Home » Community » ACWB Blog

October 2020’s Centre Stage with Rob Hickey

The 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards are set to air on October 17, and the graphics for this year’s steampunk theme were created by local illustrator and comic artist, Rob Hickey.

“I was very excited to work on the Arts Awards, because steampunk is such a cool and challenging theme,” said Hickey, “but I knew I could nail it. I wanted to find a balance between honouring the chaos and detail demanded for a steampunk aesthetic, while creating graphics that were clear, readable and easy on the eyes.”

Rob Hickey was born and raised in Fort McMurray. “Other than some college courses in Toronto, I’ve lived and worked here my whole life.”  

As an artist, the medium that interests Hickey the most is storytelling and comics. “I am an illustrator and sequential artist with a specific focus on telling stories with LGBT characters.”

“I loved cartoons as a kid and I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. I was introduced to a large and diverse artist community online as a teen, and I’ve been involved with and inspired by it ever since.”

When Hickey isn’t doing freelance digital illustrations for productions such as the 2020 Buffy Awards, they are also the Art Director for Twisted Gears Studios, a local production company. 

“We have two ongoing projects that are returning from COVID-related hiatus. They’re great fun for me because they are ‘actual play’ podcasts, which means the work I create for them is decided by the players’ choices and rolls of the dice.”

“Additionally,” says Hickey, “we are planning to film a short, which I am co-writing and directing.”

Working in a smaller community has allowed Hickey to connect with and get to know folks more personally than they would elsewhere. Hickey is also getting more exposure to different kinds of art. 

“I know painters, crafters, musicians, and videographers here. I’ve had the opportunity to try out different things because of this, like the above mentioned short film. This small community has been a great help in regards to looking for work and projects as well. Word of mouth certainly goes far here.  That’s how I’ve gotten most of my work.”

“We are facing such tough times here,” says Hickey, “but there are many incredible people pushing for more engagement and connection between different groups of artists and with the city at large.”

See Hickey’s geared-up graphics and characters embedded throughout the 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards on October 17. You can also keep up to date with their projects and artistic endeavours at or

Visit for details on where to watch this year’s cinematic steampunk Buffy Awards experience via Facebook, YouTube, or Shaw Spotlight. Connect to the local arts community and follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn (@artscouncilwb).

September 28, 2020

2020 Arts Awards: Get your Gear Bag & collectible Buffy Stuffy

Arts Council Wood Buffalo (ACWB) is inviting artists, supporters and residents to order their Buffy Stuffy and Steampunk Gear Bag.  Visit Eventbrite to buy Steampunk Gear in preparation for the 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards on October 17. 

“This year, the Arts Awards are going to be a little different,” said Programs Manager, Luay Eljamal.  “Arts Council is hosting a cinematic Steampunk Buffys experience that will be broadcast online through Facebook, YouTube and Shaw Spotlight as a way of as respecting physical distancing while still celebrating and acknowledging all of the amazing talent in the Wood Buffalo region.”

Tickets for the event are free, but viewers are encouraged to visit Eventbrite to reserve their free ticket, buy a Steampunk Gear Bag and Buffy Stuffy (sold separately), or support the Arts Awards by making a donation. 

“We know how important the Awards Showcase event is to artists, sponsors and supporters,” said Executive Director, Liana Wheeldon. “We wanted to provide an opportunity for everyone to participate in the Buffys while they watch the event. This year, we are bringing the Buffys to our audience instead of asking them to come out to the event.”

Arts Council is also introducing the Buffy Stuffy, a brand new Arts Awards tradition. Buffy Stuffys are limited edition, collectible plush toys modelled off each year’s event theme. This year’s Buffy Stuffy is Wendell the Raven, who is modelled off one of the Midnight Steampunk characters designed by local artist Rob Hickey.

The Midnight-Steampunk-themed canvas gear bags are loaded with a candy sack (in the style of the annual candy bar), drink coaster, face mask, Buffys pin, event program and sticker. Buffy Stuffy sold separately.

Buy Steampunk Gear Bags through Eventbrite, and visit to learn more about this year’s 2020 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards, check out the nominees, shortlisted artists, and event sponsors. 

As the October 17 event date approaches, Buffy followers are encouraged to participate by gearing up with steampunk-themed costumes, and sharing photos, congratulations and creations by using #buffys2020 and #ymmartstogether.

September 4, 2020

May 2020’s Centre Stage with Ashley Freimark

Ashley Freimark has a simple approach to the arts: “My theory has always been, try everything!”

Nowadays, Freimark mostly focuses on visual and performing arts, but over the years she has been passionate about all of the elements of theatre: acting, directing, writing, stage managing, and costuming. She even dabbles in guitar and vocal performance. “I’ve written three songs so far, my first regarding my experience losing my grandfather.” 

Freimark moved to Fort McMurray for the first time in 1996, when she was two-years old, and spent the majority of her childhood and teenage years in the region. Freimark was introduced to the arts through the school’s music program while attending Dr. K. A. Clark School. 

Following that experience, she wanted to be involved in the arts and began exploring writing and acting. She even considered a career as an arts teacher. “No matter what path I took, theatre and the arts were right there all along.”

She left Fort McMurray in 2008, but her love of the arts continued to flourish in Edmonton. Eventually however, her experiences in Fort McMurray brought her back. “Truth be told, I never imagined I would ever move back,” said Freimark, “but after meeting my current boyfriend (who, fun fact, was my school crush from grade 6 to 9), I ended up moving back in 2018 to be closer to him.”

“Fort McMurray has been such an integral part of my life,” says Freimark. “It was such a wonderful surprise to find so many more opportunities when I moved back to the community that first fuelled my love of the arts.”

Freimark is astounded by the growth and support she has seen in the local arts community. “Everyone is so welcoming and open to new ideas and new faces. It’s like I found my family away from home all over again, which is very motivational to just go out there and do what I want to do.”

Freimark has wasted no time since she came back to the community. As a multi-disciplinary artist, she started to get into painting as a hobby, but nowadays, is looking at painting more seriously. She also spends her time volunteering for the local theatre community. 

Until local events were cancelled or postponed in March due to social-distancing efforts, she was an assistant stage manager for “The Great Gatsby” at Keyano Theatre, and directing a self-written play entitled “Embrace” for the ADFA One-Act Theatre Festival. 

“I’m a big mental health advocate,” says Freimark, “having dealt with anxiety and depression ever since I was a teenager.” The theme of mental health inspired Freimark’s play, “Embrace,” and she wrote parts of the script in the midst of anxiety attacks. “It’s been a really freeing experience writing the script.”

Stay tuned for the rescheduled ADFA One-Act Theatre Festival to see her play, or follow Ashley Freimark on Facebook and Instagram to see her art: @fantasiefreimarkcreations. If you’re interested in connecting to the local arts community, follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn or visit the website at

May 1, 2020

April 2020’s Centre Stage with James Ritchie

“Some of the hardest workers in the world are in Wood Buffalo,” says local visual artist, James Ritchie. Work ethic is one of the biggest lessons he has taken from being an artist in the region. 

While some professionals get up early (or late, depending on the shift) to catch a bus out to site, this professional artist is also known to get up as early as 4 a.m. to go out to his garage studio and work for up to 12 to 14 hours a day. 

“I figure that if I’m going to live here, I need to bust my butt just like everyone else does,” says Ritchie. 

Nowadays, he’s making a living as a visual artist in Wood Buffalo. His home studio offers privacy and few distractions, so he’s very productive even though he says he still has a lot of work to catch up on. Some of his current projects include commissioned paintings, works for local non-profits like Fuse Social’s Timeraiser event, or an ongoing project for the Fort McMurray Golf Course.

Working with oils and acrylics, Ritchie takes a visionary, surrealistic approach to painting abstracts, animals and nature. Growing up in Nova Scotia, he spent a lot of time outdoors. “I’ve always had a special relationship with the forest and wildlife.”

After studying graphic arts out east, a two-week vacation to Vancouver morphed into a ten-year stay. While in Vancouver he continued to practice his art, participated in live painting competitions (with two Golden Brush wins), hosted corporate paint nights, and taught painting classes to at-risk youth.

“The crazy thing is, some of the kids with the most potential didn’t believe in themselves,” said Ritchie. “I was one of those kids once, so I get it. I’d like to start teaching classes in the community to gain [a better] understanding [of my own work], and eventually lead art retreats. I feel that I’ve taken punches that I can help aspiring artists avoid.” 

Not only does he want to continue growing as an artist, he also wants to continue growing as a professional. Ritchie moved to Fort McMurray about one and a half years ago to be closer to family, and taking the plunge as a full-time artist has helped him to take his work more seriously. 

He used to sell his art for relatively low prices, because he didn’t feel like he was at a professional level yet. Now that he is coming into his own as an artist, he is treating his art more like a business and learning to charge accordingly for his work. This has helped him to fund his craft and sustain a living. It also shows his audience that they are investing in quality. 
Plans are in the works for his first exhibition in Fort McMurray for later in 2020. Follow James Ritchie on Facebook and Instagram to see his art, inquire about sales, and get updates: @dr_ritchie. If you’re interested in connecting to the local arts community, follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn or visit the website at

April 1, 2020

March 2020’s Centre Stage with Dorothy Bentley

There has been a surge of awareness of the literary arts in Wood Buffalo over the past few years. It’s not that there are more literary artists in the community, but rather more literary artists are coming out of their writer’s dens to showcase their work and contribute to the local arts community.

One such artist is Dorothy Bentley. Since the 80’s, Bentley has called Fort McMurray home, and throughout her education, she excelled in creative writing. A high school English teacher noticed Bentley’s talents and pointed her toward courses at Alberta Arts and Culture. Bentley was also encouraged to prepare a children’s book manuscript to submit to an agent. That encouragement spurred her to pursue a Bachelor of Arts  in English Literature. 

While her working life took her down the path of writing articles, columns, and producing web content, she wanted to focus on poetry and prose. “It has taken a large shift in my thinking to allow myself to write that which satisfies my own heart. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable. As a result, I am now an emerging writer of poetry, short stories, a children’s picture book, (and I have several unpublished novels in a drawer).”

When asked what it’s like to be an artist in Wood Buffalo, Bentley says, “allowing the landscape and the community to shape one’s artistic practice has been part of my writer’s journey, which is what my picture book, Summer North Coming, is about. The poetry recounts the seasonal changes and activities specific to this area. Part of what most creatives do, I believe, is find beauty and significance of place wherever they find themselves.”

Bentley boasts about the local literary arts community: “There have been and there continue to be some great things happening in Wood Buffalo for writers, such as calls, contests, and fairs through Arts Council, the Words in Motion Poetry Contest, the Library’s (WBRL) writing classes, the ongoing opportunity to submit to NorthWord Literary magazine, of course, and Multicultural Association’s upcoming offering (Western Perspectives Festival).” 

Up until a few years ago, Bentley never had a consistent writers’ group or attended regular poetry workshops. Now she’s part of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta (WGA) and has been to several conferences outside of the region. She’s also a WGA advocate: “I found belonging to the Guild connected me to a larger, vibrant writing community.” Once a writer becomes a member of the WGA, they receive a bi-weekly newsletter with training and publication opportunities (many accessible online) and a whole range of other services such as help with manuscripts and the submission process. This brings connectivity and equipping to a new level.”

Bentley was recently appointed the Regional Facilitator for the WGA and will be hosting a variety of literary workshops in Fort McMurray, including weekly Write Nights on Tuesday evenings at the WBRL, which provides time and space for writers to create. Those interested in learning more about the upcoming workshops can connect through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta Wood Buffalo Facebook group and through the WGA website.

If you’re interested in connecting to the local arts community, follow Arts Council Wood Buffalo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. Visit the website at

March 1, 2020

February 2020’s Centre Stage Mitchell Steeves

Fearless, curious, respectful, and giving, may not be the words that come to mind when we think of the general stereotype of youth in society, but are appropriate when describing Mitchell Steeves, a youth in Wood Buffalo worth highlighting. Mitchell was born in Langley, BC and spent his early years in Salmon Arm, BC. At the age of nine, with an impressive and growing resume in the arts, Mitchell moved with his mother to Fort McMurray. His accomplishments to that point included a first place prize in the Shuswap Writers’ Guild Competition for his written and illustrated story “The Little Boy and the Giant Rat” and graduating from the Music for Young Children program where he first experienced the joy of music, while learning the basic skills necessary to build a strong future in music. 

Not one to bask in the limelight, Mitchell may seem like an average teenager. However, his interests are expansive and achievements are notable. Now, as a youth attending Westwood High School, his interests include acting, painting, drawing, fabricating three-dimensional art, story writing, piano, bagpipes and his new found interest in filmmaking. He has participated in a youth theatre production with local theatre company Theatre; Just Because, spent a year in teen hip hop class at Generation Dance Studio, has displayed his visual art at McMurray Experience and the Timeraiser art exhibition, plays the bagpipes in the Legion Pipes and Drums Band, and has many small projects on the go. Most recently, Mitchell has partnered with an individual in Janvier for a video project that aims to share their incredible stories and show how we can respectfully learn from each other.

In addition to his vast interest in the arts, one of Mitchell’s favourite things to do is volunteer in the region. Mitchell has spent countless hours volunteering with the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, the Legion, Emergency Social Services, Wood Buffalo Recreation Society, and Arts Council Wood Buffalo. When reflecting on volunteering, Mitchell says, “The best part about being an avid volunteer is seeing the smiles on people’s faces and the great feeling of being useful.”

As someone who doesn’t always feel as though he fits in, he’s found his place within the arts. Mitchell explains, “When I am immersed in art, I don’t feel isolated, I know there’s a vibrant arts community thriving here in the RMWB, of which I am a proud member.” Mitchell goes on to say, “I am beginning to understand that art is life and life is art. Art is everywhere I look and it’s in everything I do… For me, art isn’t just simply making fancy objects, art is a way of life, a language, a way to connect people together regardless of age, gender, colour or religion. Art is the foundation of our society, and must grow to produce a rich and meaningful life.”

Many look at youth like Mitchell and see the potential our community has, where he looks at what the community is doing and sees the potential it has for him to prosper. “Being an artist here in the RMWB allows me the freedom to express myself creatively and to be accepted as a valuable community member who contributes culturally with the ability to fearlessly share my talents with others.”

As Mitchell has boasted, there is a vibrant arts community in Wood Buffalo! If you’re interested in being involved in the arts, connect with Arts Council Wood Buffalo through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn and on their website at

February 1, 2020

December 2019’s Centre Stage with Kim Blatchford

Many people in Fort McMurray will recognize, if not already have it on their walls, the wood cut resin art in the shape of Alberta with a heart on Fort McMurray. Kim Blatchford, the artist behind the creations, has lived in Fort McMurray since 2006 and although Kim enjoyed painting throughout her life, she didn’t actively pursue Art until 2016. Once she started Kim says, “painting was something that was just flooding out of me, I could do 3 pieces in one night. I wanted to do it all day, every day.”

It all started when she noticed resin “Flow Art” online. She was instantly hooked and decided to order epoxy resin to give it a try. Kim recalls “I fell in love with my first pour. It was kind of like a science experiment, every time I created an art piece, I learned something about the medium and how things mix with it. I would run into problems and have to learn from my experience.”

Kim did not pursue resin art with the intention of making a business from it. “I can’t believe how far I have come. My art was simply something that I enjoyed, but people liked it. They were offering to buy my pieces and commission me for specialty ones. So it kind of just took off. I would create a piece and post it online and somebody wanted it or wanted one like it. It literally just flowed. I enjoyed doing it and people enjoyed having my art, so I kept going with it.”

It hasn’t been hard for Kim to find her place in the Arts Community in Wood Buffalo as her experience has been nothing but supportive. “I feel that it is really unique experience being an artist in Fort McMurray, because it is a small community but a big city with so many opportunities,” she says. “I feel like in a city like Edmonton I would have to fight for space at a market or compete against other artists, but in Fort McMurray, I feel encouraged and welcomed.”

This summer Kim attended Arts Council Wood Buffalo’s Arts Match, a speed networking event for artists, where she got to talk to other local artists and collaborate on ideas or future pieces. The support has continued, as she states, “the local art community has been excellent and very supportive. Everyone is so willing to share their time, ideas and experiences. I have had locals cut my wood, photograph my art, share market tables with me, etc.”

View Kim Blatchford’s artworks on her Instagram and Facebook pages To learn more about Arts Council Wood Buffalo and our programming, visit and find out how you can be involved in the vibrant Wood Buffalo arts community! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn for updates and news.

December 1, 2019

November 2019’s Centre Stage with Twisted Gears Studios

Interview with Twisted Gears Studios for our monthly snapd Wood Buffalo artist feature Centre Stage with Arts Council Wood Buffalo!

Twisted Gears Studios is an Audio/Video Production Company that specializes in Role Play Game (RPG) content, run by Zachary Barrett and Derek Snow, and they are celebrating their one-year anniversary of producing content! “Twisted Gears Studios is a brain-child of mine and Derek’s,” explains Zachary. “We both love tabletop RPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons, and board games. The thing we both loved about them was the improvised narrative aspect of it, where players make snap decisions that can (and often do) go horribly awry.”

Zachary was born and raised in Fort McMurray, and first became involved in the arts through theatre in high school, both as an actor and on the technical side. He left home to pursue film school and acting, but moved back after finishing his degree. He is currently the Stage Manager at Keyano Theatre, and spends a lot of his time producing Audio Video content. “In high school I played a game that had an awesome story,” Zach says. “It inspired me to go to film school and make something like that a reality.  When Derek and I got to talking about recording our own games, it seemed to be a perfect blend of all of the things I had been doing the past two decade, and Derek’s even longer experience, running games.”

Twisted Gears Studios is currently running two live cast RPG shows, and is working towards expanding the operation: “We are hoping to get a consistently streamed game on the go,” says Zachary, “and we are creating more video content. Over the summer, we put together two competition pieces that are available online.  We would love to organize RPG events, which is a great opportunity to get involved in the arts. I want to reach the people who are the age that I was when I first discovered acting and Dungeons and Dragons. Having those artistic outlets available at that age helped me a lot socially.”

As they are beginning their second year, Zachary reflects on the process: “It is an interesting thing starting an arts business in Wood Buffalo. Returning on the tail end of the boom allowed me to save up to purchase the equipment we needed. What has proven difficult is the work schedules; both from a broadcasting and a recording point of view.” Something that has stuck with him is the versatility of the Wood Buffalo arts: “I personally think the arts community here is insane!” he muses. “The amount of work opportunities once you start looking is huge. When I got back from school, I had one non-arts related job, but since then I have only been working in arts-related fields since. It was a goal I set out for myself when I was younger, and I feel like I have accomplished that here in Wood Buffalo.”

TGS comes out with a new podcast every Tuesday. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram: @TheTwistedGear and on their Facebook Page.  You can search their shows on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and YouTube. Do not forget to leave a comment or review!

To learn more about Arts Council Wood Buffalo and our programming, visit and find out how you can be involved in the vibrant Wood Buffalo arts community, and follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedIn and YouTube.

November 1, 2019

2019 Buffys a Rousing Success!

Midnight Coffeehouse: A Showcase of Wood Buffalo Talent

(Fort McMurray, AB – October 21, 2019) Saturday October 19 marked the annual Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards presented by Arts Council Wood Buffalo; a cool and classy evening that celebrates local artists and showcases the diversity of the arts community in our region. Artists, art groups, supporters and – of course – those nominated for an award, gathered at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, which was transformed into the weird and wonderful artistic era of the Beat Generation.

The 2019 Arts Awards, also known as the Buffys, were once again a showcase of the arts, celebrating almost 70 nominees through 14 award presentations, and presenting several live performances, taking place in two locations within SECPA. The black box theatre, renamed “The Club” and decorated to be more intimate, hosted the pre- and post-show performances and festivities, while the gymnasium was transformed into “The Coffeehouse”, a place where great minds came together to connect and share. Everywhere you looked, the space was alive and buzzing with things to see, hear, and eat. Guests even dressed in the funky style of the beatniks, berets included!

“We are so pleased with this year’s awards! The Buffys are an awareness program as much as they recognize the incredible impact the arts have in our community, and we’re proud to have showcased the variety of artists and creative professionals that live and work right here in Wood Buffalo,” says ACWB Executive Director Liana Wheeldon.

Throughout the evening, guests were treated to the abundance of talent present in our community. The diverse and uniquely collaborative performances included dance, comedy, flow arts, spoken word, pantomime, and multiple musical genres. Special behind-the-scenes video shorts gave guests a glimpse into the artistic process of getting ready for the awards event. The Buffys continue to be a place for artists to experiment and perform in ways you often can’t see anywhere else.

The awards themselves were beautifully handcrafted dolls, created by local artist Sedef Uzer Prakash. The awards were handknitted in the Japanese amigurumi style of small, stuffed yarn creatures. They were a whimsical tribute to the contributions of our arts community. There were fourteen awards handed out altogether, including the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Valerie Gondek and the Arts Champion Award presented to Rick Kirschner.

“It’s so inspiring to organize the Buffys each year. Learning about all the nominees, seeing the artists showcase their talents, and watching the delighted reactions of the audience makes the long hours of preparations all worthwhile” says Diana Moser, the ACWB Programs Manager.

Thank you to our sponsors and partners for making the 2019 Buffys possible! Thank you to our Midnight Sponsor Fort McMurray International Airport; Presenting Sponsors Suncor, Syncrude, Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation, and the Friends of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts; Media Sponsors Country 93.3 and 100. 5 Cruz FM and Mix 103.7; Arts Supporter MLA Tany Yao; and Supporting Sponsors Boston Pizza, Campbell’s Music, LaPrairie Crane, Staples, and UNIFOR.

October 22, 2019

October 2019’s Centre Stage with All Imaginary

Interview with All Imaginary for our monthly snapd Wood Buffalo artist feature Centre Stage with Arts Council Wood Buffalo!

All Imaginary is a group that writes and performs something a little bit different; they create spoken word art. This is structured music with spoken poetry written from personal experiences and emotions to create a song that sounds beautiful, yet packs a punch with its lyrics. All Imaginary consists of Xach Edward, Meghan Whitmore and Ruben Rotar, three friends who decided to try something new. “Our group kind of came out of nowhere” Meghan explains. “One day Ruben and Xach suggested that we add music to my poems to make it less slam poetry, and instead more spoken word art. That was in early 2018, and it just grew from there. We like to joke and call this our passion project but in reality, that is exactly what it is!” Their artistic backgrounds are rather different. Ruben plays a slew of different instruments, Xach plays guitar, while Meghan is the one behind the lyrics.

They started out by performing poetry in the park and at open mic nights. They then took a leap and performed at last year’s Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards (the Buffys). This proved a thrilling venture for the newly formed group: “performing at the 2018 Buffys was the scariest thing we have ever done,” says Meghan. “It was the first time we were doing a show that wasn’t at a bar, or in a field with our friends. We spent more time on the one song we performed than we had on anything else at that point. It was terrifying and the most soul filling moment at the same time.”

One of the goals with the Buffys awards and showcase is to give local artists a new venue to perform, and encourage new artwork, collaboration and artistic innovation. “When we were chosen to perform last year, it meant that we were able to share our vision with more people,” Meghan explains. “We got to show people that music is about how you feel it, not just using your ears. When we were asked to return this year, we were over the moon! Trust me, you’re in for an adventure this year!”

The art of spoken word is still a fairly new addition to the Wood Buffalo art scene, but All Imaginary has had a good experience. “Being an artist here is a different experience for sure, especially when you do something like we do,” says Meghan. “The art community has been very inviting to us, and it is a great feeling to be a part of something that is always growing and changing.”

When looking to the future, the group aims to reach an even wider audience with their art. “Our goal is to share what we create with others. We would like to release an album, and perform as much as we can. Some of us have goals to be openers for spoken word bands all over the world, and some of us have goals to just touch people with the songs we create.”

All Imaginary will be performing a brand new piece at the 2019 Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards on October 19, 2019. Follow the group on social media: @allimaginaryymm and check out their recordings at Get your tickets to the 2019 Buffys at Don’t forget to check out Ruben’s band Olorin and Xach’s band Zero Loss. To learn more about Arts Council Wood Buffalo and our programming, visit and find out how you can be involved in the vibrant Wood Buffalo arts community, and follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedIn and YouTube.

October 1, 2019

August 2019’s Centre Stage with Luay Eljamal

Interview with Luay Eljamal for our monthly snapd Wood Buffalo artist feature Centre Stage with Arts Council Wood Buffalo!

Theatre has been a prominent part of Luay Eljamal’s life since the tender age of 12, when he first performed in elementary and high school productions. He viewed his theatre practice as a hobby, but after gaining provincial acclaim directing a one-act play, Luay was encouraged to pursue the arts into his post-secondary degree studies. In 2015, he moved to London, UK to complete his Master of Arts in Contemporary Performance Making, remained in London, working with various theatre artists as an assistant director, audiovisual designer, as well as general managing an independent theatre. Luay is now bringing his wealth of theatre experience to the stages of Wood Buffalo, launching his new theatre company called Symmetree Theatre.

“To start my own theatre company has been a dream of mine for 9 years now. I have always felt that the beauty in theatre is that it shows the world through a lens that looks beyond what we can or have already achieved in reality,” he says. “It has the power to show us what a more inclusive world would look like and inspires audiences across the world to work towards achieving and celebrating those ideals. I also think it’s important to empower audiences to think and feel.”

Symmetree Theatre’s debut performance is a new play called Freeing Heaven’s Secrets, written and directed by Luay. This immersive audio theatre performance follows Scheherazade, a young blind girl on her deathbed, who promises her father that she will visit him in his dreams and let him know what her heaven is like. On her journey to the other side, Scheherazade passes her blindness onto the audience, and gifts herself with sight, inviting the audience to experience her heaven through the element of sound alone, and allowing them to experience her heaven the way she would have experienced our earth.

“A lot of the time, theatre operates showing us the hardships that marginalized groups have had to endure in order to thrive in our society,” explains Luay. “This is important—plays such as Rent, and Angels in America exposed audiences to new groups of people and the hardships that the struggles that they were fighting to overcome. While it is important to shine a light on these issues, I also felt it was important to show people what the world would look like should these people be seen in stories that are not about those hardships. Stories where, despite their differences, they fight to overcome issues that plague us all as humans.”

When first arriving in Fort McMurray, Luay was surprised to learn that this small town had a state-of-the-art theatre, and expresses pride to see our arts community continue to grow: “I have always felt fortunate to be exposed to the theatre world through the Wood Buffalo arts community” he says. “We have been blessed to have the support of the oil and gas industry here, which has given a lot of our artists the agency to explore their own skills and talents, whatever their medium may be.”

Freeing Heaven’s Secrets will be performed on November 1st and 2nd, 2019, at the Suncor Energy Centre for Performing Arts. For more information on Freeing Heaven’s Secrets and Symmetree Theatre, visit If you would like to learn more about Arts Council Wood Buffalo, our programs and events, visit, and follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedIn and YouTube.

August 1, 2019

July 2019’s Centre Stage with Noize

Interview with Shane Carbery aka Noize for our monthly snapd Wood Buffalo artist feature Centre Stage with Arts Council Wood Buffalo!

Growing up in Fort McMurray with his uncle and grandfather as his first musical inspirations, rapper Shane Carbery, also known as JustNoize, is taking his career to the next level this year. His debut album, Trouble, was released in April, with his second album, Problem Solver, set to come out in July. JustNoize’s third album, Trouble’d, is already scheduled for release in October. This summer, he is opening for the underground group Twiztid on their The Generation Nightmare Tour.

Carbery has been a musician and lyricist all his life, but it is only for the past year that he has been taking his music career seriously: “I had a few jam bands with my good friend Tyler Brown,” he says. “We played all original songs in a punk rock/hip-hop hybrid band. I paint and dabble in many different art mediums, but music is my one love and main focus. I set deadlines for myself and try to work harder than anyone else, telling myself that ‘no one wants this more than me’ or ‘it’s do or die, and we don’t die’. My focus is on being successful, strengthening my craft, and accomplishing my goals.”

Growing up as an artist in Wood Buffalo was not always easy, but Carbery has found great support and opportunity as well: “Being an artist here is to be an oddity, but also to believe in your dreams. If you are interesting enough the community will take notice and support you. I have been encouraged by so many different people, and it is possible to reach a wide demographic thanks to the diversity of the community. With businesses like Tavern on Main, Campbell’s Music, and Wood Buffalo Media Group, it is not hard to find support and resources to help artists grow in both talent and recognition.”

Finding inspiration has never been an issue for Carbery: “Everything is inspiration for me, as I can’t turn my brain off. Being able to occupy myself with lyrics and melodies is almost a natural coping mechanism. A bad day becomes a three verse, no- chorus song that hits like a Black Sabbath riff, a beautiful walk in the summer time becomes a ballad, and a break up with a girlfriend becomes a country song. Life is inspiration. We are all just experiencing a moment in time, and if you don’t create in that moment, you might let it go by while you are busy thinking about the future.”

For artists out there, who are dreaming of making it in the music industry, Carbery encourages: “try until you can’t try anymore, then keep going! Many people might not understand your drive, but you are not alone. Seek like-minded people and build your name into a brand. Create a team of people who believe in your passion as much as you do. If you can make people believe in you as you believe in yourself, you will succeed!”

Find JustNoize on YouTube (Justnoize) and on Instagram (@justnoize.shane). His album Trouble is now available on all digital streaming platforms. If you would like to learn more about Arts Council Wood Buffalo, our programs and events, visit, and follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedIn and YouTube.

July 1, 2019