Join us at 7:30pm at the Fredericton Playhouse for Step Taylor’s Model Wanted, 2014 winner of the prestigious RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwrights Award.
Model Wanted was inspired by the 2011 murder in Saint John, NB, of Jason Dow by a young offender whom Dow had hired to pose for photographs. While not a factual documentary account of the events of the murder (much remains unknown due to the offender’s youth status), the play tries to imagine through the lens of fiction the circumstances of poverty, addiction, and confusion over sexuality that might have led to the crime. In this way, the play is a why-done-it thriller that roots the play in its particular New Brunswick milieu.
Model Wanted is directed by Emma Tibaldo (National Theatre School of Canada, Playwrights Workshop Montreal) and features a star-studded all-New Brunswick cast of Warren Macaulay, Jane Wheeler, Katie Swift, and Jeff Dingle, along with beautiful, atmospheric designs by Mike Johnston (set), Michael Doherty (music and sound) and Chris Saad (lighting). The play runs July 24-26 at 7:30 with an additional matinee July 26 at 2 PM.
Tickets ($22/adult, $17/senior and $12/student) may be purchased in advance here or at the door the night of the performance.
In honour of opening night, we have a featured interview with the award-winning playwright, Step Taylor, who says “NotaBle Acts is largely responsible for the notion of writing plays ever entering my head”. Read on for the full interview, which covers everything from writing motivation to inside show info to the process of NBActs.
What has the NotaBle Acts Festival meant to you over the past, and what does it mean to you to have Model Wanted being staged as the festival’s mainstage production this year?
NotaBle Acts is largely responsible for the notion of writing plays ever entering my head. I wrote my first ten-minute play when I was 19, submitted it to the festival’s Taking it to the Street competition, and was dazzled to see my work performed a few short months later. I also wrote my first one-act play that year, submitted it to the festival’s Acting Out competition, and was appalled when it was not selected as a winner. That was an important summer because I got to learn from both a production of my work and a rejection of it. NotaBle Acts is a little institution where big, wonderful learning has been happening for an impressive number of years. I hope it stays that way forever.
Model Wanted will be the second play of mine to hit the NotaBle Acts mainstage, and while it may sound counterintuitive, I’m actually more excited for this production than I was for the last. I feel a bunch older and maybe a tad wiser, and I think experiences like training at the National Theatre School of Canada and self-producing my own plays over the last few years have anchored my writerly identity. I now have a pretty clear idea of the writing I want to leave my hands and head into the rehearsal process, and that’s what Model Wanted is for me. In my mind, it’s the most complete and satisfying text I’ve written, and I’m flattered that NotaBle Acts saw something in it and assembled such a ridiculously capable artistic team to work on it.
Where did the inspiration for Model Wanted come from, and how is the play a New Brunswick story?
Back in 2012 I was seeking concepts for what would go on to be my graduating play at the National Theatre School, and I was coming up riiight dry. Tied for best idea: a fan boy piece inspired by Morrissey, and a Christmas murder mystery. Then one day I was cruising the CBC News website and I happened upon an article about Jason Dow, a 29-year-old man who was stabbed to death outside his Saint John home in 2011 by a teenager Dow had hired to pose for photographs.
There were a couple things about the incident that piqued my interest. For one, it happened in my home province of New Brunswick , which I had (however naively) thought of as a fairly innocent place. Then there was the fact that the camera recovered from the crime scene contained pictures of Dow and his killer engaged in acts of physical intimacy. How do two strangers go from sharing their bodies, to one murdering the other? What goes into that switch? Is there even necessarily a switch?
The play has been produced before, in Montreal and Vancouver. How will the Fredericton production be different?
Well, it’s got an entirely new director, cast, and crew. I also rejig the play after every production based on what I perceive to be the script’s booms and botches at that point in time. The last couple drafts have been focused on fleshing out the relationship between the characters of Ross (a troubled high school student) and Joy (an older, attractive rebel without a cause his mother takes in as a boarder). I feel like their story is now more meaningfully linked to the central action of the play. I believe that after its first production in Montreal the script slimmed down for Vancouver, and now it’s packed on some muscle for Fredericton.
I also think New Brunswick audiences will absorb the show differently. I’ve tried to infuse the script with a Maritime sensibility, and it’ll be interesting for me to assess where New Brunswickers “get” the show in a deeper way than previous audiences, and where they disengage. It’s a good authenticity test for the script.
There’s also the fact that the Jason Dow tragedy occurred so close to Fredericton. That may make the play’s themes more potent. It could also create some controversy; I haven’t written a documentary theatre piece that aims to tell the “true” story of what happened back in 2011, but rather a fictional play that examines the very human causes of extreme violence. There are bound to be people who hear about or attend the show here who have known Dow or his attacker, and they would be privy to more information about the incident than I am. They may be upset with the creative route I’ve taken, and that’s understandable. I stand by the script as fiction shedding light on realities of homophobia, teen violence, substance abuse, poverty, and what can happen when we meet people on the internet.
Tell us about the play recently winning the RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwrights’ Competition. How did that come about, and what does the award mean for you?
I was honoured and somewhat relieved to accept the prize from Tarragon Theatre. I’ve been writing plays for ten years, but until now they’ve mostly been tucked away in the rich but sometimes overlooked forest that is the New Brunswick theatre scene, or behind the safety-fence of a professional training environment. It’s validating to be recognized by theatre experts from another province, and more importantly by a leading force in Canadian playwriting.
I was born in Newfoundland, and I must confess that one of the coolest aspects of winning the prize is that it comes from the same company that gave David French his start. That’s fun.
How do you think your work has evolved over the years, and where do you see it going next?
I like to believe that I’m getting closer and closer to finding a balance with my work. Keep things simple, but not too simple. Have jokes, but don’t write a play that is essentially a long list of jokes. Try to be poetic, but don’t waste people’s time for the sake of seeming like a poet. The Ross character in Model Wanted used to have a two-page monologue about how he lost his smile after his Siamese cat ran away from home and died of starvation. It’s never made it to the stage, but there was a time in my career when it would have. It’s a delicate balance, to drop in some Albee.
Next up I’m heading to Newfoundland to research a new play about resettlement, and later in the year my play Chapel Arm (which was the 2008 NotaBle Acts mainstage) is being dusted off and produced by Mindless Theatrics in St. John’s. I’m also hoping to bring Model Wanted to Toronto in the near future. But before all that happens, I really must get down to Dimitri’s for a souvlaki platter.