#325 – John D. Huston

John D. Huston has performed in Canada, the U.K. & the States. A member of Canada’s Metis Nation, John’s lively career “culturally misappropriating the works and identities of dead white guys”, includes playing Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan, William Lyon MacKenzie in Toronto, Shakespeare in England, & Charles Dickens across Canada. In 2017 he was privileged to portray Louis Riel for the 50th anniversary production of Canada’s longest running dramatic presentation, “The Trial of Louis Riel”.

In 2016, John performed Mark Leiren-Young’s, controversial play, “Shylock” at UNO, Canada’s festival of solo work. “SCREWTAPE”, John’s adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”, garnered him a Best Actor nomination in 2015 from the Ottawa Capitol Critics’ Circle. His performance of “A Christmas Carol” earned him a second such nomination in 2016, the only non-Ottawa actor to be nominated two years running.

John is performing Keir Cutler’s “CIVILIZED” at the Ottawa Fringe.

Twitter: @bythebookprodu1
Instagram: @bythebookproductions
Tickets to CIVILIZED: https://ottawafringe.com/shows/civilized/#showtimes_list

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TRANSCRIPT

Phil Rickaby
Welcome to Stageworthy, I’m Phil Rickaby, the host of this podcast. This is episode 325. Just a quick reminder that Stageworthy is a one person operation. So not only do I host the podcast, I also arrange the guests, I edit the show I promote it, and I even created the music that you’re hearing right now. I also shoulder all of the financial responsibilities for keeping the show going. So, if you enjoy this podcast, please consider supporting it. There are a few ways you can do that. If you listen on Apple podcasts or Spotify, you can leave a five star rating. And if you listen on Apple podcasts, you can also leave a review those reviews and ratings help new people to find the show. If you want to keep up with what’s going on with stage worthy and my other projects, you can subscribe to my newsletter by going to philrickaby.com/subscribe. And you can also leave a tip for the show by dropping some change in the virtual tip jar – I will put a link to that in the show notes, which you can find on the website or in your podcast app. But one of the most important things you can do even more important than ratings, reviews or even financial support is to share this show on social media. Even a retweet of this show will help.

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My guest this week is John D Huston. John is a Toronto based actor and creator who has performed all over Canada, the UK and the United States. He’s a member of Canada’s Metis nation who has described his artistic practice as culturally misappropriating the works and identities of dead white guys. He’s presenting Kier Cutler’s play Civilised at the Ottawa fringe June 17 to 25th. Here’s our conversation

tell me about Kier Cutler’s civilised,

John D Huston
certainly civilised is a play about the Indian residential schools told from the point of a civil servant from the 1907, who works for the Department of Indian Affairs, who is trying to justify and explain why the residential schools were such a brilliant idea. And that he wants people to stop toppling statues of Canadian Prime Minister’s Thank you very much his attempts to justify this horrific crime do not go well.

Phil Rickaby
I imagine not. Yeah. I mean, we have in recent years, more people have become aware of the residential schools and were previously when I was when I was in school, even when I was when I started Theatre School in the in the 90s. Even though I had never been I find out now that when I was in university, they were or college. They were still schools operating. Yeah. Yeah. And we’re finding more every day.

John D Huston
Oh, yes. Yes, it No, it’s It’s, it’s usually when Kier first started to write this play quite some time ago now. He actually had to have a whole section of the play. Were the my character William blank, explained what residential schools were because people, the average Canadian just had no idea. And now of course, we know very well what they are. What’s really fascinating about this whole thing is that in 1907, a man named Dr. Peter brace, he was the he held the position of Chief Medical Officer for the Dominion of Canada. And he had submitted a report to parliament saying, hey, the death rate in these schools and I’ve inspected 35 of them is shockingly high. The Canadian government needs to do something about this and the Canadian government. Yeah, maybe not. And 89 years later, in 1996, the last school closed, and in those 89 years, the Canadian government went Do we really need to do something about this? Maybe not. Yeah. And 1000s of people 1000s of children. That’s, I mean, children Yeah, died and was shovelled into it. Mr. Graves

Phil Rickaby
I mean, the the Canadian government and many aspects of of of our society still sort of say, Do we really have to do something about that? I mean, we look at the fact that a number a lot of reservations don’t have clean water. And I remember two elections ago when Jagmeet Singh was talking about getting clean water to these places, and some of the media outlets were asking what how much would that cost? Yeah. And it’s like, but if this was, if this was Toronto that didn’t have clean water, we would just do it without without question.

John D Huston
Oh, heck, if this was Brandon, Manitoba.

Phil Rickaby
Yes.

John D Huston
It didn’t have clean water. We do it without question. That’s right. In fact, one of the one of the people currently running for the leader of the progressive consultant for the allegedly progressive, absolutely Conservative Party of Canada has said, I promise clean water for everybody not just reserves, and I thought, well, everybody else does have clean drinking water, you racist piece of crap. Yes. You know that that’s that’s like saying I promised to stop lynching in all communities, not just black ones. Like it’s yes. Just moulting. Anyway. Yeah. So this, as I say, my, my character, William blank, is a senior civil servant with Indian Affairs in 1907. He’s the first person who reads Dr. Bryce’s report about the residential schools. And he thinks, Well, this can’t be true. They’re just trying to, you know, smear the reputation of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the greatest prime minister of all time, and I’m going to make sure that that doesn’t happen. And as I said, it, it does not go well, for William black. The wonderful thing about this play is it’s not just a screed. It is. There are moments of humour, black humour, I will admit, in many cases, but also genuine laugh out loud, funny stuff. And it’s, I made tea, and I thought it was reasonably well informed about this whole thing. I know, nothing. I could not believe the research carried out. Most of my characters dialogue is William blank, quoting from the time and it will curl your air to hear what was being said about the schools in the First Nations in it, you know? Like all Canadians, I like to think, what better than this? Yeah, well, turns out when that does not, we can better.

Phil Rickaby
Yes, we can be better.

John D Huston
But we haven’t been up till now.

Phil Rickaby
No. And that’s one of the that’s one of the big lies we tell ourselves is that we’re better than that. That yeah, you know, it’s so much better here than in the US. And that’s the lie that we tell ourselves that it’s okay. If it’s not quite as good. Is it good to be here? It’s better than it is in the US will tell ourselves.

John D Huston
Yeah. And yet, and, you know, it was 1960 I believe, before first nations citizens were allowed to vote in this country, right. First Nations war veterans were denied benefits. Because they weren’t white. Right. There was literally no other reason for that. And someone said to me, Well, why didn’t they vote? And and that’s it because they weren’t allowed to vote. Yeah. Because because the only people whose whose roots go back 10,000 years and more in what is now Canada, were considered non citizens. That’s the British North America Act, when Canada became Canada, First Nations and maytee, and Inuit, who became non citizens, and Ward’s of the state.

Phil Rickaby
That’s sort of the thing. I think that sometimes we don’t think about, I mean, white America, white Canada doesn’t think about what the idea of Wards of the state means.

John D Huston
Yeah,

Phil Rickaby
it means we, that the government says, These people are not able to take care of themselves, therefore, we must be the benevolent, quote unquote, Overseer and that’s right. And we must oversee their lives.

John D Huston
That’s right. The Department of Indian Affairs, what and I, my character says this in the play, the Department of Indian Affairs was created to be in effect, legal guardians. Because the Indians First Nations and metis sort of inches, my God, the First Nations, metis, and Inuit had the same status as children. And, and at the time, women, because women also had basically no rights. So yes, it’s it’s I never learned that The Canadian history class and no, I paid attention. I liked Canadian history. They never told us that. While I remember hearing about my people was that the Matey were ignorant and superstitious. And Louie Riel kind of came in and just spend Gali them into, you know, rising up against against Ottawa in the, in the rebellion as it was then called a VT 95 We now call it the resistance. So yeah, yeah, there’s, there’s, it’s very interesting as you’re talking to people of my generation, versus people of say, you know, boy a 30 years later, and at two very different viewpoints on on all of this, so, you know, some work is being done. Which is, you know, something I mean, in the US, of course, they’re fighting very hard against any acknowledgement that anything wrong was ever done. Were at least beginning to say, you know, what? We were not, in fact, the nice guys, a lot of the time we did well,

Phil Rickaby
I do think we do we have the same forces trying to prevent us from having those conversations here.

John D Huston
Oh, yes, we do. And indeed, some of them are running for leadership of the of one of the major political parties in this country. Yeah. Yeah. Not naming any names? No, of course not. But yeah. Oh, yeah, we absolutely. Do. I, some of my friends on Facebook are basically, you know, Oh, can’t they just move on and forget about it?

Phil Rickaby
Right. Yeah.

John D Huston
You know, it’s like, no, because the Canada you live in, was built on the premise that these people were inferior, that they didn’t matter, that we could come in and just bulldoze over them.

Phil Rickaby
And that’s exactly what happened. I mean, you know, that comes down to the whole idea of that is very uncomfortable for white Canada that’s felt very secure and safe. And, and, you know, doesn’t want to rock the boat, that the land that all of our cities and all of our everything is stolen?

John D Huston
Yeah. Yeah. The main character, William blank quotes quite extensively from speeches and literature of the time. And at one point, I quote from the parliamentary record spoken from the floor of the House of Commons. And so Wilfred Laurier, said, it was not contrary to moral law, to possess and to take possession, and even forcible possession of lands that were roamed over whether than possessed by Savage nations. And the justification being, well, they didn’t have our, you know, the European understanding of what, you know, land ownership was, and so therefore, we could just come in and take it.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Well, I mean, it didn’t, it didn’t, doesn’t help that like, you know, the, the, the First Nations thought of the idea of ownership of land is ridiculous thing. Like, how can you own land?

John D Huston
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It would be like Sanctus. It would be like saying to someone from from Western society, you see that piece of sky up there. I own that. Yes. You don’t get to breathe that Earth. Yeah, hell out of here.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. own air. Right.

John D Huston
Well, you can’t own land either. Yeah. You know, I mean, if you if, again, if you go by the First Nations code, you know, you can Yeah, it’s it’s we hold it in common. And, and probably if, you know, government thought that way, we’d be less likely to build highways over land. can raise really good food. Yeah. Yeah. And we’d be less likely to, you know, crap and drinking water.

Phil Rickaby
Yes. Yeah. How does it feel for you to be doing this play civilised in Ottawa at the Ottawa Fringe?

John D Huston
Oh, my God. I’m looking forward to this. Yeah, in fact, one of things I have to do this week is actually sent out invitations to the Prime Minister of the Governor General limits, you know, I don’t expect them to show up. But I want to at least set you know what I’ll keep a seat for you. And this, of course, is some of the meaty dissent was adopted by a white family. It’s fascinating as when when Kira approached me, Kia has written 20 solos works that he has always performed and when he began, I don’t I can’t remember now why. What inspired him to do civilised as it’s now titled, but he knew right from the start, oh, no, this isn’t for me. I need another actor to do this. And Someone said, Well, you know, you know, John, get John Houston to do it. And so he called me up and said you want to do? And I said, Sure. I said, Are you asking me because in May to anyone what? So I told him a little about my adoption story. And he went, Oh, that’s great. Do you mind can I use? I said, Sure. So the prologue of the play is now about my adoption. When I was adopted, in 1960. The social worker who handled the adoption warned, literally, that was the worst he warned my parents. She had met my birth father, and he was clearly of Indian background, as she put it. And, you know, yeah, I looked like a white baby. But now, the funny thing is, is that I was adopted in 1960, at a time when, quite quote unquote, male children were, you know, at a premium. And my parents had been told that they were, you know, look, it’ll be about a year probably before we have a child for you. So they got off on holiday inn Dominion Day weekend, as it was then called, I was born 22nd of May Victoria Day weekend, so six weeks after I’m born, and they get back home. And there’s a message from the Social Services saying, Hey, we have a kid. Oh, my God, it’s too late. We don’t have a, you know, and they’re running around getting bottle sterilisers and cribs and stuff, because they, it was early. And I was in the system for six weeks, when what baby boys would getting snapped up like the last turkey on Thanksgiving Eve. So I kind of wonder, and I didn’t. And this never occurred to me until I started to talk to care about this for the play. I wonder how many white families said, yeah, no, we’ll wait till we get an actual white baby. Thank you for

Phil Rickaby
adoption. Adoption is a strange thing. I’m not adopted. But both my brother and my sister were adopted. And in a similar but different situation. My brother, my brother is black. My sister was a mixed child. So she was black, white. And that’s sort of like, it presents unique opportunities and challenges to a family. And that one of the challenges is, for example, as the children get older, as a white family, you don’t know that you have to have a talk about police. Yeah. Because as a white family, you that’s not something you worry about. It was only much later that that, you know, only once we were adults, that we realised that, that that was a talk, we should have no we didn’t know that we needed to have but we should have should have had it. And also, we also had the issue of you know, the people say ignorant things like are you going to tell him that he’s adopted and like, all kinds of strange things. As as a as a Matey child adopted by non Indigenous parents was what was that? What what moments like that? Did you have growing up?

John D Huston
that was a that was that’s the irony. I never did. I got my birth mother’s colouring. She was fair skinned and blonde hair. I have dark I have the dark curly hair of my birth father. But I have the white skin of my birth mother. Now, my uncles and aunts, um, my birth father’s side are all obviously native or Well, in a couple of cases, you could think oh, maybe French, maybe Italian. But mostly it’s like no, no, no. My birth grandmother, my paternal birth grandmother looked white to me. My half siblings on that side of the family look Wait, but their kids have a cab original. So it’s very strange and in my family like it the the it’s like the native features skip generations. So that was that was never an issue. I mean, in all the years people say, Oh, are you French background with Irish background? No one has ever said I am 80 Aren’t you? Except for occasionally other meaty people that go you may go Yeah. But so so I was very very very fortunate. I won what is you know, the skin lottery right? I’ve never I’ve never been followed by a floor Walker in a store. I’ve never had to worry about a cop pulling you know, a gun on me because of the colour of my skin. Unlike my weirdly enough, my adoptive grandmother, who was also Aboriginal background, she had dark hair and brown eyes. And in 1900 in Manitoba, people used to call her Indian and half that kind of tough but yeah, yeah. So it’s it’s, it’s been very I mean, every adopted kid, I’m sure goes through the what have I been adopted by somebody else? You know, what kind of a life would I have had or what if I hadn’t been adopted at all? Right? And I was very lucky that I had a family who said, You know, honestly, we don’t care what colour your skin is, right? Or might become and my mother in fact, my my adoptive mothers had, well you know, there’s there’s native, fat blood in my background, I’m fine with that. It later turned out when I finally met my birth father, that through a complete random coincidence, my birth mother and my, sorry, my adoptive mother and my birth father Ashley cousins. Yeah, my brother and I, my brother is the one child my adoptive parents had. We are biologically third cousins. But he’s he’s blond haired and blue eyed. I mean, I mean, there’s there’s nothing in like the Houston’s don’t look remotely, remotely Aboriginal. But there is that there is you know, I mean, it’s it’s Western Canada, you know, like, everybody has some. I just had enough as I say that it’s happened to show up on my birth father and social worker who kind of thought, oh, I should tell people.

Phil Rickaby
Did you? Did you grow up after adoption? Knowing that you were Matey, or was that something you had to learn later on?

John D Huston
That was something I learned later on. I don’t even my I mean, again, 1960 I don’t think there was a lot of consciousness in in the non Aboriginal community as to what meeting meant, when people were still using the term halfbreed for God’s sake. And so no, my parents just knew that my birth father had dark skin and neither features and that was all they knew about it. It wasn’t till he spoke to my birth father on the phone for the first time that he told me said, you know, You’re mighty like, like, we’re meeting family and I went, Oh, I had no, I had no idea. I’ve been quite fascinated by the maytee. I’ve done several summers of John Coulter’s play the trial of Louie Riel playing, you know, various booths, so I knew, you know, that that history of the meat that part of the meaty history. I’ve actually since played reel myself in that same production. But yeah, it was it was something I found out in my mid 30s.

Phil Rickaby
Now, after the discovery, after you found out that you were Metis, how, what was what what did it mean for you to to play Louis Riel?

John D Huston
Well, it was the first time I had ever as I mean, I now make the joke about culturally misappropriating the identities of dead white guys, because I play Tommy Douglas and Charles Dickens and William Lyon Mackenzie and like, my whole career has been playing famous historical weight figures. It was, and I’d always admired rial, and I’ve always wanted to play him. And getting to play that. I mean, it’s, I suppose it would be what fun if a joke or Christian playing Jesus would be like, you know, you’re playing the saviour of your people. A man who was literally martyred by the powers that be I, I’ll be playing again this summer. I’m actually missing the Edmonton fringe to do it this year. And I was, it’s always very, very deeply moving to, you know, to the scatter, Coulter’s play. He was Irish and there is that sensibility of Yeah, the British are the bad guys. And indeed, they were I mean, real was legally lynched. No other word for it. He was executed under a law that was created I think, was the 14 or 1500s and that no one had been charged with in centuries was like, No, we have to we have to kill this man. He is just too dangerous. Yeah. It’s yeah, it’s it’s an it’s an immense honour. And, and very humbling at every, every night. I go on that stage. I think you’ve got to get this right. You have to get this right.

Phil Rickaby
Here’s just in terms of you mentioned missing the Edmonton fringe. Now you’ve been touring Fringe Festivals for very long time.

John D Huston
Longest, longest Canadian fringe touring performer as far as I’m aware.

Phil Rickaby
What was Do you remember? I mean, what do you ever wear when your first fringe was? Fringe was it

John D Huston
it was it was the no longer it was the now defunct I should To the now defunct manitech, fringe small community outside of Ottawa in 1990. I think it was 91. It was either 90 or 91. I’m going to say 91. And this was before Ottawa had a French. And I did that festival for a number of years. Then the Ottawa fringe came along and managed, it kind of just disappeared after that. Yeah, I mean, in those days, you got in, you’d apply by mail, and you just got in, because it was no big deal. It was just a thing that people did. And now, of course, it’s it’s completely different. You know, they, I mean, there’s so many people applying. There’s like, you know, I think I think someone told me, there’s something like 10 applications for every spot available at the Edmonton centre. Yeah. And back in my day, like, they say, Oh, well start accepting applications on you know, such and such a date. And you could apply a week later and get still get in. Sure. And then it got to the point where who’s ever courier arrived first with a stack of applications got in and at that point, it was like, You know what, this is luck of the draw. Let’s make this a lottery. Yeah. So watching this thing just take off in a way that really no other country has managed to do quite what Canada does. You know, yeah, the Viet, the Edinburgh Fringe is bigger and there are large funded festivals in other parts of the world. But no other country has a has like basically a tour you can do, you could start in the east with Montreal, and the festivals kind of go like once a week and I used to do that tour right. Now I can find myself pretty much to Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Phil Rickaby
I mean, one of the things that I find interesting and the unique thing about the Canadian fringe is we’ve there are US member festivals. Yes, you can start your you can start your tour in Orlando and then go to Montreal and then like get

John D Huston
a lot of people do I mean, Melanie golf just to name one Canadian off the top of my head is one of one of many. I feel so bad. Chase Padgett I’m gonna feel so badly three names and thinking about Yes, you’re right. A lot of Canadian watches American a lot of a lot of Canadians start in strip start with a Florida there’s now a Tampa fringe as well. Yes, yeah. And you write them then they go to Montreal and then Ottawa. I mean, it’s not again, as easy as it used to be where you could literally just apply for one festival after the other and you could do them all summer. Now you might have Okay, I got into, you know, Montreal, and then I’m not in anything again until Edmonton, but I’m on the waiting list in Winnipeg again. Yeah. So. And the American fringes of course now, like, they overlap, like, I think there’s just there’s a fringe in Cincinnati and it overlaps. I want to say with Winnipeg, I’m not sure about that. So yeah, like you have these sort of alternate festivals you can do but, but there’s no, there’s no question. The Canadian ones are the bigger deal. Canadians.

Phil Rickaby
Winnipeg and Edmonton are so massive. And this is the thing I think that like, for years, I only knew that Toronto fringe. I knew there was a I knew there was a I knew there was a circuit, I knew there was a tour. But, you know, I assumed being like just only ever doing my hometown friends that this must be what all fringes are like about this size. And then you hit like Winnipeg, and you think, Oh, this is masses. Massive. Yeah. And then you go to Edmonton, and then you really understand what a large fringes Yeah.

John D Huston
Oh, yeah, it was. It was always really funny. When you were in Winnipeg to watch the Toronto Raptors kind of come in and go, Oh, yeah. I’ll just, you know, kick back in this little town festival. Yeah. And they kind of look around and go, Oh, my God. It’s like, sit down. Have a beer. You’ll be fine. But yeah, it was it was very and and certainly anyone coming into Edmonton was just, I mean, I mean, Edmonton was a small city with this massive. I mean, I every year I did, I mean, I did Edmonton. I cannot tell you how many times and every year I would still think, I can’t believe they do this every year. I just can’t believe it. And I was billeted for years with a guy who took his vacation at the fringe. I mean, he loved theatre, he would see theatre all year round. He had this photographic memory for every actor, and he could tell you Oh, yeah, they were in this, you know, two years ago and well, I really like this and this playwright is really interesting. And he would see seven plays eight plays a day for 10 days. And and could keep them straight in his head. It was yeah, it was We I don’t know of other countries that have that kind of, I mean, just theatre maniacs, you know? And it’s, it was so it was so wonderful as an actor, people stop you and go, Oh, I get back. Great. What show are you doing? Or? I love to show this year. And, you know, as an actor, I mean, there’s nothing like that in life theatre anymore. You know, it’s no, I always say the fringes are like the Elizabethan Theatre that Shakespeare would have known. You touring all the time. You’re always playing in different venues, you know, it’s, it’s an in yard or it’s, you know, up a back street or whatever the fringe case, it’s like an MP school room, or, you know, the, you know, downstairs below a laundromat could be anything. And, and it’s an it’s just pure, unadulterated capitalism, it’s how many bodies can you get through the door? Because that’s how you’re going to get your beer. And, and, and green onion cakes today. That’s where the money is gonna come from you getting those people through the door? Absolutely. Yeah, it was an remains. One of the, one of the two most exciting theatre experiences I’ve ever had was Canadian fringes. And the other one was during COVID, doing Shakespeare that the first folio of Shakespeare online with an international cast called The show must go online. And we had three days to rehearse. And of course, we’d have the script, you know, on your screen, and you’re acting in the camera to another actor who never mind the different times on different a different continent. Yes, yeah. And we had this brilliant British director, young guy, you know, who just who, like, none of my friends are working, let’s do the first folio. So we did. And it was just revelatory. And everything you think wonderful about, again, about Elizabethan Theatre of making it immediate, and, you know, people would watch us who couldn’t go to theatre because they found being around people, you know, distressing people who are neurodiverse. But, hey, now I can see Shakespeare done by actors. And, and I can just, you know, I don’t have to worry about other people around me. And it was, you know, I, we all made friends around the world, you know, from these people we would work with it was, yeah, that was that on the fringe are, to me that that’s what really, that’s what Greek theatre is. It’s, it’s like, there’s no television, there’s no movie camera. There’s nothing that can give you that experience. Even though I’m saying talking about working on zoom with with the rapture. There’s just something about that. No, that person is there in real time. Yeah, maybe I can’t touch them. But I know they’re there.

Phil Rickaby
The Fringe is there’s that interesting thing you were talking about, you know how you know, the celebrity aspects. There are people who it’s funny to see like to see how crazy people will go for a show of like an artist that comes back every year. And they become massive. But they’re only famous for 10 days during the fringe. And then after that they might walk down the street and nobody knows who they are. But for those 10 days, they’re the biggest thing in the city.

John D Huston
Yeah. Oh, yeah. I remember joking to one fringe artist who I know was pulling in a good, good pay day, like, this particular artist was filling a 300 seat theatre at 10 bucks a pop. And as you know that fringe or money goes to the artists. And I joke to them, I said, you know, this week, you’re probably the highest paid stage actor in Canada. Yeah, guess what, the rest of the year? Is it? Yep. Rest of the year. It’s Would you like fries with that, sir?

Phil Rickaby
And that’s, that’s the thing is, is, you know, you know, there, there are plenty of people who make the, their, the bulk of their money for the year. In the fringe circuit.

John D Huston
I was one of them. The other part of my my annual income was during Christmas, Carol. Now, I was saying to someone today, could could I make a down payment on a house? Not in your life? No way. But on the other hand, that wasn’t a high priority for me. You know, I was making enough money for my priorities. I could pay rent, I could pay groceries. You know, I could afford to have, you know, a girlfriend. I could afford to travel. You know, I live very simply, I was certainly living at or near the poverty line. But I made enough money that I didn’t have to do anything else. Now. At some point, I didn’t have to take a second job. But, you know, I was I was very fortunate and more importantly, I was doing scripts that I loved doing, and that meant something to me. civilised is one of the and I’ve been doing this for 30 years. civilised is arguably the best script I’ve I’ve done to date. It’s certainly in the top three. And I just feel so privileged to get to do this. And and I think of actors I know, I’ve heard actors pitch up, oh my god, I’m in this plant, just hate doing it. And my response to them is, then quit. Yeah. Because I promise you there are 10 people behind you who would kill to do what you’re doing and wouldn’t bitch about it. You’re an artist, you don’t get to bitch. If you’re you

Phil Rickaby
know, the thing about the thing about that is that is that fringe is such that, like, if you’re touring the fringe circuit, if you don’t love it, I mean, everybody has bad days, and everybody has bad fringes. But overall, if you don’t love it, you are putting yourself through a ringer for something that is just killing you. Yeah. Because it’s a brutal thing to put yourself through every year. Especially Yeah.

John D Huston
And, and I should clarify, the the actor I was talking to just a couple of minutes ago, you know, I’ve just, he was working in a regular theatre gig being paid equity wages, as like, you know, that is not a bad life. Now, we all kind of aspire to, or most of us. So again, if you’re unhappy doing that, you’re in the wrong profession.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, exactly.

John D Huston
And one thing I can say about what I’ve done, I have never done a script I wasn’t proud or at least keen to do. I’ve never woken up and going, Oh, my God, I’ve got to go to work today. Yeah, when I was doing well, any kind of theatre, I mean, I have actually worked in productions in you know, quote, unquote, real theatres and been paid, quote, unquote, real money. But I consider myself very blessed. And I think if you asked pretty much any actor, particularly fringe actors, you know, who’ve been doing it for a long time, they would, they would almost certainly tell you the same. You’re right. It is a pretty hard scrabble, when you go to fly with them to see your show. And they just look at you like your dirt under their foot and go, How many stars did you get? It’s like, well, if you really want to know, I actually got five. But you know what, since you asked, and that’s all that matters to you, you probably wouldn’t understand what I’m doing anyway.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, when I there’s only there’s only been a couple of cities that I went to when I was when I was touring the last time where people will, you know, you’d be flyering. And people would look you in the eye and say, Oh, I’m not coming to see your show. Yeah. Like, you know, you don’t actually have to tell me that. Like, you could politely take my flyer and then throw it in the garbage when I’m not looking. You don’t have to tell me that you’re not?

John D Huston
Yeah. My response is usually Oh, okay. Thank you for saving me the flyer. Yeah. It’s the kind of naturally go well, it’s your loss. And I just move on. And what’s funny is if you say, well, it’s your loss, generally the people around because I’ll say it loudly. Yeah, laugh. And if you can get them to laugh, even if you’re doing something fairly serious. It’ll pique their interest.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I had somebody tried to return the flyer to me and say, Oh, save the tree. Like, trees already dead? Yeah, it’s a flyer.

John D Huston
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Phil Rickaby
So I wouldn’t be I would be remiss if I did not ask you about a Christmas, Carol. And what first drew you to that and how you’ve been performing it? Do you use the dickens performance taxed? Or do you have you created your own?

John D Huston
I do use the dickens performance text. And in fact, I use the dickens stage directions. My particular performance of Christmas Carol, is an attempt to recreate the story as the author first told it. Now, Dickens performed it over a 12 year period. And during that time, he, he shortened it, and and and rewrote bits of it and whatnot. My version is kind of a midway between the two. I always say Dickens walked on stage with the expectations. You’ve all read the book. Yes, come to see me play the characters. I walk on stage saying you haven’t read the book. But you’ve all seen a different film version. And you’re here to see me do whatever I’m going to do with that. So one of the one of the things I started doing early on, was to put in scenes that Dickens had cut. He seems we know he performed but that he cut and the first one was a little tiny scene that had since I’ve since seen in a couple of film versions, but when I first did it in the play in 1982 at that point I had never seen done and it’s Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. And it’s two in it’s two people in debt to Scrooge. And you know, he’s gonna throw them out of their house. And the husband comes home and says he’s dead. And the wife initially goes, Oh, thank god. Oh, no, that’s a terrible thing to say, as a human being. But still. And I love that scene. Because at the time I started doing it, no one unless they’d read the book. And even in the book, it’s like, literally a page and a half. People don’t know that scene, and so they’re going, oh, yeah, I know what’s coming next. Oh, wait, what? Yes, it’s new. And secondly, it’s it’s a really quick move on the part of Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Like, it’s a Whoa, Sucker Punch.

You know, because the screws just before the season begins. Scrooge says Oh, please. Isn’t he’s been shown the dead body on the bat, who he does not realise this is himself. But of course, we all know. And he says, oh, you know, please, just isn’t there anyone who feels pity for this poor dead man? Because let me show you something. And it’s like, it’s a total dick move. And the scene exists. As far as I know, only a handful of films. There’s a BBC TV version with the guy who plays Jacob Marley, opposite Alister sim. I’ve just blanked on his name at the moment. But he’s playing Scrooge. And that scene, despite the fact this is a very short version of Christmas, Carol, that scene is, is is is in that, then? I think the the Patrick Stewart version has it. And there’s one other one, I think we you see it, but again, it’s not done very often. And so So I put that scene back in early on. And then I began putting a little descriptive bits because it was Dickens is a master at describing things he had to be because there were no movies, he had to pay the picture in his readers minds. And there’s a lovely bit where were Scrooge is going is coming back to his house and it’s late, it’s dark. And he lives in this massive, like, 200 year old building, that, you know, the city has kind of grown around and now you know, it’s it’s greatly building in this tiny little cramped yard. And Dickens describes the house as looking so out of place that looked as if it might have run, they’re playing hide and seek with other houses when it was very young, and forgotten the way out again. And it usually gets a bit of a chuckle from the audience because it’s, it’s it’s this rather cute little personification of this gloomy old place. That again, most of my audience have seen in a movie. So they had in their head. Oh, yeah. It’s like the Addams Family House is creepy. And suddenly you’re trying to work you have been told to imagine this, as as, you know, as this little childish house playing hide and seek and getting, you know, lost in this little tiny yard and like just sort of growing old there.

Phil Rickaby
It’s a fascinating thing, because I think that the that the dickens descriptions are so interesting and vivid, because of how he moves through London. Because, yes, he walked. Yes, he walked all the time when he was writing, he was walking he was where he got his ideas. It’s why he’s so evocative. He’s why he’s able to describe London in the way that he does, because he saw it as a living breathing city, and the people in it were living, breathing, and he knew them. Yes. And his descriptions are so vivid because of that. Yes.

John D Huston
And it’s why even decades later, people were able to say, all right, Dickens is describing, for example, scooters house, someone was able to pinpoint, it’s this building. It was it was a house built in the 1600s, after the great fire. So it was this large, you know, had been at one point, this very grand house, and then as the city grew round, it become as, as often happens, you know, in the area different what’s been very grand and lovely now became sort of undesirable, and kind of slumming. And the house got divided up into offices and small apartments and, but was but was very much a feature of Dickens 1843, London and stood for several decades thereafter. And that was the thing is Dickens expected his readers to recognise landmarks he describes, yeah, sometimes he would, you know, he named them like the Iron Bridge, which Apple which is a very prominent site in little Durrett. And sometimes it was just, Okay, I’m gonna say, you know, Scrooge lived, you know, nears you know, near court, I think it’s corn Hill, you know, your specific part of it. In this particular post of London, which was geographically a very, very small city in 1843, and I’m going to describe vaguely what this place is like, and I will expect you the reader to go, oh, yeah, he’s talking about that, you know, stuff like that really creepy old dump, you know, two blocks over. So, yeah, it’s, it’s Dickens is is marvellous. And, you know, he used to see his characters as living three dimensional people. He talks about writing Christmas Carol, and you know, he put it aside because he was also working on a novel shuffle but at the time, and he said, Bob Cratchit and Titan will come and they will target his sleeve to ask him to complete their adventure. So yes, I’ll when it gets toward Christmas to about half the talk I’m doing I should mention I’m doing civilised. And the simplest way to do Christmas Carol, and when I’m in trouble at the red sand castle Theatre on reopening civilised at the red sand castle on September 30, which is, of course, the day of Truth and Reconciliation week. But as you know, quite rightly, I’m actually going to open the tour in Ottawa in just Well, I think it’s was it Second? Second Friday in June? I haven’t got the date. The top man wants to the 16th of June. Yeah, this coming up? Yeah. Yeah, it is. It is. We’ve been of course, rehearsing on FaceTime, and zoom up till now we’re actually today had my first in person meeting face to face as well as rehearsal with our director, Paul Hopkins. Is wonderful man. He directed Montreal Shakespeare in the park for a number of years and was our strategy festival and he’s done Love TV and stuff. So it’s been when Kia said, you know, I’m looking for a director, I said, you know, please, if it could be someone I’ve never worked with. I never went to theatre school. And I would like so. For me the fringe was my theatre education. Sure. ever possible. I want to work with someone I’ve never worked with before. Because I know while doing something.

Phil Rickaby
Right. Right. Well, I’m as we sort of dropped to a close here. I hope that I hope you get the Prime Minister out to see the show. Yes. Or other members of parliament and just that. The the, the Ottawa fringe really embraces this show.

John D Huston
I certainly hope so. I think I’ll either be written out of town on a rail, or carried out on on the multitudes shoulders.

Phil Rickaby
Either way, you know, you’ve done something important. Yes,

John D Huston
that’s right. I always say to people the worst, you know, I don’t mind someone saying I hated that. Because at least I got a reaction. That’s right. The worst reaction is okay.

Phil Rickaby
Yes, that’s terrible. That’s terrible.

John D Huston
Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Well, John, thank you so much for talking with me tonight. Thank you for your patience, and I look forward to September and seeing the show.

John D Huston
Thank you.

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StageworthyPod

- 12 hours ago

@partonandpearl @Toronto_Fringe @partonandpearl would you be interested in a live stream talk about the shows you review sometime in week 2?
h J R
StageworthyPod

- 16 hours ago

@philrickaby: Tomorrow is the start of theatre Christmas, also known as @Toronto_Fringe. Sadly, I'm in rehearsal mode for my own fringe show, so I won't be able to see as much as I want, but I'm seeing as much as I can. follow my coverage on the @stageworthypod insta and tiktok.
h J R
StageworthyPod

- 20 hours ago

This week on Stageworthy, host @philrickaby talks to storyteller and serial entrepreneur, @VikkiVelenosi about her #FringeTO show: 2 Robs, 1 Cup: : What Happens When You’re Done Eating Shit? #TheaTO Listen now at https://t.co/Vx85xxavyd https://t.co/TeMg6wqn8S
h J R
StageworthyPod

- 1 day ago

@itskyliethomps1 I'm doing my best to see as many shows as possible, but between day job and my own rehearsals I'm pretty limited. You're on my radar!
h J R