Steven Mayoff (he/him) was born in Montreal, lived in Toronto for 17 years and moved to Prince Edward Island in 2001. His fiction and poetry have appeared in literary journals across Canada, the U. S. and abroad. His books include the story collection Fatted Calf Blues (Turnstone Press, 2009), the novel Our Lady of Steerage (Bunim & Bannigan, 2015), the poetry chapbook Leonard’s Flat (Grey Borders Books, 2018) and the poetry collection Swinging Between Water and Stone (Guernica Editions, 2019) and the novel The Island Gospel According to Samson Grief (Radiant Press, 2023). As a lyricist, he has collaborated with composer Ted Dykstra for many years. Their musical reimagining of Euripides tragedy, The Bacchae, entitled Dion a Rock Opera, will receive its world premiere at the Coal Mine Theatre in February 2024.
Tickets and Info, Dion: a Rock Opera: http://www.coalminetheatre.com/dion
Transcript auto generated.
00:03 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
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 theater scene across Canada, so join me as I talk with mainstream theater 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. Steven Mayoff is a writer, poet and lyricist based in Prince Edward Island. He joined me to talk about Dionne, a rock opera, which premieres at Toronto’s coal mine theater February 4th, march 3rd.
In this conversation we talk about how he first began collaborating with Ted Dykstra, how he came to find himself living in PEI by way of Toronto and Montreal, his novel the Island Gospel according to Samson Grief, and much more. Here’s our conversation. Why don’t we jump in? Because I’m really interested in this show. We’re going to start by talking about Dionne, a rock opera. Can you give me, tell me, what is Dionne, a rock opera, just to get started.
01:47 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Okay, well, it is a rock opera but it’s based on the back eye by Ripides and it is something of a reimagining. But we’ve stuck as close as we can to the actual play.
02:10 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
What was it about the back eye that sort of felt like it wanted to be a rock opera.
02:17 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
This was initially Ted Dykstra’s idea. Ted Dykstra is the composer and one of the co-founders of the coal mine theater, where it’s this show will be produced or will be presented. I couldn’t tell you why he wanted to do it. I think it’s something he did tell me. It’s something he wanted to do for a long time, and he played Penteas at one time I believe was at Stratford. So the thing is, ted and I we’ve known each other for years. We’ve known each other since 1981. I met him when he was a student at the National Theater School. The minute we met we started writing songs Almost like 20 years, and in fact we wrote another rock or rock musical before this, called Dorian, based on the picture of Dorian Gray.
We started writing that in the late 80s I believe it was around the 88, and we developed it throughout the 90s. It never got a production. It did have a couple of workshops, though, and then we stopped writing for a short time Well, not really. I guess it was around 20 years, really almost and I had moved to Prince Edward Island. When I met him Was in Montreal, and then we all moved to Toronto, and then I moved to PEI in 2001, and Ted went off and did some other stuff. And I was doing other stuff and then we started writing again during the pandemic in 2020. And we just started writing a couple of songs.
And that’s when he came to me and said you know, would you like to do this rock opera? And I really wasn’t sure, because the last one we’d worked on it was a long time we were working on it and I said how long is this going to take? And you know, is this going to get a production? So he said, you know, it was obviously it was a real work of passion that he wanted to work on. And so I read the play. And then I had to read the play again and I probably had to read it a few times and I went I’m not sure what’s going on here. I know what’s going on. It’s a king and a god who are having a feud, but you know what’s really this about.
And then I did some research on YouTube and so I just searched the back eye and I came across mostly university lectures and so I would watch. There was one I watched in particular, and it’s pretty dry stuff, to be honest, but it brought up some really interesting things who Dionysus is and the fact that of his duality and his origin. Of course, dionysus’ origin is that, well, his mother, semile, was Zeus’s lover, and she wanted to look on her lover’s face but mortals can’t look at gods and so she did. She was incinerated immediately and Zeus reaches inside her, takes out the fetus, plants it in his thigh and it gestates and then is born as Dionysus, who is now half mortal and half god, and so this sort of went away. As to how you know, and there’s a question is, is he a demigod? But apparently he isn’t, and so his duality allows him to walk the earth. So there was all this information and I thought, okay, this is interesting, I’m getting stuff out of this, I’m getting to know a little more about this, and so, you know, I’d write a song or two. And the thing is, I should also mention when Ted originally came to me with this idea, he had written a snippet of lyric and music.
And when the play starts, penteas, the king of Thebes, has been away, he’s been on some trips somewhere. He returns to find that all the women of Thebes have been sort of stolen by Dionysus and he has made them his followers, and so Penteas is really angry about this, and so this is what this little piece was about Penteas coming back and the lyric had some swearing in it and I said, oh, so this is like sort of fairly modern we’re going with modern language here Okay, so that was a clue for me and I said, okay, well, this is what we’re going to do and I’m going to use this, this piece, and create a song out of it. And so stuff started to get written. Now this was 2020. And in 2020, donald Trump was president and he and COVID was rampant and he was kind of getting his butt kicked by COVID and it really looked like he probably was going to not get elected into a second term. And so I started to think about that a lot, and because Penteas kind of a no brainer, that he’s an authoritarian figure.
But then I started to look at Dionysus or Dion, of course, our version of Dionysus and the one thing about COVID that really interested me was that everyone was in their homes, they all had to stay at home, and so animals and a lot of nature and wildlife were returning to habitats that they had abandoned because of a human presence. So now they were reclaiming all this area, all this land. And so I thought, well, this is nature coming back, nature taking over, and Dionysus is about nature, it’s about, he’s all about nature overcoming cities, and the idea here is that he’s the shadow side of kind of modernized world. And so I thought, well, if Penteas is a kind of Trumpian figure, well then Dion is COVID. So I thought, ok, well, that suddenly really changed things for me and it gave me a language to start using in the lyrics, so referring to Dion as a virus.
And so suddenly things really started to gel much more and I really started to work earnestly on the libretto and as songs were written, I would give them to Ted and he was writing stuff, and so that’s kind of how it all got started really. That’s sort of why and we also knew that we wanted to have that his followers were not only going to be women and of course, in the play, tyresius and Cadmus are also become followers of his. But what we also want to do was have certain members of civilization, like these marginalized groups, to become his followers as well. And so that was that was a really important aspect of it, and that this was not just him gathering followers, but it became a kind of a movement, and so that was something that we want to do. We wanted to kind of retell the story through a lens of diversity and and, of course, dion in our version Dion is trans and so Dion is they them. And yeah, so suddenly, when, when all this was sort of come into place, it was, it was all starting to happen.
11:06 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
There’s a lot to digest. One of the first things that I thought, as you were describing the origins of Dionysus, is Zeus just can’t keep from keeping the whole kids out of his body. But I’m really curious. You alluded to writing the libretto and then passing it off to Dijkstra to add the music. Is that how you have collaborated with him, like, for example, in the Doria musical? Is that how you typically write? That’s how we write anything songs, like even individual songs.
11:38 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
We wrote a lot of individual songs and it was clear from the beginning Ted wanted lyrics first and it just I think he said he just he takes inspiration from the words, but I think he also takes inspiration. It helps him to have a lyrical frame to work with so he knows what’s what. This is a verse, this is a chorus, and he’ll be able to change that if he wants. But yeah, he likes to have the framework to work on and anyway, in theater or in opera, the librettos usually come first and so this was pretty much standard to do it that way, and I don’t give him a full libretto, I give him individual songs. So songs come and then music starts to develop.
And then what often happens is, you know, if we have a first draft and then we start revising, you know the story gets revised and so lyrics are going to be revised and then or new songs might be written. And then I’ll take I’ll often sort of look at what the music is and listen for melodies that are motifs, repeated melodies or melodies that could be repeated that sort of give a sense of either something in the narrative or something in the character. And so I’ll take those melodies and I’ll say I’m going to try something this. Or sometimes I’ll take a snatch of melody from one song and a snatch of melody from another song and say maybe we’ll put these together and create this thing. And so you have Ted and I have our own vocabulary for all this. We tend to call this the glue. The glue that sort of puts it together and makes it a whole thing. So, yeah, so that that’s pretty much how it works for us. It usually it’s words come first.
13:43 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Yeah, no, I was really curious about how you go from like individual songs to putting it together as a whole, a whole thing, and you’ve described that. So thank you for that. As somebody who has pretty much written for their most of their life, I think. I think pretty much always, at least in high school. When did you start writing lyrics? How did it? How did becoming a lyricist?
14:07 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Well, I’ll tell you, one of the first things I started to write was lyrics. I guess you know, for I music is always a part of my life. I was very influenced. We had a big record collection. We had a lot of Broadway soundtracks, we had operas, things like that, and I used to actually lip sync to all these. So the lyrics were right there for me. I was listening to it and we have my brother, had a huge stack of 45s rock and roll 45s and so I used to lip sync to that. So lyrics were there for me right from the beginning, before I started reading.
Really be interested, you know, interested in books books were really came later for me in life and in high school. I started to write poetry in my last year of high school but I was also interested in writing lyrics and I had friends who were musicians and every now and then I’d collaborate, I’d write something and they’d write something for me, for some music for it. And I remember early, I think after, or yeah, once I’d graduated high school, I tried to, I’d gone, I’d went around to recording studios in Montreal and I had these lyrics and I would say, you know I’m a lyricist and you know no one was interested but so, but I was. So that interest was very, very early on and then I started to write poetry and I was writing a lot of poetry and lyrics. They were always there but I think, and I had I’d written with different friends at different times of my life but when I met Ted, which was 1981, it just like it’s sort of really struck, like he really wanted to write songs and I said, oh wow, so he’s the first person I met who like really want to do it and did it.
Like I gave him a lyric and suddenly, you know, there was a song and and we never stopped doing it. Our friendship or relationship is dependent on us kind of writing songs. That’s it’s it’s part of the fabric of that.
16:27 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Yeah, um, you mentioned being a kid in Montreal. Did you grow up in Montreal? I know you went to the National Theater School for a short time and then you mentioned that you were. You were cut at the end of the first year. Is that? Is that right?
I think now cutting students from from schools has become there’s. I think there’s been a lot more of a conversation around it than there used to be. I know in my own time, when I was at theater school back in the 90s, they were still cutting people twice a year when at the George Brown Theater School and a number of people were told at the end of the, at the end of each semester, well, you’re not going to come back, and a few people were able to like claw their way back to stay in the program. But that meant that you and a lot of other people, I think, who saw fellow students getting cut sort of found themselves living in fear through the rest of the their time at school. As far as you recall, what was your experience of being cut? I know that you’ve found it a formative experience, but I’m curious about about what was behind that, how you dealt with it and and how that affected you going forward.
17:48 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
I’ll mention that I had a friend who is at the Dome Theater School in Montreal, which is part of CJep, and my original plan was to audition for that, to go there. But a friend of mine who was in NTS said, well, why don’t you just audition for NTS? I mean like a rehearsal, to see what it’s like to audition. I said, sure, I’ll do that. And so I put a little audition together and I went and did it and I, first of all, they, they, you know, you do your audition and then they come to you later and you’re either they say thank you or they say, can you, can you stay? And they asked me to stay and I was, I was very surprised, and so they, they asked me to stay. We did a couple other people were, they had stayed to did some improv, that sort of thing. And then I got the letter. It said I was in and I couldn’t believe it. And so I, you know the Dome Theater School, suddenly, out of my you know that was gone. So, ok, I’m going to go to the National Theater School. And I knew it was a big, big deal. And I was told not by them but just by people who know this is the thing. You know, people get cut at the end of the year. So I knew right before it even started. You know, going in I knew this was going to be, this was something that that happens. Now I always thought this was something that they only did Now I didn’t know that other theater schools did this.
So when we started, you know, I remember a whole bunch of us, you know, the first years, our first years, sort of sitting in an auditorium. Oh yeah, we were sitting in an auditorium and we were just kind of looking at each other, sussing each other out and I’m sure everyone thinking you know, him, is it him, is it her, is it this guy, is it me? And you know, and you kind of go, it’s there like it’s this sort of Damocles that is hanging over your head pretty much from day one, so, and you’re always kind of it’s never far from your consciousness. And so when they tell you things and you know, and they often said to me you know, you know theater school. I’d been in the workforce for about a good five years before that I’d left high school when I was 17. And so this was a new experience and it was kind of liberating and kind of scary and you know, and so, and they had said things to me like you need to work on this, you need to do this, you need, you know, and I would do it. And this was something that was new for me that I could be disciplined in a way that I’d never been before and you know, and do things that were asked of me. And so, you know, I’d wake up early, I’d go into the school before we started, I’d work on these exercises they gave me.
I was like really gung-ho for it all and so, and I had a lot of issues, had a lot of my own issues of being a theater student and actor, problems, you know, problems with concentration, things like that. And so I knew that I didn’t really think that it would be me, but I knew, and in the end it was two of us and I remember being in the room with the artistic director and this associate and they just said I’m sorry, you know, we don’t. We think you’ve come far. You’ve come far for you, but it’s not far enough for the school. So that was a real interesting clue for me and I thought to myself I have come far, but it’s not far enough for them. And so you start to.
You know, what I started to think about was the kind of progress that we make, you know, being able to progress at your own speed, you know, and not at some institutional ideal. And so that was a new thing for me. You know, to sort of think, you can progress and make yourself better, but you just do it for yourself, you don’t have to do it for other people. So when they cut me, it was devastating, you know. It just is it’s rejection. Rejection’s never good. And so I thought to myself you know, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? Oh, I’m terrible, or whatever. And then you get over that part of it. And then you, and then I started to think you know, so, what am I going to do now? You know, am I going to? Am I going to be an actor? Do I still want to be an actor? And again, this was something very new for me Do I want to do this? And I think it takes a certain amount of courage to be able to say no, I really don’t want to do this.
And an interesting thing about those last sort of months in theater school was I started I hadn’t written at all during theater school but I was starting to think more about writing Some of the things they had asked us to do. We had an instructor named Michael Mossin and he had given us this very interesting project called a Vocal Mask. So you know what a vocal mask is All these little different bits and pieces that form a larger whole. I had we had a theme. My theme was sex, so we had songs and and all those things. So there was a kind of writing that came along with that, and so that got me interested in writing again and I thought, no, I don’t want to be an actor, I want to be a writer. So you know, I suddenly understood and I mean it was a tough transition but it was very. I mean, I got to know about myself, which was the great thing about it. It really helped me understand who I was and what I wanted and what was important to me.
24:10 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
So there, yeah, yeah, I remember, I think, going into I think you know, going into theater school in the first year. I think somebody may have mentioned that people got cut. Sometimes people got cut, but I don’t think any of us actually thought it was a real thing until we, until some of our classmates were no longer there or we had been told that we’d scrapes through or whatever, and it nobody said at that time that maybe we’d progressed, we hadn’t progressed enough for this school. They essentially said it essentially was sort of like you’re not. It felt like you’re not good enough and we don’t think you have a career.
And yet it’s so, and I think this is one of the reasons why I think it’s fallen out of favor and theater schools aren’t doing it so much anymore, because how the fuck do they know what your career is going to look like once you leave the school? I know plenty of people who left the theater program and had amazing careers, and so it’s unrelated to the school. So I’m happier that it’s out of that. It’s fallen out of favor because you can’t learn to be an artist when you are living in fear, like if you were afraid for the entire time that you’re in theater school, you can’t create art, so I’m glad that that has fallen by the wayside. Now, one thing that I’m interested in, because you’ve talked about writing. We’ve talked about writing. We talked about how you went to the National Theater School, but when was it that first made you want to be an actor at first?
25:43 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Hmm, that’s a good question. You know what? I don’t know what actually made me I see, that’s the thing is that I don’t have the fire in my belly to do that and I think I thought I wanted to be an actor and I think, see, friends of mine were actors. I had friends who became actors and I thought, well, they’re doing it, maybe I can do this. You know, and this was certainly you know, I was constantly always searching for what am I going to do in life, and so this just seemed to be something I could do. I mean, I had done a bit. I had done a play in high school and in fact I had been in a play prior to getting into NTS at McGill, the McGill players at McGill University. I was Inspector Foss in the Physicists Friedrich Dürrnmatt, and so I mean, it’s not like I’d never done it, I had done it, and so in fact I had been in.
I was supposed to be an extra in a film and they sort of gave me a line and so I’d done some film. In fact, you know, when they cut me from NTS, one of the things they said to me says you might be a good film actor. They didn’t think I’d be a good stage actor. So you know I, you know, and they might be right, I don’t know. I don’t consider myself to be, you know I, you know, as a writer, I have to go on stage and read, and that’s. I can do that, that’s okay. I’m not sure about the whole idea of how you create a character. I never quite understood how you create. I always played myself and so maybe that’s what they thought. You know he’d be fine as a, you know, film actor who just plays himself all the time. So I don’t know, but so I never. Sorry to answer your question is I never really thought of really being an actor. It wasn’t a burning ambition since I was a kid or anything. It was just something I wanted to try out.
28:08 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
I mean, not bad for somebody who just wants to try it out, to end up at the National Theater School. I kind of looked into it as how I felt. But I mean you met Ted Dykstra while you were there and formed this incredible partnership, so something definitely good came out of it.
28:32 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
I should say I had been out of theater school when I met Ted. He was in theater school, but I wasn’t in theater school. Oh, ok, yeah, so there. But yeah, I was living with someone who was in his class and in fact they had a typing room at the time because they had a playwriting program and so she was typing up some of my poems. He happened to come by, read a couple of poems and said write me some lyrics, and so boom bam. Really it was just like that, yeah.
29:09 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Nice. Now you went from Montreal to Toronto. What was your impetus for going from Montreal to Toronto? Just the arts? Well, no, because everyone.
29:24 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
I knew all my friends, and particularly Ted and the woman I was living with at the time who was in his class. They graduated, so they were all moving to Toronto and I thought I’m going to come along and do this too. So I did, and we continued writing, of course, and yeah, so it was mostly because I just wanted to continue writing, so yeah, yeah, yeah.
29:56 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
So you lived in Toronto for 17 years. What made you decide to move to Prince Edward Island, and was that culture shock when you made that change?
30:06 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Yeah, it was. It was a good culture shock, I should say. So what happened was in 1999, I met Thelma, who is now my wife but was my girlfriend at the time, and we met in 1999. We went to Prince Edward Island in 2000 because her parents were here, so we came just for a vacation and I liked it. I’d been here before in the 70s, and so it was nice. I said, hey, this is great. And we were staying at a cottage where her parents spent the summer, right near where their house was, and her father was not in the best of health. And her mother said we’re probably not going to use the cottage anymore, we’re going to close the place up. And it was like no joke, a moment of telepathy. We looked at each other, thelma and I looked at each other and we said, so, we’re moving here. And yeah, and we had bonded early on on the fact that we want to get out of Toronto, I mean, and so we thought about London or Guelph, staying in Ontario. But right after that, once we heard that they were going to close the cottage, we said, so, we’re going to move here, yeah, that’s what we’re doing. And so we did the next year, 2001, may. We just packed it all up, moved and, yeah, we got like.
I’ve lived in cities most of my life. There was a short period in 73 where I lived in England with my sister. We lived in the country and so I knew what country living was like. But you know, I’m here where we live. It feels somewhat a bit secluded not as much as it did then. More people live here. We’re right near a river and we’re on 22 acres of wooded land, so it really does feel secluded, but we do have neighbors.
And so there was this, this real, this I don’t know this kind of illusion that I’ve hidden, I’m hidden from the world. I want to be a writer. This is what I’m doing. I’m going to focus. I’ve been writing most of my life anyway. I am going to focus, I’m going to get published, I’m going to do all that stuff, and so, yeah, so I felt like I was, I was hidden, and so this is 2001 and we’re there in May. Our anniversary, just by chance, happens to be on September 11th, and so September 11th, 2001,. We’re going to celebrate our anniversary. I wake up and start reading about these planes hitting the Twin Towers, and so we sort of spent our anniversary just watching this news coverage the whole day and the whole evening, and that burst my bubble about feeling like I’m hidden. I’ve said I’m not hidden, nobody’s hidden, we’re all out in the open. It’s a whole new ballgame now. So yeah, so that’s how that was.
33:30 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
How would you describe the culture shock from coming from Toronto to PEI? It’s because I know the East Coast has a different pace than, say, the Ontario and especially the city of Toronto. What did you find that to be like?
33:43 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Well, it is slower and that’s why we came. We came for a different kind of life, a slower kind of life. It’s very, I mean, it’s an island, so it’s very insular. I mean I grew up on Montreal but it’s not like that. I mean this is very insular and it’s very. It’s. I mean they can be as friendly as can be and then, you know, it can be somewhat different suddenly.
And you know, to really be part of the island and be, you know, it’s about community, very much about things like volunteering. Volunteering is a huge culture here, and so you know, if you, a lot of people come from away and they come to PEI and they don’t like, they think it’s going to be like Ontario and so they don’t last long and so, and of course, living in the city, it’s not like I’m not anti-social somewhat, but you know I’m used to being alone and that’s just part of who I am. I like being alone and it sort of it helps me be a writer, liking to be, liking my own company, and so I’m, you know, I like my status of being from away or, as you know, the more PC phrase now is Islander by choice. So I’m an Islander by choice, but I, you know for me, being from away, that’s what writers are. Writers are from away, no matter where you are and where you’re from. You are not, you’re part of it and you’re not part of it.
And so, and also the writing community. I mean there are writing communities all around the island, but the big writing community is very Charlottetown centric and so I did get to know people there. I don’t drive and we’re quite far from Charlottetown so I don’t get there a lot, and so again, it’s like one foot in, one foot out, and so I think, if anything, what it really sort of brought home to me was this kind of duality in myself of being social and being not social, of being part of things and not being part of things, of being in it and always being on the outside looking in. So yeah, so that’s really it. That’s kind of. It’s kind of really solidified that for me.
36:36 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Yeah, yeah. Now I do want to talk about some of your other writing. We’ll get away from Dion for a second. Tell me about your novel, the Island Gospel. According to Sans, increase.
36:48 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Well, the Island Gospel, according to Sans Increase, is set on PEI and it’s about a painter, a reclusive painter, sans Increase, who lives in a fictional town of Mount Russet on PEI.
He’s from Toronto and so he is an expat living on PEI and basically he’s going through a block, a creative block, and he’s trying to work on a painting and it’s just not.
He can’t move any further with it and he is basically confronted by three figments of his imagination who come to him in the guise of Judas, iscariot, fagan and Shylock, and they, when they confront him, they identify themselves as messengers of a deity called the Supreme One. And the Supreme One has decided that the Middle East things cannot be resolved there, and so Prince Edward Island is going to become the new promised land, and to make that happen, samson Grief has to build the first synagogue on PEI to get these cosmic wheels going, and he reluctantly decides to do this and then is faced with many obstructions and different things that sort of try to keep him from doing it, and it evolves into a kind of political story and it’s satirical magic realism, and so it is somewhat funny. I keep being told it’s funny and I thought it was funny, but it’s nice to be told it’s funny too, but it does take a very sinister turn as it goes along.
38:56 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
I mean, I’m always fascinated by where ideas come from. What was you know? One of my favorite, one of the questions I hate to be asked as a writer is, is where to get your ideas from. Well, what I’m curious about is is the impetus. What was the germ of of this particular story that led to it becoming this novel?
39:15 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Well, once I moved to PEI I, I did start to write short stories set here and some poems set here, and I knew eventually I was working on a not my first novel is set in Montreal, but I knew eventually I would write a story set on PEI and the story I told you about, about the 9-11 happening, that that bubble being burst, that was the first impetus. So suddenly feeling okay, things have changed, a very profound change, and also discovering that there really is no synagogue here. We don’t have a synagogue. We’ve got all sorts of churches, all the denominations, we have mosque, we have a couple of Buddhist temples, but there’s no synagogue. And we do have a small but very significant Jewish population. And what I found out about that was when I when I discovered that was that they they are very closely knit for the most part. They have an email newsletter that goes around. I am now on that email newsletter and so they celebrate all the holidays basically by at going to someone’s house. Someone gets designated and it’s kind of like a potluck, and so that was very interesting to me and I don’t know what it was. There was something that felt very old world about it, and so so discovering that and discovering that there’s no synagogue.
Suddenly I knew, and for some reason I had this idea that I wanted to write a kind of I didn’t know if it was going to be a dystopian novel or a utopian novel or a bit of both. I didn’t know what it was. And so all this was starting to gel and I the gestation period was quite a long time, so it was quite a few years and I started writing it. I know I wrote a first, something that was kind of a hybrid of a first draft and a and an outline, I would say, around 2015, so 2014, somewhere like that, and that, and that was in third person. And then I thought, no, this needs to be in first person. And that, again, that was kind of momentous for me, knowing I had to find this guy’s voice.
And so 2016, things were kind of rolling in and, of course, donald Trump was elected president, and that that was when I started to really start to think about where is this novel going. And it’s going to take this very dark turn, because the interest of thinking about Trump being elected was that a lot of his base were evangelicals, and so there was this thing that said you know, god elected Donald Trump president and I thought what if that’s true? So what if that’s true? What is the end game for God Like? Is he doing it to just burn everything to the ground so we can start over and have a better world, as maybe that was? Could that be it? And I thought, oh so this idea of the supreme one. And suddenly all of that was coming into play and really then it was giddy up and there’s no stopping now.
43:01 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
When you were. When you’re writing, how much are you? Are you by the seat of your pants, do you? Do you plan it out, do you? How do you start out when you’re writing?
43:11 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
I there’s. I have done things like, like outlines. You know, for me an outline is a nice way to put down what you know and then forget about it and don’t stick to it like it’s a game plan. So, but for the most part I am very much by the seat of my pants. I just start writing and I don’t have any, I don’t use any building blocks, I don’t have notes, I don’t make notes, I don’t do anything like that.
I kind of write and then I re, I edit and revise as I go along, and then I do more of that and I sort of revise and edit until I’m sick of it and say, okay, I’ll. Usually I just don’t know what to do next. And then I kind of force myself to think about, okay, what’s coming next? And so I go along like that, and so I do a lot of rewriting or a lot of re-reading, I should say, of my, of, of what I’ve got, and so to a certain point I get to actually somewhat know it off by heart. I know where things are happening in the novel.
44:26 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
The author, neil Gaiman, talks about writing as especially your first draft is just discovering what the story is, and so you find what the end is, and then you go back and your first revision is to make it look like you meant to do that all along.
44:39 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
That’s true, you know, I, I, I took. I took writing two writing workshops with Alistair MacLeod and he told us he says I write my endings first. I want to know where I’m going and I couldn’t believe it and I said but he said that’s what I do. I said, okay, wow, wow, yeah.
44:59 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Good for you. Um, yeah, yeah. So how long? How long did the writing process for this novel taken? How does it compare with if you can compare previous works? How long, uh, did it take?
45:14 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Um, yeah, so I, I guess I started really in 2015 and I guess I finished probably 2020. I think I, I think I finished in 2020, but you know it’s really hard. Yeah, so five years and I, I would say my first novel was probably around the same. It’s really.
You know, the writing is one thing, and then there’s the searching for the publisher and, as far as I’m concerned, sending your work out is part of the creative process. You take a thing as far as you can, whether it’s a short story or a poem or whatever. You send it out, get it out of your hair for a little while. It comes back most likely it’s rejected and then you look at it with fresh eyes. So it’s like a very tidal rhythm. It’s message in a bottle, right, it goes out and it comes back. And so, because I do consider that to be part of the process, I often looking for a publisher takes as long, if not longer, than writing the damn novel. So it’s all part and parcel as far as I’m concerned. So 10 years, it could go that long.
46:35 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Hmm, hmm, yeah, yeah. Now speaking about the writing process and how long things take, when you and Ted Dijkstra started working on Dion, did he have an idea, as sort of one of the leaders of the coal mine theater, that there was a performance date in mind for that? Or was it like we’ll get this thing written and when that’s finally done then we’ll figure out if we could program it? Well, was there an update?
47:09 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
There wasn’t not at the beginning and, first of all, it was never. I don’t think it was meant to be done at the coal mine at the beginning. At the beginning, we talked about other venues and trying to find a venue, so coal mine was not on the radar for that, although Diana Bentley, the other co-founder of coal mine, she’s the producer I think the thought all around was trying to do it somewhere else, and so but I, you know, compared to Dorian, which took all this time. So we started writing in 2020. And at one point, ted came to me and said, oh, by the way, we have a musical director, bob Foster, and I said, oh, okay, that’s cool, and Bob had worked with Ted on one of his other shows, and so that’s how he knew him and he was very interested in this. I guess he’d heard a song I don’t know because we weren’t even finished writing it and then, at some point again, he said, oh, peter Hinton’s very interested, he wants to direct it. He’s not even finished. How does he know? How does he know about this? Like what? He must have heard a song. How can he judge anything? By one or two or three songs. You know and you know.
So things were sudden, like, compared to that one, things were suddenly going giddy up like galloping along, and so I said, okay, well, you know, we’ll get this done, no problem. And so we did. I think we finished it. Yeah, well, we did Ted, I mean, I kept sending stuff to Ted and he had to work on it, and Ted, you know, he writes the music and then he and then he demos it at his home studio and that’s a long process, and so it was done by the end of 2020.
And in no it, um no, he probably went into 2021, because we did a workshop in the fall of 2021. And, uh, I think he had just gotten music done, I think he had just gotten his, his demos done, and so, um, yeah, so then we had this, this, you know, this workshop, and I was thinking when could this happen? So I don’t think we had a date, and again. So then 2022 came, there was possibly going to be another workshop that it didn’t happen. And then there was a workshop in 2023 in the uh, in the fall, and by that time Ted said we’re doing it, a coal miner, it’s going to be in 2024. And I said, oh, wow. So it’s like no time has passed. For me, anyway, it feels like we just started writing this thing, so really amazing.
50:11 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Especially. I mean, I think I think you know you, you sort of describe the, the length of time that it took to write the last musical and that you must have thought you would be writing this one for years, when Ted first came to me.
50:24 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
I was worried about that. I said I, I don’t know Like really how long so, and I knew Ted didn’t want to have a long drawn out thing again too. So I just threw caution to the wind. I said I’m put faith in this. You want to do this and I want to keep writing with you because I, you know the we had, we hadn’t written for 20 years and we started writing again and it was. I had forgotten how much I missed it. Like I knew I missed it.
And the strange thing was that in the time when we weren’t writing, I still wrote lyrics. I was writing poetry, I was writing short stories, I was writing novels. But every now and then I had an idea. I said this is a song. So I write a song lyric and I go, oh, what am I going to do with this? I don’t, you know. And so so it was great. Like once we started writing again, I thought, oh, this feels so right, so good. So when he sprung it on me, he kind of did spring it on me said, hey, what about another rock opera? What about, you know, the back eye?
51:29 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
I went, oh, okay, so you know, yeah yeah, yeah, now you mentioned there’s been, there’ve been two workshops and now it’s. It’s going to be going into production very soon. As we record this, it’s really only a couple of weeks away, a few weeks away from going into production. I don’t know if you’re going to be able to see the, the final production, but if you are, what are you hoping to discover through seeing it performed or through being in the audience, or what do you hope comes of the show if you’re not able to be there in the room?
52:12 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Okay, well, first of all, I will be there. There was a question of whether I was going to be able to go, and that has to do with other stuff home stuff and things that are going on where, where I live. Also, I haven’t been off the island since 2019. And so this is a and I’ve got to travel in February. I’m looking forward to it, but I am not looking forward to that.
So, and I did you know what was I? You know, when I decided I’m going to do this, it was all still kind of up in the air in my head. I was going what’s this going to be like? What’s this? What is it? Is it like coal mine? See, I was at the first coal mine theater, because this is their new theater. They had a fire there, a couple in the old theater, and then they got donations and had a bigger. It’s a bigger theater, but the same kind of configuration basically just a flat space. It’s just a space that they configure into a playing area. So I had been in the first one and I said what, how are they like what? I know this is a bigger space, but what are they going to do? Like, how are they going to do this and is this going to be just kind of a glorified concert version or I don’t know what can happen here. So what’s been interesting is it’s now it’s in rehearsal, and so they’re the coal mine team have been sending out pictures, and so I’ve seen pictures of what the actors in costume I’ve seen one picture of the space where the set is being erected and it looks like it’s like out of Ben Hur, and so I thought how are they doing that? How does this happen? And there was a little snippets of video where I’m hearing Now I’ve heard them sing, I’ve heard it’s not the same actors, like only one.
I mean, yeah, I think only one of the actors know. Two of the actors who were in the original workshops have made it to this production and a lot of this are new cast that I’ve not met or heard before, and so I’ve heard bits of vocal, like I’ve heard them singing, and I go, wow. So the anticipation for me is like really rising and I’m going this is going to be crazy, this is going to be knockout, and you know, there will be a kind of how do I put it? Sort of an emotional part of this, of sitting there with Ted watching something of others on stage. So you know there’s going to be that and I don’t know we might just lose it and I have no idea.
55:22 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely, absolutely. It’s always a mix of emotions when something that you have created is presented, and so, especially when you mentioned, like that, that, that Dorian was worked on for a long time but didn’t have a full production. So now you get this, this full production of this, of this show, so that’s incredible.
55:47 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
But even with Dorian, we had two workshop productions and even that, you know, I’d never been that. For me that was big Ted. In both, in one of those productions, in fact, in both of them Ted played piano, and so he wasn’t watching it, he was participating, I was watching it and it was like I couldn’t believe it. You know, even though it was a workshop and it was kind of like a concert, it was amazing, it was amazing.
56:15 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
Yeah, yeah. Well, stephen, thank you so much. We’re pretty much at the end of our time. I want to thank you so much for giving me some of your time this evening. Thanks so much for talking about, about about the show, and I really appreciate it.
56:27 – Steven Mayoff (Guest)
Well, thank you for having me, Phil. It was a great, a great opportunity. I appreciate it.
56:36 – Phil Rickaby (Host)
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. Thank you.