Sunday, March 10, 2013

March of spring

I went to bed last night knowing two things.  First, that the time was going to spring forward at 2 am, robbing us of a full 60 minutes of repose.  I have a psychological remedy for that which seems to work well.  I change the clock in our bedroom as we go to sleep and drift into a state of acceptance that I've just gone to bed later than expected.  The second thing I knew just as surely was that it was probably time to write another Wood Buffalo Update.  As it turned out when I checked this morning, it was exactly one month ago that I touched based, so my instincts were bang on.

Nine performances and 4,300 audience members later, Hometown...The Musical! came to an end two weeks ago tonight.  It took me most of that time to get my wind back; it was both an exhilarating and exhausting ride.  The feedback we received made it more than worthwhile though, as the show inspired a response unlike any other.

We had multiple requests for encore performances, a complete anomaly in my experience.  Unfortunately, we couldn't accommodate the desire for additional shows as the set was struck the day after we closed and the stage manager was on a plane to Hawaii for a much-deserved vacation.

I wrote about the experience, from start to finish - 27 blog posts in total stretching from December 9, 2012 to February 23, 2013.

"As you all know, I've been writing about this incredible journey since we began," I said to the cast before the final performance.  "I wrote my final post last night.  I'm going to leave the last word to you."

Giving the cast, crew and artistic team the opportunity to share their reflections on the process proved to be quite a success.  I had over 40 submissions in the several days that followed, posted in Journey to Hometown, Epilogue.  If you ever doubt that what we do in the arts matters, spend a few minutes reading the authentic perspectives of people who were willing to share what this production meant to them, many of whom had never been on stage before.

Dylan joined us during the technical and production portion of this show, running the follow spot up in the lighting booth.  He survived and thrived on late nights and early mornings on weekends, diligently staying on task and being an integral member of the team.  Being the social character that he is, many new friends were made and he fit right in.  As he first made his presence known in the theatre back when he knocked on the door a full six weeks early in 1999 when I was performing in The Taming of the Shrew, it felt like a homecoming of sorts.

Ben and Heather came to opening night along with a whole bunch of other people - we ended up selling out every public evening performance and one matinee.  Hometown...The Musical! ended up being the 5th most attended production in our 33-year history - quite an achievement for a brand new work that was truly a community collective creation.

I had sent Mom a picture of what I looked like during the early portion of the run - we ended up dropping this facial prosthetic as it was cumbersome to apply and take off, it also failed to achieve the desired affect.  As Dad refuses to look at the computer, Mom decided to print off this picture and show it to him, without any explanation.

"Is it the Pope?" he asked.

I had a great laugh with Mom over the phone about that one!

While we were focused on getting through the musical, my esteemed Councillor colleague Phil Meagher was preparing for his historic ski from Fort Chipewyan to Fort McMurray, a distance of 280 kilometres.  He took off at first light the morning of our final day of Hometown performances.  When I woke up the following morning, he had traveled several hundred kilometres and was running into some difficulty.  First, the temperature started to flirt with zero, then there was an increasing amount of sand on the road.  The amazing progress he was able to make early on in the trip had given way to almost no progress at all.  At about the 220 km mark he began to experience breathing issues and eventually had to acquiesce to the fact that he needed medical attention.  He was airlifted to the hospital where it was determined that he had come down with a case of pneumonia.

After two weeks of recovery, he successfully finished the final 60 kms on Friday, gliding into Fort McMurray shortly after dinner.  The final leg ended up taking 9 hours, 40 minutes.  Ben and I, along with several supporters from the Centre of Hope, a homeless facility for which he was raising money, were there to welcome him and capture the moment.

"And now you're going to go ref a hockey game?" asked someone.

"Yah, but that's not till 9:15.  No problem there," he said.

It was an incredible feat of human endurance that would have knocked most people to the floor, and this 50+ fellow with an artificial hip was going to go pack up his ski gear and lace on his skates.  Amazing!

It's taken me the better part of two weeks to fully recover from the play.  This has been one of those rare winters when I haven't take holidays or gone on a trip.  Normally, this is the weekend when I'd be traveling to the NCMPR National Conference, this year taking place in Chicago.  However, with my professional focus having been on the arts the past six months, I didn't feel right about going.  We also typically travel to a tropical destination in the first quarter of the year, but this year we did not.  Instead, we sent Heather down to Sedona, AZ for a retreat and to Bellingham, WA for a craniosacral treatment.  With the significant time commitment required for Hometown, it was the right choice to stay close to home.

I did manage to fly out of town this past week, down to Edmonton at the invitation of MLA Don Scott for the Budget announcement at the Legislature.  It was my first time visiting those hallowed halls and seeing the process of provincial governance from up close.  Though in a foreign place, I still felt somewhat at home as so many faces were familiar.  Being in municipal government for almost 30 months now, I've had occasion to meet many of the ministers and members who make up this prestigious body.

It might be somewhat counter intuitive, but we are mired in austere times in the province of Alberta, and Finance Minister Horner delivered a speech that confirmed as much.  And while he did his best to sprinkle the message with flowery phrases, words of optimism and fiscal resolve, buried behind the words are numbers that are coated with the effluent of the so-called bitumen bubble,  the price differential that has decimated our revenue stream from the oil sands sector.

While we wait for the sun to do its work on the remaining snow and usher in long-awaited spring, public sector organizations, nonprofits, and myriad other groups are going to have to make it through a messy melt before we can wrap ourselves in summer's embrace.  I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that I can't wait.

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