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Posts tagged ‘Artscape Youngplace’

“Collaboration, Character-Driven Plays & 90s Pop Culture” A Chat with David Mackett, James Wallis & Julia Nish-Lapidus on DUBLIN CAROL by Conor McPherson, November 14-26

Interview by Hallie Seline.

We had the pleasure of connecting with David Mackett, James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus to discuss their latest collaboration on Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol presented by Fly on the Wall Theatre. We spoke about what drew them to explore McPherson’s plays, working with director Rod Ceballos, and riffing off the play’s setting in the 90s, we do a little 90s Rapid Fire Question session on bands, trends, and catchphrases, because… how could you not?!

HS: Tell me a bit about the show and what it’s like working on it.

James Wallis: Dublin Carol is set in the back room of a funeral home in Dublin on Christmas Eve. John is running the funeral home because his boss, the mortician Noel, is in the hospital; John’s showing the ropes to young Mark, Noel’s nephew (played by moi!), on a day when his estranged daughter tells him that his ex-wife is dying from cancer. The play deals with John confronting his past, present, and future – the choices he is making and those he will make. John is a realist but also full of fantasy. McPherson is a master at understanding the grief underneath the common man. John is broken and tries to confront his former demons but he’s also unwilling to see his complacency and hypocrisy in his life. It’s been a great pleasure to work on such a deeply sad play, and amazing to work on a play about intimate conversations and emotions. Since the majority of the work I do is Shakespeare, the sparse, yet detailed text is a joyful challenge.

HS: Tell me about working with director Rod Ceballos on this.

JW: I’ve known Rod for years but never worked for him. He’s a diligent director, always thinking about what is being said and done in the moment. He’s challenging to his actors: What’s going on right now? What do you need out of this moment?

It’s been a great lesson to watch him and David Mackett working together. They’ve spent a lot of time working together and it shows. Their professionalism and creativity is evident. They work carefully and with constant focus on John’s inner world.

Rod has a great deal of experience to offer an actor, and it’s been a great pleasure to learn and work with him. Plus, he’s a good guy. The room is full of friends working on a play with passion and hard work. That’s all I care about.

HS: David, what is it about Conor McPherson’s work that draws you to it and excites you?

David Mackett: I was first introduced to McPherson’s work when I was approached to do a site-specific production of The Weir, produced by MackenzieRo as part of the 2004 Toronto Fringe. What immediately struck me about his plays is how character-driven they are – McPherson has said in interviews that not much happens in his plays (i.e. there’s not a lot of “action”, as it were), but as the play progresses, you are gradually drawn into the inner lives of the characters you are observing – their feelings of grief, loneliness, and regret. And that’s what really excites me about his work – exploring the inner emotional lives of these characters through what is said, and perhaps more importantly, what is not said. In each of the McPherson plays I’ve worked on, something happens that forces the characters to re-examine their lives – the choices they’ve made – often leaving them with a suspicion that they’ve let life pass them by. I think that’s what we all wonder about: whether we are, in fact, seizing every opportunity that comes our way, and living our own lives to the fullest.

HS: If your audience could listen to one song/band/album before coming to see the show, what would it be?

DM: Dante’s Prayer by Loreena McKennitt

HS: I heard this show is set in the 90s, which I am ALWAYS into. Let’s do some…

90s Rapid Fire Questions

JW & DM: Julia Nish-Lapidus is a huge 90s pop culture fan/enthusiast, so we leave it to her to handle this rapid fire round:

Favourite 90s band:
Julia Nish-Lapidus: All Saints! Deborah Cox! Mariah! Jimmy Ray?

Favourite 90s fashion:
JNL: Platform shoes. I even had platform flip-flops, which were not comfortable. Though I always wanted to dress like Angela from My So-Called Life, and she would never wear those.

Favourite 90s movie:
JNL: Clueless… Empire Records.

Favourite 90s trend:
JNL: Inflatable housewares. I had a chair, an ottoman, a garbage can, and a Kleenex box holder.

What would be your 90s sitcom catchphrase?
JNL: Hop to it!

If you could give your 90s self one piece of advice, what would it be?
JNL: Stop pretending you’re too cool to like boy bands. We all know you went to an O-Town concert.

Describe the show in 5-10 words.
Dublin. Christmas Eve. A visit. A man’s own ghosts. Whiskey. A chance.
James: An intimate Christmas sorrowful story time
Julia: Loss, loneliness, regret, and a chance at redemption.

Dublin Carol

Written by Conor McPherson
Presented by Fly on the Wall Theatre
Directed by Fly on the Wall’s Co-Artistic Producer, Rod Ceballos
Featuring: David Mackett, James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus
Production Design by Patrick Brennan
Stage Manager: Cora Matheson

Dublin undertaker, John Plunkett, is a man haunted by his past – a past he would sooner forget. It’s the morning of Christmas Eve and he’s back in his office with his new assistant, after overseeing an early morning funeral. Then an unexpected visit from his estranged daughter throws his daily routine into turmoil. It’s a visit that forces him to confront the ghosts of his past…but one that offers him a final opportunity to make things right.

Artscape Youngplace
180 Shaw Street, Toronto

November 14 – 26, 2017

Preview (Tuesday, November 14): $15
Tuesday – Saturday: $25
Sunday Matinee: $20

Q&A with Darwin Lyons and Michelle Alexander, co-directors of Well Born

Interview by Bailey Green

BG: What about the script stood out to you?  

Michelle Alexander: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the obvious answer: a woman haunted by a talking plastic baby. Can’t say I’ve ever come across that in a script before. As a director I’m most drawn to scripts that mess with audience expectation, i.e. scripts that make you think they’re a straight-up comedy and then stab you right in the gut when you least expect it. Celeste has taken subject matter that could easily be written as high drama and made it something special using her unique, twisted sense of humour and unapologetic approach to deep, uncomfortable, human truths.

BG: At the beginning of the play, where do we find the characters? Where are they, what obstacles are they facing?

Darwin Lyons: At the beginning of the play Elizabeth is five months pregnant. She and her husband Chris have just received the results of a test that tell them that their baby has a 50% chance of being born with some sort of incapacity. Elizabeth was adopted and never knew her birth mother and the results of this test make her question if she can handle the struggles of being a mother. Thankfully, she has a talking plastic baby to bounce ideas off of. Oh wait, that’s not so helpful. Elizabeth happens to be someone who likes to control everything, and she wants things to be perfect (I wonder what that’s like? Kidding… I know exactly what that’s like). This play is really the journey of Elizabeth trying to figure out how to accept the real version of life, even if it’s messy.

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

BG: What has the experience of co-directing been like? How do you navigate shared responsibilities and balancing a common vision of the production?

MA: Co-directing is the woooooorst. Never do it. KIDDING! Co-directing has its challenges, but with the right ‘match of minds’, two heads can truly be better than one.

Working in tandem with another director really forces you to ‘put the art first’ rather than your own ego. When you’re directing solo it can be easy to convince yourself your idea is definitely right and definitely brilliant. The act of bumping that idea up against someone else’s creative vision really forces you to evaluate whether or not it is the best choice for the story of the play.

How do we navigate co-directing? Honestly, I almost think of it like we are co-parenting a play-baby. Yeeeep, I said it! To raise our play-baby as best we can we have to commit to full, open communication, compromise and trust. If we get frustrated with one another we just throw our focus towards what decision will foster the growth and well-being of our play-baby.

*Side bar: I now fear the title of this interview will be ‘Michelle and Darwin made a Play-Baby.’

DL: Like all worthwhile endeavours and relationships co-directing with Michelle is awesome and also hard. The challenges come from the fact that we need to be really keyed into each other and communicate really well. We both work really long hours at many jobs, but we always take 30 seconds at the end of each rehearsal to check in with each other. We have an almost sign language type code—you good? Yes/no? Do we need to have a bigger chat? The joy of co-directing is that two brains are better than one. I believe that the more life experience to bring to the creation of a story the better it will be. Michelle and I have worked together a lot, and we know that our strengths and weaknesses really compliment each other. I don’t know what co-directing with someone else would be like, but I do know that what makes this collaboration work is that I trust her implicitly, I agree with her aesthetic, I think she’s incredibly smart and talented, and I know that we will be able to talk through any challenges.

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

BG: What has been the most challenging aspect of the process?

DL: This play jumps time, space and logic. Reading Well Born for the first time I loved how I felt like I was right inside of Elizabeth’s brain. It made me so excited because I feel like I get lost in my fantasy world and memories, it’s cool to see that reflected in a story. However staging that can be a bit of a challenge. How would you communicate to an audience that one second your in someone’s fantasy, then memory, then worst case scenario nightmare, then back to reality? Thankfully we have an amazing design team that is willing to really collaborate with us to help the vision of the show come to life.

MA: I’m an actor as well as a director, so I think my greatest strength as a director is working with actors, figuring out their characters, their moments. Staging is a whole other ballgame. Even thinking about staging complicated scene transitions or ‘fancy blocking’ gives me sweaty armpits. Celeste’s play requires a lot of fast scene transitions, many locations and some serious ‘theatre magic’. That has been the biggest challenge: How to fulfill the staging of this play in a fluid way while staying within an indie theatre budget.

BG: What has brought you the most joy in this process?

DL: Last week I ran into a friend and was telling her about the show and she launched into a story about how she struggled with something similar when she was pregnant. After sharing these intimate details from her life she sat back and said, “Sorry, I guess I just really needed to get that out.” It’s great to work on a story that people seem hungry for. I rarely hear women given the platform to talk about the real struggles and fears of being pregnant. I think the most important part of art is that it allows people an opportunity to say, me too! It allows them space to have their experiences shared, or for us to learn about an experience we might not have had. I love being a part of stories that are honest and also rarely told—this story is both. A huge benefit of that is that this story has attracted a wonderful team of actors, designers and production people to work with. Seriously, you would want to hang out with all of them if you got the chance to.

MA: The people! The cast and creative team working on Well Born are not only insanely skilled at what they do, they also work incredibly well as a team. Working on a new play is like following a moving target: the script is constantly changing, the design shifts as the script shifts, actors are given a new scene one day and then have it taken away the next… I know, you’re probably thinking ‘This is your joyful part of the process Michelle?!’ It is! Because when the whole team leaves their ego at the door, rolls up their sleeves and comes in with an attitude of ‘let’s find the guts of this thing!’ it’s not just ‘rehearsing a play’ it’s creating something new together. 

BG: What excites you the most about emerging female playwrights in Toronto? 

MA: That more and more are emerging every day! At Nightwood I get to read a lot of scripts by emerging female writers, and I must say, there are a lot of badass plays by women coming down the pipe! I’ve seen a lot of great scripts in the past few months that aren’t afraid to stand behind a strong point-of-view; that aren’t afraid to be messy and uncomfortable and that aren’t afraid to be funny! Celeste’s play is an example of the incredible, fierce and funny female writers in this city!

(Note: this Q&A has been edited for length and clarity)


#WellBorn2016 produced by SoCo Theatre in association with Truth ‘n’ Lies Theatre



Mother-to-be Elizabeth is haunted by her inconclusive prenatal test results, the fact that she never knew her biological mother… and a talking plastic baby. Deeply personal and darkly comic, Well Born is a twisted dramedy about otherness, acceptance, and facing your fears by emerging playwright Celeste Percy-Beauregard.


Artscape Youngplace, Studio 109 (180 Shaw St.)


Thursday March 3, 8pm
Friday, March 4, 8pm
Saturday March 5, 2pm
Saturday, March 5, 8pm
Sunday March 6, 8pm (Closing)


$25 general admission | $20 arts worker | PWYC on Sat Jan 27 at 2pm


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