Taking a Piece from Rural Musicians

by SPARC Youth Blogger Alexis Kuper

Growing up in rural Canada as an aspiring musician can feel like an isolating uphill challenge. Then the world throws the COVID-curveball at you and you feel 10 times lonelier than before. Fortunately, there are other musicians in the same shoes as you and they’ve curated some advice: 

Meet Luca Martin, a culinary student and aspiring musician from Drayton, Ontario. He started his journey six years ago when he was gifted a guitar. He’s inspired by classic rock musicians like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin, and is currently working on an EP of covers – called Garage Days – with hope to release it on streaming services this summer. 

Guitar and laptop on a brown table


Martin acknowledges the good and bad aspects that come from being a musician in a rural community. In his experience, small towns seem to “breed honesty,” and he’s not surrounded by “scuzzy” people trying to scam him out of a gig, take advantage of his skills, or tell him something sounds really good when it’s not. On the flip side, his contact with larger musicians and industry professionals is limited to a less lucrative, online approach. This can feel significantly more isolating than pitching yourself in a music-mecca city. 

Fortunately, there are other resources he has found for the young, and possibly broke, musician. He feels that the app and IOS software Garage Band has a large arsenal of basic recording and creation tools for a beginner. He also recommends taking advantage of the online landscape: there are thousands of other musicians and teachers creating content on social media sites like YouTube for you to learn from and interact with. But his most important piece of advice to an aspiring musician is to not give up. It might sound cliché, but it rings true. “The first few months is when your self-doubt is the highest,” he says. “You see other musicians who have been working with their instrument for years and you think ‘I’m not cut out for this.’” 


a young man wearing a black parka and mask stands in from of the brick building. sign on building reads skyline studios.

Dustin Skysmith in front of his business, Skyline Studios


Another rural musician with similar experiences to Martin is Dustin Skysmith. From Mitchell, Ontario, Skysmith is a working musician as well as a small business owner. He’s the owner and operator of Skyline Studios, a music studio that offers DJing services for events and music lessons for a variety of ages, instruments, and skill levels (currently online for the safety of all his students). Believe it or not, his dad was a Garth Brooks impersonator, so music has always been a part of his life and he started playing guitar at the age of ten, 18 years ago. 

Skysmith has also had difficulties connecting with other musicians and finding opportunities away from big cities. However, he is grateful for the connections and networks he can take part in; there is little in the way of competition and due to the close-knit nature of small communities, lots of support. There are other ways to make your career as small town musician fulfilling, as well. A few years ago, Skysmith started The Shelter Project, an annual online charity event each May. 

The Shelter Project is a proud supporter of the Tanner Steffler Foundation – a non-profit aimed to increase mental health and addiction resources/supports in Huron County, created by John and Heather Teffler after the tragic passing of their son. Each May, Skysmith and his students create and preform art online to gather donations for this foundation. 

This year, Skysmith is also working with Blue Waters Music in St. Mary’s, Ontario, and is encouraging artists of all types to get involved – whether it’d be through music, art, or photography, to name a few. This year’s original song for the project is called Beneath and can be listened to on Youtube and other streaming services, and more information can be found here. 


Two men hold an oversized cheque. They are outside

Dustin Skysmith Presenting John Steffler with the Shelter Project’s 2020 Donation


What else can aspiring, rural musicians do? Be willing to play anywhere when opportunities come to you. Playing the intermission at your local high schools’ talent show or softly strumming during the horticulture society’s silent auction may sound boring, but it builds up your network and notoriety where you are. Take advantage of the fact you may find it easier to travel to different small communities and the closest urban centres than an artist operating directly somewhere like Toronto. Furthermore, having versatility in the instruments you play can help you a lot as well as its easier for you to perform in different situations or have more interesting sets – Luca Martin can play bass, guitar, drums, and a little trumpet! Finally, commit to being an integrated part of your community as a musician and it will encourage your community to be committed to music as well. 

And as for our featured musicians? Right now, Luca Martin is finishing up his culinary degree and you can find his first few singles on all major streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music under “Luca Martin.” As for Dustin Skysmith, he’s working hard right now on 2021’s Shelter Project, his music is also available on all major streaming services, and you can find him on Instagram at @dustin_skysmith. 

Rural Arts Space: How Theatres Can Go the Distance

By Guest Blogger Rebecca Anne Bloom


Scrabble tiles spell Social Distancing on a brown background

Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels

“But there wasn’t the merest whiff about of the kind of magic that comes when the theatre darkens, the bottom of the curtain glows, the punters settle down, you take a deep breath… none of the person-to-person magic we put together with spit and glue and willpower.” ― Angela Carter, Wise Children

For many theatres in 2020, only the ghost light lit stages where previously stories had come to life. The auditoriums where cheerful and excited audiences once sat lay dormant, blanketed by darkness. Artistic teams, performers, and patrons waited with bated breath as the arts and the world were rattled by an invisible enemy. There appeared to be some home when at the start of March, the Ontario provincial government announced it was investing $25 million into the arts sector; however, many arts and culture spaces in rural or remote communities were excluded. This begs the question; how could theatres stay alive? If we ever come out of this pandemic, would there be any art spaces left?

Although there is a shroud of uncertainty, many rural arts spaces continued to unite and engage the community during a time of social distancing. Places like Theatre Orangeville, the Foster Festival and Westben switched to showcasing performances through online platforms. Artistic teams got creative, focused on ensuring the arts were kept alive and the members of their communities were nurtured with uplifting entertainment. To understand more about how members of the arts community continued to stay optimistic, I looked at the theatres in the City of Kawartha Lakes to learn how they fostered innovative ways to keep performing while ensuring patrons and artists were safe. I spoke with the Artistic Director of Globus Theatre in Bobcaygeon, Sarah Quick, and members of the Board of Directors at Lindsay Little Theatre, to see how rural theatres can still produce quality performances, regardless of social distancing protocols.


Winter photo of a large barn. The top of the barn is red, the bottom is cream. Into centre, just below the peak is a large sign that reads LAB. Below is a banner that reads Lakeview Arts Barn. there is snow on the ground

Photo by R. A. Bloom Creations & Photography


Globus Theatre @ the LAB

Situated just outside of the village of Bobcaygeon, sitting back from Pigeon Lake Road/Highway 17, is a big pink barn. Once a working cattle barn, the Lakeview Arts Barn, is a contemporary 150 seat black box theatre, with Globus Theatre as the theatre-in-residence. A professional summer theatre formed in 2003, Globus as produced over 10 world premieres and over 15 Canadian premieres. Their 17th season was set to be their largest one yet; however, it like many others was cancelled. As restrictions slowly shifted late in the summer, Artistic Director Sarah Quick and Artistic Producer James Barrett saw an opportunity to bring theatre to light once more.

“When we saw the possibility of opening for a smaller season, we immediately knew that we wanted to do something,” explained Sarah Quick. “The LAB is a versatile venue, with removable seating, 7,000 square feet of open floor space and high barn ceilings.” From a play reading series that showcased new Canadian comedies, to a live-streamed improvised soap opera, a festive comedy show to musical performances, Globus Theatre ensured that proper protocols were followed at all times. “We booked based on social circles, removed our curtains to ensure all our tables were 6 feet apart and even invested in a custom 12’x24’ vinyl curtain from Ontario Staging Ltd. to surround our stage.” Having experience with working on a budget, the artistic team knew having a season could be possible, within their parameters. What resulted was their fall Season Within Reason and a winter Sprinkling of a Season which featured dinner and socially distanced live programming for audiences of 50 patrons. This proved so popular with audiences; Globus is forging ahead with an extended summer season with limited audiences but not limited programming!

Lindsay Little Theatre

Tucked away on George St. in Lindsay is a small community theatre that has been in operation for over 50 years. At full capacity, the Lindsay Little Theatre’s (LLT) performance space seats 40 people, which proved to be a barrier for conducting shows during the pandemic. “It is almost impossible to provide quality shows with social distancing, meaning little or no revenue for community theatres but they still have their overheads,” explained Marion Bays, Director of Fundraising and Sponsorship. “To put on a production usually means royalty payments exceed what would be taken in at the door.” So, when the Board of Directors considered hosting theatre events, they knew they would have to get creative. Enter, the Pie Eyed Monk, which forged an amazing relationship with LLT. 

Finding a community partner was a key factor into re-opening for Lindsay Little Theatre. Local restaurant The Pie Eyed Monk was unable to continue catering for larger scale events like weddings. Joining forces to hold a COVID-19 safe dinner theatre experience in their second-floor event space was a win/win for both companies. What resulted was a successful 3 show run of Norm Foster one-acts, which left the audience wanting more. The theatre is excited to announce that another murder mystery dinner theatre event is currently in rehearsals. 

a script is on a table, the title of the golden coloured script is One Actmanship. A mask in a clear plastic bag and a paper sit above the script

Photo from Kathryn Woolridge-Condon from Lindsay Little Theatre


The Case for Rural Arts Spaces

We have seen that over the course of the year, many industries have taken a hit. For anyone wondering why the arts is so important, or why the members of performing art spaces work tirelessly to keep the doors stay open, the answer is simple: the community needs the arts. When asked why Globus Theatre chose to re-open during these unprecedented times, Sarah was quick to say: “our community looks to us to find out what to do. Not only could we answer the social needs of our patrons, but we also hired artists who had their livelihoods put on hold. It was amazing to offer work to performers who didn’t think they would be on a stage for some time.” A similar feeling was echoed from the board members of LLT. “We have loads of ways to see movies and TV shows these days, but really nothing beats the magic of a live show,” stated Logan Geryzmisch. LLT’s President Shannon Peters Bain agreed. “Our human heritage is storytelling, and where there are people there should be theatre. There are always actors and artists among a community and a need to explore society and history through dialogue.” Through the ingenuity of many passionate people, Globus Theatre and Lindsay Little Theatre were able to provide the Kawartha Lakes community and beyond what they desperately needed – hope.

Hello and Bonjour from Carousel Players!

close up photo of the face of a white woman. She wears large sunglasses, earmuffs and a scarf. She is smiling Hi there. My name is Samantha and I’m writing from St Catharines, Ontario, the traditional land of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishnaabe, the Neutral and Wendat peoples. I am very grateful to the original caretakers of this land. In Niagara, I grew up in Welland, Ontario frequently walking along the Welland Canal and having picnics at Merritt Island. Now a resident of St Catharines I frequently visit Rotary Park, a beautiful place with paths surrounding a big open field, and trails that lead to the Four Mile Creek. I thrive on the healing properties of this land and water, and I wish to ask, how will you connect with the land today? By writing this, I hope to create a safe space for all. Welcome!


I’m so excited for this guest blogging opportunity, and even more excited to represent the organization I work for, Carousel Players. Founded in 1972, it is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected professional theatre for young audience companies with roots in the Niagara Region. To learn more about Carousel, visit us h e r e : w​ w w . c a r o u s e l p l a y e r s . c o m . ​

I am the Outreach Coordinator for Carousel, which means under normal circumstances I participate in local events and help facilitate our own. I get the wonderful opportunity to interact with children and families in all corners of the region, from Fort Erie to Grimsby, and everywhere in between. My favourite part about my job is meeting people from all walks of life and engaging with them. I love when I meet a parent who tells me of their fond memories of seeing a Carousel Players performance when they were in school, or speaking with a child who has recently watched a performance. I joined the company in 2019 back when in-person events were allowed, and I miss interacting with people terribly.

We all love theatre here, am I right?! And of course, none of us can gather in person, anxiously waiting to take our seats and share in an experience together, and that hurts. So many arts organizations have had to grieve the loss of live performances, feverishly try to cope, and quickly come up with ways to engage with our audiences.

This year, one of the ways we ​pivoted​- one of my least favourite words now as it is no longer used as a fun dance move – is that we were still able to create some phenomenal experiences, one of which wan outdoor scene, three larger than life puppets (puppeteer by at least two people) are in a filed. Audience is dispersed between the puppetsas our Giant Puppet Party. There we were in September of 2020, prepared to welcome families to our large-space event featuring a 12 foot puppet, and not two days before, the government announced new restrictions that only 25 people could gather outdoors. Talk about a let-down! With this news I sadly informed some of the families that we could only accept the first few who registered. Fortunately, people were very understanding, and the event wasn’t cancelled altogether! The few families who could attend brought their amazing homemade puppets, we did some funky moves together, a little dance, and we all went home!

Then in the fall, our incredible team madefabric overlaying a box. The fabric has a glittering effect theatre magic happen again when they created Halloween Happening, an indoor large-space event that allowed families to walk through different “rooms” inside the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Kind of like a haunted house, but no jump scares, and we kept the creepiness factor to a minimum. It included a fairy room, a pumpkin patch, a giant witch puppet and her cauldron, among others. The selected entry slots filled up so quickly and before we knew it, we were sold out! I was elated! Not only would I get to see more families in person again, but this time they would all be in costume!


Winterworld was another unique event that came out of last year. In the atrium at the St Catharines Public Library, our team created a beautiful snow queen installation with multiple dioramas surrounding her, including a bunny hill with tiny little bunnies on skies. It was magical.

a large snow queen stands on a pedestal

Even though we experienced the disappointment over and over again of plans that didn’t come to fruition, we were still able to
make magic possible, and that gives me the warm and fuzzies. Was it the same? Of course not! But experiencing the joy and excitement of others as they danced with our giant puppet Nadine the Ondine, or entered the Dragon room in Halloween Happening, or set eyes on the tall majestic snow queen still put a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart.

One of my favourite moments of last year was the bravery of a little boy who got frightened while inside the Halloween Happening and immediately rushed to get out, only to tell his parents that he wanted to go back in, and try to go through the experience slowly so he could face his fear. What a hero! I think we can all take a cue from this little boy and find ways to be adaptable and face what scares us, even in the midst of a pandemic, especially at a time where the need for support and connection is so great.

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to connect, please email outreach@carouselplayers.com​ and I will gladly chat with you. Stay safe, and until next time!



Bonjour! Je m’appelle Samantha et je vous écris aujourd’hui de St Catharines, Ontario, le territoire traditionnel des peuples Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, Neutral et Wendat. Je suis très reconnaissante aux pclose up photo of the face of a white woman. She wears large sunglasses, earmuffs and a scarf. She is smilingremiers habitants et gardiens des terres. Je viens de Welland, Ontario au centre de la région de Niagara. Pendant ma jeunesse j’ai rendu visite au canal Welland et à l’île Merritt fréquemment. Maintenant une résidente de St Catharines, je vais souvent au parc Rotary pour une promenade. C’est un très bel endroit avec des sentiers, des bois, et des chemins qui vont jusqu’au bord de l’eau du ruisseau Four Mile. Je prospère quand je suis dehors grâce aux propriétés curatives de l’air et de l’eau, et je voudrais vous demander, comment allez-vous connecter avec la terre aujourd’hui? En vous écrivant, j’espère pouvoir créer un espace sûr pour tous. Bienvenue!

Je suis excitée d’avoir l’occasion de vous écrire, et même plus excitée de représenter l’organisation pour laquelle je travaille, Carousel Players. Fondée en 1972, elle s’agit d’une des plus vieilles compagnies de théâtre pour jeunes publics au Canada, et elle se trouve ici à St Catharines. Si vous voulez en savoir plus, visitez www.carouselplayers.com​.

Je suis Coordinatrice Communautaire pour Carousel Players. Je participe et aide à organiser des événements qui se déroulent directement ici chez nous ou des activités dans la communauté. D’habitude, j’ai l’occasion d’interagir avec des familles en personne dans tous les coins de Niagara. Ce que j’aime le plus c’est de rencontrer et parler avec toutes sortes de personnes. J’aime beaucoup rencontrer des parents qui partagent souvent leurs expériences et bons souvenirs de nos spectacles lorsqu’ils étaient jeunes. J’aime aussi m’engager avec les enfants lorsqu’ils regardent une pièce de théâtre. J’ai commencé à travailler avec la compagnie en 2019 quand les événements en personne étaient possibles, et rencontrer des gens me manque énormément.

Tout le monde ici adore le théâtre, n’est-ce pas? Et malheureusement, ce n’est pas possible de se rassembler et de participer à une pièce de théâtre ensemble. Ça me fait mal au cœur et je suis certaine que je ne suis pas la seule personne qui ressente la même chose. Beaucoup d’organisations artistiques ont dû naviguer des moments difficiles et trouver des solutions créatives pour leurs auditoires.

an outdoor scene, three larger than life puppets (puppeteer by at least two people) are in a filed. Audience is dispersed between the puppetsL’année passée il a fallu que l’on pivote nos activités. (Pivote est un mot que je déteste maintenant car quand j’entends le mot “pivoter”, je pense à la danse, et maintenant il est rarement associé à la danse). Nous avons créé des expériences théâtrales non conventionnelles, dont l’une était la Fête de Marionnettes Géantes en Septembre, un événement dans un champ incluant notre propre marionnette à douze pieds, Nadine. On était près à accueillir tout un certain nombre de familles, lorsque tout à coup, le gouvernement a annoncé que seulement 25 personnes pouvaient se rassembler dehors. J’étais tellement déçue! Regrettablement, j’ai contacté plusieurs familles pour annuler leur inscription, et seulement les cinq premières familles ont pu participer. Heureusement la fête n’a pas été annulée complètement et quelques familles sont venues pour célébrer avec leurs marionnettes! Ensemble nous avons chanté et dansé et c’était vraiment amusant.


fabric overlaying a box. The fabric has a glittering effectA l’automne notre incroyable équipe a créé de la magie théâtrale de nouveau quand on conçu Halloween Happening. Cette Fois situé dans un grand espace à l’intérieur du FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, l’événement a permis aux familles de se promener une à la fois parmi plusieurs scènes avec des thèmes différents. C’était un petit peu comme une maison hantée, mais pas aussi effrayante. Quelques exemples de scènes: une chambre de fées, un champ de citrouille et une sorcière gigantesque avec son grand chaudron. L’événement était présenté à guichet fermé! J’étais tellement contente! J’aurais l’occasion de revoir plusieurs familles en personne ET toutes en costume!


Ensuite c’était le temps pour Winterworld. Dans la cour intérieure de la Bibliothèque Public de St Catharines, on a construit une installation comprenant une reine de neige dans une robe blanche élégante, et plusieurs dioramas qui l’entouraient. Par exemple, une petite piste de neige avec des tout petits lapins qui faisait du ski. C’était très beau, adorable et magique!

a large snow queen stands on a pedestal

Même si rien ne s’est passé comme prévu l’année dernière, on a été capable de créer quelques expériences pour nos communautés. Est-ce que cela a évoqué les mêmes sentiments en moi que l’an 2019? Absolument pas! Mais au moins j’ai eu la chance de voir des familles et des enfants qui riaient avec notre marionnette géante, ou qui s’amusaient avec le dragon à Halloween Happening, ou qui étonnaient la reine de neige majestueuse au centre du lobby. Même si ce n’était pas la même chose, ça m’a mis un gros sourire et de la chaleur dans mon cœur.

Un de mes moments préférés de l’an dernier était le courage d’un petit garçon qui a eu peur dans le H​ alloween Happening​ et s’est précipité dehors sur le coup. Tout de suite après, il a dit à ses parents qu’il voulait réessayer de refaire l’expérience au complet une autre fois afin d’affronter sa peur. Quel héros! Je pense qu’on peut tous apprendre de sa bravoure. C’est possible d’être adaptables et de faire face à ce qui nous fait peur, même en pleine pandémie, et surtout à un moment où le besoin de connexion humaine est tellement fort.

Merci d’avoir lu mon premier blog. Si vous voulez communiquer avec moi, envoie-moi un email  outreach@carouselplayers.com ​et ça me fera plaisir de vous répondre. A la prochaine!



The final blog in a series by SPARC Guest Blogger Denise Lysak.


I will start my last blog, by raising a glass to writers everywhere. storytellers playwrights songwriters

i am simply taking on a role that was not assigned to me
I am the raconteur and in this, my last blog, for SPARC, I will share with you my observations from the Northern Ontario Touring Conference (NOTC) that took place in November

over the course of three consecutive Thursdays.

It was led by amazing facilitators and the host organization was Pat the Dog. If you are curious about their mission and mandate, I encourage you to google Pat the Dog.

Here is the Link: Pat the Dog

this last blog is intended to ignite          to spark          to be deeply personal

For so many of us, COVID-19 is challenging our very existence. Touring is cancelled. Theatres remain closed. Arts spaces are shuttered. we as a community are confronting more than one

a health crisis      an economic crisis          and, dare I say. An Identity Crisis.

So many people in so many communities

Are desperate. For RELIEF. For HOPE. For the Seuss-like world

we are living in

to be OVER. No offense to theodor seuss geisel

The Grinch is peeking out from a green face mask. The words 'Six Feet People" are to the left of his face. Only his eyes, part of his nose and one hand are shown.

Friends are out of work. Projects on hold. people have been uprooted. missions and mandates collect dust just like


Elf on a Shelf

An Elf on the Shelf toy sits inside a glass jar, a countdown calendar sits belies the jar - counting down the days until the elf is out of quarantine

participants in the conference, yes a virtual conference, online, with no doughnuts in the morning, no drinks in the evening, no hugs in green rooms or rehearsal halls or lobby bars

were asked to share BIG IDEAS, to reference the past to talk about the present to look at the

f             u            t                u                 r            e

If this is hard to read

Know that is intentional

If this is uncomfortable


Yes. The breakout rooms were aspirational. Yes. The icebreakers were fun and I might even steal a game or two to use in future zoomESQUE meetings. Yes. The gym classes gave new meaning to

Yogis everywhere. And, if you ever wondered what clowning is like for the uninitiated; make new friends.Look for Aga Boom, run-away Cirque clowns when they return to the stage.Take your kids to theatre school and enroll them in a clowning class. Go to an outdoor festival and say “hello” to a clown.

ARTS and culture

Like Trade, like agriculture, like the sciences

are tools to harness the power of people to be better, to elevate

the humanities for the

common good.

We need to fight like hell to be here, to get to the other side, to be relevant once again.How do we forge opportunity out of crisis, out of a convergences of crises?I have no illusions about the long road ahead of us. About the difficulties and obstacles in our way.

We can do anything!
We can be anything.
With confidence. With boldness. And, above all with a new agenda.

So that artists can shape

our landscapes and skylines

for audiences everywhere

in 2021 and BEYOND

It is not lost on me that we






And, here we are with a different kind of holiday season before us.Who will go                                                                                                                                                            caroling?

Who will deck the halls?

Who will serve up figgy puddings?

So as we continue to #shelterinplace and #stayhome, please watch

Snoopy’s Christmas vs The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen

Attending the conference was a gift. Being a guest blogger for SPARC was a gift. You have given my words space to fly.

And, in the spirit of giving as people across the globe celebrate


Snoopy sits in front of a red kennel. It has snow on the roof, gifts and Christmas lights. The Title is Snoopy's ChristmasHanukkah                                                                                                                                             Kwanzaa                                                                                                                                        Christmas,





I will end where I started. With a toast to the writers. In this case, songwriters.

Daniel, Daniel, and Sheena.

Yes, there are



This is my wish for all of you…

A SIMPLE KIND OF CHRISTMAS in a complicated time by

Red Moon Road