Monday, June 29, 2015


I woke up this morning to a city shrouded in smoke from northern forest fires. Maybe the campfire smell drifted in to me as I slept, because I dreamed of Barkerville early this morning. 
I wrote about it- the fires and the dreams- on Facebook this morning, and a Barkerville friend commented, saying "you are missed here" and when I went to reply I felt my eyes fill. 

My summer job this year is a lot of fun. It has built my confidence, showed me where I need to improve, given me new contacts in a new city. All valuable things. I love Saskatoon, where we are rehearsing, and I think I'll love Rosthern, where we will move in a week's time to open the show and perform for four weeks. The converted train station where the show will run is beautiful; the town itself could be found in the dictionary under Small Towns, (Prairie version). The show itself is a fun little crowd-pleaser with some pretty music and the cast is delightful. Our director is an ambitious, talented guy from Vancouver; another great contact and a good person to work with. I have been happily aware, ever since I started here, that the stomach-churning self-doubt and fear that used to haunt me before and during rehearsals is largely gone now. I am working on a very pleasant, very professional show, and I have no regrets about saying no to another summer in my gold rush town, except that I miss all the people who took me into their hearts while I was there, and are so dear to me. 

Every performer should have a life-altering gig or two on their resume, and Barkerville was mine.  

I biked down canyons, walked up mountains, ran along the lake with a weather eye peeled for bears. I heard music, wrote music, played it alone and with friends. I felt the adrenaline rush of love and the aching sadness of losing it. I took direction, took bows, missed cues, painted the stage floor, washed dishes, created dialogue, learned music and lines. I survived drama; I created drama. I broke rules, I bitched, I said "if only such-and-such was different"; I said "never again" and then I went back year after year to do it again because I couldn't imagine doing anything else. The intensity of living and working with the same people in an isolated environment for five months was a kind of geology: a slow intense grinding pressure and heat that created gold. Like rock, I cracked open- painfully- time and again, and like rock I re-formed. I will never be the same. I wouldn't want to be. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Little Show on the Prairie.

Oak trees and old houses, flat wide streets and hot dry air, even after the rain.
The day I landed here I walked and walked, trying to take it all in. I've been walking ever since. (Mostly because it's sunny and why wouldn't I, but also because I haven't bothered to figure out the bus system yet.) Yesterday the stage manager and I walked to work together and a street vendor was giving away (!) waffles with bacon cooked right into them as a promotion and we agreed that that was pretty much the best walk ever.
The North Saskatchewan River.
This city has a sturdy devotion to baked goods- in particular ones filled with Saskatoon Berries- and like most of Canada except BC, they are masters of the mighty Butter Tart. It's a good thing I'm walking lots.
There's a lot about Saskatoon that reminds me of Toronto, or maybe it's just that it's more like Toronto than Vancouver. Less fir trees. Older houses. No mountains. Obviously Saskatoon doesn't have the mega-city thing going on though. It's actually pretty small; way smaller than Vancouver.
Work is rewarding and fun; sometimes I feel wise, sometimes I feel like a fool. Often on the same day. The thing is, it doesn't bother me anymore. I've accepted that there are things that I'm good at and things that I could improve upon but I don't question why I'm here, or think that I can't do the work. I am comfortable in my own skin, and this makes me happy. It's been a long time coming, this confidence, and I am all the more grateful for it because of that.
Plus I get to live with this guy. Life is good. 
The Sturdy Stone Centre. WTF? Don't look at the giant circle too long or it will hypnotize you. 
I love old building ads.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cherry Blossoms vs. Wine: a (semi-serious) study in branding

Consider, for a minute, the humble cherry blossom. No, not the flowering tree. This:
In all its retro glory. 
I noticed them tonight at the corner store, where I was buying cherry Coke to go with my take-out pizza and mini Haagen Das ice cream. (Yes, it was a banner night for healthy eating in my world.) The packaging hasn't changed in forever: it's an unappetizing yellow. The picture looks like some kind of alien ooze escaping from a cave of... poo? (Let's not even get started on the taste, which takes 3 of my favourite things- cherries, peanuts and chocolate- and turns them into something utterly vile.) Does ANYBODY buy these things? I've never seen anyone consume one, or admit to buying one, or heard anyone say anything nice about them. And yet they exist, year after year, mocking us all with their permanently uncool retro box and disgusting taste. How, in a world where cult hits like "Arrested Development", "Carnivale" and "Ryan the A&W Trainee" are canned, can this little freak keep existing? 

My sweetie and I have been known to enjoy a drink or two, so I am fairly familiar with the inside of the local liquor store. In the last ten, maybe? years, wineries and craft breweries have gone crazy with re-branding, turning stodgy labels into tongue-in-cheek works of art. (Wine o'Clock or Pink Freud, anyone?) Now, I would imagine that liquor is a competitive business to be in... but so is candy. And yet, while wineries and craft beer-makers are tripping over themselves to be cool, the stolid little Cherry Blossom just keeps on truckin', and somewhere, someone must be buying 'em by the truckload. Like the Honey Badger, Cherry Blossom don't give a shit. 

I'm thinking a lot about all this stuff these days because I'm in two bands that are trying, in their modest ways, to build a following (not to mention my own solo career/accordion teaching empire/freelance writing sideline) and I'm negotiating the ins and outs of publicity/social media daily. I learned about writing press releases last week (it's fun!). I revived my band's Twitter account from the dead. I tweaked a website and tried to make it more SEO-friendly. It's all interesting, but is this stuff keeping me from the important stuff, like songwriting and practicing? (Two things, I'll admit, that I have a love-hate relationship with.) Is my bandmate Amelia on the right track by keeping a wary distance from social media? How can my friend Jimmy- a sought-after playwright and director- exist in today's world without a cel phone, a Facebook account, or even email? In the context of this piece, Jimmy and Amelia are the Cherry Blossom: they have something people want, and they are old-fashioned- some might say stubborn- in their approach to marketing themselves. And I am like the wineries: how can I make this product (me) eye-catching enough so that as many people as possible will see it?

I type this piece fresh from a band practice where we discussed various strategies: practice makes perfect vs. regular gigs for experience? Keep building the songlist vs. focus on 20 songs for a razor-sharp set? I type this piece fresh from a week of rehearsing and recording some delightful, energetic and challenging music that I truly believe people will love... if only we can find ways to reach them. But there are so many ways to reach people these days... and many of them are a huge waste of time. I belong to Reverbnation, a website that is supposed to help musicians build a following and gives you info on your "chart position", "fans", etc... make that used to belong to Reverbnation, because I just quit. I found it to be a timesuck and a scam, a so-called "free" site that wants to charge you for pretty much everything, with stats that don't have any real meaning whatsoever. I'll keep Tweeting and updating my websites, but when it comes to winning new fans I'll keep doing it the old-fashioned way: by playing live gigs and making sure as many people as possible not hear my music but pay to hear it as well. 

The humble Cherry Blossom sits on a low shelf, bypassed for flashier, larger chocolates. But somewhere out there are people who believe in it, and so it hunkers down and endures, knowing that some of those big candy bars have an awfully short shelf life.