Project Limelight Presents “There’s No Place Like Oz”

When I was growing up in rural Saskatchewan (and partially in Europe), the opportunity to participate in theatre was one of the greatest gifts my parents and schools could have given me. Theatre gave me a way to keep playing dress-up long after my peers no longer thought it was cool. The stage was a place where I could be confident, unselfconscious, and (blissfully) anything, or anybody, I wanted to be. Being involved in productions kept me focused, gave me something to look forward to, and brought me those weird, it-all-happened-in-the-dark, we-bonded-in-cue-to-cue type friendships that only other theatre artists can understand. In my darkest hours, the responsibility of maintaining myself as a performer (body, voice, health) kept me from making some bad choices as I tried to deal with the academic and emotional hurdles life brought me.

d58e5a79e1deb00e6b78f5f9f952197dWhen I learned about the Strathcona-based Project Limelight Society, a free theatre program for East Vancouver youth, I couldn’t think of a more positive way to engage children and young people with the arts, their community, and with their own talents. According to their website, the Project Limelight Society was founded by former film industry professionals (and sisters) Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver, as a way to support and give back to the community they were raised in. Designed for youth aged 8-15, each four-month session teaches and develops performance skills as participants prepare for a full-length production. Enthusiasm and commitment from participants seems to be the name of the game, with no previous experience required. And of course, it’s offered at no cost to the participants.

Hold on, you say, what about that full-length production you mentioned? Oh yes! The young performers of Project Limelight will be treading the boards later this month at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema (SFU Woodward’s) in their upcoming production, There’s No Place Like Oz, loosely based on the children’s classics by L. Frank Baum.

Project Limelight Society presents THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE OZ, featuring 18 young performers, ages 8 – 12, who have worked together to create a show for their friends, family and community. THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE OZ, in the tradition of Pantomime, combines audience interaction, music, comedy and dance, and is suitable for audiences from the very young to the young at heart.

At Project Limelight, we want to unleash the imagination, awaken curiosity and give young people the opportunity to experience the magic of applause. Our program offers youth living in Vancouver’s Eastside, a safe place to build an artistic community.

[Read the full show description on Project Limelight’s website.]

There’s No Place Like Oz will be running for ONE DAY ONLY (two performances) so make sure you know the details:

Sunday, February 24, at 2:00 pm and again at 6:00 pm

Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema in SFU Woodward’s (Goldcorp Centre for the Arts)

Tickets are $15/$10 and can be purchased online through the Project Limelight website.

If you would like to support the work of the Project Limelight Society but will not be able to attend the show, donations to the program can be made through their website.

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody (once again, it seems, East Vancouver has stolen my heart…)!


June 2011: East Van Culture In the House

Music. Dance. Circus sorcery. Puppets. Beautiful East Van homes in the Commercial Drive area opening their doors to the public. Is this some eccentric real estate fantasy? No, it’s the return of the In the House Festival invading living rooms with its unique brand of community and magic in East Vancouver.

I have spent so much time lamenting over the hard knock life of those working in the arts that when Mads, an intern from the festival, asked me on Twitter if I would be interested in writing a piece about this year’s In the House Festival, I jumped at the chance to help promote a festival I have enjoyed in the past. I asked Mads if I might be able to ask a festival representative some questions for the post and was immediately put in touch with Myriam Steinberg, the Artistic Director of the In the House Festival, who has been involved with the festival since its inception in 2003. Myriam was so obliging and her answers so detailed I’ve included them here. [My questions are in bold, Myriam’s answers in italics]

The idea of an entire festival dedicated to bringing performers and audience into people’s homes is quite unique. What particular Vancouver cultural needs do you feel the In the House Festival addresses? There are a couple. Vancouver has a dearth of venues that are either financially accessible, or that are open to a variety of disciplines. It’s also difficult to find a venue where people will have focused attention on the performer. At In the House, we provide the space where the audience is 100% paying attention to the artists, the artists can do their thing, explore their genre, test out new material, interact directly with the audience and get paid more than the average “pass the hat” situation that they encounter in lots of bars and coffee shops. On a community level, In the House brings people together in intimate settings which create a trust and hopefully builds friendships and dispels stereotypes about neighbourhoods.

Photo credit: Diane Smithers

Are acts chosen for the festival based on the East Van homes available to the festival, or does the festival recruit homes based on the artist line-up already determined? We recruit homes based on the artist line-up primarily. Of course because some houses are smaller than others, we have to make sure that we don’t put the circus acts in a narrow living room, but instead put something like spoken word or other one person acts [in that space].

How does this year’s festival differ from years past? What are you particularly excited about this year? What have you learned from past years?
This is the 2nd year where we’ve added a 3rd night to the festival. We’ve [therefore] been able to add four more shows to the line-up. This year, we are featuring a bunch of upcoming youth in amongst the seasoned performers. Travis Lim does a killer Michael Jackson. I’m really excited to see him perform. At age 9 he’s already won 13 medals for dance! The Whitridge Brothers (11 and 15 years old) are jazz musicians who are included in the already stellar line-up. I think it’s important to give a voice to kids who have amazing talent. Age is no marker for talent.

I’m excited to watch the Cabaret so Mignon (magic, bellydance, music, clowning), to learn how to swing dance in Swingin’ Times, and of course I’m always looking forward to the finale. This year it’s a Blues Circus.

I guess the most valuable lesson I have learned from organizing the festival is to plan and organize well ahead of time and to keep expanding the network that surrounds the scene. It is thrilling to see so much great talent out there, but also to see how many people are willing to help volunteer during these festive days.

Tell me about the performance spaces (the homes). Are audience members permitted to use the washrooms? Are many of the homes wheelchair accessible/can arrangements be made to accommodate an audience member with disabilities? Any other amenities offered by the spaces (food available to buy, etc.)?
One of the most important parts about the shows is the fact that they are taking place inside people’s living rooms. It gives the shows an intimate and much more engaging atmosphere you would not find in a lot of other places. We do have port-a-potties available by Festival Central [Napier and Victoria] which we encourage festival goers to use, instead of the house washrooms, but of course people are generally allowed to use the washrooms of the houses during a show. However, they are not allowed to go explore the rest of the house outside the performance space and the bathroom. It’s really important to respect the privacy and safety of the homeowners who are so generously donating their space to a show. The backyards are generally wheelchair accessible, and about half the shows are in a backyard. Some of the houses are as well, but less so. We do have a ton of volunteers though who are available to help [or] we can also install a ramp if we have enough notice of someone in a wheelchair coming to a show. We certainly don’t want to exclude anyone from the In the House experience. In terms of food, there will be snacks and non-alcoholic drinks to buy, although we encourage people to use the “dinner hours” to explore the nice restaurants around Commercial Drive.  

If I were a Commercial-drive area home owner interested in opening my home to the festival, where could I go/who could I contact for more information? You can contact me, Myriam, at or 604-874-9325. The website also has information about the shows we put on and what it means to open your home to a show.

How can artists apply for/submit their work for consideration for inclusion in In the House? They can email or mail me a demo of what they do. I prefer to hire performers from the Lower Mainland.

And finally: Do you have any important information/tips for audience members to make their In the House experience go as smoothly as possible? If you want a guaranteed seat, buy your tickets in advance. Shows tend to sell out. Also, if you’re buying your tickets on site or have a pass, get your tickets from the box office [Napier and Victoria] as early as possible. Seating is first come first served so if you want a good not squishy seat, get your place in line early.


I am a big fan of the idea of meta-theatre, and the idea that the experience of a performance is not confined only to what is happening on the stage space. The concept of this festival suggests an openness of spirit on the part of performers and audience and a huge amount of trust on the part of those who have turned their homes into a venue for performance. Is this the kind of experience you wish to participate in/support? Check out the festival.

The 2011 In the House Festival runs June 3-5 in the Commercial Drive area.

To purchase tickets through PayPal, click here.

For schedule information and to learn more about the Festival’s performers, click here.

Thanks Mads and Myriam for giving me the opportunity to learn about and promote this special kind of East Vancouver culture. It sure beats the hell out of whining over the sorry state of the arts. 🙂

East Van: please be my Valentine

Last year my Valentine’s Day present was Alexandre Bilodeau’s Olympic gold medal. I was watching on a big screen in Robson Square, jumping up and down and screaming like crazy. Hugging the man next to me. Being interviewed by CTV but never actually being on TV. That sort of magic.

This year my Valentine’s Day gift is a little more quotidian and a little closer to home (and my heart). I’m in love with my neighbourhood. I’m in love with East Vancouver. And it constantly, consistently, gives. No matter the weather, no matter my mood, my neighbourhood is friendly, beautiful, and vibrant.

My inspiration to write this post and make East Van my Valentine is the “I Love You” graffiti that covers neglected surfaces in East Van (sources in Toronto report several “I Love You’s” spotted in that Canadian city as well). Every time someone paints over an “I Love You” it comes back. It’s vandalism, sure, but I do feel loved every time I see it.

So thank you, East Van. Please be my Valentine and accept some possibly very bad poetry as a token of my love and esteem.

Photograph by Steffani Cameron

On opposite sides of East Vancouver
Two outlaw artists spray paint the words “I Love You” on walls, fences, dumpsters.
Each time their work is whitewashed over,
It is quickly, carefully, replaced.

I like to imagine that over the days, weeks, months
These two Painters circle one another unknowingly,
spiraling inwards, irrevocably inwards,
until one day—

Outside a warehouse on Powell St.
Two sharp pings! as two cans of spray paint
Fall to the pavement on opposite sides of an empty parking lot.
Traffic stops.
Nobody makes a sound.
(Except of course for the stupid gulls,
Who are, as always, completely unaware of the moment.)

The Painters move slowly towards each other.
Inside they are running full speed, full tilt
Into something as solid and scary and gritty as a warehouse wall.
Painter 1 and Painter 2:
They meet at last.

–I’ve been leaving messages. Did you get them?
–Yes. I answered. Did you see?

The thumb of Painter 1 leaves a smudge on the cheek of Painter 2
Painter 2 does not move, only breathes.
They stand this way in the parking lot,
The hand of one on the face of the other,
A touch that satisfies both.

The gulls, with no sense of occasion, scream again.
–Well then.
Says Painter 2.

The arm falls.
The shadows lengthen.
Two cans rust on opposite sides of an empty lot on Powell St.

I pass them on the bus and close my eyes.