Don't mess with a soprano  

Ready for an audition

“It’s all you have. Use it, enjoy it. Have fun. It is your only guarantee," said Damon Gregory.

Damon is an actor and the owner and force behind Ellis Media Collective (EMC).

Recently, I had the opportunity to audition for a feature film. Like most opportunities, the timeframe was very short. They also ask for requirements with elements you aren’t prepared for.

This time, I needed a professional video. Oh, no. After all, this wasn’t for background work. My big chance. Unfortunately, my home video skills were seriously lacking.

Lucky for me, I knew Damon Gregory and about EMC.

I took my script, met him at the EMC studios, and had a eureka moment.

I have never enjoyed auditions. They always felt more like “bocca al lupo – into the wolf's mouth.” This is an Italian idiom that is said for good luck backstage before an opera performance. Only auditions felt more like a literal translation to me. If blood was to be spilled, I knew it would be mine. Nothing relaxing about that.

Not anymore, thanks to Damon.

In one short hour, he took the fear out of auditioning. He showed me what a quality submission should contain and how to look professional. We taped, analyzed, re-taped, laughed a lot, and found confidence through his coaching. All this and I had fun.

This man is an incredible teacher and resource.

He comes from some pretty famous stock. His dad, Gregory Millar, was the assistant conductor to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein's assistant. His mom is Roslyn Frantz, a world-famous pianist, linguist, coach, teacher, and accompanist. She has been musical director for years with Kelowna Actor's Studio.

You would think he would have gravitated to a music career, but no; he has had a lifelong love for television and film. His young idols? Jerry Lewis, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood.

After New York, the family moved to Tucson, Ariz. He described an ideal childhood, full of sports and sunshine. He graduated from Canyon del Oro High School in 1979. Life, at this time, took him in a different direction from movie work.

He began working on his customer service qualities that make him such a great teacher and communicator today.

He ran a phone salesroom and managed restaurants. In 1981, he moved to Kelowna, continuing to work in the service business. He even wrote some popular radio jingles for McCulloch Station Pub.

In 1997, he decided to pursue a career in acting. He moved to Vancouver and graduated two years later from Gastown Actors Studio.

His classical training and innate talent enabled him to sign with a great agent, Robert Carrier and he worked steadily until 2003.

He moved to California and for the next 16 years, he worked as a general contractor building luxury homes. Didn’t see that coming.

The COVID-19 shutdown brought him back to Kelowna. He has recently returned to his acting career.

He also noticed a need here in Kelowna, pertaining to the film industry. The Okanagan has incredible talent but many lack the polish that the big city talent has. That polish makes all the difference in getting cast in films.

The idea of EMC was born. He would love it to be a one-stop place for those auditioning. A place to make audition videos, take classes, rent teaching and photography space. BookIT Talent Agency is already there.

Kelowna's talent has needed this and he is the perfect person to head it.

2021 has been a record year for film production in the Okanagan. By the end of the year, there will have been 40 to 60 productions shot here. Kelowna is very appealing. It has deserts, mountains, cities very close by, and lots of talent.

EMC fills the missing gaps between auditions and work.

Where is Damon now? He was leaving for a two-week shoot of a movie of the week, followed by work in a feature sci-fi film. You will be able to see him perform in September. He is in Eurydice by Sarah Ruhe, produced by Virago Collective at the Rotary Center for the Arts.

As busy as he is, he always finds time to help, teach, educate, and build EMC. He is putting together a series of classes for the fall. I will be attending.

The Kelowna film industry is ready to explode, and Damon will be there when it happens.

He may be on set, but he will find the time to help you get there too.

A wonderful, accessible dynamo at your fingertips. Reach him at [email protected].

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Shout-out to a mentor

What are you thinking? You can’t do that, Sue.

Don’t create questions that you don’t answer. Don’t write about what they’ve done, show who they are.

These were some of the nice comments I received in my first weeks of writing. I won’t mention the others.

This past year has been a huge learning curve for me. I had never written before. I didn’t know a passive phrase from a doorknob.

I did, however, have three tools in my shiny new writing toolbox to work with.

I had a diligent dedication to supporting the arts, a desire to showcase our Okanagan talent, and a mentor.

When COVID-19 hit, I was busy. I was basking in the glory from my choir's Carnegie Hall, NYC, performance. I had a call back for one of my favourite plays, The Crucible, for Kelowna Actors Studio. Kelowna’s art scene was alive and active, so was I.

We all know what happened next. The world stopped. I was asked a question that changed my personal direction for the next year. “Are you passionate about the arts?” “Of, course I am,” I answered. “Then do something about it," my future mentor said.

My life as an interviewer/writer began.

We have people in Kelowna who have performed on the world stage. I asked if I could meet with them and write about their story. To my great surprise, they agreed to meet. I am still amazed at how open and willing to share their stories they were.

My adventure into the souls of artists began. What a fantastic escapade that was.

I also learned my first writing lesson. My responsibility as a writer was to relay their story, who they, in their essence, are. COVID could not be allowed to silence them.

I have interviewed music composers, singers, guitarists, woodwind and jazz musicians, painters of all mediums, art educators, agents, and museum curators.

I have seen the beautiful vessels made by award-winning potters. I have seen wood transformed into a translucent deer so detailed that you thought it was real.

I learned about art forms that I didn’t know existed. The Ponderosa Fibre Arts Guild introduced me to the world of felting, weaving, and spinning. I even tried felting. Who knew wool, soap, and water could create such beautiful things. Angela Hansen introduced me to the world of encaustic art.

I learned the importance of museums and how they nurture our local artists. I discovered that Opus Art Supplies is a hub for local artists. It is a space where artists at any stage of their development can meet, learn, and teach.

In one year, I managed to only scrape the surface of how many qualified, working, creating, teaching artists are around us in the valley.

Writing their stories would not have been possible without my third tool. My tool was my mentor, Ross Freake. What a tool that was.

Ross is the former managing editor of The Daily Courier, Cambridge Reporter, and Kamloops Sentinel. He has co-authored the best-selling books, Firestorm, and Stories from the Firestorm. He is a columnist for Castanet and does more things to help people than I have room to write about it. An amazing guy who doesn't like people to know about it.

I’m sure Ross didn’t think it was going to be as hard as it was. If he had any hair, I’m sure he would have lost it helping me.

“Where the hell did that come from? You can’t start something new, out of the blue.” Yes, he regularly kicked my well-deserving butt. The red on the return of my drafts was blinding and humbling.

He would give me encouragement and suggestions of things to read and courses to take to help me. I slowly started to rise from the quagmire of my ineptitude. The weekly upset stomach subsided as I became more confident.

It was a journey for both of us. I lived for the words, “good job.” He lived for the day of being free from this obligation.

Mentoring is essential for those beginning in an area they don’t understand. They need expert guidance. Mentoring is also a two-way street. It gives both parties the opportunity to grow.

Last week I lost my mentor, not my friend, but my mentor. He found his freedom from work and I found a hole in my weekly routine.

I’m flying solo these days. I’m not exactly comfortable. I’m pretty sure some road bumps are ahead and no one’s watching my back. I do have some idea of how to maneuver them, however, thanks to him.

Thanks, Ross, for all you have done for me, I can't believe I'm writing this but I miss your sarcasm.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Behind the scenes

Talent agents, like Brenda Connell, secure the best roles for the best fees. It can be a fiercely competitive business with a 24/7 work schedule, but it’s a gritty job that is essential for their talent. It is her job to guide her talent's path for career development, branding, public relations, and networking.

So what brings Brenda Connell into such a demanding industry?

Trying to put the Okanagan talent on the map. That’s what.

She didn’t grow up thinking she would become a talent/booking agent. She grew up in Alberta and moved a lot between Calgary and Edmonton, graduating from St. Mary’s High School, Calgary in ’79.

She was a professional print and commercial model for 16 years.

She also dabbled in the professional wrestling world during the Hart brothers' reign, playing a “bad guy character" named Mercedes, the first female manager in Canada. Furthermore, she also was in a TV pilot cast as Vadim the Video VJ – a character aimed at becoming the Canadian version of Elvira. After acting, she moved on to being a personal trainer and started The Coach Club in Calgary with her sister, Karen.

What drew her to forming her first talent agency, Image Work, in Edmonton in the ’80s? Like so many of life’s lessons, she learned the hard way. She was financially ripped off by one agency and abandoned when another agency disappeared. She saw a need for fair and honest representation and found out she enjoyed the work and was very good at it. But the long hours and constant pressure began to dull the excitement.

A desire for a slower pace of work-life and an innate entrepreneurial spirit brought her to Kelowna. She became a board-certified health coach and incorporated Vitality Health Coaching Inc. and later opened her boutique tanning company, Beauty and the Bronze Inc. with her daughter.

“I can’t believe I’m doing it again.” BookIT Talent Agency was born out of her yearning to help talent find their way in a very difficult business. She is passionate about showcasing our Okanagan talent in big city markets like Vancouver and Toronto.

When I asked her, what makes a good talent agent, she stressed

  • communication and coaching skills
  • the desire for servicing her talent,
  • providing tools to prepare her talent for on set
  • above all, to run her agency with good morals and ethics

“I like my talent to be a team and family.” She carries the badge of Momager proudly – something her talent often refers to her as.

She’s had over 4,000 applications to date. She loves providing opportunities to the many hopefuls in Kelowna.

Although it isn’t her job to be a trainer, she has no problem guiding her talent in the right direction to help evolve their careers. Nothing is spared for her roster and their developing professionalism.

“I like my talent to do their homework.” She works hard for them, she expects the same from them.

She looks for the following when picking talent.

  • Proper up-to-date headshots
  • A good resume including relevant workshops
  • Great attitude – no room for egos on set
  • To always be humble

A look at BookIT's Facebook page will give you an idea of how successful, in a very short time, this vivacious lady is in booking her talent. "We have some great talent – diamonds in the rough to polished gems."

She uses some very sophisticated software to organize what talent is available when and to help her get back to her clients on the same day. In such an exhausting job, this is admirable.

This type of success is done by being ready for last-minute changes. Life happens but in her world, it happens fast and at all hours.

She must be ready for actors getting stranded or having to be replaced at a moment’s notice. She must use patience and world-class communicating skills to keep casting and film directors happy, and diplomacy while informing her talent of dialogue, location, or time changes. Her work never stops.

Her passion also doesn’t stop when she leaves work. She told me she is known as the turtle lady of Wilden. She is often seen carrying turtles safely across the road to an area for laying their eggs. They haven’t learned the concept of 4 o’clock traffic, their favourite time to cross.

She cares deeply for animals, her husband, her successful actress daughter, her former show Pekingese dogs, Meelo and Stormy, and of course, her local talent.

She refers to herself as being an old bird. I saw a gorgeous ageless woman full of energy. Someone not afraid to speak her mind, yet warm, open, and easy to talk to. Someone who exudes trust. A person you want in the corner with you.

How lucky the Okanagan talent is to have her fighting for their careers.

You will find her at: [email protected], Facebook and Instagram @bookittalent or online at bookittalent.ca.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Hemingway with a brush

I’m not succinct with words.

I love fat, bulging words that run all over the page. I wallow in words; rich, descriptive words oozing with oodles of meanings, much to the chagrin of my editor.

“If you can say it in two words, Sue, why use 14?” he thunders at me. There are usually a few expletives in there I won’t repeat.

I find comfort in groups of adjectives and exposed, dare I say naked, without them.

When I meet an artist like Wayne Wilson, I am intrigued. He uses lines in a drawing like Ernest Hemingway used words in a story. The drawings are complete, yet paired to the essential elements.

He finds joy in finding “How few lines can you use to get the idea across." He then highlights the drawing with watercolour.

He was born in Lillooet and lived in a house his dad built. In the late 1960s, his family moved to Kelowna when his dad got the principal’s job at Central Elementary School.

His fascination with drawing and painting came from his mom, also a teacher. Today, at 91, she still paints and draws cards for the family.

Wayne always loved art, history, and geography. He graduated from Dr. Knox High School in 1971. He took art from Ben Lee, a former city councillor for whom a Rutland park is named, who he characterizes as a very open-minded teacher.

Wayne received a Bachelor of Arts in 1980 and a Masters of Art in 1989 from the University of British Columbia.

His master’s thesis — irrigation of the Okanagan — combined his love of art, history, and geography. The changing from brown to green.

“Irrigation is not a dry subject,” he assured me.

He worked for Kelowna Museums for 34 years and was executive director for the last 12.

No matter what he was doing or where he was going, he always had a sketchbook. "You have to have a pause when you sketch.”

In the 1970s, he added a camera to his drawing-and-painting arsenal to aid him when time was scarce.

He didn’t always draw so sparsely. He dabbled with watercolour for 15 years, but a job in a bindery exposed him to old paper. He loved the feel of it and found drawing and painting on it enchanted him. Antiquated paper combined with botanical illustrations inspired him to re-purpose both.

I bought one of his paintings for my husband, Rick, for Father’s Day. It is a picture of a fishing plug — a lure that is buoyant — off a troller out of Prince Rupert in the 60s. For those non-fishermen, a lure is artificial bait colourfully painted to attract fish.

This artwork is unique because he painted on a 1940s spent cheque. These particular cheques are special because of the stamp.

Who knew you needed a stamp for cheques in the ‘40s.

On the back of this painting he wrote, “The combination seemed like a good way to celebrate my love of fishing.”

His paintings are a great way of combining the present with the past, and most of them have a personal note on the back explain the subject.

He loves fly-fishing, as does my husband. Me, I flunked out with my one try. I guess you can’t talk or sing while casting, evidently fish don’t like it.

It is way too quiet for me. But for Wayne and many others, it is a serene hobby, a real escape from their busy world.

His work area at Folls and Ages Art Studio, an artist collective, is full of his work. I especially like the botanical paintings. His collection is a fisherman’s delight, a Mecca for a savvy wife searching for the perfect Father’s Day gift.

Along with his love for art, he is passionate about nature and preserving it. He regaled me with stories about a canoe trip he took in July 2014, travelling 1,200 miles in some of the most remote parts of Canada.

The trip began at Fort Province, N.W.T., and ended in Inuvik in the McKenzie River delta. There were 12 in a party and they travelled in three 26’ voyageur canoes. Voyageur canoes were used to transport supplies and goods a few hundred years ago.

2012 was definitely a pivotal year. He retired from the museum and began work as a part-time executive director of the Central Okanagan Land Trust. He is still working there, helping to ensure lands are preserved and protected.

What will you find him busy with these days?

He is putting the finishing touches on a course about travel journals.

I was privy to seeing one of his journals for the canoe trip. It was informative, yet beautiful.

His course will contain:

  • Five videos on sketching small
  • What to put in your journal kit
  • What to put into your journal
  • What not to.

He showed me his travel kit, which is tiny, but, oh, so efficient. Watercolour paints are a great take along. They are inexpensive and take no space. They are the perfect addition for a trip into the wilds or carrying on a hike.

I will never canoe down a river for a month. That canoe has shot the rapids. I will definitely travel, and taking such a kit will help keep the memories of that trip alive. I can’t wait to enrol in his upcoming class.

Some people paint with huge strokes on big canvases. Wayne’s paintings are on old, forgotten papers. They speak of history and yet are part of today’s world. They are huge in their smallness. A lovely combination. A lovely artist.

If you drop by and see he has gone fishing, persevere, his art is worth it.

www.WayneWilsonArt.com; [email protected]

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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