Have you ever wondered how a novel can transform into a theatrical masterpiece? Queer writer, performer, and director, Megan Greeley, joins us to share her fascinating journey of adapting her novel, Jawbone, into a play. We uncover the layers of a young girl navigating platonic and romantic feelings in the absence of queer representation, and challenge the societal taboos around male bonding and physical affection.
We then move on to examine the exhaustion and solitude that comes with writing a solo show and the celebration of rediscovering the supportive theatre community. Megan draws upon her theatre background to breathe life into her narratives, reminding us of the power of storytelling and performance. We also delve into her experiences with the TNL Youth theatre program and how it revealed a creative dimension within her that she hadn’t previously explored.
In the final segment, we explore the realities of pursuing a career in the performing arts, looking at the highs, the lows, and everything in between. From economic constraints to the priceless support of her parents, Megan reflects on how these factors have influenced her journey. We highlight the significant role of Ruth Lawrence in the Newfoundland theatre scene and Megan’s career, discussing mentorship, career progression, and the art of infusing humour into darker subject matter. Join us for a refreshing conversation that bridges theatre, storytelling, and queer identity.
Meghan Greeley is a queer writer, editor, performer, and director originally from Corner Brook, NL. Her poetry, prose, and scripts have been published in The Stockholm Review of Literature, Ephemera, Metatron’s ÖMËGÄ project, Riddle Fence, Humber Mouths 2, The Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Drama (Vol. 1), and the Playwrights Canada Press anthology Long Story Short. As a playwright, she was a 2016 nominee for the RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwrights Prize and was later a resident of both the Tarragon Playwrights Unit and Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip program. Her stage plays have been produced across Canada. Her play Hunger, published by Breakwater Books, was shortlisted for the BMO Winterset Award. Her short novel Jawbone is forthcoming from Radiant Press in Fall 2023. She is currently the Artistic Director of White Rooster Theatre.
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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 Stageworthy.ca. Now onto the show.
Meghan Greeley is a queer writer, editor, performer and director originally from Cornerbrook, Newfoundland. She joined me to talk about her solo show turned novel Jawbone. In this conversation we talk about the origins of Jawbone, her process of adapting a play to a novel, the theatre origin story and much more. Jawbone is available at your favourite bookseller right now. Here’s our conversation. So, Mehgan, thank you so much for joining me. We are going to be talking about your novel, Jawbone, and I want to get to the novel, but I want to talk first about the history of this novel, both as a beginning, as a piece of prose, becoming a stage show and then becoming a novel. Tell me first what is the elevator pitch for Jawbone?
0:02:37 – Meghan Greeley
It’s about a woman who has shut herself away and encroached by the sea and she’s recording a submission video to go to Mars to be one of the first people to colonize the planet. But she’s having trouble speaking because her job was recently wire shut at the beginning of the novel we Don’t Know why and in the process of trying to record this video she’s sort of unpacking in her head because she’s unable to speak the complex relationship she had with her previous roommate and the queer emerging feelings that she has for this woman.
0:03:24 – Phil Rickaby
Before we get into how it became play, what was the impetus for this particular piece?
0:03:31 – Meghan Greeley
It kind of came in a bit of a fever pitch. I’ve written fragments of the piece before without really knowing what it was and it started, I guess, sort of in a great of nonfiction place because I was having complicated feelings for a friend of mine without really understanding what that meant, because I at the time didn’t really understand that I was queer. I grew up in a small town in New Zealand, the Labrador, and didn’t really grow up with any women that I knew who were queer. I heard whisperings about the possibilities of that as I was growing up, but it wasn’t a thing that I was really exposed to or saw. So I didn’t have any models to really understand the feelings that I was having.
And I was in a straight relationship at the time and I think that on some level I was trying to write this piece so that my friend once I gave to them what was you know by all on the surface of a work of fiction, that they would understand on some level that I had feelings for them and sort of let me down easily. And so that was sort of the beginning of the piece and I wrote it intuitively, almost without really planning what was going to happen or where it was going to go. So I don’t actually remember a lot of the process of writing it. It was almost like I don’t know giving birth to something that was already formed, I guess, and that was the original draft. And then I mean, it’s gone through so much work and so many revisions since and has had many different lives, but that’s how it started.
0:05:21 – Phil Rickaby
And did you give it to this person?
0:05:24 – Meghan Greeley
I did yeah.
0:05:27 – Phil Rickaby
And of course, they fell madly in love with you and everything was rosy and sunny.
0:05:32 – Meghan Greeley
Well, that’s another story, Of course of course You’ll have to read my next novel.
0:05:37 – Phil Rickaby
Of course. Yes, it is always interesting because, you know, especially in the time that we’re living in, queer identity is something that some people seem to feel is up for debate and yet somebody such as yourself, who grows up in a town and doesn’t have a lot of examples of, or any examples of, queerness, can still, will still find themselves being queer, and there’s nothing we can do, there’s nothing that anybody can do to stop that, because that’s just how people are.
0:06:10 – Meghan Greeley
Yeah, I think that it’s really. It can be confusing for young women because there’s a different expectation, culturally and socially, about how young girls should behave. We’re taught that it’s quite normal for girls, when they’re close and their friends, to hold hands and to kiss each other on the cheek and to be affectionate and physical with platonic friends, whereas for men they aren’t conditioned in that same way. There’s, I think, a shame that is taught to young boys around physical affection with other young boys and then, as they grow older, other men. So it’s perhaps because of that murky as a young girl to understand what are platonic feelings and what are romantic feelings and sexual feelings, everything that can be really confusing when you’re, when you don’t necessarily have the same stigma that young men unfortunately have about the boundaries of being physical.
0:07:11 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, absolutely, and it’s something that happens really quickly with boys, like it’s all well and good to cuddle with your father when you were a baby, but as soon as you are after a certain point it’s like no, no, no, we don’t do that. And there’s a lot of, there is shame, and it’s put on by the family a lot of times. So it can be. It can be very hard that way. You kind of mentioned how in a small town there were sometimes like whisperings, which is the interesting thing that small towns are really good at Whispering about.
I mean, if you ever want to, you know I’ve lived in small towns and everybody knows you all business or thinks they know your business and you grew up in a small town, as far as, as far as like growing up in that small town and what, what, what kind of, what kind of pressures were you because you were in a straight relationship at the time that you were reading this thing or writing this thing what, what kind of pressures did you grow up with in that town?
0:08:15 – Meghan Greeley
Really a lot of pressure from my family. To be honest, my family’s pretty pretty open and they’ve been really supportive of me. But I had a lot of inherent shame built in. I realized as an adult I didn’t really come out until I was around 29. And my life totally changed when I was sure in 30, I really came out and I realized that I had all the shame that I didn’t realize I had.
I was, you know, I lived in Toronto for years and years at this point and was working in theatre and playwriting and had so many queer friends, you know, was sort of immersed already in the queer community by virtue of the people I surrounded myself with my community, and so I never thought that I would have these homophobic feelings built in about myself.
But I only started to unpack those feelings once I came out, because I really had to give a hard look at myself and my life and say why did it take me so long If there is nothing clearly in my way that I can identify other than I was in a very one of my first relationships that I had when I was still, you know, a teenager, in high school I was with a man who was very religious and I think I still carried some shame about queerness from that. But otherwise it’s kind of hard for me to pinpoint why, why it took so long. You know it’s something I’m still trying to figure out, you know, years later as an adult. Why, why, why, why and I guess that a lot of this book is why I can ask that question Is that was the fact that it took so long?
0:10:07 – Phil Rickaby
was that part of the shame?
0:10:10 – Meghan Greeley
Oh, absolutely yeah.
0:10:11 – Phil Rickaby
0:10:11 – Meghan Greeley
I think it was. It was just deeply repressed. You know, I didn’t even know what was there. I think that being queer and stepping it down so deeply and so for so long has created a pattern in my life wherein I don’t things don’t bubble to the surface very quickly for me. It can take a long time and it will be a while before I begin to uncover feelings that I am having. It’s an important side effect of repression, you know. You learn to like they have bit down in there.
0:10:46 – Phil Rickaby
Absolutely, absolutely. I was raised, much like that early relationship of yours, in a very religious household, in a very evangelical church, and we were really, really, really taught repression and that is stuff that takes ages to undo.
0:11:04 – Meghan Greeley
It does, it really does, even if you think it hasn’t affected you anything. You’ve sort of escaped that mindset and worldview without any kind of scars or you know ramifications carried with you for the rest of your life. You will, you definitely will.
0:11:22 – Phil Rickaby
Well, yeah, because there are lessons a lot of times there are lessons that are taught at a really early age and so they get in at a foundational level and you don’t quite realize how deeply those roots go until you start to come up against them and then it takes so much more work to like untangle them.
0:11:38 – Meghan Greeley
Yeah, absolutely, I think that’s really true.
0:11:41 – Phil Rickaby
Now for Jawbone. After this initial writing of it, what made you want to keep pursuing it and what made you decide to turn it into a play?
0:11:54 – Meghan Greeley
Um, I felt very attached to it in the beginning for personal reasons, but then, as I continued to work on it and examine it from an arm’s length, I began to realize that I was writing a work of fiction, a short novel, because, you know, even though this started in a place of nonfiction, so so few details, if any, are actually rooted in reality and in fact I don’t know if I would ever. I was joking earlier about my second novel, but I don’t know if I would ever pull from life the way that I did in that. Again, and you know, even I think every piece of fiction is kind of a cliche to say, but there’s always elements of nonfiction because writers are just pulling from their lives and their own experiences. But, um, yeah, so I started to realize that I was writing something that was bigger than a letter and I started to add to it and explore the character a little more, explore her backstory. And then I was doing a playwriting unit with Nightwood theatre in Toronto.
There, right from the hip program, I had a cohort of playwrights, I had a play in development and I was going through a rough time in my life and my straight relationship, and I went to Florida for a little while to spend some time with my family To work on a play. I had a deadline, I think it was February. I went down there a few years ago before the pandemic and I planned to, you know, work on the script for a month and I got there and there was a gun in my play and this plot couldn’t really advance without the gun the way that I had written it. And I got to Florida shortly after the Parkdale shootings and of course in the state you know there’s gun violence. There’s a lot of coverage on gun violence, or there was at the time, I think. Sadly, now it’s become a much more common place. But the news circuit at the time was or the news cycle, I should say was about the shooting constantly and I was watching these amazing high school students on the news who were becoming activists right before our eyes and advocating for stricter gun regulation and I it gave me such complicated feelings about bringing another gun into the world, even a fictional one, because I think we have so many depictions of violence on screen and even on stage sometimes, and I just was wanting to move away from that.
So I emailed Andrea Donaldson, who was running the program at the time at Nightwood and said you know, I’m really stuck with this play that I’m writing. And she said what do you want to do? Do you have anything else you want to work on? And so I didn’t. But I had this piece of fiction that I’ve written and I was sort of panicking about what I was going to move forward with. So I pulled out the file and added a bunch of stage directions and sent it off to her, and Shima, lead back, was really excited about the piece and I started working on that instead, so then started developing it for the stage. So that’s how it started and that’s where it went in its next life as a play.
0:15:24 – Phil Rickaby
What Well, I mean as far as like turning something that was written as prose into changing it for the stage. What lessons did you learn about the piece when you were, when you were making that transition?
0:15:40 – Meghan Greeley
I learned. Well, I learned a lot of things along the way. I’m really fortunate that I’ve had so many eyes on this and so much dramaturgical support for the play in that, in that playwriting unit, and then later, you know, I got I. The play went into development, into development with White Rooster Cedar in St John’s, and a student at the University of Calgary decided to direct it for their MFA directing thesis, I guess. So a production happened in Calgary, production happened in St John’s and I got to workshop the piece for both and then I actually performed in the version that happened in St John’s. And so I think the most valuable thing I learned from this whole process is that I will never write another solo show, or at least I will never perform in one, because I found the process so deeply lonely and it was actually kind of an awakening for me because I was going through a time where I was feeling a little disillusioned with theatre and it had been a while since I felt really excited about theatre. And that was such an important experience for me because it made me appreciate the community of theatre all over again. You know, I find I’m working on a novel now and I find the process of prose writing very lonely, and I’ve always been so lucky as a writer for the stage that there’s always the promise of community at the end, that I’ll get to sit around a table with a bunch of actors, and as an actor I also perform. That’s one of my favorite kind of jobs to get is to be an actor in the room as a playwright is working on their piece and trying to develop it and bring it closer and closer to the stage. So I’m really fortunate.
I think that this piece taught me that, because it’s lonely to be up there on stage and have no one else’s energy and no one else’s abilities to draw from.
And it’s also a very lonely piece. In a way it’s about a woman who’s like alone and lost and her brain sort of floating through the cosmos. And so we performed it at the Geocenter in St John’s, which, if any listeners have ever been there, it’s really an extraordinary building. It’s underground on your way up to Signal Hill in St John’s and there’s a large room there where I think they’ve hosted weddings there. Instead it’s kind of an event room, but the planets are suspended from the ceiling they’re very high ceiling and there are these giant, giant globes of the solar system, and we had an amazing lighting designer named Bob Stamp and he actually made one of the large planets glow red during the production, and I just remember standing on stage and looking up at this big red planet in the blackness in front of me and everything else was dark, and just feeling like I’d never been more alone in my life. So, yeah, that was a good takeaway for me.
0:19:04 – Phil Rickaby
Because some people really, really thrive in that situation, and but it is for me, as somebody who’s performed solo before on stage, that’s not the only part. It’s like going to the theatre, leaving the theatre, all of this stuff like before and after the show, so for me that’s the most lonely part.
0:19:23 – Meghan Greeley
Totally. There’s no one in the dressing room.
0:19:26 – Phil Rickaby
Don’t come Rotary, you don’t get to joke with anybody.
0:19:30 – Meghan Greeley
Absolutely. Yeah, I didn’t enjoy that part of it either, and I love performing for an audience. I’ve never, I’ve never felt stage fright really. I love love being in shows that even break the fourth wall. I’ve always felt really comfortable in front of an audience, but in that scenario not, it was just different. I think it was just different?
0:19:53 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, so how long did you have that in your back pocket before you decided that you wanted to try to turn it like go back to prose with it again?
0:20:03 – Meghan Greeley
So that production happened, I think, in 2021. And maybe in the fall of 2021, times a bit hazy since 2020. But yeah, it happened in the fall of 2021. And then I got really good feedback on it. I had a good run.
It was a couple shows were sold out and people sent us amazing messages about how much they loved the show and when I say that, I mean the creative team, because I was really lucky that I had them to make me feel less alone, even if I was up there on stage alone. And Mallard Clark directed the piece. They were an amazing director for it. But one of the messages that I got from a few different people that said a similar thing was I wish I had the script in front of me so I could have followed along, because they said there were so many images in it that I’ve stayed with people and if they heard a sentence, they wanted to read it again, and I thought that’s really interesting, because I think its strength is not actually on the page. I think it’s or none of the stage. I think its strength is on the page, so I don’t know if the process of seeing it live and having a live audience brings anything more to it than if someone is just reading it privately to themselves and their imagination is equal to visualize this world and what is happening.
So, yeah, I did sort of go back and forth but when it came down to it I felt that it started as prose and ultimately, even though I’d worked on it a bit and had stage directions and everything, at its heart it was still prose. So that’s the route I decided to explore publication in and I sent it to Radiant Press because I knew that they published some small works, some shorter pieces. I know that they had previously published Nicole Hadoubis’ Tiny Ruins and I met Nicole here in St John’s through Riddlefen’s the literary journal. She was on the board while I was an editor and then later worked as an executive director for a while. So, yeah, her piece Tiny Ruins is quite small and I thought, oh well, maybe they’re open to novellas and shorter works, so I’ll send them something. And, yeah, they took it on.
0:22:38 – Phil Rickaby
In terms of taking it from. You know it’s gone from. It went from prose to theatre and then back to prose in the form of a short novel. What had you learned from the stage show that you took into adapting it as a novel?
0:22:55 – Meghan Greeley
Sure, something that I think helped being inside it and performing it and giving voice to multiple characters was how to flesh those characters out further. When I was working on the draft, the manuscript with Radiant and my editor was Paul Curly-G, who had amazing notes for me, and I added, I think, about 7,000 words possibly to the original manuscript it didn’t double in size, but almost not far off. I think it was originally 13,000 words or so when I first sent it to them and so I added more scenes with the unnamed roommate and with Anatoly the friend, and I feel like I knew them better because I’d lived in their bodies for a short time, you know, on stage and tried to bring them to life, and so it was definitely helpful in that way. I think that acting classes are Always helpful for a writer, it’s no matter what, even if you want to write playwriting or do playwriting or write prose or write poetry.
I think that embodying characters and learning how they speak and thinking about you know how they walk and how they move and how they see the world, is just so endlessly valuable, and so my education didn’t start with writing. I did a BFA in theatre at Memorial University, the Grenfell campus in Cornerbrook, newfoundland, and then I went to the National Averador, which I actually grew up in Cornerbrook and then stayed there, you know, to do my undergraduate program, and so I’m really grateful that I started in acting, because I feel like it taught me a lot of things that if I just jumped right into writing and focusing on that alone, I would have missed some important experiences that I had and some important things that I still channeled through into prose writing when it comes to character development.
0:24:58 – Phil Rickaby
Had you written a lot previous to Jobbone.
0:25:02 – Meghan Greeley
I had yeah, I’ve written, I think, navinarate plays and I think by the time Jobbone happened maybe had seven stage. Yeah, so I’d written a fair bit of then a fair bit of playwriting. But I’d also had prose published like short stories and stuff. Not a lot, but every now and then I’d write a short story and send it out, or a total and send it out. So yeah, and I’ve been writing since I was a kid.
When I was really young, probably around eight or nine I was diagnosed with pretty bad seasonal allergies. I was out one day in our vegetable garden and both my eyes swel’d shut and my parents brought me to the hospital and then they got me an allergy test with a specialist and I was really allergic to grass, and I’m still allergic, but I’d grown out of how severe they were when I was a kid. But I spent a lot of time indoors in the summer and one summer I wrote a novel, sort of a fantasy novel, and I don’t really remember what it was about. I know that they were talking bears in it, but it was called the Golden Compass and I loved that name. I thought it was such a good name. And then, of course, a few years later I discovered the name of an excellent novel by Philip Almond, which actually went on to become one of my favorite books when I was a kid. But yeah, I was upset when I found out that one of the authors of the book called the Golden Compass.
0:26:36 – Phil Rickaby
First, Now you mentioned you know the writing as a kid. What first drew you to the theatre?
0:26:51 – Meghan Greeley
Good question. The first time I ever remember performing was, I think it was in grade two and we had to reenact this fairy tale kind of folk story. I don’t really remember what it was about and I was an awkward kid. I didn’t have the greatest social skills and I was really shy, sort of debilitated for me, shy and I wanted to be the. I think it was the mother in the story who was like sort of the female lead and I didn’t get cast as that and I was disappointed that Cancell me as the grandmother and we didn’t really rehearse it.
It wasn’t like a play, it was just like a reenacting and you’d have a few lines and hopefully you remember them, whatever. And then one night we had to perform it for our parents in the classroom. They invited everybody and they came and I remember at home beforehand me saying like I’m being, I’m playing a grandmother, and my parents helping me sort of dress up for that to find clothes that might like age me. It was a little kid in grade two. I went in there looking like 80. And I remember that when we were doing the piece I don’t know why I made this decision, but in the moment, as the grandmother, I decided to pretend that I was deaf, that I was hard of hearing because I was elderly, and it got such a laugh from the parents in the room and I just kept doing it and I’d never received that kind of laughter before for being funny, and it was just such a delicious feeling, or a feeling as a kid, like yum, I want more of this. So that’s the first time I remember performing in front of people, but then in the town where I grew up, there was a program through Cedar, newfoundland and Labrador called TNL Youth, and it was a really big youth theatre program.
I think at a certain time when I was there, there were over 100 students of all ages and we would do theatre classes every week and learn about different parts of theatre. We would do improv and learn about projection, or sometimes we would learn about technical things too, which had a stage advantage. We would learn a little bit about lighting and that sort of thing. Primarily it was for acting, though, and so when I went into grade seven, I went from elementary school to junior high and met a whole new group of kids I hadn’t gone to school with before, and a group of really artistic kids, and a lot of them were in TNL Youth and I remember being interested in it. But I grew up near the mountains so I was skiing out in the weekends and it wasn’t available to go to the class when they had it. But then by grade nine I became really interested in what they were talking about with TNL Youth and the productions that they did. There was always an annual show and so I stopped skiing and started going to TNL Youth and I loved it.
I loved performing in front of people and I think this happens a lot that people who are really shy, acting sort of helps them come out of their shell. I was still a little shy. I guess I wouldn’t describe myself as quiet anymore by any means, once I’m comfortable. But yeah, it really opened me up to a new, I wouldn’t say version of myself, but a part of myself I didn’t know was there. I learned that I really liked storytelling and I guess that’s something that’s really linked to writing for me. I like telling stories and I love listening to stories. Some of my closest friends are amazing storytellers and I love to be entertained. So yeah, that’s where that came from, I guess.
0:30:56 – Phil Rickaby
Now a lot of people. They do theatre when they’re kids or teenagers and they’ll join like a group and they’ll do some stuff. But not everybody decides that that is going to be something that they do. That’s going to be the thing that they do, that’s going to be the thing that’s like the defining thing, that’s their career or whatever that becomes. At what point did you decide that that was going to be your main thing, that theatre whether being a writer or a performer or an artistic director of Waiverist or theatre that kind of thing was going to be your life?
0:31:33 – Meghan Greeley
I knew pretty early that I wanted to do something in the arts, even if I didn’t know what it was. Once I passed that childhood stage where everybody wants to be a marine biologist or a pediatrician, once I realized that I didn’t want to be either of those things, as I actually learned what those jobs might be not just a fancy word I knew it was going to be something in the arts. It was just a matter of deciding what. I was also really involved in music when I was a kid. I thought for a while about studying music, maybe studying piano, maybe studying French horn. I reached a point where the French horn I’m just tired of carrying it around. It’s such an awkward instrument. I love the sound of it, which is actually something that I had.
Speaking of repression, a repressed memory recently that I was introducing myself around the table of other playwrights and doing another playwrights unit with poverty co, which I got a show in development. We were all introducing ourselves and talking about our lives and our interests. I said I consider being a professional French horn player when I was a kid, but made this joke. I was tired of carrying it around. I went home that night and I hadn’t planned to say that I was tired of carrying it around. It just came out of my mouth as I said it. I just mind holding this thing.
I had a memory that night that when I had left band practice one night when I was in high school, a friend of mine who played saxophone, we were trying to take a shortcut through around a pond in Cornerbrook where I grew up. It’s called Glamourland Pond. It was late fall, dark, really early. We were trying to cut through there to I don’t know where we’re going, trying to get somewhere. A man chased us through the woods. I remember hating that I had this instrument in my hand and it didn’t belong to me. It belonged to the school. We had to rent them out. I just wanted to throw it away so I could be free to run.
There was something about that memory that I found really interesting that I’d forgotten completely about that until I mined having the French horn in my hand again. But anyway, the dark story for not a very dark question. And we were fine. The man did not catch us. I thought about music and I thought about theatre. I thought about creative writing, but there was already a theatre program in the town where I grew up, I knew a lot of people and looked up to a lot of actors who’d done it. It was just the thing that excited me the most, so I decided to pursue that.
0:34:29 – Phil Rickaby
So it was like one of the other music or theatre, and then eventually just theatre.
0:34:34 – Meghan Greeley
Yeah, it was going to be one of them, and then theatre was just the one that I felt the most passionate about at the time. I’m very fortunate that my parents never tried to stop me from pursuing the arts. They always really believed that the most important thing was to be happy and that if I wanted it enough, I would make it work in my life. I feel very fortunate that in some ways, I couldn’t have picked a better time to pursue my dreams, because the economy was so bad. Anyway, nobody has a good job. That is like we’re all gig workers now. No one has a stable job with a pension anymore. We jump around jobs a lot more. It’s not like I went into the arts when everybody else in life was getting a good job and working towards retirement.
0:35:24 – Phil Rickaby
0:35:27 – Meghan Greeley
The economy. Really, I guess works out for me picking that one.
I hear you. I feel bad about it. I think there’s also a part of my parents encouraging me to follow my dreams. I resented as a young adult when I was struggling in Toronto trying to make ends meet because my parents are. My mother is a retired teacher. My father is a retired police officer. He was in municipal politics for a while. They don’t come from artistic backgrounds. I remember one night on the phone with them when I was living in Toronto saying like why did you let me pursue this? You didn’t know how hard it was going to be. Of course you let me do it, but you just didn’t know. So they just couldn’t relate. Like I was talking to a painter that I knew once whose daughter was trying to figure out what she wanted to study in school, and the painter was like I will not let her pursue the art because she knew the hardship that her daughter would face. So I think that’s really funny in hindsight and I’m very glad that my parents did not have artistic backgrounds and they just let me do what I wanted.
0:36:38 – Phil Rickaby
Well, sure, because you had that moment where you were like why did you let me do this? But then you know eventually, like you decide at that moment like am I going to keep doing this Cause? A lot of people start out in the arts and then they stop.
0:36:50 – Meghan Greeley
Yeah, it’s true, it’s such a hard life. There’s so much rejection in it and so much uncertainty and so much emotional turmoil. Sometimes I think it’s getting a little better now. We’re not. We’re sort of moving away in theatre from this idea that in order to be an amazing artist, you need to be broken down first so you can build yourself back up again. You know, that kind of teaching methodology and mindset was still very much in play when I was in university, but I think hopefully we are starting to realize that that’s not healthy for anybody’s well-being and trying to move away from that.
So, but regardless of that, I think that being artists sometimes you have to really examine the world and really examine yourself and the people around you in a way that you don’t always have to in other disciplines, and that kind of hyper vigilance can be. It can be exhausting, it can make you realize things you could have been very fine having not realized. So it can be. It can be difficult life for a lot of different reasons and you have to really want it. If you don’t really want it, it’s not gonna happen.
0:38:04 – Phil Rickaby
No, no, absolutely. I know, when you know there’s a lot of people who you know. I follow some of the acting subreddits on Reddit and there’s always somebody who’s like I wanna be famous and everybody’s like, well, this is not the business for you, because you know, again, it is hard and it takes a lot of work and if your end goal is fame, this is not. It’s too hard to get there and so unlikely. You have to want the kind of the bare minimum. I want to work, I wanna do this work. That’s my goal is to do this work and do it well.
0:38:41 – Meghan Greeley
Absolutely. I have a friend who is that. She’s very funny and has very good comedic timing. She’s also an actor and writer. And a friend of hers who is not working in the theatre film industry had a non-arts job, said to her once you know, you should be on TikTok, you’d be famous. And my friend said I don’t wanna be famous, I wanna be an actor. If I was famous it would ruin my career, right, yes?
0:39:09 – Phil Rickaby
Absolutely. I do wanna talk about directing and artistic directing. Now. You directed Santiago Guzman’s alter. He’s been on the show before. We had a great conversation. There Was directing something that you wanted to do, or did that sort of fall into your lap?
0:39:36 – Meghan Greeley
Directing was always something that I wanted to do ever since my undergraduate program. So for your fourth year you do what is called a directed studies class and through that class we had basically pretty sure on play and directed and there’s a time limit for it. I think at the time forgive me my memory’s hazy, it’s been years now, I’m so old but I think it was like 40 minutes your play had to be and I was having trouble finding a 40 minute play, partially because the summer before I went into my last year of university, I was working at the Groves-Morham theatre Festival in Cowhead, which is two hours away from Kordabrick up the northern peninsula in Newfoundland, and it wasn’t really easy for me to access a lot of plays at that time. And I remember deciding late in the summer okay, I’m just gonna write something. And I’d been thinking a lot about and reading a lot about cases of prolonged captivity. There was a case that broke that summer. I can’t remember which one, whether it was the Fritzels or I don’t think it was Natasha Kampuche, I think that had been earlier but there was a case of a woman who had been kept in a basement or in captivity for years and years and I was reading about these horrific stories and there’s so much discussion about Stockholm syndrome and the complex relationship you have with this person who is your captor and your private villain, but also your only source of survival. They’re the person you’re relying on for food, the person you’re relying on for water, the person you’re relying on for every basic need that you have, and so that dynamic really interested me in terms of a power dynamic between two characters. So I wrote a play about that kind of scenario and directed it, and I loved directing it so much and it sort of planted the seed in me that, you know, maybe someday I’ll be a director, maybe someday I’ll explore it.
And Then Santiago had become a great friend of mine. We met at the Rising Tide theatre Festival in Trinity Bight and then we went on tour. He was cast in a show that I’d written and was performing in, called Hunger. So we went on tour across the province and through that you know budding friendship we had, and as colleagues, he asked me to draft this solo show that he’d written, and so I did. We did it in the St John Short Play Festival in 2019. And that was just meant to be at the time. You know short piece. I think it was about 20 minutes long, maybe 25. And then the Resource Center of the Arts in St John’s and approached him about expanding it into a longer piece that could potentially tour to schools and be a part of their main stage season. So I’ve sort of already attached as a director to that.
And then COVID hit and it was delayed a bunch of times but we got to go back to that project again and I just loved directing it and I also designed that. So that was another skill I learned that I maybe had and was really interested in. I’m a very visual person and I love thinking about the aesthetics of the piece, the visuals that the audience is gonna walk away with. So I directed that. And then my artistic partner, mallard Clark, had written a piece called Mother Scan that they had asked me to be in. It was a two-hander and they’d gotten funding to do a physical workshop in. I think this was also the fall of 2021, maybe Again, time is hazy in the pandemic aftermath but so I was there as a performer in the piece with another excellent performer and I remember talking to Mallory on day two and they said that they were having some discomfort sitting outside of the piece as a director.
They were feeling this urge to be in it and it was surprising for them because it sort of moved away from performing for a while or really focusing on directing. And it was funny to me because I was having a similar feeling of I don’t wanna be in this piece, I wanna be sitting outside it and deciding how it looks and what these scenes mean, because it was kind of an abstract, very beautiful piece and so we swapped roles and then they ended up directing that show and it sort of launched me on a path to continue to direct. And I’ve been really fortunate for a while that my directing pieces were ones that I was sort of came into as a collaborator in some way. I was working with really close friends and artists that I really knew and trusted. Mallory and I went on to co-write a musical that they just started and I directed this previous summer at Rising Died and Santiago’s show is going to happen again next spring. So hopefully I’ll be part of that again, possibly on tour. We might do workshops for it. It’s going through Atlanta, carina, but I’ll definitely get to re-rehearse it again.
But I just finished my first directing job where I was basically a director for hire. I’d never done that before. I just was offered a directing gig with people I didn’t know and took it, and it was such a rewarding process. It was different because I’d previously worked with people artists that I knew really well and had kind of a shorthand with, but this was an interdisciplinary piece created by two visual artists and it featured a musician, a dancer and an actor and the two visual artists, and so it was really really interesting and really rewarding to come into it knowing that I wouldn’t have that shorthand and have to take a step back and think, okay, how can I communicate these ideas to people I don’t know? How can we find that sort of common language? And yeah, it was really really fun and just maybe want to direct again and again and again.
0:46:00 – Phil Rickaby
How do you find that common language with people that you did? It’s like your first time working with them. What steps do you take to get to that point?
0:46:11 – Meghan Greeley
Well, I was talking to Santiago about this actually, because he was in Terrell just before I started and I was saying you know, it’s gonna be a new experience for me to work with people with whom I don’t have this created background of. You know people I haven’t worked with a million times, people who don’t know what I’m looking for, just because they know me. And he has a really great advice, especially when it came to the fact that this piece is created by visual artists. He said you know, try to speak to them in language that they will understand and with the visual artists, that meant you know visual language so I could explain the sort of stage pictures that I wanted and tried to when I was giving them direction, talk about it more visually, which also helped with the dancer. And, yeah, coming at it from a different angle, I guess when was really really exciting and really fresh? And also, santiago is a smart, smart artist. That was really good advice.
0:47:19 – Phil Rickaby
Now, as you were the artistic director, I mentioned the artistic director of the White Rooster theatre, a White Rooster theatre. How did that come about and how has your relationship with theatre changed as an artistic director? Great question.
0:47:36 – Meghan Greeley
How did it start? So White Rooster was the company that produced my very first professional play and then several more plays after that, and Ruth Lawrence was the artistic director when she first approached me to produce a version of the play that I mentioned earlier that I’ve written for my final directing program. I applied to the Women’s Work Festival in St John’s with it, which is a festival for playwrights who identify as women or those of marginalized genders, to work on their pieces with dramaturgs and actors and have workshops and public readings. So Ruth approached me after that, produced my piece, then produced several more pieces, commissioned me to write one later on, and so I’ve had a really good working relationship with Ruth and White Rooster over the years. And one of the founding members of the company, other than Ruth, sherri White, is a filmmaker and she gave me my first film job.
I started in a feature film that she wrote called Cracky when I was still in school. I was a pretty fresh-faced little actor and I was so excited because I got to be in a film with Mary Walsh, who was lovely, very patient with me as I was learning. So that sort of began my relationship with the company, and then I moved back from. I was living in Montreal at the time, but I moved home in 2020, in March 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic. I always say I didn’t move home because of the pandemic. I just really sped up the move.
I was planning moving in the fall of that year and came back earlier when things started shutting down. But when I came back, ruth approached me and said she was really excited I was moving home because I lived away for 10 years, and she mentioned this possibility of me coming on board with the company with succession planning in mind. And so that was, of course, delayed because of COVID. And then I sort of quietly slipped into the role of Artistic Associate during COVID and got a bit of experience with the company that year.
You know, we weren’t Not a whole lot was happening, unfortunately because of the pandemic. But in the spring of this year the Artistic Associate position transferred to Artistic Director and Ruth has still around. We’re doing sort of a slow process of handover, but I’m really lucky. Ruth is such a force in this city and in this province. She’s made so many things happen for so many people and has launched so many careers with her generosity and her willingness to just take a chance on people, especially young people, and I feel really, really grateful for the support of her and her company over the years and my play Hunger that was published last year with Redwater Books is dedicated to her.
0:50:49 – Phil Rickaby
I went to school with Ruth Lawrence.
0:50:52 – Meghan Greeley
Oh, no way.
0:50:53 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I had the opportunity to. I was a year behind her. I had the opportunity to run into her this past summer and I told her, I tried to express to her how important she is in Newfoundland, because every time I talk to somebody who is doing anything, who comes from Newfoundland, who’s creating theatre in Newfoundland, she’s somehow in the orbit of it and she didn’t believe me, but I think I may have finally convinced her that perhaps she might be an important person, a pillar of the theatre community in Newfoundland, because, again, there is always a connection with Ruth Lawrence.
0:51:37 – Meghan Greeley
It’s so true, and she’s probably too modest to ever think about that or realize it. But when the dedication for hunger was the last thing I sent in to breakwater and I sent in an email that just said the dedication should read as follows and it said for Ruth Lawrence, a mover of mountains. And when I sent it off, the copy editor, claire Wilkshire, responded to me and said isn’t that the truth?
0:52:04 – Phil Rickaby
or something to that text.
0:52:07 – Meghan Greeley
Because she’s just touched so many lives. It’s so grateful for her.
0:52:10 – Phil Rickaby
It’s true. It’s true, it’s a pleasure to know her.
0:52:15 – Meghan Greeley
She’s the epitome when I was talking earlier about what I love about theatre as community. To me Ruth Lawrence is community. She’s just such a community builder and she is such an important part of the fabric of this province in the arts and outside it. She’s just a community member at the core of whatever that means. And, yeah, I love her deeply.
0:52:41 – Phil Rickaby
Yes, absolutely Absolutely. Now, just as we sort of draw to equals, I want to come back to Jawbone, the novel, and I want to talk a little bit about. You know it’s coming out. I think by the time this airs it will be out. And as far as putting this together as a novel, what have you learned as a writer about novel writing, From putting this and adapting this prose, then play then back into a novel, what have you learned?
0:53:20 – Meghan Greeley
Oh, that’s a good question. You’ve learned a lot I’m trying to think of. There’s one thing that stands out above the others, maybe the importance of humor, which is something that I think has always been really important to me as a playwright. I like to try to marry the world’s dark subject matter in comedy, because I think that when we’re laughing we sort of tend to let our guard down. For me, I’ve always found, as an audience member, that if I’m laughing before I’m asked to engage with something difficult, I’m a little more vulnerable, a little more ready to accept it, a little more ready to listen, and so I try to do that a lot and, when I’m writing for the stage, try to strike that balance between really getting to the heart of a difficult subject and levity, adding relief whatever relief is going to be effective in order to make the darkness, in order to give more gravity to the darkness and the seriousness. So we strike that balance, and it’s not something I’ve ever thought necessarily about when writing prose. I’ve never thought about levity in the same way, and I think because I was writing Job on for a while for the stage, I was able to bring some of that back into the prose version and carry that over and realize that this is something I as a writer also appreciate.
Some of my favourite works are works that make me not necessarily laugh out loud but appreciate the quiet wit of them. And yeah, so I’m trying to think of an example. I read Vladimir last year. I’m trying to remember the author of that, but I believe she’s also a playwright. It was an excellent book and the writing was just so, so sharply witty and I really appreciated that about that piece. So yeah, I guess the importance of levity is open. Long with an answer to your question.
0:55:36 – Phil Rickaby
That’s great. Thank you so much, Meghan. Thank you so much for joining me this evening. I really appreciate you giving me the time and looking forward to checking out Job on the novel.
0:55:46 – Meghan Greeley
Thanks so much for having me. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you.
0:55:54 – 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 Stageweorthy 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.