In this episode, Phil Rickaby talks with the outstanding Deborah Drakeford and unpacking the Canadian premiere of Joanna Murray-Smith’s “Rockabye.” From the first costume fitting that sets the stage for character metamorphosis to the electric anticipation of performing an original rock anthem, this episode is a tribute to the craft. The camaraderie within the Actors Repertory Company, nurtured by director Rob Kempson is palpable as Deborah recounts the collective effort in breathing life into “Rockabye.” This is a toast to the ensemble’s magic and her own evolution as resident artist and co-artistic producer with ARC.
The conversation also turns to the resilience of actors amid the pandemic, sharing her own tussle with COVID-19 that brought unexpected twists to a production in Sudbury. The episode wraps with a heartwarming glimpse into the enduring marriage Deborah and her husband Oliver Dennis, as they juggle the scales of professional ambition with the weight of family life. Their story is a masterclass in harmony, a dance of mutual support and understanding that keeps the show going, long after the applause fades.
Deborah Drakeford is a proud member of ARC, having been a Resident Artist for the past 18 years. Deb assumed the role of Co-Artistic Producer of ARC in July 2020. She has performed in many ARC shows, including A Kind of Alaska, The City, Bea, Moment, Pomona, Human Animals, Oil, Gloria, Martyr and upcoming, Rockabye.
Deb has been lucky enough to work across Canada from BC to PEI.
Other fun credits include Redbone Coonhound (Tarragon Theatre), Doubt (BNE Productions), Shirley Valentine (Thousand Islands Playhouse and Capitol Theatre), The Penelopiad and The Importance of Being Earnest (Grand Theatre), Portia’s Julius Caesar (Shakespeare in the Ruff), Innocence Lost, Great Expectations, Waiting for the Parade and A Christmas Carol (among others) (Soulpepper), Hedda Noir (Theatre Northwest) Rabbit Hole, Same Time Last Year and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Sudbury Theatre Centre). Deb has been Dora nominated 11 times (individual and ensemble).
She has also done tv, film, and voice, most recently appearing in HBO’s Station Eleven and recording the audiobook The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.
Deb holds a BEd and teaches for YPT, Soulpepper and for the TDSB. She makes her home in Toronto with her lovely husband, actor Oliver Dennis, and their two amazing kids, Charlotte and Philip.
Transcript auto generated.
0:00:00 – Phil Rickaby
Recently, I announced that episode 400 of Stageworthy will be the last episode. I published some of my reasons why on a blog post, both on my website and on Stageworthy, and you can go there to read that. There are a lot of reasons behind, a lot of which is I’ve been doing this nonstop, except for a couple of short breaks for eight years. Financially, it’s a huge drain because I don’t make any money from the podcast, but you can read all about that on both my website, philrickaby,com, or on stageworthy.ca. You should know that I don’t regret a second of doing this podcast and I have loved every second of it. That is to say that this is now the countdown to the last episode. This is four episodes until the last episode of Stageworthy, which will happen in episode 400, which will come out on February 13th. Please enjoy these final few episodes of Stageworthy as a regular podcast. I want to say to you as a listener whether you’re an occasional listener or a regular listener thank you so much for listening. It means a lot. If there was anything you were going to do, if you wanted to say goodbye to this podcast in some way, the best way for you to do that, if you have never done so is to review it on all of the usual podcast places that allow reviews, like Apple Podcasts and the rest, or if you just want to send me a message and say hi or whatever you can do that, you can find the contact form on my website or on stageworthy. I’ll get both. Thank you so much for listening and I appreciate you giving me your time.
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. Deborah Drakeford has been a freelance actor for 35 years, is a resident artist of Actors Repertory Company, or ARC, for 18 years and co-artistic producer of ARC since 2020. She joined me to talk about ARC’s production of Rockabye, running January 26th to February 11th at Toronto’s Factory Theatre. In this conversation, we talk about playing a rock star, arc’s unique community collaborator process, the Canadian theatre, landscape, post-pandemic and much more. Here’s our conversation. I want to start out by talking about Rockabye, just to jump into the big topic right off the top. What’s can you tell me? What can you tell me about Rockabye?
0:03:26 – Deborah Drakeford
Well, I don’t want to give anything away per se, but Rockabye is written by an Australian playwright, joanna Marie Smith, and we are super excited about this ensemble piece. The tagline for the show is capitalism, race and pop culture. You know the small stuff. So I think that I love that tagline because it gives such a great idea of where this play, this story, might be going. It’s funny, it’s rich, it’s dramatic, it’s timely and it’s going to offer up big, big conversations.
It’s about an aging rock star who is trying to make a comeback and she’s on the precipice of doing that and working hard with her manager to achieve that, and it’s not quite enough. And so she goes down another road. And I’m in my brain as I’m telling you this Phil, I’m going, I wonder how much I can give away. But she wants something more, and what she wants opens up big conversations about capitalism, about love, about whose story is whose, about racism. It’s a very provocative, very funny, very challenging piece and I’m so excited that we get to present the Canadian premiere and I’m excited by this incredible team that we’ve got assembled.
0:05:09 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, now you said aging rock star. But what era is this rock star? What was their heyday?
0:05:18 – Deborah Drakeford
So I’m playing that aging rock star. Thanks very much. So, sydney Jones, you know I like a challenge Sydney Jones. It has hit it big in that, like in the late 80s, early 90s when she was a young person, and hit it big really fast and really hard and has sort of been floating. She’s been around but has been kind of floating ever since and she has finally come up with this other album that people are saying, yes, this is the next album in Sydney Jones’ career and it’s a much more mature, much more thoughtful album. But yeah, she’s one of those rock stars you know who just hit it big really fast and probably too young and didn’t know what to do with all of that and then kind of coasted on that for very long time.
0:06:29 – Phil Rickaby
That is. I mean that in itself is a tale as old as well. The beginning of rock and roll, the probably music itself, right, yes, yeah, yeah. I can think of several. Maybe there are many examples of somebody who you know they had a few hits.
Rick Astley comes to mind as somebody who you know like had like one like the big hit, and then you know a couple of subsequent ones, and then nothing. And then suddenly, thanks to a joke on the internet, he sort of gets to have his some time in the sun again. But there are other people who sort of disappeared for a while and then all of a sudden they’re back in the now.
0:07:13 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah, I mean thanks to technology and thanks to, and you know, TV shows right, Suddenly using these music themes and suddenly that becomes a big thing, Like I think of Kate Bush on Stranger Things, Absolutely absolutely. Not that she was a one hit wonder. I love Kate Bush.
0:07:32 – Phil Rickaby
No, kate Bush was far from a one hit wonder, but it’s one of those like she was sort of. You know she wasn’t huge in North America, I think she was bigger in England but you know there was a certain subset of maybe more gothy people who really appreciated the Kate Bush sound in the 80s or some you know poetic artsy types. I think that’s really where she sort of sat in the zeitgeist. And then all of a sudden this show comes up and suddenly she’s all over everywhere.
0:08:05 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah, yeah, she’s everywhere. Yeah, yeah. Some of the pop stars that I was looking at and researching as I was preparing for rehearsals for Rockabye were people like Pat Benatar and also people like Annie Lennox. And because looking at Pat Benatar and looking at her old videos, which are just delicious and immediately take me back to high school in a very happy way, and also going, wow, I really really tried to make my hair do that as well, and then, oh, it was not good in Espinola Ontario.
0:08:47 – Phil Rickaby
Phil, it was not good.
0:08:49 – Deborah Drakeford
The wall of hair you know whole.
0:08:51 – Phil Rickaby
Thing. Oh yeah, that is when I grew. I was in high school at the same time, so I know the feeling of how much hairspray and bare product we’re putting in our hair at a time trying to have the biggest hair possible.
0:09:09 – Deborah Drakeford
The biggest hair possible and also for us young women. I remember I left this phase quite quickly, thank goodness, but I remember mascara and eyeliner every day and not washing it off at night and just adding more to it the following day, so that by the end of the week you could barely open up your eyes because our eyelashes were sticking together so concretely.
0:09:41 – Phil Rickaby
Nobody was telling us how to do anything we couldn’t go on the internet to find out how to do it right. So we were making all of these terrible choices.
0:09:49 – Deborah Drakeford
Exactly, there was no TikTok sensation going. Here’s how you apply.
0:09:54 – Phil Rickaby
Not a thing, not even how to video or article. At that time I wanted to have big hair, but I had really thin. My hair was not me, me too. We couldn’t do. I wanted Robert Smith from the Cure Hair early, early the Cure, and I just didn’t have the hair for it and no matter what I did, it wasn’t going to happen.
0:10:20 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah, yeah. But I’ve got the fabulous Jackie Chow, who’s one of our art resident artists doing set and costumes, and she and I have been talking hair and I’m excited.
0:10:35 – Phil Rickaby
There’s gonna be some product.
0:10:37 – Deborah Drakeford
There’s gonna be some zhuzhing. I can’t wait.
0:10:41 – Phil Rickaby
It’s always great when you have somebody to do that for you.
0:10:45 – Deborah Drakeford
To actually just tell me what to do yes, that’s why I’m an actor, just kidding, yeah.
0:10:52 – Phil Rickaby
And now I also sorry, I was just gonna say like in terms of my characters, sydney’s storyline.
0:11:00 – Deborah Drakeford
So, looking at that Pat Benatar and all of that amazingness from the late 80s, early 90s, and also looking at someone like Annie Lennox, who I think is astonishing and always has been astonishing, and now she is this older woman who is, who appears to be so in control of her whole thing, her life, her story, her music, her artistry, and so for Darling Sydney Jones, my character, I’m hoping that she finds her way to her Annie Lennox days.
0:11:42 – Phil Rickaby
I mean Annie Lennox, I mean you could, we could go down like a rock rabbit hole of like great women, rock stars, but Annie Lennox had like that, like her time in the sun, both with your rhythmics and on her own were just massive. And I think the first time I don’t know this is for anybody turning in the first time. This is not usually an 80s, 90s rock show. I don’t think anybody knew what to make of her at first, her and in your rhythmics. I don’t think anybody knew what to make of her. And then all of a sudden it just she just kept doing what she was doing and then suddenly it snapped and it was like, okay, this is, it makes sense.
0:12:24 – Deborah Drakeford
Doing it so unapologetically. Yeah, and just embracing that and like her androgyny and her sense of style and her that voice, oh, come on. Yeah, no apologies.
0:12:39 – Phil Rickaby
0:12:40 – Deborah Drakeford
Annie, we love you.
0:12:42 – Phil Rickaby
0:12:43 – Deborah Drakeford
So yeah, so rockabye is, I mean you know I’ll have great hair. We were in rehearsal. We started rehearsals already and Sunday I guess we were doing a lot of work with a couple of the designers, jackie being one of them, and we had this great costume parade. Jackie likes to have kind of group fittings where we’re all sort of trying on bits and pieces and we all kind of show up in the room together and she can look at the color ideas and the style ideas and make sure that they’re gelling and what she wants, the story that she wants to tell with that. And it was so exciting to see my fellow players and myself making those connections and playing around with that. I think Jackie is a genius and it’s gonna be really fun to look at from a fashion point of view just seeing what she’s come up with for all of us.
And everybody looks so great.
0:13:51 – Phil Rickaby
I think that’s a great idea. The group parade like that, especially early on, so that everybody gets a sense of what they all look like, how everybody fits together, and the costume parade is always really fun in any show. To get to do it early is a really great idea.
0:14:08 – Deborah Drakeford
Well, it just gives a different kind of information, like often shows that I’ve done in the past and with other designers and this is no slight at all at all but often we don’t see each other’s costumes until tech dress, which is exciting and kind of mind blowing, and you go, oh, what are my lines again? Oh yeah, you look amazing. So, but to have this information now, just knowing that part of the story that is being told by our entire team, is kind of thrilling. To be in on it as well as the actor. I love that, I really love it.
0:14:51 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, it’s the other thing that often, like I’ve been in shows where I don’t get the costume until like a couple of days before maybe the tech dress or something like that and suddenly you find out oh, what I’ve been doing, I can’t move that way in this costume. I have to change the way. I have to change a lot because there’s I don’t know like a cape or something and suddenly you’re having to make adjustments. So it’s good to know what those things are really early on. It sure is.
0:15:18 – Deborah Drakeford
I mean, I have a really kick ass pair of boots. Just wait for it, phil. I’m gonna have to practice in those puppies. Good pair of boots, yeah.
But, that part of it was really exciting and we also got to work with. We were working with our sound designer, adrian Shepard-Gowinsky, and he has composed late 80s, early 90s rock anthem. That was Sidney Jones song that launched her. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. He created this song and so I got to record it the other day, on Sunday, with Adrian and it was just super fun and not just me, because I am for sure not a trained singer, but one of our guest artists in the show is Julie. I don’t know if you know Julie, but she was just in Gypsy at the Shaw and she’s an astonishing actress and an astonishing singer. And so Adrian had Julie and myself recording this song and I know he’s gonna do some delicious technical wizardry and make it sound really, really great, but that was so fun too, just to be part of all of it in that way. Anyway, it’s really exciting. Yeah, absolutely.
0:16:51 – Phil Rickaby
Now do you get to aside from the song, which again, is pretty cool. It’s great when you get that extra information of like this is what the song that broke this character and made them a huge star. You could do the show without it, like you’re saying, but it’s really really great To have. Yeah, Is there other rock and roll in rockabye that you’re gonna be performing, or is it sort of the recorded stuff?
0:17:22 – Deborah Drakeford
Well, it’s not in the script, right? There’s no actual performance in the script. There is a moment where Sydney is in Berlin about to start a concert, but there’s no actual performance in the script. There’s no actual performance. So the fact that Adrian has created this song for Sydney and I know he wants to do some more recording, which I actually don’t know what that will be yet with me, I think gives again the entire piece that flavor of who she was when she became the star and who she is now he’s pretty marvelous, is Adrian. He’s telling that story through the soundscape, yeah, that’s awesome.
0:18:12 – Phil Rickaby
0:18:13 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah, it’s such an exciting team. The room is so warm. Rob Kempzen, who’s my co-artistic producer, he’s directing it and he has created this really warm, welcoming space and we’ve got our resident artists in there and we’ve got newcomers and new guest artists and people making their art debuts. It’s a thrilling place to be in. There’s so much humor in it. Then it goes to really deep, dark places. We all already just in the first few days because we only just started this past Thursday in rehearsals and already we’ve got such a wonderful trust and sense of play and it’s just so thrilling.
I’m excited for our audiences to see it. I’m excited to go back to rehearsal tomorrow. I really look forward to the time when I’m completely off book. I’m almost there. I’m working really hard, phil, but it’s just. It’s a really warm room and that comes from Rob setting that tone and because so many of us have worked together in some capacity, within ARC especially, but also with the guest’s artists working. I’ve worked with some of them in different capacities on different shows. It’s just Gosh. theatre is fun. It sure is. I highly recommend it.
0:20:05 – Phil Rickaby
Now you have been a member of ARC. You’ve been a resident artist at ARC for 18 years.
0:20:13 – Deborah Drakeford
Almost 20, yeah.
0:20:15 – Phil Rickaby
And you were co-artistic producer at ARC since 2020. Tell me about ARC and what it means to you.
0:20:25 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah Well, ARC was founded almost 25 years ago. John Neville, Alan Jordan and Chuck Shimada were the three founding members of ARC and their mandate was to produce shows from the International Canon. Rarely produced shows from the International Canon, which is very much along the lines of Our Mandate Now, which is the Canadian premieres of shows from the International Canon. And when I started up with ARC, there’s been people, personnel change, all that kind of thing, as always happens in a living, breathing thing which I believe a theatre company is. But I was brought in and I seem to have stuck around the longest, and part of it is just.
I have a keen sense of loyalty and I’m excited by the work that ARC produces. And ARC has given me opportunities to play roles that I don’t know that I would be cast in. Perhaps now I would be cast in them because I’ve been around for 35 years, but at the time when I began I was suddenly given so many challenging and exciting roles to dive into with the trust that, yeah, you can do this, Deb, and that was pretty thrilling so to be able to. I also love reading plays and now, because of our mandate and because I’m in this leadership position, I get to read and research plays from around the world, and I’m always excited to know what a country is talking about and thinking about and exploring, and that we at ARC get to take a look at these plays and find a way to contextualize them in a Canadian sense, which I find exciting. And part of the way we do that is we have what we call the open room, which is integral now to every production we do, and the open room is this week long workshop that we have a few months out before we start rehearsals. So we’ve got the scripts, we’ve got our cast assembled, but we haven’t started rehearsals yet.
And we gather together in a room or over Zoom if it’s, you know, COVID times and we invite what we call community collaborators into the room with us and these are people who are not actors, not necessarily in the arts business at all, but their lived experience, their careers, have something to do with a theme in the play that we’re about to produce. So, for example, with Rockabye, we have three community collaborators and one, Jeff Key, is a PR and crisis management person and he is that kind of person who, you know, foresees the horrible issue happening and will coach his people how to respond in a way that saves them and I that there’s a role in the play in Rockabye that Sergio Dizio plays. He’s my manager and you know we all could have done with someone like a Jeff Key. And then we have Leila Hebden, who is a manager of big stars, including Shania Twain. So you know, Rob and I, we well, we had to go to the Shania Twain concert as research. You know, we just we had to, yeah it was really tough, I’m sure yeah.
Well, you know sacrifice.
0:24:56 – Phil Rickaby
We’ve got to get it right. Sacrifice, sacrifice too, yeah.
0:24:59 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah, and that was all through Kyra Harper, who is also in our play. Delighted to finally work with the wonderful Kyra Harper, she was able to connect us with Leila. So we have Leila, who will be zooming in this week actually to talk to us about what it is to manage a superstar, and then our third community collaborator is Allison Petty, and Allison is a former stage manager and now is not doing that, but she has lived experience with international adoption and that’s the only other clue I’m going to give you into our show. So, but Allison was able to speak with us very openly and very clearly about her experience of going through that process of adopting internationally. And so these people are in with us from the beginning to help us, to help inform the script, for us, to give us different perspectives, to allow for that deeper, truer sense of what our characters are experiencing, and I just love that.
This initiative that we do the open room. It started in 2016 when we were doing a play called Pomona that Chris Stanton was directing and within that play, aviva Armour Ostrov and I were playing sex workers and Chris invited in two women from, I believe the place is called Maggie’s Place two sex workers to just talk with us about their lived experience and we read a scene for them between my character and Aviva’s character. We read this scene and these amazing women went yeah, the words are right, but we don’t talk to each other like that. Because Aviva and I were kind of really diving into it and you should see all the hand gestures I’m doing right now Phil.
It’s like I’m really explaining myself well with my hands right now and these women said, yeah, no, we’re much more pragmatic in the way we speak with each other. And so we read the scene again. After they gave us that information, we read the scene again and our brains exploded. It was so helpful and insightful and true, true or true or true. Or we knew that we had hit on something really exciting in that inviting community members in to work with us at this beginning stage was something that we will never let go of now, and I’m really proud of ARC for recognizing how important those community voices are, those community collaborators, and I can’t imagine doing a show now without that process. And being able to have that process three or four months before we start rehearsals gives us that time to let all of that information percolate and drip down, and then we come to the rehearsal process proper and we’ve already got this wealth of information.
0:28:50 – Phil Rickaby
It’s thrilling Now this is something that’s really unique that ARC does, and what do you think is preventing other companies from doing that? Is it simply resources? Is it money? Is it like? What is it that prevents that from happening?
0:29:10 – Deborah Drakeford
Well, it’s a great question. I mean, I would like to think that perhaps some people haven’t thought of it and that’s fair. But honestly, you hit the nail on the head, fill it. Resources. Money is tight and we pay our people to do this open room process and so when we’re please asking from the granting bodies, we always include that aspect, because we do want to honor people’s time and we want to pay everybody, including our community collaborators.
So I would imagine that resources plays a huge role in it and the resources are so hard to come by and there are so many very worthy projects and companies out there and there’s so little money. And, to be honest, arc has done really well with getting project funding from the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council and this year we got zero and it was a bit of a shock, let me tell you, especially because we’ve been so successful for about a decade. But we’re okay and we’re still doing our show and everybody’s being paid and, of course. But resources are hard and I think, yeah, if only we had more support in that way hello, government. I would imagine more companies would want to be able to have this opportunity to explore in the way that we are.
0:31:05 – Phil Rickaby
Now, as far as the resources go you alluded to the funding bodies is that? You know COVID had a huge impact on theatre. It had an impact everywhere, but theatre, as an industry, requires that people are in the room, which you know couldn’t do for a number of years. You feel like the impact of COVID is that audiences are choosing not to come back, or that they’re too used to watching things. I mean, people are already watching things on streaming, but do you think it has, you know, fed steroids to the streaming bug? Or what do you think is what is the impact of COVID on the industry that you see?
0:31:53 – Deborah Drakeford
You know, phil, if you had asked me this question like six months to a year ago, I would say that, yeah, the streaming, you know, people are comfortable in their homes. I get it, I am too, and there’s so much good TV out there. But, and to be able to just choose to entertain yourself in that way, I fully understand, especially because we couldn’t get out for a couple of years. But it feels like people are returning. I know that there are a number of people who are not, perhaps because they are older and they want to now use their entertainment dollars elsewhere, or they’re older and they just don’t want to go out in January, or you know, there’s lots of reasons.
I do think we have lost audience for sure, but we were isolated for so long and now it feels like in the last few months, from my perspective as an audience member, because I love going to theatre and it feels like we are recognizing how much we need each other and we’re craving getting back into these experiences of live theatre and I’m starting to see companies and shows that are swelling and have to extend because they’ve got so many people who want to see them, and I think that is. I mean, it’s so satisfying and it’s so what makes my heart sing and I hope that that continues and I hope that because that is starting to grow, I hope that people then are also recognize well, we love that show down there, let’s go down that road and check out that show and that they start to that. It feeds itself. You know that they start. People start to get go further and further out because they just want to be with people.
0:34:22 – Phil Rickaby
0:34:23 – Deborah Drakeford
I certainly. I understand that there are some people who really liked being at home, and I completely get that and prefer that quieter life. But I think for a lot of us, yeah, just just wanting to be with others again and sharing an experience which theatre provides. We’re all in the room together, we’ve all heard and seen the same thing, but we’ve all received it differently because we’re all different human beings, and then we get to talk with each other about it and live in that experience.
0:35:03 – Phil Rickaby
So, fingers crossed, I mean you used the word experience twice in that, in that description, and I really think that experience is something that we need to lean into as theatre companies, theatre makers, because people will pay for experiences. People will pay for a room they just take a picture in if it’s cool. They want to have the experience. And I think some companies are doing a great job of talking about the experience, of giving a sense of the experience, and some companies have not done that at all. They just put the name on the poster, name of the show on the poster and the name of the.
I could think of a couple of companies that do this. Name of the show. Here’s our strange artwork that describes it. Here’s the author. Come see the show and maybe I know what that show is. But that’s not going to bring in people who are not already theatre goers. And so if we don’t talk about the experience, if we don’t let people know that this is an experience like no other, they stay home or they go to see an immersive production of pictures projected on a wall of Van Gogh’s work or something like that.
0:36:14 – Deborah Drakeford
0:36:15 – Phil Rickaby
Because it is experience and I think that it’s to give people the idea of having, like, this is going to be something you are going to be talking about afterwards. That’s the kind of thing that I think brings people out.
0:36:32 – Deborah Drakeford
I agree, but again, I think some of that has to do with resources. There may be companies who wish they could do more, but they can only afford that poster that says here’s my play, written by this person, directed by this person Because, again, like money is so hard to come by.
0:36:53 – Phil Rickaby
0:36:55 – Deborah Drakeford
And all we can do is keep trying. Yeah, absolutely, and some of the companies that I see doing this, though these are companies.
0:37:02 – Phil Rickaby
these are not like little independent companies. These are massive companies that do this, and so it’s not.
0:37:08 – Deborah Drakeford
Do this in terms of like. Do this in terms of like. Here’s the poster.
0:37:11 – Phil Rickaby
Here’s like the poster is like here’s the name, here’s the author here’s our little funny artwork and then other companies like really and again it is resources the Mervish productions are always going to do really well because Mervish has a ton of money, because they’re for profit and they only do this stuff that’s safe and is going to like bring people in paying lots and lots of money, but that’s not reasonable for a lot of For the average theatre goer to go regularly, because that’s expensive. But it sure is. Yeah, but I mean I think that that is something that our industry has not yet really grappled with as far as the results of COVID. So people are going to see things and experience things and we need to let them know what their theatre experience is going to be.
0:38:06 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah, I mean, I think we’re still definitely reeling from COVID and COVID is not over and COVID still so greatly affects our industry. The number of shows in the past couple of months where performances have been canceled or understudies have gone on or the understudies also sick so they have to get somebody else in coming in book in hand, like COVID, is still so present. We are rehearsing in masks because we’re this tiny little company without the resources to pay for an extra person to come in as a swing or we can’t afford to lose a performance. So we’re going to be feeling the effects of COVID for a long time and I think that, yeah, all we can I keep going back to hope, phil, all we can do, yeah, yeah, okay, all right, 14 minutes Okay is invite people and, yes, to hopefully provide them with an experience. And if it’s their first time and they go, hey, wait a minute.
This is different from when I went to that theatre over there and just sat and watched and then went home and some people will be ready to receive that and will want to explore more and those are the people that we need to find and tap into and invite, and for us at ARC, that is. You know, we’re continually trying to grow our audience and when we stumbled upon this amazing, we didn’t stumble upon it. It was Chris Stanton’s idea to bring in these women from Maggie’s place and we knew it was a genius idea. But when we discover just how potent and important it could be, that then allows us to, in a bigger way and perhaps in a more personal way, for our community collaborators to then invite those community collaborators, communities, in to see the show, knowing that a friend of theirs, a family member of theirs, has a stake in this piece and so growing the audience in that way.
0:40:30 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely Fingers crossed. Yeah, you’re right about the effects of COVID and how it is still causing havoc in the industry.
0:40:44 – Deborah Drakeford
You know I’m a supply teacher for the Toronto Board too in between gigs. I love that job. I was a kindergarten teacher today, on my day off. But even though and teachers go down with COVID a lot but school continues, yeah, it’s just. Or somebody in an office job gets COVID, they go away for a few days, come back and the work has still happened. And it’s so different for theatre because it really can stop the show. Yeah.
0:41:25 – Phil Rickaby
So yeah, there are a lot of shows that, like you’re saying, can’t have a swing. There’s just no budget for that, and so one person getting sick will shut the whole thing down for a night or more.
0:41:40 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah, very true. I was in Sudbury just in the fall rehearsing a show Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. And after the first week of rehearsal I tested positive, which was shocking. I hadn’t been anywhere.
Right yeah, but you know COVID doesn’t care, it’ll find anyone and everyone and I tested positive and of course there was that moment of concern for everybody going uh-oh, we got to make sure that. Do our best to make sure that nobody else gets it. And luckily I was the only one out of this huge cast. I was the only one who got sick and I was out for only a few days and then I was in with Mask On and you know it didn’t hit me nearly as hard as it did the first time I got it and they were. We were early enough in the process that they could work around my character.
There was plenty to do without me, right.
0:42:41 – Phil Rickaby
0:42:41 – Deborah Drakeford
But that was just luck.
0:42:44 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, just luck. I got my first bout being out in Red Deer, alberta, doing a performance of a show of mine. I was in a small group. There were two solo shows and reps, so basically the people I interacted with were the actor in the other show, the artistic director and those are the people that I acted. That was around most, and then a couple of times out with people, but mostly just in a room with the audience and I got COVID.
0:43:11 – Deborah Drakeford
Yeah, nobody else did, I frantically.
0:43:13 – Phil Rickaby
I frantically was like, uh who, I got it. I tested positive and this is after I got home. But I was like trying to tell them like, test yourselves. But yes, yeah, they were fine, I got it and um, I’ve. You know, I was like, wow, I first time and I don’t want to do that again.
0:43:33 – Deborah Drakeford
No, no, it’s not fun. I don’t recommend it. No, I also don’t recommend it Now you are um you, you’re.
0:43:44 – Phil Rickaby
you’re married to Oliver Dennis, who is also an actor, and certainly am, and you have 32 years strong.
Dang, you got two kids and we do. I’m curious, uh, because you know, a lot of times there are people who say don’t date actors, don’t you know? And, and being um, uh, in a relationship with an actor, especially when you are an actor, that that can cause, that could sometimes cause, uh, uh, some friction between between two people. Um, how have you and Oliver managed to keep your marriage together while you’re both in the industry, um, for for so many years?
0:44:27 – Deborah Drakeford
Love. I mean, have you met Oliver Dennis? He’s amazing. Um, for us, you know it, it works because we do understand what each of us is going through Every time we’re in rehearsal. We understand the hours, we understand the commitment, we understand, um, the focus. We help each other run the run, we help each other run lines. You know, it’s actually fantastic and, um, we’ve been able to.
When we first had kids, I chose not to work as much. I wanted to be home more with the kids. I wanted to be the primary caregiver. Um, oliver at that time was really busy with sole pepper, so he was, you know, bringing home the bacon and I was hanging out with the babies and and that was perfect for us. I know everybody, every everybody, has a different story, but for us that’s what really worked. And then, once the kids got older and they were in school, um, that’s when I started to work a bit more and more, and you know, half of my work is in the city and half of my work is across the country, and it wasn’t until the kids were in school that I would, that I started to take, uh, those out of town gigs. I would only do one a year. Uh, at that point and we’ve been able to balance that We’ve. We’ve certainly had to use um babysitters from time to time If both of us were in a show at the same time, but mostly speaking, we’ve been able to spell each other off and, um, there was a time when Oliver was working so much and I wasn’t working very much at all and, uh, yes, it was a little bit hard on my creative heart because I wanted to work and the work just wasn’t coming to me at that time.
But there was never, um, oliver and I have never felt in competition with each other or jealous of each other’s careers. Um, I think he is an incredible actor, so gifted, he should just work all the time, and he’s pretty fond of me too as an actor. So right now I am very gratefully and very happily and very proud of myself and, very luckily, riding a lovely wave. I’ve been busy for a couple of years now, pretty much nonstop, and Oliver is just delighted and supportive and his work has slowed down a little bit. And Phil, he is an amazing cook. I hardly have to cook at all, and so you know this is a really good life that I lead. But we’re very supportive of each other, yeah, and we help each other and guide each other in kind and generous ways and our relationship is really equal. I lucked out, I got a good one, sounds like it.
Now, how did you meet? Yeah, doing a play. Richard Greenblatt cast us in a play at Young People’s theatre back in 1991. And we actually did a workshop for it, because it was a Dennis Foon piece called Mirror Game and it had been written as a one act touring show and Dennis wanted to expand it for the main stage of YPT and so we did a workshop of it in November of 1990.
And so that’s when Oliver and I met and Oliver was performing in a show with Richard also performing as well, so they were double dutying, and I went to see the show that they were performing in during that week when we were workshopping and Oliver and I shared a cab ride home with someone else, bruce McPhee, and apparently so the story goes when I got out of the cab, oliver said I’m just trying to remember the words Something about goodbye, deb Drakeford. And then he turned to Bruce and said I mean Deb Drakeford, dennis, I’m going to marry that girl. And you know, flash forward a few months we’re in rehearsals and we were there’s four of us in the cast and we were all out for a drink together and the other two, I don’t know, stepped off somewhere and I looked at Oliver and I said I’m really attracted to you and that was that. That was that we started dating, pretending that nobody knew we were dating.
0:49:51 – Phil Rickaby
Come on, everybody knew that’s the, that is the magic of a cast. Somebody’s, some couple is trying to pretend like they’re not, and everybody knows they are.
0:50:01 – Deborah Drakeford
Everybody knew it was obvious. I mean, we’re just like puppy dog guys at each other the whole time. And then we were married within nine months. We just knew that was 32 years ago. Yeah, it’s great. Yeah, it’s great.
0:50:18 – Phil Rickaby
But yes, richard Greenblatt, he’s, he’s responsible and he reminds us that he’s just as we start to draw to a close. In the conversation you were literally we were talking about. You know the song that’s been created for the, for the show We’ve been talking about. You’re looking forward to the amazing boots, the costume, that sort of thing. But aside from those things, what are you most looking forward to? When audiences get to experience rockabye.
0:51:00 – Deborah Drakeford
I am looking forward to the potential for these big conversations. This is not a simple play. There’s complex things that happen. I’m looking forward to that potential of those conversations. I’m also super excited for the audiences to see these players that we’ve assembled. I mean, besides myself, we’ve got Nabil Trebusse, who is also an ARC resident artist, we’ve got Sergio Dizio, we’ve got Christopher Allen, we’ve got Shauna Thompson, we’ve got Julie Lumsden and we’ve got Kyra Harper. We’ve got these, you know, different generations of theatre animals, theatre artists, and Shauna Thompson, for example, was a classmate of my daughters at NTS. So we’ve got these deliciously talented, beautiful young people with you know, those of us who are just a little bit older and Kyra being a bit older than that and to have these different generations of theatre artists and everything that all of these very smart people bring to this story.
I’m excited for the audiences to experience that. Yeah, it’s such a great team. And I’m excited for the audience to experience the design. We’ve got Jareth Lee as our lighting designer too, who is truly wonderful, and the set that Jackie has designed. Well, I’m actually a bit nervous about it. And, phil, when you come to see the show playing at the factory theatre January 26 to February 11,. When you come to see it, you’ll take a look at the set and you’ll go oh yeah, that’s why Deb was nervous. Yeah, the story is very provocative, it’s very smartly written and Rob is doing a beautiful job of guiding us. And, yeah, but this group of actors, it’s pretty special. I had the pleasure of working with Christopher Allen I was going to say earlier this year, but it’s a new year, in March of 2023, doing a show together at the Terragon and he’s a marvel. He’s a marvel. And I’m just getting to know Julie Lumsden and I just adore her. Everybody’s fantastic. Getting to play with, you know, shauna, who is a friend of my daughters, that’s just thrilling.
0:54:06 – Phil Rickaby
That’s awesome. It sounds like an incredible, incredible show and it will be an incredible experience for everyone.
0:54:13 – Deborah Drakeford
I believe it will be. I believe it will be.
0:54:17 – Phil Rickaby
Well, Deborah, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate the conversation. Thank you for giving me your time tonight.
0:54:23 – Deborah Drakeford
Thank you, Phil, so much. It was a pleasure just chatting with you. Appreciate it.
0:54:33 – Phil Rickaby
This has been an episode of Stageworthy. Stageworthy is produced, hosted and edited by Phil Rickaby that’s me. If you enjoyed this podcast and you listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, you can leave a five star rating, and if you listen on Apple Podcasts, you can also leave a review. Those reviews and ratings help new people find the show. If you want to keep up with what’s going on with Stageworthy and my other projects, you can subscribe to my newsletter by going to philrickaby.com/subscribe and remember. If you want to leave a tip, you’ll find a link to the virtual tip jar in the show notes or on the website. You can find Stageworthy on Twitter and Instagram at StageworthyPod, and you can find the website with the complete archive of all episodes at Stageworthy.ca. If you want to find me, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram, at philrickaby and, as I mentioned, my website is philrickaby.com. See you next week for another episode of Stageworthy.