Belly dancer shimmies her worries away

Empowering women to be comfortable with their body image through the art of belly dance.

Emily McEwan is 44 years old and has a love for belly dancing that is clearly visible by the way she smiles when describing the feeling it gives her. She believes that belly dancing has a positive impact on her life.

McEwan has always been interested in belly dancing and took classes in Scotland in 1992. However, the reason why she decided to start taking lessons in Halifax was to help her cope with the stress in her life.

Emily McEwan gets read to start her belly dancing class at Halifax's  Serpentine Studios (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)
Emily McEwan gets ready to start her belly dancing class at Halifax’s Serpentine Studios (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)

“It takes your mind off things. The thing that finally drove me to sign up for lessons was that I was having a hard time with some other aspects of life and I thought that I needed to try something that was completely different but also that I always wanted to do,” said McEwan.

McEwan quickly fell in love with belly dance and how it made her feel.

“I got some positive feedback when I started doing it so I kind of tucked that away in the back of my head because I had never gotten any positive feedback for how I moved my body to music before. I thought of myself as a klutz growing up, so it was kind of a shock to find out I could actually do this and feel good,” said McEwan.

While belly dancing was creating positive change within her own life, she was very happy to discover that her love for belly dancing could help empower other people as well.

McEwan became a member of a local belly dancing organization called the Halifax Shimmy Mob. The volunteer group of women tries to raise awareness about domestic violence and raise money for women and children’s shelters.

This is an issue that is very important to McEwan.

“I can’t go into any detail but domestic violence is a very personal cause to me. I relate to it very personally so anything I can do that can help, I will. I’m glad that I get a chance to help an organization that’s addressing it,” said McEwan.

Members of the Halifax Shimmy Mob practice their belly dancing (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)
Members of the Halifax Shimmy Mob practice their belly dancing. (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)

The Halifax Shimmy Mob raises donations by taking part in multiple charities throughout the year. The belly dance group also creates and takes part in an organized flash mob where different Shimmy Mobs from around the world dance to the same song and do the same choreography. This is scheduled to happen on May 9, also known as World Belly Dance Day.

The Halifax Shimmy Mob also has a goal of raising awareness about the positive impacts associated with belly dancing. McEwan is very enthusiastic about promoting belly dancing because she believes it can be very empowering for women.

McEwan thinks this style of dancing is a great way to help improve women’s confidence, especially in regards to different body images.

“I have found the more I do it the more confident I feel about what my body can do in regards to my ability and also my shape. Which probably like a lot of women I was kind of socialized from a very young age to be obsessed with that and worry about it all the time,” said McEwan.

While McEwan witnesses the positive effects that belly dancing has on women, she believes that there is a common misconception that surrounds belly dancing and she would like to end the stigma.

“Some people have a really mistaken idea about what it is and why people do it. The thing I would want people to know the most about belly dance is that it’s not about women showing off their bodies for men’s pleasures, it’s actually most of the time, by women for women.”

McEwan is also very happy that her nine-year-old daughter, Eri, joined the Shimmy Mob with her because not only are they spending quality time together, but she is also witnessing the positive aspects belly dancing can have on women.

“I think it’s good for her to see women of all ages enjoying this and doing it out in public as well as doing it for a good cause,” said McEwan.

Capturing canines with Stephanie Sibbitt

Stephanie Sibbitt moved to Nova Scotia last year to pursue a career as a full-time artist. Since then, she has found her artistic niche and paints custom pet portraits.

With classical music playing lightly in the background, Stephanie Sibbitt reaches forward to pick out the colours for the first layer on her new painting. On the shelf in front of her workspace, dozens of paint tubes are lined up in the order of the rainbow, and a bulletin board features a sketch of her newest project; a custom pet portrait of Bradley, a wheaten-terrier mix.

Choosing to begin with multiple shades of blues and greens, Sibbitt squeezes small drops of paint onto the top of an old Becel container and begins lightly swirling the colours around until she is ready to make the first brush stroke.

As she begins working on the first layer, her cat Davis pokes its head around the corner and jumps onto the table beside her. Without pausing to take a quick break from her painting, Sibbitt absent-mindedly reaches over to her pet and continues painting while Davis leans in, excited for a bit of attention. Upstairs, her dogs Akima and Opie whine in protest at being let out of the fun.

Most days start out this way for Sibbitt, who moved to Halifax last year to pursue a career as a full-time artist. She and her boyfriend, Bernard Antinucci, made the move from the fast-paced lifestyle of Toronto to pursue their dreams of being entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia. Surrounded by animals, it is no surprise that Sibbitt has found her artistic niche in painting custom pet portraits.

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Sibbitt has been painting all her life. With no formal training other than visual art classes in high school, she relies on books and YouTube tutorial videos to learn different skills.

“I learn from other people. If I see something that inspires me from another artist, I want to go out and learn that skill, figure out how they did it and apply it to what I do,” she says. “For me it is trial and error. My drawers are filled with stuff that no one will ever see just because I’ll try something new and realize I hate it and instead of throwing it out, I’ll just keep it because you learn from it.”

The walls of Sibbitt’s house are covered in paintings of all shapes and sizes, ranging from large acrylic landscapes to postcard-sized ink and watercolour paintings, and of course, her pet portraits.

“I’m one of those crazy cat people too, so for me, the whole pet portrait concept started because I had to put my cat down. He was 19 years old and I was devastated.”

Even though her cat Calypso was gone, Sibbitt still knew she needed some way to connect with him, and being an artist gave her the perfect outlet. After friends and family saw what she could do with just a picture as reference, many people approached her to ask if she could do a portrait for them as well. “It started to turn into this whole group of just remembering your pet.”

For Sibbitt, it is all in the details. Before even bringing her brush to canvas, Sibbitt takes time to have a consultation with clients to gather photographs to work from and learn about their pet’s personalities and quirks. At the end of the day, her goal isn’t to simply paint a picture, but to capture the personality of the animal.

“For me, I’ll spend the time. I’ll take a really crappy picture and do everything I can to make sure it looks lifelike, and make sure it looks like your dog. I really try to take what they tell me about their dog, and what is important to them and then capture that.”

Stephanie Sibbitt absentmindedly pets her dog, Opie while concentrating on her newest painting. (Photo by: Rowan Morrissy)
Stephanie Sibbitt absentmindedly pets her dog, Opie while concentrating on her newest painting. (Photo by: Rowan Morrissy)

In order to achieve a distinctive portrait, Sibbitt uses unique backgrounds and props and tries to incorporate the pet’s name into the portrait to make it special for the owner.

As her business grows, Sibbitt is hoping to expand her services as well. Right now, Sibbitt does all her painting straight from photographs that owners have brought in. In the next few months, she is hoping to provide house visits.

“I’ll come out to you, spend an hour with your dog, and take a ton of pictures of your dog. That way, I get the best pictures I like to work with, and you can keep the rest.”

While her commissions keep her busy with around four to six custom paintings a month, Sibbitt is also working on custom greeting cards and drawing tattoo designs. But even with all her artistic ideas, Sibbitt Studios would be nothing without her strong communication and business skills.

“I am on Kijiji every day posting ads. I’m emailing clients and sending progress pictures to show how far I’ve come on their portrait. If I’m not out there talking to people, then I’m not getting the work, and I’m not getting the referrals,” she says. “It’s kind of a grind, but I don’t want to be a starving artist.”

Other than updating her website, Facebook and Instagram daily, Sibbitt tries to attend vendor shows on the weekend. “I hope to leave every show knowing that everyone got a business card, and at least three people are interested in getting a painting,” she says. “I love painting, clearly this is what I want to do with my life. If I could get paid every day to do art, that would be my goal. And that’s what I’m working towards.”

Moving out to Nova Scotia and making the decision to work for herself has opened up Sibbitt’s eyes to the possibilities that are available to those who are brave enough to seek them.

“It made me realize that it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, people are always going to judge you based on your style, or your skill. As long as you can stand up and do what you really want to do, that’s all that matters.”

Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program inspires creativity

Halifax students showcase their newfound skills at We Are the Stars concert.

Students from three Halifax elementary schools and Halifax West High School showed off their skill and smiles at Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program’s final concert on Thursday.

The concert — We Are the Stars — took place at the Halifax Central Library. Symphony Nova Scotia musicians have been “adopting” student musicians for 12 years.

Once a week, for seven weeks, students from Halifax West High School practiced under the direction of one of Symphony Nova Scotia’s violinists, Celeste Jankowski.

“The learning curve was huge,” said Faris Kapra, a Grade 10 student who was part of the high school string ensemble. “It made us become something more than just a high school group.”

 

For the final concert, students performed a piece called Agincourt by Doug Spata. The song depicts a battle scene and was set in a challenging 7/8 time rhythm, which was new to many students in the group.

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Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth elementary school students get ready to perform their original composition. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

“We learned a lot of skills that professionals would use, in both our technique and our style of learning,” said Kapra.

“We learned to go home, learn everything perfectly there, then come to school to really make the music. That was different from what we had been doing,” he said.

Violist Kerry Kavalo worked with 23 students from Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth Park elementary schools.

The students learned basic composition skills and how to create through a collaborative process. In the end, they composed and performed an original piece named West-Grove Tune.

St. Catherine’s elementary school’s Grade 5 class created a narrative tale and a percussion arrangement to perform at the concert. They named their story The Dragon Slayer and Hybrid Dragon.

St. Catherine's Elementary School Students (Photo: Rachel Collier)
St. Catherine’s elementary school students show off the instruments that they used. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

When creating their performance, the class practiced math, language and presentation skills.

They also discussed the complex natures of the main characters of their story and practiced working together.

“The program is good because it changes the dynamics of the classroom from what it usually is for academic purposes,” said Susane Lemieux, the Symphony Nova Scotia oboist who guided the class.

Lemieux noticed that students really had to pay attention while working in a new style.

“It was great to see when they started to get ideas and to speak up,” she said.

The program often depends on schools’ administrative support.

“They could be doing other curriculum work, especially this year with all of the snow days. We really had to convince everyone that it’s worth it,” said Lemieux.

The freedom of poetic expression

Slam poet Andre Fenton, 19, uses his art to deal with depression and share his thoughts with others.

Andre Fenton stands against a graffitied wall in the Halifax Common. He flips through his notebook, hollowed with ripped out pages.

“She sells sea shells by the sea shore,” enunciates Fenton.

Sirens wail in the distance, vehicles honk at the intersection of Windsor Street and Quinpool Road, and children yell from the playground. Amidst the sounds of everyday life, Fenton, wearing a newsboy cap and grey overcoat, prepares to bare his soul.

After nodding that he’s ready to begin, Fenton reads aloud the poem — so new it’s nameless — he will perform at the upcoming adult slam later this month.

 

Fenton, 19, is a slam poet from the north end of Halifax. He spent the last two years pursuing a degree in screen arts from NSCC and working a part-time job at Lawton’s, while performing slam throughout the country and organizing youth and adult events in Halifax.

After qualifying for a place on Halifax’s 2013 and 2014 Youth Can Slam teams, Fenton will help coach this year’s five chosen youth poets for the national event in Ottawa in August.

He says performing feels like a high more elating than therapy. “When you first start [performing] it feels like you’re sticking your head underwater,” says Fenton, “but eventually you’ll learn how to swim.”

A shy person, Fenton says he was morbidly obese up until two years ago and has been struggling with mental health and depression since his early teens. Spoken word has been his catharsis.

“You’re taking everything you deal with, your deepest confessions, and turning it into an artistic expression.”

Taking the plunge

Fenton’s passion for writing started in elementary school, around the same time El Jones began visiting his school and performing. It was during one of those performances that Fenton realized he wanted to meet the present-day poet laureate.

He found Centreline Studios on Gottingen Street and began using the studio as a space to write and practise recording poetry. One afternoon, while he was sitting in the back room jotting down his thoughts, Jones came into the studio. She asked to hear what he was working on.

The piece, Invisible Walls, focuses on the contrasting social treatment Fenton received before and after losing 145 lb. He says he has always been the same person — whether 300 pounds or less.

Jones asked Fenton to come to the poetry slam finals that were happening that night in Dartmouth. He didn’t know what to expect, but agreed to go along.

“We were going over the bridge and she was coaching me on this poem I literally just finished,” he recounts with a smile.

Jones registered Fenton for the slam and he performed while holding his notebook in front of his face. The crowd snapped and cheered. No one had ever clapped for him before.

Fenton placed third during his first live performance and qualified for a spot on Halifax’s 2013 Youth Can Slam team. He travelled to Montreal two months later for the competition.

Competing in the Youth Can Slam gave Fenton the opportunity to grow his confidence. “There was something I could do that I felt good about,” he says.

Hali Youth Slam

Fenton has been an active member of the slam community since his surprise debut. He has worked closely with David Zinck, the head of the Halifax poetry collective, to create Hali Youth Slam, a society that hosts monthly open mic nights.

Hali Youth Slam began in 2013, but didn’t have a full season. There were three rounds of competitive slam nights.

The first official season of Hali Youth Slam began last August. After having monthly slam nights, Fenton believes the consistency of this year’s season will help prepare the young artists who are competing for a spot on the Can Slam team.

Finals will be held on April 29 at the Alderney Gate Public Library. The top five poets will qualify for the 2015 Youth Can Slam.

Fenton will coach the team of five and accompany them to Ottawa for the national event. “I’ve never coached a team before,” he says, “but I think they have faith in me.”

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He wants to ensure qualifiers work to perfect their pieces so they will be ready for harsher criticism by the time they leave for Ottawa. Fenton says the Can Slam judges are not very lenient.

Memorizing pieces is encouraged. Fenton says memorization builds confidence and improves public speaking; it keeps performers from reading their pieces like robots.

Although Halifax’s adult slam scene has dried up over the years, adults will not be left out for long. The first 2015 adult slam night is planned for April 30.

Fenton — no longer a youth — will be competing and hopes there will be more to come in May and June.

The future

After graduating this month, Fenton has plans to combine his love for poetry and film. He hopes to start a blog where slam night performances can be posted and shared. He is also beginning to turn one of his pieces into a cinepoem, a work of poetry accompanied by a video to tell a narrative.

Fenton is currently working on a video for Just Shine, a poem he wrote and performed at the 2014 Canadian Spoken Word Festival in Victoria.

He hopes the cinepoem will be completed by the end of April so that he can enter it into an online competition. Canadian artists post their videos on YouTube, and the winner will receive a paid trip to compete in the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam in Vancouver.

Just Shine is inspired by the career counsellors who told him there was no money in writing.

Fenton says he writes to make people feel connected. While admitting that competition is a crucial part of slam poetry, he also believes the most important thing is the community.

Fenton names off a list of celebrated Canadian slam poets: Jeremy Loveday, Erin Dingle and Scruffmouth the Scribe. El Jones and David Zinck are also inspirations, as well as his peers who write and perform slam.

“I’m really nerdy,” says Fenton. “When I think of all of these people, I think of them like super heroes.”

Fenton believes there is something powerful about watching someone on stage with three minutes to speak their mind. Slam poetry is a way to share his voice, and he believes the power to leave an audience in goosebumps lies in a piece’s sincerity.

“Honesty is the best poetry.”

Youth mental health program fundraises to stay afloat

The Spot held an auction on March 29 to raise funds after not receiving a government grant to help with its operating costs this year.

Ash MacDougall sits in a plastic chair, reading sheet music from her lap and practicing the Beatles’ Hey Jude on her flute. Beside her, her friend Avery Muir compliments her progress.

At another table, someone is playing with art supplies. Sounds from an electric guitar and drum set sneak through a separate, closed off room.

Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Two participants practice their guitar skills at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

This is a common scene at The Spot, a drop-in mental health program for youth held at the Pavilion on the Halifax Common. The Spot, partnered with Connections Halifax, is described as a safe space for youth to create and express themselves through music and art.

“Honestly, I love the people here. The people here are so open. Everybody is going to accept you, no matter what,” said Muir. “You’ll never feel left out or outcast here.”

The Spot recently held an auction where it raised approximately $5,500. The fundraiser was held because The Spot did not receive government grant funding, like it has in the past, to help with its operating costs this year.

Michael Nahirnak, a co-ordinator of The Spot, says the money will probably keep The Spot running until summer. He says he doesn’t know why The Spot did not receive a grant this year, but is not pessimistic about it.

The Spot is a free program so participation is accessible to everyone. Nahirnak says this is uncompromising.

“[Youth] can be a time that issues do pop up in terms of mental health,” he said. “I think we have a responsibility to support youth through that.”

The Spot uses the Pavilion for free, but costs to run the program include compensation for program facilitators, art supplies, instruments, instrument repair, equipment upgrades and refreshments.

Art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
A small bit of art supplies at The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)
Artwork made by participants of The Spot. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

MacDougall and Muir, both high school students, have been coming to The Spot for several months. Muir says she feels like an outcast at school, but is able to express herself at The Spot.

MacDougall says The Spot is here for “people who don’t necessarily think the same way as the rest of society.”

Nahirnak says The Spot is always looking to grow. For the future, he hopes The Spot can hire a full-time co-ordinator, do more work with outreach and find its own space.

“I think in the far future it would be great for The Spot to have its own home,” he said. “A one-stop shop that youth can come and be creative and have support.”

The fundraising auction showed there is community support for arts and mental health programming, but Nahirnak says it may not be enough.

“People want this kind of stuff,” he said. “However, the city probably needs to step up a little bit to help us with that.”

Nahirnak says The Spot has plans to collaborate with its partner Youth Art Connection and other charities and ask the Halifax Regional Municipality for more support.

In the meantime, Nahirnak and fellow co-ordinator Heather MacDonald, hope to find a more sustainable form of funding. The Spot will not be hosting another auction in the near future.

The Spot runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Art and music are universal. We promote mental health, but it doesn’t mean you need to have a mental health issue to come,” said Nahirnak. “Everyone is welcome, as long as you’re interested in creating.”

Halifax printmaker finds inspiration in music and art

Alex MacAskill has done artwork for the Halifax Pop Explosion and local bands. Now he’s headed to Nashville.

Atop the maze of studios at NSCAD’s Granville campus sits multi-talented Alex MacAskill. He’s actively sketching, scanning, printing and pressing art work for school, as well as for his business Fish Bone Prints.

His workplace is rugged; large wood panels and easels are scattered throughout the area. His desk is accompanied by all the tools he needs: black ink, illustration paper, and a printer. He is an artist printmaker and designs everything from album art to beer holders. The collection of his favourite works are pinned to his work space. He works alone, with folk-rock and indie music filling the air.

MacAskill is pursuing a degree in fine art and managing Fish Bone Prints simultaneously. He has grown an array of clients for his business, including Matt Mays and JEFF the Brotherhood. He’s also worked with local artists such as Wintersleep and The Novaks, as well as many government organizations. His biggest client last year was the Halifax Pop Explosion, which posted his work throughout the city.

“I have been lucky enough that I don’t need to advertise,” he says. “After a few years doing this I’ve developed a kind of signature style, one that is expected when an artist reaches out to me.”

There are a number of steps to screen printing.

“It all starts with pencil sketches to develop the idea of it. From there I take those sketches and make a full size drawing on illustration paper – done with black ink – I scan that onto the computer and work it in Photoshop and add some digital colouring. You have to print the colours differently and separate the layers. From there you use a squeegee to push the ink through the stencils.”

His school work is an outlet of personal expression. MacAskill even dabbles in the unique practice of woodcutting.

“I take a block of plywood and use chisels to carve into it. Then I roll over the ink to hit the high spots, then press paper onto it and begin to trace,” he says.

From a young age MacAskill was very artistically inclined, just like his older sister.

“She was a big inspiration for me,” he says, smiling. “I looked up to her a lot, she went to NSCAD too. She inspired my love of art, and I guess I’m following the same path as her, just carving my own footsteps.”

In high school, MacAskill wanted to find a way to design his own T-shirts for his band and began experimenting in homemade remedies. Through this desire, MacAskill acquired a foundation of skills in print work and ultimately let that flourish into his own brand.

His boyhood passion for both art and music is a combination of interests that now work in harmony to pay the bills, and takes him to places he’s always dreamed of.

“I’ve actually just landed a job with a graphic design firm in Nashville. I graduate in April and start work down there in May. It’s a dream come true. Nashville has a great culture of art and music, I really love it there,” he says.

MacAskill departs shortly after he performs a farewell gig with Drags, his garage rock band. They will be performing their last set at the Seahorse Tavern at the end of the month.

Brian MacQuarrie: comedian, actor, human

MacQuarrie is best known for his work with Picnicface, but what happens when a comedian has a ‘ mental breakdown’ and has to pick up the pieces?

The small crowd at Toothy Moose applauds as Brian MacQuarrie approaches the stage, Moleskine notebook in hand. He opens it to the page his routine is scribbled on, rests it on a stool sitting in the spotlight, and grabs the microphone. He chuckles. “OK. I’m going to try some new stuff and some old stuff. Hopefully you guys are on board with this.”


“I like the idea of performing a show and everybody misses out on it,” MacQuarrie said while preparing jokes for tonight’s stand-up routine. “The best word I’ve ever heard in performance is turn-away; how many turn-aways did we have? How many people wanted to be a part of that show and missed out?”

Born in Antigonish, N.S., MacQuarrie has been doing improvisational theatre and standup comedy since 2003 when he was accepted at Dalhousie University. Since then, he has found success as a comedian, overcome a mental breakdown and is making a career as an actor.

Joins Picnicface

In 2003, MacQuarrie became captain of the University of King’s College improv team and met Mark Little, Evany Rosen and Kyle Dooley. Together, they began doing sketch comedy under the name Picnicface.

In 2007 the troop released its video, Powerthirst, on YouTube and it went viral. Many members came and went in the early stages of Picnicface, but once their video went viral the quick jump to stardom solidified the official eight members — one of them being MacQuarrie.

“We originally started with four, five people in the audience, then we got to the point where we’d just see this lineup of people going around the block. It was like, ‘Really, you guys want to see us?'” says MacQuarrie. “We’d do a show, have some drinks … it was the best ever.”

The group quickly became recognized by big names such as Disney, CollegeHumor and FunnyOrDie. They were also invited to the YouTube Canada launch in Toronto, and began making an independent film: Roller Town.

Soon after the completion of Roller Town in 2011, The Comedy Network decided to give Picnicface its own show.

“It was the coolest experience in the world. I wrote a television show with my friends,” says MacQuarrie. “Fans were coming up to me saying they were fans. It was great. It was jarring.”

Picnicface was in the midst of shooting its TV show and was about to release its film when MacQuarrie began struggling with mental illness.

“Then something just sort of unhinged for me … I ended up having a mental breakdown,” he says.

MacQuarrie has a history of depression and anxiety. He was flying to and from Toronto and Halifax and was barely sleeping. He says he was purposely trying to gain weight. He was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, as well as marijuana, and disconnected himself from the other members of Picnicface.

“My brain just went clunk.” MacQuarrie mimics the noise and quickly twitches his head. “I lost my mind. Absolutely lost my mind. I rented a hotel room for three months. I would walk around the hotel in my underwear all the time. I was out of my mind. Several days without eating food. Just drinking glasses of water. I lost my mind.”

 

In the midst of his breakdown, MacQuarrie received a phone call saying that his TV show had been cancelled.

“I hated the idea of the show being cancelled. Some people were like, ‘Did Brian drive the show into the ground?’ Um, no. Even if I was out of my mind, I was signed up with so many contracts … if they wanted a TV show they could have made me do it.”

Picking up the pieces through teaching

After his show was cancelled, MacQuarrie says he apologized to everyone he could and began teaching students and people affected by mental illness. He volunteered at Dramafest, a three-day theatre festival held at Dalhousie for high school students, taught at Improv U in Quebec, and ran his own mental health improv classes at Dalhousie. Teaching these classes helped MacQuarrie cope with his own mental illness.

“I believed that I could change the way people thought about mental health. My manager said to me, ‘This is career suicide. Kiss comedy goodbye.’ And it was just like, ‘I don’t think that’s true. I need to do this for myself.’

 

“It was really humbling to have these moments with these people and I got to see their development as people. So it was one of the best things that I ever did.”

MacQuarrie met a firefighter at one of his classes and began to work out with him, which resulted in MacQuarrie losing a lot of weight. He tried to audition for the role of Lex Luthor in the upcoming Superman film, but was not hired. He moved to Toronto, but moved back to Halifax less than a year later.

Current projects

After doing small acting roles for a while and doing standup regularly, MacQuarrie was cast in the Halifax film Relative Happiness. MacQuarrie plays Gerard, a failed love interest of the main character, Lexie.

“I got a call and was asked to do a reading for [Relative Happiness]. So I did. They said, ‘Well, it’s close to what we want’ and I was like whatever you want, I’ll do it. I’ll spend the days working on a character and you’ll have something that sort of stands out.”

MacQuarrie was also cast in his first lead role since Picnicface in the feature film Your Wife or Your Money, which is currently in post production. MacQuarrie plays Warren, a role specifically written for him, who has “this kind of unstoppable force who would do anything for his girlfriend.”

“Maybe no one will want to see it, but maybe people will see it in England. Maybe people will see it in L.A. or New York.”

MacQuarrie also acted with Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara on the series Schitt’s Creek.

He has been applying for grants in order to write his own movie scripts and is currently writing an “anti-romantic comedy” television pilot with Petra O’Toole.

With the help of friends, MacQuarrie has also been working on a new animated series called Eric the Pillager, an adult comedy about vikings. MacQuarrie does the voice of Björn, a less than intelligent man who provides comic relief. MacQuarrie is most excited about the fifth episode because he came up with the episode idea all on his own. They are currently trying to get a deal with Teletoon for the show.


 

 

“That’s why I had a mental breakdown. I wasn’t living the way I wanted to. The people I’ve met I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t lose my fucking mind. I wouldn’t be working on this pilot that I like. I wouldn’t have got the movie,” says MacQuarrie.

“Yeah, the world is a terrible place, but it’s also incredibly beautiful. Life is fucking amazing … It’s taken a while to rebuild, but I’ve never been more confident than I am right now.”

The Seagull takes flight at Dalhousie University

Dramatic play proves ‘life can be endured.’

Dalhousie students in the Fountain School of Performing Arts took the stage on Tuesday to begin their first performance of The Seagull.

The Seagull is a play written in 1895 by Anton Chekhov and revolves around the main character, Nina, who is an aspiring actress, and a man named Konstantin who wants to reinvent the theatre through his writing.

The stage in the opening act as the audience wait for the performance to begin (Photo by: Katlyn Pettipas)
The stage in the opening act as the audience waits for the performance to begin (Photo: Katlyn Pettipas)

Dalhousie’s version of the play is directed by Tanja Jacobs, a theatre artist, director and actress who has been working in the theatre for 32 years. Despite losing multiple days of practice due to Halifax’s extreme winter, Jacobs is happy with how the production is going.

“Considering that we lost time and had problems that we couldn’t control or solve … I find it remarkable how achieved the production is. I’m very pleased with it,” said Jacobs.

This is Jacobs’ third time working on a production of The Seagull in the past two years.

“I would do 10 more versions of it!” said Jacobs. “It’s not the only work that’s going on in my life. I’m also a working actor, but if I was given another opportunity to work with young people in this play, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. I’m not bored with it and I never will be.”

Poster from the production of The Seagull (Photo by: Katlyn Pettipas)
Poster from the production of The Seagull. (Photo: Katlyn Pettipas)

Jacobs’ fascination with this play stems from the idea that, although sober at times, it is so relatable to real life.

“I find this play inspiring because it portrays that life is not just complex but full of disappointments. It proposes that disappointments can be experienced and endured; that life can be endured,” said Jacobs.

She also believes The Seagull is an educational and beneficial production for artists to work on because, like the characters within the play, they share “romantic ideas” about love and art.

Jacobs was in charge of casting while living at home in Toronto and tried to cast the actors in a way she thought would connect to or relate with the characters they were playing.

“[The actors] were asked to tell a story about an experience they’d had in the theatre, whether as an audience member or an actor … I learned a lot about them by watching those stories,” said Jacobs.

The production of The Seagull continues at the Sir James Dunn Theatre in the Dalhousie Arts Centre until April 4.

Mind Ball brings mental health to the party

“Its a party with heart and a purpose,” say the party organizers.

Between 300 and 400 young adults danced the night away last Saturday at Halifax’s second Mind Ball.

The Mind Ball was an opportunity for people to get dressed up, get together, and to let off some steam. The party’s additional purpose was to contribute to destigmatize mental health problems and illness.

“The party definitely meets expectations,” said Nicole Kink who attended the event. “It’s great to get people talking about mental health in a social and less formal context too.”

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Nicole Kink and Megan White get goofy with Mind Ball’s lively atmosphere and costume booth (Photo: Rachel Collier)

The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that about 20 per cent of Canadians live with mental illness and that mental illness continues to be met with widespread negative attitudes.

It also says that these negative perceptions around mental health are one of the main reasons why more than 60 per cent of people with mental health problems or illness won’t seek the help that they need.

Mind Ball organizers Allison Ghosn and Rebecca Singbeil recognize this issue within Halifax.

Ghosn and Singbeil attended various mental health events around Halifax and noticed a pattern.

“It was generally the same group of people at every single event,” says Ghosn.

Singbeil and Ghosn wanted to create a mental health event that would reach a demographic of people who weren’t already engaged in learning about mental health issues.

“We needed an event that people would already want to go to,” said Ghosn who realized that the 18-30 year olds are important to target when it comes to mental health awareness.

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This group of university students couldn’t give up the opportunity to both dance and to express their support and desire for more positive mental health perceptions. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

The Canadian Mental Health Commission says that 70 per cent of adults with mental illness report that symptoms began in their teens or early 20s.

“So we decided, we’re going to have a party but were going to try to put as many pieces into it as we can that will promote awareness,”said Ghosn.

“Sharing educational facts that contradict mental health myths is the most effective way of reducing stigma among adolescents,”  says Lynne Robinson, a mental health expert at Dalhousie University.

“Interacting with people who actually have mental illness is another very useful strategy for people of all ages,” she said referring to an analysis of strategies used to reduce stigma.

Another Halifax blizzard prevented some elements of the party from taking place.

However, multiple local artists who are passionate about mental health did show up to help stimulate conversations and thoughts about the topic.

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Ghosn and Singbeil welcomed artists from Atlantic Cirque, Brave Space and Outsider Insight among others.

DJ Zora the Sultan set the musical tone for the party’s busiest spot – the dance floor.

An area called the Mind Lounge was set up away from the dance floor. It had bean bag chairs, bottled water, a quiet atmosphere, peer support, paints,  and other mental health resources.

“We want people to get comfortable with mental health, give it an image boost. We wanted an event where people wouldn’t hear mental health and say ‘oh that’s not for me,’” says Ghosn.

“We need to break down the us vs. them perceptions. Everyone has mental health and it is something that everyone needs to take care of, ” she says.

Ghosn and Singbeil have already started imagining possibilities to keep next year’s event interesting.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re thinking of something that might be say, a three day, daytime type of event for next year,” says Ghosn.

Music on the street with Glen Creed

A familiar face in downtown Halifax, Glen Creed loves to play his accordion on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Dresden Row.

Over the sounds of heavy traffic, Glen Creed plays an old George Jones tune on his accordion for all to hear.

While he used to play the bar scene back in his hometown in Pictou County, Creed now spends his days playing his music on the corner of Spring Garden Road and Dresden Row.

“It’s not something I have to do. I don’t do it for a living. If I make a few dollars fine, if I don’t that don’t bother me a bit. If I play and people enjoy it then that’s what counts.”

Click on the link to hear Creed’s cover of Glen Campbell’s Gentle on my Mind.


As he plays he looks straight ahead, focusing on his music and barely taking notice of the few glances he receives from people walking by. His open accordion case holds a handful of loonies and toonies.

Creed says he began playing the accordion at the age of 12, and hasn’t put it down in 53 years. Growing up, both his father and brother played the instrument, but being left handed, Creed had to teach himself to play. The first song he ever learned was You Are my Sunshine.

Creed has been playing music on the streets for decades. This year marks his 20th year playing on the waterfront on Canada Day. Most days he starts playing around 9 a.m. and goes all the way until lunch.

His old accordion has duct tape covering the many holes in the bellows, and although he has three more waiting at home, he needs to get the reeds fixed in them before they are ready to play again.

“It’s nice to get out. So many people today play all the young people’s music, but the older people like the type of music I play,” he says. “I do Newfoundland stuff, waltzes, polkas, fiddle music and Celtic stuff. It takes them back in time and they really enjoy it.”

While Creed enjoys playing all kinds of music, his love for country music is quite clear. His wide repertoire features many of his personal favourites by George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell.

Glen Creed plays his accordion despite the cold weather. (Photo: Rowan Morrissy)
Glen Creed plays his accordion despite the cold weather. (Photo: Rowan Morrissy)

Even with the long winter that Halifax has been experiencing, Creed is still determined to play despite the cold. His dry, weather-beaten hands prove it.

“The cold air is really hard on them (the accordions). You have days that are really cold, but you just do the best you can, play when you can. Some days are a little too rough, but I just keep on going.”

Johnnyland debuts all-ages event in Halifax

Organizers of music and art event looking at expansion after successful first show.

The first Johnnyland Halifax event was held on Thursday at the Bus Stop Theatre in the city’s north end. Johnnyland events showcase youth artists and musicians for people of all ages.

Organizer Joe Dent said Johnnyland was started several years ago in Toronto by Dan Drory-Lehrer, who realized how hard it was for underage music fans in the city to attend events.

“In Toronto, all the bands play ‘19 plus’ shows,” said Dent. “There’s so few venues that have all-ages shows.”

Dent’s co-organizer, Camila Salcedo, came up with the idea to bring Johnnyland out east after she discovered that Halifax also lacked all-ages shows.

Johnnyland Halifax's first event was held at the Bus Stop Theatre on Gottingen Street. (Photo: John Sandham)
Johnnyland Halifax’s first event was held at the Bus Stop Theatre on Gottingen Street. (Photo: John Sandham)

Although the Halifax Pavilion regularly holds all-ages shows, most venues around the city do not. Halifax Pop Explosion, arguably the city’s biggest annual music festival, hosts the majority of its events at 19 plus venues.

“When I came here, I was kind of feeling that there weren’t enough all-ages shows and that I was missing that from the Halifax experience,” Salcedo said.

Dent felt the same way, joining the organizing team after a chance encounter with people from Johnnyland Toronto last summer.

As Dent recalls, the Johnnyland Toronto organizers asked him and his band to play some of their winter shows. When he told them he’d be in Halifax until the summer, they told him about Salcedo and her interest in starting Johnnyland Halifax.

Dent and Salcedo met weekly to plan the event. Their first show featured seven local bands and artwork from seven students studying at NSCAD University.

Art by NSCAD students displayed in the lobby of the theatre. (Photo: John Sandham)
Art by NSCAD University students displayed in the lobby of the theatre. (Photo: John Sandham)

Despite the snowstorm last Wednesday that dropped an estimated 50 centimetres of snow on the city, the turnout for the show was exactly what Dent and Salcedo expected.

“Even with the snow, people seem to be really excited,” Salcedo said.

Stepheny Hunter, who works at the Bus Stop, said the theatre was almost filled to its 170-person limit.

“They for sure had over 100 people if not more,” Hunter said. “Most people were dancing and having a good time.”

Dent was optimistic when asked about the future, saying “there’s definitely long-term plans for Johnnyland Halifax.”

“[We’re] just trying to bring the all-ages scene out here so everyone can sing, dance, and have some fun,” Dent said.

From calculus to couture: engineering student starts fashion business

Mahtab Cherom Kheirabadi has found a way to link her engineering education to her passion for fashion.

To many, earning a degree in industrial engineering may not be the obvious way to become a fashion designer.

However, this is not the case for Mahtab Cherom Kheirabadi. The 26 year-old Iranian-Canadian is in her last semester of engineering at Dalhousie University, and has just launched an online fashion startup Peonies & Snow.

While an engineering degree may seem like it would provide very little background to creating a fashion business, Cherom Kheirabadi has found the two to be linked.

“When I started liking fashion I was obsessed with shapes and angles and edges and that started when I was doing calculus. So all my clothing is very related to that because I put a lot of engineering and mathematical things that I learned into designing them,” she said.

Featuring her own handmade designs, Peonies & Snow has been Cherom Kheirabadi’s own creation, from sketching the first designs two years ago through to this month’s launch.

These initial sketches have now become reality: form-fitting, pastel-hued businesses dresses, silky pink robes and skirts with intricate bow detailing are now all for sale on the Peonies & Snow website.

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The link between industrial engineering and design has proved to be a convenient one for Cherom Kheirabadi, yet there are many challenges that come with juggling a degree and a new business.

“To be honest, at first it was really, really stressful because you get demotivated in both things. You can get demotivated in school because you feel like you’re not concentrating on school and concentrating instead on the thing you love. The best way that I learned to organize them is to just set deadlines and caps, ‘If I complete these three I’ll work on my fashion for two hours,’” she said.

Cherom Kheirabadi’s love of fashion and design is not a new trend in her family. While she was encouraged to pursue her degree in engineering, she also comes from a long line of tailors.

“My mom’s a tailor, her mom was a tailor, all my aunts and her aunts were tailors so it goes way back and runs in the family, everyone’s a tailor but none of them had a business because it was just harder back in the day as a woman.”

Cherom Kheirabadi’s mother taught her the skills involved in creating clothes by hand, but also ensured that her daughter would know how to do each step herself, instead of simply showing her what to do.

After two years of developing her sewing skills and honing the specifics of the art, Cherom Kheirabadi now creates each item of clothing to her own measurements and then adapts the models to fit the proportions of each client.

With graduation looming Cherom Kheirabadi plans to devote herself to developing Peonies & Snow full-time.

“I know my parents definitely want me to do engineering, but personally I think I am putting everything that I learned in engineering into this, I want to really concentrate on it because I think it would be more successful if I give 100 per cent,” she said.