Who Killed Spalding Gray: On Becoming the Story


daniel macivor

Daniel MacIvor’s newest solo show, Who Killed Spalding Gray?, a collaboration with director Daniel Brooks, begins with an interview with an audience member where MacIvor asks this person who they are, who he is and who Spalding Gray was. On Sunday Night at the LuminaTO Festival’s 7 Monologues Series in Toronto the audience member was a young theatre student, who was quick to proclaim that MacIvor was one of Canada’s most celebrated playwrights, but was stuck on the details of Spalding Gray. In another city, at another time, the results may be switched. Gray, after all, was a successful American monologuist who worked with the Performance Group and the Wooster Group and became known as a celebrated figure in the American Theatre for telling fictitious stories as though they were the truth. He also played Fran Drescher’s therapist on The Nanny. On January 11, 2004 he committed suicide after riding the Staten Island ferry back and forth all night. Earlier that night he and his son had seen Tim Burton’s film Big Fish at the movie theatre, and he had stayed behind after it was over for some time and wept. Big Fish is also the story of a man who tells stories, claiming they are true, but his son believes them to be false. The last line of the film is “A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way, he is immortal.”

Celebrated Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor has made his career from telling the same stories over and over, to audiences all over the world. While Gray’s stories were presented as fact and were fiction, MacIvor states that his stories are presented as fiction, and yet, he is not sure that they aren’t true. The truth, of course, is subjective. In Who Killed Spalding Gray? MacIvor tells a story that some audience members may find difficult to believe. In January, 2004 he was in California having “an entity” removed by a “physic surgeon” at the urging of his ex-boyfriend, who was convinced that this entity was trying to kill him. MacIvor had been afflicted with a sense of unease for quite some time, a feeling of not quite fitting, which had left him in a dark and fragile place, and he wanted to see the removal of this entity as a new beginning, a burden being lifted, with brighter skies ahead of him. He was looking for significance wherever he could find it. The same day that Spalding Gray committed suicide in New York MacIvor’s entity was killed by a physic surgeon in California. Are these two stories connected?

MacIvor also tells us about a man named Howard who wants to commit suicide but is too afraid of failure to try. Howard also tells the same stories over and over and his stories also initially appear to be true, but are later revealed to be false. The difference between Howard and MacIvor and Gray is that Howard doesn’t have an audience for his stories except in his own head. Through Howard we see the power of the stories that we tell ourselves, and how, regardless of whether they are true or false, positive or negative, they strengthen and inform our perceptions of ourselves, others and our lives, the more that we repeat them. What story was Spalding Gray repeating in his own head when he was riding the Staten Island ferry back and forth that cold night in January in 2004 just before he decided to end his life? Did the story that MacIvor told himself about his entity being successfully removed in California change the direction of his future? Does the truth of these stories matter when the consequences of someone’s belief in them are so intensely and tangibly real?

There is something incredibly jubilant in MacIvor’s performance of this piece, despite the fact that the subject matter is so dark and infused with much melancholy. At times, in the light MacIvor looked to me akin to a young boy, and his ease to sing and to dance and to play, directly, with the audience alludes to the light after the entity, alludes to the active choosing to swim, rather than to drown. Brooks gives the stage a sense of openness, as well, and fluidity, the light doesn’t cling to MacIvor as close in the darkness, separating him completely from an audience he may be afraid of. There is no sense of fear in this MacIvor, he is playful and charismatic and generous.

In Who Killed Spalding Gray? MacIvor offers us consideration of the four most important things in life: the ocean, that gives us water, the sky, that gives us the air, death, which roots us in life, and swimming, paddling onward. The stories we tell inform the choices we make about whether we are swimming or drowning.

Who Killed Spalding Gray played as part of the LuminaTO Festival’s 7 Monologues Series June 19th and 20th, presented by MacIvor’s new theatre company reWork Productions . Hopefully it will return to Toronto for a longer run in the future. The LuminaTO Festival continues to June 28. For more information please visit this website. 

Who Killed Spalding Gray?


daniel macivor

Halifax is very fortunate to have the premiere performance of the newest Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks collaboration here as part of the Magnetic North/ Stages Festival. Who Killed Spalding Gray? plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre until June 28th, 2014.

On January 11, 2004 Spalding Gray, a renowned American actor who worked with Richard Schechner’s experimental theatre company The Performance Group in 1970, went on to co-found The Wooster Group in 1975 and then became a celebrated solo theatre artist specializing in Monologue storytelling and went on to play Fran Drescher’s therapist on The Nanny (1993), committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry in New York. At the same time renowned Canadian playwright and solo theatre artist Daniel MacIvor was in California having “an entity” removed from his body by a “psychic surgeon” under warnings from an ex boyfriend that this entity was trying to kill him. Throughout the play MacIvor melds the story of Gray’s depression and suicide with his own experience in California and tells the story of a man named Howard who also plans to kill himself, but is too afraid of failure to try. The result is a building of the stories we tell ourselves on the stories we are told and an examination of how “we search for significance wherever we can find it” and that, with faith, this significance informs and changes the story we tell, which changes the pathways of our lives. We can find connections everywhere, if we go looking for them, even ones that seemed to be unintentional or coincidental, and the same can be said for this play. It is left up to the audience to piece the bits together to try to build a meaning or an epiphany if that is what we seek, or they can be left to reflect the randomness and chaos of life.

MacIvor says that his work has often been compared to Gray’s, a connection that he questions and resists, likely because he isn’t sure whether he even likes Gray’s work. On the surface the form of their theatre appears similar- both told stories that often sound like truth to audience members- although there are many profound differences in the ways that they go about telling and performing and layering these stories. Gray’s work is infused with his perspective as an American WASP who lived in New York and connected ardently with the neurosis of someone like Woody Allen, while MacIvor’s work is swathed in his experience as a Gay, Catholic Cape Bretoner, which is quite a disparate experience. Yet, this quote from American Theatre Director Jonathan Demme about Gray could also be said about MacIvor, “[His] unfailing ability to ignite universal emotions and laughter in all of us while gloriously wallowing in his own exquisite uniqueness will remain forever one of the great joys of… performance and literature.” MacIvor also explores the perceptive of Helena Bonham Carter, another person who has a challenging, haphazard connection to Gray, since her husband (Tim Burton)’s film Big Fish, which she starred in, was the last film Gray saw before he boarded the Staten Island ferry and ended his life. The last lines of the film are “A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way, he is immortal.”

Does it matter if the stories we tell ourselves are true? Does believing the story we tell ourselves make it true? Was Daniel MacIvor saved because he believed that the entity trying to kill him was slain? Does an audience respond to a monologue more ardently if they believe it to be true? Is the monologue any less compelling if it turns out to be false? Does the truth about whether the story is fact or fiction matter if an audience believes in it regardless? Why doesn’t Robert Cushman, theatre critic of The National Post that MacIvor references in the play, care about the answers to these questions when the tension and delicate balance inherent between the performer and the audience is so informed by what we believe to be truth in the theatre and what significance we give to it. We are complicit in these stories by being active listeners- how we hear the story we are told is as much part of the theatre as what the performer says.

There is so much in this play to consider- the layering of MacIvor as MacIvor and MacIvor as Gray for example and the way that Brooks swathes the stage with intense light and intense dark rapidly and the drinking of the water, as harkening to Gray’s signature table with a glass of water and notebook and microphone, with allusions to swimming and to drowning, to the ferry, to MacIvor’s earlier work Never Swim Alone, to drunken benders and healthier choices and the very sustenance that MacIvor needs to stay alive. There is also the question of where this “entity” that was expelled from MacIvor came from, and where it went, and what (or who) it was, and who else is present here onstage or in the theatre that we cannot see. It also suggests that whether or not you believe in planes of existence, or “entities” or ghosts or spirits or the theatre, if Spalding Gray is the story and Daniel MacIvor tells us the story then, in a way Spalding Gray is living on inside of us and that knowing this has the potential to be both significant and transformative for all of us… or it could just be a very captivating lie.

Who Killed Spalding Gray plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre as part of the Magnetic North/ Stages Theatre Festival at the following times:

June 27 at 7pm

June 28 at 9pm 

Tickets for all shows are available at TicketPro either by phone (1-888-311-9090) at TicketPro outlets in Halifax, at the show’s venue prior to the performance or online at this address.  

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

rabbit rabbit


White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour is a play with no rehearsal and no director that can only be performed by an actor who has never seen the script before once. DMV Theatre has been presenting White Rabbit Red Rabbit, with a different actor each evening, since Sept 24th, 2013. In my experience, having seen the play with four different actors over the last week, I strongly recommend that audience members go into the experience, and it is an experience more than it is a play in the conventional sense of that word, as blindly as the actor does. So, with that said, if you have not seen White Rabbit Red Rabbit I would advise you to stop reading this “review” now and come back to it after you have had your first experience with the play. That is just a suggestion; however, your choice is up to you.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit was written by an Iranian playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, in 2010 at a time when Soleimanpour did not have a passport, and therefore could only leave Iran through the words of his play. Since simultaneously being produced by Toronto’s Volcano Theatre and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with dramaturgy by Ross Manson and Daniel Brooks, White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been performed in venues all over the world and has been translated into fifteen different languages.

My experience with White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been a fascinating one. I have seen four performers tackle Soleimanpour’s script: Samantha Wilson, Rhys Bevan-John, Kathryn MacLellan and Ann-Marie Kerr and each evening it has come alive in a brand new way that the audience experiences together. It is vulnerable and communal and Soleimanpour is present in every line, dramatically and unexpectedly. There is an element of danger implicit in the text and it reminds us that even though we have become conditioned, as Canadian citizens, to feel safe, that danger is actively all around us. We are all in the process of dying, after all. We are encouraged to understand that just because we, at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, are very certain that there is nothing to fear, that we are able to trust the conventions of our society, our city, our theatre and our country, that this is not the same for all people everywhere and will not necessarily be the same for us in the future.

The play works on a beautiful metaphorical level. It is about theatre as much as it can be seen as being about the constructions of our societies. It encourages us to question our conventions of authority, our own willingness to be obedient, to be passive, to do what is expected of us, and also how far we trust those that sit with us in the theatre, who share our community, who make the decisions or climb toward leadership. These are not necessarily the ideas of Nassim Soleimanpour, he has just provided us with the framework, with the potential for something powerful to happen and for deep discussions to emerge. The way that each audience member interprets his story of the white and red rabbits will be different, and does not necessarily capture the playwright’s intention. Or, perhaps it was his intention to facilitate endless possible explanations.

For me the play draws connections between the playwright’s words being the authority of a text and the actors who have been conditioned to submit to this authority. The audience are the passive witnesses, who watch the actors carry out the playwright’s plans. This can be seen as being a metaphor for how a government, or any hierarchy of power, works in most societies in the world. How complicit are we, the silent majority, in the actions that our Prime Minister makes? Is it partially my fault, for example, that Tarek Loubani and John Greyson are still being held without trial in Egypt?

While watching White Rabbit Red Rabbit the first time my mind was spinning with thoughts of how this play mirrors societal constructions and I focused ardently on Soleimanpour and wondered about his life in Iran and tried to compare my imagined sense of his experience there with my own experience here. While I felt very connected to Soleimanpour in all four performances, while watching Rhys Bevan-John and then Kathryn MacLellan and then Ann-Marie Kerr my focus began to shift from my experience in the audience toward the experience of the actor standing before me. I realized that White Rabbit Red Rabbit also exposes the process of the actor to the audience. Watching the way the actor engages with the script, with the playwright and with the audience reveals so much about the vulnerable and complex ideas that each particular actor has about his or her role in the creation of the theatre. This is also intrinsically linked to each actor’s own distinct personality and psychology. Therefore, White Rabbit Red Rabbit can be seen as an exploration of our societies’ relationship to authority and the audience’s relationship to a play, and also an exploration of the actor’s relationship to a performance text and the actor’s relationship to the audience.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit has been a fascinating theatrical adventure for me. Each time I experience the anxiety of not knowing so beautifully inherent to the theatre and I remember that, really, we never know anything in life for certain either. Any moment could be our last, although we are fairly certain it won’t be; the possibility of the unexpected and the unknown, like an envelope with a script in it that we’ve never seen before, is always there. Ultimately, that is what makes each moment so vividly alive.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit plays at 8pm at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) until October 5th, 2013. Tickets are $15.00 and available at this website or at the door. There will be a different actor for each performance and the remaining artists are: Chris Shore, Susan Stackhouse and Pasha Ebrahimi. If you come more than once all return tickets are only $5.00. Come join the experience. 


It is time once again for my end of year TWISI Round Up! This year I wanted to reinstate the TWISI Awards and to use this opportunity to celebrate the achievements of some of the incredible theatre artists whose work I felt privileged to see this year. I have gone through all the reviews and theatre notes that I have written from the last twelve months and come up with this list of TWISI AWARD WINNERS. Each winner receives exclusive TWISI Award Winner bragging rights, a swanky gold star badge for their Facebook page and all my gratitude for giving me such a glorious gift of talent and theatrical bliss this year. Thank you from the bottom of my bottom (to borrow from Betty White).


  1. Gold Star to HELENA PIPE (Actor in In This Word, Halifax Theatre For Young People/Super Nova Festival)
  2. Gold Star to BRUCE HORAK (Performer/Creator of This is Cancer, Eastern Front/ Super Nova Festival)
  3. Gold Star to MICHAEL MCPHEE (Actor in Bone Boy, Frankie Production)
  4. Gold Star to TIA ANDRIANI (Actor in Little Women, Metro Non Profit Housing)
  5. Gold Star to TANYA DAVIS (Performer/Creator of Nonmonag and the Gray Scale Dwellers, Queer Acts Festival)
  6. Gold Star to KEELIN JACK (Actor in Touch, The Doppler Effect/Queer Acts Festival)
  7. Gold Star to STEPHANIE MACDONALD (Actor in Short Skirt Butch, Queer Acts Festival)
  8. Gold Star to KEITH MORRISON (Director of Twelve Angry Men, Lions Den Theatre)
  9. Gold Star to VANESSA WALTON-BONE (Actor in Blood & Quick Silver, Doppler Effect, Atlantic Fringe Festival)
  10. Gold Star to MARK ALLAN (Actor in Sweeney Todd, Neptune Theatre)
  11. Gold Star to MONIQUE MOJICA (Actor in Hawk, Onelight Theatre, Prismatic Festival)
  12. Gold Star to HEATHER RANKIN (Actor in Bingo, Mulgrave Road Theatre/Neptune Theatre)
  13. Gold Star to DANIEL MACIVOR (Actor/Writer of This is What Happens Next, Eastern Front Theatre/Necessary Angel Theatre)
  14. Gold Star to DANIEL BROOKS (Director of This is What Happens Next, Eastern Front Theatre/Necessary Angel Theatre)
  15. Gold Star to SUSAN LEBLANC (Actor/Creator of The Debacle, Zuppa Theatre)
  16. Gold Star to ANN-MARIE KERR (Director/Creator of The Debacle, Zuppa Theatre)
  17. Gold Star to CHRISTIAN BARRY & ANTHONY BLACK (Directors of The Story of Mr. Wright, 2b Theatre/ Eastern Front Theatre)
  18. Gold Star to MARK UHRE (Performer in Elf, Neptune Theatre)
  19. Gold Star to RAOUL BHANEJA (Performer in Hamelt (Solo), Neptune Theatre)
  20. Gold Star to RHONDA BAKER (Dancer in Stir & Wish Desire Vow, (LiveArt Dance/Votive Dance, Atlantic Fringe Festival)

TWISI is also pleased to be bringing back the TWISI PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS.

I would like to encourage people across the country to think of someone in the Canadian theatre community (this includes anyone in cast, crew, volunteer, producer, front of house, community theatre director, high school drama teacher- also in Improv, Performance Art, Sketch, Stand Up, Cabaret and dance- theatre in its broadest terms etc…) who is deserving of special recognition this year. Think in terms of someone whose work in whatever way is helping to shape and foster the Canadian theatre or someone who inspires you specifically. You can nominate someone who is Canadian who is working outside the country. You can nominate people who aren’t Canadians but who work mostly in Canada. Please nominate people who are Canadian and who work in Canada.

Then, I am encouraging you to nominate this person for a TWISI People’s Choice Award by creating something that celebrates them and introduces them to TWISI’s readers. It could be a blog that you write. It could be a poem. It could be a song. It could be a video. I encourage you all to think creatively. For more ideas of what I am looking for check out these awesome guest blogs from Sing Out Louise.

Then send all submissions to me at amandacarol.campbell@gmail.com between January 1st, 2013- January 30th, 2013 (the email I sent missed the 0 on 30th. You have all month to participate, but try to submit early so they are spread out over the month and not all plunked down at the very end)! 

All throughout January I will post all the submissions that I receive. Everyone who is nominated wins! We can celebrate the awesomeness that is the Canadian theatre all January long!! Join the Facebook Event Here!

Have a Very TWISItacular Holiday Season. I look forward to serving up lots more theatre reviews, interviews and special features in 2013. See you all there and thank you so much for visiting TWISI. 

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