For the Love of Children’s Theatre


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Back in June I was asked to speak at an event celebrating the 20 year partnership between the Canadian Children’s Theatre Company (CCTC) and the Town of Aurora. As you will read, I have greatly benefited from my involvement with CCTC and felt very blessed that I was asked to share my thoughts on what impact its had on my life and why I love and value children’s theatre programs. In case there are any parents out there wondering if they should put their kids into theatre classes, here are my thoughts (as speechified).


My name is Katie Leamen, and I started my theatre career in grade 4 with the Canadian Children’s Theatre Company. After graduating with a degree in Acting, I came back to CCTC as a staff member for 3 years. I am now a professional actor, playwright, producer and founder of No Porpoise Productions, and I work with indie theatre artists and theatre companies to increase their capacity to create sustainable careers in the arts.

But before we get to that…

Congratulations are in order

  • Jennifer – Seriously, well done! All hustle and heart.
  • Town of Aurora – you have continued to invest in a great company and brought quality arts programming to thousands of youth. Especially when school curriculums keep relegating arts education to the back-burner, it is crucial that kids have access to it somewhere, so good on you for recognizing that, and making it a priority for 20 years.

One of my university professors – in a BFA Acting program no less – told us that a study had been done suggesting a person’s body experiences the same chemical reaction before going on stage as it does when being chased by a bear. There was another poll where people ranked being dead as more preferable than being on stage (this was a poll of adults).

  • So to you students – past and present – I am so proud of you that you conquered the joy and terror of being on stage. You outran a bear! You are victorious! And though that may seem like a silly thing for me to say, that victory stays with you a very long time and can give you courage years down the road when you are asked to recite Shakespeare in grade 10 English, or you have to make a presentation to your boss, or a speech at a wedding. Theatre and performing is like chicken pox: best to expose people when they’re young because it is so much worse to start later.
  • To parents of students – past and present. Good on you for encouraging your child to participate in a CCTC program. Way to give them a taste of victory.

Jennifer asked me to say a few words about the impact theatre programming such as CCTC has had on my life.

In grade 4, I was in my very first show thanks to Canadian Children’s Theatre Company and I played Sparkle the Elf in Little Surfin’ Santa. My next show that same year was Charlotte’s Web, and I played the reporter, 2nd spider’s voice, and some other small part I can’t recall.  I was hooked. By the end of that first year, I decided my life’s ambition was to be an actor, director, producer or Olympian. Very modest goals, I’d say.


Sparkle the Elf – the jumping one in yellow. 

I met Jennifer the next year when I was suddenly staring as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Jen was choreographer. After the show, the cast would sit on the each of the stage to sign autographs for our adoring fans and family members, and it was thanks to this experience that I developed the signature that I still use to this day. Who knew that the effects of CCTC would be visible in all my legal documents?

Doing theatre classes through the rec department taught me many valuable skills, technical knowledge and gave me the confidence to feel at home in a performing arts high school, and later, university. People I met in the years I was in CCTC have continuously popped up in my later life at high school, auditions for university programs, auditions for gigs, fringe festivals, or teaching CCTC summer camp with me.

When I started teaching for Jen (back in 2008?), my specialty was the teen groups, because they got my sense of humour and mostly because Jen let me play to my strengths which is creating fun, silly theatre and challenging my young actors the same way I want to be challenged as an artist.  The first year she let me adapt the film version of Clue – including all three endings. Poor kids. The second year, I wrote Alice in Wonderland based on weekly improvs of various scenes I would run with the teens. They LOVED that show. And their parents LOVED the show.

Because of the reactions to that Alice in Wonderland script, I decided a couple years later to produce it professionally and start my theatre collective, No Porpoise Productions. We were able to pay our actors in part because we saved a lot of money when Jen let us borrow half the costumes from her. One of my teens from that original cast contacted me the same year to ask if he could use the script for his high school’s submission to the Ontario Sears Drama Festival, which was the first time I ever got to attend a show as a VIP playwright with a sign on my seat and everything.  That same old Alice later led to my being commissioned by Solar Stage to adapt Treasure Island and the ensemble is now nominated for a Dora award for Outstanding Performance – Theatre for Young Audience category!  An extended remount returning this fall. If I had never done Alice, I would never have written A Christmas Carol Comedy which is my favourite and which will be touring this December. Not to mention that one of my biggest facebook supporters is Clare Howells, who’s son Aiden was in several of my shows. So, the fact that I can now call myself – professionally – an actor, producer, and playwright, is very much thanks to Jen and the Canadian Children’s Theatre Company.

Not all of us go on to pursue theatre as a full time career, but participating in theatre when you are young gives you so much no matter where you go in life, which is why I think Jen’s programs with the Town of Aurora have been so successful at retaining participants who grow up through all the classes.

Aside from hard skills, like memorization tricks – those come in handy at school! – or projection, how to find your light, etc. here are my 7 favourite things about theatre – specifically, children’s theatre.

  1. It is the only team sport where everyone wins. Every kid crosses the finish line at the same time, and everyone’s efforts are applauded.
  1. You belong to a group. For some kids, that is enough in itself. In the rec department programs especially, because there is a bigger age range than a typical classroom, the older, more experienced kids are generally really great about helping mentor the younger ones and boosting their confidence.
  1. You can test drive being someone else. Once again, especially when it’s through the rec department and not your regular school group. For kids who feel stuck in how they are seen by others, it’s a nice little escape to try being someone for a bit, maybe who is the opposite of you. Surprisingly, a lot of very shy people become actors for this reason.
  1. Thinking from your character’s point of view helps teach empathy.
  1. The costumes – Kids definitely come back to CCTC because they get such awesome things to wear and that is definitely thanks to Jen’s mad sewing skills and willingness to live without sleep.
  1. It’s a wonderful introduction to famous stories that you should definitely read – Robert Munsch, Charlotte’s Web, Dr. Doolittle, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Narnia series, Mary Poppins, Robin Hood, James and the Giant Peach, Stuart Little, Alice in Wonderland… the list goes on.

But perhaps my favourite thing – and the lesson that I tried hardest to instill when I was teaching – is that:

7. the theatre is a safe place to take risks and look silly.

School can be very hard on kids who are so afraid to look uncool, or different, or embarrassing and that can be confidence-crushing. Theatre produces many types of magic, but my favourite is when kids realize that being able to laugh at yourself is a good thing. And that the greater risks you take – the more willing you are to be honest even if it is embarrassing or ridiculous – the audiences always rewards you the most. Even more than the cool kids.

Theatre is escape, adventure, and imagination in a very safe place. And while books can offer similar things, its not such a group event and nobody applauds you for reading a book on your couch. Believe me, I have waited for it!

But theatre can only work its magic when there are people who are supporting it and letting it live, so a toast, or hardy congratulations, to Jennifer Martin and the Town of Aurora on 20 years of making magic in your community. Here’s to 20 more years of education, inspiration, passion, and silliness.


Artistic Entitlement vs. The Audience


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Artistic entitlement runs rampant these days. For some reason, many artists feel that by right of having made art, people should come to see it. Not only that, but they should pay for it too.

It really irks me when artists say “We make art for ourselves” and then in the next breath complain about dwindling audiences. Why should audiences bother to come see your show if you have not made it with any concern for their enjoyment? Why should they pay to watch you exorcise your own demons on a stage instead of in a therapist’s office? If you don’t value them as participants in your art, then why should they bother to come and pay to participate?

I remember back in school trying to define as a class “What is theatre?” – inevitably there were many ideas and opinions, but consistently the nature of theatre was defined by the presence and relationship to an audience. So why are indie theatre makers pretending their art exists in a vaccuum separate from the people who will see it?

“An actor walks across the stage, but nobody is there to see it.
Is it still theatre?”

For those of you who are making art for yourselves, I really don’t know how that makes it professional work. Isn’t that a hobby (noun: an interest or activity engaged in for pleasure)? I shouldn’t have to pay for you to pursue your hobby so that you feel like you are succeeding at it.

Now this isn’t to say all artists think like this. There are many companies and collectives that do incredible work and put a great deal of thought into creating a unique experience for their audiences. I applaud you!  I am proud to be in your community. You may still suffer from small audiences, but the audiences who do come feel their money was well spent and that means you did your job right. Good work, you!

As my high school drama teacher used to say, whether you are a professional actor or a community theatre company putting on a play for fun, you need to respect people’s time and money. A night at the theatre is more than just the cost of the ticket price: it is also transit or parking, service fees, maybe buying a drink/snack/dinner, maybe hiring a babysitter for the night, etc. You need to respect people’s time and money, if you want them to respect and support you in return.

So that’s why I have such an issue with artists who claim we can just make art for ourselves. Maybe you can. But I don’t think theatre works that way.

The art in theatre is that you have so many tricks and creative techniques to engage an audience – to entertain, move, manipulate, educate, inspire, excite or terrify them. I am not saying that every audience member has to love what you are doing or that you change your vision to suit other people’s taste, but if you are not even considering your audience when you are making your work, you are not doing your job as a theatre maker. I make art that comes from myself, but I make it for other people’s enjoyment. The fact that I enjoy it too is a happy by-product and why I will keep making it — for other people.




Elephant Baby: A Producer’s Timeline

When I was an actor, it frustrated me to no end that I couldn’t plan my life in advance. Every audition I went to, I felt like my whole life could change course for the foreseeable future if I got that gig. Maybe I’d have to move for the summer to an out of town gig. Maybe I’d have to change jobs if I got that one year training program. Maybe I’d get that big tour and I’d be gone for 8 months and come back with a whole lot of money and a new skill set. It felt like I was google maps and constantly trying to reroute a course based on wrong turns, and the delay that I feel while impatiently waiting for the app to refresh and change my route was significantly worse when it was actually routing my life.

Now that I am an artist producer, it’s the opposite sensation. You need to plan everything so far in advance. You need to apply for grants, start fundraising, get marketing plans in motion. Renting a theatre – man, you need to really be looking far ahead! Especially if you want to do seasonal show like A Christmas Carol Comedy (which I do).

Time is a blessing and a curse. If I ever do figure out how to give myself the appropriate amount of time to create a project, time will be a blessing that lets me actually DO all the things I want to. Maybe. Maybe my ideas will always be greater than time allows…. Hmmm… Time will tell. Or again, maybe it won’t.

The hard thing about time is that I am really good at filling it. If it’s going to be a year until Project X really gets rolling, then I am going to fill in my schedule with Project Y and Z.

It’s a relative thing. A year can feel like it’s so far away but it passes so quickly. Things that I procrastinated doing are suddenly looming over my head or you carefully schedule everything well in advance, but one little wrong turn or actor who needs to pull out or venue that fell through throws all that careful planning into chaos and you suddenly have no time again.

So the thing about producing – or I suppose life in general – is that you have to spend some much time making a solid plan, but then you need to have contingency plans up the wazoo, as well as a real ability to make plans on the fly.

People often wait for “the timing to be right” or prop themselves up with phrases like “timing is everything”. But how does that work in relation to a production? Does the timing have to be right for opening night (clearly important) or are you waiting for the right time to start writing? Or the right time to make a show that is topical right now but maybe will be passe in 6 months? How do you negotiate the right time when there are so many different timelines tied together?

I read the quote “It takes a lot of time to become an overnight success”. Yes. Exactly! How to do plan that time before the big “perfect timing” moment? Can you even plan it? Probably not, but that’s my job as a producer, now isn’t it?

Okay, new tangent: If it takes 9 months for a baby to develop, then surely I should start expecting that it will take just as long to develop my theatre babies, right? I actually don’t think that the two are necessarily relevant, but I like to build in these little “rules” for myself to help the google map in my brain. Actually, the process of research and script development through to production is less of a human baby, and more like an elephant baby, so perhaps two years should be my timeline. For some weird reason it pleases me to think of my project as an elephant baby and already I am really a little less frustrated by a long timeline.

Sometimes it’s really helpful that I play these odd games with myself.

Feels good to do a good ramble after a long sabbatical from blog posting….

Producing as an artistic activity in its own right


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Yesterday I sat through an Open Source Brainstorm session with a diverse group of indie artists, producers, directors, venue owners, and some representatives from medium to large sized theatres to discuss the challenges facing indie producers and artists today.

While thoroughly impressed and inspired by some of the ideas, I also felt a little frustrated by some of the comments. The pattern that stuck out the most was that indie producers want to be given databases, given budget templates, given ideas for fundraising… given everything they need essentially. I totally understand that that would make it easier – there would be less “reinventing the wheel” so to speak. But it is not a long term solution to my mind. In an age when Theatre is already fighting tooth and nail with film, television and the convenience of entertainment at home, producing shouldn’t be a paint-by-numbers exercise.

Last year, Crowdfunding really hit its stride with the Toronto indie theatre community. No Porpoise (my theatre collective) used it too. It was a good means to an end. But that’s the point: an end. We did one Kickstarter campaign to get our company off the ground and make our inaugural show an actuality. But when we did show #2, we did not use it again because everyone else was doing the exact same thing. Majority of indie producers on my Facebook did a new campaign for each new project and while people are willing to contribute to the first one, they are less likely to do it the second time, and by the third time they are tired. Or at least I am. I cannot afford to be as philanthropic as I would like. Therefore, my money goes to people I feel obligated to (because they are dear friends or they contributed to my campaign) or people that actually surprise and impress me with their creativity. I appreciate that they made the effort to think outside the box.

Maybe that’s the actual reason I think sharing platforms and databases isn’t necessarily the greatest thing in my mind. Aside from the gut response of “I don’t want to give up my hard-earned supporters to someone else as I might lose them”, I don’t like the idea because it makes producing a fill-in-the-blank type exercise and I don’t believe that makes for successful producers.

In indie theatre, producers are often also artists. You have to be because frequently you are wearing more than one proverbial hat. The choices you make as a producer need to be as inspired and creative as the ones made by directors or actors because competition is fierce. Are you a producer because you like producing? Are you a producer because you don’t trust anyone else to do it? Are you a producer because nobody else wants to deal with your work (in which case, that might also explain why you have no audience)? I actually really like producing because it still exercises my creative brain and a large part of that is because I have to think for myself to solve problems – there isn’t a pre-made list of solutions.
In Fall 2013, I was up to my eyeballs in Alice, trying to figure out how to be a producer, building an identity for our collective when we were still in beta mode, trying to be both playwright and actor in the rehearsal studio, looking for a new job, etc. I did not need more make-work projects.

I was writing a script for A Christmas Carol Comedy and I thought that having a public reading of it before Christmas would be a chance to get people excited for it as a full production the following Christmas (really advanced planning here) and it would also be a great way to tell a whole different audience about Alice coming up that February. Cross-promotion of my own work, you see. We ended up doing two readings of CCC – the bigger one being at my parents’ church in my hometown – we got laughs, built community relations, gave away two tickets to Alice (which was a great way to advertise) and I had found a solution for audience outreach that made sense to me and my collective.

It does make a lot of “extra” work. I do spend a lot of hours on Google and even more hours just sorting through my own thoughts. I really wish I had a mentor that I could call whenever (and my blog post asking for any interested parties turned up nothing…). There are databases that would make it much easier – the ones listing rehearsal spaces are pretty handy! However, databases built on my own brainwaves and personal relationships I am a lot less likely to hand over. In fact, their effectiveness as a solution would lessen with each use. In the same way that theatre is not stagnant, I think producing – especially for indie productions – needs to be adaptive and moving as well. Roll with the punches and ride that bull…

Perhaps that may all sound very lone wolf of me. I actually don’t like producing alone because I am most effective when I have other people to bounce ideas off of. As I said, it is still a creative exercise for me.

It shouldn’t be about databases, it should be about discovery. Picking a brain rather than picking names off a list. There are people whose work I follow on Facebook and I am in awe and so curious. I wish I could sit in on their production meetings. They present an aura of a cool cucumber who has got everything under control. If I were to make a producer resolution right now, it would be make it a priority to sit down with these producers, artistic directors, and artists to see how they have made things work for themselves and their companies. I want to see how producing and theatre-making makes sense to their brains. Not because I want to copy it exactly, but I want to see how their thinking might inspire mine and vice versa.

This is all very tangent-y. Perhaps I am even totally off the mark about what the other people meant by databases or what they wanted to use them for, but this is where my brain went and this blog is about me and my thoughts. So here they are.

If you are interested in reading notes from the discussion, they are available here:

Where my feet may lead

A couple of weeks ago I was at my cousin’s wedding and both my ankles were stomped on by dancing drunk girls in heels. While it seems like an obvious risk one takes when twirling on a crowded dance floor, my born-again aunt deduced that it was highly symbolic that something is trying to attack my feet and keep me from walking my path. Considering the last major injury I did was to badly sprain BOTH my sides of my ankle that led to 6 weeks of crutches – that being the second time I have sprained my ankle seriously enough to need weeks on crutches – I can see her point. 

But that brings up the inevitable and ominous question of: What is my path? Am I actually on it? If I am on my path, why is it so important to evil spirits to try to take me off of it?

I haven’t been sleeping well this past week because I keep having dreams where I am unprepared (at our wedding and I didn’t tell our officiant -that same born-again aunt – what I wanted our service to include so she just doesn’t marry us), way behind schedule (spending half the night apologizing and madly scrambling trying to catch up to other people on projects and throwing together presentations or running out the door), and overwhelmed by trying to maintain the same speed and schedule as everyone around me. 

These dreams are not entirely surprising as I consciously know that I am feeling behind on a two projects. Last September I wanted to find a publisher or literary agents for two children’s books I wrote. It’s that time of year again and nothing has happened. My Christmas Carol Comedy project is way behind the summer schedule I made. And I am planning a wedding…

The thing is, I do feel like I am on my path. I think (and hope) that I am exactly where I am supposed to be creatively. I am inspired to do two projects that I absolutely believe in and think can have a great extended life in the world doing good and honorable work. I have plans in place for how to accomplish them. However, whatever it is that is trying to stomp on my feet or kick out my ankle is also debilitating my bank account and distracting the other people on my teams from having time or focus to get to work on my projects. Both of these roadblocks feel like they have the power to derail me from my path. It makes me angry and guilty.

It is okay with me to have no money in my bank account for the next 4 months because I believe in my projects and sincerely think I do need to work on them NOW. But it makes me feel guilty because while I am willing to sacrifice things for my art, it is hard to ask Adam to do the same – especially when his passion project is to get a house. The thing about getting married is that you have to support each other’s passion projects, but how do you deal with it when yours counteracts his? I know compromise is the answer and Adam – bless him and his loyalty – has never asked me to compromise my projects. He believes in me. But I struggle with the guilt of feeling that I will be letting him down or derailing him from his path. I struggle with anger at the thought that while Adam accepts my path, other people who it doesn’t affect as directly might/do judge it. I guess I have been spoiled all my life by having people who believe in me 100%, so I feel a little betrayed if someone can only muster 80% belief. And it stresses me out that they might be able to lower Adam’s faith in me.

As I do whenever I feel overwhelmed by life and uncertain, I turn to my favourite book, Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! No matter when I am feeling, that gem of a book always comforts me, pats my hand and assures me that I have this (life) under control.  Thank God for this book!  Last night I was actually on the verge of tears of relief while reading the book – such a strong a reaction that it even took me by surprise… These are the words that were particularly potent to me last night

“And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

“Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

Additionally, I never noticed just HOW many illusions to feet there are in that book…  I am relieved to know that things frequently happen to people as brainy and footsy as me.  And I guess sometimes the hardest thing is not to follow the path, but to trust that the path – though winding – will get you somewhere you want to be, vs. leaving the path to bush-whack a “shortcut” and maybe not ever arriving anywhere.  Why hasn’t Google made an app for life yet?


Wishful Thinking


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“You want to become aware of your thoughts and and choose your thoughts carefully and you want to have fun with this, because you are the masterpiece of your own life. You are the Michelangelo of your own life. The David you are sculpting is you.” – Dr. Joe Vitale, excerpt from The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.

I have just started reading this book called The Secret. Spoiler Alert: The secret to life is that whatever you think and feel is what you attract. You think about wealth (and not the absence of it), you attract it. You think about health (not how much you hate dieting) you attract it. Your brain is a radio transmitter to the universe and if you want to have something specific in life. You have to think about it specifically.

Specificity being the key. Also forming yours thoughts as a positive, instead a negative.

It struck me as interesting though that this seemed extremely relevant to Egyptian mummies. When I was in Bologna, we went to a little Archeology museum next to the university for a guided tour. I have been on many museum tours but this one was really interesting because we ended up spending quite a bit of time discussing Egyptian art on sarcophagi.  We see is a very stylized and unrealistic attempt at portraiture; but it was actually a VERY specific wishlist for the afterlife.

For instance, we might look at the paintings and say

“Geez, the poor guys didn’t know how to show depth perception so the foot in the background is huge and not proportionate.”
the Egyptian thought “In the afterlife, I’d like two feet please – matching sizes.”

If you really liked chicken and wanted there to be chicken in the afterlife, you put a chicken on your sarcophagus. It was just as simple as creating a very detailed wishlist. And then when you died, you’d have everything you need (provided the artist did a good job, otherwise the Gods might get confused about how big you wanted your second hand to be…).

Too often we spend majority of our thoughts and efforts on what we DON’T want, instead of thinking about what we do. Is is fear to dream? Already accepting the disappointment of not getting something so it is better not to get your hopes up (proactive defeat really)? Belief that we are not worthy of what we want? Or that we feel we want too many things and there is no way we’ll get all of them but we don’t decide which one we’d want most.

That seems like a pretty shitty way to think of ourselves.

Maybe that’s why Disney princesses always found “happily ever after”: because they were the only ones brave enough to ask the fairy godmother for EXACTLY what their heart wanted.

I think it’s time for me to put on my tiara.

Girl seeks Mentor


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Girl seeks mentorIn this age of Google and Siri, it is easy to feel self-sufficient because answers to any of life’s questions can be found at the touch of a button. While I feel I can and have accomplished things more or less on my own, I feel I need a mentor to help push me to my best. A sounding board who is in the industry and can offer advice and help that saves me potentially hours of google research and days of deliberation. Can introduce me into the industry and let me shadow their work to see effective methods that have already been put in place. Someone to push me to do the tasks that are actually important, instead of the ones I think might be. A person who has an interest in passing along their hard-earned experience and believes in my ideas enough to invest time in teaching me and working with me. A challenger to my less thought-out plans. A motivator and task master when I am slipping from the path of work I set out to do.

Where is my Obi-Wan Kenobi to teach me the ways of the Force? My Mr. Miyagi – how do I know whether to wax on or wax off? My Don Diego de la Vega to pass along the mask and spirit of Zorro… My Porthos, Athos and Aramis to teach me to fight like a Musketeer… My Mary Poppins to direct me through life with a song… Splinter, Professor Xavier, Dumbledore, Merlin… Where are they? (and why are there so many men….)

I excelled at school. Partly because I had really good teachers who inspired me. Partly because I had really intelligent friends who challenged me and egged me on. Partly because I had known competition to give me a little extra drive. and partly because there was consistently feedback given to help me learn and to push me forwards. That is what my life is missing right now: a teacher who can guide my education as I seek to build an artistic career. Not a life coach because I know how to do life and think I am doing it pretty well. I need a professional artist/producer/writer/all of the above to meet with me once or twice a month and mark my efforts of the last month and give assignments (focus) for the next month. Someone to call me a slacker when I need a kick in the pants and to inspire me to not disappoint them. Someone to talk through all the shit with, knows how to properly pitch a pilot, write a treatment, organize a theatre tour and successfully get sponsorship for theatre productions. Someone who know how to make a career in the Arts with various sources of income would probably also be really handy.

Any volunteers? Know anyone who might be great and up for the job (entirely volunteer right now)? Please send them my way!

Because that is where I feel I am struggling the most: moving and playing at one level because it is impressive enough but not at the level that I am capable. If I was an A student without trying too hard (just hard enough but not as hard as I could), what would I be capable of if someone REALLY pushed me? What sorts of plays could I write if there was a mentor there each step of the way to really draw out my best work? What stories could I write if I could focus more on the writing instead of researching how to get it published? What sort of actor would I be if I could work with a master one on one? All these things I could do, and want to do, and will in my own way, but one learns so much faster when one has a competent and confident instructor.

“When the student is ready, the master will appear.” I feel I am ready. Come out, come out wherever you are!


Tyrants & Demagogues OR Why I think Democracy is broken


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I don’t really like talking about politics. It is one area of conversation where people cease to be polite at all and will basically flat out call you an idiot if you choose to think or vote opposite to them. There is not really a spirit of intellectual debate about it as there is bullying and name calling. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising at all considering the House of Commons is worse that kids on a playground. All the snide back and forths, and standing to applaud their party’s best put down… I don’t know why politicians aren’t embarrassed by their behaviour. I am embarrassed for them.

During Elections in Ontario today, I don’t know anybody who has told me they are voting for a candidate because they like them or believe what they are saying in their campaigns. Almost every single person is voting based on a “lesser of two evils”, and strategically trying to vote out one person, rather than voting in another.

I don’t think Democracy is supposed to constantly put citizens “between a rock and a hard place”. I am not a poli-sci major, political journalist or anything even close, but I personally feel democracy is broken.

When I was in Greece, I went on a walking tour with a very talented guy named George (I couldn’t pronounce the Greek version of his name). He was born Greek and studied Archeology and History at Cambridge and at one point of the tour he led us away from the Ancient Agora to a small street to chat about Democracy. It was the best lesson on the topic I have ever heard and so today, instead of telling you to go out and vote or who to vote for (you big idiot!), I am going to tell you what I learned about the origins of Democracy.
(My apologies to any scholars, this is the abridged version as told by George and remembered by Katie)

In the Beginning…

It is incorrect to say that Ancient GREEKS created Democracy. Greece didn’t exist as a unified thing yet. It was a bunch of city-states that ran themselves independently of one another. It was the Ancient ATHENIANS who created democracy and to be honest, the other would-be Greeks thought they were totally nuts.

Way, way, back many centuries ago Athenians realized that their system of government was failing. The two major causes: Tyrants & Demagogues. Let’s look at this definition for a second as it seems WAY too appropriate after the last round of campaign commercials…

a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.
synonyms: rabble-rouser, agitator, political agitator, soapbox orator, firebrand,fomenter, provocateur

Isn’t it interesting that by the definition this applies to all our major political parties right now, and that the synonyms all sound aggressive and negative vs. inspiring and “good leader”-esque?

So the Athenians realized people with too much power were pulling too many strings. The government wasn’t for all the people, it was for those who had the money to control it. This was a major problem.

First off, all Athenians saw it as their duty to participate in the governing of their city-state. You didn’t have to send facebook reminders to tell people to vote, they just knew it was their duty to do it. You could not have a representation of the people if each person did not represent themselves first.

Now, in order to ensure that tyrants and demagogues could not buy their way into power or buy favour with those elected, the Athenians did two things.

1. Once a year, every citizens name was put into a large bingo machine (it was actually the forerunner to what bingo halls used to use) and from that they would draw names for the government positions. That way, there was little use trying to buy votes and popularity because it was all left to chance. One year you might have a noted philosopher running the city. The next you might have a farmer. The poor and elite has equal opportunity to make the important decisions that dictated how the city operated.

Now, there was a problem the first few years of the draw system, because not everyone was qualified for the jobs being given to them. If you couldn’t read, your job reading new policy proposals would be very difficult. So free, equal education became a matter of PARAMOUNT importance to EVERYONE. When we look back at the golden age of classics that just exploded with philosophers, mathematicians, playwrights and the like, we idealize it and wonder how it was possible. But it was possible when everyone took it as their civic duty to better themselves. Right now, I feel like most of us better ourselves for personal gain and higher status in society instead of bettering ourselves for how we can help our country. You know, the whole “It’s not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” type thing. You don’t just need to fight for your country. You need to educate yourself and help to educate others. This is also how theatre became a thriving art form because the Greeks saw it as tool for education as well as entertainment. If you were too poor to afford a theatre ticket, the state would pay for it because the experience was an essential part of your education (let’s bring this back, shall we?!). So education was first and foremost. (People still pretend it is today, but I am not even going to get started on how messed up the system is now…)

To guard against anyone becoming too popular or powerful, the Athenians also implemented a second measure:

2. Once a year, citizens were asked to enter a name of any person they thought was becoming too powerful or popular. If any person had too many votes they were then promptly exiled for 10 years.

How great would that be?! Take that Rob Ford! See you in a decade, Justin Bieber! Maybe you’ll have grown out of your douchey ways by then! (fat chance…) After 10 years that person was allowed to come back and it was hoped that in their decade absence their power and influence would have dissipated and if not, you could always vote to exile them again. It would certainly be a deterrent for power-hungry people to abuse their position or authority.

The sad truth is that if I had the chance to exile people today, I would pick Tim Hudak AND Kathleen Wynne. Out of all the people in the province, we have to choose between the successors and mentees of the two most notorious and reviled Ontario Premiers to date. How is that supposed to inspire confidence and hope for our economy and provincial well being?  Leaders who will buy us through fear, lies, and misleading soundbites?

Democracy is important. It cost many lives to win this privilege. I will honour those lives and my freedom by voting tonight. But it will be done with a sense of irony as I think of how far we have come in the opposite direction of what the wise founders of Democracy intended, and it will not be for a party that I only choose because I like the other party less. I don’t support demagogues.

Thanks George. It was a really great lesson!


“It’s just one day”


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I did not expect that I would miss blogging.  Don’t get me wrong, I have really enjoyed my blogging experience though it has been incredibly overdue the last few weeks (months really).

Blogging was supposed to help me build discipline as a writer and get over the fact that I don’t need every thought to be perfect and perfectly formed. So I didn’t expect to miss that. But there is freedom in writing without restraint and for my particular brain, blogging also offers great insight into who I am, walls I have built, attitudes I forget I have, quirks I can’t quiet and the like. It is an incredibly valuable outlet for me to blow off steam, ramble pleasantly, and overall clear my head so that by the end of a long blog, I usually have found greater clarity on a topic than when I just confine ideas to my mind. There is release in the unleash.

Additionally, I have been in creative withdrawal it feels the last few months and my body is craving the excited butterflies and adrenaline rush of working on a project. A blog entry is a very good short-term substitute.

Since leaving Greece with many amazing memories and an ENGAGEMENT RING, I have returned to the world as a blushing bride-to-be. (or maybe these cheeks are just a little pink from the summer sun that has finally decided to come to Toronto – Hurray!)

Before I could move on to the utter joy (and some very large stresses) about wedding planning, we had to set a budget. The TERROR! You know those Scotia bank commercials that say “You’re richer than you think”? Every time one of those comes on screen at the movies, I want to hurl something at it and scream “You liars!”. I am pretty sure I am just as poor as I think and weddings are a spectacularly awful reminder of that fact. Why do photographers cost thousands of dollars? Why does one dress need to be so puffy and expensive? Why do I have such an enormous family? Why wouldn’t I be happy getting married on a beach somewhere? (Ironically, I probably will be getting married on a beach, but it will be in Muskoka – not the Caribbean -which means more people will come and that means more cost).

Adam and I had a real struggle committing to our venue. We both loved it. I had already resigned myself to the fact that most weddings cost a ton of money but we could make it work (with lots of help of course…), and Adam thought that money would be better used towards a mortgage. Stalemate. Back and forth we went; back and forth I went tossing and turning all night, every night, for about a week while we dithered about signing the contract.

Aside from the money issue, I was feeling badly that I couldn’t give ground on it: I consider myself to be a flexible and compromising person, but this was one thing where my heart would not budge an inch. It made me feel like a bad fiancee, that I could be so stubborn and unyielding. I’d use compromising words, but then just use them to talk us in a circle back to my original point. It seemed like a bad omen or at least a come-uppence after our Disney perfect engagement story.

When people ask “If you knew this was your last day on earth, what would you do?”, they expect and appreciate totally extravagant, selfish dreams and wishes.

If it was my last day on earth, I would throw a really big party and hug everyone I love, tell them how much they mean to me, cry a little, and wear something that makes me feel beautiful. I would want to reminisce and laugh over pictures, drink bubbly drinks, eat nachos, dance barefoot till I sweat from every pore, set off fireworks or sparklers, make a speech to thank everyone for making my life so worthwhile and then dance some more. I’d take pictures – lots of pictures – not because they would do me any good when I am gone, but they might help other people remember one blissful night.

So now that I am planning a wedding, my heart can’t get behind the logic of “It’s just one day”. Why should my wedding day be any less wonderful than my last day? Especially as memories and stories from my wedding day I can treasure for all the days in between my wedding day and last day (and who knows how many that might be…)

I see weddings as a big metaphor or symbol of the type of marriage we will have together. This is why I felt our disagreements so painfully, because I didn’t want our debates on budgets to be a trend that dominated our marriage at the exclusion of joy and indulgence. I couldn’t imagine getting married with only a few people to witness it, because I am a person that loves to bring the whole gang together. It is true when people say your wedding is not just about you – but not in the way that a lot of people mean. Our parents don’t have crazy ideas that they are trying to impose on our wedding. No one is dictating who our guest list is.

I have always been most excited when dreaming about my wedding as the day when all the people I love are in one place. My wedding will not just be about me (though as Bride I hear I can pretend it is). Or Adam and I. It will be a grateful thank you to everyone who has gotten us this far in life. I have spent a lot of time over the years debating the rites of adulthood and at what point you become a real adult, but marriage seems a pretty firm act of adult. I want to include and involve as many people in the celebrations as possible because I want to share the joy with them. My joy in the love I have with Adam. My joy in the life I have led that has put me on this path. The total joy I get from the many memories growing up and those happy memories are largely owed to the people we are inviting. If I could give each person a special job or role (and they would enjoy it rather than stress out about it) I probably would because I somehow want it to be the happiest day of everyone’s life (I’ll settle for year or highlight of the summer).

This doesn’t mean I am going to go crazy overboard on spending. I aim for genuine, joyful, grateful, and humorous memories together. Each person at our wedding is significant and special. I am blessed (and often delighted) to have them in my life on the regular days so why wouldn’t I want them there on the big day?! And that’s why I don’t think I could be happy getting married on a beach somewhere else.

Okay, I could probably be very happy getting married on a tropical beach except that afterwards I would feel regret about the people who were missing.

I want our “just one day” to be a huge party of people we love because that is a metaphor for a life I can really look forward to. That seems worth the expense. Dream house can wait.

Greek Sacrifices (in a poetic sort of way)


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I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but I have a big fear of missing out.

Tomorrow I leave for three weeks in Greece (!!!) and at lunch with friends today I was feeling pangs in my stomach that I will be missing out on two birthdays and one girls night and who knows what else while I am off trekking about one of the most beautiful and historical places on earth. Despite knowing there are many exciting adventures in store, I am sad that the fun times in Toronto don’t just press pause till I get back.
I know there are a lot of people like me who fear missing out. I am not crazy about it in that I always have to be part of the latest craze or fashion, but I always get very bummed about missing opportunities for fun adventures.

I think it’s this quality that makes me such a good guide though because I am so thorough in my research before I go places and I thirst after knowledge about everything to do with it. I was a Scout; I embraced the motto “Be Prepared”.  I have read the entire guidebook front to back, watched Hollywood movies that take place there, read The War at Troy, have spent hours reading websites, am part way through my History of Greece book (FYI Greece has a very long history…), have gone shopping for all sorts of outfits that will complement the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, carefully planned out an intense 10 day itinerary for my boyfriend and I while doing reconnaissance (booking restaurants, finding my way around towns, learning how to ask where the bathroom is and where ferries depart from) right down the bikes we are going to rent. Tonight I will watch Disney’s Hercules while I sing along and pack. Mamma Mia soundtrack is ready on the ipod for cruising around the islands. Tomorrow at the airport I will start listening to the 13 podcasts on Greece that I downloaded last night. Knowledge is power – especially in Europe where key attractions aren’t necessarily open every day and the ferry schedule can be days apart. For instance, if I hadn’t read the guidebook I wouldn’t know that a place in Nafplio rents free bikes and that you can bike along the coast to the beach past all these private little swimming coves. Score one for advance planning!

My fear can also make me ineffective at times. I spend days looking at hotels agonizing over which one to pick because I don’t want to miss out on a life experience I don’t know I am missing out on by booking somewhere else. I am a little devastated that I will be missing out on the Santorini-Infinity-pool-over-the-Caldera experience but missing it was the only part of the experience I could afford. (It does seem like a bit of a tease that they say “Couldn’t afford to miss it” on things I generally just plain can’t afford…) Our “vacation” will be crazy busy because there is too much stuff to be seeing and doing. I am willing to miss out on some sleep (though that makes me a little sad too… oh dear).

The fear of missing out is also an extremely powerful motivating force in my life. It rarely debilitates me for longer than a few days of internet searching. It also inspires me to create new adventures – even in the living room if necessary. I am constantly looking for inspiration so I gobble up every story I hear and plaque I read. I go out of my way to do things just because it would make a good story or just to say that I’ve done it.
When I was younger, I had many diverse talents and my parents put me in a lot of different activities. As I got older and gravitated towards some more than others, I still kept doing everything because I felt that I might miss out if I let one go. One of my favourite quotes is “To do anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift” and I always felt that if I could do something, I should do it (even travelling), because not everyone is so lucky. So when I travel I want to do and see everything because to not do it would sacrifice the gift of being there.

What I try to remind myself is that for everything you don’t do, you are doing something else. In cases like going to Greece, it is a pretty obvious win. But sometimes I have to think a little harder about it. It’s much easier to complain and say “No Fair” than it is to get up and do something. It’s not even about “What are you going to do about it?” because I may not be able to do anything about IT – for instance I can’t control the lottery and all the stuff I am missing by not winning. But I can still always do SOMETHING. It may be totally different, unrelated, more awesome or less awesome, but I can always choose to do something. And that’s where my fear has really helped me embrace life. I may miss out on some things, but that always motivates me to make up for it with something else.

And sometimes, sacrifices just have to be made.

For instance, tonight instead of relaxing on the couch and easing into holiday mode, I will madly scramble to pack everything (a Leamen tradition the night before a trip)

If there is one thing those ancient Greeks knew, it was sacrifice….

Oh Zeus I am excited!