I'm not often one to bring together politics and my profession, but sometimes public lessons bear repeating.
This morning I was listening to the NPR Politics Podcast (which I high recommend for all you political wonks out there) and in the final section of their show they discuss stories they "can't let go." In the segment, Congressional reporter Susan Davis mentioned a fiasco involving the U.S. Treasury Secretary and his wife, Louise Linton.
Here's the story in a nutshell:
- The original post. Louise posted a photo on her Instagram account, which was public at the time but is now private, of herself and her husband disembarking from a government airplane (the photo has also now been deleted.)
- Humblebragging. The primary reason Louise came under fire was because she included several hashtags mentioning the multiple designer label items she was wearing. Commenters felt that she was bragging about her wealth and using a government plane.
- Feeding the trolls. One commenter left a comment which read: "Glad we could pay for your little getaway #deplorable" to which Louise responded with a comment where she claimed she and her husband were "bigger patriots" than the commenter (see below).
- Going viral. As a result of Louise's reaction to the comment, the story blew up all over news networks and drew a lot of attention from the media.
- Watchdogs get involved. The story viral highlighted the couple's trip on a government airplane, which let to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filing a FOIA to investigate whether or not the couple planned the trip using the government plane specifically to get a good view of Monday's solar eclipse.
Breaking It Down
While Louise Linton's story isn't uncommon - lots of people say/do things online which acerbate a situation, after all - it's relevant because it's a pertinent example of how a mismanaged personal brand can have far-reaching negative consequences for the individual.
Let's explore in more detail:
The Original Post
Let's start with the facts: Louise Linton is married to a politician, which means that she is going to come under just as much fire and scrutiny as her husband. This is normal, but we live in times which are defined by the growing gap in inequality between the 1% and the poor, especially in the United States.
As a result, someone in her position needs to be especially careful about what she shares as she builds her personal brand, and the role that information plays in a larger narrative about herself and her husband, Republicans, and wealth inequality in America.
Obviously none of these thoughts were present when she posted her photo to Instagram. Honestly, the photo itself isn't terribly troublesome; it shows the couple walking off a government plane and looks like your typical "politicians going to and from places" photo that we've seen of basically every politician at some point in time.
The problem was that she used the post as an opportunity to showcase the variety of designer items she was wearing. By deliberately including these hashtags she went out of her way to flaunt her wealth, which doesn't bode well in a time when the income gap in America is as worse as it's ever been.
As a result, some people got upset.
Of the many comments left on the post, this one seemed to be particularly upsetting for Louise:
She responded with a lengthy, condescending comment which included the following excerpt:
“Cute! Aw!!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable! Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?”
In the immortal words of Bianca DelRio: "Really, Queen?"
In addition to being incredibly condescending, Louise's comment strikes a few critical nerves here:
- She's deliberately dismissive of the commenter from the get-go.
- She flat-out denies that her trip was a personal one.*
- She insults the commenter by insinuating that she and her husband "give more" because they pay more in taxes... ostensibly because they earn more.
- She accuses the commenter of not being as patriotic as herself and her husband as a result of their tax contributions.
*(which has since turned out not to be completely true)
For someone who lives in the public eye, and who is married to a wealthy and influential politician whose effectiveness within government depends on his ability to identify with and relate to his electorate, this was about the worst possible comment she could have made.
In addition to breaking the number one rule of the internet (don't feed the trolls), her comment aggravated the situation because it clearly demonstrated that she thinks she doesn't see herself as someone who can relate to, or is even on the same playing field as, the people commenting on her photo. And this is probably true: if she can afford a Hermez scarf, Tom Ford sunglasses, and Valentino heels (among others) then she's clearly in a significantly different place than many of her followers.
However: that doesn't make it appropriate to point it out, especially in the way she did.
Coming Under Fire
The most fascinating aspect of this story was that her Instagram fight went viral, and wound up attracting the attention of the CREW watchdog group.
Now, because Louise didn't properly manage her personal brand, she and her husband are coming under fire for potentially using government aircraft for a personal excursion and are the subject of increased scrutiny and media coverage.
We often hear the expression There's no such thing as bad publicity, but in this case I'd be willing to bet that Louise wishes she'd never posted the photo at all. Primarily because she's since deleted the image and made her account Private.
Why Is Her Situation Different?
We live in the age of the Instagram influencers, and there are thousands (maybe more) of users who have built up followings, established relationships with brands, and build personal media empires based on using hashtags to establish influence and get in front of major retailers, agents, brand managers, and the like.
One could argue that, as a small-time actress, Louise was just trying to get in front of the brands she'd like to work with, and I'm inclined to agree that that's probably exactly what she was doing.
So what makes Louise's situation different? Simple: she's married to a politician.
This fact shifts the perception of her personal brand away from "small-time actor and budding influencer" to "politician's wife flaunting their wealth." It means that what she says and does is much more likely to come under fire, which means she needs to be extra-mindful of how she presents herself and her lifestyle online.
When building our personal brands we need to be mindful of the ways in which others will perceive what we post, say, and do. Of course, we can't please everyone all the time, but part of developing a strong personal brand is identifying our positive strengths, showcasing our passions, and doing our best to be a supportive and inclusive member of whichever communities we're a part of.
Louise Linton's Instagram post did none of those things, and by engaging in a comment fight she further undermined any credibility she may have had by demonstrating that she saw herself as being on a pedestal compared to the average American.
What Can We Learn?
Louise Linton's Instagram fiasco can be summed up in a few key points which should be seared into the minds of anyone attempting to build a personal brand:
- Like Kendrick Lamar says: Be humble. Part of building an effective personal brand is telling a story of growth and progress, so sharing success stories, collaborations, unique opportunities and experiences, and the like is often part of that process. But going out of your way to publicly flaunt your wealth is never cool or relatable; in fact, it's usually the opposite.
- Think before you post. We're all guilty of posting dumb stuff from time to time, but the larger our personal brands become, the more we need to think critically about what we say and do, and how it may make others feel.
- Ask yourself: who will connect with this content? Louise Linton is a politician's wife, which means the majority of the people who engage with her content are either people who like or dislike her husband and what he represents to them. Even if Louise's primary goal with her content was to get in front of designer brands and high-end influencers, she should have been more aware that the majority of people paying attention to what she's doing are people who can't afford to wear multiple designer pieces to take a ride on an airplane, which is going to garner more negative feedback than positive.
- Don't feed the trolls. Just don't do it.
- If you *absolutely have to comment back*, again: be humble. Apologize. Play nice and be civil. We win more friends with honey than with vinegar, after all, and if Louise had just apologized or been more demure in her response the public fallout, media coverage, and subsequent CREW involvement may never have happened.
At the end of the day, building a strong personal brand doesn't happen overnight, and it takes concerted effort to continue to build momentum and share content which resonates with your audience and projects the best version of yourself forward.
There are lots of ways you can connect with your target audience, get in front of brands and labels, and establish yourself as an influencer in your niche.
Just try not to take the Louise Linton approach when you do.
Do you have any personal branding horror stories, or suggestions for what Louise could have done instead? Tweet at me or tell me in the comments!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was small I wanted to be a golfing farmer. Then I wanted to be an artist. Then I wanted to be a writer. Of course, nobody took the first one seriously, but pursuing a career in a creative field was strongly discouraged. "There's no money in creative pursuits" I was told, over and over again.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself sitting on the Roost rooftop patio a few weeks ago celebrating my second anniversary as a full-time business owner.
Not only do I get to do the creative work that I love to do (writing) every day, but I get to leverage the thing I love to do another thing that I love (helping people) while building the life that I want for myself. That's pretty incredible.
So with that revelation in mind, I wanted to touch on a few things that I've been reflecting on over the past few days as I ponder what got me here, and how things have changed in these past two years:
Outgrowing Corporate Life
The advice I got the most often when I was growing up was "find a job and keep your head down" which - in case you haven't met me - is the polar opposite of who I am as a person.
I'm not a lady who keeps her head down and her mouth shut, and it always proved challenging in work environments where I didn't have the control or opportunities to experiment, try new things, and get creative with problem-solving.
For a long time I thought it was character flaws that were keeping me from being a happy employee. Why couldn't I just fit in? Why did I have to challenge my supervisors when I thought I knew of a better way to do something? Why did I continue to lose motivation after the first few months of doing the same tasks day in and day out?
Mostly I wondered: why did everyone else not seem to have these same challenges?
It was crazy-making, and it wasn't until I started freelancing in 2014 that I started to experience the kind of control and freedom that I'd been looking for and failing to find in my corporate life.
I realized that the problem wasn't me, it was the work I was doing and the places I was doing it.
Let me be clear: there's nothing wrong with a corporate job if that's what you want, but for some of us it feels like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole every day.
It's nice to not feel that way anymore.
Finding Amazing Opportunities
The one thing that I don't think I was prepared for was the amount of opportunities that being a business owner afforded me, and how much those experiences have enriched my life.
I used to wile away my days at my desk, watching people on Twitter share talks and presentations and workshops and all these fun and exciting-looking opportunities. I wanted to be doing those things, but I didn't know how to get there.
Here's the thing about being a business owner, though: in order for your business to be successful you have to put yourself out there.
This is where that whole "being unable to keep my head down / mouth shut" aspect of my personality really acts as a blessing: I'm comfortable putting myself out there and getting up in front of people, so I'm comfortable with the hustle associated with promoting and building a business.
These days I write articles, run workshops, speak at conferences, and I even have my own print column. While, yes, I could have certainly leveraged my personal brand to find these opportunities, having a business gets me in front of other professionals in a way that being an employee at someone else's company didn't afford me. And honestly? That's probably the coolest part.
Learning to Manage Others
In 2016 my business grew enough that I began working with outside contractors to help manage my workload. By the time I rebranded and launched Starling Social earlier this year I'd already been working with contractors for a while, but formally announcing that we have a team felt like a huge accomplishment. Looking at our About Us page and seeing more faces than just my own is still a bit mind-blowing, and I'm so thankful to work with the passionate and dedicated people that I do.
On one hand, having someone help you manage your workload is a huge boon. On the other hand, sharing my thoughts and developing the processes needed to effectively on-board others was scary. My anxieties make me afraid of failure and "being wrong" and it was intimidating to open my business up to other people and let them in.
That being said, being forced to take a long, critical look at how and why I did things helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the value of using the right tools, processes, and documentation to run my business and serve our clients.
They say the best way to understand something is to teach it to someone else, and that applies in business, too.
The single biggest change in the last two years is the confidence that I've developed as a result of being a business owner.
I can feel it permeating every conversation I have; there's a security, a solidarity in my sense of self that just wasn't there a few years ago. Of course, I still have moments (or days, or sometimes even weeks) of doubt and struggle, but overall working for myself and managing both clients and contractors has helped me grow into a significantly more confident person, both personally and professionally.
I have anxiety, and until recently I was seeing a therapist who was helping me work through some traumatic childhood experiences that contributed to those feelings. While therapy was invaluable (really, I can't recommend it enough if you feel like you need it) it was the daily practice of getting up, working by myself all day and facing my problems and challenges head-on, and reflecting about those challenges in a safe space that really contributed to my increased overall sense of well-being and confidence.
I really do believe that being your own boss is one of the best things you can do to build up your self-confidence. It pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone in so many small ways every day.
Business is growing and these days it feels like I have more stuff to do than hours in the day, but that's okay. I'm learning to develop and maintain a work/life balance, which can be hard sometimes when your work is the thing you love to do.
I believe that people create their own luck, though to be perfectly honest most of the time it still feels like I stumbled into this amazing, stressful, and challenging opportunity even though I can look back and see the years of work and dedication that it took to get here, even if I didn't know that this was where I was going. And honestly, that's the coolest part: not knowing where this adventure is going to take me.
I'm really excited to see what the next few years bring my way.
Most years we volunteer but 2017 has been so crazy and hectic already that we nixed the extra responsibility. Instead we just camped and roasted in the sun and took in as much music as you can reasonably cram into bright, hot days without giving yourself sunstroke.
We saw The Barenaked Ladies, City and Colour, Begonia, Charoltte Cardin and omg John K. Samson and The Winter Wheat.
John and I held hands and sang along to Pamphleteer and it was sort of perfect.
At the Big Blue stage at night there was lots of crowdsurfing. Kids climbing up into the crowd and floating around on top of others and I thought
That shit is so dangerous.
And I swear as I thought that some young dude who was crowdsurfing but was busy trying to selfie fell down and right onto his back in the crowd. Which made me realize that I'm old now because my first thought wasn't "oh no! Back to dancing" it was
He could have broken his neck!
When I was younger I just wanted to party all the time. I didn't care if I hurt myself. I was just in it to win it and the hangovers and bruises and fuzzy memories be damned. But now that I'm getting older all that stupid stuff I used to do that seemed like no big deal at the time suddenly seems so much more serious.
Like man you only live once so you gotta take care of yourself.
Which is why buddy taking a selfie while crowdsurfing freaked me out so bad. It reminded me of what a reckless dummy I used to be.
So I went and hung out in the beer garden with my friends.
Which is what adults do at festivals, anyway.
Figuring out who you want to be is daunting by itself - but what about figuring out who you are online?
If you've never thought about it before don't worry. Most people don't! In fact, most of us go about our daily lives, posting whatever we find, ranting about people that annoy us, and generally not giving a second thought to how the things we share might make us look to others.
Enter personal branding: the process of using social media and your digital presence to shape the narrative about who you are, what you do, and why you rock.
Why Does Personal Branding Work?
Many people think of personal branding as being inauthentic, or deliberately trying to pull the wool over people's eyes, but they couldn't be more wrong! I like to think of personal branding as the daily practice of putting your best foot forward and projecting the best version of yourself online.
Think about it this way: you're a smart, savvy professional who works hard and knows their shit, so why wouldn't you want people to know that about you right from the get-go?
What Can Personal Branding Accomplish?
I can say unequivocally that I wouldn't be where I am without my personal brand.
I realized several years ago (while I was in university, actually) that developing a strong presence online would help me get a job in my desired field and make connections, but I didn't really think too critically about it.
I posted to Twitter a lot and blogged regularly, which helped me start speaking and even landed me a segment on Shaw TV, but it wasn't until I shifted the focus of my website to be more "career-centric" and started sharing articles relating to social media and my industry that I started to acquire freelance clients and more speaking opportunities.
The more I shared, the more people began to see me as a local expert in my field, and as someone who could speak with authority about topics relating to my industry. I was able to accelerate this process by already having several years of online activity and recognition (aka, developing my personal brand!) to fall back on.
How Can You Develop Your Personal Brand?
Understanding how to shape your personal brand is one of the most valuable skills that we can learn in our digital age - I believe it's something we should teach everyone!
Luckily, there's no bad time to start developing your personal brand. It's really as easy as asking yourself some basic fundamental questions about yourself and your goals, signing in to your social accounts, and posting regularly.
Of course, there's a little more to it than that, which is why I'm hosting a lunch + learn with New Media Manitoba dedicated to helping you develop your personal brand!
Whether you're a student, freelancer, or professional looking to advance in your field and snag that killer new job, personal branding can help, and I'd love to show you how.
This event is FREE for NMM members, and only $10 for non-members, so what are you waiting for? RSVP and let's have some lunch and learn about how you can land your dream job by shaping how future bosses and clients think of you online.
Let's do this thing! Save your spot and let's get you that dream gig.
Yesterday was TEDxWinnipeg.
It was amazing. It was a whirlwind. It was so much more than my tired, fried-out brain can describe right now.
Instead, here's a photo essay:
Of course I woke up at 4:45AM
a full hour before my alarm was supposed to go off
as evidenced by my unimpressed post-shower face (was I even awake then?)
Does that look like the face of a girl who got 5hrs sleep? I hope not.
Luckily I was able to pull myself together within a reasonable time frame.
Winnipeg looked gorgeous during my bike ride to the convention centre, of course.
I left a bit early so I could bike there slowly and collect my thoughts and feelings
and to try and get in a little "me time" before a whirlwind day.
I got there for 7:15AM and the space was largely empty except for the volunteers and organizers running around getting everything ready.
We took a bunch of group shots of all the speakers, organizers, tech peeps, and etc before the crowds started milling in, and then it was ready to go!
There were a bunch of fun activities for guests to do, including this fun board which I kept coming back to look at throughout the day.
I was busy as heck, but I managed to squeeze in a few selfies with some lovely people before the day got started.
TEDxWinnipeg people unite!
This guy was an amazing support, of course.
Halfway through the morning Brent pulled me aside to let me know he had something for me:
It was a vintage AOL trial disc! Anyone remember these?
My talk touched on my high school years spent using the "Trial" button on our NetZero install because my parents refused to pay to get dial-up internet at home (don't even get me started on that gong show), so this little trinket was super thoughtful and hilarious. Thanks so much, Brent!
(Side note: I'm so thankful for high speed internet)
Then it was back into the swing of things.
I spent a lot of time in the green room backstage, but I made sure to make it into the crowd for Jon and Rana's talks. We'd spent so much time rehearsing together that I really needed to be in the crowd to experience their talks.
Spoiler alert: they both knocked it out of the park. I was in tears!
Before I knew it, it was my turn to present.
What can I say about speaking?
It was intense. It was exhilarating. It was fun and stressful and amazing.
I was nervous leading up to my talk and was so worried that I was going to forget something, or flub my lines, or, well... anything!
But I'm pleased to say that I nailed it. I did better than I could have expected and I'll be sharing more thoughts on my experience in an upcoming post for the TEDxWinnipeg website (so stay tuned for that).
Then it was over!
I posed for a few quick snaps at the end of the day (this is my speaker buddy, Amanda, who was an incredible help and support throughout the entire process) before heading out.
I was utterly wiped after such an emotional, busy, and exhilarating day.
(But not too tired to go for pizza and drinks at my favourite local pizza joint Super Deluxe Pizza.)
Now if you'll excuse me I need to go and sleep for a week.
Want more info about my TEDxWinnipeg expeirence? Check out my blog post series on the TEDxWinnipeg website what it was like to be selected as a speaker, and preparing to present my talk.
Update: the TEDxWinnipeg live stream is still up! My talk is around 3:20:10 in the 'Afternoon Talks' section.
It's almost here! TEDxWinnipeg is just a few short days away, and I'm putting the final touches on my talk and cramming in as much rehearsal time as possible.
Putting this talk together was fun and challenging, both on a personal and professional level. It was hard (and worthwhile) to find a way to tell my story and illustrate how the digital communities I found online helped me overcame a wealth of personal issues in my youth to grow into the person that I am today, and to illustrate how digital communities throughout the internet continue to have the same positive effects on people all over the globe.
I've also been lucky enough to be able to share my experience in detail as I work through my talk and prepare for the big day. You can find my first post here, and if you missed my second post, you can find it here.
Below is an excerpt from my third and final post in the series:
My talk is about digital communities who come together to support one another, and in the process of preparing to speak I’ve found a wider, extended family with the TEDx speakers and organizers in my daily life. The irony is not lost on me, I assure you.
I’m a writer, and writing is a solitary pursuit, so I’m used to sitting alone and plugging away at my keyboard in silence, and the prospect of working on a talk on my own didn’t faze me at first.
But working on a TEDx talk is hard work, and having someone I can message with questions, concerns and frustrations who is as embedded in their experience as I am has really helped me stay focused and on track, especially in moments when I doubt my message or my own abilities.
It's been an incredibly humbling and eye-opening experience to work alongside the other presenters and watch as their talks come together, and I can't wait to see everyone on June 6th!
The other night we were sitting on the couch trying to figure out what to watch.
I wanted to watch IT and John said "Stephen King really has a thing for coming-of-age flashback movies about kids who experience something scary together."
Which was true, but I hadn't really thought about it quite like that before.
We sat there, scrolling through our movies and talking about which ones we'd seen; which ones sucked, which ones were better than we'd expected; which ones made us cry.
I reminded John that I'd never seen Fargo, and we started to go through a list of movies that I've never seen (which is apparently appalling, but I'll post here to the best of my knowledge because I have no shame):
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- Adventures in Babysitting
- Bubba Ho-Tep
- The Man With the Screaming Brain
And more, I'm sure.
As we listed them off John turned to me and laughed and said "I'm going to write these down in my Notes app so I have them on-hand and can reference them at all times."
"Don't!" I laughed, mostly joking.
"Look" he said, showing me the title of the Note (which read "Movies Alyson hasn't seen yet")
"I put it right here at the top next to my To-Do list so I see it every time I open the app."
What is Starling Social?
Starling Social is the name of my business. We specialize in social media management and copywriting (content marketing) designed to help our clients tell their stories and connect with their customers.
I started freelancing in the summer of 2014, and while working under my own name was great for a while, I realized that as my business started to grow and I began to bring on sub-contractors to help me manage my workload, that using my own name just wasn't going to cut it anymore.
I've been working on launching my new brand for the last half of 2016, so this feels like a really long time coming. I'm really excited to finally be sharing this news with all of you!
You can read more about Starling Social on our first blog post.
What Does This Mean for My Blog?
What it means is that I can (finally!) get back to the kind of writing that I enjoy: the kind which doesn't have to stick to a certain style, which discusses more of my life, opportunities, thoughts, and experiences.
One of the challenging things about being a freelancer was that I had to shift the primary focus of my blog to topics relating to my professional life. I've always been a big supporter of knowledge sharing, and by publishing content that was helpful and informative to others, it also helped demonstrate that I knew what I was talking about when it came to social media and content marketing.
While it was fun and refreshing at first, I quickly started to realize that the more I blogged about what I did, the less I blogged about who I am. What I care about, my values, and so on.
With this in mind, one of the biggest changes you'll notice here is that I'll be blogging more about my life. What I'm up to, my thoughts on being an entrepreneur and business owner, etc, reflections on my industry, and so forth.
What Comes Next?
You can follow along with everything that Starling Social is up to by visiting our website and blog, and following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can also sign up for our newsletter and get a FREE copy of my new ebook Get Social! Content Marketing for You and Your Brand.
And me? I'll still be here, blogging away like I always have.
So hello, and welcome back. I've missed all of you.
(Image via TEDxWinnipeg)
Recently I announced that I had been selected as a speaker at this year's TEDxWinnipeg event. This was amazing news to share, but prior to applying to speak I had a lot of unanswered questions:
What was the application process like?
What would happen if I was selected as a speaker?
How would I prepare to deliver my talk in front of a room full of hundreds of people?
What kinds of supports were in place to help me hone my talk and meet TEDx standards?
... and so on. The questions seemed endless.
With this in mind, I was thrilled when the TEDxWinnipeg social team contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in a series of posts about my experience. As a writer and a advocate of knowledge-sharing, this felt like the perfect opportunity to share what I'm learning as I go through this process, as well as the challenges and hurdles come with being selected to speak at a TEDx event.
Below is an exert from my first post in the series:
I’m a writer, and I own a digital marketing agency, so I spend a lot of time thinking about how people interact online. I’ve also been deeply influenced by the people I’ve met online throughout my life, and wanted to speak to those experiences and share them with the audience.
That being said, a good talk isn’t just about telling your own story; it’s about sharing information and ideas with your audience, so I made sure that my talk also focused on the positive power of digital communities in broader, less personal examples, as well. Because while a compelling story is great, a good TEDx talk needs to also introduce an idea or concept, because the talks are about sharing ideas, not just stories.
There are few things as powerful as a strong one-person performance, and while Severn Thompson's performance in Elle wasn't completely solo, the 90 minutes that she spent on the stage, almost entirely on her own, were appropriately gripping and moving.
Exploring French-Canadian History
Elle is a theatre adaptation of the Douglas Glover’s 2003 novel of the same name which is currently playing at the Prairie Theatre Exchange. The story focuses on the tale of harrowing survival in pre-colonial Canada, and weaves in themes of feminism, magic, and terror into a gripping performance that demands to be seen.
The play, and the novel upon which the play is based, are an interpretation and expansion of the incredible story of Marguerite de La Rocque de Roberval, played by Severn Thompson, a French noblewoman who travelled to Canada and was marooned on the Isle of Demons, a phantom island, an island off the coast of Newfoundland. She was marooned by the captain of the ship, her relative, who dumped her overboard as punishment for taking a lover during the voyage.
Marguerite is joined by her lover Richard, her maid Damienne, and a boat full of broken tools. Discovering that she is pregnant, she struggles through a series of hardships as her pregnancy progresses: Richard becomes ill and dies; Damienne, too, eventually succumbs to starvation and sickness, and, pregnant and alone, Marguerite's spirit begins to break.
A character who began as a confident and aloof young woman is suddenly left to face the harsh Canadian winters alone, and Thomson's portrayal of a woman whose spirit is breaking in front of you is chilling take on dark humour, to say the very least. As she climbs inside the skin of a bear, worn-out, cold, and ready to give up, she is discovered.
Itslk, played by Johnathan Fisher, is an Indigenous hunter who believes that Marguerite is a spirit, having watched her emerge from inside the bear. He teaches her how to hunt and cook meat, and the real and spirit world begin to blend as Marguerite becomes more in touch with her newfound home.
Intimate and Gripping
Being the sole (or largely solo) actor on stage can be daunting, and often falls flat, but Thompson's depiction of a woman going through a traumatic experience and surviving managed to be both alarming and darkly funny. At times, when Thompson is describing their dire state on the island, living off of “books, bird bones and tennis balls” you almost feel bad for laughing as she trounces around the stage.
The most striking part of the performance, however, was how the stage was integrated with the story. The entire play takes place in front of a large structure which resembles a rib cage (an homage to the bear Marguerite finds, perhaps?) and is the perfect play to see at the Prairie Theatre Exchange because of the smaller stage size and the intimate setting.
By using a long sheet and wrapping it in various ways around the structure the stage is transformed from a ship, to a tiny tent, to the belly of a bear, and more. At one point, while Thompson wound herself up inside the sheet, crying out, it could almost be believed that she was truly losing her sanity.
Elle is a play worth seeing, and a reminder of the hardships that faced both colonists and Indigenous peoples alike all those centuries ago.