Leading Ideas: Yoga in Sierra Leone

Last month Global News reporter Jayme Doll brought an incredible evening of conversation here, speakers and video on the subject of humanitarian work in Sierra Leone as part of Doll’s Africa Project. One of the speakers, Canmore-based occupational therapist Heather Weaver, talked about a yoga class she facilitated in Freetown:

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Puppet Theatre Intensive: Playing on stage

Peter Balkwill, director of the Banff Puppet Theatre Intensive.

Peter Balkwill, director of the Banff Puppet Theatre Intensive. Photos by Rita Taylor.

Puppets have an advantage over human performers. They can achieve the impossible. Need a boy to jump off a cliff and fly away? A puppet can do that on stage and be much more captivating than a live actor. But you have to keep in mind that puppets are a very visual art form. If you want a character to stand around talking on stage, actors do that better. There has to be a reason to work with puppets, and telling a story based in physicality and movement seems to be just that thing.

The Banff Puppet Theatre Intensive is a 15-day crash course in all things puppet — ensemble work, hands-on building, articulation — led by Peter Balkwill of Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop. It all wraps up with a public presentation featuring puppet plays we collectively create in groups.

During the intensive, I loved figuring out a puppet’s personality based on the way it moved. Our group’s protagonist was a girl with deep-set eyes, moveable shoulders, and long, spindly arms that reached to the ground. We knew she was young and brooding right off the bat, and the story we built developed out of the natural character of this girl, Adeline. Our groups were made up of actors, writers, designers, builders, educators, and enthusiasts, so the unique talent that everyone brought into the process varied so much that the possibilities for both building and performance were endless.

My group continued to play, even once we’d found our story. We had four theatre types and one visual artist in our group, and she created a gorgeous seagull puppet, though we hadn’t written much of a role in the story for that character. When we were addressing notes from an open rehearsal, the visual artist in our group offered a hilarious and fitting solution to a plot point that needed focus, and in doing so she fleshed out the character of her bird and gave it a purpose, and more stage time. Now, after doing the final presentation in the Margaret Greenham Theatre, my group has been figuring out how to come together for a residency to continue working on the piece.

Mika Laulainen is a freelance theatre artist based in Vancouver. She is a graduate of the University of Victoria’s Theatre program. While her focus is on directing, she also writes, acts, puppeteers, and produces plays. She currently produces her own work under the banner star star theatre.


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Hello Banff Centre Radio!

Banff Centre Radio is set to hit the airwaves this summer, broadcasting content about mountain culture, Banff National Park, and the arts and ideas created at The Banff Centre. Here are a few before and after shots of the new revamped studio space that will be home to Banff Centre Radio 101.1, 103.3 (French) and 107.9 fm in the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Building. We think the transformation is pretty amazing!

All photos by Rita Taylor.

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Séan McCann: The creative gift of -30°

Séan McCann, formerly of the band Great Big Sea, was finishing up a two-week residency at the Leighton Artists Colony. I asked him about his time at The Banff Centre, his recently released album Help Your Self, and how the mountains influence his songwriting.

Singer / songwriter Séan McCann in the Cardinal Studio, in the Leighton Artists Colony. Photo: Rita Taylor.

Singer / songwriter Séan McCann in the Cardinal Studio, in the Leighton Artists Colony. Photo: Rita Taylor.

“I just kind of do solitude in the mountains and write.” Séan McCann has been escaping to Banff for alone time for more than 20 years. About ten years ago, he started using The Banff Centre music huts, perfect practice spaces for musicians, but this March was his first occasion here as an artist in residence. As a member of rousing folk-rock band Great Big Sea — the band he spent 20 years singing and playing with — he never had the opportunity to do a residency. But after leaving the group at the end of 2013 and releasing his solo album Help Your Self in January 2014, he had time on his hands.

“At a certain point, in the growth of a song, I love to wash it through Banff.” As a Newfoundlander, whose home is near the sea, Séan relishes the time he spends in the mountains. “There’s a different energy at this altitude that can really push a song in a different way,” he says. Two weeks in the Cardinal Studio, with no interruptions, meant his brain was free to roam without distraction. “There’s really something to be said for the mountains. The energy up here is different, it has an effect on me, on my body chemistry, and I let it happen. It’s kind of like a weapon. I don’t need it all the time, but at a certain point, in the growth of a song, I love to wash it through Banff.”

“When you’re having a good writing period, the worst thing you can do is ignore it.” Séan, who wrote some of the songs for Help Your Self in Banff two years ago, left his two-week residency with a suitcase full of new music— more than 20 songs — that he’ll work on throughout the next year. His intention hadn’t been to write enough music to fill an album while here, or even enough to tell a story, but an unexpected prolific writing streak, coupled with -30° weather that kept him indoors, allowed him to generate plenty.

“I drank a lot for years just because, honestly, I was so frustrated in the situation I was in, singing the same songs over and over again, saying nothing.” After 20 years with Great Big Sea, Séan hit a creative wall and was unable to steer the band in a direction that worked for him artistically. He was tired of repeating the same message. “If you’re up there and you’re not believing what you’re saying or you’re not compelled to do it… If you’re a for-real artist, that is death for you. And I couldn’t do it anymore.”

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Geraldine Carr’s room service delivery

Filmmaker Geraldine Carr (left) and playwright Conni Massing collaborate on XX.

Filmmaker Geraldine Carr (left) and playwright Conni Massing collaborate on Voila!. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

The short film Voila! was directed by Geraldine Carr and written by Conni Massing, who were Filmmakers In Residence here this past February. The film is about 11-year-old Patty and her trip to The Big City in 1969. Brought along to babysit her cousin while her aunt and uncle attend an awards ceremony at a hotel, she explores the hotel suite while the baby’s sleeping. She’s wide-eyed at her first time out of her small town and her first stay in a hotel, and she discovers the room service menu and orders the only thing she can afford.

Based on Massing’s own experience growing up in Saskatchewan, the film is based on an experience she had accompanying her oldest brother, his wife, and their baby, on a trip to Saskatoon and staying at the fancy Bessborough Hotel. Massing explains that when the waiter arrived with her room service, she was treated professionally, and that when she wrote the script, she pictured Patty thinking of the waiter as her dream date.

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E.R. Brown and the case of the unexpected nomination

Wired Writing Studio alum E.R. Brown’s first novel, Almost Criminal, was recently nominated for an Edgar Award, which honours the best in true crime, mystery novels and TV mysteries each year. A huge coup for a first-time writer, Brown was shortlisted in the category of best paperback original (along with Stephen King for Joyland). Brown finished the first draft of Almost Criminal in a prose fiction session of Wired with faculty Lawrence Hill.

ER Brown.Mix

What stands out to you from your time at The Banff Centre? I’ve participated in the Wired Writing Studio twice. The first day of my first visit, I met Craig Power (from Newfoundland, who was working on what became the novel Blood Relatives) on the way to picking up our IDs and room keys. I’d just driven 12 hours or so from Vancouver and he was off a long series of cross-Canada plane connections. We were equally groggy, and I was completely intimidated at the thought of all the writers who’d been there before me. I remember holding that ID card, with my photo and the word ARTIST in enormous capital letters. Next thing, we walked to the dining room where a classically waist-coated waiter checked those IDs and seated us. Craig said, “They don’t treat artists like this where I come from.”

Were you surprised to be nominated for the Edgar? Has your life changed at all since? I was gobsmacked. There’s been nothing more unexpected. It was a first novel from a smaller publisher. It’s received some good reviews but has not set the publishing world on fire. It’s not widely available in the US. Yet somehow it floated to the top in this prestigious competition. Every other nominee is an international bestseller. Stephen King, for cryin’ out loud.

What are you curious about right now? Selfishly, I wonder whether the award nomination will help me sell my second novel! In the larger sense, I’m as curious as ever about the writing process, where stories come from, and why people read fiction.

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