#The100DayProject Ottawa Meetup


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Tonight on the 8th floor of 150 Elgin Street, a Meetup will come about. It’s at Shopify—have you heard of it?—and will interest anyone who relishes creative self-development.

Courtney Symons, one of the organizers of the #The100DayProject Ottawa Meetup said one can, “expect to find a room full of creative people who are looking for ways to challenge themselves and continue to grow personally and professionally.”

Last spring, on the day after Easter, hundreds if not thousands of people around the world started working on a promise they made to themselves. All participants learned, did, or made one thing on April 6 and did something similar for the next 99 days. It’s called the 100 Day Project, and was made into #The100DayProject in 2014 by a woman named Elle Luna.

Luna and her friends simply created the social media version of a grad school project by their teacher Michael Beirut and let it run free. Encouraging anyone to do a 100-day project can be one intimidating request, now add sharing the daily progress on Instagram to that ask! Persistent people around the world, however, took up that challenge and many completed their projects on July 14, 2015. Now, about halfway between the last and the next bout of creation, #The100DayProject is gathering their contributors together in every corner of the planet.

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Courtney Symons wrote 100 haikus as her 2015 Project. What she discovered along the way she chronicled in a post on Medium of July 22, which brought the Project to the attention of many. Once the publication called The Great Discontent announced that there would be Meetups for those who participated and others who were interested, Ottawa needed to have its own gathering.

And sure enough, tonight’s 6 to 8 p.m. Ottawa Meetup will take place in a creative environment.

“I hope to hear more about other people’s experiences doing one thing every day for 100 days,” said Miss Symons. “I want to know if it changed them and where they drew their inspiration from. I can’t wait to hear if people have chosen other creative personal projects after the 100 days came to an end.”

That also seems to be a nice side effect of the 100 Day Project, creations keep coming after the 100 days. Folks who usually keep their own undertakings on hold until they are “done with the client’s” throw up their hands to say, Okay! Me-time now!

A photo posted by Becky Margraf (@bargraf) on

“This experience caused me to be conscious of who I am and who I want to be,” said Miss Symons. “Time doesn’t have to ‘fly by’ and leave you wondering where it went at the end of the year. This challenge caused me to think purposefully about each day and what I’d like to achieve in it.”

So as far as projects go, it’s definitely a self-absorbed one. In the age of individualism and mass production, what’s another me-time activity making trinkets? What do you actually get out of this besides 100 new things to put on your shelf?

Well, you do it for the process. It’s not for any clear message or reason, it’s just something you do. You win doubt and struggle, sure, but you’ll also acquire tenacity. If you learn to tie one new knot a day, for instance, you may not remember 100 knots, but you’ll remember the ones you liked best and the most useful ones too. You’ll probably also know how best to go about learning the ropes!

It’s in Elle Luna’s The Crossroad of Should and Must (which came out the second day of 2015’s project) where you will find the best attempt at an explanation of what it means to create. It means a lot of questions, just as in any life, and it also means a lot of people are going through the same kind of process.

Come meet some tonight, why don’t ya?

Illustration by Elle Luna from The Crossroads of Should and Must.
Illustration by Elle Luna from The Crossroads of Should and Must.

Interview: Jillian Keiley, NAC’s Artistic Director of the English Theatre

Jillian Keiley considers herself both a Newfoundlander and a first-generation Canadian. It’s rare to be reminded of the fact that Newfoundland was its own country not too long ago. A chat with the artistic director of the English theatre at the National Arts Centre set me straight on that. This is Jillian’s fourth year traveling the country and curating established and emerging dramatic arts in the nation’s capital. The 10 plays of the 2015-2016 program were announced in March and will begin their production in October until May.

She manages to present poignant and relevant pieces with the help of her associate artistic director Sarah Garton Stanley, a powerful ensemble of actors they’ve put together, and a crack team behind the curtain. This year’s program will speak to that, after three years of interesting and fun productions from around Canada. The following conversation could have gone on longer, but Jill Keiley is in high demand.

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Your staging of The Diary of Anne Frank which just opened at the Stratford Festival this May asks more of the actors than most performances. Can you explain your choice to open the play the way it did?

Well, I wanted to do The Diary of Anne Frank for years. I really wanted to show how some stories have gotten away from us, how history tends to just become something that happened to other people. I wanted to contextualize Anne Frank for the viewer. We had to read the book in school. I know it’s no longer on the required curriculum but I think it should be.

We’ve been to war but not in the way our parents went through World War II. We haven’t been woken up to that. I was thinking about my brother’s baseketball team called The Crusaders. How far removed from our history did we get to think it was cool to call a sports team the Crusaders? That was a pretty bad time to be Catholic. It wasn’t Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table it was raping and pillaging.

What I did in the beginning of the play was have the actors tell stories about how they either learned about the Holocaust or something from when they were 13-years-old. They would say, “I’m an actor, my name is… and I’ll be playing this role of…” There’s a break in the wall because you see through the eyes of the actor. It became a testimony instead of an interpretation, less of a story and more of a documentary.

Some people didn’t get it, ha-ha! Some people really don’t want you to mess with sacred texts. What was great was that kids really got it. It’s part of the Schulich Children’s Plays at the Stratford Festival, so that was great.

Do you think it’s necessary to shake things up in the theatre? Or is this a special circumstance?

I think shaking up something for the sake of it is kind of a waste of time. But shaking something up to reframe it, maybe for a new audience to hear an old story, is necessary. There are new plays and old plays. Do we really need another Romeo & Juliet? Maybe not. But I’ve seen a ton of Romeo & Juliets that made me laugh at how silly this young couple was. We don’t often look at them as being in love at 14. But I mean I was in love at 14 and I got over it!

You can contextualize it. A really great text is malleable that way, you can push a point of view on it. It becomes timeless.

The Taming of the Shrew is hugely sexist and abusive to women, and several productions in the ‘80s & ‘90s made all the male characters female & the female characters male to allow the abuse to not seem as bad. But Shakespeare wasn’t a feminist in that way. Beatings were just normal then. He was a feminist in the way that he wrote strong female characters, but he knew the social norms and wasn’t challenging them.

The 2015-2016 production lineup includes Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night but with puppets. Can you tell us more?

It’s put on by Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop—they’re kind of geniuses. They’ve put on Famous Puppet Death Scenes and they’ve put on Pinocchio at the NAC before, but here they tell an old story in a very new, inventive way. The best way to describe it is they’ll be using puppets but not the puppets’ faces. For instance, when someone’s in a boat, they’ll have the boat attached to the actor’s neck, so just the head sticks out the top with the body of a puppet around it. The puppet’s arms will row the boat but the actor will be playing the character.

Trout’s plays are always so full of joy and strangely honest…

Are you able to put on all the plays you want? Are there stories you haven’t yet been able to tell?

Yeah, there is still a lot out there. By programming seasons we also select artists for the ensemble who figure in three of the 10 plays. The featured artists of the season are 10 artists from across the country. Then we select the other plays from the seasons to come and plan to bring them in for those. I’ve already selected actors that will be a good match for the program two years from now.

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You’re putting on the third production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass in Charlottetown, PEI, at the end of this month. Are you totally comfortable with this play now?

Ha-ha! Yes, I’m pretty comfortable with it now. You know I have a wonderful assistant director. She’s in rehearsals while I have to be here at my day job. She does the build with the actors for a month, and then I show up at the end for the technical rehearsal and take all the credit! It’s a good gig.

Actors are the heart and soul of the theatre. When we come into a new community—like with this production we’ll be putting it on in Edmonton & Winnipeg—everything about the show changes. Different things are funny and some things are fast and some are slow. Some troupes are better at dancing and singing, so the show morphs completely. That’s really interesting to see.

You also recently directed The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, a fictionalized retelling of the story of Joseph R. Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first Premier. Was this story close to you?

Yeah, that was a big part of my growing up. It’s still a topic there. Keep in mind that we’re still first generation Canadians—my parents were born in another country.

I think Canada is a marvellous country and I’m happy to be here, but it’ll be another generation yet before Newfoundland is fully integrated. I mean no offence to Canada but imagine if Canada was added to the United States… There’s nothing wrong with the US but it’s not Canada. That’s a really interesting part of the Newfoundland identity. We aren’t entirely Canadian, maybe the younger crowd consider themselves fully Canadian, but most of us wonder if we’re Canadian or Newfoundlander. I consider myself both.

It’s up for debate whether Joey Smallwood was a hero, but my husband’s parents still won’t say his name. They like Canada, it’s nothing against Canada. We think you’re great! But we did actually give up being a nation… Although I think it was to our benefit.

The play is based on a New York Times best-selling novel of the same name by Wayne Johnston. He’s from The Goulds, the neighbourhood in St. John’s where I’m from. It’s a strange place, must be the water.

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How does considering yourself both Newfoundlander and Canadian affect the way you live?

I always thought about Trudeau saying our country is not the melting pot of the States, it’s the mosaic of Canada. We have to think about that. I have to respect the French as a parallel culture to ours, and that we don’t have to make them speak English. We just have to accept that they’ll speak French. And they’ll have to accept that we speak English. And both French & English have to accept that First Nations should have their own schools with their own culture, history & languages.

When did you first know you wanted to work in the theatre?

I don’t know. We didn’t have a theatre in my town, but we did have a teacher in Grade 10 who came to teach us drama. We were pretty new to the whole idea of theatre. But it was a great community there. I remember my brother did a production of Oliver in Grade 6. It was mind-blowing for me to see my brother do something so cool.

Did you ever aspire to work for the NAC?

No, I never considered myself to be up for the job. When it did come up I thought I wouldn’t do that—I wouldn’t touch that job with a ten-foot pole!

It’s a tough job, no matter who is in government. You have to respect all the various cultures of the country. How can you do something artistic and something that speaks to what’s happening in Canada right now? Just choosing what should be featured is daunting. There are so many communities that I don’t know enough about.

What stories are left to tell I’m only just discovering. We did a study about First Nations, an event where we brought 20 artists and other several of the northern people to Manitoulin Island to work and study indigenous theatre in Canada. We compiled all the plays we could and hosted a three-day discussion on all of it as its own body of work. These plays were not pieces that just popped up every now and then again. This is strong theatre happening. And there’s more than one!

There’s a lot of queer theatre going on as well. Not just one, but four of five queer theatres! And there are black theatres, not just a few but five or six black theatres. And these are just the ones that I know about. These groups are absolutely focused on telling their stories from the queer and black perspectives. In B.C. there is a theatre that does almost all its programming in either Cantonese or Mandarin.

So…

How do I show what’s excellent—and I have to put excellence first, before representation—and what covers the depth and breafth of what’s happening in Canada? What’s the best queer theatre? The best in Cantonese? What about South Asian theatre? What’s the best in Atlantic theatre or in the prairies? It’s such an amazing thing, and it ties back to the idea of the mosaic.

Jillian Keiley

The 2015-2016 NAC English Theatre lineup is available here.

Union 613 Goes Guerilla

It’s not worth thinking about the algorithms that start churning and sifting through your online data when you use the words “guerilla” & “bomb” in the same sentence. Big Brother, please don’t skip over the gardening part of the guerilla, nor the seed component of the bombs! This is about a flowering party!

It’s guerilla gardening time, folks. Let’s take back our deserted city lots and see something grow from the concrete!

“I just bought $150 North American wildflower seeds from Ritchie Feed & Seed, some part-shade and some full-sun,” said Union 613’s owner Ivan Gedz. “Let’s just let people go nuts.”

Union 613 is always thinking up fun things to do that gather the community. Their Speakeasy sessions of whiskey classes are one thing, and the upcoming June Whiskeytown sessions performed by guitarist Steve St. Pierre are another. But this May 31 at noon their coolest event (in my opinion) will hit all the best buttons of engagement, plants, & springtime.

“A big component of our core philosopy is doing things that matter to us,” said Gedz. “This gets people out and brings the community together.”

When he told me there would be free seed bombs handed out in paper bags, I hardly noticed his mention of free beer. These sweet little balls formed of compost, seeds, and red clay stick together with water and fit in your hand with the weight and comfort of a Pokéball. One thousand of the buggers should be available by Sunday, all of which are being painstakingly created as you read this. They are simply meant to be chucked, lobbed, tossed, or pitched into the barest of lots in the urban centre.

Gedz admitted he didn’t know much about it but did enough research to know that wildflower seeds spread around the downtown neighbourhoods should yield some pretty cool results. Now it just has to rain!

The event will also feature music by DJ Jas Nasty, a Build Your Own Terrarium (BYOT) class by blumenstudio’s Kat Kosk that’ll set you up with everything for $35 cash, and several local artists, including Julian Garner & Drew Mosely among others, designing art made of moss on both sides of the building. There are many recipes for creating the slurry that makes moss graffiti, and they usually involve a blender, a food product with bacterial culture, and a patch of moss. Add corn syrup to thicken, paint it on something, and keep it hydrated over a couple weeks. Voilà!

Better a living piece of art than the hateful tags that pop up too often on the side of the Centretown restaurant. Still, Gedz is ready to hear from those up in arms about cerain aspects of the event. If it’s successful though he’s ready to encourage other Ottawa restaurants to participate next year, and perhaps even the City of Ottawa.

“I’d rather do something that works and looks cool, and to document it than to ask for permission and not get it.”

It is indeed easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, but it’s also a tenet of Guerilla Gardening as a movement. You don’t ask politely to start turning the city into a garden, you just do it! Gedz and his team are (perhaps without knowing it) following the principles of the “manualfesto” by David Tracey that outlines what it means to want to improve your surrounding environment. To reiterate, there will be no damaging of property, public or private, and definitely no trespassing… That’s the beauty of a seed bomb. What a guerilla gardener does is fight for the freedom to have a healthy and biodiverse place in which to live.

From page 20 of Guerilla Gardening: A Manualfesto: “Cities are not the problem, they’re the solution. Cities are alive and should be treated that way… The public creates the best public spaces. People will care for a place they plant themselves.”

Selah!

With Flying Colours

There are scenes and there are Scenes, as devotees of Canadian arts & culture will tell you. In 2003 Atlantic Scene hit Ottawa, featuring 400 Maritime artists in all mediums that took to the National Arts Centre for 13 days. Every second year since, the NAC presented another part of Canada’s artistic scenes in the order of Alberta Scene, Québec Scene, BC Scene, Prairie Scene, and lastly Northern Scene in 2013. This year it’s come full circle to present our own province.

The first Saturday of Ontario Scene featured Shadrach Kabango, a.k.a. Shad K, a humble rapper from London, ON, headlining a night of rap at the Bronson Centre. A trio of Ottawa acts warmed up the already balmy evening: Jesse Dangerously woke up the crowd with a punchy set that featured his hilarious latest single “fml lol smdh“, opening for Story Tellers of the Akwesasne Mohawk Reserve who spit a revolution rap, a rebel hop that seared, and transitioned well into the hip pop of Zoo Legacy whose sets have been getting tighter and tighter.

It was, however, Shad’s night.

The crowd was peppered with curious showgoers who had perhaps never seen nor heard Shad’s rhymes before, only his fresh interviewing skills on CBC Radio 1’s q. It was largely Shad fans who came in right near the end of the evening to see the rapper take the stage, surrounded by a half-circle of musicians, including DJ T.LO—with whom he contributes regularly—a hellion on the keys, and a trumpetist who also whipped out a frigging flugelhorn. Pretty dope.

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He began his set with a new song and moved flawlessly into the well-travelled territory of “Rose Garden” from TSOL. He asked the crowd often to put their palms to ceiling as he does in the chorus of “We, Myself & I”, and we obliged with pleasure. The beginning of that track had a subtle variation in his opening: “There is no I in me but there’s an I in vanity,” replaced the words “team” and “win”. I’ve been listening to his latest LP Flying Colours often enough to notice.

It’s fun to find variation, small tweaks in a oeuvre, but Shad’s message is constant. It’s optimism, almost exclusively positive feedback. He’s not without lyrics about how he’s killing these tracks,” and how he may just be the best one day… but he never strays into swagger or bombast.

“I don’t mean to speak this real but, like, damn… I don’t mean to sound depressed but I am,” he spits on”Progress (Part 1: American Pie)” from Flying Colours. It’s perhaps his darkest song, flanked on the track list by “Stylin” (video below) and “Remember to Remember”, which is the anthem of his work so far. He is what he raps about, there is no façade, neither is there glorification of violence, indulgence or celebrity. He honours his father, his roots, the women in his life, and his ability to love. He’s endlessly deferential but by no means meek.

“Please don’t,” he laughed as one member of the audience became to clap rhythmically during his a cappella encore. “I’m sorry! It’s just that I go off tempo… I’d throw you off.” He then wowed us with an extended  spoken word poem that definitely had freestyle in it. His personality shone clearly on stage, as it does on air.

“I can’t be everything to everyone so let me be anything to anyone.”

Okay, he admits he would like to be Jay-Z in his lifetime, but he’s clearly on the track to becoming the next Will Smith, despite that his music matured far quicker that Smith’s did. An oldie but a goodie came up, “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home“, where he asks, “Why get a bed and a couch when you can slouch on a futon instead?” He’s gone from rapping about whether the dentist is swindling him to social consciousness and the power of faith. It’s no wonder he was tapped as arguably the leader of the next generation of CBC hosts and as an brilliant opener for Ontario Scene’s lineup. Now here’s me praying he’ll still have time to make new music as he moves forward with so many projects…

The Library of Babel

If you could have anything you wanted in a library, absolutely anything, what would you ask for?

The Ottawa Public Library wants to know by Easter Monday, April 6. If you can find time to let fly your wildest dreams, email centrallibrary@ottawa.ca and don’t hold back. We’ve been tasked to think outside of the box here. Don’t be afraid to suggest the most ridiculous things, since the budget hasn’t really been brought up. Let’s set it at approximately $∞.

On Tuesday March 31, the public consultation began at City Hall. One hundred and eighty people attended, 570 watched online, and the Chair of the OPL Board, Councillor Tim Tierney, challenged all of Ottawa to bring up what they’d like to see in a flagship library. So did Mayor Jim Watson, who’s been chomping at the bit to get public input on what he hopes will be a “world-class facility”. He promised a new library in his campaign and is on track to deliver.

“I very much look forward to hearing your ideas, your dreams, your aspirations for a new central library,” he said.

Ideas we’ll hear in spades so let’s push for dreams!

One end of the library should be equipped with a movable type printing press, a silkscreen station, and a carrier pigeon dovecote. The furthest end could include an Oculus Rift station, more 3D printers like the Imagine Space at the Nepean Centrepointe branch, and an e-book database that lends titles via Bluetooth. Between both past and present we could have a tool library and maker space for tinkerers. Instead of a kitchen classroom and a parkour playground in separate locations, we could recreate a larger version of the currently defunct Crooked Kitchen and teach “extreme cooking” classes.

The overwhelming support will probably be for natural light in lieu of the medieval brutalist design of the Main branch. Many say libraries should no longer be dungeons, but I disagree. A search for a physical book should feel like a quest. Plus books, especially old ones, are intolerant of sunlight. This isn’t reason enough to digitize and recycle them, however. Let’s do away with glossy weekly magazines before we put an end to out-of-print artifacts.

I may be old-fashioned but I’m not saying “The Library of Babel” should be built. Where would we link the Confederation Line to an endless universe of hexagons? Still, I enjoy the thought of a fantastical building that houses nothing less than the entirety of human knowledge. Then there’s the Halifax Central Library from where we can learn from their mistakes and integrate their successes. Already the logo on the Ottawa Central Library website looks vaguely familiar to Halifax’s.

The biggest priority of any library should be a fun and safe place for children to read. So why not a giant pillow fort? No parents allowed! Adults really put emphasis on how children need to “rediscover the joy of reading” with seemingly little faith in the kids’ ability to concentrate. Let’s start by having more books that are actually enjoyable to read and an environment where no grown-ups are peering over young shoulders.

And if we’re ignoring budget then let’s ignore reality for a second. A library could be a warm meadow with a giant willow beside a babbling brook. The Internet at your fingertips in the creek, and the histories of all great human beings embedded in the bark of the tree. This is a made-up place, but perhaps not impossible in 100 years. It’s permaculture 2.0: where children can unearth tomes like potatoes out of an earth that maintains a habitat to keep books from turning into compost. Now that would be a quest.

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Illustration by Erik Desmazieres