LAURA ELLIS: THE ACTOR, DIRECTOR, AND EDUCATOR OBSERVES ” “…THE STATISTICS FOR FEMALE PLAYWRIGHTS ARE PRETTY DEPRESSING. THE GREATEST DISPARITY IN GENDER EQUITY HAPPENS IN THE PLAYWRIGHT CATEGORY. ACCORDING TO PLAYWRIGHTS GUILD OF CANADA, OUT OF 812 PRODUCTIONS IN THE 2013/14 SEASON, 63% WERE WRITTEN BY MEN, 22% BY WOMEN, AND 15% BY MIXED GENDER PARTNERSHIPS.”……A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

LAURA ELLIS: Laura Ellis is an award-winning actor, director, educator and all around artistic creator in Hamilton and Toronto. She is co-founder of “Tough Love Collective”; a female-driven theatre company, and co-founder of “Women’s Work”; a playwriting unit made up of diverse women who are emerging and established playwrights. Both groups are focused on creating and presenting new work with the focus on women’s voices. In 2015, Laura was the recipient of the Hamilton Arts Award for Emerging Artist in Theatre.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

LE: At this stage in my career, I think my focus is on presenting female-centric work. I am passionate about any work that helps to strengthen the female voices; work that is by women, focused on women, that authentically depicts real women with strong voices onstage and on screen. It’s important for me to do work that excites me and that I’m passionate about; I’m a big fan of pushing boundaries. With what’s going on in the world right now, I feel especially compelled to do projects that revolve around priority groups whose unique perspectives are frequently underrepresented and marginalized.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

LE: I know they are both alive and fairly “modern” role models but they are ones with whom I currently think about going forward in my career.
Madonna. She is definitely someone I admire. As a child, I didn’t fully understand what she stood for, I just really enjoyed her music…but now as an adult, as a strong and independent woman, I really appreciate and respect the pathway she made for women in the entertainment industry. She constantly pushed the limits of what women were and of sexuality through her music. She just unapologetically broke gender stereotypes and encouraged women everywhere to sort of…take ownership of who they were and take charge of their lives. She continues to speak out against things like agism and sexism and is a true advocate for women. I look up to her because she stood up against the masses when it wasn’t the popular thing to do, so yeah, I’m a fan.

Meryl Streep. First and foremost, for her commitment to the work. Though she is viewed as a non-traditionally “beautiful” woman in the entertainment industry, her work is clearly some of the most beautiful in the world. She is a powerhouse of talent and a woman who is dedicated to knowing her craft. That’s what is most important to me in my work so she definitely inspires me that way. She has the ability to TRULY bring characters to life in the most honest and human way. That’s our job as actors and she does it flawlessly and so humbly.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

LE: I am less afraid. I take more creative risks and am more likely to take initiative on projects and get things going. I’m also a lot more focused on what my works says and what I am contributing to the world. I realize that my voice matters so it’s important to know what I want to say before presenting it to an audience. Another good example of change for me is auditioning. When I was in theatre school, I always worried about whether or not I was doing it “right” all the time. Now, I realize it was never about that and it’s not about getting the “job” either. It’s about understanding your job, doing the work that goes with it, trusting the work you put in, presenting what you do and are, and realizing you are either the right fit or you aren’t. I’m a lot better at leaving it in the room after I’m done my audition. That’s important.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

LE: My biggest challenge is self-doubt. I think that’s a lot of people’s challenge, so I’m not that exciting. ha-ha. I often question if I’m good enough or if what I’m doing matters. But, I already know the answer…I just have to remind myself that I’m doing good work. That I’m making a difference. When those hard days filled with negative thoughts come in, that’s the best time to read a good play, take a nice warm bubble bath, and focus on tomorrows goals. That’s the key: focus on moving forward even when you feel like you are drowning in doubts. That and always make sure to find amazing people to work who lift each other up.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

LE: I think Trump’s election really progressed my feminist work this year. ha-ha. Seriously, it brought out passion and drive that I didn’t know was even in me!

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

LE: I think a lot of people don’t understand the time commitment and dedication involved. It’s not a 9-5 job, it’s an all hours job. When you are in the arts it’s pretty much all consuming, but you do it because you love it and it’s all there is for you. You throw out lines all over the place and are constantly creating work to keep momentum going. There isn’t really a lot of “down time” if it’s your passion. I also think people struggle with the idea of how I could possibly be making enough money in the arts to support myself and that’s a conversation I’m a bit exhausted with. ha-ha.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

LE: Getting into acting was a no brainer for me l because I wanted to be a MILLION different things as a child: a firefighter, a tornado chaser, a vet, a super hero, a soldier, etc. etc. So, the most logical answer was to become an actor so I could be any of those things whenever I wanted to be! As I got older, it became more than that. It became a true interest in and love for the human condition. I wanted to dive in to as many experiences as I could. I wanted to understand and make an audience understand every character I could. It was so challenging (which I loved) and more than anything I wanted to tell stories. I started that very early on as well. I was always making up plays and short sketches and games. I had a very active imagination so that definitely helped. I think creating my own work was a way to tell the stories I want to see and be a part of. I was tired of the guy always saving the girl. I wanted to be the hero of the story. I wanted the woman to kick butt and save the day. I guess not a lot has changed!

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

LE: I would love to work on a very collaborative show that is more cross-disciplinary. I’d love to do something that uses more film/multimedia, dance, and sound. Something that’s really unique and forces me to go outside of my comfort zone and also create with other professionals I wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to work with.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

LE: This year, my most meaningful achievement was receiving an OAC grant to start up “Women’s Work”, the first all-women’s playwriting group in Hamilton. A friend of mine (Jen Walton) and I discussed the lack of opportunity for new play development in Hamilton; particularly for women and decided it was a barrier we wanted to erase. Despite the fact that Hamilton is in the midst of a promising arts revival, we knew that we still needed to strive to create opportunities for ourselves and our artistic community and with this grant, we felt we were doing that. We recognized that the problem is predominant in the arts across Canada and the gender inequity that female playwrights face is particularly acute. So, with this in mind, we discussed the logistics and worked on the grant for a better part of a year. Our heart and souls really went into to. It feels like we are really taking steps to create change within our community and I hope that it inspires others to do the same.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

LE: Go for it. Do what you love, otherwise what’s the point? Someone out there is already doing it so why can’t you? And the more positive you stay about it; the more awesome people are brought into your life who have the same passion. They will get you through the hard times. Focus on the work and remember why you are doing it. And if you don’t love it and it doesn’t bring you joy…GET OUT.

JS: Of what value are critics?

LE: I think outside opinions can be very helpful, but also deadly if too much weight is given to them and you start to stray away from your instinct. Overall, it’s very important to hone your work and try to make it the best it can be (otherwise, why make it at all?). However, I usually depend on the opinion of colleagues who will be brutally honest with me over the opinions of critics.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

LE: I hope that they come with an open mind, especially when it comes to non-traditional projects/performances. And I ask, if they like, or it touched them in some way, or meant something to them that they talk about it. Spread the word. Get people to come see it and keep the conversation going, especially if the subject is an important one.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

LE: I’d like artists to be paid professionally for their work and their time and not always offered an exchange of “free promotion” or what have you. That’s tough sometimes. The arts (theatre especially) is one of the only jobs where someone on the street can just suddenly decide one day that they want to be an actor and start calling themselves that. You can’t be an amateur surgeon, but you can claim to be an actor or director. It’s hard some days because so many of us went to school for it or are working and training all the time but are still not taken seriously as professionals. I’m not sure there’s a real solution for that at the moment. The other thing I would love is for people to keep seeing theatre and film. Spread the word. Tell your friends. Bring your kids and get them started early. Invest in arts and culture. I’d hate to see our audiences keep getting smaller.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

LE: I’m not sure if there is a specific moment, but sometimes I wish I could go back to when I was in my senior year of high school and stop myself from visiting the guidance counsellor before choosing a post-secondary program. She talked me out of the arts! So, I think if I had not been scared like that, I would have gotten started earlier. But, I’m not one for regrets so I think I’m pretty happy with how things are progressing now and trust that the universe wants it this way.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

LE: If I’m being honest, I’m really not in the media very much. I think people in Hamilton are familiar with my work because it’s such a small and tight-knit community. I’m still relatively young so I think there is a lot more to be accomplished. What I know right now is that I only want to be presented in the media if I’m doing something I care about; something I believe in and am proud of. Maybe ask me in 5 years and I’ll be able to give you a better idea.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

LE: I’d love to visit British Columbia. I’ve been to quite a few places in Canada but not BC (Vancouver specifically). It’s really important for me to explore my own country and culture and BC seems so lively, so arts friendly, and outright beautiful. My goal is to make time to go there in the next couple of years.

I want to return to Scotland. That’s where my family is from and I LOVE it there. When I visited, I had the strangest feeling of being “home”. It was filled with beautiful landscapes, architecture, and the most friendly people I’ve ever met (next to Canada, of course!) There was something so serene about it and it was just rich with history. The arts scene in the summer was pretty great too! I could actually imagine myself living there at some point in my life.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

LE: I just answered that in the “meaningful achievement” question so just read that and you have your answer. :)

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

LE: Unfortunately, one of the things that came up in my research not long ago was that the statistics for female playwrights are pretty depressing: “The greatest disparity in gender equity happens in the playwright category. According to Playwrights Guild of Canada’s Annual Theatre Production Survey, out of 812 productions in the 2013/14 season, 63% were written by men, 22% by women, and 15% by mixed gender partnerships.” (Equity in Theatre).

But what’s most exciting is that there’s this weird cultural shift happening. With things like the election results and all these acts of violence, there seems to be a “banding together” of people. I think more people are uniting to take a stand against inequality and injustice so that should make for some pretty awesome, inspirational, and provocative art.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

LE: That after all the ups and downs, the long days and exhaustion, the self-doubt and the wondering if I’m good enough…I realize what I have that maybe others don’t have is a real problem with quitting.

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MARSHALL PYNKOSKI: OPERA ATELIER’S THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO RUNS OCT. 26-NOV. 4, 2017 AND ITS CO-ARTISTIC DIRECTOR AND FOUNDER EXPLAINS “FIGARO IS A PERFECT OPERA – IT NEVER PALES. IT IS A PRIVILEGE TO BE ABLE TO INTERPRET THIS POIGNANT COMIC MASTERPIECE. EVERY TIME YOU PRODUCE FIGARO IT IMPACTS YOUR LIFE IN A PROFOUND WAY”…….A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

Marshall Pynkoski & Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg

JAMES STRECKER: 1 If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

MARSHALL PYNKOSKI: I’ve spent a lifetime in ballet and lyric theatre. My obsession has always been storytelling, engagement of the audience, an obsession with form, structure, beauty (and by that I am not referring only to what is attractive or pretty). Opera Atelier, the company of which I am co-artistic director and founder, provides me with the ideal opportunity to explore these ideas in Canada and abroad.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

MP: I want Opera Atelier’s audience members to be full participants in our productions, not voyeurs. I believe the audience must be emotionally engaged. I believe this is best achieved through a more linear telling of the story in question. I do not want to make an already complicated art form still more obtuse – I want to engage and clarify through what people see and what people hear.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

MP: George Balanchine – greatest choreographer in history, someone who found endless creativity within the closely defined parameters of 19th century ballet. Balanchine created a whole new vision of ballet for the 20th century while never losing a sense of his roots. I long to do the same with lyric theatre.

Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, my partner professionally and in life – I’ve known Jeannette since she was a teenager and she has played a major part in the development of my taste in music, in literature, in the arts in general. Her choreographic work is inextricably tied up in my work as a stage director. She has an uncanny ability to integrate dancing into opera so that it functions as a key part of the action rather than a divertissement.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

MP: When Opera Atelier was founded I was surrounded by like-minded artists/friends and many of them are still with the company today. We began with an obsession with style that created a signature look for OA. After a time, however, we gradually came to realize the truth of Jean Cocteau’s assertion that style must never considered the bulls-eye of a creative endeavor, rather style is what we use to take aim. At Opera Atelier we have had a major and profound shift in our collective creative vision as artists. Style never takes precedence over content. It is used exclusively to help clarify and engage.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

MP: It’s an enormous challenge to divide my time between the administrative realities of being a co-artistic director and the time which must be spent listening to music, immersing myself in other art forms that feed my vision, and in rehearsal. Effective fundraising – so integral to any creative endeavor in the professional theatre – is of paramount importance and the challenge is to find some way to make that part of the creative process rather than an onerous task.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

MP: The first time Jeannette and I heard Tafelmusik playing on period instruments was an absolute revelation both in terms of style and repertoire. We were aware that the instrumentalists understood something that was outside of our personal experience. We became obsessed with the desire to understand the driving force behind Tafelmusik’s aesthetic and the music they played. This took us on a journey which continues to this day. We now have the great pleasure of having Tafelmusik as our resident orchestra and full creative participants in all of Opera Atelier’s productions.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

MP: It’s difficult for people from the outside to understand that our creative endeavours are what drive our lives. I know some artists insist, for example, that “singing is what I do but it is not who I am”. That is not the case for me, my partner Jeannette, or any of the artists with whom we have surrounded ourselves. There is no question of downtime, there is no question of retirement. What we do defines who we are. My ideal holiday would be eight weeks of uninterrupted rehearsal with singers, dancers and a creative team completely at one another’s disposal.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

MP: I can’t remember ever having begun my involvement in creative work. My earliest memories are telling stories and creating plays with my toys, with my friends and with family members. The world of the imagination and theatre was always as real to me as my actual life and the two blended at times to a degree that became problematic!

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

MP: Opera Atelier has redefined the parameters of what is meant by period performance. We wish to explore and understand the creative impulse behind choreographers, composers and librettists of every period. OA has already moved into Romantic repertoire and it is our intention to move even further into the 19th and 20th centuries.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

MP: I don’t really see an achievement as something absolute – I prefer to think in terms of process. I am proud of the creative impulse which gave a kick-start to Opera Atelier – I am proud of where it has taken us to date and I live in a constant state of anticipation ready to see where it takes us in the future. That being said, a creative high point would definitely be directing Lucio Silla for the Salzburg Festival opposite Jeannette as choreographer, and our ongoing relationship with the Royal Opera House at Versailles – the most beautiful and magical opera house in the world.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

MP: I work with young people on a daily basis and always give the same advice to any of them who wish to be an artist: you cannot wait for opportunities to come to you – a true artist will create opportunities for themselves. Young singers, dancers, actors who wish to create should surround themselves with their friends, work for free, and find a venue – any venue! – to show their work to the public, even if that public consists of your parents, relatives and friends. Young artists must put themselves on the line and their work must be seen.

JS: Of what value are critics?

MP: Informed critics are of enormous value. They will ask questions we may not have considered ourselves and frequently act as a catalyst encouraging creative artists to examine their work from different angles. Critics play a vital role in connecting an artist’s endeavour with an audience. They are a vital part of the process of taking a work out of the studio and letting it breathe and have life in a broader context. They toughen you up!

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

MP: I ask that our audience listen and allow themselves to be drawn in and engaged. This of course is a two-way street. We can’t ask anything of our audience if we are not delivering the means for them to connect with us.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

MP: In Canada, I would make it far more attractive for individuals to support the arts financially. A larger and more inclusive tax credit for arts patrons would acknowledge the importance of their generosity and encourage them to continue in their support.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

MP: I would wish to relive opening night of Lully’s Armide when we first played at the Royal Opera House at Versailles (2012). We were completely unprepared for the audience response of sustained cheering and rhythmic clapping, which continued for more than ten minutes. We were all in a delirious state when the curtain came in for the last time.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

MP: My presence in the media has no impact on me whatsoever. I am living my life as an artist 24 hours a day, and if that intrigues the media then it can only be good for my company and for our productions. I welcome the media’s scrutiny for any reason whatsoever. It’s all grist for the mill.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

MP: St. Petersburg – I’ve not yet been to Russia and I’ve dreamed of visiting those places where Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Karsavina, Bakst and their colleagues lived, breathed and created. I want Opera Atelier to perform in Russia.
Rome – my first visit to Rome took place more than a decade ago and Jeannette and I try to return as often as possible. It was a life-changing experience for which noting could have adequately prepared me. I will never in my lifetime be able to visit Rome enough times.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us.

MP: I am currently working on Opera Atelier’s upcoming production of The Marriage of Figaro (Oct. 26-Nov. 4, 2017). Figaro is a perfect opera – it never pales. It is a privilege to be able to interpret this poignant comic masterpiece. Every time you produce Figaro it impacts your life in a profound way. I am also preparing for my directorial debut at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy in the summer of 2018. I will be directing Rossini’s Ricciardo e Zoraide with a star-studded cast including tenor Juan Diego Flórez. Opera Atelier’s entire creative team was invited to create this new production honouring the 150th anniversary of Rossini’s death. I am proud and honoured to be joined by my colleagues Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg (choreographer), Gerard Gauci (sets), Michael Gianfrancesco (costumes), and Michelle Ramsay (lighting).

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

MP: I am concerned that electronic devices are making people more sedentary and shortening their attention spans. On the other hand I believe that people are longing for storytelling, for an opportunity to be engaged emotionally. I believe the theatre can provide the cathartic experience that is lacking in so many people’s lives, and that it can serve as the great cleanser and purifier.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

MP: I suppose it is surprising that ballet and opera both remain an inexhaustible source of fascination for me. I know I will never tire of them, and will never plum their depths. What they stand for is elusive, unattainable and irresistible. It is my hope that like Molière and Mr. Balanchine, I will be carried out of the theatre.

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KIRAN AHLUWALIA: THE INDIAN SINGER & SONGWRITER EXPLAINS “MANY CRITICS IN NORTH AMERICA DON’T REALLY KNOW INDIAN CONTEMPORARY MUSIC. I HAVE BEEN MISLABELED MANY TIMES AS DOING INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC AND I AM NOT. “……….A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

KIRAN AHLUWALIA: Kiran Ahluwalia is a modern exponent of the great vocal traditions of India and Pakistan which she honors yet departs from in personal ways, all the while infusing intricate harmonies to create a style uniquely her own.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

KA: My songs talk of breaking from traditions and listening to your own inner voice. They also talk about throwing away shame and battling with the self-sabotager inside us – and winning.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

KA: Malala Yousafzai – for her sheer bravery and for fighting for education for women in her native Pakistan.

Hedy Lamarr – She was an actress who did hot and steamy roles and at the same time she was a brilliant inventor whose work has contributed to the development of modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

KA: I am less focused on perfection and more focused on capturing the emotion in the moment of my singing. I am also more inclusive of musics outside of my own Indian singing.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

KA: People wanting all music for free.

Airlines not allowing us to take our musical instruments on board when we tour – and then breaking our instruments when they are checked in – sounds trivial but it’s depressing and happens way too much – and makes touring harder. I really want to do an anti-Air Canada and anti-United Airlines tour. Bad airlines suck the fun and creativity out of a tour.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

KA: I quit my full-time job at a bank in order to go to India and be a full-time music student. I thought I would do it for a year but I ended up staying in India for many years. Then I fell into a career in music.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

KA: That it requires extensive training and daily practice – and that it is not ancient – it is modern.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

KA: My parents enrolled me in classes of Indian dance and music when I was a child. I loved it and kept on doing it.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

KA: I have not yet written lyrics that include ‘swear’ words. It’s easier to do in English but much harder to do in Indian languages that I write in – Urdu and Punjabi. I’ve been making a list of ‘bad’ words in Urdu and Punjabi and hope to use them in lyrics one day. Why? – they emote in their own special guttural way in which other words can’t.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

KA: Career wise – my composition Awara – one of my first ones and still one of my favs. Also – working to have good working relationships with everyone in my team.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

KA: Everybody has their own path – there is no one right way.

JS: Of what value are critics?

KA: Not sure really. Many critics in North America don’t really know Indian contemporary music – I have been mislabeled many times as doing Indian classical music and I am not. But yet we need critics to write about the music to let people know that it exists.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

KA: If you like the music, keep coming to the live performances.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

KA: I’d like artists to get paid meaningfully when people listen to their music on streaming platforms or on any platforms.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

KA: When I met my guitarist and life partner – Rez Abbasi. Why? Because it was ecstatic.

JS Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

KA: I don’t have the paparazzi after me. Many of my close friends are in the media and have written about me – they have always respected my personal information so I’ve been lucky that way.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

KA: I’d like to experience Mali – specially Timbuktu and the desert again. When I went the first time, it was unsafe to travel to remote places and so I only performed at the festival au desert (with Tinariwen) and came back home. It’s still unsafe to go to the remote places of Mali but I would like to go and listen to the music there.

A place I’ve never been but is on my list is Kashmir – it borders India and Pakistan. It’s beautiful but always in political turmoil, making it hard to visit.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us.

KA: I’m working on a festival called LOVEfest – It is a musical response to hate Crime. http://www.kiranmusic.com/lovefest/ Through three music groups and one dance group this program will take audiences on an epic journey that includes Temple music of Sikh India; my own modern Indo-Canadian music fused with desert blues; Arab music infused with western sounds; and the mesmerizing colourful whirling dervishes of Egypt. LOVEfest aims to strengthen the appreciation of diverse art forms and in the process foster greater appreciation of diverse ethnicities in our communities. Muslims and Sikhs have been subject to increased hate crimes in the aftermath of 9/11. Although these hate crimes are perpetuated by a minority of the population, both the Muslim and Sikh religions remain mysterious to the general public. These performances aim to instigate a positive curiosity and to unravel the mysteries of two lifestyles and use these art forms to open conversations about the future of our country.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

KA: The depressing part is that people are not paying for music anymore – they want it free. And for a plethora of reasons ticket sales to all live performances – theatre, dance and music are declining.
What gives me hope is that it is easy to discover music from far away – just by sitting on your sofa and surfing the net. I discover a lot of music that way and hope that others discover my music too.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

KA: I’m still making mistakes – very surprising!

PS: And also……..
www.KiranMusic.com
Facebook.com/KiranMusic
Check out my video shot on a houseboat on the Ganges http://youtu.be/Zi3ZmT8rlac

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Interviews on James Strecker Reviews the Arts……almost complete list

…SAUDI AUTHOR RAJA ALEM: AN INTERVIEW & A REVIEW May 2, 2013

…NURHAN ARMAN: CONDUCTOR OF SINFONIA TORONTO AND MAESTRO ON FOUR CONTINENTS: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEWS WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS August 21, 2016

…CHRISTEL BARTELSE: AN INTERVIEW WITH WRITER, PRODUCER, CLOWN, TEACHER, COMEDIAN – AND CREATOR OF “ONEYMOON” NOW ON ITS WAY TO EDINBURGH FESTIVAL FRINGE July 27, 2015

…“IT’S A DIVINE FEMININE ENERGY THAT SHOULD BE RESPECTED”: CANADIAN MIDDLE EASTERN DANCER BADIA STAR, WHO ONCE INDEED WAS A STAR IN CAIRO -AND ALWAYS A SPIRITUAL BRENDA BELL- IS NOW DIRECTOR OF THE INNOVATIVE “BRENDA BELL WELLNESS” December 17, 2014

…GEORGE BENJAMIN: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CELEBRATED COMPOSER, CONDUCTOR, PIANIST AND TEACHER -APPEARING AT THE TORONTO SYMPHONY’S NEW CREATIONS FESTIVAL FROM FEBRUARY 28-MARCH 7 February 26, 2015

…AN INTERVIEW WITH PLAYWRIGHT EDWARD BOND ABOUT HIS LONG AND “CONTROVERSIAL” CAREER IN BRITISH THEATRE AND HIS PLAY “THE SEA” NOW AT THE 2014 SHAW FESTIVAL June 17, 2014

…WILLARD BOUDREAU, GARY SMITH AND THEATRE ARE ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN HAMILTON! June 23, 2013

…THE BILLY BRAGG INTERVIEW PARTS I & II April 16, 2013

…AMBUR BRAID, SOPRANO: DALINDA IN HANDEL’S ARIODANTE FROM OCTOBER 16 AND QUEEN OF THE NIGHT IN MOZART’S THE MAGIC FLUTE FROM JANUARY 19, BOTH AT THE CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS September 26, 2016

…CHRISTY BRUCE: STAR OF SPONTANEOUS THEATRE AND THE INTERNATIONALLY POPULAR PRODUCTION “BLIND DATE”: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS October 20, 2016

…LAURA CONDLLN (NOT CONDLIN): AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ACTRESS (NOT ACTOR) PLAYING DOCTOR THOMAS STOCKMANN IN IBSEN’S CLASSIC AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE ….AT TORONTO’S TARRAGON THEATRE FROM OCTOBER 7 TO NOVEMBER 1 October 6, 2015

…BRETT DEAN: THREE MAJOR WORKS BY THE CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIAN COMPOSER, VIOLIST AND CONDUCTOR ARE FEATURED AT THE TORONTO SYMPHONY’S 2016 NEW CREATIONS FESTIVAL. HERE HE DISCUSSES EACH WORK AND HIS CREATIVE LIFE.
March 3, 2016

…STACIE DUNLOP: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE SOPRANO OF “CUTTING EDGE CONTEMPORARY CREATIONS” IN CLASSCAL MUSIC: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS September 12, 2016

….KAFKA, KURTAG, DUNLOP AND EXISTENCE IN EVERY WORD, EVERY NOTE: AN INTERVIEW WITH SOPRANO STACIE DUNLOP April 25, 2014

…MULTI-MEDIA BAUDELAIRE: RÊVE DOUX-AMER/BITTERSWEET DREAM: AN INTERVIEW WITH SOPRANO STACIE DUNLOP January 11, 2012

…JAMES EHNES: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ACCLAIMED VIRTUOSO VIOLINIST DUE TO APPEAR WITH THE TORONTO SYMPHONY ON JUNE 9, 10, 11
June 6, 2016

…DIANE ESTHER ON LIFE AFTER INCEST: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE WRITER, CONSULTANT, ACTIVIST, LECTURER AND POET WHOSE BOOK “OUT OF INCEST” IS NOW IN ITS 10TH PRINTING……..PARTS I & II March 6, 2016

…JOANN FALLETTA: MUSIC DIRECTOR OF THE BUFFALO PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA AND THE VIRGINIA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND AT THE FOREFRONT OF WOMEN CONDUCTORS IN THE CHANGING WORLD OF CLASSICAL MUSIC – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS
September 28, 2016

…WHERE SCIENCE AND ART DANCE TOGETHER: AN INTERVIEW WITH ARCHAEOBOTANIST, TEACHER, ARTIST, AND RENAISSANCE MAN RUDY FECTEAU IN MOTION January 9, 2016

….SALUTE TO VIENNA: AN INTERVIEW WITH ATTILA GLATZ, CREATOR OF THIS NEW YEAR’S TRADITION NOW CELEBRATING ITS 2OTH YEAR OF INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTIONS, INCLUDING HAMILTON December 23, 2014

…DICK GAUGHAN: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE RENOWNED SCOTTISH SINGER, GUITARIST AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST WHO APPEARS AT HUGH’S ROOM IN TORONTO WITH JASON WILSON ON SEPTEMBER 26 September 6, 2015

…KARINA GAUVIN: A SOPRANO CONSIDERED “ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VOICES IN THE BUSINESS” SINGS HANDEL AND VIVALDI IN TAFELMUSIK’S “THE BAROQUE DIVA” FROM MARCH 23 TO 26, 2017 AT KOERNER HALL: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS March 17, 2017

…STEWART GOODYEAR: A “MASTER PIANIST” (AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE) AND “BRILLIANT ON EVERY LEVEL” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER) PLAYS BRAHMS # 1 WITH THE HAMILTON PHILHARMONIC ON SEPTEMBER 17: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS September 5, 2016

…DENISE GRANT: A PHOTOGRAPHER WITH THIS CONVICTION: “PHOTOGRAPHING THE ESSENCE OF A PERSON IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN TAKING A PICTURE OF A BEAUTIFUL FACE” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS April 29, 2017

…ONE OF A KIND EN DEUX LANGUES: AN INTERVIEW WITH SINGER, SONGWRITER, BROADCASTER, PLAYWRIGHT MARIE-LYNN HAMMOND September 5, 2014

…BARBARA HANNIGAN COMES TO TORONTO SYMPHONY’S NEW CREATIONS FESTIVAL FEBRUARY 28-MARCH 7: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CANADIAN SOPRANO CONSIDERED BY SIMON RATTLE AS “ONE OF THE BEST MUSICIANS OUT THERE” February 20, 2015

…VALERIE HARMS: AN INTERVIEW WITH AN AUTHOR-CONSULTANT CALLED “A MOST REMARKABLE WOMAN” BY THE UNITED NATIONS June 4, 2015

…ANGELA HEWITT: AN INTERVIEW WITH “THE PRE-EMINENT BACH PIANIST OF OUR TIME” JOINING THE TORONTO SYMPHONY FOR THREE CONCERTS ON APRIL 13, 14, 16 IN TORONTO AND APRIL 15 IN ROCHESTER March 30, 2016

…MARGARET ILLMANN, BALLERINA WITH AN INTERNATIONAL CAREER, INCLUDING BROADWAY, A MENTOR, A PHYSIOTHERAPIST, AND A BALLET COACH: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS January 1, 2017

…LEILA JOSEFOWICZ: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CELEBRATED VIOLINIST AND PROMOTER OF NEW MUSIC, DUE TO PERFORM A CANADIAN PREMIERE WITH THE TORONTO SYMPHONY IN TORONTO, OTTAWA, AND MONTREAL IN MAY April 21, 2016

…HARRISON KENNEDY: A CHAT WITH A BLUESMAN WHOSE PAST INCLUDES FOUR YEARS WITH CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD AND WHOSE PRESENT INCLUDES A 2016 JUNO NOMINATION February 12, 2016

…FRANK KOREN: AFTER 25 YEARS OF GUITAR WORK BACKING OTHERS, A LEAP INTO THE “UNKNOWN WORLD OF SONGWRITING” AND A CD TITLED RED CHAIR – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS November 15, 2016

…DAVID LEE: BASS PLAYER, PUBLISHER, AUTHOR, JAZZ WRITER, RECORDING ARTIST, AND MUCH MORE: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS May 4, 2017

…ALISON MACKAY OF TAFELMUSIK: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AWARD-WINNING CREATOR OF THE GALILEO PROJECT, HOUSE OF DREAMS (REMOUNTED FEBRUARY 11-15), AND THE UPCOMING J. S. BACH: THE CIRCLE OF CREATION MAY 6-MAY 10). January 20, 2015

…AN INTERVIEW WITH POLITICAL COLUMNIST & AUTHOR LINDA MCQUAIG June 12, 2013

…AN INTERVIEW WITH METIS TELEVISION AND FILM ACTOR+SINGER+WRITER+MESSENGER ANDREA MENARD December 2, 2014

…RACHEL MERCER: A CELLIST’S LIFE IN MUSIC WITH THE NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE ORCHESTRA, AVIV STRING QUARTET, ENSEMBLE MADE IN CANADA, MERCER-PARK DUO AND MUCH MORE TOURING, RECORDING AND TEACHING TO COME – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS
November 15, 2016

….AN INTERVIEW WITH JOËLLE MORTON, MUCH-TRAVELLED VIOL PLAYER, PERIOD MUSIC SPECIALIST, SCHOLAR, EDUCATOR AND FOUNDER OF SCARAMELLA IN TORONTO December 28, 2014

…GEMMA NEW: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE NEW MUSIC DIRECTOR OF THE HAMILTON PHILHARMONIC, ASSOCIATE CONDUCTOR OF THE NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY, FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF THE LUNAR ENSEMBLE, PRINCIPAL CONDUCTOR OF CAMERATA NOTTURNA, AND GUEST CONDUCTOR EVERYWHERE December 23, 2015

…AUTHOR & PETA FOUNDER INGRID NEWKIRK: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS
August 8, 2016

…INTERVIEW WITH INGRID NEWKIRK, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF PETA June 3, 2013

…MOYA O’CONNELL: ACTRESS AND SHAW FESTIVAL MAINSTAY DISCUSSES THEATRE AND HER CREATIVE LIFE – “I ONLY ASK THAT THE AUDIENCE ALLOW THEMSELVES TO BE OPEN. I WANT THEM TO GIVE THEMSELVES TO ME. I WANT THEM TO BE MY PARTNER IN ADVENTURE.” — A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS November 9, 2016

…PETER OLESKEVICH CONDUCTS OPERA HAMILTON’S LES PECHEURS DE PERLES -MARCH 9, 12, 14, 16 March 1, 2013

…PETER OUNDJIAN: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CONDUCTOR AND MUSIC DIRECTOR OF THE TORONTO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA WHO OPENS THE TSO SEASON WITH SOPRANO RENEE FLEMING ON SEPTEMBER 21: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS September 18, 2016

…AN INTERVIEW WITH SINGER ALEX PANGMAN, CANADA’S LONG-REIGNING SWEETHEART OF SWING AKA “LA CRÈME DU JAZZ CANADIEN” -WITH A NEW JUSTIN TIME CD RECORDED IN NEW ORLEANS

…DIANA PANTON: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CANADIAN JAZZ SINGER ON HER JUNO-WINNING CD “RED, HER LATEST CD “I BELIEVE IN LITTLE THINGS” AND ITS 2016 NATIONAL PARENTING PRODUCT AWARD March 21, 2016 October 9, 2014

…TOM PARKER OF COLONEL TOM & THE AMERICAN POUR DECLARES “SO MUCH OF CONTEMPORARY POP CULTURE IS MEDIOCRE AND BASED ON MARKET RESEARCH RATHER THAN ART. DOESN’T SEEM LIKE IT HAS A VERY DEEP SOUL TO ME – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS May 10, 2017

…ADRIANNE PIECZONKA: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE INTERNATIONALLY CELEBRATED CANADIAN SOPRANO DUE TO SING RICHARD STRAUSS AND WAGNER WITH THE TSO MARCH 11, 12, AND 14 March 4, 2015

…INTERVIEW WITH LOUISE PITRE OF SONDHEIM’S “COMPANY” AT TORONTO’S BERKELEY STREET THEATRE FROM JUNE 21 June 7, 2014

…RICHARD PRYOR: OMIT THE LOGIC: An Interview with the film’s executive producer -and the comedian’s widow- Jennifer Lee Pryor May 27, 2014

…BUD ROACH: AN INTERVIEW (PART I) WITH AN EARLY MUSIC DYNAMO ABOUT HIS WIDE-RANGING MUSICAL CAREER AND HIS HAMILTON CONCERT SERIES “HAMMER BAROQUE” (TAFELMUSIK COMING ON MAY 25 AND LUTENIST SYLVAIN BERGERON ON MAY 28) April 30, 2016

…LAUREN SEGAL: AN “ALLURING DARK-PLUM MEZZO” BRINGS FAVORITE ROLE CARMEN TO HAMILTON PHILHARMONIC ON OCTOBER 15: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS October 4, 2016

-…HANNA SHYBAYEVA: BELARUSSIAN-BORN DUTCH PIANIST DECLARES, “I WOULD ERASE MUSIC COMPETITIONS FROM THIS PLANET, BECAUSE THEY GIVE VERY WRONG IDEAS TO YOUNG MUSICIANS ABOUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT IN ART:” A REVIEWER INTERVIEWS PEOPLE IN THE ARTS April 13, 2017

….INTERVIEW WITH JAMES SOMMERVILLE: WORLD-RENOWNED HORN SOLOIST AND CONDUCTOR OF THE HAMILTON PHILHARMONIC February 16, 2012

…THE INTERVIEWER GETS INTERVIEWED: JAMES STRECKER, THE PROPRIETOR OF THIS BLOG, JAMES STRECKER REVIEWS THE ARTS, IS INTERVIEWED BY AUTHOR, EDITOR, CONSULTANT, AND DEPTH PSYCHOLOGIST VALERIE HARMS December 11, 2015

…AN INTERVIEW WITH CARLY STREET OF VENUS IN FUR AT CANADIAN STAGE February 1, 2014

…IVARS TAURINS, AKA MR. HANDEL, DISCUSSES HISTORICALLY-INFORMED PERFORMANCE, A LIFE IN MUSIC, THE TAFELMUSIK CHAMBER CHOIR ON ITS 35TH ANNIVERSARY, AND THE TAFELMUSIK ANNUAL SING-ALONG MESSIAH: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS October 23, 2016

….PETER TOGNI: COMPOSER, BROADCASTER, MUSICIAN, AND CREATOR OF THE DISCREETLY PENETRATING AND POTENT NEW CD “HYMNS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH” -A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS October 12, 2016

…KAREN TROLLOPE-KUMAR: AUTHOR, PHYSICIAN, MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGIST, AND EDUCATOR ON HER NEW MEMOIR “CLOUD MESSENGER, LOVE AND LOSS IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYAS” AND ON FINDING ONE’S “ESSENTIAL NATURE” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS March 14, 2017

…KATE TROTTER: ACTRESS WITH OUTSTANDING STAGE CAREER AND OVER 100 CREDITS IN TELEVISION AND FILM -ALSO AN ACTING TEACHER AND PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION COACH- DECLARES, “I AM AN ACTRESS. I WAS BORN AND RAISED ON A FARM. WHAT GOT ME FROM THERE TO HERE IS A MYSTERY.” -A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS January 10, 2017

…LORI YATES: SINGER-SONGWRITER NOTES THAT “MUSICIANS THESE DAYS MUST BE THEIR OWN AGENT, MANAGER, RECORD COMPANY, PUBLICIST, WEB SITE DESIGNER, POSTER DESIGNER” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS
May 8, 2017

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RENEE SAGEBEAR ALBRECHT: THE FEMINIST, ACTIVIST, WRITER, PUBLISHER, PAINTER, HOMEOPATHIST, AND PHOTOGRAPHER DECLARES: “I SEE PEOPLE READY FOR PROGRESS, LOOKING FOR WAYS TO CHANGE. ART-MAKING CALLS ATTENTION TO SOCIAL OPPRESSION. CREATIVE ACTIVITY IS VITAL FOR MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL RENEWAL”….A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

RENEE ALBRECHT: After graduating from McMaster University, Renee worked as a substitute teacher at Hamilton Girls Vocational School. Experiencing a rocky youth of her own seeded an affinity for mentoring precious ambitions in girls.

Renee, in1985, became the proprietor of the first and only feminist bookstore in Hamilton Ontario, the Women’s Bookstop (1985-2001). By way of bookshelves bursting with news of women working for change, globally, Renee steadfastly focused on promoting women’s cultural-economic projects.

She has delved into theatre production, (from writing scripts, to performing, to creating costumes), produced concerts by women folk artists, co-ordinated women’s art shows, social justice events and educational programs. She is a writer, publisher, painter, and photographer and a graduate of the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine.

Since moving, (in 2007), to Canada’s oldest fishing community, Canso Nova Scotia, Ms. Sagebear Albrecht has expressed her community organizing skills to inspire community co-operation, especially achieving the construction of new public library. Since grand opening day, in October 2010, the new facility has become a cultural-social-educational hub, and includes the Coastal Arts Gallery that promotes work by local artisans.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

RA: My work expresses appreciation for my life. I walk my talk. Making art is a souvenir of my existence.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

RA: My heart is engraved by kindness of friends and strangers;

My friend Elizabeth (Betty) Mullin (1910 – 2008) was proud to be a Hamilton Public Librarian. Ensconced, at the original Carnegie style Central Public Library on Hamilton’s downtown Main Street, Miss Mullin fostered inspiration. She fondly recalled her mentor, the late Dr Frieda Walden, past Chief Librarian of Hamilton Public Library. Dr Walden encouraged Betty go to Columbia College. “Go and get your degree, never mind your marks, go and have fun!” Miss Mullin beamed with the recollection of Dr Walden’s advice to her. “So, I did what she said, I had gone to New York, had fun and never minded about my grades, therefore, in order to pass the course, I was forced to extend my stay in Manhattan to include summer school!”

Over time I came to realize that Miss Mullin’s sincere well-wishes reached hundreds and hundreds of young and old Hamilton Public Library Patrons, from all walks of life. She cheered them and fueled the dreams of future mayors, a deputy prime minister, nurse’s aides, journalists, explorers, shop keepers, daily service providers and volunteers. Wherever Miss Mullin went she was inadvertently reunited with people that were thrilled to, once more, stand near their favourite public librarian. Miss Mullin was a generous listener, and her advice was noble. She’d say, “Write a letter, write to the prime minister, the MP, write to the boss, the mayor, write to the chief, write to the Queen!”

To write a letter is to focus one’s thoughts, clarify a need, and communicate with power. Her love for life and books was infectious. I miss her.

Secondly, my maternal grandmother. Anna Magdalena was a single mother in Germany during the early twentieth century. During the hateful years of the Second World War, on a meager income, she raised two daughters and contributed to the wellbeing of her impoverished parents. My Oma’s genetic gift to me is consideration for mothers’ sacrifices. My grandmother worked in a textile factory. My grandmother pushed her daughters to learn fashion design, tailoring, and needle crafts; needle work was the artistry in our household.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

RA: I used to think I lacked the discipline for accomplishments. I focused on the great expanse between now and then, I was impatient, too consumed with end results while I undervalued the process. Stamina has to be cultivated.

Experience underscores that grassroots creative expressions is vital to humanity’s progress, and people respond generously to meaningful invitations.

An idea arrives, I resist, or procrastinate. Once the usual menaces of doubt are overcome, I can schedule time and make myself stick to it.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

RA: To fathom individuality, rather than think and speak trendy phrases.

Unlearn deprecating self-talk.

Ignore nay -sayers, trust in a good future, corralling time.

How does one shorten time spent on necessary duties, distractions: raising children, family issues, keeping house, connecting with community; and tame the inner critique.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

RA: My first child was born one week before my seventeenth birthday. A year alter he was diagnosed with an incurable childhood cancer. He took his last breath at when he was just fifteen months old. Where did I find the strength to care about anything within that time of devastating grief? I was a wreck, and yet each new day arrived and I wandered into it in a state of relative sobriety still expecting my life to add up to something. This was the worst time of my life. As time passed, I was able to boldly step into the future. There was a sort of hope in excepting that, ‘The worst thing that could happen had already happened to me.’

Later, in my mid forties, I was faced with a situation that required me to cut ties with my birth-family. I was brought face to face with how silence perpetuates harm. I was forced to take a firm stand against tyranny. It has taken years to relax into a better self.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

RA: These days I am unlikely to be concerned about whether outsiders comprehend my livelihood. I live quietly, contribute to community wellness, write, paint, photograph and work toward community development programs.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

RA: This is how the goddess made me.

There is a longing to add to the fabric of community through art and activism. I find working with a team on a project is a healthy/rewarding way to connect experience connection.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

RA: I procrastinate over writing about clinical results in my homeopathic practice. If you think the arts community is horribly critical you have to yet to meet the scientific community!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

RA: I am amazed that my life led to operating a bookstore dedicated to the dreams and progress of women globally!

In 1984, when I began researching and organizing for the opening of Women’s Bookstop in Hamilton, I was naive. I had no idea that feminists were demanding such huge a range of radical change. Women from around the world were starting new publishing houses every month! In Hamilton, The Women’s Bookstop became a hub for women, a place to feel whole, a place where we could safely express frustrations over society’s lag in the social progress women envisioned. As the shop proprietor, I had to get smart, know what was in those books, or direct women to toward alternate solutions, this was the before the age of Google.!

Awareness led to personal growth and change.

“The Personal is Political” – “Think Globally Act Locally” remain guiding principles for sane progress. I know of infinite numbers of courageous women that recovered from horrific experiences and still worked for change. Those years shaped, nourish and strengthen me still.

Besides writing, painting, photography, I feel creative when an idea for a community project stirs in my imagination, then is realized by community team work.

In 2012, I was offered a scholarship to participate in the Mobilizing Assets for Community Development Program at the Coady International Institute at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. During the weeks of attending class with development workers for the southern Hemisphere and the Canadian North, I learned that in the 1920’s fisher folk, in Nova Scotia, were motivated by two idealist educators. Dr James Tompkins and Dr Moses Coady ignited the development of workers co-operatives across Canada. Moreover, the story of exploited workers becoming “Masters of Their Own Destiny,” still reverberates in distant lands. Such valuable history and yet, except for a portrait of Dr James Tompkins, in the bottom corner of a stain glass window, at the Star of the Sea Church, there was no sign of the heralded past in this historic community.

I contacted the most senior members of the community, and asked them to tell me what they could remember or what their parents had told them. Those interviews bring to life the dynamic kitchen table adult learning groups, and the rise of co-operative livelihoods that spread from Nova Scotia fishing outposts and spread inspiration across Canada.

See Whittling And Swapping, interviews compiled by Renee Sagebear Albrecht, published by Sagebear Institute, (ISBN 978-09940696-0-3)

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

RA: Believe in your significance, honour your searching spirit. People long for more than the dominant culture’s excitations. Let yourself be coaxed toward ways that inspire and warm the heart.

JS: Of what value are critics?

RA: If the critic is commenting from experience within the field of work being discussed, there would be value in the attending to expertise. Everything that is springs from what has gone before. Be brave, sweep away careless comments and keep practicing.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

RA: Please attend!

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

RA: What I find disturbing, at the grass roots level is the lack of self-care among artists.

I think good change is happening. More of us grasp that artisan communities create distinction, provoke attention to vital matters, and add vibrancy to our existence. We are human because of art. Music, visual arts, literature, give rise to boundlessly diverse expressions of pain sorrow, dreams dashed as well as achievements.

I would prioritize early any consistent appreciation of creative sparks and imaginative expression. I live in a depressed rural community. Here it is easy to see how myriad of humble achievements buoy a community. Visionaries and artists are the seeds of social progress. As Alice Walker said, “We are the ones we are waiting for.”

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

RA: I would have taken more art making classes rather than deny my artistic inclinations, rather than cramp my brain with calculus, and statistics, and psychology courses that drew from rat experiments, which never resonated with me.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

RA: More in the past than now; I was often called upon to comment on issues concerning Women. At those times, it was important to grasp perspectives based in wisdom beyond myself.

In 1992, I was awarded a Governor General of Canada Community Service Award. and because of that recognition a sense of appreciation and intention to live honourably continues to pervade my choices, and that is a good thing.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

RA: I would like to go to Italy, especially Venice, because of Donna Leon’s detective stories. Her protagonists strike me as gentle, brilliant people that eat scrumptious food.

I visit Vancouver Island every couple of years. I lived on the island, for several months, in 1978. Through that weird and wacky time, I recognized that I was wasting my mental determination and committed myself to study at McMaster University.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

RA: When I first moved to this Nova Scotia fishing town, with a population of less than 1,000, it was as if I’d been ethereally called to contribute to the development of the place. Town folk expressed disheartedness. They had watched the fisheries decline and disappear. A once thriving community had shrunk to bare essentials. I related their dismay over the town’s decline to how downtown Hamilton had, similarly, declined in the 1980s when city industries moved away from the core. Once prosperous department stores and retailers closed. In my mind, the community needed to support women-led initiatives.

Since Words are the first building blocks, I launched a women’s writing circle. Women revived their dreams one sentence at a time. Then a committee formed to build a new library.

Next, I taught the British Institute of Homeopathy for beginner’s course. I facilitated Healing Touch workshops and meditation workshops. I initiated team work to host cultural events and art shows.

Now a dream to host a healers conference at the library will come true on September 16, 2017. Practitioners of complimentary healing modalities will converge and present opportunities to learn and experience integrative healing arts. This event matters to the tiny community at the edge of the south-easterly edge of mainland Canada. This community is progressively re-inventing itself. People need to be exposed to our innate healing capacity and have paths to self- awareness demystified.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

RA: I refuse to be depressed because that means the dominant blow-hard wins.

It’s up to the people to expect more of themselves and their political representatives. We need to subtract lethargy and cultivate self-determination.

I see people ready for progress, looking for ways to change. Art-making calls attention to social oppression. Creative activity is vital for mental and emotional renewal.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

RA: What surprises me is that I am hopeful even though misery happens and systemic cruelty continues.

There are times when I find myself thinking we are travelling in reverse. Then I hear, poems, songs, or see art work that springs from brilliant contemporary minds.

I appreciate my creative nature. I’m grateful for personal optimism, for dynamic writers and formidable leaders that I’ve learned from. I’m grateful for the capacity to pitch in.

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ABIGAIL RICHARDSON-SCHULTE: AWARD-WINNING COMPOSER-IN-RESIDENCE OF THE HAMILTON PHILHARMONIC DECLARES “WHAT CONCERNS ME IS POP CULTURE REPLACING THE ARTS AS CULTURE, THE DECLINE OF MUSIC EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS, AND THE AGING OF CLASSICAL MUSIC AUDIENCES…A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

ABIGAIL RICHARDSON-SCHULTE: Abigail Richardson-Schulte is a Canadian composer of orchestral music, chamber music and opera with a narrative and inherently Canadian style. She is a composer-in-residence, educator, presenter, host, and curator of new music festivals. Her best-known work, The Hockey Sweater, was performed over 100 times in its first five years.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

A R-S: I don’t express beliefs through my music but I do write music with awareness of important composers and works of the past, particularly those of my own country.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

A R-S: Ludwig van Beethoven: Firstly, his music is brilliant. Secondly, he impacted the way composers and artists were seen in society, challenging the assumption of the greatness of royals over artists simply due to their rank.

Sir Ernest MacMillan: Aside from his remarkable WWI story, his commitment to establishing and developing the Canadian music scene allowed us to move forward quite quickly. His influence on orchestral and choral performance and programming, education at all levels, ethnomusicology and the importance of Canadian music became a foundation for Canada’s burgeoning music scene. See an article I wrote about him: http://hpo.org/a-what-next-festival-feature-canadas-musical-hero/

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

A R-S: I can’t answer that since I started composing as a teenager and never stopped. I can say that since becoming a professional composer in 2004, I have had to widen my focus to include business matters. Making a living in the arts has forced me to become more diverse and practical.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

A R-S: Juggling work. A life in the arts usually includes a number of positions. I have four positions aside from composing, plus being an active board member in two important music organizations. My struggle is to preserve my creative time even though I may have other pressing work.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

A R-S: After a couple of weeks in first year science, I suddenly, and I mean suddenly, knew I had to be in music and I never looked back. I ran out of my biology class at 3:17pm, phoned my parents to tell them the news, dropped a few classes, and turned my focus towards practicing piano. I stayed in university music for 10 years after that, finishing my doctorate in 2004.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

A R-S: Some people just can’t understand how anyone can write music. The most common phrase I get is, “I don’t know how you do it!”. It’s a bit like learning a foreign language. You learn the vocabulary, the grammar and you soon try putting short sentences together. After a while, the sentences get longer and more complex. People don’t understand how we write for the different instruments. I tell them it’s a bit like colouring. I create the black and white sketch at the piano and from there, I think about what lines are best suited for which colour.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

A R-S: I loved the emotion and expression in the music I played at the piano as a teenager. Soon enough, I started writing my own music in the attempt of creating that emotion. I also started writing music to short stories I was reading and realized that I loved musical storytelling.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

A R-S: I’d love to write a ballet but it’s not like there are many ballet companies commissioning…

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

A R-S: Winning the UNESCO Rostrum of Composers Competition with broadcasts in 35 countries and a resulting commission from Radio France.

Being Affiliate Composer with Toronto Symphony Orchestra and now for the past six years: Composer-in-Residence with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Winning a Dora Award for Best New Opera.

Writing The Hockey Sweater in 2012, which has taken off like I could never have believed.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

A R-S: Is there anything else you would like to do for a living? That sounds terrible, but being a composer is uncertain work if you can get any at all. I know many good, highly educated composers who barely write because they don’t get commissions. If this young person is committed, well then, I would encourage them to get all the experience in workshops they can. There are so many programs for young composers these days. It takes a while to find your voice, so get started. And make friends with performers. Fellow composers don’t commission pieces but performers do!

JS: Of what value are critics?

A R-S: The role of the critic has changed in recent years. Today, the critic is often less of a critic but more of a previewer. I consider that to be a useful role in encouraging interest in concert music.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

A R-S: I think my answer is fairly typical. I ask that they come with open minds rather than preconceived ideas of what contemporary music is. Since much of my music is narrative in nature, I hope they will actively listen and attempt to engage in the story I am telling.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

A R-S: I feel very lucky to live in Canada where we have funding for the arts at the national, provincial and municipal levels, but there are still far too many people who would like to be involved in this very small field. I recognize that Canada has had some pretty serious catch up to do. We have constructed a fairly robust music scene considering we didn’t really get started until the 20th century. We used to have no university programs for music study, but soon enough there were plenty. Today, too many people train and study to become performers, composers, musicologists and theorists with comparatively few job opportunities. Perhaps we could update our teaching practices and course design to create graduates who look less towards academia upon graduation but more towards practical and varied ways of making a living in the arts and other fields.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

A R-S: I don’t actually want to relive an experience but there is one experience that should have been mine and wasn’t. I’d like to attend an important premiere I missed due to bad winter weather. I’d like to go back and first of all, book a direct ticket to Paris instead of going through Chicago. That way, I wouldn’t have had to spend the night in the Chicago airport on a cot surrounded by heavily armed police, all the while knowing that this would lead to missing the premiere of my Radio France commissioned string quartet for performance at the Festival Présences in Paris. I did actually make it to Paris but my plane landed at about the same time my piece ended.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

A R-S: I’m in the media at certain times with certain premieres or festivals. This really has had little impact on me. Of course, I’ll be upset if a reporter gets some facts mixed up but it hasn’t had a lasted impact on me. I enjoy doing interviews and feel little stress over them. One time I was on a good number of bus stops in my city. That was strange I have to say.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why
A R-S: I’d like to go back to Germany again soon. My husband is German and I attend a weekly German class. The immersive experience is invaluable and encourages me to keep up the German studies. I’d actually like to check out the new concert hall in Hamburg. We saw it being built last time we were in Hamburg and would love to see the finished hall, inside and out.

As for somewhere I’ve never been – that would have to be Africa. It’s always captured my imagination somehow. I’m a huge animal lover and I’d love to see these big animals in their natural habitats. I actually wrote an opera about a true and dramatic story of an elephant…

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

A R-S: I just finished an arrangement of my piece The Hockey Sweater for an orchestra in Paris that is presenting a concert to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. I’m proud to represent my country in that way.

I just completed a tiny (2 minute) “Sesquie” commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in partnership with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. TSO commissioned 38 composers to write these tiny celebratory pieces of Canada in partnership with orchestras across the country. It’s quite interesting to look at what other composers write with the exact same guidelines.

I’m just writing a 30-minute chamber opera on one of our Canadian Fathers of Confederation, D’Arcy McGee, for the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s 2017 and all of my projects are so Canadian!

After that, I start work on a holiday piece for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a work that highlights different cultural traditions, something which I hope will be a useful addition to orchestra holiday concerts.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

A R-S: What gives me hope is that contemporary composers are getting a better reputation amongst concert goers. Audience members are increasingly approaching new music with an open mind. The modernism of the past calls composers less today than it did in previous decades and today we are striving to connect with our audience. I’m encouraged that strong work in the community can help people become dedicated concert goers. I’ve seen this first hand at the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. What concerns me is pop culture replacing the arts as culture, the decline of music education in schools, and the aging of classical music audiences.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

A R-S: I guess since I’m a composer, the most surprising thing people find about me is that I used to be deaf. I had so many ear infections as a child in England, that the scar tissue built up to a point of no return. No operation could solve it and I was lip-reading by the time I was 4. A move to the dry climate of Calgary a few years later cured me forever. The thing I find most surprising (annoying) about me? Even though I do all this work on stage, I’m actually an introvert and pretty shy. Strangely enough, I’d rather talk to a concert hall full of people than ask a stranger for directions.

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GIULIA MILLANTA: FLORENCE, ITALY-BORN, AUSTIN, TEXAS-BASED SINGER-SONGWRITER STATES “I HAVE ALWAYS DONE MY BEST TO BE HONEST AND TO KEEP MY ART SINCERE AND PERSONAL, ORIGINAL…MINE ONLY……WHAT I FIND DEPRESSING IS THE LACK OF CURIOSITY, DEPTH, AND CULTURE IN OUR SOCIETY.”

.JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

GIULIA MILLANTA: I could say that I write songs, make records, perform, tour…blah blah. But I should say that I’m not sure WHAT I have done and probably only time will tell…once I’m dead! But I can tell you HOW I have done it: I have always done my best to be honest and to keep my art sincere and personal, original…mine only. All I’ve always wanted was (is) to be used by music to touch someone’s life and make a difference on this planet. “

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

GM: I believe that we should look at things from different points of view and always go deeper. It doesn’t really matter what we talk about as long as we come up with something that’s the fruit of our own thoughts and not just repeating something we heard somewhere and didn’t even really understand! Humans are very fragile and we can die any minute but we also are very powerful and we need to use that power for the good”

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

GM: Hard to name only two. I admire Jesus even though I’m not Christian and I don’t go to church. He was a rebel, outspoken and fearless, but also compassionate and an advocate for the poor and the weak ones. We need more people like him today.

I admire everyone who fights with dignity for what they believe in no matter the obstacles.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

GM: This is too hard! I need a life time to answer your questions!! Can I check back with you when I’m 94??? Being an artist is an amazing journey. One of the hardest, I must say.

You constantly have to battle your inner monsters, deal with your pain, your insecurity and your vulnerability and display them for the rest of the world to see…AND you gotta be honest about it!

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

GM: See above! Honesty in the face of your fears and vulnerability is a hard job. But without honesty there is no art. It’s just ego-driven bullshit. (Oops. Can I say bullshit???)

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

GM: There have been many: my degree in Medicine, which made me realize I didn’t want to be an MD, my father’s death, which put me face to face with death and mortality and sickness, moving to the States and starting over in a much bigger pond than the one I used to swim in (Italy)

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

GM: Good one! I’m not sure an outsider will ever understand…
The hardest things for an independent musician is I do 5 jobs in one: I manage my career, I book my shows, I keep my internet profile updated, I perform …AND of course, in all this, I need to find the time and space of mind to write and create.

Once I do all this: I release records that everyone listens to FOR FREE!

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

GM: How? In my room at 15, with a guitar and a piece of paper.
Why? Because. You don’t decide something like this. You just do it …It’s like eating and going to the bathroom. You have to. You don’t choose to.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

GM: Sky dive. Cross the Atlantic on a boat. I haven’t had a chance, yet.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

GM: Sitting down with my guitar and/or my laptop to write and practice, every single day.
Each day I get to do that, despite how crazy life gets, that’s a huge achievement!

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

GM: Don’t do it unless you really can’t picture your life any other way.

JS: Of what value are critics?

GM: Tricky one. The world is full of critics. Every person on Facebook considers himself a critic nowadays. Art is personal.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

GM: Be open minded. Leave your phone in your purse/pocket…

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

GM: Not sure. Artists were always necessary for the development of society, whether they were understood and recognized or not. Most of them were discovered after they were dead….”don’t it always seem to go that we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone?”

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

GM: The past is gone. I want to live the next one…

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

GM: Honestly, none. I always do my best whether it’s only for myself, for 3 people, or 3 thousand. I want to be the best I can possibly be, whether the world sees it or not.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

GM: I want to see Yosemite park, I haven’t been there yet and I love overwhelming Nature! Then I would love to go back to Barcelona where I used to live in 2005-2006.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

GM: I released my fifth record Moonbeam Parade last year. I’m still touring it. It has been super well received by critics and audiences.

I am working on 2 new projects, one I can’t say anything about, yet, the other is a new record.

They matter to me because they are my babies! If they didn’t matter to me, why would I be an artist?

Why should they matter to y’all? Not sure. If fact they shouldn’t! :)
The world doesn’t need a new record…but some of you might need to hear my records.

Through the years, every time I would release something new, someone would always come to me and say: “Thank you for that song (or that line or what not) ‘cause I really needed to hear that!”
It happens a lot, every record, every show……
It can happen to you…

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

GM: Faith is necessary. Hope is not. “Grace can never arrive if hope is there” said Martha Graham.

Hope means that you want the Universe to unfold according to YOUR plans…it doesn’t happen that way.

Faith is the energy that moves us. It is necessary to even get out of bed.
What I find depressing is the lack of curiosity, depth, and culture in our society.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

GM: Please don’t make me answer this.

It’s not for me to say.

I live inside myself. I know myself. If I made this journey about myself I would be bored as hell and I would be a presumptuous arrogant, self- centered fool.

What is surprising about me -it’s not about me, it’s about life around me!

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JILL DOWNIE: AUTHOR OF FICTION, NON-FICTION, PLAYS, AND FILM SCRIPTS DECLARES “THE RANDOM QUALITY OF LIFE, THE TWISTS AND TURNS OF THE JOURNEY, MANY OUT OF ONE’S CONTROL, INTRIGUE ME” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

JILL DOWNIE: Jill Downie writes in many genres: fiction, non-fiction, plays, film scripts. Her most recent incarnation is as a mystery writer of contemporary thrillers, and she has started a new series set in the Gilded Age and the Belle Epoque.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

JD: Although I mostly write light fiction, clearly my work is a reflection of who I am and what I believe. The values I want to express through my writing are those good old-fashioned virtues of tolerance and acceptance that, sadly, only recently have included marginalised groups such as the LGBT communities. Appropriation of voice is a contentious issue for writers today, but I hope to make my writing not too white, too straight, or too narrow.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

JD: So many people I admire for different reasons, but I’ll choose one man and one woman, and I’m going to limit myself to the creative world. Charles Dickens. What a story teller! He used the pain of a difficult childhood to throw light on the miseries and suffering of his age, creating a world of unforgettable characters, both good and evil. My father told me that his father – who had worked in the London slums — kept a complete set of Dickens by his favorite armchair all his life, because Dickens had opened the eyes of so many of his contemporaries to a world around them many chose not to see. Of course, we know now that Dickens was a less than admirable man in his personal world, and it was kept well hidden when he was alive, but I’ll stick with my choice. Jane Austen and Alice Munro. Brilliant, beautiful, illuminating writing, working on small canvasses, creating the universal out of the particular. Two vastly different writers, living in different eras, but they illustrate the marvel of fiction in their similarities and their individuality.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

JD: I have been writing ever since I was a child, so maybe my writing has evolved as I have. Impossible to separate the two.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

JD: The biggest challenge is twofold: deciding where to concentrate my creative efforts, because I enjoy writing in so many genres, and the challenge we all face – time!

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

JD: One of the earliest pieces of work I had published was a short story entitled You can get here from there, and I have developed a talk with that theme, called Getting from There to Here: a Writer’s Roadmap. The random quality of life, the twists and turns of the journey, many out of one’s control, intrigue me. For me, the major turning point was coming to Canada – not my decision, but crucial to my personal life, and my development as a writer. Much of what I write is rooted in my pre-Canada past, but Canada made me after an unsettled, peripatetic childhood.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

JD: I think one of the hardest things for an outsider to understand is just how damn hard it is, sometimes, to sit yourself down and get started. And how amazing it is when it all starts to happen!

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

JD: As I said in an earlier answer, I have been writing since I was a child. It is an inescapable compulsion, and even rejection does not cure the affliction.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

JD: This is difficult to answer, because I have had the good fortune to write and be published in so many genres. I have seen my plays performed in various venues, but I would love to see a full-length play of mine on one of the major stages in this country.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

JD: Creatively, I feel my major achievement is keeping going!

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

JD: My advice to any young person who wants to lead a creative life, in whatever discipline, is to be brave, have courage and steam ahead. Learn from the rejections, but don’t be discouraged. When you look back, it won’t be the risks you took that you regret, but the chances you didn’t take. Fortunately, writing is a moveable feast, so it will fit around whatever other career you have that gives you some financial stability.

JS: Of what value are critics?

JD: The value of the critic depends on the value of the critic. That sounds crazy, but there are reviewers who add to the experience of reader or viewer, or listener. They are not grinding an axe, or settling scores, or wishing the artist had written, or drawn, or composed something entirely different. They are the best, and their judgement is of value because it comes from their love and knowledge of the art form they cover.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

JD: What I ask of my audience is to come on this journey with me.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

JD: I would like a greater recognition in the world of the importance of all art forms to human happiness and fulfillment. That sounds very airy-fairy, but sadly it usually means something very concrete: money.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

JD: There are so many! I loved the time I spent in the Yukon, researching the life of Faith Fenton, the Canadian journalist who covered the great gold rush for the Globe newspaper. And I wouldn’t mind once again having coffee and port at Chatsworth with the late Duke of Devonshire and his wife, Deborah, one of the redoubtable and controversial Mitford sisters, served by a valet in white gloves, and talking about the arts and Canadian politics – about which the duke was very well-informed.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

JD: It takes some getting used to being presented, interviewed, photographed. What always interests me is how the interviewer approaches you. They show their own individuality and personality when they are dealing with yours. I am also asked to interview other writers, and I enjoy that very much. It is refreshing to have the spotlight on the other person, and not oneself.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

JD: I would love to return to the place of my birth, and in which I lived until I was nearly eight years old – to revisit Georgetown, in what was then British Guiana, to walk again along the sea wall where I used to play in the afternoons, and visit the manatees in the beautiful botanical gardens. My second choice would not be to a country I don’t know and have never visited, but one I know fairly well. My love affair with France began in my student years, when I had the great good fortune to study in Paris at the Sorbonne. But I have never been to Grasse, a mediaeval town in southern Provence, and that is on my wish list. Jasmine, lavender, gardenia, myrtle, wild mimosa and, above all, the May rose, the heart of many fragrances, grow there, in the perfume capital of the world. Walking into the Galeries Lafayette when first in Paris as a student, it is the fragrance in the air I remember above all, not the clothes. Magic.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

JD: I am working on the new Gilded Age, Belle Epoque series. The first book is completed, and I am writing the second. I am also reworking a play based on the likelihood that Shaw’s Eliza Doolittle is based on my grandmother, Rose, who knew him well.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

JD: I would prefer not to use the word “depress,” but what worries me is the effect of social media on the arts generally. But I truly believe that the power of storytelling will always win over whatever new hazard is placed in the way of the storyteller. Above all, nothing will stop the compulsion of creative people to do what gives them joy. What we have to watch out for – besides the shrinking of grants, funds etc. – is the attempt to silence free speech. And that is where social media plays a positive role, because it is shines a light on dark places – so it too must be protected, and not silenced.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

JD: I think the aspect of me that would surprise most people who know me is that I am, essentially, a loner. I have been an actress, and love performing, or speaking, or “being someone else.” Which takes me back to a previous question. Is it me I present as a figure in the media, or is it “someone else”?

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CHRISTOPHER DARTON: A FILMMAKER AND WRITER WHO IS “PASSING ON STORIES SO THAT GENERATIONS TO COME CAN STILL LEARN FROM THE PAST”……A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEWS WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

CHRISTOPHER DARTON: Artistically I’ve done everything from drawing to painting; singing in a band to photography; writing screenplays and poetry to making films. I’ve come to realize the importance of sharing my capacity for telling stories through film … I strive to enlighten, entertain and preserve through my work. My grandmother was always entertaining me and telling stories of the North. Of life in the bush … hunting, trapping and surviving. I think I was bit by the bug and saw it as an opportunity to keep the stories and traditions alive. I see that in my work still … just passing on stories so that generations to come can still learn from the past.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

CD: I’ve gravitated towards music in Canada with my work. I firmly believe in our history in music and film in this country and that even though it’s not as rich and lengthy as that in the States it’s equally important to us as Canadians. So, I’ve become a big advocate for those who treaded these same waters before me who helped bring the music … for example the blues to Canada. We didn’t have a Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters or a Howling Wolf in Canada but we did have a Richard Newell (aka King Biscuit Boy). And we still have a Donnie Walsh, Morgan Davis, Michael Pickett and Danny Brooks who brought that great American music onto our soils and taught us about the rich tradition of the blues and continue to do so. Out entertainment industry is a babe in the woods or it certainly was when I was a kid. So, I hold these musicians in high regard for sharing their passion and love of the music and making it accessible for all of us.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

CD: I think we borrow or steal from everyone and in that regard, I admire everyone and anyone out there “doing it.” Making a living or trying to make a living in the arts. I guess if I had to name two people writer/musician Jim Carroll would be one. As a young dude at Sheridan College I read everything I could lay my hands on that he had written. His flair for the written word with regards to his poetry, prose and song writing really opened my eyes to the possibilities of marrying poetry with writing music. I’ll go with a filmmaker for my second choice … there’s many but I’ll go with David Cronenberg. He’s Canadian and that meant a lot to a kid from a small town that loved film … especially horror films. His work was intelligent, meaningful and it had an edge. His roots were low budget … which appealed to my blue-collar sensibilities and he build himself up to name in the industry from those humble beginnings … and I like that. My uncle owned one of the first Betamax players on the market … way before anyone I knew knew what a home video player was. He used to order stuff like The Brood and Scanners by Cronenberg from BC so I could see them because there were no video stores around my town. I was 17 when my dad and I went to see The Dead Zone at the Seneca Movie Theatre in Niagara Falls. It left a considerable imprint on me. More than ever I wanted to go out and make films.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

CD: I’ve learned how to become competent in all facets of my business of filmmaking because at the end of the day it is just that a business. I was willy-nilly as a young man. Unfocused. I didn’t know how to market myself or handle the business end of the industry. I could write and that was it. I became dangerous when I realized that it was going to be me and me alone that makes this thing happen. So, I had to learn how to connect with others in the industry. I had to learn how to get a film into a festival. Speak to an audience. Budget. Network. Really, I had to learn how to run my life as a business. Waiting around for it to happen was the tantamount of a death sentence. I had to make it happen myself. I always thought I was good enough … so someone will eventually come to me, knock on my door and make it happen. I would have still been waiting and ultimately that opportunity probably would have never came. I think this is affliction of many young filmmakers and writers.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

CD: My biggest hurdles are always the same really these days … time and money. Time to create is a challenge when you help manage a household. Work a full-time job. And really everything else that comes with life. It seems that creative part of us sometimes takes a backseat. Sometimes it becomes totally buried. I’m fortunate … I have an amazing support system in my wife Katherine who always champions everything I do. With that I’m able to find a greater balance in which I can write and make films. Of course, there’s money. Money always makes things a little easier; it doesn’t always make it better though. I revel in my ability to work around money and make projects happen without it. The film industry uses the cash hose to wash away all its roadblocks … I work with them, over them, around them and usually my projects are always better for it. My partner on my newest documentary, Rhonda Bruce said to me one day … “it would be nice if we could come up with some money for this project.” I said … “yes it would be but regardless the train has already left the station and it will get made with or without the money.” I’ve got it down to an art form making films on a low or no budget and making them happen. It’s very guerilla really … it’s not glamorous … it’s roll-up your sleeves and get dirty at times but it’s effective and that’s what gets films made.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

CD: In my mid-30’s I had a heart attack and more or less carried on with life as it was without much change. At 38 I found out I was diabetic and still really didn’t make any changes my life. I believe when you’re that young you always feel you have time … plenty of time. When I reached my mid-40’s I became scared. Scared that ten more years had passed and the creative stuff hadn’t happened the way I wanted to. I finally heard the clock ticking. I was writing but I was spinning my wheels. No major success. No audience. No means really of getting my work out there. I had an epiphany of sorts. I sold my comic book collection, which was the only thing of value I had lying around. I bought a camera, a mic, a couple of lights and I decided I would shoot a documentary. I chose documentary because I felt as though it was something within my means. Something I could pull off on a small amount of money with connections I had in the music business. I knew musician Danny Brooks and he introduced me to Gary Kendall (Downchild) and it went from there. I immediately gravitated towards blues in Canada because of those connections. My first film was supposed to be a documentary on King Biscuit Boy Richard Newell. It didn’t happen but the year of legwork I did on it opened the doors to my first film The Way We Was: The Story of the Kendall Wall Band and all projects after that really.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

CD: I don’t think a lot of people understand the need we feel as creative people. The burn. That thing in our gut that says we need to create. I’ve had countless people say to me when one project is done, because it wasn’t a big financial success or because I’m still working shift work in a factory … “so … what next?” I always answer the same thing … on with the next project because it’s what I do. We finish one thing and we all know damn well the next one, two or three projects is rolling around in our head already. We need to get these things out or we’re damned really. To die with a headful of ideas and nothing substantial to show for it is to be condemned for sure.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

CD: I was creative very young … 5 or 6 I would imagine. I was an only child. Quiet for the most part. I loved comic books. And I would draw. I could amuse myself for hours reading and drawing. My family was very blue collar. My dad worked on the CNR as an engineer and my mom was a housewife and worked part-time here and there. And here was this weird little nerd in the house … playing with GI Joe’s … reading comics constantly and drawing. My imagination was fertile to say the least. It must have been a bit of a culture shock to my parents but they embraced it and went with it and really encouraged anything I did creatively. I was fortunate in that respect. AND … this is a big and … my best friend loved comics and was an artist as well. As a matter of fact, he went on to become one of the best around my area in the arts. We were always among the best in school but the reality of it was no one could touch his ability to draw and paint. The two of us shared a love of fantasy … not only comics but Famous Monsters magazines … Fangoria … Kung Fu movies. Loved it all. And we were fortunate enough to have a drive-in movie theatre in our home town … The Mustang Drive-In. So as a kid I went to see everything from Disney films to Bruce Lee movies.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

CD: I’ve writing a few songs or at least toyed with lyrics … but I’ve never seen anything I’ve written through to the end product of a finished recorded song on a CD. That and I’ve never written a novel but I plan on it. I think once the film stuff cools down in a few years I’ll write a book. Why? Well because I haven’t done it. No other reason. Money means very little to me … accolades even less. I’ve never done it … I love to read so by process of elimination I’d like to write a book. I have a real strong burning desire to show my sons that this stuff can be done. That if you want to do it … than you can make it happen. Eventually one day I’ll be gone and maybe I won’t be able to leave much to my loved ones financially but if I leave a body of work that’s even more important because it’s forever. I want my sons’ to be able to look at their wives or children one day and say … “my dad never made much money … he struggled as a matter of fact but boy show me someone else who wrote articles, made films, took photos, wrote books etc.” I think that speaks volumes on intestinal fortitude. It speaks volumes on heart, drive and desire. And to me all those things are more important than anything else.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

CD: I wanted to make my first feature at 18 it finally happened at 48. To screen that film in an auditorium with my wife, my mother and my sons sitting in the audience was probably the biggest moment of my creative life. Those people heard me talk film … talk writing … talk music my entire life … and how would anyone know if it would ever happen or not?!? Because for a lot of people it never does happen. It must have meant a lot to my long-suffering mom to look up for 72 minutes and watch a film I made after a lifetime of talk smack about a film career. A film I wrote, directed, produced, edited and shot. And my wife who stood by me for a year and half while I made the film … all the hills and valleys that go with such a monumental task of making something so big. My sons Tobe, Sasha and Elijah, who I paved a creative path in their lives. One that led them to Sheridan College like me … in film and photography. For them to finally see I did it. It was gargantuan. And then I realized that it was bigger than I ever suspected really because what it did was … it proved I was a filmmaker and that parlayed into my next film and my next. So, I was finally doing it … I not only proved it my friends and family but to myself.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

CD: Just do it. Don’t let money. Family. Friends. Don’t let anything stand in your way. And make yourself a threat by learning all facets of your business and art because you’ll need it at some point. I’m a huge advocate of college or university. I think you need to learn it all … become well-rounded so that you can eventually forget it all and do your own thing. But then those teachings … that base is ingrained in you to fall back on. As a student in college I was an enormous John Waters fan. I had the good fortune of meeting John in Toronto while he toured through for his book Crackpot. A couple of months after we met he sent me a postcard in the mail … in was a coffin and on the back it said “just become obsessed and get out and raise the money. Hijack your school’s equipment, meet rich people and nice to any rich relatives … just MAKE it happen.” He may have written the same words to 500 hundred other people but it didn’t matter … I got it and it spoke to me. I think we ultimately fall back on the way we were raised and/or the way we first learned to do what we do. As I mentioned … I grew up very blue collar. I understood the meaning of a dollar and I knew about tough times and poverty. My grandmother who I was extremely close with was native … she lived in the North in subzero temperatures without electricity or indoor plumbing. That knowledge and that part of my upbringing geared me towards a more working man’s approach to low budget cinema. These filmmakers … out of the Roger Corman school of the 60’s and early 70’s were my idols. To this day I often say … if someone gave me $100,000 to make a film I would probably lean towards using that money to make ten films.

JS: Of what value are critics?

CD: It’s always nice to have an audience whether it’s an old friend, a relative, stranger, fan or critic. When I saw the first write up on my first film it was a huge buzz. For me … just knowing somebody, somewhere has taken the time and found one of my films and watched it means the world to me. I was in London a year and half ago at a David Wilcox show, I was interviewing him the next morning and was there as his guest. I started chatting with a couple of sound techs and mentioned my film and they had both seen it. A few minutes later they sent another tech over who also had seen my film. It was a tremendous compliment for me. I was in Kincardine doing some shooting for my second documentary feature and someone approached me while I standing there post show with my cousin Travis. He said he had seen my film three times and absolutely loved it. He walked away and my cousin looked at me and said “holy shit you’ve got fans!” This is why we do these things like make films. So that other people will see them. There’s a whole enormous group of creators out there who don’t have an audience and maybe some that never will … I know … I was in that boat. So that somebody, even one person 400 miles from where I live tells me they’ve seen my work … well that’s just a great honour. And … of course how do we learn without people’s criticisms? How do we move forward and get better without listens to opinions?

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

CD: I don’t ask much … really only to give me a bit of their valuable time. And in return I’m making that promise to entertain them or enlighten them. And hopefully never ever bore them. That’s a big part of it. When I was editing The Way We Was I made a very consciences effort in the back of my mind to make that story move … to hold the audience’ attention and make sure they walked away entertained. Sometimes it’s that simple. I’m not making films that test an audience. My stories thus far aren’t world shaking, deep subject matters … it doesn’t make them any less important but my work has its place in a historical sense. I make films that often aren’t out front as something other film makers are jumping out to document, they’re little stories about people and places that I feel garner archiving so people years to come will be able to relive those moments, people, places etc.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

CD: At once I could say there’s a lot of changes I would like to see with regards to the light in which the artist is shined. It would make it nicer to have the tools, the money, audience and the esteem they deserve. In another breath, I wouldn’t change anything because here I am at 51 years old making films, shooting music videos, writing and taking photos etc. with nothing really in my way but me. I could live in some subversive society where we’re hand-cuffed and unable to create … but I’m not … so I don’t complain. Would it be nice to get in on the grant train? Absolutely. My life would be a lot easier if I knew all the secrets and held the key to tapping into some funding for my work. But as I said earlier … I’ve figured out how to do what I do with very little money and would never let a lack of it stand in my way.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

CD: I try not to really think much of the past. I dwelled there for way too long and found it really damaging and unhealthy. So really for me anything and everything I’ve had a hand in on whether it be writing the liner notes to Danny Brooks Texassippi Soul Man album, producing a Bobnoxious music video Halloween Baby or shooting an interview with Gordie Johnson (Big Sugar) or Donnie Walsh (Downchild) … it’s all positive. I keep it all locked away somewhere in the mental bank, I just chose not to let it the good or the bad get the best of me. As long as we’re moving forward we’re going in a positive direction.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

CD: It makes what I do relevant. Not just to me … because it’s always meaningful to me personally but to know it’s out there and other people are seeing it or hearing about it or reading a newspaper article on what I’ve got on the burner … whatever … it says that I’m a filmmaker and that’s critical. I think it was filmmaker Robert Rodriguez who said … you want to be a filmmaker? Then tell people you’re a filmmaker. Get business cards made that say on them … filmmaker. And now you’re a filmmaker. It’s simple but it speaks volumes of the power of self. I live in a small town in Southern Ontario … I’m not well known by any means. But I walk into a supermarket and people who have seen a newspaper article on me ask how the new film is going. People at the garage where I get my car repaired say … I heard you’re shooting a new film! I go to have a bite to eat at my favourite place for wings and pizza and people say to me … I heard you interviewed such and such … or I heard you’re producing a new horror film. I walk into a Tim Hortons and the girls that work there laugh and say … you’re famous! I’m not but it goes a long way towards a certain feeling of self-esteem that indeed after all these years I am out there hacking away at it and still trying to make IT happen. I always tell people … I’m a guy who’s out there taking his hacks at the plate instead of someone sitting in the dugout talking about all the should-have-beens and could-haves. That’s it in a nutshell … I’m out there doing it.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

CD: I haven’t travelled much really so this is difficult. Last year was a big one … I went to Jamaica to get married in October. Halloween to be exact … I got back after two weeks and four days later I flew to Texas to shoot footage for my second film Hard Working Man: The Music and Miracles of Danny Brooks. These were the second and third time I had ever been on a plane and I was 51 years old. I guess I’d like to go to New York … to see a Yankees home game just once. I’ve been a fan since I was 8. Maybe New Orleans … because of their considerable music scene and of course the food. And of course, I would like to return to Texas especially Austin and/or the legendary Gruene Hall in New Braunfels to premiere the film I shot some of there. That would be very nice and cathartic … bringing that project full circle.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us.

CD: I’m busier right now by ten times than I have been in my entire life with film work. Right now, at the writing of this interview I’m editing my second feature film … Hard Working Man: The Music and Miracles of Danny Brooks. It’s a documentary on the life of musician Danny Brooks … a Johnny Cash like figure from the Toronto area who moved to Texas approximately six years ago to continue his career and really become a road-warrior playing all over North America. Danny’s story is an important one because it’s the ultimate story of rising above it all … addictions, jail, health issues … to do what we were put on earth to do. It’s about survival. The road. The music. You name it. As well … I’m shooting my third … This Is Paradise: The Cameron House Story. A documentary on then legendary venue on Queen Street west called by some the Canadian Chelsea Hotel and CBGB’s because in the 80’s it became an artist residence as well as stage to some of the biggest names in Canadian music and the arts: Molly Johnson, Ron Sexsmith, Gordie Johnson, Jane Siberry to name a few. Both are important because these are our stories as Canadians. If music is meaningful to you … if the arts are meaningful to you … than these stories should strike a chord. On a daily basis places like the Cameron House are dying in Toronto. In the last couple of years, we’ve lost The El Mocambo and The Silver Dollar joining places like The Bamboo, Larry’s Hideaway or years ago blues haunts like The Colonial Tavern and The Albert’s Hall. People have fond memories of their days hanging out in these places watching live music … so if I can keep some of those memories alive … job done. As well as those projects, I act as a Producer for Skeleton Crew Entertainment … a small group of filmmakers based mostly out of the Niagara region. Frank Popp Jr. directs our projects, Scott Patterson does the make-up FX and Justin Peeler shoots them. We just shot our second film this summer, a horror short titled 37% Pure Evil. It looks as though it may premiere at Frightmare in the Falls this November … billed as the biggest horror expo in North America. On top of all that I’ve got a music video I’m shooting next week and another in September. I’m making up for a lot of lost time … so I work constantly.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

CD: There’s always going to work to produce. Films to make. Songs to sing. Poems and books to write. As well … there’s always going to wealth of subjects and events in the world to base our work on. It’s a fruitful time for film work. There’s more films being made than ever. People seem to have figured it all out … how to produce on a budget and get it made. The equipment is cheaper and better than ever. If you want to outfit yourself as a ministudio … you can. That’s basically what I’ve done. I’ve turned myself into a one-man band. I own all my own equipment, camera, lights, audio recording devices, microphones … you name it. I edit all my own material right at home. It’s no secret … it’s just a matter of deciding to do it, that this is what works for me and is going to assist me in making films. That 23-year-old who gets out of school and says he’s a director is in for a lifetime of disappointments. That 23 year that gets out of school and says he or she is a filmmaker and willing to take on, learn and perform all facets of the filmmaking experience is dangerous. The dangerous ones survive and if they want it bad enough they will make it somehow … some way. For all the opportunities out there and the fact that we live in a time where people can shoot an entire 90 film on their cell phone it’s unfortunately at times … kind of that American Idol syndrome. That’s where young people want it immediately and really don’t put in the ten thousand hours need to hone their craft. Nothing bothers me more than watching a show like The Voice and seeing a 20-year singer saying … I have to make it, this is my last chance. When I was 20 I was a lunatic roaming the halls of Sheridan College writing … directing … acting … singing … you name it. Last chance?!? Seriously … this is more of an American way of thinking; that we need it all right away and are entitled to. Wrongheaded thinking and ultimately unhealthy.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

CD: I’ve grown extremely resilient. I’m the poster child for following your dream and not giving up. I would never have thought it. I didn’t plan it out that way. I guess plain and simply the fire inside kept burning at the worst of times and I was fortunate enough to make opportunity … to see an opening … a way … a chance … whatever … and I jumped in and came to the realization that this was for me to make happen or not. I suppose I took charge of my own destiny. Something we all need to do but often aren’t afforded the opportunity. I guess I also surprised myself in that my instincts were very good. I trained in film when we were cutting 16mm film. I finally edited my first feature in the digital age. That’s an enormous gap. That said … I always thought I knew film. I never lost the art form I only needed to update my technical skills. I watched a lot of film … studied always trying to educate myself waiting my chance. When I finally went to do it … I proved to myself it all wasn’t a waste of time, I had actually learned something from everything I ever watched. I said to someone recently that making a film by yourself is the equivalent of being dropped in an empty lot with a hammer, some wood and a bag of nails and being told to build a house. Somehow … some way … along the road I’ve figured out how to get it done.

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JANE COOP: MAJOR CANADIAN PIANIST PRESENTS MASTERCLASS (JULY 30), CONCERT (AUGUST 2), AND HEADLINES TRIBUTE TO LEGEND ANTON KUERTI (AUGUST 3) AT THE TORONTO SUMMER FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

JANE COOP: I have spent my entire adult life trying to improve both my playing and my teaching. I had wonderful guidance early on from magnificent teachers, and I have used that foundation upon which to build a satisfying and stimulating life in music.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

JC: I believe in communicating to people through music – in finding the human expression in every work and telling that story, whether it be literal or metaphorical, in whichever language the composer uses.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

JC: Beethoven for the utter mastery of his craft and at the same time the ability to dig deeply into the human condition; Haydn for his seemingly light-hearted persona, overlaying an expressive and brilliant mind.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

JC: I hope I’ve grown personally alongside my musical journey.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

JC: Being able to realize to the fullest extent my vision.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

JC: Becoming a teacher. I found myself having to find all sorts of answers to questions that I had never even asked myself!

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

JC: The amount of time I spend at the piano, and the myriad of decisions I make each minute – even on stage.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

JC: My parents were music lovers, and our family regularly listened to music both on the radio and in concert. We did not own a TV until I was about 14. I can’t remember not having music in my life. On the other hand, my parents never advised or expected me to make music my life!

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

JC: I have a lot of musical wishes – mostly learning specific works. If there is one body of works that I’d like to continue to complete it’s the Mozart Concerti. Outside of music, I also have a lot of projects that I’d like to do, from major hikes, to being fluent in French, to reading a long list of books – there just isn’t enough time!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

JC: Recording and giving many performances of the complete Beethoven Piano and Violin Sonatas with the inspiring violinist Andrew Dawes, playing both Brahms Piano Concerti, guiding dozens of terrific students over the years and launching them into real careers in music.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

JC: Pursue the study of music for the love of it. No other reason. With luck, one might make a life within its magnificent environment, but one needs to be flexible and willing to say “yes” sometimes to engagements or projects that don’t necessarily fir the template of what a “concert pianist” is supposed to do!

JS: Of what value are critics?

JC: I’m not sure. Nice review help to keep up the morale, but don’t really have a lasting effect. The bad ones last longer, but make you stronger.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

JC: To actively listen. To try very hard to receive the message that the performer and the composer are sending out there.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

JC: I played a recital in the big concert hall in St. Petersburg. It was a fabulous experience because all the parameters were lined up – great piano, perfect acoustic, beautiful, atmospheric hall, totally engaged audience, and a well-prepared pianist!

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

JC: The Hebrides Islands, and Brittany. I consider Scotland and France my true homes.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

JC: I’m preparing a solo program made up entirely of works that I’ve wanted to play for some time. I haven’t built the program based on the usual parameters. I’m challenging myself in different ways, and I hope that I can persuade the audiences to love these works as I do.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

JC: Arts organizations today are struggling more than ever before. It seems that live music is not vital for humanity’s nourishment. What gives me hope is that the young generation of musicians is better than ever, and determined to keep this great art at the forefront of society. And these people have the imagination and energy to not only keep things going but also to raise the bar.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

JC: You’d have to ask someone else that – someone who knows me!

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