An interview with Daniel MacIvor

In December, Ruby Slippers Theatre mounts a production of Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View. One of five published in MacIvor’s Governor General’s Award-winning collection, I Still Love You, it runs December 4-13 at Performance Works on Granville Island, and December 16-19 at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby. What makes this show unique is that MacIvor is also directing Colleen Wheeler and Diane Brown in this production.

Ruby Slippers’ publicist Rebecca Coleman interviewed MacIvor about the play, growing up in the Maritimes, and that forgotten CBC-TV show: Twitch City.

RC: How did being from Canada’s East Coast affect the person you became?

DM: I think of myself first as a Cape Bretoner, that’s somewhat different than being from New Brunswick or even mainland Nova Scotia. I am an Islander. That is, I’m sure, something that someone from Newfoundland understands. When one is raised on an island one is always aware that the earth ends at a certain point. Especially an island like Cape Breton, small enough to circle in single day. One can walk or drive only so many miles until land stops and water begins. Then, one turns and heads in any other direction and soon enough land ends again. I imagine that instills in me a respect for endings and a perspective that I am on the earth rather than owning the earth. Also island life – a feeling of disconnectedness from the larger world – supports certain elements of old-world living like storytelling. Having been born on Cape Breton probably makes me more naturally a storyteller.

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RC: What was the first play you ever wrote? Was it an abysmal failure, or were you proud of it?

DM: It took me many years of writing before I had an abysmal failure. I had to develop a whole bunch of expectations and an unhealthy concern for the approval of others before I could fail that profoundly. My very first play was “One Arm Free” about some kind of king character who was tied to a throne but had … you guessed it … one arm free. It was an absurdist thing influenced by “Ubu Roi” and Beckett I think. It was never produced and I’m not even sure I showed it to anyone. My first real “play” – as in people actually read it and it was produced – was called “Blue Bells” and I wrote it my first year in the theatre department at Dalhousie University in Halifax. It was based on my parents volatile/passionate relationship. My classmate Amy House and I ended up doing it in one of the school’s studios as an independent project. It was directed by my acting teacher John Dunsworth. I was a minimalist even then, the set consisted of two chairs. We went on to perform the play at the University of Cape Breton’s One Act Play Festival and it won every award they offered. Including Best Set Design. So I guess it was something to be proud of.

RC: Do you like to write old-school: pen-to-paper, or do you like to write on a computer?

DM: I often start on paper with notes and then move to my laptop once I have a sense of structure in place. The whole process of playwrighting feels architectural to me and the computer supports that. However these days I feel laptop writing is old-school – people are probably writing plays on iPhones now.

RC: Do you prefer writing to acting?

DM: I like both. Writing connects me to something more personal and acting connects me to a broader sense of humanity. In terms of acting I think I’m best with my own writing. I haven’t done a lot of theatre acting in other people’s plays. The last time was over ten years ago in a Morris Panych directed revival of Judith Thompson’s “White Biting Dog”. I think I may have rather sucked in the role actually. When I’m going through customs I identify myself as “writer”. So I guess that’s how I see myself.

RC: Twitch City was a brilliant show. Like all brilliant shows, it died quickly. What was your experience of working on that show?

DM: I had a great time doing Twitch. It was a family affair. Socially we were all part of the same gang, so it felt more like a theatre thing than a TV thing in terms of energy on set and around the show generally. The show was originally conceived by Don McKellar and Bruce MacDonald as a 90 minute TV movie, but the CBC convinced Don to create a one-season-only series instead. When the first season went well the CBC wanted another cycle of shows. Don didn’t want to do it again so Bruce asked me to write a treatment for a second series. I wrote up a scenario of twelve episodes where Curtis (Don’s character) and Nathan (my character) are in high school back in the 70’s and trying to get Trooper to play the high school prom. Each episode was named after a Trooper song. In the final episode we ended up having Trooper cover band play the prom. The cover band was to be played by Sloan. Don looked at the treatment and immediately agreed to write a second season on his own.

RC: I love the story of how you created da da kamera. Independent theaatre artists who are struggling to make it and produce our own work look up to you, because you made it! Do you have any words of advice?

DM: I think the best advice is Don’t Make Money Your God. If you worry about money, money will become a problem. Don’t worry about money. Just do it. (I think I said that before Nike.)

RC: How did you get into blogging, and what are your thoughts on it?

DM: Blogging keeps me grounded. Also, I love photography and since I use a photograph with each post the blog means I’m always looking for photographs as I move through my day. I try to blog every day and it forces me to consider how to talk about what I’m doing. For the most part I blog only about work related stuff. And I try to keep it as positive as possible. If I see a show I don’t particularly like I won’t usually blog about it. There’s enough negative shit out there.

RC: Many of your plays are set in surreal other-worlds. Can you say a little about why that is?

DM: Theatre is a surreal other-world already. I’m just using the truth of the medium.

RC: What are your thoughts on Vancouver?

DM: When I was first in Vancouver in the mid-80’s – (I was going to move there – it was for “love” – never do that) – I remember being absolutely confounded about why people would drink decaf-cappuccino and then go running. Now I drink decaf-soy-lattes and go to the gym five times a week – Vancouver was twenty years ahead of me. One of the things I love about Vancouver is how light and dark it is at the same time. The brutality of Hastings and Main up against the beauty of Stanley Park. This kind of juxtaposition is a reality of life on earth and what a real city is made of.

RC: What is A Beautiful View about, and what inspired you to write it?

DM: A Beautiful View is a love story about friendship. I wrote the play as a response to how we have become so comfortable with labeling ourselves and our relationships, even when those labels are restricting. The star of the play really is the friendship between the two women, that means that beyond everything else it’s all about what the actors bring to the play. I’m very excited about working with Diane and Colleen – I’ve been a fan of them both for some time.

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Photo credit: Tim Matheson

RC: Why should people come and see A Beautiful View?

DM: Because it will make you laugh and remind you of the exquisite sadness of being.

For more information on Daniel, or to read his blog, visit his website.

For more information on A Beautiful View, visit the Ruby Slippers Theatre website.

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