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.