The Edmonton Arts Council has stepped up to announce the 2020 recipients of the Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund (EATF) awards. A financial boost of $15,000 each was given to 20 incredible artists who excel in their discipline and produce a solid body of work.
“The quality of nominations is extraordinarily high. There’s a breadth and depth of calibre of work, of calibre of people that is awe inspiring,” said Stephen Williams, Grants, Awards and Support Programs Director.
Playwright-actor Josh Languedoc and writer-poet and filmmaker Zach Polis of St. Albert as well as playwright-kid’s author and YouTube presenter Marty Chan, originally from Morinville, are three local recipients.
Grateful for the $15,000 grant, Chan said, “It buys us a bit of breathing room. We are one of the hardest hit sectors – especially for live performers. This gives us breathing room.”
Chan has written four plays and 16 books for children and youth. However, he will apply the award to a project he describes as “near and dear to my heart.”
Last March, the arrival of COVID effectively cancelled all his school appearances. A self-described “Twitter hostage,” Chan started posting story-writing prompts for students. With time on his hands, he expanded to a video format, posting a five-minute YouTube video once a week with quick tips on writing better.
By combining entertaining magic with education, his video story prompts have garnered 300 subscribers with certain videos receiving as many as 100 plays.
“It really costs to put this together. You buy a decent camera, lighting equipment, a sound and editing program. And there’s the time to actually write, shoot and edit the script. You have to be conscious of your live presentation. How do you keep kids interested in a world of video games and high-quality production images where something new pops up every 30 seconds?”
For Chan, the video story prompts are game changers demanding he expand his skill set.
“You are exploring. You’re no longer just rehashing.”
Despite pandemic restrictions, Josh Languedoc is equally busy. In addition to being a K-12 substitute teacher for Edmonton Public Schools, he is enrolled at the University of Alberta working on a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Practices specializing in playwriting.
His award is being directed to two new solo plays – Amik Tails and Taiy. The St. Albert resident describes Amik Tails as his “most naked show” to date.
“It’s me telling a story from my life. I foresee it as being told as a kid growing up as an Indigenous person. What it was like then and what it means now,” said Languedoc.
The seed for Taiy came to him in a sleeping dream where he was conscious of being in the body of an angry Indigenous boy.
“I dabbled with what I thought his life would be like and what I believe the world we live in is like. He had an older brother Jeremy and lived on the reserve with his parents. At some point, Jeremy says ‘I’m outta here’ and convinces Taiy to go to the city with him. But at some point the city swallows him up and Jeremy dies.
“Taiy comes to terms with the loss of his brother and how his parents’ trauma manifested itself on him. After Jeremy’s death, he goes back to the reserve and his home, now abandoned, and contemplates death.”
Governor General Award recipient Vern Thiessen nominated Languedoc for the trust fund award. The young playwright first took a class from Thiessen when he was 14 and later worked with his mentor at Workshop West.
“He is what I aspire to be, and it boosts my confidence when he extends his hand like that.”
Thiessen and Languedoc along with MacEwan University Theatre Department are collaborating on a project exploring the Indigenous side on the 19th century Cypress Massacre that resulted in the creation of the RCMP.
“Getting this award is really such an honour. I honestly didn’t realize what a big deal it was until it was announced. It has a level of status and I’m truly honoured. It’s great to put it toward a project and keep developing as an artist.”
Former St. Albert Poet Laureate Zach Polis sent an email to the Gazette stating, “Awards like this are meaningful to artists early in their career who need financial capital to establish themselves. The creative industry isn’t for the faint of heart, and it takes time to build your skill set and professional network. The EATF Award extends the runway. You can work towards building something meaningful that will have a positive impact upon your community.”