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The Dumbest Person in the Room

The Dumbest Person in the Room

or 10 Things You Don't Know About Ken Cameron

Written by : Ken Cameron // @productiveobsession

1. What part of Calgary do you live in and what do you love about it?

I live in Ramsay, that quiet neighbourhood nestled between the railroad tracks and the Stampede Grounds that everyone thinks of as an extension of Inglewood. It’s one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Calgary. If I walk two blocks east of my house I encounter an abattoir and a condemned biker bar; if I walk two blocks west I find million-dollar homes cresting Scotsman’s Hill. To the north, one of the best breakfast joints in the city; to the south, the original Café Rosso location and roasterie.

This egalitarian mix of land use and diverse income levels appeals to my urban sensibility, but also to my roots. I grew up on a small farm and always craved an urban experience. Yet I find that Ramsay retains enough of its roots to feel like a small town. On the streets of Ramsay or Inglewood the rest of the cityscape is hidden from view and I can imagine I am once again in a small town. But when I want to return to the city I need only climb the hill and gaze at our spectacular skyline set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.

2. What is one thing you cannot live without?

My beautiful, talented and insightful wife, Rita Bozi. She challenges me to be my clearest most honest self, which, some days, feels like a full time occupation.

3. What inspires you about the Calgary arts scene?

Rita and I often say that if we lived in New York City, or London, or any of the other cultural meccas that draw us, we wouldn’t get anything done. There’s so much art to see and culture to experience in such places that we would be out every night of the week (and most days also). Plus we’d be working all the time just to make the rent in NYC!

Here in Calgary we can live a lifestyle we can afford, find the time we need to practice our craft and enjoy the influences necessary to expand our horizons. Calgary has the right amount of exceptional art made here at home, and enough world class art touring into our stages (thanks to our friends at Theatre Junction, Fluid Festival and High Performance Rodeo) to feed our minds and create opportunities.

4. Do you have a secret talent?

My secret talent is that I am usually the dumbest person in the room.

In addition to being an artist I am also a business consultant, offering workshops to successful executives and board retreats to non-profits. However, I don’t have an MBA or business experience, so I’m not shy about asking an endless stream of questions until I understand the problem at hand. I’ve been fortunate to have world-class facilitators who have mentored me and they point out that, actually, ignorance is a pretty good quality to have. By the time I’ve asked enough questions to understand what the issue is, the clients have usually explained it enough times that they have talked themselves into the solution.

This same skill is equally useful in the rehearsal hall. Most good directors spend their time asking questions of their actors so that the artists can find their own solutions. The great Canadian director Peter Hinton once told me that he doesn’t believe in talent. “If this actor has talent but this other one doesn’t, then what can I do with the second one? I might as well give up on them. It’s more productive to believe that everyone has talent but that some simply have something blocking their talent. Then I can spend my time removing their blocks.”

5. What’s the last book you read?

My reading is divided into two very different camps because of my dual life as an artist and business consultant.

Because I lack an MBA or business experience, everything I know in this sphere is self-taught, either from leading business books, attending workshops or asking endless questions of my clients and mentors. I quickly learned that there was no way I could afford to buy all the books I needed for this research so I got myself a library card and quickly re-discovered what a valuable resource we have in the Calgary Public Library. My strategy is to listen to audiobooks while running errands and, if I like what I’m hearing, get the book out of the library and mark relevant sections with post-it flags. I’ll purchase the most useful books and transfer my flags, underlining the relevant sections as I go (yes, I write in my books. Sorry).

I’m currently listening to and reading Forces For Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Non-Profits simultaneously. The authors selected 12 high-performing non-profits in the USA that are achieving a disproportionately high impact relative to their size. After studying them and interviewing staff, they identified several factors that make them successful.

These are factors any one of which could make any organization successful, but high-impact organizations manage to leverage all size at once.

And finally, just this weekend, I re-read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics while visiting a retrospective of Hergé’s (creator of Tin-Tin) in Quebec City. McCloud shows how the form works to engage the imagination by forcing the reader to complete the image through a device he calls “closure”. In many ways the theatre Rita and I try to create does the same; by forcing the reader to use their imagination to complete the image we hope to increase their engagement and empathy with the character.

6. What’s your favourite food?

A picnic.

7. If you could live in any era in history, which one would it be and why?

Will Ferguson offered a great quote in the Globe and Mail recently that says it best: “any era without social media”.

But that’s not really fair, because the more I research where technology is headed the more I’ve come to realize that the “technological optimists” in Silicon Valley may be right. It’s possible that we really are living in one of the most exciting times in history. We are in the midst of an explosion of technology, communication, knowledge and general human consciousness that is unmatched at any other time in history.

Or else Blade Runner is right and we are on the verge of ecological and sociological collapse. The choice seems to be ours. As the ancient curse says “may you live in interesting times”.

8. Use three words that describe you. What three words would others use?

The three words others might use to describe me are: Focused, hardworking, articulate.

The three words I use to describe me are: unreliable, lazy, tongue-tied.

Its funny how different our inner life is from our façade…

9. What’s your next project/what are you working on?

Currently Rita Bozi and I are set to begin work on a revised version of her work My Fair Lady – The Punk Version. It began life as a semi-autobiographical short story that she wrote when she was switching from playwriting to writing prose. When Rita was accepted into a writing retreat in Iceland about six years ago she was also invited to do a reading in a small town in Vogar, near Reykjavik. The problem was … neither of us are comfortable just standing a podium and doing a straight up reading. So Rita asked me to help her stage the evening.

Rita gathered 80 photographs and objects from her twenties in the 1980s (the period during which the story was set). I hooked a video camera up to a projector and focused it on a table, so that she could place each photo or object under the camera while she read the story aloud. The result was object-theatre-meets-PowerPoint-meets-short-story; a methodology I’ve dubbed “analogue digital”. It was really well received in Iceland. Two years later we expanded the show for two performances in Vancouver. This time the reception was even more enthusiastic. Now, after another two-year hiatus, our friends at Theatre Junction are giving us a chance to revisit it for a third development period as part of their Next Stage Series. We are pretty excited to have an opportunity to bring something that we have developed in other cities to our friends here in our adopted home of Calgary.

10. Who (or what) inspires you in your art?

Oddly enough our theatre work draws a lot of inspiration from diverse sources outside of the theatre. For instance, the “analogue digital” technique we use in My Fair Lady – The Punk Version draws its initial inspiration from the work of Daniel Barrow, a Winnipeg-based performance artist. However, rather than pure imitation, we try to adapt the technique within the structure of theatre. For instance, Barrow is primarily a visual artist and uses a 1970’s-era overhead projector and his own beautifully crafted drawings to create a form of analogue animation. We use digital video projection and found objects to augment text. Barrow remains seated at a table, while Rita moves around the table and combines dance and movement into the work.

I would also have to say that the mix of disciplines and the clean lines that epitomize our work owe a debt to our mentors at One Yellow Rabbit. I spent a decade mentoring under Michael Green, Blake Brooker and Denise Clarke. Rita and I met one another working on shows there. I am like so many Calgary artists in that the influence of their work underlies and infuses much of what I do even when I’m not aware of it.

It’s fair to say that when Rita and I come together at Productive Obsession, we are trying to combine disciplines that don’t usually cohabitate in the traditional theatre, just to see what happens. A lot of it is self-financed, at least in the early stages, and we have to fit it in around our working lives. So we have to find imaginative solutions. For that reason, it’s easier to develop it through residencies in other countries, which often leads to premieres outside of Calgary. It’s both wonderful and frustrating at the same time, because it can lead to losing touch with our community. So this is why the Next Stage program at Theatre Junction is such a great temporary home for My Fair Lady – The Punk Version. Thanks guys!

Photo by // Bryce Meyer

Ken Cameron is a multi-faceted artist, theatre director and playwright whose work fluctuates between traditionally constructed plays and alternative art projects. His art installation and theatre hybrid – How iRan: Three Plays for iPod – was featured in Canadian Theatre Review, Canada’s foremost academic theatre magazine. Ken’s play Harvest has been produced across Canada and his musical Dear Johnny Deere won the Betty Mitchell Award and the Theatre Critics Award for Outstanding Musical. Ken will be co-directing My Fair Lady – The Punk Version along with Rita Bozi as part of Theatre Junction’s Next Stage series from February 22 – 25, 2018.

If you are interested in guest writing for the blog please send an e-mail to: marketing@theatrejunction.com.