What People Connected to the National Capital Region are Saying about PAL Ottawa

Mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah, a graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa, is a singer, actress and broadcaster who dazzles audiences with her engaging personality and her rich, expressive voice. Miss Nesrallah has sung for leading opera companies, symphonies, festivals and chamber music ensembles across Canada, the U.S. and around the world. Julie débuted as Isabella in Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Pacific Opera Victoria, and went on to perform major roles including The Composer in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Cenerentola in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Carmen in Bizet’s Carmen and Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto, among others.

Currently, Miss Nesrallah is the host of Tempo on CBC Music, Canada’s national classical music program. She is also the executive producer and star of Carmen on Tap, a company she created that performs Bizet’s opera Carmen as dinner theatre.

Julie writes: “PAL will provide a place built with a spirit of generosity, caring and respect for the arts community at its most vulnerable.”

Juno 2018 nominee Kellylee Evans is a high-octane, chameleon-like performer whose natural charm and improvisational vocal style embody jazz, soul, pop, and hip-hop. The singer-songwriter won a 2011 Juno Award and has been captivating audiences along the way, opening for stars such as John Legend, George Benson and Willie Nelson.

La nominée aux JUNO 2018 Kellylee Evans est une artiste caméléon dont le charme naturel et le style vocal improvisé incarnent le jazz, la soul, la pop et le hip-hop. L’auteur-compositeur-interprète a remporté un prix JUNO 2011 et a captivé le public tout au long de son parcours, ouvrant pour des stars telles que John Legend, George Benson et Willie Nelson.

Kellylee writes: “When I first received word of the affordable community housing units that PAL Ottawa was proposing to build, I breathed a sign of relief. As an artist who has experienced some instances of financial instability without an adequate safety net, I have often wondered what the future holds. I feel heartened to know that organizations like PAL Ottawa exist to help those who have contributed to the creative fabric of our city.”

What difference can PAL Ottawa make in the life of an arts worker? Plenty, as Maria Hawkins, long considered Ottawa’s Blues Lady, can attest.

In 2015,  Ottawa’s Blues Lady, Maria required surgery to prevent permanent vision damage. “This kind of diagnosis sends you into a tailspin when you’re an independent artist and you’re living from paycheque to paycheque…and I do mean gig to gig,” she says. Part of living gig to gig meant Maria had to be flexible and incredibly frugal. Indeed, by 2015, despite being one of this city’s most treasured artists  – winner of a United Way Community Builder Award, the National Arts Centre Award for Artistic Excellence, and a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for 25 years of inspiration to Canadian youth – Maria had been forced to cut living costs to a bare minimum. As a result, she had stopped renting, and instead, she house-sat, stayed with friends and, when necessary, lodged in rooming houses. Maria recognized the extensive post-surgery recovery period would require her to refrain from singing. For an artist who lives off her voice, this spelled crisis. “I felt that my safety and my sanity were at stake,” she said.

While looking for assistance, Maria happened to pick up a PAL Ottawa brochure at the Musicians’ Union office.  After speaking with the Coordinator of the Supporting Cast program, Michael Namer, Maria felt reassured. Supporting Cast spearheaded a process seeking funds to help Maria secure stable and safe housing for the duration of her surgery and recovery. Despite the challenges involved, Namer reminded Maria: “This is worth doing. We are here to help you and we will help you. And you will be safe.” Three days before her 2015 surgery, PAL Ottawa helped her move into a one-bedroom cooperative apartment. “They saved my life,” she told the Ottawa Citizen.

Maria writes: “PAL Ottawa was very supportive right from the get and the go. They understood that as an artist in my category – not a mainstream big-name, having-made-it artist – that I certainly did not have the wherewithal to go through this alone.”

Born in Ottawa, Pier Rodier co-founded Vox Théâtre in 1979 and became its artistic director in 1987. Throughout his career as a multi-talented theatre artist, he has cultivated a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary practice. He devotes much of his energy to the creation, production and presentation of plays for young audiences in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada. He works diligently in the field of arts education.  He has initiated many innovative social projects such as the Série Enfance Jeunesse (2002) and the Tout petit festival (April 2021) at La Nouvelle Scène Gilles Desjardins. In 2020, he received the Victor Tolgesy Award for the Arts, presented jointly by the Ottawa Arts Council and the City of Ottawa, and, in September 2021, the MARCUS – BMO Prize from the Fondation pour l’avancement du théâtre francophone au Canada.

Pier writes: “Sometimes, when it’s time to pay rent, life can get stressful. Somehow in my career, I’ve always managed to pay my way. With the costs of apartments getting higher and higher, I wonder how a young person could even think of being an actor or any kind of artist. Thank God there is something like PAL Ottawa. I want to keep working as an actor, and living at PAL Place would make that easier for sure.”

Lynn Miles is a Juno Award winner, a  six time Canadian folk Music Award winner, and not only a singer/songwriter but a record producer, teacher and public speaker. Lynn tours as a solo artist, with her stellar guitar player Keith Glass, and with her band. She also tours with the LYNNeS. Lynn performed her music with arrangements by Peter Keisewalter with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Oct. 2018. Her 15th CD, “We’ll Look For Stars,” was released in July 2021.

Lynn writes: “People who spend their lives dedicated to the arts rarely have a safety net. That’s why I put my name on the list to live at PAL Ottawa. The public perception of ‘you’re on stage so you must be financially successful’ is a myth. For about 95% of us, it’s just not the case. Affordable housing for arts workers has always been an issue and it keeps getting more dire with each passing year, as rents increase and salaries in a precarious industry stay stagnant. With the living and performance space PAL will provide, we can make the arts, and arts workers, a vital part of the community.”

Sneezy Waters (born Peter Hodgson) is a Canadian folk musician, singer, songwriter and actor who is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Hank Williams Sr. in the play and film Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave.

He began performing in Ottawa coffeehouses in his late teens and was a member of several local rock bands, including The Children (which included Bruce Cockburn) and A Rosewood Daydream, appearing with the latter at Expo ’70, in Osaka, Japan. Taking the stage name Sneezy Waters, he performed during the 1970s as a street musician in Ottawa and appeared as a soloist and with his Excellent Band at folk festivals and nightclubs elsewhere in the country. Sneezy has toured extensively in Canada (including several Arctic communities), Japan, Hong Kong, Laos, Thailand, India, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Sneezy writes: “To live and work in a place surrounded by art and music and those that create it all is possible, and with a little help from our friends, we can make this happen!”

Eastern Ontario-born and Aylmer, QC-raised performer Polly Shannon graduated from Philemon Wright High School in Gatineau. In 1992, Shannon began her television career, landing a part in Catwalk, a YTV series about a struggling rock band. She went on to appear in several television series, including Sirens (1994) as Kelly Van Pelt, Ready or Not (1996) as Angelique, Side Effects (1996) as Lisa Burns, and the Canadian horror series The Hunger (1999) as Jen. In 2002, Shannon appeared in the popular comedy film Men with Brooms in the role of Joanne. Her most notable role was playing Margaret Trudeau in the 2002 miniseries, Trudeau. Shannon starred opposite Tom Selleck as his girlfriend Abby Taylor in two Jesse Stone television film, Stone Cold (2005) and Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006). She has won 2 Gemini Awards as well as a Canadian Comedy Award.

Polly writes:The choice to become an artist comes from the heart. Many dedicate their lives to providing us with the stories, images and sounds that accompany our greatest memories or move us to better places in mind and body. They often do this for very little financial compensation leaving them to struggling for retirement. Artists need our support in all stages of life but especially as the time to slow down comes. PAL Place is a wonderful help for those who’ve given so much!

Tibor Egervari, born in Hungary, and a stage director by trade, started his theatrical career at the Centre dramatique de l’Est (today Théâtre national de Strasbourg). In 1965 he joined the National Theatre School of Canada as Assistant Director of the French Section. From 1971 until his retirement in 2004, he was been teaching in the Department of Theatre of the University of Ottawa. While there he served on the Executive Committees of both the Senate and the Board of Governors, and he chaired the Department of Theatre, the Department of Visual Arts, and finished as Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts (2003-2004). Tibor has been artistic director of several theatre companies, including the Théâtre du Peuple (Bussang) France’s oldest popular theatre. He also founded and directed Histrions (1996-2009) known for its staged reading of classical plays. Tibor has staged more that ninety shows in France and in Canada, has published several articles on director’s training and on the relationship between the theatre and its social environment. His play, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in Auschwitz has been published in A Certain William; Adapting Shakespeare in Francophone Canada by Playwrights Canada Press (2009).

Tibor writes: “Since we entered the new world of Covid-19, many things have changed for the arts. On the one hand, the closure of live events and, on the other hand, society’s reliance on streaming of all sorts of artistic endeavours. The impact of the pandemic demonstrates how fragile, though how necessary art is for all of us. Those who produce all artistic contribution are the artist, who essentially are self-employed and, most often than not, are in a fragile economic situation. And come retirement, their situation becomes even more tenuous. PAL Place is one major effort to alleviate an aging artist’s situation, and as such deserves all the help it can get.”

After working as a lawyer, Jay Shore, a graduate of the University of Ottawa Law School, followed his dream and became a comedy writer and producer, moving to LA in 2007. He’s sold projects to Imagine, Liberty Films, Darius Films, and HBO Canada, and written shows for Netflix, Fox, Disney, TNT, and Hulu. He’s also a big believer in PAL Ottawa’s mission to provide affordable housing (PAL Place) and creative, caring community to the city’s 55+ arts workers.

Jay writes: “No question, the arts are a big risk financially. If anyone knows this, it’s me, as I left the stable lawyer life to follow my passion as a writer, and I had some tough years. It’s great if you make it, but the reality is, that number is low. Many in the arts never realize this economic freedom. Nevertheless, they often make huge, profound contributions to society with their work. In their older years, this lower than average income translates into a very real problem – paying rent. PAL Place helps address this problem.”

Tony D (Diteodoro), Ottawa-based guitarist for Juno award-winning band MonkeyJunk, has been laying it down for over thirty years. MonkeyJunk has amassed twenty Maple Blues awards and a Blues Music Award, (formerly known as The Handy Awards).

At the age of 13, Tony began his musical journey on the guitar. Learning mostly in the  blues, rock jazz stylings. From Muddy Waters to Jimi Hendrix to Jimmy Page to Albert King to Wes Montgomery and all the points in between. At the age of 19, Tony was given the opportunity to play rhythm guitar, for three days, for the legendary Buddy Guy. Years later he had the prestigious opening slot for the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan at Ottawa’s NAC. In the early 90s, Tony became one of the first Canadian blues musicians to tour Europe. In 2019 (during the pandemic) Tony released his latest project, SPEAK NO EVIL, a compilation of instrumentals that span his career.  Tony D has also explored various forms of music. Flamenco became another obsession, and after studying the form for two years, he joined a troupe which made him write pseudo-flamenco and Spanish rhythm instrumentals,  which he still plays today in his solo shows.

Tony writes: “Many artists in Canada are not in a position to financially plan for their future. The music industry in the last decade has shifted dramatically and it’s become more difficult to earn an income, let alone save for retirement. Organizations like PAL Place that focus on housing and creating security for our artists is a great comfort.  Please support PAL Ottawa, who support the art and the artists. By doing so, it makes for a better creative community for us all.”