#216 – Helen Knight
Helen Knight is a Calgary-based actor and creator, and was last seen in Toronto when she joined Soulpepper theater as Mary Tudor in their remount of The Virgin Trial this past January. As an actor, Helen has worked with Alberta Theater Projects (The Virgin Trial, The Last Wife – Winner of the Betty Mitchellaward for best supporting actress), Lunchbox Theatre, Downstage Theatre, Ghost River Theatre, and many other independent companies. Lindsey is passionate about women’s stories and feats of theatre magic.Recent projects include She Kills Monsters (University of Lethbridge), Legoland (Urban Curvz Theatre), FUGLY (The Janes), and The Hudson Bay Epic and River: A Puppet Myth (Mudfoot Theatre).
Helen Knight, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:01
Welcome to Episode 216 of Stageworthy, I’m your host Phil Rickaby. Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. In this episode, I will be talking to actor, writer and nurse Helen Knight. As I record this, it is just a few days before the holidays and that means that 2019 is drawing to a close as we move towards the end of the year and into the roaring 20s we get closer to the anniversary of the first episode of Stageworthy back in January of 2016. Which means that Stageworthy podcast will be in its fourth year. Do you know if you’ve enjoyed the podcast, whether you’ve subscribed or if you’re just an occasional listener, I would love it if you could help spread the word about Stageworthy. If you’re listening on Apple podcasts, Just do me a favour and rate the podcast there. If you leave a five star rating, you will help new people find the podcast. You know, the most common way that people find out about new podcast is from their friends and family. So if you know someone who might enjoy Stageworthy, tell them about it. And if you tell somebody let me know about it, you can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find the website at stageworthypodcast.com. And if you want to drop me a line, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby. And My website is philrickaby.com. As I mentioned, my guest is Helen Knight. I got the chance to talk with Helen in the early fall. I met her this summer after she performed her solo play the Art of Kneading at the Toronto fringe. We talked about creating a solo show her writing process and so much more. Here’s the conversation. What do you what do you what do you rehearsing right now?
Helen Knight 02:11
Oh, um, I’m working on the wedding party, which I think was down in Toronto a couple years ago. Okay. Yes.
Phil Rickaby 02:19
Yeah. Where’s that happening?
Helen Knight 02:22
With Alberta theatre projects? Oh, nice. Nice. Yeah. Yeah. It’s pretty great. So it’s there. It’s the first show of the season. And Wow, I’ve got I was joking with our producer, Diane, because I said there’s nothing. I’ve worked with them for the last three years now on their first show, so it doesn’t feel like August unless I’m spending half of it in the rehearsal with everybody. I’m like sunbathing during our breaks. And yeah, so it’s great.
Phil Rickaby 02:48
Well, at least at least it feels like like August for you. It really does. Yeah, I know. I know, people who it doesn’t feel like August and till they’re at the Edmonton fringe.
Helen Knight 02:58
So I know I’m missing it this year. I’m so bummed. I’m really bummed about it but
Phil Rickaby 03:04
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s hard to take it all in, you know?
Helen Knight 03:08
Yeah, you got to pick it, you got to pick your battles.
Phil Rickaby 03:10
So, also, I mean, you you have a gig. So as awesome as it would be to be at the Edmonton fringe. Also, it’s good to have a gig.
Helen Knight 03:18
Oh, it’s always good to be working. Always good to be working. Yeah. Yeah. So it’s lovely. And the cast is freaking great. And the show is super fun. So I have done dramas for the last few years. So it’s nice to get to work on like a real sort of mad cap comedy kind of thing. Like very high energy and nobody’s getting tortured. There’s no you know, abuse or anything like it’s just you know, word up with the flowers, mehh.
Phil Rickaby 03:45
So is his abuse and torturing something that’s been in your repertoire for a while.
Helen Knight 03:52
This past year, I’ve done two shows of Kate Hennig’s Virgin trial, and there’s sexual assault scene. There’s two torture scenes. It’s just so intense. And I’ve done it with two different theatre companies twice. So it’s like, there’s none of that. There’s just you know, it’s kind of light and airy and
Phil Rickaby 04:13
Oh, how nice. Something like that doesn’t involve torture and abuse and
Helen Knight 04:19
You know what’s nice? no torture. Yeah, exactly.
Phil Rickaby 04:23
Things only actors can say God, I’m really so glad that all that abuse is gone for this season. I can just sort of concentrate on something else.
Helen Knight 04:32
Exactly. Yeah. So this is uh, this is really great. I’m having a hoot.
Phil Rickaby 04:38
So when did you start? When What was your entry into into theatre? What was it that made you want to do this thing?
Helen Knight 04:45
Um, I’ve wanted to be an actress since I was a kid, I think, you know, and I was always like, I have this distinct memory of like being very small. You know, at my parents church, and like growing Adding the microphone and just heading up into the middle of the stage, what before the microphones got turned off at the end of the day and just kind of like singing to myself and like very happy to be out there. And so, you know, we used to put on plays and stage stage, you know, Dinner Theatre and stuff like that from my grandparents, my mom and stuff. So that was just sort of how my sister and I passed the time growing up. But professionally, yeah.
Phil Rickaby 05:25
Do you have any sense of of what made you first aware of acting? Because that’s not something that that is is common in. I don’t want to say normal children. But like that kind of thing. Because I was, I mean, I was always putting on plays and getting roping people and putting on plays when I was a kid. And I’m always curious, like, Where did you learn that? I,
Helen Knight 05:52
I don’t know if it was like, I’m aware, I’m doing a play, but we’d watch these movies over and over again. And then we’d reenact sections of the movie just because they captured us so much. Like we watched the 10 commandments. Charlton Heston and like, you know, over and over and over so much that we could recite it, we watched Mary Poppins so often we could recite it in any so often that we could recite it. So I think it was just you know, things that captured our imagination that were super fun. And then when you get tired of sitting in front of the TV, you want to do something. So that’s kind of what came out. So yeah, I’ve always wanted I always wanted to do that since I was a young kid, but I didn’t actually do it until I was significantly older.
Phil Rickaby 06:31
So did you do it in school at all? Or?
Helen Knight 06:34
I did. I was taking band in junior high, playing the flute. And I was rubbish. Not not because I was actually terribly bad at the flute. Like I think I probably was okay. But I just didn’t practice and I think care. And I was so is sat my mom down and I said, Okay, here’s here’s my plan. Let me take let me take drama. instead. They would not let me take drama earlier on. But I made my case in grade nine, my mom, let me take a drama class. And then I took it all throughout high school.
Phil Rickaby 07:06
Do you know what it was that made them not want to let you take drama when you were younger?
Helen Knight 07:10
Yeah, well, you know, a little bit complicated with my parents, because they both they both met in a touring Theatre Company in the states in the 70s. That’s how they got together.
Phil Rickaby 07:23
Oh, so they knew what was going on in the theatre.
Helen Knight 07:25
Like through is since i think i The reason why I didn’t mention that. It’s like part of my influences. I don’t think they ever, like wanted to encourage us in that direction. So I’m kind of aware that that was part of their history, but it wasn’t like, you know, the good old days, kids or anything like that, like it was just not part of the family law or anything. But yeah, they you know, they met in this small touring theatre company that was based out of California, then, you know, you started toured all over the states going to different small towns and stuff like that. And they didn’t tour together, but they met during training. So that’s, that’s how my parents got together. And so, years later, actually, when I was like, right, when I was coming out of high school and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I’m like, you know what, I think I’m gonna go join that company that you guys were a part of, and my mom sat me down and just said, this is a bad idea. And this is why you shouldn’t do it. I listened to her. I didn’t do it. I walked I walked away and I went into nursing school instead. So
Phil Rickaby 08:25
how long were you in nursing school for
Helen Knight 08:27
nursing school was a four year degree undergraduate degree. So I have so you did the whole thing. Oh, yeah. No, I have a baccalaureate I’m an I’m a registered nurse and I have a baccalaureate degree in nursing sciences or whatever it is. So yeah, yeah. I’m a being so
Phil Rickaby 08:41
what, what, whatever took you back to back to theatre and acting?
Helen Knight 08:44
Um, well, I did nursing for a while actually long enough to pay off my student loans. And then and then, like, I think I paid off my student loans in May and September, they were paid off. I went to nurse to Theatre School. So yeah, it was I is one of those things, it’s kind of, I was really sad about not being able to a theatre school. I was kind of part of the thing that convinced me that I wasn’t able to go is we just came from very restrictive, very humble means growing up, like I like to, like everybody says they grew up poor for most of us, but I think poverty really is like, the definition of poverty is you do not have the enough income to cover your basic needs. And that was my childhood and youth like we did not make enough money to cover heat, rent, utilities, food, all that. And so, you know, we manage that because of the help of the government and charity and sometimes my grandparents would, you know, pay for the lights to come back on but, you know, when you grow up like that, and then your mom sits you down in a cafeteria and is like, I appreciate that you want to go be an artsy fartsy person, but if you get stranded on the road, I can’t help you, you can never come home for Christmas because I have no way of getting you back home. And they will not pay you enough to like get you back here and and so as a kid like growing up and often hearing like, No, you can’t afford to do that, like that that part of the world is closed off to you because you don’t make enough money that like it’s sad how quickly I was convinced but also like, given given the history of how I grew up and stuff like that. I was like, Oh, right, like, like art is for other people. It’s not for people like us. And so I was like, Okay, cool. Go find a degree so I can get a reasonable job that will pay me a living wage. And so that’s why I chose that path of the nurse. Nursing is great, you know, like it it uh, it’s can be rewarding, and you’re doing good in the world. And it gives you a living wage and benefits and you know, things like a lot of them. It gives you middle class. Yeah. And that’s honestly like, that was my second dream. my first dream Dream was to be an artist. Second dream was to be middle class. And so
Phil Rickaby 11:09
you know that somebody grew up poor when their dream is to be middle class.
Helen Knight 11:12
Oh my god. Yeah, like boring. white picket fence suburban. That was my ideal. I was like, that fucking living right there. That’s the highlight right there. Yeah, two weeks vacation kid.
Phil Rickaby 11:28
Helen Knight 11:31
So yeah, I wasn’t. I was a nurse. And then this is a long, this is a long story. But no,
Phil Rickaby 11:37
Helen Knight 11:38
Then, you know, I grew up in a religious household. And it was really random. But one day some woman came up to me in our church, and she’s like, I know, this is weird. I just feel like God wants me to tell you something. And I’m like, Okay. And like, for real? I thought she was gonna be like, You’re, you’re going to hell, you swear too much. And you drink too much. And like, I was like, Oh, shit, like, Jesus is mad at me.
Phil Rickaby 12:05
Depending on the church, there’s a 50/50 chance. The thing that somebody says,
Helen Knight 12:10
Yeah, I know. And so I was like, Oh my God, oh, my God, oh, my God. And then she’s like, God just wants you to know that. He made you with the desires of your heart for a reason. And he’s big enough to handle your dreams. She’s like, I don’t know what that means and like, she then fucking walked away. And I was like, WHAT? And then, you know, I actually I walked away and I had a really big blub because I knew what that meant. Yeah, I was like, you know, I’d wanted to do this since I was a kid. So I was like, it was kind of this like, Alright, buddy. Well, if you’re up there, let’s fucking do this. And so so I think the neck like that was probably in early. I don’t know what time of the year that was. But literally, like the next semester that that could have been worked out for me. I was in school. So yeah, and we were Alberta anyways was in the midst of a terrible nursing shortage. Oh, so I walked up to my boss and I just asked her a leave of absence for nine months, and she gave it to me so long as I was going to come back. She’s like, Are you are you leaving for forever? Are you coming back? And I’m like, No, I’ll come back. And she’s like, Okay, then you can have the time.
Phil Rickaby 13:15
Helen Knight 13:17
Yeah, cuz they were so desperate to not lose staff.
Phil Rickaby 13:19
Well, naturally. Yeah.
Helen Knight 13:21
Yeah. So I did. I did a two year nursing or nursing. I did a two year acting Diploma in Calgary here.
Phil Rickaby 13:28
Yeah. Can I can I ask you a bit about about growing up in a religious household? Because I too, grew up in a very religious household.
Helen Knight 13:35
oh I knew it!
Phil Rickaby 13:37
Did you know How did you know?
Helen Knight 13:40
I saw your show. It’s not an ignorant show, sir. I told you. Yeah. You had some good theology in there. It was. It was decent, so.
Phil Rickaby 13:49
You can only have that kind of theology. If one you grew up with it, and it also helps to have the freedom to be a preacher’s kid. Oh, my God, really? You were a preacher’s kid? Now, my dad my dad. I wasn’t a preacher’s kid. like growing up, because you know, those kids are in some pretty good kids or kids when they were when they were children. But those kids I I my dad didn’t become a preacher till I was like in my late my early teens, so
Helen Knight 14:18
Oh, that’s so funny. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s when my dad stopped being a preacher was when I was 12. Yeah, so they like kind of like high fived each other on the in the way
Phil Rickaby 14:28
they did it. There was a little hi five. They passed each other. Yeah, no, it’s it’s it’s it’s there’s a funny thing because I think a lot of times, in some religious households The arts are seen as not wholesome. I think because of the whole. There is the image of the decadent artist, right.
Helen Knight 14:54
Yeah. And there’s I mean, to give some of that credit like there are certain circles that think That debauchery lifestyle is the only true way of self expression. And, and you know, so I don’t know, I don’t know how much I bind to that one way or the other, I think I think you could be a typically very socially liberal person in the best way for you to explore yourself is by containing some of your impulses, or vice versa depends on the individual. But yeah, yeah, you know,
Phil Rickaby 15:22
no, I knew people in when I was in high school, who they sort of dabbled in, in high school theatre, but as soon as anything was like, too secular for them. They were they were out. They were like, No, I can’t do this. You know, I had one guy, he, yeah, we were doing I think, Greece and his character had to say, Oh, my God, and he was like, I can’t do that. Oh, my God. Yes. And my, I almost wanted to say, Yeah, but I think God knows that. You’re not saying what the characters saying. I don’t think it counts. But
Helen Knight 15:56
yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s funny. So the the other sort of weird side to the story is I ended up I grew up in a very public school system, I was surrounded by dozens of religions and ethnicities and languages I can’t like so in some ways, I came from a very sheltered existence that way, like, I was never part of the waspy. White world. I was the odd man out amongst that. And so I went to college, though, like this college here was religious based school, like a faith based school. The college itself was very religious. And then there was this weird drama programme within it that was kind of its own, like, sell of artsy weirdos that would, you know, yell fuck you across from the dean’s office while they were doing exercises? Um, but yeah, like, you know, some of those kids I think came from a much more stereotypical religious religious background where like, the arts were bad, not because they would leave you impoverished, but because
Phil Rickaby 17:03
they would lead you into iniquity.
Helen Knight 17:05
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And so we did have some kids that were uncomfortable with, like, embodying characters that did not reflect their own worlds. And I thought, I just thought that was sad for them.
Phil Rickaby 17:16
I think it is, it is very limiting, like if you are able to, because that shows that you you actually can’t put your head into the headspace of somebody else, which is a bit of a deficiency, especially in this in this line of work.
Helen Knight 17:29
Yeah, or, I mean, like, I don’t think that reflected the values of new people and new per se, but there’s also this idea of like, only our story deserves to be told, or only stories that look like me or sound like New York stories of value. And that I think is a lot more. I don’t know, that’s a much more insidious, nasty viewpoint, whether people actually articulate that or not, I think that’s pretty dangerous. Yeah, you know, so. Yeah. And that was like, despite, you know, the larger college as a whole, where I went to, luckily, the administrators in that small little cell of artists were like, super cool, not judgy definitely wanted to, like, have people explore other stories and narratives. And you know, the fact that you liked Jesus was sort of like, awesome, like, that means you’re going to expect a particular integrity of view of the person as you go into whatever acting Hall you’re going to Yeah, that’s great. Cool. So I lucked out.
Phil Rickaby 18:28
Now, when you made that transition from nursing, to going back to being an actor to want to studying that. Did you? Did you personally have any difficulty? You mentioned having a good blog after the after that woman told her to follow your heart and knew that you should follow it? Yeah, was that was it a difficult thing for you to do to go to finally do this? Yeah, it was.
Helen Knight 18:56
I, I so the reason why I know I made the right decision, it was this compulsion, like, I have to go do this thing, despite all of the alarm bells going off in my head. Right, despite the fear and the panic that I don’t belong there. I think that was more of the the feeling was like, art is for a different class of people. It’s for a different type of person. It’s for people who look and act a certain way, which I didn’t look and act like it’s from for people who went to dancing lessons as kids because, you know, all this, like there’s all these weird, middle class expectations to kind of weasel into what you think an artist looks like. And I’m sure you know, and having just been absolutely not middle class, I just really I really carried a lot of, of prejudice against myself and to the classroom. And so I think my like, my biggest accomplishment for those two years that I was in school was being able to go like, Hey, I’m just here. I’m gonna see what happens tonight. By the end, I was like, No, I’m an artist. So it was just sort of allowing myself to embrace that identity is like, that’s who you are. And to say that, like, by the end of the two years I had reached there is such a gross overstatement. Like I think it took me several years within the professional round to really be able to embrace that identity as my own. Because, you know, when you really, when you really desire something, and you kind of hold it up as this lofty thing, I think for anybody, it’s easy to kind of say, Well, I couldn’t, you know, fill in the blank. And and, and so yeah, that’s, that’s kind of been, I think, you know, there are certainly acute peaks and valleys of that journey for me, but I still feel like I’m on that journey. We’re still in like, you know, do I deserve to be here Do I deserve to participate in in this really fun way of expressing the human story sometimes, and I have to either convince myself or talk to my therapist. Yeah, so that’s, that’s kind of the ongoing trajectory of that.
Phil Rickaby 21:09
I mean, honestly, the there’s there’s enough imposter syndrome, that the average person feels they there’s, for you, it’s something there’s that additional thing of growing up with these internalised ideas about what being an artist meant. Yeah, yeah,
Helen Knight 21:29
I think so. And I’m not to mention, not to mention the poverty thing, which is a real, that’s a real struggle that so many artists actually deal with. And so that’s real. I am not below the poverty line. Now I’ve married a teacher, I can still jump into the hospital and work as a nurse now. So like, I am comfortably middle class, which puts me very much better off than a lot of my compatriots in theatre. So, you know, I’m aware that I’m still choosing a particular level of, I was gonna say, comfort, but for me, it feels like a security thing where, you know, I know, I’m going to pay my rent, and I know, I’m going to eat and I can go out for dinner if I want. Oh, sure. And it won’t break me.
Phil Rickaby 22:17
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m, I’m in a similar boat, where I have a day job, and so I do my theatre stuff in the evenings, that’s when I create, you know, and, and, you know, as much as, as I sometimes think it would be great to do that full time. But then I also see my people who do that full time, and the sacrifices that they make in terms of their living situation. And, and, and, and even simple luxuries like going out for dinner. So it’s Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s,
Helen Knight 22:46
yeah, and I, I think, too, like, I’m reaching the age where a lot of the artists close to my age, or maybe even a bit younger, you know, in their mid to late 30s are a lot of the female artists I know are like, you know, I’m ready to have kids. Yeah. And I afford to take enough time off to, like, carry this pregnancy to term like, you know, because you don’t have a seven month old pregnant woman playing, you know, Gertrude, yeah, you know, like, so the physical changes that happened to your body kind of a limit, let alone the stamina and the energy that it requires to go through a show, but just the physical changes to your body kind of eliminate you from being able to be employed. For several months of that pregnancy, let alone the recovery afterwards, you know, you’re talking six to eight weeks, just so you’re not bleeding anymore, and you can walk around. And so there’s so many there’s, I know, so many female artists my age that are like, I want this and I don’t know if I can afford it. And you’re like, Fuck, that is so messed up. Like, you know, my husband and I are child free. But that is by choice, not by limited circumstances. And the fact that you have several artists that are like, you know, I don’t know if I, I have to choose between my career or a family or like, I’m not sure if choosing a family at this point is smart. That just is Yeah, unfair. It’s not cool. So that’s, that’s a real that’s a real thing, I think. Anyway,
Phil Rickaby 24:27
I’ve also I’ve also watched a lot of a lot of people that I know who are once they start to get near their 30s or into their 30s they start to reconsider this whole actor life. Yes, that is happening a lot to me. You’re like, wow, I would like to have things.
Helen Knight 24:49
Yeah. or. A coworker of mine last year was like, You know what, like, we work 48 weeks a year, six days a week. She said, I’m lucky To be employed that much. So that’s not really a complaint in the grand scheme of actors, like, I’m employed so much, but she’s like I work almost all year long, only one day off per week. And I am able to pay my bills, and I have a car and all these other things, but she’s like, I have no savings. We’re never, we’re never getting ahead. This is this is it. And I don’t really have anything more substantial Besides, you know, not drowning to show for it. And like, I think that just keeping your nose above the water, feeling that perpetual good work gives people is a really shitty place to have to make any long term plans from so that makes sense for sure.
Phil Rickaby 25:43
Do you? Do you feel like because of your upbringing, upbringing, that you you’re sort of acutely aware of the poverty that other people are feeling?
Helen Knight 25:52
Yeah. I wonder. Yeah, I think I think I just understand the anxiety on some level, because now I’m actively pushing against it. I think I see myself as actually a very privileged actor and like, you know, not that I’m in a place to be turning down roles, but I also like, no. But like, it’s also, you know, I don’t feel that I have to work 48 weeks of the year, you know, like, if I was getting to a point where like, Fuck, I’m feeling burnt out, like, I need some time off. I’m gonna take it like, I have the luxury of doing that. Or like, I’m not super enthused about the show. Or even worse, like, I think this show shit. I have to take it or I’m not going to pay my rent. Like, I’m never in that situation. And yeah, so like, I have a lot of empathy for people that are in in that. Yeah, for sure. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s because of how, how I grew up or if it’s actually just understanding that I’m no longer in that place where I understand. I understand that a bit.
Phil Rickaby 27:03
Yeah, no, you. You were in Toronto in the winter of all the times to come to Toronto. is in February. Well, you were in Toronto to do a show with Soulpepper.
Helen Knight 27:16
Phil Rickaby 27:17
And was that it was that that was a remounted something that you’ve done previously, or?
Helen Knight 27:21
Yes, yeah. So I did the virgin trial with soulpepper in January, where I played Mary Tudor and joined the Stratford remount there. So the, you know, the cast had all been able to come back, but they, the actor, and Sarah Farr, who’d played Mary Tudor, and Stratford was, you know, in Bromley, so she was not awesome. But she wasn’t able to join. So they kind of did this like mad dash scan of who knew the part well enough to just kind of be plunked in because it wasn’t really a full rehearsal period of for a full exploratory period, because it was a remount. And so cadenhead egg the playwright had known I had done it in Alberta, with Alberta theatre projects, and Calgary here. And so she just put my name forward, like, in the list of people that like, knew the part and could like come in and, you know, had some basis of knowledge for who this character was and who her relationship with the rest of the cast was. And so, that’s how I got connected with that. So it was really like, Kate got me the gig.
Phil Rickaby 28:34
How long How long were you in Toronto for? Oh,
Helen Knight 28:37
like, um, end of December to I think the first or second week of February.
Phil Rickaby 28:45
God just the worst time to be in Toronto is
Helen Knight 28:48
you guys gave me a fucking polar vortex. Like,
Phil Rickaby 28:52
listen, we didn’t do that on purpose. I just want to say, just for the record, there’s not like we were digging that. Just for the record. Of course, I know that anybody who lives in Edmonton or anybody who lives in in Winnipeg is like fuck you, Toronto. That’s not cool. Yeah. But it was cold for Toronto.
Helen Knight 29:09
It was no that was cold for anywhere. I have to say cuz, you know, I Calgary gets cold. It’s not Edmonton cold, but like, you know, minus 40 a few times of the summer, like the winter is not unusual. And like, minus 20 as a regular in the dead of winters. absolutely normal. And so what I had heard about Toronto weather, whether it was that it was so much more temperate. You know, maybe I wouldn’t have to work chapstick all the time and all this other stuff. Bullshit bullshit. Bullshit. I go there, and you’ll have the Arctic Circle come down and hang out for a while and it was horrible. But great, like, you know,
Phil Rickaby 29:50
but when when you left it, it, it went away. I’m sure
Helen Knight 29:54
I think it did. Really literally. It followed me to Calgary. I think the week Calgary, the polar vortex at Calgary. And so we were like minus 40 the whole time I was like, okay, whatever whatever I did I’m sorry.
Phil Rickaby 30:10
But then you decided to come back to Toronto in the summer which is a much better time to be here although it is goddamn hot in the summer and
Helen Knight 30:16
no, I loved it. Never apologise. Fucking apologise for that heat. I loved it. It was humid. I was in my mid 20s before I realised there are parts of the world that got warm even when the sun wasn’t out we’re so we’re we’re at a such a high elevation in Calgary that if the sun is not out, it’s in the mid to low teens. I should you not right. And so, you know, even on warm like on cloudy days where I’m like, Oh, I, I don’t need a sweater when I leave. It’s just inconceivable to me to not need three layers or leave in the morning. And I loved it. I got the only like, proper 10 of the year over there. And it was hot almost all the days. I got back to Calgary. We had one day of 30 degrees and then it’s been in the teens since then. And I was like oh my god. Oh my god. It’s been it’s summer over here. Yeah, so bad. But no, I like it was gorgeous. And then when we were done fringe, my husband and I toyed around, you know, Southern Ontario for a while and saw the touristy things and drank our way through Toronto, his family.
Phil Rickaby 31:25
I think that’s a that’s a great a great way to do it. And if you’re on the fringe tour, you don’t have time to do that.
Helen Knight 31:31
No, you really don’t. I like I was hustling my ass off, I think three or four hours a day, even on show days, just to bums in seats. So afterwards, I was like, I deserve this. It’s fine.
Phil Rickaby 31:43
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, why don’t we talk about the art of needing I’m curious about where that show came from for you.
Helen Knight 31:52
Right. Um, so see portion A of this podcast. The Art of Kneading had a few seeds of development. It’s a, it’s the story about three women who are struggling in some way or the other with their connection to poverty and feeding of kids. And so, obviously, that’s something that’s very close to my heart and my history. But I think, you know, there’s a few few drops in the bucket that inspired me one was, you know, I was out with some high school friends a few years ago now. So this isn’t even really that reason, history. But, you know, one of my friends was, I don’t even know what B got into our bond. But she was going off about welfare people and like, how ignorant they were and how she was surprised. They could even read a pamphlet about something or other and like, how they just, you know, wanted handouts. And I like, I just turned to her and I was like, dude, like, you’re talking about my mom, like, does not okay? And I was like, that’s my story, you know, that, like, you were in school with me in the midst of that, like, what are you doing? I like, I got quiet and then somebody can, but like, you know, don’t don’t talk shit about my mom
Phil Rickaby 33:12
I do want to jump in and say that, I mean, that is something the whole vilification of people who are on welfare or have been on welfare is one of those things that, like I’ve had, like, I’ve been on welfare, and, you know, it serves a purpose. And it’s not just so that like, you know, as some as a Oh, people do, who don’t want to work come by smokes or whatever, but like it serves a literal purpose. And but I’ve had, I’ve had instances where people have found out that I was on welfare and like, that sort of changed the relationship. Like I became a different person in their eyes, because I’d been in on welfare.
Helen Knight 33:50
I was terrified of that, because I I grew up in time in place in the country where like, the premier of Alberta walked up to a homeless man one day, like on unsolicited, like, actually, here’s the actual story. He was driving in his limo or sedan like he was being driven by a driver. So that’s how the story got out. He made him stop, he got out of the backseat of the car, walked up to a homeless man yelled at him in his face, told him to get a fucking job. And then took a handful of heavy coins out of his pocket and threw them in the man’s face, and got back in the car. And that was the premiere that I grew up with. And there were so many more people applauding him then. Then Yeah, then as necessary, it didn’t affect his popularity, if anything, probably helped his popularity. And that was the most important person with power in the province for years and years and years. And that was, and so, I was doing this show and I’m like, I grew up on welfare. Here’s my mom. I was literally like, I was inviting my work colleagues when I first premiered this in Calgary, wasn’t it my work colleagues and people, I didn’t know that well to come see it. And I was like, they may fucking hate me. Like, they may hear this story and just hate like, I didn’t know, before I had done the show, I didn’t know how it was going to be received. And I and like, there was three or four times where I was like, I shouldn’t do this show I, this is dumb. And, you know, I don’t I don’t want my esteem in my colleagues eyes to go down, all this other stuff. But I think really what pushed me to do this show is that everyone, including myself, knows the story of the story of someone, some woman because there’s always a woman, some woman who had seven kids, and is on the dole making $40,000 a month off the government’s grant, like everyone knows some somebody, and why welfare or H or whatever social assistance programme is bunk, because they know this one person or they don’t know, but their cousin knows or their neighbour knows them.
Phil Rickaby 36:11
It’s always it’s always a friend of a friend, or I heard from a friend of a friend of ours, somebody.
Helen Knight 36:15
Yeah. And so they all know someone like that, and a regard like I could go up to them. And I could say, actually, that’s not statistically accurate. And actually, most people on welfare that can work are and you know, I can say that, or I can offer them a story. And it’s my mother’s story. And it’s about the working poor. And the fact that my mother story, and our story is not unusual in that who we were. And what we needed and why we were there is not was not at all uncommon to people in the mid 80s 90s. Like, it was for us, we were so typical as the paint like we’re there’s nothing special about my family. And there’s nothing special about how we got, which is why I also don’t talk about how we got out. I don’t talk about the fact that my mother was a pastor’s wife, because I did on my first iteration. And I was worried that I was I was what’s the word I’m looking for, like, morally trying to like, give her more credit, like, Oh, yeah, the ambiguity of whether or not my sisters and I came from the same father as left in the current draft, because it doesn’t fucking matter. What you’re dealing with is someone who had the tenacity and the responsibility of choosing to raise children. And whoever the fathers were, we’re clearly not interested in participating in that, right. And yet, we have children that need food, and we punish the one parent who’s decided to make sure that they have at versus the one parent who fell off. And so I just don’t like so it’s not interest. It’s not interesting to me, like, what kind of, she must be a particular wonderful person, if you’re not, you know, white trash, or whatever the fuck that even means. So I’m just, I’m not interested in telling that. So I’m just interested in saying, here’s the story of a woman that really needed welfare. And she took it, and it was awful. But without it, we may have grown up on the streets. Without it, I don’t even I can’t even fathom to think about where we would be, we may have even been in foster care. And not growing up together. Because, you know, in the 90s $4.50 was the minimum wage. And so that’s, you cannot raise three children on that much money. I can’t even raise yourself on that much money. But so, you know, that that was the impetus for my show is I was like, I can counter this narrative in two seconds, if you’ll give me if you’ll give me the podium. And, and it was also sort of this, I was looking for something to write about, and I wrote this essay one day about, you know, I have nothing to say, that was the title of my essay. I was like, fine, what the fuck am I gonna write about? I’m nothing to say. I’m middle class, white, sis straight,
Phil Rickaby 39:03
like the fuck yeah.
Helen Knight 39:05
You know, when I, when I wasn’t any of those, like, you know, I’ve always been white. When I didn’t have when I didn’t have any privilege, that’s when I needed to tell my story. And yet, because I didn’t have privilege, I couldn’t tell my story. And so that kind of it kind of devolved into that of going like, Oh, fuck, now that I have privilege, now that I have a podium and I have an education and diploma which says I am, you know, worthy to take the stage and to tell you a story in a compelling way and, or whatever. And I have the training to allow me to do that. And like, now, after I’m no longer in need, I can tell you about being in need. And, and so the irony of that really struck me and I think that kind of, so it’s just a few things kind of coalescing together. It happened to be also, you know, a couple months after Donald Trump’s election, and everybody’s like, well, let’s poor our white people in Got him there? And it’s like, Oh, great. One more. More thing that will respond. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 40:05
Helen Knight 40:06
So that was just a lot of stuff, obviously like, I mean, I’m still very I get geared up I like writing and making shows about things that piss me off. So the general ignorance about what the welfare state actually looks like and how it’s not a picnic and, and how dehumanising it can actually be and how poverty is not a moral issue. It is a systemic and financial one. Yeah, that’s a that’s something that pisses me off, and it gets me riled up. And so that’s something good for me to write about.
Phil Rickaby 40:40
What I’m what I’m curious about your writing process for this solo show? Did you do you sit down, you just start writing and you wrote, did you write right from beginning to end? Well, how does how does writing a solo show look like for you,
Helen Knight 40:57
um, I’ve never been a linear writer, I, I’ve always been joined it, I kind of use that, you know, term loosely, but like, you know, in school, I wouldn’t do it on my own. But like, once we were assigned something, I’d be like, okay. But I’ve, I’ve never been linear. So I have an idea in my head, I write what the idea is. And then I can kind of spread out spread out from there. Which is not to say, like, I don’t I don’t know where the story is going. And I don’t necessarily even know where it begins. But I know there’s a core thesis in there. And so that’s kind of that’s kind of where it began. So for me, I, you know, my writing process for this show was you know, that I have nothing to say sort of essay that I wrote myself. And then I was like, Oh, shit, I gotta, I gotta tell my family story a little bit. But I was also terrified. I think I’ve told you this before, but I was terrified of like, doing one of those one one shows where you just like, take yourself. So seriously, you end up weeping, yeah, spotlight alone over a candle and like, just feeling all of your feelings, and everybody else in the audience is feeling really uncomfortable as you go through this purging experience. So I was like, how do I deflect that a little bit? I’m feeling very exposed. And so I seen this really brilliant one man show called seven guitars, by chase Padgett a few years prior and, and he plays, you know, seven guitars. And he plays seven different characters with those guitars and I was like, Oh, fuck, like, I can, I can split this narrative up, I can. It doesn’t have to just be my, my myself and my mom and our story. It can, there’s so many other perspectives that you can include in this that will shine lights in different ways on this. And so that’s what inspired me to kind of go, like, I can do it another way. So so then realising that it didn’t just have to be about me, I was like, oh, okay, and who else can it be about? So usually, it just starts with, like, a character monologue or what, what’s the part of that character that sticks out to me the most, and then I write something down from that perspective. So,
Phil Rickaby 43:07
yeah, cuz I mean, when I write a solo show, I write it nonlinear it really, yeah, I write I have a notebook, I fill that notebook. And whatever idea comes I write, I try to write as much of it as I can, and it’s all over the place. And then I try to type all of that out and try to see what’s there. And then I do that same thing to another notebook. But when I write it, when I write a straight play like just a regular play I write from beginning to end so they they’re different processes for me for some reason. Yeah, I
Helen Knight 43:37
think I think knowing that you’re going to play all the characters might influence that a little bit yeah, cuz it you know when you view yourself as an actor approach the characters from somewhere in your like gut and so then you can write like that to somewhere in my gut versus I think a play you have to be like, Okay, my gut but like how would this impact tonight support that kind of with with more understanding because I I can’t just unlike a one person show where the links between the characters and links between the themes is a lot more intuitive I think for me, you know if I’m doing I’m writing for other people I need to make it less intuitive and more overt so that they can follow along. Or not overt in like a “and that’s the moral of the story”
Phil Rickaby 44:25
no no, but when you are like when did when How did what was the did this show premiere at a fringe or did you like self produce? How did what was its what how did it premiere?
Helen Knight 44:37
Yeah, I don’t I don’t work without deadlines. I’m so freakin lazy. I was like, Oh, I have this idea. And it’s like, just half the American election which just happens to be around the time where everybody’s asking for fringe applications. I was like, this is a good idea. Okay, and so I like I put all my names in all the boxes and like So which one actually I don’t even know if I went that far, I think it was like Calgary, Edmonton, maybe the caf lottery is all I applied for that year. And I just got the Calgary lottery, which was fine. Keep it local people simple because again, this might be a piece of shit, by the way. And so then I had about Yeah, like, nine months to write and develop and produce a show after that. So, but I need the fear or it doesn’t get done. The fear of public embarrassment is a really great motivator
Phil Rickaby 45:30
what?- How long ago was that premiere? Was it a year ago, two years ago? 2017 2017. And so what made you want it? Was it What made you want to do it again?
Helen Knight 45:42
Well, I did in Calgary, and then it was very well received here again, like, much to my surprise. And so word had gotten around to the artistic producer of the one act, company here in town. And so I contacted her and she’s like, Well, yeah, I’ve heard good things about your show. And we would love to invite you to come develop it with us, like, holy shit. So that 2018 end term, you’re actually I was able to, like, take it in the spring. And they paid me to like, develop it.
Phil Rickaby 46:17
Helen Knight 46:20
Yeah, right. Right. Some people pay me to write plays. Its fricking crazy.
Phil Rickaby 46:26
That’s wow. Yeah.
Helen Knight 46:27
Yeah. They’re played at home and series is awesome. So like, I went in, they gave me a director slash dramaturg, and an actor to play me. So all I could do is just put on my writing cap and like, listen to somebody else, say my words. And like, felt like I’ve never had a reading experience like that in my life that was so simple. And like, I wasn’t producing and acting at the same time. And like, it felt like a vacation. It was so great. So I took my you know, my rough fringy version. And, you know, the things I didn’t like, and I refined it, like my first version of the show, I had a chef puppet that was made out of a dishwashing glove, and he didn’t make the cut. It was
Phil Rickaby 47:10
I don’t recall,a the chef puppet in version that I saw. So obviously, the puppetry didn’t make
Helen Knight 47:17
No. it didn’t make it mostly because I’m really shit. Here, I think, bless my director for you know, trusting me to try it out. But I was not good. But yeah, so then, you know, I got to work on that for a couple of weeks in the studio with them. And then by the end of the summer, I, you know, submitted my final draft to them. And, and yeah, so, lunchbox theatre and carry was like, super instrumental in refining it. So I think once I had the, the second, you know, professional version of it, it was just like, and I think with Calgary and stuff, I was like, Oh, no, the show’s got legs like I this is, this is good. Like, I can take this to places, it will find an audience that will resonate with people, people won’t think I’m a piece of shit. They may not like it, but like, you know, they’re not gonna be like, oh, and so. So I was like, Oh, yeah, like, I’m going to try it out on some other folks until I find until I find somebody that’ll produce it for me. I want to produce it myself, because I really believe in it.
Phil Rickaby 48:20
and then you entered in the Toronto lottery.
Helen Knight 48:22
I did. Yeah, I got into Toronto and Edmonton this year. But then I got I got my Academy gig, so I had to pull out of Edmonton. But Toronto is still, Toronto was Songdo, I was actually on the waitlist for Toronto. And then they called me a month before Fringe.
Phil Rickaby 48:38
Oh my god. That’s right. That’s what you you weren’t in the programme. So you you had the worst. The worst case scenario I started going into this sort of fringe is, is that not only like, you get you get the message a month before we’re already ever like all the all the media people have decided what shows they want to recommend. You’re not even in the in the programme, and oh my god, that deficit ever.
Helen Knight 49:06
It was bad. And like, I talked to my husband, I was like, dude, like, we’re not gonna be in the parking programme. Like, should we do this? And he’s looking at me, he’s like, you want to go to Toronto? I was like, Yeah, I can do it. So it’s like, in some ways, it was kind of nice, because we’re like, look like this is gonna be an uphill battle the whole time. Who cares? Like let’s just go have fun, spend our summer in southern Ontario, go hang out see some shows that we’d not be able to see otherwise and, and then I also get to like continue to develop this show that it’s great everything so and if I get some recognition or some buzz around it all the better but like, that’s not what brought us out there as it was just like we we needed this. We needed the opportunity, I think, oh, and my hubby was also very intuitive and he was like, you just need to know that. You can Go and take this risk and know that you will lose money on it and still be okay with that, like, again. He he, he’s really good at challenging me about, you know, financial risks because I’m a lot more skittish about that stuff. And he’s like, babe, even if we lose money, we’ll be okay. You will not be on the street. Even if this is a bus like, go stretch, explore, lose the money will be fine. And I’m like, yeah. Oh, so that was kind of part of that, too.
Phil Rickaby 50:30
I think I do think that that, that is sort of an important part of of performers life to is one thing to do your show at home. It’s another thing entirely to do it somewhere else. And to take it on the road and take it somewhere where they don’t nobody knows you and that sort of thing. Which is, which is you know, it’s it’s it’s an important challenge. And it shows you that you can do it. Yes,
Helen Knight 50:57
yeah. Just even if you even if you go and you tank, like knowing that you can go experience failure and still survive, and you’re like, Oh, fuck, like, yeah, that sucks. But it wasn’t the end of the world. Like, that’s such an important life lesson. To know that you can do that and the world doesn’t collapse under you. And you’re still standing on the ground afterwards. Like that’s important. I always
Phil Rickaby 51:21
think that one of the most important things that anybody doing a show and self producing in general but doing a show with in the fringe where there’s there’s so many other shows at the same time. And there’s all that you did the thing. Like you wrote this thing, you made this thing you perform this thing. That puts you fucking so far ahead of so many other people who only wish they’d done yeah.
Helen Knight 51:43
Yeah, yeah. And I genuinely think if I hadn’t come out to the Toronto particularly this year when I did have a little bit of like energy from soul Piper behind me and so I really, I really would have regretted it I would have said like, that was an opportunity wasted and, and so yeah, I’m super glad.
Phil Rickaby 52:03
So after the show that you’re doing right now, what’s what what comes after that? I’ve got
Helen Knight 52:08
a I’ve got a few weeks off. I will probably hop into the hospital and make some good coin. And then I’ve got a Christmas show with lunch. Yeah, so like, you know, mid mid November to the end of the year. Um, that’s fine. That’s great. Yeah. Yeah.
Phil Rickaby 52:28
Well, hello, thank you so much for for talking to me today.
Helen Knight 52:31
Oh, that was lovely. Thank you.