In this final episode of Stageworthy, host Phil Rickaby talks with theatre and opera director, playwright and educator, Peter Hinton-Davis. In addition to his work work as a director, playwright, and educator, from 2005-2012, he took over as the artistic director of English theatre at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, shaping how Canada conceptualizes its national theatre. He is currently directing Coal Mine Theatre’s Dion, running until March 3 at Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre.
Stay tuned to the end of the episode for some thoughts from Phil Rickaby on the ending of Stageworthy.
Director, dramaturg and playwright Peter Hinton-Davis has worked across Canada with many theatre companies. He has been the Associate Artistic Director at Theatre Passe Muraille and the Canadian Stage Company in Toronto, Artistic Director of the Playwrights Theatre Centre in Vancouver, the Dramaturg in Residence at Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal, and Artistic Associate of the Stratford Festival. From 2005 to 2012 he was Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre English theatre, where he created a resident English theatre company, with actors from across the country, and programmed the NAC’s first season of Canadian plays.
His own plays for the stage include Façade, Urban Voodoo (written with Jim Millan) and a trilogy of three full length plays entitled The Swanne — George III: The Death of Cupid (2002), Princess Charlotte: The Acts of Venus (2003), and Queen Victoria: The Seduction of Nemesis (2004). Eleven years in the making, all three plays premiered under his direction at the Stratford Festival. In 2006, he co-created with Domini Blythe, and directed the solo work, Fanny Kemble, about the life of the famous British actress and abolitionist.
Transcript auto generated.
0:00:03 – Phil Rickaby
I’m Phil Rickaby and I’ve been a writer and performer for almost 30 years, but I’ve realized that I don’t really know as much as I should about the theatre scene outside of my particular Toronto bubble. Now I’m on a quest to learn as much as I can about the theatre scene across Canada, so join me as I talk with mainstream theatre creators you may have heard of and indie artists you really should know, as we find out just what it takes to be Stageworthy. This is episode 400 of Stageworthy, and this will be the last episode of this podcast. Stick around to the end of the episode for some thoughts from me about the podcast and why I’m choosing to end it now.
My guest this week is Peter Hinton Davis. Peter is a Canadian theatre and opera director, playwright and educator. He joined me to talk about coal mine, theatres, Dion, the power of mythology, his life in the theatre and much more. Here’s our conversation. I have to say this is a bit of a fan moment for me. I was a fan of your interviews when you were at the National Arts Center, and so I was very, always very happy and excited when a new interview would download, and in fact, it’s one of the things that made me think about podcasting in the first place. So thank you for that. And a little while back I had Stephen on the librettist for Dion and he told us a little bit about what Dion is about. But I’m curious. It’s always good to hear from different people what the show is about. Tell me what Dion is about.
0:02:27 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Well, I think it’s about the sort of central duality within human beings for freedom, for ecstasy, for liberation of our own identities, and a need for social order, a need to live peaceably amongst each other, and the show pits those two things as sort of polarized opposites in the ancient myth of the backup, where there’s Dionysus, who’s the god of intoxication, the god of duality, the god of wine, the god of theatre, the god of transformation, of confusion, of illusion, of all the things that, when we have a drink, does a good thing for us, like it takes us out of our head, it takes us out of our overly rational self, and we have this sort of out of body experience.
In contrast to that is this doomed city of thieves that was founded by Katmas and is now run by his grandson, penteas, who, in an effort to control a kind of curse of the city of people and uprising all over, legislates a very authoritarian, strict, rational, heady regime. And so Dion returns after many years to either perhaps free the people or exercise their own revenge. And it’s a very, very ancient story that appears in many cultures and like wine, where we need this ecstatic experience to take us out of ourselves if we take it too far or go beyond what moderation might be. We can become addicted, we can become crazy, and so it’s about those two forces within us and how they play out against each other, with each other, in paradox and contradiction with each other.
0:04:48 – Phil Rickaby
What was it that first drew you to this particular project?
0:04:52 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Well, honestly, because Ted called me up and asked me if I wanted to do it. Like you know, I’ve been a great admirer of Ted’s for a really long time and we’re of a similar generation, but, surprisingly, we had never worked together. We followed each other, we’re friends, but we had never done a project together. And so it was during the Great Patatomic lockdown that he called me up and said he was working on a rock opera version of the back eye called Dion, and I also love rock opera too.
I think it’s a really unrecognized great form, if not genre, but I’m, you know, jesus Christ, superstar, rocky Horror Picture Show, phantom of the Paradise, like Tommy, like these are incredible words that fuse a real populist form with a really epic and, you know, historical kind of idea and storytelling. So I thought that was this great idea to take the back eye and rock opera and fuse them together. For most of my career I’ve had this great fortune of sort of being primarily a theatre director who from time to time gets asked to do operas. I’ve done a lot of musicals and have had that privilege of not being, you know, cornered into one genre, and I love what the form of opera and musicals provide, and I also love the the gaff of what a play can explore. So the fusion of these things was really exciting for me as a director, and so I came on board very eagerly.
0:06:49 – Phil Rickaby
And I mean when Stephen was telling the story, it seemed to him that things I mean he was still working on it, things were happening very quickly in the background. Were you an immediate yes when Ted came to you, or did you? Did you take any convincing or?
0:07:05 – Peter Hinton-Davis
No, but there’s process. You know you have to consider are you the right person for it? Like as as talented as I think? Oh yeah, you know I’m not right for everything and I wanted to be sure that the knowledge I had, the spirit I have, the process that I have is going to be right for the piece, especially with newer. You know that, you know, so, you, you, you build a relationship, you learn each other and knowing of someone, being friends with someone, is really different than working with them. You know you have to be in the room and so coal mine was really great about having made a workshop in 2021 and another in 2023. And it was. It was great to let that evolve more organically and each step of the production workshops we would reassess, we would have conversation, we would respond and the piece would evolve and grow. It felt like a really natural partnership. Part of that process felt natural.
0:08:20 – Phil Rickaby
You mentioned, you know, trying to figure out if you’re the right person for the job of director of a show. What kind of things are you drawn to that that you think like what? What kind of things do you take into account for, like, am I the right person for this particular show?
0:08:40 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Well, that’s a really good question. When it comes down to it, I have to feel like it’s different. It’s something that I haven’t seen before, that I haven’t done a lot of before. I thirst new experience, especially so as I get older. Sometimes, you know, when I directed into the woods, it’s Stratford. After that people, oh, you’ve got to do this on time, you’ve got to do that spot-blank. And I believe listen, I would love to do another Sondheim, but that’s not on my pursuit. And for whatever reason, the Greek plays have eluded me. I’ve never been asked to do one.
I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been very interested in these ancient forms of theatre, not as a history piece or as a museum, but how do they land on us today? And it plays with this idea of tragedy, which is a very rarely done form in our own time. You know, we think about genre like comedy and tragedy, but actually, you know, what our contemporary theatre is full of is irony, irony and satire, and this has elements of irony in it, but it is a tragedy. So I was really drawn to. What are the theatre muscles to do that? What is the form of that? How do you fuse a very populist thing like rock music, with a very ancient form, and the inspiration of it is only half the work, because there’s a brand new piece that Ted and Steve have created. So it’s got all of that excitement and chaos of doing something brand new for the first time.
But I’m also really curious about how do these ancient stories land in contemporary years. How do they land in contemporary imaginations, like what does the back eye possibly mean to us today? And there are a lot of resonances and connections that really, you know, theatre is one of the western traditions of a festival of Dionysia and so the whole. What is the illusion, a world of reality that we live in? And where does tragedy sit in a contemporary time where we’re very importantly looking at what is theatre? What stories is it telling? Who is it representing? How does it speak urgently, necessarily, to the world?
So it had all the right challenges for me and I honestly try to do that with every play I get asked to do. And sometimes you take a job because you go. I want to work that’s the reason to do it, but more often than not you’ve got to go through that. Am I the right person for this job? Am I the right director to bring this project to life?
0:12:11 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah, you were talking about how you know these ancient pieces and how they land for us now and in our ears, and how we visually perceive them. I think that it’s interesting. You know, some people say that you could look at Shakespeare and some people say Shakespeare has been overdone and it’s not really relevant, and things like that, some people. But when you get to the Greeks, when you get to the Greeks, they had a style of, as we understand it, we think, a style of performance that seems very presentational and very foreign to us, and so it can be difficult to find the humanity in a piece that seems so distant. What kind of? I mean? Again, this is not that this is a musical, a rock opera, but what are the things that you see in those pieces that we do connect with, even though they may seem foreign?
0:13:13 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Scale icon, the kind of icon status of character and curiously rock and roll, like when you think about the God of Olympus or something you know, who have their immortal form but have these kind of immortal capacities that people worship, that people fear, that people pray to. You know, there isn’t a huge difference in my head between, you know, dion and Freddie Mercury or Lenny Kravitz or Lizzo or Edith Biafra. You know you can go like somehow musical icons embody something, God like something ideal and express something that nobody else can. So it felt possible, like for the first few workshops. It felt like, oh, we’re doing this rock opera adaptation or something like that, and that just fell to the wayside there you just feel like we’re doing the back eye but we’re using modern language. So the same spirit of a play you might have a modern poet translated or put it into a vernacular that we relate to and understand. That’s what the music really does. So it was this beautiful kind of fusion and rock and roll. Popular music is something that people have a visceral response to, so it sort of did away with it feeling obscure or removed.
And you know who knows how those ancient plays were really done. We have reports of them. We have a kind of a very dubious history of a lot of Western white European reframing of that work. He describes sort of the birth of Europe, like. Like it’s interesting, the word classical that gets used to describe this is is actually an 18th century word and it’s no surprise that the word class is embedded in classical. So it’s a word I tried not to use and think of these as ancient stories that have a lot of influence.
And you know, a big inspiration for me has been working with the cast in the two workshops and in this production of bringing people together of different backgrounds and different ages to go. How does this resonate and how does this land in your body, your lived experience, your history? And it’s always that collision, that connection, that two things, this ancient story and these modern people. And you know, like as a director in my 60s now I’m really interested in what speaks in theatre to a younger generation. You know, I feel like I have a lot of experience to share and to pass on, but it doesn’t mean I’m necessarily smarter or my ideas are better. So it’s really a key thing in the rehearsals of really seeing how ideas land with other people. So there’s something very collaborative in that process too.
0:16:43 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, there’s definitely. I think we can have all of the experience in the world, but I think that there are, when we’re working with people who are of different generations, we teach each other right. We teach each other yeah, anybody and I think that’s how we keep from having our opinions. Our lives, our minds stagnate by learning from each other.
0:17:12 – Peter Hinton-Davis
And sometimes, you know, like we do, plays that very speak to the world around us, that speak to our lived lives, and that’s an important part of what theatre does. But part of the challenge in a piece like this is taking on something that is so removed from us, like you know, like there are scenes okay, you’re a prophet, you’re half mortal, half crucified. You’re cursed because you planted dragons teeth and it reared up an army, like the scale of it asks for a different part of our human, our imaginative, inner God or goddess that is within us. And that’s trippy and you don’t want to get sort of generalized or appropriative or vague about it. How do you keep it real and how do you keep this scale that it demands?
And you know, like one thing I’ll say about the Bat Guy, about many things, is unlike Shakespeare, that is sort of overloaded. And I mean, with all respect, we’ve seen Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, but we’ve seen them many times. So they become all about interpretation. I believe that an interpretation is something you arrive at rather than something you begin with. And the Bat Guy is an open field because there are elements of it, there are qualities, there’s a character here that look like, oh yes, but we don’t know it in the same way, we don’t have the same expectation. And you know, we’ve just began previews a few nights ago, and it’s interesting with an audience to go. They’re figuring out their story as we’re telling them. They then go oh yeah, this is the part they’re learning the story, and so there’s something fresh in that.
0:19:19 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, there’s certainly something difficult about. I had some. I was talking to somebody who was they performed some Shakespeare and they were doing like the Dream in High Park and there are people who come with their Shakespeare and they want to follow along and there’s so much expectation with people when people know the plays that in some ways you’re right.
It’s about it becomes about them judging your interpretation of the play and how you’re going to do it and all that sort of thing, and it’s kind of fun to have something that is ancient, that we don’t know or that is as unfamiliar yeah yeah.
0:19:57 – Peter Hinton-Davis
And it’s like, simply put, every play was a new play at one point and it’s hard to know. The last 10 years I’ve been very happily involved with the Shaw Festival and it’s a very different thing when you’re doing Pich Malian, which is a play that people know and have a very fixed idea of what it looks like when it’s set, how it’s interpreted. They largely, through my fair lady, not even from the real thing is really different than doing like an undiscovered play by Edith Wharton that nobody has ever read and there are elements that are familiar from that world. But it’s the greatest treasure is to work on something that has got this newness to it and yet a recognition factor that occurs.
0:21:01 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, you were talking earlier about the way that the classical has class in it and some of these ancient plays have a reputation of being for a certain class of people like an upper class, but that’s not how they were written. They weren’t written for that. Most of the you know, we think about Greek plays and often we think about tragedies, but they were not the comedies and everything. They were not for the upper class. Everybody went Same for the theatre of Shakespeare’s time.
It was not necessarily all for the upper class, it’s for everybody and as soon as we take away that class aspect, there’s something there for everybody and it can speak to us.
0:21:45 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Because they have this beautiful plural kind of quality where they’re speaking to people of different stations in life, different genders, different cultural background, different identities at the same time. So there’s a lot of intersection in the audience that is invited in these stories, if you can get them right, absolutely no question. Yeah, when I went to theatre school in the late seventies and early eighties, you know, I was taught things, like you know, only titled people or rich people spoke verse and all the poor people spoke. I was so deliberately classes, which is ridiculous, and there’s an amazing thing and going to the theatre and, yes, seeing yourself, but also seeing people, your influence by people, you that you have an opinion about people, that you have thoughts about you see them as well. Yeah, and that’s a beautiful quality, yeah.
0:22:51 – Phil Rickaby
I remember one of the one of my experiences performing Shakespeare. I was doing a mid summer night’s dream and I was playing puck and one of the last speeches when suddenly it occurred to me that I wasn’t. It wasn’t like talking to nobody, right the soliloquies, the little speeches. You’re talking to the audience and I’ve I’ve heard, I’ve seen some productions I haven’t been at them, but I’ve seen videos of them where the audience does talk back, like they did in Shakespeare’s day, and that’s a magical thing to like to remember and realize that this is not like there’s no fourth wall here.
This is like a conversation with an audience and I think that kind of thing can break down the modern perceived wall between audience and and and these ancient shows.
0:23:41 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Absolutely, and it’s. It’s different with Shakespeare too, because you have a very different language and so you’re almost entering into a world of translation, because you know there’s always a little preoccupation with how clear it is, how understood the language is, how much do you launch into the poetry of it versus the realism, where we don’t have that on Dion, because it’s so, so the, the musical references are really familiar and present to us and in our ears, and so it allows the strangeness of the ideas to be magnified in a way. Now you shake it Shakespeare’s so hard because it’s kind of become a culture unto itself, yeah, the whole world of it. But this is is very unique.
0:24:40 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, absolutely. I always think about Shakespeare as something that it’s fun when you can like break that down and surprise that culture and do something they don’t expect. Sometimes they get angry with you, but it’s. It’s more exciting when you can sort of like sweep them away and talk to some other people.
0:24:57 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Yeah, like it’s, it’s important to distinguish the difference between tradition and convention. Like there are tradition and there are disciplines and there’s a rigor that is required to apply to something that is historically based. So you’ve got to do a different kind of work to specify and locate what an oracle is, what a curse is, what the gods are, what you know a demigod is. That that’s different than a realistic play. But that doesn’t mean that you adopt inventions of things and go well, you always do it this way or you always do it that way. Like the play sort of demand an immediacy, a modernity to bring them to life. And that is, it’s a great part of directing.
0:25:59 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, now you were speaking about about earlier, about Pygmalion and how people have expectations about how it’s going to be presented. You directed a modern day setting of Pygmalion in 2015.
0:26:13 – Peter Hinton-Davis
0:26:13 – Phil Rickaby
find that people, audiences reacted to that. Was there pushback on that or was it? Did it make the people see the show in a different way?
0:26:23 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Well, it depends who you speak to. Like there you go. There were people that loved it that went oh my gosh, I never thought of the play that way before. Oh, thank you. Another people will know how dare you? Like that makes no sense. You cannot do that play.
And you know and it came about rather innocently because I observed, like, like Shaw first wrote that play in 1914 and then revived it again after the First World War and then adapted it for the films in the 30s that every time Shaw revisited he kept updating it. So the kind of equipment that Henry Higgins had in 1914 was really different than the 30s. You know, carriages turn into cars and all of that, which is not what Shaw always does. Like Shaw, you never can tell is very strict about this play to set in the 1890s and must not veer from that. So with Pichmalion I thought, well, could you do it now? And it was also related to why would I direct it? Like to just do another production that had been done before the show had done, I think, seven productions of Pichmalion.
At that point I kind of went well, if we’re gonna do it again, let’s see, does that hold? What would it might be if it happened now? And you know all we changed was money values, a few locations, because locations in the play had changed their meaning in 100 years or so. And we changed bloody to fucking. And you know you read all this stuff about that scene where you know Eliza says stop, bloody likely. And you read about it in 1914, people could believe it and the laughter of the Shaw and I thought you could never do that, like there’s no way that moment is gonna work by saying bloody, and so we went to fucking and it stopped the show when she said it.
When the beautiful Harveen Sandu, as Eliza Dubell said, not fucking likely, the play stopped. It was very exciting and a very to me worthy experiment. That is good for Shaw. Like Shaw has been very entrenched in a kind of happy kind of always in period dress and sometimes that’s necessary. But I think those plays, if they’re going to be revived, are worth opening up again.
0:29:01 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of plays. You know, a doll’s house tends to be that way and things like that. They become like so stagnant and like, oh well, this is so formal and this sort of thing, and it’s like, how are we? You need to sort of like, dig into it, dig into the dirt, get the dirt under your fingers to make it mean something and to have it not just a period or a museum piece.
0:29:26 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Yeah, like I remember once you know doing I think it was Comedy of Errors or something at the NAC and it was a modern dress production. And you know, in that play it’s a comedy that pits the sort of wild, dionysian kind of spirit of Ephesus with the very rational, ordered Syracuseans, and twins separated at birth, and these two sensibilities collide. And so I thought what a funner thing than to set it now and make this Syracuse Toronto and make Wild Ephesus Montreal. And so it was playing with something we all live and can play with, and someone in the audience came up to me after our preview and said why can’t you just do the plays the way they’re supposed to be done? Well, what do you mean?
Like the way they’re supposed to be done is speaking to convention, not to any kind of tradition or clue within the text itself. So you know, if we want to revive a repertoire, we have to keep it living. That is a really important thing. To canonize something is to kill it. Yeah, and to just turn the works of Shakespeare or Eurepides or whoever into a trophy to put on the wall, yeah, I want the real echo, I want to breathe with it, to experience it.
0:30:59 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, there are some people who will say that Shakespeare should still be pumpkin pants and ruffs and things like that, and that is, yeah, some people.
0:31:06 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Sure, some people, and sometimes that’s a really cool way to do it. Like you know, going like looking at what our histories are, or our history is, is an interesting exercise too. Yeah.
0:31:24 – Phil Rickaby
Absolutely, absolutely. Now I would like to sort of talk a little bit more specifically about you and your life in the theatre, and I want to start with what first brought you to the theatre, what made you want to get involved in the theatre, and how did that come about for you.
0:31:43 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Well, I wanted to be an actor and when I think, when I was young and saw the theatre, I was really inspired by a whole other way of the world that the world could be and this world of heightened, heightened emotion and ideas. It was so attractive to me, it took me out of a kind of mundane experience and yet at the same time I also recognized the kind of bigger truth that it offered. It said to me yes, this is what life could be. And so I saw the actor at the center of that and really wanted to be an actor. And I went to TMU, then Ryerson, and trained as an actor and loved that time and really learned during that time that what I loved was rehearsing. I loved making it, I loved talking about how we would do it, I loved learning how people made success. I learned from the mistakes, from the risks, and that I didn’t love performing so much. I felt kind of sad as soon as the show went open. I saw all of my classmates go, yay, we could play it now where rehearsals are over, and I felt, oh, I really missed that part. And so, professionally, I weren’t professionally as an actor a little bit, but I found myself more and more engaged with directing and fell quite naturally into it because of this great interest I had in rehearsal. And then I thought, aha, the director is really the center of it. The actors have all the responsibility because they’re on stage doing it. But oh, the director gets to decide how we’re gonna do this, how we’re gonna rehearse it, what period we’re gonna set it in, what like all of those questions. And so I dedicated myself very, very, very seriously to directing for a very long time.
And then, as I started directing, more and more you become so aware that a big part of that job is some problem solving. You’re always trying to find solutions for things or opportunities for things or ways of managing great problems. And the playwright, john Morales, said, yes, directing is about solving problems, but playwriting is about creating problems that are worth that solving. And I went aha, yes, and there’s such a difference when you’re working on a great text and you’re given a really big challenge, that’s exciting, rather than a not so strong text where you’re fixing things. You’re just trying to make it work.
And so I became more drawn to playwriting and then integrated playwriting into my practice and my career sort of writing plays as well, and then it kind of all came full circle about 10 years ago where, like I realized, you know what’s really at the center, for all of the problem solving and power a director might have, all of the offers and initiations that the playwright offers is the actor is really at the core event, because the actor is the most living thing in the live theatre. Like, I can do very filmic, scenic things with design, I can shape forms as a playwright, I can do many things, but what keeps live theatre it’s most potent is the living actor with an audience. And so I returned to the stage in 2015 and playing basically myself in a play.
But it was a very important time because it helps me to realize, oh, this is what I ask actors to do, this is what it feels like to be inside, and you know, it’s what I tell my company all the time is like I don’t see myself in some higher position, but I do see myself very central to the leadership of it, and the key thing is I’m outside of it, so I can see what the effect of something in, but the actors are inside of it. They can tell me a lot about what it feels like to be in this moment, and so it’s a navigation, an exchange, collaboration between what’s inside and what’s outside. So I came out a long way and directing is really my heart. That’s really where I live most, but I love playwriting too, and I love acting as well, and I love designing. I love design.
0:36:51 – Phil Rickaby
I love it all. Now, at some point in 2005, when you took over as the artistic director of English theatre at the NAC, had artistic directing occurred to you before then? How did that come about?
0:37:09 – Peter Hinton-Davis
I was asked. I wasn’t offered the job right away. I was asked to apply. My first response was no, I don’t want to do that. Then, as I went to the interviews, I thought about it. I was, what was I, I don’t know 442 or something. I still had lots of energy and I really, really thought this is an opportunity I cannot turn down. And so I went for it and I did it for seven years and I kind of jokingly referred to it as my community service.
It’s a very hard job. It’s very easy to sit outside and criticize and being an artistic director is a huge responsibility and I have such high esteem for anybody who does it, whether it’s the National Arts Center or a smaller indie company. It’s a huge, huge job. And you know I did it for seven years. I learned funds and got to at the NAC, work with artists all across Canada and internationally, and but I also learned I know I don’t have that fires an artistic director that I see in others. You know I looked at Chris Abraham. I go. I don’t know how Chris does it. I don’t know how he gets such creative stimulation from that kind of pressure. And you know there are many Jill, jill, kylie, like incredible, there’s many great artistic directors we have. But I went no, this is not my true. I was exhausted, I was too tired, I was like I’m gonna nervous breakdown and all I wanted to be was in rehearsal. That’s really.
And so seven seasons was lows for me and, I think, healthy for a theatre. I mean, there used to be more change, but now change is so hard that we see people in artistic directorships for 15, 20 years. I think it’s good. Especially the big subsidized institutions should have a change of leadership, a change of voice, a change of perspective. So, like you know, it’s so exciting to think about. You know, marty Meridan being there, and then I came in, and then Jill Kylie came in, and then Nina came out Okay, but it’s so lucky to direct plays and all of those tenureships, and I was just there in the fall with Nina and seeing how Nina has flourished and what Nina is doing to the NAC is so exciting. That’s what it should be. It should be this continuum of passing, that tongue of exchanging, and the theatre stays alive in that way.
0:40:10 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah there has been in some theatres and some, especially some of the larger ones, where somebody will. Their artistic director will leave and they will go to somebody who sort of served under them, and so it almost becomes a continuation of the previous administration in some ways. It’s like you sort of see the continuation rather than sometimes bringing in. Somebody completely new, with a different vision, who wasn’t subject to the previous administration, can come in with their own vision and shake it up a bit.
0:40:42 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Yeah, I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way, and I’m not just equivocating myself out of a controversial opinion, because it is very hard and risk is a huge thing with theatres and it becomes increasingly so, particularly post COVID. So if a theatre feels its best, that someone has had a kind of succession plan, you know that they know how the institution works like. To be very honest, the first two years of me at the NAC was learning how the place were. The learning curve was so steep. So you kind of go, I want to do this, but I, oh, I had no idea it would cost this. I didn’t know how this word didn’t know how it worked with unions, I didn’t know how, like.
So you know the seven years, I feel the first two I was learning what I was doing and then I had two or three that were really good. Then I hit this ceiling, going okay, if I’m going to stay, I’ve got to really stay Right, and am I the person for that job? There you go, there’s that again. Yeah, like I say like I don’t really hold up my artistic direction as exemplary, because I did it, because I had the opportunity of the passion and I deeply committed to it, but I don’t have the fire for it, the love for it that many others do, and it’s a rare, rare quality.
0:42:08 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah for sure. Now, while you were there, we sort of mentioned in the beginning, you implemented or the interview podcast, or the interviews were happening, and I think they were done either before or after a performance yeah, like in a room and people from the show would come and there were audience members there. How did that come about? Was that something that was your idea or somebody come to you with it? And how did it become a podcast?
0:42:38 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Yeah, it was a bit of.
I mean, there’s always been a kind of leading thing with, like this was back in 2006.
So the whole notion of a podcast and all of that was not commonplace like it is now.
And the wonderful Laura Denker, who was the head of marketing and public, like she had this idea and she was so engaged we’d have, you know, audience events and meeting the subscribers and that kind of thing and she went this is interesting, like we should be able to share this the public or the kind of things that happen, you know, in the first day of rehearsal where a play is introduced to the company.
How could we open the door to that for a larger audience, both in the region but also nationally? And so that’s how that idea was born and we did them like before the matinee, after opening. So there was an audience that would come and some of them about to see the play that afternoon or some who had seen it in previews or on opening. And you know it was a great opportunity to just have a conversation with the artists that were there and talk to them about why they do what they do and give a kind of human face to people that they just know his name is or just think don’t have that kind of connection to an audience.
0:44:14 – Phil Rickaby
I think it’s always fascinating when we can show our audience a little bit behind the curtain. I think to audience members. Whatever happens in the rehearsal hall, in the dressing rooms, in the space behind the stage is magic.
0:44:33 – Peter Hinton-Davis
There’s a little bit of an electric to keep the curtain to sure yeah there’s a magic to that, but I agree, I do like sharing that because it’s always interesting people. You know people have interesting insights. They have sometimes don’t know how much time gets and doing a set change, yeah, yeah, or they go. Do you really do much of a show during previews? And I’m like, yes, I think shows change radically in previews.
0:45:03 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah, I was an usher at one of the mervis theatres during a show that was previewing and it was fascinating to be an usher in the room and see it change from night to night.
0:45:17 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Sometimes massive changes.
0:45:19 – Phil Rickaby
Little songs would disappear and be replaced with a new one between. It was fascinating to see how much actually goes into that process.
0:45:28 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Yeah, oh, it really is, and we learn to play with an audience, we have to learn it with them, and so that’s the biggest thing.
0:45:38 – Phil Rickaby
Now with Dion, there have been, I think, two workshops of the play before this, and, of course, workshops are a way to learn the play as well, whether sometimes they’re just without an audience and sometimes there’s an invited audience. As this show progressed through its process of writing and workshop and rewriting and workshop and reworking, and now that it’s about to be presented, or it’s being presented in front of an audience in its fully realized form, how has this show, what kind of changes have been made while this show has been going, and what kind of things do you learn in a workshop of a show like this?
0:46:27 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Well, I think the first iteration was more ironical. It was more of a pastiche on the old story. It had more of a commentary to it and it was really a song cycle. So there were a set of songs, there were great songs, but the narrative was a bit more musical. And the second workshop really focused on what the story was and so a lot of new songs got added.
The decision we used to speak some and sing some like a musical. We really committed to it being a rock opera, so it’s all a song. There’s a few rap songs in it that are spoken, but it’s very in a musical way. So the narrative really came into play and then, as making different decisions about casting and what influence that makes on it, that really grew. And then every workshop had a rewrite that followed. And then rehearsal is where you really get down to it. You’re really opening it up because there’s a kind of hunting mode to a workshop, because you hold on to possibility. But when you get into rehearsal people go, ok, I’m going to have to actually perform this. So you get a bit more rigorous in that way. And not that people were not rigorous in the workshops, they certainly were. But you could go. Sure, I can’t let this be a bit loosey-goosey where you’re in rehearsal. You want it to be more specific?
0:48:07 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah. Now you mentioned that the show has seen some preview audiences. Yeah, what has surprised you about the audience reactions to the shows, as they’ve seen this fully realized show for the first time?
0:48:24 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Well, that they don’t know the story that has been wild and that tragedy is rare, and that it’s wild to be in the coal mine, which is a very intimate space, so you don’t even have the distance of it being removed. Like the audience is removed from the action, like hey coal mine.
You’re right there. It’s intimate, so it’s intense, it’s very immersive, it’s very trippy. And so to have people come to it cold and not necessarily go, ok, we’re going to go see the back guy, they go, oh, I see a rock opera, it’s going to be fine, or whatever, and they go, whoa. So they’re surprised and they’re contending with it. That’s what I find really interesting. And then we’ve had two previews, in each audience very different. So, it will be different every night.
0:49:21 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah, that is, that is, that’s the. It’s amazing.
0:49:25 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Like they do the same show, the same songs, the same actions, but they land in people so differently.
0:49:30 – Phil Rickaby
Hmm, Because the audience is different and that’s sort of the theatre thing. Yeah, exactly that group of people will never assemble, so they will never react to this way again.
0:49:41 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Yeah, those things yeah.
0:49:43 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, yeah. Well, peter, thank you so much for joining me this evening. You’re very welcome. I appreciate you giving me your time, and I’ve been an immigrant for a while, so it’s a real pleasure to have spoken to you.
0:49:57 – Peter Hinton-Davis
Thank you so much.
0:50:05 – Phil Rickaby
As I mentioned at the top of the episode, this is the final episode of Stageworthy. Before I get into why I’m ending the podcast, I want to say that it has been a privilege to host this podcast and to talk to all the artists I’ve spoken to over the eight years of this podcast. In 400 episodes I’ve talked to over 800 guests, sometimes one-on-one, sometimes in groups. Give or take some repeat guests. When I started Stage Reading in 2016, I was inspired by theatre podcasts I’d heard that covered the US theatre scene and I wasn’t seeing much of that in Canada. There was also the fact that there wasn’t a lot of theatre coverage here and Canadian theatre artists rarely got the opportunity to be interviewed in any media. My goal with Stageworthy was to elevate the voices of Canadian theatre makers, to give theatre lovers a chance to hear from the artists they see on stage and to help the artists get heard by their fellow creators across the country. I wanted to share the talented artists we have in this country with the country. I made a commitment when I started to put out an episode every week and, with the exception of a couple of times when I put the podcast on hiatus, I did that, as challenging as it sometimes was, and I’ve now done it 400 times.
So why am I choosing to stop now? There are several reasons. For one thing, I’m tired. Eight years is a long time and 400 episodes is a lot, all while balancing a demanding full-time job, my own writing and performing, as well as a personal life. When I started Stageworthy, I wanted it to be as low impact to my life as possible, so I rarely edited the conversations and would just tag on an intro and an outro. But even with that, there’s finding guests booking time with them doing the episode. And even the little editing I do takes time and I create images for each episode. So I guess it wasn’t as low impact as I ultimately wanted it to be.
But all of that is still a lot of time that I am not getting paid for, and while I’m putting this effort into Stageworthy, I’m cutting into the time that it could be spending working on my own projects. Also, over the eight years of doing the podcast, I’ve never made enough money to cover the costs of the podcast, let alone pay myself for all of the time. I think I estimated the time cost. It would take me maybe an hour and a half for each episode, maybe two hours for each episode, and that is just the editing time, not the time that it took to find the guest and record it and all of the other stuff. So I never got paid to do the podcast.
All of the costs of keeping this podcast going from equipment to audio hosting to website hosting, recording services and everything else that I’ve done to try to keep the podcast going all of it came out of my own pocket and I just I can’t keep doing that, and there are things that I really did want to do with Stageworthy. I would love to have been able to explore theatre scenes across the country, to actually go and experience theatre around Canada and talk to as many of the people who make it as I can. I also thought of doing a series on the history of theatre in Canada, a look back to understand the present. There were other ideas too, but each of my ideas for special series or projects would take more time than I can give and would require more money to do well, so ultimately, I’m going to say goodbye to Stageworthy so that I can concentrate on my own work.
I have loved getting to meet all of the artists I’ve interviewed. Every one of them is an incredible artist and I encourage you to go back into the past episodes and get to know an artist whose name you don’t know. The archive will remain on Stageworthy.ca and on all the platforms you currently listen on. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to do something with Stageworthy later on, maybe a pop-up podcast now and then Maybe something else. I don’t know, but this is the end of Stageworthy as a regular podcast. If you’ve been a listener of Stageworthy, whether a regular listener or an occasional one, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It’s been my genuine pleasure to present this podcast. Thank you for listening and, to each and every one of my guests, thank you for making the podcast something worth listening to.