“The thought of being a theatre artist and not writing plays never seemed to be an option.”
- Steve Pirot, co-writer/performer of Faithless
All across the country, theatre artists are obsessed with performing their own writing. From Daniel MacIvor, (recognized for performing his own award-winning plays such as House, Wild Abandon and Cul-De-Sac), to Karen Hines, (famous for writing and performing monologues in the voice of the awful Pochsy), to Robert LePage acknowledged for numerous performer-created works including Les Aiguilles et l’Opium (Needles and Opium) and Elsinore) and Ronnie Burkett, known to theatre goers across the world for his marionette works, including Tinka’s New Dress, Happy and Provenance – all of which he writes (and performs himself).
Right here at home, the story is the same. Edmonton theatre artists such as Darrin Hagen, (Edmonton Queen: Not a Riverboat Story, Tornado Magnet) and Ken Brown (Life After Hockey, Garneau Kid) regularly perform plays that they have created. There in turn, inspire the upcoming generation of theatre artists interested in performer-created theatre.
And there’s a lot of them.
If the next generation of Edmonton performers is any indication, performer-created theatre is here to stay. Nextfest, Edmonton’s emerging arts festival is packed full each year with young artists getting on stage to perform the work that they have written themselves. Performer-created plays that have come out of nextfest include Nathan Cuckow’s Stand-Up Homo, Kristi Hansen’s Woody, and Sheldon Elter’s award-winning one-man play, Metis Mutt.
So, what’s the attraction?
“As an actor, writing work for yourself to perform is a way of taking control of your performance career rather than passively waiting for somebody to offer you a gig,” explains Steve Pirot, half of the writer/performer team that created Faithless.
Pirot and his brother-in-arms Chris Craddock can be added to the list of Edmonton theatre artists known for performing their own work.
“For the most part, performers have almost no control over what messages their instrument is being used to convey. For actors, this can be bizarre because our instruments are indistinguishable from our identity,” says Pirot.
Craddock and Pirot have been performing their own work since the beginning of their theatrical careers. In fact, the first project they ever worked on together was a play called Super Ed, that Craddock wrote and performed, and Pirot directed.
Although Faithless is the first play the pair has worked on together since Super Ed, they haven’t stopped writing, performing and crossing paths along the way.
While they share the desire to create their own work, Pirot and Craddock who met in the University of Alberta’s BFA acting program, entered the theatrical spotlight in very different ways.
“I wasn’t led into the arts. I was led into engineering or law or medicine or some other type of white collar profession. I just didn’t follow the lead. There was nothing in the first 20 years that would lead anyone (myself included) to suspect that I would be involved even peripherally in theatre, “explains Pirot.
Pirot, currently the Artistic Director of Edmonton’s Azimuth Theatre, grew up in Edmonton and spent his childhood playing every sport from hockey to football to wrestling. He didn’t take his first drama class until his third year of University, after a year in the Engineering faculty and a year of pre-med. When Pirot decided that he was going to make Theatre his area of expertise, he kept it a secret from his family for two years, leading them to believe that he was an English major. In his first play, the Sterling-award winning actor only had one line, which the director quickly took away because no one could hear it.
“I had no guide, no map, no idea what I was doing. I was a theatrical runt. However, the fact that I had no idea what I was doing was part of the thrill, especially as I was surrounded by people who had been taking tap classes since they were eight years old…”
So Pirot kept going. He received his Arts degree in Drama, and his Fine Arts degree in Acting. The he moved on to study with the former highly physical, exploratory PRIMUS Theatre in Winnipeg.
Pirot’s counterpart, on the other hand, had a bit of a different beginning. While Craddock also grew up with little exposure to the arts, (he saw two plays as a child – one involved toys that came to life when no one was looking, the other was a religious play where people died and either went to heaven or hell), he did all the school plays he could.
The year Craddock turned twenty, he saw MacIvor’s play House, LePage’s Polygraph, and Brad Fraser’s Unidentified Human Remains, and considers those plays major inspirations in his career. “They collectively changed how I saw theatre and therefore life.”
Craddock, currently Artistic Director of Rapid Fire Theatre and former Artistic Director of Azimuth Theatre, has performed many of his own plays, including the engaging and electric Moving Along, recently featured on Bravo, and plays that he’s created collectively with well-known Edmonton artists such as Wes Borg and Darrin Hagen, including the hilarious Tranny trilogy.
“I always wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I used to write and bind my own novels, illustrations by me. But as I went on I found novel writing isolating and difficult, and I was already an actor. So…”
Recently Craddock combined his interest in novels and his interest in plays, with his heart-warming and wonderfully touching play, Summer of My Amazing Luck, which was an adaptation of the Miriam Toews novel. Craddock, who also performed in the play, won an Edmonton Sterling Award for the work, which premiered in Theatre Network’s thirtieth season.
Faithless, commissioned by Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit in 2004, began as a play called “Playing God,” about a man who travelled to all of the geographic centres of religious practice. The pair felt the play was quickly becoming a Religious Studies lecture. They changed directions, focussing on the creative power of the imagination and the idea of the artist as the creator.
Once they had their idea in mind, the pair began writing separately and then organized what they had into a first draft.
“I was very focussed and product orientated, like I am, and Steve was very creative and free form, like he is,” says Craddock. With dramaturgy help from director, Marianne Copithorne, they continued to do re-writes even once going into rehearsal.
“I look at the script now and I know that some of the scenes started with me and some started with Chris, but most of the time I don’t know who wrote what words when,” says Pirot.
CREATING FAITHLESS TOGETHER
“Ultimately, if you measure it out minute by minute, it’s less efficient to create with someone, what with the compromise…but the benefit is the surprise. What Chris and I have come up with is something we could not accomplish individually. It is a unique thing,” says Pirot explaining the challenges and benefits of creating with someone else.
So, what drives these actors to keep performing their own work?
“It’s the best job on earth. Now that I have it, I just want to keep doing it. Why would anyone quit a job like that?”