Heaviest and Happiest

Header image: Left — Me, May 2018, at my skinniest. Right — Me, yesterday, at my heaviest. 

This summer, I decided not to shave my thighs. I didn’t change any of my summer wardrobe — still shorts, still swimsuits, still dresses and jumpsuits — or any of my summer activities. My thighs were fully exposed in a lot of situations. Did you notice? Did you see my thigh hair? I bet you didn’t.

Last year, when I moved into my new apartment, I started taking advantage of the small community gym I could get into for free. I was on the elliptical or treadmill three times a week. I drank protein shakes. I used an app to count calories, down to the handful of baby carrots that I called a snack. I obsessed over how many calories I was eating in a day and I’d push myself harder if I knew I was going to eat even more. I got myself down to 140 pounds. That’s almost 40 pounds of weight loss. It was the smallest I’d ever been in my adult life. Clothes fit better, or they were too big. I’ve never been skinnier, and I’ve also never been more depressed. I wanted to die. I told my husband every day how much I never wanted to wake up again. I showered maybe once a week, or every 10 days. I wore my greasy, knotted hair back in a ponytail all the time. I wore the same clothes for days on end. But I went to the gym. Because skinny girls are pretty, and pretty girls are happy. (Mom: I’m okay now. Nothing happened. Everything is fine!!)

That fall, I started going to the theatre. I got out of the house. I got too busy to go to the gym. I didn’t have time to track calories. I ate what was fast and what was available. And I gained all that weight back. I’m looking down the barrel of 180 pounds right now — and that’s the most I’ve ever weighed. But I’ve never been happier with my life and with myself and my body.

This year I made a conscious decision to stop hating my body. I’m not gonna go so far as to say I’m going to love my body — we’ll get there I’m sure, but let’s be friends first. I realized recently that nobody cares about my body enough to judge me, because we’re all too caught up in our own bullshit to think about other people. Case in point, my thigh hair. I’ve been socialized for years by Gillette commercials that the right kind of women have toned, tanned, hairless legs and bikini areas and that’s how I should be. I’d been shaving my legs since the first sign of hair, probably third or fourth grade. I even remember one of my elementary school lunch ladies telling me how I should’ve only shaved up to the knee, not all the way up my thigh. For the first time, most of my body went unshaved this summer and nobody cared. And neither did I. (And I saved money on razors!)

I started drinking more. Usually this is not a good thing. But I started going out for a drink with friends. I started making time for friends. I started being a better friend. I started reaching out to friends and telling them more actively that I love them and I value them as friends. I didn’t worry about how many calories were in a beer. All that mattered was that I was spending time with people I care about.

I started wearing the clothes I wanted to wear. I declared this summer “The Summer of Hips,” and I bought three jumpsuits that I wore nonstop. They are high-waisted, they show off my forever-wide hips and my butt and most of them have pockets and I love them all. I bought a pair of very striped pants that are a huge statement and I get compliments on them all the time. I love my body in these clothes. They do not hide my stomach, they do not hide my thighs, they do not hide my arms. My clothes are a reflection of the woman I am and the woman I want to be. This body is part of who I am.

I have a much healthier relationship with food. My husband and I plan our meals for the week, and we cook dinner most nights. Our meals may not be strictly clean eating, but they are made by us with our hands and our bodies are nourished. We try new things and decide what we could do next time to make it better. We even cook a small chicken stew every week for our dog so her body can be nourished too. I don’t count calories anymore. I love lattes and refuse to give them up. I get extra butter on my popcorn. (This is reminiscent of an anecdote Dorothy tells on The Golden Girls — she had a friend who was on vacation in Paris. She was watching her weight, so she just had a salad for lunch. Leaving the restaurant, a gargoyle fell off the building and hit her on the head and killed her. The point of the story? Eat the cheesecake.)

I will never be skinny. Even if I lost all that weight again, my hips will be wide my entire life. I am nearly 5’7″ and will never be slight. The point is, my life has shifted where I don’t want to be slight. I’m consciously taking up space for the first time and I have glided into a spot in my life where I feel I’m finally starting to own my power. My entire life I’ve been told I’m too bossy, too bitchy, and now I spend my evenings as a stage manager and those qualities make me very good at my job. I get paid for it. I can’t afford to be meek.

Overweight people face numerous accessibility and discrimination issues in our society and those issues should not be overlooked. These are systemic and cannot be changed overnight, and I highly recommend Roxane Gay’s excellent book Hunger for more on this topic. I am in no way affected by these issues and recognize my privilege. But that’s just the point — I am not discriminated for my weight and yet I still hated myself. I’m undoing years of what media and other women (or girls, at a young age) have taught me about my body when it does so many incredible things for me — including write this essay. Let’s take good care of us, self. We’re the only one of us we have.

 

 

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The Cabin

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Grandma on the front steps of the cabin. The red steps matched the red gate.

The summer always makes me want to be at the beach, and the beach makes me want to go to my grandma’s cabin in Grand Marais, Manitoba. It hasn’t been her cabin for probably nearly a decade, and she’s been dead nearly a year. As I write this, her 77th birthday approaches in four days, and the one year anniversary of her death just six days after that. The cabin was small, but it used to be smaller. I’ve been told it was once just a living room and a bedroom, one parallel to the other, but the porch has been transformed to a sunroom and an additional bedroom, a third bedroom added and then later transformed into a bathroom when grandma got her compost toilet and no longer had to use the outhouse, and of course, perhaps my favorite room in the cabin, the kitchen was also an addition.

I don’t even know if that cabin is still standing — to be honest, it shouldn’t be, I’m sure it had all sorts of foundation problems and other maintenance that my grandma failed to upkeep; as of a 2014 Google Maps image, the building is still there — but it stands out in my mind as one of the pillars of my childhood. Going out to her cabin for a day, a weekend, the one time I got to stay there with her for a whole week, have added up in my mind to the ideal summer portrait and with the coming of the solstice, I’ve felt an urge to write these memories down while I still have them. Perhaps Grandma is telling me to do so.

The drive out to the cabin is the worst part of the experience, especially as a child. It felt like it was several hours away, but it was probably just over an hour. [Google Maps confirms; from my childhood home, the town is one hour and four minutes away.] To soften the blow we would definitely always stop at Tim Hortons before leaving town. We’d get a large box of donuts and save grandma’s favorites for her — maple dip if memory serves.

The drive is easy, were I to do it today — north on Plessis, west on Grassie, north on 59 and keep going until you see the signs. Once you get into the town of Grand Marais, you’ll see a mini golf course, a general store, a motel, and not much else. There used to be a restaurant infamous in our family called The Blueberry Patch, known for their hamburger cabbage soup (it’s in our family cookbook), and there used to be an arcade where I once played Ms. Pac-Man and the Friends theme song from the jukebox on loop until I’m sure I drove everyone crazy. I haven’t been there in a long time, especially not since I moved away, but there is one thing I know for sure is still standing, and will likely stand until the end of time: Lanky’s. Lanky’s is a hot dog stand, known for their foot-long hot dogs. I’m sure they also serve other food of the fried variety, but I’m pretty certain I’ve only ever had hot dogs that snap when you bite into them, fries with lots of salt and vinegar, and ice cream scooped straight from a deep plastic pail from Lanky’s.

Lanky’s is directly across the street from her cabin. The cabin side of the street is lined with trees, and peeking out from the greenery was a fragile little red gate with peeling paint. I have a memory of it being tied to a bush with white string and that’s how it was held up, as she didn’t have a fence, but I’m not sure if that’s what actually held it together. Going to Grandma’s meant going to Lanky’s, at least for ice cream, if not for the whole meal.

I have to stop this passage right now to inform you, reader, that the road directly north of Lanky’s — it’s a dead end road and probably doesn’t serve much purpose except for parking, but it’s there — is called Madeline Avenue. I had no knowledge of this prior to looking up the area for this essay.

The side of the cabin that faced Lanky’s was technically the front yard, though it felt like the backyard since we always pulled up to the other side of the cabin. There was no driveway, just a dirt road and then her property, and we’d park in the grass. She had a concrete pad that served as her patio and had lawn chairs spread out in a circle, awaiting company. Her water jug, charcoal grill (we’d make steaks on it after a day at the beach), shed and outhouse were on this side of the property. She also had a wooden cutout of a dog, named Relish, leaned up against the base of a tree. The patio is where the adults would have morning coffee — I didn’t reach the coffee-drinking age during my visits there, I write as I sit here now in my adult life, drinking coffee — and gab about their adult lives and their adult things. I don’t remember how I filled my time in the days before internet and without cable TV; I likely had a coloring book or some Barbies or sidewalk chalk or something like that.

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Grandma on the patio with a blanket she’d crocheted. The cabin is to her left.

My uncle had the cabin next door to my grandma’s, and he would often be over to visit when we were there. I don’t have very many memories of his place, except once my grandma and I went over to look for packets of ketchup in his kitchen drawers. I think we found some expired ones.

There is a single small step up before the door that leads into the kitchen. If you turn to the left, you find the stove and the fridge, side by side in the small space. The stove is where my grandma taught me how to make breakfast sausage (we made it for dinner, and to this day it’s one of my favorite things), and the fridge is where the powdered orange juice is stored (to this day it’s still one of my favorite things). If you turn to the right, you find the sink, the dishes, and the small bowl and mirror where you can wash your face. I became obsessed with that mirror and the different lighting settings to make your skin look better. At the time I hadn’t even experienced my first pimple yet. The morning light bursts through the kitchen windows and captures the dust in midair. The kitchen is where the food is, so it’s naturally my favorite place.

Through the kitchen “door” — in reality, it was a hard plastic divider, checkered brown and white — is the main living room. The couch is against the wall to the right. There I would lean over and watch hummingbirds drink from the feeder that was hanging outside the window. On one particularly rainy day, the trees looked extra green from this view. Near the couch in the corner is grandma’s china cabinet. Maybe it wasn’t china, maybe it was other knickknacks or plates or something. Sitting on the couch, to the right is a small kitchen table that seats four at the most. To the left is another couch, less comfortable but sometimes utilized if lots of people are sleeping over. Directly across from the couch on the opposite wall is the buffet. “Buffets” are one of those old people pieces of furniture that my generation will never own — maybe because of the stupid name. If for whatever reason this piece of writing survives me, a buffet is a long, deep, but not tall, chest of drawers, like a big dresser. Grandma kept pictures of her family and her TV on the buffet. She had a VCR, and once we watched “Hope Floats” on it, and eventually she would get a satellite dish with limited channels. We would eat dinner on the couch and play crossword puzzles and word games on the coffee table that sat in front of the couch. The living room is where the donuts were eaten.

The one original bedroom was directly behind the buffet wall. The walls didn’t go all the way to the ceiling, so in between the space of the wall and the ceiling, Grandma would put more knickknacks — gravy boats, teapots, breakable things that naturally go up in high places, I suppose. The bedroom, separated from the living room by a curtain, could not have been more than seven feet wide. The open closet was at one end, but the bed took up most of the space. At the head of the bed was a window that looked out onto the porch. I took a lot of post-beach naps on that bed.

On the other side of the closet is the former second bedroom. It has another beautiful window that brings in the morning light, the same as the kitchen. It was a bedroom up until a compost toilet was introduced, which made the entire cabin smell like butt. This room was also only separated by a curtain, not exactly ideal for keeping your business private.

On the porch, which is called the porch because it was once outdoors, but is now screened in, is where the second bedroom moved. Grandma put her bed out there, in the north corner, and it is the perfect spot for a bed. The screen window right near your pillow, you can fall asleep to the sound of the rain or the light street traffic or best yet, the breeze. On the opposite side of the room, she had a big chair and this is where she kept her yarn and her crochet hooks. Grandma didn’t ever not have an afghan in the works. She had a tension that only comes with crocheting for decades. One day I will achieve it, but for now I can only dream it. Her squares were so smooth and so perfect, and I still don’t know how she weaved in her ends to near invisibility. Grandma magic.

If she was sitting on that chair, right near her head on her left was a little shelf that looked through into the living room. There sat more knickknacks, but also her radio, which was always playing CJOB. In fact, after spending a week out there, I couldn’t fall asleep without listening to CJOB.

My memories of events that happened in and around the cabin are not as vivid as the cabin itself. There are flashes here and there — my dad shocking himself on an electric fly swatter outside. My brother stepping on my glasses. Dropping my ice cream right outside of the gate and the nice lady at Lanky’s giving me another one for free. Grandma taking me to bingo at the community center and her friend winning $80 and giving me a pair of toonies from her prize money.

Within walking distance of the cabin — looking back and knowing her at the end of her life, it is amazing that Grandma was ever able to walk that far — was Grand Beach. It is my favorite beach. The sand is so soft and so hot, and it becomes so smooth in the water. As I type this right now I can feel it between my toes and in my fists. The water is cold, as all beaches that belong to Lake Winnipeg are, but it’s refreshing when the sun is beating on your shoulders and it becomes an escape. The beach is long and seemingly goes forever, and on the right day, the wind can kick up and whip sand at you, but on the right day — the right day is what I dream about. There is no summertime activity I crave more than eating white bread cheese sandwiches and red licorice at Grand Beach.

My grandma’s cabin is gone. The building may still be there for all I know, but it’s not her cabin anymore. Her knickknacks are gone, the hummingbird feeders are gone, CJOB is no longer playing round the clock. But Lanky’s is there. The beach is there. The sign of the street that bears her name, nearly directly across the street from where she spent half her year, is there. Somewhere on that dirt path with the tire tracks in deep parallel lines, somewhere in the double scoop of butterscotch ripple ice cream, somewhere in the hot sand, she is there. She is there in her chair, snacking on sunflower seeds. She is there with the coffee on, ready for friends to arrive. She is there.

Addendum, June 25, 2019:

My uncle visited Grand Marais on her birthday, and took this photo of what the cabin looks like now. It is indeed still standing.65045851_10157167091545928_109881077501263872_n

 

 

A change of heart

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Lola is a student of Sondheim. Or she thinks it’s a treat.

It’s been over a year since my last post on this blog and for good reason: after being an outsider of the theatre community for years, I have finally become part of it. I’ve spent the last eight months adding a new title to my identity: stage manager. It’s how I started to meet people in Grand Forks and I’m so excited to continue to work with them in the coming seasons.

That means, however, now that I know a number of people in the community, I feel awkward reviewing shows that I’m not involved in. There are also a limited number of shows that I’m not involved with, in one way or another.

I haven’t written very much lately, but there’s something about the romanticism of summer that makes me want to be creative. So I decided to boot up and refresh the ol’ blog. Though I may still write about theatre (especially since it’s an even bigger part of my life now), this blog will also contain more personal essays about my life, my experiences, and more than likely, my dog.

I hope you’ll still come with me on this adventure, and I hope I can keep my commitment to updating more than once a year.

Diana’s 2018 Tony Predictions

Friends, it’s that time of year again. Tony Sunday is just around the corner and it’s time to guess who’s going home with the gold and theatre’s highest honor. As I discussed in my last post, while the season may not look exciting on the outside, it’s of course still worth celebrating, especially when you look at each of the awards individually.

Best Musical
Nominees:
The Band’s Visit
Frozen
Mean Girls
SpongeBob SquarePants

Will win: The Band’s Visit
Upset: Mean Girls

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My favorite of this batch is actually SpongeBob, but I don’t think the Tony voters will actually give it the highest honor because they’re far too snooty. The Band’s Visit, the critical and understated darling, will pick up a handful of awards, including the top spot. Mean Girls is a fine musical and a good adaptation of the beloved movie, and it’s not impossible that it’ll win, but tickets are selling fine with or without any awards.

Best Revival of a Musical
Nominees:
Carousel
My Fair Lady
Once on this Island

Will win: My Fair Lady
Upset: Once on this Island

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It’s easy. Voters don’t have to think. A lovely revival, plain and simple. Though My Fair Lady isn’t the most feminist-friendly show, it’s not as bad as Carousel. I would love to see Once on this Island take the trophy, and I can see it happening if voters want to award diversity.

Leading Actor in a Musical
Nominees:
Harry Hadden-Paton, My Fair Lady
Joshua Henry, Carousel
Tony Shalhoub, The Band’s Visit
Ethan Slater, SpongeBob SquarePants

Will win: Ethan Slater
Upset: Joshua Henry

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Being the titular character is a heavy load to bear, but Ethan Slater as the buff-est SpongeBob imaginable is strong enough to carry the show on his shoulders. SpongeBob is the biggest surprise of the season and a large part of it is because of Slater’s Broadway debut(!). I’m certainly not counting out (Winnipeg-born!) Joshua Henry, making dual history as the first black Billy Bigelow on Broadway and also the first to earn a Tony nomination for that role.

Leading Actress in a Musical
Nominees:
Lauren Ambrose, My Fair Lady
Hailey Kilgore, Once on this Island
LaChanze, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Katrina Lenk, The Band’s Visit
Taylor Louderman, Mean Girls
Jessie Mueller, Carousel

Will win: Katrina Lenk 
Upset: Lauren Ambrose

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If you haven’t listened to Band’s Visit’s gorgeous cast recording, you won’t know the silky magic of Lenk’s voice, namely during “Omar Sharif.” I’m predicting this will be the Band’s only acting win, although musical newcomer Lauren Ambrose could win with the classic role of Eliza Doolittle (but will anyone ever top Julie Andrews? In anything ever?).

Featured Actor in a Musical
Nominees:
Norbert Leo Butz, My Fair Lady
Alexander Gemignani, Carousel
Grey Henson, Mean Girls
Gavin Lee, SpongeBob SquarePants
Ari’el Stachel, The Band’s Visit

Will win: Gavin Lee
Upset: Grey Henson

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Look at that GIF. Tap. Dancing. On. Four. Legs. If that’s not Tony-worthy, nothing is Tony-worthy.

Featured Actress in a Musical
Nominees:
Ariana DeBose, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Renée Fleming, Carousel
Lindsay Mendez, Carousel
Ashley Park, Mean Girls
Diana Rigg, My Fair Lady

Will win: Lindsay Mendez
Upset: Diana Rigg

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Mendez is a theatre vet and is well-respected and well-liked in the Broadway community. Carrie Pipperidge is a role worth celebrating – it gave Audra McDonald her first Tony and could see Mendez winning her first as well. Of course, Dame Diana Rigg could be riding her Olenna “Tell Cersei it was me” Tyrell train and win for her supporting role in My Fair Lady.

Who are your picks for Tony night?

2018 Tonys: Who Cares?

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A glimpse of some of the theatre from the 2017-2018 Broadway season (clockwise from top left): Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls, and The Band’s Visit. Image via chicagotribune.com

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a blog post about the “death of the original musical.” Little did I know that in 2018, all four of the Best Musical Tony nominations would be completely unoriginal – the most original show being the SpongeBob SquarePants musical, which has an original story, just not characters. The SpongeBob SquarePants Musical. Am I a sorcerer? Or is this just where we’ve ended up?

Don’t get me wrong, I actually super love the SpongeBob musical. I think it’s joyful and creative and I even think there are some Tony-worthy performances in there. But the most high-profile stage in the world should attract the best stories. Now, here we stand with four musicals up for the big prize, all of them adapted from movies or the aforementioned animated aquatic pals: Frozen, Mean Girls, The Band’s Visit, and SpongeBob. Three-quarters of these shows received mixed reviews, so if we’re going by critics’ praise alone, Band’s Visit is destined to be the winner this year.

Over in the play hemisphere, if the award doesn’t go to Angels in America or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it will be a surprise, with the exception of Glenda Jackson in Three Tall Women, who just won the once-in-a-lifetime Drama League award. Angels even has a best score nomination – that’s how weak the musicals are this year. So why are we even doing this?

On the surface, the batch this year isn’t the greatest or most original. But it’s this season’s performances that are worth celebrating. Those are hard to share if you can’t make it to New York, but all seven musicals up for Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical have received or will receive a cast recording – something that doesn’t happen every season.

The Tonys this year are worth celebrating because of the performances. On the surface, this season’s shows may seem unoriginal and un-innovative as a whole, but we have to peel back the vacuum seal packaging to reveal the feast inside. This season, we celebrate Ethan Slater’s ripped real-life SpongeBob. We celebrate the first black Billy Bigelow on Broadway, Joshua Henry, becoming a father during previews and bringing a whole new spin to the “Soliloquy.” We celebrate Katrina Lenk’s incredible “Omar Sherif” in The Band’s Visit. We celebrate Andrew Garfield screaming his lungs out for a collective six hours in Angels as a hilarious and heartbreaking Prior Walter.

It’s difficult to celebrate these performances when you can’t see them in person – so I predict that this Tonys will be one of the lowest-viewed in recent history (they had a slight uptick in 2016, the Hamilton year, but otherwise, they’re generally low to begin with). Despite this, the theatre community quietly persists, knowing it has well-kept secrets. But will they translate to TV? Unlikely.

Why You Should Care About Your Parents’ Musicals

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The original Broadway cast of A Chorus Line. Image via Playbill.

With revivals of classic musicals like Carousel, Kiss Me Kate, and My Fair Lady soon coming to Broadway, there’s lots of buzz about whether or not these productions should be mounted in the first place. Is this really where our worldviews still stand? Is this how we want to portray women? Can they still be relevant without being distracting?

There’s a lot of discussion around “classic” musicals, but there is this glorious pocket that is somehow still so often overlooked – the ’70s. When you start becoming interested in musicals, you usually start one of three ways: you either start with the modern hits (e.g., HamiltonWicked), you start way way back with Rodgers & Hammerstein, or you start in the ’80s, with two of the still most popular musicals of all time: Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. Why don’t most of us discover this creative hotspring of a decade until later?

(Stop reading this blog post and check out Playbill’s ’70s playlist to get acquainted with the decade. The rest of the post read better with the funky opening to Company in your head.)

Somehow we jump from the so-called “golden age” of musicals right to Andrew Lloyd Webber. They’re not considered “classic” musicals, yet the ’70s was an incredible time for creation. Why doesn’t this period get a catchy name? Sure, I’m probably saying this because it was Sondheim’s heyday (six musical premieres between ’71 and ’79, including CompanyFolliesSweeney Todd, and A Little Night Music), but the ’70s were also home to The WizChicagoAnnie, Grease, Patti LuPone FINALLY becoming the star she was always born to be, and of course, the one, the only A Chorus Line.

A Chorus Line is so important to musical theatre history I couldn’t exaggerate its significance if I tried. When it opened on Broadway, the New York Times review basically already called it legendary – saying it was a “musical to sing about for years,” and that you’d be telling your grandchildren about it. And indeed, it did not disappoint – it was, at the time, the longest-running show on Broadway, it won nine Tony Awards, and it even won the Pulitzer Prize for drama (only the fifth musical in history to do so, and even now, only nine have won). It was one of the first shows to flip the plot around on theatre dancers and not tell a story with them, but about them. It let the theatre world know that you didn’t need big costumes and sets to tell a real, human, relatable story. It barely has a plot at all, and that’s sort of the genius of it (this seemed to be the trend at the time – Follies, released three years earlier, also about show people, doesn’t really have a plot either).

It’s about dancers, all desperate to get a job. But they’re not begging to break into the business, they’re begging to stay. This is all they’re trained for, and this is their last chance. This is what they live for. It’s do or die.

The two oldest arts companies in Winnipeg, the WSO and Rainbow Stage, are putting on their production of this show in the middle of March. When I saw the cast list, even though only the actors are listed and not the parts they’re playing, I knew immediately that Catherine Wreford had to be Cassie.

Cassie, the heart of this show, is the role that gave Donna McKechnie a Tony Award. McKechnie, who originated the part, came back to Broadway in 1986, after being practically paralyzed by rheumatoid arthritis and was told she’d never walk, much less dance, ever again. (Watch this video of her performing “The Music and the Mirror” in 1986). That story sounds very similiar to Wreford.

Hailing from Winnipeg, Wreford has performed in national tours and on Broadway and has proved herself through and through as a talented performer. But her real story begins in 2013. I’ll let her tell the rest of it:

On June 24th, 2014, exactly a year after my diagnosis of brain cancer I moved home to Winnipeg. I hadn’t danced in 9 years. I had passed and completed my nursing exam right before my diagnosis but could no longer practice. I was given 2-6 years to live. I was still going through treatment at CancerCare so I had a bit of time to figure out what was most important to me. I decided to go back to what I love most – dancing. 
 
I’ve been working with Rainbow Stage in the ensemble (and loving it!) but when the WSO and Rainbow said they were going to be doing A Chorus Line I knew the part I wanted. I am Cassie. I was on Broadway and toured all of the US as leading roles. I then moved to California and somehow lost my way. I did, however, find the love of my life and have 2 beautiful children. 
 
Last April (after the announcement) I hired a trainer at the gym to get into “dancer shape” for the auditions and danced in my living room as much as my husband would let me!!! Ha!
I found out I got the part on Rainbow’s opening night of Mamma Mia. Pretty sure I cried. I’ve been scared to have a role since my diagnosis and all my treatments. When I had an awake craniotomy I had to relearn how to speak and I still say words that are not always correct. The radiation I had on my brain scorched my vocal chords and my voice will never be the same (although I have learned how to get around most issues). The 4 kinds of chemo I took for a year still give me leg cramps and numbness in my hands and my short term memory is pretty much nonexistent. But….I can still DANCE!!!! As Cassie says, “I want to do what I love as much as I can for as long as I can”. That’s me and that’s her and that’s us. We’re dancers. 

Why should you care about 43-year-old musicals? Like I mentioned before: they don’t get a lot of love because they’re not old and they’re not young. But mostly, you should pay attention to them because of stories like Catherine’s – A Chorus Line is real and happening right now.

“Excuse me, where’s the theatre?”

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The beautiful Empire Arts Center in downtown Grand Forks. Via visitgrandforks.com.

This is the question I’m most likely to ask whenever I visit a new place. Not “Where’s the gas station?” or “Where’s the bathroom?” – I know where my priorities lie. Where the theatre at?

I have a talent of finding theatre no matter where I travel, and that’s because there’s always theatre going on – a tour, a local production, a high school play. Something is always happening all the time. You just have to get good at knowing where to look. I’ve seen theatre in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Vancouver, and of course, in my hometown. No matter where I go, it’s always easiest to go back home. To know that the portals of the Centennial Concert Hall are odd numbers stage left, even numbers stage right. To know that the seats are way comfier (and probably newer) at the Warehouse than at the Mainstage. To know which venues are air conditioned at the Fringe. To know that certain aisle seats at Rainbow don’t have another seat in front of them for optimal leg room. To know which coffee shops are open after 10 so you can sneak in a post-show London Fog.

These warm, comforting feelings, like a pair of sweatpants right out of the dryer, are now over for me. Because I don’t live in Winnipeg anymore.

I didn’t even really “upgrade cities,” per se – I live in Grand Forks, North Dakota now. Don’t get me wrong, Grand Forks is nice – its downtown is beautiful, its walkability and navigation are braggable especially compared to Winnipeg, and the cost of living is crazily low. A smaller city has its advantages, in that I don’t have to take traffic or parking into accomodation when I go anywhere; it also has its disadvantages, in that I can’t rely on transit to take me anywhere, “fine dining” is the local Olive Garden, and I shouldn’t count on any entertainment to tour through my state.

I moved here because this is where my husband is, and we both know that Grand Forks is temporary for us – because Grand Forks is temporary for all people. If you live here, it’s probably because you’re going to school here, you’re an air force reservist here, or you’re a retired farmer and you’ve come to the city for ease of doctor’s appointments and prescriptions. I am none of these people.

Though I am still becoming comfortable in my new home, there is nothing quite more relaxing than the theatre. There is no other medium in the world where I can shut off the world and have a truly human experience than in the theatre. I can slip away, and all the stresses of my life do too.

Thankfully, Grand Forks has a few theatres. And they are saving my sanity.

I’m particularly thankful for the Empire Arts Center and the Empire Theatre Company. Literally the heart of downtown Grand Forks, I fell in love with their sparkling marquee the first time I saw it. No theatre in Winnipeg has a marquee this beautiful. The programming is diverse and innovative, especially for a consistently red state, but my favourite part of the Empire is the 1919 Lounge – an intimate cabaret where they bring in Broadway stars to perform for 40 or 50 people while drinking cocktails onstage. I haven’t even seen anything like this in Winnipeg before, and why not?

My life is different now. I go to a different grocery store, I use a different set of keys, I go to the gym three times a week (which is the most surprising new thing), I have a dog, I pay more bills. But one thing remains constant – I still have a nose for finding theatre everywhere. And when you come to visit, I guarantee there’ll be something going on that we can get tickets for.