The Mae Wilson Theatre in Moose Jaw

Saturday was a busy day for me, with two readings (James Houston, then W.O. Mitchell) in the morning, then the show at the Mae Wilson Theatre on Main Street. This is a grand old Edwardian Theatre, with all the elaborate plaster trimmings, where touring performers like Sir Harry Lauder have appeared down through the ages.

I did my show (with the help of Eric the soundman, and Shane looking after the lights — and Jane up there in the booth) against a truly massive screen, perhaps 15 feet by 30 feet, which meant that the author caricatures were clear to everyone in the 300 person audience.

The audience was set up by a very generous introduction by the local author Bob Currie, and was notable for the fact that the gallant Jane, who knows the show very well, managed to handle the slide changes perfectly, so that the audience thought that my casual hand gestures automatically changed the screen.

One new part of the show was a special surprise for my good friend Terry Fallis, author of The Best-Laid Plans. I had got the splendid Tony Jenkins to do a caricature of Terry, knowing that he would be at Moose Jaw, although he had seen my show before.  (Terry is that kind of friend). I gave his picture the sub-title “Saint, Little Red Hen, and Prizewinner” and explained each part of the sub-title as Terry gurgled and blushed in the audience at his unexpected appearance in mid-show.

The audience seemed to like the show, and gave me a standing ovation. Later we had a Q and A session (“Did you have any authors you really didn’t like working with?” “They’re not in the book.”) A good day’s work, worth a relaxing spell in the Spa pool.

Moose Jaw Encounters

The Saskatchewan Festival of Words has been held in Moose Jaw for 16 years now, but this was the first year that I was able to attend. Right away I saw why my authors had always enjoyed it so much.

Invited authors/performers are housed at the downtown Spa hotel, built around some natural hot springs full of healing waters. We found that every day had to involve at least one wallow in the soothingly warm pool on the top floor, where people sunbathe then swim, drink cool water, then repeat the dose. I was right at home because the little café beside the pool was named the Morningside Room, recognising the fact that Peter Gzowski (a sentimental graduate of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald) chose to stage his last Morningside broadcast from the hotel, and a photo of my friend Peter hangs on the café wall.

The festival itself is set a short walk away, in the library and the at gallery on the edge of Crescent Park. This is Moose Jaw’s central park (and indeed its Central Park) and is a fine blend of beauty and endless, active variety, which we explored every day.

I gave three readings, adapting my chosen excerpt to fit in with my co-reader. For example, matched with Harold Johnson, a truly impressive Cree-speaker who is a Crown Prosecutor in Laronge and has a Master’s Law Degree from Harvard, I chose to read about Saskatchewan’s own R.D. Symons, my very first author.

I was so impressed by Harold that I bought a copy of his novel, Charlie Muskrat. The trouble with literary festivals is that you hear so many fine readings that you end up buying lots of books. An occupational hazard.