I’ve arrived in Banff now, and after a very busy Friday night, I now have a chance to write about my adventures.
My hectic evening began at 5:00PM when I attempted to attend two events at the same time. I started by taking in the introductions at Dark Diversions with John Ralston Saul in the Vertigo Theatre. Festival Director Jo Steffens introduced the event’s host Mayor Naheed Nenshi (to boisterous applause) and the event’s main attraction.
After fifteen minutes I was heading downstairs to the Vertigo Studio, to catch a peek of International Intrigue with Santiago Gamboa, F.G. Haghenbeck, Steven Heighton, and Anne Perry. I stood in the dark corner near the door, while Francisco Haghenbeck read from his book, Bitter Drink. It should be noted that this book contains a cocktail recipe at the beginning of each chapter, and Francisco advised I not read more than 4 or 5 chapters in one sitting, while we were chatting in the Late Night Lounge the other night. That’s probably good advice, but it might be fun to find out for myself!
When he had finished reading, I continued my balancing act, and headed back to Dark Diversions, listened in there for 15 minutes, then back to the Studio, and then….well, and then they were both over. These were two events I would have like to attended in full, but that’s part of having so many event over so few days, and the classic WordFest dilemma.
Following the 5:00PM events, I headed to the volunteer lounge for a few sandwiches, cookies, chicken wings, and pop, before getting ready for the Friday Night Showcase with Rawi Hage, Mohammed Hanif, Annabel Lyon, Linden MacIntyre, Linda Spalding, and M.G. Vassanji.
While the event went off without a problem, it wasn’t without a couple of hiccups. To begin, Mohammed Hanif’s plane didn’t arrive into Calgary until a little after 6:00PM. There was a bit of a mad dash I understand, and he did arrive on time.
As the event was sold out, I headed to the Crying Room to watch and listen to the event. For those who are unfamiliar, as I was, the Crying Room is at the back of the theatre, behind the last row of seats and is sound proof, allowing you to cry to your heart’s content (although I’m nor sure why one would want to cry at a show, locked in a sound-proof room). But unfortunately the speaker which plays the sound from the stage into the room wasn’t working, which means in the Crying Room, I couldn’t really hear anything but a muffled murmur.
The room also filled up, and by the time Linda Spalding was wrapping up her conversation, I felt the need to get out of there. I’m not normally claustrophobic, but I found it uncomfortable sitting in a pitch black room with people, whom I can’t see, trying to listen to a show I can’t hear.
I left the room between speakers and prepared to head backstage for the second half of the show. As I waited on the mezzanine at the Vertigo, one of the night’s authors, M.G. Vassanji emerged from the backstage hallway, accompanied by a volunteer. He was then taken downstairs to where the author’s signing tables were set up and put his jacket down on his chair, then headed to the bar and bought a couple of Scotches. I guess he had decided he’d rather sit at this table with a couple of drinks than sit in the green room, without a couple of drinks. I got a kick out of seeing him there, over an hour before the event would be over, relaxing with a drink as he awaited his fans.
For the second half of the event, I returned to my spot backstage, in a folding chair sitting beside Linden MacIntyre and Mohammed Hanif. While I helped myself to a bottle of water found backstage, I noticed Mohammed drinking from a Styrofoam cup, presumably filled with coffee. This made sense, as he must have been exhausted having arrived from Pakistan only two hours earlier, after 24 hours of flying.
But as I later learned, Mr. Vassanji wasn’t the only author interested in a drink last night. Turns out Mohammed had managed to get himself a Styrofoam cup, full of red wine! I guess I shouldn’t have been so naïve to think that when I see celebrities on the Tonight Show, that they are just drinking coffee from those mugs. I know Ed McMahon sure wasn’t.
And it must have helped as Mohammed, the night’s last speaker, had the crowd in stitches during his conversation with the event’s host Jennifer Keene. Every answer was witty, poignant, and interesting. I’ll remember have to remember his secret; stay up for over 24 hours and have a glass of wine.
At 9:30, the evening’s last event began, Poetry Off the Page, an event to allow poets and storytellers to ‘use the stage as a page.’ The event featured Ken Babstock, Ivan E. Coyote, Phil Hall, A.F. Mortiz, and Sandy Pool. After a little running around between events, I was a little late for the show.
Wanting to avoid disturbing those who were on time, I had decided it would be best if I entered from backstage, on the opposite side from the doors, and slipped into a seat, unnoticed. The WordFest Production Manager was happy to escort me through the maze that is backstage, and show me to a seat. But as he approached the curtain where I would enter the room, his phone rang louder than I have ever heard a phone ring.
He immediately cupped his hands around it and dashed down a hallway, trying to get the ringing as far away as possible from the Studio. I then entered the theatre with everybody looking at me, assuming it was my phone that had screamed out in terror.
Seemingly forgiven from the audience when their attention quickly returned to the poet on stage, we were treated to a wonderful show of poetry and stories. By 11:00PM, the show and a busy Friday had wound down, so I ventured out into the streets of downtown Calgary to return to the Westin and let the next chapter of the night begin in the Late Night Artist’s Lounge.