Lessons from Paleoncology (Phase 1)

Last night, Paleoncology had its first performance. It was a workshop performance in front of a small crowd of folks who braved a ridiculous amount of snow to come. I was going to write a post about the experience of preparing my first-ever solo show for a performance, and the show, but I’ve decided that is interesting to no one but me. So, instead, here are the top lessons I’m taking away from this experience thus far:

1. Breathe.
Should be simple, right? Nope. Easiest thing in the world to forget, and when your breath does, so does any emotional connection. This might be the single biggest block to creation and performance I know. So breathe.

2. Stop apologizing.
A lot of artists (particularly young Canadian artists) apologize compulsively, and it’s downright destructive. Whether it comes from humility or fear or what have you, I don’t know. I just know that I do it a lot. There was many a moment of “Sorry– No! I lied! Not apologizing!” in rehearsals. The more stress I had and the more worried  was about how “good” my work was, the more I apologized. Apologizing is not believing in your work, and if you don’t, who will?

3. Turn off the bullshit meter.
Christopher Weddell, my acting teacher at CCPA, once told me (okay, often told me) that I have a high bullshit meter– ie, I look at what I’m doing and say to myself, “This is bullshit.” But who does that help? Nobody. Literally no one is aided by that, particularly when you’re doing a run of a show with no one on stage but you and your brain gets in a feedback loop of “you are doing a terrible job” for forty minutes. So turn it off, stop watching yourself, and go.

4. A solo show is a lot of you.You wrote it, it’s your voice, it’s your body. You have to learn it all. You only have yourself to fall back on. And you will feel weird asking people to come and see you for an hour. And that is okay.

5. Why didn’t I just do the TJ Dawe or Sam Mullins thing and just tell a freaking story on a bare stage?
This is not so much a lesson as a question I asked myself as I schlepped a full backpack and rolling suitcase full of costumes and props through six inches of snow last night.

5. A solo show wrings you out in the best way possible.
This is going to be one weird analogy, but in S&M (see, great start), when submissives come out of a scene with a dominant partner they often have some kind of positive cathartic release, like crying or laughing. If me lying in bed after the show last night feeling warm fuzzies and wanting to sob is any indication, there can be some parallels drawn. After the anticipation, excitement, and nerves leading up to this performance, it is gratifying as hell to know that it has been seen, and heard, and hopefully enjoyed. Draining and exhausting, but oh man is it rewarding.

6. A solo show, while a lot of you onstage, is certainly not a one-person endeavour.
Lots of people helped get the show to where it currently is, and they have my thanks. Adam Proulx was my writing buddy from day one and helped keep me motivated and writing, and offered his thoughts and opinions. Michelle Urbano and Shayne Monaghan read the script aloud for me at Monday Night of New Works (if you have a new piece, bring it there!), and Michelle also was front-of-house for the workshop. Allan Turner shared his incomparable knowledge of dinosaurs with me. Lynn Elkin, Tom Hall, and Heidi Quicke all contributed financially (which, trust me, is a huge help). And the people who came last night to watch and share their thoughts are now firmly lodged in my heart.
Chris Murray loaned his voice to the project as Daniel, and Ryan Couldrey did all the prerecorded speech segments for us, and I’m thrilled that I got to spend a day at CBC hanging with these guys and adding a crucial element to the show.
Most of all, though, I’ve been extremely lucky to have Andrew Young with me on this journey. I first asked him to act as the dramaturg for Paleoncology, and he’s since taken on the task of directing this beast. Beyond those huge tasks, he’s helped with the costumes, let us rehearse in his house, helped coordinate time-and-space management, run sound, and more, and overall dedicated so much of his time and energy to this project that it flabbergasts me. He’s been a wonderful collaborator, and as far as I’m concerned, Paleoncology is our show. If one person gets the bulk of my gratitude, it is him. Thank you.

7. When you’re creating, it can always be better.
Paleoncology is still just a baby of a play. It has more growing to do. I’m always aware of that. I certainly don’t want to workshop it to death, but when it head to Fringes in Montreal and Calgary next year, I want to bring something fantastic. I’m ready to dive into the feedback forms from last night and start polishing. And when we coordinate some more performances in Toronto in the new year, I’m hoping that we’ll see you there, and that we’ll blow your mind.

8. Tell the story.
Because underneath everything else– costumes, puppets, sets– that’s all it is. A story waiting to be told.


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