Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Sound Scaping with Luke Ertman

Luke Ertman has been composing, recording, and performing music for over 10 years. He has composed for television, live ensembles, and over 50 theatre productions across Western Canada. He was nominated for Jessie Richardson Awards for his designs for ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ and ‘The Seafarer’, and received a Rosie Award nomination for Best Music for the short film ‘Carl’s Way’. Luke has a unique ability to morph different styles and genres of music while pursuing a sound that is unique and at the same time familiar. He received a Bachelor of Music with Distinction from the University of Alberta with specialization in Composition and Theory and Classical Singing. He runs a recording studio from his home and his band Fools Tongue has garnered national and international recognition.

Luke Ertman and his Chapman Stick. Photo courtesy

Where do you call home?
I live on an acreage just outside of Leduc with my wife, 2 kids, 2 dogs, and cat.

How did you get into sound design?
I was completing my Bachelors of Music degree and wondering what practical applications it may have. I was studying composition and theory in particular and really didn’t see many needs for it in the field. I must have told Dad about that and he offered to let me write music for a theatre show. And I’ve been writing steadily for north of 10 years now.

What are the best (and most challenging) parts about working with your dad, Artistic Director Morris Ertman?
I think the best thing is that we have a similar aesthetic. Neither one of us are “realists” or “purists”. We tend to be centred around the emotional journey of a play as opposed to the specifics of SFX (sound effects) etc… I think that removes a handicap that can sometimes come into play. It allows me to write and trust what I write. I think the hardest thing is that we stay in the same house during rehearsals. There is no getting away from the play once I’m down there.

How do you approach a script? Can you give a breakdown of your process?
Well the first thing is of course reading the play. I absolutely start to hear ideas, sounds, melodies, etc… I sort of jot those down on a piece of paper as I go. Then I usually meet with the director. We talk about the other design elements, the general feel, any specific obstacles that may be in a given script. From there I usually write the top of the show or the climax of the show. I go back and forth with the director til we both feel that it’s right. After that I sort of write out from that reference point and call it a day.

What do you listen to on your drives down to Rosebud?

Anything currently inspiring you?
There is an American keyboard player called Tigran Hamasyan that I have been listening to a ton lately.

Did you have a specific inspiration when designing ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’?
The inspiration point of this show is of course, the end. There is an epic journey of humanity happening here that arrives at a sort of beautiful thesis. I think my goal was trying to create a universal theme or sound that could underpin the funny episodic nature of the piece and land an audience at the end. I wanted to play against the rapid movement of the piece and try and find continuity.
No Ohhh Child - The Skin of Our Teeth - Luke Ertman

What’s one of your favorite sound designs?
Mary’s Wedding is such a beautiful script. And the theatric nature of it really allowed me to have fun with the music. It was able to fill a really big role which was super fun.
Dearest Mary - Mary's Wedding - Luke Ertman

Do you have any secret hobbies?
Hmm. I like to woodwork, garden, cook. We have a 7000 or so square ft garden that we tend to each summer. It’s huge and we eat from it year long!

Any upcoming projects?
An Almost Holy Picture, at Rosebud. The Canadian Badlands Passion Play. My band Fools Tongue is super close to releasing a new album. Fall, I really hope! (Here's an unfinished preview of one of the songs)
City of Christ May - Fools Tongue

The Skin of Our Teeth’ closes this week! You’ve only got a few more chances to catch Luke Ertman’s deep and dulcet musical musings on this epic adventure through time. After that we're moving to our summer offerings, ‘The Spitfire Grill’ and ‘An Almost Holy Picture’. For tickets and information on all our shows, visit

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Engaged to an Audience

This week we're talking with resident company member Heather Pattengale, who's currently on stage in 'The Skin of Our Teeth' as the silly and sassy house-servant, Sabina. Her character regularly breaks out of the story to dish with the audience, disagree with the playwright, or fight for her right to perform on her own terms.

Heather Pattengale talks shop with spectators as in Rosebud Theatre's The Skin of Our Teeth. Photo by Morris Ertman.
So what's it like to look the audience in the eye when you're in the middle of navigating the show?
Interacting with the audience is one of the scariest - and therefore most exciting - parts of the show for me. The audience may not know it, but in those moments when I speak directly to them, each one of them are my scene partner... I'm depending on them, looking to see if they understand what I'm saying, if they're on my side, or if they think I'm just nuts.

Does this "scene partner" drastically change from show to show?
Depending on how an audience reacts and responds to my addresses, I get a sense of what kind of show it is going to be. That is to say - it does not affect my lines much; my lines are set out for me by the playwright and there is no improvisation in this show. But it may affect how I deliver them. And, just like in [any] show, how an audience reacts certainly does affect how deeply the story is going to land: for them, for me, and how much energy there is in the room to play with and springboard off of.

Is it exhausting or exhilarating, riding that tightrope of not knowing quite what to expect?
As performers we of course pour everything we have into each performance. But something magical happens when the audience meets us there, when they not only receive everything we're pouring out, but respond generously in kind. The energy become exponential, much more than anything we can manufacture on our own. And it is in that interplay that real life happens. The audience becomes improvisors because they are invested in what's happening too, and respond honestly and openly: sometimes by listening so intently you could hear a pin drop, sometimes by laughing or scoffing or gasping or groaning or even proclaiming!

Sabina lodges a complaint with the Stage Manager. (From left: Declan O'Reilly, Heather Pattengale, & Peter Church.) Photo by Morris Ertman
Do people ever interact with you while you're on stage? 
I have been on stage when members of the audience unexpectedly shout out "No!" or "Yes!" and let me tell you, it's the best, because it means they are along for the ride and care about the outcome of the story and can't help but reach out to the characters.

The story alone is a wild ride of cataclysmic catastrophes. Do you think "breaking the fourth wall", (when actors break out of the story to engage with the audience directly), adds to the adventure? 
I want audiences to feel that they can climb into the story too; that there is a place for them inside it, because there is! And that is true of every show that happens in live theatre. Depending on the specific audience and their reaction, sometimes it takes flight in surprising and life-giving ways, and sometimes less so. But it is different every time. So I hope people come and see this show more than once, because it's never the same thing twice.

'The Skin of Our Teeth' plays for two more weeks! It's an explosion of ideas and kooky characters, all wrapped up in a story that celebrates the ups and downs of humanity. For tickets and information, visit

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Resident Company "Snapshot" - Norma Roth

A member of our resident acting company as well as a professional theatre designer, Norma's previous credits on the Rosebud Theatre stage include  ‘Curious Savage’, ‘Cariboo Magi’, ‘Voice of the Prairie’, ‘A Rosebud Country Christmas’, and 'The Miracle Worker', among others. Some of her many design credits include ‘Valley Song’, ‘Last Train to Nibroc’, ‘The Secret Garden’, 'Queen Milli of Galt', 'Gifts of the Magi', and ‘Shadowlands’. Norma is a graduate of Rosebud School of the Arts (FRSA) and the University of Alberta (BFA).

Norma Roth and company in The Skin of Our Teeth. Photo by Morris Ertman.

How long have you been part of the ‘Bud?
I came to Rosebud in ’91. I came on a whim, was interested in theatre. Who knew what would happen as the result of one small decision…

You’ve been an integral member of the resident acting company for decades! Do you have a favorite show?
Hmm… not sure about a favorite. Christmas in the Country was pretty amazing. I got to play Mark Lewandowski’s stand up base for one song. Learned like, four notes. Felt so cool, you wouldn’t believe it.

Nathan Schmidt and Norma Roth in Christmas in the Country, Rosebud Theatre 2001. Photo by Morris Ertman.
You’ve also got a degree in theatre design. What’s the best part of the design process for you?
Finding something by chance that is perfect, better than I could have done by my own intention. If I was a spiritual woman, I might suspect someone else was involved :)

What’s the most challenging part?
That moment when you are just over half-way through and you are suddenly struck with the conviction [that] every thing, every single thing, totally sucks. I have learned, over the years, to ignore said conviction.

How do you approach shows differently as an actor vs. a designer?
As a designer, I approach the script with a pen and paper. What is being said about the characters, the location, the time period? Whatever I am responsible for. As an actor, I approach the script with my heart and body. How is this person me? What do I need to do to serve the story?

Coffee or Tea, and how do you take it?
Tea! I cannot stand the sight, taste, or smell of coffee! I would take garlic breath a thousand times over breath laced with the beans.

In ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’, you play a number of roles, but noticeably the Fortune Teller… a woman who calls things as they are. She's strangely capable of recognizing the weight of the time and events taking place around her. Do you identify with those abilities?
I do value truth tellers. The Fortune Teller could use a little more compassion but she is trying to save everyone. She doesn’t candy-coat it or coddle anyone, especially Sabina. The Fortune Teller sees things go round and round, lessons have to be repeated until they actually change the student. Maybe she isn’t compassionate because she knows it will keep happening come what may. That must be tiresome after the 2493rd time. I think life is very much like her character. Life isn’t there to make you feel better about yourself. You have to figure out how to manage. There are many, many resources available to help you figure out how to manage, but you have to make your own choices.

Norma Roth as the Fortune Teller in The Skin of Our Teeth. Photo by Morris Ertman.
What would the Fortune Teller say to you?
I think she would share her beer with me.

Anything unexpected happening in performances?
I didn’t think people would see the Fortune Teller as beautiful. So many people gush all over me in that costume. I feel gritty and hard and immovable. So I was surprised.

Has Rosebud changed much over the years? Anything you hope it might still become?
Oh, Rosebud is always changing! So much. When the place is required to get on with the next step, somehow it does. It just keeps going. That has to be supported, progress and all that, but I do hope what I loved and still love about it stays safe.

Any pearls of acting wisdom you hold on to?
Stop dropping the ends of your sentences. If people can’t hear you, no one will care. I think my best trait as an actor is that I want to communicate with the audience. I really want to communicate. I could spend the rest of time getting better at that.

How about for design?
If there is something in your design that doesn’t really tell the story, you don’t need it. Make sure what you create needs to be there.

Norma Roth's bonafide truth-telling is on display until June 3rd as a seer and seeker in the profoundly adventurous ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’. We consider her a certified treasure, but come and decide that for yourself! For tickets or more information, visit

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Case for Stillness

I am haunted by stories.

I’ve been plagued by some Biblical stories the last few weeks. It’s a hard book. So many events are fantastical, impractical, and utterly lacking in common sense. The whole thing feels like a fairy tale where miracle manna falls from the sky, city walls suddenly crash down to rubble, people wander through deserts following clouds, a woman looking back turns into a statue of salt, God comes down as a man to die, and graves open to return captives from lands of the dead.

Harry Potter has nothing on the Bible.

In particular, I’ve been processing the story of Gideon, who led an army against the Midianites. A practical and tactical task, for the most part. But on the way…
The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’" So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. But the Lord said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go." So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink." Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.The Lord said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home." (Judges 7:2-7)
In the story, they go on to win against the Midianites because God basically scares the enemy into fleeing when they think they’re surrounded by a large army. God delivered a hoodwink. Smoke and mirrors made a miracle.

I am haunted by Biblical stories. By all the wild events and characters. I want to believe that God moves in mysterious ways, people's prayers are answered, the dead impossibly raised. That there's a whisper - if we listen - The Spirit of God who takes control and care of all our needs. It’s a fantastical dependence that seems almost wishful, but also requires the greatest kind of faith. There can be an awful silence in the moments before deliverance: like the Saturday before resurrection. Or the 300 men fairly certain they were probably gonna die. Or all the ones who have, waiting in faith for the promise they lived as if they already received.

Not too many months ago, Nathan and I went to see Martin Scorcese’s Silence. What an impossible story. People tortured to the place of denying their faith. Those who did not deny Christ were killed… except for a few compromisers. And the grace of the Father’s heart is revealed to those compromisers in a way that I can’t say. It’ll iron out the movie. But it is so amazing…

The Bible is full of stories of provision, but also people who were martyred: the stoning of Stephen, Paul and Silas imprisoned, and Jesus condemned and crucified with nothing but his calling to sustain him.

But in the middle of all that impossibility, there's talk of "The peace that passes all understanding". Centuries later, Reinhold Nieburh wrote this poem:

I am haunted, not only by Biblical Stories, but movies and poems and plays and novels: artistic expressions of the human events we experience. I hunger for transcendent moments where we touch the heart of God and the Cosmos and our Brothers and Sisters past, present, and future, all at once. For in a story, we are all united. We experience the uncertainty of the characters as we await the conclusion that ultimately draws their narrative into focus.

I am also haunted by ministry… the notion that a life can be lived merging the transcendent with the everyday. That the Creator of the Universe could be invited into our midst again and again, and that somehow we could dare to believe that He would make His presence known. And it is that desire, along with the love of Biblical stories, movies, poems, plays, paintings and novels that led me to the altar of the church to be a minister… and also lured me from the pulpit to the theatre.
And I’ll tell you why. Make-believe was easier to handle than the working out of story in community, which is what ministry requires. So, this particular Jonah got in a boat and sailed away from that idea good and quick. The transcendent is so much easier when it can be revered as an ideal. And this Jonah didn’t even mind being swallowed up by a whale for a wee while, since he knew that part of the story was dramatic and romantic and unusual and glorious!

And then that whale spit him up on the shore of Rosebud, where he joined a host of people longing to tell stories, touch the heart of God, and somehow pay the bills. And we’ve lived through times of plenty, and also through times of want. In our current economic climate it can feel like “here we go again…” smack down in the middle of a battle with the army reduced from 32,000 to 300. Times when dependence on God becomes necessity, not a mythic notion.

I hit the pillow last night in some turmoil coming out of a long day of administrative impossibility. As I drifted off, the words “Be still and know I am God” repeated themselves over and over in my head. I didn’t want to forget them, so just kept repeating them until I lost consciousness.

“Be still, and know I am God.”

And then I remembered a moment during Espresso rehearsals in its first incarnation at Pacific Theatre. We’d been developing the piece over several years and here we were, finally in rehearsals, telling a story I knew in my bones came straight from the heart of God. I found Lucia one morning, sitting on the back stairs, waiting for Stage Management to open the door to the theatre. And she said out loud, in a little girl wonder voice, “Jesus is here.” She whispered it like it was magic in the dark. “Jesus is here.”

“Be still, and know I am God.”

And when Lauren deGraaf played Jesus in Cotton Patch Gospel, there was a moment in rehearsal where I asked her to hug a bag of hate mail during the song about Jesus’s death. The moment was pure miracle. It deeply impacted a handful of people so much that some wanted pictures of it – like vials of Holy Water at some shrine… something to carry home as a talisman for transcendence.

In the practical turmoil that is theatre: the planning and creating and interpreting and working out finances and collaborating within community: these kind of revelations happen in stillness. It’s a beat in rehearsal when you’re about to ask something ridiculous of an actor, but before you do, you pause to listen.

“Be still and know I am here.”

And out of the stillness, the impulse doesn’t go away. The creative requirement gets stronger, and all of a sudden you’re leading 300 warriors to face the Midionites instead of 32,000. And it doesn’t necessarily make any sense. How God wanted LESS people, to make MORE noise. But before that could happen, they had to crawl, silently, in the dark. And also, how
  • Lucia and Morris wait on a step and feel the presence of Jesus before starting the rehearsal day.
  • Jonah abides in the belly of a whale and ponders his fate.
  • 5,000 people sit down and settle before Jesus breaks bread to feed them.

When I came to Rosebud to take on the position of Artistic Director, a song by Steve Bell came to mind.

Down roads I’d never have chosen seems to be the mantra, I think. It is the curiosity that wonders about the trail leading off the main road, that sometimes is a command to throw caution to the wind. It’s the moment when words we hold in our heart bubble to the surface, and we take breath to give them voice. It is in the breath, when we know the words are coming, but we must intake the air, where we can recognize and know that all that comes after might just come from God. And the words might just feed five thousand people… or one. But the number shouldn't really matter.

Lucia Frangione's Espresso played to packed houses and almost empty ones. Sometimes God multiplies our work and sometimes a single weeping woman wants an iPhone picture of an actor hugging a mail bag.

When we feed five thousand, everyone is happy. When we feed one or two, there are few witnesses to tell the tale. And in those moments, these words have to carry the day. 
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)
If I am honest, I am haunted and troubled by such words. But at the end of the day, His words are daily bread to fill my hunger and keep at bay my need for security and certainty. Maybe in and of themselves, they are the miracle I seek, because it was His words that calmed my spirit last night, and met me early this morning. And maybe, as we wait on His words, it transforms the story. Maybe stories are a way to connect in the stillness and remind ourselves of the bigger picture.

I leave you with some of my favorite words… prayers by any other name I think. 
Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The River was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words. And some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters. 
- A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean

And eventually, all the words, all the stories, all the originals will merge into one final, ultimate narrative: our Creator's.

I am haunted by the sound of his voice, and in the stillness, strain my ear to hear.

- Morris Ertman
*Staff & Student Chapel - Rosebud School of the Arts - April 25, 2017