#108 – Audrey Dwyer
Audrey Dwyer has been a theatre artist, teacher and mentor for over fifteen years. She was a mentor for the Summerworks Leadership Program and led the program in 2012 and 2013. She was the Assistant Coordinator and Educator for Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip program from 2008 to 2010. She has taught improvisation with TIFF and leads screenplay courses for young women. Her theatre credits include: Blue Planet (YPT), One Thing Leads to Another (YPT – Dora Awards for Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding New Play), Patty’s Cake (Carousel Players – Dora Award Outstanding Play), Danny, King of the Basement (Roseneath Theatre). She won The Cayle Chernin Award for Theatre (Playwriting) in 2015. Audrey was the Associate Artistic Director of Nightwood Theatre and was the Artistic Director of Cow Over Moon Children’s Theatre. Audrey graduated from The National Theatre School.
A hilarious and provocative look at class, race, and appropriation, Calpurnia invites us into an outrageous and unexpected evening at the home of a wealthy Jamaican-Canadian family. As Justice Lawrence Gordon (Andrew Moodie) prepares for an important dinner to introduce his son Mark (Matthew G. Brown) to a Senior Partner at a prominent law firm (Don Allison), his daughter Julie (Meghan Swaby) grapples with her new screenplay. Seeking to redress To Kill a Mockingbird through the perspective of Calpurnia – the Finch family maid – Julie, privileged and disconnected from domestic work, turns to her long-term Filipina caregiver Precy (Carolyn Fe) for research on servitude. But as Julie examines mammy culture from the inside out, her tactics are met with explosive results.
A Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre Co-production
Written and directed by Audrey Dwyer
January 14 – February 4, 2018
Phil Rickaby, Audrey Dwyer
Phil Rickaby 00:02
Welcome to Episode 108 of Stageworthy, I’m your host Phil Rickaby Stageworthy is a podcast about Canadian theatre makers featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. If you want to drop me a line you can find Stageworthy on Facebook and Twitter @stageworthypod and you can find the website at stageworthypodcast.com. And if you want to find me I am on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby and you can find my website is philrickaby.com. My guest this week is playwright and actor Audrey Dwyer. Audrey’s play Calpurnia, produced by Nightwood and Sulong theatre runs January 14 to February 4 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto. Just one note. During our conversation, Audrey mentions police officers in schools and recently, thanks to the efforts of Black Lives Matter the Toronto District School Board decided to end that programme. Here’s our conversation. You studied at the National Theatre School?
Audrey Dwyer 01:18
Phil Rickaby 01:18
but before that, what was it? Like? When did you know the theatre was a thing for you?
Audrey Dwyer 01:27
Well, I was raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. And I went to the University of Manitoba for a couple of years, I studied English literature and theatre. And I thought I wanted to be a journalist. And then I thought I’d much rather be inside the story, then tell the same story that everybody else is doing.
Phil Rickaby 01:56
So you were you were already studying theatre when you were at the University of Manitoba? Yeah. So did you been exposed to theatre much before that?
Audrey Dwyer 02:02
Yeah. I mean, I did some Theatre in church. I was in the school play. And I yeah, I just did like a show here, a show there. Did a fringe show like
Phil Rickaby 02:17
I was gonna ask fringe because you know, in in Winnipeg, you can’t really there’s no way to avoid fringe. It’s such a central thing.
Audrey Dwyer 02:24
Phil Rickaby 02:27
Did did the fact that that was such a major part of the community there sort of inform the theatrical direction?
Audrey Dwyer 02:36
Yeah, definitely. I did a few fringe shows. improv is also huge and want to pay and so I did a lot of improv to. I did my first professional show at the Manitoba theatre centre. Okay. It was the crucible. And that was, that was an excellent and fun time playing one of the like, wild girls in that play. But it was after, after that, that I felt like I wanted to get more training, work on my voice work on my physicality.
Phil Rickaby 03:08
And so is that, did you hope to get that from University of Manitoba? Or is that something that you could get from the National Theatre?
Audrey Dwyer 03:15
Well, actually, like I was being directed by Martha Henry in that production in The Crucible. And we were in the stairwell, just sort of like hanging out. And she said to me, have you thought about, like, doing this professionally, like? And I said, Yeah, I think I’m going to go to Vancouver and try to be on The X Files. Yeah, she was like, Oh, well, you know, if you, you know, go to Theatre School, you will be able to develop your voice. You’ll be able to develop your physicality so that you can have a long term career. And basically, like, have longevity in the industry.
Phil Rickaby 03:59
Audrey Dwyer 03:59
So I auditioned and then I got it.
Phil Rickaby 04:02
Nice. Was it the only place you auditioned?
Audrey Dwyer 04:05
It was the only place I auditioned. Yeah,
Phil Rickaby 04:09
it’s pretty good. Yeah. How was it there?
Audrey Dwyer 04:12
It was, like, huge. You’re constantly in class. You’re constantly pushing yourself. I think the greatest lesson I learned there was awareness. Being aware of yourself and how to get what you need, by being aware of what you need.
Phil Rickaby 04:39
Was it was it difficult to change provinces?
Audrey Dwyer 04:45
A little bit.
Phil Rickaby 04:45
Audrey Dwyer 04:45
Yeah, it was. It was such a such an interesting time, like finding a place to stay. I didn’t know how to speak French and my mom came with me and we looked for apartments together, which is, I think a little nerve racking for us both, I wanted to be close to the school. I wanted to be close to the grocery store, you know, she was very worried about me being away from home for the first time. But we found a place that was, you know, a few minutes away from the school, so is easy to get there and back.
Phil Rickaby 05:20
Do you think it would have been easier to do that without your mother is does having your mother help you find a place add an element of stress?
Audrey Dwyer 05:32
Well, you know what I was, how old was I was 19 when I had my first time away from home. She definitely helped. I didn’t find it too stressful with her. What was hilarious with both of my parents is that they helped me pack my suitcase. And when I when I got to my apartment, and I opened it up, there were 17 rolls of toilet paper. And five tubes of toothpaste.Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 06:11
Go to make sure you get those
Audrey Dwyer 06:12
Yes, yeah. They just wanted to make sure that I was okay.
Phil Rickaby 06:15
Nice. Did you, were you writing when you were there?
Audrey Dwyer 06:20
We had a playwriting class. And but that wasn’t my focus at all. Like I was way more interested in being an actor. I think I might have written a monologue or two, but definitely wasn’t really focused on that.
Phil Rickaby 06:37
Sure. When did you start focusing on that?
Audrey Dwyer 06:41
I think a few years after I graduated, I graduated in 2001. I started to feel like I needed to write parts for my friends. I needed to, like, just give my friends things to do that they wanted to do on stage and not play stereotypes. So I I started writing, I started at Nightwood theatre’s write from the hip programme. And at that time, we just had to write like a 15 minute piece. And yeah, I wrote a piece about a young woman burning her house down. And it, you know, it was what it was. But that’s that’s how I started. And then I started working at second city in their touring company. And I took a bunch of improv courses and writing courses there because I wanted the challenge of comedy.
Phil Rickaby 07:46
Audrey Dwyer 07:47
And from there, I wrote another piece and then Calpurnia.
Phil Rickaby 07:56
Is there something that you were surprised to learn at second city that you hadn’t learned? In any of your other?
Audrey Dwyer 08:05
Yeah, I mean, what I think one of the things that I left with was the immediacy of comedy, and always protecting the person with the lowest status. So if you’re making a joke, it’s not good enough to make fun of the person who has the least amount of power at the end of the scene, they should have the most power
Phil Rickaby 08:31
is that? I’m thinking about like old comedy, where I don’t think we always did that. Is that something relatively new for second city? Or is that has been Do you think that’s been something that’s been there for a long time?
Audrey Dwyer 08:44
I actually I don’t know. Okay. I don’t know. I don’t know. Like, I don’t know, if they felt like it was a necessary thing for politics. Or if it was about, we can’t have an audience of X amount of people laughing at the person with the least amount of power.
Phil Rickaby 09:10
Make sense? It makes a lot of sense, actually. Because I think that an audience today won’t go with that. Yes, we will. Will. We will side with that person.
Audrey Dwyer 09:24
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about where we’re at in the world right now. Yeah. You know, we’ve evolved, and that’s what entertainment is supposed to do. That’s why Theatre and Film and all of these art firms are supposed to do they’re supposed to move us forward so that we’re not laughing at jokes about like, hitting your wives to silence them. That’s not funny anmore, right, but it was before and people could relate and that was a beautiful, wonderful thing. But many years later, we know that That’s not funny.
Phil Rickaby 10:01
So we have such a hard time looking at those things now.
Audrey Dwyer 10:04
Phil Rickaby 10:05
Our parents thought this was hilarious.
Audrey Dwyer 10:07
Yeah. It’s exciting. It’s really wonderful.
Phil Rickaby 10:10
Yeah. So Calpurnia is about while it’s certainly about To Kill a Mockingbird,
Audrey Dwyer 10:22
Phil Rickaby 10:22
It’s about the the maid?
Audrey Dwyer 10:24
Phil Rickaby 10:24
Okay. So tell me a little bit about about this play.
Audrey Dwyer 10:28
So Calpurnia is about a number of different things. It is inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird and if you see it, you will be able to enjoy it even if you don’t know anything about To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s enough action within it that you’ll be able to see it as like a fully realised platter. But in it, Julie is trying to reclaim To Kill a Mockingbird by writing a screenplay from the focus of the Finch family maid, Calpurnia.
Phil Rickaby 11:04
is strange, because I’m as you’re saying, you know, we don’t know To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m thinking they’re still teaching that school, right?
Audrey Dwyer 11:11
Phil Rickaby 11:11
we all if we went to public school, we’ve read it whether or not we used Coles notes or cliff notes or something like that to get through it. We’ve all we all have some kind of connection with it.
Audrey Dwyer 11:22
Yes. If you haven’t read the book, there’s a huge chance you’ve seen the film.
Phil Rickaby 11:27
What is it that drew you to calpurnia?
Audrey Dwyer 11:31
Phil Rickaby 11:32
Audrey Dwyer 11:33
well, I was doing a play where I was playing a maid. And one of my co actors remarked that the character I was playing was so strong, because she was so silent. She was being berated racially. And she, she didn’t speak up. And so he felt that I was really strong because I was silent. And I thought that was interesting, because that wasn’t necessarily a choice. playwright wrote those, those lines. It was an interpretation. And I immediately became curious as to like, why he felt that was a sign of strength.
Phil Rickaby 12:20
Audrey Dwyer 12:21
Anyways, we spoke a lot about it. And he revealed that the that stereotype is reinforced through literature, which makes him believe that these women are silent, strong and silent. These women, these maids, and I thought I don’t I don’t think that these women were so silent. And that’s what inspired me to one of the things that inspired me to like work on this piece.
Phil Rickaby 12:45
It’s true. I think that there’s silence in – that we see in the portrayed in movies, there’s a lot of, of that silence. But I wonder whether that’s a that’s a white person’s ideal of what the servant should be, is seen and not heard and sometimes not even seen. So I wonder that’s, that, if that’s his experience with that role, then then it’s no wonder that he was like that strength?
Audrey Dwyer 13:09
Yeah, possibly like mammy culture. And that specific stereotype is very intentional. I did a lot of research research on mammy culture. And I discovered that one of the reasons why these maids are silent or asexual or almost without a personality is so that these classes that are engaging with either play a film or a novel, they can feel like they’ve done nothing wrong by having a maid. Usually, those maids weren’t paid. Well, a lot of them were assaulted. A lot of them had terrible work experiences. They were not the wonderful family mothers that we have been taught to believe that they are. So it was, it was a very enlightening time to understand what the function of that made was. Yeah,
Phil Rickaby 14:09
it’s interesting, because, you know, as we record this, we’re heading into the Christmas season. And one of the one of the popular movies at this time of years, It’s a Wonderful Life, which I have mixed feelings about because whenever we see the family at home when they’re in the past, they have their maid that is taking a lot of shit from the younger son.
Audrey Dwyer 14:36
Phil Rickaby 14:37
And they’re playing it off like Oh, she’s she’s into it, but she doesn’t really have an option there except to play along
Audrey Dwyer 14:44
Phil Rickaby 14:45
it’s a really kind of uncomfortable – They’re uncomfortable scenes to watch in this quote unquote beloved film. But it’s it’s clear that like, that role, she’s like, this is a white person’s role. She’s not going to speak up there. So
Audrey Dwyer 15:01
Yeah. yeah, and these films and these novels are so they are beloved. They just evoke such warm feelings. They are filled with nostalgia. They’re intentionally nostalgia. Yes. You know, in the film To Kill a Mockingbird, and some people say in the book, like, it’s just got this beautiful mood of sadness to it. And as we listen to that, we can really be hearkened back to this time, when people were racist, and sexist, and we can really luxuriate in their back that like, we’re not like that anymore.
Phil Rickaby 15:09
Sure. The thing that I always found interesting when i when i read To Kill a Mockingbird, is the racism is so casual. It’s never is just there. And so it’s really easy to just sort of like, from a white perspective, ignore it, and think it’s this idyllic, Southern, it’s so calm and relaxed. And that’s the easy way to see it when you have the advantage of having light skin. That casual racism has got to be different coming at it from a different point of view.
Audrey Dwyer 16:18
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think if you watch the movie now, which a few friends and I did, we were shocked. We were shocked by how, how painful the the film is today and how absolutely unbelievable, you know, Atticus Finch is the good guy, John Ewell is the bad guy. and everything in between is kind of neutral. Yeah. And so, you know, when john Ewell is killed. Its as if racism is over, you know, and that’s not the case, the cut, the city is absolved of its stain because the bad guy is gone. But the the casual racism is a vibrant and alive. It’s it’s one of those books that I feel like, if we revisit it, we need to find a new way to relate to it. And that the way that we’re approaching the dissection of it in school today, it needs to change.
Phil Rickaby 17:32
I won – you know, it’s been a long time since I was in school. So reading that book, and I do wonder how they’re approaching it. And are they asking the difficult questions? Or are we just still just reading it for what it is? Don’t ask questions about that, because that’s uncomfortable.
Audrey Dwyer 17:48
There are a few entries in that don’t really change. So the N word is one of them. Right? Why shouldn’t we say the N word and equality, we’re all equal? Those are the two major tenants of the book, according to educators, right? I spoke to a friend of mine who said that he’s been trying to – a white guy – has been trying to have the have the school, the schools that he works at, not teach that book, he tries to recommend other books. And he’s found that over the 10 years, little by little teachers are discovering that they can’t look their Black kids, their Black students in the eye, because they’re actually not addressing the fullness of the book. It makes them uncomfortable.
Phil Rickaby 18:44
Well, Yeah, I mean, how can you read this book that doesn’t and not address it. It’s not part of the curriculum, but also read this book that uses the N word, pretty liberally. It’s the same as if we were studying Huck Finn. And just using the word in the context of the classroom ignores what that word means to the people of colour. That are, that are hearing it.
Audrey Dwyer 19:12
And, you know, we’ve got one part of the book, Tom Robinson, is escaping from the police. And he’s shot at 17 times and dies. And so you read that today, and then you’ve got young black men in the classroom. And if you’re not dissecting that and looking at police violence, not just in the United States, but here in Toronto, too. Yeah, if you’re not if you’re not willing to dissect that, then how are you serving all of your students? You’re not you’re not. If we don’t look at Boo Radley, who, for some is the first time they’ve read about a person with mental illness. Yeah, if you’re not, I don’t say thing that if you’re not talking about mental illness, then you’re missing a huge part of the book.
Phil Rickaby 20:07
It sounds like we’re still teaching the book in the same way we did 20 years ago without, cuz you could do from all of these themes. You could do an entire semester dissect dissecting all of these things in high school, but they’re just like, who’s read the book, get to them get to the next thing.
Audrey Dwyer 20:23
And I mean, I think that we know that we’re all equal already. In fact, black people, indigenous people, people of colour, we know that we’re equal. Yeah. So how are you? Like, we don’t need that lesson. And I also think that a lot of white people know that we’re equal. Sure. So if we can all agree that that that lesson has been learned, then what else is there? Like,
Phil Rickaby 20:47
Oh there’s so many other things that you could take from that book
Audrey Dwyer 20:49
A part of the play that I really wanted to address with allyship, how we show up for each other?
Phil Rickaby 20:58
Audrey Dwyer 20:59
I think, you know, kids with their look simply learning that we’re equal, when bad things happen, like racism, or sexism or Islamophobia when bad things happen. You go, Oh, I would never do that. I’m good.
Phil Rickaby 21:15
Audrey Dwyer 21:15
As opposed to going, Oh, what can I do to help? Yeah. And so I think that that’s one of the ways that we can like, look at this book.
Phil Rickaby 21:23
Sure. I think that’s that that’s definitely an important question. We’re looking at you you’ve unpacked a lot about about the book. And so for looking at the maid and in your play, which is about somebody writing a screenplay. How does the how does all of that come out?
Audrey Dwyer 21:47
Yes. Okay. Well, I put that all of all of the Allies ship, racism, sexism, classism, I put that in the action of the play. And so you’ve got a young woman who named Julie. She’s from a very wealthy class, she’s Jamaican, Canadian. And she’s writing the screenplay. She’s having trouble, she can’t find calpurnius voice. And she needs to, she needs to go deep and find it. Her brother, Mark suggests that she’s unable to because she’s not black enough. And they both have their own concept of blackness. She’s, she’s in a bind. that pisses her off, that strikes a chord for her. And she proceeds to do the work, she proceeds to do some research on how to find that voice.
Phil Rickaby 22:55
The concept of not black enough, is something that we heard. We heard in the States during from some people during the Barack Obama years. It’s something that I think I’ve heard thrown around occasionally. Is that – do people – Like, is that something that people get told frequently that they’re not black enough? Or?
Audrey Dwyer 23:17
Well, you know, I think that the the thing with being black is, it’s something that people feel like they can comment on, that it’s something that can be assessed. Sure. It your your connection to your culture is so unique. It’s so personal, it’s so intimate, that it’s, it’s oddly accessible. Yeah. And I think it happens on many levels. It happens in the queer community. You know, if if someone doesn’t read you the way they expect to review, then they can judge you based on what you’re supposed to look like, you know, has completely been performed before. No, I’ve had a couple of staged readings of it. One was Nightwood’s, new groundswell festival in 2014. And it was absolutely wonderful. It was a great time. room was packed, we had to add more chairs. calpurnia is a comedy. And people were laughing people were standing up looking around it was it’s one of those plays where you’re laughing, but you’re not sure you should be. And you’re, you know, looking at your peers around you going like, should I be laughing at this? It’s really, it’s it’s really great for that.
Phil Rickaby 24:48
How long did it take you to write?
Audrey Dwyer 24:51
took me about three years. I was a part of the obsidian writers unit, and I was writing something that was just All. And at the time, I was also in a play. And I, you know, spoke earlier about the conversation that I had. And I had asked a friend of mine what he wanted to see in the theatre. And he was like, I want to see something that has to do with the past but as a part of the present, and we we brainstormed for a bet, and I was like, oh, conduct the wind. And I was like, No, we can’t do gone in the wind and other theatre companies doing go by wind. I was like, ah, Casablanca. Like, Oh, no, then I remembered To Kill a Mockingbird. And I had read and studied it in high school. So I thought there’s something there.
Phil Rickaby 25:41
Did you find it? I mean, every play has its difficult moments. Did you find it difficult to write? Or did did? Was it an easier play?
Audrey Dwyer 25:51
Well, the first draft flew out of me. It was just – have you had that experience?
Phil Rickaby 25:57
Yeah. And this doesn’t always bode well for the second draft, or the first draft can really sort of fly out. And then yeah, then we have to fix it and like, make it good.
Audrey Dwyer 26:07
Yes. Yeah. The first draft I wrote in like, four hours, it was just magic. And then we had a reading at obsidian. And people laughed, and people were very supportive, supportive. They were like, this is this is the piece. This is it. It’s like, this is juicy. And then I got a grant. And I worked on character and plot, and I wrote 200 pages, and it was just too much. And then I got another grant. And we pared it all the way down. So it’s such a process, you know, the play that you were writing, that wasn’t very good.
Phil Rickaby 26:47
And this is like, one of those things ever writes has had that moment? Yes. This is the thing that I’m writing, and it’s a train wreck. How did you figure out that it was because sometimes you can be blind to how bad something that you’re working on is, like, sometimes it just smacks you right in the face?
Audrey Dwyer 27:05
Phil Rickaby 27:05
Did it? Was it apparent to you right out of the gate that this was not working? Or was it?
Audrey Dwyer 27:10
Yeah, you know, I, I wrote a wrote this play. And I mean, I think it was okay. It wasn’t exciting off the top. And so I thought, well, I’ll just work on it. And I’ll find the excitement of it. But I was bored. It was about, you know, like, it was about a mom and her two daughters. And I just, I just couldn’t, I couldn’t get the fire going. I really wanted to write something that had people sit up in their seats. And as an actor, I know what it feels like to be in something that is is fiery. You know? Like, when it’s almost like no acting required. The the words and the the conflict are so hot. That it’s actually exhilarating.
Phil Rickaby 28:00
Yeah, yeah. I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing a couple of things that have just like you sit down, and it starts and you just sort of immediately forward on your seat. Everybody in the room knows it’s good.
Audrey Dwyer 28:12
Phil Rickaby 28:13
I’ve also seen things that are just sort of like, the don’t have the fire. Yeah, just sort of like they’re they’re Okay. Yeah. But they don’t draw you in.
Audrey Dwyer 28:22
Yeah, I really wanted to write something that had people sitting at the edge of their seats going, like, I cannot believe this. And as I was writing calpurnia, there was a point where I felt nauseous. And I went, Okay, I’ve got something. You know, one of my theatre mentors said to me that we want to see the character get into the mud, and we want to watch them get out of the bed. And with that piece that I was writing, that I didn’t like, nobody was in the mud. Yeah, everybody was just talking information and no ration. But nobody was in trouble. So I wrote a piece where, like, every character is in trouble.
Phil Rickaby 29:06
That it’s I think that’s something that we sometimes forget is the is how important it is for our characters to get into shit. We’re so polite, and sometimes in Canada, or theatre is really polite. Yes. And we’re so polite, that we don’t want these characters to get into too much trouble. Yeah, but we kind of, like kind of gotta
Audrey Dwyer 29:27
Phil Rickaby 29:28
gotta just like you, like you said crawl out of the mud.
Audrey Dwyer 29:30
Phil Rickaby 29:31
Can I ask you what was it was making you feel nauseous?
Audrey Dwyer 29:35
Well, you know, Julie does something that’s just terrible. I’m not gonna tell you like that, that.
Phil Rickaby 29:48
Then did you sign away from writing it? Or did you know that you just had to stick with it?
Audrey Dwyer 29:52
No, I had to stick with it. I mean, you know, this mentor of mine gave me that advice, but working in him have also taught me that, that like live theatre requires something messy, and something instinctual, something visceral, that you? You mean, you know, the average person might never do, but the character is like, Oh, I’m gonna do that, yeah, I’ll do but the stakes are so high, their need is so strong.
Phil Rickaby 30:24
So one of the things you were kind of have to send me your bio, and a lot of people don’t do that I go into a lot of these things blind. And one of the first things in your bio is talking about your work in social justice and things like that. A lot of a lot of playwrights are just content to just like, I’m just a playwright, you know, I don’t, don’t have to deal with these things. But to put that you put that front and centre, which sort of like indicates how important it is to you. And so what draws you to that?
Audrey Dwyer 30:53
Well, it’s very important for me to be doing whatever I can, artistically to move the conversation forward, and mote action. And so in the pieces that I write, I empathy is very important to me. But action is also very important to me. And so in the play, I display ally ship, and I display awful ally ship. And I do that to show us, the audience, ourselves, you know, I show what it is to be frustrated, young black woman, I show what it is to be a young black woman who’s coming into their politics, and what it looks like when you mess up. And what we do with people who mess up. You know, there’s this sort of disposability culture that, you know, if you mess up politically, if you say something wrong, someone’s gonna call you out. And then you’re like, excluded from community. I wanted to show audiences like what that looked like, sure, not everybody is going to be able to identify it as. As politically as some of my friends were sure. But all in all, I do feel like it. It’s, it’s my way of contributing to what the world would look like, if we all had the same amount of power.
Phil Rickaby 32:31
It’s interesting, because thinking about, you know, you’re saying that, you know, maybe some people won’t see the policy, like how political it is, or those things. In a way, in my mind, that’s a little that’s more effective than wielding a sledgehammer with a political message. Because it gets under your skin if you don’t know it. Yeah. Whereas when you try to hit somebody over the head with your idea that they tend to get out of the way. Yes. So for the people who recognise the politics, that will be something they go, yes. And for the other people who don’t quite recognise it, it’s going to, it gets under the skin in an effective way.
Audrey Dwyer 33:11
Because I think, you know, for a lot of these characters, they’re just doing their thing. Yeah. You know, I have a character named Thompson, who, an older white man, he’s got a Jamaican wife, he has mixed race kids. He’s deeply connected to his wife’s Jamaican family, and he travels to Jamaica, he has a full and varied experience of blackness, which gives him permission to comment on it. So he thinks Yes, and so you know, when you have people who are, you know, given permission by a certain group or a certain group of people to engage, you know, we, it’s interesting to me that racism, like sexism is one of those things where the, you think that you’re not doing that thing? Because you’re a good person or you you have a background? But what we forget is everybody’s an individual.
Phil Rickaby 34:19
Audrey Dwyer 34:19
And it’s not enough to treat people the way you would want to be treated. You got to treat people the way they want to be treated. And that just means more work.
Phil Rickaby 34:30
Yeah. No, it’s interesting, because the idea of because you have a relationship with black kids, black wife, whatever, gives you the perspective and a white guy would think that, right? Yeah, totally. I grew up my brother. My brother’s adopted, he’s black. So I grew up with, I think, early on a bit of the same kind of idea when I was when I was younger. It wasn’t until much later that I realised how different our perspectives were. Because his movement in the world was different from my movement in the world. When I learned how often he was pulled over
Audrey Dwyer 35:17
Phil Rickaby 35:17
you know, that kind of thing, all the little, all the little things that he experienced, that I had no idea about, because that’s not how I see the world. It was shocking, but also an important lesson to learn that even though we grew up together, our experiences are different, because of the pigment of our flesh.
Audrey Dwyer 35:43
And do you feel shocked still, when he tells you these things
Phil Rickaby 35:48
Audrey Dwyer 35:48
Phil Rickaby 35:49
Always. Because, again, I know it, but to hear it. Like. And, you know, now he’s got three kids, two of whom are boys and, and young black boys go from being cute, to being considered dangerous, almost overnight, depending on their size and their age. And to watch that happen to his kids as well. I’m constantly shocked by by that, and not because part of it is I like to think that people are supposed to be better than that. And so I’m shocked by that. I’m shocked by the fact that it still happens. And it’s almost 2018. But also, you know, I I’m thankful that he keeps reminding me because I don’t get to be complacent about it. It makes me question things that I do.
Audrey Dwyer 36:40
Phil Rickaby 36:41
Which I think is important.
Audrey Dwyer 36:44
Phil Rickaby 36:45
And it’s made me aware of my own white fragility, which some people don’t like to hear about.
Audrey Dwyer 36:50
Phil Rickaby 36:51
But it’s like, it’s made me very aware of it.
Audrey Dwyer 36:54
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, like, the, I think the common response is shock. Right.
Phil Rickaby 37:02
Audrey Dwyer 37:03
And I think one of the reasons why we get shocked, is because we have, we have a very like, skewed idea of like what the world is. And I’m saying this too, as someone who consciously tries to feel like the world is like this wonderful place all the time. You don’t want to leave your house. You wouldn’t leave your house, if you thought that every interaction was going to be horrible.
Phil Rickaby 37:31
Audrey Dwyer 37:33
My goal with calpurnia is to show people what to do when you are shocked. Because it’s the shock. Goodness, that’s a word. It’s the shockedness that makes us frozen when we could be doing something about it. Now more than ever. I think.
Phil Rickaby 38:00
Well, I mean, I think you’re right, because we’ve gone. I remember do you remember, that that glorious age, just after, you know, maybe like less than 10 years ago, just after Barack Obama was elected president and everybody was talking about how we live in a post racial society.
Audrey Dwyer 38:17
Phil Rickaby 38:18
How quickly? We have gone from, race doesn’t matter anymore to hearing about Nazis marching in the streets.
Audrey Dwyer 38:26
Phil Rickaby 38:27
And here as well.
Audrey Dwyer 38:28
Phil Rickaby 38:28
we think we like to think that it’s a Canadian problem.
Audrey Dwyer 38:31
Phil Rickaby 38:32
Sorry that it’s an American problem.
Audrey Dwyer 38:33
Phil Rickaby 38:33
That doesn’t happen here?
Audrey Dwyer 38:34
Phil Rickaby 38:34
it is here.
Audrey Dwyer 38:35
Yeah. I mean, it’s here. And the scary thing is is always actually been here. And that, you know, post racial. I don’t like one man becoming president of the United States doesn’t really change the lived experience of so many African American people. Nor does it change the experience of blackness, Canadians. It’s, it’s, it’s a thing. Yeah. But it’s not the thing. No, no, it’s not. It is interesting, though, I think how slow we in Canada are to recognising that we have our own work to do. And I address that slightly in calpurnia. Because Julie is essentially writing about an African American experience. Her brother says that she should be writing about a Canadian experience and she addresses colonisation in her work. And it’s just a brief moment where we get to see what her politic is. As she is growing through her politics. She’s like, pushing through Her values in order to, to grow. But it in Canada, I feel like, you know, we still feel like it’s it’s not the same
Phil Rickaby 40:12
Audrey Dwyer 40:12
In many ways it is the same
Phil Rickaby 40:14
when one of the first times I was in New York just a few years ago. This was like just after I think it was Eric Garvey, and there was the massive March that really kind of launched the Black Lives Matter matters movement, sort of like galvanise he was saying it was a March that had been going on for like, one o’clock in the afternoon. And my girlfriend and I, at the time, we encountered it at like six o’clock at night. And, you know, we watched it, we stood in it. And as we were leaving, number one we were able to leave in, you know, but also, we left feeling so smug, that this thing doesn’t happen in Canada. And it was later on that I started really, you know, talking to my brother and his and his kids and things like that, that and just that. It does happen here. We’re quieter about it. In some cases, in some ways. And in some cases, we don’t it’s not quite as dramatic, but it happens here. And we white people get to ignore it in a way that people of colour don’t.
Audrey Dwyer 41:27
Yeah, I mean, I have to take pause, because you actually like in New York, you were able to walk away from it?
Phil Rickaby 41:34
Well, that’s the thing. Right?
Audrey Dwyer 41:36
Whereas I feel that a lot of African Americans did did that march with the complete risk of their life. Absolutely. Risking employment. It’s It’s such a huge risk to go on those marches. Yeah. And I think, you know, here in Canada, we, we it really, it’s not in the news. It’s not documented in the same way. It’s, it’s here, and it’s always been here, you know, stop and frisk. You’ve got carding. It’s, it’s terrible. Not to mention the stuff that happens that has no name. You know, there’s nothing, I think, more frightening than how police in schools have been quite normalised. And I wonder about that, you know, in the second part of the play, we get to see how mark is like working on a case. He’s a lawyer, and I touch on police violence slightly. But I think, you know, having police in schools and the normalisation of that is harrowing. And we know we it’s how it happens here. The kind of racial violence it happens here. We’re not exposed to it in the same way. And it’s so easy. Again, because of I think books like To Kill a Mockingbird or that are dated, nostalgic that we as Canadians are left going, well. Not us.
Phil Rickaby 43:32
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Audrey Dwyer 43:33
But in fact, us. Big time us.
Phil Rickaby 43:35
Oh, yeah. I heard I was talking to somebody. And they, you know, they had their father had grown up in the states and he was black. Her father said that he preferred racism in the states to racism in Canada, because at least in racism in the States, you knew where it was. And in Canada, it was behind the hand are so polite that it was it was ugly. how subtle it was.
Audrey Dwyer 44:05
Yeah. It’s those kinds of microaggressions can really, really chip at you. And it can leave you feeling quite displaced. There. It’s, it’s unnameable. Yeah. And it’s insidious. Yeah. Yeah. I think a lot of racism is also couched in ignorance. And cap is couched in. I didn’t know any better. And it’s, it’s really it’s so harmful.
Phil Rickaby 44:41
We’ve been white people are so easy to forgive it. My uncle didn’t know any better. Oh, it’s just uncle Ted. He’s, he’s from another time. Instead of instead of like, calling uncle Ted out for being racist. Yeah. Things like that. We we allow it
Audrey Dwyer 44:59
Yeah. Yeah, and there are I mean, there are countless things that people can do. I mean, they can Google it and find out what to do when their uncle’s being racist. There are classes that you can take, you know, you can just say stop, you can start with stop and then see what happens next. It’s just about moving from being shocked to Yeah. Action. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s also about understanding that in terms of ally ship, that you’re, you’re never off the hook as an ally, like you’d never get your ally gold star. It’s always something that you’ve got to like hand in at the end of the day in order to progress. It’s always a work in progress. And you know, as soon as you’re patting yourself on the back for a job well done, then you know, you’ve done something wrong,
Phil Rickaby 45:58
you get to if you had a silver star, you get to give that back.
Audrey Dwyer 46:02
Yeah, you’ve got that back. In my writing, I’ve written a role for Filipina actress. Julie’s maid is Filipino. And so I have Filipino relatives and Filipino friends. And I knew that from my experience as a black person who’s played tonnes of different roles. I knew that as a as a writer, I needed to honour the people that I was writing. And so for me, it was really important to have theatre people read it and give me extensive notes. And to have non theatre people read it, and also give me extensive notes and that in the rehearsal process, to be working, like all alongside our actress who will be playing pressy to make sure that I’m always on point because anytime I feel like as a black woman, I’ve I’ve got it, then I know, then that I’m I don’t. So it’s it’s as an ally, it’s very important to check yourself.
Phil Rickaby 47:09
Audrey Dwyer 47:09
And to be always willing to listen and self reflect and apologise and do the work.
Phil Rickaby 47:20
Yeah, I think I think some of us are really bad at apologising when we get it wrong.
Audrey Dwyer 47:25
Yeah, defensiveness is a thing
Phil Rickaby 47:27
defensiveness doesn’t help. Yeah. And, you know, I’m sorry, I got it wrong. I’ll do better. So I didn’t know.
Audrey Dwyer 47:35
Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting, like looking at To Kill a Mockingbird now. And, you know, the character of scout such an innocent, also an icon, a huge icon for the queer community. And, you know, Atticus teaches her about racism. The mob of angry men who want to Lynch Tom Robinson, you know, meet him at the courthouse and XYZ anyways, he tells scout that these this lynch mob has a blind spot that their passion for killing this black man who’s innocent is a blind spot. And that’s always stood out to me. Because that, that kind of hatred, that kind of action is not a blind swanned to choice. Yeah. And so, you know, when you look at the book, and you go, Okay, this is how we’re teaching our young people about racism. This is how we’re letting them kind of sit back in a passivity that only makes things worse. You know, if we’re on the bus, and we’re seeing something that is racist or sexist, it’s our duty, like, we can’t sit here as Canadians and say, we live in the best country in the world. And when we see things, where we’re like, well, I can’t believe that happened, or Oh, that’s not me. We have to, we have to speak. And so this is one of the reasons why I’m I’m I feel like there are there are other ways to examine the book, which is one of the reasons why I wrote the play.
Phil Rickaby 49:35
Yeah. Yeah. We do talk about I think, yeah, well, how are we still? How has the curriculum in schools not evolved that you’re still reading the same, the same books? Yeah, in the same way, we need. Like, there are other books that you could be reading.
Audrey Dwyer 49:52
Yeah. I mean, you know, these some of the teachers love the book. And it’s so easy for them to talk about a book that they know They have like an emotional connection to. I think it’s very expensive to buy new books.
Phil Rickaby 50:04
Audrey Dwyer 50:05
Phil Rickaby 50:06
Also curriculum is, is it’s calcified and solidified.
Audrey Dwyer 50:11
Phil Rickaby 50:11
Made people who are not the teachers now.
Audrey Dwyer 50:13
Phil Rickaby 50:14
And it’s, it’s, they’re like they don’t have the freedom that they used to have.
Audrey Dwyer 50:18
Phil Rickaby 50:18
I feel like when I was in school, the teacher might be like, Alright, we’re reading this book. They have a list of books that we can read everybody does these ones here. We’re gonna read this one.
Audrey Dwyer 50:26
Phil Rickaby 50:26
And now it’s like, these are the books you can read.
Audrey Dwyer 50:28
Phil Rickaby 50:29
But again, how do we examine them in a more? deep way? Oh, how does this play – the you said you’re in rehearsal?
Audrey Dwyer 50:41
We start rehearsal on December 18. So that’s coming up. Yeah. The show opens like near the beginning of January. Yeah, we open on January 17. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 50:50
So like, this is like, gonna be pretty exciting.
Audrey Dwyer 50:54
I’m really excited. I really, as director, I’m absolutely thrilled and thankful that it’s being produced by nightwood Theatre, and sulong Theatre. So I honestly I can’t wait. Yeah, everything’s moving right along.
Phil Rickaby 51:09
We kind of like a locomotive at this point. Yes.
Audrey Dwyer 51:12
Yeah. Where are we tonnes of meetings and everything. It’s really great. Are you on social media? Yeah, I mean, I’m on Facebook. I don’t tweet. instead. I am on Instagram. But my Instagram is private.
Phil Rickaby 51:30
Okay. Do you have a website?
Audrey Dwyer 51:34
No, but I should get one. Everybody’s telling me I should get one. It really helps when people want to google you. it’s like, it just comes up. Yeah, if you google me, you’ll you’ll just get like a bunch of headshots and old plays that
Phil Rickaby 51:49
there’s a lot of information about Calpurnia. if you google you.
Audrey Dwyer 51:53
yes. Yes. That too! Calpurnia. That’s Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 51:58
This has been a lot of fun. Thank you so much.
Audrey Dwyer 51:59
Thank you, Phil.