BINGO! Artist Stella Walker’s latest inspiration

To say Stella Walker is a multi-disciplinary artist is an understatement. And understatement is not her style.

Yes, her beautiful figurative and landscape paintings are introspective and dreamlike. She’s a classically trained singer who sings in multiple languages, has specialized in Yiddish art songs, and now writes her own music.

But that’s just the beginning. As an actor and singer, Stella Walker can be a ham.

“Life is a mixture of things, so why wouldn’t art be a mixture of things?” says Walker. “It has its tragic and comic elements.”

A perfect example is her new YouTube music video ‘Under the B – Busted.’ It’s a campy, operatic-style performance about her failure to win at bingo. You can see it here.

The video is a collaboration featuring her friends’ talents — on, off and behind the camera — including Stephen Granger’s work. He shot, directed and edited it.

He normally does corporate work, but lent his skills to this production after Walker performed her bingo song to him in a café. They storyboarded together, and shot the video in four hours at the OWL’s Club on Dovercourt Road. Walker provided additional video elements, including drawings of imagined winnings, like a Winnebago.

Central to the video is a dress made out of 300 bingo cards, all paper, created by Alison Conway — a costume designer whose credits include the Stratford Festival.

“Paper is so fragile, it would be easy for the dress to be a disaster,” recalls Conway.

She wanted the bingo cards to move, and not appear like armour. As she researched solutions, Conway learned of a costume made out of feathers in The Magic Flute (read about that very costume in Backstage at the Opera: The Art of Costumes).

“If you can make feathers float, you can make bingo cards float,” she says.

With fittings and adjustments, the dress took a month to finish. Conway was pleased, especially with Walker’s reaction.

img_0954
Stella Walker’s bingo dress may be made of fragile paper, but is now immortalized in video.

“Bringing someone’s vision to fruition is very satisfying,” says Conway.

After performing ‘Under the B — Busted’ in the dress on stage, Walker hoped to give her friend’s work permanence. Hence the music video, a way to preserve it visually.

But what prompted Walker to want a bingo dress in the first place?

Cree class, Walker explains. Naturally.

Walker doesn’t just sing in multiple languages, she’s also multilingual. She’s studied the Cree language in Vancouver, Saskatoon and now at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.

One day, she bought a $3.99 bingo game as a gift for her Cree teacher, Susan Hunter. She thought it would be a fun way to learn Cree numbers from 1 to 75. It was so popular, it turned into a monthly bingo game in class.

She was flooded with inspiration — for the bingo dress, and for an interactive performance in which Susan Hunter would call out the numbers 1 to 75 in Cree for the audience, playing bingo. All that led to the music video, which features Hunter as caller, and many of Walker’s friends, including classmates, playing bingo.

“They were all volunteers,” notes Granger. “We had a lot of fun.”

While Walker’s dreams in the video are all fantasy, she really does want to travel. She’s developing a theatrical production — Stellavision: The 3D World of Stella Walker — and plans to tour it someday.

Part of the cost of the production is a $714.95 license fee for a composer. She’s selling one of her acrylic paintings for exactly that amount.

The painting in question is of a bingo card … of course.

img_0916
Proceeds from the sale of this 30 x 30-inch acrylic painting (‘Bingo Card #2435608’) will go toward funding her next production — Stellavision: The 3D World of Stella Walker

For more information on Stella Walker and her work, go to her website at stellawalker.com

Backstage at the Opera: The Art of Costumes

Opera is something my Dad listened to on the radio when I was growing up. I didn’t understand what they were singing. It felt remote.

Years later, friends invited me to the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Salome, staged by filmmaker Atom Egoyan. I’d seen his film Exotica, which involved some similar plot points – older men, younger woman. Voyeurism. Raw emotion. His artistic direction in an opera could be interesting.

As the lights went down and focused on the stage, I saw SURTITLES™, the COC’s brilliant invention. They’re like subtitles for a foreign film, projected above the stage. Suddenly I understood the words.

There were extra visual clues. These exceptional singers were equally great actors who conveyed plot through movements. Themes were conveyed in set design, choreography … and costumes. Magic. I’ve been going every year since.

“It’s all visual,” says COC Costume Supervisor Sandra Corazza. “And people are getting more and more visual, demanding things be more different and better.”

It’s working. The COC posted a $32,000 surplus for the 2015/16 season, a return on investment in artistic excellence — including the wardrobe department.

This past week, I had the treat of visiting Corazza and her team in that very department. We started in a room stacked floor to ceiling with jackets, shirts, trousers and boots, the first of many such rooms. I gasped.

The department has a big budget, but has to, Corazza says.

“If you’re doing a play, that doesn’t compare to an opera chorus of 40, with a dozen supers [extras], eight soloists,” says Corazza. “You cannot feed that many people with one chicken.”

And they recycle. She describes the investment they made in the wardrobe for The Magic Flute — back this season — as similar to investing in a Little Black Dress or men’s suit to last for years.

“It’s ours, we built it,” she says with pride. “And because we know we used decent fabric and put seam allowances and side seams in [to every costume], we can put it on again and know it will still be beautiful.”

The COC’s original Magic Flute wardrobe just returned from the U.S. Co-productions are common now, helping distribute cost. Corazza shows me how the U.S. company treated the costumes with respect. She pulls out a skirt worn by the lead female singer. It was hemmed, not cut. Now Corazza’s team can simply take out the hem to lengthen it.

img_0372
Natassia Brunato works on the women’s wardrobes for opera productions

There’s still a tonne of work to do. In addition to The Magic Flute, the COC is staging an all-new production: Riel. They’re building the wardrobe from scratch.

There are challenges. Fitting, for example. One of the male cast members stands 6’8” — not your standard tall guy. Every performer must be measured individually.  Natassia Brunato takes care of the female cast, and Christie del Monte outfits the men.

img_0349
Christie del Monte is painstakingly polishing all the men’s shoes

They work in subtle details that make a huge difference. Louis Riel’s supporters will all be wearing black jackets. Corazza says if the jackets were identical, the men would merge into a single silhouette — not the desired effect. So every jacket features a different texture and hue.

Some Magic Flute costumes have to be recreated. The complex ones will be sewn by tailors across southern Ontario. Corazza shows me a skirt for a character called Papagana.

img_0400
Sandra Corazza exhibits the exquisite design of one of their favourite tailors

“The person who made Papagana, the talent on her finger — it’s incredible,” says Corazza with awe.

She says operas have a significant role in keeping the craft of tailoring alive. And by helping to build dreamlike and breathtaking productions, the wardrobe department does its part to keep opera alive.