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“WHITE HEAT, Online Trolls & The Hustle of Writing” In Conversation with Graham Isador

Interview by Megan Robinson.

This year will be the fifth time that accomplished storyteller, Graham Isador, is presenting his work as part of the SummerWorks Performance Festival. Isador is well-known for his successful one-person shows, but, with White Heat, he’s written a traditional play that he hopes will succeed in having a life beyond the festival.

Based on real events, Isador’s new play draws on his insights from working as a culture writer and journalist (most notably for Vice, GQ, and CBC), as well as the challenges and dangers that many of his co-workers and friends have faced in their careers as journalists. In our interview, Isador continues to grapple with the seriousness of online harassment, wondering how we can determine the severity of a threat, and the problem of assuming it’s all just talk. It’s this curiosity that drove him to write the show, which is about a journalist who becomes targeted by an alt-right podcaster. The story of White Heat is relevant and thought-provoking, exploring what can happen when online threats become a reality.

We spoke with Graham about his ambitions for White Heat, dealing with online trolls, and the hustle of writing.


MR: Why SummerWorks?

GI: Laura (Nanni) has been pretty pivotal to my career in a lot of ways. It’s funny, I don’t really know her that well but I have immense respect for what she does and the dramaturgical questions she’s always asked about my work has elevated it in a way that has been super beneficial for how I think about my work and the way I want it to move forward. I think I owe SummerWorks a lot for anybody recognizing my work in theatre. So there’s that. And it’s a very conscious choice, to be completely transparent about it. This is the first time in the last couple years that I’ve put on a show that hasn’t been a one-person thing. This is me sort of shooting my shot. I understand why maybe my stuff hasn’t been programmed in the past, because it didn’t really fit within the context of theatre seasons or what not, but it’s sort of a chance to be like, ‘this is the crew I’ve assembled who are very talented, the script is good and relevant, and I want to get it seen by artistic directors’. I’m extremely proud of the crew we’ve put together to elevate this story and SummerWorks is a showcase, at this point, to be able to hopefully get it programmed somewhere else.

MR: When you wrote those other shows, did you think a theatre might pick them up? So is this you sort of like, acquiescing and saying, ‘okay no one wanted that so I’m going to play your game’ a little bit?

GI: I think that the stories I’m wanting to tell, on a personal level, is why I wrote those one-man shows. And because every once in a while I’ll get an ache and I’ll think I want to be an actor, but that’s not true. I don’t really want to say other people’s words or remember other people’s lines and be accountable in that way. But I do have a need to be on stage once in a while, so the one-man show is sort of a way to get that out of my system so I don’t embarrass myself in front of our community trying to be a different character than myself.

White Heat is built out of the fact that, in the past year, there’s a handful of colleagues, mutuals on twitter, and friends who are journalists who have been put on neo-Nazi kill lists. If I have an article that’s a hit, for a week someone will tell me to get hit by a bus, or that they’re going to beat me up, or that I’m a fag. So I started thinking about the relationship between those two things, and the people behind those comments. The extreme examples of all this is not stuff that has happened to me. The stuff I deal with in terms of harassment on a daily basis is peanuts compared to what a lot of my colleagues who are writing hard news deal with. But I wanted to be able to talk about what the reality is for me in those situations, as well as what the reality is when I’m having beers with friends and we’re talking about this stuff – that harassment part of our daily lives. And it’s all a joke and it’s all online until somebody gets shot.

The offices at Vice Montreal last year were occupied (for a lack of a better word) by bikers from the alt-right who came to the office because of an article that was written and offered threats to the Vice Montreal writers. A couple weeks after that, there was a shooting in Maryland at the Capital Gazette where five journalists were shot and a handful of others were injured because of things they wrote.

I mean I write about bars and buffets and abs and dumb culture shit and I get some of this as a blowback but the reality is that it’s feeling, even for me, a little more dangerous and a little more real lately. So it was like, ‘this is the story that I need to tell’, and I didn’t feel like doing it as a one-man show because it couldn’t really do justice to all the stories. It allowed me to dig into the themes and dig into the realities of what that is for friends, without having the burden of it all being 100% factually accurate.

Photo of Tim Walker in WHITE HEAT by Graham Isador

MR: So your play is about the most extreme case, the really violent and the more political version of it, but what you experience is mostly the bullying and the trolls?

GI: Yeah and I’m not a victim in this situation. I choose to put myself out there in a lot of these ways but it’s just interesting to me that it’s a reality of these things. And as the temperament of society changes, this becomes politicized regardless of what I do.

MR: What do you mean?

GI: Well, by writing for the CBC, by writing for Vice, people have narratives about what those institutions are. So it doesn’t really matter what I’m writing, I become an enemy to them based on this thing. I’m very fascinated with the idea that anything that gets written or anything that reaches a certain level of critical mass just becomes fodder for countless vile comments towards you. And what is it that we’re doing that it’s now just a by-product of doing work like this and what does it say for the larger societal context?

MR: Has it ever made you want to stop writing? Have you ever had an article go up and felt like you needed to take a break from it or take a pause?

GI: The only time that it’s kind of given me pause, at this point, is when it’s starting to affect people who aren’t me. I chose this, right? No one is telling me to write stuff.

MR: But you can choose it without knowing what it’s going to feel like.

GI: I think that’s true but I’ve also been doing this for seventeen years. I started writing about bands when I was thirteen. I kind of know what’s what at this point. One of the things I’ve been trying actively to do when I’m writing true personal stuff is get other people out of it as much as I can. Then it only becomes about me and not my friends or partners or whatever else, because they didn’t ask for this in the same way that I did. So that’s when I think about stopping. And then there’s times when you’re having a day that’s particularly hard for whatever reason, and then an article pops up that calls you names. And I engage with that stuff. I read the comments. I know you’re not supposed to.

MR: Why do you read the comments? What do you get out of it?

GI: Well if someone was saying something about you, wouldn’t you want to know?

MR: Personally, not always, no. Because it can still get under your skin even if you know they don’t have anything worthwhile to say, right? I guess you probably have thick skin, but I definitely have thin skin.

GI: I don’t know if I do. I go back and forth with it. I think part of anything with performance, with writing, with whatever, is a certain desire to make sure that your opinion is relevant. There’s a certain arrogance that goes along with it. To be like, ‘look, what I’m telling you is important and you should pay attention to me.’ I don’t think I would do this work in theatre, in journalism, if I didn’t feel that way. I think that’s the manifestation of why I do this stuff in the first place: I want my ideas to be important to other people, and I have something to say. Which also means that I am curious how people respond to that. It’s part of my temperament that I engage with those types of things. And sometimes I take them more seriously than others.

MR: How long has it taken you to write the play?

GI: Three months? I pitched this with an idea, and probably about two monologues and SummerWorks was interested in the themes and interested in some of the people that I’ve been working with. Jill Harper, who is directing it, is pretty incredible – she won a Dora for Pool (No Water). Tim Walker is mostly known as a comedic actor but this gives him a chance to show off his drama chops. And there’s Makambe Simamba – I think if this were a year from now I would not be able to work with her because she’d be booked for something huge. She’s going to be a really big deal.

MR: I’m curious what your end goal is. You do so many different things – is there one thing you’re reaching for more than anything else?

GI: No, I just kinda want attention… No, all this is the same thing to me. It’s all storytelling. Producing, writing, photography, all of it. It’s just the way to communicate ideas that are important to me. I look at who my heroes are, people like Jon Ronson or Anthony Bourdain, who are able to dabble in all this different stuff. All of it is facilitating this one idea that their life is also their art. There isn’t this big barrier between what I am and what I do and what I’m trying to bring to the world. Bourdain was a huge hero of mine. There was like eighteen different things that guy did and it was all playing to this bigger idea of using food to be able to talk about human experience and culture. For me, it’s how do we use all these different mediums to say, ‘these things are important’. More recently, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can use those same avenues that I have to be able to tell stories of people who may not be able to have their own voices. So that responsibility is something I’ve been thinking about recently. I’m exhausted all the time but I also don’t do anything I don’t want to do.

MR: I see your name popping up online all the time, and every time I see another article come up, I’m so curious about how you’re so productive… you seem overwhelmingly productive! How many articles did you write last year?

GI: Sixty. Maybe more. This year I’ve done fifty-four.

MR: That feels like a lot. Does it feel like a lot to you?

GI: Yeah. I think at some point in the next couple years I’ll be able to calm down and focus myself to do less. But right now the reason I get to do stuff is because I keep doing stuff. It’s a hustle, right? And like, if you want these things for real, that’s what you do. But there’s something to be said, definitely, for taking your time and thinking about these things, but I’m not talented in the same way. I’m a worker, and I have a little bit of talent, I’m decently smart, but the difference between me and a lot of other people is that I will continue to keep doing things until I get better at them. There’s a handful of other writers in this city who I know are better writers than me but the difference is that I try to do it absolutely every day and by doing that you just gain enough experience to keep growing and growing and growing. Between all these things I can make an okay living for myself, just barely. I don’t want to do anything else except write. So I just write all the time.


White Heat

Who:
SummerWorks Performance Festival with Pressgang Theatre
Written by Graham Isador
Directed by Jill Harper
Performed by Makambe Simamba and Tim Walker
Sound Design by Christopher Ross-Ewart

What:
A revealed identity leads to an impossible decision.

Journalist Alice Kennings grapples with how to act after uncovering the identity of an alt-right podcast host calling for violence against the media. Based on real events, White Heat is a play about all the things we justify to ourselves. Written by Graham Isador (VICE, GQ) and directed by Dora Award winner Jill Harper (Pool No Water).

Where:
Longboat Hall at The Great Hall
103 Dovercourt Road, Toronto, Ontario

When:
Sunday August 11th8:30pm – 9:45pm
Monday August 12th9:30pm – 10:45pm
Wednesday August 14th6:00pm – 7:30pm

Tickets:
$15/$25/$35
summerworks.ca

Connect:
@presgang 

“Overcoming Creative Road Blocks, Cultivating Your Practice & The Power of The Movies” In Conversation with Vanessa Smythe, Co-Creator of THE TAPE ESCAPE

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Vanessa Smythe is in the middle of doing her laundry when she answers the phone. I can hear the beep of the laundry machine when she tells me that recently all her dreams have been about puzzle-solving. This definitely makes sense since The Tape Escape, which she co-created with Mitchell Cushman, is an immersive theatre experience that is a blend of puzzles and storytelling. Though it opened in July with Outside the March, Vanessa says they are still in the process of making tweaks here and there, adding pieces of content, and allowing ideas to evolve. The bones of the show have been solidified for a long time, but Vanessa is still so inspired by it and excited for all its possibilities that she says it can be hard to know when to stop working.

Even without the new tweaks and additions, The Tape Escape is an already complex show. For their track, “Love Without Late Fees”, they wrote sixty-five different scenes. I imagine it would be hard knowing some sections may never get seen, but Vanessa says part of the fun is letting the audience have agency over the ending. For her, it’s a bit of a lesson in letting go. Though she does admit to having favourite outcomes.

Vanessa and I spoke for an hour over the phone about collaborating with Mitchell Cushman, how this project has affected her as an artist, and what her advice is for getting through creative blocks.


MR: Let’s go back to the beginning of the project. So you and Mitchell walked into Queen Video, and you wanted to do something together. How long had you been having the discussion of wanting to do something? What was the first idea you had?

VS: I do a lot of solo shows and I had an idea to do a one-person show inside an old video store. I think what excited me was the idea of what these tapes had witnessed and someone taking you into their personal connections and the little moments of significance that are tangled into all these objects. I love collaborating with Mitchell, and he had worked at video stores before (he’s an enormous film buff) and has also always wanted to pay respect somehow to what video stores meant to him. We both had this emotional pull to the space. We began with the question, “what have these tapes witnessed?” and what could they tell us about the people who once held them, and cared about them, and shared them and exchanged them.

When we did our initial Kick And Push workshop the question was, “how can we tell the story of one couple’s relationship in six video rentals?” And that kind of lead into this almost-treasure hunt. I don’t know if when you were a kid you ever did treasure hunts with your friends but I always loved the idea of searching for something, so that was also a thematic interest.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

MR: Is this the sort of thing you want to keep doing more of or are you inspired to go back to something simpler?

VS: I love storytelling so it’s been a really exciting experiment to see how puzzles and stories speak to each other. I’m hoping it’s made my writing stronger. I’m excited to remove that puzzle component and see what influence that has had on my impulses creatively. [laughs] What a vague answer… I don’t know!

MR: That’s fine. You’re in the middle of it!

VS: It’s funny, I’ve been acting in a couple of film and TV projects this summer and I was always so nervous to do those things (and I still am sometimes). But I would depart from being this puzzle-creator, where I felt like I was doing seven different tasks, and then I would show up to set and say lines and I’d be like, “This is a single task. I have nothing to complain about”, so I don’t know it probably has been good.

MR: It’s definitely a testament to stepping out of your comfort zone and the perspective you gain afterwards.

VS: Mhm. I think Mitchell Cushman is such a talented person and he really doesn’t hesitate to do something. I really admire that. Some people are like, “I’m not sure, let’s not do it.” And he’s like, “Well let’s find out if it’ll work and let’s do it.” And I really hope that that’s rubbed off on me a little bit. It really is the only way to do something, I think. Because there’s always going to be doubt and uncertainty.

MR: I’d love to know how you get through creative blocks. I’m asking this a bit from a personal place, as well, since I feel like I’ve been stuck for like three months, and I find it so helpful to hear from other people what they do in that case. What do you do?

VS: Sure! I think it depends on the nature of “the stuck”. I mean, I can answer your question, but I’m also just interested in why you feel stuck?

I’m realizing I’m a really sensitive person. I feel like it’s actually a good thing a lot of the time. I feel that people like me, we can be very perceptive and can detect impulses in ourselves and sometimes follow those but I think the flip side is that it’s easy for our voices to feel muted when we’re around a lot of noise. So I find a lot of the times when I’ve been stuck I feel the part of me that is really certain and honest is a little bit obstructed and usually I think it’s because (whether I’m realizing it or not) I’m paying a lot of attention to the voices and impulses and noises and ideas surrounding me and it’s cutting me off from that genuine current that is open and flowing.

I find (and I don’t know if there’s a solution for it) that I really have to get on my own side again. Sometimes it’s not gonna happen the way that I think. I might need to stay up really late until four in the morning and watch old episodes of a bad show and then, like, go for a walk and eat a weird candy that reminds me of someone I had a crush on when I was eight and maybe that will make me feel more like myself and sort of collapse those obstructions that get in the way. I feel like connecting to joy is important. And more and more just really embracing how you do things. Because everybody does things differently and sometimes while working closely with other creative people, it can be tempting to try and mimic or participate in their rhythms when really your rhythms might be a little different.

It takes an effort to cultivate a habit of checking in with myself and trying to make sure that those pathways of creativity are as unobstructed as possible, but whenever I do I’m always so glad, you know? You really feel this relief. I really think one of the best feelings in the world is when you feel like yourself. When I’m talking to somebody and I’m like, “this is how we talk!” and it’s so good and easy, you know? Versus when you’re having a conversation and it’s taut and your cheeks hurt and you’re hearing yourself and you’re like, “what am I even saying?” And the gift or luxury or whatever you want to call it, of being creators is that we’re asked to return to our own voice – can you just believe in it and love it and spend time on it and see where it takes you? That’s my bread and butter. That’s the biggest joy to me. And it’s hard but if I continue to cultivate a practice that supports it then I feel like I’ll be okay.

MR: Oh yeah, that really hit me. That’s definitely it.

VS: I don’t know… It’s so funny how the things we tell other people are often the things we need to hear. Or the things we make are often the things we need to witness.

MR: My other question for you was going to be how do you tap into your honesty, but the other question I asked you brought us right into that.

VS: I’m so glad!

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

MR: The last question I have is based off how you said earlier that you write to heal something in yourself or tap into something in yourself- was there something with The Tape Escape that you were healing or tapping into?

VS: Yes. When I was twenty-two I used to go to this acting class and there was this boy who would drive me home from acting class and we both were these like frightened human beings who loved stories and believed that movies were your guides in your life and he had seen every movie. He was a very nervous, cripplingly shy person. But it was almost like he had every movie in his coat pocket, and when he talked about them, they were his strength. I just have this memory of this time when we’re these two friends, driving home from our class together, and we were afraid of the world and we felt uncertain and lost and confused and like we didn’t belong anywhere but then we would talk about our favourite movies and we would imitate our favourite scenes from stupid comedies and we would laugh and it would be this really special time, and that’s gone now. He actually had a license plate, MOVIE MAN, and in initial phases of this project I wanted to call it that. I wanted this to almost be like a love letter to a friend. We found each other when we were both very lost and kind of used movies to feel okay. I feel like that is at the seed of the project for me.

MR: Has he seen it?

VS: We’re not really in touch anymore. But it feels like an extension of moments in your past that were special and you didn’t even maybe realize they were special at the time. And now they’re gone, kind of like how video stores are gone. I don’t know, I feel like just being in the store and letting yourself be drawn to certain tapes draws me closer to the people that I miss. I feel like for me that has been an emotional centre for what’s inspired this.

MR: Do you have any tips for audiences to maximize their experience at The Tape Escape?

VS: I think it’s really fun to come with another person or a group of people that you know. It’s really exciting to see people that know each other tackling these puzzles together. And do it with someone that you like (you also see tensions run high when people can’t solve puzzles). It’s also really fun to do two back to back. And to make an evening of it. We’ve had people come and they’ve rented out an hour and it becomes more of an evening, and a fun social event.


The Tape Escape

Who:
An Outside the March Experience
In Association with David Versus Goliath
Creative Team
Co-creators: Vanessa Smythe, Mitchell Cushman and Nick Bottomley
Production Designers: Anahita Dehbonehie and Nick Blais
Dramaturg: Griffin McInnes*
Assistant Video and Puzzle Designer: Allie Marshall**
Assistant Production Designers: Hans Krause, Julia Howman and Edith Nataprawira
Creative Technologist: Daniel Oulton
Sounds Designer: Bram Gielen
Interstitial Sound Designers: Christo Graham and Tucker Bottomley
Head painter: Edith Nataprawira
Head Carpenter: Andrew Chute
Escape Artists: Kayla Chaterji, Daniel Halpern, Madeleine Jung-Grennan and Bryanna Blackwell
Model Builder – Bryanna Blackwell

What:
Most video stores let you take the movies home. But at THE TAPE ESCAPE, the rentals happen to you, pulling you deep inside its collection of thousands of VHS Tapes. Disappear back into 1999 with this love-letter to the lost art of browsing. See if you can escape into (and out of) some of your favourite movies by selecting from our collection of “in store rentals”.

Where:
480 Bloor Street West
(former home of Queen Video)

When:
On now and extended until August 11th.

Tickets:
outsidethemarch.ca

Connect:
Vanessa Smythe – @vsmythe
Outside the March – @OutsideTheMarch

“And the Winner Is…” The 2019 Dora Mavor Moore Award Recipient List


GENERAL THEATRE DIVISION  


2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Production

General Theatre

School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play

Obsidian Theatre in association with Nightwood Theatre

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding New Play

General Theatre

Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman

Guarded Girls

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Direction

General Theatre

Nina Lee Aquino

School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role

General Theatre

Virgilia Griffith

Harlem Duet

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role

General Theatre

Amaka Umeh

The Wolves

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design

General Theatre

Scenic Design: Ken MacKenzie

The Royale

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Costume Design

General Theatre

Gillian Gallow

Orlando

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Lighting Design

General Theatre

Michelle Ramsay

The Royale

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Sound Design/Composition

General Theatre

Thomas Ryder Payne

The Royale

 


INDEPENDENT THEATRE DIVISION


2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Production

Independent Theatre

The Runner

Human Cargo with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding New Play

Independent Theatre

Christopher Morris

The Runner

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Direction

Independent Theatre

Daniel Brooks

The Runner

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance of an Individual

Independent Theatre

Augusto Bitter

CHICHO

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble

Independent Theatre

Ensemble of The Wonder Pageant

Coal Mine Theatre

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design

Independent Theatre

Scenic Design: Anahita Dehbonehie

Hand to God

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Costume Design

Independent Theatre

Melanie McNeill

Space Opera Zero!

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Lighting Design

Independent Theatre

Patrick Lavender

The Nether

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Sound Design/Composition

Independent Theatre

Ben McCarthy

The Scavenger’s Daughter


MUSICAL THEATRE DIVISION


2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Production

Musical Theatre

Next to Normal

The Musical Stage Company presented by David Mirvish

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding New Musical

Musical Theatre

Writer: Sarah Wilson, Mike Ross; Composer: Mike Ross

Rose

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Musical Direction

Musical Theatre

Chris Barillaro

Kiss of the Spider Woman

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Original Choreography

Musical Theatre

Kerry Gage   

Mary Poppins

 

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role

Musical Theatre

Ma-Anne Dionisio  

Next to Normal

 

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role

Musical Theatre

Peter Fernandes     

Rose

 

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design

Musical Theatre

Scenic Design: Lorenzo Savoini

Rose

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Costume Design

Musical Theatre

Anna Treusch

Under the Stairs

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Lighting Design

Musical Theatre

Japhy Weiderman

Dear Evan Hansen


OPERA DIVISION


2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Production

Opera

Eugene Onegin

Canadian Opera Company

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding New Opera

Opera

Writer: Daniel MacIvor; Composer: Rufus Wainwright

Hadrian

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Direction

Opera

Robert Carsen

Eugene Onegin

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Musical Direction

Opera

Topher Mokrzewski

Kopernikus

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance of an Individual

Opera

Gerald Finley

Otello

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble

Opera

Ensemble of Kopernikus

Against the Grain Theatre

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design

Opera

Scenic Design: Michael Levine

Eugene Onegin

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Costume Design

Opera

Michael Levine

Eugene Onegin

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Lighting Design

Opera

Christine Binder, based on the original design by Jean Kalman

Eugene Onegin

 


THEATRE FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES DIVISION


2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Production

Theatre for Young Audiences

New Owner

Harbourfront’s Junior Festival presents The Last Great Hunt

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding New Play

Theatre for Young Audiences

Makambe K Simamba

Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Direction

Theatre for Young Audiences

Chanda Gibson

Les Zinspirés: L’âge de raison

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance of an Individual

Theatre for Young Audiences

Makambe K Simamba

Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble

Theatre for Young Audiences

Ensemble of Les Zinspirés: L’âge de raison

Théâtre français de Toronto

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Achievement in Design

Theatre for Young Audiences

Scenic Design: Anahita Dehbonehie

The Little Prince: Reimagined


DANCE DIVISION


2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Production

Dance

Blood Tides

DanceWorks / Kaha:wi Dance Theatre

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Original Choreography

Dance

Jera Wolfe

Trace

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance of an Individual

Dance

Andrea Nann

A Crazy Kind of Hope (All of Our Dreaming)

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble

Dance

Ensemble of Blood Tides

DanceWorks / Kaha:wi Dance Theatre

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Sound Design/Composition

Dance

Eliot Britton

Trace

2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD
Outstanding Lighting Design

Dance

Ėtienne Boucher

Frame by Frame


TOURING DIVISION


2019 DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARD

Outstanding Touring Production

Grand Finale

A Hofesh Shechter Company production presented by Canadian Stage

 

Nominations Announced for the 40th Anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards

Congratulations to all of the nominees for the Dora Awards 2019! And thank you to everyone for an incredible season of the arts. We can’t wait to see what 19/20 brings.

– ITGR


Nominations Announced for
40th Anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards
!

Soulpepper Theatre tops General Theatre Division with 14 nominations.

The Musical Stage Company & Young People’s Theatre tie in Musical Theatre Division with 14 nods each.

Coal Mine Theatre front runner in Independent Theatre Division with 10 noms.

Canadian Opera Company leads in Opera Division with 33 nods.

DanceWorks flies highest with 13 taps in Dance Division. 

Solar Stage heads Theatre for Young Audiences Division with 10 noms.

Toronto (May 28, 2019) – At a press conference held May 28 in the Davies Takacs Lobby of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) announced 282 nominations for the 40th Anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards, which recognize excellence in professional theatre, dance and opera in Toronto. On Tuesday, June 25 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 49 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the Silver Ticket Award and the Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award will be presented.

As TAPA announced in April of 2018, all performance categories for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards for the 2018-19 season are gender neutral. All former binary male and female titles have been replaced with gender inclusive designations as applicable to “Outstanding Performance” categories. Notably, the Doras are the first professional theatre, dance and opera awards show in Canada to adopt a fully gender-inclusive policy. Other changes to the Dora Awards include new stand-alone Divisions for Musical Theatre, Opera and Touring.

For the 2018-2019 season, running May 2018 to May 2019, 108 producing companies registered 219 eligible productions. Below are some nomination highlights.

GENERAL THEATRE DIVISION:

In the General Theatre Division, Soulpepper Theatre Company heads the nominations list with 14 taps over 5 productions. Soulpepper also earns 11 nominations in the Musical Theatre Division, bringing its grand total to 25.

Soulpepper’s The Royale garners 7 nods including Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction for Guillermo Verdecchia, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for both Christef Desir and Sabryn Rock, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design for Ken MacKenzie, Outstanding Lighting Design for Michelle Ramsay and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition for Thomas Ryder Payne. Soulpepper’s Orlando sees 4 nods: Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role for Sarah Afful, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for Alex McCooeye, Outstanding Costume Design for Gillian Gallow and Outstanding Lighting Design for Lorenzo Savoini. Single taps go to The Virgin Trial for Outstanding New Play to Kate Hennig, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Lovell Adams-Gray and Wedding at Aulis for Outstanding Costume Design to Michelle Tracey.

Crow’s Theatre earns second spot overall in the Division with 10 nominations over 4 productions, 6 of them for Middletown: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction for Meg Roe, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role for Gray Powell, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for Jeff Meadows, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design for Camellia Koo and Outstanding Lighting Design for Kevin Lamotte. The Wolves, produced by The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre, sees Amaka Umeh earn a tap for Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role and Sarah Doucet one for Outstanding Costume Design. Kimberly Purtell earns a nod for Outstanding Lighting Design for We Are Not Alone and Julie Fox gets one for Tartuffe (in a co-presentation with Canadian Stage).

Obsidian Theatre follows with 9 nods over 2 productions, 7 of them for School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, tying Soulpepper’s The Royale for top spot for a production in the General Theatre Division. Obsidian also earns 1 nomination in the Independent Theatre Division for a grand total of 10 nods. School Girls taps are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction for Nina Lee Aquino, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role for Natasha Mumba, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for Bria McLaughlin, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design for Rachel Forbes, Outstanding Costume Design for Joanna Yu and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition for Reza Jacobs. Obsidian’s Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape sees nods for Outstanding Direction to Mumbi Tindyebwa and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition to DJ L’Oqenz.

Other Outstanding Production taps in the General Theatre Division go to bug (Luminato) and Secret Life of a Mother (The Theatre Centre), both of which earn 4 taps in total including Outstanding New Play for Yolanda Bonnell and Hannah Moscovitch, respectively. Bonnell is also up for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role in bug while Maev Beaty is nominated for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role for Secret Life of a Mother. Luminato’s total nomination count is 5: 4 in General Theatre and 1 in Touring, while the Theatre Centre’s grand total is 6 including 2 in the Independent Theatre Division.

Other Outstanding New Play nominees are Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman for Tarragon Theatre’s Guarded Girls (which also earns Vivien Endicott-Douglas a nod for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role) and the team of Lisa Karen Cox, Maggie Huculak, Raha Javanfar, Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava and Cheyenne Scott for Now You See Her, a Quote Unquote Collective, Nightwood Theatre and Why Not Theatre co-production.

Additional Tarragon nods include Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Virgilia Griffith for Harlem Duet, which also sees Allen Booth earn an Outstanding Sound Design/Composition tap. Stephanie MacDonald earns a tap for Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for New Magic Valley Fun Town, bringing Tarragon’s total nominations to 5.

Other notable taps include, for Canadian Stage, Outstanding Direction to Brendan Healy for Every Brilliant Thing, and Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to Jenny Young for Romeo and Juliet. Canadian Stage’s total count in General Theatre is 3 plus 3 in Touring for a total of 6. 

MUSICAL THEATRE DIVISION:

In the Musical Theatre Division, The Musical Stage Company and Young People’s Theatre (YPT) tie in leading the pack with 14 nods each, for two productions each. Soulpepper rounds up 11 nods for its production of Rose, and David Mirvish tallies in at 9 for Dear Evan Hansen.

The Musical Stage Company’s nods comprise 10 for Next to Normal and 4 for Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life, co-produced with Outside the March.

Next to Normal nominations are Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction to the team of Philip Akin and Tracey Flye, Outstanding Musical Direction to Lily Ling, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to each of Ma-Anne Dionisio and Stephanie Sy, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to both Brandon Antonio and Louise Pitre, Outstanding Lighting Design and Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Steve Lucas and Outstanding Costume Design to Alex Amini.

Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life nabs nods for Outstanding New Musical to Anika Johnson and Britta Johnson, Outstanding Original Choreography to Barbara Johnston, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Bruce Dow and Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to Peter Deiwick.

Young People’s Theatre’s 14 nods in this division are comprised of 9 for Mary Poppins and 5 for Under the Stairs. With an additional 3 taps in the Theatre for Young Audiences Division, YPT’s total nomination haul is 17.

Mary Poppins earns taps for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction to Thom Allison, Outstanding Musical Direction to Wayne Gwillim, Outstanding Original Choreography to Kerry Gage, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Vanessa Sears, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to Jade Repeta, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Brandon Kleiman, Outstanding Costume Design to Bill Layton and Outstanding Lighting Design to Jason Hand.

Under the Stairs earns nods for Outstanding New Musical to writer Kevin Dyer and composer Reza Jacobs, Outstanding Original Choreography to Viv Moore, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Teresa Przybylski, Outstanding Costume Design to Anna Treusch and Outstanding Lighting Design to Michelle Ramsay.

The 11 nominations to Soulpepper Theatre Company for Rose are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding New Musical to writer Sarah Wilson and composer Mike Ross, Outstanding Musical Direction to Mike Ross, Outstanding Direction to Gregory Prest, Outstanding Original Choreography to Monica Dottor, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Hailey Gillis, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to each of Peter Fernandes and Sabryn Rock, Outstanding Lighting Design and Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Lorenzo Savoini and Outstanding Costume Design to Alexandra Lord.

The David Mirvish production of Dear Evan Hansen sees nominations for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction to Michael Greif, Outstanding Musical Direction to Elizabeth Baird, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Robert Markus, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to each of Allessandro Constantini and Sean Patrick Dolan, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to the team of David Korins and Peter Nigrini, Outstanding Costume Design to Emily Rebholz and Outstanding Lighting Design to Japhy Weideman.

Other notable nods in the Musical Theatre Division go to Eclipse Theatre Company for its presentation of Kiss of the Spider Woman which earns a total of 6 nominations: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction to Evan Tsitsias, Outstanding Musical Direction to Chris Barillaro, Outstanding Original Choreography to Sara-Jeanne Hosie, and Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to each of Kawa Ada and Tracy Michailidis.

INDEPENDENT THEATRE DIVISION:

In the Independent Theatre Division, Coal Mine Theatre takes the lead with 10 nominations, 5 of them in co-production with Studio 180 Theatre for The Nether and the others spread out over three productions. Human Cargo and Saga Collectif tie for second spot with 7 hits each, both for a single production: respectively, The Runner and Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land), making each the leading production in this division. Native Earth Performing Arts follows closely with 6 nods: 4 for Isitwendam and 2 for After the Fire in a co-production with The Theatre Centre.

Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180 Theatre’s The Nether nods are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble to Katherine Cullen, Hannah Levinson, Mark McGrinder, Robert Persichini and David Storch, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Patrick Lavender and Nick Bottomley, Outstanding Lighting Design to Patrick Lavender and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition to Richard Feren.

Coal Mine scores 3 hits with Hand to God: Outstanding Direction to the team of Mitchell Cushman and Marcus Jamin, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Frank Cox-O’Connell and Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Anahita Dehbonehie.

Coal Mine’s The Father earns Eric Peterson a nod for Outstanding Performance of an Individual while The Wonder Pageant sees Ron Pederson, Kayla Lorette, Matt Baram, Jan Carauna, Paloma Nunez, Waylen Miki and Kris Siddiqi nominated for Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble.

Human Cargo’s 7 taps for The Runner are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding New Play to Christopher Morris, Outstanding Direction to Daniel Brooks, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Gord Rand, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Gillian Gallow, Outstanding Lighting Design to Bonnie Beecher and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition to Alexander MacSween.

The Saga Collectif 7 nods for Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land) are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding New Play to Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho), Outstanding Direction to Jonathan Seinen, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Virgilia Griffith, Outstanding Costume Design to Christine Urquhart, Outstanding Lighting Design to Jareth Li and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition to Heidi Chan.

The Native Earth Performing Arts 4 nods for Isitwendam are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding New Play to Meegwun Fairbrother, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Meegwun Fairbrother and Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to the team of Hans Saefkow and Andy Moro with Melissa Joakim. After the Fire scores taps for Outstanding New Play to Matthew MacKenzie and Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble to Sheldon Elter, Jesse Gervais, Kaitlyn Riordan and Louise Lambert.

Other notable nods in this division include Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Augusto Bitter for Theatre Passe Muraille’s CHICHO, Outstanding Direction to Erin Brubacher for Generous Friend’s Noor and to Leora Morris for PARADIGM productionsThe Philosopher’s Wife, and Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Catherine Fitch for Leroy Street Theatre’s Her Inside Life and to Mattie Driscoll for Cue6 Theatre’s Dry Land.

As well, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble nods go to ARC for Human Animals, DopoLavoro Teatrale for If on a Christmas Night, Obsidian Theatre for Judas Noir, Aluna Theatre for Stones and Why Not Theatre for Wring the Roses. 

OPERA DIVISION:

In the Opera Division, the Canadian Opera Company’s (COC) productions lead with a total of 33 nominations over six productions, making the COC the leader in overall nominations as well. The COC’s Otello earns 8 taps, the most for a production in the Opera Division. The COC’s Otello, Eugene Onegin, Hadrian and La Bohème all vie for Outstanding Production, as does Against the Grain Theatre’s Kopernikus which, along with Eugene Onegin and Hadrian, sees a total of 7 nods and earns Against the Grain second spot in the Opera Division.

Hadrian also receives a nod for Outstanding New Opera for writer Daniel MacIvor and composer Rufus Wainwright as does Hook Up, a Tapestry Opera production in partnership with Theatre Passe Muraille, for writer Julie Tepperman and composer Chris Thornborrow as well as the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s The Monkiest King for writer Marjorie Chan and composer Alice Ping Yee Ho.

Otello garners the following additional hits: Outstanding Direction to David Alden, Outstanding Musical Direction to Johannes Debus (who also earns the same for the COC’s Elektra and Eugene Onegin), Outstanding Performance of an Individual to both Gerald Finley and Tamara Wilson, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design and Outstanding Costume Design to Jon Morrell, and Outstanding Lighting Design to Andrew Cutbush.

Additional Outstanding Direction nods go to the team of Joel Ivany and Matjash Mrozewski for Kopernikus, John Caird for La Bohème, Robert Carsen for Eugene Onegin and Jessica Derventzis for Opera 5’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Outstanding Musical Direction nods also go to Bernard Labadie for the COC’s Cosi fan tutte and to Topher Mokrzewski for Kopernikus.

Joining the race for Outstanding Performance of an Individual are Ambur Braid for Hadrian, Angel Blue for La Bohème, Christine Goerke for Elektra, Thomas Hampson for Hadrian and Tracy Dahl for Cosi fan tutte. Johnathon Kirby wades in for his role in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

As well, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble nods go to Cosi fan tutte and Eugene Onegin as well as Kopernikus, Opera 5’s Open Chambers: Hindemith & Shostakovich, along with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s The Monkiest King and The Snow Queen. 

DANCE DIVISION:

In the Dance Division, DanceWorks hits top spot with 13 nominations including 5 for Blood Tides (DanceWorks / Kaha:wi Dance Theatre), 5 for No Woman’s Land (DanceWorks / Jaberi Dance Theatre) and 3 for The art of degeneration (DanceWorks / Louis Laberge-Côté). All of them are up for Outstanding Production as well as Outstanding Original Choreography: Roshanak Jaberi for No Woman’s Land, Louis Laberge-Côté for The art of degeneration and Santee Smith with Jahra Wasasala and Marina Acevedo for Blood Tides. Additionally, Louis Laberge-Côté is tapped for Outstanding Performance of an Individual while Blood Tides and No Woman’s Land are up for Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble.

The National Ballet of Canada dances into the runner-up slot with 7 nods including 5 for Frame by Frame: Outstanding Production, Guillaume Côté for Outstanding Original Choreography, Jack Bertinshaw for Outstanding Performance of an Individual, Antoine Bédard for Outstanding Sound Design/Composition and Étienne Boucher for Outstanding Lighting Design. Hannah Fischer vies as well for Outstanding Performance of an Individual for Paz de la Jolla while Anna Karenina earns a nod for Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble.

Third place goes to Red Sky Performance with 4 taps, all for Trace: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Original Choreography for Jera Wolfe, Outstanding Sound Design/Composition for Eliot Britton and Outstanding Lighting Design for Alexis Bowles.

Additional Outstanding Performance of an Individual nods go to Dreamwalker Dance Company’s Andrea Nann, nominated twice for her company’s All of Our Dreaming program: once for the piece A Crazy Kind of Hope and the other for In a Landscape. Evelyn Hart and Johanna Bergfelt are also nominated for the same for Citadel + Compagnie’s Four Old Legs and SKOW, respectively. José Maldonado earns a tap in this category as well for Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company’s El Caudal Que Yo Tengos from its show Impulso.

Joining the Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble race are Dreamwalker Dance Company for Dual Light: Brendan and Yuichiro (from All of Our Dreaming), Esie Mensah Creations for Shades, Peggy Baker Dance Projects for who we are in the dark and Toronto Dance Theatre with two entries: Slow Dance and This Shape, We Are In. 

THEATRE FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES DIVISION:

The Theatre for Young Audiences Division sees Solar Stage lead the pack with 10 nods over four productions followed by Théâtre français de Toronto and Why Not Theatre in a tie with 5 each, both for one production. Why Not Theatre’s Eraser and Théâtre français de Toronto’s Les Zinspirés: L’âge de raison each come out on top with the most nominations for a production in this Division. (With 3 in General Theatre and 1 in the Independent Theatre Division, Why Not’s total nods come to 9.)

Eraser sees taps for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction for the duo of Bilal Baig and Sadie Epstein-Fine, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble, Outstanding Achievement in Design for Maddie Bautista (sound design) and Outstanding New Play for the team of Bilal Baig, Sadie Epstein-Fine with Christol Bryan, Marina Gomes, Yousef Kadoura, Tijiki Morris, Anthony Perpuse and Nathan Redburn.

Les Zinspirés: L’âge de raison scores nods for Outstanding Direction for Chanda Gibson, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble, Outstanding Achievement in Design to each of Simon Rossiter (lighting design) and Glenn Davidson (scenic design) and Outstanding New Play for the team of Olivia Cyr, Mariam Guira, Errine Jean Charles, Cathlin Jiaqi Han and Abigail Morin; Coached by: Krystel Descary, François Macdonald, Marie-Claire Marcotte, Pierre Simpson and Donald Woo.

Other Outstanding Production nods go to Harbourfront Centre for both We Are All Treaty People and New Owner as well as to the Wee Festival’s KNOCK! and Young People’s Theatre’s The 26 Letter Dance.

Both Shakespeare in Action’s Suddenly Shakespeare and Puzzle Piece’s The Little Prince: Reimagined garner 4 hits: Suddenly Shakespeare’s are Outstanding Direction to Michael Kelly plus 3 taps for Outstanding Performance of an Individual to each of Chris George, Alexandra Montagnese and Mussie Solomon; while Puzzle Piece’s are Outstanding New Play to Richard Lam, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to each of Kira Hall and Richard Lam, and Outstanding Achievement in Design to Anahita Dehbonehie (scenic design).

Additional taps for both Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance of an Individual go to Makambe K Simamba for b current performing arts Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers which also sees Donna-Michelle St. Bernard earn a nod for Outstanding Direction for a total of 3 hits for the show.

Two Solar Stage shows also earn 3 nods apiece: Ugly Duckthing nods include Marty Stelnick for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Achievement in Design (puppetry design) as well as Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble; Treasure Island gets on board with Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble, Outstanding Performance of an Individual for Faly Mevamanana and Outstanding Achievement in Design for Marysia Bucholc (scenic design). Other notable Solar Stage nods include Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble for A Merry Munsch Pyjama Party! with the duo of Dahlia Katz and M. John Kennedy up for Outstanding Direction.

Other notable nods include Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Morgan St. Onge for Roseneath Theatre’s Head à Tête, and Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble for both the WeeFestival’s Tweet Tweet and Young People’s Theatre’s Antigone: . 

TOURING DIVISION:

Canadian Stage leads in the Outstanding Touring Production award race with 3 out of the 5 nominations: Hofesh Shechter Company’s Grand Finale, Akram Khan Company’s XENOS and Kidd Pivot’s Revisor. Also in the ring are Luminato with Teac Damsa’s Swan Lake / Loch na hEala and Aluna Theatre with Wilson Pico’s Los Materiales de la Ira y el Amor presented at its RUTAS International Multi-Arts Festival. (This award will be given out in advance at a special invitation-only reception honouring all the nominees.)

***

See the accompanying complete list of nominees. The full list is also available online at tapa.ca as of 1pm today. Of note, the following and various designers all received 3 nominations: Gillian Gallow, Jason Hand, Thomas Ryder Payne and Lorenzo Savoini.

Twitter – @doraawards : #DoraAwards   #DORAS2019                #theatreTO

SPECIAL PRIZE ANNOUNCED:

For the fifth year in a row, the Pat and Tony Adams Freedom Fund for the Arts will provide a cash prize of $1,000 each to the recipients of Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role in the General Theatre Division and Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role in the General Theatre Division

ANCILLARY AWARDS PRESENTED:

In addition, the recipients of the Pauline McGibbon Award, George Luscombe Mentorship Award and Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award were bestowed at the press conference.

The recipient of the 2019 Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award is the extraordinarily talented arts producer Sherrie Johnson who was recently appointed Executive Director for Crow’s Theatre after serving as Executive Producer at Canadian Stage for six years. The award recognizes the important work of theatre, dance and opera administrators and is named after the founders of Toronto’s Theatrebooks (1975 to its closure in 2014). The winner receives a plaque and a cheque for $1,000 through the generous sponsorship of the late Elizabeth Comper. Recipients of the LMJH Award have at least 10 years of demonstrated commitment to the performing arts, in addition to having made an impact on the industry in Toronto.

The recipient of the George Luscombe Mentorship Award is Jacquie P.A. Thomas, founding Artistic Director of Theatre Gargantua since 1992. Named in honour of Toronto Workshop Productions’ revolutionary theatre founder and artistic director, the award is administered by TAPA and comes with original artwork by Theo Dimson, a copy of the book Conversations with George Luscombe: Steven Bush in conversation with the Canadian Theatre visionary and a $500 prize. Ms. Thomas has maintained an unwavering commitment to producing original Canadian theatre and to the development and support of the artist, including young and emerging artists. A pioneer of Canadian multi-disciplinary devised theatre, she has created numerous socially relevant, award-winning works. This year, Jacquie P.A. Thomas celebrates her 27th season as the Artistic Director of Theatre Gargantua, one of the longest serving female Artistic Directors in the country.

Toronto-based scenic artist Ksenia Ivanova is the recipient of the 2019 Pauline McGibbon Award, created in honour of former Lieutenant Governor Pauline McGibbon for her support and patronage of the arts. It includes a $7,000 prize and a medal designed by Dora de Pédery-Hunt. The award is presented to an Ontario-resident professional artist in the early stages of their career who displays unique talent and has the potential for excellence. Every three years, the award goes to a designer, then to a director, and the third year to a production craftsperson. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Kesia moved to Canada in 2010 and enrolled in Humber College’s Theatre Production program. Since graduating in 2013, she has contributed scenic work to more than 100 productions across Ontario for companies such as Tarragon Theatre, the Stratford Festival, Soulpepper, Crow’s Theatre, Factory Theatre and Coal Mine Theatre. Though still in the early stages of her career, she has embraced her role as a teacher and mentor, leading her teams with a commitment to creativity that will ensure a strong next generation of theatre creators.

JON KAPLAN AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD VOTE:

TAPA’s third annual Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award in honour of the beloved, long-time NOW Magazine theatre critic will be given out at the Dora Awards show and ceremony on June 25. The Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award is co-sponsored for the third year in a row by NOW Magazine and Yonge-Dundas Square. The public is invited to choose a winner and vote for their favourite show from the list of nominees for Outstanding Production – or they can choose their own! Theatre, dance and opera fans can cast their votes online at at nowtoronto.com/jonkaplan-audience-choice-award May 31 at noon through to June 19 at 12 midnight. …The winner receives a special plaque from NOW Magazine.

***

40th ANNIVERSARY DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARDS:

On Tuesday, June 25 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 49 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the Silver Ticket Award and the Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award will be presented. Fresh from touring his new solo show BOOMX, the incomparable Canadian theatre artist Rick Miller hosts this very special celebratory evening. A director, actor, comedian, musician and playwright, Mr. Miller is well-known across the country for his widely acclaimed one-man shows that include MacHomer, BOOM and Bigger Than Jesus (for which he won a 2006 Outstanding Performance Dora). The 40th Anniversary Dora Awards are penned by actor and writer Diane Flacks, currently starring in the title role of Nathan the Wise at the Stratford Festival, and directed by Ed Roy, recipient of Pauline McGibbon and Dora Awards for directing.

Tickets go on sale May 28 through the Sony Centre Box Office at 1 Front Street East or call 416.368.6161 x 1 or book online at the Ticketmaster website: https://www.ticketmaster.ca/event/100056B7E690656E 

In honour of the 40th Anniversary of the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, an Early Bird special price is being offered: Just $40 for both the Awards Show and After-Party! The Early Bird offer expires on Tuesday June 11 at 5pm, after which regular ticket prices will be in effect.

After June 11 at 5pm, ticket prices are:

Regular Tickets (Awards Show & After-Party) are $90.00 (+HST & Ticketmaster fees)

Student, Senior and Artsworker Tickets (Awards Show & After-Party) are $70 (+HST & Ticketmaster fees)
Pre-Show VIP Reception Tickets (includes Awards Show & After-Party) are $190 (these are only available by emailing Scott Dermody at scottd@tapa.ca to reserve)
After-Party ONLY Tickets (purchase at the door beginning 10:30pm) are $20.


40th Anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards

– Toronto’s Theatre, Dance and Opera Awards –

Tuesday June 25, 2019

Hosted by the multi-talented, multi-award-winning Rick Miller

Written by Diane Flacks, Directed by Edward Roy,

Musical Direction by Evelyne Datl, Lighting and Production Design by Andrea Lundy, Produced by Jacoba Knaapen

At the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto, ON M5E 1B2

6:00pm-7:00pm Pre-Show VIP Cocktail Reception in the Lower Lobby of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

7:30pm Dora Mavor Moore Awards Show in the Sony Centre

10:30pm After-Party in and around the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

TICKETS ON SALE May 28, 2019

For both Early Bird and Regular tickets, visit the Sony Centre Box Office at 1 Front Street East

or call 416.368.6161 x 1 or book online at https://www.ticketmaster.ca/event/100056B7E690656E 

EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT!
Awards Show & After-Party
$40 for the 40th
Offer expires Tuesday, June 11, 5:00pm

Regular Tickets (Awards Show & After-Party): $90.00 (+HST & Ticketmaster fees)

Student, Senior, Artsworker Tickets (Awards Show & After-Party): $70 (+HST & Ticketmaster fees)

Pre-Show VIP Reception Tickets (includes Awards Show & After-Party): $190
(email Scott Dermody at scottd@tapa.ca to reserve)

After-Party ONLY Tickets (purchase at the door beginning 10:30pm): $20

For information visit http://tapa.ca
Twitter: @doraawards   #DoraAwards #DORAS2019 #theatreTO

“Building on Your Work Over Time, Creating from a Place of Rage & How We Move Forward” In Conversation with Playwright Erin Shields & Director Andrea Donaldson on BEAUTIFUL MAN

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Originally performed as part of the SummerWorks Festival in 2015, Beautiful Man, written by Erin Shields, is taking on a new life at Factory Theatre, on stage now until May 26th. This feminist comedy, directed by Shield’s long-time collaborator Andrea Donaldson, promises big laughs, but also, provocation – with a narrative presented through the female gaze.

We spoke with Shields and Donaldson about this new iteration of their show, reworking the original script, creating from a place of rage, and what they find most inspiring these days.


Megan Robinson: The show was originally presented in 2015 at SummerWorks, so what was it that prompted this remount?

Andrea Donaldson: After the SummerWorks show we were really excited to find a partner to give it another life. There were some revisions that we were dreaming of, so we reached out to Nina (Lee Aquino – Artistic Director of Factory Theatre) and she was very enthusiastic. She threw it in her season and was quite generous to say, you know, “we want to be involved in the further development of it.” So they gave us a workshop last May, and now here were are. We have a brand new cast, and half of our design team is new, which is really exciting.

Erin Shields: And from a content point of view – 2015 was a very different time than right now in terms of how we’re talking about gender, gender equity, and about representation in film, television and theatre. 2015 was before #metoo. I don’t know that we’re post #metoo, but it’s been interesting for me revisiting the script in terms of that. In thinking, “okay, where are we now in this conversation?” And trying to address that with the revisions.

Ashley Botting, Jesse LaVercombe, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: Why build on this show, as opposed to tackling these questions with a whole new show? Is this show speaking both to 2015 and now?

ES: Everything I make is feminist, so I’m always engaging in my writing with “where are we now and what’s going on and what’s changed.” I don’t want to give too many spoilers away but I wrote a whole other section that is another movement in terms of this play. Part of it was editing and going back in, and some of it is completely new.

AD: And if I can add on, it feels like the impetus to write more came, yes, from responding to the world that changed in four years but in our SummerWorks production we were learning a lot dramaturgically about the piece. In that brief study with an audience, Erin and I were scrutinizing it and looking where energetically it wanted to shift and asking the question of “what next”.

MR: I guess my question is about knowing when a show is done, if there is always inspiration to go further? Was that a question you asked or was it always clear that there was more to say?

ES: When we did the first show it was very fast and furious. I wrote the show in two or three days, and then it was on stage within five months. I think even going in we knew there would be more. It felt like a workshop in front of an audience. It’s a comedy, so trying to figure that out without an audience is really challenging. We knew it wasn’t a final draft. Often when I write a play, it takes anywhere between three and six years for it to get to the stage so you often have cycles of dramaturgy and cycles of workshops or readings. Even the early days, when Andrea and I worked together on Montparnasse, we did it three times. So I think we’ve always understood that for theatre, because it’s a live art, you need that feedback from other people… certainly I do… before I’m willing to say “this is it”. How do you know it’s ever done? That’s a good question.

AD: I feel like this play is now done. I have no question around that.

Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Jesse LaVercombe, Sofia Rodriguez-byJoseph Michael Photography 107

Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Jesse LaVercombe, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: I read that the show was inspired by a sense of rage. Did working on the show allow you to process that rage, and did it make a difference for you? If so, how?

ES: Totally. Many of my plays start from a place of rage. From going, “that’s not fair” or “why is it like this?” I’ve often talked about how this came out of having a residue left in my body every time I watched popular television. I’d come away being like, “Oh, this Game of Thrones show is so great!” Then I’d be like, “Ew, all those women were sexually assaulted and I just watched it cuddling with my husband on the couch.” There’s something so weird about that. Doing this play has absolutely been cathartic. And I often heard the audience members say that after our SummerWorks production too, because it goes pretty far. There’s something I hope that is illuminating about it. I think we already know a lot of these things, but we don’t think deeply about them. We’re just so used to seeing women being raped on television, so we don’t think, “Oh my God, how many raped women have I seen in the last two months?” It’s ridiculous!

MR: What’s on your mind these days? Anything new that’s inspiring you?

ES: I’m thinking about how we move forward now. Especially with this wonderful moment we all experienced a year and a half ago, where we saw all of these giants being toppled in every industry. It felt like a real moment of triumph. It feels like, now, those massive figures have fallen and there are these gaps everywhere. And we’re looking around and thinking, what work do we still have to do, and what world do we all want to live in together? Those are very big questions. I think personally that’s where I’m at, and that’s what I’m working through with my work. And even on subjects of the play – we talked about Game of Thrones so much, and I remember seeing the first few episodes and it was all raping and fucking all the time, and really gratuitous violence against women. And in watching it now, watching this season, it’s so interesting to see how the women are treated has shifted. Even in this massive show, the female characters are super strong – the hero of the penultimate episode is an eighteen-year-old girl. When has that happened? Probably never, except in some young adult literature. But this is the most popular mainstream thing and that is who the hero is. It made me think. It made me wonder if there is change on the horizon.

Ashley Botting, Jesse LaVercombe, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: What is a traditionally male role you want to see a woman play? Since your whole thing is flipping gender roles.

AD: How do I say this… I’m curious to see what are the capabilities of the female roles that aren’t still in reference to a patriarchal perspective. So not just switcheroos. It makes me think of when I directed Romeo and Juliet and I conflated the roles of the Capulets, the mom and dad, into a single mom, and found in that combination the depth of emotional range that was not afforded to Mama Capulet. And seeing that embodied, seeing her move through that, felt like the most satisfying role, in a way, because we don’t get to see a mom who is violent to her daughter and who has really high standards for her daughter. It’s not only seeing women in particular roles, but seeing unexpected ways of embodying those roles that, especially in TV and film, are rarely afforded to women.

MR: What was a theatrical experience that made you feel really deeply seen as a female-identifying creator?

ES: I think when I see work done by my peers and my contemporaries I get really excited. I haven’t seen these plays, but I’m excited by the ambition in the work Susanna Fournier is creating. It’s imaginative, it’s poetic, it’s destructive. It makes me excited that she has been supported and celebrated for this massive endeavour. I want more of that.

AD: What’s coming for me is Rose Napoli’s Lo or Dear Mr. Wells, which Vivien Endicott-Douglas performed in. I find that there’s this great attention that playwrights are bringing to writing younger characters who are having full and complex experiences and kind of damning the critics around what that singular portrayal might be reduced down to. As a young person coming into my own sexual life, I never felt that experience was represented or understood or handled with any kind of care or imagination or sophistication.

Jesse LaVercombe, Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez-by Joseph Michael Photography 326

Jesse LaVercombe, Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: What’s an experience you have had recently that you could fit into your play Beautiful Man?

ES: Everyday! There are so many. The other day I went to meet a friend in a bar just down the street. And both myself and my friend are in our early 40s and the bartender kept calling us girls. And I just felt my rage. He must have been like 26 or 27. I thought to myself, “Should I say something and be like, we’re women?” He was so insistent on making me into a child. It’s a part of the popular language, but I had to ask myself if I wanted to say something and get something going with this dude or did I just want to ignore it and laugh about it with my friend afterward. Which is what I did.

AD: But it cost something.

ES: Yeah.

AD: A couple nights ago after rehearsal, Ashley (Botting), who’s in the cast, called an Uber. We were going to drop her off first and then me. And when the Uber showed up it was a guy, but there was a guy in the front seat as well. So Ashley was like, “Oh there’s someone in here, we didn’t call Uber pool, what’s up?” And the guy goes, “Yeah, he’s my bodyguard.” And Ashley and I were both doing that quiet awkward decision-making together. But we decided, no, we’re fine, we’re capable. So we get into the car and Ashley tries to make a joke about it, that doesn’t land. And we feel like there’s something sketchy going on. You know, we’re in a car with two dudes we don’t know, based on the trust of an app. So we’re kind of trying to perform normality. And then at a certain point, I was just like, “Ash, I’m going to get out with you.” It was just the whole thing of physical safety and trying to be cool, trying to not be scared, like, “I’m fine, I’m tough, I’m capable… people aren’t bad.” But then ultimately going, actually, what if people are bad, you know? That was my most recent physical safety thing.

MR: Right, but also them not helping you feel safe. There’s a world in which you would feel better if those people were conscious of how you feel and did the work to help you out.

AD: Right. So I either have to swallow that or perform that. There’s a cost to that.


Beautiful Man

Who:
A Factory Theatre Production
Written by Erin Shields
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Starring Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofía Rodríguez, Jesse LaVercombe
Set Design by Gillian Gallow
Costume Design by Ming Wong
Lighting Design by Jason Hand
Music and Sound Design by Richard Feren

What:
A scathing satire about the portrayal of women in film and television, three friends take us on a whirlwind tour of an upside-down world where women are the hunters, not the hunted; the heroes, not the victims; the subjects, not the objects, all while gazing at the semi-nude Beautiful Man. You’ll never watch your favourite binge-worthy shows the same way again.

Where:
Factory Theatre – Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street.
Toronto

When:
May 4-26

Tickets: 
factorytheatre.ca

“Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.” A Rapid-Fire Interview with the Women of Shakespeare BASH’d AS YOU LIKE IT

Indie darling Shakespeare BASH’d is gearing-up for their production of As You Like It, just in time for the spring! While the company has always put an emphasis on creating more roles for women in Shakespeare, As You Like It is one of the plays that already has a strong female role at the centre of it (the largest female role in the cannon). The show has, at its core, intelligent, powerful women and deep, important female friendships. The production has taken this a step further by changing a number of additional roles into female characters, adding more female voices to this beautiful story of growth and transformation in the Forest of Arden.

We sat down with the women working to bring this story to life and asked them some rapid fire questions about friendship, Shakespeare, and theatre.

They are from top left to right, then bottom left to right:

Jade Douris (Celia), Olivia Croft (Jacques), Hallie Seline (Rosalind), Hilary Adams (Lord, Wilma, Hymen, Co-Composer), Cara Pantalone (Adam, Corin, Oliver Martext), Lesley Robertson (Touchtone), Aubree Erickson (Oliver), Brittany Kay (Phoebe) & Bailey Green (Associate Director, Not pictured here).


Rapid Fire Questions:

Your female hero:

Aubree, Lesley, Cara, Hilary, Olivia: My Mom

Hallie: Honestly, I am constantly in awe of so many of the hard-working, loving, hilarious, talented, generous, intelligent, boundary-pushing, fierce, boss babes I have around me. So many female heroes. I see you. I am inspired by you. Keep shining.

Jade: AOC!

Brittany: Hallie Seline

Brittany Kay as Phoebe. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

A role in Shakespeare you’d like to see played by a woman:

Lesley, Bailey, Cara: Falstaff

Aubree: Lear or Titus

Olivia: Tybalt would be fun.

Lesley Robertson as Touchstone. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Favourite pop culture/iconic female friendship:

Lesley: Anne and Diana (Anne of Green Gables)

Cara: The Golden Girls

Hallie: I agree with Lesley with Anne & Dianna (Anne of Green Gables), and I add: Cher & Dionne (Clueless), Lorelai & Rory (Gilmore Girls), Carmen, Lena, Tibby Bridget (Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants)… I could really go on…

Jade: Buffy and Willow

Jade Douris as Celia. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Go-to pump up song/song that makes you feel powerful:

Bailey: “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga

Hallie: Pretty much anything by Beyonce, The Spice Girls, Laura Marling, Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco… I could go on (I’m terrible at these “choose one” answers), but for this show, let’s go with “Run the World (Girls)”

Hilary: “Eye of the Tiger”

Brittany: “Feeling Good as Hell” by Lizzo

Hilary Adams: Lord, Wilma, Hymen, Co-Composer. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Best advice you ever received/current mantra:

Lesley: “It’s your Jesus year!” (I’m 33)

Cara: “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anybody else.” … can I get an amen.

Hilary: Love yourself for your mistakes and forgive yourself often. Try to accept your faults, they are part of you, and always try to be a better person, acceptance is a big part of that.

Olivia: Peace in the mind, harmony in the heart, love in every action. Sow and let grow.

Olivia Croft as Jacques. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Favourite Shakespeare quote about women:

Lesley, Bailey, Cara: “Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak” (As You Like It 3:2)

Jade, Hilary, Brittany: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3:2)

Hallie: I’m quite fond of both of those but there’s also SO MANY amazing, fierce quotes about women in As You Like It, like: “Make the doors upon a woman’s wit and it will out at the casement; shut that and ’twill out at the key-hole; stop that, ’twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.”

“You shall never take her without her answer, unless you take her without her tongue.”

Aubree Erickson as Oliver. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Favourite Shakespeare actress (film or theatre):

Aubree: Just one?! Emma Thompson in Much Ado. Though technically not a Shakepeare film, Claire Danes in Stage Beauty. Every woman in Julie Taymor’s Titus. Helena Bonham Carter in Twelfth Night.

Cara: Does Dame Maggie Smith count? I adore her.

Hallie: YES CARA! Maggie Smith for sure!

Brittany: Miriam Margolyes as the Nurse in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet

Cara Pantalone: Adam, Corin, Sir Oliver Martext. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell


Finish these sentences:

“I am most creative when…”

Lesley: I’m happy and relaxed.

Bailey:  I have the pressure of a deadline.

Jade: I’ve had at least one cup of coffee.

Hallie: I’m surrounded by music, art, people, nature, new ideas.

“I feel happiest when…”

Bailey: it’s the summertime in Northern Quebec, and I’m with my family, partner, and a stack of books.

Hilary: I am on the beach, beer in hand.

Brittany: I’m with my nieces. They remind me that life is full of sweet discoveries and we can always be fun and silly! Also my dog Bruce, he’s endless happiness.

Hallie: I’m in the sunshine, and by the water… especially Lake Huron.

“I feel fired up when…”

Jade: I’m at the first read-through of any play. That moment the first time everyone’s in the room together and everyone gets inspired as a group.

Hilary: I see great talent, whether I see a great piece of theatre or live musicians – it gets me ready for anything and really inspired.

Olivia: The pre-show music is bumpin’!

“In the Toronto theatre scene, I want to see…”

Aubree: more interdisciplinary works – visual/sculpture artists, musicians, physical theatre, language, whatever!

Lesley: more avant-garde, risky, unusual forms and styles.

Olivia & Hallie: more arts funding, thus better wages or compensation for time spent.

Hallie Seline as Rosalind. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell


As You Like It

Who:
Company: Shakespeare BASH’d
Directed by Drew O’Hara
Featuring: Hilary Adams, Daniel Briere, Michael Chiem, Olivia Croft, Jade Douris, Aubree Erickson, Kaleb Horn, Brittany Kay, Justin Mullen, Cara Pantalone, Lesley Robertson, Hallie Seline, Jonny Thompson
With original music composed by Kaleb Horn, and additional music composed by Hilary Adams
Associate Director: Bailey Green
Produced by Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis
Designer: Catherine Rainville
Fight Director: Nate Bitton
Assistant Fight Director: Bailey Green
Graphic Design by Matt Nish-Lapidus

What:
Welcome to the Forest of Arden and Shakespeare’s comedy of joy, wit, and transformation: As You Like It. Relish in the adventure of shepherds and courtiers in love in this energetic barroom staging, full of original music. It is truly Shakespeare’s most exceptional journey through the pastoral world of pleasure and connection.

Where:
Junction City Music Hall (2907 Dundas St W)

When:
April 23-28, 2019
Showtimes:
Tuesday, April 23 – 7pm
Wednesday, April 24 – 7pm
Thursday, April 25 – 7pm
Friday, April 26 – 7pm
Saturday, April 27 – 2pm
Saturday, April 27 – 7pm
Sunday, April 28 – 2pm

Tickets:
Sold Out online. Limited available for $25 at the door (pending availability).

Find out more: 
shakespearebashd.com

 

 

“Shaking Up Your Process, Trusting Your Instincts & Falling in Love with Theatre Again” In Conversation with writer Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman on GUARDED GIRLS at Tarragon

Interview by Megan Robinson.

When I got on the phone with playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman this week to discuss her newest show, Guarded Girls, premiering at Tarragon Theatre in association with Green Light Arts, I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. I first came across her writing when I was in grade eleven and was performing in a student production of the play The End of Pretending, which she wrote alongside her friend Emily Sugerman. It was a show that deeply affected my friends and I at the time because it so accurately depicted the emotional lives of girls our age. Needless to say, I have been a long-time fan of Charlotte’s work, so I was thrilled at this opportunity to chat with her about her writing process.

Charlotte’s newest play, Guarded Girls is a complex four-part story that brings the audience into the world of the women’s prison system in Canada. It’s a subject matter that can be hard to look at because it asks a lot of questions about our society and what we consider to be good vs bad behaviour. But despite the challenging nature of the material, she hopes the audience will keep a level of openness as they engage with it.

That Charlotte started writing a show four years ago focusing on the cycles that are hard to break between mothers and daughters is especially interesting now that she is pregnant with her first child. With opening night coinciding so closely with her due date, she says that she’s relieved to be able to now switch her focus to childbirth.

I spoke with Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman about the real-life inspiration for the show, her intensive research process, and the unique experience she had writing Guarded Girls.


MR: How did the idea come about for the show?

CCC: So Matt White, who is the Artistic Director of Green Light Arts, a Kitchener Company, was very affected by Ashley Smith’s death, a 19-year-old who died at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener. She killed herself but it was ruled a homicide because the guards did not intervene. Instead, they watched her as she died. She originally went to a juvenile detention centre because she threw crab apples at a postman, and then she sort of just ended up in the system, unable to get out. It’s a really tragic story and it brought to the news a lot of talk about solitary confinement and segregation and what that does psychologically to inmates. So Matt was interested in that and brought it to me, asking if I wanted to do something with it. I told him that I didn’t know a lot about the prison system but I’d look at it. Then, as I was working on the piece, I learned about a lot more women and so many more things that made me want to branch off more. It was originally supposed to be a one-woman show but, as I kept researching, it made me want to write a fuller piece, instead of just focusing on one particular real person.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: Tell me about the research and interviewing experience. Did you focus mostly on Grand Valley?

CCC: I did a lot of research. I met with some people who had been at Grand Valley, as well as people who had been in the system. It’s really hard to get into the prison. They are sort of starting to open it up again… They’ll go through these phases where they’ll let people in and be like, “Everything is good…” and then there will be ten years where they don’t anyone in. Or at least that certainly happened at Grand Valley. I did a lot of research of women who’d been in prison all over Canada, but Grand Valley was, in a sense, what I was particularly looking at.

MR: Were the people you interviewed surprised to be asked these questions and have someone interested in them? How did they respond?

CCC: I think so. What I got from the people I talked to was a desire to be seen and that they really did want this play to go on. There was a lot of enthusiasm for this story, for sharing what it’s like to be in prison, in Canada, as a woman. There is very little known about it. And people don’t tend to care, you know? They just think, “Well, you did something wrong…” but it’s more complicated. A lot has to do with mental health. A lot has to do with addiction. That’s mostly why people are in jail. There aren’t that many violent crimes. So if you’re looking into all of this, knowing that, it’s very staggering. Like, what are we doing to these very vulnerable people in our society? So I did get a sense that people wanted these messages out.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: It feels like a very timely show.

CCC: These have been issues for a long time but now it’s in the news. I’m hoping people will want to think more about this. One of the problems is you create these rules but there’s no one really enforcing them in the prisons. They can be, for lack of a better term, like the wild west. They can be lawless in a way, which is so crazy because the whole reason anyone is there is because they’ve broken the law.

MR: How did you find the narrative for the show? You decided it wasn’t going to be a one woman show, so how did the story start to come to you as it is now?

CCC: It was a very mysterious writing process. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t plot it out at all. I did a ton ton TON of research and then I kind of put it away and was like, “Now I’m going to go into my imagination”. Of course it was fed by all of the things I had heard and seen and read, but I started to just listen to these two characters I was exploring. Eventually, they sort of just started to reveal themselves. But it’s a very strange structure to a play – there’s four parts and they’re sort of their own segments, so you’re learning the story not necessarily in the right order. Originally I figured I’d have to change it and make it more linear but then I realized that’s just what it wanted to be. Also, I realized that the real thing I was writing about was the cycle between a mother and a daughter and what is passed on, and how hard it is to break these cycles, and how hard it is to change oneself, and then how hard it is for a system to change, or a country to change, or an institution to change. But in the play it really came down to the question: How do we not pass on the bad things that we’ve inherited? I was just really struck by how the women I met were similar to me, and because of the privilege I’ve been afforded in my life and the circumstance I was born into, I was able to avoid a lot of things that would have been pretty much impossible to avoid had it gone another way. The kinds of struggles I’ve had in my life with grief and addiction have just fallen on the right side of the line, where it so easily could have not.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: That’s so interesting because originally I wondered how you managed to not get overwhelmed with getting into the heads of these people and these experiences. I mean research and interviews help, but the other things you’ve written have been really personal, right? So it’s interesting to learn about your process of balancing all of that.

CCC: I wanted to write something really emotionally true, that was really grounded in another person’s lived experience, but very emotionally true to me, as well. Really, I just loved all the characters so much. My job is just to love them, fully, and I really did. I think, for me, this is what’s been so unique about this writing process. My husband teased me because I’d wake up every morning and I’d be so excited to write, because I just wanted to spend time with these girls, these women. And I was like, “I just have to hear more from them…” (laughs) It was really weird, I don’t usually feel like that.

MR: That sounds amazing.

CCC: It’s the only time in my life that has ever happened. It hasn’t happened since. I hope I can bring that into my other writing… just a little more mystery.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: What did a typical day of work look like when you were writing?

CCC: I’d wake up pretty early and then just go write for the whole morning. Then I would stop and edit in the afternoon. Pretty boring, but I liked writing this so much that I was so excited, even with the rewrites. Usually I’d say my writing process is a lot of procrastination until I have to do it. Not that this one wasn’t frustrating and hard and painful and all those things that writing often is. I was very affected by the research, and I was very emotional while writing this play, but I wanted to be in it.

MR: Was the main reason because you loved these characters? What was it that pulled you in?

CCC: Yeah, I really loved them. Also, I felt really free by the structure being so unusual.

At the very beginning, I had nothing written when I met with Virgilia (Griffith) and Vivian (Endicott-Douglas). I just talked to them, then the next week I brought in pages for them. It started as a two-hander, then it grew to a three-hander, then it grew to four people. I was writing for them too, so it was an incredible experience in that way. It was an interesting process of people coming in right when I needed them.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: Do you have any writing rules or strong beliefs that you come back to when you’re struggling or having a hard time?

CCC: I think what’s really hard about writing is making choices. There are just so many choices available and I think something I really try to do when I receive other people’s art is, instead of thinking if I like it or didn’t like it, I ask myself why the writer made the choice that they made. Because when you’re writing you realize you don’t make any choices just on a whim, you really think about why you’re doing something and you spend a lot of time with what you’re creating and the choices you’ve made in it. I’ve been really interested in looking at art more in that way.

And I do this with myself, as well… trusting the choices I make. This can be really hard too when sharing your art with people while you’re in process, because they have so many opinions of what could happen. Something that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that anything could happen but it’s really about looking at what you’ve chosen to happen and sticking to that when you’re instincts are telling you to. I think you have those instincts for a reason so often, so really trying to listen to them.

MR: How do you maintain your relationship with theatre and writing? Do you have to work at it or does it come naturally? Because it’s been a long relationship for you, right?

CCC: When I first started writing I was a teenager and I had grown up watching theatre and being in the theatre. So when my mum died, I was like, “I have to write a play.” Which was kind of an insane thing to do, and not what you have to do. But it was very instinctual, so I wrote a play, and then I did it and that was sort of like, “now I’m a writer”… but it didn’t necessarily feel like this choice that I made. There was a lot of conversation at the time around whether writing was therapy. You know, I don’t believe it is therapeutic to write your story. Therapy is therapy, and it was life-changing for me. But I certainly learned how to write through this traumatic experience. Then when I went to theatre school for writing, that was really great. I learned to write things that were not at all personal to me, and learned how to sharpen my voice. That was really important because it was at that point that I felt like I was actually choosing to be a writer.

But then I did sort of take some time away from theatre, partly because I had come from it at such a young age. What I love when I talk to theatre people is always the story of “why theatre?” and I always felt sort of cheap in my response. I was just sort of like, “that’s what was around me”. It didn’t feel like the beauty of those stories I’ve heard about other people discovering theatre. But I think it was actually through writing a lot and writing for film and tv and kind of moving away from theatre that made me miss it. I was able to discover my own love of it and why I actually want to write for this art form. It was like falling in love again.

Guarded Girls

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

Who:
Company: Tarragon Theatre in association with Green Light Arts
Playwright: Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Director: Richard Rose
Cast: Columpa Bobb, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Virgilia Griffith & Michaela Washburn

What:
A new play from Governor General’s Literary Award nominee.

The psychological destruction brought on by solitary confinement is at the heart of this wrenching and powerful new play. When 19-year-old Sid is transferred to a new prison, she finds friendship with Britt — but also forms a complicated relationship with the guard who seems to be watching their every move. Soon, it’s the guard who’s being watched, and this playful, theatrical, mysterious work heads toward its shocking conclusion.

Where:
Tarragon Theatre Extraspace
30 Bridgman Ave, Toronto

When:
March 26 – May 5, 2019

Tickets:
tarragontheatre.com