Friday, May 9, 2008

One Sister Ended Up at Disney, the Other Sister Ended Up on the Downtown Eastside

Last week, the Vancouver Sun ran a "local girl makes good" story about Lisa Stevens, a Vancouver-born choreographer who has made an international name for herself. Stevens has recently choreographed High School Musical, which was picked up by Disney. The Sun reporter noted that Lisa "is looking forward to taking family and friends to one of the Vancouver performances".

Not her sister Anita Stevens, I bet.

Anita Stevens, Lisa's older sister and only sibling, ended up on the Downtown Eastside where the family member who didn't make good so often ends up. Anita looks exactly like the high school graduation photo the Sun ran of her Lisa, dark curly hair, fine features.

Anita was on medication for mental illness, manic depression. Everybody on the Downtown Eastside knew about her mental illness as Anita spoke freely about it. "She never acted as if it was a secret," says one Downtown Eastside resident. Several Downtown Eastside Enquirer bloggers, both male and female, knew her.

Anita rarely talked about her family but she did say that her parents had told her that if she ever showed up at their house again, they would call the police and have her arrested.

Choreograph that!

Anita mentioned that her mother had wanted both her daughters to be artistic but she had been more of a bookish type. She had studied Archeology at Simon Fraser University. She could play the piano well though, and would sometimes play the one in the Carnegie theatre.

Like many people on the Downtown Eastside, Anita ended up on the Disability welfare rate, not the Disney payroll.

You could tell Anita had been raised middle class; she was always a little better dressed than most people on the Downtown Eastside. She was beautiful and men often wanted sex with her, until they discovered she was cracked -- and even then some wanted sex with her.

Years ago, Anita mentioned that her sister was a "much in demand" choreographer and that she had her own dance school. "She said it was called the 'Lisa Stevens School of Dance' or something like that," a Downtown Eastside resident recalls.
Lisa had begun dancing at the age of five at Vancouver's Jewish Community Center, according to the Jewish Independent newspaper. The Jewish community appears quite enamored of their native daughter. But they weren't so enamored of her father, who had converted to Judaism when marrying her mother; he never felt the Jewish community totally accepted him, Anita once said.

Despite Lisa's hectic life according to the Sun article, she often returns to Vancouver, sometimes visiting with her old friend Perry Ehrlich at the Jewish Community Centre's summer program, Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!

Anita once mentioned that her sister was getting married and that she was not invited to the wedding.

Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! Gotta Hide My Sister!

Anita didn't say why she was not invited to the wedding. She didn't have to. Downtown Eastsiders knew that she could be unpredictable, she could cause a scene.

Don't get me wrong, nobody on the Downtown Eastside blames the family. Anita was at least 40 years old when much of this was going on and the family may have earlier tried to help her and become exhausted.

They wouldn't be the only ones. When Anita's mental health was in an unusual downward spiral and she didn't have a place to live, Bob Sarti and Muggs Sigurdson who were involved in the operations of the Carnegie Community Center, let her stay at their Strathcona house. But they had to move her out a short time later; the story was that she had become a fire risk. During the same period she had reportedly started a fire in the lobby of a housing co-op in the Chinatown/Strathcona area where she was staying and got herself booted out.

Anita eventually got her medication changed and stabilized. But a side effect of the medication was weight gain. She was still beautiful, just a ballooned up version. She then got into a social housing apartment building up Kingsway and didn't come to Carnegie or the Downtown Eastside much after that. She said it was too far to travel.

Anita did continue to occasionally submit material to the Carnegie newsletter. She had a long history of submitting poems -- she was a member of the Downtown Eastside Poets years ago -- and commentary. In one of the last pieces she submitted, she advised that the cure for what ails you is lots of sex.

Gotta sing, gotta dance, gotta do what you gotta do.


Anonymous said...

can i ask why we are referring to anita in the past tense?

reliable sources said...

Because the four people who contributed this article said they haven't seen her around in a long time. She lived on the Downtown Eastside for at least 15 years. One woman said she saw her at dinner at Carnegie about 3 years ago or so.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen Anita since just before the Carnegie CD that she was on came out. She did a great song about the Residential schools on it.

Rachel Davis

Anonymous said...

Who wrote this article? I think it was created in mean spirit. Why would anyone be interested in something like this?

reliable sources said...

You write, "Why would anyone be interested in something like this?

When a person is profiting from being a public figure, people want to know more about them so that they can make their own assessment.

Residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside would be interested in this story as, for years they helped Anita when her family didn't want anything to do with her. Residents of the Downtown Eastside still remember Anita. Residents were talking just the other day about the fact that when Lisa Stevens, the sister who made good, would come home to Vancouver, she would not look her less fortunate sister up. To be fair, there was an age difference of about 15 years between them -- they were the only siblings in the family -- so they were probably not that close.

We're not blaming Anita's sister or family. There are people on the Downtown Eastside who know how quickly you can get burned out dealing with Anita's mental health problems. But people still remember how talented she was. Her talent as a performer never fails to get mentioned when people talk about her.

Anonymous said...

I am David Stevens, brother to both Anita and Lisa Stevens. The author of this article could have taken the opportunity to display the tradgedy of mental illness and the toll it takes on the afflicted and their families. Instead it is a veiled attack at Anita's family. I grew up with Anita as I am only 5 years younger. Anita was already out of the house when Lisa was born. I can tell you that Anita had all the talent and beauty that Lisa possesses and could have succeeded in theatre much to the same level as her sister. The flip side of this is, even at an early age, I knew Anita was not quite right as I lived in fear of her verbal and physical attacks. I would like to know how the author of this article can be proud, when he or she has only written one side. I was not contacted, nor was my sister or mother. I cannot even begin to tell you the inaccuracies in your account as I do not feel that we need to defend ourselves. But i am compelled to tell you that in your article, you make refereance to Anita not being able to visit her parents without being arrested. Our father died in 2000. Anita took the opportunity to verbally attack him while he was dying. Did you even bother to check with the police department to see if there is a restraining order against Anita?
You should be ashamed of yourself. Even a highschool reporter would know to check the facts.

reliable sources said...

David Stevens,

You claim there are inaccuracies in the story but you don't identify them.

You claim Anita "verbally attacked" her father when he was dying. It's my understanding that Anita had unfinished business with her father. [I omitted that issue from the article because her father did not have a chance to defend himself.] Her father may have felt "verbally attacked" but Anita may have felt that she had a right to bring things out in the open before he died.

You write,
"But i am compelled to tell you that in your article, you make refereance (sic) to Anita not being able to visit her parents without being arrested....Did you even bother to check with the police department to see if there is a restraining order against Anita?"

I'm not sure police would give out that information to a blogger. Whether police had confirmed the existence of a restraining order or not, the fact remains that Anita's parents had made her aware that police would be called and she would be arrested if she showed up at their home. My report was accurate.

You accuse me of being a "high school reporter". Would that make me eligible to audition for the High School Musical?

Anonymous said...

This is David Stevens. You wrote an article without checking the facts. Did it not occur to you that Anita might be lying to you? After all, you say many people in the Vancouver East Side have been burnt by her. I remember once a policeman phoned me and accused me of stealing from Anita and demanded that I come down to the Police Station or risk being dragged from my home. I could hear Anita in the background. I asked the policeman to phone her Doctor and the policeman said "Anita told me you would say that". I couldn't get the policeman to believe me over Anita until I asked him to ask Anita why she was talking in a heavy English accent when she was born in Windsor Canada. The policeman apologized to me and hung up. I have had to defend myself and my family from Anita's manipulation of weak minded people like you for years.
I think Anita lives on Vancouver Island, not Vancouver East Side for the past few years. I think this because her dentist phoned me a few days ago to send me the latest bill for Anita's cosmetic dental work. But why am I explaining myself to you? You are a hack. I think you must have issues with your own family and that is why you choose to attack anothers. Of course I have no proof of this, but by your rules and standards I can say what I want and claim it as accurate. Your attempts at humour at the expense of my family is pathetic. How can Anita's "parents" call the police when one of them is no longer alive? Anita's "unfinished business" with our father is none of your business. It involves incidents that were totally invented by Anita and never happened. Why should we expose a dying man to this abuse? You seem to forget that ANITA IS MENTALLY ILL. Your article is accurate in one sense only; you managed to repeat the BS Anita fed you verbatum. Anita is obviously much more intellegent then you and manipulated you into repeating her self serving version of reality.
We stopped giving her money a few years ago, as she gives it away. Instead, my mother gives her care packages of food and clothes and continues to do so to this day. As i said to begin with and the point of my response was to state that Anita had a bright future stolen from her by mental illness. Our entire family has suffered for decades because of this illness; and for you to reduce it to a series of trite comments that you pass off as journalism is unnessasarily cruel. Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

Did it ever occur to you that Anita might be lying to you? She is an extremely intellegent person and has the ability to manipulate weak minded people like you.
My mother has been giving Anita care packages of food and clothes for years as has many of her aunts and uncles. We stopped giving her money years ago as she gives it away. The 'unfinished business' Anita had with our father was to do with a series of incidents that never happened. Anita imagined them. She DOES halucinate as she is mentally ill. The only accurate thing about your 'story' is that you managed to repeat verbatum Anita's version of reality as she fed it to you. Over the years, I have had to defend myself and my family over and over from Anita's imagination. But it always ends the same; the policeman, or Rabbi, or hack writer eventually realizes the've been had, and apologizes. I don't expect this from you, as your pathetic attempts at humour at the expense of our family indicate the type of person you are.
What I was trying to say was, Anita had a very bright future, and was robbed of it by mental illness. Her family has helped her for decades and are also affected by this illness. You could have written an article comparing the sisters careers and how mental illness was the only difference between the two of them. Instead,you chose to write a cheap unsubstantiated article that serves no purpose.

Anonymous said...

I see you've put a block on my comments. This does not surprize. You should be ashamed at your behaviour

reliable sources said...

There have been no blocks put on your comments.

There is now a delay before comments are printed because we were getting spam.