SPOTLIGHT On The B-Girls: BELINDA
I suppose the creation of Belinda, (the self-appointed head of the trio of slogan writers that came to be collectively known as the B-girls), owes a big debt of gratitude to Jane Walker, a Canadian Director, Producer and Script Supervisor.
Without Jane some of Belinda’s more classic lines might never have been written, nor for that matter would her laissez-faire, slightly condescending attitude towards the more idiotic aspects of everyday life be such a character trait. But those off the cuff ironic observations that Jane herself used to make, would somehow find their way into whatever dialogue Michael was writing for the character at the time.
“So… How do people actually manage to get hit by trains anyway?!?“
When you come to think of it… I mean really think of it, the line is funny because trains don’t veer suddenly around a bend and just “pounce” on the unsuspecting, do they? Belinda, like her creator Michael, delights in drawing people’s attention to the absurd, the ridiculous and the absolute pinnacle of advanced human evolutionary reasoning gone hideously wrong. As a writer trying to get inside her head, I imagine that it helps make her feel slightly smug and above other people, particularly allowing her to dominate her colleagues.
Several of Jane’s little one-liners appeared in many of the original scripts but sadly a lot of those episodes no longer exist – Michael’s computer at the time took revenge on him for some reason, (probably for incessantly playing Steely Dan or Kate Bush CDs or something), and decided to have a melt down which affected the hard drive. We are lucky to have salvaged what images we could from the video and the little snippets of material that Andy Fabo (Michael’s then partner) managed to copy onto 3.5″ Floppy discs, but nothing more. Even that removable media has since corrupted and if I were at all a deeply superstitious person I’d say that it had been corrupted from beyond. Yeah sure, I hear you say internally, but for what purpose? Well, in my mind I like to think it was maybe meant to give me a clean slate on which to draw out the characters for their newest outing – in a life on audio. You see, Michael was always a fair man and I like to think that if his spirit were peering over my shoulder right now, then he’d be all for creating something new with the occasional nods to the past, and not forcing me to stick rigidly to a particular format or formula. The world has changed a lot in ten years and so has the way I write. And why shouldn’t it? After all, I’ve had a lot of practice in ten years and I’m not the naive idealist I used to be. I suppose none of us are the same people we were back then, and that shouldn’t sound as ominous as I’m sure it comes across. Many of the actors have gone on to larger and more interesting careers, have started families and now live scattered across the globe.
I caught up with JoAnne Garries recently… well thanks to the modern technical wonder that is the Internet and instantaneous communication. Even though I live in Wales and JoAnne lives in Hogtown (just one of the many endearing sobriquets that locals give to Toronto), I feel we are as close today as we were ten years ago… even closer because we both share this building feeling of excitement as the recording dates draw nearer.
Some months ago, we were chatting about this re-visitation because I was about halfway through writing the scripts and I emailed her to ask quite openly if she thought I was doing the right thing. I figured, of all people originally involved in the project, JoAnne had to be the one I should consult because I was pretty sure she would be absolutely blunt with her opinions and pull no punches. After all, Michael had practically written the character of Belinda with JoAnne in mind from the very start and… well, I’ll let her explain in her own words:
JoAnne: “I was working the door of a new comedy room opening for a mutual friend and Michael came in and said to me, “My name is Michael and I have seen you perform several times and I think you are very funny. I have a script with a character based on your stand up and would love it if you would read it”. I said sure and we exchanged contact numbers and then I sort of forgot about it until the next day when my comedy friend started calling me thinking I was the next Lana Turner, discovered sitting at the counter with a cherry coke (though in my case it was more likely wine). I told Michael about that and I said it made me feel like a rock star. He said with a straight face that I was a rock star. How could I say no?”
Michael may have based the character of Belinda on JoAnne’s stand up routine, but so much of it was also I think, how he saw the world – there is a striking similarity around their sense of humour and their slightly better-than-thou attitude. I think Jane too recognised that in him. In fact I think we all did, and that is probably why we all got on so well. Belinda was a bit of a kindred spirit and for me it has been a pleasure writing new material for her, like visiting with a long lost friend. As insane as Belinda is, you gotta love her.
JoAnne: “But I think revisiting Belinda is really secondary to revisiting all the people involved. It was such a great team. It was really fun and funny and interestingly enough, many of them are still with me in some form. Facebook helps with that. I think there was a great connection initiated between us, so that is mostly what I’m excited about by going back.”
As am I. Working with the team I put together so many years ago will be a bit surreal for sure, and even then it won’t be complete as some characters have had to be recast due to the demands of the script or of actors simply being unavailable. But the one thing that I am really thrilled about is that the B-girls themselves will all be back together in all their glory. In many ways, if JoAnne, Tara and Elfriede had said they couldn’t do it, I think the whole idea of an audio series wouldn’t even have got off the ground. I would have simply put the scripts on the bottom shelf and forgot about them. It is because of the commitment of these three talented woman that Flashback is even going ahead, and when you hear the amazing chemistry that is created between them, you will understand exactly what I mean. I asked JoAnne if reading the new scripts seemed like entering a new phase or new territory for the character or did she feel like it was more of a comfortable, familiar place akin to where she was when we did the video?
JoAnne: “Definitely a comfortable place to be. I’m a bit more excited as we actually get to complete it this time. It always felt unfinished to me before. I’m looking forward to being able to be creative, seeing this great script take shape, and seeing everyone. I think it’s a nice tribute to Michael and I’m sure we’ll be hearing his voice there as well. I like that.”
As I’ve said in an earlier entry, the impetus for writing this project came out of wanting to create a sort of tribute to Michael, his career and his very kind and gentle personality. I think for those of us who knew him, the recording will be a bit special because as JoAnne says, we’ll be able to hear his voice in the material and I suppose feel his presence in the room. With that in mind, I asked JoAnne what her fondest memory of Michael was.
JoAnne: “Well I have a few actually, but one would be a really nice day we spent together. We met at his place and he made omelettes and we just hung out and chatted – this was some time after the video shoot. One of his cats had caught a bird and Michael actually crawled under the bed to retrieve it and then put it in the bath tub. He said he knew the bird would die, but he wouldn’t have its last moments be spent in terror. It’s hard to say where his mind really was…”
It wasn’t long before Michael himself would pass away, but I like to think that beyond the obvious comparisons with how he hoped he would go, there was always this underlying compassion to his personality. He could be quite biting about people he thought took themselves too seriously, but he was the best friend any person could ask for. That closeness was evident between Michael and his writing when, as pointed out earlier, bits of real life trickled into the dialogue. It was his idea of an homage to his friends, to sort of immortalise them in media, and he was very loyal to the people he employed to create the work. There were only a handful of people that would be allowed to participate in one of Michael’s projects, and the same names kept popping up time and time again. Once he had created his stable of trusted and reliable friends around him, it was for them that he would write the parts. And I suppose for me that has been the most daunting thing about the project – doing his memory justice and writing like he would, tailor-made for the actor, to give them the meatiest, juiciest, most wonderful part to play. JoAnne reassures me however that things will go smoothly. It may not be exactly the same as it was then, but the spirit of the project will remain familiar.
JoAnne: “I think Belinda’s relationship with Barroqa and Bellissima will become more clear to me once we flesh it out together. It’s hard to say from a script and what it was like ten years ago because so many things have changed, but I’m sure it will play out quite nicely. None of us are the same people we were ten years ago and nor will the characters be. Initially, I think Michael wrote for Belinda, which was based on my then stand up work, so in that case we are/were similar, which I guess means: Double heavy sarcasm, hold the sugar. But I also feel she is now far more ambitious than I am. I’m by far lazier. However, we both love cocktails!”
For me, all during the writing phase, I heard JoAnne’s voice whenever I typed out a line for Belinda. It is a funny sensation really because writing is such a solitary pass-time. It was the same for the other characters too. There is just a part of me that recalls the video so strongly, the amazing chemistry and the most subtle intonations of their voices that to not have their voices in my head would have lessened my attachment to the storyline. JoAnne just is Belinda. Michael said so and I very much believe it myself. Oh sure, I know that she is much more than that! But I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role. I just can’t. And I think that is the silent contract I still have with Michael. It was his way of immortalising his friends and it would be wrong of me to change that.
So, why should people now be interested in this new series, especially if they have never seen or heard of that little video project we did so long ago? Can a new audience meet these characters for the first time without prior knowledge of their quirks and foibles? I think the answer is a definite YES! The audio series is designed to be an introduction to the characters, as if the video didn’t exist. But it doesn’t mean that to we veterans, we have to forget our roots.
JoAnne: “I read an interesting article not long ago, where it speculated that people are wired out – too much i-this and i-that and everything is so “this instant”. People are clamoring to get back to simpler things. Also, radio stations are desperate to find original, local programming and people are re-listening to older radio programmes. And besides, Flashback is frickin’ brill, eh?”
JoAnne Garries always wanted to be Carol Burnett and still does. Dreams don’t die. She was a Theatre Major and then went on to do Stand Up Comedy for the past ten years. She has appeared on “She’s So Funny”, “The Comedy Network” and “CBC Radio”. She currently works in a literacy programme for homeless women and it bloody well serves her right!
… and yes, I am wearing a bath mat.
October 6, 2010 at 2:29 PM
I have known JoAnne for many years,as we started grade one together.She used to do stand-up at birthday parties,imitating some of the eccentric personalities around our small town.She always had us in tears,we laughed so hard.Hope you’re treating her well, we miss her lots!
December 31, 2010 at 5:46 PM
Nettie! I love you!
January 7, 2011 at 8:07 PM
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