Wordfest’s six-hour Eugene-A-Thon to celebrate all things Stickland and the arts community at large

Anyone who’s been in a room where Eugene Stickland has held court knows that it’s probably a pretty stupid question.

But we’ll ask it anyway: How is he possibly going to fill six hours of time?

That’s what’s promised with the Eugene-A-Thon featuring the playwright, poet, author, painter, teacher, bon vivant, gadabout and man-about-town holding court for six hours online Thursday, June 18, live from his local coffee haunt, Caffe Beano.

The event, the brainchild of Wordfest’s ringleader and uber-Stickland supporter Shelley Youngblut, who’s also co-hosting the event and will keep him (relatively) focussed, will feature Eugene and many of his friends from the artistic community collaborating, discussing his life and  many careers and generally having a jolly old time. 

So, maybe the question should actually be: What? Only six hours?

“Shelley Youngblut calls me out of the blue one day and says, ‘Hey, we want to do a Eugene-a-thon?’ and I said, ‘Are you on drugs or something?’ ”

It was, apparently, an idea long in the making, with Youngblut being a fan of Stickland, and wanting to do something similar back when she was the editor of now-defunct, sorely missed Calgary Herald publication Swerve, and he wrote a weekly column for the broadsheet itself.

Reviving the idea now, in the time of COVID was, he says, “nice timing.”

Stickland admits to suffering the same mental state as many other artists at this time, who have a “low-grade anxiety that’s always kind of eating away and just a little below the surface.”

“And it makes it hard to focus, you know?” he says. “So I felt a little unfocussed and … maybe not quite as productive as I thought I would be. But I’m still getting shit done.”

That includes some writing. In fact he plans to do a reading from his new novel due in the fall, which he describes as being a “deathbed hallucination” called In My Time of Dying — the title of which he “stole famously from Led Zeppelin.”

“ ‘Talent borrows, genius steals,’ they say.” He laughs. “That’s my motto.”

During the evening, which is a Wordfest fundraiser to promote teen literacy and arts education, he’ll also read and discuss a new work that he’s written that will be published in the anthology Pandemic Poems, which, of course, features pieces from North American writers produced over the past few months.

Poetry, will actually take up one of roughly a dozen different sections of the ’thon, with Stickland bringing into the conversation friends from that community, including Sheri-D Wilson and Kirk Miles.

Other of the 28 guests he’ll be Zooming in include: blues musicians Tim Williams and Jack Semple; actor and vocalist Ben Wong, who will sing a tune written by Company of Rogue’s Joe Norman Shaw that was featured in a production of Stickland’s newish play First and Last; famed Calgary-based visual artist and Stickland’s “mentor” Chris Cran; Bob White, who will join the confab to chat about Stickland’s time as Alberta Theatre Projects’ playwright-in-residence, which saw him create six new works for the company; and friends such as former Alberta Ballet artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre as well Eugene’s daughter Johanna will fill people in on his more personal side.

“The nice thing, and, well, the not surprising thing, is that everybody who I talked to was available.” He laughs. “So there’s a silver lining.

“And I’m talking about some famous actors and musicians who normally you have to really lock those people down long before.”

The artist considers all of them part of his “extended family,” and he points to that as one of the great discoveries and best aspects of Eugene-A-Thon — for while it does celebrate all things Stickland, it’s also a testament to the amazing talent he’s rubbed shoulders with over the course of his career and a tribute to the Canadian arts community at large.

“That’s what’s been so gratifying about it because even my ego isn’t that big that I need six hour all about me — I’d be uncomfortable with that, actually,” he says.

“We always say that theatre, for example, is a collaborative art form, and I’m seeing the results of that collaboration come back in friendships with really good artists, and I feel really, really honoured to be the centre of all of that …

“I’m flattered.”

Wordfest’s Eugene-A-Thon takes place Thursday, June 18, from 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. It’s free but a donation of $25 is suggested to support Wordfest’s Youth Program. You can also stop by Caffe Beano at 1613 9th Street S.W. “and cheer Eugene on throughout his six-hour marathon from marked-out, physically distanced viewing spots on 9th Street S.W.” For more information, go to