I’m occasionally asked why I called my company Jitterbug Boy. Anyone who’s a fan of early Tom Waits music will know that it’s the name of a song off Small Change. The reason I decided to use this moniker as my shoemaking alias is a bit more involved.
It goes back 10 years ago, which astounds me to think about – it certainly doesn’t seem that long ago. I was living in a small Ontario town working for a large Shakespearean theatre company. It was a pretty sweet gig for the 5 or 6 months a year – working with shoes at a reasonably relaxed paced (compared to these days, anyway….seemed much busier at the time…) and surrounded by some quite talented theatre folk. A good job, but the town didn’t do much for me. But did I mention that I was paid hourly? That seems like a lifetime ago… Anyway, it was the end of the 2002 season and not a particular highlight in the ebbs of flows of my life. I won’t bore you with the details, but small town life was starting to make me a little nuts. And then, one day, I decided I just needed to get away for a while. So, I took my meagre savings and did something completely out of character – I booked a flight to Europe with a three month stay and no real plan. Looking back, I wonder what the hell I was thinking – I wasn’t in the best of health those days. All I knew was I had to get away from everything for a while.
I started my trip in Amsterdam where I was able to reconnect with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in years. Then, I started on an adventure that took me through part of Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. I was using shoes as a theme for the trip – I would stop anywhere that had an interesting looking shoe museum, or shoe person I could meet with. It was a difficult trip – I had never done anything like that before. I describe it as two of the worst months of my life followed by one of the best. Somewhere along the way I fell in to the groove of traveling on my own (Florence, Italy, to be precise). Anyway, somewhere along the line, I had the song Jitterbug Boy going through my head. It kind of became a big part of my internal soundtrack as I bounced along from town to town.
The trip ended where it began – in Amsterdam. I remember getting up really early to catch my flight. I was walking to Centraal Station, the streets were completely empty and steam was rising off the canals. Still, this tune was playing through my head. I decided that if I ever started on my own, I’d name the company Jitterbug Boy.
Several years passed before this company actually came to fruition. I got back from Europe and decided that I was putting the past behind me and was ready to jump back in to small town life. And then, two weeks later, I received a call from Cirque du Soleil – they wanted me as Assistant Head of Wardrobe for the Alegrìa tour. I left a few weeks later and never looked back. I spent two years on tour – traveling throughout the US and Canada, as well as Japan. During my time with the show, I was eventually promoted to Head of Wardrobe. I was in negotiations to transfer to another tour when I decided that I was missing the creative work and decided instead to give up touring life and moving back to Toronto to see if I could make a go of it as a shoemaker. I need to work with my hands again. However, the Toronto plan was also sidelined when I received a call completely out of the blue from Dragone in Belgium, asking if I was interested in being head shoemaker for an upcoming production in Las Vegas (the show that would eventually become Le Rêve at Wynn Las Vegas). I put my Toronto plans on hold and spent most of the next year between living outside of Brussels and living right in the heart of Vegas.
Eventually, the show opened and I took that opportunity to finally make my return to Toronto and started Jitterbug Boy. That was almost seven years ago. It hasn’t been an easy go, but it’s worked out way better than I could have ever expected. Few days go by when I don’t feel thankful to be doing what I’m doing – even on the crappy days…
Everyone once in a while, Jitterbug Boy pops up on the iPod. It always makes me smile.
“Well I’m a Jitterbug Boy, by the shoeshine
Resting on my laurels and my hardies, too
Life of Riley on the swingshift, gear follow my drift
Once upon a time I was in show biz too”