When Naomi Snieckus was brainstorming ideas for which playwrights to ask to write two pages for The National Theatre of the World’s Script Tease Project, the first words out of my mouth were, “Daniel MacIvor!!” and so today, TWISI and the NTOW are proudly celebrating International Daniel MacIvor Day and tonight at 8pm at Theatre Passe Muraille is a brand new play, with two pages written by MacIvor, and the rest improvised by Naomi Snieckus, Matt Baram and Ron Pederson in his distinct style.
Daniel MacIvor played an extremely definitive role in shaping my relationship to the theatre because it was in reading, and mostly in watching, MacIvor’s work in my first year as a theatre studies student at Dalhousie University that I realized not only that contemporary theatre was being made by Canadian playwrights, but also that the work that was being created was of a quality comparable to that being produced in world-class theatres everwhere else in the world. This was a huge revelation for me and one that dictated the path that I would embark on for the next eight years and into the infinite future. The first MacIvor play I read was In On It, as part of my Theatre 1000 class, which began with Sophocles and ended with MacIvor and covered a selection of the classics every theatre student should know in the middle. I remember having to write a paper on In On It, in which I proposed a touring production of the play starring two young Haligonian actors, Rhys Bevan-John, who now works primarily with Mermaid Theatre and Bill Wood, who is most well-known as part of Halifax’s infamous sketch comedy troupe Picnicface. I finished the paper with the following sentence that 18 year old me was exorbitantly delighted with, “Through this student tour, we are able to reach those who might have never been able to see a production of any kind and say to them, “You Are Here, This is a Play, A-Two-Man-One-Man-Show, and we wanted to let you In On It.” Obviously, my life calling was clear.
At around the same time Daniel MacIvor was at Dalhousie University directing the fourth year acting students in his play You Are Here, which I was required to see once as part of my program. It was the only DalTheatre show in four years that I did not work on but saw more than once. I would have gone every night if I could have afforded it. I have told this story so many times, but I have to share it again because it is one of my favourite Canadian Theatre stories of all time and to me, it never ever gets old. The first time I saw You Are Here was the invited Dress Rehearsal, basically reserved for all the first year students who had to see the show and write about it for class. In this production the main character, the protagonist, around whom the entire play revolves, was played by the extremely talented Gillian Anderson (not the X-Files star, the Haligonian actor known for playing the White Witch in Neptune Theatre’s Youth Performance Company’s Production of Narnia. She’s a big deal, I swear.). Anyway, big deal or not, Gillian Anderson was sick and there were no understudies, so rather than cancel the show, we got to see Daniel MacIvor, script in hand, in comedic genius overload, play Alison. It is to this day one of the funniest, most meta-theatrical theatre experiences I have ever had in my life and one that I will always cherish.
What really impressed me about You Are Here, however, was that the play was strong enough to work on both these levels. On the one hand, suddenly things that would not have been funny with Gillian playing Alison were immediately hilarious, and it was fascinating to watch Daniel MacIvor perform, even though, or perhaps especially because, he was playing a part that no one would ever cast him in, a part that he would probably never play again. It was especially fascinating for me because I had never seen MacIvor in person, and I was only very freshly introduced to his work, so suddenly to have him burst out onstage, with all that characteristic MacIvor exuberance and self-deprecating humour was almost too good to be true. Yet, You Are Here, still resonated, and resonated strongly, as the play that MacIvor had written, even though it wasn’t being presented the way it had been intended, and at the end of the play I found myself sobbing my eyes out. I had never been so moved by a play in my life, and that intense, visceral experience that I had that night has very rarely been replicated (and I have seen *a lot* of plays!). In that moment You Are Here became my first favourite play, and it remains one of my favourites to this day. I went back and saw Gillian in the role of Alison a few nights later, and fell in love all over again. I would love to see a professional production of this play; it just kills me every time I read it.
Here is a bit of a “review” I wrote from this production that I saw in 2003 (keep in mind, I’m 18 years old), “I personally believe that Daniel MacIvor is a creative genius, some of his observations on the world are so profound and sometimes he has the ability to vocalize ideas that whirl around in everyone’s brain, but that they’ve never given a second thought to. I really respect people who can make their audience go, “Gee I do that too, I just never realized that before.”
I usually use Daniel MacIvor as an example of how odd the theatre culture can be in Nova Scotia. As I said, I didn’t know who Daniel MacIvor was until my first year of University, and only because I was taking a Theatre class, yet, one of my best friends, who grew up in Antigonish, Nova Scotia had been seeing MacIvor perform in his one-man shows all the time when we were teenagers, and yet all the while, I had no idea that any such thing was going on or even existed! I literally had no idea what I was missing. I’m still so jealous of all the amazing MacIvor shows that Kyle has seen that I have only read and read about. Obviously theatre in Nova Scotia needs a marketing strategy and one that targets the young people of the province who are excited and passionate about the theatre. It also helps that Neptune Theatre, under Artistic Director George Pothitos, has renewed its commitment to producing Canadian plays, and it is really fantastic to see MacIvor’s work among their Studio Theatre series recently.
My policy regarding Daniel MacIvor is a simple one. If there is a Daniel MacIvor related something and I am able, I will go. My friend Laurel Green and I took a jaunt up to Stratford during our Masters Degree to see a reading of MacIvor’s then newest play His Greatness, which featured the late great Richard Monette and was the first time I ever saw Allan Hawco (Jake Doyle from Republic of Doyle) onstage. I spent a lot of my student loan money buying every single one of MacIvor’s plays at Theatre Books (I shouldn’t be allowed in there, it is the most dangerous place in the world for my credit card) and I read each one at least twice (and often aloud alone in my dorm room). I went to a reading that MacIvor did of a bunch of plays he was working on in a little parlour room at the University of Toronto a year or so ago, and even in their early forms, I was captivated and so moved by his reading, which is always so animated and hilarious. I saw How It Works, A Beautiful View and Communion at Tarragon Theatre and loved them all, but especially Communion, and I fell in such love with Tracey Wright and Caroline Gillis, what treats and delights they are to watch.
There is something in the way that Daniel MacIvor writes that I have felt, since first seeing You Are Here, that he gives poetic life to the messy thoughts that tumble through my soul like drying laundry. I find myself often yelling, “YES!!!” in silent camaraderie with his characters, and I have also, sometimes, even been able to anticipate his punch lines before they come. Maybe it is because we are from the same crazy ocean, but I have always felt a special affinity to MacIvor’s words. He speaks my language. He tells the stories that I relate to ardently even though, with the exception of Marion Bridge, they are not rooted in any particular Maritime folklore or culture. For me, MacIvor’s plays have always been magical ones that cut right to the heart while making me laugh and think and never fail to inspire me to go home and write something of my own, which is also something I am grateful for.
To this day, I have still only seen one of MacIvor’s iconic, legendary, wildly impressive and sought after one-man shows. I saw the premiere production of This is What Happens Next, directed by Daniel Brooks at Canadian Stage and it was everything that I expected and more. We are so lucky to have Daniel MacIvor and his incredible talent and creativity in our midst. His other plays include House, Cul De Sac, Monster, Here Lies Henry, See Bob Run, Wild Abandon, Yes I Am And Who Are You?, Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, and Never Swim Alone. You can buy his plays individually or in his Governor General Award winning anthology I Still Love You. He has won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, is a Chalmers Awards laureate and was the recipient of the 2008 Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize in Theatre.
He is also connected to some other playwrights of the Script Tease Project: He was an actor in Judith Thompson’s (May 24, 8pm) play White Biting Dog directed by Morris Panych (May 28th, 2pm), and more recently directed Linda Griffith’s (May 25th, 2pm) play The Last Dog of War. MacIvor has also recently worked at the Banff Centre of the Performing Arts, helping artists develop their own one-person plays using their own experiences as a catalyst.
Tonight is the Second Night of The National Theatre of the World’s Script Tease Project at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto). Tickets are $20 ($15 for students). I would recommend getting to TPM early as tickets are selling quickly or reserving yours online at http://www.artsboxoffice.ca/. Catch Them While You Can. The Schedule is as follows:
Wednesday, May 25th 2pm Linda Griffiths
Wednesday, May 25th 8pm Daniel MacIvor
Thursday, May 26th 8pm Woody Harrelson
Thursday, May 26th 9:30 Hannah Moscovitch
Friday, May 27th 8:pm Brad Fraser
Saturday, May 28th 2pm Morris Panych
Saturday, May 28th 8pm Mark McKinney
Sunday, May 29th 2pm Norm Foster
Sunday, May 29th 8pm John Patrick Shanley
Got Splendor? Come see a play that will make you laugh with your heart.