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.