Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.

Date: 2010 June

June 29, 2010, by
1 comment

Champagne: Check, Dora Statue: Check. It look like you won Christine Horne.

Champagne Bottle: Check. Dora Statue: Check. It looks like you won Christine Horne.



The Mill Theatrefront in association with the Young Centre for the Performing Arts


Donna-Michelle St. Bernard Gas Girls


Vikki Anderson The Turn of the Screw


Clinton Walker The Turn of the Screw


Christine Horne The Turn of the Screw


The Ensemble Spent


Gillian Gallow The Mill


Dana Osborne The Mill


Andrea Lundy The Mill


David Atkinson The Belle of Winnipeg

June 28, 2010, by

Section 98 in Toronto

Approximately 100 people were penned into the intersection of Spadina and Queen from 5:30pm to 9:42pm on June 27th. A number of them were unsuspecting passersby in the wrong place at the wrong time. During most of this saga there were severe thunderstorms. No one was given access to washrooms, many complained their cellphones broke from immersion in such a heavy downpour for such an extended period of time. They were all released unconditionally without charges.

by Michael Wheeler

Well that sucked.

G20 has come and gone and left Canada and Toronto with the bitter taste of militarized rule, decreased civil rights and a communique that asks countries to make massive cuts to social spending to make up for a massive transfer of wealth from the public to private sphere.

Each day had shocking events. Some overplayed by media: How many times can they loop the same image of that police car burning at Bay and King? Some completely under-reported: Squeaky clean Steve Paikin twittered the police brutality at a peaceful protest on The Esplanade was worse than anything he had seen in war zones, yet there has been no other coverage of this event.

As hopefully even a casual observer of this website knows, Praxis Theatre has been spending the past year working on a show called Section 98 (see the icon in the top right corner?). This show began by looking at artists who responded to members of the Communist Party being jailed under Section 98 which allowed authorities to jail and harass anyone they wanted really for “unlawful associations”. In particular, we focused on The Progressive Arts Club, who created a play addressing the erosion of civil rights called Eight Men Speak. The show had a single performance for 1200 people before being shut down by order of Prime Minister Bennett. The performance took place at the Standard Theatre, which was located a few blocks north of the picture above on Spadina Ave.

In both our Fringe Show and  Harbourfront Centre HATCH workshop, we looked also at a number of different challenges to civil rights in Canada, including The FLQ crisis, The Air India bombing, the Afghan detainee situation and yes, Omar Khadr. After this weekend, it seems there is another episode in Canada’s civil rights history to add to our list: G20.

CBC reports that there have now been more arrests this weekend than at the WTO Protests in Seattle or during The FLQ Crisis in Quebec. 900 Canadians found themselves jailed by the largest mobilization of police and equipment in Canadian history.

This video documents police assaulting a journalist and taking his equipment.

Perhaps more significant than the sheer number of arrests was the deliberate and secret maneuvers by the Ontario Provincial cabinet to use an order in council to create a regulation within The Public Works Act, to have the area surrounding the $5.5 million perimeter fence a Charter-free zone. Where as in the rest of Canada you have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, in the area surrounding the fence this suddenly became not the case. Notice of this law will be published in the Ontario Gazette, the official journal of provincial laws, after the summit is over.

Already this law will be subjected to a Charter challenge and both the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star penned scathing editorials condemning the secretive limiting of civil liberties by the Liberal Government without notice or debate. Just to drum in what kind of pre-hysteria consensus there was on this topic, even reactionary columnists like Marcus Gee agreed that this time the state had overstepped its bounds.

News of their decreased access to Charter rights reached Torontonians on Friday morning, one day before small cells of approximately 70 black clad activists using subterfuge and misdirection hijacked a march by more than 10,000 advocates for global justice. I attended the march on June 26th by myself, arriving late for the speeches but just in time to march with my bike and camera phone in tow. The vast majority of the experience was what I would call upbeat, peaceful and extraordinarily well attended. The hundreds of police outside the US embassy just seemed obscene, free hugs were given out at Dundas and University, somebody was smoking a joint, Tibetan activists marched with labour activists who marched with just plain old citizens with no evident affiliation. The number of police visible between Queen and Front at north-south intersections seemed comic at the time.

These are some of the shots I took with my camera phone during the march

The first signs of trouble began at the corner of Queen and Spadina where activists were asked to turn away from the summit site and begin marching back to the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park at College and Spadina. A group of hooded activists began to set off flares near the south-west corner of the intersection. Immediately you could feel the mood of the crowd change. I heard a number of plans to vacate the area be made quickly by many, but huge amounts of curious onlookers remained: The whole thing was so crazy it was hard to turn away -hundreds of cops marching like stormtroopers (the Star Wars kind), fireworks, people who looked like ninjas – there was a lot to take in. I was jolted out of this display by a number of individuals running east with purpose down the back alleys that run behind the north side of Queen St. There was an energy to their movements that spooked me and reminded me of protests run amok from my youth. I knew I didn’t need to be there anymore. Got on my bike, started riding home.

Didn’t get there before my Mom and brother both called me and asked me the same question: “Where are you?” They were watching the news and vandalism had begun. (No not violence, vandalism.) I rode home faster to turn on the television. In front of me on the television, where I had removed my k-way pants in front of Steve’s Music not 45 minutes earlier, something terrible was happening: The message that so many of us had just marched to give a voice to was superseded by a small number of what the media are calling “anarchists”, but I think are more accurately termed “nihilists”. I write this because true anarchists have a value system that allows them to determine the effectiveness of their tactics. Orwell fought in Spain against the Fascists with anarchists – these folks are disaffected youth that are into extreme sports and clearly they don’t care if they do Stephen Harper a really big favour.

The other favour they did was to give motivation to the most militant aspects of Toronto Police leadership to mobilize their massive security resources to crack down on Canadians in a way the streets of Toronto haven’t seen since Section 98 was still on the books. Journalists were arrested and had their equipment confiscated on Yonge St., peaceful protesters sitting on the lawn of the sanctioned and designated protest site at Queen’s Park were clubbed and pepper sprayed, demonstrators whose provocation was singing the national anthem were charged and beaten on Queen St. W.

This video shows police beating and pepper spraying activists who returned to the provincial legislature, which was the designated protest zone. This area is in the opposite direction from where the summit took place.

All the places we normally hang out, grab a coffee, do some shopping, became violent zones where the state machinery could capture you, process you, and ship you to a cage. These are simply the incidents we have immediate video footage of hours after G20 has concluded. Reports from those released from the makeshift jail at the film studios on Eastern Ave. paint a grim picture of “pens” crammed with activists that had no access to a lawyer for up to twenty-four hours. Female inmates reported being forced to use the toilet in front of male guards and not having access to toilet paper.

There is virtually no silver lining to hosting G20. None of the things that Canadians consistently say matter to them made the agenda at the G20. The environment, foreign aid, our responsibilities to one another as global citizens – these things all took a backseat to the images and incidents that ripped across the city. No one talked about Why the banks were bailed out. No one talked about Why we refuse to fund life-saving drugs for HIV positive patients in Africa. No one talked about What principals underpin maternal health. No one talked about Why if  it costs the U.N. $1.9 Billion to run year-round and Why it will cost almost the same to host three days of meetings that could have happened at the U.N. anyway. No one talked about What effect climate change will have on the world’s poor.

Every newspaper and media outlet spent the weekend throwing together exposes on “The Black Bloc” and their tactics. Less than 1% of the demonstrators hijacked an entire conversation and thousands of voices. Elements of police leadership jumped at this opportunity and used tactics and laws never before deemed acceptable against law-abiding activists.

Canada has a long history of struggling to secure national and public security while attempting to balance the public’s right to the basic freedoms that are assumed in a Western democracy. This weekend is full of bad omens for those who believe that Charter freedoms should be protected for all Canadians and that those in power can be trusted to preserve them. We have seen the state become a weapon against its own citizens – and the only correct response should be outrage that our leaders don’t safeguard our freedoms with the reverence and respect they deserve. We have lost much and gained nothing.

This video shows police attacking peaceful protesters singing the national anthem.

June 23, 2010, by
1 comment


The Thief and the Cobbler was conceived by Canadian animator Richard Williams, who worked 26 years on the project.

“[Williams is] an incredible animator, though. Incredible. One of the biggest problems we had was trying our desperate best, where we had brand new footage, to come up to the level of quality that he had set.”

—Fred Calvert

The first time that the Miramax version of the film appeared on DVD, was in Canada in 2001 as a giveaway promotion in packages of Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal.



Under the Sea Worktape


Amy Zuch

Amy Zuch is the solo performer and writer behind “Key to Key.” A regular improviser at the Bad Dog Theatre, Amy has also appeared on stand up comedy stages across the city, in musical theatre productions, and in the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival.

Amy Zuch’s Key to Key, the true story of an animator pulled from fantasy and dropped into the real world, opens at the Toronto Fringe Festival on July 2nd at the air conditioned Royal St. George Auditorium, 120 Howland Avenue (North of Bloor).  More information available here on Facebook, and buy advance tickets here.

June 19, 2010, by
1 comment

WB g20 flyer #2.

Click here to learn who will be directing and performing in Wrecking Ball 10: Gee? 20!

June 18, 2010, by


Less Talk, More Action.

“Even if I knew tomorrow that the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”  -Martin Luther King


Tools of Social Justice


“Talkers” by Entire Cities

Click here


Deborah Pearson2

inFORMING CONTENT Workshop Leader Deborah Pearson leads a workshop exploring immersive theatre and its relationship to ethics.

FREE EVENT June 19: 10am – 1pm

A series of brief “ethics talks” on a range of topics from post-graduate ethicists from the University of Toronto. current . urgent . compelling.

FREE EVENT June 20: 7pm – 9pm
Workshop participants will respond to the “ethics talks” by creating site-specific theatre. immediate . experimental . intimate .

Performances will be directed by Team Leaders Claire Calnan, Susanna Hood, Ravi Jain, Michael Rubenfeld, Mumbi Tindyebwa.

More information available here and here on the Africa Trilogy Blog, and here on Facebook.

Deborah Pearson is co-director of the artist-led experimental Edinburgh Fringe venue Forest Fringe.  In January she and her co-director Andy Field were named in the Stage List of the 100 most influential figures in UK Theatre.

June 17, 2010, by

The Studio Floor

Image by nmhschool licensed under Creative Commons

by Simon Rice

In his 1999 provocation, True and False: Common Sense and Heresy for the Actor, David Mamet asserts, “most teachers of acting are frauds, and their schools offer nothing other than the right to consider oneself part of the theatre… Formal education for the player is not only useless, but hurtful,” says Mamet. “It stresses the academic model and denies the primacy of the interchange with the audience.”

Let me be clear, while I believe Mamet’s edicts to be wonderful conversation starters they are limited in their worth, not to mention hypocritical—he is himself an acting teacher.

Theatre schools are indeed strange places, seemingly full of contradiction. They are almost impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t attended one.  At my earliest (and unsuccessful) audition for a prominent Toronto theatre school, I and the other nervous applicants were treated to a half hour lecture on why we shouldn’t go to school for acting. Perhaps this was an attempt to weed out those who didn’t have the conviction or depth of character required to survive three years of physical and emotional turmoil.

Theatre schools, not unlike some other training programs for highly competitive fields, seem to have adopted the baptism by fire approach. If you can survive it, you can survive anything, with the exception, perhaps, of a career in acting.

When I was finally, after several attempts, accepted into a three-year program, it was explained to my class that our “journey” would be structured more or less in three parts.

First year we would be pulled apart, literally and figuratively. All of our preconceptions about the craft would be exposed to the light of day, all of our “blocks” opened, both physically and mentally. Much of this, “opening” would occur while lying prostrate on a studio floor. We would, we were warned, find this process both painful and confusing.

During second year we would slowly and carefully be pulled from the floor and put back together, so that we could hit the stage on our feet in final year, which would consist primarily of full scale productions.

I suppose, beyond sounding slightly cultish, if it worked it would all be worth in the end.

Six years after graduating I look back at my theatre school experience with a mixture of emotion, which ranges from sweet nostalgia to blinding rage. But when I take a deep breath and the feeling passes I start to wonder.

Do theatre schools in all their various contemporary forms serve young aspiring actors well?

My guess is that the answer to that question depends on individual experience. What school, what teachers, what students etc. And there is no doubt, that from school to school, while there are often great similarities, there are also vast differences in styles, methods, approaches and philosophies.

And so it is in the spirit of genuine open-minded investigation that I will begin a series of conversations here on the Praxis website, called Exit Interviews. I will talk to former theatre school attendees, graduates, non-graduates, as well as former students who are now teachers, from a variety of schools across Canada and North America. My hope is to broaden our understanding of the contemporary theatre school, its strengths and weaknesses, through the honest reflection of those who survived it. Stay tuned!

If you attended theatre school and would like to weigh in on this conversation, please leave us your comments below or send us an email to  I look forward to the debate!

June 15, 2010, by
1 comment

(l-r) Maev Beaty, Muoi Nene, Araya Mengesha, Dorothy Atabong, Trey Lyford and Milton Barnes in Glo by Christina Anderson directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo

(l-r) Maev Beaty, Muoi Nene, Araya Mengesha, Dorothy Atabong, Trey Lyford and Milton Barnes in Glo by Christina Anderson directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo

If I promise to incorporate “World Class City” into my lexicon can we keep making shows like this?

by Michael Wheeler

I have been working on this show for a long time.

I started in late 2008 as Artistic Producer in Training with Volcano – and then later as Assistant Director of Peggy Pickit Sees The Face of God by Roland Schimmelpfennig and Social Media Coordinator for the whole Trilogy. These different roles have afforded me a really broad perspective on a how a major international collaboration comes together – in the office, the rehearsal studio, and in the theatre. Thanks Theatre Ontario.

It has been a wild ride – I don’t think anyone involved in the show would argue it’s been an easy process. Ethically, theatrically, collaboratively, creating three new works of theatre that all deal with the contemporary nature of the relationship between Africa and the West has been a challenge that has pushed some top international and domestic artists to reanalyze themselves and their process. There have been few simple questions – so along with that has come complicated answers. From dramaturgy, to casting, to design, to scheduling, to marketing, to ensuring three separate works are having a contemporary conversation with each other – virtually every decision had to be made weighing the consideration of a huge number of factors.

Nothing will melt your mind faster than a production meeting with three directors, three assistant directors, six designers, four stage managers and two production managers.

Nothing will melt your mind faster than a production meeting with three directors, three assistant directors, six designers, four stage managers and two production managers.

Sipping my morning coffee on Opening Night Day it has really hit me how much I’ve learned from this process and how much I’m willing to stand behind this production. I am a much more knowledgeable artist because of it and I want to continue to be involved in projects like it:  productions that combine top international artists with the best from Canada. I have a track record of being heavily critical of Luminato in the past – specifically because of the lack of opportunity the festival initially held  for Canadian artists – and frankly it seems a little strange to be a physical embodiment of a change I was arguing for, but I’ll take it.

The words “World Class” and “City” get thrown around a lot here. It might even be fair to say we are unhealthily obsessed with whether or not Toronto and these words have a positive relationship. Certainly Luminato was born out of the sense it could contribute to this definition. Separate from whether the critics deem this show a hit or a miss in the days to come – shows like The Africa Trilogy are most likely to put Toronto on the map in terms of international culture. If we really want to play with the big boys and girls on the world stage it requires these kinds of resources both financially and in terms of the people we can attract to work with us. The surest way to become “World Class” is to make shows WITH other World Class artists.

If you haven’t been over to The Africa Trilogy blog yet, let me take this opportunity to invite you over to learn more about the show, the people who created it, and the ideas it has been addressing. There are a number of great posts by various authors with vastly different roles in the production including new content by inFORMING CONTENT Workshop Leader Deborah Pearson on the challenges of making socially relevant theatre, Lucky Ejim on being an actor who tells African stories in the West, and Mark Sealy on the contemporary representation of Africa through visual images.

Here’s to an awesome opening night for The Africa Trilogy and the many other Africa Trilogy-like projects to come.

June 11, 2010, by
1 comment

Morro & Jasp

I think: clowns + fruit + tree = funny.  I’m no Henri Bergson, but a fact’s a fact.

If you missed Morro and Jasp at Clownfest, you can still catch their new show Morro and Jasp Gone Wild at the Toronto and Winnipeg Fringe Festivals.

Photo by:

June 10, 2010, by

Magnetic North 2010

by Megan Flynn

Gentle Readers,

Monday, June 7th, 2010

I am sitting in the back room of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival Hub at 91 King Street West in Kitchener. The festival staff is all in the same room for the first time since the launch in March. Ken Cameron and Naomi Campbell arrived last night, as did Christian Barry with the Homage crew, and Kris Nelson (Encounters Series) was the last to arrive today after touring with Ame Henderson and Public Recordings in Europe, and a fly-by to his apartment in Montreal. (Ame will be part of Who’s Afraid of Academia? in the Heritage Room at Kitchener City Hall, talking about her recent foray back to school.) Marion Sharp and Richard Ellis also arrived today with suitcases, safari-style hats ,and a camera slung around Richard’s neck – these two volunteers have been with the festival since the beginning, volunteering in their home town of Ottawa and traveling each year to the festival’s new host city; there is an award named after them now.

So it’s official. We have about 51 hours until Mump & Smoot Cracked kicks off the festival, and we are trying to see each other over the boxes piling up around our desks.

I wanted to write something to shed some light on what Magnetic North is all about. Although I imagine that most of you have at least heard of the festival, I’ll give you the low-down. First of all, this year it’s in Kitchener-Waterloo, about an hour from Toronto (check out the info below for details about how you can take a bus to and from Toronto to the festival on June 14, 15 and 16). It’s a festival of contemporary Canadian theatre in English. It happens in Ottawa every second year and in the years in between the whole operation picks up and moves to a different Canadian centre. It serves a couple of important purposes – it puts the host city in the national spotlight, and each year casts the net further and further to build a network for artists and presenters to move work around the country and to get Canadian work out into the world. It’s the only festival of its kind in Canada. Over the years Brooke Johnson’s Trudeau StoriesLauchie, Liza and Rory (Mulgrave Road), Fear of Flight (Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland), April 14, 1912 (Theatre Rusticle), So Many Doors (Sour Brides), The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets (November Theatre) and Nevermore (Catalyst Theatre) are some of the productions that have toured, nationally and internationally, in part because of their exposure and the connections they made at Magnetic North.

So this year, there are 10 shows from across Canada in the festival which opens on June 9: Mump & Smoot’s CrackedNorman (Lemieux Pilon 4D Art), Homage (2b theatre company), The Last 15 Seconds (The MT Space), Elephant Wake (Globe Theatre), The Greatest Cities in the World (Theatre Replacement), Another Home Invasion (Tarragon Theatre), Dedicated to the Revolutions (Small Wooden Shoe), Monster Makers and Children’s Choice Awards (Mammalian Diving Reflex). To see all the details, go here.

There are lots of other events, happenings and performances as part Magnetic Encounters – which brings the audience really close to the work through direct interactions with the artists. And the festival is also a meeting ground for artists, presenters and other culture workers to discuss the relevant ideas and issues of the moment. This year, there are over 60 presenters, and we expect almost 250 delegates to take part in the Industry Series altogether. We’re going to be talking about touring, education, presenting, agency. We’re also going to host a panel discussion with Their Excellencies The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, and M. Jean-Daniel Lafond. You can check out the full Industry Series schedule here.

It’s really exciting to be here in Kitchener-Waterloo; not only am I staying in the guest room at my parent’s place, and my mom wakes me up in the morning and makes me oatmeal with almond milk and berries, but I’m working downtown where I spent most of my teenage years – and can see the slow shifts that are happening in this town as the high tech industries and universities move into the abandoned factories that once made shoes, buttons and furniture. As kids we said that there was something in the water in Kitchener (a little less perhaps in our slightly more sophisticated better half, Waterloo). I realize now that it’s a magnet actually. It’s a force that brings people back, or together. Fitting I suppose that Magnetic North is here.  I’m surprised how excited I am to bring the country into this place with all its quirks and characters.

Anyway, I’ll be here. Come find me and I’ll tell you where to meet new friends, where to walk at one in the morning to see the stars, and where you’ll find the best dim sum in Ontario. And I’ll see you around the festival of course. I’ll be one of the lunatics ever smiling…

See you at the Festival Bar!




For June 14, 15 and 16 Toronto arts practitioners can buy a one-day special for $100. It includes the bus from Toronto to K-W and back, access to the day’s Industry Series programming and tickets for two shows. SPILL Feast is extra. All reservations must be made in advance through Gayle Diguer at or 1-519-772-3783.

June 8, 2010, by
1 comment


Donna-Michelle St. Bernard onstage with Belladonna and the Awakening at Toronto Rape Crisis benefit

by Lindsay Schwietz

In December I wrote about the lack of women in artistic leadership positions in theatre in Canada.  With women holding only around 30% of playwright, artistic director and director positions in PACT theatres – in general, the larger the theatre company the less the women – I was upset.  There is such an enormous amount of women in Canada training in the arts, believing in their craft and working hard to make a career in theatre, and it is difficult for me to accept that the opportunities are not there to develop their art.  I was disheartened until I decided to sit down with some of the women who are in that 30% in Toronto.  What are those women’s experiences working in theatre?  What do they believe about the status of women?  What are their views on feminism as it relates to their work as artists?

I chose to interview four women in Toronto who are successful in both the independent theatre scene and in some of the larger theatres. They are playwrights, directors, performers, artistic directors, and general managers.  They have all chosen to create their own work for various reasons.  They are all strong women who believe in what they do and work hard to achieve their goals.  They are: Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, Erin Shields, Beatriz Pizano and Kelly Straughan.

Donna Michelle-St Bernard

Because of the stigma attached to the word, women being quiet about their feminist views seems to be a trend in Toronto at the moment.  Not for Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.  “What happened to ‘Hear Me Roar’?” St. Bernard says.  She is a feminist and proud of it.  “I’m holding on to the word – I’m not letting it go.” St. Bernard is a playwright, emcee, and the general manager of Native Earth Performing Arts.  Working on her goal to write a 54-play series – one play for every country in Africa – and a physical ‘monument of women’ which is still in the conceptual phase, she is focusing on doing more work for women.

When the PACT report came out, she was most interested in the high number of women in administrative roles versus the low amount in artistic roles.  She wondered whether many women chose the administrative work when the opportunities were lacking to use their artistic side.  “It calls to mind the number of women who work in arts administration who feel stigmatized by their administrative practice and feel it harder to break through the perception of them as administrators to be artists,” St. Bernard says.  “For me my practice is a whole person practice.  People like to treat my administrative brain and my artistic brain as separate entities, but I’m a whole person.”

Gas Girls

Dienye Waboso and Nawa Nicole in Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s Gas Girls.

Now that the independent theatre scene in Toronto is thriving, more women are able to use both sides of their skills. “You have all these women who have a quiet artistic practice, who’ve now bolstered up their administrative capacities.  I feel that is the root of all these independent companies being started by women. ‘I have this skill and I have this skill’,” says St. Bernard.  “In theory, in the past it wasn’t that easy or conventional to just start a company to do your work.”

“We need to start validating and valuing independent work done by women because at this moment, independent theatre is our territory,” she says. “The environment is ripe for all these independent companies – for one-off shows.  And it’s not just that we can do them.  It’s the fact that the press will review a show by a company they’ve never heard of, and the professional community will come out and see what we’re doing even if it didn’t come up through their ranks.  In that way I feel really positive about the empowerment of women in the arts.”

In her own work, St. Bernard is completely content with what she is doing and how she is doing it.  “The theatre I make happens where I want it to happen in the way I want it to happen.  I’m perfectly satisfied. And I’m successful by my definition, in the work that I’m putting out, who’s coming to see it and what the response is to it.”  She measures her own success her own way, and does not need the larger theatre houses to validate her.   That being said, St. Bernard is conflicted; it still angers her that there is not more artistic work for women in the big theatres.  She isn’t producing work at the big theatres because she feels they are not a good fit for one another, but she wishes that were more of a choice rather than something imposed on her and many other women.  “I don’t want to be there.  But I don’t want to not be there because I’m not wanted there.”

Despite this conflict, what is really important for St. Bernard is being able to do her work and speak up for women’s rights.  “Those of us who have the capacity to have voice have the responsibility to carry voice,” she says.


Erin Sheilds and Maev Beaty in Montparnasse

Erin Shields

“In my theatre program there were maybe 70% women and 30% men, but we were doing Shakespeare and Chekhov and all these plays where there were so many more male characters.” Starting as an actor, Shields was enraged at the disproportionate roles for men versus women, and she has seen many women quit because it is too hard to find work.

The answer was to create work for herself and in the past few years Shields has worked her way from the Fringe, to Summerworks, to having her play If We Were Birds on the main stage at the Tarragon this season.  “It was always in my brain when writing that I wanted to make a lot of roles for women because I think that’s the way to change things – make good work, and make work where there are lots of women onstage, behind stage and lots of women everywhere.”

Shields notes that theatre training is really centered on “the history of dead white guys”, and that women are expected to adapt to this to survive.  “Women are more accommodating in terms of listening to men’s stories.  We’re used to hearing men’s stories and thinking of them in terms of ourselves… I can see myself in Hamlet and I can see myself in Othello and I can see myself in Lear.  I can identify with these characters.  Men have a more difficult time doing that because they haven’t really had to.”

Although not scared to use the term ‘feminist’ in terms of the greater discourse, Shields doesn’t tend to use the word because she feels it puts women in a cage, and suggests that labeling a piece ‘feminist’ can alienate many audience members who could otherwise be moved by it.  “It puts up a warning that says ‘oh this doesn’t relate to me’ – for men and for women,” she says. “It can make people disconnect from the get go… you can look at this as a voyeur, but this doesn’t affect you.”

Shields says she is tired of being labeled a ‘female’ playwright. “I guess we have to do that still,” Shields says.  She’d rather a world where she is simply a playwright, and it’s just about the art.  “If you think of women playwrights who have been very successful, I think they are poets who transcend the women’s stories, but aren’t afraid to have women’s stories.  They write plays that are human, not just female.”

Stay tuned for part two, which will include my interviews with Beatriz Pizano and Kelly Straughan.