Tag: Billy Bishop


For the first time in a (very) long time, I sat down and watched a favorite movie from childhood. I’d only ever seen James Cameron’s Aliens on video cassette I was too young to see it in theaters, and, in truth, I never would have, being far too nervous and prone to nightmares. But I remember endless grey-skied afternoons spent glued to the screen, wide-eyed and short-breathed, biting nails and breathing sighs, over the exploits of Ripley and the Marines. Then I’d hit rewind, make a bowl of popcorn, and watch it all over again.

Recently I had the movie on my television in the background, as I prepared for a very stress-filled move within NYC. I found myself, as a woman, strangely relating to Ripley and her uphill battle against the malignant forces that seemed bound and determined to follow her. Far be it for me to make an action movie into some kind of deep metaphor (it wasn’t meant to be, was it?),  but, for a few brief minutes, between taping, shaping, squishing, folding and molding, I found myself marveling at the mastery of James Cameron’s 1986 work its hard edges, gleaming surfaces, dripping corners and long silences. I also fell in love with its feisty female heroine… dare I say I even drew a bit of inspiration?

This past fall was nothing like I’d imagine it being. I thought moving to NYC would mean I’d slip into a life I’d long wanted to be part of, one filled with work and friends and the media world I so deeply love; instead, I found rules and loneliness and desolation. Without going into too much personal detail, suffice to say the last few months of 2013 were very dark. Never have I felt more rejected, more more disillusioned, and more singularly alone. Everything was wrong, horrible, dreary and lonely; I felt less like the heroine of my life than the victim of a cruel prank. My romantic vision of New York was ripped away from me in a series of bruising, blackening experiences. I spent weeks telling myself things would get better, that it was my attitude, that it was my fault, that I wasn’t good enough, trying hard enough, that I wasn’t doing enough or being enough or bringing enough to make my NYC experience all it could and should be. I was wrong; things were bleak; it was awful. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do work I’m damn proud of, however – I just wish I’d done more of it, and made my culture writing, radio reporting, and social media activities (creativity and communicating, the stuff I love, the stuff that makes me the happiest) more of a priority. I plan to in 2014.

(Photo mine)

It was a supreme relief when, exiting Billy Bishop Airport last month, I breathed in the cold, clean air of a Canadian winter. Never has the term “home” meant so much, or been so personal, as that moment. Being back in Canada with my mother, my dog, the snow, and a warm, familiar house full of functioning heat, good food, and plenty of light in the day and silence at night has been deeply healing. Just as rewarding have been the many warm, welcoming messages from old friends reminding me there’s still a place I’m accepted, valued, and loved.

My return to NYC (at the end of month) will be done with more even-keeled approach, not expecting anything but with real attempts to keep despair at bay too. I am traumatized from my experiences last year, but I will not be defeated or defined by them. I’m keenly aware of my sensitivities, and I plan on wearing a better armor in order to protect them from the harshness the Big Apple is so good at serving up. I’m not about to bust into a chorus of “Survivor,” but I will be thinking of my favorite movie hero. I don’t care how corny that sounds. Watching Ripley fight off and ultimately escape the darkness that stalks her, with such fierce determination and return to a place of stillness and love, not quite whole but not quite defeated seems like a good way to welcome my second chapter. In my mind, Aliens never has any sequels; that ugly Mama Alien remains floating around, forever, always watching. Ripley knows. We always know. We can only move forwards.

War Is Over (?)

I only knew Billy Bishop‘s name -the fact he was a World War One ace flying pilot, the fact was Canadian. I didn’t know anything else. Lessons learned in grade nine history have long since faded and all that’s left are the names, really. If you put a photo of Bishop in front of me, I probably wouldn’t recognize him.

Eric Peterson
and John Gray take this into account. Their 1978 theatrical work, Billy Bishop Goes To War, has something for both the history buffs and the ignoramuses -it’s educational and simultaneously entertaining, engrossing, and deeply moving. Peterson, best-known among a generation of Canadians for his television work (on shows like Street Legal, and more recently, Corner Gas), has always done theatre, as he told me recently. Toronto’s Soulpepper has snagged him, fortunately, to be in a number of their show this season -including a devastating turn as the super-desperate Shelley Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross this past winter, and a befuddled, mourning uncle in Of the Fields Lately. Last year he was the menacing, coolly cruel patriarch in The Company Theatre‘s production of Festen.

So Peterson isn’t just the cutesy-grumpy guy you might know from television -the guy has range. He is also a wonderfully engrossing performer. For the length of Billy Bishop’s running time (over two hours, with one intermission), he, along with just the accompaniment and occasional narration of co-creator John Gray, weaves a compelling, fascinating portrait of a multi-layered man nearly forgotten in the sands of time.

Billy Bishop (for those of you who’ve forgotten your history lesson) was one of the most decorated Canadian soldiers of the First World War. A classic screw-up at home (in school and in life), Bishop was shipped overseas when he was conscripted. He started out in the cavalry, and eventually soared -literally and figuratively -as a member of the Royal Air Force, and is credited with an astounding 72 in-air victories. The piece aptly expresses Bishop’s doubts -in himself, his mission, his superiors -and Peterson is effective in conveying the nervous energy of a man at odds with himself and his times. He also neatly portrays the growing contradictions within Bishop’s personality: the bloodthirsty hero of the sky, versus the awkward, goofy Canuck kid.

My seatmate, who is in the army reserves, was in awe at the combined efforts of Gray and Peterson to weave a compelling, moving story out of such simple elements, as was I; with just a few trunks (marked from the locales the show’s played in), as well as toy planes, an armchair, some old photos, an army uniform and a piano, the pair magically transport the audience to the interior of a man at odds with himself and his place in history. Gray provides some nice low-tech sound effects -heavily breathing into his mic at points, pounding out morose-sounding chords at others -while Peterson demonstrates Bishop’s incredible airborne feats through sheer physicality, standing on the arms of his easy chair, arms aloft. What makes the piece particularly interesting is the fact it skips between time periods, allowing for an elastic understanding of history and our place in it. When the show first starts, Peterson and Gray come out, ostensibly as themselves, taking bows, but with the former dressed in pajamas and slippers, it’s as if Peterson is aware he’s playing Bishop reflecting back on his life -and on a younger self (actor and serviceman) most of us can relate to -medals or not.

Billy Bishop Goes To War
is more than a simple history lesson; it’s a meditation on the nature of conflict, within and without, on the idea of freedom, intimate and epic, on the terrain of country, physical and emotional. Together with director Ted Dykstra, Eric Peterson and John Gray have crafted a moving, memorable piece of theatre that moves far beyond names, and yet, I came away with a whole new appreciation of Billy Bishop, and indeed, of Canadian history. Bravo.

Sex Advice? Ask Grandma

I smiled when I saw this:

The description had worried me somewhat; would it be patronizing? Idiotic? Mean-spirited? Would it make this poor grandmother look ridiculous and outdated in a “pooh pooh, look at my granny” way? Turns out, none of the above is applicable. This is a loving, respectful tribute, and indeed, very playful… dare I say frisky.

I grew up not knowing either set of my grandparents, so I tend to live vicariously through other peoples’ -in person, or, in this case, online. Believe it or not, this would be just the type of thing I’d want to discuss with my baba. Absolutely love it. Well done.

Totally unrelated: I just came home from watching Billy Bishop Goes To War, with Eric Peterson and John Gray. J’adore. More tomorrow. Segue: I’m sure their grandmothers -Bishop’s included -would have more than a few interesting, playful insights to share. Who knows, perhaps they did… really, there must be a play in this somewhere.

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