The parts we play define us
Can you become a dog? Yes, I said, I can do a dog. “No, youngster,” the bell-bottomed festooned director of a play at Neptune Theatre insisted in the glorious, waning days of a 1972 Halifax summertime, “I asked you if you can become a dog. There is a difference.”
So, I dutifully began to bark, hop, crawl, growl, whine, and — just for good measure — beg for my kibble. “That’s excellent,” the middle-aged hippie allowed. “Now, become a piece of bacon frying on a griddle. Can you become that?”
To my utter, unadulterated 11-year-old joy, I got the part. To one degree or another, I’ve been getting parts — like a journeyman actor in a regional, English repertory company — ever since.
When I was 14, I played Moth in an otherwise adult-casted Neptune production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. When I was 15, I pretended I knew what I was doing, serving on a rather small “tall” boat from Canada en route from Halifax to the 1976 American bicentennial celebrations in New York City. (Seasick and emaciated, I made it only to Marblehead, Massachusetts before I jumped ship, made it to Montreal with a single orange in my pocket, and spent the last few dollars I had on a ticket on the eastbound Ocean Limited back to Mum and Dad).
In 1977, I scored a summer job as the official “Junior Pepsi Sports Reporter” at a radio station in Dartmouth, N.S. I had the use of a white Chevette, which I dutifully deployed to cover local canoeing, tennis and hardball in the sultry, infectiously sensuous evenings. The crack of the bat, the lob of the ball, the splash of the paddle; I imagined I could play those parts, too.
Some years later, I became a rookie reporter on the business desk of, arguably, Canada’s national newspaper – The Globe and Mail. To say that I knew nothing of currency exchanges, stock markets, high finance, and government monetary lending is to say that I knew nothing of jigging for cod in the cold, invigorating waters of Prospect Bay, N.S. in 1971. I knew nothing about either, but I was fortunate to have had mentors for both at different times in my life. I had played my parts.
Over the past 10 years, I have dedicated this column to those who have played their parts in the long-running saga of Atlantic Canadian prosperity. Some have performed well; others, abysmally. Some have nailed their lines before the footlights of history; others have merely forgotten them. Frequently, I have asked readers: Can you become a citizen? Yes, some have replied, I can “do” a citizen. No, neighbor, I have rejoined, can you become a citizen?
Can you (we) conjure a new reality for ourselves, as playwrights and poets do, on the stage of life in this region? Can we recognize that the heroes we admire are just like us, though liberated from the debilitating strictures of self-doubt and purposelessness? Can we apprehend the truth: The parts we play finally define us, become us? And that those parts we grant ourselves are every bit as authentic (and fundamentally truer) as those others insist we play.
Are Atlantic Canadians “defeatist” just because a certain former prime minister of this country says so? Or are we vibrant, innovative, playful, talented, curious, and successful only because we say so? Go ahead and ask John Risley or Brendan Paddick. Check in with Donald Savoie or Yves Gagnon. Query any member of the Irving or McCain clans. While you’re at it, speak to the owners and editor of this magazine, the finest that has ever persisted in this region.
As for me, I’ve played my part and the time has come to explore another. I don’t know precisely what that will entail, but the journey is the fun, the essence, of life. Will I again become a dog or a piece of bacon frying on a griddle? I hope not. There are so many noble parts to play in this region, just begging for breathless, wondering, hopeful actors.