Which Theatre Schools are the Best?

Stevie Joffe in a scene from “En Francais Comme En Anglais, It’s Easy to Criticize” devised, performed and produced by the 2012 graduating class of the National Theatre School of Canada


It was announced today Alissa Palmer will be the new Artistic Director of the English section of the National Theatre School of Canada.  Alissa is a highly regarded and much loved director, playwright, producer and dramaturge.  Her work is bold, provocative and passionately Canadian.  This is great news for the school, the faculty and for its incoming students.

The announcement made me think of students who want to audition for NTS.  They’ve heard it’s one of the best theatre schools in the country.   The school’s mission is “to contribute to the appreciation, reach and advancement of theatre and its related arts in Canadian society by training artists and artisans in all the theatrical disciplines at an arts-oriented school that is national in scope and at the same time open to the world”.  Without doubt, it has achieved its mission.  Many of our finest actors, directors, designers and playwrights are graduates including Colm Feore, Judith Thompson, Hannah Moscovitch, Wajdi Mouawad and Ted Dykstra.

So, is it the best?  Nervous high school students and even more anxious parents want to know which theatre school is number one – expecting there to be some type of ranking system.  However, like most things – one size does not fit all.

First of all, if you’re auditioning into a theatre school, you have to know exactly what it is you want.  You’re committing to the next three or four years of your life.  Is it a university degree that is of the utmost importance or is it to be a practicing artist? Do you prefer classical training or is your passion focused on big Broadway musicals?  Are you more comfortable with text or physical theatre?  Would you rather be in a large program with hundreds of first year students or in a smaller ensemble? What are your strengths?  What is your Achilles’ Heel?  Are you adamant about acting or do you also want to learn about directing, playwriting and design?

Do your research.  What is the overall mission and philosophy of the program?  Is the focus on academics (theory and history) or the practical (practicing the art and craft)? Do graduates receive a degree or a diploma?  What courses are mandatory?  What optional courses are offered?  How many hours a week are the students in the studio and classroom?  How many hours are the students in rehearsal or production?  Who are the members of the faculty and what is their background?  How many students apply?  How many audition?  How many students are accepted into the first year of the program?  How many students actually graduate?  What percentage of the graduates go on to acting careers?  Is the environment nurturing or is it tempestuous?

After doing your research, by all means visit the schools.  Most hold open houses to woo applicants and you will get a good idea about the program, some of the faculty and the curriculum.  Even better, go see their productions or if you can, audit some classes.  Talk to the students.  Talk to the graduates.  And if you can find people who have dropped out, or who have been asked to leave, find out why.

I’ve known students to be unhappy and disappointed in theatre programs they heard were the best.  They ended up leaving after or during their first year on their own initiative or because they were told to do so.  I’ve known others to thrive artistically and then to excel professionally after graduating from some of the lesser celebrated programs.

Sorry to disappoint, but the answer to the question is there is no one best theatre program – for everyone. Nonetheless, there are programs that will be a better fit for you.  It’s up to your doing your due diligence to know your individual needs and what the programs will best fulfill those needs.

I invite readers who have graduated from or who are currently enrolled in a post secondary theatre program to comment about their schools.  It would be great to have a dialogue.



ByoLogyc, ByoBabes and ByoNuts

I’m still recovering from Nuit Blanche.  After pulling my first all-nighter in a very, very long time, my body has reminded me that I’m no longer twenty-five….. or thirty-five….. or forty-five…. You get the picture – the last two days I’ve been hobbling as if I was eighty-five.  I wish I had lasted for the full twelve hours of performance, but holy smokes batman, who would have thought that this old broad would be acting for ten hours straight to an audience of over 3,000. I love Nuit Blanche.  I love my EXE army. I love ZED.To

Acting the role of Renata has been a wonderful segue back into performing. I’m so accustomed to directing, it’s been a blast being on the other side of the stage.  All those years of working with actors has been groundwork for the type of actor I wish to be.  All those years of teaching has also helped me create the character of Renata as she interacts with audience members.  I think of a class of rambunctious teenagers and know exactly how to address the members of the VIP and EXE.

I am proud to say I now have an official comic strip based on Renata.

I also make an appearance in the subsequent comic based on Brad’s character.  In that one, Renate is standing in the doorway watching the Markham plant being blown up.  Methinks the plot thickens.

This amazing adventure will wrap up on November 2 and 3 at Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks, where survivors of the pandemic will fight it out.  Audience members have a choice which team they want to join.  I hope you will sign up for Renate’s Power team because, damn it, I want to win.  I really want to win.  Tickets are now on sale at http://zed.to/tickets#ticketHeader. 

Gun Clubs, Zombie Hunters, Pandemics, Character Dates and All Those Charming Things

My life is beautiful.

Retirement is an adventure.

Tomorrow, in the middle of the day, a Thursday no less, I will go to a real live shooting range.  I didn’t actually realize this was something on my bucket list until my ZED.TO directors asked me if I was interested in a (live ammo) target practice.  Their method to the madness is that this will be yet another “character date” (our version of rehearsals) for my character Renata to bond with members of the Zombie Squad. http://zombie.wikia.com/wiki/Zombie_Squad  These guys are real live zombie hunters and disaster prep experts and will be Renata’s security detail at Nuit Blanche.  “Yes, yes, YES!” I responded without thinking twice.

HUZZAH!  I get to play with guns and the bad boys.

Nuit Blanche comes this Saturday night (September 29), and ByoLogyc’s Clinic will be handing out free antidotes to the deadly virus that’s now rampant in the streets of Toronto post Toronto Fringe Festival.   Renata has recently been promoted to Chief of the newly formed SCD (Sanitation and Containment Department) and she will be responsible for keeping back the angry occupiers known as the EXE along with the help of the Zombie Squad.   Renata has done her due diligence on some of those protesters, and she knows for a fact they’re a crazy bunch of lefty pinkos!

Ironically, the Clinic will be held at Holy Trinity Church (behind the Eaton Center) so if the antidotes don’t work, hopefully prayers will.  Or maybe, they won’t……

We will find out what happens on November 2nd and 3rd at the “apocalyptic finale” where pandemic survivors, VIP’s and the desperate staff members of ByoLogyc will decide the outcome of the world as we now know it.  ZED.TO has won rave reviews as the most exciting interactive event to ever hit Toronto – but you need to take the plunge and take the free antidote….and become a VIP or an EXE…… and for heaven’s sake, buy tickets for the grand finale – which are now on sale at http://www.zed.to/tickets

P.S. Buy the “Power Tickets” and join Renata’s army.  We will take control!




Created and Performed by Tawiah M’Carthy
Directed by Evalynn Parry
Live Music by Kobena Aquaa-Harrison
Set and Costumes Designed by Camellia Koo
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
September 15 – October 7, 2012

I once a taught a teenager who had just moved to Toronto. He was completely different from the others.  For one, he was Ghanaian, and I imagine the only African in what was a predominantly white, yuppie and homogenized suburb. He was tall and majestically handsome, yet his beautiful eyes were often downcast.  His voice was soft and gentle, almost too soft, with the melodic dialect of English-speaking gold coast Africa.  He was extremely courteous and painfully shy, a little sad perhaps, a little lost and a lot confused.

He didn’t know where he belonged.  His name was Ben.

Last night, that shy, beautiful Ghanaian boy stood with his back to me, caged behind steel bars and concrete walls.  Suddenly, there was a sound from him. It was powerful, and primal, and cut through time and space.   I realized it was not the boy Ben who spoke.  It was the adult, the actor, the creator, the great story-teller Tawiah.  He is no longer defeated, but now proud, strong and defiant, no longer a prisoner, but a soul on the verge of freedom.  He is Obaaberima, half woman, half man, created in the image of God.  He is there to take us on his journey.

From that first primal cry, to the final haunting image, Tawiah held me and the rest of his audience and never let us go.  This was the story of a young African man, who struggles between two continents with his  race, gender and sexuality.  It is a prisoner’s confession the eve before his release: a rant, a memory, a dance, a song, a poem, a chronicle and a journey.  Half a dozen characters of all ages and genders come to life through the story-telling, but none more layered, dynamic or human than the storyteller himself.

Poetically written and brilliantly performed, I am overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of Tawiah’s talent.  He possesses a resounding wisdom, spirituality and other-worldliness and yet there is still a very strong connection to our collective consciousness and vulnerability.

The play Obaaberima is further brought to life by the seamless integration of traditional music composed and performed live by the master-percussionist Kobena Aquaa-Harrison.   As Kobena explained, “Music, song, dance, costume, lighting are all integral to West African story-telling,” and so it was last night.  Carried by the sounds of the gyil, atumpan, ashiko, and frikyewa,  we were magically transported to the plains and villages of West Africa.

Tawiah graciously proclaims the production was a collaborative creation and so it was. Evalynn Parry is a renowned, highly skilled and wonderfully imaginative director. Her artistic commitment to this project as the dramaturge took it to an even higher level.  Camellia Koo’s set was also impressive – simple and elegant, yet symbolically strong.   Finally, Michelle Ramsay’s lighting design was perfectly moody, adding yet another dimension to the many layers of the production.   Everyone involved in the genesis of this bold new show deserved the standing ovation the house gave.  This is the first time Buddies and Bad Times’ Artistic Director Brendan Healy has not directed the company’s season opener.  I’m sure he agrees, Obaarima is certainly worthy of that honour.   It was simply one of the most profound and magical one-person shows I’ve seen.

Obaarima runs until October 7th. Don’t miss it.


Read Tawiah’s interview in Now:




Byologyc News Alert

ByoLogyc Inc.
Corporate Headquarters
Toronto, Canada
1 (866) BYO-6090 | support@byologyc.com
@ByoLogyc | facebook.com/ByoLogyc

September 19, 2012 – Toronto, ON — ByoLogyc, in conjunction with
Health Canada, has completed studies which have revealed
conditions suggestive of a viral outbreak in the Greater Toronto Area.
Initial reports, though still early, have indicated a connection between
the root cause of the viral outbreak and ByoRenew. Despite recent
complications with the HPFB, Health Canada will continue to work
with ByoLogyc to aid and assist customer and civilian alike.
Early analysis of collected samples indicates the discovery a new
virus, known as BRX. External and internal reviews of ByoLogyc’s
systems indicate BRX to be a variant of the transfer virus distributed
in ByoRenew pills. These reviews further indicate that BRX was
produced as a result of a network-based attack on ByoLogyc’s
production infrastructure in late June by an online terrorist
organization, suggesting that this organization may have maliciously
generated and sought to spread this virus using ByoRenew as a
At this time, ByoLogyc is pursuing legal action against the online
terrorist organization, known as EXE, for online invasion and violation
of the intellectual property rights of ByoLogyc. We are currently
working with both the Toronto Police force as well as the RCMP in the
pursuit of justice.
In case of city wide medical emergency, ByoLogyc is prepared and
committed to helping the Toronto City Council in both containment
and sanitation. To this end, ByoLogyc’s SCD (Sanitation and
Containment Division) stands ready to protect the population.
As a precaution, ByoLogyc will be running a FREE Public Health and
Community Wellness Clinic on September 29, at the Church of the
Holy Trinity, in conjunction with Scotiabank Nuit Blanche. By holding
the Clinic at this time, we hope to reach a wide section of the
population and maximize its impact. Visitors to the Clinic will receive
a free ByoRenew 2.0 primer pill, which has been custom designed to
act as an early-stage vaccine against BRX.
For more information, please contact Marie Leclerc, PR Director at
ByoLogyc, marie.leclerc@byologyc.com.
Due to the high volume of inquiries we receive daily, we would like to
provide you with the answers to frequently asked questions:
Should I panic?
Absolutely not. Test results from joint studies by Health Canada and
ByoLogyc indicate that BRX has low-grade symptoms and low
transmissibility. Though symptoms are wide ranging, victims may only
experience personality distortion, blurry vision, a craving for highcalorie
food items, and fatigue.
What is the SCD?
The Sanitation and Containment Division of ByoLogyc is a newly
formed department with the singular mandate of ensuring that the
BRX outbreak is contained, and effects on members of the public are
minimized. ByoLogyc is diverting substantial resources to this
operation. The SCD is headed by Renata Reinger, who has been with
ByoLogyc since 1992. As the former Chief Custodian, her expertise
with chemical and biological containment, as well as superior
knowledge of closed and open environment contaminations are
assets that ByoLogyc wishes to utilize to their fullest potential.
What is EXE?
EXE is an online terrorist organization which disrupted production at
ByoLogyc and is believed to have caused the manufacture and
distribution of the BRX virus, using ByoRenew as a vector. They are
also believed to have repeatedly accessed and disseminated to the
public sensitive materials and documents. Despite sometimes
referring to themselves as ‘ByoLeaks’, they have no association with

The Mission Business Creates a Brave New World

I believe if we put our energy out to the universe, gateways to new realms will open up to us.  So it was with this mind I attended four intensive days at the Director’s Lab North http://www.directorslabnorth.com/ in June with over thirty inspiring stage directors from across North America.

Among those people was a dynamic and impressive theatre artist by the name of Elenna Mosoff.  Elenna is the Associate Producer of the award-winning Acting Up Stage Company as well as co-founder of a bold new artistic company, called The Mission Business http://www.themission.biz/

At the Lab, Elenna introduced us to the Mission Biz’s first initiative: ZED.TO.  This was designed to be an “immersive, interactive laboratory-based narrative adventure” about the impending 2012 apocalypse.  It was marrying live event theatre with on-line gaming, media, social media and science.

Elenna explained that this project was spawned because contemporary theatre in Toronto was staid, if not even archaic and in order to thrive, it needed to be bolder, more experimental, more media savvy, and more inclusive. So…. The Mission Biz’s intention was to create the beginning of a narrative about Byologyc – a fictional lifestyle pharmaceutical company.  Then, they would let the narrative unfold itself with the help of the audience and online participants in three phases (the Toronto Fringe, Nuit Blanche and the Grand Finale in November).  I remember thinking that the project was courageous and ambitious, but also perhaps a little mad.  I saw images of role-playing gamers who couldn’t distinguish the game from reality going postal.  It sounded more like a script for Hollywood than actual theatre in Toronto.
A week later I got an invitation to become a member of the cast at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Thankfully, I was intrigued enough to say yes.  The next thing I knew instead of attending traditional rehearsals, I was being sent on “character dates” in order to establish relationships with the other staff members of Byologyc and to develop my own back-story.  It didn’t take long before I began to question what was real and what was fiction (such as, did a stranger really find my iphone on the street or was it set up as part of the mission????).
The Mission Business wanted the story to develop as organically as possible and it has.
Performing at the Fringe turned out to be a blast and much to my delight the “live event” was a huge success. In the production, the pharmaceutical company Byologyc released its newest product – “ByoRenew” but things went terribly wrong before the end of launch. Sirens blasted while audience were swabbed for DNA, and then forcefully evacuated from the club only to be screamed at by a crazy EXE protester on Bathurst St.
The production did extremely well, and was awarded with numerous awards and accolades, including:
My rather staunch and uptight character so far has survived.  Last night, we had our first rehearsal for Nuit Blanche http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/project.html?project_id=1048.  For this event, the performance installation is titled Byologyc: Patient Zero and the narrative will continue.  Much of the story has been developed since the Fringe, through Twitter and live forums, and the plot has indeed thickened. From what I learned about the new director of SCD is that power corrupts. At Nuit Blanche, she will be there, along with a mob of  EXE occupiers and armed security to protect the company and the nasty Chet Getram.
All this leads up to the Grand Finale – ByoRetreat on November 2 and 3rd when the world as we know it will end.  Busloads of VIP members (and perhaps a few saboteurs – wink, wink) will be taken to a secret location for a two and a half hour interactive survival retreat.  Tickets will be available online within the next few days at www.zed.to
Without doubt, this is one of the most original and intelligent artistic projects I’ve ever known and I’m thrilled to be part of it.  Indeed, the universe has opened doors for me.
I invite you to enter our story, either as a volunteer performer or an audience participant.  I’m confident it will be one of the most creative things you will do this fall.  Please join us and I hope to see you at the end of the world as we know it.

Seven Impressions Every Theatre Student Should Want To Make

Whether we like it or not, first impressions have a great weight in how others will perceive us not only now but also in the future.  When you as a theatre student first walk into a studio, classroom, workshop or rehearsal, your instructor, director, fellow company members and/or classmates will form opinions about you based on what you do and what you say.

Often, students try to impress others with their talent, skill and how often and to what extent they’ve performed before.  Obviously, if you were accepted into theatre school, you’ve already proved that you have something.  What your instructors are looking for now is not what you’ve learned or done in the past.  They want to know what you have to give right now and for next two to four years. Are you there to learn?  Can you learn? Are you open?  Are you courageous?  Are you confident?  Are you truthful?  Are you humble?  Are you personable?  Will you take risks?  Are you an ensemble player?

What you do in the first month will determine much of your success in the next few years.  These are the impressions you want to create:

  1. You Know You Don’t Know Everything You Need to Know About Theatre:  Regardless of how accomplished an actor you think you are and as much as you think you know – your knowledge is limited. You are studying theatre because you are there to learn not to show off.  Your instructors are there to teach.  Don’t brag.  Don’t grandstand. Don’t argue with your instructor.  Don’t show disinterest.  And whatever you do, don’t read or send text messages in the middle of class. Come with an open mind, prepared to learn.  Focus. Take notes.  Ask questions. Show your professors your passion and your hunger.
  2. You Know How to Listen: Listening is an art. It’s one of the most crucial skills you need to develop as a theatre student and an actor.  Active listening requires that you hear, absorb and process.  It shapes and defines what and how you perceive and communicate.  You need to actively listen to your instructor, your director, your S.M., your fellow students and all of the company members, on stage and off.  In rehearsal and performance, your character must also practice active listening.  Yes, you as the actor may listen for cues, but more importantly, your character must be listening to what is being spoken because this is the first time (every time) your the character has heard the dialogue.  No matter how talented you are, you can’t fake active listening.
  3. You Give Respect:  Constantin Stanislavsky wrote “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.” You respect Theatre because you know it is an noble tradition and an ancient rite, far greater than we will ever be.  In order to show that respect, you must be sincerely interested in the art and want to learn more about its history, theory and practice. You have already read many scripts, attended a number of good plays (and not simply pop culture films and/or flashy Mc’Musicals), you’ve read review and essays about theatre,and you think about it too.  This respect is also demonstrated toward the other members of your community – playwrights, directors, technicians, theatre instructors, fellow students and last but not least for your audience.  You are always punctual for classes and rehearsals and you’re prepared to work and to learn while you’re there.
  4. You Are Gracious and Personable:  Good manners and common courtesy are valued by everyone, and often a simple please and thank and pleasant tone will earn you many credits in the impressions department. Being gracious also means being generous.  No-one wants to work with a self-absorbed and selfish actor.  Be they type of artist that others want to work with.  Theatre is not a vacuum; its lifeforce however, is created by the energy and chemistry BETWEEN characters. Focusing on your scene partners as opposed to yourself, and providing them with the energy and emotion they need, will not only enhance your own performance but also the entire production.  You also know how to take notes and criticism with grace.   You know those notes are being given to help you, so you listen, absorb, process and then do your best to apply them.
  5. You Are a Risk-Taker:  Some artists only do what they do well and stay well-within their comfort zone.   Their work tends to be predictable, if not bland.  Risk-takers, on the other hand have the artistic courage and confidence to constantly challenge themselves.  They’re unafraid to try new techniques and methods – driving their work to deeper and more profound places.  They explore and they experiment. They dive into the unattractive or underwritten roles with the same gusto and audacity as they do with the the principal roles.  By diving into the swamp head first, these actors risk self-exposure, criticism and even failure.  But when they fail, they get back up, shake off the muck and try something else.  They continue to grow and develop and surprise us.  Their courage usually brings about breathtaking results. Their work is fresh, original and filled with a vibrant life-force we call the “it factor”.   Risk-takers have the courage to be truthful and open, to expose their hearts and share their fears.  Risk-takers stand out because of their energy. They excite us; they are special and we never forget them.
  6. You Are Mindful:  According to Psychology Today “Mindfulness is the state of active, open attention on the present.” This is one of the most difficult skills to learn.  It takes a great deal of time, discipline and training to learn how to be and stay in the moment.  When on stage, the mind tends to race in a million different directions. Lesser actors think about their lines, cues, blocking, audience reactions and what they’re having for breakfast tomorrow.  All that gunk needs to be removed from your mind when you perform.  One way to get there is to be properly prepared and rehearsed, so you can let the technical aspects of acting go on auto-pilot, Then you can be truly in the moment and in character.  This is not a skill most people have, and once they do, it needs to be nurtured and maintained. Many actors do yoga and mediation on regular basis so they can better reach a state of mindfulness.  True mindfulness creates a character that is authentic, truthful, vibrant and magnetic.  It is a skill to work toward.
  7. You Are Flexible:  There are some things we do better than others.  Some are stronger with physical theatre than text, and the opposite is true for others.  In theatre school you will be learning about all the facets of different acting styles from classical, modern and post-modern sources. You will most likely take classes in Shakespeare, clowning, dance, voice, method acting, improvisation, combat…… One instructor will ask you do something one way, and your next director will ask you to do something completely opposite.  The theatre student who stands out is the one who can adapt and adjust accordingly to the different demands being made on her or him.  Your directors and instructors are looking for artists who want to learn and want to grow.  Be that person.


Ego and the Artist

Because of the huge shape-shifting I’ve undergone lately, I’ve had to think about myself much more than I like. Right now, I feel very self-centered, and uncomfortably so.

Ego.  When is it too much, and when too little?

In July, I had a late afternoon catch up with a former student whom I will refer to as D.H.  Currently she is in the middle of a four year performance program at a highly respected theatre faculty in Toronto, where by all accounts, she’s doing exceptionally well.  D.H.’s show had just closed at the Toronto Fringe, and she received excellent reviews for her performances. While we sipped on our Margaritas, and talked about the Fringe, school and dreams.  D.H. confessed she was seriously considering dropping out of her theatre program.  When I asked her why she told me she hated how they stripped the students of their confidence and any and all ego they might have.  There is a culture of emotional oppression of “self”.   What’s the point, D.H. asked, if theatre students were too afraid to take risks, too afraid to fail?  Isn’t school a place to be nurtured?  Aren’t students there to explore and try and safely fail and try again so they can grow as artists?

What is the point, indeed?

Most theatre schools do take the same hard-nose approach and there could be a number of reasons why.  Kids often come from high school programs where they were “stars”, many with egos bigger than the state of Texas.  It’s difficult to teach someone who thinks they know everything, when actually all they know is a drop in the bucket. Or maybe the schools take such an approach because that’s how the instructors themselves had been treated when they were in theatre school?  Could it be what goes around comes around? Or perhaps, students who really want to follow a career in the arts MUST be reduced to nothing, in order to truly understand and the pain and the joy of the human condition. Maybe this is theatre schools’ method to their madness – to determine which students have the strength, tenacity, love and passion to go on despite the inflicted wounds.

Are theatre practitioners not often humbled by critics and nay-sayers regardless of talent, reputation or quality of their work ? We put our work out there for audiences and we hope for praise but must also expect to be hurt.  Some people say theatre artists have to be full of themselves in order to write the play, stand metaphorically naked on stage or direct others in what and how to play the play.  And yes, many extroverts do become performers.  They love being in the spotlight and often they are very well crafted in their staged personae.  Still, it always seems to be the introverted artists – the ones lacking a love of self, the shy ones, the quiet ones, the still ones – who usually steal my heart.  I think those actors and playwrights have spent most of their lives listening, observing, and processing; whereas the extroverts have focused too much on presenting themselves to the world.

More ego.

I remember having a conversation with Rob Kempson of Theatre Passe Muraille, and the current Director for the Paprika Festival .  Rob is also a qualified and very talented drama teacher who I used to love bringing into my classes (and I very highly recommend as a guest artist or supply teacher).  We were talking about performing artists who become teachers.  Rob observed that in order to professionally develop as an actor, one needs to be focused on oneself; whereas, those who teach need to be focused on their students.  He felt that knowing how to switch from one to the other may be quite challenging for some theatre artists.

What recently happened at the Factory Theatre between Ron Struys and his merry Board of Pranksters and founder Artistic Director Ken Gass was a clash of ideas, but also a  butting of egos. And then there’s Morris Panych’s hysterically funny but also distressed  response to critic Kelly Nestruck’s  Globe review of Wanderlust. The tennis match between the two of them, is yet another example of ego and the artist.  You can read the review and Morris’ subsequent response at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/theatre-reviews/stratfords-wanderlust-merely-serviceable-entertainment/article4411194/  (By the way if you do take the time to read the review, be sure to link on to the comments that follow the article.)


There were a number of amazing new plays at this year’s Summerworks Festival including the deeply disturbing  Terminus, the equally extraordinary Iceland and Daniel MacIvor’s new play I, Animal.  I mention these plays because all of them consisted of extended monologues delivered by three separate and disconnected characters.  I loved the first two scripts and the productions but something bothered me.  Is this a new trend for playwrights?  There was little action, little blocking and virtually no interaction between characters.  In the rare moments when the dialogue segued I leaned forward in excitement, hoping for more physical connections between the characters. None came.

I used to think that one-person shows were egotistical and selfish but the truth is their popularity is derived from the fact they are so much cheaper and so much easier to produce.  I understand that, but why have three characters on stage in total isolation?  As an audience member I hunger for human interaction and tension between characters. How can this trend toward monologue-cum-play serve a stronger dramatic purpose? Or is it that playwrights no longer know how to develop relationships between characters?  Is it reflective of how alienated we’ve all become in our world of twitter, FB’ing,  texting and blogging?  If we function alone in bubbles, how can we not focus on ourselves and our own egos?  We talk and talk and talk, and write and write and write but characters having a dialogue on stage is becoming a rare treat indeed.

Which brings me back to my original question.  How much is too much ego?  How much is too little?




A Life, Deconstructed

One year ago, I was running our final dress rehearsals for The Dreamcatchers; after which, all the scenery, costumes, makeup, gobos, gels, CD’s and toolboxes were to be packed into nineteen rather large suitcases.  The beautiful Jiibay sticks had to be cut in three pieces in order to fit, and the holster, gun, billy sticks, sixteen O.P.P. caps and the hangman’s noose were lovingly bubble-wrapped. After almost two years of intense planning, promoting, politicking, fund-raising, creating, and rehearsing, this was a true labour of love.  We were taking our devised and very Canadian theatre piece to Scotland, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – the mecca for all theatre practitioners.  My people.  My tribe.

I joked that this play would be my swan song.  I didn’t realize, to a certain degree, it actually was.

I was 57 years old and had been teaching secondary school Drama in Toronto since 1979.  During that time, I taught thousands and thousands of teenagers, some of whom would grow up to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, architects, bankers, professors, carpenters, plumbers, truck-drivers and every imaginable work position that is out there. More than a few, I’m proud to say, actually went on to become successful actors, writers, designers, directors and filmmakers.

I am one of the lucky ones. I love teaching.  I love theatre.  And, I loved sharing that love and respect for the arts with my students.  Actually, it’s more than that. Theatre is my passion and obsession. Not only was I teaching drama during school hours, I was spending my evenings and weekends directing and producing.  A sixty hour week was the norm, and a hundred hour week was not unheard closer to opening night.  The best hours were those on the Saturdays and Sundays, or the late cold Monday nights in December when we could get lost in the folds and wrinkles of figuring out how to make that scene work, how to find just the right energy for that character, or how accidentally, we’d discover footlights gelled purple can create just the right tones of magic and shadows of mystery. Summers and holidays were invested in writing new plays, another obsessive-compulsive love. For a teacher in Ontario, extra-curricular activities and time are given freely, there is no compensation whatsoever.  If you are involved in the theatre you understand why we spend so much time doing what we do; most people, however, believe, we’re certifiably nuts.

One would think a fire can only burn so intensely for so long before it extinguishes itself.

The longer I worked and the older I became, the more immersed I was.  Teaching though, started to change, or at least the board politics became more complex over the years.  Earlier in my career, I had become a department head in the east end of Toronto. I actually hate administrative work, and I wasn’t planning to climb the edu-ladder.  Nonetheless, I did want to have a voice in the direction and shape of the program.  I spent fifteen years developing a drama program that was recognized provincially for excellence of curriculum and outstanding productions. Eventually, I moved to a performing arts school where I was the Curriculum Leader of the Arts.  At this school, students are required to audition and it has an excellent reputation for attracting those who are academically and artistically “gifted”.  The parents are committed in providing their children with enriched opportunities.  The environment there is exciting, vibrant, alive and throbbing with creative energies. It also happens to be exhausting to work there, and filled with never-ending pressures and deadlines.

Time flies.  Just when I acclimatized to the culture and tempo of the new school, I went through almost four years of hell.  A series of personal crises occurred: the palliative care and death of a close family member; my diagnosis of a debilitating autoimmune disease; then, another diagnosis, far more frightening and serious than the first; and finally, a long and painful recovery from thoracic surgery.   I returned to work after three months sick leave to discover I was eligible to retire the following month – February 2009.  Instead, I jumped right back into the swamp.  I wrote a new play, ran morning rehearsals at seven, and evening ones that ran until ten at night.  Three weeks after my return, Before the After Party a show about mortality, performed at a competition where it was chosen as the Outstanding Production to be featured at the Regional Showcase. I did my best to catch up with administrative work piled up in my absence, and to re-establish the flow with my classes – who basically had been on a hiatus from the time I was gone.  I couldn’t yet climb a flight of stairs post surgery, but I returned to the sixty hour work week.  I was not going to leave the job I loved with my tail between my legs.  As a matter of fact, for the next two years, I truly believed I would keep doing what I loved so profoundly, until I dropped dead in the wings.

That brings us back to The Dreamcatchers.  Creating and watching it come to fruition on the Edinburgh stage, both consumed and satiated me. It was as if I had arrived at my destination. As an educator, I had done all that needed to be done, and given all I had to give.  I found it difficult to return to the same old, same old.  That spring I’d been asked to work on a new drama textbook with McGraw-HIll Ryerson and their iLit series.  Not only did they want me to be part of the team, but also to help promote the book after it was published, by providing workshops for teachers and students. The publishing world is completely alien to me, but I couldn’t turn down the chance to do something new, and to actually contribute to an educational project that is so innovative and visionary.  I agreed, even though this was significantly inflating my already too heavy workload.

I was over-worked. I was tired.

Fast-forward to Thanksgiving weekend 2011.  I woke up that Saturday morning upset, worrying and stressing about some administrative problem that seemed very significant at the time, but honestly it’s something I now consider to be trivial. As I kept turning the problem in my head, that morning, I had a flash of insight,  an epiphany, an aha moment, if you will……   and, I knew exactly what to do.  Could it be that simple?  What would happen to me?  How could I survive without?   I mused for the next two days about my options, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized, this was the right thing to do.

It was.

On Monday, October 10, 2011 I typed up by notice of retirement and resignation letter.  I handed it to the principal the next day.  After thirty-three and a half years, I would soon be retired from teaching and my life as I knew it.

February 1st, 2012 was the beginning of my new existence. I’ve had to deconstruct all the parts of my life since then, and now I’m beginning to put some of them back together again.  There have been moments of tears, and other moments of rue, but mostly there has been laughter, adventure, new friends and new experiences.   I’m learning about myself and all the things that really matter.  I’m creating a new life. I’m creating the new me.

Oh, the drama!