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  • Michael O'Brien

Author/Origins: How the ROM Took Me There

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Playwright's Past/Preface:

(Me, on left) - Calgary Zoo

Hello. Author here. I've been an enthusiastic amateur student of paleontology since I was this tall.

Throughout this journey, a central inspiration & destination has been Toronto's "ROM" -- The ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM.

Our family visited the ROM every year & I was pretty much your basic "dinosaur kid" ... Until "Jurassic Park" (sigh). As "dino-fever" went Hollywood & swept the world, I began to recall ... wasn't there just a bit more to the story of Life on Earth than Diplodocus & T-Rex ...?

DID YOU KNOW: before dinosaurs were a thing, there were other things?? ... Like untold, countless, wondrous living things?

Earth - 500 million years ago

Not to mention a long, long, LONG span of TIME? .... Like, hard-to-imagine long?


And Ages.

And Ages.

And Eons.

But most of the things that lived that far back (to whom we owe everything) were not quite as "Hollywood-perfect" as Diplodocus & T-Rex. They had smaller, quieter, distinct personalities & souls all their own ....

And the more I learned, the more I became suspicious of how the entertainment industry has been shaping our grasp of natural science & history (ie. bias towards great big loud things!). And as a writer, I wondered if I might use my abilities to tell a story that might re-set the big picture. Like ... big time.

I remember ... back when I was small, in the ROM mezzanine, next to the entrance to the Dinosaur Gallery, there was a single, dusty display case containing a few small rocks, small images and type-written notes ...

It conveyed, somewhat vaguely, a time called "The Cambrian Period" and some place or thing in Canada called "The Burgess Shale".

Even then, I suspected someone must have placed this stuff there because they thought it was important.

Turns out, that's exactly why. I know now, these much earlier, Cambrian citizens of Earth have long been waiting to tell their story; but for too long (150 + years), they've been pushed into the shadows by big, loud Jurassic things.

BUT: one day, very, very recently, (2014) ... I noticed the ROM might be ready to change all that.


It was true! At last, the ROM was beginning to get ready to do justice to the strange, miraculous, vastly important Cambrian Period: as well as to Canada's special place in yielding fossil records. Especially in a wondrous, vast gift to human science, a Rocky Mountain deposit named the "Burgess Shale".

The Preview Gallery is now open at the ROM, and the full exhibit -- the Willner Madge Gallery "Dawn of Life" -- is set to open in 2021.

And now, as a playwright with a 25-year career, I knew what I wanted to write about next. Having written about human beings from the same angles for too long, I began thinking about thinking about "us" (humanity) again -- but now taking a step way back --- and looking into a distant, distant, distant mirror ...

And when I met this tiny (2 cm) Burgess Shale fossil/creature, I knew I found my new hero: Rella Marrella, who lived on an equatorial sea floor, 508 million years ago.

And all this living & looking & searching & striving we living things have been doing since? Well, she did it first. Half a billion years ago.

Because: I now believe we are those ancient sea creatures -- and they were us. I believe they dreamed us. And today, we're dreaming of them: and with them.

"Did you know we are all each others' dreams?"

"Each star is a story, each story a star."

And that was how the ROM took me there, and how "Rella's Cambrian Dream" was born.

dedicated to you, Mom // mob Aug 2019

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