Friday, November 18, 2011

The Creative Future

Barbara: I was born in the sixties and grew up in the seventies. They’re always looking for an apt moniker for my generation—we’re too young to be Boomers and too old to be X-ers. What are we in a nutshell? I think we were the first generation to be the You Can Have It All-ers, or the Don’t Do Anything You Don’t Love-ers. We were raised to believe that we could and should follow our dreams. I suffered no obstacles growing up and choosing acting as my university degree and then my career. No one wanted to see me or my peers pursue anything we didn’t love, to see us stuck—like so many before us—in boring, soul-sucking jobs. Call us Generation Maybe: maybe we can do it, maybe we can’t.

Because, of course, reality hits and many of us found ourselves needing to balance our talents and dreams with the drudgery of paying bills and sending our own kids into their bright futures. Getting the balance right between love and necessity has been excruciating at times. Do you still tell your kids they can do anything they want? And how many of those kids now struggling with failing worldwide economies will give up on creative lives, and how many of them are destined to be the future of our creative culture? Our writers, our philosophizers, our artists, our dancers, singers, musicians. You know, those people who make life worth living, who bring it its poetic beauty, its incomparable ability to turn a mirror on life and say: Yes, this is what it looks like if you step back a bit; this is your tragedy, your struggle, your strength, your frustration, your petty greed, your jealousy, your epic courage.

Maybe it’s my own life experience that wants to play this rather sobering thought against an amazing experience I had a couple of weeks ago on a film set. This production is the best possible example of how we can support the creative geniuses of tomorrow. As an added bonus, it nurtures those geniuses who come from at-risk backgrounds and who might never otherwise have the chance to explore—and then discover—their unique voices.

The REMIX Project is a non-profit organization (recently awarded Best Youth Organization by Toronto’s Now Magazine) that dedicates itself to bringing the arts to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and neighbourhoods, offering them the chance to explore their talents and skills in a safe, nurturing environment. And most importantly, developing those skills so that these young people can have a serious foothold in the business of the arts. Their City Life Film Project is the component that deals with film and, together with Temple Street Productions, they provide not just the training but the mentors and the equipment and the extensive crew that filmmakers need to bring their visions to the screen. Participants have to apply to get into the program and are chosen based on their storytelling skills, and then after a 3-month intensive, three projects are chosen for production.

I had the incredible honour of working with one of these brilliant voices of tomorrow. Kimberly wrote the script loosely based on a day in her own life when, as a lonely, disenfranchised 14-year-old girl, her mother had a postpartum breakdown. A 15-minute short, it goes from scary to heartbreaking with breathtaking speed. There were only four of us as actors on set: the one playing the child, the one playing the mother, one as the stepfather, and myself as the doctor. Kim had to not only create a visual story through the camera, but she also had to take the actors deep into the heart of her real-life crisis.

We actors had to find gut connections to this story and convey them in an honest and soul-baring way. This is not an easy task for an actor. It might seem so, but it takes an enormous amount of trust and courage. Kim, barely 20-years-old, actually took our hands and expertly guided us into the mire. She was articulate, passionate, compelling and direct. In all my years on a set, I’ve rarely worked with a director I trusted as much as I trusted her. I knew if she didn’t see it on-screen, she wouldn’t be shy to tell us we needed to go “150%”. I’ve also never worked with a director who so directly related to their on-screen story that each creative discussion and each scene ended with their face bright and open, tears rolling down their cheeks, heartfelt expressions of gratitude or wisdom or personal confession pouring from their mouth. They talk about the directors who get naked with their actors for a love scene; this director got emotionally naked with us—and yet never forgot to do her very difficult job as a director. Kim has it all.

At the end of the day, I did what I do repeatedly with my own kids: I told Kim—despite every indication that it is a an exercise in futility to be an artist—to keep following her dream, to never let anyone tell her that a young black woman couldn’t/shouldn’t direct, to keep telling her stories.

Maybe in life, we can’t do what we want to do all the time because of bills and obligations. Maybe we have to get a “joe-job” or even a good one but one that doesn’t feed the soul. Maybe we will feel frustrated because we can’t be full-time artists. But maybe, just maybe, we have to keep forging ahead with our stories (or music or paintings or ideas) in every other moment there is. It would be a terrible shame and loss for all of us to lose even one Kim to “cold, hard” reality.

Thanks to organizations like REMIX for allowing these dreams to breathe and grow.

Deb: This is such a fascinating subject, Barb. On a personal level, the only way I can relate to it is through the boy. The boy who wanted to be a surrealist when he was twelve. We encouraged him. When he was thirteen and wanted to be an actor, he asked us what it would be like to be an actor in the theatre. We said, “If that is what you live for, then the art on your wall might be the posters from your shows and your passion can be the fact that you get up each day and get to do what you love. If for any reason you have the desire for stuff—houses, belongings and the ilk—then you might want to match your dreams to a dollar sign. But make sure they are still your dreams.”

I think each generation has a share of this. I was born in 1954 and my parents supported me 100%.  I think there were parents through the 60’s, earlier, and right on down the line who did not support this theory, but I think there were many, including my parents, who did. There were also artists who became same despite their parents. It is the way of the world. Your parents are artists so it was a no-brainer for them, and lucky for you.

Your experience on this recent set was a game-changer and I think that is FABULOUS FOR YOU!

But, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I side with you and with the Kim’s of the world.

Follow your Dreams. Life is short. Life can be sweet. But follow your dreams. It is essential to survival. 


  1. Love this post Barb and Deb. Deb love what you said about following your dreams. Growing up I always wanted to be nurse or doctor. I would always go around and tell my grandparents that I was going to grow up and be the most famous doctor ever. Even carried around a little plastic medical kit. Then when I grew up I started more into I love it. It's such a passion of mying. . Now I can cook and bake anything and just love doing it . The only thing I I will not do is follow a recipe. Don't get me wrong I sti love to help people just in a different way. My grandfather always told me that I could do anything I I just sit my mind to that.

  2. Loved today's story. It should be our goal to do what we love and prosper but unfortunately real life sets in and as you said life takes over and sometimes we have to shift our plans.

  3. I absolutely love this, and I too am blessed with parents who have supported me 1000%!! My first year of college I was in a program that I was simply not happy with, and when I told them that following Christmas I was switching to biology, what I thought was going to be a "NOOO!!!" turned into something so much more. I am eternally grateful for the support of my parents because now I am in a program that I love more than ever!

    Someone else that has gone out of their way to support me is my academic adviser here at school. Every time I go to him with a problem or tell him something about my life, I always know that he has my back, even if he never verbalizes it. He's helped me deal with A LOT of academic-related junk!! And since he's going through a bit of a rough patch himself, I'm trying my best to be available as well.

    My plans post-college have changed about forty times, but my parents and my Berea family, I have no doubt, will get excited with me as I end my Berea chapter soon!

  4. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, you guys! Lyndsie, so interesting how your dreams shifted as you grew and changed. And Holly, you too. Like Madge says: sometimes we have to shift our plans -- not just for circumstance but for our own well-being.

  5. Made my day. Thanks so much :]

    Looking even more forward to tonight now!!!!

  6. Leaving right now for RICHMOND!!!!!!!! We WILL BLOG about the experience sometime tomorrow!! :D

  7. I know people say "do what you love and the money will come" but ,well, only sometimes is what I've seen.
    Harlan Ellison (the writer) once said to me "honey if you can do ANYthing else- then DO it Write because you HAVE TO not just cos you WANT to." Success can come- in the field you do just for love- but til then pay the bills however u can that give u the oportunity to do the love thing. It's why so may actors work as waiters- they can schedule their auditions around their shifts. P.D. James -the mystery writer's husband had a breakdown after WWII and she was forced to go to work in the Home Office to support him herself and their 2 daughters. She moved into her inlaws to get child care help and woke up every day @ 5.a.m. to write cos it was the only "quiet" time she could find. She made it work and became a prize winning ( rather wealthy) full time writer. But she never stopped doing it- because she didn't know how to stop.
    Do what you love to do- cos it is what gives your life colour and breadth and pleasure and even perspective. But always have a 2nd string to play!

  8. I'm coming into this very, very late, but it's the first time all day I've had the chance to sit down. You know those days.

    I love the post. You (all of you, I hope) know that this blog and the people on it inspired me to fulfill a long time dream. As a child I wanted to be a writer, an actor, a librarian, and a camp director. I got my first degree in Recreation and was able to do a week as a camp director for a day camp. One dream done, just on a small level. (Still would love to be a camp director again someday.) Then the reality of being a mom came and for 13 years I couldn't follow any dream. Then, this year, I did my children's theater. I'm in my first semester of getting my Librarian degree. I still am not an actor by the definition of the world, but if you've ever worked with kids, then you know that acting, being able to improvise and a willingness to be spontaneous is essential in working with kids, (especially in a camp or theater setting.) My mom was an example to me as she followed her dream and opened her own school. She was an amazing teacher and her school was awesome. I want to be an example to my kids. I want them to never give up on their dreams. Dreams may have to take a break for a while, but if it's in their hearts, they will find a way to make those dreams into realities. I'm a strong believer in that.

    Thank you Barb for the lovely story. Programs that incourage the arts are so wonderful. I must pass this on to you: You guys inspired me. I did my theater. A friend of mine was inspired by me following my dream and so she is working on hers. Next October in Las Vegas, my dear friend is organizing a half marathon because she has always wanted to organize a marathon, but was too scared to try it. Now it's on the calendar! The inspiration is just moving forward. Totally GIRL power!

  9. Totally unrelated to all of this but felt the need to share:

    Kelly and I absolutely LOVED the show tonight; literally laughing at every second!!! I got to go up on stage! :D

    Deb, your husband is delightful (although rather shy...), and I do hope that our giddiness and excitement didn't scare him too much! Too nice, he was! :)

  10. Holly and Kelly, I am green with envy. I'd love to catch one of Colin & Brad's shows and have been a fan of Whose Line for as long as I can remember. Deb, do you think you can suggest a working holiday in New Zealand to Colin? ;) I'd be happy to show you guys around! ;D

  11. Sorry (points up) that was me wishing Holly and Kelly a good time at the show before they went. Sadly, I used the wrong profile and then forgot to post! So glad to hear it was a great night. One of my favourite experiences, to see a Colin and Brad show!

    Molly, it's never too late to weigh in (some of us are still chatting on older posts from this week!). And thanks so much for sharing. Your experience and insight have added so much weight to the idea of following dreams whenever you have the chance, not just straight out of school. And now you get to see it inspire others!! That's the best.

  12. Barb, what a great opportunity to be able to work with someone who has such passion about what she'd doing. I'm jealous.

    When my daughter was in the single-digit ages, she wanted to be "the person who held the sick babies and took care of them." That changed in junior high school, when she decided she wants to be an interior/exterior decorator. So instead of going to regular high school, she is in a vocational school studying drafting and design, loving every minute of it. (She's a whiz at math, god bless her.) The choice was up to her, and I've encouraged her every step of the way. Had she chosen something in the arts, I might have considered how she could apply that in a more "solid(?)" way. Her chosen vocation will be her creative outlet, for she has the imagination to create something really special.

    I originally wanted to learn several languages and someday work at the UN as a translator. I was encouraged NOT to do this. My parents were both teachers and they told me to choose something that will allow me to move out of the house someday. (I don't remember the exact wording, but that's definitely along the lines of what I was told.)

    It's too late, and useless, to have any regrets about that. What I can do is take a class now and then and still try to accomplish what I wanted to do. At least I'll be able to say I tried.

  13. Still reeling from last night. I'll weigh in now. I can attest to most of what my dear sister said; growing up with 100% supportive parents has made life so much easier for me. Knowing I have their loving embrace to fall back on is truly a blessing from God, because I am aware that many are denied the privilege that sometimes we take for granted.

    Waiting to hear back from my MRI I had thankful for my outside support as well. Didn't you all post about something like this recently? :]

    "Follow your Dreams. Life is short. Life can be sweet. But follow your dreams. It is essential to survival." Yes, Deb! Love this!!! Thank you!

    P.S. Deb, when Colin comes back home, tell him it was sooooo nice to meet him! He's such a sweetie! :]

  14. Hi!
    I think it's great to support people, who usually get the chance to work with their talent...or try out some new things.

    I have to admit that I didn't really know what to do. I never thought about it. Well, I wanted to become a teacher, when I was in elementary school. Later, I wanted to become a vet (but since I can't kill animals...I couldn't do it). And then...I had the funny idea to become a musical singer.
    I took nothing serious.

    So after I finished school, I was quite a mess. Everything collapsed. My whole life made no sense anymore.

    I'm still struggling to find my place, but at least I know that I want to become a writer.

    I don't know how difficult it is in Canada, but in Germany you have to be very, very lucky (or famous...then they'll produce everything you do).

    I started writing poems, then short stories, and even tried to write novels. I also wrote a little play (my father is part of an amateur theater)...

    Sometimes I want to give up my dream (think I'm not good enough, think I don't deserve to be lucky), but then I say to myself: No...wait. This is what you want. This is what you love. Don't give up!

    Your post once more encouraged me to not give up.
    I will try everything to become a writer, because I love writing so, so much.

    Sometimes you have to fight. And it's not always easy. But passion and love pushes you.

  15. Dawn: "at least I'll be able to say I tried" -- this tom is always the key. there are always a million reasons NOT to try. And, believe me, from my own vantage point, trying truly is THE fun. Love the story about your daughter. My designer daughter was a whiz in math too -- I think the two go very well together.

    Kelly! Good luck on your MRI results. Keep us posted!!

    And Becki, those inner mean voices are kinda part and parcel, I think. You gotta make peace with them and then keep working despite them. Don't give up!!


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