When asked to be the Feature Artist for the Holiday issue, I was touched and baffled. Like many working creatives, I don’t often see myself as an artist but as a doer, maker and creator. So, to be referred to as an artist can give many of us creatives a little thrill, a feeling that maybe you have arrived. To work creatively, putting your art out into the world, never knowing how it will be received, is almost an act of insanity, a dance with hope and fear, a delicate tango with that uncompromising foe called uncertainty. Being called an artist is one of the highest forms of gratitude a working creative can receive and it’s never a term I take lightly.
I am a writer, director, producer, choreographer, performer and teacher. But really I am a dreamer, a creator, a risk taker, a maker and a mentor. I create magic on the stage, or at least try to. And, when I say magic I mean that in so many different ways. I mean the way dance, and theatre, song and story cannot only bring joy to an audience, but also the way it can connect and uplift everyone involved, from the performer to the creators, to the community. That, to me, is the real magic.
I have been doing “my thing” since I can remember: from childhood, writing stories and choreographing shows that I forced my brothers and cousins to perform for my family; to working for the Banff Centre; to returning to Fernie to start a performing arts studio that would focus on creating opportunities for youth. I started the studio, Creative Energy Arts Factory, to give local kids the opportunities that I wish I had, the opportunities that don’t always exist in small towns. When I first opened the studio I thought getting 20 kids who love to dance, act and sing would be fantastic. That first year we had 123 kids register. I was blown away.
My emphasis is always on collaboration, creativity and joy. You create much more, not just artistically but in every way, through collaboration and connection and creating a culture of friendship and joy. I’ve always taken the approach that I was creating young artists that would use the mediums I was teaching – like dance, drama and theatre – to create characters and stories that would uplift and inspire themselves and others. All people, especially kids, thrive in this kind of environment. Creative Energy went on to produce many incredible and original shows and performance art pieces, even winning performance awards in Disneyland. During an interview with a journalist after a successful fundraiser my dancers and I put on for a digital mammography machine, I was so moved when she asked how it felt to have changed the face of the performing arts in the Elk Valley. With humility and gratitude I simple answered back, “simply amazing.”
I have always felt a necessity to create art with meaning, and I think battling and surviving cancer solidified that mission even more. I made the commitment to align every project I create or take on with something bigger. It must have meaning and purpose beyond just staging a show or choreographing a dance or writing a script. I always ask, does it uplift and inspire? Does it make people think, generate emotion or dialogue? Does it bring a community together? Much of my work, and story telling on stage, uses dance, drama, mime, singing and music and focuses on the themes of courage, friendship, authenticity, and finding your voice in the world. Although I feel that my work should have meaning and purpose, I also like to leave an audience uplifted and inspired, creating positivity, leaving them with questions and giving them an opportunity to explore their emotions and feelings.
In 2016, I made the tough decision to close the Creative Energy studio. It was a bit of a Seinfeld moment really. Everything was going great. We had just finished an incredible adaption of Shakespeare’s Midsummers Nights Dream, but I was experiencing a deadly combination of burn out and boredom. I felt that I had served as much as I could in this capacity. In 2017 I fulfilled another dream and opened a theatre company, the Heart and Soul Dance and Theatre Collective. It’s ever evolving, and continues to be an adventure.
Our inaugural project Under the Big Top, a story about friendship and finding your place in the world, went on to win a BC Platinum Award for Youth Theatre. Our current project Sugar Coated is set to stage on December 2/3 and is best described as a feminist version of the Nutcracker. We’ve challenged all the traditional female roles and given them a modern makeover, but still managed to keep the magic and wonder of the original story. Our youth ensemble is fantastic.
For the next project, The Athena Project, I’m stretching myself and following another dream, creating a performance art festival that is women focused. With a degree in Women’s Studies, a love for mentoring young women and collaborating with female artists, this is a dream come true. But, this is a new project and different territory again for me. So, once again I put art into the world and hope that someone finds it meaningful or is changed by it. I will dance with fear and tango with uncertainty, but all the while feeling the blessing that comes with being able to create everyday