A gentle, warm wash of light will be designed and hung for the purpose of lighting the general playing area for the parts of the show where I am wandering around talking, interacting with the audience, etc.  Scene specific lighting however, will also have to be built into the pack (by pack, I mean the set, props, etc that travels every day and gets set up and torn down for each show, in each location). Some scenes will only be played out in a very small segment of the stage and so, I’ll only want that area lit.  Other scenes may require a specific look, feel and/or colour. I’ll give you an example of a scene where I have pretty much decided on what I want and how I’ll create that look.

I will be acting a scene about the Battle for Vimy Ridge.  My intention for this scene is to be sitting on a dimly lit stage with three actual letters from or about the reality of John Henry Anderson, a soldier on Vimy in 1917.  I found these letters, and many more at a site called, The Canadian Letters and Images Project.  Two of the letters are from John to his Ma and the other is from a battalion mate to John’s Mother after John’s death. For my purposes, I want to create a stark, somber feeling, to say the least. Dim, open white light works well for this as of course do cold blues. Either way, between letters two and three, there will be a short burst of the sights and sounds of battle. Loud audio with explosions of light.

To create bright flashes without having to carry around lengths of unwieldy, groundrow strip lights and strobe lights, I will be using a relatively new product (available from Lee Valley tools .  It is an LED tape lighting system.  The tape, which measures about a quarter of an inch wide, comes in 8ft lengths and has either 9 or 18 lights per foot. This tape will be installed in a grove in two eight foot 1”x4” boards hinged at center. I will lay them out at the extreme upstage, along the base of the video screen and painted black, they will be all but invisible until lit.  Another strip of this tape will be run along the top frame of the screen, facing the audience. When flashed, they will create very bright, explosions of light. Once turned off, they again become nearly invisible. This tape comes in white lights or in RGB strips.  From the RGB tape, (red, green, blue) I can produce white but I can also combine the colours to build any other hue that I want so, the RGB tape it will be.

At the end of the show, the two boards, containing the tape will be folded over each other, protecting the tape and they will slip effortless into a small space in the travel van. Lighting effect created, storage situation solved.

FYI, I will be bringing in a lighting designer at a later date to do the complete actual design, this is just an example.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers and besides, it is always good to let others come up with ideas I may have overlooked.


Whenever I start a new project, there is the inevitable rush of excitement.  Ideas rush forth faster than two Nova Scotian’s being told there’s only one Keiths left. 
Controlling the adrenaline and making realistic choices is an art in itself. Improv teaches that your initial idea or response to an “offer,” in this case a vision of a successful project, is usually the best.  So, I write those thoughts down so I can nurture them and allow them to grow or at least, draw on their impact. Remember, emotional responses fade first, ideas dissipate later too, but much slower. So commit them to paper so you can refer back after all the other parameters have been made clear. Limitations are also opportunities to create something new and exciting?  

I next ascertain what I need versus what I want?  What, if anything, do I need the set to tell about the story?  

How will the size or grandeur of the set affect everything else? In this case, since I expect to tour this show to small venues, 2 or 3 a week, the entire show needs to fit into one van. That’s lights, set, props, audio and video, wardrobe, actor and production team.  What could possibly go wrong?

I’m a big fan of minimalist sets. I like the acting and the story to be enough to hold the audience and to entertain them.  For “The Incomplete History of Tom/ Canada” however, I am planning a different tact.  I want to employ a 16x9 foot video screen upstage of me and have it add context, and/or commentary to what I am doing on stage. I have decided to never acknowledge what is going on in the video(s). Basically, I’m moving ‘the fourth wall” from between the audience and me, to behind me and to create a video storyline that only the audience is a part of.

The other major element of the set I’m keeping as a secret, suffice to say it is an homage to watching TV as a child in Canada.

A very influential designer from the Shaw once told me, “Always try and do something nobody has done before.”  I remind myself of those words as often as possible.  

I think I’d look good in a dress?

Before you realize that it might be difficult to sleep tonight for fear of that image creeping into your dreams… I am considering playing the character of the fearless, steadfast, suffragette,  Nellie McClung.  She was a writer, a wife and a mother.  Eventually in 1921 she was elected to the Legislature of Manitoba.

Fifteen years before women were legally “persons” under the law, (1929) Nellie fought tirelessly for the right of women to have the vote. She took on Manitoba Premier Sir Rodmond Roblin in a battle of wills that included her organization, The Political Equality League staging a mock parliament where she argued about the absurdity of what might happen if men were allowed to vote.  All this after being told, "Nice women don’t want the vote.” Many men and women of the time, were not pleased that a Lady should be so forward as to stand up against the status-quo set by the men in government. In fact, She received so much mail about the issue that she decided to respond in true Nellie McClung style, saying, “I wish you could see the proportion of my mail that tells me to go home and darn my husbands socks.  I never would have believed one man’s hosiery  could excite the amount of interest those socks do!”

She was also a fierce believer in the temperance movement taking hold across Canada at that time. This is a wonderful Canadian female role model. I would love to do her justice. I’m also happy she won the suffrage battle and not the temperance one.

Today I started my 11th full season at the Shaw Festival Theatre in beautiful, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.  It would be an understatement to say this brings about a small measure of introspection.  Of course, there is the inevitable reflection on how I ended up here in the first place and on the decision to give up acting for a life on the other side of the bright lights. 
There were many sound reasons for becoming a stagehand; the opportunity to develop a new skillset, the chance to work more regularly but more honestly, it was the ability to show a stable income and therefore, to be able to buy a home.

NOTL is where I got married, having moved here with Leigh when she got a job at the Shaw.  We met at the Upper Canada playhouse in Morrisburg while I was acting in Norm Fosters, The Foursome. We got engaged at the site of the Battle of the Windmill from the war of 1812. Now, here we were in Niagara, home to Fort George, Queenston Heights and many other battles from that same war. Brock, Laura Secord and Techumseh all became Canadian historical figures because of their actions here. It was from here, on the heels of the Americans burning of Newark (now NOTL) that Canadians went to Washington and torched the Whitehouse.

In other life changing battles, this is also the place where I reached what I recall as the lowest points in my life, from an emotional point anyway.  This is where my marriage fell apart after only six years, this is where I felt trapped by homeownership and this is where I was when word came for me to race home for my Fathers final moments. I arrived too late.  
I have been able to come to peace with all of these things, partially because all my life both Mom and Dad taught me the very Canadian trait of never giving up. We never gave up in the war of 1812 despite overwhelming odds.  Nor did we give up in places like Vimy, Passchendaele, Flanders or The Somme.  
In martial arts a particular sensei would instill in us a particular mindset; we would repeat, two or three times a class, “If I persist, I can succeed.”  I took that to heart and would love that each class ended with saying, “If I persist, I can succeed. I will persist. I will succeed.”  
I have persisted and out of the most troubling times in my life came the woman who has shown me a love that I never imagined was possible, who gives me direction and every day makes me want to be a better person.  My Dad would have loved April.  He believed strongly that among other things, we should always try and leave everyone we meet, a better person.
I ask you, “How Canadian is that? “ 

On the base in Lahr, Germany (actually, the town of Baden Baden) where we lived from 1968 – 1970, was the actual hanger that the infamous WWI German Ace, The Red Baron had flown his missions out of.  This area of the base was fenced off for its national historic significance. This was 1968 and to be honest, history was something we had to learn in school.  It really wasn’t on my radar yet, but all that changed, a year or two later, in Grade six.

But for now, the story of the Red Baron was just folklore. I had heard of him, but was probably most aware of his place in history because of the 1966, Royal Guardsman song, “Snoopy Vs The Red Baron.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oxzg_iM-T4E&feature=kp) It was years later when I learned the whole story of Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen and how it was a Canadian Ace named Captain Arthur “Roy” Brown who was credited with shooting down von Richthofen while saving a school friend whose Sopwith Camel was being pursued in a very low flight by The Red Baron. There has been controversy over who actually killed von Richthofen with many believing he was probably hit by a single shot from the ground.  Either way, it turns out there was never a dog involved in any of these dogfights, let alone Snoopy.   I guess there is more about our history that I will need to learn or at least relearn. 

04-18-2014 / version 2

OK, oops I forgot to give the link to Tom Gallants site for the song “Unlikely Homecoming.” It is;  http://tomgallant.com/site/music/

Secondly, just when I thought my day of research, etc for the show was over, I got a text from my good friend and co-worker, Mike H. and he was at the local micro-brewery, Silversmith and he had with him a couple of books about his home, Parry Sound.  The two books were, “Orr, My Story” by Bobby Orr, (Viking Press) and “Up the Great North Road” by John Macfie (The Boston Mills Press). The Macfie book is about the colonization of Ontario. Turns out, Mike’s father worked in the logging camps of northern Ontario and Mike knows of my interest in this part of Canadiana which probably stems from my love of the old NFB short, “The Logdrivers Waltz.”  Thanks Mike. I will read these books and report back to everyone later.  
Hmmmm? The logdrivers waltz?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upsZZ2s3xv8

FYI... Silversmith Black Lager is awesome.


I Spent a considerable amount of time today listening to and trying to learn the guitar work for a couple of songs that I would like to use in “The Incomplete History…”  I need to have good ole Canadian tunes for my pre and post show music but, I also plan to play three or four during the performances. I have written down the names of my musical influences as well as the Canadian musicians of note from my lifetime.  It has been great listening to some of my oldies and goodies and it has been equally trying to have to listen to the likes of Cory Hart, Bruce Cockburn and Celine Dion. When I was first learning to play guitar, my teacher Paul Dudar, taught all Gordon Lightfoot tunes so, he became an early favorite. Stan Rogers made a strong impression on me as did Stompin Tom.  When Stompin Tom died, I listened to a weekend of radio filled with nothing but his songs and I enjoyed each and every one.  I had forgotten about so many but, they all made me smile. At the same time, I realized that I really hope Celine outlives me.

I have eight to ten favorite songs that are going to help tell the history of Canada and I will have to choose which I play and which I get permission to use as preshow, postshow and intermission music.  SOCAN, here I come. (I am sure, no matter which ones I choose perform live, someone will wish I had just played the original recording and left well enough alone)

I found an awesome song by Nova Scotian Tom Gallant, that I would like to use as curtain call music.  It probably seems a little backwards to be working on ending the show first but, I was always taught that in acting, entrances and exits are the two things people remember most so whenever you enter or exit a room, everyone should be clear of why you are doing it and where you are coming from (or going to) and what your intention is.  You shouldn’t have to say it… it should just be clear.  So, I’ve chosen to use, “Unlikely Homecoming” as my exit music. It just sounds like me. (see: ) I’ve been in touch with Tom and have his permission to use the song, so as I said earlier, SOCAN, here I come.

I was working on four other particular songs but, I don’t have permission yet to use them so, I won’t reveal them today, other than to say one is about our national animal, two are about Canadian music icons and one is about the war of 1812.

Blog on the creation of “The Incomplete History of Tom/Canada.”

My intention with this blog is to share my experiences as I write and research Canadian history for my upcoming one-man show, “The Incomplete History of Tom Canada.”

As regularly as I work on this project, I will end my day with an update. I will show my research in all its varying forms, discuss what parts of the stories I hope to use and as soon as I know, I’ll talk about how I will portray these stories. I will show how I develop characters. How I mix in music, dance, video etc to make up an entertaining production.

So, let’s see how this will work, shall we?  “The Incomplete History of Tom Canada,” will follow my life, with all its victories and warts and show how what we experience in life is inexorably linked with our history.  I was born in Moosejaw, Sask in 1957, the only son of an only son.  My father was a proud Air Force electrician. 

Broken down a little, Moosejaw Sask was very active during prohibition. There are tunnels beneath the town where rumrunners like the infamous Al Capone hid their stock from the governments. In my research I found an article called, Moose Jaw, Sask. Tunnel runner, Laurence “Moon” Mullin http://www.virtualsk.com/current_issue/rum_runner_moon.html.  He tells about _growing up from a boy, small enough to get quickly through the tunnels too his older days running rum across the US border to Minot, North Dakota, for Capone. This looks like a wonderful character choice to tell about prohibition and its effects on Canada and Canadians.

Let’s look at 1957:  During the Election of 1957, the opposition parties depicted the Liberals as arrogant and unresponsive to Canadians' needs. Controversial events, such as the 1956 "Pipeline debate" over the construction of the Trans Canada Pipeline had hurt the government.  Parallels to today?

Also in 57:    I share a birth year with Rick Hanson, New York Islander Mike Bossy (first player to score 50 goals in rookie season), singer Loreena McKennitt, 76 Olympic gold medalist in giant slalom skiing Kathy Kreiner (our only gold), French Canadian actor/comedian Michel Barrette (“Les Boys” & “How to Conquer America in One Night”), author Eric Walters, wrestler Bret “the hitman” Hart and comedian Colin Mochrie (he was actually born in scotland)

(it is also the year Osama bin Laden was born)

First Frisbee produced by Whamo+

Dr. Suess publishes “The Cat in a Hat”

White Rock secedes from Surrey BC, following a referendum

Diefenbaker becomes 13th Prime Minister of Canada

University of Waterloo is founded

The International Atomic Energy Agency is established

The Avro Arrow is unveiled to the public

“Leave it to Beaver” debuts

Pearson receives Nobel Peace Prize

Humphrey Bogart and Elliot Ness died in 57 (oddly, both were characters in my acting career)


And then there is the RCAF; growing up a military brat had the unintended consequences of moving around much more than most people. It meant always having to leave friends behind and meet new ones. When you do meet new people, they almost always ask, “So, where are you from?” and the answer usually includes not just a place name but, also what was significant about that place. What was the history?

What was it like to be a military wife in 57?  My Mom was refused the vote by the CCF because she wasn’t from Sask – she was “just the wife of an airman.”

There are lots of Canadian stories I can access to tell from these few facts about my life.  Some are meant for later in the telling of “The Incomplete History of Tom Canada,” some won’t make the final cut for the show.  As I intimated earlier, the show will loosely follow my timeline (although I suspect there will be lots of jumping around) and I will touch on, discuss, portray or otherwise examine 100 stories from the history of Canada during this 100 minute performance.

I hope you will check back regularly and join me on the journey of creating a solid entertaining play.

In the interest of transparency, I should reveal that this project has been in the works since mid-summer, 2013 when I decided I would like to have a part in the celebration of Canada's 150 years in 2017.  My creativity took me to this plan and I have spent countless hours deciding how I would like to express myself.  I have written the timeline of my life, recorded countless notes about some of these events and all but settled (my least favorite word in the English language) on which stories I would like to relate. However, I have been pleasantly surprised in discovering parts of our history that I had no idea existed and so this list is ever evolving.

Parts of my time over the next few years of blogging my progress will be spent coming up with a credible and strong marketing plan, promotional scheme and figuring out and bringing to fruition an artistic and somewhat unique technical plan.  I look forward to sharing these elements with you as well as the writing. They are all a part of what it takes to write and produce a production.