Close your eyes and imagine, if you can, the smells of old paper mache, coconut rice with the slightest hint of curry, feel the heat of a rehearsal studio filled with about 70 people and their various smells too, and you will have a sense of the Bread & Puppet Theatre experience. Not everybody knows what old paper puppets smell like, but I am one of a number of artists who have delved into outdoor theatre, in the conceptual and aesthetic style originated in North America by this very company.
Bread & Puppet Theatre stopped in Vancouver on their 14 week tour of 2018. They/we spent 3 days working in two gorgeous studios in the Simon Fraser University School for Contemporary Arts, largely facilitated by Ian McFarlane, a Vancouver-based artist and guest lecturer at SFU as well as B&P alumni. The workshop culminated in a performance of the "Grasshopper Rebellion Circus" which the company had been working on and performing for some time, but they added in 3 acts that were created through the Vancouver workshop.
It was really interesting to participate and witness the creative process derived from the process taking place at the B&P farm in Vermont. They asked the participants if there were any big social issues they wished to explore, and with the many suggestions they/we created 3 new "acts" for the "circus". These words were defined more clearly as the work unfolded, and the show did indeed turn out to be a wonderful circus-like mishmash of political commentary, poetical imagery in motion, hilarity, clownish antics, dance, spectacle, giant puppets, and human power suggesting general revolt. The audience was vocally involved at some points (cheering on, chanting, etc.) which I believe would be a good experience even for people who have no experience with protests at all. You can see the whole show in the video someone from SFU posted, below.
Photos from the workshop, rehearsal, and Bread & Puppet Press
This book of giant puppets and pageants is absolutely amazing. I scanned and uploaded it for those who are interested to download, because inside the front cover it says "The information in this book may be freely copied, used, and distributed." Thanks so much, Sara Peattie and the Puppeteer's Cooperative!
Love Over Bias is the name for this commercial released by Proctor & Gamble before the Olympics in Peong Chang. I recently discovered it and saw that I painted the scenic elements we provided at Scenic Oasis, back in April 2017. Wow! I had no idea that the kid's bedroom ceiling was in the same project as the dark wooden sign with Korean characters and the giant blue square arch at the ski hill! Cool! And I'm very happy to think that people enjoyed this work. Scroll down to see some shots of the stuff we did in the shop and on location.
Proctor & Gamble owns many well-known brands and their Chief Brand Officer had this to say about the campaign according to this article: "At P&G, we aspire to create a better world for everyone - a world free from bias, with equal representation, equal voices and equal opportunity. When the world is more equal, society is better and it leads to economic growth. Unfortunately, equality is limited by biases, and we recognize we can use our voice to be a force for good and shine a light on the bias that limits human potential. We hope to promote open discussion, influence attitudes, and ideally change behaviour.”
I'm glad to see such a positive and socially-beneficial purpose behind a project I worked on.
Production Design by Michelle Foote-Derrick
Director Alma Har'el Production Company Epoch FIlms
Scenic Oasis Film provided the set piece for this commercial, namely the exploded wall interior and exterior. I had the privilege of sculpting/painting these pieces as Head Painter with the SOF team. We built the parts in our shop and then installed them into this house in East Van (after removing the existing window). See process shots below the Youtube link to find out more.
Seeing it now I wish I had painted more of the ceiling interior... Ah well. Oftentimes I never know what's going to be in the shot or not.
This post is far more personal than most of what I've shared here: today I'm writing to talk about my experiences with the self-development company LB Seminars, also known as Liberty & Balance, based in Richmond, BC with offices in Calgary, Alberta. Their workshops are directly related to or descended from PSI Seminars in the US.
To anyone considering enrolling, I intend this to inform you about the program as I wish I had been, to share my thoughts on the value I gained from my time with this company. Consider this an in-depth review; exposing facts about this business as I experienced it. Why would I bother doing this, you may ask? Because it was a big investment, and a big disappointment, which is going unreconciled. Publicly speaking about my experience is my offering to the owners & lead “trainers” of the company, Bill & Littley Dosanjh, others I've met through the program, and potential future clients/customers of LB Seminars.
I was having a tough time in the winter of 2016/17, my first year of living in Vancouver was hard. My sister suggested the program, I said maybe; I hesitated big time. Sounded weird, fake, like a hoax. Then one day her fiance came over with a coffee and signup sheets, and told me ever so seriously and with great care for me that this program had a lot to offer me. He spoke of how he was experiencing great improvements in his life and their relationship, through the program. His sincerity got me and I had the money, so I put down my credit card for the $650, with a note that I was unsure which “Discovery” session I would be able to attend since my new job had me basically on call, not knowing when work would be too busy for me to take the 2 nights and full weekend off.
I went to an info session about the program and the Discovery course, where about 30 people gathered, many of whom already were in later levels of the program or were past graduates. At the end of the presentation, attendees were offered to sign up to the course for $550. I wasn't included in the offer, having already signed up! I was irritated and thought this was a bad sign. However, the people were sincere (albeit a bit cheerleader-ish and agressive) and I was in for the ride, knowing the fees were non-refundable.
As the summer went on, and my job got intensely busy, I was working 12+ hours per day, painting scenery for commercial film shoots. The whole business operates on short notice, and it turned out I could not attend the Discovery course I'd originally signed up for. Upon telling the admin person (who I'll call C) this, she told me I'd have to pay a $100 fee to switch to another time frame. I told her about the $100 discount that I had not been given, despite signing up before the info session, and that I would not pay it additionally.
So the tone of my experience with LB was set. I wish I had remembered this later on; they will pressure you for all the money that they can get.
Eventually in December, things at work calmed down, and I was able to attend the Discovery training. I went into it highly sceptical, but had some powerful experiences in the course through which I gained a different perspective on self-awareness and concepts such as commitment, giving & taking, win-win relationships, and how my resistance vs. acceptance to reality impacts my life & others. The course went late and started early, with a mix of lectures, partner, small group, and whole group exercises. The overall effect was exhausting, emotional cleansing, a sense of “defrag” for my brain, and a sense of empowerment with the tools they shared.
Near the end of the course, the sales pitch to buy into the next levels began. We were subjected to approximately 30min description of the rest of the 5-level program and then given a 15-20min “break” in which to purchase our next level of self-development, set to occur in about a month. The volunteer “staff” approached individuals during the break asking if we would sign up and why not. It was creepy. They seemed so driven and urgent to get us to sign up. I hesitated, but after thinking about it I decided to invest in the training, in myself, and paid up for the next two courses which come as a package: Breakthrough and A.C.T. Thousands of dollars. I knew what I wanted and thought I could do it on my own, but why not get some help?
In the new year I did the 5-day intensive course called Breakthrough. The tone of this experience was similar to entering junior highschool and finding out you really are a loser, with no integrity and no good reason for your badness, bullied by the people who are there to train you. They intend you to feel better about yourself on the last day or so, but the first 3 days are meant to break you down. By looking at the worst parts of myself and being scolded by Bill and Littley it was as if I entered a different world, where I had to measure myself to their values. Again the hours were gruelling, the experience extremely emotional, the exercises ranging from lectures to group activities. Again on the last day the high-pressure sales talk was given; we should sign up to the fourth & fifth course! Again the “break” in which to pay for the rest of the training. By this point I was exhausted, emotionally vulnerable, questioning everything about myself, and very confused about what I was supposed to be gaining from this training.
I decided I wanted to wait on buying into the fourth course, called “Leaders in Action.” I was very interested in leadership training, but it wasn't going to take place until October, and I wanted to see where I was at with my job and everything else after the summer. However, once again I was approached individually, this time by the lead administrator “C”. “Why aren't you signed up for L.I.A?” she demanded. I explained that I wanted to wait and see where things were at later in the year. What happened next I am both angry about and ashamed of. She attacked me with her knowledge after seeing me go through the previous workshops. “So you're going to hesitate on this like you do everything else in your life? Why don't you make a real choice and step into it.” She framed it as a powerful move ahead for me to sign up now. She suggested that choosing now would prove my self-worth. Or maybe that's what I heard, in the state I was in. As I said, vulnerable.
I let myself be convinced, and bullied, not wanting to “hesitate like I always do.” I paid a large deposit on LIA ($2400) and signed up for a payment plan for their 5th course, an exorbitant & luxurious destination experience they charge even more for (not including flights). I thought at the time “I can do this” “I'm worth it.” I went home and tried to explain to my then-boyfriend about what I'd experienced and what I thought I was investing in. He scoffed, smoked a lot of cigarettes, and tried to pretend he supported me. (By this point I wasn't even allowed to talk about the program, it irritated him so much.)
The month after Breakthrough was tough. I was not OK. I had major meltdowns reacting to things that weren't that big of a deal. I felt weak and mixed up, confused about what values I was living by and doubting myself at every step. Part 3, the “Achievement, Contribution, Teamwork” course, started on a Friday evening and I was anxious about this 3-month challenge, but still in for the ride. I knew it would be demanding, especially with the lack of schedule and unpredictability of my job. I knew it required me to set 4 major life goals and achieve them in the 3 month time frame. I knew there would be weekly meetings, monthly weekends like the others, and overall big challenges. I went into it with fears and a willingness to try.
Then on the first night they dropped their facade; they let us in on the trap they had laid, or in other words, they surprised me with their enrolment requirements. These were never previously mentioned by anyone and likely meant to be a surprise as part of the training. All 9 of us were required to enrol a minimum of 2 people in the Discovery course, as well as give a presentation about Discovery and get our friends and family to attend. If we did not fulfill these requirements we would be kicked out... ahem, I mean, “required to choose out” in the language of LB. Within 30min of being informed of this major element of the course, I was given a written contract to sign in my commitment to this surprise requirement, and then told to stand up in front of the group and speak a scripted commitment to enrolling others in the program.
The feelings of dread and shock registered in my stomach as Bill Dosanjh described their approach to enrolment. Suddenly I realized why the staff were so eager to sign me up; why so many people were at the info session; why my future brother-in-law had gone to such trouble to enrol me. The bottom dropped out of my respect for the entire LB Seminars program. This was such an appalling breach of contract; this wasn't what I signed up for and I certainly was not willing to do this, to put anyone else through this experience only to find out it was more pyramid-scheme and cult-like than I had thought. Many others have benefitted from the program, and gone along with the enrolments, with less reaction than me; that's fine, you go ahead, but for me this was completely unacceptable. How could I trust these people, who inform their clients about their policies when it benefits their business and not when they look bad? The people who use their intimate knowledge of me when I'm most vulnerable to bully me into buying more from them? This was a therapeutic environment that had turned sour and unsafe.
To their credit, they cover themselves. They had made their no-refunds policy clear in the paperwork. I made the choice myself with the support of my sister & brother-in-law. They just didn't bother mentioning the enrolment requirements – nobody did. I signed the contract and spoke the words, barely able to enunciate, thinking “maybe I can get over this.” and giving myself the night to decide. The next day I quit the program and asked for a refund. I did not get a real answer from them for 4 &1/2 months.
I asked again and again, by phone and email and even getting Bill's personal number to try to get through. Littley's number is private, you can guess why. C had had a family emergency and was not working there since the day after I quit; so I went to the next info session I heard about through my former classmates, a month later. The moment Littley walked in she saw me, and walked right up. We had a friendly conversation where I asked if they would refund me my deposit for LIA. She said “Yes we will absolutely settle with you.” and told me to contact C the next week. But when I asked a week later, C was still off work. So I called the LB office, once a week or 2, leaving messages and getting no response, for months. Finally I went to the LB Seminars location on the first night of the new Discovery session in the second week of June.
Bill looked annoyed but he faked a smile when he came to the door and asked if he could help me.
“I came to ask you to please return my deposit for LIA. Littley told me you would.”
“She did?” The contempt on his face was clear. “I'll get Littley to call you tomorrow.”
Finally after days of missed calls due to Littley's private number not ringing on my phone when she called, finally we spoke. She explained that no, they would not return my deposit, and suggested I just take the course I'd paid the deposit for. I told her I did not trust them anymore and did not want to take any further training.
I suppose I mistakenly misinterpreted her words “we will settle with you” as “we will return your deposit”. She now made it clear that she would not make an exception from their no-refunds policy, although she was committed to finding a win-win answer to the situation (although she had no suggestions). She asked me to “stay open” and said she would call me back on the following Tuesday. She clearly did not care about the value and money I lost to their gambit. She barely mentioned my concerns, namely the surprise enrolment clause. What a disappointment.
So then I openly gave them a low review on their Facebook page, criticizing them and talking about the enrolment stuff. Openly stating that it was my mistake to trust these people in the first place. I am now openly talking about my experience in the hopes that they will respond in one or all of the following fashions:
Littley never called me back. Maybe she read my Facebook review and decided I wasn't being open as I said I would. Well... if “we will settle with you” means “no we won't return your money”, then, my “being open” means whatever I decide it means too.
Coming out of this experience, I have to ask myself, what have I learned?
Number One: I should have trusted myself from the start. LB Seminars was a very expensive mistake. I think I wasted about $3500 on it. And thanks to their clear No Refunds policy, they won't be returning it. Fuck You, LB Seminars.
Number Two: going to therapeutic practitioners who are accountable to outside associations with consumer protection, case investigations, and professional credibility is worth it.
If anyone reading this has anything to say, please comment. If Bill or Littley reading this has anything to say to me, please comment or contact me directly. If anyone reading this is considering going to Discovery, go for it, but don't bring your credit card or anything but cash for the lunch you will have to buy.
LB Seminars: buyer beware.
Probably PSI Seminars as well... here is an essay where someone experienced something quite like I did. https://psi-seminars.pissedconsumer.com/valuable-but-greedy-20141213569371.htmlpsi-seminars.pissedconsumer.com/valuable-but-greedy-20141213569371.html
Sometime in 2017 we made several table tops for this commercial for Outback Steakhouse. I recognize them in the video because we refinished them three times to get the right color/texture that the client wanted. I can see why! The rough, charred texture of the table works really well with the steak. It's cool to see how that one detail had such a big impact on the aesthetic of the commercial.
In the quiet months of the winter this year I got really into making these mixed-media paintings. I'm really enjoying the process of creating these and I intend to do a show at some point, as well as make reproductions and open an online store, printing on-demand if there are customers. Hopefully this will come along over the course of 2018 to launch the series in 2019.
Using old canvases I first address the "underpainting", then cover them with garment pattern paper in a papier-mache style, then layer on acrylics lightly with a sponge, lightening and obscuring the patterns. Then I project a black & white image onto the canvas and paint that on top, adding a caption sometimes. I chose these images for their sense of mystery; biological, astronomical, and social. Evoking a sense of mystery while adding a contemporary caption, I'm intrigued with the possibility for engaging the viewer with humour and curiosity. I also chose images that aren't under copyright or are specifically labelled for re-use, with interest in open-source work and recycling.
On April 1 2017 I took up the role of Head Scenic Artist at Scenic Oasis Film! I hadn't had an actual ongoing Job since 2008, so this was a big change. I began freelancing for them in March 2016, painting sets and props, mainly for commercials. Working in film for a scene shop I have learned a great deal about scenic paint skills as well as construction, installation, and the process of film shoots. I lost count of the number of commercials we did over the past months, but here are a few I was able to track down, with some behind-the-scenes photos.
Chiquita Banana took a pretty funny approach to the solar eclipse of August 2017... we did the sun and the moon out of styrofoam, and I painted the floor to match the giant backdrop.
Duracell's Christmas commercial for 2017 was a really big project for me: all the shelving was painted, the floor was huge, plus the plaster-finish walls, a stone fireplace, and a variety of other items. This commercial was shown in Canada (most of what we do is not) so it's nice to have people see my work.
For the Hershey's commercial we made a "lava" table, using Plexiglass, tinted Versagel, and painted Polyurethane. It was altered quite a bit in post-production computer graphics but you can still kind of see what we made.
In 2017 I was thrilled to continue my work with Mortal Coil Performance, the outdoor theatre company who produce the popular yearly "Ghost Train" experience as well as various original works of theatre. This 14' puppet was built in 2016 and saw a major makeover in 2017, turning him into an elder fisherman of the Coast Salish First Nations in pre-colonization times. He was given the name "Me'k" meaning Grandfather, by the Wolf Tribe of the Musqueam people who often perform with him. His ceremonial regalia was made by Iona Paul, matriarch of the Wolf Clan.
CLICK THIS LINK TO A VIDEO OF THE PUPPET IN PERFORMANCE WITH THE WOLF PACK!
And... I was honored to make his hat! Made to look In the style of woven cedar, it is actually made of wire mesh & paper mache. Here are some process shots from winter 2017:
For about 2 months in the fall of 2016 I was part of the costume team for the feature film "Beautiful Voice", under costume designer Zohra Shahalimi. The film was not completed (at least not to my knowledge) but I did make some costumes and learned a great deal about working in costume for film. here are some of the costumes I made:
Part of the job of an on-set costumer, background or lead cast, is maintaining the continuity of their look. Since we were dressing people set in the Middle East, I learned to tie their headscarves and to make what I called "Instaburka" when we needed burkas really fast one day.
September/October 2016: I was doing decor and custom art installations to turn an old petting zoo barn into an art experience for visitors to Stanley Park's "Ghost Train" produced by Mortal Coil Performance with the City of Vancouver. I was assisting an amazing puppet artist who had been doing the Spooky Barn every year since 2002, Beth Agosti. Together we created a skeletons' picnic in a crypt, a series of peephole dioramas about the "Seven Ages of Man," and four Day of the Dead themed "retablos", as well as decorations in the barn's main room, the dance hall.
Here are some process shots of the work in progress for those who are curious - this was a 2 week installation using mostly recycled materials from previous years. We bought fabric, foamcore, paint, hot glue, zap straps & staples, we did a bunch of printing, and we had support from the scene shop at Great Northern Way which supplied 8 platforms and a number of old theatre flats (fake walls).
Process Shots ~ Scroll Down for The Results ~
"Retablo" Dioramas in the Dance Hall
"A retablo in Mexican folk art (also lámina) is a devotional painting, especially a small popular or folk art one using iconography derived from traditional Catholic church art." - Wikipedia
Since we had 4 empty boxes mounted on the wall in the Dance Hall, we had the perfect setting to interpretively create 4 Day of the Dead "retablos", using all recycled decor, random junk and crafty stuff. with a peek-in cover in front of each 3-D collage. Follow the process in this slideshow to get closer to the artwork!
Picnic in the Crypt
Occupying the larger main animal stall in the back hall of the Spooky Barn, the Crypt was our take on the tradition of sharing a meal with the dead. Here, the dead came to picnic with us. Using almost entirely old materials and objects found in the Barn and stored from past years I set up the graves, the decor, the draping, the props, and the mannequins... uh, skeletons, while Beth Agosti styled the skeletons' costumes. This completely changed the atmosphere of the barn.
The Seven Ages of Man: Peekable Diorama Series
In eight former animal stalls we set up custom-built platforms with a staged series of collaged images representing the Seven Ages from Shakespeare's famous text. Seen through peep-holes along a dividing wall in a dimly-lit hallway, the scenarios take a whimsical and macabre look at the stages: The Infant, The Child, The Lover, The Soldier, The Judge, The Pantaloon, and The Aged. An old wind-up music box was attached to the entrance display, inviting viewers to wind it gently, to play its haunting simple tune as they explored the installation.
"Each year the Stanley Park Ghost Train takes our riders on a journey through a mystical and magical world, inspired by Hallowe'en and other spooky tales. This family event is open to all age and offers a fright free glimpse of the whimsical world of ghosts and ghouls."
"Escape the weather and have a spooky-good time for just $2 plus GST per person. The third annual Spooky Barn is open throughout all operating hours. This charming indoor experience provides families with an escape from the roaming spirits, as well as the elements! Explore the peek-a-boo art installations portraying the Seven Stages of Man from William Shakespeare's famous As You Like It. Once you have completed your journey through the Seven Stages, celebrate to the sounds of mariachi music on the dance floor."
- City of Vancouver website