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Playwright of 'Spring'
Johnnie Walker interviews Daniel MacIvor about his new theatrical projects, what critics are like in rural Nova Scotia and casting his own dog

Photo: Guntar Kravis

Daniel MacIvor is one of the country’s most acclaimed playwrights, but he’s probably also one of the busiest. In this theatrical season alone, he’s acted in His Greatness (his play about the final days of Tennessee Williams) at Factory, toured his one-man show This Is What Happens Next to Edmonton, and he’s a week into the Tarragon run of Was Spring, a new play he wrote and directed starring Clare Coulter, Caroline Gillis, and Jessica Moss. Come summertime, he’ll be debuting new shows at Stratford and SummerWorks.

Thankfully, he was able to squeeze in a few minutes to chat with me about his new show at the Tarragon, the difference between theatre in Nova Scotia and theatre in Toronto, and, of course, his dog.

Tell me a bit about Was Spring.

It’s a deceptively simple-looking show. It’s not done in such a way that you know this off the top–you learn this over the course of the play–but we’re looking at one woman in three stages of her life. So, the conflict is actually an internal conflict; it’s a conversation that she’s having with herself, although it doesn’t necessarily appear to be that at first. Anyway, it’s really interesting, because it’s all about who’s talking to who when.

That sounds a little bit like Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.

Which, you know, I know of, I’ve never read it, so I’m not sure… Is that presented right off the top as a given? Or is that something one figures out?

It’s a two-act show and you find out pretty immediately in Act Two.  Act One is a bit of a different thing.

Right. For me, these are the women of my growing up, of my childhood. This is my mother, my grandmother… I come from a family of farmers and they come from a very particular kind of rural existence, an almost gothic, rural, east coast world.

Which sounds a bit like the world of one of your other three-women shows, Marion Bridge.

Yes, it’s certainly in line with that. But it’s a slightly more experimental narrative. The narrative isn’t direct, it’s fractured. It doesn’t have that same kind of straight-ahead style. But it’s definitely the same world as a play like Marion Bridge.

And you’re working with Caroline Gillis…

Caroline Gillis: solid, fleshy gap-toothed, and middle-aged. That’s what the The Globe and Mail called her.


Yeah, Kate Taylor just did a story on her, and she described her as “solid, fleshy, gap-toothed, and middle-aged.” Caroline’s gonna get a t-shirt made.

That’s charming.

[Laughs] It’s very charming! Kate Taylor: charming. She described me as “spritely and gay.” We’ve gotta get that on a T-shirt.

Spritely and gay? Absolutely.

Anyway, Caroline’s great, as always. She’s always up for the challenge. And Clare Coulter is someone that I worked with years ago as an actor. And Jess Moss, who’s right out of school, just last year. So, it’s an interesting mix of perspectives. Everyone has a really different way of approaching it, and that was really interesting, to negotiate that in the room.

And Was Spring is a new play? Or a new version of a play?

Ann-Marie Kerr directed a public workshop that ran under a different title. And it was a very different play, but they took it to three different towns. So, it had a production, I guess you would call it, but it was a very different play. The structure and the idea were the same, for the most part. And I had the opportunity to see someone else tackle it and do it, and then I workshopped it myself in Washington DC and at a playwrights workshop in Montreal.

So, can we consider this the first full production?

The thing is, the play was called Confession originally when it was first done in Nova Scotia, and I went away and sorta re-wrote some of it. So, we’re calling it a “Toronto premiere,” but for all intents and purposes, this play has never been done. But, a play like it with a different name was done in Nova Scotia.

And what’s the difference between a Toronto and a Nova Scotia audience?

The audiences are not really different. The critics are different, but the audiences aren’t that different. I think that with a play like this, when you’re talking about elements of rural life, when it’s for a city audience, it has a potential of feeling more nostalgic. When for an audience in rural Nova Scotia, this is the fabric of their lives daily. But really, I think the difference is more of a critical difference than an audience difference. In Nova Scotia, people are happy that you just showed up. You get two and a half stars just for showing up.

Can you tell me a bit about the show you’re doing at Stratford with your dog, Buddy?

It’s called The Best Brothers and it’s about two brothers–Hamilton and Kyle Best, hence the title–Hamilton is a straight, uptight architect and Kyle is a not-uptight, gay real estate agent. And they are dealing with the very recent, tragic-yet-rather-ridiculous death of their mother who died at a Gay Pride Parade when a celebrated drag queen fell on her. The whole thing is centred on the preparations for the funeral. And in the middle of all this is the mother’s dog, and much of the tension of the play is in what happens to the dog. So, it’s kind of a play about a dog. What a dog is and what a dog means. And my dog is slated to appear in it.

And is that Buddy’s big acting debut?

Well, he’s done some photo work. He’s done some print work. He’s on the poster at Stratford. But it will be his stage debut, so we’ll see how it goes. If there’s a service dog in the audience we might get in a bit of trouble. But he only has to appear once and he doesn’t have any lines.

And at least you don’t have to get anyone to dog-sit while you’re doing the show.

Exactly! Exactly… Maybe that’s why I’m doing it.

Are you going to start working roles for him into all of your new plays?

Might as well get him working, he’s gotta pay for his food. Oh, he gave me a funny look now that I said that.


Johnnie Walker is a playwright and actor. Follow him on Twitter at @handsomejohnnie.

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