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Making a Fringerer: Change of Plans

I bet you thought I’d been buried alive under boxes in my basement, didn’t you? I bet artists on the Fringe waitlist were hoping they could have my spot, weren’t they? Well, I’m alive and mostly well and I have, in fact, tamed the basement. What? You don’t believe me? I anticipated this, and I have photographic evidence. Behold! Before and after!

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I will assume you are duly impressed. Thank you. Thank you so much.

So, that’s the good news. The bad news is, the bins are still there. Well, it’s not bad news, per se, just news, I guess. See, the thing is, I thought that once I had cleaned up the basement and could access the bins, I could access those feelings and emotions and memories and write a show about it. I figured that was what was holding me back. But once the clutter was cleared away, I realized that wasn’t it. I realized I’m just not ready. That story is not the one I need to tell right now. I will one day. But I realized today is not the day. And then I had a little meltdown. I mean, here I am with this Fringe spot and these plans to write this show and these expectations from the world…

And then I realized, there are no expectations. People will go about their lives whether I write this show or not, whether I write any show or not, and so will I. We’re all going to be okay, you guys. Seriously. So, I set about Plan B. I know, I know, I barely had a Plan A! But that’s how life works sometimes, isn’t it? You set out to do one thing and you end up somewhere else. Maybe that’s a failure to achieve that original thing or maybe it’s a success because you ended up achieving another thing. Who can say? The important thing here is, there IS another thing! (sorry waitlisters)

In an attempt to calm myself down, I decided just to do a straight up sketch show, filled with all the new characters I’ve created over the last while, back to back monologues, no overarching theme, no message, just a bunch of goofball people I have dreamed up, thrown on a stage that will hopefully make people laugh. But when I started looking at the characters, I realized that, actually, there was a theme. These are all characters who, in one way or another, have dealt with or are dealing with their lack of success. Or at least, with their lives not turning out how they’d planned. They all set out with big intentions, sure they were going to “make it”. But something changed or they changed or nothing changed and now they’re trying to figure out if this is even what they wanted. Yup, there was a definite theme. And I have no idea where it came from.

Okay, that’s not true. Obviously, all these characters express some facet of the struggle I’m facing in my own life and have been for a few years. I’ve been acting professionally for 27 years, been doing comedy for 20. I’ve achieved a lot, I’ve been on my way to “making it” several times, but I really haven’t achieved success. Or have I? Is this it? And if so, is this what I want? And if I’ve failed (which is a strong possibility), why the hell am I still doing this? I have lots of questions I’m pondering and so many stories to tell about the experiences that led me here. Which leads to my new show.

I considered calling it Plan B but didn’t want to be picketed by a bunch of pro-life / anti-choice idiots so instead I settled on Give It Up. It’s a nod to that voice in my head that keeps telling me it’s time to pack it in. It’s a nod to the old comedy intro, “Give it up, for Morgan Brayton!” And there’s something in the act of surrendering too, of giving up on what I’d set out to do and following the path to this show instead, wherever it may lead. Maybe giving up won’t be so bad after all?

So, Give It Up mixes stories from my career and my life with these characters I guess my brain created in an attempt to try and sort this stuff out. I’m crafting them all together into some kind of shape that I hope works. I hope it will make you laugh a lot. I hope it will reflect some of the questions in your life and let you know that you’re not the only one. I hope it will be a huge success and become a smash hit on Broadway and then I’ll write a follow up show called I Didn’t Give It Up, I Made It! We’ll see. But for now, I’m just working away on it and getting ready to entertain you come September.

It wasn’t where I set out to go. But I think it’s going to be a great place to end up. I hope you’ll come see it.

Give It Up.jpegPhoto: Michele Brayton

Give It Up

Written and performed by Morgan Brayton
Directed by Shawn Macdonald
Stage Managed by Heather Johnston

Morgan Brayton has it all! Okay, well, she has questions about it all. Where is her husband Scott Baio? When is SNL going to call? What happened to her big break? Did she miss it? Is this it? Will there be snacks? Outlandish characters and true stories combine for big laughs from the award-winning comedian and Fringe Fest “Critic’s Choice”.

Part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival

Venue: The Cultch

Thursday, September 8
7:15 pm

Saturday, September 10
8:45 pm

Wednesday, September 14
5 pm

Thursday, September 15
10:30 pm

Friday, September 16
6:45 pm

Sunday, September 18
Noon

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Zigazig Ah, Allies

I’m used to more stringent friends rolling their eyes at me for some of my politics. I get it; what I call nuanced, you call a cop out. Fair enough. Look, maybe the Spice Girls weren’t the truest expression of feminism, but I will stand behind their messages about the importance of female friendships! You may criticize people for changing their Facebook photos to rainbows or offering prayers for Orlando, but I won’t. Because every message is awareness, every image is a statement of support. I realize that we are all fighting our own struggles and I don’t pretend to know what it takes each of you to get out of bed each day, let alone fight for what I think is imperative. Maybe all you’ve got in you today is a Facebook post. Trust me, I feel you. Is it enough? Of course not. Do I acknowledge and appreciate it? I sure do. Must we all seek out more effective means of creating change? Absolutely. Can anyone decide for you what that looks like and what is expected of you? Stop right there, thank you very much. (Spice Girls callback!)

I can’t explain how destroyed I have felt these past days and how buoyed up I have been by seeing support pretty much everywhere I turn. It’s important. It means something. So, thank you to all the allies who have texted, messaged, or posted support for the GLBT community and who have expressed their love. It means a lot to me. In large numbers, small gestures have great meaning. And, sometimes, even small gestures alone are enormous. Thank you.

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Making a Fringerer: Preparations

I am the laziest writer alive. I don’t even really like writing, just having written. Sometimes I read quotes from writers who say things like, “I am happiest when writing” or “I can’t not write” and I resent them for feeling that way and for their use of double negatives. But I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t write anything unless I have a deadline, a purpose, a waiting audience. When those things don’t exist, I need to create them in order to trick myself into writing. My first solo show only got written because I told a festival director I had an hour-long one person show so she’d book me. Then I hung up the phone and said, “Shit. I guess I’d better write an hour-long one person show.” I have booked theatres when I had nothing, and then created something to fill that spot with. Our monthly comedy show, The Lady Show, is just such an exercise, forcing me to create new content every month. Otherwise, I’d just stay curled up on the couch watching British mysteries and eating chips instead.

To that end, I applied for, and was lucky enough to win a lottery spot in the 2016 Vancouver Fringe Festival. I told myself that, if I got a spot, I’d finally write the show about my mum and finding my birth sister. When my name was called, it was another one of those “Shit, I guess I have to do this now” moments. So, I’m writing a new show. Or at least, I should be writing a new show. So far, I haven’t written a thing. Well, that’s not true. I wrote a plan. You guys, a plan is super important! You can’t write a word until you write a plan, don’t you know? Due to my other commitments like The Lady Show, Morgan Brayton & Other People, family, cats, British mysteries, chips and the like, it’s a very generous plan, allowing plenty of time to get things done. It begins February 1st. Today is February 4th. So far, so good.

First up in the plan is sorting, purging, cleaning and organizing the basement. No, it’s not just one of those “My assignment is due: I should take up rug hooking!” avoidance techniques. This is my basement…

I'll just put this here FOR NOW...Dear God what happened in the basement?!

“Yes, but Morgan,” you’re saying, “You can write anywhere in this day and age. Have laptop, will travel. Go to a cafe, rent an office, or maybe even just write in one of the many other rooms you have in your house!” I don’t actually intend to write in the basement. The problem is that, behind the contents of that picture, lie these…

Bins

No, no, not that stack of jeans I can’t fit into anymore, the bins! Those blue bins are filled with Mum stuff. Her writing. Personal items too painful for me to be in the presence of when she died. Memorabilia. I sealed those bins up, telling myself I’d look in them when I was ready. She died in 2007.

I need to open those bins. I need to look at that stuff. I need to process it and write about it and make notes about it and start gathering all the bits and pieces that will, one day, form the first draft of my show. So, here we go.

I mean, not right now. I don’t have time today. But maybe tomorrow morning. Or possibly in the afternoon. We’ll see. I’ve got a lot going on right now and my rug hooking projects really need attention. But this is the beginning. The beginning of talking about endings, of beginnings, of stories that didn’t get told for so long, of stories that never got heard by those who deserved to hear them. Of…well, actually, I don’t really know. I don’t really know what my show is or what shape it will take or what story it will, eventually, tell. I just know it’s my job to figure that out and, come September, to finally put it on stage and share it.

My plan is to blog about the process of making this show through all its’ stages. Maybe I’ll share things I find in those bins, maybe memories that come up, maybe photos of myself buried under a giant lobster costume and a wicker penguin clothes hamper after a failed organizing attempt. My plan is to clean up that basement so I can get to those bins and then everything should easily fall into place, right? Yay, I love writing!

So, I’m doing this. Okay, let’s get to work. It’s time to–ooh, new episode of Vera!

Vera Stanhope is my spirit animal

                                                Vera Stanhope is my spirit animal

I’ll keep you posted.

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Thank You, Frances

“Sorry about your friend,” my son said. My wife must have explained to him why, earlier that day, I’d been curled up in the corner of the kitchen, sobbing uncontrollably. 

“Thanks, buddy,” I told him.

“Who was she?” he asked.

I paused for a moment. I felt ill-equipped to explain a person’s life, especially a life like Frances’s, in just a few words, let alone to a little boy who had never met her.

“Well,” I began, “Her name was Frances…”

Frances was my first Women’s Studies teacher at Langara College. I won’t go into the details of what led me to Women’s Studies but it was an epiphany I had while sitting in a movie theatre watching A League of Their Own. Not even kidding. The important part is, I was 22 and decided to take Women’s Studies, followed by film school, so I could become a filmmaker and tell women’s stories. I had no idea what those stories were but figured Women’s Studies was a good place to find them. For me, it ended up being the academic equivalent of popping into a two year meditation retreat saying, “Listen, I’m looking for some tips on relaxing a little”. To say I got more than I’d bargained for is an understatement and I am still grateful pretty much daily for the life-changing experience that was my time at Langara.

Frances was a huge part of that. It would take the length of a two-year college program for me to try and explain all that Frances taught me during my time at Langara but it was more than just feminism. It was how to stand up and be counted as a feminist. The older I get, the more those lessons sink into my bones. Thank you, Frances.

In the beginning, Frances terrified me. Okay, I never entirely stopped being afraid of Frances, but, in the beginning, I was flat out terrified. Physically, she was intimidating, sure, but it was more than just her tall stature. It feels like some kind of lesbian feminist stereotype to say she was an Amazon but Frances was a damn Amazon. Now, I don’t mean that in the way people might describe someone as an angel. I don’t believe in angels. But I believe wholeheartedly in Frances. It was about how she carried herself, how she stood tall and took up space, unapologetically, and how she didn’t have time for your bullshit. As I told my son, she did not suffer fools gladly. (Which, of course, required an explanation of what the heck that expression means and derailed things a bit but hopefully you understand.) In a word, Frances was direct; she looked you in the eye and expected something of you. It wasn’t confrontational, just more along the lines of “Why wouldn’t I expect something of you? Don’t you expect something of yourself?”

I found Frances frightfully intimidating so I set about doing what I do when I want people I’m afraid of to like me: I tried to make her laugh. Lucky for me, Frances also had a great sense of humour. Making Frances laugh gave me a satisfaction so deep it was silly. And for years, when Frances was funny herself, it took me a second to be sure. (Wait, was that a joke? God, what if I laugh and it wasn’t a joke? Is it possible to actually die from her looking over her glasses at me?) It made the eventual laugh all the more delicious. Frances taught me that being funny could be an integral part of my feminism. Thank you, Frances.

While at 5’3”, I can’t begin to pull off intimidating like Frances could, thanks to her, I learned how to hold myself as tall as she stood and look anyone directly in the eye. I can’t always manage it, but the older I get, the easier it becomes and the better it feels. Thank you, Frances.

Almost a decade after my time at Langara, Frances came back into my life. I had landed an important job that I was very excited about. It felt like a pretty big coup and I was filled with passion and dedication. Things started off okay and I was doing a great job but, eventually, my inexperience and naivety about the sometimes unhealthy motivations (be they intentional or not) of human beings resulted in things starting to crumble. I had recently run into Frances at an event. By this point, she was Executive Director of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and was running things there. No small undertaking. No surprise. When I needed help, I turned to Frances who came to my aid like…well, like the Amazon she was. By then I was so filled with self-doubt, so confused about what I should be doing with my life, I was absolutely falling apart. One day, in a flood of tears and run-on sentences, I told Frances all the criticisms levelled at me by some of the people I was working with, how they’d said this and told me I needed to do that and how I felt powerless to fix things. Frances waited until I’d stopped for breath, then she looked me in the eye and said calmly, “These are the thoughts of stupid people. You’re right here. They are wrong.” That was all it took. In that moment, I knew I was going to be okay. (And that “These are the thoughts of stupid people” would become one of my favourite expressions.) Frances taught me that it’s okay to name it when people are acting stupidly and to respond to them accordingly. She reminded me that I was smarter than I was giving myself credit for. I wish I could say I learned that lesson firmly but I fall into thinking everyone is smarter than me a lot. I often have to remind myself to check in with reality, rather than bowing down to the thoughts of stupid people, but I doubt myself much less now. Thank you, Frances.

Spending as many years as I did intimidated by Frances, the day she told me one of her secrets brought me much closer to understanding what being bold actually involves. It involves bangles.

Apologies for not crediting the photographer. This is Frances's Facebook profile photo.

Apologies for not crediting the photographer. This is Frances’s Facebook profile photo and I don’t know who took it. Whoever you are, thank you.

Anyone who knows Frances will have a hard time imagining her without her signature silver bangles, adorning both arms. I was preparing for a meeting I anticipated being confrontational and I was in a panic. Frances jangled her bracelets at me and calmly asked, “Do you think this is jewelry?” I looked at her blankly. “This isn’t jewelry,” she told me. “This is armour. Every time I have to speak in front of people, every time I have to attend a meeting where I know some man will tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, I feel these on my arms. And they can’t touch me.” I had seen Frances, on more than one occasion, very calmly and with a biting sense of humour, take down much bigger men than she at meetings. Knowing that she had to consciously step into that bravery made me think I could do it too. Thank you, Frances.

When my mum died suddenly in 2007, my wife Michele and I spent a month in a daze, packing up her home. Once that was done, the shock began to wear off, the grief began to set in, and the loss hit me with the strength of a freight train. My wife suggested we get away somewhere for a few days to just rest and grieve. It seemed a complicated thing to do. We needed to be somewhere relaxing and private, where we could feel comforted but not be expected to return anyone’s smiles if we couldn’t manage it. We found the perfect place when Frances and her wife Marguerite welcomed us to their bed and breakfast on the Sunshine Coast, Honeysuckle Cottage. When I needed it, Frances sat with me in their beautiful garden, overflowing with life, and talked to me. When I needed it, Michele and I stayed in the guest house and cried, watched movies, stared at walls, and grieved. When I think of that time, I am still overwhelmed with gratitude. I can’t imagine being able to be exactly where I was emotionally anywhere else. It was a softer, gentler Frances I experienced on that trip, one who didn’t expect me to be brave or even consider donning armour. But once again, Frances had quietly, calmly held me up and helped me know that I was going to be okay. Thank you, Frances.

There are many more Frances stories I could tell in which, over the past couple of decades, she taught me about things like organizational management, marriage immigration, bookkeeping and the fight for abortion rights in Canada. But it was the way she lived, how big she loved, how hard she laughed, how bravely she fought, and, most of all, how committed she was to mentoring the likes of me, for which I am forever indebted to her. I am not the only one who has Frances stories to tell. I know so many people who can trace back pieces of ourselves that we love directly to Frances. She didn’t create those pieces, but she held us up so we could figure out how to use them. She looked us in the eye and expected us to figure them out. Her mouth turned up at the corner in a smile or her cheeks ruddied with laughter and she encouraged us to step into everything we were worth. Sometimes she instructed us directly, sometimes she led by example, but always, she cleared the way. If we can be half the people she taught us to be, we too will be nothing short of Amazons.

“So, Buddy, she was someone very important to me at many times in my life and she taught me so much. I’m really sad that Frances didn’t get to die of very old age because that’s what should have happened.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m sorry you’re sad.”

I took a deep breath and marvelled at the compassion in my boy, the one with the usual attention span of a gnat, who had just quietly, calmly sat through all my tearful stories about my teacher, mentor and friend. And I was grateful.

Later that day, exhausted from crying, I had to get ready to go be entertaining at an event. I felt overwhelmed by the idea but, at the same time, that it was just what I wanted to be doing. Reaching into the cupboard where I keep my jewelry, I pulled out my bangles and a big, glittery bracelet. Armoured up, I knew I’d been well trained and could do this.

Thank you, Frances. For everything. I love you so much.

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Women, Apologizing ≠ Being Polite

You know, I try not to offer unsolicited advice but, sometimes, especially when it comes to young women, I just can’t help myself. I also don’t advocate the use of punctuation faces but appreciate their use in softening what might otherwise come off as harsh to someone sensitive. The latest in my exchange with someone applying for a volunteer position:

You are obviously a competent young woman with skills and energy to offer. Own that. Starting emails off with “Sorry to bother you” and ending them with “I hope I don’t sound too pushy!” is not necessary and might make employers feel like you lack the confidence to do a job. I can tell you that confidence is so much of what will get your foot in the door and women often mistake apologizing for being polite. You can be polite and willing without apologizing or qualifying. You’re worth someone’s time! Don’t try to convince them otherwise. So, there’s my totally unsolicited advice! Do with it what you will. ; )

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How to Remember

My son, like many eleven year old boys, loves to play “army guys” and “war”. Would his interests be different had he been our son from a younger age, rather than adopted at the age of eight? Who knows. This weird boy games/girl games stuff seems to be everywhere so he may not have been any different. I’d like to think he would have, but probably not. His interest in all things war makes us uncomfortable. We get that he doesn’t understand the realities of war so it’s all fun and games to him, but still.

We took him out of school early on Friday so that we could meet with family for a vacation. This meant he missed the school’s Remembrance Day assembly. I felt uneasy about this. I didn’t want the school to get the idea that we don’t feel such assemblies are important, that we’re all “Woo hoo! Extra vacay day!” But more importantly, I guess I have a hope that there might be something in such an assembly that might convey to my son what I don’t know how to about Remembrance Day: War is hell. Let’s not do it again. For so many reasons.

That’s why, today, I am struggling with what to say to my son as he plays on the beach without a care in the world. As he lives a life children in other countries don’t get to, a life his grandparents didn’t get to. As he lives a life not knowing the realities of war. As he lives the life we (my wife and I, my family, my country) have worked hard to create for him; a world without war.

I don’t know a lot about war myself. It is one of the privileges of being born into a country like Canada at the time that I did. But in my own way, I have seen its effects. And it isn’t fun and games to me. Like many people my age, my grandfathers were both in the war. It broke them. Plain and simple, it broke them. I cannot imagine what it is like for young men to “fight for their country” and I in no way mean to disrespect the intentions of those who did. I understand completely that they all did what they believed was right and that, yes, there are times when such measures are necessary. My heart breaks for my grandfathers and all the men (and now women) who have fought in wars; those who lived, those who survived, and those who were never the same. But, for me, Remembrance Day is also about more than them.

I know what damage was done to the families of those men who were never the same. Mine was one of them. While I didn’t come along until 1970, that damage influenced how I was raised (both positively and negatively), shaped my family, is carried on in me. I have choices about how I live that my parents didn’t. Not just because I grew up in a country without war, but because I grew up in a home without addiction, abuse, and terror as a result of war. That privilege influences how I see the world, how I parent, and what I fight for. I am well aware of my privilege. But I am aware of my family’s history too.

So, how do I talk to my son about that history? How do I help him understand that, when we mark Remembrance Day, it’s about honouring the lives lost, but also the lives damaged? That those lives may include people who never, ever saw war first hand? How do I teach my son that it is never okay to hurt a woman, no matter how much you are hurting. That it is never okay to violate a child, no matter what violations you have seen that changed your brain irreparably? How do I share with him that these things are what I think about when I honour Remembrance Day? That I cry for my grandfathers, yes, and for all the lives lost, but that I also cry for the other casualties of war? That so many people lived but, in essence, didn’t survive. That, despite never having been at war, I was shaped by WWII and that I am one of the lucky ones who came out virtually unscathed. Actually, luck had nothing to do with it. “Luck” was my parents’ conscious decisions that I would not be a casualty of a war that was over decades before I was born, and yet still, I was impacted by what went before. And how do I explain to my son that I am overwhelmed with gratitude that he doesn’t know anything of that.

How do I navigate that line between letting my son grow up in a life free from war and its far-reaching destruction and a life without knowing our important history?

My son is eleven. I am well aware that there are eleven year old children in countries currently being impacted by war and my concerns are trivial compared to what they are living through. I am well aware that he does not have a father broken by war, a mother responsible for picking up the pieces who is abused when she tries to. I am aware that he does not live with the ghosts and monsters of the war screaming in their sleep down the hall. And for this I am grateful. But those who are not aware of their history are doomed to repeat it. And my son has been through a war of his own. While I don’t want him to be burdened with anything more, I want him to understand why it’s not fun and games, why we remember, why we guard ourselves against forgetting, and why, most importantly for me, we promise each other: Never Again.

As I write this, my son comes out onto the deck of our vacation home with a message from my wife, “It’s time to make the salad.” While he tells me, he shoots off a cap gun that he snuck into the basket at the store today without us knowing, that we decided to let him keep because, hey, it’s vacation. That now seems like a terrible choice.

I don’t know how to talk to him about these things.

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My Kid Drew Some Cats

In support of my fundraising campaign, my kid agreed to do one-of-a-kind portraits of people’s cats if they sent him a photo. We grossly undervalued them at $10 and they sold out in no time. The first round were so great, the people were crying out for more. My kid agreed to do 10 more at $30 each. Again, apparently we could have charged more! People have suggested a book, as a fundraiser for VOKRA. My son having a book deal before me?

Great.

But I’ll allow it.

He is truly hilarious.

 

Click on the photo to see all the drawings

Click on the photo to see all the drawings

 

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