I have been very fortunate in my life in the Canadian theatre.
As a dramaturg at Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary and through
my position at the Banff Playwrights Colony at The Banff Centre, I
have, since I started, had the opportunity to work with some
remarkable people. Canadian playwrights, actors, dramaturgs and
directors who are highly respected and whose work dazzles me.
And because I work closely with these artists, I often get to
know them. That opportunity isn't something I take for granted, but
it also isn't something that I let intimidate me. If I did, I
wouldn't be able to do my job. I would just sit quietly in a corner
with my mouth gaping most of the time. Not the best dramaturgical
bedside manner. I've learned, of course, that these remarkable
artists are still people. They worry, they get tired, they have bed
head, they wander over to Balzac's for a coffee on a beautiful day
in Stratford just like anyone else.
But about five years ago, as I was sitting at a large dinner
table at The Banff Centre, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed for
a moment, and there I was sitting quietly in the corner with my
mouth gaping. I work with a lot of different playwrights, and there
are so many whom I care about and whose voices I love to hear. But
in this particular moment I was overwhelmed because I was reminded
of the first Canadian playwright - the first playwright, really -
that I ever cared about. He was sitting right across from me.
It wasn't that I had forgotten about Daniel MacIvor; he's kind
of impossible to forget. But what I had forgotten in the many years
since I first started caring about theatre was a trip to the
Castell Central Library in Calgary when I was sixteen to pick out
the first monologue I ever performed in my high school drama class.
(Well, the first monologue I actually ever performed was
self-written and was from the point of view of Gloria Steinem. It
had the word bitch in it and it was exhilarating to say
that in front of my Catholic high school class.)
But the first monologue by a real playwright I ever performed I
discovered in the Canadian Drama section on the fourth floor of the
library. I was running my eye along the shelves: I didn't know any
of the playwrights, so I decided that if I liked the title or the
cover of the book I would pull the play out and take a closer look
at it. There was one that looked really new (the book hadn't really
been cracked yet); the cover was black and white; I liked the
typeface and the photo on the cover of a man throwing some chairs.
It looked intense and kind of wild. And I knew I had to follow up
the strong political statement of the Steinem monologue with
something really powerful, you know?
So I read House Humans by Daniel MacIvor. I ended up
performing a piece from it even though it was a man's monologue. It
was probably another youthful critique of gender politics. During
the performance, I dried and forgot the words but I still got a
good mark. And I decided that I really, really liked the play and
really, really liked this Daniel MacIvor guy.
I went on to study drama in university and read more plays, got
to know the work of more playwrights, but my heart always returned
to Daniel MacIvor. I wrote a paper for Canadian theatre class about
his solo work. I can't remember the title or the grade I got, but
for some reason I do remember the subtitle: "The anatomy of a
I discovered him in high school, but in university I discovered
other people who knew his work, who admired him and who were
influenced by him. I learned more about his collaborators, such as
Daniel Brooks and Tracey Wright. I saw all of his shows when they
came through Calgary and read his work eagerly. When I started
working at Alberta Theatre Projects, I discovered that many young
Canadian artists have strong feelings for Daniel MacIvor. I am
reminded of this every year when dozens of young, well-meaning kids
come into the audition room and do awkward versions of the diner
monologue from Wild Abandon. It is a rite of passage that
is shared by many. He has energized and shaped an entire generation
of Canadian theatre artists.
Somehow I had managed in the first part of my career to meet
pretty much every playwright I had come to admire except for Daniel
MacIvor. When I met him at The Banff Centre I was happy to discover
that he is a generous and charming man. But in the weeks before
this moment at the dinner table I didn't really think about the
huge impression he had made on me. Then, suddenly, as I looked
across at him that night over my second dessert, I vividly flashed
back to a very particular memory: Daniel's face framed tightly with
light on a black stage in the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary.
While I was in university, Daniel had come to Calgary to perform
his solo piece Here Lies Henry. Of all his work, it is
that piece that will always be my favourite. There was one section
in particular that meant a lot to me at that time. When I was
twenty. It is the final section of the show, and it begins: "And
so, say you die . . . and I know that's a scary thing because you
don't know what happens, so I'm going to tell you."
What follows is one the funniest and most moving pieces of
writing I have ever read. There were two pieces of dramatic text
that I found so bewitching at that time that I remember reading and
rereading them whenever I felt like feeling something - and as a
twenty-year-old drama student, that was quite often. One was the
final monologue from Sonya in Uncle Vanya (the Michael
Frayn translation). The other was this section at the end of Daniel
MacIvor's Here Lies Henry.
I still run my eyes over that piece often. When I want to feel
something, when I want to remember why I fell in love with the
theatre, when I want to remember what is possible. And I eagerly
await his new work, like The Best Brothers, because his
writing still gets me in touch with the things I value most. Daniel
MacIvor's work is energizing, spirited, honest, bold, passionate
and compassionate. It strives to express the inexpressible inner
world of the heart and asks us questions about what it means to
Thank you, Daniel, for leading the way. And I say that on behalf
of everyone who has ever picked up your plays off a library shelf
and discovered their voice through hearing yours.
Vicki Stroich is Artistic Associate - Festival at Alberta
Theatre Projects, Acting Program Director at The Banff Playwrights
Colony and President of Literary Managers an