What’s Your Dream Job?

I had the incredible luck this past week to have a blog post handed (read: e-mailed) to me, fully formed and ready for posting, from one of my colleagues at NUOVA. The following was written by Indra Egan, who was also featured in my post on the Collaborative Pianist Program, and I think it’s absolutely beautiful.

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Photo also supplied by Indra–because she’s a real doll.

“Tilt your chin down just a little, and a little to the side, now look up at me . . . perfect.”

In a recent photoshoot for my newest set of headshots, I was doing my best to look empowered, fiery and passionate without looking downright angry. It was no easy task. My struggle was evident to my photographer, whose keen eyes missed nothing. He decided to pull out the famous photoshoot small talk, ie. the chat to make you look less constipated. So he asked a few questions about what the shots were for, where I studied, and what I did. Though intensely focused on his work, he seemed genuinely interested. He was relatively new to learning about the world of collaborative piano; it’s not exactly the first profession that comes to mind for most when they think ‘musician’, or even ‘pianist’.

“So you play for singers, eh? Very cool. What’s your dream job?”

It was a simple question, intended to get me to open up and trust him so I’d relax my face and he could get better shots. He probably hoped my eyes would sparkle and open wider with the excitement of talking about my passion. And at first, that’s exactly what happened.

At the words “dream job”, my mind immediately went to opera, and from there, straight to the Met. (Because obviously, the Metropolitan is the best company in the world.) I eagerly began to describe a life in which I worked for the Met as a repetiteur, helping Natalie Dessay and Jonas Kauffman prepare for some of the greatest roles ever written for singers. This had to be my dream job. The highest level of collaborative piano was collaborating with the highest calibre of artists, right? But if this were truly my dream job, then why were all my sentences trailing off?

A volume of Schubert Lieder flashed before my eyes as I thought, but what about art song? I can’t live a life of only opera, as much as I love it. And though I loved repetiteuring, where was the performance element? So I altered my vision a little. I’d be performing in different halls, perhaps Carnegie and the Kennedy Center, in equal partnership with Renee Fleming and – did I dare dream it? – my idol, Joyce DiDonato. And why stop at American halls? We’d tour the world. Europe, Australia, probably some sort of high end sushi bars in Japan with live art song and sake. I was excited to think about how much better my performances of Erlkönig would be in 10 years – the amount of time, I assumed, it would take for all this to come about. I sighed dreamily as I imagined performing Poulenc sets in Paris with the greatest voices of our generation. Yes, throw in a few opera aria concerts to satisfy that side of my passion, and we’d found my dream job.

I opened my mouth to answer, but paused once more. Another image struck me, but it was neither a score nor an opera house. It was a tiny baby, a little girl, wrapped in a warm blanket and cradled in my arms, watching my face with big, curious blue eyes. The scene changed as her father and I watched her playing outside with her brother, her sunburnt face set with a fierce, tomboyish independence that was comically contrasting from her little brother’s fear of messing up his blonde curls. In the evenings, I played the piano not to practice, not to learn repertoire, not to prepare for someone else, but for the sole reason that the children and their father loved to sit on the couch with our dog and listen to me play until they felt sleepy. I’d always wanted a family of my own. I couldn’t tour the world, or even work in New York City, and at the same time create the home I had envisioned for the nonexistent children I already loved.

I was starting to feel frantic now. I took so much pride in being one of the few young adults who actually knew what they wanted to do with their life. Not only was my major also my life’s passion, but I had found a specialty in my field that I loved. And yet here I was, finding myself unable to choose even the imaginary dream job I’d ask for if a genie came along and offered to grant it. Why was I pursuing collaborative piano at all, then, if I had no idea of how or when I would use it?

The answer came to me quickly and in a cliche as I realized: I didn’t have a dream job. And that was okay. Because suddenly, I knew exactly why I was pursuing collaborative piano: it was because I wanted to be a collaborative pianist. And whether that meant I was coaching Elina Garanca on the Seguidille, teaching an Intermediate masterclass in my hometown, performing in recital with Joyce DiDonato in Berlin, accompanying at a local music festival, or vocal coaching at a university, it was all part of it, and the possibilities were endless. Because being a collaborative pianist – or any musician, really – isn’t a position, or a job. It’s who you are, it’s what you make of it, and best of all, it’s ever changing. That’s the beauty in the life of a musician – if you’re up for it. You can chase your dreams of travel and big cities as long as you choose, but if it’s what you want and you feel the time is right, you also have the freedom to find someone you love, settle down, share your music and experiences in other ways, make a beautiful little person, wrap her in a blanket, and cradle her in your arms.

Collaborative Pianist Program

There’s a side to the NUOVA training program and festival that not many people know much about, but everybody hears and is thankful for. Alongside the singers, there is the collaborative pianist program. This year we have 9 accompanists from across the country, who study primarily under the leadership of Michael McMahon—the head of that side of the program, who has been a part of Opera NUOVA since the very beginning, and is an amazing pianist and coach for both singers and instrumentalists (and yes, I’m most definitely sucking up right now, but trust me—he’s worth it!).

The pianists in the collaborative pianist program are, like the singers, emerging artists in their field. Many are in the middle of, or have recently completed, their undergraduate degrees, some have their masters, others (ahem, Chris) have yet to start university; all of them are amazing assets to the singers in the program. They play for concerts, masterclasses, rehearsals, and then for the mainstage productions of the program. This past week, I sat down with my friends Chris (who is playing for “Parade”) and Indra (playing for “La Boheme”) to ask about what their side of Opera NUOVA looks like.

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Photo courtesy of Indra Egan

Q: So what, exactly, is the collaborative pianist program all about?

Chris: It encompasses everything, really. You can be working with instrumentalists, you can be working with singers; you can work with one person, you can work with fifty.

Indra: [It’s] an opportunity to learn how to work in a professional situation. Unlike a pro setting, you aren’t expected to know everything. It’s a learning experience. It’s like all of NUOVA—not just opera, but art song and different styles of music.

 

Q: What brought you both here for the program?

Chris: (Author’s interjection: Chris was not very forthcoming with answers that day). My mom showed me the audition notice, and so I was just like “eh, why not?” And when I got in I figured, “well, I guess I’m doing this.”

Indra: I have a passion for opera, and have previously worked in musical theatre… I eventually want to focus more on opera, and Opera NUOVA gives you more experience in opera, so it’s a good stepping stone.

 

Q: What has been your favourite part of the past three weeks?

Indra: There are so many aspects of NUOVA that I love, but hands down, my favourite part of the program is the people. I have loved getting the opportunity to work with so many new teachers and coaches. They are so generous with their time and their feedback and each and every one genuinely cares about the students. I’ve been so impressed at how quickly they learned all of our names – even I’m still working on that! And to meet so many fellow artists who are passionate about opera and musical theatre, who are driven and goal oriented, who love what they do and perform at such a high calibre. Every single musician communicates differently and brings something new to the table; it’s been an incredible experience to see so many interpretations and ways of approaching the art form.

 

Q: What are you most looking forward to in the last three weeks of the program?

Indra: I am excited to build upon the new information I’ve been sponging up. I’m enormously excited to see La Boheme make it to the stage, and of course I can’t wait to see my talented friends in our other two upcoming NUOVA productions, I Capuleti e Montecchi (I #belcanteven) and Parade (I’m a bit of a JRB junkie). We also have a beautiful Italian art song concert coming up – we’re going to, as Michael McMahon would say, pour some high quality olive oil all over it. We’ve got other musical theatre and aria shows to share as well. So much music in store for these next few weeks! But of course we do, right? It’s the music that brought us here together, after all.

 

Q: Alright, a couple fun getting-to-know-you questions. If you were a character from “Friends,” which one would you be?

Indra: Phoebe. Super weird and quirky; sometimes unintentionally funny.

Chris: Unfortunately, I’m a Ross.

 

Q: And finally, if you were an animal, what animal would you be?

Indra: Something with 10 fingers, so I could still play the piano—like one of those chimpanzees at the circus.

Chris: I’d be a piano (Author’s interjection: he is most definitely going to regret saying that, now that it’s going online).

Indra: You would be a…what’s his name? Timon, from “The Lion King.” A meerkat.

 

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Photo courtesy of Indra Egan

 

Coming up this week at NUOVA:

Bellini’s “I Capuletti e I Montecchi” will be performed at the Oasis Centre, Wednesday, June 15th and Friday, June 17th at 7:30pm

Picnic in the Park–an afternoon concert held on the patio of Festival Place, in Sherwood Park–will be on Saturday, June 18th at 4:30pm

Musica di Mezzogiorni–a midday concert of Italian art songs–will be at the Cosmopolitan Music Society on Sunday, June 19th at 3pm

Public Masterclass with Ben Butterfield and Michael McMahon (yes, the Michael McMahon I mentioned earlier in this post) on Sunday, June 19th at 7pm

For more information on these events and how to purchase tickets, visit the Opera NUOVA website

Upcoming: June 10-17

We’ve had a busy and productive couple of weeks so far at NUOVA, but life is about to get even busier… This weekend is the opening of our first full-scale show of the season: Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers,” which is happening at the Capitol Theatre in Fort Edmonton Park.

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This show plays at 7:30pm this Friday and Saturday (that’s June 10 and 11), and should be A LOT of fun.

On Sunday, June 12, we have two different events happening. Our first annual “Mittag Musik”–a concert of German art songs–happens at 3pm at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (this is what used to be known as the German “song soiree”), and then we have another public masterclass at 7pm in the atrium of Kings University. These masterclasses are a great chance to see what the voices and coachings are like behind the scenes at NUOVA.

Our second full production happens at the end of next week. “I Capuleti e I Montecchi” is a Bellini opera based on the classic legend of Romeo and Juliet–it has similarities with the Shakespeare play, but the story is actually older than that. It plays at the Oasis Centre on June 15th and 17th.

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As you can see, NUOVA keeps us incredibly busy with classes, rehearsals and performances. For more information on events and ticket sales, visit the Opera NUOVA website .

Next week, I’ll be putting together a special post on the collaborative pianist side of NUOVA, and the brilliant musicians all us singers are working with.

A Safe Space

Close to the beginning of last year’s opera and musical theatre six-week program, I had an incredible personal challenge arise. Someone I cared about was brought to hospital, where he spent the next four weeks.

After that first full night in the emergency department, I had my dad drive me to King’s University to continue with my day of NUOVA. Now, my brain by that point was totally fried. Not only had my entire life been shaken up from what it once was, and the future suddenly made very uncertain, but I also had not eaten or slept since I arrived at the hospital 8 hours earlier, so going back for my 11 o’ clock dance class was not an entirely conscious or logical decision. My parents had just asked, “What do you want to do?” and I replied, “I guess I’ll go to NUOVA.”

Thank goodness I did.

That first day was so hard. I talked to Kim right after I got to the college, as I knew this would be a struggle and really needed for her to be on board for me, “just in case.” Her guidance was so sound and so needed as I sat and sobbed, not knowing how I would get through any of it. She told me to let myself focus on my work, and focus on being there at NUOVA in that moment. She said to worry about visiting the hospital when I had time, but that they would take care of him there, so it was my job to look out for myself in the meantime. She told me that the universe does not throw things at you that you cannot handle, and she was sure I would be able to manage.

After a hug and some calming breaths, I headed off to dance class. The whole day was interrupted by me having to sneak out into the hallway for a quick cry and some deep breathing, but slowly it got a little bit easier, and I made it through… And then slept really well that night.

Among artists, emotions are so accepted and encouraged, and over the next six weeks I often felt like I was being held up by all of the hands of the people around me who cared about me and wanted to support me—even though many of them were not aware of exactly what I was going through. I revealed my story, bit by bit, as I felt I needed to. First to Kim and the administrative staff, then to a couple of the teachers and directors, and then to a core group of my peers. Everyone was open and supportive of my vulnerability, and was accepting of my calling on them for support. It was always safe for me to break down and cry as I sang songs that had taken on a whole new meaning for me—as I often did in masterclasses, private voice lessons, or by myself in the practice studios. NUOVA was a safe space for me. A very healing place. A place where I could be distracted from or consumed by what was happening, depending on what I needed.

Tonight* I had an unexpected breakdown during a masterclass upon hearing a song that has a lot of extremely emotional context for me at this time in my life. I had to slip out of the room and head to the nearest bathroom so as not to disturb my neighbours trying to enjoy the coaching of the fabulous Brent Carver (and believe me—I felt so bad for having to miss anything he said, he’s brilliant!). Afterwards, in the midst of the congratulations and hugs that were going around, I had moments of sharing bits of my sadness with people and having them accept it and support me with open arms—literally, hugs everywhere!

Keep in mind that this is only four days into the program. I know some people better than others, but they were all willing to hold me and say nice things in my ear and wish me well. It was actually really amazing.

And you know what? It’s not just NUOVA. Artists helping artists cope with grief, trauma, tragedy, and heavy emotions is something that happens all over. Even if the stereotype of “artists are so emotional and sensitive” does not ring true for everyone, you do find among artists a large amount of people who are that way, or who, at the very least, know how to be receptive to others who are, as that does tend to be a part of the world and the work that we do. And it’s something I am incredibly grateful for.

Art is healing—for artist and audience alike. It helps us process and purge emotions, and brings joy and excitement to our lives; it provides a safe space for those who are “different” or “outcast.” Art may not be the be-all-and-end-all answer to life, the universe, and everything, but it’s certainly one of the closest things we have.

 

 

*The time of this writing is 10pm on Tuesday night (last minute, I know—but that’s what NUOVA does to a person)

Post-Show Blues and Pre-Show Jitters

Well, “City of Angels” has closed, and in just a few days we will embark on the six-week journey that is NUOVA. What that means for me is letting go of one character, one cast, one phase of life, and moving on to another… And moving on is hard.

Post-Show Blues

There’s this thing that happens when you’ve wrapped a show where you spend the next few days wandering through life a bit aimlessly. So much of your time and energy has been wrapped up in the production that life without it seems a little… empty.

I’ve gotten better at dealing with this post-show slump as I’ve gotten older and moved on past more productions. My first few mainstage musicals in junior high and high school were the hardest. I had never put so much work into projects before, and never felt the tight bond of theatre that ties people intimately together for the period of a few weeks or months. Back then, when shows ended, I was practically traumatized. I would see someone at school the next day, and we would be quiet and a little awkward around each other—nothing like the camaraderie of the show. Some friendships lasted, of course, but those that didn’t I found nearly impossible to let go of. I had many little broken hearts throughout high school—all from having to say “goodbye” to these magical experiences that I had just started to become a part of.

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Myself and the rest of Fagin’s gang in the 2007 Citadel Production of “Oliver!”–one of the first major shows I was a part of. (Bonus points if you can figure out which one I am)

I’ve never been good at letting go, and this has proven to be a challenge for me in the theatre world, where gigs and the spaces between them ebb and flow through my life. Some closing nights are harder than others, but I’ve started to see that I always find a way to bounce back afterwards.

Of course, there are some nice things about being “free” of a show—including having time to catch up with the people (and by “people,” I mean “TV shows”) that you haven’t had time for in the past however-many-weeks. However, I spend most of my time in the week post-show pacing around my house sighing and exclaiming “ennui!” until someone gets sick of me and says, “Erin, go for a walk or something!”

Eventually the monotony passes, and you either get used to being show-less for a while or, as is the case for me this time, you move on to the next gig.

Which brings me to…

Pre-Show Jitters

I’ve been performing for a large portion of my life so far, and I gotta tell ya—I still get butterflies in my stomach before going on stage. Pretty much every time, in fact. They’ve gotten less vehement over the years, and I’ve learned to deal with them better, but those good ol’ pre-show jitters are still hanging around whenever I have to get up in front of an audience (or audition panel, or group of peers).

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Me: fabulous and nervous before going on stage

When I mentioned the theme of this post to my dad, he was quick to point out that pre-show jitters and stage fright hearken back to our basic fight or flight instincts—otherwise known as “how our cavemen ancestors dealt with being attacked.” Now, going on stage is not quite the same as being charged by a woolly mammoth, but the instinct still applies. In fact, it comes from the feeling of being separated from the group—an unsafe feeling if you rely on a pack or family grouping to keep you safe. Getting up in front of a crowd, no matter the size, releases stress hormones into our bodies, and our brain communicates with the nervous system to create a physical reaction (sweaty palms, churning stomach, hyper-ventilation, etc.).

Heading into NUOVA, I definitely have some nervous jitters. Even though I’ve done the program before, this year will, understandably, be a whole new experience; a new role, new people, and some changes in the overall program will keep me on my toes. I’m immensely excited, but I can’t help but have a bit of that first-day-of-Kindergarten feeling of “Oh, I hope I do well! I hope people like me! I hope everyone has a good time!”

But you know what? I love this feeling—the anticipation, the adrenaline, the nerves… It’s the feeling of taking a risk and doing something exceptional and interesting with my life. I’m pretty sure we performers are all junkies for this kind of adrenaline high. That’s why, even through the nerves, we do shows again and again and again. It makes life worthwhile, and I think we’re all suckers for new experiences—especially the scary ones!

Exploring Edmonton-Downtown

In order to give NUOVA-ites an idea of what Edmonton has to offer, I’ve compiled a list of some of my personal favourite areas, stores, and restaurants in the city. Last week I covered Whyte Ave, so this week I’ll be focusing on downtown.

Now, downtown Edmonton covers a pretty wide area, so I’ve separated it into three segments: Churchill Square and area, 104th St, and 124th St, with a few places spread out in between.

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Churchill Square

Churchill Square is right in the heart of downtown. It is the home of plenty of outdoor events and activities, including public movie nights, art festivals, and the awesome wading pool-slash-fountain in front of City Hall.

Here are some of my Churchill Square and area highlights:

  1. Three Bananas café: This place is across the square from city hall, and has amazing lattes, pizzas, salads, etc., and is a nice place to sit and hang out
  2. Tix on the Square: not just a place to buy tickets for many of the events across the city—they also sell gifts, CDs, and artwork from local artists
  3. Citadel Theatre: one of the foremost professional theatres in town, they actually have three different theatre spaces within the building, which has also been made into a cool public space to wander through—complete with a Second Cup
  4. Stanley A Milner Library: the downtown branch of the Edmonton Public Library system, it’s a great resource for books, movies, CDs, and music books
  5. Art Gallery of Alberta: to the east of city hall lies are newly-renovated art gallery—a gorgeous building with, of course, an amazing selection of artwork
  6. Woodwork: this is one of my new favourite drinking spots. Although it’s more expensive than what I usually would recommend, it’s worth trying at least once.

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http://4thstpromenade.ca/

104th St, just a short walk from Churchill Square, is great couple of blocks lined with shops and restaurants, and decorated with an old-school kind of charm.

104th St Picks:

  1. Blue Plate Diner: one of my family’s favourite brunch places, with an eclectic vibe and art lining all of the walls
  2. Credo: an extremely popular coffee shop, but worth the line up
  3. Evoolution: this is kind of a funny pick, as it’s a store that sells pretty much exclusively different flavours of oil and vinegar, but it is definitely worth checking out, if only to sample (if I remember correctly, they provide bread for dipping)
  4. 104th St Farmer’s Market: this happens every Saturday from 9am-3pm, and has a terrific selection of local produce and other products. They also select fabulous buskers to play in the central area

Really, 104th is worth just wandering along from Jasper Ave to 104 Ave. There are a lot of restaurants I haven’t mentioned (many of which I haven’t found time to sample yet), that have all gotten brilliant reviews in the past few years.

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My family outside of Tiramisu on 124th St

http://www.124street.ca/

124st is where I’m currently living, and it’s a pretty fantastic neighbourhood, especially in the summer. Here are my picks (again, there are a lot that I’ve missed):

  1. Acquired Taste Tea Company: this is my favourite place for loose leaf tea and accoutrements. They’re friendly, and the tea selection is fantastic.
  2. Urban Diner: There are two locations in Edmonton—one is up from Whyte Ave on 109 St—but this is the original, and it’s my favourite. An amazing place for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. My favourite selections are the fried egg sandwich for brunch (even if you’re not an egg person, this sandwich is killer), and the grilled cheese or mac and cheese for supper.
  3. The Tea Girl: their tea selection is similar to Acquired Taste (in fact, I’m fairly certain they have some of the exact same combinations), but they also do a “dine in” sort of deal, where you can sit down and have a drink and a bite to eat.
  4. Tiramisu: great spot for lunch and dinner—their flavoured chai lattes and red tea lattes are amazing, as is the goat cheese open-face panini
  5. Duchess Bakery: it tends to be very busy, but the desserts are some of the best in the city
  6. 124th St Farmer’s Market: this one happens on Thursdays from 4-8pm (just in case you can’t make the downtown market on Saturdays)

Another reason to explore 124th St is for all of the art galleries. From 102nd Ave to about 107th, you can stroll past windows of amazing local art—it takes me forever to get past that stretch of street, because I like wandering slowly and letting myself be distracted by the art that catches my eye.

A couple of other places to check out:

  1. Famoso: awesome Italian-style thin crust pizza. They have a location on Jasper Ave, as well as along Whyte Ave
  2. Beer Revolution: this place is in Oliver Square-area on 104 Ave, and they have a wicked selection of craft beer and really unique delicious pizza
  3. Brewsters: right across the parking lot from Beer Rev, this place has another amazing beer selection, crafted on site (I suggest the raspberry ale), and cheap wings on Wednesdays
  4. Louisiana Purchase: great Cajun-style food and a cool New Orleans vibe. Definitely try any of their jambalayas
  5. Audrey’s Books: my favourite local bookstore, located on Jasper Ave and 107St

I look forward to meeting all my fellow NUOVA-ites in Edmonton in just a couple of weeks, and I hope you get a chance to check out the city, at least a little bit.

Next week, I’ll be addressing post-show blues and pre-show jitters–including that silly fight-or-flight instinct that kicks in before getting up on stage.

Exploring Edmonton-Whyte Ave

Although the NUOVA training program is only six weeks long, and Mondays are our only day off (if we’re lucky), I still think everyone should take the chance to get to know Edmonton while they’re here. So, I’ve come up with a few—very biased—suggestions of great places to check out in a few of my favourite neighbourhoods.

First off, Whyte Avenue, aka 82nd Ave, more popularly known as simply Whyte Ave. This is a favourite street in the Garneau, or Old Strathcona, district of Edmonton. There are some historical buildings, on and just off of the main drag; plenty of theatre venues; lots of shopping—clothes, memorabilia, gifts, books, vintage stuff, you name it; and plenty of cool restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.

So, without further ado, here are a few of my picks for exploring Whyte Ave:

Shopping

  1. Long and McQuade: Whyte Ave has a couple of music stores, but L & M is the biggest, and has an awesome selection of instruments and sheet music—so, clearly a must for NUOVA-ites.
  2. Lillo’s Music: right next to Long and McQuade, it’s much smaller, and doesn’t have the same selection, but it’s still worth checking out, for a couple important reasons—it’s been around for over 50 years, and it’s LOCALLY OWNED (you’ll hear these words a lot from me—I’m a local-loving gal). Their website can tell you more about them then I can: http://50years.lillosmusic.com/
  3. Blackbyrd Myoozik: my brother would never forgive me if I didn’t mention one of his favourite record stores (yes, I do mean legit vinyl, and yes, we do actually play them on a record player). So, in his words, “it’s got all the stuff I like.”
  4. The Junque Cellar: a very cool basement store, just downstairs from Blackbyrd, with vintage clothing, games, furniture, jewellery books, etc. Awesome to just stroll through, whether or not you buy anything (although a handful of ginger chews won’t break the bank)

 

Eating/Drinking

  1. The Next Act Pub: located a block away from the Walterdale Theatre and the Trans Alta Arts Barns, this is a favourite for local actors, artists, and art-lovers. They have a fairly good selection of local beer (Alleykat Brewery’s “Aprikat” is my personal favourite), and pretty amazing food (seriously, everything is good, but I always get their house salad…which is especially funny, because I’m a French fry girl to the core)
  2. Da-De-O’s: a cool, speakeasy-style diner and bar with a solid drink and food selection (including $12 Po’Boys on Mondays and Tuesdays!) and a neat New Orleans artsy vibe.
  3. Remedy Café: located just up from Whyte Ave along 109th St, this is a cool, comfortable café, famous for their multiple varieties of chai.
  4. Transcend Coffee: right across from Remedy is another amazing coffee shop. They can be pretty busy, but they have a great selection of coffees and tea lattes.

 

Other

Whyte Ave is really just a fabulous area to wander around—I’ve only mentioned a small portion of the stores, restaurants, cafes, and sights that you can find. It’s worth starting at one end (maybe after a coffee at Transcend or a chai latte at Remedy) and then walking along, hopping in and out of stores as you go.

Also definitely worth mentioning is the High Level Bridge Streetcar! They use classic streetcars from the beginning of the 20th century, and run on the tracks from behind the Arts Barns to the other side of the river. You can get a two-way ticket for only $5, and it’s an incredibly cool trip, with some amazing views of our city.

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Check out http://www.edmonton-radial-railway.ab.ca/highlevelbridge/ for more info.

 

So that’s my list of Whyte Ave “things.” Next week, we move closer to [my] home, and I’ll cover my downtown picks from Churchill Square to 124th St.

If you have any suggestions for additions to this piece, or for my next bit on downtown, feel free to comment. It would be a shame for 60 artists (and a dozen+ teachers) to come to Edmonton and not get a feel for the city!

Boredom

Last week, I conned my boss (aka “mom”) into giving me a day off. I spent the day doing script and music work for “Parade” and my other NUOVA assignments, going over a couple of scenes from “City of Angels,” and practising doing pin curls in my hair.

As odd as that may sound, I really don’t think it’s that much of an anomaly for artists. We spend our “downtime” working on our art, occasionally attempting to master an old-school make-up or hair technique, making costumes, props, or set pieces, or, for those of us who are clearly dead-set against free time, we pick up more classes and hobbies.

But you know what? As helpful as all of those things are, and as much as I persist in doing them, I don’t know if doing more things is always the path to artistic enlightenment (or whatever it is we’re trying to achieve by cramming more and more art into our lives). I know that last week I mentioned how I prefer being busy to the alternative—by which I mean the deathly throes of boredom—but I’m aware that this isn’t always the best solution in the act of creation (seeing as I’m writing this draft at midnight on a weeknight, I think I can safely warn you that it’s just going to get flakier from here, folks.)

In fact, I’ll go back to my favourite artistic guide that I quoted not too long ago: “Steal Like an Artist,” by Austin Kleon. A few chapters after the one where he talks about hobbies (which I quoted in this post), he has a chapter entitled “Be Boring (It’s the only way to get work done).” Which I mostly like because it validates how I feel when I don’t have any gigs on the go, and I’m left sitting around my house going, “Well now what?” Sometimes it’s in those quiet no-projects-on-the-go times when you come up with your best ideas, and get some really fabulous work done.

A couple of years ago, I spent the summer living in Wells, British Columbia, and working in Barkerville—a historic gold mining town-turned-tourist attraction in the middle of nowhere. I wandered the streets all day, doing scenes, guiding tours, and chatting with tourists, all the while dressed as an 1860s hurdy-gurdy girl (complete with genuine hurdy-gurdy, no less).

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It was a pretty amazing experience for the five months we spent on contract up there, but I have to say my favourite experiences generally had little to do with the time I spent working the streets of the historic town (sorry Mark)… although I have plenty of entertaining memories from that too: walking up and down the street in the pouring rain, leaving an obvious ring around my skirt where the umbrella couldn’t cover; playing the hurdy-gurdy for fascinated children (and their parents as well); and even, during the Arts Wells music festival, running into Fred Penner on the street, and advising him where he could purchase some ice cream… I wish I had gotten a picture of the two of us, but unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to admit to the existence of camera phones, much less have one on my person.

So yes, “working the street” was fun, but what was even better was spending the entire summer in an isolated artistic community. I don’t know how many times I was informed that Wells has the largest number of artists per capita in the whole country—I mean, practically everyone there is an artist! (Except perhaps a few stingy minors).

A lot of amazing work has come out of Wells. The people there like to brag about being the birthplace of “One Man Star Wars,” but that’s only one of the amazing performance pieces that have come out of the town. In my single summer there, I got to witness at least four one man [/woman] shows, multiple cabarets (most of which I ended up being a part of), and the musical productions put on at the Theatre Royal within Barkerville. The town also has at least three art galleries. All of this for a population of about 200 during the off-season (400 over the summer).

The general theory is that, since they’re so isolated and tend to be snowed in for half the year, there’s nothing left to do but… Create.

Even during the five months I was there that one summer, I could practically feel creative energy bubbling through the place. I would spend one of my days off doing practical things—getting groceries from the nearby town of Quesnel, calling my parents while there to check in (Wells doesn’t have service for cell phones), and cleaning the basement suite I was sharing with my boyfriend—but the second day, when I had the house to myself, I would write. Write, write, write. I wrote my first 30 000 word story there in one month (as a primer for NaNoWriMo the following November). And then, when I was tired of writing, I would sing. I would solidify my repertoire, learn new stuff, practise choreography for when I was going to perform “When You Got It, Flaunt It” for the cabaret. Then, when I was tired of singing, I would wander down to the convenience store for an ice cream cone, and come back to the house to watch “Gilmore Girls” on DVD.

One of my absolute fondest memories of my time in Wells was getting my street performer friends together, and the five of us learning Rajaton’s “Butterfly.” It was really the epitome of my time there that summer, and such a sweet time of artistic collaboration with really close friends. It’s not a feeling that comes around all the time—when you are with the perfect group of people, stringing together such a lovely line of sounds, and you find life so blissful and artistically fulfilling that you hardly breathe for fear of ruining it—but when that feeling comes, you try to hang on as long as possible, because you know how rare and beautiful it is.

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That was what Wells gave to me. A summer of freedom, where I could get some breathing room from “normal life,” and spend some time creating and collaborating.

Sometimes art, or ideas for art, need some time and space in order to sink in. Although I’ve often seen boredom as my arch-nemesis, sometimes that’s what it takes to get your creative juices flowing. In fact, the last time that I worked on my one-woman musical version of “Wuthering Heights” was back in January, before rehearsals started for City of Angels, and before I had repertoire work to do for NUOVA… Not that the project is ever leaving the ground, but it was nice to fiddle around with for a while…

I think nowadays we all need to take it a little easier on ourselves when we feel we have “nothing going on,” and take advantage of that time to let inspiration seep in. Often you won’t even notice it happening until you start feeling busy again, and realize how sweet that time of “boredom” really was.

Upcoming Events!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have had a heck of a week. Getting into the final weeks of rehearsal for a show here in Edmonton, preparing plenty of material for NUOVA, and a few major life changes have left me feeling just a wee bit drained.

Not that I can complain, really. I know what I’ve signed on for, and frankly I far prefer busy-ness and stress to the alternative—boredom does not become me. I think many artists feel the same.

However, the SHOW MUST GO ON. Therefore, I have a couple of things to plug that are coming up in the next month pre-NUOVA, because although we could go on without an audience, it sure wouldn’t be as much fun.

First off, Opera NUOVA is hosting a live Grease: Sing-A-Long! That’s right: real actors from the University of Alberta BFA Acting program perform the show, and you get to join them—it’s awesome!

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A year and a half ago, NUOVA did the same thing with “The Phantom of the Opera,” which I got to be a part of, and it was a lot of fun. People came dressed up and ready to sing, and there was also a silent auction with some neat NUOVA- and Phantom-themed items.

Here’s a photo from the dress rehearsal of that show:

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I hear this year there will even be audience choreography—so come prepared to sing and move. Here’s the website for more info: NUOVA Does Grease

My second plug is a bit more self-serving; I’ll be performing in ELOPE Musical Theatre’s City of Angels coming up in May (the 5th-14th, to be precise). It’s a great film noir-esque musical set in a Hollywood of the 1940s. No big deal, but I enter for my first scene in a white velvet jumpsuit—it is an absolute dream come true, seriously, I’m just like Barbara Stanwyck in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

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Barbara Stanwyck… Not me, unfortunately

Tickets for both of these shows can be found at Tix on the Square, so in case you’re getting as amped up about NUOVA as I am, there are a few things going on in this city in the meantime to keep your performance quota up. Under 5 weeks to go!

When Passion Becomes Commitment

Hah! I caught you with the juicy title, didn’t I? I am not, however, talking about relationships. At least, not relationships with other people. I’m speaking in terms of an artist’s commitment to their art, and when something you love doing as a hobby becomes more than that, and starts involving pressure and expectations and—you guessed it—commitment.

I can’t remember the exact moment when this whole singing-acting-dancing thing stopped being something that I did “just for fun,” and became something that I was going to commit my life to pursuing. I do remember the mounting pressure of in-school auditions throughout high school, and the desperation to be a soloist in jazz choir, but those things still seemed like hobbies to me until sometime during grade twelve. Around December and January of my last year of high school, something changed. I think it was the pressure to suddenly decide what I was going to do with my life, and then what college I was going to go to in order to achieve that goal.

Maybe it was because I got lucky throughout my years of junior high and high school, but up until college auditions, I had never experienced major rejection. Sure, I was given a couple of smaller roles in the mainstage shows for grade nine and ten, but I had also gotten several fulfilling solos in jazz choir, and by grade twelve played the leading role of Betty Haynes in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

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Not to brag, but that guy next to me is on Broadway right now, and the girl on the other side of him is kickin’ it in Toronto

Then college auditions happened. The very first one I went on, which happened to be for the school that I thought I wanted the most, I was rejected. Right out of the gate. No callback, no real critique, nothing. A quick “thanks for coming out, but it’ll be a ‘no’ for this year.”

A “no” for “this year?!” What did that even mean? There was only this year! This was my one shot!

Needless to say, it crushed my spirit a little… Or perhaps a lot.

After that, I did a couple more auditions, and didn’t hear anything until way to close to graduation for my liking. Fortunately, at that point, the answer was a “yes” from CCPA—my second choice, and what turned out to be a truly amazing program and life experience.

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However, this post isn’t really about me going through my first major rejection. Although it’s something that we all go through, and you may never get used to it, it generally doesn’t crush your spirit quite so heavily after that first time (sing it with me: “The first cut is the deepest…”).

What I’m really getting to is that I’ve found one very important solution for handling rejection. It has to do with not focusing all of your self-worth on the talent you are trying to turn into a career.

See, I think people are very lucky if they are able to make a life for themselves around something they love, which is something that a lot of artists are doing. Whether you manage to support yourself financially off of your art is not so much the point, but your commitment to it definitely is. The only problem is that with commitment comes pressure, and with pressure comes the feeling that your worth as a human being is dependent on getting the roles, the standing ovations, the brilliant reviews, the performances at bigger and better venues, the money, the fame… It’s exhausting, and very difficult to talk yourself out of. Even if you know there’s more to yourself than “Jane Doe the Singer,” a small piece of your heart will always feel like there’s something you have to prove to yourself and to others.

But here’s my trick: if you’ve committed one part of your artistic pursuits to working steadily and at a high professional standard, find another part to keep precious as a hobby.

Of course, sometimes you plan on something being “just a hobby,” but then it starts to take off, or you end up committed to a project where that downtime becomes something you must be more committed to. I managed to that with my writing hobby when I started this blog (not that I’m complaining). If this is the case, I say pick up another hobby! Yes, with all of the copious amounts of spare time us artists have (hah!), why not try another artistic, academic, or even physical pursuit?

For example, I like to keep a lot of materials for visual art on my kitchen table/writing desk. I am not a very technical painter, but I keep a handful of small canvases from the dollar store on hand, just in case I get the urge to throw around some acrylics, and I love working with watercolours—everything looks pretty in watercolour paint (mostly).

I also take the occasional aerial trapeze/hoop course with Firefly Theatre here in Edmonton… But now I’m just bragging…

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Gosh, Erin, you big braggart.

In a funny coincidence, there’s this book that I got for Christmas, called Steal Like an Artist, written by Austin Kleon. It’s a brilliant little book that I’m actually reading for the second time right now, but what’s funny is that while I was in the middle of writing this blog I flipped to the chapter called “Side Projects and Hobbies are Important.” Needless to say, Austin and I have some philosophies in common:

“It’s so important to have a hobby. A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or get famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy. A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take. While my art is for the world to see, music is only for me and my friends. We get together every Sunday and make noise for a couple of hours. No pressure, no plans. It’s regenerative. It’s like church.”

I think it’s a good idea to keep some of your art and some of your hobbies just for you. Art you can have fun with that has no one’s expectations attached to it. Something precious and semi-private and, above all, enjoyable.