Still The Same

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Something has been gnawing away at me the past week and I’ve been having a hard time articulating what exactly it is. The Toronto Fringe is on and my feeds have been flooded with emotional posts about the ups and downs of mounting a show, of the love people have felt when it’s received well, of the anger and abuse they feel when there’s an unfavourable review – the consistent thing is that everyone seems to rally around and declare their support;

“All Fringe shows deserve a 5 star review”

” This review was unfair, we need to all get out and support the show”

“I’m overwhelmed by the love and support I have received from everyone, thank you”

Looking at this you’d think we all exist in a very supportive, inclusive community.

We don’t.

I’ve written before about my shitty experiences with Theatre 20 and in particular, Brian Goldenberg, and doubtless some will read this and think I should let it go. The problem is, nothing has changed. At least, not for the perpetrators.

This year Brian has 3 shows in the Toronto Fringe Festival – a good friend of mine is acting in one of them, something this friend avoided telling me so as not to make things “awkward”. He knows the whole story. He was one of the first people I told, years ago, when this started. He doesn’t mind working with someone who knowingly discriminated against someone because of a mental illness and who thought that someone deserves to be fired if they try to assert their human rights.

This topic has come up several times in the past few days, while hanging around the tent, and I’ve been told by multiple friends that they know the story, believe me, but will not be saying anything or changing the way they interact with him because they’ve known him for a while and again, don’t want to make things “awkward”. Don’t want to cause any “trouble”. They support me, they’re just not willing to show that, or say that to anyone but me.

The same thing happened when I first wrote about this. I kept quiet for over a year, waiting until I had proof, posting the results of a legal hearing rather than sharing my own thoughts and feelings. I was right. That was proven, non-subjective. A lot of people read that blog. Quite a few sent me private messages and shared similar stories about the men in question. But no one from the community said anything out in the open. Nothing changed.

Around that time a reporter (someone who knows well and writes about the theatre) reached out to do an interview about it. I had hopes that, with this being published in something major, more would see it and maybe something would change. Delays caused it to eventually be dropped. I don’t blame him, he’s reached out a couple times to apologize, once quite recently. He said there may be something happening soon that could lead to him reviving the story – I hope so. But for now, nothing has happened. Nothing changed.

I saw Brian in the audience at a performance the other night, ironically for a show about a woman who struggles with anxiety and depression and eventually leaves her job because of it. Shows like this are celebrated because it’s “important to eliminate the stigma” around mental health, to recognize it as a serious, legitimate illness, to support those who are suffering – but here is a documented, proven case of discrimination having taken place in our own tiny community, and nothing has changed. He didn’t even bother to come to the hearing. It didn’t cost him his job, clearly hasn’t damaged his reputation. He did read the post, because he contacted the HRTO (with me cc’d) to accuse me (wrongly) of slander, so clearly he knows that this behaviour should be damaging, but his lack of recognition let alone an apology tells me he really doesn’t care.

None of this changed him, but it did change me.

I missed weeks of work leading up to the hearing, costing me money I couldn’t afford to lose, piling on to the already nearly unbearable stress I deal with from my anxiety, daily, I’m sure it damaged my reputation because whether it was justified or not, no one wants an employee who misses 3 weeks of work, and here we are, another year later, and I’m still feeling the residual effects. I question my importance to my friends, and whether there’s any point in confiding in them. I question the support of my community, and whether there’s any sincerity behind the daily posts about acceptance and inclusion. I question myself, and whether saying this will give me any peace of mind or just further isolate me. I question whether I want to be a part of a community that seems to be more interested in appearing inclusive and supportive than actually doing anything to achieve that.

It’s time for something to change.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: 32 Short Sketches About Bees

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Clear Glass Productions’s performance of 32 Short Sketches About Bees is a fast-paced mash-up of ridiculous scenes all tied together through the incredibly simple (but surprisingly diverse) theme of “bees” (or “Bea”, “B”, “be”… you get the idea). Playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up

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“You can’t be that attractive and funny” — well, not unless you’re Caitlin Robson and Eric Miinch. Catch the comedic duo in Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up, produced by Squeaky Wheel, and playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Murder In The Cottonwoods

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When leaving the theatre after seeing Murder In The Cottonwoods, I had stuck in my head a line from Rocky Horror that I think perfectly summed up my experience of the show; “a mental mind-f*ck can be nice.” A bizarre tale of murder set in a town that could be 1950s middle America if it weren’t for the Seinfeld references, Murder In The Cottonwoods may be the strangest show you’ll see at this year’s Fringe Festival. If you are a fan of David Lynch, then this show is for you: it’s Twin Peaks meets Pleasantville in this surreal “romantic nightmare.” Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

White Wedding (Port Albert Productions) 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival Review

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White Wedding - 2017 Toronto Fringe

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing a new site-specific piece at Artscape Youngplace; Port Albert Production’s White Wedding. The show was staged in an upper hallway of the building, which nicely fit the plot, but did make it rather difficult to see; if you’re planning on going to this show, arrive early. I was 3 rows back and missed some key moments, you’re going to want to be right up front for the best experience.

Playwright/director/producer Taylor Marie Graham’s story was strong, and the majority of the writing felt sincere, though lead character Lisa (Kayla Whelan) seemed to often be off the mark, something which may have partially had to do with the writing of her scenes. While Lisa was the main protagonist, she seemed to be the only character to not have any real growth or development, and I found her to be unfortunately unlikable. I was confused by many of her moments of “emotion”, because they were meant to pop up suddenly, uncontrollably, but that was not what I saw from the actor. Hearing shouted, “oh no! I can’t cry again” when I see no tears made it feel cheesy and took me out of the moment.

The rest of the cast was strong, and two actors stood out for me in this performance; Cass Van Wyck as Heather, and Lauren Wolanski as Michelle. As a pair of old high school friends/ ex-lovers, the pair had unquestionable chemistry. Van Wyck excelled as the brash, fun-loving Heather, trying to play it cool despite still being desperately in love with her old high school fling. As Michelle, the now-married mother of a young son, Wolanksi effortlessly flipped back and forth between being the ideal (if not a little cold and repressed) wife, and the passionate, youthful girl that still lusts for her friend. Their relationship is by far the most compelling in the play, and I was happy to see it played honestly, rather than relying on caricatures or stereotypes. Special mention goes to Dave Martin as Dave, who did not have an especially complex character to play, but who was thoroughly enjoyable to watch. He also has a beautiful singing voice and accompanied much of the show on guitar.

The Verdict: Worth a watch, but show up early to get a good seat.
Rating: 4/5 Stars

Performance Times:

Sunday July 9th 6:00pm
Sunday July 9th 9:00pm
Thursday July 13th 9:00pm
Friday July 14th 9:00pm
Saturday July 15th 2:00pm
Saturday July 15th 6:00pm
Saturday July 15th 9:00pm

Tickets available online or at the door (while supplies last).

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Fastcar Man of Action

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Want to catch a show that completely encompasses the spirit of Fringe? Don’t let the prospect of a one-man show with audience participation scare you off;  Fastcar: Man of Action (produced by blind fool productions) is a delightful trip through the absurd, playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival . Learn more via my Mooney on Theatre review.

 

Review: Xavier Toby’s “Mining My Own Business”

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The other day the NVS team headed out to see Australian comic Xavier Toby perform his show Mining My Own Business at the NYC Fringe. While structured like a stand up routine, the audience interaction is minimal, and Toby performs with well-versed speed, prepared with fun little photos and props to help his story along.

The routine runs about an hour and describes Toby’s experiences working on a coal mine in Australia. There are some anecdotes about other miners, but for the most part the story is very personal and provides an insight into the comic’s goofy, lovable personality. As one of the only men working in administration on a site full of very big, very macho men (Toby refers to himself as an “anorexic midget” next to these brutes) Toby is often ridiculed and dismissed. While self-deprecating humour can get tired and trying, Toby manages to find a balance by allowing others to beat-up on him while he maintains his cheery, optimistic attitude; you will often catch yourself saying “awww” and giving him an encouraging smile!

Australian comedian, Xavier Toby

Australian comedian, Xavier Toby

While there is a fair bit of swearing (and the occasional “smurfing” as well) overall the content is pretty PG. If you are very easily offended (or grossed out) this may be one to pass on, but personally I found it well-suited to a Fringe Festival.

If you haven’t yet caught Xavier Toby’s Mining My Own Business, no fear. He still has two performances left; Tuesday August 19th at 8:00pm and Saturday August 23 at 3:30pm. Catch him at the Underground, Venue #12, 64 East 4th Street (Bowery and 2nd Ave).

-E.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story, IV

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When this team was put together, we had no idea how connected we all were to the subject matter of the play. I don’t know if we were all subconsciously drawn to it, or if it really is just a testament to how many people go through these sorts of things, but it’s only been through our late-night chats that we’ve come to realize that all of us connect with No Visible Scars on a very personal level. Here’s the fourth installment of our Real Life stories.

I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. Since the age of 10 there had been a steady decline, and it was around age 14 that I really started to feel I had nothing to live for, and made a few meager attempts at ending my life. There were, of course, ups and downs. And it’s difficult to explain to someone how, literally, one day you can be out with friends, fully functional and full of energy, and the next night be sobbing in your closet with a razor in your hand. It’s easy to get labelled a “drama queen” or “emo”, and so those of us with actual problems, not looking for attention, tend to keep things hidden. We push the pain down.

While I had struggled for a long time, it was about a year ago that I felt I had finally reached my limit. I felt abandoned by everyone who was supposed to love me. Once a straight-A-student, I was now barely passing my classes because I could not get over my anxiety about leaving the house; I spent most days lying in bed, trying to sleep because whenever I was awake I so desperately wanted to go out, but couldn’t. I felt immense guilt about skipping classes, skipping work, and there were the practical fears as well; how was I going to pay rent? Why was I throwing away thousands on classes I couldn’t attend? After a violently emotional breakup, I thought things had finally hit rock bottom.

I don’t remember very clearly what exactly happened. I do recall shoving a handful of various pills into my mouth, and, according to my roommate, I did this again sometime later in the day. The entire thing is a blur and I remember most glimpses of hallucinations, the sound of my roommate’s voice (but being totally unaware of what he was saying), and lying on my back (I later learned, in an ambulance), staring up at a bright light and shivering. When I woke up hours later in the hospital, I was greeted by an IV in my arm and a callous ER doctor who asked, “Are you going to kill yourself?” while shoving a piece of paper in my hand and sending me home. I slept through the next day.

Once I had my senses back, I still felt awful, but the pressure had subsided a bit. It was like a valve, letting off a bit of steam; I knew things would build again quickly. The piece of paper was a referral to a psychiatrist at the hospital. I don’t like psychiatrists. I always thought I’d like to be one but I never had any interest in seeing one, and my few past experiences with them had never yielded any positive results. But my roommate insisted. He saved me again. And so I made an appointment and a week later met with a very young, very understanding doctor who was the first to talk to me like a person, and not a mental patient.

She was ok with the fact that I rejected some forms of therapy (“too wishy washy”). And she was ok with me requesting medication because I knew I needed to get on track, fast. Basically, she was ok with all the (reasonable) things I said, and so I felt like I could talk to her and started actually looking forward to sessions. I left feeling better, which had never happened before. While this was considered a “crisis clinic” and so had a limited number of sessions available, it still helped. Depression can’t be cured in a matter of weeks or months, but with the right person that’s all the time you need to realize that things can get better. I got over some of my major anxiety issues and started putting myself out there again, finding new friends, new jobs and starting a new life. Now I’m writing from New York, where I’m working on a play. I have a fiancé I love, a house, and two baby birds. I am far from ok – I still get depressed, I still have anxiety, and I will likely need my medication for years to come. But I’m here. And things have gotten better. And they will continue to get better for me; they can for you too.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story III

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Tonight was the opening of No Visible Scars  at the Connelly Theatre. It went great and we were thrilled to have a few strangers in the audience! However, we always want more. So here’s our third true story that we hope will help connect the show to some of you. Again, stigmas hurt, and mental illness is closer than you think. Here’s another story from a part of our team:

Hi, I am part of this wonderful team putting on No Visible Scars. This show has a personal connection for me. I was Myranda Otter many years ago; I was a very unhappy 12 year old girl living life day by day. I was consumed by depression and the only option I saw was death. I had no hope, no plan, no friends and I thought, no family.
Growing up was not a particularly happy time for me. I’m not sure what caused it, perhaps it was all of my health problems, which prevented me from being outside and bonding with the other students during the winter months, but since the age of 6, I was ridiculed and bullied. I went through this right up until my graduation day from my elementary school; seven years of torture at the hands of all my classmates. Seven years of feeling worthless and less than a speck on this earth. Seven years of feeling unwanted, completely alone and always unhappy. Not even my sister would play with me. Those four walls were all I knew and they were closing in on me.

I remember one day in grade seven like it was yesterday. The confrontation began in the school yard and ended in the hallways of the school; me being surrounded by a bunch of girls pushing, punching, spitting, kicking and screaming at me. The teachers did nothing, my parents couldn’t do anything, so much was going on in my head and I just shut down. I came home, found the first bottle of pills, ran to my room and just shoved them all into my mouth. There was no future, there was just pain, just so much indescribable pain. I felt broken, not just physically, but mentally as well. There was a dark gloomy cloud over my head and I just wanted it all to end. Tears streaming down my face, I passed out. I woke up the next morning so unhappy. I was pissed that I had to face another day. That all my efforts were in vain and all I had to show for it was a very bad stomach ache. I felt betrayed, but something different happened that day.

At school we started our unit on the “art of speech making”. I poured my heart out in my speech about Martin Luther King Jr. His dream inspired my dream of a new life. From that speech, my teacher took me aside and said ” you should audition for the school musical, Robin Hood”. That was what saved me. God saved me. I was falling and he grabbed my hand and said, ” go on girl, sing!”  I found happiness on stage. Perhaps it’s the idea that I get to be someone else and leave this crappy life I was given for a moment. Or perhaps it’s the fact that once I got the lead in the musical, the bullying decreased. I believe that everything happens for a reason, that God never gives you more then you can handle.

When you feel like you have no hope, when you feel that you have no future, remember there is a new day ahead. You don’t know when it’s coming, but change will happen. You will leave those four walls, and I promise you it will get better. It did for me, and it will for you. Find your Robin Hood the musical. Be your Maid Marion and tomorrow will be a brighter day. Hang in there and remember someone loves you. If you think not, know that I do. God Bless and may the sun come up for you tomorrow.

Another story of hope. To see more, check out No Visible Scars. Remember, you’re not alone.

Promise Productions, “No Visible Scars” True Story, II

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The other day I posted Craig A. Nelson’s true story of addiction and hope in an effort to share awareness and help break down some of the stigma’s surrounding these issues. Now I’m going to share one written by our lead actress, Tea Nguyen.
     My name is Tea Nguyen. I want to share a story with you. My good friend called me to come over. He had mental health problems and suffered with depression and attempts of suicide. I came over and there was something not right about the situation. He wasn’t making much sense in what he was saying. I was very worried about his mental state. He would go off on a tangent and not comprehending anything I was saying. I tried to get him to eat and drink water but he physically couldn’t. As the night went by, he seemed like a completely different person. Eventually he ran to the bathroom and started becoming violently ill just from something he had thought about. He decided to go to bed, so I left not too long after that.
     I got a call from his roommates saying the police just showed up and took him away. We realized that he went to his room and was having suicidal thoughts. He called his mother to talk about it and she got him talking to the crisis hotline while police were sent to his home. He was entered into a hospital. He experienced psychosis that night. I visited him in the hospital twice that week to make sure he was doing well. His medication helped him and I stuck right by him.
     Sometimes, we can’t see an illness. Sometimes, it’s not visible to the naked eye. He was so close to suicide that night and he was on the edge. I encourage anyone going through anything related to this to seek professional help. Your friends can only do so much other than be there for you. If you need help, there are resources you can reach out to. My friend and I are still very close and he still calls me when he is unwell or going through anything more than he can handle. Please reach out. I couldn’t imagine life if he had decided to go through with suicide that night. People care about you and will be there for you. Just ask for help.
As Tea said, there is help.
For Ontario, Canada resources, check out this link.
My new, New York friends can look here.
And be sure to check out No Visible Scars, we open Saturday at the Connelly Theatre!