Tomorrow I’ll be part of a conversation about the ties between Vermont and Quebec on Vermont Public Radio’s noontime call-in program, Vermont Edition. The program will explore many of the same themes as my solo show, Piecework: When We Were French: the long history of migration across the border; the cultural similarities between Vermont and Quebec, despite the obvious linguistic differences; and the push and pull that Franco-Americans feel toward their ancestral homeland. I’m looking forward to being part of the discussion. Hope you’ll tune in — or call in to say hello!
You can tell by the date of my last post (or I can, at least) that updating this site hasn’t been at the top of my list of priorities in recent months. But in the spirit of Patti Smith, I’ve been working: on new prose and poetry, some early sketches for a new play, my #hoems, and some very important and inspiring reading. I’ve also been parenting on a fairly full-time basis, which has defined the rhythm of my days absolutely. Other than a few book reviews here and there, I haven’t been sending my work out into the world on as regular a basis, unless you count fulfilling orders for the DVD of Piecework: When We Were French. I produced the DVD so that my solo show would outlive my ability to tour with it, and I’ve been happy to watch it do that, setting out one envelope at a time, destined for mailboxes back home in Vermont and in more exotic locales, like Paris and North Dakota.
With the start of a new year, it was a special pleasure to be the subject of a profile by Ottawa literary maven rob mcclennan in Open Book Ontario, and especially to answer rob’s questions about my work, past and present. It’s always clarifying to be asked a few clear and bracing questions. I can only hope I matched rob’s clarity with my answers. Talking about my work made me look forward to the year ahead. I hope to have more updates for you soon!
It has been a long, rugged ride, but the DVD of my solo show, Piecework: When We Were French, is finally available! You can order your copy through Paypal or, if you prefer snailmail, you can use this old-fashioned printable order form.
The DVD is the culmination of almost a year’s worth of work (not including, of course, the show’s life previous to that), the sweat of a small but determined creative team, and the generosity of more than a hundred fans and friends who lent their support to my Indiegogo fundraising campaign earlier this year. Thanks to the success of that campaign, we were able to shoot a live performance of the show at Montpelier’s Lost Nation Theater back in March, and over the summer, Vermont filmmakers Jeff Farber and Paul Gittelsohn patched our footage together to represent the spontaneity and intimacy of live performance on film. The final product reminds me of a concert film: it gives a taste of one night in the show’s life without attempting to replace the live original. I look forward to sharing it with you and to hearing what you think!
I have been following admiringly the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter’s occasional series On Writing. Amanda Earl’s piece on using poetry to shepherd herself through a major health crisis lingered with me for weeks, and I identified with Faizel Deen’s thoughts on the writer’s isolation. Mostly, I have coveted the opportunity to contemplate why I write, too.
My young son makes most contemplation difficult these days. I started to write about writing in brief bursts, as thoughts occurred to me, trying to trace my writerly lineage and articulate where I came from as a writer. But always my son intruded, figuratively where not literally. And so I let him. I started from the present rather than the past, from his words rather than my own.
I’m proud to say that my essay on writing (and parenting) is #11 in the series, and is up now on the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter.
I’m happy to announce that, after almost 9 months of planning, fundraising, rehearsing, filming, and editing, the DVD of Piecework: When We Were French has finally been sent off for duplication. In just a few weeks, the duplicated copies will be in my hands and ready to be distributed to donors, supporters, and eager audiences far and wide.
I think this means I have reached the point in the summer when I can put my feet up, have a margarita, and give myself a small pat on the back. I wish this point had come in June, or even July, but the primary thing I have learned from my forays into film is that it is a time-consuming medium to produce (the word “tedious” has been used by others). Every minute you see on a screen represents hours, if not days, of production time, and this modest little video has voraciously gobbled up most of my year.
Nonetheless, I am excited to share the DVD with you soon. In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to order copies from this site, on-line or by mail. You will be able to order the DVD alone, or a special resource package for libraries and community groups that will also include a signed copy of the show’s script and a study guide with resources for further exploration of Franco-American history and culture. Check back here for details! In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here is a sneak peek of the DVD cover image, designed by Clare Talbot.
As this project is now drawing to a close, I’ve been thinking about the cycles of beginnings and endings that are so much a part of a creative life. Arts work is very much project-based. This is true not just for artists themselves, but for those who work in curating, presenting, and funding organizations as well. I’m sure it’s true to a certain extent for engineers, landscapers, scientists, and other professionals, too. Lately I have thought admiringly of our neighbourhood butcher (yes, we have one) and teachers and caregivers, and marveled at all those of you in lines of work with a greater sense of continuity. I wonder what the challenges of such continuity might be. I wonder what work is like when not defined by a constant process of invention, exhaustion, and reinvention.
As an artist, I always feel like a consummate beginner. I never know how to do a project when it begins — learning a part or writing a review, producing a DVD or even creating copy for a freelance client. I learn by doing, gradually, mostly feeling like an idiot along the way, and just when I begin to feel a sense of mastery, the project is finished. I look back at the path I blazed and think of all the ways it would have been easier if I had known where I was headed to start with. I experience endings with a kind of confused wonder. No matter how strong the final product, it’s almost never exactly what I intended to make, and I’m usually left feeling more perplexed than satisfied.
What a puzzling way to spend one’s time.
This is what I like most about theater: as long as a show is open, it is being developed, changed. It lives and breathes and continues to teach me, and there is never a definitive version it, no matter how many times I perform. The painter, sculptor, musician, the filmmaker — any artist whose work produces a final product — must resign herself to the permanence of that object, must accept it as the conclusion of a long conversation she’s carried on with her materials. With theater, that conversation feels more open-ended, and while there is always a closing night, there is never a sense that the process, the conversation, has been supplanted by any single version of itself.
Of course, I have violated this proposition by putting Piecework: When We Were French on DVD, and that is perhaps why I am struggling a bit with its completion. To me, the DVD is not the definitive version of the show. It is a representation of a single performance, an example of what can happen when an audience and I get together and share in the characters and their stories and our collective sense of the human experience. I really do look forward to sharing that with you. Stay tuned for more news soon.
Two months ago, I wrapped up a weekend of performances at Lost Nation Theater and the filming of the DVD of my solo show, Piecework: When We Were French. Since then, I’ve hardly uttered a peep about the project here, in large part because the filming was just the beginning of the work! But I did want to report that things are moving along beautifully. The DVD version of the show is gradually coming to life.
Watching the rough cut of the show was slightly painful, mind you. I’ve never experienced the show as an audience member, and watching myself perform is always bit strange. Have you ever called your own house and listened your own answering machine message? You thought it sounded rather warm and affable back when you recorded it, but it turns out your voice is so nasally and plaintive, you can’t understand how anyone ever calls back. I always have to overcome that feeling when I see myself on screen. That said, it’s such a delight to see the show finally documented and Jeff’s creativity makes the show’s the transition from stage to screen gentle and smooth, I can almost forget myself.
Meanwhile, I’m working with designer Clare Talbot on a beautiful image for the DVD’s packaging; I’ve been in touch with the wonderful musicians who shared their music for my soundtrack; and I’ve been working on assembling the credits and other rewards for the generous donors whose contributions made this production possible. I expect to be able to share more updates with you this month, as the DVD is finalized and prepared for duplication. Thanks for staying tuned!
My chapbook, Other Brief Discourses, was released earlier this winter by Ottawa’s above/ground press. It is a handsome little pamphlet of poems that imagine the return of Samuel de Champlain to the territory of New France in the present day, accompanied by a Franco-American guide.
Now, its first review, by Ryan Pratt on Ottawa Poetry Newsletter.
I’ve been spending the week at Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier, Vermont. Today we were shooting footage for the DVD of my solo show, Piecework: When We Were French, and tonight I perform the first in a weekend of shows at LNT.
It’s a revival of the show sponsored by the Alliance Française of the Lake Champlain Region and inspired by the DVD production of the show, which is being made possible by more than a hundred generous contributors to an on-line fundraising campaign that I put together this winter. Thanks to their generosity — and our hard work this week — the show will be available on DVD early this summer!
Just one week until the curtain rises on the Montpelier revival of my solo show, Piecework: When We Were French! I’m gearing up to return to Montpelier’s Lost Nation Theater for four performances, March 28-30.
Piecework: When We Were French
Lost Nation Theater – City Hall Arts Center, Montpelier, VT
Thursday, March 28 at 7:30pm
Friday, March 29 at 7:30pm
Saturday, March 30 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
You can read local coverage of the upcoming performances from the Times-Argus and the Montpelier Bridge, and you can see a behind-the-scenes interview with me, the show’s creator, on Lost Nation’s website.
All shows are 70 minutes long without an intermission. Each performance will be followed by a discussion. I hope you’ll come to see the play and stay behind to share your own stories, memories, and thoughts about New England’s ethnically rich past – and present!
Just a few hours ago, the on-line fundraising campaign to support a DVD production of Piecework: When We Were French came to a close, and I’m delighted to report that we not only met, but exceeded, our original fundraising goal!
In the end, 116 donors from across North America and beyond stepped forward to support this project, and others helped by spreading the word. I have been overwhelmed by people’s generosity and enthusiasm for the show, and I’m happy to be able to move forward with the making of the DVD. The final total has yet to be tallied (some donations came in by check, and Indiegogo and its credit card processors get their cuts), but it’s clear that we gathered enough to support the filming and editing of the production, with some left over to put toward costs like duplication, packaging, and distribution. This is deeply gratifying! Thank you for your support!
One of my other goals during the campaign was to make daily posts on this site about Franco-American topics and other themes related to the show. I apologize if you’ve been waiting for those posts. They’ve dropped off recently, as I’ve turned my attention to rehearsing for my upcoming performances at Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier, Vermont. I will continue to post from time to time, though, as the DVD project moves forward, and I no doubt will learn new things about the issues of heritage, history, ethnicity, and memory that Piecework explores. So stay tuned! Updates will also continue to be posted on Facebook and Twitter.
If you missed the chance to contribute to our Indiegogo campaign, never fear. Email me at positive_abbytude[at]yahoo.com to find out how you can still contribute to the project. There is still much to do, first and foremost, polishing the show for audiences, to which I’ll return now.