Phil Rickaby
Welcome to Episode 247 of Stageworthy, I’m your host Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more.

For a couple of weeks now you might have noticed a new link in the show notes for Stageworthy episodes: a link to the tip jar. I’ve been considering for a while now how best to talk about this that doesn’t sound like begging for money. So you know what, here’s just here’s the deal: Stageworthy is a one man production, I do the hosting the producing the guest booking and the promotion, and I foot the bill as well. And while costs aren’t tremendously high, there is still a cost things like podcast hosting, as well as a few services that I use for recording or mastering the audio. And in thinking about it, I’ve thought about using something like Patreon but since Stageworthy is a Canadian podcast, and Patreon charges in US dollars that didn’t seem like a great option. So I created a tip jar, and you’ll find a link to that in the show notes of this episode. If you feel like dropping a little coin my way to help support Stageworthy that would be appreciated, you can do that on a one time basis and you can do it monthly. So if you can put some money in the tip jar, thank you. And if you can’t, don’t worry, I’m honestly just happy to have you as a listener. If you want to drop me a line you can find the stage where the on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find the website with the archive of all 247 episodes at stageworthypodcast.com. And if you want to drop me a line. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @PhilRickaby and My website is PhilRickaby.com.

My guest this week is Velvet Wells. Velvet is a Black, autistic, queer entertainer from Toronto. You can catch his latest show personal demon hunter divide and conquer on friends Live stream.com on July 30,

Velvet You and I have not had the chance to sit down and talk since friend last year and we didn’t really get a chance to talk much at fringe because we were both fringing

Velvet Wells
Yeah, we we both had a very busy schedule and our venues were not super close to each other.

Phil Rickaby
They were so not close to each other.

Velvet Wells
Yeah. Well, I was I was doing a bring your own venues. So I you know, I chose a place that was comfortable to me, but and I knew that it was it was off the beaten track, but as a result, it was hard to get it was hard to get the first traffic and and then also it was hard sometimes to have the energy to want to go to where the fringes are. I want to be where the fringe people are.

Phil Rickaby
Of course, of course. And that and that that is that can be hard enough to do after you’ve probably tried to promote your show. I’ve been running around and done a show, it’s hard enough to then get up the energy to go where the fringe people are.

Velvet Wells
Yeah, I was fortunate that I got to see a few shows. But it has now been time that I’m not going to pretend to remember all of the show titles. No, but but I did get to do that. And I did get to the fringe tent a couple of times at least. But I really just wanted to honour that I was in the middle of performance mode, and it self promotion mode and then just give myself a break about anything else. Yeah. Because this was as much as I had a trial run in Windsor. This was that was really my first show in fringe and and I wanted to have as much energy as possible for each performance and and not feel like I had to do too much in order to be a true fringer.

Phil Rickaby
And that the show just in case anybody missed it was a personal demon hunter.

Velvet Wells
Yes.

Phil Rickaby
And now I want to talk about where that show came from. But you mentioned having like a bit of a trial in Windsor, was that at a Windsor fringe or was that like just a like a one shot or what how did that come to come together?

Velvet Wells
It was the Windsor fringe. So the genesis of me doing fringe last year was I’ve actually applied through the lottery a few years in a row and not been selected and I know that that is part and parcel of fringe in general. But last year was my 50th birthday and I really needed to do friends. That was my birthday gift to myself. So, so I was bummed out that I didn’t get into the lottery initially. And then I was talking to a friend and they encouraged me to look at the other fringes, there was no reason why it had to be at Toronto. And so that’s what I did. The first one that I found the first one that had an availability or at least was still open for submissions was Windsor and and pretty much within half an hour of me submitting I got accepted. So I went down there and I then understood a little bit of why I was accepted as quickly as I was. It was not a great experience. It was a great learning opportunity as as I used to say in corporate Canada, and and so I don’t want to get too much into that but i what i was given by the other artists who have been on the circuit quite a bit. They said that this experience you will not get this anywhere else across Canada. So take it for what it is, it’s, you know, it’s that learning opportunity. But then when you hit Toronto or any of the other stages, you are going to be so prepared. And it really was it like it created for me a sense of what the floor might be like, how, how bad could this be? It was already covered. And it was only up from there. So that was

Phil Rickaby
Did you- Did you learn anything in particular from from performing it before you hit Toronto?

Velvet Wells
I ended up rewriting the show a little bit after. So, yes, to answer your question. The thing that I learned most from doing it in Windsor was to trust my gut. I had created a set before I went to Windsor thinking it’s going to be in this order. And then I changed it in Windsor, and I was not happy with it. And part of that was that some of what I was waiting for in terms of music wasn’t prepared yet. So I used what I had in In the interim, and I wasn’t happy with where it’s at, and it was only in the last show where I put it where I wanted it to be, and then took that to Toronto that I went, aha, See, I knew I was not wrong. And and that was that was gratifying to have that confidence in myself. The other thing for doing it in Windsor, nobody knew who I was, and that’s fine. That in some ways gave me some enemy anonymity but also meant that whatever reactions they had to my material, were honest. And that was I in terms of performing in Toronto, I’m used to getting good feedback, but I also wonder how much that’s because their friends or family so to do it down there and to have people have the same kind of emotional reaction to my show was so heartening, and and again, confidence building to know that hey, I’m now officially a playwright and and a, you know, I am now doing solo shows and I don’t necessarily need to have an ensemble in order to shine.

Phil Rickaby
What is the elevator pitch for personal demon hunter?

Velvet Wells
What was the elevator pitch?

My elevator pitch was Velvet Duke is a motivational speaker who needs your motivation today.

Phil Rickaby
Nice.

Velvet Wells
Yeah. And however Having said that, I thought that it was I thought it was very pithy and I enjoyed it. And everybody had told they’re like, Oh, yeah, cool cool cool. But they came into the show with this expectation that I was going to be like, evil or smarmy, or something. So they were very thrown off by the fact that the show was as personal as it was, and also as audience guiding as it was. I think that they they expected me to set the audience up as a joke. And I just refused to do that. I did get one review that said something ended with something along the lines of it seems like he earnestly cares how the audience is doing. And I thought what kind of shows do you go to audience where the audience’s are just like thrown through the mud? Like I don’t want I don’t want to see that show.

Phil Rickaby
I don’t want to see that either. I don’t want to go to that show.

Velvet Wells
Yeah, but but that kind of feeling from the from the initial I’m not sure what this is to suddenly coming out of it going. That was healing. That was I like how this felt. I was I heard that often. And so I realised as much as I like my elevator pitch. I really didn’t set people up in in the media, to know what to expect from it.

Phil Rickaby
It’s so hard to know how to do that with a show. Yeah. I think you almost have to perform it a few times before you really start to even really know both what the show is, and what you need to tell people so that they are prepared going into it.

Velvet Wells
I agree with that. And I would say, Phil, that one of the lessons that I learned out in Victoria was to listen to what audience members were telling each other about the show. And so in Victoria, you paper the lines a lot now in Toronto, I didn’t really have that because I was in such an isolated area, that people who were already there for fringe show knew about the show. So I so Victoria was the first time that I learned how to paper and initially I go and I do my pitch and I’d be very charming and lovely. And, and then I started to hear the audience and they were saying, Oh, so near the end, he’s going to make up a song based on whatever you say. I’m like, Well, I mean, that is what I do. That is that was part of it was a cornerstone to the idea of what I wanted to present but I I realised Oh yeah, I’m not giving people the hook that they need to go. Oh, that’s different. Hmm.

Phil Rickaby
There is sort of that attitude towards solo shows is that you sort of have to give people something that lets them know that it’s I don’t know not a show about your struggle with carrots or some right yes. Yeah, I didn’t used to like carrots and now I do or whatever the show is, you know?

Velvet Wells
Yeah, excuse me. I have to rewrite my my sequel.

Phil Rickaby
Sorry to blow that for you. Well talk we’ll talk about that in a second. But did want to ask you about the writing process for creating personal demon hunter What does what what did your writing process look like?

Velvet Wells
I so it came in fits and starts and spurts and fizzles out. So I have been a musical improviser, the longest of any of the performing types that I do, but I also have done stand up and storytelling and, and then theatre. If I go back enough. So for this, I thought I’m going to start with what I know. So I know for sure I’m going to do the musical improv. I don’t have to. I don’t have to think a lot about that. I just have to think about what question I want to engage the audience in to lead into the song so that one was fairly easy for me to hit for I had one song that I had written when I was younger than I knew I wanted to incorporate somewhere. So that was, that was pretty much written. I just had to practice it, but for the stories themselves, I had the concept I knew like the theme of this story, this part of the show is you know, finding myself or knowing that I’m enough and then I would start to improvise around That theme and I would record it and listen back and type it in and retype it. But as I said, there was a point off the very beginning where I thought, I have to explain this world. First, I have to get into the idea of this person being a successful motivational speaker and I’m going to share the reality. I’m going to share that reality. And as I started to run it a few times I realised I was I was getting in my head and doing a false start. I like I was so focused on making sure the reality was true that I wasn’t actually touching on any of the key points I wanted to in the show. Or by the time I did it was like, well, that’s 40 minutes and we haven’t even gotten to one song yet. And so I put a lot of those things back on the shelf and I used that as, Oh, this is historical information for me to know this character. I thought I had the show down in February. I thought that okay, I went on a writing spree. And I’m like, Okay, this is the show. And then I ran it. And I was not at all happy with it. So I took 90% of what that version of it was. And I just I locked it away. And I didn’t pay attention to it. And then I went back to writing again in an atomic way. So it was, I want to talk about the being good enough. I want to talk about the running away I want to talk about this, this true story that happened in the cinema and I looked at it from the what is it that I have to have in this piece? And then how do I connect them? So that was the process and I don’t know that it was necessarily logical for anybody else. But for me, it it allowed me to approach all of the material and treat it with the honour that I felt it deserved. without feeling the pressure of any one specific part has to be perfect before I move on to the next

Phil Rickaby
huh that That is a pretty good lesson to learn. I wish I’d learned that about 10 years ago when I first started writing the commandment. But I’ve always fascinated with with people’s writing processes, because everybody has has a different one. Yeah, I’m now in that writing process. Did you learn something that you’ve taken forward into creating your new show?

Velvet Wells
Ah, I think what I said about the Windsor experience is true about how I’ve been approaching this next piece. And that is just really trusting myself. So I put a lot of pressure on what it looks like on the page as opposed to how it feels on stage. I am I am much better performer than I am a writer at this point. You know, it’s a practice thing. So I am going it’s not that I’m going to be winging everything, but I’m going to trust that I’m going to lead with that feeling. This is appealing, I want to evoke this as the message I want to send, as opposed to, but on the page, you can see how it’s this big block. And then you know, there’s there’s it’s almost like a haiku or it’s it’s like Relax, relax, the only person who’s going to see my script is me. I’m also I realised that as much as I was trying to honour the pieces of the story that I wanted to tell, in a lot of ways, I could have narrowed the number of styles that I was trying to put into the show, and focused on one or two and spent more time in them. So for example, I knew I wanted to do the musical improv. I only gave myself space to do a little bit as a q&a at the end of my last show. So if I want to do more musical improv, and I definitely am going to do more music, you heard a test of that. Then I’m going to give more space to that and not necessarily Tell as many stories. So I’m going through the stories that I have. And I’m trying to be a little more judicious about which ones I share. And along the way, not just here but also because I’ve been doing more storytelling, I realised that it’s my style to try and tell you a catalogue of information rather than deep diving into one specific story or one detail. So I’m trying to move my move the metre, a little bit more in that direction of being super specific, until it’s time to move on.

Phil Rickaby
What can you tell me about the new show?

Velvet Wells
I can tell you the title. That I can tell you with absolute confidence. so the title is personal demon hunter divide and conquer,

Phil Rickaby
okay!

Velvet Wells
It is still going to be – I can I can also go further. I can tell you this I one of the other reviews that I got was this concept of going deeper and as I said in terms of the narrative, I am going to do that. But one of the things that was true for me for personal demon hunter and remains true. I am not willing to be the black body on stage sharing my trauma for your entertainment. So I know that the theme of this sequel is going to be about black joy. And through that lens I am going to share some of the stories of my world travels with karaoke, with scuba diving and with skydiving. I also I am writing I have the first bit of the theme song that goes along with this show. I have that figured out I have more content to finesse for that. I know that there will be some musical improv I really want to maintain the audience interaction the audience engagement because that to me is That’s always been important. And it’s not just about, it’s not about it’s not about them keeping me safe. I’m safe in my environment, my element, it’s that there are not enough examples in our world where we play together or where we really commune with each other. And I think theatre can be one of those spaces for it.

Phil Rickaby
Mm hmm. Now, of course, one of the unique challenges of the way that you’re working on this is that instead of being able to perform this in a room, you’re you’re going to be having to perform it in a digital fashion through video streaming. Absolutely. So what have you learned so far about video streaming, and the challenges of doing it and with audience interaction through video streaming?

Velvet Wells
I, I am a child of the internet. I mean, I’m not a child. I’m not a child when I discovered it but I grew up with the internet I am so I’m so much more used to digital engagement than I am to interpersonal. So I in some ways feel safer being behind the screen than otherwise. But I also recognise that lag or latency is a big concern, especially when you add music to your audio. It’s that is one of those things I just I have to be mindful of. So and then the other part of it in terms of the audience engagement. I’ll talk a little bit more about that. But I recognise there could be that case where nobody is in the room with me, then what do I do with personal demon hunter? The quickest show I ever did was 48 minutes because at the end, nobody wanted to talk about anything. And and I was like, oh, okay, well, I just want to do another song. Can I just do another song? And they’re like, oh, oh, okay, Coco cool. Like they didn’t realise that they weren’t really on the hook. Just let me do my more content for you. So but so that could be repeated, potentially in this situation. So I’ll just prompt harder. Now, in terms of audience engagement. I’ve been in a few digital shows that other people have produced. But I’m also doing a weekly musical improv show where I go for an hour. And I make songs up based on the song titles they they provide to me. But otherwise, there’s no real engagement every now and then I check into the chat to see where things are at. But mostly, it’s all. It’s all self guided and self motivated. So I feel like I was doing that because I needed to do that for my own life. But it also is a great testing ground for these kind of digital shows.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I think there’s that we’re all as we are trying to work with in this digital sphere. There’s all kinds of experimentation and how can I make This feel like a performance and not another zoom meeting.

Velvet Wells
Yeah, I so that was one thing I felt that I let myself off the hook for a little bit. Because I really I did I mean, I have a green screen now that I can use and, and I was thinking and I still may do this, I have time to try and figure out the technicality of it. But the reality is, I do not have a home theatre, I cannot set up lights, I don’t, you know, there’s no gobos that I can do. I don’t have an audio system that you know, I can fade in your environmental music here and there as you know, I don’t have enough space in my house to have a stage manager in one corner. And we’re socially distancing to you know, for me to manage all those things. So that those pieces that would definitely add to the to the soundscape in the light scape that would help bring you into the reality. I think I have to let go of a little bit and, and just accept that until we’re there technology wise, that it’s not on me to be the one to solve it for the whole of theatre.

Phil Rickaby
Yes. Well, I mean, the thing is that, you know, you and I, we, we can’t solve that. It’s almost like you would need an entirely new piece of technology in order to do that. And we’re just here in the digital sphere, for the most part temporarily until we get back into a theatre. Yeah, for the most part,

Velvet Wells
I did have in the back of my mind, I thought of reaching out to one of the theatres and seeing if there was a way that I could be locked in there basically for the for the duration of my show. But that again, was I’m adding on some admin, I’m adding in the travel to the space I’m adding like, I’m adding a lot of elements to it that haven’t really been asked of me. I mean, as as somebody who wants To be an early adopter, sure, but again, I don’t have to be the most innovative person online yet.

Phil Rickaby
What I mean, as you mentioned, you mentioned sort of being like a child of the internet. I think you and I being similar in age we we probably came up with the internet at around the same time. What was your first internet experience?

Velvet Wells
I, for the most part, I did I wasn’t it wasn’t until I went to university that I discovered that the internet exists and when I was being given the orientation they went, Okay, and there’s the computer room and you can use your computer with your ID. I’m like, What? I have access to 24 hours of Huh, what and so I grew up in the text version of engaging with people, and Netscape being the first graphic interface browser. Yes. So the For me was like, Whoa, there’s pictures, there’s colours. So I used it to learn HTML and JavaScript and like, what it was JavaScript at that point and you know, like very basic CSS styling and things. So I had a blast with it. But also, I started to meet people from around the world and is like, oh, there are people on the other side of the planet who are awake when I am this is awesome. So middle of the night, I’m not alone. And and that is part of why I felt far more comfortable being in the digital stream then in real life.

Phil Rickaby
Did you find that as you’re sort of learning about video streaming and, and, and the technology that you’re, you’re integrating into the show? Did you feel a little bit almost like those days when you were learning HTML, and JavaScript and CSS and it’s like, oh, this is new. stuff.

Velvet Wells
Absolutely I, I’ve been trying to find the right interface and depending on what the kind of show it was, I did I do a musical duo show. And for that one, we tried discord, and I love Discord. But there was a barrier to entry for audience members, because you had to get an account to log into that one. It’s not a huge barrier for me that it’s just another site. But for them the idea of having to do that legwork was like, Oh, so zoom became the default because that’s what so many people were already doing. When it came to collaboration. I could just go straight to Facebook if I wanted, but I personally found the video quality not great. So I enjoyed these experiments along the way to decide what’s the right thing for me. I have discovered OBS the software to broadcast and it’s great, but the problem is the machine I have isn’t strong enough to really run it. So all of these lovely templates that people have for their shows, I can’t do any of that. So even again, that was part of discovering that was what made me realise that it was okay for me to back off of the innovation in terms of the look and the wrappers that I had for my show. Because if, if my machine can’t do that, like, just accept what it can do, which is totally a metaphor for me. Just accept what I can do. And and you know, and and so I write my content is all geared toward that. Yeah, I could talk about that really heavy thing. No, I can’t. I mean, I have it. I have it in me. I’m not ready to have that conversation. So yes, I love I love the new bells and whistles. I’m currently trying to figure out how to integrate captions into zoom. But right now that seems to be above my paygrade. But I but I’m, I’m dedicating myself to whether it’s for this show or has to be In the future, I am going to have shows that have live captioning occurring, because not enough shows do. And I’m hoping that even by trial and error and maybe you know, just bothering the right people, that it’s it trickles up the chain. So that zoom starts to offer it as part of their subscription package, rather than having all of these people doing piecemeal work with it.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, it is. I know that from my own research, the the the captioning is, I think it has to be manual.

Velvet Wells
Well, currently. So yeah, there’s two options. There’s the doing it manual you as you assign somebody to it, or you use a third party API, and like they provide the code for it and everything. I’m like, Okay, this should be plug and play. It is not at all plug and play. Right. And and so that’s like, my initial being stuck was it was asking for the API. link and then the code and like, well, there’s nowhere that I’m looking that ever speaks to this code to find it in the first place. I did digging, I uncovered and it was like, Ah, this reminds me so much when I used to do web design, where I had to uncover new way to connect to the database or whatever it was. And so yes, I do get joy from those kind of discoveries and new learnings and, and taking time to research. Those are all it’s all skills that I’ve built up over the years. So I have somewhere to apply it. So that’s great. But I really just want to go to a site that says, here’s how you do it for yourself for free or for cheap, because Absolutely, I could just hook into one of these transcription sites and pay $60 for an hour of show. Yeah, well, for an improv show, that doesn’t make money. That doesn’t make sense. That’s the thing. Yeah. So so I’m quite willing to go off and explore in this direction. I’m not going to let it impede the development of any of my work. Because again, it’s it. I’m fine with somebody else having innovated it. And and gifting it to me. Yes.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. I mean that honestly, if somebody else innovates and gifted to you, that’s sort of a win. So Oh, yeah.

Velvet Wells
I actually so it. So when I was looking for the code I had posted on to my profile on Facebook saying, I’m stuck here. Can anybody assist there? I do have an acquaintance who is working in a company that does this. They, they, they consider it proprietary. And for me, it’s like, well, I get it because I’m looking at all the steps that I will have to do to replicate what I think they’re doing. Because I understand I understand what is required in the back end. It’s just a matter of figuring out all of these little pieces. So I made a joke to him of they should sponsor me. So I am I’m going to reach out thing was I deleted that thread. So I forget the name of the company. So I will find out and and I’ll further that conversation, because I also feel like, even if they say no, in hearing somebody asking for that request in this way, they may they may come up with a solution that theatres or performers can use that is cheaper than what they expect from corporations.

Phil Rickaby
I mean, that is the thing is, is a lot of times these things are being created for corporations or conferences, which tend to have quite a larger budget than the average show does.

Velvet Wells
Yeah, more than zero. So, yeah.

So I’m having a good time with it. I’m trying not to get too frustrated with myself that I’m not able to whip it up in the night. But, but that’s also because you know, those are the glory days when I could do that. You know, I could do a 24 hour on new code. I have other things in my life now.

Phil Rickaby
There you go. There you go. Um, actually one of the things that I’m curious about and one of my favourite things to ask people about is their, their performing origin story, like what is it that started you on the path to performing? And what did you think you were going to do and, and, and how has that changed?

Velvet Wells
I’m going to start before I knew I was ever going to be anywhere near the theatre. I remember as a kid watching Mr. Dress up and saying, I’m going to be on that show someday. And so jumping around in history, I made that goal. So now, when I was in, when I was in high school, I was I was having some troubles at home and I ended up moving high schools moving to a different region. And and the first friend that I made there, his name was also Phil, and, and he said, Hey, have you considered taking theatre? I’m like, No, why would I even think about it? But it was not on my radar in any single way. And it’s like, well just, you know, sit in for a day and see if you like it. And sure enough, I like just like to honey, like I was, I just love. I love the teacher, I found that he was very engaging. He was this Australian teacher who was, was innovative compared to the other teachers and that was from their mouths, that he was this, you know, he’s very innovative and very boisterous and very passionate. And, and he loved theatre, but even more he loved improv. And, and I went, Oh, this like, I get this. For me, I kind of the metaphor for me is like math. I’m not necessarily great with, like with, with decimals, I get confounded with decimals. But as soon as you get to the symbolic math or the logic of math, I am just I’m My mind is opened up and it’s not a real A Beautiful Mind or anything like that, but like I’m suddenly on board with what this thing is. And I found improv to be such a joy and so easy to connect with. And, and to be intense with or to be silly or you really could do anything you want as long as you were doing it with your partner. And so, I had a choice in high school of whether I wanted to go through for programming or for improv, and I decided that I was going to go for theatre, because I loved programming too much and I didn’t want to end up hating it at one.

And so look, I recognise in hindsight that I could – I could have had a very steady stream of income for many more years than I did had I chosen that the other way around. But but that was at that point I was I was adamant that going into theatre school was the way for me and my first year of theatre school. was boring. It turns out that my high school teacher had taught us at the college level. And so at the end of the first year, of course, they decide who is going to stay and who isn’t. And, and they sat me down to say, Well, unfortunately we don’t see him like, Oh, no, no, I’m leaving. Like, y’all have nothing for me. And, and then I was leaving and one of the professors came out and said, I understand sure that that’s a choice. But I want to give you a piece of advice and that is the theatre community like many other working communities, is kind of close knit. So you want to ensure that you’re not burning any bridges. And I heard it but I also was already mentally gone. So So I dove into the Toronto improv community at that point. And and I had a blast and and then I got depressed and had to take time away from everything. And I ended up going back to university because I, I needed to prove to myself that I was smart at that point I was feeling like that at least was that was where stable ground was again. So I went back there and and I got my degree, but I also was connected to the improv scene that was happening down there. So that and at that time, I was involved in some theatre. I was involved in the improv, I was doing some I was doing it all really. And then I got married and had kids and I really wasn’t doing any performing at all until until I got divorced. And then this is really such a long answer, but I did I was feeling part of my depression came in that as much as I love the improv that there were politics that were going on. In the improv scene that I didn’t know how to reconcile, and I didn’t know who to talk to, or to get mentored by, or I really was feeling left out of things, and I didn’t know how to how to change that for myself. So when I came back to Toronto, I didn’t go near the improv scene again, because a lot of those people were still there. But then, and now it’s been, I guess, it’s been nine years I’ve been back in the scene. And I came back because that was the hole in my heart that was missing. Hmm. And and since then, like the world is brighter, and writer for me.

Phil Rickaby
How I mean, how long did it take you to realise that that was the thing that was missing?

Velvet Wells
I think that I always knew it, but I felt like my obligations required me to keep out anyway. And and that was part of the sadness that I was feeling is that I was I was self isolating out of response. ability and and I realised I was the only one doing that nobody else was that I could tell nobody else was sequestering themselves away from their artistic passions. So I swallowed the pride that I had and I was very much welcomed with open arms from the people who remembered me from before and the new people had no history with me I was a blank slate and, and I, the one thing that I given myself as a promise when I came back was I was going to perform more musical improv because that’s where my passion lay. And when I when I had when I was leaving before that was one of the problems is that there were some people who liked musical improv but most people hated it. And and I didn’t want to be surrounded by that. So I dedicated myself to and I jumped into a trip right away. We’re all we did was musicals, and I had a blast.

Phil Rickaby
I can imagine in terms of Have you mentioned that that creating your solo show and doing it out of fringe was your, your 50th birthday present to yourself? Yeah. Had you thought about performing solo before that?

Velvet Wells
So the answer is yes, but I was scared and ironically it took me doing stand up to realise that it wasn’t as scary a threshold as I thought. And I only got into doing stand up because at one point I was running a stand up show I was hosting but I wasn’t doing any material and and he was it had an open mic portion. So friends who would say oh, I want to do stand up some time I’m, I would say you’re booked and go up on stage just face your fear. Don’t worry about it. And I realised that was hypocritical for me to expect that of them and not doing myself So I started doing the standup as a way to start to transition into doing solo performing. And it definitely made it easier when I started doing solo improv. I was like, Oh, this is so much easier. I don’t have to memorise lines, I just have to be present in the moment with it. And so I took that into creating personal demon hunter and going well, how would I say like, let’s just make it up on the spot. How would I react to this feeling that I’ve just revealed? Okay, let’s sit in that. And so I found that process to be pretty easy transition back into scripted material.

Phil Rickaby
You mentioned the that you had wanted to be a solo performer for a while but the you were frightened. Was there something we had you seen a solo show? Had you seen solo performers that that had inspired you to want to do that? Honestly,

Velvet Wells
yeah, I hadn’t seen There are two things that I haven’t seen live, but that I was aware of one was is Rebecca Northan has the Mimi Blind Date show, which is I have now seen it on video and it’s fabulous. And then Jill Barnard is an improviser out in Minnesota, that does a show called drum machine. And it’s literally her on stage with a drum machine. And I’m like, I could do that. Like, it’s just a matter of getting a drum machine. Okay, cool. But both of them have such a joy that they bring to the performance. And they are very playful with either the partner or with the audience. And I thought, you know, that’s, that is how I am when I’m not on stage. That is how I am when I’m supporting other people on stage. Why can’t and when the times when so I have one troupe that does shows at Fan Expo. The dandies like we get to do them based improv. And I’m the host. And there are some times where I have to remind myself to get back to actually doing the show because I’m in host mode. And that made me realise, wait, I already I have the skill set. I am trusting myself in in, you know, in terms of music or whatever I’m offering. It’s time for me to be that person who can do this.

Phil Rickaby
Nice. What was the I mean, once you once you started doing it, like how? Okay, I’ll back up the first time that I performed my solo show. The first very first time, I pretty much was gonna vomit for the whole day. But once I got past that, once I finished my first full fringe doing that show, I was like, well, this is it. This is what I have to do. Yeah. It’s almost addictive, to be this solo person on stage taking an audience on A journey.

Velvet Wells
Yeah. And I’ve seen that with john Bennett and with with Carlyn Rhamey as well, like they both, they both very much bring people on their journeys. I for me wasn’t vomit, but I definitely was I was petrified, up until the moment that I said my first sentence. And then I went, Oh, I, alright, I’m in performance mode, like performance mode gave me this, like, suddenly my superpower had been activated or something. Like it just it gave me that I have the lights on me. People are going to watch me. Regardless of how interesting I’m worried I may or may not be. They are here for me. Let’s do this. Now. And that’s not to say that every moment was perfect, but I definitely felt buffered from any of that anxiety and worry that I had before starting it. When I got to Toronto. It changed a little bit from night to night mostly be based on the audience and Agent part because I would incorporate that into what I was doing. Or sometimes I would skip around in in the which module I was doing to the chagrin of my stage manager. But it was still because it was all my voice. It was still holistic, and it was still it’s still all made sense. And that I felt the power that you’re talking about that addiction and that adrenaline of I have this, like, I nobody else can do this in the way that I am. And my voice matters. And I’m saying things that are interesting and smart and empathetic and like, I was just feeling like I was feeling the best version of myself.

Phil Rickaby
Nice, nice. Um, and of course, you continue to want to do that and what the the show the new show is is it July 31st

Velvet Wells
it’s it. So I’m going to pull up a camp calendar just because this is being recorded. It is the last Thursday of july july 30. Okay, it’s a 9pm show it will happen through the fringe livestream page on Facebook as well as their.com site. And and is there more to that question because I can continue.

Phil Rickaby
Oh, please continue.

Velvet Wells
So, it’s going to be at this point, I’m pegging it to be an hour long show because I don’t know how to do quick shows. And and it’s going to be it’s going to be live on their site for a week following the presentation. And all of these shows every single week there is a donation link so people can donate to the artists. So I’m excited to have something out there again. I did get an archival video of personal demon hunter, but it was a there was also some technical issues that were happening that night. So I’m not sure I don’t want to put that content out there anywhere. And I really was only doing it so that I had a version for myself. So I could look back someday and say, just like Mr. dressup I can’t find that tape. But I want to be able to show to people. No, no, no, that was me. I want to have this material out there. Doing this show allows me to, you know, going forward to have more digital content.

Phil Rickaby
I always feel like with with those archival videos that I’ve never seen one that I’m satisfied with, for myself. Yeah, almost always. I’m like, Okay, so what I should do is just record every night of the run. And then I’m just gonna sit down for like a week and edit them together.

Velvet Wells
Yeah. Because we know how much energy we have post fringe to do anything.

Phil Rickaby
Well, I’m not. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I was on my couch for about two weeks after.

Velvet Wells
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But as much as that was true as much as I was relaxing in some ways. actually had to go back to work but, but he was a different headspace than then you know theatre. So that to me was less mind mindful and less taxing. So, but still, I didn’t do I think I did one show relatively close to having done all of these but otherwise I was like No, I don’t need any more stage time for at least a month and then and then suddenly I did because I like seeing the light.

Phil Rickaby
So we all do we all have to if we reach the point where like is now I am satisfied we stop. Yeah.

Velvet Wells
So I I do have to say that’s one of the other reasons why I’m looking forward to doing the show in July is it gives me a benchmark of that. At the end of July. I am presenting something new, but most Oh, it means I’m presenting something like my days right now being self isolated with my partner. It’s pretty lonely and it’s very, like that’s why I do the shows and why do zoom things just so that I can see other people’s faces. So I’m really looking forward to doing this just for that of this big event where everybody comes out and I can just kind of smile with everybody.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. You mentioned you mentioned isolating with your partner, as, as so many of us are, you know, isolating in our groups and our family groups or our personal like just or alone in our apartments. What has been giving you joy that that helps you to get through all of the like the day to day of all of this.

Velvet Wells
I have really had to practice radical love. And, and the cornerstone of that is self kindness. So I’ve had to allow myself on those in those moments where I’m feeling sleepy. I have that map where I need liquid hydrate like all of the all of the body needs. I’ve been just, I, I’ve been very thankful and have been discovering joy in just letting that be the new pattern of my life. I also play a lot of video games and, and that was something when I was working and doing shows that I relegated to maybe on the weekend, maybe. So I have that kind of time My partner and I watch, binge watch a lot of shows together. So we have that time together. There have been a few times when I’ve stepped outside the house into the sun, and I missed the sun, I missed the warmth. And so we have a space that is isolated so I can do that a little bit more when the weather really gets nice again. So I’m looking forward to those kinds of things. And then also I have the shows that I do they anchor me but also they do give me those Those little adrenaline spikes that I need and want and and I get to be creative on them which is super important to me as I you know as I said like it was a hole in my heart so not getting to do that in as much it’s starting to change people are starting to become more comfortable with the zoom people are and now that you know now that we’re going to start to allow people to get together in venues we’re going to start to see more of those kind of shows but me personally it’s the just connecting with people I’ve started to text some people just to say hey how you doing get a Hey, how you doing back and like just that connecting with my community.

Phil Rickaby
I had a thought I lost it. So I’m not going to go forward with trying to act like I know what I was gonna say next. velvet I just wanted to as we sort of draw the draw to a close thank you for for Taking the time this evening to talk to me, and it’s been a pleasure.

Velvet Wells
Thank you. It truly has been a pleasure. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing for the community. And and it’s interesting to me like just to listen. So to be part of it has been special for me.