Today I get to share something that has given me immense joy this spring: I have become, almost by accident, a playwright!
How did it happen? The short version of the story is this: some months ago award-winning actor Margo MacDonald asked me, Kelly Robson and Amal El-Mohtar to each write her a monologue for the upcoming Ottawa Fringe. We had a general theme—disappearances, lost time, uncanny abductions. Together, we also came up with a phrase, Dressed As People, that each of us would feature somewhere within our speech.
Without consulting each other, the three of us got to writing. Each determined, I know, to wow the others, and give Margo great material to work with, while taking the concept as far as we could. None of us knew what the other was working on until the first read-through. And…
Oh, you all! Even in that rough cut first stage table read, Margo was incandescent. As she’s worked with the pieces, and we’ve worked with her and director Mary Ellis, it’s only gotten better.
I sometimes use the phrase “I grew up in a theater” as shorthand for a certain chunk of my early childhood experience. My parents were deeply involved in an amateur Northern Alberta theater company, and from the time I was three I was backstage, running errands and being admonished to get out from underfoot. Yes, this does mean I was raised by boho hippies who couldn’t afford childcare. Weren’t we all? Soon I was getting pressed into service as a prompter when nobody else was around or willing to follow a script during rehearsals. I probably hung my first lighting instrument when I was ten. (I shouldn’t have! Fresnels are damned heavy!)
I wrote some plays when I was working on my undergraduate degree in theater, many years ago, but I already knew I wanted to write science fiction novels. I didn’t regret setting aside stage work for prose, and I have written many fun things set among theater companies in the years since. But in 2020, this let me suddenly break from the Toronto pandemic and lockdown routine—with all its stresses and anxiety-laced moments of boredom and added tasks and responsibilities and woes… well, you know, of course you do. It let me stop doing all that and write to a specific challenge—this is the thing that makes me love theme anthology invites—and to work both with Kelly and with so many other artists whom I respect and admire and love. So, really, this has, from start to middle, been a dream come true.
In addition to all the other things about this experience, Dressed as People has thus been a huge gift to me, unlooked for, but much needed and so deeply appreciated that just typing these words makes me tear up. It has been a chance to take a treasured sliver of my childhood and spin a little macabre gold from it, and to be part of a theater gang again, and to make stage stuff with my wonderful wife. It has been everything during this long spring siege.
Naturally, the pandemic has shaped everything we did as we worked on Dressed as People. The Ottawa Fringe is virtual this year, and we rehearsed in Zoom and watched Margo and director Mary Ellis wrestle with the contradictions of trying to create a live theater experience in a recorded medium. Working as a theater company is so much about being together… and we simply weren’t. Or at least, we aren’t yet.
I hope you’ll consider joining us for the premiere of the show. Tickets are on sale now, and all of the $15 ticket price goes to the artists in the company. You can attend from anywhere in the world, at any time convenient to you, during the Ottawa Fringe, which runs from June 17-27. We will be getting up some watch parties, and if you keep an eye on our social media, or the Parry Riposte Productions site, you should be able to find out when those are scheduled.
But what is Dressed as People, besides three monologues by award-winning writers, performed by an award-winning actor and served straight to your home in just a couple weeks? Obviously I don’t want to spoil, but first of all it’s Skinless by Kelly Robson, a shot of ice to the veins that tells the story of a school haunted by troubled children. It’s The Shape of My Teeth by Amal El-Mohtar, about an ancient hunting wood and the mysterious disappearance of a young woman’s most important childhood friend. My Repositioning is a bit of a romp, with myriad pop culture influences including The Love Boat, Legend of the Blue Sea and even a slight takedown of Madmen, all set now, or ten minutes from now, in this moment when a very lucky and privileged few of us might soon expect to pick up the strands of our lives… though it’s also the story of someone whose life strands were fraying pretty badly before 2019.
All three monologues are performed by Margo MacDonald, directed by Mary Ellis, and we were lucky enough to have original music composed and performed by SIESKI. Our technical director at Parry Riposte Productions is the luminous and multi-talented Titus Androgynous , and we also have support from wonderful graphic designer K.
All our socials, for easy following:
It’s going to be really fun, and all of us in the company hope you will join in.
Closed captioning and a sensory-friendly transcript of the show will be available to viewers.