Friday, November 16, 2018

Diverse-City


On Monday, October 22nd, I attended an issue of Live Magazine! - an ongoing multi-disciplinary series that features an evening of entertainment curated by different artists in the community. This particular issue was curated by Paul Power of Power Productions, and was titled 'Diverse-City' - celebrating diversity in our arts community. 

Paul David Power has spent the past 25 years working as a writer, actor, director and communications professional in various mediums including dramatic script for the stage. His most recent project, "Crippled" made its professional debut at the LSPU Hall this past February. Paul has worked with many national arts organizations including the Canada Council for the Arts and the National Arts Centre to examine and further the disability, Deaf and MAD arts sector. His company, Power Productions, is committed to creating and supporting diverse and accessible theatre projects, with a focus on the disability, Deaf and MAD arts sector.

What a stellar line-up of performers in one tiny show!

While most teenagers are into the Top 100 hits, 13 year old Brandon Bowen loves to jam out the traditional tunes on his accordion. Brandon has cerebral palsy but he doesn’t let his disability get in his way when it comes to his musical talent. He has been playing his accordion for 4 years and has played in many festivals including the NL Folk Festival, Eastport Accordion Festival, George Street Festival, Music and Friends Festival on Bell Island, the Janeway Telethon, O’Reilly’s Pub and he even had the opportunity to play with some popular Newfoundland bands such as Shanneyganock, Rum Ragged and the Masterless Men. Brandon has his own band – 'The Brandon Bowen Band' with his good buddies Russell Molloy and Dave Spurvey. They are always helping out with volunteering to play at events and senior homes. Brandon has also recently branched off into the acting industry, playing the role of Connor in the CBC show, Little Dog. He is also starring in the current NAPE commercial. Keep your eye out for it!


Kyle Saunders is a stand up comedian, improviser and actor who is currently studying Psychology at Memorial University. He has been volunteering and advocating for mental health since receiving his diagnoses of bi-polar disorder at the age of 14. He says that he has been on a "wild hilarious ride of manic mental mischief" that makes for an interesting life which wouldn't be possible without the incredible support and patience of his family and friends throughout the years. Kyle says that he enjoys including bits about his struggles with mental health into his comedy acts because it adds a voice and an opportunity for people to talk to him about their own mental health challenges. He is very open about his journey and says that while the jokes can be a coping mechanism, it is also a way to show people that he is capable of performing through the challenges and even making light of some of the hardships he has faced. You can see Kyle's story documented in this video for the Janeway HERE!


Anne Malone is a self-described Guide dog wrangler, bias-defiant writer, speaker, and creator who envisions and advocates freedom from disability for people who are blind or visually impaired. Her writing plumbs the depths of history, the classical arts, and popular culture to reveal the origins of deeply buried cultural beliefs about the abilities and characteristics of people who are blind, and the catastrophic consequences these misbeliefs have on blind and visually impaired people around the world. Anne opened her talk by explaining that she is on the "happy experience of vision loss" or as she likes to call it, "eyesight loss", because as she says, "vision is something that's inside, and there's nothing wrong with my vision!" I couldn't agree more, and I thoroughly enjoyed Anne's talk!


Diana Daly is a multi-instrumentalist, performer, storyteller and songwriter. She treated us to a couple of beautiful songs that she wrote for her own stage show, "If A Place Could Be Made", that she performs with her dear friends, Louise Moyes and Anne Troake as part of the Daly Family Collective. "If A Place Could Be Made" tells the story of Diana's own extraordinary family. Her great-grandparents had twelve children, six of whom were exceptionally tall and six had skeletal dysplasia, or what is currently known as persons of short stature, and had various disabilities. The production focuses on inclusion through songwriting, contemporary dance, and storytelling. It was wonderful to hear Diana describe her remarkable family, and talk about how much effort went into telling their story without exploiting their obvious physical differences. I haven't yet had the opportunity to see her show, but I am really looking forward to it!


To close the show, Brandon performed a set with Diana and in true Newfoundland style, they traded songs and tunes in what felt like a makeshift jam session that you just didn't want to end. What talent we have right here in our community, and such diversity among our performers!


Great art depends on great diversity, and thankfully, our ideas about what diversity means have expanded to include artists across the spectrum of class, sexuality, disability, gender and race backgrounds. Power Productions has been working to make theatre arts in Newfoundland and Labrador more inclusive and accessible, and is committed to removing barriers that prevent participation in the audience, backstage, and on the stage itself. This issue of Live Magazine! was the perfect showcase of diversity in the arts community, and a wonderful way to integrate the mainstream community into the world that we live in, which is made up of individuals with all sorts of unique abilities.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Our New Build

This post is long overdue! I've been threatening to post a home tour on my blog for months now, and I am almost ready to show you guys inside.. almost! While we are still working to complete a couple of interior projects, I have been sharing little sneak peeks on my Instagram recently, if you want to follow me there!

As you probably know, Andrew and I sold our home last year (see THIS post) because we had outgrown it's space and functionality. We knew that we needed more living space inside, but we also wanted more land and space around us outside. We craved privacy. Our previous neighbourhood was lovely, but the houses were so close together you could literally high-five the guy next door through the windows. Not ideal.

We didn't want to venture too far away from the city, and with the needs of our children, we need to be in close proximity to the hospital. We looked at a couple of building lots in different areas, but were drawn to the trees and the level of privacy we would have on this spacious lot on a quiet cul-de-sac in Logy Bay.

This photo was taken in May, 2017 when we purchased the land. (We were so excited!)


To create our house plan, we worked closely with home designer and Certified Housing Professional, Andrew Holley of Levis St. Design Group in Bedford, Nova Scotia. Andrew's education is grounded in the fundamentals of building science and universal design. He understood the needs of our family, and worked with us to design a space that is both beautiful and functional with well thought-out access for everyone in our home.

We took photos to document the entire process, and will eventually have them printed in a photo book, like we did for our last house. At the time of construction, it all felt like such a blur, and I was so caught up in the details - picking out lighting and flooring options, counters and cabinets, paint colours and trim designs. It was a busy few months, and admittedly a little overwhelming, but all well worth it in the end. I just love being able to look back at these photos and see how far we have come.


The team at York Construction did an incredible job of bringing our house to life, and we can't thank them enough. From the very start of this project, they worked with us to make every decision as seamless and painless as possible. It was a pleasure to have such a talented and dedicated team on our side! Of course, while I'm at it, I can't forget to thank our awesome realtor - Erica Coultas. Erica was my go-to person throughout this whole process, and she was a dream to work with! We are so happy to call her our friend!

Our house was completed in April of this year (2018), and we moved in on April 5th. It's taken a while to get organized, but we are very proud of the progress we've made in the past seven months. It's been fun and frustrating and everything in between, but it finally feels like we are getting settled and we are slowly but surely making this house our home. She is a beauty!


We are so happy here. I can't wait to show you the inside!


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Pumpkin Walk

I just love this time of year! Sweater weather is my favourite weather, and we get a lot of it here in Newfoundland. (Pretty soon it will be parka, hat, mitts, scarf and snow boot weather, so I am enjoying this while it lasts!)

On the morning of Halloween, Andrew and I spent some time together admiring the beauty of this season. We took a stroll through the grounds of Government House and then Bannerman Park, where the trees were actively shedding their leaves. We were like kids, carefully choosing our steps so not to trample them one minute, then running and loudly stomping through them the next.


Our lives are busy and stressful and there are times that we feel completely overwhelmed with little more to give. We know when we need a time out - a break from the daily challenges of raising three children with complex needs, and though we don't often get much of a break, we did manage to sneak a couple of hours to ourselves among the Halloween parties, trick-or-treating, medical appointments and haunted houses. It doesn't take much. I've said before that just an hour or two together, away from the demands of our busy family, makes a world of difference. We enjoyed the fresh air, the quiet, and the opportunity to focus on each other for a moment. We need days like this to remind us that no matter how challenging life gets, there is an abundance of little pleasures around us to bring us back home.


The following night, Andrew and the children and I returned to Bannerman Park, where the City was hosting its second annual Pumpkin Walk. Residents were encouraged to bring their carved pumpkins to display along the paths of the park, and glow sticks were provided to place inside each pumpkin to light the path. What a wonderful display it was! People really go all out with their pumpkin carving and decorating, and I just love that! To be honest, Halloween is not my favourite occasion, but I do appreciate the way that some people embrace it wholeheartedly and really get into the spirit of the holiday.


The Pumpkin Walk is an earth friendly event, and a great way to dispose of your pumpkin after Halloween as they will be composted for use in future landscaping projects. Our own pumpkin, which was carved a little too early this year and turned to mush on our front step, made its way into a landscaping project when we heaved it out into the woods behind our house about a week before Halloween.

Happy Haunting, everyone!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sheldon Crocker - One Step at a Time

I recently had the great fortune of meeting an incredible man named Sheldon Crocker. I was so happy to be able to connect with him and reading his story reinforces to me that there are so many things that connect us all as we try to find our life's purpose.

Sheldon identifies as being a person with a disability that he says isn’t a disability. His belief is that a person is only as disabled as they let themselves be. He says that people with disabilities, like everyone else, must be free and empowered to make their own choices and to live with the consequences. That is how we all develop our character and personality. That is the real meaning of choice and control.

He plays pool using just one hand in the competitive Canadian Poolplayers Association against players using two hands, and he has managed to win a Top Gun Award and has also competed at the national level in Las Vegas.   

When he was a child, it was thought that he would never be able to walk. Sheldon wore braces on his legs with a bar between his feet connecting both shoes until he was about four years old. He learned to walk by placing  his back against the wall and sliding along. He knew from a very young age the message that he still feels to this day: "If we don't push ourselves, if we don't step out of our comfort zone, if we don't set goals for ourselves then can we say we are really growing, progressing and truly living?"

Sheldon has pushed himself to achieve goals that many thought were unattainable. This year, he completed the Tely 10 Mile Road Race, and also recently participated in the Terry Fox Run here in St. John's.


Sheldon is actively pursuing a career as a professional speaker and is an advocate of equal rights for all persons with disabilities. The following is from a talk that Sheldon recently gave at an ExxonMobil fundraising event for United Way. Thank you, Sheldon, for allowing me to share your powerful story here as well.

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As an only child, I grew up in a small Newfoundland community during the 1970s and '80s. Being the only one there with a physical disability, I was picked on, laughed at and bullied by the other children because I was "different". My home life wasn’t the best either. I had no supports and was forced to grow up long before I should have had to. For really no reason besides getting a few marks lower than my cousins, my mother always compared me to them. "Why can't you be more like them?" she would say. 

My entire life I felt like I had to prove myself to people, that I was just as good as others. As a kid growing up with a disability, I wasn't able to participate in activities and sports like other kids. Just about every recess time while I was in grade 8, I'd stand there telling other students to line up in front of me in single file, and take turns punching me in the chest as hard as they could to see who could knock me across the floor the furthest, to see if anyone could make me feel pain. At least this way, I felt important and that people were paying attention to me and that I didn't appear to be this weak little disabled kid.

I started drinking at 11 and doing drugs at 13 to numb the mental pain. I had no confidence and terrible self-esteem. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone who wanted to be close to me, because I was convinced that I was stupid and worthless. I struggled with addictions, homelessness and poverty. I was physically unable to cook for myself, so ate only microwaved processed food (when I saved enough money to do so). I stayed places that had no hot water, no heat and I ate donuts off the sidewalk. 

I told myself I had to be strong and get through it on my own. I lived rough and by my wits. I slept on friends' floors. I was happy, and I was miserable. But it was an amazing journey. All the while, I managed to go to two colleges and graduate with two diplomas. I helped people see life in a different way. "If you're surviving and trying to strive ahead with a disability then why are we holding ourselves back?" people would say to me.

After 7 years of this, I moved to St. John’s. I continued with college and fortunately, the Guidance Counsellor connected me with Emmanuel House, a residential treatment program of Stella’s Circle. Through this program, my life changed dramatically. I quit drinking and using drugs 17 years ago and never looked back.

Prior to getting connected to Stella’s Circle, my life was a real struggle. I didn’t have much hope for anything; I had mostly depressing dark thoughts. I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere, didn’t feel included, even when out in society I mostly kept to myself. I didn’t see a way out of the darkness. With the help of Stella’s Circle and the direction they provided, they helped me see that there were people who truly cared. They were the light in the darkness that I held tight, and each day was brighter and less shaded because I was gaining hope for the future.

Upon leaving Emmanuel House, it was determined that I was eligible for the Community Support Program, another program of Stella’s Circle. Workers from the Community Support Program help me shop for groceries, cook meals, and clean my apartment. They have also provided moral support, encouraging words and at times, words of wisdom. 

I am proud to say that I graduated from The Employment Program - New Beginnings offered by Stella’s Circle, in 2014, and I feel like every day is a new beginning. This program has also helped me to feel empowered and realize that I am capable of working. 

My self-esteem and self-confidence have grown significantly with the help of all of the programs at Stella’s Circle, including the Inclusion Choir. It has been one of the most therapeutic and best things I’ve ever been a part of. It has helped me step out of my comfort zone, feel less isolated and I’ve grown tremendously as a person. I just recently celebrated my anniversary of being in the Inclusion Choir. I call it my anniversary of liberation out of silence. For most of my life, I’ve been told: “Kids are to be seen not heard.” I felt like I was without a voice. The Inclusion Choir is one of, if not the most positive thing that I’ve ever been a part of in my life. In the past, I tried to keep my distance from the events and programs of Stella’s Circle because of the social stigma I felt attached to it. It’s so awesome to see each year how the social stigma around mental health becomes less and less with the great work of this organization and others like it. 

With regards to my physical environment, I am grateful to have had a roof over my head for the past 19 years. I don’t have to worry about sleeping on park benches in January anymore. Working with an occupational therapist, I’ve had my bathroom adapted so I can be independent with my personal care. I have a hospital bed that is comfortable and adjustable that I can get in and out of. I have modifications done so I can reach my clothes hanging in the closet. I am able to access my computer through voice command and the setup is ergonomic. These changes at home have helped raise my confidence to look for work and access the community. The older I get, the more I feel these services will be useful in helping me maintain an adequate quality of life.

I believe that understanding my personal experiences and the support that has been necessary to help me live in the community is valuable. It will help develop an understanding of what support is needed to continue to help people, like myself, age successfully in the community. No person anywhere, especially here in this country, should live in the shadows or suffer alone, because they can’t afford treatment. I've learned through my connection with Stella’s Circle that fears limit us and our vision.

This may seem really obvious to a lot of you, but it wasn’t for me, so I’m going to say it anyway: There is no reason to feel embarrassed when reaching out to a professional for help. There is no reason to be ashamed and most importantly, no need to be afraid. People do not need to suffer. There is nothing noble in suffering, and there is nothing shameful or weak in asking for help. I am thankful for the help I received. If people hadn’t had the strength to encourage me to seek professional help, I don’t know how much longer I would have been able to even exist, to say nothing of truly living. 

Believing that it takes the whole community working together to change social conditions is essential. There is hope for everyone, work hard, believe strongly, focus, be aware of your thoughts and we can all change our lives if we want to bad enough. The journey of life is taken one step at a time. 

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One of the primary reasons I speak out about my mental illness, is so that I can make the difference in someone’s life that I wish had been made in mine when I was young, because not only did I have no idea what Depression even was until I was in my twenties, once I was pretty sure that I had it, I suffered with it for another ten years because I was ashamed, I was embarrassed, and I was afraid.

Those of us who live with mental illness need to talk about it, because our friends and neighbours know us and trust us. We need to share our experiences so someone who is suffering the way I was won’t feel weird or broken or ashamed or afraid to seek treatment. So that parents don’t feel like they have failed or somehow screwed up when they see symptoms in their kids.

People tell me that I’m brave for speaking out the way I do, and while I appreciate that, I don’t necessarily agree. Firefighters are brave. Single parents who work multiple jobs to take care of their kids are brave. People who reach out to get help for their mental illness are brave. I’m not brave. I’m just a man who wants to share his story with the world, who hopes to speak out about mental health so much that one day, it will be wholly unremarkable to stand up and say the words: "My name is __ __. I've lived with Chronic Depression, and I am not ashamed."

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Sheldon has had the opportunity to share his powerful message at several local events, and he welcomes requests from businesses and organizations looking to hire an inspirational speaker. Sheldon can be reached at coppertop25@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Caught in the Act


Since the success of it's debut production, "Crippled" last year, Power Productions has been registered and incorporated as a not-for-profit theatre company that is committed to creating diverse and accessible theatre projects, professional development opportunities and community collaborations with a focus on the disability, Deaf and MAD arts sector in Atlantic Canada.

Power Productions recently presented "Caught in the Act" by Bruce Kane as part of St. John's Shorts: 3rd Annual Short Play Festival.

Starring: Krista Legge and Steve Daley
Directed by: Janet O'Reilly
Produced by: Paul David Power
Stage Management: Kim White
Assistant Stage Management: Julie Brocklehurst


ABOUT THE SHOW:
This clever comedy by Bruce Kane blurs the line between fantasy and reality when Annie and Don realize their relationship is in more trouble than they thought. It’s a one act play and they are the characters – completely vulnerable to the whim of the playwright who keeps editing their backgrounds, reasons for being together and emotional baggage. Will Annie and Don remain just two characters in the mind of the writer or break the fourth wall to become a real couple in charge of their own choices when it comes to love? Clever, unique and a must for anyone who has set out to write (or criticize) a play – Caught in the Act is a comedy that dares to not only break but completely obliterate the fourth wall. 


  photos by: Ashley Harding

The Short Play Festival was a great way to begin to showcase diversity both on stage and off, with a mix of actors and production team members with visible and non-visible disabilities. While disability was not a theme of the play, Power Productions was interested in casting the piece with actors who self-identify as having a disability. A casting call went out back in July, and we were thrilled to see a response from such a diverse group of individuals! Krista Legge and Steve Daley are both first-time actors and they did a tremendous job in their roles of Annie and Don. 

Artistic Director, Paul Power said, "'Caught in the Act' was a great way to engage members of our community who have never participated in a theatre production before, on stage or off. We tried some new things not regularly seen in our arts community, including a casting call for performers who self identify as having a disability. We also expanded accessibility for backstage crew, providing further opportunities where previously there have been none. It's a great example of the mandate and goals of Power Productions in action - providing platforms and opportunities for artistic expression and exploration where previously there have been very little for artists who require accessibility supports and understanding. We really appreciate the Resource Centre for the Arts for its open approach to accessibility and discovering solutions to ensure our theatre community is more inclusive."


 
Kim White had the role of Stage Manager, and had this to say about her experience:

"Stage managing for "Caught in the Act" was an awesome experience. I never would have thought that I could take on such a role considering the physical barriers that often exist in theatre environments. With adjustments made by the supportive team with the St. John's Shorts Festival and at the LSPU Hall, I was able to call the lighting cues from the actual stage - tucked away behind the curtain using a headset. It was a great example of 'where there's a will, there's a way'. I'm excited to see what Power Productions will continue to do to open up more opportunities in the world of theatre for persons with disabilities... and to see what play we will mount for the Shorts Festival in 2019! I have my Stage Manager hat waiting!"



The cast and crew of Caught in the Act

Power Productions has come out of the gate running, and as a Board member, I am proud to help support the important work it is doing both in and for our community. The organization's ongoing work includes producing diverse theatrical works, raising awareness about accessibility for both artists and audiences, and supporting community projects that reflect the goals and priorities of Power Productions.  
Stay tuned for upcoming dates and events!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Just Dance

This morning, Andrew and I took Brennen to see Luca 'LazyLegs' Patuelli perform and present his "No Excuses. No Limits." program for a sold-out crowd at Easter Seals House! 


His show was similar to the one he presented at City Hall earlier this week, but there was something extra special about watching him do his thing in a space where we often gather with other families who have young ones with disabilities. It was like having a guest in our home who comes with the best of intentions and the warmest of wishes and only wants to see us all succeed and thrive and live our very best lives. It was magical, and Luca touched the hearts of everyone in the room with his positive attitude and uplifting message.

"Keeping an open-mind allows a person to adapt to any situation and find solutions despite feelings of vulnerability or uncertainty. This adaptation, in turn, spawns the persistent determination to see possibilities rather than challenges, breeding the creative thinking that allows people to overcome any obstacle."


After his presentation, Luca offered a workshop for youth and adults with diverse abilities, and Brennen and I were excited to take part in the instruction. Luca had spoken about how it is the slightest movements that make the greatest impact in a performance, and recognizing the value that each particular dancer brings to the piece.

"He understands that different body types and ability levels interpret movements slightly differently. Rather than making imitation of movements the goal, Luca works with dancers to push their boundaries and explore various possibilities which, in turn, allows for unique and emotional connections within the choreographies."

It was incredible to see so many individuals with diverse abilities throw out their inhibitions and use their bodies to create their own unique dance moves. And there were some seriously good dancers in the house!

Like Bella:


And Graysen:


And Hannah:


As a parent, when your child receives a life-altering diagnosis and you are told that he will likely never walk or talk or be able to do anything independently, so many of your hopes are crushed and your dreams go out the window. Thirteen years ago, when our diagnosis was still fresh, I could never have imagined that Brennen and I would be participating in a dance workshop, where his abilities were valued and his movements were celebrated.

Having a child with a disability is not an experience to be pitied, but a joy that makes me feel pretty damn lucky to be living this life, and I know I'm not the only one. Standing around that dance circle in the gymnasium this morning, I felt like the proudest mother there, until I caught the looks on the faces of the other parents and realized that they too felt like the proudest in the room. I am forever grateful for the gift that Brennen is in our lives, and when I attend events like this one, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be a part of this community. Watching these children, all dancers in their own right, makes me understand even more that every life holds great value and there is infinite beauty in our unique abilities.


Thank you, Luca, for spending time with us and for sharing your talents with our community. Thank you for your meaningful message. And thank you for seeing what we see - that our families are lucky and wonderfully blessed, and our children have so much to offer. I hope you enjoyed your time in Newfoundland. You have certainly left a lasting impression on all of us!