The ringing red telephone

I’ve had over a week to digest Art in the Open, and I’m about to start posting more photos on the projects page. The piece was a success. The ringing red rotary dial phone was very well received by the public (I just can’t let go of that pun!) and I had so much fun (as did Adam and a slew of other occasional ringer operators) playing with passersby; pressing the single-button remote control to make the phone ring and surprising them and watching their interactions with it…picking it up, listening, hanging up, repeat. I was impressed at how long people stayed with the piece, taking time to listen to the 4 minute track and sharing the experience with others. There were frequent lineups as people waited their turn to hear the voice on the end of the line!

The installation and performance component also intrigued audiences, though perhaps the connection between the two elements could have been strengthened. Closer phone placement to the installation may have tied these two worlds together more solidly. Phone placement ended up where it was for the sake of nighttime lighting, but it was at a slight distance from the installation. I doubt that everyone realized the connection between the two elements, though people were keen to interact with them both. The connections were not made explicit…it required some imaginative and contemplative work on the part of the viewer/listener, which was always a part of the project’s overall design.

I had excellent performers who occupied this strange little space I created amongst a few trees. They added to this sinister yet magical world by building more hanging garlands, reading from the library of encyclopedias, watching people from the trees, resting, being. I have to say, they all looked pretty killer too, wearing the shifty black bandit masks along with coveralls procured from the basement of Corney’s shoe store (a gold mine for odd costume needs).

Near the end of the night, I was approached on the plaza by Craig Mackie, who declared the piece to be his favourite of all of Art in the Open, which was an enormous compliment, and so appreciated. This photo is his. I’m thankful for it, and for the kind words.

Ears Pricked Eyes Peeled 1


Andrew Hoffman took the photo below of Sam performing in the installation.


Ears Pricked Eyes Peeled 2

I must recognize the amazing technical help I had to realize this project. It could not have happened without the tinkering and sound-engineer expertise of Adam Gallant, who built the remote/ringer system, wired the phone’s insides to play audio from an iPod, and recorded the voice of Jan Rudd, who so softly and strangely whispered into the ear of anyone curious enough to pick up the receiver.

Pat Brunet and Patrick Callbeck helped with other logistical bits of the installation, figuring out lighting and materials with me. Matthew and I spent a lovely afternoon in my backyard dip-dying garlands. And one night Jenny, Sam and Andrew’s friend Sam all helped me make garlands, while drinking gin.

Already I’m thinking of ways to build on this for an AITO in the near future.


Here we go Art in the Open!

It’s late and I’m getting a bit cavalier with the x-acto knife, but things are fairly prepped for Ears Pricked, Eyes Peeled at Art in the Open tomorrow.

Spent a productive day making masks, finding uniforms, dip-dying egg carton garlands and hanging them on the clothesline. Once I saw them all in a line I realized that yes, I’d probably made enough.

And in hanging them to dry, I discovered the easiest method of hanging was right in front of me: clothespins!


Later on I worked out lighting with a team of Patricks. Pat Brunet and Patrick Callbeck and I jerry-rigged spotlight with a clamp light and foil, just like sketchy-biz lo-tech lighting professionals.



Tomorrow we set up on the plaza at noon! And then it all begins at 4pm!


Telephone Jackpot

A red rotary dial telephone holds the main role in my upcoming Art in the Open project, Ears Pricked, Eyes Peeled.

A red rotary dial telephone is not an easy item to source…at least not locally. I anticipated hours of calling and visiting every antique store on PEI, and then resorting to eBay where models sell for $60 or more…and maybe even then resorting to using another colour. However, by wonderful happenstance, the magic of Island connections and big Island hearts, I was able to acquire a bright red rotary dial phone this weekend.

It’s a good story, so I’ll explain. Locating this phone began with a tip from a lone Bell Aliant employee at the warehouse on Belvedere avenue. Her daughter had done a Heritage Fair project on the telecom industry in PEI, and they had visited the “Telephone Museum of PEI” to do research. She found the email and website for the museum owner, Dave, and encouraged me to make an appointment, telling me excitedly about the hundreds of different old phones he had on display. It was my strongest lead yet.

I got in touch with Dave, explaining what I was looking for and also my interest in seeing his collection. A couple days later I took a Sunday drive out to Orwell Cove, to a little house off a seaside road I’d never been on before. Dave greeted me on his porch and the next thing he said to me was, “I found what you were looking for.”

Really?! It was that easy?

We walked into the little barn beside his house, marked with a hand-painted sign…

Telephone Museum of PEI sign

The entryway was filled with at least four different teletype machines, with a shelf of little Morse code telegraph machines overlooking them all.

And then, walking into the main room, this is what I see…

Telephone Museum of PEI interior
Phones of every imaginable make and model, from floor to ceiling. Switchboards, rotary phones, boxy wooden phones from the early 1900s, business phones and novelty phones. Colourful phone cords hanging along the walls, wires running everywhere, as most of the phones work! Every phone has an info card detailing its dates, model, use, provenance – all of it thoughtfully and lovingly displayed. Dave was quick to point out what he had found me: atop a table of multicoloured rotary phones was one red model, with Island Tel stamped into the centre of the dial. It was absolutely perfect, and it worked!

I was given a detailed tour of the museum. I learned all about how switchboards worked, party line tricks for nosy eavesdropping neighbours (hint: gossip loudly about fake pregnancies), the early days of payphones, and Dave’s favourite models (the explosion-proof “Russian Princess” used in mines was a highlight). He even had a few of the early cellphone models, enormous clunkers the size of my foot. Never have I been more immersed in the world of telephones.

Dave got his phone hobby started as a teenager. He grew up near a phone factory in Brockville, ON and has been collecting phones ever since. He’s got a friend in Ontario who sends him shipments of antique phones and parts. His collection is ever growing, overflowing into other rooms of the little house and creeping up the stairs.

Telephone Museum of PEI interior 2

Dave wouldn’t accept money for the red phone. He told me, “I’m just happy you’re excited about this stuff!” I told him a bit more about the project, and how we’re working on trying to make it ring and play audio…and of course, he knew exactly how to make this happen, and gave me a spare part and instructions on how to make a ring generator.

I left the PEI Phone Museum with so much more than I expected. A phone, instructions, waaay more excitement about the project, spare parts and even some antique glass resistors (they are so pretty!). Thinking about the execution of this piece had been stressful up until this moment. But having found Dave, the museum, and the main puzzle piece of the project spurred me on…I’m on the right track, and it’s gonna be just fine. What a little gem of an Island museum.

Owner Dave of the Telephone Museum of PEI

Ears Pricked, Eyes Peeled

EPEP-P Callbeck1 (web)

The telephone rings, answer it! Listen carefully: the voice on the other line has something to say. Pay attention to your surroundings. Is anything out of the ordinary? Who builds the worlds that open up around you?

Theatre for the ears, eyes and imagination.

Ears Pricked Eyes Peeled is two-part installation and performance. It was first presented at Art in the Open in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on August 23, 2014

Technical assistance and sound recording by Adam Gallant
Performers: Carmen Belanger, Sam Stewart, Russell Louder, and Jan Rudd as the voice on phone
Photos by Patrick Callbeck, Andy Reddin, Michael Wasnidge and Andrew Hoffman

The Crow Parade

Crow Parade 2011

A public procession and performance for Art in the OpenAugust 2011.
Created during a week-long studio residency in collaboration with Jamie Shannon & Harmony Wagner, the Crow Parade encouraged humans to transform themselves into crows by donning feathery costumes and black beaked masks, and fly through the streets of Charlottetown in a marvelously macabre procession, culminating at the Victoria Park battery. Over the course of the week, Jamie, Harmony and I created large-scale puppets and costumes, and led public costume making workshops. We then led the parade of “crows” through the city, cawing and cackling all the way.

The Crow Parade has since become an annual event at Art in the Open that gathers hundreds (hundreds!) of costumed crow people to parade through the streets of Charlottetown.

Interactive, creative, & those bloody crows
“The bloody crows were everywhere. Sinister, glorious and cawing awfully, they emerged from the belly of the Confederation Centre of the Arts to provoke and preen for the people of Charlottetown. Some had splendid beaks; others trundled over sidewalks on large, rubbery toes. They threaded through the crowd on Richmond Street, owned the boardwalk towards Government House, and perched triumphantly atop the battery at Victoria Park. The crows’ performance surfaced our city’s conflicted relationship with the dark, scavenging, raucous birds, just as the Art in the Open extravaganza surfaced the dynamic, multi-disciplinary artistic and creative force at work in Charlottetown’s capital.”

-Henk van Leeuwen, The BUZZ, October 2011