Amy Lee Lavoie is an award-winning playwright and a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada’s Playwriting Program. Her first play, Rabbit Rabbit, received its premiere production with Infinitheatre, earning Amy Lee two MECCA’s for Best Text and the Revelation Award. Rabbit Rabbit has since been produced across Canada and in the US.
Other plays include Me Happy (co-written with Matthew Mackenzie/Summerworks Festival), Stopheart (Factory Theatre) Genetic Drift (Pi Theatre/Boca del Lupo) My Tom (Railtown Lab Series), Scout’s Honour (Radio Play/Imago Theatre) and C’mon, Angie! (Touchstone Theatre/Leroy Street Theatre) which was hailed as “visceral, important, life-changing theatre.”
Amy Lee was also the Head Digital Writer for the CBC drama Strange Empire, which won a Gracie Award (Women’s Alliance Media) for Best Website in recognition of its interactive Storytelling.
Amy Lee is currently developing an original play, Women Do Not Go on Strike, with Odd Stumble Theatre, as well as co-writing multiple projects with her husband/fellow writer Omari Newton. They include: Blackfly, an adaptation of Titus Andronicus, originally commissioned by Repercussion Theatre and recently supported by CCA’s Digital Now, as well as an adaptation of Dante’s Inferno for re:Naissance Opera. Amy Lee & Omari’s audio drama Doubletree, commissioned by Factory Theatre, was recently presented on iTunes and Spotify as part of their You Can’t Get There from Here, Vol. 2 series.
Omari Newton is an award-winning professional actor, writer, director and producer. As a writer, his original Hip Hop Theater piece Sal Capone has received critical acclaim and multiple productions, including a run at Canada’s National Arts Center. Omari and his wife, fellow professional playwright Amy Lee Lavoie, received a Silver Commission from The Arts Club Theatre to co-write a new play: Redbone Coonhound. A bold and innovative satirical comedy that confronts instances of systemic racism in the past, present and future. Omari co-directed the first in a series of rolling world premieres at The Arts Club Theatre in October of 2022. The play is set to open at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, followed by a run at Imago Theatre in Montreal. The husband and wife duo have also just completed “Black Fly,” a satirical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus that centers on Aaron and Lavinia. Newton’s work in Speakeasy Theatre’s production of Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment earned him a 2017-2018 Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor, as well as a nomination for Best Direction. He has recently completed directing critically acclaimed productions of “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall, and “Pass Over” by Antoinette Nwandu. Notable film & TV credits include: Lucas Ingram on Showcase’s Continuum, Larry Summers on Blue Mountain State and lending his voice to the Black Panther in multiple animated projects (Marvel). Most recently, Omari has a recurring role as Nate on Corner Gas (the animated series) and a recurring role as Corvus of Netflix’s hit new animated series The Dragon Prince.
Out for a walk in their West End neighbourhood, Mike and Marissa—an interracial couple—meet a dog with an unfortunate breed name: Redbone Coonhound. This small detail unleashes a cascading debate between them about race and their relationship that manifests as a series of micro-plays, each satirizing contemporary perspectives on modern culture.
Through its hard-hitting comedic elements, Redbone Coonhound explores the intricacies of subtle and overt polemics of race, systemic power and privilege in remarkable, surprising and hilarious ways.
A wild and subversive journey back through history and into the future.
Redbone Coonhound reveals deep fears, rage, insecurities and, ultimately, hope.
Tickets and Info: https://www.tarragontheatre.com/redbone-coonhound/
Transcript auto generated.
Phil [00:00:03] I’m Phil Rickaby and I’ve been a writer and performer for almost 30 years. But I’ve realised that I don’t really know as much as I should about the theatre scene outside of my particular Toronto bubble. Now I’m on a quest to learn as much as I can about the theatre scene across Canada, so join me as I talk with mainstream theatre creators you may have heard of an indie artists you really should know. As we find out just what it takes to be Stageworthy.
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Phil [00:01:35] Amy Lee Lavoie and Omari Newton are the writers of Redbone Coonhound, which opens at Tarragon Theatre on February 15th and runs to March 5th, followed by a run at Imago Theatre in Montreal as part of a rolling world premiere. In this conversation, we talk about the story behind Redbone Coonhound, what collaboration as a couple looks like for them, how they each found their way to the theatre and much more. Here’s our conversation. Amy Lee, Omari, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me this evening. Could you give me a little rundown about Redbone Coonhound, just about the show where it came from? Just to get us started here.
Amy Lee [00:02:21] Sure. So the play is inspired by an encounter we had on the seawall with a dog of the same name and breed. We were walking, I think it was a Saturday where we just had copies in hand. And this man is very athletic. White guy came up and he had this beautiful red dog. And the dog paid special attention to Omari and was sniffing him up and down. And that was sad for me because I love dogs and I wanted the attention. Anyway, this man was boasting about how, you know, how long this dog can run, that he’s really sent driven, you know, that he’s from the States because red zone coon hounds are not, you know that prevalent in Canada.
Omari [00:03:07] Well, he didn’t say the name.
Amy Lee [00:03:07] He didn’t give.
Omari [00:03:08] It because this breed of dog is not very prevalent in Canada.
Amy Lee [00:03:11] And so we finally Omari asked, what kind of dog is this?
Omari [00:03:15] And he responded with joy and confidence. A Redbone Coonhound. And I said, I’m sorry, what? Internally, I was actually more stunned. And then this. I triggered a series of pretty animated conversations between the two of us the last few days and actually evolved into all this book.
Amy Lee [00:03:35] So obviously, the words within that breed name are quite you know, they have been.
Omari [00:03:42] Loaded.
Amy Lee [00:03:42] Are loaded Omari and should be for all of us.
Omari [00:03:45] Well, in the black community, right. Red Born is an expression that white people use to describe light skinned black people. They say the Redbone Coon is a slur that’s used to diminish and mock black people. So a black person is not a black person. The C-word or coon. It means they are sell-outs and that they are, you know, tap dancing for the approval of white people. So And then, you know, the hound mixed in there. It just made me think of what bloodhounds are used to track runaway slaves. And it just was all a very gross M.O..
Phil [00:04:21] Yeah. It’s the first time that I heard the name of the play that what. What struck me was that it sounded a bit like a vaudeville blackface character. It sounded like the kind of name that somebody who who did that kind of performance would do. And I was immediately like, What is this? What is this show about? And I had a look, you know, this is all the dog imagery on it. So I did it didn’t strike me immediately that it was a a show inspired by a dog. But the name is definitely something that would spark a lot of conversation in terms of in terms of turning that conversation into this play. At what point did you realise and think of it as something that could become a play?
Amy Lee [00:05:12] Oh, well, I know this story. Well, we were sitting at Joey’s, I think it was a restaurant having dinner, and Omari started pitching me because we are creatives, we’re always pitching each other ideas. And when you started talking to me about what is now called the Train Home, a piece within Redbone coming out and you you were talking about it and I thought it was really funny, a funny idea. And it satirised this idea of allyship.
Omari [00:05:40] And performative allyship, the idea that these black people travel to kind of be the Underground Railroad and they’re, you know, trying to find freedom and they’re expecting Harriet Tubman or like a black conductor, and they run into these white Quakers or like your little friend who’s going to help all their experiences with white people or some horrible do, I don’t know about you.
Amy Lee [00:05:59] And so he I said, what did it what inspired this? And he said, it’s actually the encounter with the dog. And I said, Well, wouldn’t it be interesting if we use that encounter as a sort of throughline that then provokes these sort of satirical takes on like pop culture and things that kind of live in each other’s DNA? Because we obviously, you know, we love each other, we come together, spend our lives together, but our upbringings and where we come from are very different. Our lived experience very different. So I and then I said it should be called Redbone because I feel like the title, it says Everything You Need to Know about the play.
Omari [00:06:39] I’m well. And it was the real life catalyst for these conversations, so it makes so much sense after she suggested it.
Amy Lee [00:06:46] Yeah.
Phil [00:06:48] So yeah I mean in creating this play, it’s it’s, it’s like as you as you start to describe, it’s like short short plays, like little short plays within one. They’re sort of like about an overall theme. In terms of creating those. I don’t know if you guys have ever written together before or collaborated like this. Is that a new thing? And I know that sometimes a collaboration between couples can be a little fraught sometimes. So how was that process?
Amy Lee [00:07:21] Well, so we are divorced and oh.
Omari [00:07:25] Yeah, we’re we’re actually separated. What you’re watching is a VR projection. This is the two of us. I’m actually in Bora Bora. No, I know. I mean, we have pretty, like, similar comedic and creative sensibilities. So for the most part, we tend to agree and we laugh and argue a lot in general. Yeah. So translating that personal after an argument into a creative process, including actually doesn’t make.
Amy Lee [00:07:52] But. But Redbone Coonhound is the first official collaborative collaborative process we went into. Since then, yeah, quite a bit of co-writing.
Omari [00:08:02] I feel like we all like it.
Amy Lee [00:08:04] Because we were probably conceiving a grasp.
Omari [00:08:07] That’s right. That’s right.
Amy Lee [00:08:09] That is not yet a play that much to the next play. But yeah.
Omari [00:08:12] We started it. We started writing another 200 together. That’s right. But never made its way to completion because, you know, it took over our lives.
Amy Lee [00:08:19] Yes, I.
Omari [00:08:20] Completed work is.
Phil [00:08:24] In terms of of creating the show. Well, how long did it take to to like to get that first draft of these these short plays done? And how many did you have and how many did you end up with?
Amy Lee [00:08:37] Great. Yeah, that’s a good question. We often talk about this. I think the ones that never made it, they’re buried in our little writers graveyard. Yeah.
Omari [00:08:46] We took us like a year and a half or so. First draft.
Amy Lee [00:08:51] Well, here’s a thing. We. We were the Canada Council for the Arts. Generally generously supported the idea of the play.
Omari [00:08:57] So we were we got to explore and create grounds to do just the first draft and get us some time to ruminate on it.
Amy Lee [00:09:05] And that was, I think, over the course of a year or two actually. But within that timeframe, I kind of went to Stephen Drover at the Arts Club just to just to talk with him about Ashley Corcoran, who had just come in as artistic director of the of the theatre, and to get a sense of what they were planning to do and just introduced myself. And I started talking about this play and Stephen. Very quickly. It was like. Whoa. That’s interesting. Let’s talk more about this one. So then they came on very quickly, actually, which is nice. And they offered us a silver commission to continue developing the.
Omari [00:09:46] And for those who don’t know, it’s really nice. It’s like it’s a chunk of money to develop. But more importantly, it’s a dramaturgical support and some workshops that are there for equity actors. So it’s really like kind of a dream scenario when you’re developing a new piece because.
Amy Lee [00:10:01] This is a this play was conceived of and inspired by Vancouver, too, right? It was a very Home-grown two piece. And I will say that the Silver commissioned is really great because the intention is to produce the plays that they commissioned. It’s not guaranteed, but there is, you know, a silver lining or a bit of a lighthouse at the end of the development process there. So we were fortunate that they did end up producing the play. However, between development and production, a little thing called COVID.
Omari [00:10:32] Yeah.
Amy Lee [00:10:33] So it’s a tricky question because we have we’ve been working on it on and off, not consistently for probably three years. Four years? Yeah.
Omari [00:10:42] Well, we found out we were helping out when I was in Ottawa, so I was 28, 2018.
Amy Lee [00:10:47] Yeah, but 2018, 2019 is when we started.
Omari [00:10:49] So and then the audio, like the first incarnation of a play that was produced was an audio play version. It happened during COVID. We had a stage reading happen and yeah.
Amy Lee [00:10:59] That was part of the Silver commissioned. But the audio play was offered to us as a way to keep the development going because obviously the theatres were shut down. So we got to explore the play in a different medium, which was really cool. But ultimately it’s a stage play and we’re happy to get back on track.
Phil [00:11:16] That was I’m curious about having done it as as an audio play, did you learn anything about the play when it was an audio play that informed the final stage version?
Omari [00:11:33] I feel like we learned so much because audio plays, obviously it’s like mostly sounds in the voice. You’re you’re so in tune with the rhythms of the dialogue and also what is lost by not having visuals. But we have an entire territory of the audio. There was this narrator to fill in all these blanks that if you if you watch these something staged, you can just get through later projections or.
Amy Lee [00:11:57] Yeah. So we wrote like a morgan Freeman type narrator to guide us through this. You know, there’s, there’s a real irreverent tones, the narrator, which I enjoyed, but, well.
Omari [00:12:08] You’ve got this amazing actor named Tom Pickett, 18 year old, a black gentleman originally from the States. And he has a kind of Morgan Freeman as quality. And we have him saying just the most vile shit in this beautiful voice. The dog was a motherfucker. Like, just it was you. So go.
Amy Lee [00:12:25] Yeah, I was so game and lovely.
Omari [00:12:27] It was sad, but it didn’t make sense. I mean. NARRATOR In the stage version, But we did miss him too, so.
Amy Lee [00:12:32] Yeah, I think for me, I learned that it’s really hard to reverse engineer a play into another medium. When you, when I didn’t have the experience of it in three dimensional space on a stage. Yet I think it was interesting to do it a bit backwards. But for me, ultimately I was just really craving the play to be explored visually and in three dimensional space because that’s, that’s what it was conceived as. So yeah, but it was fun.
Omari [00:13:01] And I got to play the my character in the audio play, so that’s probably the only opportunity I’ll ever get to act in it. So selfishly, that was fun getting to play nice.
Phil [00:13:12] But it’s interesting because I have an audio play that I did a couple of Christmases ago that I’m now working on turning into a stage play because, you know, I couldn’t time. It’s interesting too, because having done it as audio, I conceived of it as audio and now is like trying to think of it as as a visual medium as well as as well as a spoken one. It’s a real shift how to take what worked in the audio, but give it more life and more. Spectacle more something. It’s it’s a it’s a tough little thing to do.
Amy Lee [00:13:49] It is. You know, I have such respect for every single medium. Like, I just I never go. I can do all of that. Like, I just really think about the craft and all because they’re just require different muscles, different ways of thinking, visualisation and. Yeah.
Omari [00:14:06] So I same I respect it all. But it’s interesting because as I was primarily an actor before I became a writer, indirectly, and I worked in person theatre, then on television and now mostly in animation and video games. So I already kind of have a cap on as a performer of the different worlds related stories. So it was interesting to me to be on the other side of it and track how do I create a world that can contain a story based on the medium that you’re working in?
Amy Lee [00:14:35] And I learn visually. I’m a visual learner, so for me it was difficult for sure.
Phil [00:14:40] Mhm. It’s interesting. I mean, as somebody who works in video games, do you think that because video games are a different they tell stories in a different way than say, the stage does. You have to move from the action, but you can have you have moments where you can have like the character building, but they’re separate from the action. Right. How does that sort of what does that teach you about the theatrical medium?
Omari [00:15:05] Yeah, like playing playing video games. Well. Well, one, this is very good. Also true. I love it so much, but I haven’t owned a system since PS2. Despite, you know, my wife Amy knows how much I love. I mean, she’s offered for Christmas. It’s up to get me a new system. My mother. So much that I made a business decision years ago not to own a console because I was like You. You need to work in games or you can play them all that. So that’s the first thing. And I think what you learned from video games is I find the well-made ones are really visceral experience, you know, because you’re you’re literally embodying these characters. So it helps you get into the mindset of a character in a way that you know, that maybe watching a movie doesn’t like watching TV. You’re like, you’re watching someone else’s journey, which is also compelling and interesting. But when you’re playing a really compelling video game, you are living that journey.
Amy Lee [00:15:56] But also that just the absolute scope of video games, RPGs, like I just I remember growing up with my brother playing, you know, some of those games, and I prefer watching that than any TV or movie because it was just so, like all encompassing and then and stakes that you’re feeling because you are making the choices.
Omari [00:16:18] Well, and then I think I’m sure you interviewed the entire show. You’ve watched Last of US. Well, the TV series, right?
Phil [00:16:24] Yes. Yeah.
Omari [00:16:25] Last of US is the first video game that I watched someone play through in its entirety on YouTube because I found the acting and storytelling was so compelling that I thought it was. And I was like, how are they going to top this? And a TV series and going the whole. The TV series is incredible. Seeing the choices that the writers made, understanding the differences in mediums, how certain things would look like the bookends. Bill and Joseph. Episode three.
Phil [00:16:51] Bill and Frank Yeah.
Omari [00:16:53] The Bill and Frank story and how they expanded it and the intimacy of that story. Understanding inherently, right? You can go deeper in the television medium. You can. The game was. I learned so much just from watching the adaptation.
Phil [00:17:06] Yeah, absolutely. I occasionally know I’ll come across somebody who’s like, still stuck in the video games. They’re not they can’t be art sort of thing. And because in their mind, it’s still just Pac-Man. And all I can think of is playing the Mass Effect series and getting to the third game and having moments where I had to put the controller down because it was really dusty in the room, you know, like those kinds of, like emotional journeys that that we’ve we’ve gotten to the point where you can you can do that. But I also definitely get what you’re saying Imari about the the the need to not play video games so much because you can really get sucked in.
Omari [00:17:47] Yeah. So it’s a testament to how great they are when I when I retire, that’s all I’ll do.
Amy Lee [00:17:54] But Omari also has that personality. I don’t think it’s a condemnation of like video gamers like I think some other he you know, exercising control over something like that is harder for Oh mark I mean all of us really but video.
Omari [00:18:06] Game addiction is a thing. No I know a lot of people spend an exorbitant amount of time. I don’t know how they how they function.
Amy Lee [00:18:13] Yeah, but some people.
Phil [00:18:15] I have I mean, I’m going to admit to it, I put over 100 hours into Skyrim. I played Red Dead Redemption all through until I was fully complete on that game. And then I went back and I started again. Like that kind of stuff is like those games are very, very addictive, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can allow myself the time. Like it’s sort of like, okay, if I okay, I’ve done my day job, I’m going to spend an hour and a half doing this creative thing. And if I can spend that amount of time, I can play the video game. But what I find is that if I started doing the creative thing, I don’t get to the video game, but if I do the video game first, I’m never going back to the to the to the to the totally creative thing.
Omari [00:18:57] That was that was my story. Not seriously Madden.
Amy Lee [00:19:01] Lingo. Marriage is Google’s Red Dead redemption.
Omari [00:19:05] Because I didn’t I, I don’t think it’s whether I’m I did a voice for a game that I always could use for redemption. So I want to make sure that wasn’t the game, but that it was awesome. Yeah, I know about me.
Phil [00:19:17] I understand. I understand. I could imagine that they all blur together after a while. Yeah.
Omari [00:19:24] And rising.
Phil [00:19:25] Car. Okay. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. One of the things that I love to talk to people about is the thing that was there or like, what is their origin story for going into the theatre? What drew them to the theatre? So I’m wondering if each of you could tell me like what? What was it that made you want to do theatre?
Amy Lee [00:19:50] Well, I come from a very small town in northern Ontario called South Portugal. So we did not have a very wider community. It wasn’t until the late great Sue Drummond, who’s a mentor of mine, she brought the high school students to Stratford every year on a trip. So I looked forward to that week. Oh, my gosh, you can’t even imagine. And it was my first real exposure to theatre, and it opened up my eyes. I think the first show that I saw with any kind of consciousness of what theatre was and what it could be was West Side Story. And I was blown away by the lettuces on spectacle, the story, the like. I just couldn’t believe that I was watching this happen in real time. And from that moment on, I was like trying to spearhead this drama program. I told Marian so tragic. I was cast as Jo in Little Women, which is just such an iconic role, and I love little women. And then it was cancelled due to lack of interest, but I no weep for me. But that’s what it was, and I honestly have never veered from that part. So I went and studied Theatre Bishop’s University, and then I was lucky enough to get accepted into the National Theatre School of Canada’s playwriting program. And I have just been on the journey. But yeah, really kind of odd considering I just didn’t grow up. I was no art high schools, there was none of that, and I was just those Trip Stratford Festival.
Phil [00:21:29] Was there a moment, Amy, Just before I get to Omar’s stories, was there a moment where you realised that this was a thing that somebody could do?
Amy Lee [00:21:39] I think it was the feeling I had watching it. It wasn’t this separation. They are so beyond my capabilities. It was more that I wanted to grab on to that feeling and I thought, This is a vocation. Obviously, these people are here doing it. And then you would talk to me about and she was excited by my excitement and she really fostered it from that point on. So it was really trying to attach myself to that feeling forever, like if I could feel like this. This is, you know, it’s like a real scent. It’s like it’s one of those moments, like, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this before. So, yeah, it was it was really was a story. Who knew? Who knew how? But it’s it’s great. Like Last frontier.
Phil [00:22:27] Amara. How about how about your origin story?
Omari [00:22:30] Yeah. So it was interesting. I always loved movies as a kid. I have this memory of, like, my twin sister love the movie Annie. And we watched it eight bajillion times, you know? I also remember watching. By me. And I remember as a kid being like, Oh, those are like ends, but they’re acting in a movie. I understood on some level that they were actually an adventure look like so much fun. But it was this interesting thing where I was born with polyps on my vocal cords. So, like, you know, is that how that was? Yeah.
Phil [00:23:02] Yeah.
Omari [00:23:03] I was one of those kids. So I loved, like, theatre and acting, performing. And I had this, this thing on my vocal cords. So I always wanted to do like, drama school, but my voice was so messed up that I would always get cast as, like the tree or the caterpillar or whatever. And then I had surgery in the third grade and my voice totally changed and cleared up and I distinctly remember. So I had this teacher. There was no it was the school nurse say, Ah, boy, sounds great. It’s so much better, like you’ll never be a singer, actor or anything, but what an improvement to your grade three. Me being like, you’ll see, like I did with the school improv team from there in the jungle as I like to all through high school. And then I had this incredible high school drama teacher, like somebody also Linda McKenzie, who told me, like, Look, you’re a really talented actor. I know you love sports, but you’re probably not going to make the NBA. I think you could do this. And sadly, she she actually died of cancer, sadly, only only like a few years after I graduated and the name of the theatre at the school after, because her impact was that great. And that’s kind of where I really fell in love. It was in high school drama working with Ben McKenzie.
Amy Lee [00:24:22] But can I say something because I think this is so beautiful. This is something I so admire in Amari, is that he has faced that I think, in a lot of points in his life, but he has never wavered in his self-assurance. And I think that’s something that his mom, his sweet mom, has instilled in him. Like, I so admire your confidence. Seriously, I just I just I’m riddled with anxiety and I just self-doubt all the time. But he’s just like, no, I’ll do it. And you do it.
Omari [00:24:52] And I’ve talked about this a lot and it’s nothing at all, whatever. But as a black man, right in North America, a lot of people have perceptions of who you are and what you’re capable of, right? I used to get accused of plagiarism in school constantly because I loved reading and writing, and I was a really good writer and a really good reader at a very young age. And people could not comprehend that a young black kid with a weird voice was smart, right? So at a very young age, I had a chip on my shoulder because teachers used to try to catch me for cheating or faking. And so that’s what it is, was just having to advocate for myself. I’m very rich.
Amy Lee [00:25:32] And that could make somebody bitter. And you don’t have the bitterness. You just have that really kind of consistent. I believe in myself, which is a really nice mix.
Omari [00:25:42] Well, I.
Amy Lee [00:25:43] Have to say.
Omari [00:25:44] My mama.
Amy Lee [00:25:44] I know we do. We thank. We thank.
Phil [00:25:47] I mean, you’ve mentioned earlier, you mentioned your different lived experiences, Omari. You’re a black man. And Amy, you’re you’re a white woman. And and as somebody who grew up, my my brother, my adopted brother is is a black man. I was a black child, and now he’s a black man. And so. It very quickly, realising as a as a as somebody growing up that what was happening to me in the world was very different from what was happening to my brother in the world. And it’s it’s interesting when you can have that conversation, you can like realise that. There’s this, this, this, this difference. And I think it’s important to know the difference. I remember when my brother had this realisation of as a teenager of the fact that he was often he was always getting stopped by the police in the town where we grew up. Just to get to the usual. Here’s a young black man. Let’s stop him. And I remember one day he said to my dad, Well, you know, it’s no big deal. I just think because I’m a teenager, I mean, I’m sure that it happens to fill all the time. And I said it. It doesn’t happen to me ever. And that was the moment where he realised, Oh, it is. It is because I’m black, you know. Yeah. And my, you know, my parents, you know, they did their best to try to like, you know, we went to Caribana, all that sort of stuff to try to give my brother, who was being raised in a white family, a as much black culture as we can provide for him, but we did not know to have the conversation. With my brother. He had to learn that stuff on his own. And, you know, the just the different the different lived experience and the different lived experience is is really one of the things that has created and was the catalyst for for Redbone Coonhound. In terms of of those conversations. I imagine that those conversations that you were having at the time were coming from different perspectives. What kind of conversations were you having after that, that encounter with the dog, if you don’t mind sharing?
Omari [00:28:01] What if I could share something related to what you just said? It’s interesting that you mentioned that conversation because my mother was a social worker and she was very, very concerned about my safety cause I would get stopped by cops constantly. And we definitely had a conversation like when I got my driver’s license, my mom sat me down, was like, You’re going to be profiled. This is how you have to act. And you get stopped by the police to be safe. And on the completely other than the spectrum, Amy’s father not only didn’t have that conversation with her, he was the chief of police of Timmins, Ontario.
Amy Lee [00:28:33] Retired now. But yeah.
Phil [00:28:34] Yeah, yeah.
Omari [00:28:35] So our relationship to police and authority figures was totally different. Based on what experiences?
Amy Lee [00:28:41] Yes, exactly. And yeah, just interesting how that sort of and. It’s just. Yeah. You and my daughter.
Omari [00:28:49] Well, we’re really happy. Yeah, well, couldn’t be closer. And then pretty much right away, like, we have a very similar temperament and point of view, and, like, I never would have thought, you know, a call from a small town in northern Ontario would be somebody with these.
Amy Lee [00:29:05] You know, it’s a it’s a it’s the humility aspect of this whole thing. And just taking accountability when when it’s necessary. Like again, I come from a really small town is not. Well, at least when I was growing up, things have changed, was not culturally diverse. So I really looked at movies and TV and books and things for information, and it really shaped my world view. On top of, you know, my parents who are really morally sound like they’re just. Yeah, but.
Omari [00:29:39] But we laugh even though we have very different upbringings. That’s one thing that we both have in common. We laugh about how square we are as a couple. Yeah, both of our parents were just nice. People were pretty solid.
Amy Lee [00:29:52] But I think also class plays a big factor in shaping someone’s worldview and experience. And we both come from the same kind of similar, well.
Omari [00:30:01] Like descendants of immigrants. Right. Like Amy’s family with Italy, my Trinidad Tobago. And there’s something about that shared experience of what leaving your hometown in the South was really cool. Make a life for yourself.
Amy Lee [00:30:14] Yeah, exactly. But, you know, we learn. My family learned so much from Omari. My proximity to Omari, you know, he raises awareness for us and the articles that he writes and the lived experiences that he has. So, you know, my parents are always open. And so my to learning and doing better. And I think that’s what it takes. It takes a curiosity and a will and a humility, because otherwise, if you’re closed off to that and vice versa. So the conversations we’re having in the play and the way that it becomes intersectional is where race meets gender politics. So, you know, Marissa and the play was loosely based on me. We talk about the complications of something like football.
Omari [00:30:59] So soldier’s complications with the NFL.
Amy Lee [00:31:03] Mike’s love of football and his choice to stop watching it. When Colin Kaepernick, for example, took the knee and took a stand and but not stopping football for them. I mean, the.
Omari [00:31:18] Plethora.
Amy Lee [00:31:18] Of.
Omari [00:31:19] Domestic abuse, it’s feels and it needs a laugh. It’s not funny at all.
Phil [00:31:22] No, no, no. Yeah. Yeah.
Omari [00:31:24] Look, the hypocrisy. Like, I don’t know if you’re an NFL fan, but like Ray Rice, like Uppercut, his girlfriend at a casino on camera and the NFL suspended him for, like, a game. And football fans are just like, Oh, what sucks? What time is game on? You know.
Amy Lee [00:31:40] So it’s those sort of conversations like, why wasn’t that good enough to stop watching? It had to be. This was the thing where I was stopping because of that. And so it’s just all these things collide and clash and it’s not about ranking, It’s not about this is worse, you know, but it is about because we have to remember in this play, these are characters who are embodying ideas, but it’s also a private conversation. I think we’re used to public conversations about race, politics and gender politics. But this is really taking to people who trust and love each other, who are working through something deep. Something has shifted because of this dog.
Omari [00:32:21] You bring up that point because this is now will this relationship survive play? This isn’t like are they going to break up? They love each other. They’re super solid. This is a two people who really love each other. Two different perspectives and cultures are having a moment in that in their marriage, in the relationship where they’re trying to understand each other. And we often talk about this. I feel like oftentimes when you see representations of race in the media, it’s either from one perspective, like you watch like a black movie, that’s the black perspective on race, or you’ll watch like a white movie where it’s like, you know, the white saviour fish out of water. You rarely see movies where it’s it’s not like a zany comedy of, you know, look at this meeting between these people from different cultures. It’s just these two people from different cultures who are real unsanitised conversations. Yeah, sometimes they’re making mistakes, sometimes are saying things that could be deemed as offensive.
Amy Lee [00:33:16] And that’s the thing. We’re not these are not sanitised conversations because, again, they’re happening in the private sphere. And, you know, like we always say, it would have been really easy for us to write perfect characters. We’re not going to be scrutinised or judged by the audience members. We don’t think that’s real. And, you know, it’s like we’re saying we’re approaching the play with the same gesture. We approach our life together as a couple with different lived experiences. Sometimes you have to put your feet to the fire a little bit and learn something about yourself and humble yourself. So and really all of that, to say this play is ultimately about language. That’s also the.
Omari [00:33:56] It’s about language. It’s about extremism, like extreme, unmoving attitudes on all sides of the political spectrum. And when I say political, I don’t mean like Republican Democrats or like I mean political in terms of like social justice or social politics. Right. It’s to me what what a lot of our people dream satirise is just people who take extreme positions. They’re unmoveable.
Amy Lee [00:34:19] Yeah, but everybody gets their turn. It’s it’s an equal opportunity skew, right? And no one is safe.
Phil [00:34:26] And I think it’s you know, you’re mentioning that you know, you’re having the conversations that happen in the private sphere and nobody’s like perfect and and it’s it’s it’s messy. And I think that sometimes that to me, the reason why sometimes these conversations that we have in the public sphere don’t do what we need them to do is because there’s always somebody who is too afraid of of saying the wrong thing. So they don’t say anything of value. It’s usually the white person who doesn’t want to be called a racist. They don’t say don’t ask the question, so they don’t learn anything. So they don’t they they don’t want to get messy because they’re afraid of that sort of thing of. Yes. Yeah. And it’s so important to just. You never learn if you don’t fuck up. You have to have the difficult conversations.
Omari [00:35:20] I totally agree. But I’ll also add, I also think we are in a current political climate where even as a black man, I am hesitant to speak against my community on issues that we might not like 90%. If there’s a 10% disagreement, I hesitate to vocalise it because the pressure to fall in line so is, you know, so that you don’t get cancelled. It has never been higher. It’s a lot of people, I think. Equate the creation of arts that deals with race and culture with propaganda. They don’t mean what they want is to see their worldview reaffirmed, which there is a time and place. But, you know, if you’re marching for BLM and you’re calling our police, we tell you there’s no grey areas, right? You go and you hold your slogan up. But some people don’t understand that. Works of art and the works of drama are about polemics and they’re about the argument and they’re about. So there has to be more nuance or else that’s not I mean, it’s not a play.
Amy Lee [00:36:23] Yeah.
Phil [00:36:25] Yeah, absolutely. So at the end of your your arts club experience with the whole process which the the ability to have workshops and hopefully more than one did you have more than one workshop in the process. Yeah.
Omari [00:36:40] Yeah.
Phil [00:36:41] That’s so rare in the creation of theatre in this country. And you went to full production eventually? Yes. After COVID. After that production. Is the play unchanged from then, or did you learn again from the audience in full production as well and make changes after?
Amy Lee [00:37:03] Okay, I’m going to I’m going to take this first round because you’re bringing up a point that I think is really important in this whole thing. So, yes, this is a co-production and the Toronto Montreal’s a co-production tucked inside of a rolling world premiere. So what that means is we’ve taken or Stephen drove, or I should say, once Imago was interested in producing it and Chevrier. The best arts club went, Okay, how do we take this opportunity? We’ve got interest from different theatres here. How do we figure this out? And co-production wasn’t an option for the two companies, and he knew that in the States there was a rolling premier model under the national nuclear Exchange and had been happening for years. And it’s this insane model and program that centres process through production. So you get this opportunity to work the text. Through a production, which is even rarer than workshops. And that’s where you get the most information is when your play is stage and it meets an audience.
Omari [00:38:12] Or what’s what it’s like while you open in New York and New Jersey. Then you go to Chicago and just the the the liberation of knowing you have another shot to tweak. And you can sit in the audience, watch reactions and it.
Amy Lee [00:38:26] Well, I. And not only that we so the production in Vancouver is completely different And the production you’re going to see and I’m assuming you’re going to see it.
Phil [00:38:34] Absolutely I am.
Omari [00:38:36] Every really funny.
Amy Lee [00:38:37] Now I’m going to play. I wouldn’t blame you, by the way, but it’s a totally different interpretation by a different creative team and different actors in a different community. That production at Tarragon is going to be the same in Montreal, but the Montreal production is going to have surtitles. So there’s going to be a language sort of accommodation there, which I think is fantastic.
Omari [00:38:59] And also it’s not lost on either of us or the demographics of the audiences are totally different. And certainly Vancouver and Toronto, Montreal, you know, Vancouver. There’s just not a large percentage of black people that although we brought out more than you normally see in the theatre to come see this play, whereas Toronto and Montreal are more Cockney, that person. It was always interesting to us seeing what the black audience members laughed at because white audience might not have reacted to. So the scene in Toronto and Montreal, how people act.
Amy Lee [00:39:32] But the other thing that is brilliant about this model is that within the contract, the theatres that bid for these productions or this play have to agree it’s reserved money to bring the playwright to the city to continue the process. So the playwright comes with the play. So that’s where those changes come into play because the playwright is a member of of each process. And so, yes, I mean, the first production, we weren’t doing a ton of rewriting on the spot. And this we are to less so only because the text is in a better place. But we are learning through the production and the interpretation, different things that we want to change. We’re changing the ending some nights during previews because we’re wanting to find different different moments. And so that’s going to change. We have a week between the Toronto and the Montreal one, so we’ll go and do more work there. And so what you end up with is just a really hard target and is a text that. Withstands a lot of rigour, a lot of dramaturgical rigour and hopefully can. Oh, there she is. Stevie Nicks. You know, can be it can have a universal flair to it so that regardless of the the theatre size, the budget, the community, it has a resonance and it just a greater kind of appeal for production.
Phil [00:40:58] I think that the process of of of seeing a play change is is is hugely educational. A few years ago I was an usher at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto at the time when Disney was doing their trial run of, of of Aladdin that was going to go to Broadway and watching that them react to audiences from night to night was a fascinating education and how to take immediate feedback and change a play. So it’s a fascinating process to watch. Have you have you found that an enjoyable process or a frustrating one?
Omari [00:41:41] Watching the show every night.
Phil [00:41:42] You’re just like is like, like making changes based on audience and things like that. Is that something you’ve enjoyed or has it been more frustrating than not?
Omari [00:41:51] Is my favourite thing in a play that works? I found it very enjoyable to set of any changes the Vancouver corruption could happen. I want to see more. Any drugs that I’ve been involved in as a director or writer. We saw it. I mean, I saw it. It must have been 15 times. How many times?
Amy Lee [00:42:10] Not as much. But you direct it. And I think, again, you’re also very, you know, looking at looking at it from a different lens. Yeah. Because I you know, I did go quite a bit because of the rolling premiere model. I wanted to get that information. Um, but yeah, we’re going to Toronto on Saturday and we’re going to be watching all of the previews and working with Michelin and Kweku and I’m, you know, working on some ongoing notes for the for the show.
Phil [00:42:38] Nice. I’m just as we as we start to draw to a close, I wanted to ask you about something that is I think that you’ve just finished it. Tell me about Black Fly.
Amy Lee [00:42:51] Oh or Beloved Black Fly. So that was a Commission for Repercussion Theatre again right before the pandemic started. And it it’s our adaptation of Titus Andronicus, but told through the lens of Lavinia an errant.
Omari [00:43:09] And it is a feminist hip hop theatre satire.
Amy Lee [00:43:15] It’s ridiculous. Like it is a zany, just crazy play. And what we’ve done is we’ve kind of reallocated the violence to the characters that had violence kind of put upon them. Yeah. So, Lavinia, it’s like a revenge play for Lavinia is definitely I wasn’t going to I was going to stand for that. You know, having her.
Omari [00:43:38] Aaron, indicates not only what pretending, but his image and the perception that most people have of Aaron. He makes the case for why he’s totally justified in everything he did.
Amy Lee [00:43:50] And the clown just wants to die. He’s just the standard.
Omari [00:43:56] But he can’t. Its a running joke.
Amy Lee [00:43:58] As a running joke throughout.
Omari [00:43:59] He thinks death is going to come by and he’s so grateful. And then something happens and he doesn’t slide back to a life of misery.
Amy Lee [00:44:05] But we did. We were lucky enough to receive a digital now grant from Canada Council to develop that into an audio play with animation. So that’s in the works. It’s going to be released, I think in the spring. It’s going to be an animated play that you can watch and so we can send it to you. But that is definitely we want to bring that back to the stage. That was once again, I feel like again because of the pandemic, we were doing a lot of re re exploring of work that was mentioned. They’ve just been great, you know.
Omari [00:44:35] A shout out to the Canadian government and oh yeah, the what they stepped up for is doing that time. It was crazy. They, it, it’s wild to me that they actually acknowledged that the cultural sector was important and recognise how much was also. Yeah so much funding came through so.
Amy Lee [00:44:53] And and what I will say because of that and because of the pandemic and because it was an audio play, we weren’t limited to, you know, geography for casting and collaboration. So we got to work with our favourite people like Robert Percy Keeney, Laura Conlon, Tom Roney, Damien.
Omari [00:45:10] And AJ Alexander Giuliani and Amitai Worms. Then they.
Amy Lee [00:45:16] Came on.
Omari [00:45:17] Our project.
Amy Lee [00:45:18] Lenny Parker. And oh, with James, we can’t leave out James Loy.
Omari [00:45:25] So. James Blunt. Jemmy Olsen They knew.
Amy Lee [00:45:27] No, I said, You go, We got crazy cats.
Omari [00:45:31] I thought we had no business and we were just laughing.
Amy Lee [00:45:35] We’re laughing. Tom Rooney and Robert, like these Stratford vets saying our ridiculous words, but we just had so much fun.
Omari [00:45:43] Yeah, Everybody we loved, everyone laughs so much during those recording sessions because I think it was, you know, every pandemic is just.
Amy Lee [00:45:51] Yeah, just a really irreverent comedy.
Phil [00:45:54] One of the things that I think that digital productions has allowed people to do is to work with people regardless of geography and to and I have enjoyed the fact that we’re able to, whether it’s a it’s a live stream or a recorded or or audio play that we’ve been able to share work across the country, which is something we don’t often get to do. I’ll hear about it so often. It’s happening in Edmonton, for example, that I will never get to see unless I can get to Edmonton. But by sharing it digitally, we’re like sharing our work. Across Canada, which is amazing.
Amy Lee [00:46:34] And I mean, I know a lot of people are saying, you know, yes, it’s a live medium and you lose something. But I love watching. Well, filmed theatre for that very reason. Theatre is sometimes really inaccessible. I and I find it, you know, with my brain and the way that it works. I like being in the comfort of my home sometimes watching certain types of plays. Right? Like the anxiety I feel of being tucked in to an audience and in the middle row. Like that takes me out of an experience sometimes. So I felt really I felt so great about just being able to watch theatre on my own terms. So I totally hear you on that.
Omari [00:47:17] I did like after what I missed audiences as well. I missed being.
Phil [00:47:21] But yeah, absolutely, absolutely. But one thing about seeing film performances, I prefer those over film, like movie adaptations. I would much rather see the live production than an adaptation. I recently watched the Netflix version of Matilda, but I’d seen the live version in New York and so much I missed from the stage version that you didn’t get in the movie. And it’s I would have preferred the filmed version over and over the adaptation.
Amy Lee [00:47:58] I.
Omari [00:47:58] It depends to me on the adaptation. Because we we watched Father of the opera shows which was a stage. Well.
Amy Lee [00:48:10] I have been begging Omar to watch the father for literal years, and I finally managed to force him to watch it. It is to me one of the most excellent, excellent films of all time and based on a play, but also that the playwright directed the film. So there’s a real Sam, See and Vision. And Anthony Hopkins, I mean, he just breaks my heart. I can’t. So it’s a very good film.
Omari [00:48:37] And I don’t know what the stage play was like, but I mean, a rendition of it that’s more moving than anything.
Amy Lee [00:48:43] Well, you know, watching on Broadway was, I think, or in the West End was Frank Langella.
Omari [00:48:49] Oh, wow.
Amy Lee [00:48:49] Which is a whole other thing. But he is.
Omari [00:48:52] Just.
Amy Lee [00:48:53] So. This is now become a podcast about the father.
Phil [00:48:57] Well, hey, if they could do if they could do a weekly podcast of The Last of US, we can do one about the father.
Amy Lee [00:49:03] Right. Let’s do it.
Phil [00:49:08] Omari, Amy Lee, thank you so much for joining me this evening and really appreciate you giving me your time and for the sacrifice that your dogs made, giving me your time. This has been an episode of Stageworthy. Stageworthy is produced, hosted and edited by Phil Rickaby. That’s me. If you enjoyed this podcast and you listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, you can leave a five star rating. And if you listen on Apple Podcasts, you can also leave a review. Those reviews and ratings help new people find the show. If you want to keep up with what’s going on with Stage Worthy and my other projects, you can subscribe to my newsletter by going to philrickaby.com/subscribe. And remember, if you want to leave a tip, you’ll find a link to the virtual tip jar in the show notes or on the website. You can find stage worthy on Twitter and Instagram at stageworthypod, and you can find the website with the complete archive of all episodes at stageworthy.ca. If you want to find me, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at philrickaby. And as I mentioned, my website is phirickaby.com. See you next week for another episode of Stageworthy.