Phil Rickaby
Welcome to Episode 216 of Stageworthy, I’m your host Phil Rickaby Stageworthy is a podcast about people in Canadian theatre featuring conversations with actors, directors, playwrights and more. In this episode, I will be talking to actor, writer and nurse Helen Knight.

As I record this, it is just a few days before the holidays and that means that 2019 is drawing to a close as we move towards the end of the year and into the roaring 20s as we get closer to the anniversary of the first episode of Stageworthy back in January of 2016, which means that Stageworthy podcast will be in its fourth year. Do you know if you’ve enjoyed the podcast, whether you’ve subscribed or if you’re just an occasional listener, I would love it if you could help spread the word about Stageworthy. If you’re listening on Apple podcasts, Just do me a favour and rate the podcast there. If you leave a five star rating, you will help new people find the podcast. And you know, the most common way that people find out about new podcast is from their friends and family. So if you know someone who might enjoy Stageworthy, tell them about it. And if you tell somebody let me know about it, you can find stage really on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @stageworthypod and you can find the website at stageworthypodcast.com. And if you want to drop me a line, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at @PhilRickaby. And My website is PhilRickaby.com.

As I mentioned, my guest is Helen Knight. I got the chance to talk with Helen in the early fall. I met her this summer after she performed her solo play the Art of Kneeding at the Toronto fringe. We talked about creating a solo show her writing process and so much more. Here’s the conversation

What do you – what do you – what do you what are you rehearsing right now?

Helen Knight
Oh, um, I’m working on The Wedding Party, which I think was down in Toronto a couple years ago. Okay. Yes.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Where’s that happening?

Helen Knight
With Alberta theatre projects?

Phil Rickaby
Oh, nice. Nice.

Helen Knight
Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty great. So it’s there. It’s the first show of the season and wow. I’ve got I was joking with our producer, Diane, cuz I said, there’s nothing. I’ve worked with them for the last three years now on their first show, so it doesn’t feel like August unless I’m spending half of it in the rehearsal. Everybody like sunbathing during our breaks and yeah, so it’s great.

Phil Rickaby
Well, at least at least it feels like like August for you.

Helen Knight
It really does. Yeah,

Phil Rickaby
I know. I know people who it doesn’t feel like August and till they’re at the Edmonton fringe. So

Helen Knight
No, I’m missing it this year. I’m so bummed. I’m really bummed about. Yeah. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
I mean, it’s hard to take it all in, you know?

Helen Knight
Yeah, you gotta pick it. You gotta pick your battles. So,

Phil Rickaby
also, I mean, you you have a gig. So as awesome as it would be to be at the Edmonton fringe. Also, it’s good to have a gig.

Helen Knight
Oh, it’s always good to be working. Always good to be working. Yeah, yeah. So it’s lovely and the cast is freaking great. And the show is super fun. So I’ve done dramas for the last few years so it’s nice to get to work on like a real sort of mad cap comedy kind of thing like very high energy and nobody’s getting tortured. There’s no you know, abuse or anything like it’s just, you know, word up withe flowers, so.

Phil Rickaby
Is, is abuse amd torturing something that’s been in your repertoire for a while.

Unknown Speaker
This past year, I’ve done two shows of Kate Henig’s Virgin Trial and there’s sexual assault scene, there’s two torture scenes. It’s just intense. And I’ve done it with two different theatre companies twice. So it’s like, there’s none of that. There’s just you know, it’s kind of light and airy and

Phil Rickaby
well, how nice to have something like that. That doesn’t involve torture and abuse and

Helen Knight
no torture. Yeah, exactly.

Phil Rickaby
Things only actors can say, God, I’m really so glad that all that abuse has gone for this season. I can just sort of concentrate on something else.

Helen Knight
Exactly.

Yeah. So this is a this is really great. I’m having a hoot.

Phil Rickaby
So when did you start? When What was your entry into into theatre? What was it that made you want to do this thing?

Helen Knight
Um, I’ve wanted to be an actress since I was a kid, I think, you know, and I was always like, I have this distinct memory of like being very small. You know, my parents church and like growing Having a microphone and just heading up into the middle of the stage, what before the microphones got turned off at the end of the day and just kind of like singing to myself and like very happy to be up there. And so, you know, we used to put on plays and stage stage, you know, Dinner Theatre and stuff like that for my grandparents, my mom and stuff. So that was just sort of how my sister and I passed the time growing up. But professionally, yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Do you have any sense of of, of what made you first aware of acting? Because that’s not something that is common in I don’t want to say normal children. But, like that kind of thing. Because I was, I mean, I was always putting on plays and getting groping people and putting on plays when I was a kid. And I’m always curious, like, Where did you learn that? I,

Helen Knight
I don’t know if it was like, I’m aware I’m doing a play, but we’d watch these movies over and over again, and then we’d reenact sections of the movie. Just cut They captured us so much like we watched the 10 commandments Charlton Heston and like, you know, over and over and over so much that we could recite and we watched Mary Poppins so often we could recite in any so often that we reconsider recite it so I think it was just you know things that captured our imagination that were super fun and then when you get tired of sitting in front of the TV, you want to do something so that’s kinda what came out so yeah, I’ve always wanted I’ve always wanted to do that since I was a young kid but I didn’t actually do it until I was significantly older.

Phil Rickaby
So did you do it in school at all? Or

Helen Knight
I did. I was taking band in junior high playing the flute and I was rubbish not not because I was actually terribly bad at the flute like I think I probably was okay but I just didn’t practice and I didn’t care and I was so is sat my mom down and I said okay, here’s here’s my plan. Let me take let me take drama instead. They would not let me take drama earlier on. But I made my case in grade nine. My mom, let me take a drama class and then I took it all throughout high school.

Phil Rickaby
Do you know what it was that made them not want to let you take drama when you were younger?

Helen Knight
Yeah, well, you know, a little bit complicated with my parents because they both they both met touring Theatre Company in the states in the 70s. That’s how they got together.

Phil Rickaby
Oh, so they knew what was going on in the theatre.

Helen Knight
Yeah, like there was. I think I, the reason why I didn’t mention that is like part of my influences. I don’t think they ever like wanted to encourage us in that direction. So I’m kind of aware that that was part of their history, but there it wasn’t like, you know, the good old days kids or anything like that, like it was just not part of the family law or anything. But yeah, they you know, they met in this small touring theatre company that was based out of California and you know, you started toured all over the states going to different small towns and stuff like that and they didn’t tour together but they met during training. So that’s, that’s how my parents got together. And so, years later, actually, when I was like, right when I was coming out of high school and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I’m like, you know what, I think I’m gonna go join that company that you guys were a part of, and my mom sat me down and just said, this is a bad idea, and this is why you shouldn’t do it. I listened to her. I didn’t do it. I walked I walked away and I went into nursing school instead. So

Phil Rickaby
how long were you in nursing school for

Helen Knight
nursing school is a four year degree undergraduate degree. So

Phil Rickaby
I have so you did the whole thing. Oh,

Helen Knight
yeah. No, I have a baccalaureate, I’m an I’m a registered nurse and I have a baccalaureate degree in nursing sciences or whatever it is. So yeah, yeah, I’m a

Phil Rickaby
so what what, whatever took you back to back to theatre and acting.

Helen Knight
Um, well, I did nursing for a while actually long enough to pay off my student loans. And then and then, like, I think I paid off my student loans in May in the September they were paid off. I went to nurse to Theatre School. So

Yeah, it was I – it’s one of those things, it’s kind of, I was really sad about not being able to theatre school. I was kind of part of the thing that convinced me that I wasn’t able to go is we just came from very restrictive very humble means, like, I like to, like everybody says they grew up for for most of us, but I think poverty really is like, the definition of poverty is you do not have the enough income to cover your basic needs. And that was my childhood and youth like we did not make enough money to cover heat, rent, utilities, food, all that. And so, you know, we manage that because of the help of the government and charity and sometimes my grandparents would, you know, pay for the lights to come back on but, you know, when you grow up like that, and then your mom sits you down in a cafeteria and is like, I appreciate that you want to go be an artsy fartsy person but if you get stranded on the road, I can’t help you, you can never come home for Christmas because I have no way of getting you back home. And they will not pay you enough to like get you back here and and so as a kid like growing up and often hearing like, No, you can’t afford to do that like that that part of the world is closed off to you because you don’t make enough money though. Like it’s sad how quickly I was convinced but also like, given given the history of how I grew up and stuff like that. I was like, Oh, right, like, like art is for other people. It’s not for people like us and so I was like okay, cool. Go find a degree so I can get a reasonable job that will pay me a living wage and so that’s why I chose that path of the nurses and the nurses great you know like it uh, it’s can be rewarding and you’re doing good in the world and it gives you a living wage and benefits and you know, things like a lot of them it gives you a middle class. Yeah. And that’s honestly like, that was My second dream- dream was to be an artist. Second dream was to be middle class and so

Phil Rickaby
you know that somebody grew up poor when their dream is to be middle class.

Helen Knight
Oh my god. Yeah, like boring. white picket fence suburban. That was my ideal. I was like, that fucking living right there. That’s the highlight right there. Yeah, two weeks vacation kid. Yeah.

So yeah, I wouldn’t. I was a nurse. And then, um, this is a long, there’s a long story, but

Phil Rickaby
no, no, yeah.

Helen Knight
Then, you know, I grew up in a religious household, and

it was really random. But one day some woman came up to me in our church, and she’s like, I know, this is weird. I just feel like God wants me to tell you something. And I’m like, Okay. And like, for real. I thought she was going to be like, you’re you’re going to hell, you’d swear too much. Should you drink too much? And like, I was like, Oh shit, like, Jesus is mad at me.

Phil Rickaby
Depending on the church, there’s a 50/50 chance that’s the thing that somebody says,

Helen Knight
Yeah, I know. And so I was like, Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god and then she’s like, God just wants you to know that he made you with the desires of your heart for a reason, and he’s big enough to handle your dreams. So that means and like, she then fucking walked away, and I was like, and then you know, I actually I walked away and I had a really big blood because I knew what that meant. Yeah, like, you know, I’d wanted to do this since I was a kid so I was like, it was kind of this like, Alright buddy well if you’re up there let’s fucking do this and so so I think the neck like that was probably in early I don’t know what time of the year that was but literally like the next semester that that could have been worked out for me. I was in school, so huh, yeah, and we were Alberta anyways was in the midst of a Terrible nursing shortage. So I walked up to my boss and I just asked her a leave of absence for nine months and she gave it to me so long as I was going to come back.

She’s like, Are you are you leaving for forever? Are you coming back? I’m like, No, I’ll come back and she’s like, Okay, then you can have the time. Wow. Yeah, cuz they’re so desperate to not lose staff.

Phil Rickaby
Well, naturally. Yeah.

Helen Knight
Yeah. So I did a I did a two year nursing or nursing. I did a two year acting Diploma in Calgary here. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Can I can I ask you a bit about about growing up in a religious household? Because I too, grew up in a very religious household.

Helen Knight
Oh, I knew it.

Phil Rickaby
Okay, hold on. How did you know How did you know?

Helen Knight
I saw your show. It’s not an ignorant show, sir.

I told you.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah.

Helen Knight
You had some good theology in there was it was decent, though. You can

Phil Rickaby
only have that kind of theology. If one you grew up with it, and it also helps to have to be a preacher’s kid.

Helen Knight
Oh my god, really?

Phil Rickaby
You were a preacher’s kid. Dad my dad. I wasn’t a preacher’s kid like growing up because you know those kids are in suffering. Kids were kids when they were when they were children but those kids I I my dad didn’t become a preacher till I was like in my late my early teens so Oh, that’s so funny. Yeah,

Helen Knight
yeah. And that’s when my dad stopped being a preacher was when I was 12 Yeah, so they like kind of like high fived each other on the in the way they

Phil Rickaby
did it. There’s no high five hours they passed each other. Yeah, no, it’s it’s it’s there’s a funny thing because I think a lot of times, in some religious households The arts are seen as not wholesome. I think because of the whole there is the image of the decadent artists Right.

Helen Knight
Yeah. And there’s I need to give some of that credit like there are certain circles that think that the botched lifestyle is the only true way of self expression and, and you know, so I don’t know, I don’t know how much I bind to that one way or the other i think i think you could be typically very liberal person and the best way for you to explore yourself is by containing some of your impulses or vice versa depends on the individual but yeah, yeah, you know,

Phil Rickaby
no, I knew people in when I was in high school who they sort of dabbled in, in high school theatre, but as soon as anything was like, too secular for them. They were they were out. They were like, No, I can’t do this. You know, I had one guy, he, yeah, we were doing I think Greece and his character had to say, Oh, my God, and he was like, I can’t do that.

Helen Knight
Oh, my God. Yes.

Phil Rickaby
And my, I almost wanted to say yeah, but I think God knows that. You’re not saying the character saying I don’t think it counts. But

Helen Knight
yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s funny. So the the other sort of weird side to the story is I ended up I grew up in a very public school system I was surrounded by dozens of religions and ethnicities and languages I can’t like so in some ways, I came from a very sheltered existence that way like, I was never part of the waspy white world. I was the odd man out amongst that and so I went to college though like this college here was a religious based school like a faith based school. And the college itself was very religious. And then there was this weird drama programme within it that was kind of its own, like, sell of artsy weirdos that would you know, yell fuck you across from the dean’s office while they were doing exercises. But yeah, like, you know, some of those kids I think came from a much more stereotypical religious religious background where like the arts, were Not because they would leave you impoverished, but because

Phil Rickaby
they would lead you into iniquity.

Helen Knight
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And so we did have some kids that were uncomfortable with like embodying characters that did not reflect their own worlds. And I thought, I just thought that was sad for them.

Phil Rickaby
I think it is it is very limiting, like if you are able to, because that shows that you actually can’t put your head into the headspace of somebody else, which is a bit of a deficiency, especially in this in this line of work.

Helen Knight
Yeah, or, I mean, like, I don’t think that reflected the values of these people in new per se, but there’s also this idea of like, only our story deserves, told, or only stories that look like me or sound like me are stories of value. And that I think, is a lot more. I don’t know, that’s a much more insidious, nasty viewpoint, whether people actually articulate that or not, I think that’s pretty dangerous. Yeah, you know, so. Yeah, and that was like Despite, you know, the larger college as a whole, where I went to luckily the administrators in that small little cell of artists were like, super cool, not judgy definitely wanted to like, have people explore their stories and narratives and you know, the fact that you like to Jesus was sort of like awesome. Like, that means you’re going to expect a particular integrity of view as a person as you go into whenever acting Hollywood. Yeah, that’s cool. Cool. So I lucked out.

Phil Rickaby
Now when you made that transition from nursing, to going back to to being an actor to wanted to studying that. Did you did you personally have any difficulty you mentioned having a good blood after just after that woman told her to follow your heart and you knew that you should follow it? Yeah, was that was it a difficult thing for you to do to go to finally do this?

Helen Knight
Yeah, it was.

I I so reason why I No, I made the right decision. It was this compulsion, like, I have to go do this thing, despite all of the alarm bells going off in my head. Right? Despite the fear and the panic that I don’t belong there, I think that was more of the the feeling was like, art is for a different class of people. It’s for a different type of person. It’s for people who look and act a certain way, which I didn’t look and act like it’s from for people who went to dancing lessons as kids because, you know, like, there’s all these weird, middle class expectations to kind of weasel into what you think an artist looks like. And sure, you know, and having just been absolutely not middle class, I just really I really carried a lot of prejudice against myself and to the classroom. And so I think my like, my biggest accomplishment for those two years that I was in school was being able to go like, Hey, I’m just here, I’m gonna see what happens to life. By the end, I was like, No, I’m an artist. So it was just sort of allowing myself to embrace that identity is like, that’s who you are. And to say that, like, by the end of the two years I’d reach there is such a gross overstatement. Like I think it took me several years within the professional realm to really be able to embrace that identity as my own. Because, you know, when you really when you really desire something, and you kind of hold it up as this lofty thing, I think for anybody, it’s easy to kind of say, Well, I couldn’t, you know, fill in the blank and, and, and so yeah, that’s, that’s kind of been, I think, you know, there are certainly acute peaks and valleys of that journey for me, but I still feel like I’m on that journey. We’re still in like, you know, do I deserve to be here or do I deserve to participate in in this really fun way of expressing the human story sometimes and I have to either convince myself or talk to my therapist.

Yeah, so that’s that’s kind of the ongoing trajectory of that.

Phil Rickaby
I mean, honestly, the there’s there’s enough imposter syndrome that the average person feels, they there’s for you, it sounds like there’s that additional thing of, of growing up with these internalised ideas about what being an artist meant.

Helen Knight
Yeah, yeah, I think so. And

and not to mention Not to mention the poverty thing, which is a real that’s a real struggle that so many artists actually deal with. And so that’s real. I am not below the poverty line. Now I’ve married a teacher I can still jump into the hospital and work as a nurse now. So like I am comfortably middle class, which puts me very much better off than a lot of my compatriots in the theatre. So, you know, I’m aware that I am still choosing a particular level of, I was gonna say comfort, but for me it feels like a security thing where, you know, I know I’m going to pay my rent, and I know I’m going to eat and I can go out for dinner if I want. Oh, sure. And it won’t break me.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’m, I’m in a similar boat where I have a day job and so I do my theatre stuff in the evenings. And that’s when I create you know, and and, you know, as much as as I sometimes think it would be great to do that full time. But then I also see my people who do that full time and the sacrifices that they make in terms of their living situation and, and, and, and even simple luxuries like going out for dinner. So it’s, yeah, you know, it’s,

Helen Knight
yeah, and I think too, like I’m reaching the age where a lot of the artists close to my age or maybe even a bit younger, you know, in their mid to late 30s are a lot of the things female artists I know are like, you know, I’m ready to have kids. Yeah. And I afford to take enough time off to, like, carry this pregnancy to term like, you know, because you don’t have a seven month old pregnant woman playing, you know, Gertrude

Phil Rickaby
Yeah,

Helen Knight
you know like so the physical changes that happened to your body kind of a limit let alone the stamina and the energy that it requires to go through a show but just the physical changes to your body kind of eliminate you from being able to be employed for several months of that pregnancy, let alone the recovery afterwards, you know, you’re talking six to eight weeks just so you’re not bleeding anymore and you can walk around and so there’s so many there’s, I know so many female artists my age that are like, I want this and I don’t know if I can afford it. And you’re like, Fuck, that is so messed up like you know My husband and I are child free, but that is by choice not by limited circumstances. And the the fact that you have several artists that are like, you know, I I don’t know if I have to choose between my career or a family or like, I’m not sure if choosing a family at this point is smart. That just is Yeah, unfair. It’s not cool. So that’s, that’s a real that’s a real thing. I think,

Phil Rickaby
really, I’ve also, I’ve also watched a lot of a lot of people that I know who are once they they start to get near their 30s or into their 30s they start to reconsider this whole actor life.

Helen Knight
Yes, that is happening a lot too. Yeah,

Phil Rickaby
you’re like, wow, I would like to have things.

Helen Knight
Yeah. or a coworker of mine last year was like, You know what, like, we work 48 weeks a year, six days a week. She said, I’m lucky To be employed that much. So that’s not really a complaint in the grand scheme of actors, like, I’m employed so much, but she’s like I work almost all year long, only one day off per week. And I am able to pay my bills and I have a car and all these other things, but she’s like, I have no savings. We’re never we’re never getting ahead. This is this is it, and I don’t really have anything more substantial Besides, you know, not drowning to show for it. And like, I think that just keeping your nose above the water feeling that perpetual gig work gives people is a really shitty place to have to make any long term plans from so that makes sense for sure.

Phil Rickaby
Do you do you feel like because of your upbringing, upbringing that you you’re sort of acutely aware of the poverty that that other people are feeling?

Helen Knight
Yeah, I’m what – I wonder.Yeah, I think I think I just understand the anxiety. I’m level because now I’m actively pushing against it. I think I see myself as actually a very privileged actor and like, you know, not that I’m in a place to be turning down roles, but I also like no. But like, it’s also, you know, I don’t feel that I have to work 48 weeks of the year, you know, like, if I was getting to a point where like, Fuck, I’m feeling burnt out, like, I need some time off. I’m gonna take it like, I have the luxury of doing that. Or like, I’m not super enthused about the show, or even worse, like, I think this show shit. I have to take it or I’m not going to pay my rent. Like I’m never in that situation. And yes, so like, I have a lot of empathy for people that are in in that. Yeah, for sure. I don’t I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s because of how how I grew up or if it’s actually just understanding that I’m no longer in that. place where I understand. I understand that a bit.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Now you, you were in Toronto in the winter of all the times to come to Toronto is in February where you were in Toronto to do a show at with salt pepper. Yeah. Yeah. And was that it was that that was a reminder of something that you’ve done previously or

Helen Knight
Yes, yeah. So I did the virgin trial with Sol pepper in January, where I played Mary Tudor and joined Stratford remount there so the, you know, the cast had all been able to come back but they, the actor Sarah Farr, who’d played Mary Tudor in Stratford, was you know, in Bromley was not awesome, but she wasn’t able to join. So they kind of did this like mad dash scan of who knew the part well enough to just kind of be plunked in because it wasn’t really A full rehearsal period for a full exploratory period, because it was a remount. And so, Kate Hennig the playwright had known I had done it in Alberta with Alberta theatre projects in Calgary here. And so she just put my name forward, like, in the list of people that like, knew the part and could like common and, you know, had some basis of knowledge for who this character was and who her relationship with the rest of the cast was. And so, that’s how I got connected with that. So it was really like, Kate got me the gig.

Phil Rickaby
How long How long were you in Toronto for?

Helen Knight
Oh, like, um, end of December to I think the first or second week of February.

Phil Rickaby
God just the worst time to be in Toronto is

Helen Knight
you guys give me a fucking polar vortex like this

Phil Rickaby
We didn’t do that on purpose. I just want to say, just for the record, there’s not like we were digging that either. Just for the record. And of course, I know that anybody who lives in Edmonton or anybody who lives in Winnipeg is like fuck you Toronto. That’s not cool. Yeah. But it was cool. It was,

Helen Knight
it was no, it was cold for anywhere. I have to say because, you know, I Calgary gets cold, not Edmonton cold, but like, you know, minus 40 a few times of the summer, like the winter is not unusual. And like, minus 20 as a regular in the dead of winters. absolutely normal. So, what I had heard about Toronto weather, whether it was that it was so much more temperate. You know, maybe I wouldn’t have to wear chapstick all the time and all this other stuff. Bullshit bullshit. Bullshit. I go there, and y’all had the Arctic Circle come down and hang out for a while and it was horrible. But great, like, you know,

Phil Rickaby
and but when when you left it, it went away. I’m sure I

Helen Knight
think you did. Really, literally. It followed me to Calgary. I think the weekend Calgary, the polar vortex at Calgary. And so we were like minus 40 the whole time I was like, okay, whatever whatever I did, I’m sorry.

Phil Rickaby
But then you decided to come back to Toronto in the summer which is a much better time to be here although it is goddamn hot in the summer and

Helen Knight
no, I loved it. Never apologise. Never fucking apologise for that heat. I loved it. It was humid. I was in my mid 20s before I realised there are parts of the world that got warm even when the sun wasn’t out.

We’re still we’re at a such a high elevation in Calgary that if the sun is not out, it’s in the mid to low teens I shit you not right

Phil Rickaby
and okay.

Helen Knight
So, you know, even on warm like on cloudy days where I’m like, Oh, I I don’t need a sweater when I leave. It’s just inconceivable to me to not need three layers or leave in the morning and I loved it. I got the only like, proper 10 of the year over Were there and it was hot almost all the day. I got back to Calgary. We had one day of 30 degrees and then it’s been in the teens since then. And I was like, oh my god. Oh my god, it’s finished. It’s summer over here. Yeah. So bad. But no, I like it was gorgeous. And then when we were done fringe, my husband and I toyed around, you know, Southern Ontario for a while and saw the touristy things and drank our way through Toronto, his family.

Phil Rickaby
I think that’s a that’s a great a great way to do it. And if you’re on the fringe tour, you don’t have time to do that.

Helen Knight
No, you really don’t. I like I was hustling my ass off, I think three or four hours a day, even on show days, just to bums in seats. So afterwards, it was like I deserve this. It’s fine. Yeah,

Phil Rickaby
yeah. Yeah. Well, why don’t we talk about the art of needing I’m curious about where that show came from for you, right?

Helen Knight
Um so see portion A of this podcast. The Art of meeting had a few seeds of development. It’s a, it’s the story about three women who are struggling in some way or the other with their connection to poverty and feeding of kids. And so, obviously, that’s something that’s very close to my heart in my history. But I think, you know, there’s a few few drops in the bucket that inspired me one was, you know, I was out with some high school friends a few years ago now, so this isn’t even really that recent history. But, you know, one of my friends was, I don’t even know what begot into our bond, but she was going off about welfare people and like, how ignorant they were and how she was surprised. They could even read a pamphlet about something or other and like, how they just, you know, wanted handouts, and I like I just turned to her and I was like, dude, like, you’re talking about my mom. Like, that’s not okay. And I was like, that’s my story. You know? That like you were in school with me in the midst of that, like, what are you doing? I like I got quiet and somebody check in but like you know don’t don’t talk shit about my mind you

Phil Rickaby
want to jump in and say that I mean that is something the the the whole vilification of people who are on welfare or have been on welfare is one of those things that, um like I’ve had like I’ve been on welfare and you know it serves a purpose and it’s not just so that like you know as long as a Oh people do who don’t want to work come by smokes or whatever but they like it serves a literal purpose. And but I’ve had I’ve had instances where people have found out that I was on welfare and like that sort of changed the relationship like I became a different person in their eyes because I’d be in a welfare

Helen Knight
I was terrified of that because I I grew up in time and place in the country. were like, the premiere of Of Alberta walked up to a homeless man one day like on unsolicited, like, actually, here’s the actual story. He was driving in his limo or sedan like he was being driven by a driver. So that’s how the story got out. He made him stop. He got out of the backseat of the car, walked up to a homeless man yelled at him in his face, told him to get a fucking job. And then took a handful of heavy coins out of his pocket and threw them in the man’s face, and got back in the car. And that was the premier that I grew up with. And there were so many more people applauding him then then yeah, then as necessary, it didn’t affect his popularity, if anything, it probably helped his popularity. And that was the most important person with power in the province for years and years and years. And that was and so when I was doing this show, and I’m like, I grew up on welfare. Here’s my mom. I was literally like, I was inviting my work colleagues when I first premiered this in Calgary, was inviting my work colleagues and people I didn’t know that well to come see it. And I was like, they may fucking hate me. Like, they may hear this story and just hate like, I didn’t know, before I had done the show. I didn’t know how I was going to be received and I and like, there was three or four times where I was like, I shouldn’t do this show. I, this is dumb. And, you know, I don’t I don’t want my Steam and my colleagues eyes down all this other stuff. But I think really what pushed me to do this show is that everyone including myself, knows the story of the story of someone, some woman because there’s always a woman, some woman who had seven kids, and is on the dole making $40,000 a month off the government’s grant like everyone knows some somebody And why welfare or H or whatever social assistance programme is bunk because they know this one person or they don’t know, but their cousin knows or their neighbour knows them.

Phil Rickaby
It’s always it’s always a friend of a friend or I heard from a friend of a friend that they are somebody.

Helen Knight
Yeah. And so they all know someone like that. And I regard like, I could go up to them. And I could say, actually, that’s not statistically accurate. And actually, most people on welfare that can work are and you know, I can say that, or I can offer them a story. And it’s my mother’s story. And it’s about the working poor and the fact that my mother’s story and our story is not unusual in that who we were. And what we needed and why we were there is not was not at all uncommon to people in the mid 90s. Like, it was for us. We were so typical as the paint like we’re there’s nothing special about my family. And there’s nothing special about how we got which is why I also don’t Talk about how we got out. I don’t talk about the fact that my mother was a pastor’s wife, because I did on my first iteration. And I was worried that I was. I was. What’s the word I’m looking for? Like, morally trying to like, give her more credit, like, Oh, yeah, the ambiguity of whether or not my sisters and I came from the same father as left in the current draft, because it doesn’t freaking matter. What you’re dealing with is someone who had the tenacity and the responsibility of choosing to raise children. And whoever the fathers were, were clearly not interested in participating in that. And yet, we have children that need food, and we punish the one parent who’s decided to make sure that they have at versus the one parent who fell off. And so I just don’t like so it’s not interest. It’s not interesting to me like, well, what kind of She must be a particular wonderful person. If you’re not, you know, white trash or whatever the fuck that even means. So I’m just I’m not interested in telling that story, I’m just interested in saying, here’s the story of a woman that really needed welfare. And she took it, and it was awful. But without it, we may have grown up on the streets. Without it. I don’t even I can’t even fathom to think about where we would be, we may have even been in foster care. And not growing up together. Because, you know, in the 90s $4 and 50 cents was the minimum wage. And so that’s you cannot raise three children on that much money. You can’t even raise yourself on that much money. But so, you know, that’s, that was the impetus for my show is I was like, I can counter this narrative in two seconds if you’ll give me if you’ll give me the podium. And, and it was also sort of this. I was looking for something to write about, and I wrote this essay one day about you know, I have nothing to say that was the title of my essay. I was like, fine, what the fuck am I gonna write about? I’m nothing to say. middle class white sis straight, like the fuck yeah, but you know, when I, when I wasn’t any of that, like, you know, I’ve always been white when I didn’t have when I didn’t have any privilege that’s when I needed to tell my story and yet because I didn’t have privilege, I couldn’t tell my story. And so it kind of it kind of devolved into that of going like, Oh fuck, now that I have privilege now that I have a podium and I have an education and diploma which says I am, you know, worthy to take the stage and to tell you a story in a compelling way and, or whatever, and I have the training to allow me to do that and like, now after I’m no longer in need, I can tell you about being in need. And, and so the irony of that really struck me and I think that kind of, so it’s just a few things kind of coalescing together. It happened to be also, you know, a couple months after Donald Trump’s election, and everybody’s like, well, it’s poor white people. Got him there and it’s like, Oh, great. One more. One more thing that will respond.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah. Another Yeah. Yeah. So

Helen Knight
that was just a lot of stuff obviously like, I mean, I’m still very I get geared up I like writing and making shows about things that pissed me off. So the general ignorance about what the welfare state actually looks like and how it’s not a picnic and and how dehumanising it can actually be and how poverty is not a moral issue it is a systemic and financial one. Yeah, that’s a that’s something that pisses me off and it gets me riled up and so that’s something good for me to write about.

Phil Rickaby
What I’m what I’m curious about the your writing process for this solo show. Did you do you sit down you just start writing and you wrote, did you write right from beginning to end? Well, how does how does writing a solo show look like for you? Um,

Helen Knight
I’ve never been a linear writer. I, I’ve always enjoyed it. I kind of use that, you know, term loosely but like, you know, in school, I wouldn’t do it on my own. But like, once we were assigned something, I’d be like, okay. But I’ve never been linear. So I have an idea in my head, I write what the idea is, and then I can kind of spread out spread out from there. Which is not to say, like, I don’t I don’t know where the story is going. And I don’t necessarily even know where it begins. But I know there’s a core thesis in there and so that’s kind of that’s kind of where it begins. So for me, I you know, my writing process for this show was you know, that I have nothing to say sort of essay that I wrote myself. And then I was like, Oh, shit, I gotta I gotta tell my family story a little bit. But I was also terrified. I think I’ve told you this before, but I was terrified of like doing one of those one one shows where you just like, take yourself so seriously, you end up weeping Yeah, spotlight alone over a candle and like, just feeling all of your feelings and everybody else in the audience is feeling really uncomfortable as you go through this purging experience. So I was like, how do I deflect that a little bit? I’m feeling very exposed. And so I seen this really brilliant one man show called seven guitars by chase Paget a few years prior and, and he plays, you know, seven guitars. And he plays seven different characters with those guitars and I was like, Oh, fuck, like, I can, I can split this narrative up I can. It doesn’t have to just be my my myself and my mom in our story. It can. There’s so many other perspectives that you can include in this that will shine lights in different ways on this and so that’s what inspired me to kind of go like I can do it with other ways. So so then realising that it didn’t just have to be about me. I was like, okay, and who else can it be about? So usually it just starts with like a character monologue. Or what’s, what’s the part of that character that sticks out to me the most? And then I write something down from that perspective. No, yeah.

Phil Rickaby
Because I mean, when I write a solo show, I write it nonlinear.

Helen Knight
Really, right.

Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I write, I have a notebook, I fill that notebook. And whatever idea comes I write, I try to write as much of it as I can, and it’s all over the place. And then I try to I type all of that and try to see what’s there. And then I do that same thing to another notebook. But when I read it, when I write a straight play, like just a regular play I write from beginning to end. So they they’re different processes for me for some reason.

Helen Knight
Yeah, I think I think knowing that you’re going to play all the characters might influence that a little bit. Yeah, because it you know, when you view yourself as an actor approach the characters from somewhere in your like gut. And so then you can write like that to somewhere in my gut versus I think a play you have to be like, Okay, my gut but like, how would this impact that tonight That kind of with with more understanding because I, I can’t just unlike a one person show where the links between the characters and links between the themes is a lot more intuitive I think for me, you know if I’m doing I’m writing for other people I need to make it less intuitive and more overt so that they can follow along. Or not overt in like a story

Phil Rickaby
but when you are like when did when How did what was that? Did this show premiere at a fringe or did you like self produce? How did what was it? What How did it premiere?

Helen Knight
You Yeah, I don’t I don’t work without deadlines. I’m so frickin lazy.

I was like, Oh, I have this idea. And it’s like, just half the American election which just happens to be around the time where everybody’s asking for fringe applications. I was like, this is a good idea. Okay, and so I like I put all my names in all the boxes and like Saw which one actually I don’t even know if I went that far. I think it was like Calgary, Edmonton and maybe the caf lottery is all I applied for that year. And I just got the Calgary lottery which was fine keep it local people simple because again, this might be a piece of shit, by the way. And so then I had about Yeah, like nine months to write and develop and produce a show after that. So, but I I need the fear or it doesn’t get done. The fear of public embarrassment is a really,

Phil Rickaby
and what so how long ago was that premiere? Was it a year ago, two years ago?

Helen Knight
2017 2017.

Phil Rickaby
And so what made you want it was it What made you want to do it again?

Helen Knight
Well, I I did in Calgary, and then it was very well received here again, like Much to my surprise, and so word had gotten around to the artistic producer of the One X company here in town. And so I contacted texted her and she’s like, Well, yeah, I’ve heard good things about your show, and we would love to invite you to come develop it with us. I was like, holy shit. So that 2018 interim year actually, I was able to like, take it in the spring, and they paid me to like develop it.

Yeah, right. Right. Some people pay you to write plays. Yeah, so, yeah, their play Development Series is awesome. So like, I went, and they gave me a director slash dramaturg. And an actor

claimed me so all I could do is just put on my writing cap and like, listen to somebody else say my words and like, felt like I’ve never had a reading experience like that in my life. That was so simple. And like, I wasn’t producing and acting at the same time and like, it felt like a vacation. It was so great. So I took my you know, my rough fringy version and you know, things I didn’t like and I refined it like my first version of the show. I had a chef puppet that was made out of a dishwasher. And he didn’t make the cut.

Phil Rickaby
I was I don’t recall a the chef puppet in, in this version that I saw. So obviously, puppetry didn’t make it.

Helen Knight
Didn’t make it. mostly cuz I’m a really shit puppeteer, I think bless my director for you know, trusting me to try it out but I was not good. But yeah, so then, you know, I got to work on that for a couple weeks in the studio with them and then by the end of the summer I, you know, submitted my final draft to them and, and yeah, so, lunchbox Theatre in Calgary was like, super instrumental in refining it. So I think once I had the second you know, professional version of it, it was just like, and I think with Calgary and stuff I was like, Oh no, this shows got legs like I this is this is good. Like I can take this to places it will find An audience it will resonate with people people won’t think I’m a piece of shit. They may not like it, but like, you know, they’re not gonna be like, oh hire. And so, so I was like, Oh yeah, like I’m gonna try it out on some other folks until I find until I find somebody that will produce it for me. I want to produce it myself because I really believe in it.

Phil Rickaby
And then you entered it in the Toronto lottery.

Helen Knight
I did. Yeah, I got into Toronto and Edmonton this year. But then I got I got my Academy gig, so I’d pull out of Edmonton, but Toronto was still, Toronto was still on date. I was actually on the waitlist for Toronto. And then they called me a month before friends. Oh my god. That’s right.

Phil Rickaby
That’s why you weren’t in the programme. So you you had the worst. The worst case scenario I started going into the fringe is is that not only you get you get the message a month before were already ever like all the all the media people have decided what shows they want to recommend. You’re not even In the programme, and oh my god, that is the worst deficit ever.

Helen Knight
It was bad and like, I talked to my husband, I was like, dude, like, we’re not gonna be in the fucking programme. Like, should we do this? And he’s looking, he’s like, you want to go to Toronto? I was like, Yeah, do it. So it’s like, in some ways, it was kind of nice because we’re like, look like this is gonna be an uphill battle the whole time. Who cares? Like let’s just go have fun, spend our summer in southern Ontario, go hang out see some shows that we’d not be able to see otherwise and, and then I also get to like continue to develop this show that is great everything so and if I get some recognition or some buzz around it all the better but like, that’s not what brought us out there. It was just like we we needed this. We needed the opportunity. And I, I think oh and my hubby was also very intuitive and he was like, you just need to know that. You can Go and take this risk and know that you will lose money on it and still be okay with that, like, again. He he, he’s really good at challenging me about you know, financial risks because I’m a lot more skittish about that stuff. And he’s like, babe, even if we lose money, we’ll be okay. You will not be on the street. Even if this is a bus, like, go stretch, explore, lose the money will be fine. And I’m like, yeah. So, so that was kind of part of that too.

Phil Rickaby
I think I do think that that that is sort of an important part of of performers life to there’s one thing to do your show at home. Mm hmm. It’s another thing entirely to do it somewhere else and do to take it on the road and take it somewhere where they don’t nobody knows you and that sort of thing, which is, which is you know, it’s it’s it’s an important challenge and it shows you that you can do it. Yes.

Helen Knight
Yeah. Just even if you miss even You go and you tank like, knowing that you can go experience failure and still survive and you’re like, Oh, fuck, like, yeah, that sucks. But it wasn’t the end of the world. Like, that’s such an important life lesson to know that you can do that and the world doesn’t collapse under you and you’re still standing on the ground afterwards. Like that’s important.

Phil Rickaby
I always think that one of the most important things that anybody doing a show and still producing in general but doing a show in the fringe where there’s there’s so many other shows at the same time, and there’s all that you did the thing, like, you wrote this thing, you made this thing you perform this thing that puts you so far ahead of so many other people who only wish they’d done yeah.

Helen Knight
Yeah, yeah. And I genuinely think if I hadn’t come out to Toronto, particularly this year when I did have a little bit of like energy from Salt Pepper behind me instantly, I really wouldn’t. I really would have regretted it. I would have said like, I was an opportunity wasted and and So yeah, I’m super glad,

Phil Rickaby
So after the show that you’re doing right now What’s what? What comes after that? I’ve got

Helen Knight
a I’ve got a few weeks off. I will probably hop into the hospital and make some good coin and then I’ve got a Christmas show with lunch one nicer. Yeah, so like, you know, mid mid November to the end of the year. I’m I’m

Phil Rickaby
that’s fine. That’s great. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Nice. Well, hello, thank you so much for for talking to me today.

Helen Knight
That was lovely. Thank you.