#97 – Nigel Shawn Williams

Nigel Shawn Williams is a four-time Dora Mavor Moore Award-winner as both actor and director. His theatre credits include The Merchant of Venice for Bard on the Beach this past summer, five seasons at Stratford Festival, four seasons at Shaw Festival, as well as performances in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver. Nigel is also heavily involved in new play development and mentoring young and emerging artists through the difficult transition from training schools to professional life.

Nigel is the director of Cahoots Theatre and Obsidian Theatre’s world premiere of Amanda Parris’ OTHER SIDE OF THE GAME.

Set before the rise of Black Lives Matter, OTHER SIDE OF THEGAME is a time-spanning work that tells the story of silenced Black women who organize communities, protect loved ones, battle institutions, and live each day by a ride-or-die philosophy. This first-time partnership between Cahoots and Obsidian also marks the professional playwriting debut for Amanda Parris.

Inspired by interviews conducted with individuals in Toronto and Halifax, OTHER SIDE OF THEGAME gives voice to Black women who support their men, their families and communities, even in the face of dire consequences. Set in Toronto, straddling modern day and the 1970s Black civil rights movement, the play is evocative and lyrical in its presentation of a population under siege.


Other Side of the Game
Tickets: http://www.nativeearth.ca/otherside/

Twitter @stageworthyPod
Facebook: http://facebook.com/stageworthyPod



Phil Rickaby, Nigel Shawn Williams

Nigel Shawn Williams  00:03

Welcome to Episode 97 of Stageworthy, I’m your host, Phil Rickaby. We’re just a few weeks away from the 100th episode of Stageworthy which will be released on October 31. Episode 100 is a pretty significant milestone in the life of any podcast and I’m super proud to have reached it. In the coming weeks, you’ll see some special posts celebrating the 100th episode on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And you can find Stageworthy on all three platforms @stageworthypod. If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the podcast to get the latest episodes delivered right to your device. You can find stage for the on Apple podcasts, Google music or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, and you want to help me celebrate the 100th episode, please consider leaving a comment or rating on Apple podcasts, ratings and comments help new listeners find the show. My guest this week is Nigel Shawn Williams. Nigel is an actor and director, the former co artistic director of the factory theatre and a four time door award winner. He is currently directing Cahoots theatre and obsidian theatres Other Side of the Game by Amanda Parris opening October 14 at Aki Studio in Toronto.

Phil Rickaby  01:36

How’s it How’s it coming?

Nigel Shawn Williams  01:38

It’s it’s coming coming along really well. Now. We’ve in our third week we moved into into a new space where the where the design actually fits in we were Cahoots Oh, yeah. Like it’s a lovely space, but just the stage doesn’t fit was right around the corner. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So we were doing two weeks of like, you know, needing to bust out now we’re going to get bigger space. So yeah, I can actually work on timings and, and it’s good for the actor, because they can actually really breathe and get into it now. So yeah.

Phil Rickaby  02:10

So what can you tell me about the Other Side of the Game?

Nigel Shawn Williams  02:16

What can I tell you about it? It’s so it’s it’s a it’s a fantastically well crafted play by Amanda Paris. And it investigates investigates this, this this cycle of a criminal injustice against young young blacks? And, but also, but really, what’s what, what toll it has on black women? This, you know, this revolving door of going in and out of jail, right. But, but in in that same light it investigates investigate Street and hood culture. Okay. And, and I think that there’s a, we, you know, generally have a very stereotypical, you know, like, view of what that is, and, and, and investigates What, what, right or die, really means they’ve got a culture of, that’s, that’s devotion and loyalty and love. It’s not just, it’s not just integrated with, you know, with with drugs and violence and criminality, you know, it’s a, it’s a, it’s, it’s, it’s much more closer than that family. But at the same time, she the good plays fantastic, but because it also goes goes into investigates the the, the 1970s, and the very little known civil rights movement that was happening in Toronto, and it talks about activism, and it’s a great mirror of the activism that was happening in Toronto in, in the 70s. And but where we are now, and it’s it, I think it’s asking questions of what are we learning from history? Why are we repeating the same thing, but it doesn’t just put a mirror on the black culture in the black community? It’s, it’s, it’s a it’s a it’s a larger, larger issue for us.

Phil Rickaby  03:53

It’s interesting, because my perception of black culture is a little bit skewed my brother, my brother’s black, so I’ve sort of had a mirror but I haven’t had obviously the same experiences as he has ever been pulled over for driving while black

Nigel Shawn Williams  04:11

riding he’s adopt – he adopted or is he like he is?

Phil Rickaby  04:13

He’s adopted.

Nigel Shawn Williams  04:14

He’s adopted?

Phil Rickaby  04:14

Right. So it’s, it’s, you know, the our experiences are different. And I there’s things I see, and there’s things I don’t see. But it’s sort of interesting, because I think that that white Canada doesn’t think of the thing that they incarcerate incarceration of black men as a as an American problem.

Nigel Shawn Williams  04:35

Absolutely. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby  04:36

And they think we think about the civil rights movement as an American problem,

Nigel Shawn Williams  04:41

or an American movement.

Phil Rickaby  04:43


Nigel Shawn Williams  04:44

I don’t think was a problem.

Phil Rickaby  04:46

No, no no. problem was the wrong. Yeah. But it’s like it was we allow ourselves to be smug as white Canadians in a way that allows us to Ignore the racism that exists. Because it’s not as overt as in America in Canada. Yeah.

Nigel Shawn Williams  05:07

Yeah. Like it’s it, you know, like, I think that the, like, I’m coming to more and more of an understanding that we should actually stop comparing our racial history in Canada and the United States. They, you know, they’re, they’re, they’re, they’re linked. Absolutely. And there’s, you know, there’s, there’s a, there’s, there’s, there’s veins, and there’s, there’s tissue that are that are connected, but, but the history is completely different. And, and you’re and you’re right, that I think that Canada has a very, very safe and in smug and dishonest a memory of racism and slavery in this country. And, and therefore, you know, and therefore, this The, the, the, this, this systemic feeling of racism, that that, that I that whites have against black or people of colour, I think it’s, it’s, it’s larger, it’s, it’s it, I think it becomes more, we have to kind of talk about and investigate a colonial patriarchy. Yeah, you know, I think that it has everything to do, you know, centuries and centuries of, of European countries, taking over cultures and making it their own and, and dehumanising those who live lived on that land, you know, regardless of what were we talking about? indigenous people or, or Africans, or even like the Spanish or, you know, there’s, there’s the Chinese, like, years and years ago, and I think that, I think that, that, that when, when we talk of white supremacy, there’s, it’s, it’s, I believe it’s different than white supremists. Yeah. We historically have had this ideal of white supremacy. Yeah. And, and I think that that is what we kind of need to work on. And and, you know, and investigating and, and, and activating the, the silent liberal majority of whites who, you know, and I think we’re starting to see that with this whole with this whole NFL and kneeling thing. There’s that question of where where were these other players, white and black? And other than that, where were they four days before trying to Donald Trump spoke and, and that’s, that’s, it’s interesting to talk about, and it’s interesting to bring up, but you know, like, I think that that is steeped in they were they might have been there ready. But what what activated them? You know, I think we have to talk about what is what is our what is activism activism to us personally. And individually. Right, that’s a bit of a roundabout conversation.

Phil Rickaby  07:39

Because it’s interesting when you’re talking about the separating of the discussion, from the American experience in the Canadian, it’s so difficult to do that, when so much of our culture in Canada is. And in fact, it is the wrong word, but it affected by American culture in TV, movies, and all these other things. Yes, totally the right word. Yeah, we have we can barely remove or is that when you have people who, you know, are in, in some places in Canada who are wearing Make America Great Again, hat so they can separate themselves from the American experience. It’s It’s a strange phenomenon that we’re stuck in this.

Nigel Shawn Williams  08:19

Yeah. Or they don’t, or they don’t want to, but I think that has everything to do with one of the one of the one of the aspects of this play that that I think that Amanda Paris is bringing up is that we, we really have to we have to learn from our history. And and I think until the Canada has to learn from its own history before it can take on another country’s history. Yeah. And I think that Canada’s Canadians, need to need to own their own history, look at it, delve into it, in and of itself and learn he’ll act upon and then we can we can cast aspersions or, or or look at comparisons Yes, like that, you know, but, you know, but it’s it is it’s a it’s a, it’s a it’s a it’s a complex issue, like it’s not necessarily easier said than done. Because in a lot of ways, we just like the civil rights movement, the, the movement, the civil rights movement in Canada, learned from the civil rights movement in in the United States of America, and, and took many cues from it, but also learned a lot of what was working but wasn’t what wasn’t working, you know, but it becomes but then it becomes then the conversation becomes generational, you know, like what is your the way an activist who lurk who lived through the civil rights movement in the United States in the 60s, comes to Canada in the 70s and 80s, and is now having a conversation with 21 year old activists who thinks that, that has not learned anything and thinks that violence in and disruption is is the way to go. So it’s not It’s a it’s a, it’s a, it’s a very delicate cycle

Phil Rickaby  10:02

are there things that you’ve learned from this play that you didn’t know?

Nigel Shawn Williams  10:04

oh, there’s a lot. Oh, that’s why I love theatre. That’s why I love directing I’m, I’m very much aware of how much I don’t know. And I learned a lot about, I learned a lot about, about the Toronto civil rights movement, and, and I’m learning a great deal about, about the intricacies of the, you know, like, the Black Lives Matter movement and right. You know, I think that I, I, I am very much as guilty as anyone else about hearing a certain amount of information from the news and and then not seeking more information about certain subjects and yeah, and and that’s Yeah, absolutely, I think Amanda very much for, for opening up my appetite to learn more about electronics history and the black community in in Toronto and how we’ve, we’ve grown, but also also very, also, like, the small amounts of history, like talking about Buddy Evans and Albert Johnson, which is not so far away. But these, these, these systemic and constant black men that are targeted and killed, and, and we, we don’t necessarily always put that front and centre. And it’s easier for the News, the news to talk about the the mental state of that black man, rather than Why was it necessary to put three bullets in him?

Phil Rickaby  11:40

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Um,

Nigel Shawn Williams  11:45

it’s a cheery topic.

Phil Rickaby  11:46

Yes. But you know, the thing is, the thing is that like, these are, these are conversations that we as Canadians need to have the necessary conference are absolutely necessary conversations. And it’s been really easy. And, you know, I remember I was in a few years ago, I was in New York. And there was just as the Black Lives Matter movement was really sort of starting just after the Eric Garvey killing, and there was a massive protest when we were there. And it was moving through the streets of New York and my girlfriend at the time, we were sort of like found found ourselves in the middle of it. And we caught ourselves with white smugness, white Canadian smugness, like isn’t it great that we live in a country where this stuff doesn’t happen?

Nigel Shawn Williams  12:32


Phil Rickaby  12:32

And where not the protest, but that, you know, black men are not being killed in this way.

Nigel Shawn Williams  12:37


Phil Rickaby  12:37

Because, of course, we it’s not in the news, it’s not something that we hear about all the time. It’s, and I walked away feeling like, we allowed ourselves to feel really smug. And it was only a little while later that we started to started to think about the truth of it. I started having conversations with my brother about, about his experience and things like that. And I realised that it’s not, you know, it’s, it’s not, but we have, we allow ourselves as white Canadians to just sort of like, feel like, oh, that doesn’t happen here. Cuz it doesn’t happen to us.

Nigel Shawn Williams  13:15

But it does, you know, and that dies. And it’s just, it’s, you know, it’s it’s a, it’s the, it’s the amount that happens is probably not as in you know, as told as much as in the US. I don’t think that the, you know, maybe the the the overt friction is not there. But also, you know, I think that I think that our The, the, the history in the way that I think the the X is America’s is is steeped in, in a certain attitude towards race. I, you know, I don’t I just want to make sure that we don’t get into, or I don’t want to make sure that that that that all police officers are not the same. Right. And that and the and the, you know, when one has to, you know, appreciate the, you know, the men and the men and women who who, you know, counter five before making it like a reaction you know, and and but there’s there there are there are shootings often and brutality as you know, is that you know, when that happened in the, on the news in Durham, and then they were like, Well, why was the SRU called? Yeah, but, but I think that if we, if we start turning, opening the newspaper and turning to page six or seven, will actually actually you know, we’ll find that that new story and, and, and they’re there but they’re, they’re not front they’re not in front and centre because because it’s not important and I think that the and I think that the the the barometer pressure of people of colour in the world, is getting to getting to a point where we’re the way conversation is being forced to change. And I think that’s exactly where the the temperature was with the Black Lives Matter protests at the at the Pride Parade last year. And it’s in it’s in, it’s not waiting, it’s not waiting for, for, for for for white privilege or whites to to sit down and say we’re ready to talk. Right the conversation has to change but there’s a lot of people are getting tired of having the same freakin conversation.

Phil Rickaby  15:31

You know, it’s it’s similar to the conversation I’ve been to a bunch of diversity panels. Yeah. Where we have this, it’s sort of the same, we have the same conversation. Yeah, it’s diversity panel, we talk about, you know, how do we get how do we get more people of colour into the theatre? How do we have more and more stages? And we have the same conversation over and over? Yeah, it’s the same sort of thing. And apparently, it’s frustrating. Yeah, you know, I’m, you know, I’m not even the one who should be really tired of having that conversation. Because, you know, people of colour should be like, why are we? And they are, why are we waiting for this? Because often those things are put on by predominantly white theatres and things like that.

Nigel Shawn Williams  16:18

Yeah. Yeah. I think really, it’s like, it’s like, how do you? How do you have more more artists of colour in your company? How do you have more more administrative staff representing Yeah, well, the answer is just you hire them. Can I swear

Phil Rickaby  16:33

yeah fuck Yes.

Nigel Shawn Williams  16:35

The answer is fucking do it.

Phil Rickaby  16:36


Nigel Shawn Williams  16:37

The answer is is just is just stop talking about it and look at the world in colour.

Phil Rickaby  16:42


Nigel Shawn Williams  16:42

And and, and I think that if certain organisations were were really passionate about about about inclusiveness, then they should look at the leadership in their company. Yeah. And if the if it’s if it’s coming from an artistic point of view, then just fucking do it. Yeah. Then you know, that just look look at things differently. But there is still I think that there’s I think people are very, like the nervous about what if I do it wrong? Well, we’ll do it wrong and make a mistake, you know, but have have have a conversation one on one maybe with someone that you that you respect? Yeah, you know, like you know, talk to Nina Lee Aquino about something specific not and not in abroad. And on the Broadway because you know, name is getting tired of the of the conversation like liquid factory feeders. They’re just doing it.

Phil Rickaby  17:31

Yeah, yeah. Yeah,

Nigel Shawn Williams  17:32

they’re just doing it.

Phil Rickaby  17:33

There’s no conversation. No,

Nigel Shawn Williams  17:34

there’s no fucking conversation, you know, cuz she’s, she’s just doing it.

Phil Rickaby  17:37


Nigel Shawn Williams  17:38

But, you know, it’s just that she, she sees the world the way that the world should be.

Phil Rickaby  17:41


Nigel Shawn Williams  17:42

And also, and also it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s acting in a way and, and, and having values of principles artistically in a way that you that you see colour that you don’t deny it. Yes. You know, because they the the one thing that that burns me is is is when someone says colorblind casting, and that only comes from from the white side of the table. Artists of colour want to be seen.

Phil Rickaby  18:07


Nigel Shawn Williams  18:08

Right. And, and, and I don’t want to be I don’t want to be cast in I don’t want to be cast in a restoration play. And, and, and Mike, I’m not going to act white. I’m not gonna pretend that I’m white. You know, but at the same time, there’s no reason why you know, we can’t be in like, I’m just out of my ass like Death of a Salesman and and and and you know, you and I could just be could be brothers

Phil Rickaby  18:35


Nigel Shawn Williams  18:35

like this you know, like it just it you know, if there’s, if you can, you can expand that like the story, the story, but at the same time, at the same time, you just have to be fucking smart about it. Yeah. But but there’s such a fear. I think of making mistakes. There’s nothing going to no one’s going to learn what’s going to learn from anything else. You just tried. make a mistake. Do something some then then we’ll we’ll we’ll let you know.

Phil Rickaby  18:59

Yeah, but you know, and then at least you will have tried.

Nigel Shawn Williams  19:02

Yeah, yeah. No, yeah. Yeah. But doing but doing nothing is is is cowardice. Yeah. And having the same conversation is it’s boring

Phil Rickaby  19:12

it the same conversation Let’s Let’s a lot of white people feel better. At least we’re having a conversation. But, you know, last time I saw Nina Lee Aquino at one of those things she was done.

Nigel Shawn Williams  19:23


Phil Rickaby  19:23

Like, she’s tired of this conversation.

Nigel Shawn Williams  19:26


Phil Rickaby  19:26

And so she should be because she has a conversation, nothing happens.

Nigel Shawn Williams  19:33

Artists of colour – artists of colour, you know, and I, I can’t I you know, I mean, I have so much respect for Nina and her patience for not punching people in their throat years ago, but it sure it is our responsibility to continue to educate and it’s our responsibility to like, detect, take a breath. It’s like, absolutely, this is where this is what you should do, but the thing is like, yeah, after a while, it gets really, really fucking tiring. I’ve saying the same thing over and over again, too. The same people over here.

Phil Rickaby  20:01

Yeah, yeah.

Nigel Shawn Williams  20:02

Right. And so and so the, the, the, I’m glad that the conversation was being had. And but now the conversation needs to change. Because Because the diversity diversity committees are I don’t understand what there’s nothing active about the word, you know, diversity like, no, like, it’s you know, like you can be inclusive, like us just do something that is active, you know, like a Diversity Committee is, you know, I’d say this too. I used to say this, Nina, when we were hanging out a lot together work in the factory. Is that is that is that diversity became as it has become a word like innovation? Yeah. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. I don’t I don’t know how you how you act upon that. Everyone is trying to be innovative. Yes. Everyone is trying to be diverse. Yeah. So it’s so i don’t i don’t know what like that conversation has to change. I think the the title on that conference card of that programme of that, that they’ll talk for two and a half hours has to change. You know,

Phil Rickaby  21:05

well, it’s interesting, because these these panels, they end, and then everybody goes away. Feeling good. We have the conversation. But

Nigel Shawn Williams  21:13

not everyone feels good about it away from it.

Phil Rickaby  21:14

Sorry, Yes. I know to be to be to be corrected, thank you. But like, you know, a bunch of people walk away feeling good. A lot of people walk away feeling frustrated, but there’s no action that comes out of it. If you’re gonna have the conversation. If you’re gonna have the real conversation, like when you go into a meeting at work, you live with action items.

Nigel Shawn Williams  21:32

Yes, absolutely.

Phil Rickaby  21:34

And we leave without action items. So everything stays at the status quo.

Nigel Shawn Williams  21:38

Yeah, yeah. Unless, unless there’s action, both of them and there’s like, follow up.

Phil Rickaby  21:41


Nigel Shawn Williams  21:41

You know, then like, then when should we follow up to make sure that, that this theatre company is is just doing this? What is it that you want to do? Yeah, to to change things. So so all right, let’s all witness this action. Let’s have you. Have you put that into place? In How does nine months out? Yep. Alright, so we’ll get together in 11 months and see how you’re doing? Yeah. All right. And then and then and then therefore, what are what is the access? If you if you fail? Or if you if you’ve, if you haven’t come through? Yeah, yeah. Public now magazine shaming stageworthy shaming?

Phil Rickaby  22:15

Well, fuck yes. You know, you know, it’s it. We should be shaming when, when that sort of stuff happens. You know, just to change gears a little bit.

Nigel Shawn Williams  22:25


Phil Rickaby  22:25

I want to this is this is, this is a great conversation, but there’s other things that I want to ask you about. And a lot of that, because one of the things I like to examine on the podcast is the reasons why people go into this world of theatre, like why what is it that draws you into theatre? Do you remember what it was that made you first want to do it?

Nigel Shawn Williams  22:48

Like maybe, like, made me like, like to pursue professionally as like, as in when did when did I decide when to go to university?

Phil Rickaby  22:55

For that, let’s go before that, what was your first exposure to theatre as, like, what made you want to perform?

Nigel Shawn Williams  23:02

I’m just going back now because I’m, you know, I’m 88 years old. You know, a lot of ways and a lot of ways. I’m just like, you know, any other any other artists that I had a, I had a, there was a teacher high school that I went to, I went to Dunbarton High School in Pickering. And in grade 10 there was a they, they offered theatre classes and, and but also at that time, there they had theatre sports at lunch. And yeah, yeah, I went to I went to high school with with with this guy Phil Nickel, and I’m not sure Phil Nickel was I’m not sure if you remember this but comedy troupe called Corky and the Juice Pigs. Ever Shawn Coleman came from, like Phil like Phil and and Sean and Greg, Neil and Joe casa. They all went to the University of Windsor where Anyway, I’m going to be I’m going ahead but but Phil Nickel was in my high school and he he was doing theatre sports with with a friend of his like Chris Coons and Barry Davis was his name. But But Frank Luke Frank Luke was the was the was the theatre teacher. And he made space for all of us. He made space for theatre sports, and he made space for for this for theatre arts courses that you could take from grade 10 all the way through grade 13 back then when there’s a 13. And, and I think it was just the that type of enthusiasm that that frankly had but also he did he really really shared about theatre. He loved theatre, but he think he really loved how it activated a young young people and it got them out of their shells and I don’t know I really can’t remember why it like I think it’s because I was just sort of I liked English I liked I you know, I like to stories and I just kind of got I just got to fell into it. And then I think as Theatre School went on, I realised that there was a, there was there’s a community there. There’s a community of like minded people who, who like silliness and danger and putting yourself on the line but also telling stories and having the interaction of a communication between in a performer and an audience and that immediacy that that never happens again. That it’s that it’s, it’s, it’s, in a lot of ways, the theatre, theatre is a is one of the most fleeting art of Performing Arts like Performing Arts is a fleeting art it gets, it’s like that that moment in time is is is happens and it’s done. Yeah, never again, you get where you get that and, and that’s something really exciting. And I think that is, as I got older, probably I could, I could maybe articulate it. But I think that when I was younger it was it was just gut instinct about what I’d like to do. And what I didn’t want to do. I don’t think I wanted to be an ophthalmologist anymore.

Phil Rickaby  26:05

And did you start wanting to be

Nigel Shawn Williams  26:07

think, yeah, I think I was I’ve always just been fascinated with the eye with the biology but also just I think it’s just a fascinating thing that we can see. And I’m fascinated by, by, but by the individual who cannot see and what the, in this the, the the biological technology of the VI Anyway, I’m sorry. But um, yeah, and then I am just like many people, I had a huge battle with my parents, but I wanted to go to university and and I ended up just, you know, winning and I went to University of Windsor. And, and, and I just think that it I it was one of those things that I don’t know whether or not I was thinking okay, so if I don’t set up that I don’t suck at this, or people who have not told me outright that I don’t completely suck at this. So I but I just kind of I fell in love with. I fell in love with the I think the community of artists, and then I fell in love with what the art is right.

Phil Rickaby  27:10

If that makes any sense. Makes perfect sense. where you were born in Pickering?

Nigel Shawn Williams  27:13

No, no, I was born in Kingston, Jamaica.

Phil Rickaby  27:16


Nigel Shawn Williams  27:16

I’m Jamaican.

Phil Rickaby  27:16

When did you find yourself in Pickering?

Nigel Shawn Williams  27:19

Oh, we moved to Durham. I think we moved like a quite a bit. I can’t. I was an Eastern like Scarborough. westhill and then like Ajax Pickering, and it’s always been always been like the east.

Phil Rickaby  27:33

Yeah, I was Ajax for, like 10 years.

Nigel Shawn Williams  27:36

Oh, really?

Phil Rickaby  27:36

Yeah. Yeah, cuz you know, it’s funny because, you know, I went to Ajax High School.  Oh, really?  Yeah, of course.

Nigel Shawn Williams  27:41

I went to St. Bernadette’s.

Phil Rickaby  27:42

Oh, yes, you were right next door.

Nigel Shawn Williams  27:44

Yeah. No like me. Yeah, but that’s what my sister was in. My sister was at Ajax High.

Phil Rickaby  27:49


Nigel Shawn Williams  27:50

And then like, my brother and I were still in in grade school. But yeah, I think really lasted in in that Catholic school for like two years. But even when we were moving once I got to high school. I think I just said to my parents, I I’m not changing schools anymore.

Phil Rickaby  28:03

No Christian Schools is rough. And in high school, you really kind of need like, you need to stay there.


Yeah, but when we were when I went to Dunbarton we were still moving from Pickering to Ajax, but I just stated I just stated at that high school.

Phil Rickaby  28:15

Yeah. Well, the funny thing is that, you know, if you’re an Ajax High School person, like I remember Dunbarton being like the rival school.  Yes. You know, it was just like

Nigel Shawn Williams  28:24

yes of rough hoodlums and theatre artists. it  was funny.

Phil Rickaby  28:29

I don’t even remember. You know, I don’t remember. There was no reason for it. They were the high school. We played them in football, football. about football, but everybody was like, everybody had a thing. So I immediately Oh, the rival school.

Nigel Shawn Williams  28:41

Yeah. Like Yeah, I didn’t play in high school. I played for the I’ve played for the Pickering debate. Bay dolphins, I think in that league, but for some reason in high school, I love for many I had no interest in freakin high school football. Now, I played volleyball anyway. Yeah. And they digress. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby  28:58

Well, you know, you’re getting a bunch of Ajax kids together. And what are we gonna talk about? When did you figure out that this is what you were going to do? Like, when you were going to go to university for and this was your calling? When did it become something that you did, that you enjoyed in high school, that it was going to be the thing that you studied and made your life?

Nigel Shawn Williams  29:18

You know, I think pretty much right away in grade 10. I think, yeah, I think that as soon as, as soon as I got, I got in, and I and I started I started watching future sports. And I started participating in it, and I just got the bug and then and then I was just taking the courses. But I think right from grade 10 it was something that was extraordinary. And it was something that I’d never done or seen before. And it’s also it was a certain amount of blood pressure that that I’d never felt before that was that felt healthy. And but it was just my think my mind was working in a in a different way to tell a story but also to how do you know to, you know, look at source but then we were working In so much free range that we were writing, you know, bad plays and performing them in. And and, you know, we were young, you know, you’re, you know, you’re 15 years old and with a teacher that is giving you what is allowing your imagination to be unleashed. You know, and I think that i think that that allowability and in freedom of the Spirit was something I just didn’t want to let go. Yeah,

Phil Rickaby  30:26

I’m thinking that’s the that’s the age should be writing bad, plays.

Nigel Shawn Williams  30:29

Oh, my God.

Phil Rickaby  30:29

Like is not Yeah,  just write right. Yes. Like, do whatever.

Nigel Shawn Williams  30:33


Phil Rickaby  30:33

you learn so much.

Nigel Shawn Williams  30:34

Absolutely. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby  30:35

Yeah. Um, did you always want to be a director?

Nigel Shawn Williams  30:38

No, no, I don’t know. I don’t think so. Like, I don’t I think that I just wanted to, I think I just want to be an actor and learn how to be an actor. And then it turned into how can I become a an actor that works? And then can How can I be an actor that that, that this is my only job. And then it turned into realising that I was a self employed, you know, artist, and then I was a business, but no, I, I becoming a becoming a director. That tastes didn’t happen. It you know, everything, everything is in degrees, right. It’s sort of it sort of, you know, grows and blossoms and, and I, I’ve always had, I love actors, and I’ve always loved working with a really good actor and the scene partner and what the, what hurt me the most, is when I would hear stories from actors, about about bad experiences with directors. Whether or not it’s, uh, you know, verbal abuse or just not listening, like, you know, there’s, there was like, a generation of that shit. But they were being in the roughing and rehearsal halls. And as I got a bit more experience, and as I got older, I started to realise that that, that an actor would be having a conversation with a director, but the director actually wasn’t listening to the actor, right. It’s and it’s not, it’s not woeful, I don’t want to hear you. Thank you just not understanding that, like, with that with a simple need, was that from that actor, right. And sometimes the inactive needs to ask a question, but doesn’t necessarily want an answer just needs to be heard. I was just, I was loud, an idea or question. And, and I think that just by witnessing that, and, and when they got to the point of where I thought that I, when I, when I was doing if I’d be doing if I was doing a show, and I would I would look at the play. And I see that you had had a speech about a page and a half prior, I’ll just start finding myself in a position that gives you a better position. Because I know what’s coming, right. Like I just started I think I was always seeing things in a macro. Right? They show Yeah. And I never read a play. I never really I never read a played with my, my character. I’ve always I kind of just see the whole. Like, I see the whole story. Yeah. On stage. Yeah. And, and then it’s like, I’m just a small part of it. And then I think it just kind of grew of understanding and just listening to directors talk about sound cues, and you learn about lighting and all this stuff. And, and after a while, I realised that I wasn’t getting I wasn’t scared anymore. As an actor. Like opening night as an actor. I it doesn’t. I’m not, it doesn’t. I’m not nervous. anymore,

Phil Rickaby  33:37

even with like, a brand new brand new play?

Nigel Shawn Williams  33:40

As an actor.

Phil Rickaby  33:41


Nigel Shawn Williams  33:41

no, as an actor, I just, I just don’t get I just don’t get nervous.

Phil Rickaby  33:43

Mm hmm.

Nigel Shawn Williams  33:44

Exactly. It’s like, I love the work.

Phil Rickaby  33:46


Nigel Shawn Williams  33:47

But but the, the, it’s the it’s the rehearsal hall that I love. And, and I am just finding it, you know, unless I’m with the right group of people that want to work for until we close. We know performing is just becoming more challenging, right?

Phil Rickaby  34:04

You know, so you’re moving, you’re feeling you’re moving more towards the directing as as, as the calling,

Nigel Shawn Williams  34:10

Oh, I’d pretty much just I just direct,

Phil Rickaby  34:11


Nigel Shawn Williams  34:12

I try to I try to, I try to act at least once, once a year or season to in order for me to be the director that I want to be for actors, I don’t want to I can’t lose, I can’t lose that perspective of being an actor or I don’t think that I’d be the type of director that will always understand actors understand what they’re going through. But also the creative process changes all the time and and if if one is not current with the generational change in the creative process, then that as a director, I don’t think that you can be you can constantly grow but that’s just my that’s just me. No, that’s not a that’s not a freakin thesis. Oh, no, but I think it’s how you should be a good directors.

Phil Rickaby  34:58

I think for me, you know, I think But it’s it’s, you know, it’s a completely it makes sense that you would want to act to be a better director.

Nigel Shawn Williams  35:07

Yeah. And that’s just me. Like, there’s like, Oh, you know, I’ve got a great like, you know, like Alan dilworth, I think is like, you know, I bow down to the Mr. dilworth. And, you know, he doesn’t have to be an actor to, to, to become a better director. He’s just he just he just grows and grows and grows. Like, I’m just talking about my recipe. It’s not. It’s not like a blanket for everybody.

Phil Rickaby  35:28

So do you remember the first show that you directed?

Nigel Shawn Williams  35:32

The first show I directed? I believe professionally, okay. No, I did. I did. Oh, my god, you’re asking me this. Other than something stupid in high school, I think Sue Gary wrote this play called Simple celibate soul. sober, and I directed it for the fringe. Fringe Festival. And, and then right after that, I was asked to do my first professional play. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. My first professional play was directing calling Baker’s the monument. Okay. For obsidian. Right. That was nominated for like seven doors.

Phil Rickaby  36:15

What’s your path to your time at at a factory? Because you were co artistic director with Nina at one time is that

Nigel Shawn Williams  36:23

Yeah, yeah. Nina and I was we were the CO artistic directors for four years together. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby  36:28

How did that How did that come about? That that the that you were chosen as co artistic directors.

Nigel Shawn Williams  36:36

What we we applied for the for the for the leadership for the artistic director ship as a team.

Phil Rickaby  36:42

Oh,really? okay.

Nigel Shawn Williams  36:42


Phil Rickaby  36:43


Nigel Shawn Williams  36:43

Yeah. You know, but we were, you know, we were both we both had great relationship with the, with the factory theatre. And Ken gas was our mentor for years and years. And in the well being of the health of that organisation was always important for us. But now we we applied together and Okay, and I remember her asking me, are you going to do it? It’s like, No, I’m gonna do it. Have you do it? And so we thought we’d just do it together. Hmm. We work we work. We work really well as a team. And yeah, and yeah, no, I love I love that woman. She said, She’s smarter than you and I put together

Phil Rickaby  37:18

Yeah, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing her is really good conversation. So you can really sort of see what she’s doing.

Nigel Shawn Williams  37:24

Yeah. And we just in our thing, our dynamic was really great with each other. Yeah. Because she, you know, she’s like, a silent thinker. And I’m like,

Phil Rickaby  37:35

it was interesting, because you guys took over the the factory at sort of a tumultuous time, there was the can gas leaving or being pushed out and factory was taking a lot of flack from the community. And then you guys came in? And I don’t know if any of that flack came on you? Or a

Nigel Shawn Williams  37:55

lot of shit. Yes, but we took it that’s, you know, that, by the way is better than somebody else.

Phil Rickaby  38:00

Did you? Did you expect that the flack would continue? For as long as it did or?

Nigel Shawn Williams  38:06

No, no, no, I think that if anything asked us, we were kind of surprised that, that, that, that it lasted for as long as it did, but you know, it was it was a it was a you know, there’s people that were hurt, and it was emotional. And, and I don’t think that you can have any real expectations on anyone’s emotions, healing and things like that. But, but we, you know, we were, you know, we loved it. And we loved Ken and the the theatre now is, is incredibly healthy. He has a fantastic identity and a new brand. And, and I see I believe people still love going there. And, and, and Nina. Nina is just, you know, I think that Nina should just be running all or arts organisations in this country.

Phil Rickaby  38:53

I would actually like, you know, she could clone herself, it might be really good for the arts industry.

Nigel Shawn Williams  38:58

If you if you gave her if you gave her more files on that day, she would she would be able to do it. This flux, so I’m sure they have enough chocolate and coffees. So you know,

Phil Rickaby  39:08

now you’ve given everybody the secret. But like, I love the work that she’s doing there. Because, you know, like you were saying she’s just fucking doing it. Yeah, like just putting people of colour on that stage and not really, I mean, not really making a big deal out of it. It just is.

Nigel Shawn Williams  39:27

It shouldn’t be a big deal.

Phil Rickaby  39:28

Yeah, no, it shouldn’t.

Nigel Shawn Williams  39:30

I don’t know. I think it’s more than optics. I think. Sure. It might be easier for for Nina to do because she you know, because she’s, uh, you know, you know, she’s a woman of colour or you know, she’s she’s from the Philippines and and so she’s she’s, she’s experiencing the world as a young woman but as a as a non white artists in this country that is that has been that has been, you know, white, white dominated and so we you know, we see the world differently than then than whites and so it’s it’s not it’s not an effort for us to instigate that practice because that practice is just who we are, as you need it is and, and, and it’s when it’s it’s when you It’s when you, you must lead is when it becomes tokenism. That’s when you muscle is when you don’t understand it. Yeah. And when you must lead is when you actually start becoming blind of people’s cultures and ethnicities, right?

Phil Rickaby  40:26

Yeah, absolutely. At what point did you get involved in other side of the game? Well, you were there in the early days or did you just coming for the production?

Nigel Shawn Williams  40:37

Maybe like around like the 50 yard line? Amanda Amanda Harrison in in working on the play that gets that’s been that went through its you know, its own its own growth and then and then Cahoots. Cahoots are working with with with with Amanda. Marjorie Chen became the dramaturge. I think they did a couple of a couple of, of workshops of it. I’m not, I’m actually the wrong person. I skip the update or the growth but Majorie, Marjorie Chan, the artistic director of Cahoots. For those listening that don’t know, Marjorie Chan. I asked me, I think it was maybe said last year, where are we right now? In October?

Phil Rickaby  41:22

October, Yeah.

Nigel Shawn Williams  41:23

No. So it was like, what a year and a half ago, okay. But she asked me to if I wanted to come on to, to direct a workshop of the play. And, and the director of worship with a play with the understanding of if we were both mutually interested of being the director for the production. So that so I came on for a workshop of it. Last year, September, so yeah, September of 2016. Okay. And then they started working with Amanda then I just kind of got hooked on the play and what she was tackling and, and her in the craft, and also, I hadn’t had an opportunity to work with codes before. So there was like, a lot of a lot of great ships that were coming together at the same time. So sorry, I guess the short answer is,

Phil Rickaby  42:17

Yeah, you did. I mean, this question might seem like it’s self evident, but I’m gonna ask it anyway. What is it that you saw in the play that you felt like you needed to tackle?

Nigel Shawn Williams  42:32

I needed to tackle, I wanted to tackle the the issues of race and in the investigation of, of racial and as well of criminal injustice that coordinates the injustice of the criminal system. And it also because I right away, I realised that I didn’t know very much about the civil rights movement, or the activism, the activism that was happening in the 70s, in Toronto, and a lot of my attraction to the play, and the Curiosity was kind of sparked about what I did not know. And so how much how much I didn’t know about it, it was kind of scary. And I kind of just tried, I kind of just take things down, but scare the shit out of me. So because it because, you know, my wife always says like that i i will only do things that I don’t understand, or I don’t know how to do okay. I, that’s I get it, I get attracted to the place that I don’t know what that voc am I going to do this? Yeah. Not to devalue, but that to me, and, and then, and so it scares the crap out of me. And so I get closer to the first day of rehearsal. And I get more and more stress, because I feel like I’ve done absolutely, like, we don’t know, research, although there’s like, you know, 82 pages of it. And, like, I don’t know what I’m doing. And then I have to be reminded that that’s how I feel before every, like, first day of school, but it’s, it’s scary. It scares me, then I’m, I’m generally attracted to it. Now,

Phil Rickaby  44:05

when when you’re working like that, when you don’t know what you’re gonna do with it? Are you? Are you just figuring it out as you go? Do you learn with the actors? Or do you find that you knew all along?

Nigel Shawn Williams  44:18

Well, I kind of knew all along, but it doesn’t come into play place until you have your collaborators with you. You know, and that’s what I mean. Like, I love actors in which I can, I can have an idea but it’s not until or like even like a way of moving through the play. But it’s not going to it’s not going to blossom is not going to make sense until you have your your collaborators which is your actors and your designers. I I love. I love being a director because you can get a group of really talented people together and let them do what they do. Yeah. And and if if I’m if I’m sharing birding, these, these great minds, then, if I’m sharpening, well, then if something incredible is going to happen, right, I’m in a lot of ways, it’s just, it’s just, it’s just articulating some of my ideas, but letting them go. Like, I love being surprised, like, I like having a conversation with with with a set designer, Joanna use the set designer for, for this for other sides of the game. And I’m, you know, I’m always just surprised about what she comes back with, right? You know, cuz your initial conversations, they Oh, I’m thinking about this and this is what the play would mean to me and you just have sort of have these design jams these these Gabs. And then and then then I just I want to be surprised, with with a couple weeks later when she comes back. So I’m thinking about this. It’s like, there’s no way I would have fucking thought about that. Right. Right. That’s awesome. Yeah. And so if so, now, I will fit my some ideas inside that environment. And then so it blossomed from there and then and then you know, Caitlin hickeys is the lightning designer. And, and what she brings to it is something that that is beyond my imagination, Varun good who is the sound designer, like collaborate with a lot. She She brings, it just ends in racial force, we use the costume. So I want I want the designers to come with their creativity. And like, I’m not the I’m not the I’m not, I’m not the fucking boss of it. I’m the boss of their creativity. I’m just I just tried it. I just tried to show the I tried to articulate and show the road in which I’d like to go down. But how they go down that road. And in what, what, what vehicles we go down that road? Is that becomes collaborative. That’s not probably the best metaphor, but it’s all I had right now. It’s good. It’s good. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby  46:49

Are you are you on the social media? Are you on Facebook? Twitter?

Nigel Shawn Williams  46:53

I refuse to be on Facebook. I will never be on Facebook. You’ll never find me on Facebook. No, I’m on. I’m on Twitter. Yeah, I’m on Twitter. I started I was on I started a Twitter account. Because when I was co artistic director at factory, but I knew

Phil Rickaby  47:05

 Is it difficult to do you tweet still or?

Nigel Shawn Williams  47:07

Uh, no. It’s not different. It’s still it’s still there. I’m, you know what, with Twitter? I think the thing is that I, I, what I’ve learned about Twitter is that I don’t think that I’ve I don’t think I’ve found my voice on Twitter. So and I’m not a I’m not a UI, like look at the eight this cat cute kind of guy. Yeah. But I, I’m kind of, I’m kind of like, sometimes I’m on it. Sometimes. I’m not like in Twitter, we’re kind of bugs the shit out of me because I could spend my whole day scrolling and I don’t like spending my whole day scrolling. No, no, of course, I don’t like looking into my phone. But I do enjoy some things of what other people are saying. But I I’m not. I know. This is gonna kill me. But I’m not on social media very much. And I’ve got a I kind of resist well, social media.

Phil Rickaby  48:01

It can be a time suck. Yeah, it was a time suck and you’re doing other things and you don’t need the time suck.

Nigel Shawn Williams  48:07

Yeah, I you know, seriously, I I I’d rather spend the time with with with my daughters. And we’re mow the fucking lon Yeah. then then then be looking at twitter. But also Facebook is something I’ll I was never interested in. Because when I left high school, I left high school for reasons. I didn’t want to be found. I don’t know. Like, if if there’s a party, and I didn’t know about it because of the Facebook. Well, then I’ve been to that party. Yeah, like that. I missed it. Like if someone want to invite me to a party, they’d invite me. Yeah, but there’s there’s I don’t I don’t really know what on Facebook. I’ve missed or I’m missing.

Phil Rickaby  48:40

You probably haven’t missed much. I mean, I always wish that because, you know, eventually everybody’s the high school people that even the people you don’t want to know anymore. They always find you and I always wish there was like, Are you fucking kidding me button when you get like a friend requests from somebody that you’re like, Are you kidding?

Nigel Shawn Williams  48:56

They’re in and there is it’s actually it’s actually not going on Facebook? You know, like, there’s lots of there. You know, there are people from high school that I it’d be great to, you know, to see but there’s also you know, I’m I’m gonna I’m gonna escape this I like to I like to play different sounds sounds like I like to move forward her. Yeah. So yeah, and there’s also like, I don’t want to be but also my you know, I think that I think that my life and my career my business has become like I’m it’s very public. Yeah, you know, as being being an actor being being an artist you there you I’m at a disadvantage and we’re in which at any given night between 200 or 1000 people can be seen what you perform. Yes. And I don’t know you. Yes. And, and then, you know, you kind of bumped into like and I do think it’s great. It’s like oh my god, I saw you in that fantastic. But after after a while, like I think that what it is like I’m, I’m I’m I’m aggressive about my privacy. I’m quite violent. About about that. But you know, like, you know what I mean by that yeah. So and then And then when I when I got married and then when I have children I’m even, I’m just even more I’m very, very protective of, of, of my space that does not get shared it with my litter with the art that I make or the art that I’m involved in. So I think that’s why I like to stay quiet and on social media if there’s no i think that my, my, my my art is my activism. So if I have something to say, then just if you look at the the place that I do, then you’ll know what I feel about their fucking politics. Cool.

Phil Rickaby  50:37

Can I ask you what your Twitter handle is? Or

Nigel Shawn Williams  50:40

it’s a it’s it’s it’s nswNigel.

Phil Rickaby  50:43

Okay. Cool.

Nigel Shawn Williams  50:44

Like No, no, no, it’s Yeah, it’s Yeah, it’s NigelNSW or NSWNigel.

Phil Rickaby  50:51

I will find it

Nigel Shawn Williams  50:51

you’ll find you’ll find it but I think it’s Yeah, but it’s it’s it’s not just SEAN Williams. Yeah, not Nigel. Nigel Williams. Okay. There was a lot of Nigel Williams is. Yeah. All right. Well,

Phil Rickaby  51:03

thank you so much. It’s been a great conversation. I really appreciate you doing this.

Nigel Shawn Williams  51:06

I really I really enjoyed the conversation too. And thanks for inviting me on. Thank you. Nice to meet you.

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