Gina Wilkinson: I Can Feel Her Glimmer

gina wilkinson
As I said in my earlier article, I saw Gina Wilkinson speak at the intimate Soulpepper cabaret, Friday Night at the Young, just one time, just briefly, back in November 2010. Then, after it was over, I did what I so often do when I feel overwhelmed by the exceptionally talented, legendary members of this community, when I have nothing overtly obvious to say, while I’m still gathering my wits about me after having been knocked off balance while basking in the glow of loveliness, of genius, having the seeds of my future sowed by invisible, inspirational hands that I can feel reaching inside of me and pushing and opening up my heart and pouring expertise and knowledge and humanity in through my ears: I milled around awkwardly for a time, waiting to see if the universe would somehow thrust Gina Wilkinson into my path and then, when it didn’t, feeling all the awkward and all the shy take me over, I left. I left, of course, saying to myself the words I say to myself all the time when the awkward and the shy and my Maritime inability to interrupt anyone overpowers me: “It’s okay. You’ll see her again; you can talk to her then.” Well, apparently that’s “not my story.”
It feels selfish to even talk about this because this is not about me, this is about Gina and Tom and Martin and Ann-Marie, about David and Jennifer and Beverley and Susan and Jordan and Lindsey and Lee and Macy and Ryan and Atom and Marie and Adam and Dylan and Mathew and Sarah. Yet, then I think about how Gina was such an integral part of our community and how that binds us all together. Regardless of everything, the Canadian theatre community is a place of belonging and a place of acceptance, warmth and inclusion, we are all irrevocably connected to one another. Gina, I learned yesterday, had a power and a talent for collecting people. I could see why in the short evening I spent being fascinated by her. I felt a draw toward her, I wanted to be collected. The people who were touched by her and loved her poured in and the Jane Mallet Theatre was packed to capacity, people were even watching yesterday’s memorial from the lobby via television monitors. We all feel her loss because she spread her love and her light so thickly over all of us, this is our loss to mourn and she is ours to celebrate.
The memorial was deeply beautiful, richly, earnestly, overwhelmingly sad, vividly poetic and heartfelt, heart warming and funny. I was being continually moved from steady tears to bursts of laughter and by the end I was laugh-crying, feeling what I’m certain must have been every single one of my emotions pounding and surging inside me as though I had somehow swallowed the Atlantic Ocean. It began with Dan Chameroy, Juan Chioran, Randy Ganne, Ken MacDonald, George Masswohl, Mike Nadajewski, Stephen Patterson, Geoffrey Tyler and Shawn Wright singing, with beautiful choral luminary, “The Water is Wide” accompanied by Marek Norman at the piano and Sharon Prater on cello. Anne-Marie MacDonald’s eloquence, especially under such sombre occasions, always leaves me in absolute awe, and her speech about her love for Gina and their friendship, which began at the National Theatre School of Canada, was infused with so much pure emotion to create something of such artful poetry, I was left breathless.
Gina’s brother, Martin, who I had the great fortune of meeting after the service, read the favourite memories of Gina from her niece and nephews. Hearing these stories, along with those of Jordan Sperdakos Muszynski, who met Gina when she was in grade six, and Macy Smart, Gina’s goddaughter who is almost ten, painted Gina as the most magical and mischievous sort of grownup, someone whose inner child bursts forth with wild abandon and who children flock to in part because they know that she would really listen and connect with them and that they would be so special to her. The loss of time is one that is most profound for me when I think of these children, of course, of her niece and nephews in Victoria, little Lucas Storch, who is only four, how they deserved to have more time with their crazy Aunt Gina, and how, of course, she deserved to be there while they grew up, while they all grew old, ancient even, all together. Yet, of course, the other side of that is, how blessed she was to have had such rich relationships with so many beautiful young people, so full of love and life and infectious exuberance (I was so glad that Lucas was at the memorial because every time I looked at him, I couldn’t help but smile) and of course, how lucky they were to have had her, even if far too briefly, I am sure that her influence on them will carry on infinitely. And what a gift that is!
Beverley Cooper and Susan Stackhouse spoke about Gina, their “best friend” (she had so many best friends, and each of them so willing and happy to share her- how inspiring and lovely that is), Brendan Gall talked about how Gina was fearless, but equally generous and loving in the direction of his play Wide Awake Hearts, how she made every room she was in a better one for being there. Deborah Hay, who was directed by Gina in Born Yesterday at the Shaw Festival gave a very funny anecdote about Gina’s perpetual exuberance for giving notes, intellectual nuggets of wisdom that needed to be taken away and cracked like a nut or ruminated on like a Buddhist philosophy. Jackie Maxwell read emails that perfectly captured Gina’s exuberance, zest for life, intelligence and her own distinct, quirky personality. David Storch told us about Gina’s Opening Night ritual of sitting (at least bare-bottomed, we are told) on a perfectly well decorated cake she had bought especially for the occasion. He spoke about luck, about love, as poignant and captivating as David Storch always is, and about friendship, deep, best friendship. Atom Egoyan sheepishly told about how as a boy his love for Gina prompted him to first immerse himself in the world of theatre, and to write plays, because he knew that was what Gina was interested in and he wanted to impress her. Ergo, it seems, Atom Egoyan’s illustrious career was first sparked out of Gina Wilkinson’s bright light. Tom Rooney wore his blue fuzzy coat, one that does make him look a bit like the Cookie Monster, but beautifully and so dapperly so. He spoke a lot about their wedding and how even in the midst of what Anne-Marie MacDonald called “the indignities of illness” how Gina’s sense of what was the most important, love, her people, love, happiness, blessings, love, never faltered. She even shared her joy with the doctors; cutting through their routine of seeing only patients and inspiring them to all see HER: vivid, lovely, uniquely her own GINA.
Jennifer Wigmore sang “I’ll Be Seeing You” a capella, accompanied only by her own pure passion for every word, Barbara Barsky sang “Infinite Joy” offering it up to the universe, Louise Pitre sang a hauntingly gorgeous “Hymne á l’amour,” in French with a ferocity of spirit that made me feel like she was grabbing life ardently by the horns and holding it out for all of us to see. Mike Ross sang a rendition of “Broke the Mould” so beautiful and sweet, laden with emotion and Marek Norman put gorgeous music to lyrics from Gina’s play My Mother’s Feet, in a song called “Into the Light,” as he noted, a very aptly title for her song because she was such a stunning and luminous light.
From all that was said yesterday and all that didn’t need to be said, I was struck by how clear it was that because of Gina’s generosity of spirit, the big love that she felt for people and her desire to accumulate this beautiful, wonderful tribe around her, that she made such a huge impact, theatrically, professionally, personally, emotionally on everyone else. Her zest for life was infectious and out of it bloomed a huge garden’s worth of triumph and passion, friendship and love, children and art.
For those of you who know me, you probably know that the love I feel for this community is also unbridled. The people who I know well, or even people who I don’t know well enough, but with whom I feel an immediate connection or affinity, or even, one could say, a fatal attraction for, I fall, often head over heels, in love with people in this community nearly every day. I am a bit of a hippie, I guess, in the way I see love, as something that keeps multiplying, but never dividing, and the love I have, pure love, it wants nothing, but is open to the possibility of everything, and with it comes care and comes fascination out of which I always hope for friendship and shared experience… I am a perpetual seeker of adventures. I guess I, like Gina, like collecting people too. I like being a part, feeling connected, belonging, being included and I think that is a desire that most of us in the theatre community share and that it actually ends up binding us all together.
Sometimes the big emotions I feel get me in trouble. Sometimes my urge to be generous with my time and my desire to help everyone and my natural inclination to be curious about other people’s lives and to burrow a little place for myself in their lives ends up with me getting my heart a little battered and a little bruised or taken advantage of. I’m sure everyone who lives and loves like this experiences the colder side of it. Gina probably did too. Maybe I haven’t figured out the best way of managing how I feel, how I express myself… I wish even more fervently now that I had known Gina, I feel like she could have taught me so much, that she would have inspired me every moment that I was with her. Morris Panych spoke about the first time that he met Gina, how she waltzed up to him, introduced herself with, “You’re Morris, I’m Gina, let’s leg wrestle!” I fall in love, fall in awe, fall in admiration, within moments of seeing someone light up a room once, but the shyness in me, the fear I’ve always had of rejection… the lack of my own sense of myself and my lack of my own confidence in me keeps me at a respectful distance until someone opens a window (even just a crack, I’ll wiggle through it) but I need the window of your life to open to me before I can hop through and hope to keep you in my heart as one of my special people for always. Recently, I’ve had a bit of a rough time, personally, in dealing with rapidly shutting windows, and I actually considered maybe the way I feel about people, and my choice (my compulsion really) to love so big and so much was wrong, or inappropriate or at the very least… problematic… and maybe I should try to stop, maybe I should make myself smaller, maybe I wasn’t worthy of loving such brilliant, illustrious people…
In the past two months the Canadian theatre community has lost a handful of brilliant, illustrious people and we have all been continually reminded that we need to seize today now because we have it and it is all we have, and not wait until an ambiguous tomorrow. Really, we should all be living the way Gina did, we should all be allowing ourselves to bloom into being as our heart’s desire us to be, to tell the people in our lives how we really, honestly feel about them and to celebrate people and their brilliance and their light while it still shines, rather than coming out of the shadows after it’s been snuffed out. It was small Amanda who lost her chance to meet Gina Wilkinson when I shied away from her, letting my own self consciousness cloud my pounding heartbeat.
I want to leg wrestle with Morris Panych. I want to find the adventure inherent to every day. I want to write emails and letters and notes and cards to all the people who I have fallen in love with, and to keep falling in love, to keep being fascinated, to keep seeing the bliss and the happiness even when the world looks scary and full of despair and unfairness. I want to see us all, this whole community, as friends working side by side, helping and supporting one another, and to not get sucked into the dark and competitive aspects of the business. I don’t want to be small; I don’t want to be ashamed of my own light. Gina, above all, has reminded me of that. She has reminded me of the big picture. In the immediate, there will always be stumbling blocks, there will always be windows that get slammed or doors that get locked, and your heart has to keep getting broken if it ever will get the chance to grow strong, but, beyond that, the big picture, is that love begets love and that the more you open your heart, the more you share your emotions, share your gifts, the bigger you are in how much passion you have and how much you care, the less you let other people make you feel small, the more all of it will grow and spread, in Gina’s case, to hundreds of people.
So, I guess that’s all my way of saying that even in death, she continues to inspire, she continues to shine her light on those, I bet, those who need it most. Gina Wilkinson, you undoubtedly made the world a brighter place, and I am so grateful to know that because of your beloveds, and the beloved of your beloveds, that the light will never go out, it will shine on, evermore, in all of them, and in me. Thank you, Gina Wilkinson, with love from Amanda.

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