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Sunday
Feb172013

Off We Go

A quickie this time because the two women are off to the Dominican Republic for some serious R&R complete with sun and sand and beaches, snorkeling, whale watching, kayaking, bird watching and whatever else is to be found. It’s our first real trip since the health horrors of the fall. We’re about as excited as it can get.

Still, I wanted to pass along the news that the Ask No Questions tour was truly a great success. Audience numbers were up in most locations. The people of Wakefield did us proud by turning out in a mega-snow storm; the new venue at Burnstown proved highly successful; our decision to move to the intimacy of Showplace in Peterborough was confirmed. Most important of all, the show lived up to expectations. Audiences were deeply moved. Talk at the intermission was all of similar family histories. At the end, one group had to be almost shooed out the door they had so much to say to one another. “I was completely enthralled and experienced the empowerment and catharsis that derives from hearing, truly hearing/receiving a profound story about what it is to be human,” one listener wrote.

Through it all, Jennifer and I had the satisfaction of watching Jan Gregory prove once more just how much is to be gained by consecutive repeat performances. There was a continuous sense of deepening with each night. How does this deepening occur? I think it’s engendered by the fact that the more times you tell a story, the greater your chance is to live it; to feel what is really happening under all the words; to be there fully -- moment by moment -- as the events unfold. This means that parts that once seemed funny suddenly don’t any more; parts that once were serious take on a new twist. It makes space for memories and connections to come flooding – from you and from your listeners. The foundations are firmed and enriched.

I leave you with a thought to ponder. Jennifer was recently in a workshop given by Alexis Roy from Montreal. It was all about stage presence and its necessity. Somewhere along the way the talk turned to The Iliad and The Odyssey. “Ah,” said Alexis. “That’s different. When you work with the fine old classical material, presence is almost not an issue. The text and the tale carry you. They’re all that’s required.”

Off to sea and sunshine. Two women journey forth.

 

 

Friday
Jan252013

Settling In

I am a huge fan of crosswords – not the cryptics but the other kind.  I especially like the Saturday New York Times one because it always seems to have some extra level of challenge. The thing that always amazes me is how so often I don’t know the answers and don’t know the answers and then suddenly do. I’ll go to bed at night baffled and wake up in the morning to “Yeeeees!”

I’m thinking about that because I’m fascinated with the fact that sometimes the brain has to be left to its own devices. It seems to need time to head off and work out a few things for itself – quietly, without any overt interference on my part. I came on a brilliant example of that last week when I went to Kim Kilpatrick’s reprise of her one woman show Flying in the Dark. A Blind Woman’s Story (http://www.2wp.ca/flying-dark/).

Anyone who was reading this blog last year will remember the intense and difficult work Kim did to find her way to shaping the second half of the piece. I think we all knew we’d gone as far as we could when the tour began. We also knew the place we’d got to was good but not quite as good as it could be. Now, there’s the remount – by Ottawa Storytellers in its regular season venue at the Fourth Stage of the NAC.

As Kim was preparing, she wrote to me. “I just can’t do the second half the way I did it. It doesn’t seem right,” she said. Off she went on another journey. The result was truly an improvement – steadier more natural – but what caught my attention particularly was the fact that really all the previous elements were there. They had just needed time to settle and become more integrated into her being so that she could bring them forth anew. Not only that, through the process, the whole evening had become richer. The first half was almost unchanged but it came to its listeners more clearly – stronger; Kim’s voice was different, more grounded, deeper as if that was more settled too.

So there it is – a call to patience; to know that sometimes we simply have to give ourselves space. We go as far as we can. We want to go further but we have to wait, live more, before we can. I’ve always loved the following quote from Shakespeare In Love for just this reason:

Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

So what do we do?

Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

How?

I don't know. It's a mystery.

I think mystery is important. I think we have to trust its power.

At the Fourth Stage performance, Pat Holloway OST’s trusty publicity manager was heard to say, “This show has legs.” Kim is, of course, eager to be performing it widely. Contact us at http://www.2wp.ca/contact/ for more information about that. Also catch news about Kim’s doings at http://kimgia3.blogspot.com Great Things About Being Blind.

Bright, bright cold here. Winter in all its harshness and its splendour.  One of the wonders of the earth.

Jan Gregory is back with us this weekend for final touches to Ask No Questions. Watch this space.

 

Thursday
Jan172013

Letting Go

There she is in all her glory. Jan Gregory of 2wp’s next production -- Ask No Questions: Family Secrets -- sitting on our spare bed (which happens to be in Jennifer’s office), preparing herself last weekend for another day of working on the show.

What a day it proved to be. We all thought the script  was set and ready. Then, as Jan began a read-through so that we could get some better idea of timing, we all knew we were wrong. Where was the flow; the vitality we’d all anticipated and were striving for? Somehow they seemed to have disappeared. They were gone.

For a moment, we looked at one another in despair.  “Leave the script,” said Jennifer. “We’re done with that,” And we were. Jan set the pages down. She stood by the couch in our living room, a teller. She began to tell the tale. The shape she had built so carefully remained strong but the means of it were altered. Elements we’d all believed to be so satisfying quietly dropped away.  

When Jan headed back to Montreal on Sunday afternoon (minus her car’s wing mirror which had come off in a small skirmish with a tree when she’d arrived on Friday evening and followed Jennifer’s not quite appropriate instructions for entering our far too icy road)…

When Jan headed back she was smiling, knowing the time had truly come to start moving into performance mode: the time for taking what she had created more deeply into herself, for trusting the voice of it, for readying herself to speak Ask No Questions in her own inimitable way.

All this is simple for me to write but the step she had taken when she set the script down represents one of the most difficult aspects of any creative endeavour. Always and always you dream up some phrase, build some structure, detail some episode, evoke some underlying concept. Whatever it is, it seems so brilliant. It may indeed be so. Nevertheless you have to let it go.  You have to accept that it was simply a way of moving yourself forward, a part of the process – a part that will block and bind you if you persist in clinging  to it once its time has passed.

“Kill your literary darlings,” they say. Over and over, I find myself facing the necessity of that. Something like it comes up in other parts of life, of course (back to the need I mentioned in my previous blog for distinguishing between tradition and bad habits, for instance). Still, it somehow seems most  wrenching in that work I have struggled so mightily to bring forth from nothing; that work I want above all to make perfect; that work which is closest to my soul.

But, there we were in our living room and the shift had been made.  Once it had, it was as if each one of us had taken off a set of blinkers. We could see so much more clearly what had to be added and adjusted so that Jan would be enabled to carry her listeners into her family’s world. It’s a journey backwards -- first to post World War II Britain and then beyond that to the pre-War poverty of an industrial northern British town. It’s a journey that has to do with solving a mystery; a journey built of silences and teeming life.

Hoping you can join us, or perhaps find means to bring 2wp's work to where you are. Delighted to report that although it's cold today the sun is shining. The ice on the lake has tones and shades beyond describing.

Thanks for your company, Jan

 

 

Wednesday
Dec122012

Change and Growth

A stunningly beautiful day – the sun shining on the snow and ice left by yesterday’s freezing rain.  Other delights include the fact that I opened my email to find a new draft of Jan Gregory’s upcoming show, Ask No Secrets, in my in-boxThis latest version represents a huge leap forward, moving the piece from a collection of anecdotes into a fully-fledged entity with a dramatic arc to keep listeners on the edge of their seats.

The adventure takes a new turn. I’m excited. I’ve probably said it before but I can’t help repeating myself. I love this process of development, of how each teller must work to find their own path. I love it that there are no recipes. I’m enthralled at the quest of the 2 women to try to find useful pointers along the way. Jan G will be back with us this weekend. I’ll keep you posted as the developments develop. (Tickets for Ask No Questions already available)

Thinking about the work of change inherent in nurturing a show to fruition, I find myself also thinking about the place of change in all our lives. It’s such a constant – sometimes sudden, sometimes gradual; sometimes cellular, sometimes monumental -- always life-altering whether we are aware of it or not.

I’ve given my life to what in bygone days seemed eternals but have proved in recent years to be two rapidly shifting art forms.  As an author, I have to know that book publishing has become a leap-into-the-unknown business.  As a storyteller, I have to face the knowledge that, because the demographic for performance arts audiences seems to have become fairly static, we are probably in for a major upheaval down the road.

I believe I have to this take on, especially since some time ago I decided that I could not bear the process of aging if it took the form of continually looking back and claiming everything was better in the past.  With that, I made a commitment.  I decided I would do my best to remain a vital part of the world I actually live in even if it’s not the world I expected, even if there are losses of things I’ve come to love.

One of my bits of the world centres on the traditional folktale, whether I’m working as a teller or rendering the stories into versions for my readers. I’m aware that there are many who would insist we change the traditional folktales at our peril.  These voices seem important.  We need the guardians -- the gatekeepers -- to make us constantly alive to what the old stories bring us; to how precious their themes and motifs are. 

But what if we won’t also take a risk? What if we choose to leave the stories rigid, to let them languish – reflecting a life our listeners can no longer relate to because it is not the world anyone lives in any more? I ask this out of my own experience. I remember, as a kid, feeling shut out by all those fairytale princesses because they weren’t who I wanted to be. I remember being among those who needed someone to take me beyond the ethos of the Brothers Grimm – not in a way that would rob the stories of their power and wisdom but in a way that would help me make them mine.

Recently, I was caught up with other tellers in a discussion that revolved around what seemed to us the excessive anxiety of contemporary parents. I was definitely on the side of suggesting that such anxiety is unjustified but I also knew I had to admit it is very real. After all, I’ve seen it in action. I’ve felt its compelling force.

I put forward the idea that, instead of fighting it, we might try to use it to help us see fresh potentials and possible paths. Let’s take one example.  Let’s take Henny Penny. Let’s consider if it really matters whether or not there are graphic details of how all those poor foolish animals get eaten.  Let’s mull over the possibility that it might truly be enough to have them simply disappear into the fox’s cave (a solution adopted in at least one literary version I’ve seen). It might even be OK to have them rescued at the last minute as long as we make it clear that their actions have brought them into serious danger of a kind that is part of all our realities.

As usual, I have no answers but -- also, as usual, I do think these are issues with which, as storytellers, we have to be constantly engaged. I was once in a strategic planning workshop where the facilitator enjoined us to be careful to distinguish between traditions and bad habits. His caution has stuck with me. I take it out and look at it quite often in many, many aspects of my life. 

Monday
Nov262012

BACK TO THE BLOG

I know it’s been a long, long while since I last posted anything on my 2wp blog site. This is not because nothing has been going on but rather the opposite.  In fact, all too much.

 At the end of July we tootled merrily off to the Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada (SC-CC) Conference – a grand and glorious celebration of twenty years of dreaming and scheming, building and achieving, held in Montreal.  We came back to the news that I had a cancer diagnosis that required immediate attention.  Dealing with treatment has consumed most of my time and energy since.  Now we are in a period of respite. We don’t know what the future holds but we do know we have a chance to get back to our normal life again.  That means putting 2wp high on the list of things to do once more.

The first show of the season – The Wind and the Moon: Tales of Power and Passion by Stéphanie Bénéteau -- has been and gone, delighting audiences with its elegance and wit.  Also over is 2wp’s exciting contribution to Naked Narrative – the Ottawa Storytelling Festival, 2012.  To my regret, I missed all of that.

I am thrilled to bits to think I won’t be missing any more.  Next up is Jan Gregory’s show, Ask No Questions: Family Secrets. This past weekend she was with us, here at the lake, working on the script. Jennifer and I knew this was a story we wanted to help grow when we heard part of it at the SC-CC Conference.  We approached Jan very soon after that. 

 “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies,” is something I heard often, growing up in England.  England is also where Jan comes from and as we sat around our kitchen table talking our way through much of Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday I recognized a great deal in the quirks of human behaviour that shaped her youth.

But what a tale hers is – wider and deeper than I could ever have imagined, stretching through generations, bringing with it histories that could not be mentioned; silences that held the family entrapped. Layers upon layers were uncovered there, under our roof.  Births, marriages, deaths – the big, big moments came welling up  to find their place in the story’s artistic arc. 

Crucial to it all is the fact that Jan is a fine, fine writer.  Even from what she has set down so far, I feel I have lived in her family’s home with her.  I have sat with her at the top of the stairs listening to the conversations of anguished adults – conversations she wasn’t supposed to hear.  I too have been held captive by the caution, “We won’t talk about this, now will we?” “We won’t tell about what happened today.”

Jan will return for further work with us in December but already we are aware that Ask No Questions is truly going to offer 2wp audiences something special; something they absolutely will not want to miss. 

Dates for Ask No Questions are:  Perth -- February 7; Burnstown -- February 8; Peterborough --February 9; Wakefield -- February 10.  Details at: http://http://www.2wp.ca/12-13-season-venues/    Mark your calendars now.

And what of our lakeside world?  Wonder of wonders, we woke up this morning to find it had snowed overnight.  Not much but enough to change the world.  Now the sky is blue and everything sparkles.  I am reminded how beautiful winter is and how much I love it.  Indeed and indeed, I am glad to be writing.   I send forth good wishes to all.

Jan Gregory. Coming to 2wp in the New Year