Calling all aspiring writers and struggling artists: did you know the U of M has someone whose job is to consult and guide you in your creative endeavours?
There is, on the second floor of University College in the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture (CCWOC).
For the winter semester, the U of M welcomes Rob Malo as storyteller-in-residence.
Though a successful storyteller now, Malo’s career path wasn’t a straight line. In fact, he studied business administration in university.
“Then I left that and I didn’t know what do to,” Malo said, “but I did know I liked to play music. I liked to be in front of people, I did some improv, did some theatre.
“So I took my drum and I went to Montréal and I played in the streets of Montréal for about a year.”
Always a business major, Malo maintained a strict business plan to guide his creative work. With a practical-minded approach to art, he knew — as any aspiring creator with genuine goals of becoming published or performing on stage knows — he had to combine his artistic desires with practical goals.
“Most artists I talk to do not build business plans,” he said, “but [for me] it was always ‘If by year two I don’t make this amount of money, if by year three I’m not achieving this certain monetary goal, I’m going to have to go and find a job.’”
“When you want to become a full-time performer or full-time storyteller, your repertoire is almost secondary to ‘How are you going to appear in the public and how are you going to sell yourself?’ So, right away you’re talking about business perspectives in my opinion.”
Malo’s deep connection to his Franco-Manitoban and Métis roots inspired him to continue to pass down the culture and history of Manitoba to the next generation. It was while exploring his career options in his post-university life that Malo stumbled into his career as a historical interpreter.
“Eventually I ended up in Festival du Voyageur — which is my cultural festival,” he said. “My parents are 30-year volunteer types. So that’s just been a part of my life. I ended up working for them which ended up at Fort Gibraltar.”
Malo would go on to create the historically-based character TiBert le Voyageur, later ending up at the Manitoba Museum for a decade where he found more support and opportunities to tell stories. As both a children’s performer and educator, his character TiBert has delighted classes, museum-goers and audiences of all ages.
“The character himself is an education piece,” Malo said, “but in the show, the connection with the crowd, it’s real time. It’s me and the kids, and that I live for. That moment, that untouchable moment where time stops and we’re in the same place, we’re in the same story.”
“You’re playing a historical stereotype of sorts, but you make it your own and give it your own twist, but for the next Manitoban generations, it is so important to pass on these ideas of culture and folklore.”
With the success of the character, Malo brought TiBert to the realm of comic books.
Collaborating with art director Ron Lamoureux and illustrator Christian Miranda, the TiBert le Voyageur series was born. Combining historical education with artistic direction, they are brutal wordless depictions of the trials of voyageur life.
Malo now focuses less on the financial aspect of storytelling, and more on the creative aspect and his “responsibility in society as a storyteller.”
“I found a really nice niche as a storyteller in Manitoba and I think I can be sustained,” he said.
In his new position at the university, Malo is open for individual consultations with students, faculty and the public, and may be contacted online for an appointment.
He’s also putting on a six-week workshop titled “From Oral Story to Production,” where he will help writers and storytellers at any level develop their projects and provide guidance.
Apart from being excited to help others reach their own goals and make the connections needed to realize their creative dreams, Malo said he is looking forward to bringing his own unique twist to campus.
“I think I’m just bringing in a perspective of storytelling that doesn’t fall that well within the academic box that we’re used to seeing.”
More information on Rob Malo can be found at umanitoba.ca/centres/ccwoc.