre Really Dead?” along with a link to this hysterically funny and thought-provoking YouTube video:
And it got me thinking. I know. A dangerous thing. So please bear with me – this is a long post.
Joking aside, the ongoing debate about the state of theatre in Canada has become increasingly urgent in the face of theatre closures, funding cuts, the controversial dismissal of an artistic director by a theatre’s board, a continuing lack of diversity in casting, and the ever-present – and growing – challenge of attracting and retaining an audience.
I think theatre isn’t so much dead as going through the growing pains of transformation. This is a positive evolution. How we create and perceive theatre needs to change. Its survival depends on it.
Competition for audience has always been a big issue in a large city that has so much to offer in terms of live theatre, music and entertainment. Even the smaller theatre companies, which initially filled a void in terms of providing audiences with new, often edgier, more cutting-edge fare from lesser known and/or local playwrights – and at lower costs to the company and audience – have been facing increasing competition from other smaller companies. And all this during an economic climate that has people tightening their purse strings at the expense of things like arts and entertainment in order to pay for essentials. Some companies have attempted to remedy this challenge by partnering up with other companies, sharing infrastructure and saving on production costs.
But beyond this competition for audience is the evolving nature of the audience itself. Demographically, theatre subscribers tend to be older – with season subscriptions traditionally being accessible to those who could afford it and, perhaps more importantly, had a lifestyle that could accommodate fixing theatre attendance well in advance. Subscription packages – and theatre ticket pricing in general – have been revised in an attempt to accommodate and engage younger audiences, especially those under 30 years old, who have less discretionary income and don’t necessarily want to nail down their theatre schedule so far in advance. Still, we’re not seeing a significant increase in younger theatre-goers, so ticket prices and scheduling aren’t the only issues.
It’s no secret that theatre isn’t only in competition with other theatre for audience attention; it is in competition with other entertainment media – and, more than ever, in competition with hi-tech media. Even movie theatres and certainly video stores, which are all but extinct except for some hardy indie locations, are feeling the pinch of cheap or free, convenient access to movies afforded – legally or otherwise – by the web and services like Netflix. And competition with other media is especially strong when it comes to younger audiences, who are more tech-savvy and wired than any audience before – and at a much younger age.
Multi-media theatre productions – featuring onscreen text and/or video, multiple arts disciplines and live music on stage – are going a ways toward engaging new, and younger, audiences. But is the addition of hi-tech audio-visual elements and effects enough to draw in – and sustain – a whole new generation of audience? And how do theatres avoid alienating an existing audience that may prefer its theatre productions done up old-school, without all the “bells and whistles” of extra tech, and who come to the theatre for the comfort of an expected, classic presentation?
The socio-cultural relevance of theatre has been kept alive by women’s and children’s theatres, and companies focusing on the stories and experiences of Black, LGBT and Asian communities, as well as those that seek to produce plays of socio-political significance. In terms of “colour-blind” casting, however, most of the larger mainstream theatres are, by and large, woefully behind walking the talk. What may be an open casting policy encouraging diversity on paper is not being reflected on stage. One could also argue that there is a double standard regarding the casting of straight actors in gay roles and casting out gay actors in straight roles. Here again, it is largely the smaller niche market theatre companies that are championing the presentation of diverse stories and/or walking the walk of diversity policy in their casting process.
The good news is – it’s all storytelling. And in watching and hearing the story, each member of the audience becomes a participant in that story.
This is where theatre can distinguish itself. The experience of seeing live actors performing in a play has something that watching a story unfold on a screen does not: flesh and blood immediacy, and in-your-face emotion. And I’m not talking about live interaction with the actors here. Audience participation can be tricky at the best of times, and it’s hard to say whether an audience that is used to interacting with characters on a computer screen will take well to a live character. In any event, it can be scary to witness live emotion. But it can also be exhilarating and moving. The same intense or funny scene played out onscreen and on stage, with the same actors, differ in the sense of immediacy. In a live performance, you can experience those moments as a direct viewer, with only the audience and the edge of the stage separating you from the characters. In some cases, you can see and hear them breathe, sweat and register change of mood in a flicker. All happening in real time, with live actors right in front of you. Even the way a theatre smells is different – hints of paint, stage make-up, that smell of hot dust on a lighting instrument. Theatre is a living, breathing, organic thing.
The way we create and perceive theatre is changing. But, since theatre is a social beast, change can be slow – and dreadfully so at times. Change can also be scary, and – especially in the case of diversity in casting – that fear can stall action toward doing what is right in favour of doing what is easy. Sometimes the status quo just feels too damn comfy to give up, no matter how detrimental it might be. Isn’t it enough to simply hope that it will all work out in the end?
Experiencing a performance with other people, even in a room full of strangers, the collective energy is palpable, whether in a movie theatre or live theatre. Add to that the give and take of energy between actors during a live theatre performance – and between the actors and the audience – and you have an even more electric hum in the atmosphere. A live performance provides the kind of buzz that you just can’t get from a performance onscreen. It’s a rush unlike any other.
Maybe that’s what theatre needs to promote in order to attract new audiences. Not the cheaper tickets or mini-subscriptions or multi-media presentations. Canadian theatre needs to promote that rush, while remaining socially relevant and reflecting the faces of its people. That electric, living, breathing rush. Theatre can do this.
What do you think?
With thanks to Paul for the Twitter chat that followed his posting of the vid and my response to it.
I suppose it would have been helpful to mention this last week when I signed on – however.
So, if you haven’t noticed already, in addition to having 95% more blue, lifewithmorecowbell is now available in Twitter flavour!
Check out the Twitter feed in the right margin, just below the Archives menu. Click on the button at the bottom of the feed to follow me.