There are some landmark days going on in our lives. Among them is that Gina is turning 20 soon. The echo of that fact in terms of my own story is that I am coming up on the 20th anniversary of being a hands on Mom. This anniversary and all that the last month has held means my heart is full and my brain is churning.
20 years is a big marker. I am thinking quite a bit about what was happening 20 years ago at this time. I was more than 8 months pregnant. I was a different person. When I say that I am just trying to put into words that I had no idea what was about to unfold. I couldn’t imagine what labor would be like, we didn’t know the sex of our child, I didn’t know how to use diapers, soothe gas pains or get stains out of laundry. I had no idea if I would become a good mother and how Russell and I would do together. It was a place of great unknowns and looking back I think it took alot of courage.
In March Russell and I were in Victoria to attend a show at Gina’s school. We saw a walking tour of Victoria advertised that included photos at iconic spots. We signed up and asked Gina to join us. We got some very excellent pictures out of it. The similiarity between the 2002 picture above and the 2022 picture is striking. Russ, Gina and I all in the same places, Gina squashed in both, clothing colors almost the same.
This more dignified pose is a good one too. Notice the boots Gina is wearing. They will make an appearance again in this post.
I have been thinking alot about something, even right in the middle of recent performances of Shrek, I found myself thinking, “what led this girl to this place with these abilities?” I am really excited and happy to think about the place that Gina has found herself in. I want to write about it on the blog because quite simply its a big part of our story right now and I process things by “talking”, and sometimes I repeat myself, sorry if you are done with this topic before I am. The thing is maybe there is a universal question at play here. Looking at who we are, or who our kids are, or the dynamics of life that we find ourselves in we can ask the question “how did this come to be?” In our families case, what is it that brings a girl from a small town of 1100 people to a very real comfort level with city life and the confidence to step out on a stage and share what she’s got?
I can tell you what it wasn’t. It wasn’t Russell or I pushing her down this path. Just the opposite. Gina often asks me, “Mom how did you not catch on that I was going to love this stuff?” I just didn’t. It didn’t cross my mind that I had a musical theatre loving kid in the making. Ideally pictures like the one below might have tweaked my head in that direction, but that didn’t happen.
It also wasn’t a result of rich arts opportunities. We were mostly always on a tight budget and our life unfolded 8 miles from the small town in this picture.
So what happened to bring her to this point?
Maybe very partly this……
One of the things I observed sitting in the audience at Shrek was that Gina had the ability to use her speaking voice to communicate a wide range of feelings and meanings. She went from the feisty red head we know well, to a tone of tenderness and caring very quickly and very effectively. She had mastery of her voice and its impact. So here is what I was thinking about sitting there…….besides the training at CCPA, is this partly about reading books together for years and years? My method was a bit unusual. I got bored reading the same children’s books over and over again. There was variety in our library of course, but you know how kids like certain books and ask for them repeatedly? The kissing Elmo goodnight book just about did me in. So….to keep myself interested I just started experimenting with my voice, it was like I was asking myself “how can I phrase these words or sentences, how can I change volumes, how can I change tones so that different meanings or feelings come across?” It was actually kind’ve fascinating for me, good research for the public speaking that I do. Gina was exposed to all these shenanigans from a very young age. So I found myself sitting in the theatre wondering…..is this a reflection of book time? Maybe. Likely in some way.
And maybe this……
Gina started piano lessons in grade 2. She was not a natural but through the “Music for Young Children” program and the attention of her teachers Kari and Sharlene, she achieved a solid base of music theory and the beginning of performance skills. As dance took on a bigger role in Gina’s life piano receded however Gina recently told me how mindful she is of the theory she learned in those early days.
Then there is this…..Gina says she was in grade four when she started watching “Glee” the TV show. She credits this show (which I have to say was a little edgy for her to be watching, parental misstep there…) as the thing that really woke up her desire to take music and performance farther in her life.
And then there was this……
Gina joined the cadet program when she was in grade 7. This called her to stretch herself. Her first weekend camp was terribly uncomfortable for her, only because she liked home. The teamwork, discipline and endurance which are now part of her reputation were deeply nurtured at cadets. The part she talks about though is her “cadet voice”. She had a little bit of experience being parade leader at the point she decided to quit cadets (she was discerning that she just wanted to get dancing). Those parade experiences made their mark.
The obvious deciding factor in Gina’s journey was the opening of a dance school, 16 minutes from our driveway, when Gina was almost finished grade 9. Stephanie her teacher gave her a foundation in all forms of dance, a complete and total opportunity! This is proof positive of the difference one person can make in the life of another, simply by sharing our gifts. Gina was later asked to join the teaching team. I am certain this helped Gina root her own skills.
Gina also had the benefit of singing lessons for one year in grade 11 and performed in our local music festival. Her passions and skill were getting kindled. The screenshot below is from Facebook. I included it because the captions for both pictures highlight the fans and are a bit funny.
When Gina was in grade 7 or so our local school started offering an annual one week intensive drama experience facilitated by Missoula Children’s Theater. She was in grade 11 and was Captain Hook in this picture. Looks like some “stage combat” could break out at any time!
The two pictures below were taken by Liz Griffin. Here are Gina’s boots in their natural habitat. We believe the close-up work with our herd, with the courage and conviction it requires, something that was a part of Gina’s life for so many years, is connected to Gina’s presence on stage.
A helpful part off Gina’s unfolding story is that it finally dawned on me how important all this was to Gina. It happened at the Carol Burnett show at the start of grade 11.
The picture above is Gina standing up in the Centre of the Arts in Regina. In this picture she was talking to Carol Burnett. She had sat through 30+ minutes of the show with her hand up waiting for Carol to see her and take her question (it was the format of much of the show, akin to her TV show). When an usher pointed Gina out, (the shadows meant she was not easy for Carol to see) Carol received her question. They had both played Miss Hannigan in Annie and they sang a chorus of “Little Girls” together. After witnessing that hand up for that long I finally caught on…..my girl means business about this business.
Yes she meant business! After two years of hard work and persistence, through milking the opportunity for all it was worth, Gina graduated from the Canadian College of Performing Arts on May 15th. There she is on the left, graduating in her cowboy boots. Russell and I feel so moved by these moments.
There are 3 very significant parts of this picture. Most obviously, Gina had just been presented with “The Founders Award for Musical Theatre” it recognized outstanding achievement in musical theatre. Gina says that after two years of questioning whether she belonged at CCPA, based on her limited experiences, the award has helped her know she did and does belong in the arts community. That’s major. The presenter is the founder of the college and happens to be Gina’s mentor, Jacques Lemay. He is the instructor who brought to life Gina’s love for stage combat. That is another big piece of this picture. And finally, Jacques is known in our family, through Gina’s stories, as a wise and kind gentleman. We all value that very much.
I am closing this blog with this picture on purpose. All these students are from Saskatchewan, except for one from rural Alberta. This group comprises most of the lead role actors from Shrek. (Shrek and his understudy (who did 3 of the shows as Shrek), Fiona, Donkey, and Dragon are all here. Saskatchewan sent students to CCPA they can be very proud of. This makes me think, while we perceive that not much happens in smaller places, in truth, looking at the big picture, anything is possible. When the schools, community organizations, music teachers, dance instructors, families and fans each do what they can, soil is made rich for dreams to sprout and grow. The lesson I am taking away from creating this blog is that all the pieces, even pieces that may seem small, they all add up. So it’s important to do the bits we are called and gifted to do, to nurture the soil of our shared lives, to keep possibilities possible for others.
Gina, thanks for listening to what was stirring within. Thanks for these first 20 years.