Ever wondered about the journey of a play from its birth to the stage? Join us as we chat with Stephen Near and Aaron Joel Craig from Same Boat Theatre about their play, Whale Fall. Listen to their insights on the evolution of Whale Fall, from its inception to performances at Hamilton Fringe and then Vancouver Fringe. Discover the story behind their Critics Pick Award and the successful Kickstarter campaign that propelled their show to Vancouver. Get a glimpse into the emotional response Whale Fall elicited from audiences and the team’s thoughts on its future.
Fasten your seat belts as we journey with Stephen and Aaron to their Vancouver Fringe Festival experience. Hear firsthand about their adventures as a performing duo on a fringe that’s not home and how it exposed them to new ideas and performers. Tag along as they explore Vancouver and the thrill they felt in discovering they’ve nailed the city’s details in their play.
As we wrap up, prepare for an enlightening discussion on the insights they’ve gathered from performing their play, the significance of feedback, and how their bond has shaped Whale Fall. Learn how Vancouver has influenced their play and how sound is used as a tool to connect with audiences. Lastly, we reflect on Whale Fall’s themes and its transformation into a cautionary tale. This episode offers a captivating journey of creativity, teamwork, and transformation that promises to leave you inspired.Bio, and socials go here
Stephen Near is a writer and educator living in Hamilton. He is a graduate of York University (BFA), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (B. Ed) and the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Guelph. Stephen is a member of the Playwright’s Guild of Canada and an alumnus of both the Sage Hill Writing Experience and the Banff Centre. Last year, he was named the inaugural Writer-In-Residence for the Cotton Factory in Hamilton. His writing has appeared in a variety of online and print publications and his plays have been produced at a variety theatres and festivals, principally by the company that he co-founded, Same Boat Theatre. He is a proud husband, father and unabashed geek who is (still) obsessed with comic books and role-playing games.
Aaron Joel Craig (he/him) is a director, dramaturge, designer and performer. His passion for developing new work with artists in Hamilton led to the founding of Same Boat Theatre, alongside playwright Stephen Near. His theatre work focuses on questions of identity, power and how to stay hopeful in a difficult world. Some past projects include Test, Your Own Sons and The Conspiracy of Michael, all with Same Boat, and Henry the Fifth and Waiting for Godot for Redeemer University. He recently completed work on a masters degree at Wycliffe College/University of Toronto, exploring the intersections of spirituality and the arts.. You can find more about that work @saltcellararts. He lives in Hamilton’s East End with his partner, Cath, their two kids, and his probably-too-big record collection.
Tickets to Whale Fall at the Red Sandcastle: https://www.ticketscene.ca/series/1137/
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 stage worthy. If you value the work that I do on stage worthy, please consider leaving a donation, either as a one time thing or on a recurring monthly basis. Stage worthy 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 on to the show. Stephen Near and Aaron Joel Craig are the founders of Same Boat Theatre. Same Boat brings its award-winning play Whale Fall, written by Stephen, to Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre from November 17th to 26th. In this conversation, we talk about the origins of the play, how it’s evolved, from its first performances at the Hamilton Fringe, taking the play to the Vancouver Fringe and much more. Here’s our conversation. Stephen, you were on the program a while back, about a year or so ago, and we were talking about Whale Fall, but since then you’ve taken the show to the Vancouver Fringe After-.
0:02:27 – Stephen Near
Well, since then we actually had the show at the Hamilton Fringe and then we took the show to the Vancouver Fringe. I want to be very specific about it, that I wrote the play, but a lot of what the play has kind of turned into and the phenomenon that is really expanded it very much is a team effort. So we have Same Boat the Aaron and the actors. Really it was quite a group effort for us to get together and for us to create this.
0:02:59 – Phil Rickaby
So in terms of going like just getting through the Hamilton Fringe, obviously it was well received at the Hamilton Fringe.
0:03:07 – Stephen Near
Yeah, absolutely. I mean we got great reviews and we won the Critics Pick Award for the festival, which was fantastic.
0:03:15 – Phil Rickaby
Very awesome. That’s awesome. At what point did you decide that you wanted the show to have a further life?
0:03:24 – Stephen Near
God we were. I mean, I’ll let Aaron talk about this as well but we were really like in the midst of us doing it. We were really talking about well, you know, what further life does this piece have? I think that was something we very often talked about as we were sort of nearing the end of rehearsals and moving into the production like the active show. And then when it started, when we started finding our groove with it in Hamilton, I think, was when we thought, okay, this is something we can definitely do, and then we should do. I think after we got the Critics Pick Award, we realized, yeah, this is something really, really special. And because of the subject matter, we thought, okay, Vancouver is a natural place for it. But it wasn’t just Vancouver that we applied to. We applied to a number of other places. I’ll let Aaron talk about that as well.
0:04:28 – Aaron Joel Craig
I think one thing that’s always been true for us is that we’ve looked at fringe as like a proving ground, right to see, like if a thing has legs beyond you know, see if it works, see if an audience cares about it at all. Unfortunately, we’ve always had like our community here in Hamilton has always been really supportive, and I should say that to start out, that like there would be no even thought of Vancouver if we didn’t know that stuff here worked and that our audiences here are like thoughtful enough to not just be like gassing us up. But yeah, so when we were pretty early in our process, we had a pretty good sense that this was going to be something that would hit and that would. That felt pretty special to us and it was our first show back after COVID and all of that. I won’t go down that road because we’ve all talked a million times about that, but yeah, it was pretty clear to us that, you know, a show about somebody going up the West Coast was probably worth taking to the West Coast, and so we this year we had a Kickstarter campaign that we ran, we ran, we raised almost $11,000 to make sure that we paid for everything before we went to Vancouver.
Because you know, phil, you know that there’s no guarantees in fringe, so we want to make sure that we were well in hand. But yeah, it just made sense for us to do that and then and then to think more. You know, it’s hard to make a new play, so I think it. I think every new play deserves at least thoughtful working forward of like does this work? And then what do we do about it? I just let it die on a fringe stage.
0:06:11 – Phil Rickaby
I mean, I think that’s sort of the thing about a fringe show is that, unless you, a lot of times a show will have its six or seven performances especially if it’s a local show and then never get seen again. And there are shows that I’ve wanted more of at fringe, and so it’s good to see a show that people are thinking about. What is the way forward for this show? What is the life of this show after this fringe? And like you said, steven, vancouver seems like a perfect home for the show. How was it received in Vancouver?
0:06:57 – Stephen Near
Oh, it was really well received.
I mean we I’ll let Aaron talk about our venue because he has a bit more of a connection with that community but the people that came to see it, I mean I mean we had people that left the theater that were weeping, you know there was, there were some people that you know had actually seen and encountered Orcas or humpback whales, you know, in the Georgia Strait, because they are a common sight there.
There was a few people who came to see it, who had been part of the environmental movement, the start of the environmental movement in the 70s, in the 60s and 70s and 80s out in Vancouver, which largely involved Orca, like a captured Orca, which sort of galvanized the community around. You know how do we treat these animals and you know how do we become aware of the environment. So it was really well received and I think I think I also got the impression that a lot of people were taken very much by surprise by it, as I think often has with this this kind of a show at fringe, you know, like it’s not, it isn’t your typical fringe fair in some ways, but but it got really, really, and we also were one of the few shows out there, that got a review. We got a really great review too. So, yeah, from what I from, from sort of the people that I spoke to and gathered it was, it was really well received.
0:08:32 – Phil Rickaby
You mentioned the. The way that you know, the certain certain fringes are expecting particular kinds of shows and it’s different at every fringe. Toronto likes weird stuff.
0:08:46 – Stephen Near
Well, Vancouver liked really weird stuff. Oh yeah, oh yeah. I mean there was a show from Calgary about about like with with these two clown performers who were rats, who were sort of the last remit, like the only remaining rats in or the only rats in Alberta, and it was like and it swept, it swept the fringes.
0:09:05 – Aaron Joel Craig
It’s also like it’s worth noting that Vancouver is the is the like final resting place of most fringe tours because it’s the last one on the circuit. So what you get is a lot of like, and I think this is usually the case, is certainly the case in Hamilton. The folks who are touring are almost exclusively solo shows and they’re usually one person who’s been like billeting across the country with their show and their backpack and so that there’s like a really I was saying to somebody there’s like that kind of summer camp energy, like the last week of summer camp where it’s like you’ve been with these people all year and it’s a really like emotionally high but also like the deep relief of finally being done your project. You know what I mean, and so that was like that was a very cool community to get to witness. But yeah, I mean, like Stephen said, our show is not traditional fringe show in the way that we like came with something that was like very finished and like I’m like a fairly high concept, high concept, low budget designer and director. So when I, you know, when we brought a show was like here, I knew the things that I needed it to have and we, like Stephen said we were really lucky that we were at Pacific Theater in Vancouver and big shutouts, especially to Phil Miguel, who is just like the greatest tech I think we’ve ever had anywhere and totally got the show and just was like really excited about it. Um, but yeah, it was.
I think we were kind of a surprise to some folks because it’s a pretty traditional like nobody’s breaking the fourth wall on our show you know what I mean and that’s like kind of a fringe stalwart. Is that like the soft expectation that you might be interacted with. That definitely didn’t happen for with us, um, but yeah, I think that was. It was an exciting thing to get to bring that show or show anywhere. But Vancouver was really great and that fringe is like there’s a lot of shows, it’s 85 shows there, um, which you know I didn’t know that when I, when we like, submitted for that fringe, um, but yeah, it’s like it’s twice as big as the Hamilton fringe, you know, as a as a point of reference for us, and almost as big as Toronto, right, toronto’s 100 plus usually, but it’s like a pretty. There’s 15 venues in Vancouver. It’s a big for fast. So yeah, that was also, I think, kind of a surprise to us, um, but in like a really nice way.
0:11:38 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Yeah, there’s certainly something about about being at a fringe and not being a show. That’s from there. I think there is a bit of a shock sometimes when a show has a cast.
0:11:48 – Aaron Joel Craig
Yeah for real.
0:11:49 – Phil Rickaby
Because, because, like you said, solo shows are kind of the bread and butter, and especially near the end, like who’s been, who’s been going across the country, who’s been, like, trudging their way through through all of the ups and downs of, like every fringe. Um, it’s usually some very exhausted.
0:12:08 – Aaron Joel Craig
Yeah, performer that gets, and they’re all like trauma bonded, which is great. You know, they’ve all got their like wild stories and they’re they’re all. Yeah, it’s a, it’s a really cool thing and I think it like it also reminded me of how small this country can be in its art scene and like a really nice way that, like you know, as I was talking to folks, odds were good, we knew somebody in common, even though we have thousands of kilometers between us. That was like a very heartening thing, especially after all the like weird isolationism of the last several years.
0:12:42 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah, I always think about, about you know how, how traveling to a fringe that’s not your home fringe exposes you to different, different things, different ideas, shows that you would never have encountered before, performers you would never have encountered before, which I find always very exciting. I remember years ago meeting and seeing the performances by, at the time, a duo called the Wonder Heads who drew these big full head masks, that they were just like magical shows and I never would have encountered them if not for being on the fringe circuit and like having the joy of seeing the show.
0:13:25 – Aaron Joel Craig
Yeah, we saw some really great stuff. Like there’s this show that I know that Stephen is going to name check is called Leah and or that was like a Lithuanian tale, physical theater kind of thing. That like was just really wonderful. It’s just like a really great surprise. But yeah, it’s. It’s interesting to see the way that different cities work in different ways, but also the ways in which, like every theater community is kind of the same one. You know, like there’s like a that guy of of every, every community where like oh, that’s my analog here and those kinds of things which also I think in especially coming from like a small ish market like Hamilton, is always like encouraging to be like oh, we’re, like we’re all the same ones. You know what I mean, and that’s kind of great.
0:14:20 – Phil Rickaby
Now, having taken this show to Devin Cooper and you know, taking everybody out there, and I’m sure that you had some great experiences. I think you did. You did you go like whale watching? Did you go like Oracle?
0:14:31 – Stephen Near
Oh my gosh, did we like? I mean I could. I could go on and on about how how the tour of the play and the tour of the fringe was one thing and our experience around Vancouver and the environment was a completely other incredible bonding experience. Certainly it’s. It’s it’s it’s an experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, because it was a lot more than just we’re bringing a show, a show, out West. It was the company, it was the four of us kind of bringing this experience and bringing our expectations and being surprised by things.
0:15:08 – Aaron Joel Craig
Yeah, yeah, we definitely did go well watching, because it was like if you go to Vancouver with a show about whales and you don’t try to see some whales, it’s kind of what happened to go. So yeah, we did go well watching. We did see humpbacks, we didn’t see Orca, we figure we figure well when they bring us back, we’ll, we’ll see them then.
But yeah, and I mean, you know, stephen and I both have young kids, and so the other reality was like we were traveling without kids and that’s truly amazing to get to do.
And so we, yeah, we really took, took the best of it and, you know, went up to Whistler one day, went across the bow and island one day, all those kinds of things If you’re there you might as well do. And yeah, we like it was just a great. It was a great opportunity for us to get to bring the show to the places that we name, check in the show and, honestly, like, of all the things that we heard from audience members, my the best compliment that we got was we had somebody who was like you got all the Vancouver stuff dead right and that’s like as, because you know you go in with a little bit of imposter syndrome. Like I grew up out West, I know that part of the world pretty well, but it’s still like I don’t want to go in there and get it all wrong. I don’t want them to be like poking holes in it, you know, but people were really like very, very affirming of the work that we’ve done, which is kudos to Stephen as a good researcher, to you.
0:16:36 – Stephen Near
Yeah, and and that was a good that was. That was a good that. Yeah, I’ll echo that too.
It had been two decades since I had been out to Vancouver and when I’d been out there previously I’d been a very different individual. I, my playwriting career was literally just starting and so, but but it always held this very deep mystique, this very profound meaning and so. So yeah, like a lot of my writing, a lot of my shows since then has had permutations of Vancouver or the West Coast somewhere in it, you know, a character in a play will have worked for BC fairies. Or you know, a research lab in a another play of mine was in the mountains, like it’s the West Coast is. I think this is true for a lot of people in Eastern Canada or Ontario. The West Coast always has this allure, right, but Aaron’s right, I mean, I was sort of writing from memory and from research, so it was pretty gratifying to hear people say, yeah, that you got it, you got it. You hit the nail on the head with that, with this environment and experience.
0:17:46 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, you surely don’t want to be the person who, like is it, shows up in Hamilton and start name checking Toronto locations as though they are part of the. You know it’s good to have the accuracy. People do not dig when you get the details wrong.
0:18:00 – Aaron Joel Craig
Like, if we want to talk about like regionality, you don’t want to be coming from this part of the world in like the greater Toronto area and go out there and be like, well, this West Coast stuff that’s all the same. Like no man we like there’s a reputation here, and I grew up in Edmonton, so like I am hyper vigilant to not being one of those guys coming from the Toronto area who thinks that all this stuff is the same. But yeah, it is a thing that you is worth being careful about. I’ll put it though.
0:18:33 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah. Now one of the things that I’m curious about is you know you perform this show at the Hamilton Fringe and then you took it to a different city, and different places react to different shows in different ways. So what did you learn about the show, presenting it for an audience that was not the quote. Unquote home audience.
0:18:53 – Aaron Joel Craig
So my one of my priorities on taking this show on the road was to see if we were any good, because you know you like you make work in your home city, you know that you have like friends and family who are going to come see it and usually your friends and family are going to tell you they liked it, even if they didn’t, you know, shout out to like the three people who I actually will get an opinion from. But I think one of the things that I was like really happy about in Vancouver was the way, like in Hamilton, the primary connection, I think, is to the relationship between the two characters, like a father daughter relationship, and the interaction with kind of the sense of grief. And that was still the thing that hit in Vancouver Right. Like the particularities of the place definitely resonate in a different way, but I think that like the particularity gives way to the universal reality that like we all have some family member or relationship, that we’ve somebody that we’ve lost, that was very influential in ways that maybe they didn’t even get to know in the long run.
I think that was like wonderfully universal. I expected there to be a bigger difference between how audiences would respond but weirdly. I think it kind of hit more the same than different is how it’s how it front. I don’t know. Maybe see my as a different thought.
0:20:28 – Stephen Near
Yeah, I mean, I mean I’ll be honest. I, you know I don’t want to be egotistical here, but I knew us taking the show. I knew I know the show is good, I know that it’s strong. You know I’ve been working enough and understand my sort of own work and sort of can assess. We’re looking at a show whether it’s strong, whether it has legs, whether it needs improving.
And I mean, before we took it out west, we dove back into the piece right. We, you know, we said listen, I mean you know, last year, when, when we were finishing up, aaron was like the next time we do this right, there’s this show, there’s this scene that’s missing. That we got a hit right. And you know I took all those notes post show Hamilton and said, yeah, this is what I’m going to have to revisit. And I dove back into it. I, like you know, did the whole cue cards for each scene, like what scene is what’s missing? I mean we had one rehearsal in July where we’re like, okay, the ending’s not landing, like the ending’s fine, but it’s not landing, we’re not earning it, and what is that? And it took us a few tries to dive into it. And then there was a couple of moments and we won’t give away the ending, so to speak. But there was a, there was a, there was a. There was a few moments where Aaron kind of said something, and then Ray said something, and then I heard this, that, and then it all really came into place and it was and that’s why I say it was a very collaborative team spirit. So we did the work, like we’ve done the work, to make this show even better than it was last year.
And I think for me, what, what the big difference was with regards to Vancouver and Hamilton? I mean, it really comes down to the. For a lot of it, for me, it was venue. We’re going back to the eight, we’re bringing the piece back to the HCA in a couple of weeks and the HCA, the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts, is where it got its start.
But for me, the real intriguing part was bringing it into another physical venue to see how it played in another venue. And the Pacific Theatre is very much like its audiences on two sides, but the audience is raped. So there’s a. There’s a lot more of a sense of people looking down like it’s a fishbowl, and the lighting scheme that we had was, was, was like even deeper blues. There was some because we had new scenes like the, the, the pieces that take the scenes that take place in the in flashback were sort of a bit hotter, and for me that was the most gratifying piece was seeing the, was seeing the play interpreted in a different menu, that then consequently, audiences react differently to it, and I thought that was, for me, that was the coolest thing about seeing it elsewhere.
0:23:09 – Phil Rickaby
I was fine and I think that that that you know, when you do your first fringe festival with a show, if you’re, if the show’s going to have another life before you do it again, you should do exactly what you did and and look at what worked, look at what, what? How do people react? What’s missing? Because the audiences taught you things about the show. Yeah, that’s right. Well, and if you don’t take that, yeah, why did?
0:23:35 – Stephen Near
you bother, yeah, so so I’ll.
0:23:38 – Aaron Joel Craig
I’ll say this part of the reason that I knew the ending didn’t work is because my mother-in-law read it entirely wrong, like she just like didn’t get it and she will never hear this. So I’ll say that aloud. But you know, even just having somebody who’s like close to you be like oh, this is how the show ends, and being like I promise you it’s not is is like a really important kind of thing. And I do think you’re right, phil, they’re like you know, if you don’t take it and do the work, then like what’s the point? And I’m I’m, I’m a big process person and I’m one of the terrible directors who will like give actors notes up through closing. But I think that there is something, when you are especially working on a new play, that like it’s not finished, right, like it’s never actually done until somebody picks it up to publish it, and then even that’s like a thing that’s like set in a moment, it’s like this is the version here Exactly.
But yeah, I think you know we’ve, we have Steve and I have been working together for almost 10 years and so he knows that I’ll always give notes on a script until until it’s open, and even then maybe we’ll.
You know, there’s a, there’s a line change that came from Vancouver and the fact that we were haunted by white Teslas haunted like I have never seen somewhere of one car in my life as we saw white Teslas in Vancouver and I don’t know if that’s like a particular Vancouver culture thing, I don’t know, but they’re everywhere and so there’s a line change that came out of that halfway through our run is like we have to, like that was one of those things that is influenced by the place, that we couldn’t have got right from here. But yeah, those. There are those kinds of things that I think, if you’re, if you have an audience and you’re not listening to them, why is it a play? Do you know what I mean? Like at that point, why is this a live thing for people to interact with? Just go make like a video. That’s fine.
0:25:47 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I always think that anytime that that I approach a new, a new show or a show that I’m remounting, I you know, you look at, you look at it again, you look at it with fresh eyes. I’ve done that in work with Keystone Theater, where each time that we were reviving, we would come back to one of these silent film plays that we created. We would revise it, we would like look what worked, what. We’re different people now. What is the? What is the? What is this show and I’ve done it with every show that I’ve ever done a second time is completely rework it, because I think that that you do learn so much, especially with friends. We often don’t get. We don’t get workshops, so we’re workshopping as we go and so you know that information is so valuable to improve the show and make it better and better each time you do it.
0:26:36 – Stephen Near
Yeah, yeah, yeah for sure. And, and I get you know, I’m also the type of playwright that will want to make line changes, although we don’t tend to do them all that drastically. But I mean, we were also really lucky that we we were working with two actors, stephanie Hope Lawler and Raymond Louder, who were really open to those types of changes, right, who you know. Like I just give so much props to the work that they’ve done.
I mean I will often, I will often say that that this play on paper perform performs differently. Like I mean, it’s a truism that that when a play gets up on its feet it’s a different entity than it is on paper. But I think it’s really true for for a piece like this, because in the script the voice of the father Stephen speaking to to his daughter Rebecca is is very like it’s almost I don’t know, it’s like a disembodied voice, even though I say you know, the father is this present, walking around. But when we gave it in the first version of the script and subsequent, when Raymond sort of got his hands on it, he said, he said to me I can’t really see this presence of this character in any other way but physical, like intense physicalization and and it just lifts the piece. It lifts the piece off the page, sets that.
I think some people you know when they do, when they have just read the script, come away with a very different idea of what the script is, what the story is. And so it really is an experience, a very different experience when you see it, when you’re in the presence, when you have a soundscape and I mean kudos to Aaron as well, who, who, when like music, is an essential part of his directing process. Sound, as it is actually with mine, sound is a very big part of how I connect with a show, so I’ve been very lucky, because the way that sound is used in this piece is just in yeah, and I’ll just like name check, wade Morrison, who’s the composer on.
0:28:53 – Aaron Joel Craig
That’s one of the things that we actually improved on this. This iteration is I, we brought on Wade Morrison, who’s a good friend of mine. His band is called Math Club and they’re incredible and he wrote three new pieces for the show and I think that really lifts it also. But yeah, I think the you know it is. Yeah, it’s true that when you read a thing it doesn’t always translate to what you’re going to see. But this show especially, you know I, you know Stephen, won a special merit award at theater BC and some of the notes that they sent back, I was like, oh yeah, you haven’t seen this, like you don’t, you don’t know what it is yet and there’s no way that you can write that down right, but it’s, it is pretty electric and that’s that’s really, like Stephen said, a big, big up from Ray and from Stephanie, both like the way that they come into the room with a really generous posture is really hard to beat.
0:29:58 – Phil Rickaby
Now you’re, as you mentioned, you’re about to perform this in Hamilton once again, and then after that the show will be coming to Toronto at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. What do you take? I don’t know if you’re making changes or anything, or even just lessons that were learned from the performance in Vancouver that affect the show as you continue to do it after that experience.
0:30:30 – Stephen Near
That’s an interesting question. I mean I yeah, I’m not, I’m not sure. Like are you? Are you asking how the show changes, continues to change from Vancouver onto this iteration in Hamilton and then onto Toronto?
0:30:46 – Phil Rickaby
I mean that, that, that that that give me one interpretation, but also sometimes, just just like having performed a show in one place we don’t need to make any changes, but something about having performed in that place taught us something that we carry forward, either in the actors, interpretation or things like that, that sort of like, or we take the lessons that we learned from one performance and bring them into the next. Yeah, I think.
0:31:07 – Aaron Joel Craig
I mean the like what I think one true thing is that we spent two entire weeks together, right, so that that like that, right, and Ray and Steph have a really great relationship and they really have an affinity for each other and I think all being able to then like spend meaningful time together outside of working hours is also like that brings a depth to their work on stage. Their trust for each other is really like essential to the show working. So I think that feels different, but I also think that we like are able to trust the show in a different way. We know where we can play with it, we know where, like we know the moments that need to hit and we know the moments where there’s a little more room to breathe but we’re not so deep into a run that everything is kind of calcified into like this is how we do the show. There’s still, you know, playing to be done and you know that’s also like a thumbs up to.
I will say to Ray particularly is the most playful person I’ve ever known in my entire life and so his proclivity to want to bring new stuff and find new things. You know we had a little tune up rehearsal the other day and he was like okay, I have four new offers that I’d like to make, and just like that kind of comfort, I think, with each other and the ability to trust each other is also, I think it makes the show better. I think it makes every show better. I think, particularly with this show, their ability to trust each other and lean on each other is really valuable and we wouldn’t have had that in the same way we didn’t take it to Vancouver if we didn’t bring it back to Hamilton to like settle at home a little bit before taking it to Vancouver or to Toronto.
0:32:58 – Stephen Near
Yeah, yeah, what, Aaron? That’s a really succinct way of putting it. I have to say I agree with that.
0:33:08 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, because there’s something about, I mean there’s. You know, the experience of performing a show at home is so different from when you take it away, where you don’t have all of the usual things that you interact with and all you sort of have is this cast that you’re traveling with and nothing sort of brings. It, brings a cast together, or the opposite, depending on personalities, like traveling with a show, yeah.
0:33:34 – Stephen Near
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve been on fringe tours that have not been as fortuitous and have not been really big bonding experiences like there are. One fringe experience I had. I mean we went and we did the show, but everyone then went and did their own thing in the community, in the city, and it was quite. It was quite disaffecting and it affected the rhythm and the cohesiveness of the company. I didn’t really fear that that was going to happen when we went to Vancouver, but I sort of had to settle with myself that that was a possibility and instead quite the opposite happened, which is why I say that it was a pretty transformational experience.
0:34:19 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I mean that’s kind of what you want. That’s sort of the best case scenario for taking a show on the road is that everybody sort of continually gets along their relationships deep and the show sort of is bettered for you, yeah, and I think you probably know before you go if it’s going to be a good time or not.
0:34:41 – Aaron Joel Craig
Do you know what I mean? If you’re in a rehearsal room, you can kind of know if these are people you need to hang out with outside of this and, more particularly, if they’re people you don’t need to hang out with outside of this. So I have known Ray. He was the head of theater, the theater department, where I went to school. So I’m known Ray for 15 years. His daughter was the maid of honor in my wedding. I knew Ray was good, I knew stuff was going to be fine. I would not have done all the work if I thought you were going to have a shit time, you know. But yeah, it is like it’s not a thing we take for granted. I’ll say that for sure.
0:35:17 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So in terms of this show, and one thing that I probably should have done off the top we, stephen and I, had a whole conversation about this show before it opened at Hamilton Fringe, but some people may not have heard that. So, if you could, stephen, could you describe Whalefall?
0:35:43 – Stephen Near
Yeah, it’s in spot. The story is about a woman named Rebecca who, upon learning that the southern resident orcas of the Western waters have been declared extinct, leaves school and undertakes a journey to try and find the last surviving orca, and along the way she kind of struggles and wrestles with conversations with and memories in the past of her father, who was a large part of inspiring in her the love of the ocean, the love of whales. The play is directly inspired by my own relationship to my own daughter, also named Rebecca, but because it is a climate change fable, it is a play that wrestles with a possible future in which these animals could go extinct and they are currently an endangered species. The play is a sort of a dark speculates into some dark areas, and so I say that these characters are inspired by real life, but they really aren’t real life.
But it’s important to kind of understand that when I first started writing this play, I was writing it because I wanted to talk about my daughter’s love and dream of being a marine biologist. But when I realized how deep that dream was, I also had to contend with the fact that what if she grows up to be a marine biologist and these animals are gone and there’s nothing to study, there’s nothing to say. There’s a line in the play where it comes relatively early in the play. Why bother studying something that doesn’t exist? And so, in a lot of ways, whalefall is about the search for hope and the belief that we can fight against that cynicism, we can fight against the sort of oppression of the issue around climate change and we can actually take action and do something about it.
0:37:57 – Phil Rickaby
Um, in terms of you know you, I think you have a character that’s this name for your daughter. In this play, you have a character that’s named for yourself. Yeah, is it weird to it’s who write a play in which you’re you’re dealing with fictionalized versions of yourself and then to see it performed?
0:38:13 – Stephen Near
No, it wasn’t weird, it was, it was challenging. It was challenging because of the places that the play goes with regards to these characters that I don’t really want to get into, but I have to wrestle with my own mortality, right, I had to wrestle with the fact of okay, what is? What is the inciting incident? Right, the inciting incident of the play is that the father, you know, essentially rejects his daughter, saying you can’t, you can’t drop out of school, you can’t do this and I won’t support it. Right, so, automatically, then, I’m, I’m, I’m venturing into territory that myself, as a father that loves his daughter, that wants to support her, is a difficult thing to wrestle with. Right, like, would I ever take that stance against my daughter? Right, not now, but when she gets older, what am I gonna be like in ten years? What’s she gonna be like in ten years? I wouldn’t say that it was weird, but it was challenging and uneasy, again, because of some of the questions that that it raised.
But also, you know, in it’s the pieces is a, is a work of creative nonfiction. I, you know, I like to say, and so, when you’re dealing with creative nonfiction, or rather, or rather, a fiction inspired by reality, I think you can play around with, with what is true and what isn’t, and because it is a speculative story, you know they’re there. There it’s a cautionary tale and you kind of have to take it as a cautionary tale. What lessons do you learn from, from the story? But in a lot of ways too, I mean it. It’s the riskiest piece I’ve ever done, it’s the most personal piece I’ve ever done and, for that matter, for that reason, I think it’s probably one of the best I will say like from a director.
0:39:58 – Aaron Joel Craig
Dramaturg perspective. It is weird in the room when you’re like okay, stephen, not you, though you know, to make those kinds of splits is funny. One thing that did change in this iteration in the script is that Stephen, the character of Stephen in the script, is spelled with a V instead of a pH, and I think that was a really like important thing for us to like Make that clean cut, to say this is not you. So anything we say about this character, while maybe inspired by you, is not like a you know, we’re not like degrading you as a human being or any of those kinds of things. Yeah, you want to be careful, yeah, and it’s interesting, but it’s interesting.
0:40:38 – Stephen Near
Yeah, and it’s interesting. But it’s interesting too, like the character the, the character of Stephen in the script is never actually referred to by that name. He’s, he’s. I mean he’s the father. But I’m the type of playwright and I hate putting that word, I hate saying father, daughter, boy, girl in a script like I. Just I have to give people names for this, at least for the sake of the actor.
0:40:59 – Phil Rickaby
Oh, stephen, just I am, I am, I am. I’m reminded of a particular play that we did many, many years ago, where I was playing a role in the play you were directing and the character was referred to in the script as psychopath. Oh my gosh, and how.
0:41:17 – Stephen Near
I did not anticipate your.
0:41:18 – Phil Rickaby
I was thinking of that play just today. We were, we were just, I just remembered that we in rehearsal Decided and we can’t refer to him that way. He says his name is Ted and that is how we’re going to. Yeah, that is how we are going to refer to him. It’s the trial of Judith Kay by, by the way.
0:41:32 – Stephen Near
It’s the trial of Judith Kay by by um.
0:41:36 – Phil Rickaby
I think Sally, yes, yes, wow, amazing, yeah um, one thing that I am curious about you know this is this is this is sort of delving into the personal, but the play sort of like Delves around those sorts of things. Um, if you’re writing a play that is inspired by, by your young daughter, yeah, that involves you as her father, even though it’s fictionalized Is what kind of conversations did you have with your daughter about this play before putting it on stage?
0:42:09 – Stephen Near
um, well, I mean, uh, it’s interesting. What sort of conversations did I have with her? I mean, honestly, like, uh, becca went to see um, becca went to see the, see the script, uh, see the play. Uh, she wasn’t at the opening but, um, but I mean I, I mean I, I said you know, I be essentially said, you know it’s, it’s uh, it’s fictionalized, so, uh, so, some of so, so, obviously some of the stuff that you’re gonna see isn’t real, but it’s inspired by you. Um, but I mean you know what she’s she, she like enjoy, she loved it, like um, and maybe some of the stuff, some of the more adult stuff or adult themes, kind of maybe went over her head and that’s completely fine, completely fine. But I mean she connected.
I think again, because the play Operates on so many levels. It’s physical theater, it’s there’s a big element of game playing and play and and movement, um, it’s. It’s not just a play with dialogue where people talk back or back to each other, it’s storytelling. So she connected with it on a lot of different levels, didn’t necessarily Get and didn’t necessarily need to get some of the, the, the sort of the, the darker aspects of the play, um, so I, I, you know, but she’s, she’s getting to an age now that that she understands that the story is being told to her. You know, aren’t, aren’t? Uh, aren’t true, and and and. So I mean, I think, just in, in terms of preparing her for the, for the piece, I didn’t really need to do much at all. I think she was more, um, uh, just Kind of settling in with the fact that here was this person on stage named Rebecca, who loves whales and sharks, and was talking to her about it, and that was that was just an yeah, like ray and stuff did.
0:44:01 – Aaron Joel Craig
Stephen wasn’t at the show the night that Becca came because he was home with Uh that with their other kid, with my son.
But you know, watching her interact with Stephanie afterwards I think Stephanie was Maybe more excited to spend time with Rebecca than Becca even was to spend time with step Um but you know, they took a moment to like acknowledge her, to like have her stand up and like give, give her that moment also, which I think is like for for us. I think it’s important to acknowledge that that, like her life, is a thing that we’ve kind of co-opted to make this play, or at least to like, you know, to honor. That was really important to us, um, and actually, with our Kickstarter campaign, she was the one who designed the sticker that was one of our award Pieces, and so I think you know her fingerprints are on this show in ways that I don’t know, that she’s even necessarily aware of, um, which is, I think, usually how kids influence their parents and the work that they’d, you know.
0:45:06 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, very, very true, absolutely, absolutely. Um, just as we sort of like start to like ease towards a close here, um, earlier in the year was it a year, I don’t even remember year, time is difficult now Um, after the pandemic, I don’t know what time is, but some time ago, um, there was a whole thing where, uh, uh, the orca were rising up against the yachts. Oh my, I knew the yeah.
0:45:31 – Aaron Joel Craig
Wonderful publicity, publicity for us. It was happening right when our Kickstarter was running. It was great. It was awesome timing everybody was thinking about orcas. It couldn’t be better for us.
0:45:41 – Stephen Near
So, yeah, so orcas attacking boats and um, so I I want to talk about this because this is really a great story. So erin said to me we have to, this has to go in the show, we have to include this in the show. And I’m like, okay, all right, we’ll do it in the show, we’ll, we’ll include in the show. I did a whole bunch of research on the whole thing, you know, because it was all over, all over the place, like, and I wrote a scene, um, which was essentially all the stuff about orcas attacking boats, and it all sort of led me to Then writing this big monologue and so we read it, we brought in it’s this was like classic Dramatica, new play, development stuff.
We brought in, I brought in the scene to read and all of the stuff saved for one line About, about orcas attacking boats and things like that all got shocked. But we kept the monologue and the monologue was a key, was the key to finding um a moment in in the script. Uh, so we kept one line about the boats, but thank god for writing that boat scene because we would not have found the monologue. That is the key, that was a key aspect of of the play if we hadn’t, so that’s what I think the truth is.
0:46:59 – Aaron Joel Craig
Like you know that the stuff about the whales, the, the orca and the yachts, like you know there were. There was literally somebody walking around at the fringe with a shirt that said eat the yachts, on it with a big orca, like that’s like a real thing that we saw at the Vancouver fringe, um, and so like it was so front of mind. I think this year, and I think you know one of the things that there have been a lot of these like Memable tragedies or whatever, like I don’t think about your orcas attacking billionaire boats as a tragedy, but there are a lot of these like Memable things that have been happening. I think if we don’t like Take a minute to actually look at them, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice, like culturally. But particularly if, like, something like this is going to show up that is so completely on the nose Of a project that we were working on, is I knew that if we didn’t at least try to think about it, somebody was going to come up to us after our first show and be like you know, you heard about the, the yachts, right, like why is it not right?
And so like I knew that we at least had to do the work to Respond to a real thing that was happening. That was still very front of mind. I mean, I, I, yeah, the fact that we were we were walking out of a show and saw somebody wearing it eat the yachts shirt was just like Two on the nose and of course we had to run over and Tell them about our show and see, see where they got the shirt and all that kind of stuff. But you know, I think that’s just like good paying attention. I think if you’re gonna be Developing any work, you have to be paying attention what’s going on around you too.
0:48:44 – Phil Rickaby
I think it’s fascinating, you know? I mean, I think what Steven said about, about how you know, in typical, like new play development fashion, you wrote a whole thing and most of the things that you had had thought you were writing it about were not where you were writing it about.
Yeah, it’s pretty it’s a weird like. This is how this, how theater gets developed. You know, you sort of think you’re doing one thing and then you discover, oh wait, no, this was something else entirely, which was sort of running under the surface. And it sort of happens in a kind of magic way almost by accident, sometimes.
0:49:20 – Stephen Near
Yeah, precisely, which is you know it is you know the magic right, like that’s. I think that’s the reason you know we keep going back to this right, like pandemic, pandemic happened and you know, you know, did I think? You know? Honestly, I was like am I going to still keep doing this? I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t. And then you know I did this and it’s like, yeah, I can’t quit it yeah absolutely Coming back.
0:49:46 – Aaron Joel Craig
I did a show a few years ago with Anna Chatterton, who’s a brilliant playwright, and we were talking in a rehearsal and she was saying you know, every time I finish a show I say I’m at, this is it, I’m done. And then, like the next day, you wake up and you’re like, oh, I have this idea. Oh shit, I have this idea. And it’s like I think that is, you know, it demands like a certain kind of curiosity, right, like a proclivity to being curious about what the next thing would be. But I also think, you know, new play development is not for everybody, but I think if you’re, if you’re into it, you just stay into it. You kind of can’t help yourself. And that’s where, like getting back into the room, when we knew that we were going to continue to do this project, we also knew that there was no way that we were just going to like bring it back as it was. It was just like so deeply uninteresting to me. It’s like if I don’t get to mess with it, then what’s the point?
0:50:45 – Phil Rickaby
So, Well, aaron. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciated this. I really enjoyed the conversation and if you’re in the Toronto area, you’d be able to see Whale Fall at the Red Sandcastle Theatre November 19th to 26th.
0:51:01 – Stephen Near
Yeah, we’re really, we’re really excited about, about this. We wanted to work. I’ve I know that I wanted to work with, with, with Red Sandcastle, like ever since the Adriana and Eric took it over, so it’s it’s really going to be a wild time.
0:51:18 – Phil Rickaby
0:51:19 – Stephen Near
I haven’t done. I haven’t done theatre in Toronto in years, so it’s the doubly exciting the exciting yeah.
0:51:25 – Aaron Joel Craig
It’s a great, it’s a great chance for us to, like you know, recognize that it’s only 45 minutes down the road from us. You know what I mean. Like so often it feels like it’s a world away. But I mean, if you, if you spent any time in Hamilton recently, you know that most will not most, but a lot of people who are living here were recently living, mostly in Toronto and so I think to like tie those worlds together is really valuable and hopefully it’s like it’s a tester for us, right? It’s like if this works then then we know that we can bring more shows here and I really think the more relationship building we can do between our artistic scenes in Hamilton and Toronto is like going to be such a boon to all of us, because it is like so stupidly easy to get back and forth and there’s only you know it’s good to your, your people. So yeah, yeah.
0:52:14 – Phil Rickaby
Absolutely, Absolutely Well. Again, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate the conversation. I’ve had a great time and looking forward to seeing Whale Fall.
0:52:22 – Stephen Near
Thanks, phil. Thanks for having us, phil, lovely to talk.
0:52:30 – 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 Stage Worthy and my other projects, you can subscribe to my newsletter by going to philrickaby.com/subscribe and remember: If you want to leave a tip, you’ll find a link to the virtual tip jar in the show notes or on the website. You can find Stage Worthy on Twitter and Instagram at Stage WorthyPod, 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 Phil Rickaby. As I mentioned, my website is philrickaby.com. See you next week for another episode of Stageworthy.