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“Corpses, Neo–Alt Theatre and Community” In conversation with David Ferry, director of BREATHING CORPSES at the Coal Mine Theatre


“It’s really important in this company that everybody has ownership in the room. It’s the way I like to work. My job as a director is to create an empowered room. It’s not ‘director as boss’, it’s ‘director as facilitator’.”

– David Ferry


Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

Shaina: The title “Breathing Corpses” is quite potent. What does it mean to you?

David: Well, it’s kinda like The Walking Dead isn’t it? In the idea that people are walking around dead already, they just don’t know it. And they don’t know when they’re going die. For instance, with the characters Kate and Ben, she’s already dead in their relationship in an odd kind of way. So she’s a breathing corpse. And then there’s fate at play: she’s already marked for death. And Amy is marked for death. And Richard is marked for death… So there’s a sense that there’s nothing you can do about it. You may be marked for death sooner rather than later. I think the playwright is saying: we’re all walking around dead, we just don’t know when it’s going to happen.

Shaina: But there are actual dead corpses in the play?

David: The one dead body that we see onstage is at the top of the play. And we find out later that it’s one of the characters we meet during the course of the following scenes. So we go back in time as the play progresses. He’s fated to be dead in a month when we meet him on stage. The other dead character – whose body is found offstage – we see her breathing as well. So at the time that the first scene of the play occurs, two people that we meet on stage, are already dead.

It’s so bizarre trying to figure out the timeline of this.


Photo of Benjamin Sutherland & Kim Nelson by Shaun Benson

Shaina: So as a person discovers a dead body, does that mark them for death? Or is it more complicated than that?

David: There are a couple of things that seem clear to me. Everybody is marked for death. We’re all going to die. But some people are marked for death early, before their time. One of the things I’m playing with in the play is that each character who dies prematurely appears at some point in their bare feet. Nobody’s going to understand what that’s about! But it will set them apart, because they are already walking towards death. And Charlie, who is death himself, also appears in bare feet – he carries death with him… It’s an odd play.


Photo of Erin Humphry & Richard Sheridan Willis by Shaun Benson

Shaina: This is the first Canadian production of this British play. Do you find there’s a difference between working on British, Canadian and American repertoire?

David: English theatre is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old. Canadian theatre is not. It’s a baby, relatively speaking. And the tradition of Canadian-written plays is, relatively speaking, new, especially in comparison. The tradition of English playwriting is far more influenced by the editor, literature and form. They have a different rhythm to them. And American plays are completely different, as well. They have a tradition of writing for commercial theatre, which we essentially don’t have in Canada. The idea of a play being written for a marketplace that has to please a lot of people who are willing to pay $130 – $500 doesn’t exist here. Most Canadian plays are done once, which is a tragedy. It’s a completely different crucible of what a play has to go through.

So when you work on an English play, even with a young feminist writer like Laura, you’re dealing with a long tradition of a commercial theatre, a regional arts funded system which has a long gestation period (think a 6 month rehearsal period instead of a 3 week period). You’re dealing with a play that comes from a more literate background. And you’re dealing with structures and forms and rhythms that come from another culture. And deal with different issues. I mean the whole issue of immigration is treated completely different in English plays than in Canadian plays because it’s a different issue. So it’s always interesting to work on plays from other cultures.

For me, English rhythms, especially urban rhythms, are very fast and very quick thinking. Not that we don’t have that in Canadian theatre, especially with our young playwrights like Jordan Tannahill, who deals with highly literate people and quick thinkers. But even his plays are a different rhythm because he’s Canadian. I would argue that Mamet cannot happen in England and Churchill can’t happen in the United States because they come from different traditions all together.

Photo of Simon Bracken, Erin Humphry & Richard Sheridan Willis by Shaun Benson

Photo of Simon Bracken, Erin Humphry & Richard Sheridan Willis by Shaun Benson

Shaina: So are you using accents in this version?

David: Yes, because it is such a distinctly British play. Ted and Diana – the producers of the Coal Mine – picked the plays. And it was really important to them that in the casting we really find actors that can deliver on the dialogue.

Shaina: How is it different working with Coal Mine, compared with other companies?

David: In an important way, it’s very focused on the actor: good acting, good plays, in an intimate space. There’re no grants, they do everything out of the pockets of the producers and that gets paid back through box office. It’s a big part of their mandate to have a serious footprint in this (Danforth) neighbourhood. This year, their season passes have doubled from last season. We can sell 1700 seats for this show, and they’ve already sold over 500 in advance, which is fantastic for a tiny little theatre like this. It works because of the funding model. You aren’t doing it for the big paycheques. But it also gives you the ability to work on a schedule that is really actor-friendly. For example, I decided to have intense, 5 hour days for the first 2 weeks instead of 8 hours with a break, because the actors have auditions, they have days on set etc. It’s feasible to do all that in this model.

It’s really important in this company that everybody has ownership in the room. It’s the way I like to work. My job as a director is to create an empowered room. It’s not director as boss, it’s director as facilitator.

Photo of Erin Humphry & Johnathan Sousa by Shaun Benson

Photo of Erin Humphry & Johnathan Sousa by Shaun Benson

Shaina: There’s a huge amount on offer in Toronto right now for live performance. What do you think people will get here that they won’t get anywhere else?

David: Well we’re a part of the rise of post-alternate theatre (which is what I call it), “a neo–alt”, like The Storefront Theatre, Red Sand Castle, Coal Mine, site-specific work, which has come to Toronto with a vengeance. What’s interesting to me, is that a lot of the generating forces behind these theatres are female. And for young women like Diana Bentley (producer at Coal Mine Theatre and one of my favourite actors in the world) – there are doors that aren’t open to her that are open to a certain generation of men like myself.

Instead of saying “That’s a drag,” Diana says: “Fuck it, I’m going to start my own space.” These young women are taking ownership of storytelling in a neo-feminist mode. I’m finding it particularly exciting.

I think what these theatres have to offer is access for voices that didn’t have a place to speak before. Access for new faces. Access for types of theatre.

Also, this theatre is an example of theatre owned by a community.

This theatre is not theatre-centric. It is community-centric. So the majority of the people that come live in the Danforth, Leslieville, Riverdale, Beaches area. They come because they can walk to it! And as we see an increasing neighbourhood separation because transit is so bad, people try to live, work and stay in their neighbourhood as much as possible like in New York. I think that’s really important.

Shaina: How would you describe this production in 5 words?

Watch the video to hear David’s answer:


Breathing Corpses

Presented by Coal Mine Theatre


Written by Laura Wade | Directed by David Ferry
Starring Simon Bracken, Erin Humphry, Kim Nelson, Johnathan Sousa,
Benjamin Sutherland, Severn Thompson, Richard Sheridan Willis
Set and Lighting design by Steve Lucas
Costume design by Ming Wong | Sound Design by Verne Good
Fight Director Casey Hudecki | Dialect Coach Rae Ellen Bodie

Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Avenue, Toronto

October 23–November 13, 2016
Tuesday-Saturday @ 7:30 • Sunday Matinee @ 2pm (new this year!)

All Tickets $35 (previews $25)

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t: @coalminetheatre
#CoalMineThree #IndieTheatre #BreathingCorpsesTO #Season3

“Concord Floral: A real, raw look at teenage life.” Interview with ensemble member Rashida Shaw

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird  

SSB: How long have you been involved with this play?

Rashida Shaw: I have been involved with Concord Floral since its first workshop presentation at Canadian Stage’s Festival of Ideas and Creations in the spring of 2012. The following November, we did another workshop at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Bring The Buzz Festival. In October 2014, we presented the full 80-minute world premiere production at the Theatre Centre (co-produced by Why Not Theatre). All three iterations were drastically different from one another, yet depicted similar themes of adolescence, suburban sprawl, and modern representations of medieval images/text.

Photo by Erin Brubacher

Photo by Erin Brubacher

SSB: How has it changed from its first workshop to now?

RS: The very first workshop we did was seven pages long with very little dialogue. It relied heavily on image-based aesthetics through the use of tableaux and a projection screen that showed medieval themed paintings. The piece was largely centred around little snippets of a day at a high school and through the incorporation of live music and images; it provided a unique visceral experience for the audience.

I think this version differs from the earlier workshops as you get to learn more about each individual character: their thoughts, hopes, and fears. Having more text allows you to watch these characters go through a much more developed narrative journey. There is no projection screen and it’s a very minimal set, with a greater emphasis on sound and lightning. The first workshop was a glance into an event that took place during one day, inviting audiences into “the teenage world”. In this version, we dive to a much greater depth of what is means to be a teenager in our present day. We explore questions concerning the notion of collective responsibility, not only as young people, but as humans.

Jessica Munk, Erum Khan. Photo by Erin Brubacher.

Jessica Munk, Erum Khan. Photo by Erin Brubacher.

SSB: What has been the biggest challenge of the process?

RS: The biggest challenge of the process thus far is being true to this version’s iteration and not falling back on how I performed my role in 2014.  I’ve realized it’s been extremely difficult for me to stray away from my muscle memory of how I used to talk and move, and challenge myself to find new nuances in the role and be open to trying something different.

SSB: Why do you think this story is important?

RS: I think this story is important because it shows realistic views on what it is like to be a teenager. We are complex individuals who face heartbreak, joy, disappointment – some teenagers have to grow up before their time. The play examines topics and themes that are largely considered taboo for adults to talk about and that are especially rare for young people to be seen talking about in theatre (or any artistic medium), let alone doing. It’s important because teenagers are not what you see on a television show played by thirty year olds. They are humans living on this planet trying to figure things out just like everyone else and this show gets that.

Photo by Erin Brubacher.

Photo by Erin Brubacher.

SSB: Do you think this play is an accurate representation of your peers?

RS: I believe this play is an accurate representation of my peers because of the casual conversational style of dialogue in the play; the slang terms that come from our day-to-day life; having actual young voices and bodies on stage, and the fact that as a cast, we relate to the characters we play because they are so close to ourselves.

SSB: What’s it like working with more than one director?

RS: Well, we basically have three directors and it’s surprisingly easy and seamless for the most part. Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner, our co-directors, are like our moms and Erum Khan, our assistant director, is like our big sister (even though she’s a year younger than me). Erin and Cara are so in sync that they usually finish each other’s sentences like weird couples or identical twins. There are also times when only one of them can be at a rehearsal and we might get conflicting notes but when they’re both back in the room one of them will say: “Oh yeah, I see what you’re saying. We should try that.” They all have different yet similar styles that mesh well for us in this process. It allows us to appreciate and understand the piece and our roles through a multitude of viewpoints. One director might ask us to try to think about a line from a new perspective, another will ask us to approach something in a different way, while the other might ask how/if a specific moment felt different and why. It’s nice having different views and a sort of 360° super director. We’re very fortunate and lucky to have three cohesive directors.

Photo by Erin Brubacher

Photo by Erin Brubacher

SSB: Why do you do theatre?

RS: In grade 5, I played The Grinch in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and was bit by the acting bug. I do theatre specifically because it’s a living, changing thing; you never know what’s going to happen with live art and that’s what’s so exciting and what keeps it fresh. Audiences are a big part of that through the give and take between performer and viewer. When I hear their first reaction, I’m like “Ok, now we’re in the same world, now we can play.” I do theatre because I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t. It’s my greatest passion and it brings me the most joy in life (next to food of course).

SSB: Who do you think this play will speak to?

RS: Anyone who has ever been a teenager.

Photo by Erin Brubacher

Photo by Erin Brubacher

Concord Floral

A Brubacher / Spooner / Tannahill production presented by Canadian Stage


Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directors | Erin Brubacher & Cara Spooner
Assistant Director | Erum Khan
Lighting Design | Kimberley Purtell
Sound Design | Christopher Willes
Sound Consultant | Matthew Pencer
Stage Manager | Chad Dembski

A haunting tale set around Concord Floral, once a million square foot abandoned greenhouse and hangout for neighbourhood kids in Vaughan, Concord Floral re-imagines Giovanni Boccaccio’s 13th century literary masterpiece The Decameron in a contemporary Canadian suburb, in which ten teens must flee a plague they have brought upon themselves. This Canadian Stage production brings together ten youth performers from the GTA and across the country to play ten teenagers (plus a fox, a bird, a couch, and a greenhouse), in this piece about beauty, cruelty, mercy and the modern adolescent experience.

Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street)

September 27 – October 16


facebook – Canadian Stage
twitter – @canadianstage
hashtag – #csConcord




Exploring Modern Tragedy and the Importance & Impact of Stories about Mental Health in the Theatre – In Conversation with “Salt” Playwright Erin Vandenberg

Interview by Hallie Seline

We spoke with the lovely Erin Vandenberg, playwright of Salt, about her curiosity in exploring how we experience and express tragedy, the impact of telling a story through the theatre, and the necessity to talk about mental health and addiction. You can catch the world premiere of Salt, on now until September 28th, at Alumnae Theatre (show details below).

Hallie Seline: Tell me a bit about the play and what inspired the piece?

Erin Vandenberg: Salt explores the impact of mental illness and addiction on two teenage sisters and their alcoholic mother.

I was re-reading several translations of Euripides and thinking about how we experience and express tragedy – whether that be intense personal tragedy or horrific societal injustice (or both at once, as is often the case). The elegance of the classical Greek play doesn’t feel right for today somehow, but still grabs me personally. In the middle of that, I came across a headline about two sisters who committed a crime as a response to a lifetime of coping with their mother’s alcoholism. From the outside, the fact that they would take such desperate action is shocking, but I didn’t feel shocked. I felt the opposite, that in the face of certain circumstances the sisters’ response was all too understandable, and that was part of the tragedy of it all for me. We don’t talk enough about mental illness and addiction. We would rather simply be shocked when someone dealing with those issues acts out and then move on.

I started Salt from there. I didn’t have a lot of details about the girls involved (they were young offenders and thus protected). I also decided not to research the real story, which I believe involved co-conspirators and a social media element. I was more interested in what might it be like for two girls to grow up with an alcoholic mother, what was happening day-to-day in the home. What was happening for the mother too – alcoholism is a disease. I placed them in a situation with limited access to resources as well. How do you cope through that? Every character is in pain in the play and fumbling to deal with that, particularly when it becomes obvious that the pain is unrelenting. I have some insight into what that feels like from my own experience with depression.

From left: Cosette Derome and Lucy Hill in a scene from Salt. In the bg from left: Philippa Domville and Stephanie Jung. Photo by Robert Harding.

From left: Cosette Derome and Lucy Hill in a scene from Salt. In the bg from left: Philippa Domville and Stephanie Jung. Photo by Robert Harding.

HS: Why were you drawn to present this story in the theatre? 

EV: I’m drawn to theatre in general because there’s something so visceral when you have a real live human being in front of you, enacting a story. You don’t have a screen between you. You don’t have to conjure the story up from words alone.

For Salt specifically, there’s an element of storytelling inherent in the piece – all the characters tell each other and themselves stories in order to cope. But the stories alone cannot sustain them and they begin to fail as coping mechanisms. And there’s such an opportunity to show that breakdown in the theatre. In the play, one of the characters makes landscape scenes out of construction paper as her way of telling herself stories, and we have the opportunity to get to see those creations in the production in a deeply theatrical, larger than life way; seeing them like that adds to the impact. Design brings so much and can carry so much of the narrative, and that is really interesting to me as a writer. That words alone don’t have to do all the work.

Lucy Hill as Petal in "Salt. Photo by Robert Harding

Lucy Hill as Petal in “Salt”. Photo by Robert Harding.

HS: Can you speak about the development of this piece and how your mentors have influenced your work?

EV: This piece would not be where it is without Briana Brown, my director and dramaturge. Before her, I had been writing mostly on my own, with some sporadic, one-off workshop readings sprinkled through the process. Workshop readings are definitely helpful, but it’s different when you can get someone’s sustained support. It becomes an ongoing conversation, and to be able to have that with someone who not only understands the territory the play explores but who is perched just outside of my process is really illuminating. She also gets me really well, and the relationship we’ve established (really quickly too) makes me feel not so lonely, the way so much of the writing process necessarily is. Briana and all of our cast and design team ask really sharp questions and finding my way to answering them has brought a new clarity to the piece. They are all downright heroic, and it’s wonderful to be able to work with so many other artists. Writers in other forms don’t get that in the same way as playwrights.

HS: What is the best advice you have ever gotten?

EV: Find out who you are without the depression. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me with clinical depression told me that. That was tough. It’s not necessarily related to my artistic practice, but it opened something up for me – I am not the disease. When you are inside it, it’s so easy to get lost. I’m still figuring out who I am without the depression.

Also, always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. Then, always be a unicorn. I think that’s pretty solid. (The internet tells me this can be attributed to Elle Lothlorien from her book Alice in Wonderland, which appears to be a romance novel…)

HS: What is your favourite place in the city?

EV: My bed. Especially when I’m reading or napping there with my cats. I made my peace with the fact that I am not cool long ago.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

EV: Books. Conversations. Paintings. History. Nature. Anything that both gets me out of my own head and resonates with me on a gut level.

I also find that I find inspiration through the work – the act of writing, forcing myself to sit there with a piece and think through it, breeds inspiration. I find I often can’t answer questions about my work in person, I can only do it through the next round of re-writes.

HS: If your audience could listen to one song before the show, what would it be?

EV: Asking for Flowers by Kathleen Edwards. I’ve been listening to it every time I sit down to work on the play. Part of the chorus is “Don’t tell me you’re too tired, 10 years I’ve been working nights.” Which pretty much sums up how I feel about living with depression, how frustrating and exhausting it can be. I am not the disease, but it’s something that I wrestle with every day, just like the characters in the play.


Presented by Lark & Whimsy Theatre Collective


Written by Erin Vandenberg
Directed by Briana Brown
Featuring: Philippa Domville, Cosette Derome, Lucy Hill, Geoffrey Armour and Stephanie Jung
Set & Costume Design by Anna Treusch
Lighting Design & Production Manager – Gabriel Cropley
Sound Design by Lyon Smith
Stage Manager – Laurie Merredew
Assistant Stage Manager – Deanna Galati
Publicity Consultant – Katie Saunoris
Consulting Producer – Lisa Li
Assistant Producer – Brittany Kay
Produced by Chris Baker and Erin Vandenberg

When Lilias returns home after a year at school, she finds her mother Vivian increasingly fixated on Great Aunt Rose ‐ a figure Lilias believes never existed ‐ and her sister Petal virtually engrossed in a construction-paper fantasy world. Faced with an ever‐deteriorating family situation, Lilias struggles to chart a course that protects herself and Petal from Vivian’s abuse. But as tensions run high, the roles of abuser and victim become blurred.

Alumnae Studio Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street

Tuesday, Sept 20 – 7:30pm (Opening)
Wednesday, Sept 21 – 1:30pm & 7:30pm
Thursday, Sept 22 – 7:30pm
Friday, Sept 23 – 7:30pm
Saturday, Sept 24 – 1:30pm & 7:30pm
Sunday, Sept 25 – 7:30pm
Tuesday, Sept 27 – 7:30pm
Wednesday, Sept 28 – 7:30pm (Closing)


facebook – @larkandwhimsytheatre
twitter – @Lark_and_Whimsy
hashtag – #SaltPremiere


LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT: Authenticity, Why Site-Specific & Fine-Tuning – In Conversation with creator/performer James Smith & director Mitchell Cushman

Interview by Brittany Kay

Sitting down over coffee and grilled cheese, my conversation with James Smith and Mitchell Cushman was a true joy. We spoke about the intricacies of putting on a site-specific show, the authenticity you need in storytelling and the very personal world audiences are invited into in Lessons in Temperament.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about the show?

James Smith: For years now I’ve wanted to do something with some stories I have from growing up because I have three older brothers, all of whom have some kind of mental disability. Growing up, that was very normal for me because it was just my world. But something I’ve learned in the meantime is that I actually have a pretty unique insight into mental illness because of the way I was raised around it. So I thought it would be interesting to be able to offer that insight to people. I never knew how I wanted to frame that in a theatrical setting and then a couple of years ago I started tuning pianos and I was struck by the kind of imperfections of that process. Tuning is all about compromise and spreading out this dissatisfaction so it’s not noticeable in any particular spot of the piano. I thought that was a good metaphor to life, how minds work, and the way I was growing up trying to facilitate all these different relationships with my brothers and their minds. I thought maybe it would be interesting to do a show where I tune a piano and tell stories.

Outside the March is Mitchell Cushman’s company and they were doing something last year called Forward March, where you could submit show ideas anonymously and get some funding so I submitted this show idea. Then one day I got a call from Mitchell and he said, “Is this your anonymous submission about piano tuning?”

Mitchell Cushman: I mean the application was pretty specifically related to things I knew about James.

JS: I was like, “Yeah, nice guess.” He said, “We’re not going to fund you because I feel like this doesn’t need any money,” but he suggested we apply for SummerWorks.

MC: The nature of Forward March was to fund larger projects that would maybe develop over a couple of years and this felt like something that urgently could and needed to happen sooner. SummerWorks seemed like a really great foray for that. I’ve directed a couple of other shows at SummerWorks and at least one other site-specific show at this festival, so it seemed like a really good home.

BK: What can SummerWorks do for this show? Why this festival right now?

MC: The cool thing about SummerWorks, over the time that Michael Rubenfeld ran it, it’s sort of evolved from a theatre festival to a performance festival and has more connections to performance art or live art and multidisciplinary work. A lot of the unique things about this show, and while not being a musical, owes something to music, it’s very much steeped in storytelling, and it’s presented in a very non-traditional way. I think there’s a lot of audience at SummerWorks hungry for that.

BK: What was the process in creating this show?

JS: Well, I wrote for a while… a lot of different things – a series of short stories that didn’t really feel right for the show. I just spent a lot of time writing, trying to find the voice of the show and then we went into our first day of rehearsal and I had about 45 minutes of kind of written down spoken word. We went through that and we kind of found, through rehearsals, that the best approach seemed to be pretty sincere, honest storytelling as opposed to pre-written short story type snippets. We started honing in, right away at the beginning of rehearsals, a way to keep it really natural. We’ve written down very little since we started. We’ve mostly made cue cards of things and organized the stories into a structure that makes sense to us. It was less about writing and more about creating the flow of the story.

MC: We put tons of post-it notes on walls. James, if he wanted to, could create a four-hour show on the same subject.

JS: Yeah, our main problem is having way too much material.

BK: That is a beautiful problem to have. 

MC: There are so many memories and different aspects of James’ family or extended family that could be explored, so it’s been a process of trying to zero in on what fits with the tight focus of the piece.

BK: Why choose site-specific for this show? Why change locations for each performance? 

JS: You could feasibly do this show in a theatre with a piano on a stage, but I kind of wanted to keep the authenticity of actually tuning a piano, then leaving it tuned for a family to use, and then moving on to the next one. Throughout the run of the show, I feel like I’m making some tiny impact on the community in terms of leaving it slightly more in balance.

MC: If we did it in a theatre, every night we’d have to un-tune the piano.

JS: This feels more authentic.

MC: Especially now that we’ve been in all of the venues doing practices, I think it’s a very intimate show. I think that these locations will really support that intimacy because we are really in people’s private living spaces for very small groups of audience.


BK: How does the audience find out where they are going?

JS: It’s a secret because working with 8 different venues brings up a lot of logistical issues. People backing out or people wanting to change their capacity or their time or date, so if we had announced all of the locations right away, we would be constantly changing it and updating it.

MC: It also helps protect people’s privacy a little bit and all of their addresses.

JS: So 24 hours before each performance, Summerworks will email everyone who has bought a ticket letting them know where to go.

MC: They’re all in the general vicinity of SummerWorks, between the Queen and Dufferin area.

BK: Building from that, how does being at these unique different locations heighten the experience for your audience coming to see the show? What does it do for them?

JS: I think it sets up just a different experience for them right away in terms of going to theatre. I think it’s stretching the idea of what theatre is and what it can do.

MC: The show is really based in reality. I mean, James is telling a series of stories, all of which happened. I think by walking into someone’s house and having a real piano that actually needs to be tuned just supports the reality of the piece. Early on James was asking me if anyone else could perform this show and I don’t really think so partially because you’d need James’ skill set of being a performer and also being able to tune pianos. Even if someone could, I think it would be strange because it’s based so much on James’ personal experience.

BK: Let’s talk about site-specific and immersive theatre. What do they mean to both of you in terms of this show and more broadly speaking?

MC: I was actually thinking about this last night because I was writing an e-blast for this show. I was thinking about if this is a site-specific piece or immersive. I described it as a site-specific show. To me, I guess, it’s definitely site-specific in the sense that the location we’re performing in is going to radically inform what the piece is and we’re going to do this show 8 different times in 8 different spaces and it’s going to be 8 different shows. It would be a very different show if we did it in a traditional theatre. I think it would be a less activated experience. If we did it in a traditional theatre, I don’t think the space would have as much of a role on this show as it will when we perform it.

I guess when I think about immersive theatre, I think about the audience taking on a little bit more of an active experience, not necessarily physically active. That wouldn’t be the first word I would use for this show, but you could probably make arguments about parts of it being immersive too. I don’t know, what do you think James?

JS: I agree with what you said. The idea of immersive or site-specific theatre didn’t really exist until I met Mitchell. I had only done more standard types of theatre. Mitchell and Julie Tepperman asked me to do Brantwood at Sheridan, which was my first experience with immersive theatre.

MC: James was the musical director for the show, which was a monster task.

JS: After that, Mitchell hired me to do Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play as well, which was site-specific in a way.

MC: That was a show that was probably on the borderline of immersive. I think there we really took over a space and radically transformed it. We did it in an old adult movie theatre in the east end. We really tried to transform what that space was to make it look post-apocalyptic and make the audience really feel like they were taking shelter in that place to weather out the apocalypse. We did that show without using the grid electricity and so that added to what made it immersive.

There’s sort-of set criteria to what people expect a theatrical experience to be and it’s trying to challenge some of those pre-conceptions. One of the cool things on that show, because we didn’t have any electricity, the sound design became really interesting. James held the major part in it – he was like a foley artist. He was popping balloons to signify gunshots. He worked in collaboration with Samuel Sholdice who did the sound design. We needed the sound of crickets in the first act and so, without electric sound, we got real crickets in cages living in the ceiling. We made jokes like “Can we hear that at 50%?”


BK: That is amazing. What are the challenges, not only with Lessons in Temperament but with site-specific as a genre of theatre?

JS: Well, for this show I thought it would be a lot easier but because I’m inexperienced, I quickly learned that…

MC: Everything’s more complicated.

JS: I didn’t plan on having a producer. I thought this would be a small thing that I could handle on my own. Handling the logistics of the spaces was the hardest part because you have to think about audience capacity and whether or not we can hang lights. It became this kind of never-ending and always-expanding list of things that had to be done that a producer would normally do.

BK: Cue Sarite Harris.

JS: Exactly. I was trying to write the show and I found the only thing I was doing was writing emails.

MC: Even if you’re trying to do a piece and take it outside of a theatre, what you’re actually doing is trying to create a theatre inside of a space that isn’t a theatre. There are certain things like tech, seating capacity, audience comfort, and health and safety that are givens in a theatre… you don’t have to deal with that. When you go into a space that isn’t a theatre, your work has to start so much earlier in terms of figuring out things auxiliary to the actual presentation. In this case, when you’re in different locations every night, that’s just doing that work over again, all the time. Site-specific is very time consuming.

BK: Where did these sites come from?

JS: One we got off of Bunz Trading Zone on Facebook. A couple of friends and friends of friends gave us places.

BK: What about your working relationship with each other? How have you collaborated and worked together? 

MC: It’s horrible…

(they laugh)

JS: I really couldn’t have done this without Mitchell. He’s working, not just as the director, but as the developer of the piece, as well. He’s helped me organize my thoughts and my stories into something that is theatrically effective. I think, without him there with all of this info inside of his head, I would have never gotten past the stage of confused writing. I really needed him to kind-of put this into a world that would actually serve an audience properly. Mitchell is really smart and knows what’s good, so I can know that and trust him.

MC: I do know very little about music and music theory. I’ve been the ground zero test case for the most musically ignorant audience member. I can hear things better than I can two weeks ago! I’ve never had the opportunity to work on a show like this. I’ve been doing more new work development in the last couple of years and worked on a couple of solo shows, which is always interesting. You’re sort of getting a window into their brain. Given the subject matter and how this show is based so much around James’ memories and experiences, I’m just really… I’m thankful to be working on it. James has taken me and the other members of the core creative team into a very personal bubble, where the work has been living. One of the things I love about directing, and I don’t come from a performance background, is that you get to work with people and help them do something that you could never do and that’s tenfold on this experience. James has such a unique range of skills that are so far outside of what I would ever be able to do. It’s so fascinating to collaborate with him.

BK: That was a really nice answer guys. 

MC: We practiced outside.

JS: We’re going to hug later.

MC: I think we both came into this with a notion to fly by the seat of our pants. I think the show will continually evolve until our closing night. We have the freedom to do that. SummerWorks is a great place for experimentation. I think if either of us were too stressed about it being perfect right now, it would be less of a productive working relationship.

BK: What about the rest of your team?

JS: Nevada Lindsay Banks, our assistant director, has been so helpful. Just to have someone else in the room, who has this information in their head has been really great. She’s been there since the beginning kind-of helping as we’ve organized this piece. She’s always able and willing to chime in with something I’ve forgotten or Mitchell has overlooked. Just to have that third eye, kind-of taking care of things has been so beneficial.

MC: Nevada was one of the performers in Brantwood. She’s got really great instincts and also comes from a musical background. It’s helpful to have her to work with. Nick Blais is doing the design.

JS: He’s brilliant, I can’t believe he’s doing the show. He’s so good and so committed to it and he’s coming to all of these site visits and putting so much time into it. He’s so excited about it and I respect him so much as an artist. I feel so lucky.

MC: We’ve done a lot of site-specific stuff together and he’s one of the Outside of the March resident designers. He’s just got an amazing balance of a really creative mind and a really practical mind and you need that when doing these kinds of shows. He’s a truly unique talented dude who can kind of do it all. Kate Sandeson is our stage manager and we’ve both worked with her before. She can really work in non-traditional environments. Her calling the show will be moving dimmers connected to her binder while she’s sitting behind the piano with earplugs. She’s going to have a unique experience in every venue.

BK: What do you want audiences to walk away with at the end of this piece?

JS: I want people to feel like they’ve gained some insight into mental illness that is not textbook information or information a psychiatrist would give them. I want to offer a perspective that is very normalized and simple and understanding.

MC: There is a beautiful metaphor that James has created in this show. The show will start with him taking out a screwdriver and opening up these pianos. You get to see the piano exposed and the inner workings of it. Over the course of the show, you learn about what makes a piano work and how to keep it in tune. It’s something that most people don’t know about, but it’s an incredibly intricate process and it’s fascinating how this thing works and what gets in the way of it working. I think that’s a great metaphor for what goes on inside our brains and how many things in the world that we sort of interact with and accept, without really knowing what the underpinnings are. Beyond pianos, it makes me think about that.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite Movie
The Big Lebowski
JS: Sandlot

Favourite Play
King Lear.
JS: The Seagull.

Favourite Musical
Hamilton but really Into the Woods.
JS: Sweeney Todd.

Favourite Food
The grilled cheese I just ate.
JS: Cherry cheesecake my mom makes.

Favourite Spot in Toronto
Trinity Bellwoods Park.
JS: Skyline Diner.

What music are you currently listening to?
The cast recording to Hamilton.
JS: Joel Plaskett Ladida

Advice you live by?
Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing, try to do the thing only you can do.
JS: Don’t ever argue with an idiot, they’ll drag you down to their level and defeat you with experience.

Lessons in Temperament


TuneSmith Productions
Written and Performed by James Smith; Directed and Developed by Mitchell Cushman; Sound Design by James Smith; Production Design by Nick Blais; Stage Management by Kate Sandeson; Assistant Directed by Nevada Banks; Produced by Sarite Harris, James Smith, and Mitchell Cushman.

Every piano is unique in its imperfection — in its flawed relationship to the sonic world. It’s impossible to perfectly tune a piano, so the job of a piano tuner is to tame this imperfection into an even balance, an even spread of dissatisfaction. This balance is known as Equal Temperament: a game of constant compromise and a lesson in disappointment.

Every mind is unique in its imperfection. In Lessons In Temperament, James Smith tunes pianos in various public and private spaces throughout Toronto while exploring theories behind Equal Temperament as well as his three older brothers’ mental illnesses: obsessive compulsive disorder, autism, and schizophrenia. Smith attempts to grant balance to the instrument that has, throughout his life, kept him grounded and kept him company, while reflecting on the discord that runs through his family. Each performance takes place in a different venue, gathered around a different piano. Part autobiographical story-telling, part performance art, part tune-up, this site-specific show offers a unique theatrical experience, and a singular glimpse into the lives of those living with troubled, beautiful, distempered minds.

Because our venues are site specific, we want to give you our patrons as much prior knowledge as possible. For allergy purposes, the performances on August 10th, 12th, and 14th have dogs as well as one cat on the 10th. Please note that the pets will not be at the performances.

Curator’s Note
“‘This working-through of the resistances may in practice turn out to be an arduous task ….’
– Freud

It’s a lovely performance metaphor: the tuning of pianos, the tuning of our hearts and minds, our lives. It’s might be a Sisyphean task but: ‘the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill one’s heart’. (Camus)” – Guillermo Verdecchia

Secret Location

Wednesday August 10th 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
Friday August 12th 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
Sunday August 14th 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM

More Show Info:

Sold out in advance but limited tickets at the door.

twitter – @tunesmithprod
instagram – @tunesmithproductions


In Conversation with Georgina Beaty, Playwright and Performer of “Extremophiles” at Summerworks

by Bailey Green

A woman gives birth to an unusual child in a dying society. In a world that is collapsing in on itself, an anthropologist arrives at a remote outpost to study the mother and the strange child. In the world of Extremophiles, the north has been deserted, the oceans have acidified and reproduction has ceased. “I’m interested in how we deal with impossible situations,” playwright and performer Georgina Beaty says. “How we have impossible conversations, how do we deal with still being alive and having so much love for each other? How do we find the desire to keep going and achieve?”

The title of the play is a scientific term— extremophiles are microscopic organisms who survive in the most extreme environments. Extremophiles is set in a near future with a contemporary feel. It’s just ahead of where we are now, Toronto of 2020. “The absurdity has been very liberating,” Beaty says. “but it’s the relationship between the characters and dealing with the nitty-gritty of how they are connecting to each other that has been a challenge. Finding what they are going for in the moment, yet still providing those world-building details for the audience.”

The piece first took shape in 2013-14 when Beaty participated in Write from the Hip, Nightwood Theatre’s year-long playwriting program for new writers. Extremophiles is the first piece Beaty has written individually, as the four shows she has created with her company Architect Theatre (Beaty is co artistic director with Jonathan Seinen) have used verbatim work and collective creation.


Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

The process for this show involved a great deal of improvisation and work with dramaturge Karen Hines. “Karen has a great eye for dark comedy and a really precise understanding of alternative logic,” Beaty says. “It’s not a well-made play, it has a slippery form and two characters who bleed into each other. So we did a lot of improvisational work to generate material and then I would shape that as a writer.”

“I keep being blown away that this is a 10 person team,” Beaty says of the creative crew of Extremophiles. “The people in the room have broad theatrical minds and are involved in several aspects of theatre. [Director] Megan Watson has a hunger for different approaches to theatre and a mind for collaboration. Erin and Sarah [of Caterwaul Theatre] are bringing the child to life. It has been so great to have Megan, who is newer to the process, come in with all the questions the audience may have.”

The play explores themes of isolation in a world that once relied on the internet for connectivity and now finds that all that human beings have is each other and how intimate that need for connection can be. “I’m in my early 30’s and I’m at this age where it is possible for us to have children and reproduce and also ask this question of reproduction,” Beaty says. “We’re in a world that looks like it will be dealing with the severe fallout of climate change, and that ‘what if’ is part of the play. What if the world changed quite drastically?”



Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Company: Golden Age in association with Architect Theatre
Directed by Megan Watson; Written + Performed by Georgina Beaty; Dramaturged by Karen Hines; Production Design by Patrick Lavender; Live Visuals by Caterwaul Theatre; Sound Design by Chris Stanton; Stage Management by Tamara Vuckovic; Production Management by Daniel Bennett; Produced by Sascha Cole, with Rashida Shaw.

“Field Notes –
September 1, 2020. I’ve arrived. The desert is a desert. There is only Margaret, her baby, and one doctor. The supply drop contained: tuna (live), salt tablets, and me. I parachuted out of a plane. It is… exciting…is the wrong word but it is the only one I have. The question: What is going on right here, right now?”

A darkly funny meditation on a world past the precipice, Extremophiles is an unconventional dissertation, a eulogy, and a mid-apocalyptic bedtime story. In the midst of a spontaneous pregnancy epidemic, only Margaret gives birth – to a very unusual baby. She is quarantined in the far North with her growing child. When April, an eager young anthropologist, arrives to chronicle the emerging society, she becomes more entangled than she anticipated. Featuring live visuals from SummerWorks favourites Caterwaul Theatre, Golden Age and Architect Theatre (Like There’s No Tomorrow, SummerWorks 2015) present Extremophiles, a new solo play written and performed by Georgina Beaty.

Curator’s Note
“There are a growing number of artistic responses to climate crisis but this is one that goes beyond. This is beautifully committed allegory – it touches a nerve as it presents an absurd and acutely recognizable dystopia that investigates the truth of the times in which we are living. It bends our brains in a delicious way and asks us to look at our state of affairs. It is a rigorously attacked performance, so earnest and intelligent it can only ring true.” – Tara Beagan

The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street West

Sunday August 7th 10:30 PM – 11:30 PM
Monday August 8th 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
Thursday August 11th 9:30 PM – 10:30 PM
Saturday August 13th 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM
Sunday August 14th 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM

More Show Info:


twitter – @GeoginaBeaty
facebook – Extremophiles

THIS IS THE AUGUST: When Different Waves of Feminism Collide & the Social Politics of YouTube – In Conversation with Playwright Hillary Rexe

by Bailey Green

Subjectivity is a powerful fucking place. What happens when the specimen that you have under the magnifying glass speaks back? We are children of the universe, no less than the sun or stars. Its about time you started acting like it. – Kim Katrin Milan, from her speech at SlutWalk (Toronto, 2012)

Before the dialogue for This is the August begins, this powerful quote on the second page of the script sets the tone. Playwright Hillary Rexe was moved to tears when she found Kim Katrin Milan’s speech while browsing through YouTube. “I found it while I was in my last draft, and it spoke to me. I wanted to inform the piece based on discourses of intersectionality and empathy,” says Rexe.

This is the August tells the story of three people. There’s Edie – a queer, sex-positive, millennial film student focused on building her YouTube brand. Bea – a baby boomer, out lesbian and a once successful documentary filmmaker who begins the play as Edie’s professor and lover. And Sam – Bea’s kid, a gender-neutral artist who paints galaxies and values their privacy.


The play grew out of conversations Rexe had with friends about second and third wave feminism and where they diverge. “[I was interested in] the places they collide or connect. For example, gender and gender identity do collide,” Rexe says. “Bea is a second wave feminist documentary filmmaker, who in her time was really revolutionary but she can’t wrap her head around this person who she thinks she knows, her 23-year-old kid.” The second divergence Rexe addresses in the piece is around sexuality. One of the ways this is explored is with Edie’s YouTube channel content, which often concerns her personal and sexual history. Bea cannot understand why Edie would want to make an object of herself. But Edie sees her work as sex-positive.

“I have so much empathy for Bea, because the good work of [second wave] feminism isn’t done, but the way she hears the characters in this play is ‘your ideas are dated, we’ve all moved on from this’,” Rexe says. “All three are volleying to each other and they just fail, but ultimately all three want to be understood and they have commonality.”

Rexe has an extensive background in editing prose, poetry, novels and has often focused on facilitating other people’s creative work. This is the August is her first play, and Rexe didn’t want to draw any hard and fast conclusions about the political topics that the characters battle with. “There aren’t easy answers,” Rexe says. “This is the first piece that, beyond my ego and shyness, I actually want to finish this and put it out into the world.”


Rexe’s piece explores the social politics of YouTube and how people present a version of themselves on YouTube versus how they interact in their public life. The production features Edie in real life and real-time recording her videos and then in the transitions, the audiences sees her edited videos. “YouTube dramatizes the need to please and be liked and wanted. You’ve been given this elevated place in the world, why did I get this and what did I do to keep this?” Rexe says.

Casting the show was an amazing experience for Rexe. She had set out to find a gender fluid, queer, or neutral person to play Sam who was also sexy, could sing/play music, who was local and who wasn’t white. “People laughed in my face,” Rexe says, “but I didn’t feel comfortable just casting any actor. So we posted on Jobs for Queers, and Heath V Salazar, and the magical unicorns that they are appeared.” Lauren Beatty, who identifies as queer and femme, is also a YouTuber. “I felt really lucky to find queer performers to play queer parts. Lauren is often cast as straight, and she’s said that it means a lot to her to represent her community,” Rexe says of Beatty who plays the character of Edie. Kimberly Huffman is “fantastic” as Bea and rounds out the cast.

“[Megan Piercey Monafu] is such a gift,” Rexe says of her director. “There has never been a time that someone has asked a question about set, aesthetic, anything, and Megan didn’t have the exact words in my mouth.”

For Rexe, this piece is the beginning of new ideas and projects. She praises her team, “the greatest joy in turn has been working and collaborating with such beautiful people who are so dedicated and invested to my script.” This is the August is just the beginning.

This is the August

august postcard

Company – Young Prince Collective
Directed by Megan Piercey Monafu; Written by Hillary Rexe; Performed by Lauren Beatty, Kimberley Huffman, and Heath V. Salazar; Set Design by Allie Marshall; Original Artwork by Andrew Classen; Sound Design by Dave Clark; Stage Managed by Maricris Rivera; Produced by Curtis te Brinke, Rashida Shaw, Hillary Rexe, and Dana Herlihey.

Live music, painting, and YouTube videos engage and provoke in this darkly funny performance about the intersection of our real and online selves, especially when one goes viral.

Edie is a YouTube star who has just gone viral. Bea, her girlfriend and professor, is a documentary filmmaker who focuses her lens on marginalized women. She wants Edie to stop vlogging about her sex life and focus on more “important” work. Together they passionately negotiate their identities with, and without, each other: Millennial and Boomer, student and professor, lover and adversary. These conflicts of identity come to a head when Edie meets Sam – a multimedia artist who defies definition.

Curator’s Note
“Vlogs or docs? Second or third wave? Empowerment or power? Either/Or? Both/And? Throw love in there and what have you got? Something like a Venn diagram of sexuality, gender, and feminism today. But This is the August is no simple diagram; it’s a smart, funny play, rich with the complexities of contemporary life in the west.” – Guillermo Verdecchia

The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street West

Saturday August 6th 12:00 PM – 1:15 PM
Sunday August 7th 8:00 PM – 9:15 PM
Tuesday August 9th 9:15 PM – 10:30 PM
Thursday August 11th 6:45 PM – 8:00 PM
Saturday August 13th 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM
Sunday August 14th 12:00 PM – 1:15 PM

More Show Info:


twitter – @youngprinceTO
facebook – YoungPrinceCollective


Artist Profile: Anthony MacMahon, playwright of “Trompe-La-Mort, or Goriot in the 21st Century” at SummerWorks 2016

Interview by Brittany Kay

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Anthony MacMahon to discuss his new play Trompe-La-Mort, or Goriot in the 21st Century premiering at SummerWorks. We spoke about his love for the festival and his way into writing through adaptation.

Brittany Kay: Where did the idea for this play start?

Anthony MacMahon: The idea for this play started when I was reading Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It’s a pretty dry book. It sits somewhere between a regular non-fiction and an economics textbook. There are continual references to literature in this book and how literature captures the spirit of an age. He talks about this book Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac, which is about a very wealthy vermicelli vendor and his two daughters who live in this common house with a young man named Eugene, who’s studying to be a lawyer. The entire book is about how this young man Eugene has worked so hard for everything and even if he is the best lawyer in all of France, he’ll never make as much money as this vermicelli salesman. And despite this vermicelli salesman being the biggest vermicelli salesman in Italy and France, he will never have as much money as a queen, a king, or a prince or a duke. This was very reflective of the age.

I was reading this book in Paris and I was on a train and saw a guy get pick-pocketed and I also saw the after effects of the pickpocket. I saw him get bumped, the wallet stolen, and then I saw him start screaming at his daughter who he was with because she was the one who had gotten them on this train in France. She was living in France and was British and the father was visiting from the countryside and was carrying a giant thick wallet in his back pocket. Seeing this in my surroundings now, and reflecting on how the economy affects people at any given day, I was inspired to update the book and to set it today. It’s the same characters, the same kind of action, but it’s modern and they’re dealing with modern problems. So rather than someone studying to be a lawyer, they’re trying to be a programmer, and rather than someone having made all their money off of vermicelli, they make their money off of the stock market. I tried to make it a thriller because the book is actually quite thrilling and that was how I got to the script stage.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BK: What has been the process in mounting this play?

AM: I went through a bunch of ideas of how I could do it.

At one point, I sat down and wrote an entire scene and got to this one line, which encapsulated my whole theory about how this play works. I wrote the rest of the play in about a week and a half, and it actually hasn’t changed that much since. I went through about 10 different versions before that one scene came together and then from writing that scene, it organically fleshed itself out into a full play.

BK: Has the play gone through any workshopping or dramaturgy or is this the first kick at the can?

AM: This is the first kick at the can. I normally do the very standard playwriting process of two drafts and then a dramaturg and then another draft and then another dramaturg and then a two-day workshop and then a five-day workshop and then potentially a festival performance. This script was really written in about two weeks and has been edited and changed since then. Its workshop development is this production.

trompe la mort image

BK: Why SummerWorks?

AM: SummerWorks has always been good to me. SummerWorks is why I moved out to Toronto. I got in while I was still living in Saskatchewan and as a result, I kind of love doing it. I have a soft spot in my heart for the festival and I think the festival has a soft spot for me. I’ve gotten in every time I’ve applied now. I think it’s a place that really encourages people to fail boldly and, in that failure, you can have some great successes.

It gives you enough infrastructure so you’re not an absolute disaster of a person trying to figure out how to rent space and hire someone to sell tickets for you. It gives you just enough infrastructure so that you’re not constrained in any way, which is kind of why I chose it. I’ve always just met the most exciting artists working at SummerWorks. It’s August, it’s on Queen West, it kind-of feels like a vacation in the city to do this cool festival downtown. That’s why I chose it.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BK: Tell me a little bit about your team involved.

AM: Ted Witzel is our director. I think he is the coolest artist in Toronto. He just kind of bleeds cool. I wanted someone who doesn’t bore me in any way and nothing he has ever said or done has ever bored me. That’s kind of why I sought him out. We’re working with Anahita Dehbonehie, CJ Astronomo and Wesley McKenzie for our design team. It’s a big design for the show. We’re really trying to push SummerWorks to its design and structural limits. So we have 2 projectors, we have things on rails and guides, and we have 5 giant pieces of plexiglass hanging from the ceiling with like a neon light show and potentially smoke. Wesley, CJ, and Anahita are people who can really move astoundingly fast. They have this incredible way of taking these giant visual ideas and putting them onto paper in a 6 hour tech time. The cast is Mark Crawford, Farah Merani, Lindsay Owen Pierre, Ewa Wolniczek, and Jeff Yung. It’s a really great cast. A lot of the kind of directorial atmosphere that Ted gives them and that they run with, is what can I get away with as an actor? It has created such a playful atmosphere. Michelle Yagi is producing and she’s great. Having someone know what they’re doing and with her kind-of organizational mind and ability to plan and hit dates and targets just gives the rest of the team so much more opportunity to create much more positively. Justis Danto Clancy is our Production Manager. Alana Dunlop is our stage manager and has worked with Ted before so she knows how to manage his big ideas.

BK: What are you hoping audiences walk away with?

AM: I hope audiences walk away from the show debating it. The show is a debate essentially, or 5 or 10 debates really. I try not to be too prescriptive or too partisan or soap-boxy for lack of a better term. I want to present these things that I’m actually grappling with. I think we’re trying to grapple with some pretty big ideas and I want the audience to have the second act of the play being them grappling with these ideas that we’re presenting, whether it’s in the courtyard after the show, or at the bar, or after another show they see that informs a different version of these ideas. Ideally, I just want them to walk away talking about it. That would be my big hope for the show.

trompe mask

BK: Now let’s talk a little bit about you.

AM: About me?

BK: Yes, you. What propelled you into playwriting?

AM: I kind of tripped and fell into it. My friend Nathan Howe was doing a show that he had written at the Saskatoon Fringe Festival and I asked him if I could be in it. He had already cast it, so I decided I would write a play so that I could cast myself, because I wanted to do a show. I ended up not actually being allowed to be in the play because my director dropped out so I had to take over as director. Then I just started writing more. I just continually tripped and fell into things, which is the dumbest, luckiest thing in the world. I just happened to find out that I wasn’t a particularly skilled performer and my way of performing was all through literature and writing and all through trying to organize ideas as words.

I lobbied for a playwriting course in my university and I ended up doing a couple of public readings in a little reading series in Saskatoon. It was really cemented for me when I was producing Vern Thiessen’s, Vimy and I saw that he was the senior playwright at the Banff Centre. I had an early draft of Wild Dogs on the Moscow Trains and I really wanted to meet Vern, so I submitted. I ended up getting a call as we were producing Vimy saying, “Hey, here’s when you’re coming to Banff. “ At that point I realized I wasn’t going to be doing much acting anymore. I guess I was going to start writing.

BK: How did you figure out that this is where you needed to be?

AM: I think I had one of those stories that’s pretty common among artists, where you have a lot of teachers that don’t inspire you but then you have a drama teacher that does inspire you. His name is Blaine Heart and he’s a fantastic man out in Saskatchewan. He was our drama teacher but also performed in a local improv group in the city and he would perform in local plays. He was just such an inspiring guy, so great to be around, and he kind of took me under his wing. His friend from university, Jim Guido, ended up coming back and teaching in the university there. Blaine told me about Jim and said “You have to go into drama, at least just to take a class from Jim because he’s such an interesting guy,” which ended up with me taking a bunch of classes from Jim and him taking me under his wing, as well, in a different way.

BK: And how was your experience in the University of Saskatchewan’s theatre program?

AM: The theatre program was quite an academic program. You had to take a fully rounded education in the department as well as a fully rounded liberal education outside of that. The people who went to the University of Saskatchewan had a lot of freedom. We had a fully equipped black box studio and we were allowed to put on plays whenever we wanted. We could stay in the building until 2 or 3 in the morning rehearsing shows. In the time I was there I think I did twenty-four shows in four years. A lot of them were short pieces, but you just had consistent performance opportunity. I ended up doing lighting design for two shows because they didn’t have a lighting designer and I was trained on how a lighting board works. You got a really holistic sense of the theatre almost accidentally. It’s a great model of how Toronto theatre or any kind of theatre works. People always have to take a second, third, or fourth job on the production. It was a really good training example of how that all works.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BK: When did you move to Toronto?

AM: I moved to Toronto in the summer of 2012. I was working on the show The Frenzy of Queen Maeve at the Saskatchewan Playwright Centre. I had read all of Hannah Moscovitch’s plays and I saw that they were all done at SummerWorks. I knew a bunch of other playwrights at SummerWorks and I figured that I would submit. I did and was accepted. I was considering either moving to Toronto or Vancouver because the Saskatoon theatre community is somewhat small. When I got accepted into SummerWorks, I decided that’s where I was going.

BK: When did Soulpepper happen?

AM: The program began in 2013. It kept me in the city. I’m happy with Toronto. I like this city a lot.

BK: How do you find inspiration for your work?

AM: I do a lot of adaptation… sometimes from literature. In this case it’s kind of literature and non-fiction. My way into writing, especially in the last couple of years, has really been about as a playwright trying to make a case for yourself in the theatre. I’ve always said “playwrights are the only people in the world who can have a dead person do their job,” in that if you can’t make a proper case for why your show should be done, people will just do Shakespeare or Ibsen or all the thousands of dead playwrights that are out there, who don’t have to be paid and have a name cache behind them. My way in is often through (whether or not it’s an adaptation) literature or non-fiction, it’s a hat tip towards it. I can interface with these old problems or these new problems and I can make them theatrical.

BK: What’s your process when you write?

AM: Usually I’ll do a lot of structural work beforehand… plot out scenes and find major action in the scenes. I’ll often work backwards writing a play. I figure out where I want a play to get to and then sometimes I’ll have where I want it to start and I’ll just fill in the middle. Generally, it will be a bunch of work that amounts to nothing and one line or one phrase that finally does something and that’s when I’ll pick that thing up.

BK: Do you find ways to keep yourself motivated?

AM: No… If you have any I’d love to hear them.

Deadlines are the best one. There’s always an internal motivation about just wanting to create something and wanting to show something. The best motivation besides deadlines, for me, is actually having a problem that I’m grappling with. If I am being dogmatic in my writing then I just get tired of it, whereas if I’m confused about why I’m writing something then that tends to just make me start writing it to try to work it out. I’m better at working things out on the page than I am verbally. Debating with myself on the page is the best way to do it.

BK: Do you have advice for emerging artists?

AM: I still consider myself one. The best thing that I have found as an artist is to not be afraid to ask. I never met Ted before I did this show. I sent him an email asking if he wanted to direct. You can get very far just by asking. The worst that’s going to happen is that they are going to say no.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite Movie: Taxi Driver.

Favourite Play: Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Churchill.

Favourite Musical: Assassins.

Favourite spot in Toronto: East Side Riverdale Park.

Favourite Food: Good pasta.

What are you listening to: I’m getting into electronic music for the first time in my life.

Mantra/Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Quit trying to be cool, start trying to be good.


trompe la mort image

Company – Live Lobster Theatre
Directed by Ted Witzel; Written by Anthony MacMahon; Set and Costume Design by Anahita Dehbonehie; Lighting Design by CJ Astronomo; Projection Design and Sound Design by Wesley McKenzie.

An anarchist holds the world’s secrets on a hard drive. Three developers try and disrupt stagnant markets, missed connections, and freedom of speech. A venture capitalist finds his profit in the rubble. The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.

A loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s Le Père Goriot smashed up against Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century asking what’s the difference between terrorism and whistleblowing? What’s the difference between a human being and a start-up corporation? What is the difference between freedom and control? This digital age thriller explores what happens when your work life, relationships, and ideas are reduced to data processed in an app.

Curator’s Note
“‘After studying the world very closely, you’ll see that there are but two alternatives–stupid obedience or revolt.’ – Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot

Anthony MacMahon, my favourite young commie playwright, has come to similar conclusions. This smart, fast, and funny play drops Balzac through the trapdoor of global capital.” – Guillermo Verdecchia

Factory Theatre Studio
125 Bathurst Street

Thursday August 4th 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM
Friday August 5th 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM
Sunday August 7th 7:15 PM – 8:45 PM
Monday August 8th 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Tuesday August 9th 10:30 PM – 12:00 AM
Saturday August 13th 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
Sunday August 14th 4:15 PM – 545 PM

More Show Info:


instagram – @livelobstertheatre