Wales, London and Paris August 2014

A week in Wales in the Penrice Castle Cottages! The perfect setting for working on a book (the stated goal) and solidifying relationships with the other writers and editors in our group. Spearheaded by Jo Walton, author of several excellent novels, the pre-Loncon 3 retreat was an opportunity to spend a bit more time with the speculative fiction and fantasy professional community before the maelstrom of the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention in London.

I did manage some work on a creative non-fiction project (tentatively titled An Accidental Dinner with Royalty) while traipsing about the ruins of the Gower peninsula. From Arthur’s Stone on Cefn Bryn to the grounds of Penrice Castle (where they were shooting a Dan Brown project) to the shallow beach of Oxwich, the pastoral setting was full of brambles and dragonflies. I attempted one watercolour painting using water from the sea, thereby confirming that my lack of talent is not affected at all by the change in medium.

As we were exiting the Swansea Museum, a man came out of the staff room. I caught a glimpse of a large room with bookshelves to the ceiling, crammed full of centuries-old books. It was not an area open to the public, but when the staff saw our reaction (I was there with Candas Dorsey), we were invited inside for a closer look and a chat.

The Waterfront Museum in Swansea needs a proofreader. A lightweight garment designed to help conserve body heat had an explanatory plaque that said a version was being developed “for dessert conditions”. Indeed.

The Loncon3 World Science Fiction Convention was held in East London at the ExCel Docklands. I was on a panel discussing the depictions of fear of Artificial Intelligence in works of fiction, and the degree to which those fears might be warranted. It was a panel that drew a lot of interest – an audience numbering more than 200. My focus was ethical purpose. There wasn’t a dull moment – and the arrival of someone attending via robot was thrilling. Other things I attended – such as a panel on science fictional opera, and the academic poster presentations on a variety of scientific/fiction topics – were intriguing but relatively sedate. One of my last moments of Loncon3 participation was joining in a raucous a cappella group rendition of Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. The next day we were in the British Library looking at the Magna Carta, and then the Canal Museum.

Took the train under the English Channel to spend a couple of days wandering through Montmartre to get a better feel for the context of the Erik Satie project. I did not take enough photographs. Side trips to the Paris Opera, Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay. A lot of walking. I found the gluten free restaurant on my last day – mere minutes after it had closed. It would have been a tiny detour on any of our trips between the hotel in Montmartre and the Seine.

Back in London to satisfy more curiosity. A delightful afternoon with the Clutes in Camden – John Clute is editor of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, among other things. Judith Clute is a wonderful artist, and she led us on a guided tour of Camden. John is quite knowledgeable and passionate about Handel, as it turns out. The quasi-operatic yowlings of the street performer outside were difficult to bear.

Then a couple of days spent with professor Farah Mendlesohn (head of the Department of English, Communication, Film and Media at Anglia Ruskin University) and Edward James (among other things, emeritus professor of medieval history at University College, Dublin). Wide ranging discussions about trends in higher education, the state of speculative fiction, and the challenges of academe. Dr. Mendlesohn then escorted me to the Soane Collection, the Foundling Museum (Handel papers! – we had already been to Handel House), the Hunterian Collection (lots of larynxes in jars, but the best thing was the brain of Charles Babbage), and the Wellcome Collection (where I heard the voice of Florence Nightingale).


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Moral Distress in PICU Teams update

With the production expertise of The Idea Factory and director Peter Conradi, and the financial support of a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, my film adaptation of the play Just Keep Breathing is ready for release. The film has already been presented at conferences in Turkey and Brazil and the Canadian launch is anticipated this fall.

Adapting the play to a suitable screen format was a challenge. The decision to be realistic meant we would require more actors. Another decision was to reduce the length of the script so it could potentially fit a one-hour commercial television format. A two-act play with a total 90 minute span (75 minutes with a 15-minute intermission) had to be reduced to 48 minutes and still retain the essential research points. That meant selecting elements that would express the typology of moral distress narratives and the array of coping/resolution mechanisms.

While it was not possible to shoehorn everything into the abbreviated version, the additional impact of an actual PICU unit setting (courtesy of a training facility) adds an element of verisimilitude lacking in the stage version. While I have written for film and television before, this is the first time I have adapted my own stage play to a different format.

Eventually I had to let go of my desire to see the play itself on film – an easy decision once we chose to abbreviate the material.

As a tool for provoking discussion, the film is excellent. Does that mean it is perfect? No – but everyone managed near-miracles on a tiny budget, and I am grateful for the amount we were able to capture.

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2013 In Review

This year was full of unusual academic activity.

The year began as a judge for the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts’ inaugural 10-Minute Play Competition, working with judges Jeanne Beckwith (Norwich University, Vermont) and Jennifer Gunnels (NYC). The three top plays were then given a staged reading at this year’s ICFA in Orlando.

March and April I had the opportunity to be an adjudicator for two music festivals – adjudicating everything from French language children’s poetry recitation to musical theatre.

May was spent adapting the play version of Just Keep Breathing to a bare bones film script for filming later in the year.

June through August were spent directing Geoff Pritchard’s thesis project, Cloven Hoof: The Trials of James Evans. It was produced for the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival and staged at historic McDougall United Church. I will post more about this experience eventually.

I also began directorial prep and casting for the ELOPE/Sherard production of Tale of Two Cities The Musical by Jill Santoriello. The show is slated for the end of February 2014 at Sherwood Park’s Festival Place theatre.

August also saw the re-visioning of the Chat Blanc project on the work of Erik Satie. This looser, more theatrical version of the 2012 academic project spearheaded by MacEwan instructor Roxanne Classen was staged at the McMahon Theatre at Faculte St. Jean as part of the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival – directed by Eileen Sproule.

November saw the shoot of the film version of Just Keep Breathing, part of the dissemination phase of the CIHR-funded study on Moral Distress in Paediatric Intensive Care Teams: A Canadian Perspective. For more information on that project, check out the other tabs on the blog.

Work in the community included finishing my stint as Secretary of the Boyle Street Community League (in March), coordinating the temporary Community Garden for the season, acting on the board of the Alberta Music Education Foundation, and working hard on the municipal election campaign for one of the council candidates.

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2012 In Review

Just Keep Breathing, the play which grew from the University of Alberta’s CIHR-funded research project The Experience and Resolution of Moral Distress in Paediatric Intensive Care Team: A Canadian perspective, was well received in both the original production in March 2012 at the University of Alberta and in the re-mount as part of the InSight: Visualizing Health Humanities exhibit in May/June of 2012. The next step is to develop the production in 2013 for the proposed film and educational DVD.

A new collaboration with Dr. Lesley Peterson, Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of North Alabama, is on the horizon. The seed of this project was sown in late 2011 when Dr. Peterson was visiting Edmonton, and we confirmed our intention to collaborate when she was in Edmonton in October 2012 to present “In the Marketplace: The English Child Author and the Jamaican Slave Trade” for the 2012 Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (CSECS/SCEDHS) conference Crossings: The Cultures of Global Exchange in the 18th Century. Watch this space as the project unfolds!

The MacEwan CFAC Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Fund supported the development of Tokyo 1965, a one-man show looking at the illness narrative and the relationship between voice and identity through the story of Italian baritone superstar Ettore Bastianini. The show played for 10 performances during the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. The project was also supported by the City of Edmonton (through The Quarters development plan) and the Boyle Street Community League. The show was directed by Jake Hastey. MacEwan grad Allison Klause was brought on board as stage manager and GMU student Anglia Redding worked on the project as Research Assistant.

Work has continued toward the opening of the brand new Boyle Street Plaza, east of MacEwan’s City Centre Campus – the Boyle Street Community League took possession at the latter end of November. As a member of the board, I am learning about facility and program administration, updating some of my skills in areas like First Aid and learning new skills.

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Spring 2012 update

March 31 was the premiere of Just Keep Breathing, the play which came from the CIHR-funded study The Experience and Resolution of Moral Distress in Paediatric Intensive Care Teams: A Canadian Perspective. The play will be remounted as part of the InSight: Visualizing Health Humanities Exhibition at the University of Alberta on June 7, 8 and 9.

Work on Chat Blanc: Shadows and Light on Erik Satie continues with collaborators Roxanne Classen (the principal researcher), Mireille Rijavec, Eva Colmers, Caitlin Richards and Laura Jones. The performances are slated for the end of May at the McMahon Pavillion of the Faculte St. Jean of the University of Alberta. The project has called on me to translate texts, write or adapt passages, rethink Satie’s shadow puppet opera, and learn some of Satie’s songs.

Another work-in-progress, Tokyo 1965, is now slated to open the Boyle Renaissance Plaza as part of the International Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival in August 2012.


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August 2011 Hermenootyk Society has published their third anthology, Hermenootyk3 (ISBN 978-0-9866814-0-1), edited by Joel Katelnikoff, Eleni Loutas, and Mark Woytiuk. In November 2010 the HerMen reading series held a Manifesto Night, and the manifesto I wrote for that evening is included in this volume. Four of my MacEwan students were there that evening to enjoy the literary fun.

The hand-made limited edition book – with an embossed cover produced at SNAP – includes work by Doug Barbour, Natalie Helberg, Marco Melfi, Nicole Pakan, Cole Pettifor, Patrick Pilarski, Maddie Reddon, Glenn Robson, Gregory Samsung, and Adam Wilson.

Also in August 2011 is the long-awaited publication of Slice Me Some Truth, an anthology of the best in current Canadian creative non-fiction. Edited by Luanne Armstrong and Zoe Landale and published by Wolsak & Wynn, the authors represented include Sharon Butala, Silver Donald Cameron, Lorna Crozier, Wayne Grady, Steven Heighton, Matt Hughes, Myrna Kostash, Evenlyn Lau, Stephen Osborne, Harold Rhenisch, J. Jill Robinson, Andreas Schroeder and many others. My contribution to the book is Singapore 1995, which I think of as a reflection on the political, social and economic complexities of an unexpected intimate relationship.

My short story, Driving Day, will be published by Nemesis Publishing in the UK as part of their forthcoming Words On Fire anthology of contemporary international fiction. Driving Day was also dramatized and presented as a staged reading at the 2010 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando, Florida.

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