#290 – Brad Fraser
Brad Fraser is one of Canada’s best known playwrights. Born in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1959, Brad won his first playwriting competition at the age of seventeen, and has been writing ever since. Brad’s international hit play Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love premiered at the Alberta Theatre Projects’ PlayRites Festival in 1989. It has since been produced worldwide, in many languages, with highly successful runs in Toronto, New York, Chicago, Milan, Sydney and London. Poor Super Man, developed by Canadian Stage, was first produced by the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati in 1994 and has enjoyed successful runs in many cities, including Toronto, London, Sydney, Edinburgh and Denver. It was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama and adapted into a feature film, Leaving Metropolis, written and directed by Brad. Poor Super Man, like Unidentified Human Remains, was listed by Time magazine as one of the top ten plays of its year. Many other plays have followed in successful productions. Brad has also written extensively for magazines and newspapers, including The Globe and Mail and the National Post, and for three seasons was a writer and producer on Showtime’s Queer As Folk.
Brad Fraser’s Memoir, All The Rage, is available now at your favourite bookseller.
Support Stageworthy: https://tips.pinecast.com/jar/stageworthy
Brad Fraser, Phil Rickaby
Phil Rickaby 00:01
Welcome to Episode 290 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. Thank you for listening. If you’ve been listening to Stageworthy for a while, or maybe you’re a first time listener and you’re listening to a link on the website, did you know that you can subscribe so that you never miss an episode? You can do that by searching for stage where the on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify or anywhere you get podcasts and clicking on the handy subscribe button. That way, every week, the new episode of Stageworthy will be delivered right to you. And if you subscribe, let me know that you’re a new subscriber. If you want to drop me a line you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @philrickaby and My website is philrickaby.com. You can find Stageworthy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and the website where you can find the archive of all 290 episodes is at stageworthypodcast.com. My guest this week is playwright Brad Fraser. Brad’s memoir, all the rage is available now at your favourite bookseller. Just to get started, the book is called All the Rage. And it’s a it’s a memoir, as as a playwright, was there anything in particular that drove you or really wanted you that you made you really think about and want to write a memoir?
Brad Fraser 01:46
Well, no, I’ve been asked to write a memoir a couple of times in my life, and always demurred because I felt I was too young or whatever. But I was posting on World AIDS Day on on December 1, as I do every year, I have a whole file full of people who have died. And I post them on Twitter and Facebook. And I tell some stories and that kind of thing. And Bruce Walsh, who was the publisher at University of Regina press contacted me and said, you know, the stories are really great, you really should tell them because we’re losing this history. And I thought, well, that’s a cool way to maybe not write a memoir and write a memoir, at the same time I’m writing about myself, but I’m also writing about all the people who were lost. So it gave me a different kind of lens to look at the idea of of writing a memoir through and that being said, it’s only a partial memoir, because it only goes up to the year 2000.
Phil Rickaby 02:41
Right. Right, that gives you room for a sequel.
Brad Fraser 02:45
Phil Rickaby 02:47
But you know, it’s this is the second time today that that the the idea of the the loss of memory about the AIDS epidemic has has has been mentioned, for me. Just the fact that that a lot of people who are a lot younger than that, I think you’re I are are growing up sort of thinking Oh, that was must have been a really rough couple of years or something like that, when it was like a decade of people dying.
Brad Fraser 03:20
Yeah, at least a decade, it was actually about two decades of people dying if you start from the beginning of the plague, and then go up to where people stopped dying. And that’s why I stopped it in the year 2000. Because that’s where people really stopped dying in the same numbers they had been after the advent of protease inhibitors and different treatments and that kind of thing.
Phil Rickaby 03:42
It’s, yeah, I think that the idea that forgetting it, I mean, we people do have short memories. And because we only are we often only think about what’s happening right now. And that’s what’s relevant. And so the idea that, that so many people in the community were were dying, in such large numbers, is, is something that I think, because it’s not considered a death sentence now, as it was in the certainly in the 80s. And up until, as you say, 2000 i think that that, that a lot of younger people don’t understand how bad it was.
Brad Fraser 04:24
No one you know, we we’d like to forget things particularly that were painful. You know, they say, a woman near that never really remembers childbirth the way it happened, because if she did, she would never go through it again. Or if we’ve been through you know, I suffered from spinal stenosis for five years and was in a great deal of pain at that time and I have a very good memory but when I look back on those years, they’re very hard to remember and I think the tower, our brain does something to protect us that takes away a lot of the unpleasantness of memory and kind of dulls it down and you know, I I used to talk to classes of young people at the universities and that kind of thing, they would read poor Superman and I would talk about the HCI years. And it became harder and harder to tell them the story to make them understand. So I hope that in writing the book, and in evoking the people I knew, and then, you know, actually allowing them to be characters and the reader to get to know them, that it would bring some of that sense of immediacy of how horrible it was when people were sick and dying on such a massive level, when we were so young, as well. happening, when I was in my early 20s, this whole thing started. So it really took the bloom out of the joy of gay liberation at the time.
Phil Rickaby 05:41
Sure, I, I remember seeing a picture of I think it was the San Francisco Men’s Choir. And it was a picture showing the the, all of the people who were new to the choir, who were post AIDS epidemic, we’re wearing a white sweater, and the three survivors of the of the epidemic, were wearing black sweaters. And so we had this massive room of white with just a few people in black. And it was it was like this, this really stark reminder of this is is the kind of of horrible numbers of deaths that were seen at the time?
Brad Fraser 06:19
Well, yes. And it also explains why it can be so hard to remember as well, because so many people are gone. And so many people from that particular generation, you know, the men who were 10 years older than me, were the first to go. And then I think that men who were about five years younger than me, were kind of the last to worry about it. But within that period, there were you know, 10s of 1000s, if not millions of people lost to AIDS. And it was really dramatic. And it was really fast. It wasn’t like people were disappearing here and there. It was like, people were dying in droves for most of the 80s.
Phil Rickaby 06:56
Brad Fraser 06:59
So a lot of the people who we would give testament to who we would give witness to were people who would have done it, they’re dead. You know, there are so few of us from that generation left, that it’s it’s a tremendous responsibility to bear. And I know a lot of people in my age range, don’t want to relive it don’t want to go back there don’t want to remember what it was like, because it was so traumatic, and it was so completely horrifying.
Phil Rickaby 07:27
I think there’s also there’s also a perception that it’s all a right now, because through the AIDS epidemic, then we have gay rights, that then again, all of the things all of the the marriage equality and all of that it came out of the AIDS epidemic. And that’s all right. But that’s something that only people who never lived through it could actually think.
Brad Fraser 07:48
I’m sorry. Is there a question there?
Phil Rickaby 07:51
No, I guess it’s not a question. It’s really just sort of like
Brad Fraser 07:53
I wasn’t sure. yes, that is that is true. That is very true.
Phil Rickaby 07:57
Yeah. Um just to turn towards theatre. I know that that part of your story is, is that you you grew up, you grew up poor and and you had a, an abusive childhood. So what, what took you from that to theatre? What brought you to theatre?
Brad Fraser 08:19
Well, that’s a that’s a kind of a hard question. I guess I sort of address it in the book. I mean, you know, it was creativity was always my outlet for my anger, for my pain, whatever it was, whether I was drawing, or whether I was writing, excuse me, or whether I was acting, which, you know, came later on. It took me to someplace else that allowed me to exercise my imagination. And I think that, you know, I’m a very unlikely sort of personality to end up in the theatre, I’m from the wrong class, I’m from the wrong background. And, and to become a writer of all things when I come from, you know, people who who are not known for their academic acumen, if you will, is is quite astounding. And I think, you know, I have to say it was I believe it was my gayness that took me there, I believe it was the fact that I needed someplace that was relatively safe for queer people to function to be themselves to interface with other queer people. And the theatre is better for that than a lot of other places in the world. That’s not to say that homophobia doesn’t exist in the theatre, there’s a great deal of it in the theatre, but as as, sort of as it goes, it’s not as bad as other places. And also, I really have always been very good of make making something out of nothing. And for me, that’s what the theatre is the theatre is incantations and magical gestures that we pass down to one another, that create entire worlds out of nothingness, using just the imagination of the audience. And for me, that’s always been one of the most exciting things about doing anything, but particularly about the theatre.
Phil Rickaby 09:56
Mm hmm. Yeah. Was there I mean, In terms of your introduction to theatre was there. I assume that that that was not something you did as a child when you were older? Did you? Did you did you stumbled into theatre? Did somebody invite you to play is like how did that? How did How was that introduction? Do you remember how that happened?
Brad Fraser 10:17
Yeah, well, you know, there were there was drama class in your high school and we did a lip sync version of jesus christ superstar in the eighth grade. Some of the songs from it, but really, my first exposure to the theatre was a friend of mine I’ve gone to I grew up in a, certainly in my adolescent years in an area of Edmonton called Beverly, which is quite a rough working class neighbourhood. And when I was in junior high school, one of my best friends actually didn’t go to the local high school, he went to the downtown High School for the Arts. And he did a play in his second year, and he invited me to come and see it was a small musical in a Black Box Theatre that was done basically with, you know, hairpins and elastic bands without minimum. And it absolutely blew me away how they created an entire world in that little black space and how well acquitted it was. And the next day, I went back to my high school and said, Okay, I’m leaving here, I was dropping out anyway. And I auditioned for the Performing Arts programme at VIP cop and the next year, I moved downtown and started going to the art school. Hmm. Well, that, you know, there as students, we got tickets to a lot of previews of there were, you know, it was the late 70s. So there were a lot of new theatres opening in town, and the Citadel was still there. JOHN Neville was running it at the time, and I saw some really amazing plays. I saw Equus that first year that the new Citadel opened, which was a Peter Shaffer play about a boy who puts the eyes out of six horses. We have a beautiful men, male dancers dressed as horses and acting in this play, and nudity. You know, I was 17 years old, and there was a naked man and woman on the stage that it completely blew me away. So I sort of, you know, came of age with it, this idea that theatre was something that was confrontational, that involve nudity and violence and things like that, I thought, well, I come from that world, I should be very good at this.
Phil Rickaby 12:15
You know, when you mentioned seeing that first show, that was like elastics, and and and hairpins and just put together in this black box, I’m often reminded of how it doesn’t take in the theatre, we don’t need a lot to create, we don’t need a whole set we don’t need we don’t need we don’t really need chairs. We don’t even need costumes, we could just be wearing like a plain pants, plain shirt. And we could be a gentleman, a poor person, a prophet, you can be so many things. Just because you say you are there’s this suspension of disbelief that exists in the theatre. And I can imagine that would have been mind blowing to see that simple play as as a child at first.
Brad Fraser 12:59
Yeah, as as a teenager, certainly. But you know, I get asked a lot because I do work in film and TV a lot. And people say, Well, why do you keep going back to the theatre? Why do you what is it about the theatre that keeps bringing you back, and it was exactly what you just said, it’s the fact that if I write for film or TV, a scene that is set in Atlanta is under the ocean full of murder people and they’re being attacked by an octopus, well, then we have to build all that stuff and create it through the computer, and it takes years and years to do it. Whereas if I do that scene on stage, and I say we’re in Atlantis, we’re with the murder people. And we’re being attacked by octopus, and they’re just a bunch of actors, now suddenly, under a green light waving their arms like merpeople. And we have someone come and bring our giant rope out, wrap it around them, the audience will see exactly what I told them was there, but I don’t have to make any of that their imagination does it so that that sense of immediacy, and also that sense of of no limits that in fact, the theatre can go much farther than film or TV because again, you know, it asks the audience’s imagination to do the work. And I think that’s underutilised. And when you say we don’t need much to, you know, to create theatre, that’s my kind of theatre. You know, when I’ve directed with my shows, and the kind of aesthetic I have, as far as I’m concerned, the less bullshit you have on the stage, the better the less props, the less costumes, the less set, the less things you have for people to dislike or get in the way of the storytelling. So that’s exactly what I love most about the theatre and that and the immediacy, the fact that it is happening when we’re all together in one space, breathing the same air smelling one another’s pheromones, with an awareness of ourselves and what’s going on on the stage that I think makes it a really magical experience when it works when it’s good.
Phil Rickaby 14:47
Yeah, yeah. Now, now going into a theatre programme and just sort of like dropping everything and going in at the time, were you thinking I’m going to be an actor or how did you make the decision that that you were going to be primarily playwright first, or was that a decision? how did how did that happen?
Brad Fraser 15:04
Well, I wanted to be an actor and I started to be an actor. I enjoyed acting, I don’t know that I was particularly gifted at it. But I didn’t embarrass myself too much. But really, I, you know, in reading the plays we were doing in high school, I went Jesus, I can write a better play than this for young people. And that’s sort of how I got my started. My start was writing scenes and little short one act plays for myself and people in the class. And then I eventually wrote a one act play that one, the Alberta culture playwriting competition, and I got a lot more positive reinforcement as a writer than I did as an actor. But I also came to realise that when you’re an actor, you were always at somebody else’s mercy, you need somebody else to believe in you and hire you, in order to do what you do. A writer doesn’t necessarily need that eventually, yes, you want someone to like the play and produce it and all of that kind of thing. But I didn’t have to rely on anyone hiring me to be a writer in order to write a play. So it gave me another kind of freedom. And it also I felt gave me more power than I had as an actor.
Phil Rickaby 16:10
Hmm, no, absolutely, there is definitely something about about acting, where it does become too much about needing other people and like you need permission to do it, somebody has to make you make you an actor, in some ways. identified human remains, and the true nature of love became something of a sensation. And, as as a play, When, when, when, when you create, I mean, I think that all of us, when we create something, when we write something, in our wildest dreams, it would become a sensation. But when when it started, when you were beginning to write it, was there a writing process for that play? And how did it like how was it first received before it became what it became? Well, it’s
Brad Fraser 17:03
interesting, because, you know, it was the play that I wrote after the failure of wolf boy and chainsaw love and Wolf boy had gotten quite big in terms of Canadian plays kind of playing in a number of different cities. And then ultimately here at theatre pass variety in 1984 excuse me with Keanu Reeves were famously bombed. And and I sort of went, I want to get out of the theatre, I hate the theatre, I was being taught to limit what I was doing. So when I sat down to write a play again, after a couple of years, I went, Okay, you know what, I’m going to throw everything they’ve told me everything about using one set, everything about the terror gone, well made play with five characters and a certain unity to it, I’m going to throw all that stuff out the window. And in fact, I’m going to do the exact opposite. I am going to have seven characters in my play, and they’re going to be all ages and all sexualities, I’m going to have multiple locations that we go to, and from very quickly, I’m going to write in short, choppy scenes, I’m going to be as rude as I can possibly be, I’m going to be as funny as I can possibly be. And when I wrote it, it was so freeing It was so it was also the first play I ever wrote where I was smoking pot while I was writing as well. And I would just, you know, like knock myself out laughing so hard some nights when I was working on it, and when it was done, I felt like I had really achieved something different and something that people wouldn’t expect from me. But I couldn’t get anyone to produce it for almost five years. Everyone knew they were people who liked it. But there were people who also said, Oh, it’s too rude for us. It’s far too gay. For us. It’s hard, too violent for us. And you know, that old sort of saw that they love it, the theatre, our audience won’t like it. Well, you know, I knew those theatres, and frankly, none of them had an audience. So that was crap from the very beginning. But finally, I actually I moved from Edmonton to Calgary because Alberta theatre projects. It started the new play festival a couple years earlier, and I thought, well, if there’s any place in this country where I might get this play done, it’s there for that festival and I went there and I introduced myself to the theatre and I got to know Michael Dobbin and Alan McInnes and the people who were there at the time. And and they were terrified of it. They weren’t they didn’t want to do it. I talked them into doing a reading the year of the Olympics in 1988 in the lobby, and made sure there were a lot of people there and it got a really interesting reaction but even when we were when they finally scheduled it for the next festival The following year, you know, the director quit shortly before opening because I felt she didn’t feel feel like she had confidence in her and I didn’t have confidence in her I felt like she was apologising. For the play. Michael Dobbin, who was artistic director at the time, came out and actually told the audience before the show if they wanted to leave now, he wouldn’t refund their money and they basically made That speech before every showing during the festival, and of course, if it had been, you know, an advertising idea would have been gold because nobody left everybody stayed to see what was going on. But the first audience we had, and it was a fundraiser for the AIDS committee of Calgary. So it was a very sympathetic audience. There were a lot of queer people there. I mean, the show started. And for the first three or four minutes, there was absolute silence. And then David walked in and said, Honey, I’m homo, and the place cracked up and it became a roller coaster ride from that point of people, honestly holding their breath, and then screaming and terror or laughter or whatever it was. And after that first showing, I thought, Okay, this is interesting. This is good. This has to do something. And of course, it’s still being produced today.
Phil Rickaby 20:51
Hmm. It is so rare in the theatre to have that kind of like reaction. A lot of times people are so polite, so it must have been pretty thrilling to have that vocal reaction.
Brad Fraser 21:01
It was thrilling, but you know, what was even more thrilling. And again, I think this has to do with the kind of class I come from. The people who come to my shows, and this has always been true, but it was really true with remains are not the people who usually go to the theatre. They’re usually people who go to clubs and movies and that kind of thing. They aren’t the the genteel kind of educated types we’re used to seeing in the theatre. And I’ve always taken great pride in that. And every every theatre that I’ve had a show produced that has always gone. Who are these people? And how do we get them to come back? Well, sadly, you have to print this more plays like the ones I’m writing, and there aren’t that many around.
Phil Rickaby 21:39
That is the big handwringing and Canadian Theatre in the last few years is where’s the audience going? How do we get those get people to come to the theatre? And then when they do, they have no idea how to connect with them. And they don’t they don’t take the steps. They don’t try to reach out they don’t, they don’t programme for them. They’re like, how can we bring these people to the plays that we want to do rather than, you know, the place that people want to watch
Brad Fraser 22:02
them that they want to come and see at least we see this all the time you see it with Trey Anthony, you see it with john Mike, you see it with, with writers with particular voices, who get a big following behind them, who can almost pack any theatre when they’re doing something but the problem we’ve always had in the theatre and the thing that’s always driven me crazy, is most theatre people don’t know and don’t want to know much about what’s going on in the real world. Here’s an insularity to the theatre into a lot of the work that’s made there that I think limits our audiences naturally, that it just says to people, please don’t come we’re making this for people who are not like you. And that’s very unfortunate. And it’s gotten more true. I mean, you know, I’ve been working in the theatre for over 40 years now. I mean, there was a time when theatres really worked for community outreach, and to get out there and to meet the people and to find out what they want and to get that audience. But that’s all kind of gone out the window. And it’s come to a point where really, we’re just performing theatre for other theatre people, most of the time accepted the most commercial houses. But generally speaking in our Canadian theatres, and our smaller theatres, the audience that is coming is the same audience that has always come, or it’s young people who want to be in the theatre, but we don’t see a lot of the average person going to plays. And I think that’s really unfortunate.
Phil Rickaby 23:23
I think that’s really unfortunate, too. And I think I think you’re right, it does have to do they have we’re not if we’re not bothering to find out what people want to see, if we spend all of our time disparaging the kinds of movies that Hollywood puts out, which still bring in audiences and things like that. If we’re totally ignoring the rest of the world, and we’re still doing our essentially our living room dramas or our kitchen dramas, then we’re really missing the entire audience. That’s not our friends and family.
Brad Fraser 23:54
Yeah, and basically, Yes, exactly. And it’s a place where academics feel comfortable. And I hate that about the theatre, because it shouldn’t be a place where academics feel comfortable, it should be a place where a great many people feel uncomfortable, and also thrilled at the same time. And yet, when you talk to artistic directors, and this is as true now as it was when I was starting out, predominantly, they work on a level of fear. They work on a level of non confrontation, they’re terrified that someone’s going to write a letter of complaint, they’re terrified. They’re not terrified that no one will show up because they’re going to get the grant money to keep the theatre going no matter what. They’re actually terrified. Someone might show up and respond to what they’re actually doing. And I think that’s why our theatres have become really not very valid places for the average person to go anymore.
Phil Rickaby 24:43
No, because it’s To me, it’s one of the most the things that I always hate to hear, but I’ve heard it so many times, is mentioning a play to somebody and I saw play once and I didn’t like it. So I don’t like the theatre. Like this is the the it just means that like we are not engaging with people. I would love to get the letter if you’ve pissed somebody off and they took a chance, the time to read the letter, like you’re doing something exciting that I think it’s really too bad that that that theatres are afraid to take the chance of thrilling people.
Brad Fraser 25:17
Yeah, well, there’s a lot of that that goes on. And I mean, I remember at one point that there was a small theatre, I won’t mention where it was not in this country that opened remains and got these these polarising reviews about how horrible and how brilliant it was at the same time. And the sales went through the roof, and I want to congratulate them. And they actually were angry, because they didn’t know how to keep up with the demand. So they were mad that my play was selling so many tickets, that they couldn’t keep up with the demand. Because they didn’t, they’d never had anything that people wanted to see that much before. And they didn’t want to rise to the occasion. They just wanted to be angry about it.
Phil Rickaby 25:57
That’s so tragic. That’s so tragic. It says it’s,
Brad Fraser 26:00
it’s so true. I mean, it is it’s very sad. Now, this the success of a play, like Unidentified Human Remains, does that, does that make it that easier for you to approach a theatre with a new play or a more difficult? Well, it actually does both, you know, because people are very interested in and you know, I was lucky. And I mean that quite non ironically, that a lot of producers saw money signs, when I walked into the room, you can see the dollar signs light up in their eyes, whatever I was doing. And therefore, there was a period where I could go into a number of different theatres. And most of them tended to be more commercial rather than the other kind of theatres and say, you know, this is what I’m working on. And they would say, yeah, we’re very interested in that. But the problem is, people come in with an expectation that your next project is going to be like your last one. My whole thing has always been throughout my career, not to repeat myself to try to explore different forums and different concerns and different worlds and different kinds of characters. So people can come in expecting remains, and then they get something like the ugly man, which was my follow up to remains, which is an adaptation of The Avengers tragedy, which is a classic Jacoby and revenge, tragedy, and full of blood and gore, but not in the same way that remains was and they all kind of went, What the hell is this? This is what we were expecting. And even, even poor Superman, which was the next play, had some of the same concerns in terms of sexuality, and in terms of gender, but none of the violence, none of the none of the melodrama of remains, it was a much smaller, more domestic kind of play. But again, then people responded better to that one, because it was more like what they expected.
Phil Rickaby 27:52
Mm hmm. Is it I don’t even know, there’s a question that can be answered. But is that a is that is is having that successful play Sony at the beginning of your career that people are looking to keep thinking that’s what you’re going to be giving them? Is that a bit of a burden to carry? Or do you just not care?
Brad Fraser 28:10
one learns not to care. And, you know, it wasn’t that early on in my career. I mean, I had, you know, I had my I won my first playwriting competition. When I was a teen, I had my first production of mutants when I was 21. And I’d had three or four other productions by then I just turned 31 remains happens. So it wasn’t like, you know, I was, I suddenly had written one play, and it was a huge hit. And what I’m going to do, I had plenty of experience with failure prior to that, thankfully, because that’s mostly what you’re going to get into the theatre. But there was a period in the late 90s, early 2000s, where I did feel a bit like one of those singers who has a hit song, and none of their other songs ever quite make it. So they’re always going around, and trotting out that one song that they’re known for, and I was getting quite resentful about it. And I even left the theatre for a while. But after that, you know, and after I had done a movie, and we did queers folk and things like that my dad stayed away for a while, when I came back to the theatre, I really didn’t care, but I read a play, I read a play that wants to, because I want to explore something theatrical that appeals to me that I think might appeal to other people and I’ll do my best and see how it goes. And I was lucky enough to have a, you know, a 20 year relationship with a Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England, where they literally did every play that I wrote, and where I am the only playwright there who has been produced more than me as Shakespeare. So I had a an artistic home for two decades with an artistic director who believed in me and and would put what I was doing up even if it wouldn’t succeed in the same way remains or poor Superman had because he understood it was important to my development to get me to the next thing we would be working on. Hmm
Phil Rickaby 29:57
that’s, I mean to have that is really quite amazing. For any playwright,
Brad Fraser 30:02
it is and I always wanted that in Canada and I never got it. It’s so ironic and yet maybe typical that, you know, someone from Manchester had to do it because I couldn’t get it in my own country. And in fact, you know, after the year 2000, the productions in Canada went way down, but the productions in England and other parts of the world went way up.
Phil Rickaby 30:22
Hmm. That’s – Any idea why that is? Or has Canada just continued to get more conservative in its theatrical productions?
Brad Fraser 30:33
I think Canada felt like oh, Brad Fra – , we’ve had enough Brad Fraser. We want other people now that have nothing to do with the audience. It has to do with the people who programme and the people who perceive me as being a particular type. And then people who perceive me as being hostile to the theatre, which I am in the same way that I’m hostile to mediocrity, in any situation. And I know, I haven’t made myself a lot of friends and certain theatres around around Canada. But at the same time, there also weren’t like a tonne of people I wanted to work with here that I felt, would understand what I was doing and be able to enhance it. And I felt like I had to go a little farther afield to do that. Not that there aren’t actors and directors and people that I love here in Canada, but I just felt like I had done as much as I could do here. And if I wanted to learn more, I had to, to go beyond what I was seeing here. And I have to say, working with directors in Italy or working with directors in Brazil, or working with directors in other countries with other languages where they have other ideas of how theatre can be produced and presented has been really important to me and I’ve had a really great bonus to my writing because it really has exposed me to a lot of different ways of working.
Phil Rickaby 31:48
Now, you mentioned being hostile to the theatre. Do you when you say that? Are you hostile to the theatre or you’re hostile to Canadian theatre? Is that the issue?
Brad Fraser 31:57
You know, bad theatre isn’t confined to Canada, you know, godless theatre is not confined to Canada. In fact, you can go to New York and you can see tonnes of theatre that has no spine at all, and, and, and London and is all being done for presentation and show. So, you know, I don’t want to I don’t want to make it seem like I’m bashing the Canadian theatre because it is it does happen everywhere. But there is a kind of homogenous pneus to Canadian theatre I find that it comes from, they tend to hire artistic directors who have the same education, often from the same people. And so they’re not often open to other ways of working or other ideas of what theatre could be or even being challenged, which I think is quite unfortunate.
Phil Rickaby 32:43
Hmm, definitely about the idea of being challenged. I think that there is an attitude and I’ve, I’ve seen it all over the place people are afraid to criticise people are afraid to people who were not theatre critics were maybe some of them as well, people are afraid to be critical of the theatres and, and the place that they do and things like that, almost as if as if challenging. The this the the upper creative class is can be death to your career. And and and, and who knows, maybe it would be if you’re not if you don’t, I don’t know if you’re not of that class. But I think that the idea that we cannot criticise the organisations and the productions that they do that we cannot ask them to challenge us more is really sort of keeps the mediocrity pumping out.
Brad Fraser 33:32
Yeah, well, I’ve always said that I’ve had no problem challenging anyone on something that I think isn’t up to par, or is mediocre or they’re backing away from because it’s too difficult, and they want to try something harder. And and again, you don’t make yourself any friends by doing that kind of thing. And if you’re a gay man, or if you’re a woman of colour or something, you get known as being difficult for doing that. Whereas white women when they do that are straight white guys, when they do what are known as being uncompromising. Not that they do it as much. But it is a it is a double edged sword. And often the people at the top are the people who are the actual problem.
Phil Rickaby 34:13
Well, I mean, the people at the top are the ones that that that sort of like they’re the ones who say our audience won’t like that. They’re the ones who who who programmed are the ones who, who, who yet again, another play another season of play set in either a kitchen or living room.
Brad Fraser 34:28
Although the kitchen and living room plays I’m kind of pining for them because what we get much more now or someone’s kind of identity confession and claiming of their minoritarian victim status and then dragging us through their process as if that somehow excuses how amateur it can be sometimes seems to be much more of what’s going on than those those kinds of plays. And what I’ve seen in the Canadian Theatre in particular, are directors who don’t actually know how The direct plays anymore. So they’re much, much more comfortable doing a collective Well, they don’t call them collective creations anymore. They call them verbatim theatre or cooperative theatre or something where we’re not actually going to learn any lines, we’re not actually going to do any blocking. And we’re not actually even going to really tell a story. But we’re going to share something with you that our teacher would have liked in university. And those ones make me scream for the days when we had bad kitchen plays on that kind of thing. Because at least there was an attempt at narrative. And at least there was an attempt at some kind of craft in presenting the play, and that seems to have fallen completely by the wayside.
Phil Rickaby 35:40
Hmm. I mean, there is something to be there, you have to present something there has to be a I know back when I was back, when I was growing up, I was reading all books about theatre, they would talk about the tableau. And I didn’t really understand what that meant. But there needs to be, you know, there needs to be it needs to be drama, it needs to look good. There needs to be a there’s movement, there’s so many things that there should be and, and a bunch of people standing still sharing their verbatim, whatever is not. There’s a lack of drama in there.
Brad Fraser 36:13
Yes. And that’s because we have developed a theatre that is actually afraid of conflict, just like we’ve developed a world that’s afraid of conflict, when in fact, conflict is the only thing that promotes any meaningful or constructive change a lot of the time, and we’ve taught young people to be to be afraid of it. You know, one thing I talk about in the memoir is that I come from a background of conflict, I’m and I had to fight for everything I got in my life. And I’ve never been afraid to do it. And I’ve never been afraid to walk into a theatre and get in conflict with somebody because things aren’t going the way they are. But that doesn’t again, make you a lot of friends. Theatre, people are very frightened by that. Even if it’s non confrontational, and not all conflict has to be angry or confrontational. You can pick a lot of different forums, but you know, the theatre is based on conflict, people, you can be afraid of it on any level.
Phil Rickaby 37:08
Hmm. No, that’s true. I’m just sort of switching gears just a little bit. I’m curious about how you have been dealing during the, the last year and a bit the pandemic? were you working on something at the start of this? Or? or How have you been? How have you been handling it?
Brad Fraser 37:28
Well, I’ve been I was actually pretty lucky because after a number of years, with very little going on, I got movie production of my latest play kill me now in South Korea was made. And so that was going on. And at the same time, excuse me, I signed a deal with a production company here to do the Canadian version of film of the same play. And I was writing this memoir, I was putting the I had to put the final touches, which took a year on the book. So I had a lot to keep me busy. And honestly, you know, I’ve been self employed for 40 years now, I haven’t had another job I’ve worked out of home, I do a lot of stuff out of my home. So the only really big change in my life is I’m not seeing as many of my friends as I used to. And I’m becoming very aware of how important that was to the kind of lifestyle I lead. That those those times of getting out to see people that having people over and things like that are really important. And I miss them. I miss them very much. But I also I care for an 85 year old neighbour of mine who has dementia, who was an only child and has no family and has no one. So my relationship with her has become much stronger. And much more Our lives have been much more entwined over this last 14 months. Because I literally have to do everything for her I have to buy her food, I have to get her drugs, I have to set up her appointments. You know, I have to check in and make sure she’s eating and all of that. So being responsible for somebody else in a period like this is actually a gift. Because it stops you from getting wonky and feeling sorry for yourself. Right? Yeah. Because you have to function you have to be there for them.
Phil Rickaby 39:11
Hmm, yeah, definitely. that that would be I think, that’s I wonder if that’s why so many people have have gotten dogs over the last little while I’ve seen an explosion of people getting dogs and I think a lot of that has to do with the need to have something to be responsible for another living thing to have to be responsible for.
Brad Fraser 39:28
Yeah, and hopefully they’ll be responsible for those dogs even when this is over and we won’t see a huge dump of rehome dogs going to shelters. Because people now realise that when you leave your house for eight hours a day your dog is a very different creature than it is when you’re around all the time and has other requirements. So I’m hoping that people keep the responsibility without I mean I have a cat i’ve i’ve had cats my whole life. And I’ve she’s been great to have during this pandemic because she makes me laugh every day.
Phil Rickaby 39:58
Yeah. The the that whole dog thing is, is, you know, I think I, you know, I had a dog for many, many years. And I think, you know, you, your life revolves around the animal, you know. And and these these these dogs that are new they’re, they’re growing up in their world where there people are always there. And I think there could be a boom industry of dog trainers who helped to prepare dogs for when their people go back to work.
Brad Fraser 40:28
Yeah, absolutely. And it is it is going to be a big change. I have to say even my cat has been so thrilled that I’m home all the time. She’s delighted to have me here at her beck and call. You know, so when when things are back to normal, and I’m away for 610 hours, 12 hours a day when I’m rehearsing yourself that it’ll be a big change for her as well.
Phil Rickaby 40:48
Yeah, she’ll probably find some way to punish you. Oh, yeah. She told me. One of the questions that I’ve been been asking everybody who’s come on in the last 14 months, is about about joy. We all need some joy in our lives. And we all need to I think it’s good to remind each other of the joys in our own lives. So aside from your cat, what’s what’s one of the joys that you’ve that you’ve been experiencing? Over the last 14 months?
Brad Fraser 41:19
Ah, well, seeing surely my friend is always a joy. She’s, you know, generally chippers, she’s generally glad to see me doing something good for someone else makes me feel very good. And bring me great joy. You know, my friend Spencer and I, who’s the only other person in my bubble, we put together a new season of our web series old movies for young people that’s on YouTube. And we’ve been editing that and doing all the work on it. And and being with him and working with him brings me great joy. And you just have to find it where you can get it because it’s not in the usual places these days.
Phil Rickaby 41:54
Yeah, no, absolutely. We’re all trying to figure out how to navigate, you know, and we’re still trying to figure out what is what is not seeing my friends for here mean. on a screen?
Brad Fraser 42:06
Yes, exactly. I’m seeing them on a screen is no, we’re talking to them on the phone is not the same thing at all, you know? No. And it also puts a tremendous pressure on those people in our lives that we do see, because they are if they are the only people that we see. So they are looked at to supply a great many things that in my case, anyway, are usually distributed among a larger number of people. You know, so that can be there can be a lot of expectation there as well.
Phil Rickaby 42:35
Yeah. Now, you mentioned uh, old movies for young people. What can you tell me? What is that? I mean, the title seems to explain it all. But I’m, I’m curious about, about what inspired that and what kind of movies can young people see?
Brad Fraser 42:52
Well, eight years ago, maybe nine, just about nine years ago, I did my masters at the University of Toronto, and I was the oldest fellow in the class and the gayest. And there was a young guy who was 22 years old, who was straight, who was my exact opposite in the class, and we hit it off really well, we got along great, we became very good friends. He’s a young writer, I’ve mentored him. He’s assistant directed for me, he states mountains for me, and part of our relationship from the very beginning, is once a week, I would show him a movie from the 20th century. And we would talk about it and I would just try to show him something often their queer thing, but not not entirely, not exclusively. But there are movies that I that I personally liked, that I think other people would like. And he usually likes them, although not always. And so eventually, we had watched, you know, so many movies we had talked about, and we went, you know, we should do this, and let other people in on it, let them in on the let them in on the discussion, because we enjoy doing it so much. So we did our first season, which was a technical nightmare, we screwed everything up. But we were committed and we got, you know, we got our 10 episodes out, we looked at 10 different movies. And, you know, we talked about whether or not they will play for a 21st century audience for his peer group and people that are younger, that often leads to very spirited conversations. But recently we did the second season, and we acquitted ourselves much better technically. And we did all that we do double features where we pit one movie against another the opening one this season was Tommy versus jesus christ superstar, which one is better, and we argue about which one is better. And we just have a good time doing it and hopefully, bring another audience in to watch these great films that, you know, would be ashamed to see them last because they were part of the Zeitgeist of the 20th century. And they often bring up really interesting discussions today about massagin II about homophobia, about racism, about how different the world was not Not long ago.
Phil Rickaby 45:02
You know, these these movies being lost is one of the reasons why I think I’ve been. I’ve been thinking about about, how about video stores, video rental stores, and all of the movies that you could get at those that, you know, unless you are fortunate enough to have a video store in your town, you may you’re stuck with just whatever is available on whatever streaming services you have, or what you can buy from iTunes. And there’s a lot of movies that you can’t get that way.
Brad Fraser 45:32
Yeah, they’re very hard to find that some of them you have no choice but to turn the torrents and that kind of thing to get them but they’re out there. And we do try to include where you can find them legally, with everything that we show. But you’re right, it’s with, you know, even discs and blu rays and things at least you had an artefact that you could go back to, with all that stuff. disappearing, it just becomes this ethereal ephemeral thing in the air that that only a corporation owns and that you can never have in your hands if you know what I mean. In that sense, it’s a bit like the early days of television or even pre television where a movie came, and you saw it, and then it basically disappeared. You never saw it again, unless it was shown on TV or something. But there were very few rereleases. So it was much harder. It wasn’t till the 80s, when they started releasing video cassettes of classic movies and that kind of thing. And even more obscure stuff that for, you know, 20 or 30 years, we have this wonderful resource of films that weren’t lost because you have them in your hand. And and again, now we’re standing we’re standing on that that precipice of what happened with so many silent films, when they fell out of favour that they were just destroyed, disbanded, thrown away. Nobody cared about them anymore. And consequently, we’ve lost more silent films than we actually have now.
Phil Rickaby 46:53
Yeah, I was actually thinking about that, as you were, as you were talking about that, and and, you know, thinking about, you know, if you can actually look at the list of films that say a Charlie Chaplin, or Mary Pickford or Buster Keaton, and there are films that that, you know, just don’t exist, and even more of people that we don’t know so well. And I think that you’re right, we are, there is a danger of losing access to all of these great movies from the past. So I think it’s great that, that you’re sharing those.
Brad Fraser 47:22
You know, movies are like plays in that way, though. I mean, they are a product of the moment they are meant to be sold at the time, they are meant necessarily to be watched 10 1520 years from now. And if you look at all of the movies, or all of the plays, that have been produced, very few of them are worth rewatching, no matter how popular they were at the time. I mean, if you watch you know, the 70s disaster movies, for example, earthquake in the Towering Inferno, the Poseidon Adventure. They don’t speak in our language anymore. They’re too slow. They’re too drawn out the camera work is too static. And we have the same issue with silent movies. We do you know, a silent movie every season because I love showing Spencer silent movies. And it’s taken time for him to get on board. Because you’re learning a new vocabulary. Yes, you really are. You’re learning a visual vocabulary and a style of acting that we don’t see anymore. And that’s also true of 1940s movies. 1960s movies, even 1999 these movies, compared to today that every every contemporary audience has a way of looking at films that’s really valid at the time, but often doesn’t last longer than a decade.
Phil Rickaby 48:35
No, that’s certainly true. I remember recently trying to I decided I was going to like, I don’t know why rewatch some of the Terminator movies, because why not? And I think I got I wasn’t quite able to make that adjustment because the movies move, like you say, at a different at a different pace. I was like, how did I like this? Why is this so boring? And it’s like, no, that’s the pace that movies moved that at that time now we move a lot faster.
Brad Fraser 49:01
Now, although I will say Terminator two is still one of the best movies I think I’ve ever seen Terminator aliens from the Bride of Frankenstein are the two that are the three best sequels that have ever been made. And I can go back and watch them anytime. And part is, you know, part of the watching it with Spencer is explaining to him why the pacing is different and why we’re doing it differently at that time, because of course, you know, film has been around for over 100 years now. And we have become very sophisticated in the way we consume it and what we expect from it. And it isn’t at all what it was at the very beginning. But if you watch the very beginning, all of the techniques, all of the camera work all of the innovations were made in the first 20 years of filmmaking and very little has changed since then.
Phil Rickaby 49:47
It’s interesting because because those movies were basically meant to be seen once at the theatre. Maybe you might go back and see it again. But see what see it and forget it. They had to lay it out. They had to lay everything out. In a more meticulous manner, there were no easter eggs, no things in the background that we’re going to discover later, because you watched it 100 times on VHS. So that means that you, you can’t make a movie in the same way, then as you do now, because you just assumed nobody was ever going to see it after that first time.
Brad Fraser 50:18
Yeah, well, and it’s like, if you look at the original King Kong, you know, it’s like, under 90 minutes, or just around 90 minutes long. And we’ve got, you know, we’re in New York, and we’ve got the ocean voyage, and we’ve got the the Islanders, and we’ve got the dinosaurs, and we’ve got the kidnapping of the girl, we got the trip back to New York, and we got the escape in New York. And that all happens in an hour and a half was Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong is over two hours long, and it’s full of all those same things. But the thing is, it was made for a DVD market, it wasn’t so much made for the theatre. I mean, yes, it was made for the theatre. But the reason it’s so long and episodic is because we’re used to people picking and choosing the best parts of the film, to show someone I know, I do that quite often that there’ll be a sequence or something. We don’t need to watch the whole film. Just watch the sequence. It’s really good. And I think that’s the main difference in why the king that you know, the later King Kong is so bloated, and so overdone is because it’s going to be watched again and again. It’s going to be watched in parts, it’s going to be watched at home, you know, so it doesn’t have the same, the same kind of objective as going to a movie theatre to see a movie, and then a couple cartoons and a newsreel and let’s get on to the next showing so we can make some more money.
Phil Rickaby 51:36
Hmm. Well, Brad, thank you. Thank you so much for having this conversation with me today. I really appreciate it.
Brad Fraser 51:42
No problem. I hope it was. I hope it was helpful.