TWISI & The NTOW Present: BRAD FRASER DAY!!!

brad fraser

Today I am attempting to gather my exhausted wits and to celebrate a wonderful playwright and a man that I deeply respect and admire, Mr. Brad Fraser, who has written two pages of a brand new play and the rest will be improvised live in 3D tonight at the Theatre Passe Muraille by those mavericks of mischief, those darlings of deviance the incubators of Improv…. THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF THE WORLD!!!

Brad Fraser. I was introduced to Brad’s work late in the game, although I had certainly heard his name bouncing around much earlier. The first Fraser play I saw was, at that time, his latest, True Love Lies at Factory Theatre, where I had a similar reaction, I think, to most people who see Fraser plays. I was obsessed with the dialogue. He is called a “master” of writing conversations and I don’t care how many plays you have seen, written, directed, acted in, dramaturged or avoided, you see a Fraser play and you immediately have some sort of revelation about how meticulously and accurately the vernacular and rhythms of speech in conversation can be captured for the stage. Fraser’s play made me realize how false and heightened and hugely articulate and poetic most dialogue in plays are written to be. I read somewhere where Fraser’s plays were likened to “overhearing a conversation between two people on the bus” and that seems to me to hit right at the heart of what his plays can do. They don’t seem written, but with a keen eye and knowledge of the theatre, one knows the amount of talent it takes to seem almost invisible.

I next play I saw of Fraser’s was one of his first, a recent non-Equity production of Wolf Boy (1981), which was an ambitious but uneven production, but still highlighted how fascinating and exciting the play is and I came away wishing that I had seen one of its initial performances. Wolf Boy still resonates and is still, sadly, relevant, but I am sure that it must have been a powerful and provocative piece in the cultural and political climate of the early 1980s. His plays are not only political but they belong to the moment they’re being written. Fraser assaults the present moment, he exposes its underbelly with a fierce quest to examine and question the things that people hold sacred, the conventions we cling to and the deep complexities and contradictions inherent in all our daily interactions.

Other Brad Fraser plays include Chainsaw Love (1985, Edmonton Fringe Festival), Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love (1989, Alberta Theatre Projects PlayRites Festival, has since been produced in Edmonton, Toronto, Chicago, New York, Sydney, London, Sao Paulo and Cincinnati, among other cities), The Ugly Man (1993, Workshop West Theatre, Edmonton), Poor Super Man (1994, Cincinnati Ensemble Theatre, since produced in Edmonton, Buffalo, Edinburgh, London, Washington D.C, Toronto, Montreal, Sydney and Sao Paulo, Martin Yesterday (1998), Outrageous (2000, Canadian Stage, Toronto), Snake in Fridge (2001, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester) and San Francisco, Cold Meat Party (2003, Royal Exchange Theatre) also Factory Theatre (Toronto), and his most recent play 5 @ 50 which debuted at the Royal Exchange in 2011. His plays are available in print at Theatre Books in Toronto and I recommend checking them out. Also a very early play of his Mutants is included in Robin Whittaker’s anthology of plays that Premiered at the Walterdale Playhouse Hot Thespian Action. 

Fraser has been internationally honoured and acclaimed for his work. He has twice received the Chalmers Award (Unidentified… and Poor Super Man) and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Poor Super Man, 1996). He is a five-time winner of the Alberta Culture Playwriting Competition and five-time winner of the Alberta Writers’ Guild Drama Award. He also received the London Evening Standard Award for best new play and the Los Angeles Critics’ Award. I wish that his plays were given professional revivals more in Toronto because there are a great many that I have not seen and want to very ardently. I’m especially eager to see Snake in Fridge, which is not as well known as much of his other work, which is likely why I want so ardently to see it. Based loosely on the salacious exploits of Michael Alig, here is an excerpt from the description on Fraser’s website, “Led by the steroid abusing, foul mouthed, unbelievably angry club kid, Corbett, seven people, all working in the sex industry, share a house in Toronto.” Sounds like it belongs at Buddies, right? Can we make that happen? Brendan Healy? Yes?

The media loves Brad Fraser. Or, rather, they love to sensationalize the “Brad Fraser: Bad Boy of the Canadian Theatre” image that they constructed decades ago. What bothers me about this is that too often they write off what he says as being, “just Brad Fraser stirring up scandal” or “Brad Fraser, once again, being subversive” that “rebellious, bad, bad, boy”, instead of actually taking a moment to consider the legitimacy of what he is saying. Could it be that the mainstream Canadian media are typically cowardly and self interested… well we all saw what happened with The Globe and Mail during the recent election. So, what do you think? 

To me, Brad Fraser is a Canadian theatre hero, and one that is not afraid to give voice to the issues that are pertinent in our community. He is smart, he is passionate, he is articulate and he calls out bullshit in a way that is not only refreshing, but necessary for the Canadian theatre to be better, stronger and to bring forth work and artists that are world-class, unique, brave and that fuel and evoke volatile reaction from their audiences which will ultimately keep the theatre alive. Brad Fraser demands better from all of us and he refuses to give in to complacency; he refuses to settle for mediocre. Yet, it all comes from his faith in what this country and its artists are capable of. Brad Fraser inspires me to dig deeper, to never stifle my curiosity and to never, ever be afraid, to consent to being bullied or being made to feel intimidated by anyone with power, money or clout. He helps keep me true to my heart and he helps keep my heart searching for the truth.

According to the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia Fraser “was once a contributor to The National Post, considered a right-wing publication. About this he told Edmonton’s Vue Magazine, in June, 2000, “…I’m really tired of preaching to the converted. I could write for a great many publications where they’d agree with everything I say. But I really want to write for the people who don’t agree with everything I say.”” I think that speaks wonders of him as a man and a human being.

I saw The National Theatre of the World perform a Brad Fraser Impromptu Splendor with special guest Chris Craddock over a year and a half ago. Brad was the first playwright that I know of who attended a Splendor in his own style and his reaction was very enthusiastic and he has been an ardent supporter of The National Theatre of the World and their work ever since. Tonight is sure to be a hot and sexy, wild and foul-mouthed adventure, likely with some bare bottoms and booze. Tickets have sold out, but I would still recommend moseying down to Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue) and lining up early to join the Waiting List. 

The Script Tease Project plays at Theatre Passe Muraille MAY 24-29. 16 Ryerson Avenue. Tickets are $20.00 ($15.00 for students) Get there early, they will more than likely sell out or book ahead at www.artsboxoffice.ca. Here is the complete schedule.


MAY 24-29

Friday, May 27th 8:pm Brad Fraser- SOLD OUT
Saturday, May 28th 2pm Morris Panych
Saturday, May 28th 8pm Mark McKinney- SOLD OUT
Sunday, May 29th 2pm Norm Foster
Sunday, May 29th 8pm John Patrick Shanley- SOLD OUT
Got Splendor? Come see a play that will make you laugh with your heart.

The NTOW & TWISI Present: WOODY HARRELSON DAY!!!

woody harrelson
What can I tell you about Woody Harrelson that you do not already know, and very likely know better than I do? Harrelson is a fascinating artist who has had a very successful career in all three mediums of the performing arts, on television, in film and on stage. With his newest work Bullet for Adolf, which premiered last month at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre, he has now added playwright and director to his ever-expanding resume and he pens two pages of a brand new play which will be taken up, performed and brought to fruition by the master improvisers of the National Theatre of the World in their Script Tease Project, which continues tonight at 8pm at the Theatre Passe Muraille.
As someone whose knowledge of film and television is always dramatically eclipsed by my knowledge of theatre, my first-hand knowledge of Harrelson’s work is minimal, and not at all indicative of his talent as an actor. However, I did grow up watching the famed sitcom Cheers at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. Since I was in elementary school, I was drawn more ardently to the broader humour I could understand, that of Carla, the wisecracking waitress, played by Rhea Pearlman (an early comedic hero of mine) and the naive assistant bartender Woody, played by Harrelson, whose lack of comprehension for anything around him was a running gag of constant glee for my six year old sensibilities. Harrelson was on Cheers for eight seasons, from 1985 to 1993, and the show has continued to play in syndication nearly without pause ever since. The next time that Harrelson came on my radar was when he joined the cast of Will and Grace for a handful of episodes as Grace’s boyfriend, fun-loving and rambunctious Nathan. It was during this short stint, actually, that I remember being struck by Harrelson’s ability to play what could be considered a relatively simply constructed character, but to bring a real sense of poignancy at times to the role.
Harrelson’s accolades for his acting talents have mostly come to him from his film career, especially after starring in the Milos Forman film The People vs. Larry Flynt, in which he played the tit;e role, publisher of Hustler magazine, and for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Actor. He was also featured in such films as Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), Wag the Dog, (1997), The Thin Red Line (1999), Play It to the Bone (1997), The Walker (2007) and No Country for Old Men (2007) among others, for which he and his cast mates won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast. His most highly praised performance as an actor by critics was as Captain Tony Stone in The Messenger (2009) and he was nominated for a Satelite Award, an Independent Spirit Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Academy Award for this film and won the Best Supporting Actor award in the 2009 National Board of Review award ceremonies.
On stage, Harrelson directed his own play, Furthest from the Sun at the theater de la Juene Luene in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1999. He then performed in Roundabout’s Broadway rivial of N. Richard Nash’s play The Rainmaker in 2000, Sam Shepard’s The Late Henry Moss in 2001, John Kolvenbach’s On an Average Day in London’s West End in the Fall of 2002 and in the winter of 2005/2006 he directed the Toronto premiere of Kenneth Longergan’s This Is Our Youth at the Berkeley Street Theatre. In 2005 he returned to London’s West End, starring in Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana and recently his play Bullet for Adolph (co-written with Frankie Hyman) opened to tepid reviews at the Hart House Theatre in Toronto and a commotion over his choice to use non union Canadian actors rather than following tradition Professional Theatre protocol and paying actors, whose livelihood is made in the theatre, in accordance with the union guidelines.
Regardless of the reviews and the union kerfuffle, however, what I think is the most exciting thing about Bullet for Adolph is the choice by Harrelson to premiere his new work in Toronto. He did not march into our city with a ready-made American product, usurping our media from adequately covering our own indigenous work, but instead he came to work within our community and with our community in the creation of something new. Harrelson may be a celebrity as an actor, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience as a playwright or as a director, but I have not heard or read any evidence of him touting himself as having all the answers or as being an expert. He is carving out for himself a new means of self expression, and Hart House Theatre, with its rich history of experimentation, amateur theatre turning professional and its ties to the student theatre there, seems like a perfect venue for him to come in and to learn, just as we allow novice Canadian directors and playwrights to learn, and to take risks and we hope, as theatregoers and artists alike, that the plays we see with potential that aren’t quite perfect, and most of the critics in this city state that Bullet for Adolph has potential, will be continually workshopped to grow and flourish. Harrelson has come to Toronto with respect for our own theatre tradition, one that he would like to be a part of, and his stature within the Hollywood and International Arts Scene is bringing interest and recognition to our theatre community and tradition in this city and that is really wonderful. Similarly tonight, as he lends some of his words to our own beloved professional trio of Canadian superstars, Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus and Ron Pederson, Harrelson is once again showing that he is interested in connecting and collaborating and engaging with us. This is truly terrific and I truly believe is the best possible relationship that can be forged between Canadian actors and those, not just “from” Hollywood, but actors from everywhere all across the world.
I was sad to miss Bullet for Adolf, being in Halifax at the time, but I found this beautiful poem that Harrelson wrote, which is more indicative, I think, of his environmental activism and his beautiful view of the world. It evokes a spirit of Ginsberg and Dylan and the imagery it conjures is lovely. The National Theatre of the World may be in for some poetry tonight! Heaven knows with Ron Pederson in their midst, the evening would be remiss without it!!
thoughts from within
i sometimes feel like an alien creature 
for which there is no earthly explanation 
Sure I have human form 
walking erect and opposing digits, 
but my mind is upside down. 
I feel like a run-on sentence 
in a punctuation crazy world. 
and I see the world around me 
like a mad collective dream. 

An endless stream of people 
move like ants from the freeway 
cell phones, pcs, and digital displays 
“In Money We Trust,” 
we’ll find happiness 
the prevailing attitude; 
like a genetically modified irradiated Big Mac 
is somehow symbolic of food. 

Morality is legislated 
prisons over-populated 
religion is incorporated 
the profit-motive has permeated all activity 
we pay our government to let us park on the street 
And war is the biggest money-maker of all 
we all know missile envy only comes from being small. 

Politicians and prostitutes 
are comfortable together 
I wonder if they talk about the strange change in the weather. 
This government was founded by, of, and for the people 
but everybody feels it 
like a giant open sore 
they don’t represent us anymore 
And blaming the President for the country’s woes 
is like yelling at a puppet 
for the way it sings 
Who’s the man behind the curtain pulling the strings? 

A billion people sitting watching their TV 
in the room that they call living 
but as for me 
I see living as loving 
and since there is no loving room 
I sit on the grass under a tree 
dreaming of the way things used to be 
Pre-Industrial Revolution 
which of course is before the rivers and oceans, and skies were polluted 

before Parkinson’s, and mad cows 
and all the convoluted cacophony of bad ideas 
like skyscrapers, and tree paper, and earth rapers 
like Monsanto and Dupont had their way 
as they continue to today. 

This was Pre-us 
back when the buffalo roamed 
and the Indian’s home 
was the forest, and God was nature 
and heaven was here and now 
Can you imagine clean water, food, and air 
living in community with animals and people who care? 

Do you dare to feel responsible for every dollar you lay down 
are you going to make the rich man richer 
or are you going to stand your ground 
You say you want a revolution 
a communal evolution 
to be a part of the solution 
maybe I’ll be seeing you around 


Tonight is the third night of The National Theatre of the World’s Script Tease Project at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto)Tickets are $20 ($15 Students) and I would recommend getting to TPM early as tickets are selling fast. Or reserve yours online at http://www.artsboxoffice.ca. Catch them while you can. The schedule is as follows.
MAY 24-29
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.

TWISI & the NTOW Present: DANIEL MACIVOR DAY!!!

daniel macivor

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:
MAY 24-29

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.

TWISI & NTOW Present: JUDITH THOMPSON DAY!

judith thompson
Today is International Judith Thompson Day, as the National Theatre of the World kick-starts their Script-Tease Project at the Theatre Passe Muraille tonight (Tuesday May 24th) at 8pm. Thompson is the first playwright who has written 2 pages of a brand-new play for them to perform tonight- and once they run out of lines, they will triumphantly make up the rest in her distinctive style.
Today is Judith Thompson day! A day to celebrate a woman who has written internationally acclaimed plays that are among the best known, most highly respected, most frequently produced, anthologized and taught plays nationally and internationally. A woman who has won the Governor’s General Award twice, in 1985 for White Biting Dog; and in 1989 for a collection of her plays, The Other Side of the Dark, who has won several Chalmers Canadian Play Awards, several Dora Mavor Moore Awards, was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, in 2008 became the first Canadian to be awarded the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which recognizes the achievements of outstanding female playwrights from all over the world and also won an Amnesty International Award for her play Palace of the End. Today is a day to celebrate a woman who is passionate about creating high quality theatre, whose warmth and fascination for humanity radiates from her every time she speaks, always poetically, but also candid and from the heart. A day to celebrate a director who has the ability to bring her own work, many plays that break dramaturgical and narrative conventions, to the stage in creative and artful ways that allow them to live theatrically for the audience and who also, most recently, has become a dedicated director/teacher in the creation of two plays Body and Soul and Sick: The Grace Project, in which she worked helping mostly non-performers tell their own true stories in poignant, often humorous, and always imaginative ways.
I keep thinking that I was introduced to Judith Thompson backwards. So many people, especially in Ontario, have followed her rich and vibrant works relatively chronologically, beginning with The Crackwalker (1980) or White Biting Dog (1984) or Lion in the Streets (1990) and then progressing from there to more recent plays like Sled (1997) or Perfect Pie (2000). For this reason, I heard a lot of reaction from these chronological followers of Thompson regarding the stark departure from her earlier work in the construction of Palace of the End (2008).
I saw Palace of the End first, in its inaugural production at Canadian Stage, and I was utterly and magnificently blown away. I remember this production so vividly, even though it was one of the first that I saw in Toronto, very soon after I moved here and before I was writing consistently for TWISI, although it is one of those few plays I saw at this time in my life that I keep wishing I had written about because my initial gut reaction certainly would have been a dramatic and passionate one. In a way, it is actually appropriate that Palace of the End was the first Thompson play I saw, because I think that my reaction to it was similar to the reactions of audience members in 1980 after seeing The Crackwalker. Palace of the End was like a revelation to me because I had never seen theatre being used in such a hard-hitting political way, focusing on contemporary and immediately relevant issues. I remember feeling so proud as I walked out of the Berkeley Street Theatre (I think it was the first show I ever saw in there too) thinking, “Wow. How brave of David Storch to do this play here and now and for this subscription-based audience at a regional theatre. This is what theatre should be. This is what should be being produced everywhere.” I basically floated home by the sheer power of the inspiration of Judith Thompson and David Storch (and I would be remiss not to add here Maev Beaty, whose performance in this play haunts me to this day and stands as an example for me of what truly extraordinary acting can be). Palace of the End remains my favourite Judith Thompson play to this day and it is one that I will always consider to be a pinnacle of courageous, poetic, heartrending Canadian theatre that needs to be seen.
A few months later I saw Staged and Confused’s production of The Crackwalker and had another epiphany when I realized that when most people in the theatre think about “Judith Thompson” this is what comes immediately to mind. What was so great about this production was to see a Canadian play from 1980 being produced so zealously in 2008 by young performers just out of theatre school, and Thompson’s words and the iconic tragic characters that she created gave them a strong foundation for memorable performances and a solid production. The next thing I did was something that I recommend you all doing, I went to Theatre Books and picked up a copy of Judith Thompson’s Late 20th Century Plays (1980-2000) and I read them all from cover to cover. I also had the chance to perform her Pink, which I hope I will have an opportunity to reprise because it is one of my favourite things that I have ever done as an actor. 
I love the way Judith Thompson writes. I love that you can read her words aloud, and you don’t really have to do a lot of acting, because the characters’ distinctive voices are just there, inherent in the words and the way that Thompson has constructed their phrases. Read Theresa’s opening monologue from The Crackwalker aloud, it’s the geekiest kind of fun! I still haven’t gotten the opportunity to see most of Thompson’s plays onstage. I am looking forward ardently to Soulpepper’s upcoming production of White Biting Dog in August, featuring the stellar cast of Fiona Reid, Mike Ross, Michaela Washburn and Joseph Ziegler. Thompson has obviously written these plays to be performed rather than read, which I think most intuitive dramatists do, as they can be challenging to adequately appreciate when stripped of their performative concepts. Yet, they are also exciting for a reader because they offer so many possibilities, and perhaps this is why Judith Thompson’s works are so readily produced, because they ignite that spark of imagination in the minds of so many innovative directors the first time they read them.
I was lucky enough to see Judith Thompson speak at The Drama Centre at the University of Toronto, with David Storch, both of whom gave fascinating lectures on the use of violence onstage. Thompson’s lecture stood in, almost comical, contrast to her plays, in that she presents herself as a very peaceful person, who actually abhors violence, someone who likes to ride her bike and sit in the park, but she said that out of that hatred, she still finds herself exploring this vocabulary of the communities that she’s interested in, but never to glorify or exoticize violence or misogyny. She said that she sees that violence exists and so she feels compelled to write about it because she is horrified by it. This is exactly how I felt about Palace of the End, and how I’m sure initial audiences seeing The Crackwalker, who had never before seen a play give voice to this particular community before, felt, that as difficult as these stories are to watch and to hear, we do have a responsibility as theatre makers and theatregoers to not turn a blind eye to the horrific, but to confront the ethical questions, the complex and difficult ethical questions, that these plays raise. David Storch introduced me to Judith Thompson after this evening and I was struck by how generous she was with her spirit, she immediately buoyed me up and made me excited about my future as part of this glorious community.
The flip side of this, of course, is that Judith Thompson’s plays and her dramatic conventions, make for hilarious and unmistakable material for pastiche and homage by the genius improvisers at The National Theatre of the World. I saw a fantastic Impromptu Splendor in the style of Judith Thompson last year with special guest Jane Spidell (who was in Lion in the Streets at Tarragon Theatre in 1990), which was the perfect rollicking romp of sordid, angry, violent, lost souls trying adamantly to connect with one another and to make a better life for themselves, while the grubby, bloodied hands of the past kept dragging them back down to Hell by the ankles. Really, these photographs of past Thompson Splendors are worth more than a thousand of my words.
a production of The Crackwalker at Tarrgon Theatre & Kayla Lorette and Ron Pederson in a Improvised Judith Thompson Impromptu Splendor called Badger Hopscotch. Photo by Skye Regan.
matt baram, ron pederson
jane spidell and naomi snieckus
photo by frederic solenthaler
Tonight is Opening Night of The National Theatre of the World’s Script Tease Project at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto). It is SOLD-OUT, but there may be opportunities (Waiting List style) for tickets that become available ($20.00/4.15 (Students) at the Door. If it’s not raining torrentially, I would recommend getting to TPM early and lining up. Regardless, there will be Script-Tease Performances until May 29th so make sure to Catch Them While You Can. The Schedule is as follows:
MAY 24-29
Tuesday, May 24th 8pm Judith Thompson
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.

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