Annual Navel Gaze 2019

As I say every year, I don’t do New Years resolutions. Instead, I take a look back at the past year and take stock of the things that happened, the things I accomplished, and then look a head to the new year and see what I want to accomplish. Its a great way to take stock of the year that was, and to both put what i want for the new year into the universe, as well as create accountability by putting these goals out for public viewing.

This year’s accomplishments:

  • I was finally able to perform The Commandment at home, at the Toronto Fringe. It was a real joy to be able to share this play with the home audience. We won North (519) Best of Fringe, and performed the play three more times in Orangeville.
  • My theatre podcast Stageworthy crossed the 200 episode mark, and turns four years old in the new year!
  • The podcast for introvert’s (The Introvert’s Guide To…) that I co-host with Jess McAuley continues to grow, and crossed the 15,000 listens mark this month.
  • I got a bunch of writing done.
  • I got a tattoo!
  • I did a little travelling. The highlight was a trip to Quebec City, though I would have enjoyed that more without the fractured rib I got two days before!
  • I started a monthly pub night for creative people. This came from my noticing that I am more creative when I surround myself with creative people. So I launched a very informal monthly night of getting together and talking about whatever comes up. And while the numbers of people have fluctuated, the conversation has always been good!

Last year, I set myself some challenges like “be nicer to myself” and to lean into my introverted “stay home all the time” nature. I had limited success with those. I don’t think I was as good to myself as I could be, I think in the later months of the year, I made some strides. I did not do very well at getting out and not isolating. For example: after the Toronto Fringe, I spent almost two weeks at home not talking to anyone.

So, for the year ahead:

  • My 50th birthday is coming up in April. I want to do something to mark and celebrate it. So my plan is to go to London, England (I’ve never been and always wanted to go).
  • I want to continue to find performance opportunities for The Commandment.
  • Last year, I said that I was going to finish my Christmas play and perform it this year, which you may have noticed I did not do. I’m still working on the play, and it continues to evolve. But I am getting there. And while I’m impatient to be done, I have to remind myself that The Commandment took me a long time to write too.
  • Keep growing Stageworthy and The Introvert’s Guide To…
  • Keep writing, and do it more. While I have written relatively consistently, I haven’t done as much of it as I want. I’m a pretty good procrastinator, so I often find things to do that aren’t writing. I want to get better at not doing that.
  • I have had an idea for a new play for Keystone Theatre, and its high time I pitch that idea to the gang (and also, it would be great to get the band back together).
  • I have also had an idea for a musical for a while, so it’s time I started sketching that out. I don’t write music, but I want to have the idea straight when I find a composer/collaborator.
  • Be more social. Get out to some events now and then, even though I am more comfortable staying home. And not to talk myself out of going (like I often do).
  • I said this last year, but I’ll say it again: do more things with friends. Yes, being a homebody is nice, but you have to go out sometimes. It’s better to connect with people in person than digital.
  • Take more photographs.
  • Post on this blog more. I realized as I was writing this that the 2018 Navel Gaze is the last time I posted.

How was this year for you? What are you most proud of? What are you looking forward to next year?

The Commandment: Breaking the Silence in More Ways Than One

Since 2005 much of the theatre I have created has been with Keystone Theatre, a Toronto theatre company that takes its inspiration from silent film. The plays that we create have all been in Keystone’s signature silent film style, which means that when I appear on stage, I wear white makeup, and most notably, I don’t speak on stage. My character might “speak”, but at no time do I make a sound. My “lines” are expressed through gesture and physical detail, but never through the spoken word. I have not spoken aloud on stage in nearly 5 years.

Rehearsing The Commandment has been a process of relearning how to do a lot of things I used to take for granted. Things like how to breathe and speak on stage. And how to remember lines. I went into this thinking that remembering lines would be easy, because I wrote the play. But writing isn’t the same as acting, and so the process of learning was not made any easier by having written it. I struggled with learning these lines more than I have with anything I have ever written or performed before. I think there are two reasons for that: first, its more lines than I’ve ever had to learn before, and second there’s some personal stuff in the play that has never been easy for me to talk about.

When I say personal stuff, I don’t mean that the play is autobiographical (I’ve never had god speak to me while I was using the toilet), but I did use writing the play to deal with the suicide of someone I loved very much.

When I first came up with the idea for The Commandment, I told myself that there was no way that I was going to turn it into something that might have any elements from my own life in it. This wasn’t going to be theatre as therapy or anything like that. It was going to be a somewhat silly, completely fictional story about a guy who finds himself in a bad situation. But it wasn’t working very well. It was missing something.

I had the idea for The Commandment, the premise, and I’d been trying to write it, but something wasn’t working. At the time, it was reading a little more like stand up act than a play. It had no emotional core. And I didn’t know where to find one. I didn’t have anything that I could draw on because I was fine, right? So I put the play aside and told myself there was nothing there.

In 2006, I picked up a copy of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. I’d heard about the play and was told it was blowing audiences away. I knew I had to read it. And it was good. But it didn’t blow me away. Until the last few pages of the play. Judas speaks to Jesus, for the first time, and he’s pouring out all his pain, and I feel something. Because he had this anger that I felt, and he is, in many ways, saying what I’d been hiding from. And then, he says “All I know is that you broke me unfixable – and I’m here”, and that’s what breaks me. Because that’s what I was, that’s what was pushed way down inside that I’d been hiding from. I couldn’t even start reading the final monologue of the play, because the floodgates opened. And I started to weep the same way I did at the funeral. And then I got angry. And I had to do something with that anger. I had to deal with it somehow. And I channelled it into The Commandment, and then I had the core of the play, its heart.

I had been so mistaken about my own emotional state. I thought that I was fine. I thought I had dealt with it because I had wept so much trying to deal with Erika’s suicide. I had known about her depression, it wasn’t a secret, but when she took so many pills that she died, that was a shock. I had assumed that she was in control, that her depression wasn’t as bad as that. But I had been so wrong, and in the days before and after the funeral, I wept until I didn’t have any tears left. And then, I thought I was fine.

But I wasn’t. I was angry at Erika, but it’s hard to be angry at the dead. We tend to forgive the dead and make them saints in our minds; we don’t “speak ill of the dead”. So how to deal with the fact that I was angry at Erika for what she did? I didn’t. I buried it. I held it in. And I told myself I’d forgotten it, that I’d dealt with it.
We’re a society that doesn’t do a great job of talking about death. We have lots of euphemisms that help us avoid the topic. Someone “passed” or is “no longer with us”. And when the death is a suicide, we have even more trouble with it. We don’t talk about that part. We don’t even have good euphemisms for that. The obituary might say that they “died unexpectedly”, but it will never say that they died by suicide. Even at the funeral itself, we’ll dance around the topic. And in the end, because no one is comfortable talking about it, the people left behind, the friends, the loved ones, end up feeling more alone and more lost, because they just can’t talk about it the way they need to.

The Commandment isn’t a play about suicide. It’s a play about someone in a bad situation, coming from an even worse situation. Its comes at the topic from the side. It’s not a play that throws suicide at you right away. The main character is dealing with some pretty big stuff. Like being a reluctant prophet, and his life being ruined. The play has this comedic premise (An atheist who finds he’s been chosen to deliver God’s new commandment), which provides a few laughs before it ever deals with the serious stuff. But when it comes, it doesn’t turn away. It says the words. And it looks the aftermath of suicide in the face, and finds some peace in the end.

The Commandment, a play by me at the Hamilton Fringe

I have been meaning to write about this here for a while. Every so often, I’ll start to write about this, and then either delete the post or just stop writing it. I’m really terrible at promoting my own stuff, though if you follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you’re probably more aware of this than if you just follow me here.

I wrote a play, and I’m going to be performing it. Of course, “I wrote a play” makes it sound like no big thing. But this play is a first for me: a solo play. And it only took ten years to do it. I actually finished a version of the play about a year after I started it, even tried to get it into the Toronto Fringe. But I wasn’t ready. I remember sitting at Theatre Passe Muraille that year, and as the draw got closer and closer to the Local 60 minute category, my confidence faltered and I started to hope that I didn’t get in. Of course, I didn’t. And I do think that’s good, because I was certainly not ready to perform this play then.

I came back to it on and off over the remaining years, until just this past year, I told myself it was time to dust it off and make it ready to perform. I entered the lottery for the Toronto Fringe, and didn’t get in (the odds are really tough on that one, let me tell you), but I was really determined this time, so I entered the Hamilton Fringe lottery. And I didn’t get in there either.

And then, just before Sarah and I left for the Farm for Christmas, I got an email: I’d been on the waiting list for Hamilton Fringe, and there was a spot if I wanted it. I said yes.

So, this play, ten years in the making, will finally see the light of day. And if I am completely honest, that scares the shit out of me. But I think it should scare me. While this play isn’t s confessional or autobiographical piece, it is still one of the most personal things I’ve ever written. And I’m going to perform it. The words I wrote will be spoken by me, standing alone on a stage in front of an audience. I think that should be scary. Doing something that matters to you should be scary.

And that’s even before I start thinking about whether people will come. And I hope you will come and see the culmination of ten years of work. You can buy tickets now, or you can buy them at the door. And you can follow the journey at

See you in Hamilton!

The Commandment Poster BW