A Reading And Celebration Of My Novel The Piano Teacher   2 comments

On Friday October 9 at 7:00 PM Stickland 2015on the second floor of the Le Forte Centre at St. Mary’s University, located in Fish Creek Park in south Calgary, I will be reading from my novel The Piano Teacher. To bring some musical artistry to the even, my friend Morag Northey will be helping me out. Morag is one of the finest cellists in the land. We first worked together on my play Queen Lear, for which she created a musical score and performed every night in the original production of the play.

I’ve been involved with St. Mary’s in one way or another since 2005 when we took a small production of my play Closer and Closer Apart  there one winter’s evening. I loved the “boutique” nature of the place — a small (but ever-growing) student population, small class sizes, excellent faculty.  In my mind it offers a liberal arts education the way it’s meant to be done and I’ve been proud to be associated with the place these last 10 years.

So, if you want to check St. Mary’s out — it’s a beautiful campus off of Bannister Road near Fish Creek — and you would like a signed copy of my novel, and even the chance to hear me read from it, and of course hear Morag as well, please come by Friday evening.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thanks for reading.


Bleeding For My Art   Leave a comment

So there I was, bleeding at the War Memorial in Kensington.  arn

My front tire had hit a ridge where the pavement gives way to the planking of the Memorial and I went down in an inglorious heap. It truly was an inelegant moment in the history of cycling.

My first thought was of my ribs – I had a fall last summer and broke a rib on my left side (#8, I believe it was). Let me tell you, that hurt like stink. So I sat there and although my hip hurt and my arm was bleeding and my knee was bleeding and my ankle was bleeding, at least my ribs seemed ok.

Small mercies.

My second thought was of the precious cargo on my bike rack. This cargo was the point of the journey, after all. Ten copies of my novel The Piano Teacher destined for Pages in Kensington book store. The books seemed fine and so I breathed a sigh of relief.

But I remember thinking at that moment that this was a situation unique to self-publishing where you have to do everything yourself. Maybe, just maybe, when I finish my next novel I’ll shop around a little more seriously to find a publisher who would do such things for me.

Then there was a lovely moment as a person of the street came up to me and helped my on my feet and got my bike up and make sure I was all right before sending me on my way. It was a little act of kindness, generosity of spirit, that took some of the sting from my minor injuries and put things in perspective for me.

So my book is now available at Shelf Life Books, Pages in Kensington, Owl’s Nest Books, and Reid’s Stationers, all in Calgary. If you are further afield than this, you can order it from Blurb.ca which is a print-on-demand service that I use. They put out a nice product, their books are virtually identical to the ones I have printed at Blitz Print here in Calgary. (The direct link to Blurb is here: http://www.blurb.ca/b/6423475-the-piano-teacher)

If this seems too much for you, for whatever reason, let me know and we’ll figure out a way to get you a copy of the book.

I’m happy to report that The Piano Teacher was #3 on Calgary’s best sellers last week. (As of September 12.)

Finally, I have arranged to give a reading at St. Mary’s University in south Calgary, where I am the writer in residence, on October 9 starting at 7 PM, but more on that anon.

I hope you enjoying the transition from summer to fall. It’s beautiful here in Alberta, but as we discover year after year, all so brief. Enjoy the colours while they last!

Thanks for reading . . .


An update on The Piano Teacher   Leave a comment

Cover_ThePianoTeacher_Stickland_FrontWe have a good problem, I suppose – there are currently no copies to be had except on-line through Blurb.ca. (I will provide the link below.)

A recent article on the book and on me by Eric Volmers in the Calgary Herald sparked renewed interest but alas there are no copies to be had in any of Calgary’s book stores.

I printed what I assumed would be enough copies to last through the summer back in May when the book first came out and was launched at Shelf Life Books. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view I suppose, we have exhausted that first run.

It was drawn to my attention that there were a number of typos in the book – sorry about that! We have now expunged those (or at least corrected them) and the book is back at the printers and we now eagerly await the error-free second edition. I would put the date for the book to be back on the shelf (as it were) hopefully around August 29.

I prefer whenever possible to support locally owned businesses, and so at this point in time the book will be available at Shelf Life Books, Pages in Kensington, Owl’s Nest Books as well as Reid’s Stationers, all in Calgary. That’s how it stands now, but that could change if other book stores decide they would like to carry it.

The book is also available through the Calgary Public Library. They recently ordered extra copies (through Blurb) to keep up with the demand. (Wherever you may live in the world, you can always ask your local library to order the book and they usually do. One book at a time is how it goes . . . )

But as I say, it is also available if you order it through Blurb.ca, which is essentially a print-on-demand service. It takes a few days for the book to arrive and it costs a little extra for shipping, but it is the same book you would get at any of the above bookstores. (I actually make a greater royalty this way, so please don’t be shy. It’s just like ordering a book through Amazon, only I don’t like what Amazon is doing to the world and so you won’t find it there. But that’s another story.)

The link for buying the book is currently rather wobbly, so the best course of action to take for now is to visit blurb.ca (or dot-com outside of Canada) and go from there. Thanks! (Ahhh, technology!)

If you would like to have a signed copy, then you just have to get in touch with me and we will find a way to make that happen. Looking ahead, there will be a launch/celebration of the book at St. Mary’s University in south Calgary where I am writer in residence sometime this fall.

And then all those other things I don’t know about yet . . .

So there you have it. Now you know what I know. Before I leave you with the link to Eric’s piece, I’d like to thank my designer on this project, Jackie Bourgaize, for her excellent design and patience and my brother Tom and his wife Alison for their immense support – without them, there would be no book, plain and simple.

And thank you as well to everyone who has bought the book so far, and for all the nice things you have said to me on Facebook and in person. It has been a very gratifying experience so far.

It almost feels like I oughtta write another one!

Thanks for reading!

Here’s Eric’s piece . . .



There Was A Most Amazing Storm Last Night   2 comments

There really was a tremendous storm last night here in Calgary.  storm

The day before Canada Day, Mother Nature provided better fireworks than we’re likely to see tonight. As a friend of mine put it, “it was like my apartment was in the middle of a thundercloud.” I felt the same in mine.

There was a most amazing storm last night . . . such a statement, which you can see from the photo I wrote in my journal this morning, might be quite unremarkable in and of itself, but listen to this:

When I was a music major at the University of Regina for a brief time in the 1970’s, I studied piano with a marvelously eccentric and talented pianist named Thomas Manshardt. I have drawn heavily on what I remember of Tom, all these years later, for both the narrator and his teacher Alfred in my novel The Piano Teacher.

Tom was one of the last students of the venerable Alfred Cortot in Paris. Through Cortot, Tom could trace his pianistic lineage back to Czerny – and I guess, by extension, so can I!

In those days before Political Correctness has reared its ugly head, it was not uncommon for a prof to invite a student over for a drink, and it was not uncommon for me to show up at Tom’s apartment for a glass or two of Pernod to talk about art and music and life and everything in between.

Tom’s apartment is memorable for a few things as I look back some 40 years. One, it had a commanding view of Regina’s beautiful Wascana Park. And it was entirely bereft of any furniture whatsoever, unless we consider book shelves to be furniture. There were plenty of books, plenty of open space, but not a chair or table or couch to be seen.

Once during this time, there was a tremendous thunderstorm in Regina, far worse than the one we saw in Calgary last night. It caused havoc and destruction throughout the city. Even my own parents’ basement flooded in that storm, and the house was hardly on low land.

That night I was over at Tom’s and saw that his journal was lying open. On the journal, his Montblanc Meisterstuck fountain pen, just as mine is in the photo above. He had written at the top of the page, as I have done all 4 decades later –

“There was a most amazing storm last night.”

In many ways you could say my life began that night, the moment I read those words . . . .

Thanks for reading. Happy Canada Day!

Here’s Cortot . . .





The Marriage of Music and Literature   4 comments

moragandmeThis lovely photo taken by my friend Francis Willey is from the launch of my novel, The Piano Teacher, at Calgary’s Shelf Life Books.

The beautiful woman you see in the photo is Morag Northey, a wonderful cellist and human being who graced us with her presence and made what may have been an ordinary event quite magical.

The universe, or God, or god, or the gods, or maybe a simple act of fate brought Morag and I together about 6 years ago when I was looking for a cellist to create a score and perform it on stage for my play Queen Lear.

That’s not an easy thing to do, let alone do it well, but she did it and anyone who saw that Urban Curvz production of the play certainly came away from it enriched and even transformed by her infectiously generous spirit that she somehow manages to impart with each and every note she produces.

How perfect, then, that Morag offered to play at the launch of The Piano Teacher.

If Queen Lear was an exploration of the process of the theatre, then The Piano Teacher is an exploration of the process of music. Among other things, obviously.

I began my artistic career as a piano player. When I was young and developing my aesthetic sensibilities, it was all about music, and the act of playing. It really quite amazed me that when I set out to write this novel, which is told from the point of view of a concert pianist, so many of the lessons and ideas learned from my teachers decades ago were still so fresh in my mind, like it all had just happened yesterday.

Interesting, isn’t it, what sticks and what doesn’t.

When I began writing plays — my first one, The Family, was performed in 1984 in the back space of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto — 31 years ago, dear God, where does it go? — I guess I must have felt that words alone were inadequate somehow, never as powerful or as evocative as music. I tried to find a balance between language and music in the medium of the theatre. The odd time I think I may have actually gotten it right.

There’s a bit of business in The Family where the dead son returns from war with his coffin on his back. (Don’t ask.) (Designers either love or hate me.) The coffin transforms into a piano, and the dead son sits down and plays some lounge music while his father seduces the son’s fiancée. (Or was it the other way around?)

The point being, we had live music on stage. Other plays I’ve written – Quartet, Cocktails (which I edited and contributed a piece to), Excavations, Writer’s Bock and Queen Lear, all featured live music on stage in one way or another. Even my old chestnut, Some Assembly Required, had one of the characters creating the soundtrack on stage by playing a tightly controlled rotation of LPs.

It’s an exploration I got away from during my years at Alberta Theatre Projects. Looking back now, I’m not sure why that happened. I certainly came back to it with Queen Lear, and now with The Piano Teacher, it feels like I have come full circle in my adult life. (Or whatever this is.)

Ongoing, I’ve muddled my way through most of a second novel that so far has nothing to do with music. I do have an idea for a play that is about an aging rock musician (see photo below!) but so far that’s just an idea, I haven’t taken pen to paper yet.

I do think it interesting to endeavour to probe this antinomy of music and literature.I look forward to renewing the journey again some day. Meanwhile, though I have a novel to flog and it seems to take up a lot of time and energy. I have to say that the early feedback on The Piano Teacher has been so warm and enthusiastic that it’s really been encouraging.

Oh, and this. As you are probably aware, artists of all stripes are trying to figure out how we can make a living from our travails in this digital age. Well, a friend of mine put a “Donations” button on his blog a while back and he has made the astronomical amount of $37.00 as a result. So I thought what’s the worst that can happen, and put one on this blog, up on the left hand side. It’s a long summer and any support I receive in this manner will be greatly appreciated.

If you can afford to, I would appreciate the support. But really, just knowing there are people reading these ramblings is gratifying in itself. Still, you know what they say — you can’t live on air.

I mean to put a permanent link on for buying The Piano Teacher and Queen Lear from Blurb.com, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet.  If you’re in Calgary, you can buy both books at Shelf Life Books, but if you’re further away, The Piano Teacher can be purchased online at http://blur.by/1JCifkt and Queen Lear at http://blur.by/1wf20oo.

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a photo of me shilling my book at the Shelf Life sale at The Lilac Festival earlier today.

Lilac Festival

Of Elections and Bike Lanes in Calgary   4 comments

In case you hadn’t heard,Best-Quotes-33464-statusmind.com the Alberta election (which I wrote about in my last post) was held and much to everyone’s surprise – delight or dismay, depending on what side of the political spectrum you are on – the left-leaning NDP won a whopping majority, thus ending some 43 years of uninterrupted rule by the province’s right-leaning Progressive Conservative Party.

For the record, my candidate of choice, Terry Rock, who was running for the PCs, didn’t fair so well. My riding of Calgary Buffalo went to a candidate for the NDP whom I never saw during the election, still haven’t seen, wouldn’t know if she walked up to me and hit me over the head with a dead fish, but that’s politics for you. I wish her and our new premier Rachel Notley the best of luck.

Those of you who know me will recognize that the NDP come far closer to my own political views than the other parties, although for all that I had somehow made my peace with the PC regime and had learned to live with the status quo. Clearly, though, by anyone’s standards, it was time for a change, and we got it, big time.

For many, this shift from right to left was seen as a seismic event. I have to say that I was frankly amazed at the passionate responses to the election from friends, as seen on Facebook, from both sides.

When we play sports, or engage in competition of any kind, we are taught – or at least we used to be taught – to be gracious in both victory and defeat. There was little grace that I saw following this election. I saw gloating from the left, sulking from the right, the whole thing made me aware once again of just how entrenched we have all become in our own beliefs, and how intolerant we have become to the beliefs of others.

In fact, what was once upon a time in the fairy tale past a measured dialogue that is surely the cornerstone of democracy, now sounds something like this:

I’m right. You’re wrong. Shut the fuck up.

Do you remember Voltaire? No? Well, I’m not surprised. It was he who said, as seen above, I might disagree with your opinion, but I am willing to give my life for your right to express it.

Well friends, we seem to be a long ways away from such lofty tolerance. That seems to be what we are losing these days, by the bucketful: tolerance. I know this. I’m a smoker. Believe me, I know.

If the great bastion of conservatism in Canada has fallen (remember, Alberta is sometimes referred to a “Texas North,”) an even greater force of evil (in some people’s minds) has insinuated itself into the heart of Calgary: bicycle lanes. Or as they are properly known as, the City of Calgary Cycle Path Network.

These bike lanes that have taken away precious lanes for car traffic, and precious parking spots in front of businesses along various streets (including 12th Avenue, where I live) have added insult to injury in the minds of many of our citizens, and if anything I have probably heard more outrage and frustration directed at them, and cyclists in general, than at the dreaded NDP government.

It’s so bad that as a cyclist, I don’t even love them. Now when I leave my apartment, I am afraid that whenever I’m outside of the official bike lane, which is actually on the other side of the street from me, I will be fair game, fairer than ever, to all the wannabe rodeo kings in their penis-extending souped-up pickup trucks (most of which show no evidence of ever having driven on anything but pavement, but I digress).

I mean, they were bad enough before we pissed them off . . . Who knows where all this will lead?

These two radical leftist events – the election of a socialist government and the sudden appearance of bike lanes – came together perfectly in a letter I saw written to the Calgary Sun recently. (Or was it the Herald? Hard to tell them apart any more.)

In a wonderful blazing fusion of intolerance and ignorance, one reader complained bitterly about the bike lanes – which are obviously a civic undertaking, not provincial, set in motion years before this election was held – ending his diatribe with a little phrase I’m sure we have not heard for the last time in these parts: I blame it on the socialists.

Seems we live in interesting times.

Thanks for reading!

This song by Paul Brandt would seem to beg the question, now that we have an NDP government here, will our rednecks now be properly referred to as orangenecks? Time will tell . . .




It’s Spring in Alberta and You Can Smell an Election in the Air   2 comments

According to my friends on Facebook, terryand at least some of the polls, we in Alberta would seem to be at a crossroads of sorts — one path being the well-worn if not worn-out way of the Progressive Conservatives, the other leading into the uncharted and hitherto unimaginable regions, at least in Alberta, of the NDP. With various Wild, Wild Rose and Liberal possibilities thrown in for good measure.

According to one poll I saw, my own riding of Calgary Buffalo is favouring the NDP, followed by the Liberals, followed by the Conservatives and finally, the party we hope has no hope in hell here in the inner city, the Wild, Wild Rose.

For those of us with any kind of memory at all, this situation is reminiscent of the election three years ago when a similar poll told us (well, it told me anyway) that the Wild, Wild Rosers were in the lead, followed by the Conservatives and then the Liberals.

The Liberals in that election were represented here in Calgary Buffalo (where I’ve never actually seen a buffalo in all these many years, not yet anyway) by the incumbent Kent Hehr who, despite the dire predictions, won the last election quite handily. Which taught us, if nothing else, not to trust the polls which as I say had predicted a Wild, Wild Rose landslide.

So here we are, back again, only this time the threat to the ruling (for ever) Conservatives is from the left, not the right, but one can’t help but wonder if the effect won’t be the same – that voters will decide once again on the lesser of two evils and continue the tired old dance with the devil they know.

On my Facebook at least there is a real thirst for change. Yet, I can only imagine that for every orange marker I see, there are at least 10 PCs biding their time fully intending to keep things just as they are, thank you very much. In other elections I’ve witnessed here, there has been no change, other than the leader of the ruling party – which, I have heard, is the longest continuously ruling democratic government anywhere in the world.

Countries have come and gone, walls have been built and have fallen, the world has changed in so many ways since the days when the PCs were young and brash and vibrant. Finally, at least some of the voters in the province have awoken to the realization that they haven’t actually done a very good job of running the place, not by anyone’s reckoning.

It’s hardly a secret that my own political sensibilities run a little left of centre, and maybe a little left of that some more. My granddaddy on my mom’s side helped start the CCF party, the forerunner to the NDP, so maybe it’s hereditary. I believe that Tommy Douglas was the greatest Canadian Premier (albeit in Saskatchewan) in our brief history, giving us, for example, an Arts Board long before the Canada Council came into being, not to mention universal Medicare.

And so, while I would be delighted to have an NDP government in Alberta (and I can’t even believe that it’s a possibility) as usual I’m going to step out of line and for the first time in my life vote Progressive Conservative.


It’s true. (Sorry, Grandpa.)

I’m not actually voting for the party, I’m voting for the individual, who in this case is Terry Rock. My old friend Kent Hehr has left provincial politics and will run in my federal riding of Calgary Centre in the next election, and you bet I’ll do what I can to help him win and replace what’s-her-name from the Cons who was recently voted the most useless MP on Parliament Hill.

Running for the Liberals in Kent’s place is David Khan, who seems like a great guy. I’m sure he would make a wonderful MLA. I don’t actually know Kathleen Ganley who’s running for the NDP, and I haven’t heard anything from her or her people, but I wish her luck. Sorry, I can’t bring myself to name the Wild, Wild Roser. And I haven’t heard a peep out of Trevor Grover of the Green Party. Those are my choices.

So why would I vote for Terry Rock of the PC party and run the risk of perpetuating this rather tired, stale and ineffective government?

Well, he’s a good man, for starters. More importantly, however, it’s where he comes from. He the founding President and CEO for ten years of Calgary Arts Development. As a result Terry is probably more knowledgeable about the activities and aspirations of artists and arts organizations in Calgary and even throughout the province than anyone.

When this election race first began, I thought how wonderful to have a knowledgeable and sympathetic MLA – one on the government side of things, for a change. It’s really not too big a stretch to see him as the Minister of Culture. Who better?

But that was then, and this is now. How things have changed over the course of this campaign! If nothing else, it feels like we are finally able to have some kind of intelligent political discourse in the province.

Obviously, I don’t know what will happen to Terry or the PCs on Tuesday – that’s why we cast our votes. As for me, I only have one vote, and for the first time in my life, I’m voting for the Progressive Conservative candidate.

Thanks for reading, and if you live in Alberta, please do the right thing on Tuesday and get out and vote.



A Book Launch: The Literary Event of the Century!   7 comments

Everyone who’s anyone will be there . . . so read on!

The three notebooks I wrote the first draft of The Piano Teacher in, and the first page. Such a long journey.

The three notebooks I wrote the first draft of The Piano Teacher in, and the first page. Such a long journey.

On May 7 at Shelf Life Books in Calgary, I will be launching my novel, The Piano Teacher. Beyond launching a single book in a sense I will be launching a new incarnation of myself, this time as a novelist, adding to but not necessarily replacing other incarnations which have included, to date, musician, playwright, journalist and educator. (I may be missing a few.)

I suppose one way to stay young and humble and hungry is to leave your comfort zone and try something new. (Isn’t that what the Lulu Lemon bags tell us to do?) It’s always a bit scary and there is no real safety net but the risk of failure and public humiliation is not new to me.

Over the course of my writing career which includes to date 15 plays and almost 300 newspaper columns and numerous and various magazine articles and poems, I am quite used to sharing my failures along with my few successes.

For me, hell is not failure; hell is to stop trying new things.

I found the writing of the book to be straightforward enough. It’s written in the first person, in the form of a diary, so in a sense it’s an extended monologue – very extended, in fact, it’s about 70,000 words.

I wrote it mostly in Caffe Beano in the three small journals pictured here with a mechanical pencil. Yes, it’s true, I still prefer to hand write my first drafts when time allows. After I had filled the three notebooks, I was fortunate to receive an Alberta Foundation for the Arts grant to transcribe it from those handwritten journals into my computer which was  a labourious but productive process.

The only part of the journey that was difficult and even unpleasant was finding a publisher. Being an award-winning playwright seems to offer little advantage when looking for a publisher for a novel.

I only showed it to two people in this regard, and both times I got the same response, that it doesn’t have a broad enough commercial potential. Quite frankly, I was proud of that, and maybe I’m arrogant (because I’m too old to be naïve) but I think the writing holds together well enough and because it’s about a classical musician, a concert pianist, and because I assume the classical music mob is one that actually likes to read, I think I’ll be ok.

I have no illusions that I’ll make a million bucks, but I’ll at least have a work I am proud of and that I created purely on my own terms.

And so I just said “Fuck ‘em. I’ll do it myself.” And so I am, through my own boutique publishing company, B House.

I have written about B House before on this blog (see, for example, Publish and Perish in my archives). Our biggest difficulty in the past (one of many, I assure you) has been with distribution. I think I have solved that problem by having it printed in two different ways.

Locally, as we have been doing, it is being printed by Blitz Print and those are the copies that will be available at my launch May 7. Over the summer I hope to get copies to other independent book stores in Calgary (Pages and Owl’s Nest) but by and large if you’re in Calgary and wish to buy a copy,  your best bet is to go to Shelf Life Books on the corner of 4th Street and 13th Avenue SW.

At the same time, the book is also available on line through Blurb.ca or Blurb.com depending where you are in the world. (As is my play Queen Lear. Other titles will be made available in this way over time. At least that’s the plan.)

If you would like to buy the book on line, simply copy and paste this link and order away:


Beside providing you with hours and hours of entertainment, it will obviously make a nice present for your child’s piano teacher, or for Aunt Mable, or for the mail man, etc. etc.

Sorry, but one has to engage in some shameless self promotion from time to time.

As I was writing this post, I heard from my dear friend Morag Northey who informed me that she is going to bring her cello and grace us with some music at my launch. Morag created the musical score and performed the role of the cellist in my play Queen Lear at the Urban Curvz production a few years ago. Her support for this novel of mine means more than I can say.

If you’re in Calgary, I would love to see you at Shelf Life Books on May 7 at 7:00 PM. There will be wine and cheese and Morag and music and I will obviously sign your copy of the book – who knows, it might be worth something some day.

And wherever you are, I would appreciate your support through my online sales. Contrary to popular belief, we artists don’t live on air. It’s nice to eat.

Thanks for reading!

From Russia With Love . . . But Very Little Cash   1 comment

As I prepare to launch my novel The Piano Teacher next month, the old playwriting career has shown a sudden spike in activity, this time over in Russia.

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

I love this design by our friend Peter Moller, making one think of an ancient copy of King Lear, complete with finger smudges!

From what I make of it, it will only be a matter of time until I’m like a god over there, they won’t be able to get enough of me. Soon, my photo will grace the wall of every dwelling place, humble or grand, likely hung between Dostoevsky and Chekhov, two of my favourite writers in any language or medium.

I have been fortunate enough to have had my work performed in far off places before (Turkey, for example, and Nova Scotia) and I have come to learn that the further they are away from you, the less likely they are to pay you. But that’s ok, it’s all part of establishing one’s international reputation.

The contract they have sent from the land of Putin and Pussy Riot is especially puzzling. In fact I’ve never seen anything quite like it. To wit, the theatre has licensed the play – which is my play Queen Lear, translated into Russian a few years ago by a woman named Galina Kolosova who is a friend of Joyce Doolittle, for whom I wrote the place in the first place, but in English, obviously – to stage the work beginning on April 25 for one performance a month for a duration of three years.

I like the three years part, but once a month? I can’t think of an equivalent in the Canadian theatre. One performance a month! How is that even possible?

It gets better. In the land of subsidized theatre, the average ticket price is only a dollar or two. The theatre seats 100. My royalty is 6% of that, which according to my math will work out to about $6.00 per month. But for three years.

Like I say, it will only be a matter of time till I’m like a god over there.

Still, it is flattering always to have your work produced, especially in exotic climes such as this, and of course as strange as it all seems to me from this side of the pond, I wish them the best of luck with it.

The dream is that a director or producer from a theatre that performs a little more frequently than once a month in a larger theatre, such as the Moscow Art Theatre where Chekhov and Stanislavski used to hang out, will see it, love it and mount their own production. As unlikely as that might be, it would now seem to be in the realm of possibility, at least.

One can always dream, right? It goes hand in hand with the enterprise of writing plays.

By the way, if you’re interested in obtaining a copy of Queen Lear, at least in English, I’ve published it through my publishing company B House with the online printer known as Blurb, website http://www.blurb.com or in Canada, http://www.blurb.ca.

Any sales will be greatly appreciated, as obviously my royalty money is a little thin these days.

Anyway, it’s all good, I’m not complaining. But one of these years, would it be too much to ask to get a production where I make a shitload of money? Just once? Would that be asking too much?

Someday, friends. Someday.

Thanks for reading.

The Beatles won’t let me share Back in the USSR, so here’s this instead . . . .










A Brief and Personal History of Arts Journalism in Calgary   4 comments

When I began writing for the Calgary Herald, my publisher Peter Menzies told me there are over 300,000 people from Saskatchewan in Calgary, and so just treat it like it's Saskatchewan's largest city, which I did. Shamelessly.

When I began writing for the Calgary Herald, my publisher Peter Menzies told me there are over 300,000 people from Saskatchewan in Calgary, and so just treat it like it’s Saskatchewan’s largest city, which I did. Shamelessly.

The demise of FFWD, Calgary’s entertainment weekly for the last nineteen years, is both lamentable and predictable – and probably disastrous for arts groups in all areas in terms of promotion through the weekly listings – let alone providing an informed critical response to the work on stage.

Looking back at arts coverage over the last 20 years, it’s been a slow and steady and deadly decline.

I arrived here in 1994, chaperoning my play Some Assembly Required at Alberta Theatre Projects’ now-defunct playRites Festival. At the end of that run (“the hottest six weeks in winter!”) I was given a stack of clippings – previews, reviews, insights, interviews from a variety of papers and magazines including  previews and reviews from the Globe & Mail and whole-page spreads from The Calgary Herald. It added up to an impressive pile of paper, a couple of pounds worth, probably.

That was just what had come out in print. Add to that several television interviews and spots on CBC Radio – which continued over the years thanks to the unflagging support of Caroline Smith – and one felt that the work and, assuming it happened more than once, one’s career, were taken very seriously in Calgary.

Thanks to the work of many great journalists, not to mention publicists from all the theatre companies, I was able to become something of a big deal during my ten years at ATP.

In 1997 a publication called The Calgary Straight came into existence. I had always been attracted to the idea of writing some kind of column, and one evening at an artists’ soiree organized by Bart Habermiller, who at the time was the City of Calgary art guy, I met the Straight’s editor, Patricia Robertson.

She invited me to submit an article. I did. It got published. And so I was on my way. Or so I thought.

Very shortly after that, Patricia took exception to the way the paper was being run and quit. (She made what could be call an “ethical decision.” Remember those?)

Michelle Greysen stepped in and took over. Following a chance encounter at Stage West (!), she asked me to write a weekly column. I thought my journalistic ship had finally arrived. I even went so far as to buy a little notebook to keep track of all my fabulous ideas for possible columns.

One day around this time I went into the old Roasterie 2 in Kensington to write down some of these bright ideas in my little notebook, and there was Michelle sitting at one of the back tables with an open bottle of Baileys in front of her. It didn’t seem hopeful, and it wasn’t. The home office (Vancouver’s Georgia Straight) had pulled the plug on the fledgling venture in Cowtown. She invited me to drink to the memory of the Calgary Straight. We had a drink and that was that.

The Calgary Straight folded in 2002 after a 5 year run, sadly just at the point it was starting to turn a profit.  As sad and frustrating as it was for the people involved, it wasn’t a great surprise, I suppose, and it didn’t matter that much in terms of the big picture because around this time The Herald was going strong with Martin Morrow, Bob Clarke, Stephen Hunt et al; Lisa Wilton and Louis B were over at The Sun, and FFWD had an extremely strong presence – and some very good writers like Nikki Sheppy and eventually Martin Morrow who went over to FFWD following the acrimonious strike at The Calgary Herald.

It was around this time that my photo graced the cover of FFWD.  (I think I was on there a few times, but this one in particular stands out in my memory.) To prepare for my 15 minutes of fame, I went to a hairstylist who spent hours getting my eccentric hair to behave itself. The hair ended up being rather high, I thought. Making matters worse, in the photo I was wearing some kind of velveteen jacket. The effect was that I looked, how can I put this delicately, a tad effeminate.

I asked my friend and advisor in such matters, Bob White, if he thought that photo made me look gay. He looked at it for a moment and said, “No, it doesn’t make you look gay. It makes you look like a woman! Like a dowager from the 1870’s!” Or words to that effect.

I made a situation that arose as a result of that cover the subject of a Spoken Word performance at an event titled “Smart Men, Hot Words.” Or was it “Hot Men, Smart Words?” Either way, I thought the organizers wanted something hot and sexy. Turned out I was probably wrong. (You can find it on You Tube if you’re desperately bored. For the record, I did not really masturbate in the washroom at IKEA, but I digress . . .)

With my matronly visage gracing their cover, I wondered about pitching the idea of a weekly column to FFWD. I ran the idea by Bob White (my advisor on such matters) and he suggested I try The Calgary Herald first. (Bigger audience, more pay, etc.) As it happened, Ashley Menzies, daughter of Peter Menzies, then publisher of The Herald, was in my Saturday morning playwriting class at ATP. So I asked her one day if she thought her dad would be interested in going for a beer with me. She laughed and said that her dad had asked her to ask me if I’d be interested in going for a beer with him.

Don’t it go to show that it ain’t what you know but who you know?

A few days later at Ed’s on 17th, Peter and I met over a couple of beers and some chicken wings and my weekly column with The Herald came into being. I told him I didn’t know anything about journalism. It didn’t phase him. He gave me only one rule: don’t write like anyone else.

I went on to prove that I didn’t know the first thing about journalism almost 300 times over the next 5 years. Some 250,000 published words. In fact, I even outlasted Peter who got the old heave-ho a couple of years into my cyber-residency at the paper.

And then, one fine day, The Herald went into the dumpster. My editor called me one morning and told me it was over for me and many of my fellow free-lance writers and photographers. He actually wept when he told me this. It was a black day.

I was sad that it had come to an end, but on the other hand, closing in on 300 columns, I was finding it increasingly hard not to plagiarise myself. Obviously, The Herald is still being published, but it’s a shadow of its former self.

Martin Morrow moved to Toronto. Nikki Sheppi and the writers I had come to know at FFWD scattered to the winds. Patricia Robertson moved to Saskatchewan where she is continuing her own writing career. Michelle Greysen is in Lethbridge writing up a storm and selling real estate. Recently, Caroline Smith retired from the CBC. There are a few brave souls like Stephen Hunt at The Herald soldiering on, but all in all, with the end of FFWD, you would have to think that arts journalism in Calgary is hooked up to the machines in intensive care, if not in palliative care.

After a few years of not writing for The Herald, I missed it, and started writing this blog, which is much like my column was. I’m not sure how many people used to read my column in the paper. I do know exactly how many read this blog, and where in the world they are reading it. (This morning, for example, I see I have had readers from Canada, The US, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Estonia and Portugal. My daughter Hanna lives in Portugal, so that explains that one. But Estonia? Maybe I’m big there, who knows?)

My thoughts on the death of my friend Michael Green last week were read by several thousand people from around the world, mostly in Canada and probably mostly in Calgary. Not exactly viral, but I hope it was of comfort to those who read it.

Because here’s the thing: I don’t get paid for this. All of us artists in all disciplines are finding it more and more difficult to actually get paid for the work we do. Ironically, digitization which potentially brings our work to vast audiences has made it less likely that we ever get paid properly, if at all, for what we do.

The rules of the game have changed. I don’t trust anyone who says they know where it’s all leading. Really, we have been caught out like the scribes in the days of Gutenberg. We have sacred skills that technology has rendered not meaningless, but virtually worthless.

And so, RIP, FFWD.

Interesting times, indeed.

Thanks for reading! Here’s something I found on You Tube this morning . . .


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