I’m supporting Mel Norton because I care about my children’s future.

Ive never done this before. I’m not a political animal even though I keenly follow politics. Perhaps what I mean to say is that I have never subscribed to the kind of political tribalism that dictates I must support candidate ‘x’ because they fly a flag of a particular color. I don’t have much patience with a mindset that states unequivocally, ‘My party is always right, and everyone else is the enemy.’ I have voted for both major parties federally and provincially and have always based my decision on the quality of the candidate and the particular policy needs of the day.

This is why I have, for the first time in my life, decided to register as a card carrying delegate to a political party in order to be able to vote for Mel Norton for leader of the provincial PC party. My personal admiration for Mel, combined with my firm belief in his abilities to negotiate positive changes for our province, requires that I offer my full support. It also requires that I encourage anyone who reads this to seriously consider joining me.14520402_320523438310056_3679936052127342404_n

I have worked with Mel Norton on several committees over the years and have seen first hand his ability to lead. I observed Mel Norton as he took over the mayor’s chair in Saint John and was able to find consensus on many issues which had led previous councils into conflict among themselves and with other municipalities. I’ve watched Mel Norton build a team and manage his bid for the leadership, and I have come to admire his vision for our province.

I believe that our province needs to change. Resistance to change over the past few years has allowed minor problems to spiral out of control. I believe that we have to stop clinging to the past. There is no future in that. We need to stop allowing good ideas to fall victim to ideologically driven notions of perfection. In an era of limited resources we need to find compromise….not conflict. I believe that Mel Norton can encourage the kind of provincial dialogue required for our province to move forward.

My concerns are extremely personal. I’m 53 years old and have reached a stage in life where, barring catastrophe, I’ll probably be ok. My concern is for my two children, William and Alexander. I would prefer to live, knowing that New Brunswick holds a future for them….that they wont be forced to move away like so many other aspiring young people. I want to know that our province is attractive to ambitious forward-thinking people, and not just peopled by those who lacked the ambition or the resources to move on.

The multi-generational story of my family is one that many share and one which points to the massive challenge facing our province. On my father’s side, my great grandfather moved here from Lebanon in the late 19th century. All his children, including my grandfather, stayed in the region. My father, and all his siblings made a life in New Brunswick. On my mother’s side, she is the only one of her siblings who made a life in New Brunswick. My parents had four sons. Three of those sons made a life in New Brunswick. One moved elsewhere for opportunities. My parents have eight grand-children…..six of them no longer live in New Brunswick. Only two of those grand-children (my two sons) reside here and they currently have no choice due to their youth. Four generations ago, my entire immediate  family lived in New Brunswick. At the current rate, we are one generation away from being gone.

This is a trend I see in many families, and I hope to see this trend reversed. My hope is that my children will travel and further their education and then, inspired by the opportunities available to them in their home province, they will gladly return to it and make their lives here.

Will any individual have all the answers? Of course not. However, I have looked at all of the candidates for leadership and, while many are credible serious candidates, I have looked at Mel Norton’s campaign and I feel that he is the person best able to build the kind of provincial consensus required to make a meaningful change in our province..

Because I care about the future. Because I care about the role my children will play in that future. I’m supporting Mel Norton. the deadline for delegates to sign up is tomorrow . Please join me.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If you make racist comments on my social media posts, I will treat you like a racist…because it is 2015.

This has been a tough 24 hours in social media. In the same day our province made a commitment to admit and help re-settle 1500 immigrants and refugees, and there was a horrific terror attack in Paris. Many have argued that a humanitarian effort is worthwhile for the refugees who desperately need safe haven. They also find the commitment to be worthwhile as we are a declining, aging, under-educated province desperately in need of an influx of people. Unfortunately many do not agree.  The trouble seems to be that this particular group is brown and in many cases they follow the teachings of Islam. To compound the issue, the attack in Paris (and Beirut and Bhagdad this past few days by the way), perpetrated by the very people these refugees are seeking asylum from, has sensitized a certain demographic of people already suspicious of those who look different. The result has been a social media storm that I stupidly got caught up in.

I made the mistake of posting a couple of articles applauding the decision of our province to offer safe haven to 1500 refugees and the comments sections immediately started to fill with a range of negative comments. Some of these were from the obvious anonymous internet trolls who love to stir up trouble online. Those are easy. Obvious anti-social behavior is easy to recognize and file. Unfortunately, many of the comments were from more typically upstanding individuals who were labeling the proposed refugees as either dangerous or as a drain on the systems put in place to help “real Canadians”. Now –  I try to have social media manners and would never consider hijacking someone’s post – regardless of how offensive their views may be to me. However, if you are going to reply to my post by venting a narrow xenophobic philosophy, then I will respond quickly and harshly. Bluntly put: I despise xenophobia. Unfortunately New Brunswick – being older, and less literate than our Canadian neighbors, means that the fear of the different and the unknown tends to be a bit more pronounced here. The Globe and Mail recently published an article about how our declining demographics, combined with a lack of education and inclusiveness are holding our province back on many fronts. This would all just appear to be just another symptom of our backward thinking.

Standing up for inclusive thinking made for a rough few hours. I was called a lot of names and attacked on various fronts – publicly and privately. I guess it goes with the territory….but it is no fun and I take no joy in it. the problem is that I take less joy in letting it pass.

It would be so much easier if all racists all looked like gun loving, swastika tattooed members of the Aryan Brotherhood. These are less harmful racists because no sensible person sympathizes with their “save the white race” narrative. They are proud of their hatred and the have fostered a brand that is so toxic that no sane policy maker will ever cater to their prejudices. They may be extremely harmful to individuals and individual communities, but they do less harm to society as a whole because there is general agreement about the lack of decency they represent. Unfortunately, the most dangerous racists often look like our neighbors…they look like the dear little old lady down the street…they look like friends of my parents. They express outrage and confusion at the thought their ideas may be racist and yet…..here they are venting their suspicions about those who look different.

I can’t help but compare today’s online reaction to the reaction to Irish terrorism in recent decades. Let’s remember: Irish terror groups were horrific in their practices. Assassinations, torture, mass bombings, crucifixions, the murder of children, tarring and feathering, knee-capping. Outside of Ireland there were bombings in Hyde Park…bombings of British pubs..assassinations of British royals. Thousands killed. Tens of thousands maimed, tortured and wounded. In spite of this carnage, the response of our community was amazingly compassionate and appropriately welcoming. Exchange programs were developed to get youth away from the ‘troubles’. Money was raised. Resources set aside. No one complained that Irish terrorists might be mixed in with the legitimate refugees who were re-settling here. No one complained the the money raised might better benefit ‘real Canadians’ in need. It was an appropriate and compassionate response. A Canadian response.

Yet, today, the idea that 1500 brown people of a different religion might be coming to New Brunswick is being met by some as a public policy travesty. A waste of resources,they say. An insult to ‘real Canadians’ who are struggling, they complain. A threat to national security. Why Syrian refugees and not Irish Refugees? For just a moment….Imagine how crazy it would sound if one expressed concerns about boatloads of American tourists coming to Saint John every summer and fall. Yet America is the home to many domestic terror groups. Roughly 1000 people each month are murdered with handguns in that country. Mass shootings are becoming shockingly normal. Massive atrocities like the Oklahoma Bombing have been perpetrated by US citizens……and yet….wouldn’t we sound laughably foolish complaining about the Americans who stream across the Canadian border every day.  We have no difficulty accepting that there are bad Irish yet we need not fear all of them. We have no difficulty accepting that there are bad Americans but we need not fear all of them. Those who claim to be afraid of the risk associated with Syrian refugees should maybe take a look in the mirror and ask them selves why they feel this is different.

I was criticized for being forceful in dealing with some of these commentators online because they ‘are actually nice people’. I don’t agree. I would argue that these individuals aren’t actually all that nice. The fact that their racism is invisible – even to themselves – makes them even more troubling. They claim to be inclusive…until someone different looking buys the house next door. They express care and concern for our troops…yet feel a bit of discomfort that our Minister of Defense wears a turban. They claim to be Christian…..until someone who looks different needs their Christian charity. They start asking questions about ‘how dangerous those people must be’ Then they start to talk about ‘security’ and ‘real Canadians’. They start to make statements complaining about helping ‘those people’ and how those resources would be better used helping those ‘at home’. Then they use the camouflage of patriotism claiming that they aren’t racist but are merely expressing legitimate public policy concerns. They make these statements with no real concern of care for how absolutely horrific the world has become for so many people and that, compared to them, we have so much. So much space, so much liberty, so much food, so much everything.

I would argue that is it this kind of well-meaning  person who made Indian Residential Schools possible. It was this kind of well-meaning person who made Japanese internment possible. It was this kind of well-meaning person who made possible the 1930’s “None is too many” government position on Jewish immigration. Consider the fate of the Jewish refugees passengers on the SS St Louis in 1939 – denied refugee status and forced to return to Europe where many of them died in the ensuing Holocaust. Nice Canadians supported that. Nice Canadians have supported laws that limited the rights of women. Nice Canadians have supported policies that allowed discrimination of members of the LGBT community. For this reason, it’s actually more important to stand up to the self-labeled ‘Nice Canadians’ because their views can be taken more seriously and can ultimately do more harm to more people.


One of our many ‘Real Canadians’ – Minister of Defense Harjit Sajjan

I also was ‘cautioned’ about expressing such strong opinions because I have a public profile and that I should be ‘more careful’. Really? It is precisely because I have a profile that I feel even more responsibility to call out hate and xenophobia. There are a few people (including my children) who look to me to set the tone. They look to me for a clue as to what is appropriate and what is not. If I sit quietly and let people vent their out-dated beliefs, I’d be concerned that it might encourage others to keep quiet when they are made to feel uncomfortable with the fear and xenophobia expressed by others. The fact is: these sentiments are not cool…they are not acceptable. If you post your racist sentiments on my social media pages, I will respond forcefully every time….because it is 2015.

Posted in Uncategorized | 768 Comments

Hamlet: The Notes – our fourth involvement with the Hamlet story


This coming weekend the SJTC will present Hamlet: The Notes as part of the 2015-2016 Canadian Stages: Professional Presentation Series at the BMO Studio Theatre.

Purchase your Hamlet: The Notes tickets here

This marks the fourth time that the SJTC has offered this classic story to our audiences. In 1998, I directed the play at Imperial Theatre with the amazing Ben Stone (of Zuppa Theatre fame). It was that production that really allowed me to penetrate into the text and gain a deeper understanding of the narrative and the characters. Since then, I have continued to have a love-affair with the work which has made me gravitate towards it whenever the opportunity presented itself.

A number of years later, as part of the SJTC Shakespeare in the Park-inglot series, Sandra Bell directed a pared down, small cast version of the play which was hugely successful. Seeing the play stripped to the bones with a cast of less than 10, somehow made the story even more accessible.

Two years ago – pared down even further – we were thrilled to welcome Raoul Bhaneja as he performed Hamlet Solo, his one man version of the play in which he played every character. Watching him perform the work – on a bare stage – with no special costumes of props – was really quite amazing. His mastery of the language was impeccable. His ability to physically create multiple unique characters was inspired. You can’t help but admire both the clarity of Raoul’s performance and the clarity of Shakespeare’s text. I would highly recommend the show to anyone who gets the opportunity to see it.


Raoul Bhaneja as Hamlet in Hamlet Solo presented at the BMO Studio Theatre October 25th 2012

Well – here we are again with another take on the Classic story. John Fitzgerald Jay a colleague of mine for many years, has helped put together a unique version in which the actor plays the director and the audience plays the cast of Hamlet. The director leads us through the entire text in the form of giving rehearsal notes. It is an amazing concept and one that I felt we had to share with our audiences.


John Jay (left) as John Proctor – Stephen Tobias (third from left) as the Reverend Parris in the 1984 production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

I’ve known John for some time and I sent him a note to get some insights about the play for him to share in advance of his coming here.

ST: Why theatre? How did you get started?

JJ: I’m in the theatre because I didn’t want to be a doctor. I was studying science at Dalhousie University and hated it. I accidentally got into a play in the summer after my first year of a BSc, and had a great experience, and when it came time to choose my second year science courses I decided to wander over to the theatre department and see what I needed to do to be an actor. I’m still trying to figure it out.

ST: How did you get from there to here? Training? Major career highlights?

JJ: After my studies I moved to London England and set about trying to be a professional. I got to watch some incredible theatre, and also some terrible work, I dug in and eventually started doing some terrible work myself. I guess I had a pretty lucky time really. I stayed for sixteen years and was fortunate enough to work all over the country and also at The Royal National Theatre, and in the West End.

I managed to wheedle my way into some classic English television shows along the way. I suppose sitting next to Arthur Miller as he quietly dozed through late afternoon rehearsals of his play After The Fall was special. A lovely wise man. Difficult play.

I recently went to Paris with my theatre company 404Strand (which is based in Pittsburgh). We created a beautiful theatre piece from a book of poetry by Michael Ondaatje called The Collected Works of Billy The Kid. We rehearsed in Paris and played at the legendary Theatre des Bouffes du Nord. Peter Brook the iconic theatre creator who established the Bouffes was there to welcome us and give us notes. And Michael came over to support us and see the work. I remember sitting in the little cafe in the front of the theatre with Michael Ondaatje and Peter Brook and thinking it probably doesn’t get any better then this. Pretty wonderful. Directors give notes. A lot. Mr Brook gave us beautiful kind notes mostly to do with the difficulties of playing in his amazing old theatre.

ST: Why Hamlet? Of all the great well-known works of Shakespeare and others, why invest this energy into a re-telling of the Hamlet story? What was the initial inspiration?

JJ: My colleague, Dan Jemmett is a brilliant director and Hamlet (the notes) was his idea. He marvelled at the special language we have in the theatre to communicate sometimes quite difficult ideas. And the tactics and trickery often employed by directors to get what they want from actors and technicians. He did a version in France called Macbeth (the notes) it was and is a big success. So we went to Pittsburgh last year to do a version of it in English. After two days of excellent work on it, we met for coffee one morning and Dan said “…..ah the hell with it, we should be doing Hamlet” and so we did that. This is one of the nice things about having your own theatre company, you can change plays whenever you like.

ST: Tell me a bit about the development process?

JJ: Dan and I are both obsessed with Hamlet, I already new all the texts for memory, we have talked about the play for years, and Dan had recently directed it in French at the Comedie Francaise. So we set about creating this theatre piece. In all our work together we improvise a ton. We are able to generate a lot of material in this way, Dan is great at coming up with imaginative scenarios to improvise and is also great at curating the material, all our work is made in this way. The key to our success I guess. We locked ourselves in a studio for three weeks and came up with what you will be seeing. We tested it in Pittsburgh as we usually do, and then made adjustments and had another rehearsal phase in Toronto.

ST: What has the response been to the show in other performances?

JJ: The show itself is largely improvised and is changing and evolving all the time. People seem to love it. There is something for everyone in it. It’s an interesting insight into how theatre is made. The madness. The frustration and the joy. Somehow it also manages to illuminate Shakespeare’s great play in small and interesting ways. It’s fun to perform, and I think pretty fun to watch.

ST: Is your character in the play based on any real-life directors you may have worked with? No need to name names.

JJ: Dan and I have referenced many many directors who we have worked with, versions of the play we have seen, notes we have been given, and problems we have faced in trying to make theatre. It’s all in there.

ST: Can you tell us about your links with Atlantic Canada?

JJ: I love coming back to the Maritimes to work. My family are all in Halifax, and it’s a chance to be around home for a bit and work with people I don’t often get to see. I’ve managed to do a few seasons at the Festival in Antigonish, and the occasional play at the Neptune. This will be my first time working in New Brunswick. I’m delighted. Other notable details Owned a bar (The Cobourg) Started and currently run a men’s fashion accessories business. (Hook and Furl) Curated my neighbourhood’s entry for The Nuit Blanche art show for two years commissioning dozens of new contemporary art installations. Started 404Strand Theatre co in Pittsburgh about ten years ago with Dan Jemmett.


John Fitzgerald Jay in Hamlet: The Notes

We are all very excited to see Hamlet: the Notes when it plays at the BMO Studio Theatre this coming week. It should be of great interest to lovers of theatre and students of theatre.

Posted in canadian theatre, drama, shakespeare, theatre, tragedy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why produce An Enemy of the People?

Why Ibsen? Why now?


I have been asked a lot lately why I would have so much interest in producing a 19th century Ibsen play for audiences in 21st century New Brunswick – and that’s an amazing question worthy of an answer.

At first glance – in a theatre eco-system that rewards popular fare – I can see that it might seems odd to produce such a work. At first glance. But I’ll invite you to look again. There are many reasons why such a work interests me.

1. The Classics rock. When i first started work in theatre, I was often encouraged to avoid the classics because “they are hard”. Absolutely 100% untrue. Classics become “classics” because they have a tremendous impact. They have resonance. They move an audience. They have a narrative that is somehow compelling and has a universal appeal. In my opinion that makes them quite easy to produce. I’d work with world class material any day rather than a flawed popular work.

I remember a number of years ago being challenged for wishing to produce GB Shaw’s Arms and the Man. “Shaw is boring”……”no one will come”….”people won’t get the humor”. I heard it all. the same season we also produced the ever popular Noises Off. While Noises Off was clearly a hit…..Arms and the Man sales were within 10 tickets. So much for the lack of appeal of classic works.

2. Sometimes I want to produce work for people who like theatre. Doesn’t everyone like theatre? No. No they don’t. When we produce a play like Annie, we will set box office records because the theatre will be filled with people who may only see one or two plays that year. They aren’t ‘theatre lovers’ they are ‘Annie lovers’. However, when we produce a work such as Death of a Salesman, or The Crucible, or Venus in Fur, we are attracting a more discerning group that have a base of knowledge about theatre and are coming to the show prepared to experience something special.

I admit: it would be easier in many ways to annually produce a season that looked like a summer stock season. The light musical….the Norm Foster…..the Agatha Christie or Neil Simon. Nice polite safe theatre designed for people who don’t really enjoy theatre but are looking for a diversion. Sales would be respectable. Audiences would be politely appreciative. BUT it would be deathly boring and creatively unsatisfactory. Our organization has always thrived in challenges and creative risk taking, and this kind of vanilla programming would spell the death of creativity.

3. I had the opportunity to see another adaptation of this play which was produced in Toronto last fall. At that time, New Brunswick was in the grip of an election campaign where responsible resource development was a topic on everyone’s mind. As I watched Ibsen’s story of Dr. Stockmann who becomes whistle blower about industrial contamination of the local water supply, I couldn’t help but make the connection: conversations just like this happening in this play were happening all over New Brunswick at that very moment. At that point I knew we had to do it. The subject matter of this play is of vital interest to New Brunswickers and we hope that out production will inspire significant debate and discussion among those who see it.

As we are preparing for an early round of auditions, I am getting even more excited at the prospect of working on Enemy of the People. We have been fortunate enough to have piqued the interest of Richard Rose, who is slated to direct. We are working with the award winning German playwright, Maria Milisavljevic has been engaged to create a new efficient modernized adaptation that is specifically set in Canada. Much of the adaptive work will not begin until after the auditions so that we can tailor the script to the talent we have available. At this time we have not even fully established the gender of the cast so that we are open to any and all configurations of casting. It’s an exciting process that I have never before been through and I love the challenge.

Another important aspect of this production that I’m proud of  is our commitment to engaging New Brunswick based professional talent. Quite simply, there isn’t enough work here for our artists, and we are now committed to creating working opportunities whenever possible. We have hosted workshops and master-classes in the past but there simply is no developmental substitute for getting the artists in front of an audience. If we are not creating real production opportunities for NB based theatre artists – we are failing in our responsibilities to our community. To help develop our theatre artists, we created the Fundy Fringe fest and made a guarantee that 1/2 of the artists would be from Southern NB. We have made a strong commitment to presenting works created by NB artists as part of our Professional Presentation series at our BMO Studio theatre. We also plan to engage NB resident artists whenever possible. Last season the SJTC facilitated the professional engagement of over 130 artists and I hope to grow that number this year with projects such as Enemy of the People.

In the next couple of weeks Richard Rose will come to SJ and we will host the auditions. Then the real work begins. Until then – a little bit of nail biting.

Stay tuned

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One week of performances


Here’s a shot of me as Mark Rothko in #RedSJTC #RedTNB – March 20 – 22 at Imperial Theatre in Saint John & 27-29 at The Fredericton Playhouse (photo: Matt Carter)


Well – I had hoped to make some posts earlier than this but the process has been so intense that the whirlwind of activity has made it almost impossible to get my head screwed on straight enough to string words together….unless they happened to be written in John Logan’s script for RED.

I still want to get into some thoughts about the process of emotion on stage – and humour – and several other issues that crossed my mind during the rehearsal process…but for now…with two performances on-line for today…I think I only have the bandwidth to share some observations from the last week or so. After today – I have two days off from the show. I hope to find the time to offer some more in-depth observations.

Some of these thoughts will be old-hat to practiced theatre-makers – but for those less proficient, I hope they have some resonance

1) Two-Handers are an surprisingly solitary process. One would think that there would be a real buddy-mentality that would set in, but that has not been my experience. This is the fourth two-person play that I have been in (Mass Appeal – Oleanna – The Guys – and now Red). There is little of the comradery or activity of a larger production. Not a lot of post-rehearsal drinks and laughs. The process is intense. The rehearsals are relentless. The homework required is overwhelming at times. Unlike larger shows, the requirement of being on-stage the entire time also means that one is rehearsing the entire time. After an 8 hour rehearsal of this kind I find that I am exhausted mentally and emotionally. After one particular day of rehearsal that involved two full run-throughs – plus a lot of working notes – I found that I spent the entire evening constantly on the verge of tears. Look at my kids – get misty eyed…a sad scene on tv – reach for the kleenex…..cello music – forget about it.

Even now that we are in the theatre and have gone through several performances, I’m still amazed at how quiet it is. There is almost no activity back-stage. I never see Caleb (who plays Ken) until he walks on-stage for our first meeting in the play. After curtain call – it takes me so long to get all the paint off me that I am usually the last one out of the theatre – so I have no contact with the company at that point either.

None of this is a complaint. The process is what it is. I am just observing.

2) There is no substitute for homework and knowing the text cold: Early in my work as a younger actor, I had a director rant at me saying, “I cannot rehearse this fucking play until you learn your fucking lines”. It’s very true. There is a lot that can be accomplished – perhaps some staging and table discussion…. But the real work of bringing a play to life cannot begin until the ‘text’ is a given. I have directed and worked with actors who seem incapable of learning lines until the last minute. First – they seem to have no concept of the growth potential that they lose out on by not having more rehearsals that are free of text issues. Second – it is incredibly selfish to hold the rest of the cast hostage to your shortcomings. The other actors need something concrete to respond to in order to facilitate their growth. They don’t have too much to work with if what they are looking at is an actor struggling to recall his lines.

Luckily – that was not in any way an issue with this current production. One of the reasons rehearsals could be so intensive was that the text was fairly secure from day 1.

3) Standing alone on a stage at the opening of a long tech rehearsal takes balls. I deal with many young actors who want the title roles. they want to be ‘the guy’ on stage. It’s not as easy as it looks. I’ve learned over the years that it takes a lot more than talent to carry a show. I have known untalented actors who could carry a show and I’ve known talented ones who couldn’t. It hits home for me at those times when – alone on stage – I realize that everyone is looking to me….expecting me to hit my mark…to remember countless adjustments being offered on the fly….to take it all in without question or comment. Playing a role in a play like this is a huge responsibility. It isn’t about the fun of it. It is about mastering a huge challenge. It takes just the right amount of ego to feel confident in mastering that challenge – yet feeling humble enough to submit willingly to the process and submit to the script, the director, the other actors, the designers and crew. It’s a fine balancing act. It also requires a certain leadership. Not the kind of leadership that involves telling others what to do. Rather it is the kind of leadership that involves being prepared and setting a tone.

4) For me: of all the skills – maintaining focus is the most important and the most challenging: A show like this requires 100% intense focus from curtain to curtain. For 90 minutes there are absolutely no breaks – not one opportunity to stop for breath. Even the scene changes are extremely choreographed ballets in which I need to complete several steps and am literally just hitting my mark as the next scene begins. Over the years I have noted that those times when actors get lost on stage – forgetting a line or missing an entrance or key piece of business – it isn’t that they have “forgotten”. It is that they lost focus. Some nagging thought crept in and for a split second they are not on stage in the moment. They are re-living a moment from earlier in the day. They are considering some other aspect of the production. They are wondering what that noise was back-stage – or questioning an audience response or lack of response. 

I will admit – even in this production – there have been brief (and terrifying moments) when I have realized that my mind is elsewhere on stage. Or more specifically – my mind is not 100% focused on what is happening between me and Ken at that specific moment. I have caught myself wondering briefly about an upcoming costume change…or questioning the placement of a prop that I need to use shortly. The feeling is almost one of ‘waking up’ on stage. I am momentarily lost in a random thought and then – with a start – I have this feeling of “holy shit –  what is happening? have I missed something?” It has never led to a problem as (fortunately) the mind can move at lightning speed in such circumstances and my lapse of attention may have only been for a fraction of a second. However – I will say it again – maintaining absolute 100% focus – being 100% in the moment – is the most challenging aspect of what I have to do in this production.

5) the best on-stage experiences are like jazz – it’s all improv within a strict structure: I recall being told that good acting is just talking and listening. Sounds simple – but it takes a lot of time and homework to get to that point. The biggest leap that I have watched young actors make is when they realize that acting is not about what they see themselves as doing. It is about paying close attention to what the others are doing on-stage and reacting honestly to that. Since what everyone else is doing will vary slightly from evening to evening – the responses will also vary slightly from evening to evening. The moments on-stage that I enjoy the most are those times when all the homework is secure…all the text is rock solid…every word and movement is connected to a specific thought and reaction. These are the times when I can just sit back into it and listen….and respond. No thought of what came before. No thought of what is to come. Everything happens within the framework of the script, the blocking, the interpretations set out by the director – but it is fresh and brand new every time……like good jazz.

6) I’m running out of time and need to go review my script for the upcoming matinee so here are a few specific and quick ones:

     -Getting paint in your eye on stage is a pain in the ass

     -Buttoning a shirt and putting on a belt – in the dark – in a hurry – is a very very difficult thing to do

     -As a practical point – eating rice on stage  is terrifying. Every night I have a split-second image of myself lying on-stage choking     and turning blue in front of several hundred people

     -Audiences laugh at the strangest things and it is extremely difficult to predict what they will find amusing – particularly in an intense production

     -No one will give you an honest opinion in a theatre-lobby – but post-show social media can be the most uplifting or the most depressing

     -No matter what people say about you after the show. No matter how much your ego swells….there is nothing quite like being left the job of plunging the toliet in the morning to bring one back down to earth. Being left with laundry to fold also is helpful on this point.


OK – now off the review my script before the matinee.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Distractions – One week out


Production poster for the Saint John portion of the production schedule

So – one week from today we have the preview performance of RED. I’m extremely impressed at how smoothly the process has run up until now. Tomorrow we will run the play twice with notes and it feels like we are ready to be doing that.

It occurs to me right about now that I am envious of those who work on projects and only have to consider their personal work on that project. I have really never had that luxury. As the Executive Director of the SJTC, I am responsible for all aspects of the company activities. Practically speaking: that means that I am constantly being pulled in multiple directions. I have, over the years, learned to focus on rehearsal while there. While in the rehearsal hall I am 100% there in the moment – which is the way it needs to be. However – every coffee break…every lunch break…..I’m answering staff questions, dealing with marketing and production issues for RED and three other projects that are currently in development, dealing with e-mails, proofing programs and various print materials, fund-raising issues, next season planning, etc etc. In fairness: I sense the same multi-tasking issues pulling at our production director, Caleb Marshall, as he is the Artistic Producer of his company, TNB. He, too, seems to have mastered the skill of putting that all aside while in the rehearsal hall.  Anyone who thinks that is easy….please think again.

I bring all this up, I guess, to illustrate my envy at those who have the luxury of simply learning their lines, doing their homework, and showing up for rehearsal. How stress-free that would feel by comparison. I hope to have that experience again someday. The last time I had such an experience was playing the role of Lloyd in a KV Players production of Noises Off – over 20 years ago.

That being said – I am having a blast. The rehearsals are hard and exhausting…….mentally exhausting….and emotionally draining. But the experience is well worth it.

Tomorrow – if I have any head space for it after two run-throughs – I’d like to chat about emotion on-stage. There are a couple of fairly deep dark personal moments for me in this production and it has given me reason to think quite a bit about how my emotional life on-stage has changed over the years. However – for now – I have e-mails to answer and more homework to do in order to be ready for tomorrow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

One week of Red rehearsals

So – as promised – here is a bit of an update on how things have been going for me.

To recap – I am playing the role of Mark Rothko in a production of RED by John Logan. Getting here has been a roughly two-year process that I recounted in a previous blog post. the play is a co-production between Theatre New Brunswick and the Saint John Theatre Company. It is the first such partnership between the two larger English Language theatre companies in our province and it has been a long time coming. The Production Director is Caleb Marshall (Artistic Producer of TNB) and I (playing Rothko) am the Executive Director of the SJTC.

So – how is it going?

In one word – it’s really tough. Yes – that’s more than one word – but one word can’t really describe the process for those who haven’t been through it.

I had promised that I wouldn’t get into making too many comments about the team or what may transpire in rehearsals beyond my own personal impressions. I really didn’t want to get into anything that would resemble rehearsal gossip or leave any negative impressions. Yes – I have had moments of frustration – but that frustration has been with me and my grasp of the material. I’ve been down this road before and that is a normal part of the process for me. Progress is not measured in a steady upward slope. It is a bit of a jagged graph full of ups and downs yet constantly edging upwards (hopefully) I’ve learned to embrace personal frustration as it tends to come shortly before breakthroughs.

However – in spite of my promise not to – I will make a couple of observations about the team. General impression – simply put: everyone on the team is really good. Caleb Cosman – who is playing Ken is a formidable actor and I feel a lot of pressure to keep up with him. His daily progress is amazing and it is motivating me to keep pushing hard into the text to continue to work for discoveries and nuances. It also forces me to contend with a huge amount of new information every rehearsal as he continues to bring in new things for me to react to.  Caleb Marshall, the director, is every bit as good as I had expected him to be. Very subtle and unintrusive – yet very keen in his insights. He is extremely helpful and is clearly and ‘actor’s director’. I’m glad to be working with both of our Caleb’s on this project. I’m also really impressed with the design and production teams.   All – in all everyone has been a joy to work with.

But back to the rehearsals.

I am very glad that I had put in the extra time in advance of rehearsals starting. the process is fast and intense. If I didn’t arrive feeling very on top of the material – I’d be lost and would find myself unable to catch up. Homework is never wasted.

After five rehearsals we were able to run the entire play off-book and fully staged. While that feels like an accomplishment to me – I can’t imagine that we would be able to take any longer to get to that point.

I have made some major discoveries in rehearsal. In spite of the intense amount of work I had done with the script leading up to the first reading – there is nothing that compares to standing alongside a flesh-and-blood ‘Ken’ as opposed to the imaginary ken that I was rehearsing with for several weeks. His approach has forced me to re-think a number of moments. Without giving too much away – I was able to fully re-conceive the end of scene 2 creating an entirely new approach from what I had considered in advance of rehearsals.
Creation is an exciting process.

Tomorrow – we have a visual artists coming in to offer guidance and coaching on the scene 3  painting sequence. The idea of actually laying into some serious painting live on-stage is kind of exciting. It’s the kind of physical action that one rarely gets a chance to do on-stage.

My biggest concern at this point: my voice. The play runs roughly 90 minutes and I likely have around 60 minutes of the text. I’ve had a day off so I’m feeling fine – but I could feel the strain after a few days of rehearsals. I’m making sure to do good warm-ups in the morning. I’m also working to find more nuances for the scenes of conflict. Continually raising my voice in anger will become boring to listen to for the audience. It’s up to me to find vocal variety (the 3 P’s – Pitch Pace Power – as my vocal coach used to drill into me). Finding more vocal variety will not only make things more interesting to listen to – but it will reduce any potential vocal strain

Week 2 looms ahead and we will be getting into much more detailed work on the story. I’m looking forward to another inspiring week.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment