Category Archives: Making Things

Cast of Sonder, postcard style

Sonder and the Fringe

The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is my favourite festival.   And counting down to the Fringe is like counting down to Christmas.  When I was a child, I used to ask my parents, Don’t you wish Christmas was tomorrow? Mum would sigh and Dad would grumble in their grownup ways saying that they didn’t wish Christmas was tomorrow because they weren’t ready.  I would explain that if Christmas was tomorrow they would be ready!  They didn’t buy it.

Anyway, every year as soon as Folkfest is over I start getting excited about the Fringe.  I already have my program and some show tickets, and my volunteering schedule for the beer tent.  I drove by the grounds last night and saw the barricades on some of the roads.  I’m clicking Maybe on all the Facebook events and trying to figure out how many I can see.  I’m looking forward to the parade, the food stands (especially Rustixx pizza), the out-of-town visitors, the excitement … but at the same time I’m feeling like one of those grown-ups who has a to-do list that has to happen first.

One of the things on my personal to-do list is to get caught up writing about other performances I’ve seen, so I can start the season fresh.  That will appear here in the next few days.

The other things are about getting everything ready for the new show that I’m producing, Sonder, with our company The ? Collective (you can pronounce that however you want, but we usually say “the question mark collective” – our twitter handle is @theqmcollective).  A friend and I put together a lottery entry last fall and were lucky enough to get selected to perform in a Fringe lottery venue, King Edward School.  That’s Venue 5, the elementary school, the low white building closer to the Fringe grounds, as opposed to the Academy which is the older brick building across the street.  My friend, Jake Tkaczyk, took on the roles of director and creation facilitator, gathering a small group of Red Deer College students to explore themes of interconnectedness and meaningful moments in a collaborative creation process.  The title Sonder came from the tumblr blog Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, in which the writer, John Koenig, coins many words for interesting concepts – in this case the realization that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as one’s own.  As the work slowly took shape, Collette Radau contributed as dramaturg, Alex Boldt responded with original music and soundscapes, and all of us told and listened to many stories.

What we’ve come up with uses the techniques of performance art, movement, recitation, and narrative scenes real and surreal to show a series of moments in different people’s lives, from the everyday to the magical, funny and poignant and sometimes disturbing.   We’re excited about showing our creation to the Fringe community, and we’re also excited about experiencing the Fringe from the inside.   I’m the only one who’s been involved with a show in the past (as stage manager for WaMo Productions’ God on God 2013, 3 stars in the VUE and the Journal).  Some of the company members will be attending their first Edmonton Fringe, and I’m almost as excited about showing them the festival that made me fall in love with theatre in the first place.

But as I said at the beginning, I’ve got a to-do list between me and opening night (Thursday Aug 14th at 10 pm by the way).  The rest of our company arrives in town today, and our tech rehearsal is this afternoon.  We have posters to hang, handbills to hand out, programs to print, buttons to sell, and a parade to entertain you in (Thursday Aug 14th, 7:30 pm, Fringe grounds). We have a blog, a website, a Facebook event and page, a twitter account, and an indiegogo campaign (running til the 21st).

And we have tickets at the box offices for all our performances, $11 adult, $9 student/senior.  We’d love to see you there!

  • Thurs Aug 14th, 10 pm (opening)
  • Sun Aug 17th, 9 pm
  • Mon Aug 18th, 12:15 pm
  • Wed Aug 20th, 11:30 pm
  • Thurs Aug 21st, 4:00 pm
  • Sat Aug 23rd, 6:45 pm (closing)
Sonder cast rehearses family scene.  Erin Pettifor as the mother comforts her children (Julia Van Dam, Evan Macleod).

Sonder cast rehearses family scene. Erin Pettifor as the mother comforts her children (Julia Van Dam, Evan Macleod).

Sonder cast creates funeral vignette.  Evan Macleod as Doug the deceased.  Mourners left to right: Julia Van Dam, Emily Cupples, Tyler Johnson, Brittany Martyshuk.

Sonder cast creates funeral vignette. Evan Macleod as Doug the deceased. Mourners left to right: Julia Van Dam, Emily Cupples, Tyler Johnson, Brittany Martyshuk.

Thursday is Lizard Day

I don’t often watch web-TV series, but I’ve been enjoying the episodes of “Lizard at Home”.  They come out on Thursdays.  There have been three episodes so far, but they’re about 6 minutes long so it’s easy to get caught up and then watch today’s.

“Lizard at Home” is a creation of Dustin Clark, Joel Crichton, and Starlise Waschuk.  On the show website they describe it as a comedic thriller, or comedy/sci-fi.  To me, it feels similar in tone to the recent British television shows “Being Human” and “Torchwood”, both of them supernatural and mysterious and sometimes dark but never taking themselves too seriously.  Apparently it was produced quickly and simply, but I don’t find the production values distracting from an intriguing little story, which I can’t predict the outcome of.  The music is atmospheric and good.

The premise of this story seems to be that two roommates, Drake who looks human but is actually at least somewhat a lizard (Dustin Clark), and Oliver who is observing him as a scientist (Joel Crichton), have an unexpected encounter with an assassin from the future (Starlise Waschuk).  I don’t have a lot of experience with lizards, mostly just taking care of a neighbour’s iguana while he was on vacation (the neighbour, not the iguana), but I was amused by the credibly lizard-like habits of Drake, napping under a heat lamp and spritzing himself with water mist.

Anyway, today is lizard day.  Give it a try!



Making things for hobbits – tributes to Tolkien

I’ve been looking forward to the Peter Jackson Hobbit movie for ages, and I saw it yesterday at South Common Cineplex, in the fancy reserved-seats UltraAVX cinema in 3D.  I liked it.  I must be getting accustomed to Real3D projection, because I basically forgot about it during the movie and almost missed giving the glasses back afterwards.  Likewise, I have no opinion about whether the fast frame rate made a difference to the visual presentation.  Peter Jackson and company did a good enough job with Tolkien’s source material that I’ll be seeing the sequels as soon as they come out too.  They made some changes to the story, some of which I didn’t catch myself and the rest of which didn’t bother me, possibly because I didn’t read The Hobbit until many years after I’d been through our library’s copies of the Lord of the Rings books several times each.  In the same way as Lord of the Rings is like a bigger more important version of the quest story in The Hobbit, the movie “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” had a lot of scenes that were reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings movies.  So I didn’t find it breathtaking or thrilling.  It was what I expected and I enjoyed it.

I’ve always loved the word pictures Tolkien painted of the hobbits’ dwellings, and I thought that the movie versions almost did them justice.  They looked so cozy and comfortable, full of books and food and useful clutter, that I’ve often wished I lived in a place like that.  I live in a snug little apartment full of books and colourful clutter that feels like it’s set into the side of a creek ravine, looking out on bike paths and green space, so I sometimes imagine it being part of a smial, Tolkien’s word for a cluster of hobbit-dwellings in one hillside.  But of course I don’t have round doors and windows, and I don’t think I’d be successful convincing my neighbours on the condominium board that such an adaptation would be an asset to the neighbourhood.  I know there are a couple of buildings with round windows somewhere in Oliver, but I don’t like moving and I otherwise like it here.  So a couple of months ago I decided to fake it and make something that would look like a round doorway.

Sets of brown fabrics that looked like a hobbit hole to me.

Sets of brown fabrics that looked like a hobbit hole to me.

I started by pulling out my stash boxes.  For quilters or other textile or fabric artists, a stash doesn’t have illegal drugs in it, but bits of fabric or yarn bought without a specific purpose in mind, or leftovers saved from other projects.  I started pulling out bits of fabric that seemed appropriate to the picture in my mind – not so much the bright colours like green and yellow that Tolkien says hobbits loved to wear, but the warm golden-brown palette of natural sunlight and candlelight on adobe walls, books, wood, and pottery tableware.  I didn’t have enough, so I paid a visit to Quilter’s Dream and found more prints that fit the picture in my head – especially a paisley print, a print with old books on shelves, and ones with the names of kinds of tea and the names of varieties of red wine.  Although the employees are always friendly and interested to hear about the customers’ projects, I didn’t try explaining this one to them, because I wasn’t sure if it was going to work or whether they would have any idea what I was talking about.

Treehouse blocks, with bits of bright accent colours.

Treehouse blocks, with bits of bright accent colours.

At home I washed all the bits of fabric, and looked through my books to get some ideas of what to do with them.  In Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr’s book The Modern Quilt Workshop, I found instructions for a block called Treehouse, which used random cutting and bits of an accent colour in between chunks of a main colourway, so that seemed like it would work.  I added some rich dark reds, greens, and blues for the accent strips.


Blocks assembled, before sandwiching and cutting circular hole.

Blocks assembled, before sandwiching and cutting circular hole.

I cut and pieced some blocks and assembled them together in the rough shape of my patio doors with a hole in the middle.  Preliminary trials hanging the pieced top in front of the doorway showed that it was going to irritate me if the light shining through revealed the seam allowances as uneven dark bits, but that adding quilt batting would make it heavy enough to make it harder to hang, since I couldn’t just clip them or stick them to the plastic pelmet.  So off I went to a dollar store, to pick up some hook and loop tape, some bulldog clips, and a couple of cotton-polyester sheets.  Sheets are not recommended as quilt backings, and I can say after this project that they were unpleasant to work with, but they served their purpose this time, with a plain dark sheet sandwiched between a plaid-patterned sheet for the backing visible from outside and the piecework top visible from inside.

On the same trip I also scored some ten-cent poster board from a Zellers closing sale, so I taped it together, devised a compass with a measuring tape and some pins, and cut a circular template.  Sandwiching the assembly taped down on the floor worked well enough to mark the circle, but wasn’t good enough to let me pin-baste the sandwich without wrinkles.  I machine-quilted the sandwich with concentric circles, added a French binding on the circular doorway and around the edges, and sewed the hook and loop tape to the top to hang it up.

And there it is, my Doorway to the Shire.  Any day now I expect a band of adventurers to come tramping through the snow looking for a burglar.

Doorway to the Shire

Doorway to the Shire

Worth Doing Badly

In early 2006 I worked through the exercises in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The exercises are designed to free people up from various things blocking them from being creative. I haven’t re-read the book since, but I recently got thinking about how many concepts from that book I am habitually or occasionally putting into my life, and about what creative explorations have illustrated those concepts in the intervening years.

  • Morning pages One of the customs advocated in the book is to start each day writing three longhand pages of stream-of-consciousness. This isn’t just a practice for writers, but something that helps anyone. I occasionally do this or something similar. It’s surprisingly hard to start the day just with handwriting before turning on the computer, but when I do it, I feel less stuck and it’s easier to then focus on tasks at hand afterwards.
  • Artist’s dates Another concept in the book (and in the author’s later works) is to periodically do things alone just for fun and art, whether it’s playing with modelling clay or going to a gallery or movie. I actually do that kind of stuff alone all the time – visiting the Muttart Conservatory is one of my favourites – and it’s funny to think about when I was doing the exercises and making that a special effort.
  • Permission to do multiple projects I didn’t realise how much better this was for me until I started quilting in 2007. If I wasn’t in the precision-focused mood for squaring up blocks and unpicking seams that weren’t right, which one project needed, I could still be productive on quilting another project or picking out fabric for a new one. Getting rid of that echo of my mother’s voice about finishing one thing before starting another or I would never finish anything turned out to be astonishingly helpful. I realised that the same thing worked in my teaching work, in my camp planning work, and in tidying the house, and when I wrote a story with multiple viewpoints for NaNoWriMo, I often jumped to the next character’s narration when stuck on one, and then went back to fill in later.
  • Clearing up to clear space for creativity At the same time, Julia Cameron also suggested various exercises about clearing out projects or possessions that we weren’t enjoying. One exercise was to go through dresser drawers and make decisions. Another was to pull out hibernated projects and either finish them or find a way to dispose of or repurpose them. I was surprised to find how empowering this was – I didn’t get rid of very many projects, but the ones I did made it seem easier and more enjoyable to finish others. Using this principle, when I got seriously into knitting after moving here, I dug out all the old partly-done knitting projects and all the yarn, got rid of a few things and found ways to finish almost everything. Ravelry helps motivate me with project tracking, and once or twice a year I make a point of finishing up hibernating projects, and feeling a huge accomplishment. Tidying up physical spaces has a similar effect, in giving me freedom to think about other space-needy projects. I had cleaners in a couple of weeks ago, so my living-space floors have been empty and vacuumed. And I’m pretty sure that’s one of the factors that freed me up to explore the large-scale patchwork artwork project that is currently consuming me.
  • Taking risks pays off   Another factor that set me up to start this project was doing an improv-theatre workshop with Rapid Fire Theatre. It felt very risky to start with, but I could feel myself thriving in it and taking lessons home from it every week. A job application and interview I did partway through the course didn’t feel nearly as scary as they might have, and not getting the job didn’t devastate me. And the initial concept of the current art project popped into my head a few hours before our end-of-course performance, when I was feeling a little anxious and mostly excited about having become that kind of adventurous.
  • Learning techniques helps too  In improv, in quilt design, in learning to work with colours, and so on, learning the tricks and skills of the discipline gives me the background to be both more confident and more successful. Which brings me to one of my key philosophies nowadays,
  • Anything worth doing is worth doing badly I was a cautious controlled child, afraid to fail and hesitant to stand out. I mostly did the activities that my parents were interested in and thought we were good at – they strongly supported my Conservatory piano lessons as long as I was willing to continue, but were neutral to discouraging about goofing-around composing and about any of the practices that would have led me to be a social piano player, like playing by ear or sight-reading. I remember expressing some wistful envy about my cousins’ experiences at art camp and being told “[OurSurnames] aren’t good at art”, which meant that of course they’d keep paying for the clarinet rental instead of letting me try the oil-painting elective at school when everyone else got to pick a new elective. As a teenager I wrote some fiction privately, and daydreamed about being a Gordon-Korman-style prodigy, but never considered any steps along that way like taking writing classes in university or finding a critique group – by the time I was in Grade 13 I’d so strongly internalised the idea that I couldn’t afford to pursue that kind of impractical dream that the only way I could daydream about it was to put in the story that I was somehow instantly good enough to be published. Instead, of course, I went off to engineering school, put the 10 000 words of story-in-progress in a box, and did not consider myself a writer again for more than twenty years.

I’ve come to realise in recent years that although maybe some kids had more chances to explore things they weren’t naturally good at, adults typically don’t. Adults know what they’re likely to be good at, and they keep doing it or they try out related things. My friend Shaav commented recently that there was no place for adults to learn about science unless they were scientists. I pointed out that it was exactly the same about art. We like the idea of letting kids try everything, but we aren’t quite as eager to try everything ourselves, and if we do, we look for clues to see if we’re good enough to continue. And the more I embrace opportunities to try new things and to pursue things I’m interested in whether or not I am any good at them, the happier I am and the more creative I am. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

More cocktails

1 part Cranberry liqueur
4 parts ginger ale
1 part Cuban rum
Shake with ice in a water bottle.

This one was pretty good but not great. I think the rum taste was distracting. Maybe I need to get some vodka, if I am looking to beef-up some flavoured-alcohol drinks. It doesn’t have a name yet.

1 part Bailey’s Irish cream
1 part Voyant chai cream liqueur
1 part Kahlua
0.5 part Grand Marnier

Since everything was in the fridge I couldn’t be bothered with the shaker, I just stirred it and licked off the spoon. This was very good. It’s like the ingredients of the layered shooter B-52, with the chai liqueur added, so I decided it should be named after a bomber airplane of the Indian Air Force and went looking for one. Hence, Shamsher.

A better cocktail recipe

As served at deVine’s (I don’t know if this one was presented by Penny Irving or by Bryn Batton Wall)

Nutty Angel

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1 oz Frangelico
  • 1 oz Baileys
  • 0.5 oz dark creme de cacao

Shake in a cocktail shaker with ice, dust with nutmeg.

As served chez moi

  • 1 part Cuban rum
  • 1 part Frangelico
  • 1 part Baileys
  • 0.5 part Kahlua (turns out dark creme de cacao is not as ubiquitous as the guy at deVine’s assured me)

Shake up with ice in a wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle, put some nutmeg on top in a glass.

This is almost as good as the one at the tasting. Since Kahlua and the rum come from Spanish-speaking countries, I will call it Ángel Loco.

Food and drink that doesn’t go together

When I was a teenager, I noticed that ground beef tasted great in lots of one-pot combination dishes. We ate a LOT of ground beef as a family of several picky eaters, one heart patient, and mostly one busy cook. I also discovered that eggs tasted pretty good with stuff mixed in, starting with a can of Campbell’s cream soup, but then extending that to various other things in scrambled eggs such as cheese, mushrooms, or celery. So one summer when I was keeping house for myself I thought to extend these observations to cooking eggs and ground beef together in a frying pan along with a can of soup. It didn’t taste good at all.

On Thursday night I went to a cocktail tasting at deVine Wines. Our party gathered in honour of a birthday celebrant.  It was a lot of fun – we tasted seven cocktails, and brought home recipes, a silly souvenir drinking vessel, and whatever ingredients we bought. I feel like making cocktails at home now, except that I don’t have a shaker, and I’ve just gotten around to putting an ice cube tray in the freezer, and I don’t have a complete set of ingredients for any of the things we tried. But one or both of the drink-mixers for the event was really encouraging people to try out combinations on their own and make up names for them.

Here are my conclusions so far:
1. Cranberry liqueur from Okanagan Spirits is really good on its own. It would probably also be very good with orange juice, with ginger ale or soda, with cranberry-cocktail juice, or with champagne, but I don’t have any of those things here yet.
2. Frangelico, the hazelnut liqueur dressed up with a monk’s knotted belt around the bottle, is a bit too sweet to drink warm on its own, and it smells oddly like an old library.
3. Diet root beer and 6yo Cuban rum, while each is something I would gladly drink on its own, when mixed together have a terrible overtone or texture or something, together, like outgassing plastic. Fortunately I didn’t mix very much of it. I had thought it could be called an R&R, but now I don’t want to waste a name.
4. Adding a dribble of Frangelico to the above makes most of the weird chemical thing disappear. It actually just makes it taste like cheap pop, which may be a fake-flavour taste or may be an artificial-sweetener taste.

Conclusion: I need to buy more compatible drinks.

What foods or drinks have you discovered just don’t go together?