This week, host Phil Rickaby chats with award-winning playwright, Taylor Marie Graham. We take a thrilling deep dive into the heart of her play, “Corporate Finch,” dissecting the complexities of its characters’ relationship, the chilling plot within the confines of an abandoned factory, and how a 22-hour writing competition was instrumental in overcoming the writer’s block that initially haunted her creation process. Taylor gives us her unique perspective on horror on stage, bringing to light the innovative ways she employed the physical space of the theatre to heighten suspense and tension.
Our discussion takes a fascinating turn as we explore the potential of horror in theatre, drawing from the traditional presentations of horror in the theatre before film took the reins. Taylor shares her insights on how live audience, coupled with light and sound manipulation, can escalate the thrill of the genre. We also delve into the interesting challenge of staying one step ahead of the genre, and the excitement it brings. On a more academic note, we delve into Taylor’s theatre course at Western University, where she scrutinizes the history of theatre in Toronto, addressing critical questions of representation and identity.
As we navigate towards the tail end of our conversation, we cast the spotlight on Taylor’s doctoral research on the Blythe Festival. We delve into her process of selecting pivotal moments from the theatre’s history to focus on and explore the tragedy of plays that have never seen the light of day. Taylor underscores the importance of ensuring the accessibility of these unpublished plays, shedding light on their often overlooked value. We round off our conversation by addressing the evolution of theatre and its potential to challenge audiences, inviting them to revisit and re-imagine their relationship with this age-old art form. We hope you’ll join us for this enlightening exploration of Canada’s theatre scene, the thrill of horror on stage, and the intriguing intersections of art and academia.
Taylor Marie Graham is an award winning playwright, librettist, director, theatre scholar and educator from Cambridge Ontario. She joined me to talk about her play Corporate Finch, which rounds out a summer of performances with a run at IMPACT Fest in Kitchener, Ontario. In this conversation we talk about the unusual origin of Corporate Finch, taking the play to festivals around Ontario, and her how her academic practice and her artistic practice compliment each other. Here’s our conversation.
Transcript auto generated.
0:00:04 – Phil Rickaby
I’m Phil Rickaby and I’ve been a writer and performer for almost 30 years, but I’ve realized 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 and indie artists you really should know, as we find out just what it takes to be Stageworthy. If you value the work that I do on Stageworthy, please consider leaving a donation, either as a one-time thing or on a recurring monthly basis. Stageworthy is created entirely by me and I give it to you free of charge, with no advertising or other sponsored messages. Your continuing support helps me to cover the cost of producing and distributing the show. Just four people donating $5 a month would help me cover the cost of podcast hosting alone. Help me continue to bring you this podcast. You can find a link to donate in the show notes, which you can find in your podcast app or at the website at Stageworthyca. Now onto the show.
Taylor Marie Graham is an award-winning playwright, librettist, director, theatre scholar and educator from Cambridge, Ontario. She joined me to talk about her play Corporate Finch, which rounds out a summer of performances with a run at Impact Fest in Kitchener, Ontario. In this conversation we talk about the unusual origin of Corporate Finch taking the plate of festivals around Ontario and how her academic practice and her artistic practice complement each other. Here’s our conversation. Just to jump in, I did not get a chance during Fringe to see Corporate Finch. I am only human, I’m not Derek Chua. I can only see so many shows, so I didn’t get to see Same. Who else? Who can, yeah, so I didn’t get to see Corporate Finch. Could you tell me about this play?
0:02:34 – Taylor Marie Graham
Sure. So essentially it’s a story about two teenagers breaking into an old, abandoned factory and it’s a thriller. You know there’s Push and Pull. It’s unclear who’s maybe the monster, if you want to say there’s a monster and who isn’t right. There’s this push and pull between the two of them and essentially it’s good old psychological thriller where you’re not really sure who to believe, who side you’re on, hopefully, and then we play with light and sound and all that good stuff. And yeah, it’s essentially a two-hander. Two teenagers go into a factory. We’re not really sure if they’ll both make it out alive.
0:03:23 – Phil Rickaby
Whoo, if they’ll both make it out alive, that’s something. Now, of course, I mean that’s high drama right there. Yeah, do they just go in like for shits and giggles, or is there something that they’re going in to this abandoned factory to do?
0:03:41 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I mean, they’ve been friends for a very long time. I should say it’s set in St Jacobs, ontario, and so it’s really set in a specific community which I like to do with a lot of stuff I write, and essentially we’re going into this place that one of the characters, finch, has been living in for a while and about a year before she was kicked out of her school, and Jake, who’s the other character, is involved in why she was sort of released from the school and all the drama that kind of went around that, and so this is the first time they’re getting together again and Finch is bringing him to where she’s been living for the last while and they’re going to deal with some stuff, deal with some old wounds.
0:04:45 – Phil Rickaby
Cool. Now just there’s a little notice that your network is struggling and you are robotting a little bit. I’m going to ask how about we both turn off our cameras just to save the bandwidth? Okay, just like, click the little camera icon and we will both disappear from view. But that should help with the network.
0:05:09 – Taylor Marie Graham
Did that help.
0:05:10 – Phil Rickaby
We will find out, but it should have. It should have because video is pretty network. Do these two have a history? Is it a romantic history? Do they have stuff they need to work out? Is that what brings them together, or what is this thing between them?
0:05:25 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, that’s a great question. These two particular characters have a lot of really strong chemistry that they’ve had since they were children. And I don’t necessarily mean, you know, sexual chemistry, although that’s definitely there, but there’s just like this, this connection between these two. They’ve always sort of had this connection between each other, been drawn to each other their entire lives. They sort of get each other in ways that they feel like the rest of the world doesn’t, and so they’re always drawn to each other, even though they’re very different people and come from very different backgrounds.
And so when there’s this big event that happens, when they’re, you know, I put a year before this play starts and they’re ripped apart, essentially there’s this huge traumatic event that happens, that sort of revealed through the play, that they sort of they’re ripped apart and this is them coming back together. They see each other at a party and this is the first time they’ve seen each other since that big, huge blowout, and this is the first time that they’ve spent that much time away from each other too, since they were children essentially. So this is them coming back together, kind of remembering what it’s like to be with that other person, what it’s like to be around that other person, what that chemistry is and that sort of undeniable connection and that memory of that, while also dealing with the big event that happened that ripped apart.
0:07:01 – Phil Rickaby
Right. It’s funny how, with there are certain people I’ve had this in my life there are certain people who you will not see them for a long time, and then you run into them and somehow it’s like no time passed. Yeah.
0:07:19 – Taylor Marie Graham
And it sounds like these two are like that. Yeah, I’ve had that with a lot of people in my life. I’ve had this sense of there are certain people where it’s just this you kind of see the same thing going on in a room that maybe other people aren’t clocking, or you’re able to kind of see the humor of a situation that you didn’t realize that somebody else in the room kind of sees too. So I love those kind of relationships and, yeah, I actually had that this summer where I reconnected with somebody who I haven’t really spent a lot of time with probably in the last five years, and it was great. We just reconnected again, laughing, joking. There was like this you know this undeniable, oh yeah, I forgot, you will see this situation the way that I see it, and isn’t that hilarious? And isn’t it great that we both understand the ridiculousness of this particular time of the world and the place that we’re in. I mean connect on that level.
0:08:27 – Phil Rickaby
Now this show has had quite a summer. I mean Toronto Fringe the here for Now Theatre Festival in Stratford, fringe, north. Have you been traveling with the show?
0:08:41 – Taylor Marie Graham
I have, yeah, yeah, it’s been. It’s been a really busy summer, yeah, with corporate bench for sure. Yeah, Well, we kind of we first started together last December and that’s where I met the, the two actors who came out to audition for me, so rainbow kester and Matthew I’ve been off who are just really talented and I thought they were really cool and so they were part of this workshop that we did at this. It’s called the unhinge festival and kitchener, so it’s creepy, this creepy festival. They’re dedicated to creepy things and and, yeah, well, we were doing it.
I went, you know, I really like these two Actors. They’re kind of just finishing their degree, they’re both were going to, they’re both at the University of Guelph at the time and I kind of thought, you know, I do, I see a potential for them to, you know, have some more opportunities to perform and and so, yeah, we just sort of built this, this little tour this summer that, yeah, it was busy. We went to the Toronto fringe had, I think there was eight performances there and then we had three Performances well, actually two right here for now, because one got there was this huge thunderstorm and it it got rained out, which kind of gave us a bit of street cred because we’ve got some creepy to the Stratford and then yeah, then we were up in Sioux, st Marie for the two performances there and it was really cool to kind of try to Use each space and use it to its advantage and try to make it as site specific as possible each place.
0:10:33 – Phil Rickaby
That was really fun to me that’s one of the fun things about about any like any like going to multiple fringe festivals is you have to negotiate Completely different spaces each time. You have to be flexible. You have to figure out stuff on the fly like how are we gonna do this in this space? Now, the play itself, was it? You know? You mentioned it sort of being as site specific as possible. How does that reflect? Because you know if you’re in the Toronto fringe it’s pretty Relegated to like on the stage, but how is it site specific? Can you describe that for me?
0:11:09 – Taylor Marie Graham
Sure, yeah. Well, as soon as I found out that we’re gonna be in the Toronto fringe, I really wanted to make sure you’re at theatre past my backspace. It’s one of my favorite spots in Toronto. I love seeing plays there. I just think it’s a really cool little space and it can just it lends itself to creepy very well, and yeah. So I’ve always kind of wished to do something there and I love that there’s this balcony that sort of hangs over the audience on the right hand side, and so in my mind I went, okay, I want there to be. You know there’s.
There’s always been sort of a crash in entrance in this play. So I thought, okay, well, why don’t we make the crash in the window that’s at the top of that balcony? So it actually seems like they’re like descending into this old factory. So, yeah, there was one thing that I changed in the script at the very beginning. They’re always kind of coming through a window, but we played with this this long balcony and played with so that space of that balcony and made it really specific and made Sort of sounds and I like that. The audience couldn’t really see them, they can only hear them. So it starts with like this big crash and you can only really hear them Laughing with each other and joking around, as they’re kind of moving into this space and they have to go down the stairs before they go into Onto the stage. So there’s a good chunk at the beginning of the play that actually doesn’t even happen on the stage. It’s on that balcony upstairs.
0:12:48 – Phil Rickaby
I find that balcony is one of the the Jewels of that particular space.
0:12:54 – Taylor Marie Graham
0:12:54 – Phil Rickaby
I think it’s rarely used, but it should be used by everybody. I think it’s. I think it’s a magical thing to add and honest, unexpected in a piece.
0:13:05 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, yeah, it was really fun to try to imagine. You know, how are we gonna get everybody’s attention. You know, right at the very top, I want to give everybody a little bit of a little bit of a jump scare at the beginning, because, why not, we’re trying to do a Horror here, so kind of bringing people into that, you know, crash landing Above them was really fun.
0:13:28 – Phil Rickaby
That space is also extremely intimate. There’s really no space at all between audience and performer. How does that add to a play like this? The the proximity of the audience.
0:13:43 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I, I’m really glad that we, all the spaces that we’re in, we were really close to the audience.
The audience was right there with the actors because you know rainbow and matter so Lovely and talented, and we spent a lot of time on character work and just digging in and trying to find all the layers of complexity of the relationship that exists between them and that relationship, you know, I’m sure you know, as you know, with friends and people that you know really well, sometimes it’s really subtle, right, those, those switches and changes between people and the way that you kind of look at somebody.
You can mean a lot if you’ve known somebody for a long time. So the fact that the audience got to be right up, close with them, to experience that and we kind of really played with that intimacy, that was really fun and the other thing we got to do. So there are these two monologues that the Finch character, so rainbow, delivers to the audience and she ought to get really close to the audience and kind of give them that experience of they’re not really sure what side they’re on. They don’t know who to believe in the situation. They don’t know if they should, you know, empathize with her or if she’s the one who’s causing the sort of distress that’s happening and in this situation, and so Playing with that intimacy was also really fun, with the form too.
0:15:19 – Phil Rickaby
Hmm, now you alerted, as we were sort of like broaching the topic of this play about, about the writing of this play. So tell me about what was the initial inspiration for corporate Finch?
0:15:33 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, okay, so I’m going to tell you the story. So last summer so summer 2022, I got to go to Scotland for a month. I was on a playwright residency at the Leithart Centre in Caithness, scotland, and it was as dreamy as that sounds, it was really beautiful. People there are incredible. They showed me around and I was working on this other play while I was there. It’s more, I guess, you know, in my, my wheelhouse plays. It’s about complicated women kind of examining what does it mean to be rural and, you know, environmental science and asking those kind of questions. And I was really I was loving it.
I was there, I was writing this play and I got home and I had the worst case of writer’s block that I’ve ever had. And you know, I, I was one of those people that didn’t really think writer’s block was real. It’s not that I’ve never really not been able to write before, but it was like I couldn’t even look at a page. I couldn’t even, you know, I couldn’t deal with the idea of writing at all and it really freaked me out. So I I a friend of mine told me about this local organization, flush Inc. Performing arts, who I hadn’t had the chance of working with. Yet and they do this thing where they take playwrights and they bring them to really creepy places, leave them there for 22 hours. It’s a 22 hour writing competition and you just have to write something. And I’m like you know what that sounds like, something that might get me out of my own way, you know, it might help me not worry so much about really trying to deliver and there’s, you know, no stakes. I can just go and try to write in a form I haven’t written in before, so, in horror, and really kind of embrace that and try to see what happens.
So I show up at this woman, patty Gillard Bentley’s house and this is the first time I’ve ever met this woman and I didn’t really realize at the time that she was doing this to help with the creepy experience. But she just sort of says to me okay, get in your car and follow me. And so I was following her and we were driving out into the middle of the country for about 20 minutes and I was genuinely filled, I was genuinely getting creeped out, and so as we were driving, I was thinking to myself I could just turn around, I could just go home, I don’t have to go wherever this woman is that I don’t know where she’s leading me. And then we got to this old factory in St Jacob’s, ontario, and she gave me this you know, bag of snacks Halloween treats mostly and said, okay, good luck. And yeah, so I went into this old factory and I sat down and I said, well, I’m here, okay, let’s see, sort of what happens. And I just started to imagine these two teenagers breaking in. And so the whole night I just sat down and I’m like you know what, let’s see if you can actually start and finish something. And I did and I was pretty, I was really proud of myself.
I started the piece and finished it about 6pm the next day and I was just sort of imagining, you know, this push and pull between these two characters. I did some research. I was listening to Mennonite church hymns in the middle of the night, because there’s a lot of Mennonite that live around in that area. So, listening to that in the middle of the night, to really creepy myself. I was listening to these church hymns in the middle of the night and that sort of filtered its way in as well. And yeah, so that’s how it came to be. That is how the corporate finch was written.
0:19:46 – Phil Rickaby
Okay, I have questions. First off, were you alone in this foundry?
0:19:53 – Taylor Marie Graham
0:19:54 – Phil Rickaby
I don’t know if I could do that. I don’t know. There’s something. I’d be fine if there was like a few other people, I think, but to be sort of dropped off alone in this space, I mean I get that, that’s the point, but there’s something about that that is like over the edge for me. I mean, you didn’t even know where you were going, so how was that for you?
0:20:15 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, it was scary, but there was something kind of in that exhilaration, in that fear that was maybe really present, right. I couldn’t really think about anything else but me and that space and what I was trying to write. And there were other people involved, but they were in different spaces. So I think somebody was brought to an attic, another person was brought to a church. I think we kind of, before we got there, patty asked what some of our fears were, and so I think she was trying to feed off of those fears and bringing us to these creepy places.
But yeah, it was unpleasant but it helped. It worked.
0:21:00 – Phil Rickaby
Obviously. Now, of course, I tried to picture that you don’t know this woman, as she’s driving you into the middle of nowhere. At some point were you thinking I should have checked the references for these people? Was that across your mind?
0:21:19 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, absolutely. I had some moments where I went, okay, I really hope this woman is the person I’m supposed to meet this isn’t somebody else who’s just decided that they’re going to play a trick on me or something.
But yeah, no, I think it’s a pretty cool project that Patty does, where she really tries to get writers to embrace their fears and sees what comes up and how that manifests on the page. So I think there were two other productions in mind. They ended up producing them at the Unhinged Festival. It was pretty neat to see some of the other shows. There was one sort of this I guess I would call it a meditation on motherhood and loss and it was just clearly somebody imagining the worst things possible that could happen and just embracing it and trying to explore that idea and yeah, it was really creepy. There was another that was really playing with the light and sound in really interesting ways and really asking us to think about authority and who’s authority, and yeah, it was just great to see sort of what fell out while people were creeped out in the dark all night.
0:22:45 – Phil Rickaby
You got to do something. Now you said that you finished at like 6 PM. When you’re done and it’s supposed to be a 22 hour thing, do you get to call a number and somebody’s going to come and get you, or are you still waiting for the time to be up?
0:23:02 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I sent. I had my computer, so I wasn’t left there without anything on the computer, so I sent it off.
I emailed Patty with the draft and then she said okay, you can come and meet me here, and I actually really tired because, I hadn’t really slept at all when I chatted with her for a while after on her front porch and just sort of listened to her talk about the work that she’s done in the Waterloo region and her relationship to theatre, which was really kind of a neat moment in itself. It’s really I love talking to people about their relationship to theatre and sort of what they think is important and why they do it, and so, yeah, that in itself was actually really cool.
0:23:58 – Phil Rickaby
Now you mentioned that corporate finch is a little different from the things that you would normally write.
0:24:04 – Taylor Marie Graham
0:24:05 – Phil Rickaby
What do you usually gravitate to?
0:24:09 – Taylor Marie Graham
Well, I guess you know the stuff that I write is usually kind of troubling, but isn’t necessarily the form itself.
I’m not usually playing with the form to try to scare people, but the stuff I usually write. I mean post Alice, which was produced in 2021 by here for Now. That’s a story where I take four of my favorite Alice Monroe protagonists and I put them in a new narrative and also combine it with my own sort of understanding of Huron County where I grew up. And, yeah, it’s a story about these four women sort of reconnecting and, you know, dealing with their past and who they are today and kind of thinking also about a girl who went missing from the Goddard region in the mid 90s named Misty Murray. So there’s also that true story kind of weaving its way in there too. Yeah, you know, I really love to explore themes about women and complications of what it means to be a rural woman and also asking questions about identity and what is sort of Canadian and what is not, and I like to ask those kind of questions and what I write.
0:25:40 – Phil Rickaby
How did it feel to write something that wasn’t all of that? Was it like, I mean, obviously, that you were drawn to it because of the location, but after the play is done you’re still going to work on it for a while? How did you feel? To sort of like be out of that wheelhouse?
0:25:55 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, it was really fun to play with a genre and like try to see if it can work you know it’s a different horror on stages really hard, and so just trying to kind of play with the conventions of that, see, you know where you can push it, where you can kind of ask questions, ask the audience to play along in different ways, it was really fun, it was very challenging.
But it’s also, you know, it’s funny how similar that plays to some of my other plays in some ways, because it’s still rooted in Southwestern Ontario, right, it’s still St Jacobs, and it’s the protagonist. I mean, the both characters are, you know, two handers and they’re both on stage the whole time. But the Finch character, you know she, her character, is quite complicated, she’s dealing with a lot, so it’s definitely a complicated woman or young woman. But yeah, you know, what’s really cool to me about horror are these sort of expectations of horror, are these ideas of what it’s supposed to be and what it’s supposed to look like, and you can kind of play with that and push against it and see what happens. So that was really. I really liked doing that. That was a lot of fun.
0:27:23 – Phil Rickaby
You mentioned a horror being rarely done on stage, which I think is a shame.
0:27:29 – Taylor Marie Graham
0:27:29 – Phil Rickaby
Because with a live audience there’s so much more potential to one nerve, because in that way that theatre is more visceral, because you’re in the room. You know like a fight scene is more exciting on stage than it is on a movie, because that’s in a room. Real people are swinging their arms, people. If somebody gets slapped on stage in a show, like in a play, the audience always reacts. In a movie not so much. It’s so visceral having the people in the room that horror can just give you so much opportunity to just unnerve in a way that I don’t even think a movie can.
0:28:13 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I completely agree with you and I think there’s something to the production of theatre that you can really ask those types of questions to. You know, light and sound can do so much to kind of play with your emotions and the way you feel. It was really kind of interesting to try to. You know, the copperfinch starts in black and we have this long sound cue before the show starts and in that sound cue, right, you’re forcing your audience to just sit there and sort of live with the darkness and the sound and forcing them to sort of be in that present moment. And it’s really like I think it’s really interesting what you can do.
And I think a lot of you know the people that created ghost theatre or different versions of paranormal sort of theatre that existed, you know, in the early 20th century. I think a lot of what they’re doing too is quite interesting, right. They’re playing with those ideas of who’s in the room and ghosts on stage, which so many plays do. But this is so overt, right. You’re really asking your audience to engage with this idea that we’re not just here alone and there’s other people among us, and it’s not on a screen, it’s not in another place, it’s in this room with us right now, and yeah, so I do think there’s so much potential for theatre to really explore all of those really, you know, difficult emotions and ask you to kind of be really present with them in a way that yeah, I don’t know can exist on a screen.
0:30:19 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I mean it’s so hard on a screen because everybody knows they’re safe, right that nothing is coming out of that screen. I remind you that you know, before film we would go to the theatre for horror. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was a horrific play for the audience at the time. Dracula was a play that caused audience members to faint at the time. That’s where we went for theatre, and then when we started doing it on film, we sort of somehow thought I guess we can’t do that anymore when we’re so missing the opportunity in some cases, and there are some theatre companies that are playing with that and I think that it’s great to see that kind of genre on stage.
0:31:01 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, me too, and I think that there’s something really interesting about fear too. Right, I don’t always love actually watching a horror movie I don’t always. You know that experience is really difficult for me sometimes. Just forcing yourself to appreciate the construction of it and sitting back and sort of playing with the construction of horror, that’s really fun for me and I think a lot of horror lovers do this. I think a lot of horror lovers really like to enjoy knowing that they’re watching a horror and that it’s trying to trick them and that they’re kind of trying to figure it out. So, trying to be a step ahead, that’s a fun thing to do.
0:32:00 – Phil Rickaby
My girlfriend loves horror. I do not on film, I love writing it. I’m not so great at watching movies about it or movies, but she sort of says she approaches those movies as sort of like can you scare me? Like she’s sort of like I’ve seen a lot of shit, can you scare me, and there are very few that do which. She just loves the attempt, I think.
0:32:23 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, my partner is the exact same way. He’ll watch something and he’ll wait to see. Okay, is this going to get me right at the beginning? Are they going to try to really force me into an uncomfortable place at the beginning, and is it going to work? And if it doesn’t, then I’m not buying it. It’s really kind of fun to watch horrors with him.
0:32:48 – Phil Rickaby
I have the thing that will get me every time in the mirror. I scare. Oh, yeah, you know, doesn’t matter, yeah, doesn’t matter. And I always like tense when every time if it’s not a horror movie somebody goes to the bathroom and they’re brushing their teeth or something and they open the medicine cabinet and they close it. There’s a part of me that always flinches just because I think there’s going to be something behind them.
0:33:10 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I know that feeling. Yeah, I think the one that usually gets me is you’re walking somewhere and it’s suddenly just dark everywhere. So there’s a sense of you’re just not sure if there’s something out there that you haven’t clocked.
0:33:27 – Phil Rickaby
0:33:28 – Taylor Marie Graham
That’s the one that gets me every time?
0:33:30 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, now you are currently teaching a theatre course at Western. Yeah, what’s the topic of the course?
0:33:41 – Taylor Marie Graham
It’s called Toronto Performance and Culture, so it’s a fun class. We’re going to Toronto three times, we’re going to see three different productions and I’m talking about the history of theatre in Toronto and asking questions about representation, identity, really exploring how mandates of the Toronto Theatre companies have changed throughout time, and, yeah, and so the students, we’re going to go see some stuff, we’re going to talk about it. We just had our first class last week, so we’re just getting started.
0:34:20 – Phil Rickaby
Do you talk about how the theatre scene in Toronto differs from other places, or is it just like this is what the scene is in Toronto?
0:34:27 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I mean, there’s some of that for sure, I think. In a lot of ways I’m really interested in questions of what, something, how a theatre is trying to fulfill the idea of what they think their audience wants. So it’s also asking questions about who is Toronto, what does Toronto expect to see and what communities do certain theatres expect to connect with and what are their expectations when it comes to different productions. But yeah, actually next Thursday we’re going to start talking about the 70s in Toronto and asking questions about this idea that they had then of we’re going to make this, the Canada Broadway, and what that might mean. Or what traditions are you pulling from and which ones are not visible, which ones aren’t necessarily represented on stages? When did those start to become more visible and what was that transition like? And what is on stages today?
0:35:42 – Phil Rickaby
Very different, very different. It’s the yeah, yeah, and you were talking about the theatres and who their audience is and who they’re wanting to connect with, and sometimes I think that, ultimately, who they want to connect with can be at odds with the subscriber base.
Sometimes, yeah, which is an interesting question, and something that’s interesting to try to navigate is we want to bring in this more diverse audience, but how does that affect our existing subscriber base and what is the effect of doing that? And I think that can be a fraught discussion in some companies.
0:36:20 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I think there’s also an idea of who the subscriber is, too. That might need some dissecting. Obviously, they’re people that can afford a subscription, so that’s something that they all are, but I do think that there’s audiences that go and see, that have been going to see shows in Toronto and other places, all you know, throughout Ontario, that have continually been challenged and been asked to challenge their perception of themselves, their perception of their communities that they live in, and I actually think that a lot of audiences in Toronto are game for that, are excited by that. It’s something they’ve been conditioned to do and, yeah, there are certain shows that definitely ask them to push against maybe past perceptions of who that theatre is.
And so that might ask, you know, get them to re-examine their relationship to the theatre. But honestly, I think it’s pretty amazing that people will subscribe to a theatre, they will decide that they’re gonna be a part of that community and that they’re, you know, willing to invest in that organization and try to see where it’s going and where it’s going.
0:37:54 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I mean from that point of view, absolutely, absolutely. And I think that a lot of theatres are working to fight against the idea that their subscriber base is old and that that’s who they’re appealing to. Yeah, Because that is a perception in some corners that subscribers are old way to rich.
0:38:17 – Taylor Marie Graham
And that definitely exists, that’s for sure a big group of people that go and see theatre. But I do think within that group there’s a lot of complications too right. There’s a lot of you know and then also, hopefully, it’s becoming a lot more. You know the theatre companies and the work that they’re doing. Right now there’s more open arms. People are feeling more welcomed from other communities right to join in yeah.
0:38:46 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, you are someone who works both as an artist and in academia, and I’m curious about how that particular journey started for you.
0:38:58 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I mean, I’ve always kind of been one of those people that I’ve read something or I engage with questions about, you know, something that’s going on in the world right now, something topical maybe, and I want to write about it and I want to, you know, explore it in my own creative writing. And then, vice versa, things that I’m writing about in my creative writing, that I’m exploring, that I’m trying to figure out, that I’m, you know, navigating as I’m doing that I’m thinking about other academic projects that I could do that could help support some of the questions or ideas that I have. An example that I have of this is at the very beginning of the pandemic, I joined a online Alice Monroe reading group, so it was mostly academics, but it was people from all different kinds of professions and walks of life, and essentially, we started with Alice Monroe’s most recent book and just worked our way through her catalog essentially and we’re still going that’s how prolific Alice Monroe is, by the way, and so we’ve just been reading these stories week by week, and as I’ve been reading them, you know they were washing over me and they were. I grew up in here in County, so Alice Monroe has always been a huge sort of figure in my life because that’s where she’s from. But I think, reading these stories and hearing other people talk about them and sort of examining them in a more, you know, academic context, I guess I started to think about the play that I was interested in writing, so Postalas, which then takes four protagonists and puts them in different situations, and so then that’s sort of how I developed that play.
And then, as I was developing that play, the story of Misty Murray was interesting to me and I was learning more about the fact that some of her family are Mi’gma, some of her biological family, and so I wanted to work with asking questions about how that story wasn’t told when she first went missing in the 90s. And so I worked with a non-status Algonquin creator, territure O’Trand, and we you know she helped me through that writing process, and then we ended up writing an article sort of about us collaborating together and developing the story together, so then I could share that with an academic community. So I always like sort of having both of those, those sides to myself. I think it’s really it’s just kind of hard to meet.
I like having both the provocations that you know, theory and the academic world sort of brings up for me things that are difficult, things that are not easy, questions, and then exploring those in my creative writing that then get me to ask more questions and then drive my academic work. So, yeah, they both. You know, I think I realized more recently that it’s okay that they both exist at the same time and I can embrace it and just realize that’s just part of my process, it’s just part of who I am and I need both sides for either one to do to do well, for me to do well in either realm.
0:42:48 – Phil Rickaby
Now you are finishing up a PhD in female, and a PhD is no mean feat.
0:42:56 – Taylor Marie Graham
No, no, it’s a lot of work, yeah.
0:43:01 – Phil Rickaby
What if? What’s I mean? Do you have a particular focus for your PhD?
0:43:08 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I’m looking at the Blythe Festival, yeah, and I’m essentially tracking equity milestones of the festival. So it’s part history, it’s part post-colonial examination of the theatre and then sort of looking at really specific moments and asking questions about how that moment impacts the history of the theatre as a whole. Yeah, it’s. You know, I still have a whole wall of bankers boxes in this office that I’m sitting in right now. The Blythe has graciously given me all of their archives, the ones that are not the University of Guelph archives, which is about to the mid 90s. So I have, from about the mid 90s to today, living in my house right now.
It’s been a lot of work of you know, examining these archives and pulling out specific moments that I want to examine. So in some ways, this dissertation is, you know, really deciding what not to focus on. There’s so much that you can write about because the theatre’s been around since the mid 70s. So, yeah, I’m looking at sort of six really key moments and I wish I could look at the rest, but that’s what I’m doing. How do you make?
0:44:36 – Phil Rickaby
that decision? Given that there is so much in the history of the Blythe Festival, how do you choose what you want to focus on?
0:44:50 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, it’s been a real process of making that decision. It’s hard, you know. I don’t know if I have an answer as to how I made that decision, but essentially, you know, like it’s always going to be through my lens, so it’s always going to be the ones that I think have really made a huge impact on the way that Blythe operates and the representations of who Canada is according to Blythe, and those moments where I see significant shifts or, you know, there’s so much that I don’t know about. You know, there’s representation that hasn’t existed before on that stage. Those are ones that I gravitated towards to really focus on, because there is there’s been so many plays, you know, full summer seasons since 1975, except for when the pandemic happened.
So there’s all of these productions. So, yeah, it’s also been really lovely to just sit with a lot of these plays, because not all of them have been published either. So, going through each one and reading it and you know, going back to that question you asked earlier about having both an academic and a creative side even that in itself, just reading all of those plays has, I feel like that’s obviously made a huge impact on me as a playwright, too right, getting to engage with all of these plays and the way that they’re constructed and ask questions about you know what they’re trying to say, how they’re doing it and how the characters are interacting and what’s important to that playwright and why and all of that has been part of the process- you know, it never occurred to me that there would have been plays that were produced at a major festival in this country that haven’t been published.
Oh, so many. Yeah, it’s only a few publishers, really important publishers.
obviously Playwrights Can of Press and Tellin’ Books and Choroko Drama are the ones right now, essentially. But yeah, there are so many plays that are just living in the archives. Going back to Alice Monroe, they did a version of Alice Monroe in year two of the festival and that play has never been published, which is kind of amazing to me. Well, woman who won the Nobel Prize and how I met my husband, her play that was adapted, you know, in the second year of the festival, still just sits in the archives.
0:47:33 – Phil Rickaby
I’m sorry, I’m speechless because I think in my mind. I think of other places that are not Canada, where it feels like there’s more that gets published. If something goes on stage and it’s in a major festival, it’s going to be published at some time. That’s how it feels like to me. And then to have these major new plays in Canada that somebody who didn’t see that play will never see is tragic to me.
0:47:59 – Taylor Marie Graham
I hear you, me too. Me too. It’s beautiful that the only way it exists is in this live form, but it’s also tragic because there’s no way, because it’s also because of where it is, because of it’s a bit of a drive from Toronto to get out to live. There hasn’t always been a lot of critical reception in that part of Southwestern Ontario too. So people writing about the plays of Blythe there isn’t actually a lot written about Blythe as well. Yeah it is. It’s trying to better understand what hasn’t been written about.
0:48:55 – Phil Rickaby
And the idea that, yes, theatre is something that exists in the moment and it needs to be seen. But for somebody to then pick up that play and give it another production, it needs to be, somebody needs to discover it, somebody needs to read it. It has to be published for somebody to stumble across and say I love this play enough to do it again.
0:49:15 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, how was somebody in Dubai supposed to find it, or I?
0:49:21 – Phil Rickaby
don’t know, or even Saskatchewan.
0:49:24 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, yeah, exactly how like it could have a life right. It is a written document for the most part, unless it’s kind of a more collected piece. But still a lot of theatre companies have found some really inventive ways to document that and to put it together on the page.
0:49:45 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah, fascinating dissertation, thanks, I mean, dare I ask how much time you have in your PhD?
0:49:54 – Taylor Marie Graham
I’m as close to the end as you can be. I think they’ll kick me out soon. I wish I was joking. But, yeah, I’m at the very end.
0:50:08 – Phil Rickaby
Well, I definitely wish you lots of coffee and to get through the dissertation, and just the corporate finch will be at the Impact Festival in Kitchener, returning to Kitchener at almost less than a year but like almost a year later at the Impact Festival on September the 29th and 30th.
0:50:34 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, I’m so looking forward to this whole festival. The Impact Festival this year looks incredible. They have shows coming from a lot of different places all over the world. I got to be part of the Impact Festival in 2019 and I saw so many productions that really taught me something about myself. I saw a mall by MT Space there and they bring in all these productions from all over the world, and so I’m really feeling lucky these days to get to be a part of that. That’s a pretty cool thing.
0:51:08 – Phil Rickaby
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I hope that this summer of corporate finch ends with a high note and that you look back on the summer with as like the beginning of something which I think we all should.
0:51:25 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, me too. I should say that Rainbow Kester, who has been our steady finch throughout the whole summer, she’s just started at National Theatre School, so very proud of Rainbow getting into National Theatre School. And for the Impact Festival version of corporate finch, we have Lucy Sanche who’s stepping in, and she was actually in Frog Song, which is a children’s opera that I wrote that was produced this summer, and so I met Lucy there and I’m really really excited to see Lucy’s version of Finch too. I think getting to have two different actors play this role for me is really exciting.
0:52:08 – Phil Rickaby
And it’s always one of the exciting things when you get to see somebody else play a role that you know so well and see what they’re going to bring to it. To me, that’s one of the more exciting things about like I don’t know, like going to see a show and finding out that the understudy is on. Some people get disappointed and I’m always like, ooh, what’s this one going to be like?
0:52:27 – Taylor Marie Graham
Yeah, me too. Me too, I got like that too. Yeah, no, I think it’s going to be fun. Lucy and I are going to start working together at the end of this week and start digging in and sort of seeing, you know, trying to give her the space to make the character her own, and then we’re going to start working. You know, lucy and Matt put them together and see what happens.
0:52:52 – Phil Rickaby
That sounds exciting.
0:52:54 – Taylor Marie Graham
It’s going to be fun for Matt, too, to sort of see what it’s like to play with two different actors. Absolutely, absolutely.
0:53:01 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, well, Taylor, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it and it’s been a wonderful conversation. Thanks for joining me.
0:53:08 – Taylor Marie Graham
Thanks so much.
0:53:14 – Phil Rickaby
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 Stageworthy 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 Stageworthy 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 PhilRickaby.com. See you next week for another episode of Stageworthy.