St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts and Humanities. With the Ottawa Writers’ Festival
The Pictures: CBC cameraguys Mike de Paul and André Charbonneau preparing to film (“Nobody ever takes OUR pictures..”); Christine and Kendal from Indigo setting up; designer Thea Yateman with Todd Duckworth (Adam One); Mary Ellis (Toby); Kate Smith (Ren), in the green room; Director Jan Irwin; Gardener slates with slogans; Calixa Lavallée Ensemble in action, three readers and me onstage; Mark Wilkinson directing the Ensemble; “Toby” in action; cast bows; two readers — Alex Nahas and Aya Fawzi — with “purse” book-holders ingeniously made of paper bags; and lovely collage envelope by poet Selina Boan.
Ottawa, Canada’s ambilingual capital city, with its borders and border-crossings, its officials and its official secrets. I was born in it almost seventy years ago, spent the first five winters of my life in it, and, with mittens on strings, fell off my two-runner skates on the Rideau Canal, super-chilling my tiny toes and fingers. Now here I was again. So this is where I got my multiple personality, I thought. Sacré bleu!
Having left the Novotel – chosen by publicist Ashley Dunn for its greenery, heralded by a strange lobby display that showed some deer on a table and a seal sleeping on a Novotel bed – hmm, have you ever smelled one?—I arrived at St. Brigid’s, an early 20th C. Cathedral now being gradually and painstakingly restored as an Arts and Humanities Centre — I admired, not only the astonishing backdrop made of old plastic bags and duct tape and lit so it resembled an abstract stained-glass window, but also the slates with Gardener slogans written on them. Then we were put through a brisk rehearsal by Director Jan Irwin, with the music sung by the exceptional Calixa Lavallée Ensemble. (Helpful hint: Calixa Lavallée was not a girl but a man, and he wrote “O Canada,” the Canadian National Anthem.) The Choir Director is Laurence Ewashko, but the actual conducting for this performance was done by young Mark Wilkinson, who was not only extremely enthusiastic but extremely flexible. He looked like an angel that had been stretched – short, he wasn’t – and the Ensemble followed his every sinuous move with rapt attention, as did I.
Then I was whisked off to a fundraising dinner for St. Brigid’s –restoring those frescoes isn’t easy — with food by Thyme and Again Catering: (http://www.thymeandagain.ca/en/thyme/Creative_Catering_p1791.html.) Sheila Whyte went — deliciously – the extra mile, with a menu drawn from themes in the book, including a Chickie Nob item that looked and smelled very tempting, but — keeping the Veggie Vows — I had Pilar’s Mushroom Tart instead – and an edible Lemon Meringue Facial from the AnooYoo Spa. Well done!
The organic coffee was by Bridgehead (http://www.bridgehead.ca), which now has a number of Ottawa shops and outlets. It’s worth mentioning here that the Ottawa Festival aims for a high score in greenery, with no bottled water, 100% post-consumer paper, and no disposable dishes, and fair-trade organic coffee and tea.
(Somehow another bag o’beans appeared during the book signing (I think): Reunion Coffee, from Oakville, at http://www.reunionislandcoffee.com/. Thank you, anonymous donor…)
After that came the performance itself, and I am sorry to say I somewhat disgraced myself by dropping my script all over the floor. But you can recover from anything on stage short of passing out (and I have), and anyway a blooper from me at the get-go made everyone else feel more relaxed. That’s my story. After that things went swimmingly, with Kate Smith playing a taut but tentative Ren, Mary Ellis an efficient Toby with hidden motherliness, and Todd Duckworth indulging – said he – his long-held fantasy of being a preacher. And the Ensemble indeed sang like angels, with tall Marc saying a silent Thank You to them after each song. One commentator has said that this is about as close to a religious experience she’s come n a while.
Ottawa, you came through in spades, and I forgive you for those tiny frozen fingers of long ago!