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Will Olds potter survive Thursday's Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down cut?

École Olds High School art teacher on The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC TV and CBC Gem.

OLDS — Locals are expected to tune in again Thursday night to see Olds high school teacher Renu Mathew compete in The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down and hopefully advance to another round of the show.

An enthusiastic audience came out to cheer on Mathew in the first episode of CBC/CBC Gem’s The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down Feb. 8 at the TransCanada Theatre in Olds.

Mathew is one of 10 contestants.

The eight-week reality series was filmed last summer in Vancouver and airs every Thursday night for eight weeks. Each week one contestant is eliminated. Mathew survived the first cut.

Jennifer Robertson who played Jocelyn Schitt in CBC's comedy series Schitt's Creek, and is currently starring in Ginny & Georgia, is the host.

Seth Rogen, an award-winning actor, producer, director, co-founder of Houseplant and a potter himself, is a guest judge and an executive producer, courtesy of Point Grey Pictures.

In 2020, Mathew participated in another reality TV series; the Food Network’s Great Chocolate Showdown, where she made it all the way to the finale.

The event at the TransCanada Theatre on Feb. 8 took on a festive atmosphere.

In the lobby, a couple of students demonstrated how to make pottery on pottery wheels. Elsewhere, pottery was for sale and crowds could imbibe Fair Trade coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

The audience included Town of Olds Mayor Judy Dahl as well as councillors Darren Wilson and Heather Ryan, École Olds High School (ÉOHS) principal Meaghan Reist and former ÉOHS principal Tom Christensen.

There were people in attendance from as far away as Edmonton and Calgary.

When Mathew appeared at the lectern with a mic, the crowd cheered.

“I met fabulous people,” she said. “There really isn’t anything else I’d rather be doing. I’d do it again tomorrow,” she added, noting the cast got to stay in a nice hotel in downtown Vancouver and eat at great restaurants.

Mathew didn’t look at it as a competition, noting contestants helped each other out. For example, she taught several how to paint because many potters don’t paint glazes on, they dip them in the glazes they want.

“It was fun to bond in those conditions, realize what can this glaze do? What can that glaze do? Because there’s so many variables,” she said.

They had lots of downtime.

Mathew said each episode took three days to film. So each week of the eight-week filming period, they had four days off. Some used that time to practise.

Mathew said that pace was way more relaxing than the Chocolate Showdown. It was filmed in a much shorter time period.

Mathew said the show didn’t necessarily showcase the top 10 potters from across Canada. Some very talented potters weren’t chosen, at least for the first season.

“I would say probably we were a great mix of people and skills and personalities and so it worked very well and often that’s how shows are cast,” she said.

In the first episode, called There's No Place Like Home, the potters each had to make an ash tray and something representative of their home town.

Mathew chose to create make a kind of sign for Olds with the letters OLDS. Each letter featured aspects of the community and surrounding area, like a barn, the big orange grain elevator, the TransCanada Theatre, as well as grainfields, flowers, dirt roads and lots of blue sky and fluffy clouds.

Eventually, the judges came to Mathew’s desk to judge the OLDS piece.

“All these little details, amazing,” Rogan said.

“Where it does kind get a little funky is where this colour gets a bit (funny),” said Brendan Tang, a Vancouver-based ceramics artist.

Rogan Agreed.

“It’s really impressive. If I have one criticism, it’s like, very literal,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Tang.

“It’s very beautiful and well executed. Great work,” Rogan said.

“Thank you so much,” Mathew replied.

As the show ended, the TransCanada Theatre crowd applauded and let out lots of whoops.

Mathew explained how she went about creating the OLDS letters.

“All of my letters were wheel-thrown except for the S. And they asked why I didn’t throw the S, which I thought was funny. I could have thrown the S but it would have been way more complicated and it would take me a lot longer,” she said.

She said the L was created first as a tall cylinder that was squared off and cut to create the L shape.

The show was taped in the summer, but Mathew still doesn’t have her OLDS letters. She said CBC has them because everything created during the show is copywritten. However, she’s confident she’ll get them back eventually.

She did however, have the painting and model letters she created when she planned her creation.

After the show, the crowd was invited to come up to the stage area and get a good look at them. Many did.

“There was a lot of discussion and there were a lot of jokes about my letters,” she said. “We can arrange them, we can have the word ‘sold.’ I can make more letters, we can have other words going on and play games.”

Unfortunately none of those jokes apparently made it to air.

Mathew said the studio was extremely hot, because they had to turn the air conditioning off because of the noise it made.

The drying room for the ceramics was even hotter.

The crew saw that Mathew was suffering and was very sympathetic.

“Literally within three minutes of being on-set (one) came up to me, ‘here’s a fan. Keep the fan…just hold it up to your face and then just put it down underneath so they can’t see it.’

They could tell from miles away that I was so shiny and sweating,” Mathew said, sparking laughter.

She said by the second day, the crew had created pre-cut shop towels to mop up sweat.

Mathew indicated Rogan’s penchant for smoking marijuana was well known.

“Considering how much he smoked he was pretty stressed out, you know,” she said to loud laughter.

During an interview, CBC asked Mathew what Rogan was like.

“I said ‘very authentic,’” she said.

Doug Collie

About the Author: Doug Collie

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