I was delighted by this month’s successful world premiere of THE SHOE (my translation of Governor-General’s Award-winning playwright David Paquet’s LE SOULIER, which won the 2019 Jessie Award for Best New Play). Samuel Buggeln of Ithaca’s The Cherry Artspace is one of the very few American theatremakers who has shown an openness to voices from outside the English language and outside the United States, where works in translation generally languish. I loved the imaginative design, the inclusive casting (“when you care enough to cast the very best”), the willingness to go all-in on David’s original and striking theatrical vision, his dark humour, his tremendous heart. David Paquet is a major talent and I am bound and determined to get English-Canadian theatres to open their doors to him… but it took a New York company to step up first!
From the time I came to Vancouver in 2012, Ruby Slippers Theatre has been there for me. They’ve commissioned my translations: Rébecca Déraspe’s You Are Happy and Gametes; Christian Bégin’s After Me and Why Are You Crying? They’ve produced my translations: After Me (which won two Jessie Awards and received six nominations including Best Production) and Sébastien Harrisson’s From Alaska (premiering this season at Gateway Theatre). They’ve supported my successful application to the Glassco Translation Residency. And they’ve hired me as a director, for the Advance series readings of Gametes and of Natalie Frijia’s Go, No Go. Ruby Slippers is a crucial part of the Vancouver theatre ecology and I think that these brilliant new hires and residencies make them even more so. Thank you, Diane Brown, for the opportunity. And thank you to outgoing General Manager Meredith Elliott for your years of support… keeping it all together behind the scenes, the way so many women have always done and continue to do..
Sept. 12-14, 2019: At the Arts Club Theatre (Western Canada’s largest company) for a workshop of my translation of Gilles Poulin-Denis’ fierce and magical story of brothers at war over the family land, Outside. It’s funny that, as read by Pippa Mackie, the pivotal character of Virginia – whose incredibly specific bilingual argot seemed to present an almost insuperable translation challenge – is the one everyone connected to immediately. This tells me, I think, that I am on the right track with her.
Sept. 16-22, 2019: At Playwrights’ Theatre Centre with Jovanni Sy for a workshop of Salesman in China, the original play we are co-writing about Arthur Miller directing Death of a Salesman in China in 1983. We have lots and lots and LOTS of work ahead, but we were really encouraged that this is a story worth telling… and that the things we felt particularly good about are the things that worked.
Sept. 17, 2019: Because we needed to work within Equity’s London office hours, this play workshop started at 06:00 Pacific Time. Yeah, you read that right. I was workshopping a play at 6 a.m… Blessed be the excellence of Vancouver coffee. And of British actors, because we got a hell of a lot done in our time together. Thank you, John Jack Paterson, for making it all happen.
Meanwhile, I’ve been emailing back and forth with director Samuel Buggeln, fine-tuning the last bits of text for The Cherry ArtsSept. 27 world premiere at ) of my translation of David Paquet’s The Shoe [Le Soulier], which won the 2019 Vancouver Jessie Award for Best New Play. It’s a first for me, to have a world premiere with artists I’ve never even met… but judging by the production photos, the thoughtful correspondence, and the impressive resumés of the artists involved, we are in very good hands. David Paquet is going to see the show and has promised to tell me EVERYTHING!
So there you go. Three workshops + one rehearsal correspondence towards an imminent world premiere. Ten days. Goodnight!
Thanks to the generosity of the Stratford Festival Lab and the leader, the passionate and brilliant Ted Witzel, I got to support Jovanni as he led a unit at this year’s Stratford Festival Lab on “Decolonizing the Canon”.
Oy, that’s a big ask, especially from one roomful of artists. Even trying to introducing our performers to the vast range of contemporary works by East Asian playwrights and those from the East Asian Canadian diaspora, in the course of a single week, would be a fool’s undertaking. So we chose to focus on one play by of the great writers produced by China - Nobel laureate Gao XIngjian - as well as our own work in progress, Salesman in China, which is a backstage/culture-clash story set in the Beijing People’s Art Theatre in 1983, when Arthur Miller comes to direct Death of a Salesman.
What constitutes an East Asian or Asian Canadian play? Does Gao, an exile from China whose aesthetics and preoccupations are heavily influenced by both Chinese and European work as well as his own experiences in China, who sometimes writes in French, and who has never written what we’d call an “identity play”, still count as Chinese? Does my participation in the writing of this play (or in the leadership of this workshop) mean that it is no longer Asian Canadian or decolonizing? Do the Chinese even count as colonized? I was surprised by some of these questions, and I don’t have all the answers, but I think they are all useful ones to bring into the room and tackle.
I think Jovanni summed it the week up best: as individual artists, we can and must decolonize ourselves… but the people who can decolonize our canons and our spaces are the people who make the decisions about who and what gets into them. And the splendid plays that can change those equations are already sitting out there, well-known and well-recognized… and waiting.
For myself, I was most excited about working on our script and meeting the generous and open-hearted artists who joined us from the Festival company… and working with/ introducing the Festival to our four distinguished and remarkable guest artists: Jasmine Chen, Jeff Ho, Jane Luk, and John Ng.
Thank you to every one of you.
This is the play I translated three times: an early version for Théâtre la Seizième’s anglophone designers; a highly compressed surtitle version (because you don’t want the audience to spend the whole night reading instead of being able to look at the stage); and the complete and polished version that was read by the Jessie Award script jury. So I’m very glad this script will have more life this fall: La Seizième will be touring their beautiful production of Le Soulier to Ottawa’s Zones thêâtrales, and my translation, The Shoe, will have its world premiere at the exciting company The Cherry Arts in Ithaca, NY
Congratulations also to our absent teammates Joey Lespérance, nominated for best actor, and Esther Duquette and Gilles Poulin-Denis, who won collectively for Best Director. Esther also commissioned this play and steered it through three years of development, so it was a great night for my dear friends at Théâtre la Seizième as a whole.
Here are the projects I have translated (from French into English) that have been announced for the 2019-20 season:
Aug. 5-25, 2019: Blarney Productions and Dogheart Theatre present Rébecca Déraspe’s You Are Happy, a sparkling Millennial anti-romcom, at the Edmonton Fringe, North America’s original and largest fringe theatre festival. (Edmonton, Alberta)
Sept. 14, 2019: The Arts Club Theatre presents a public reading of Gilles Poulin Denis’ epic modern tale of brothers and belonging, Outside, as part of their New Play Festival. (Vancouver, BC)
Sept. 26-Oct. 6, 2019: WORLD PREMIERE: The Cherry Arts presents David Paquet’s surreal, hilarious, and moving look at a very unconventional form of love, The Shoe. (Ithaca, NY)
Oct. 16-27, 2019: Persephone Theatre presents Catherine Léger’s smash hit comedy about finding your freedom, I Lost My Husband! (Saskatoon, SK)
Oct. 26-Dec. 8, 2019: AMERICAN PREMIERE/ASL PREMIERE: Red Theater Chicago presents Rébecca Déraspe’s You are Happy in ASL and English (Chicago, IL)
April 16-25, 2020: WORLD PREMIERE – The Gateway Theatre and Ruby Slippers Theatre present Sébastien Harrisson’s intergenerational comedy of love and loss, From Alaska (Vancouver, BC)
These, meanwhile, are a few of my translation projects in development:
I’ve been putting off writing about my spring roadtrip to Montréal and Toronto because it was so massive, and I wanted to find something comprehensive and insightful to say about it. And then I got busy. Here instead are links to a few sources where you can learn more about some pretty great events and organizations.
On May 2, I stepped off the plane from Vancouver and sped to the middle of the dress rehearsal for a hot ticket in the Montréal theatre calendar: the cabaret to celebrate the opening night of Jamais Lu (see photo caption above). I was the only anglo onstage in a fascinating line-up that included feminist icon Nicole Brossard; actor/activist (and SLAV protest co-organizer) Ricardo Lamour; and passionate Acadian poet Gabriel Robichaud. All in all, it was big, scary, and a dream come true. Thank goodness I knew right away that director Alix Dufresne was going to make us all look good. http://www.jamaislu.com/event/parle-a-ton-voisin-garden-party-liberateur/
May 3-5, I participated in the Forum Pancanadien, and was a panelist at a roundtable about how Québec theatre is seen in the ROC (Rest of Canada). This national gathering of theatre artists was remarkable for many reasons: the willingness of the anglophones to engage in French even when it was imperfect and hard; the generosity of the francophones when they slipped into English; the unprecedented openness to what is happening in the ROC; and the fact that English-speaking, French-speaking, and indigenous theatre communities from across Canada were represented on an equal footing. It was thrilling to speak with Linda Gaboriau and Bobby Theodore and Vanessa Porteous and John Jack Paterson, who have done so much to give Canadians access to the jewels in the crown of Québec drama. I loved hearing Lori Marchand, Véronique Hébert, Esther Duquette, Ravi Jain, Émilie Monnet, Gilles Poulin-Denis, and so many others. I was delighted to see two accomplished playwrights from New Brunswick – francophone Gabriel Robichaud and anglophone Ryan Griffith - meet (because our communities are so defined by language) for the first time. My favourite moment among many: we opened with a trio of academics who walked us through a step-by-step history of theatre in Québec. One was a specialist in indigenous performance, another in French-language theatre, and the third in English-language theatre, and in narrating the decades together as a team, they created a layered and fascinating narrative that no one in the room had ever heard before, including me. http://www.jamaislu.com/event/forum/
May 2-11: Jamais Lu proper was wonderful. As well as encountering the work of Rhiannon Collett, Amy Nostbaken and Norah Sadava, and Frances Koncan for the first time (in French!), I was surprised and delighted by the reading of Maxime Champagne’s wry and subversive Champion, an investigation of the nature of truth and storytelling which featured real professional wrestlers bashing chairs over each others’ heads. Thank you , Marcelle Dubois, guest curators Alexis Diamond, Nahka Bertrand, and Pascal Brullemans, and everyone at Jamais Lu (Brice), for inviting me and for creating such a powerful space for listening, reaching out, and understanding the people with whom we share this territory.
May 12-19: Rehearsing Two-Part Inventions, my translation of Sébastien Harrisson’s dreamlike and visually playful Les Inventions à deux voix, for its premiere at the Harbourfront Junior Festival. See photo below.
It always feels like I’ve won the lottery when I get to go to the Glassco Residency to translate a play. Surrounded by Canadian theatre’s most fascinating polyglots and word nerds, and the writer/creators we serve…. scheming away together on how to smuggle each other’s work across linguistic and cultural borders. Surrounded by books and art and these ridiculous beauties of nature, and fed within an inch of our lives.
What separates it from a lottery is that you have to earn it, which is fine by me. And in fact, this residency – my fourth – took on a special urgency for me. There seem to be so few people active now who can walk between the worlds of French- and English-language theatre… or who care to do so. This is hardly surprising, when the fear of Québec separation has (quite wrongly, I think) faded from the national consciousness since the ‘95 referendum; when it seems to me that Québec theatre has resolutely turned its face toward Europe since that time, without most of the rest of us us even noticing; and when a shocking percentage of the world (Canada included) seems ready to shut and bolt its doors to diversity and change. It feels like everyone who has any ability to create understanding – to nurture our curiosity about the Other and our ability to see ourselves in the Other – is kind of duty-bound to do so.
All of the projects being translated have deep personal resonances for their authors, but also promise to enrich audiences in the languages they are being translated into:
• Jovanni’s A TASTE OF EMPIRE was being translated into Tagalog by Carmela Sison, who has made an even more exciting and radical discovery: she’s going to translate into Taglish, the hybrid and officially-frowned-upon Tagalog-English dialect that many Filipinos speak in daily life, and therefore PERFECT for this decolonising cooking show where a Filipino fish dish is cooked in real time! (Taglish, it would appear, is the joual of the Philippines…)
• Marilyn Perrault’s FIEL is a sensitive theatrical exploration of how a brutal prom night assault shapes the lives of all involved: Nadine DesRochers is passionate about bringing Marilyn’s fiercely feminist and inclusive vision, and exhilarating visual imagination, to an English-speaking audience.
• Anthony Black created ONE DISCORDANT VIOLIN from the bones of a short story by Yann Martel, a francophone who writes in English: Maryse Warda is carrying it home into really beautiful French.
• Finally, I was there for the first time to translate a playwright who is NOT from Québec: Vancouver’s own fransaskois theatremaker, Gilles Poulin-Denis. Gilles’ play OUTSIDE [DEHORS] is a border-crosser, too: its journalist hero’s unravelling consciousness rockets between the woodlands of rural Canada and the war-ravaged beaches of an unnamed hot country, pursued by supernatural hounds and stalked by an equally ominous bear.
I look forward to the reading of OUTSIDE at the Arts Club Theatre in September.
Damn, I haven’t updated this site since October. What happened?!
Well, let’s see. I’ve been mentoring a playwrights’ unit at PTC, the first teaching gig of my adult life, which means creating a sort of curriculum as I go along. I’ve been continuing my writing and acting and auditioning, and more on those later. But I’ve also had a record-breaking, brain-bending run of translations.
Here’s a recap of all the pieces I have translated during the current theatre season:
• Rébecca Déraspe’s Gametes: reading at Ruby Slippers Theatre’s Advance Series of New Works by Women at the Vancouver Fringe (September)
• Rébecca Déraspe’s I Am William: premiered by Théâtre le Clou at Les Coups de théâtre (Montréal, October)
• David Paquet’s Wildfire: public reading by Talisman Theatre/Playwrights Workshop Montréal (Montréal, October)
• David Paquet’s The Shoe: Translated for Théâtre la Seizième… three times!
– Early, rough translation, purely for the English-speaking designers of the French-language world premiere.
– Surtitle translation for the French-language premiere. (Surtitles, which are highly compressed versions of a text, are a very different proposition from regular theatrical translation.)
– Final, polished translation of production version, for consideration by the Jessie Awards jury for best new script. (Vancouver)
• Amélie Dumoulin’s Violette for Joe Jack et John (upcoming)
• Christian Bégin’s Why Are You Crying? for Ruby Slippers Theatre (Vancouver)
• Sébastien Harrisson’s Two-Part Inventions for Les Deux Mondes (premieres May 19 at Harbourfront’s Junior Festival, Toronto)
Plus the projects I am scheduled to complete this spring:
• Olivier Sylvestre’s The Desert and Philippe Soldevila’s Tales of the Snow, both for BoucheWHACKED! Theatre (Vancouver/Halifax)
That is nine plays in one year. Nine. Nine plays. That is not, to put it mildly, normal. And that is not even the whole story. So please bear with me over the next couple of weeks while I update my website and put my brain back together…!
(1) VERB, imperative singular form of entrer, “to enter”… i.e., make your appearance onstage.
(2) PREPOSITION, “between”, as in the sentence “Sa caboche était maganée, pis pognée entre deux cultures, à force de traduire neuf pièces de théâtre en une saison.”
This is one of the most intriguing things to come across my desk (okay, my purple writing chair) in a long time. Aaron Sawyer is the Artistic Director of the wave-making Red Theater Chicago, which champions “radical accessibility” for both artists and audiences. He approached Rébecca Déraspe and me about his idea of staging my translation of Rébecca’s You Are Happy in ASL and English, using both hearing and deaf performers. Of course, we both were delighted by the possibilities, and said yes right away.
This past weekend, Aaron directed a workshop in Chicago to see if his cross-cultural concept for the piece could fly. He cast two deaf performers as the lonely hearts Chloe and Jeremy, and a hearing actress as Jeremy’s sister Bridget (who comically manipulates the other two into becoming a couple, so that she can finally stop worrying about Jeremy and enjoy the blessed freedom of her bachelor life). It sounds as if the experiment was a roaring success. Here is an excerpt from Aaron’s email [the italics are mine]:
“…your play is accidentally an amazing depiction of Deaf Culture. What is it about French-Canadians, aye? :) The super direct line of questions Bridget engages in are very Deaf Culture- and there's even a hilarious Deaf Culture inside joke with metaphor and puns as those are difficult in ASL. In a way, you've written a play about the very hard truth in finding a partner if you're Deaf, with Deaf Culture directness and desperation. The way that you've broken the text with direct address to the audience is also very very in the spirit of Deaf storytelling and code switching or role switching.”
I don’t yet know whether Aaron’s company will programme our show next season… if so, I will be off to Chicago like a shot.
Jovanni and I were thrilled to learn this morning that we have received a grant from the crucial and visionary Wuchien Michael Than Fund for the development of our play Salesman in China. We are honoured to receive this support, and to be in the company of so many fantastic artists from across this country. Thanks so much to Heidi, Kathleen, and everyone at the Playwrights Theatre Centre for making this possible. We are lucky to be your PTC Associates.
My co-writer Jovanni Sy and I have had two extraordinary opportunities in the last month.
The Stratford Festival Writers Retreat
In September, we were welcomed by the Stratford Festival as part of its annual Playwrights Retreat. Led by the distinguished director and dramaturg Bob White, this collection of writers from across the country was offered an ideal environment in which to create. We had opportunities for meaningful exchanges with our insightful and supportive fellow writers; carte blanche to see the shows; a guided tour, and offers to make use of, the archives; special guests from the company at our shared meals; pizza night with the whole company; and most of all, the blessed freedom to skip all of the above and go and write. (The only challenge was that we wanted to do all of it at once.) Thank you Bob, and Antoni CImolino, and thanks to our cohort of writers for your fellowship and generosity. We are rooting for the success of all your projects, and that we will meet again soon.
On Oct. 9 and 14, Jovanni and I had a closed reading and discussion at Playwrights Theatre Centre with our dramaturg, Kathleen Flaherty, and a very accomplished and articulate cast. This was extremely encouraging. As co-writers who have never collaborated with anyone on our writing before, we are finding this shared process remarkably positive… and it was great to hear that others find the story of Ying Ruocheng and Arthur Miller’s transformational partnership as compelling as we do! We came away with the first half of the play in reasonably good shape, and a much clearer idea of where we need to go from here.
The first play I ever saw – on a school trip to the Stratford Festival when I was a scrawny kid of about thirteen – was Henry V, with Richard Monette and Diana Leblanc. (Long before that, I'd been writing little plays and somehow persuading my classmates to help me present them, in our two-room country school in Plainville, ON. We had music I'd written for my friend Shelley to bang out on the old piano; a stage fashioned from a cardboard box; and paper puppets I'd hand-drawn, coloured, and stuck onto popsicle sticks. In my experience, theatre is what you make because you have to.) I adored the rigour and the glamour and also the sense of artistic community that I saw in classical rep, and as a university student I went to London for a time and took a lowly ushering job at the RSC, just to observe the life of another great company, and learn.
In those early years, as a young actor with a blindingly Eurocentric education who fancied that she understood Shakespeare, of course I felt that one of the classical festivals – Shaw or Stratford – was my destiny. Full of dreams and hope and hubris, I saw myself as Margaret and Juliet, as Isabella defying Angelo on the thrust stage... look out, Martha Henry, here I come! As it turned out, in the course of a career focused squarely on new and independent and inclusive theatre that I wouldn't have traded for the world, my Stratford dream melted into compost a long time ago... until Bob White wrote to invite Jovanni and me to a writing residency at the Festival this September, to work on our play Salesman in China.
Dreams have two things in common with children: they don't often turn out the way you expect them to; and after years spent trying to mould and shape and nurture them, you sometimes have to be ready to meet them on their own terms. At my stage of the game, I'm most excited about getting a chance to work on Salesman in China with Jovanni, because time away from our other commitments is in itself a great gift; because it'll be wonderful to draw on Bob White's perspective... and because I've learned in the end to focus on the work, rather than the idea of the work. But I also have to admit: somewhere inside this solidly middle-aged body of mine, a skinny little dreamer girl is jumping around, squealing.
Hurrah for The Paradise Arms, which just won the annual national playwriting competition held by safeword theatre! Thanks again to Eric Benson and his cast, who read this script at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto on June 1 as part of the public showcase for the four finalists... clearly you hit it out of the park! Thank you, Brandon Crone and SafeWords Theatre. Thanks to the Glassco Residency and the Cole Foundation for supporting our translation, and to Bobby Theodore for dramaturging it. Thanks to Richard Wolfe and Pi Theatre for commissioning and holding the first reading. Et merci, Olivier, mon auteur, mon ami, de ta collaboration précieuse. Now, who wants to snap up this beautiful piece for its English-language premiere?!
As of this moment, I have no idea who won this weekend's Safewords competition for which The Paradise Arms was a finalist: the winner will be announced tomorrow. But come what may, I wanted to express my gratitude to the organizers and jury... and especially to the insanely busy Eric Benson and all of these brave performers for pouring themselves into Olivier Sylvestre's strange and beautiful world of dogs and drugs and doppelgangers, of crisis and transformation. Thank you, all of you. I wish I could meet you, my collaborators... but if you ever make it to Vancouver, there's a convertible day-bed, a beat-up blue bike, and a Xinjiang halal meal with your name on them.
Congratulations to Rébecca Déraspe and Théâtre le Clou on Je suis William being chosen as the "Coup de coeur [favourite]" by the youth jury of the TYA festival Les Coups de Théâtre! I look forward to working with you on the English version, I Am WIlliam, in the fall of this year. And thanks times a million to Emma Tibaldo and Playwrights Workshop Montreal for holding an extremely helpful workshop of the play while I was in Montreal in May. The cast was superb, and we learned so much about the rhythms and tone of the piece in English. Thank you, Kym Dominique-Ferguson, Patrick Keeler, and Sarah Segal-Lazar for your commitment and generosity. You had to cold-read everything from rap to Britpop to iambic pentameter, and you did it with heart and panache.
Also, good luck to director Eric Benson and his cast, who will be presenting a reading of The Paradise Arms [my translation of Olivier Sylvestre's La beauté du monde] this Friday June 1 at the Tarragon Theatre. Olivier is in France and I am here in Vancouver, but we are both honoured and excited to be among 4 finalists in the nation-wide "Safe Words" competition held by Safewords Theatre. Merde, and go, team!
My longtime partner in life, Jovanni Sy, and I took a self-directed writing retreat in Squamish, BC to work on our first-ever artistic collaboration: the play Salesman in China, inspired by Arthur Miller's 1983 effort to direct his masterpiece Death of a Salesman in Communist Beijing. It was rainy and gross the whole time and we caught horrible colds and argued and ate curries out of the freezer for two weeks and also were incredibly productive. We researched and brainstormed and hashed out a massive portion of the building blocks of our play, including characters, themes, theatrical images, and a detailed outline. Nothing about this project so far is anything like the way either of us normally writes. That's what's so exciting about it.Read More
About twenty years ago, I'd had enough.
Enough of being an out-of-work actress sitting around with other out-of-work actresses, kvetching about how, once we visibly hit 25, no one seemed to think we were important to the stories they wanted to tell.
Enough of seeing plays about Toronto, one of the most diverse and progressive cities in the world, foregrounding only actors who were straight and white and mostly male.
Enough of murdered and assaulted women, and of events like the Bernardo trial where every ugly stupid myth about women, sexuality, and power seemed to be at the service of a couple of predators (one male, one female).
Enough of young women's sexual power over men being the only kind that they were ever supposed to explore, admire, or even depict.
So I wrote a play where eight very different women played out many different aspects of power, in their relationships with each other and with (offstage, for a change) men. I wanted to write women I knew, and women I hadn't seen before. I wanted to let us be fully human... which includes being mad, bad, and dangerous to know. I wanted to acknowledge that sometimes we are powerless, but that victimhood is circumstantial, not essential. I wanted this story to be about women and also about/for everybody... the way men's stories were supposed to be about men but also for me.
Writing made me feel small, but at long last not powerless. The play I wrote was very far from perfect, but it was – in some ways – enough.
That's why I am always particularly moved when this piece is taken up by young women creators. From Sarah Szloboda of Vancouver's Terminal Theatre to Annie Valentina of Halifax's Walking Tall Theatre Collective, they have seen past its first-play flaws to its authentic heart: they have approached its thematic and narrative ambition as something to be celebrated, and found that this multi-layered story touched something of continuing relevance to their lives.
Tonight, Amanda Lin of Kingston's 5th Company Lane opens her production. I've had a chance to briefly meet this passionate young woman, and I can see how much love, hope, and creativity is being poured into this project by the whole artistic team. Amanda, to you and your company – as to everyone who breathes further life into my life's work in the theatre – I send all my best wishes, all my strength, and all my gratitude.
I haven't directed since the nineties.
Buddies in Bad Times' Rhubarb! Festival is a legendary kick-starter of artists, shows, and collaborations. Everyone gets a half-hour slot, repeated over several nights, to make a brand-new performance happen. No critics, no boundaries, and an audience up for anything. Performing there is always a joy.
When I expressed interest in directing, Buddies paired me with a novice playwright who was really a visual artist. She came to the first rehearsal and was so terrified by everything about the theatre that she went completely AWOL for the rest of the process. She was from another province, so no one knew where to reach her about her script, which – though promising – desperately needed rewrites and clarifications, even for a Rhubarb! play. Yet I had to hide all of my own panic from the cast (who were brave and good through all of it). On opening day I felt too scared to get out of bed... until my wise partner Jovanni gently reminded me: "Your actors need you to go in there and reassure them that everything is going to be okay. This is just not a good day to fall apart." I learned something about the job of a director that day, and have confirmed it many times since: that it's not so much about being fearless, and more about putting your fears in a safety deposit box while you go take care of your company's. Making decisions, serving your playwright/the writing, communicating with your design and production teams, giving everyone a strong sense of clear and shared purpose, encouraging and heeding your actors, shielding them as much as possible during the period when they are most vulnerable. Until they don't need you to do that anymore. Which is, traditionally, opening night.
SInce then, I have never sought (or been offered) a chance to put those lessons into practice. But when Toronto's own Emma Mackenzie Hillier personally asked me some months ago to direct a little workshop of a play she was developing, I couldn't say no. Firstly because I adore Emma, and if she's behind a piece, I trust that. Secondly because it was just a reading, so how badly could I muck it up? Lastly and most of all, because Ruby Slippers Theatre's Advance Series – curated by Vancouver powerhouse Diane Brown – is all about women creators stepping up. Changing the dismal statistics about women in leadership roles in theatre, changing the equation... just like the women in Go, No Go, Natalie Frijia's exciting story about the Mercury 13, who fought for a place in the early days of space exploration. When someone you respect gives you an opportunity to lead, when someone has faith in you, you really have two options: run away, or deliver. I've tried running away for long enough that I'm ready to try the other thing. After all, improving the status of women in the arts is going to take a lot of risk, a lot of failure, a lot of stepping up. So I assembled an extraordinary cast of women and gender non-conforming artists, and did my level best. In the course of directing that reading, I realized that I've picked up a thing or two over the years about how to put a play together. Maybe it's time to own that, and pass it on. Furthermore, when I look around at what's going on for women in the world, this much seems clear: for those of us who have some choice in the matter, today is still not a good day to fall apart.
I don't even have a snazzy photo, because I was one hundred percent focused on what was happening in the room. Instead, I'll just salute the heroic and generous collaboration of Natalie and the cast, my Mercury 13 (one of whom, in the time-honoured tradition of working women everywhere, even had to confront a last-minute childcare crisis... so her amazing little boy and his toys hung out quietly behind an onstage curtain during the reading!) Thank you, Emma, Natalie, and Diane, for the adventure.
A workshop and reading of Natalie Frijia's GO, NO GO took place on Sept. 10 and 11 as part of Ruby Slippers Theatre's Advance Series of new plays by women, hosted by the Vancouver Fringe Festival. The cast included Meghan Gardiner, Ming Hudson, Pippa Mackie, Katie Sly, and Agnes Tong.