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

Category: Brendan Gall

December 23, 2010, by

The Carnegie Library at 1115 Queen Street West will eventually become a permanent home for The Theatre Centre

The Carnegie Library at 1115 Queen Street West will eventually become a permanent home for The Theatre Centre

by Michael Wheeler


A permanent home for The Theatre Centre

The Theatre Centre has existed in many locations since being founded in 1979, began a research and development program for Toronto indie theatre in 1984, and updated this practice in 2004 to its groundbreaking residency program now in place. It is an established leader in boundary-pushing, innovative and challenging approaches to performance and has nurtured and developed the talents of many of the city’s top artists.

In April, City Council offered the long-term lease of the former Carnegie Library at 1115 Queen Street West to The Theatre Centre as sole tenant. After 48 years of closure to the public, residents of Toronto will be able to enjoy the building once more.  More money still needs to be raised to bring this much needed resource and home for a community into reality, but this first step, and the commitment of a number of key foundations to support this move, is my #1 pick for 2010.


Citizens Against Proroguing Parliament

What? Yep. That was this year. Can you believe it? Hoping Canadians wouldn’t notice their democracy being shut down by framing it as a “procedural issue” Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament to avoid questions about the treatment of Afghan detainees and was met with impressive organization online and in the streets. It’s hard to tell what was more heartening: a single Facebook page becoming an overnight organizing megaforce or 200,000 Canadians asserting their right to live in a democracy coast-to-coast with a single voice. It’s a good thing we finally got to the bottom of that whole Afghan detainee thing….Oh – wait a second!?!


Rosie DiManno

For real. This is not a joke and I am not being ironic. Turn your filters off for a second: I get it. There was a point in my life where I was ready to start a “Bring Back DiMannoWatch” Facebook Page. Then Rosie became the only reporter in Toronto interested in capital “J” journalism as it related to G20. Instead of recycling myopic statements by subjects with much to hide, DiManno has been doing the work The Toronto Police Force and, well, every other journalist in the city, was unwilling or unable to do. She has already achieved tangible results by bringing the facts to a place where the public can interact with them and forced me to remember that human beings are often complicated and contradictory creatures.


People who did the thing they said they would do, in the time alloted, the way they said they would do it

Most successful endeavours this year were likely based on your contributions.



Summerworks is one of the most important theatre festivals for new independent performance in the country. Some of the shows produced there may not or may not speak to Conservative values, and the festival may or may not have submitted a grant late at a certain point. None of this changes the important role the festival plays in Canada’s performing arts ecosystem and the opportunity it presents for emerging artist/entrepreneurs to jumpstart their own careers.  The recent move to Queen W. and the inclusion of independent music are also a big plus for making it an event with wide community appeal.

Cardinal Clement was angered concerned data from the census could establish facts that differed from official state doctrine

Cardinal Clement was concerned data from the census could establish facts that differed from official state doctrine


Munir Sheikh

Whatever ideological differences we may have with one another as citizens, it is not acceptable for the government to act as if the Enlightenment didn’t happen. Facts are relevant, data is important and logic can only be ignored at our peril.


Sidney Crosby

An overtime sudden-death goal to win the final gold medal of an Olympic games, at home, simultaneously making your country the one with the most gold medals at the games, and establishing a new record for gold medals by a country at any Olympic winter games. Our grandchildren will be jealous.

8 comment of the year

I would like to acknowledge the highly subjective “winner” of this category each year in this space. Even though I just interviewed Brendan Gall six weeks ago, if we’re going to base these things on merit, I believe he was also the clear winner of ‘Comment of the Year ’ for his response to our February post: “How Do You Get a Grant?


The moderate growth of the theatrosphere

Although there is plenty of room for many new projects at the intersection of online tools and performance, 2010 was the year many companies committed to expanding their artistic practice online. From interviews with Studio 180’s creative team, to checking out pics Obsidian Theatre had uploaded of a cast member transforming her appearance, to Alberta Theatre Projects creating an audio mixtape from online submissions, to hearing from a flow of artists creating new work through the ‘My Story’ posts on The Tarragon Theatre Facebook Page – this was a significant year for the integration of social media tools with performance.


It’s still unclear whether any of the funds from the City’s Billboard Tax will reach their original target of “public art” to offset the visual pollution caused by billboard advertising as originally intended, recommended by city staff, and supported by a majority of Torontonians. Ten years from now, the real value of this movement may be the politicization and organization of a generation of artists and community activists.  This is a new cohort of engaged citizenry that understands how to communicate through social and mainstream media and is determined to have an impact at City Hall – not just for arts funding – but to contribute to a city that is understood as a community and is based on inclusive values.

November 17, 2010, by

Brendan Gall’s Wide Awake Hearts now playing at The Tarragon Theatre

by Michael Wheeler

The first time they ever let me in a rehearsal room at The Tarragon Theatre was when I was a Script Coordinator during the 2008/09 Season for Alias Godot by Brendan Gall. Two-and-a-half years later, as Director in Training I found myself once again observing a new work by Brendan be brought to the stage during the tech and preview performances of his latest Tarragon play Wide Awake Hearts.

For me the biggest difference between the two experiences was not going to have a smoke every 1.5 hrs as Brendan and I did pretty much like it was our job regardless of weather during Alias Godot. I don’t know if he’s totally off the rockets, but where there was smoking actually, there are now lines in the play about not smoking:

When busted for abandoning his partner “D” played by Maev Beaty, Raoul Bhaneja’s character “C”, explains: “At least I’m not smoking.” “What do you want a medal?”, she replies. “I don’t know. Can you smoke medals?”, he counters.

I always liked that part, even if it made me want to start smoking a bit – or maybe just try to smoke a medal. They gave me one for finishing the half marathon this fall and it would be a beautiful irony if after using running to get off cigarettes, I then got addicted to smoking the medals they give out to runners.

Anyhow, I asked Brendan if we could chat about the processes and experiences of bringing these plays to the stage on G Chat and turn it into a blog post. He said “yes”. This is the (lightly edited) result during which I entirely forgot to ask him about or bring up the smoking thing:

9:03 PM Brendan GchatBrendan: There you go.
me: Cool so this works?
9:04 PM Brendan: Yup.
me: Great. I might pause to copy/paste.
Brendan: Got it.
me: Im also a shitty typer
Brendan: I might pause to pour tea.
Or take out my contacts. They’re really bugging me.
me: S’all good. Here we go.
9:05 PM Brendan: K.
me: Before we talk about the rehearsal room, I wonder if there was any major differences in how you approached writing the two plays?
Brendan: The plays themselves? Yeah, definitely.
9:06 PM Alias Godot was pretty freewheeling in terms of structure compared to Wide Awake Hearts.
9:07 PM In AG, other than obeying the basic structure of entrances and exits – ie. Vladimir & Estragon are visited by Pozzo & Lucky once in the middle of the first act and once in the middle of the 2nd act, I pretty much just wrote intuitively.
9:08 PM In WAH, I decided that I wanted to see if I could write using structure as a much stricter principle.
9:09 PM So I wrote out all the possible character/scene combinations for a 4-hander: 4 monologues, 6 dialogues, 4 trialogues & 1 scene with all 4 of them.
Then I tried to figure out some sort of balanced arrangement of these scenes.
9:10 PM I ended up using a sort of palindrome with the 4-hander scene in the middle and the second half mirroring the first. Also, I made a rule that there always had to be one carry-over character from the previous scene, so that someone was always getting ripped away from what they were doing and thrown into the next thing. I figured out that structure before I wrote a word and then stuck to that without fail, even when it was super-annoying.
9:11 PM Also, I misspelled palindrome.
You’re gonna spellcheck this right?
Don’t make me look dumb, Wheeler, or I will burn you to the ground.
9:12 PM Getting tea. Keep typing.
Tony Nappo, David Ferry, Alon Nashman, Geoff Pounsett, and Paul Braunstein in Alias Godot.

Tony Nappo, David Ferry, Alon Nashman, Geoff Pounsett, and Paul Braunstein in Alias Godot.

me: So when Gord Rand’s character A in Wide Awake Hearts says” he doesn’t write from theme” that was semi-autobiographical in terms of how you approached the play?
9:13 PM
Brendan: Yeah, although we cut that line during previews.
One of the murdered darlings I miss most.
I think it’s still in the published version.
9:15 PM me: I liked that line, but I also thought the play was way better on opening than in previews, so all those little cuts added up to something good. How did you find the process of whittling away in previews differed between Alias and WAH?
9:17 PM Brendan: Well, again, because Alias was so much more “open,” I think it was a lot easier to cut and add willy-nilly (if I can say “willy-nilly”), and I think I initially got quite excited by that, the romantic notion of making changes very quickly, on the fly as it were, and then ultimately found that quite overwhelming.
9:18 PM I think it’s easy with a new work and the writer in the room to default to solving problems with re-writes, and very quickly, but I’m not always sure it’s the best thing to do.
9:19 PM Of course often it’s going to be the script, but sometimes I think even if it IS a problem, it’s maybe a good problem for actors or a director to have.
I think if you get rid of all the problems you can end up with a very smoothly functioning boring play.
I don’t think Alias Godot was boring, but I also am not sure how well it functioned.
I think I just made too many changes ultimately, and lost the plot a little – figuratively and literally.
9:20 PM This time around I was adamant that I not deviate from my design structure, so there were certain things I just wouldn’t do.
9:21 PM If this was the place where A did his monologue, I knew that would always be true. The monologue could change in content and execution, but it always had to exist and its placement could not change. I think those obstructions helped me a great deal.
9:24 PM me: I remember as Script Coordinator that I was very, very busy during previews of Alias giving out copies of Page 46E and the like, things definitely seemed more measured during WAH tech. Do you think you will continue to anchor yourself with structure on the next play you write? What about palindromes? I am partial to palindromes myself. Just a one-off or are their more palindromes in the future?
9:25 PM Brendan: Oh, well, I could never say goodbye to palindromes forever, I would never paint myself into a corner like that. But surely there are other hidden nerdy structures I could adhere to…
I dunno – I’ve always been quite intuitive with writing, but lately I’m starting to think that’s maybe not the best way to be.
9:26 PM I think I will always have to procrastinate before I write, but maybe I will start procrastinating with some prep-work, like figuring out what the hell the thing’s gonna be about.
I should say though, even though I had this structure in WAH, I still didn’t necessarily know what would be accomplished in each scene. I wasn’t that advanced.
I was still writing my way through a series of dark rooms.
I just knew the layout of the building.
Raoul Bhaneja, Maev Beaty, Lesley Faulkner and Gord Rand in Wide Awake Hearts

Raoul Bhaneja, Maev Beaty, Lesley Faulkner and Gord Rand in Wide Awake Hearts

9:29 PM me: You got your start in The Fringe with A Quiet Place. Now that you’re getting produced by other theatres, what one thing do you wish you knew before you started having your writing produced and developed by other people?
Brendan: Oh man…
9:30 PM me: I had to deliver one non-softball.
Brendan: No, no, keep ’em coming.
I just can’t think of an answer.
9:32 PM me: How about this. What does an aspiring playwright need to do to keep his or her voice intact and get produced by imaginative professionals?
Brendan: I think I wish I had known that sometimes the way to be the best collaborator is to occasionally be absolutely stubborn and unbending about something. Not always, but every once in a while, I think this is very useful.
Right, well there you go.
Don’t show your work to people until you are ready to have it torn apart.
Make sure you know what’s important to you and what you’re not sure of.
9:33 PM Let people help you with the latter and don’t let anyone fuck with the former.
I’m still learning how to do that.
Surround yourself with collaborators you trust and trust them.
That sounds contradictory, but I don’t think it is.
You’re a collaborator too.
9:34 PM And sometimes you have to trust yourself.
And I think good casting is 75% of the work.
me: That’s a pretty good list. I have to take a sec to copy/paste so I don’t lose this.
9:35 PM Brendan: I’m not sure of that percentage.
It might be higher.
Possibly as high as 95%.
But really, good actors will carry you to the promised land.
9:36 PM And bad actors will kill you dead.
I’ve been very lucky with that.
me: Yes. As Director in Training this fact has been drummed into me consistently by all parties.
9:37 PM Brendan: Well. It’s true.
There’s that addage: if you take a barrel of sewage and add a teaspoon of wine, you get sewage. Whereas if you take a barrel of wine and add a teaspoon of sewage… you get sewage.
9:38 PM me: Yes, you have been insanely lucky with that. Even A Quiet Place your “Fringe Show” starred Christopher Stanton and James Cade. Excellent addage.
9:39 PM Brendan: Yeah. I’ve also been very lucky to have directors who trusted me, casting-wise. From Pounsett to Richard Rose to Gina, they all trusted me. I don’t think Pounsett even knew who James Cade was at the time. He might not even have known Stanton, I forget.
9:40 PM Likewise, I don’t think Gina really knew Maev’s work, but those two got on like a house on fire.
9:41 PM I just noticed that Google Chat has an “off the record” feature.
9:42 PM me: That’s great to know: Everyone met for the first time somewhere. I think it’s unlikely many directors will be unaware of Maev’s work much longer. Okay this seems good. Do you want to take a pic of yourself with your computer I can use with this? Thanks for being the guinea pig.
9:43 PM Brendan: Absolutely.
Oh, also, this:


February 7, 2008, by

Pretty Tough
by Brendan Gall

White. A baby sings the highest and lowest audible notes simultaneously for one minute.

Lights fade down. The baby hovers next to an operating Rube Goldberg machine.

(in Basque) This perpetual-motion machine is calculating π.


The baby whistles. A wolf appears.

This is my pet wolf. (petting him) I’m the only one who can do this. (roughhousing with him) I rescued him from hunters so he’s completely loyal to me.

The wolf sits stage-right.


A crow lands on the baby’s shoulder.

This is my pet crow. I found it on the ground one day. I set its wing and nursed it back to health. Now it refuses to leave me.

The crow caws and flies to the wolf’s head.

Does anyone have someone they’d like me to murder?


An audience member points at another audience member, whom the baby kills. Fleeing. Mass panic.

Order restores.

(to the audience member who pointed) It’s lucky you know Basque. It’s a pretty tough language.

One million Grade 8 students enter. A disco-ball lowers. Alphaville’s “Forever Young” plays. The students pair off and slow-dance.

“Forever Young” ends. Everyone has their first kiss, falls in love, and exits.

I’m glad I got to see that.


The upstage curtain ignites and burns, revealing a blue whale swimming in an aquarium beyond. The water catches fire. The flames shine through the aquarium, filling the theatre.

He’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t surface. Blue whales can hold their breath a pretty long time.


Does anyone have any questions? I can speak any language.

The Basque-speaking audience member explains this. The baby fields questions in various languages. The answers are true. Tears. Laughter.

The machine dings and starts to spit ticker-tape.


House lights. A sustained recording of a rabbit screaming.


Rabbit screaming ends. Audience returns. The theatre is filled with ticker-tape. The water still burns. House lights out.

Here’s what happens when you die:

Darkness. A PowerPoint presentation plays across the aquarium.

Lights up. The baby reads out π from the ticker-tape.

The crow eats the wolf.

Inside the aquarium, the blue whale begins to thrash…

Time slows down.


(Pretty Tough was inspired by a stage direction in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child.” Performance rights inquiries can be made to the playwright through Praxis Theatre.)

February 5, 2008, by

Coming this Thursday, February 7, Praxis Theatre is thrilled to present a world wide web exclusive: a brand new short dramatic work by Canadian playwright Brendan Gall.

The piece is called Pretty Tough. And we’ll be posting the entire text right here on this blog on Thursday morning.

If you are familiar with Gall’s work, you know to expect the unexpected. You are not going to want to miss this.