Tea with a Titan: Conversations Steeped in Greatness |Achievement | Olympics | Olympians| Success | Athletes | Entrepreneurs | Actors | Authors | Philanthropy | Business | Artists

Tea with a Titan is a weekly podcast during which seasoned interview-buff Mary-Jo Dionne speaks with those people who have one thing in common. The quest for authentic greatness. Be it entrepreneur, athlete, entertainer, artist, philanthropist, thought-leader, or difference maker, if the target is greatness -- even in the face of hurdles -- Mary-Jo will be having tea with them.
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Tea with a Titan: Conversations Steeped in Greatness |Achievement | Olympics | Olympians| Success | Athletes | Entrepreneurs | Actors | Authors | Philanthropy | Business | Artists



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Now displaying: May, 2017
May 30, 2017

I’m a big believer that every once in a while, if you stay the path, dreams really can come true. And today’s episode, in my life, is evidence of that theory.

Ten years ago this summer, on my 35th birthday, a group of my closest friends and I went to a party at the Playboy Mansion of all places. I’ve said it a number of times on this series: if you have a chance to peek into a portal, to experience a glimpse of life that is counter to your own everyday routine, habits, surroundings, take it. And partying at the Playboy Mansion fell into that camp. While my friends and I – I believe there were ten of us in total – had a blast overall on that special evening, there was one unique highlight that -- for me -- was what some people might call a “pinch me” encounter.

I have a long history as a writer and a performer and a speaker, and I dabbled in stand-up comedy for about 3 years as I honed my comedic-writing chops. This ultimately led me to writing and producing and appearing in my one-woman show, "Glowing: A Reproduction Production", which chronicles my rocky road to motherhood in light of having been born short of one biological clock, and the challenges and hiccups, from foiled adoption attempts, to fertility issues and treatments, to all-day morning sickness, to cancer growing in my foot, to the crescendo of being hit full-on by an 18-wheeler love truck when my baby was eventually born. All that to say, in my life, I’ve always known who I was, who I am. A writer, a performer, a communicator. Someone who aims to connect with the goodness of humanity in a memorable and hopefully meaningful way. To that end, there are certain key players in my life who have stood out as real beacons – the ones whose light shines bright, as a reminder that with hard work, with abundance consciousness, with kindness, with lack of ego, with the old adage of “following one’s heart” at the forefront of decisions, and with a commitment to rising after every fall no matter how many times you do indeed fall – and one such beacon is George Shapiro.

Long story short, he and his colleague Aimee Hyatt, who that night became a dear friend, were sitting at the table next to us, and when I found out it was indeed THAT George Shapiro, I’m not ashamed to say it. I attacked him. He didn’t stand a chance. He was innocently eating a chocolate chip cookie and I pounced on him and, sadly for the cookie, it went flying, and I am pretty sure I didn’t let go of him for the entire evening.

When I decided last year to create this podcast for my daughters – JouJou is 4 and Birdie is 2 years old next week – so that they would have a library of inspiring conversations with fascinating people to draw upon whenever they feel stuck, the guest who I absolutely knew I needed to chat with, was indeed George Shapiro.

He is the embodiment of everything I admire: He’s self-made (he literally started in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency and through grit and passion, he worked his way up to being one of the most respected agents and then managers and producers and creative collaborators in Hollywood), he knows the correlation between failure and lessons learned (he has been there as clients like Jerry Seinfeld repetitively bombed on stage, time and again, only to ultimately hit it out of the park as a result of those lessons learned), and above all else, he is kind and a believer in what’s possible.

We talk about his time backstage on The Ed Sullivan Show with Elvis Presley, what is was like working with the one-of-a-kind Andy Kaufman, we talk about his years of not only working with Jerry Seinfeld and the fruition of the marginally successful sitcom Seinfeld, but just what a true and sincere love exists between the two of them – between George and Jerry.

Last week, I was invited to attend the premiere of the HBO documentary “If you’re not in the Obit, eat breakfast”, executive produced by my pal Aimee Hyatt and produced by George. In his opening remarks at the historic Samuel Goldywn Theater in Los Angeles, George described the documentary as a “love letter to the human race” – and I couldn’t agree more. The film examines what it means to age, not simply gracefully, but with downright vigour. Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, and Betty White – all highly productive contributors to the planet today, and all in their 90s. “If you’re not in the obit, eat breakfast” airs on HBO on June 5th.

The following day, after the screening, I made the trek over to the legendary offices of Shapiro/West, for the chat you are about to tune into. I was met with the warmth and the hospitality you can only dream of being on the receiving end of when you have the unique privilege of sitting down with one of your most revered and respected and admired icons.

Unlike a decade earlier when we met on that night at the Playboy Mansion, this time it wasn’t my birthday, it was his. So Happy Birthday, Georgie.

Danny Devito, who plays George Shapiro in the movie Man on the Moon says to Andy Kaufman – played by Jim Carey – “You are surrounded by what you create.” And George, you are surrounded by goodness and light.

I know it was your birthday, George, but the gifts were all mine.

May 23, 2017

What we cover:  “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” -- Napolean Hill

This is a conversation about running. But not in the way we typically equate talks about running. It’s not about encouraging you to get your fastest time. It’s not about encouraging you to increase your distances. It’s not about heart rate monitors and compression socks and nutrition. Instead, this is a talk about how we can redefine what running means to us. As Ashley Wiles, today’s Guest Titan says: "Running is the most easily accessible, under utilized, readily available tool to help us build positive mental health." And yet, too many of us, continue to equate running with slogging it out and suffering through it – and not as a means simply to release endorphins and create community and foster self-love.

Ashley is the founder of Sole Girls, a mentoring program for young girls, which pops them in an environment that fosters conversations about friendship, body image, and self-esteem, and ultimately sees them train to run a 5km event together. 

In 2016, Brooks Running named her Inspiring Coach of the Year, and in doing so, she became the first Canadian and the first non-high school coach to be awarded this coveted recognition. And, while today, Ashley is this poised, forward-thinking, optimistic leader who is using her lifelong relationship with running to inspire a whole new generation of runners, she wasn’t always this way. In her early 20s, she suffered a debilitating depression as the result of an unhealthy relationship and she found herself drawn to the story of Amanda Todd, the Vancouver-area girl who was harassed so severely, she took her own life. Ashley knew things for her could go one of two ways – one being a finish that resembled Amanda’s story. Or the other, to take a look at what she truly loved most in life – running – and find a way to create a dialogue around what it’s like out there for people who are hurting. The result was the 2013 launch of Sole Girls, an organization that today has positively impacted thousands of girls via its innovative programs and super popular Sole Awesome 5km fun runs. 

The stats are crazy, but here they are: In grade 6, only 36% of girls say they are confident. Worse though is that by grade 10, on 14% of girls say they are. That means, 86% of girls are suffering from a lack of confidence. Ashley is on a mission to change all that. Because the reality is, most of us have determined who we are by the time we are teenagers, and if we’re going through a rough patch in our younger years, we take those negative belief systems with us into adulthood. In this conversation, I admit that I struggle with that myself at times – dragging a bad phase from my teen years with me even now, 30 years later. Running is a form of relief and release. And an invitation to reexamine and redefine and realign. Thank you for this conversation, Ashley.

May 16, 2017
What we cover: "Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." -- Samuel Beckett
I have known Elle Wild for the better part of the last two decades. She and I were ad copy writers together in Vancouver. And what I most admired about Elle, was that she always had a side project on the go. She always had a screenplay underway, a radio show to produce, or a treatment she was drafting. At a time in my own life when I desperately wanted to be living a more creative life on my own terms, which is one of the pitfalls of a career in advertising – for as fun and exciting as the work can be, at the end of the day, it’s a business and you are working for your client -- Elle felt light years ahead of me.
I have been so proud to sit back and watch her blossom into this incredibly well-respected figure in our nation’s literarti scene and this past fall with the release of her debut novel Strange Things Done, a title inspired by the opening lines of the Robert Service poem "The Creation of Sam McGee", I was one of the stoked attendees at the book’s launch. In the days since, Strange Things Done has gone on to be a #1 best seller on Amazon in Canada, for its genre – which, if you know Elle, is all about “noir”.

The afternoon she and I chatted, she was on her way to a glamorous event to witness the unveiling of the nominees for the prestigious Arthur Ellis Awards, and sure enough, Strange Things Done was indeed shortlisted, and she will find out on May 25th at a ceremony in Toronto if her book is the winner of Best New Novel. Ironically, and a little bit of background, in 2015, Strange Things Done won the Arthur Ellis Award in the category of Best Unpublished Crime Novel. Well, now, it’s published and it’s out there doing its thing, and it was nominated again.

Ours is a conversation less about the specifics of the book, although we certainly do cover that, and I assure you, it’s a page-turner and a nail-biter, and all those other things we say about books we just can’t put down, but more than that, ours is conversation about what it requires to take a creative risk. To leave a career trajectory behind and to throw caution to the wind, and to head to Canada’s north to write a crime novel. Writing a book is the ultimate metaphor to tackling any big goal – much in the same way that running a marathon serves as a symbol to life’s big undertakings. So whether you have artistic longings, or athletic longings or entrepreneurial longings, this is a conversation that is universal in nature.

"There are strange things done, in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold.

The Arctic trails have their secret tales,

That would make your blood run cold." -- Robert Service's The Creation of Sam McGee

May 8, 2017
What we cover: "Just take one small step --- every day." -- Matt Hill
There are some people on this amazing planet who you just know when you meet them are the ones who are on a mission to make it an even more spectacular place than it already is. Undeniably, one of those people is Matt Hill. 

A much sought after voice actor, he’s well known as having played Raphael on the Ninja Turtles, he’s Tender Heart the Care Bear, he’s Ton Ton on the Netflix and DreamWorks series DinoTrux, he’s Ed on Ed, Edd, and Eddy. He’s kind of everywhere. Which is no surprise because he is tireless. But he’s more than just enthusiastic and energetic -- he is joy filled, he oozes integrity, he is kind, and he takes action. 

In May, 2008, he and his friend, Steph, embarked on an unthinkable journey; on a tour they named The Run for One Planet Tour, which would ultimately see them run from Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada, to St John’s Newfoundland on the eastern most tip of Canada, down to the state of Florida across to the state of California, and back home to Vancouver 369 days later by running a marathon each day, every one of those days. The purpose? To connect with kids, and to remind them to be kind to the planet. By that end of that gruelling yet joyous and unparalleled year, they had connected with more than 50,000 students and completed more than 22,000,000 steps… Thereby serving as the real life reminder that every great goal requires a commitment to taking that one next step, and then that one next step, and then that one next step. 

You don’t have to be a runner or an athlete to get that what Matt has accomplished is a metaphor for us all – for anyone who is playing with the idea of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. No matter the objective, it’s about taking that first step… and then not stopping until you’ve taken 21,999,000 more.

This year, nearly 8 years after the initial tour wrapped, Matt and Steph were recognized with a Governor General Meritorious Award – for bringing honour to their home country, Canada. And on the day this posts, Monday, May 8th, 2017, in the city of Vancouver, it is the official Run for One Planet Day – a day set aside to get active, and to take action. 

Matt being Matt, an unstoppable force, will be running through the streets of Vancouver from 8am to 8pm. If you’re in Vancouver, swing by the Terry Fox Monument in front of BC Place for his 8am send off or for his 8pm finish at the same place – an intentional location, in light of the fact that Terry remains to this day the single biggest inspiration in Matt’s life, just as he is to so many people across Canada and around the world. 

A quick admin item about Terry Fox, Matt and I talk about him and the work of the Terry Fox Foundation, the uber-well-respected organization dedicated to cancer research. We were unsure of the amount that has been raised in Terry’s name and we made a guess and we were way off… When you hear us talk about it, just know the actual amount is closer to $750 million.

 If you can’t join Matt from where you are, send him a shout-out on social media. Reach out to him on Twitter at: @MattHillInspire. Or on Instagram at: @MattHill_Inspire. Cheer him on from wherever you are. We are posting this episode a day earlier than we usually do, so that we can rally as much support for this stellar human and his “Let’s Be Good to Ourselves and to the Planet” message as is possible.

May 3, 2017

What we cover: "You can do this. You will do this." -- Gary Robbins

Every once in a while you have a conversation with a person – a person so exceptional, that’s the only word for it – that the stories they tell are universal in that they tap into the humanity of it all. Gary Robbins is one such person and the conversation we had is one such chat.

Despite the fact that Gary is as decorated an ultra-distance runner as they come, this is an episode that explores deeper themes. A one-time self-admitted professional partier, Gary eventually traded in the cans of beer for a pair of running shoes, and embarked on a journey of personal transformation that is astounding to say the least. He walks us through what it felt like – the courage it took – to walk the road less travelled, to leave his home in Newfoundland in search of a non-traditional life and the decisions he had to make in order to stay true to that journey. He talks about the value in being in the right relationship when it comes to achieving an authentic life. And more than all this, he gives us a candid and inside look at quite likely this planet’s most mysterious adventure race, recently popularized by the Netflix documentary of the same name: The Barkley Marathons, a 5-lap, 100-mile course through the most unforgiving Tennessee terrain and in often-times the most bleak conditions imaginable. Gary, a two-time racer in this sadistic endeavor, walks us through the gritty details, what goes into preparing for it, how he handles the times of darkness – and his mantra: “You can do this. You will do this. You can do this. You will do this.” It will be a while before my fingernails grow back. He is an epic storyteller, which comes with being an east coaster, I suspect. To give you a sense of just how arduous the Barkley is, in its 30 years of existence, it has seen only 15 finishers. Fifteen. And yet today, people around the planet clamor to be selected as one of the 40 athletes who participate each year.

And while he certainly shares some vivid and heart-stopping imagery, the details which actually occasionally made me feel physically ill on account of the sheer depths of suffering one has to subject themselves to in order to even finish one lap of this event – at the end of the day, this is a conversation about what it takes to create the person we want to become. And isn’t that something we can all relate to? This is, without a doubt,a peek into the mind, the toughness and the motivation of someone who is truly exceptional. That’s the only word for a guy like Gary Robbins. Well, that and titan, of course.