Since graduating from the Performance Acting Program at Ryerson University in 2014, Caitie Graham has become a committed member of the theatre and youth education community in Toronto, as well as an advocate for work that engages young women.
Her play, Paradise Comics, was developed at the Tarragon Theatre’s Young Playwright’s Unit: a program for which she now acts as Assistant Writing Instructor. It was first produced in her graduating year at the Ryerson New Voices Festival, and has since received dramaturgical support from Paula Wing in preparation for the remount with Filament Incubator this November. Her writing work has most recently appeared at the Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival (POSE BALL pt.1), and with Then They Fight’s 10/10/10 Project (swimmer), and has always reflected her interest in, and commitment to the storytelling of Toronto youth.
With Paradise Comics about to preview November 22nd and then running November 23rd – Dec 3rd at 56k Kensington Hall, I asked Caitie some questions.
1) Are you more like your father or your mother?
Hm. I think in terms of personality, I’d say I’m a 50/50 split of both. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I look exactly like my mother, which I’m very cool with. But both my parents – and most members of my family – do very different things than me for a living. My family is very into the sciences; there are a lot of nurses, doctors, and researchers in the group. And though they’ve always been very supportive of my foray into the arts, I’ve always felt as though I’d fallen a little far from the tree. My mom though, who’s a researcher, said this one thing to me about the relationship between the arts and sciences that really stuck; “we’re both in the business of discovery, so I’d say what you and I do aren’t so different”. That was definitely a lovely thing to hear.
2) What is the best thing about what you do?
I do a lot of things! Especially these days. And there are wonderful things about each of them. My main creative focus at the moment, however, is playwriting. I’ve been fortunate enough this year to have a lot of my writing workshopped, experimented with, and produced. And though it’s a total thrill getting a production underway, I’d say the best part of my job as a writer is getting to be in the room of a workshop for one of my plays. I trained as an actor before I started writing, so I’m used to making discoveries on my feet, in the moment, then immediately debriefing with a director or my scene partner. As an actor I get to constantly check in with the people around me. But as a writer, I don’t have as much opportunity to do that. So being in a workshop allows me to wear both hats. I get to hear the play, hear from the actors what it was like from the inside, and participate in the discussion that follows.
3) What ability or skill do you wish you had that you don’t have?
I think a real skill that I lack is self-control when it comes to eating unwashed fruit. [Oh my gosh, me too…] It’s a bad habit; I’ll look straight at the warning that says “wash before eating”, and do the exact opposite without even blinking. I also often do it in grocery stores. Which is embarrassing because I end up at the cash with an empty box of strawberries. It’s only weird when the cashiers try to make a joke about packing it in a bag for me. They’re the ones that make it weird…
4) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I’ve been super into cooking recently! Like full out cookbook kind of cooking. I made a quiche from scratch a while ago. Homemade chilli and chicken soup? These probably aren’t very impressive things to most people. But I made a whole quiche and ate it in one sitting, so. I’m impressed.
And now more questions about Paradise Comics and Filament Incubator
1) Please talk about Filament Incubator and how you came to be involved.
Zach Parkhurst (my producer) approached me about Filament Incubator last year when the company was still just an idea. He and I had gone to school together at Ryerson, so he’d seen the first production of Paradise Comics in 2014, and we’d of course kept in touch since graduating. I also knew Aaron Jan (another producer for the company), and was well aware of the volume of work he’d produced over the past couple of years. So their partnership, along with Andrew Markowiak and Daniel Bagg intrigued me. I was also intrigued by their promise of a brand new space in Kensington Market. Which has since become SUCH an interesting and versatile performance venue that Filament Incubator has made home. So they approached me with this offer that seemed too good to be true: a new and affordable venue to use, all the help in the world so that I could focus on writing, and money. These are three things that are very rarely offered to an emerging artist, so I think at the very beginning I wondered whether or not things would go as smoothly as they promised. But then all of the sudden they were having fundraisers, shows were going up, they were being received well, and people started talking about Filament Incubator. I’m very honoured to be part of their impressive inaugural season!
2) I found this description of Paradise Comics:
George has flown the coop, leaving thirteen year-old Beans and her mother, Janie, to clean up the mess. In the process of removing his clutter from their home, the pair is charged not only with organizing the storage of an entire comic book collection, but with facing the responsibility they shared and shirked for a man they each knew so differently.
Paradise Comics contemplates the trials of adolescence, parenting, and how families grieve.
…Please talk about Paradise Comics and why you think we should see this play.
What I find to be relevant in this piece is its boldness to examine the muck of grief, when it is shared between two people who experience it so differently. How does the responsibility of a parent, with a grieving child, shift when they themselves aren’t capable of coping? How far will a young person go to maintain their image of “being okay”? And who do each of them hurt in the process? I think Paradise Comics really works to push those boundaries. I also think there’s a lot of joy in the play. Beans has a rambunctious classmate named Hannah who tries maybe every wrong card in the deck to make her friend feel better. Most times her efforts result in an attempt to lead Beans down the magical path of boys, puberty, and sexual discovery. This is never taken well.
I think people should see this play, not only because it would make me a happy person, but because it examines the trials of adolescence from a female perspective, it sheds light on the difficulty of renegotiating a relationship after losing the person who kept it intact, and…there’s an enormous rainforest diorama involved! It’s worth it for the diorama!
3) Paradise Comics is a generational story, looking at the interaction between young and old. Talk about what draws you to this kind of drama.
I work with a lot of young people. At Tarragon, I assistant writing instruct the Young Playwright’s Unit. I’ve taught Creative Writing at various camps, as well as intensives, and have TA’d at Ryerson for the first year course in Creative Performance. I feel very connected to the pursuit of engaging youth in theatre, because it was such an important part of my childhood. And I think the best way to do that is to create work that resonates with young people and legitimizes their experience. Work that includes young characters who have agency, whose actions are at the forefront of the plot, and whose decisions are made without adult guidance. It’s so easy to dismiss the teenage experience when it’s called “angst”. It’s so easy to diminish the things they’re passionate about because “it’s just a phase”. When we legitimize and listen to young people, we have a richer conversation about the issues of our time, and where society is headed. I think the young women in Paradise Comics are bold, independent, and unapologetically themselves in the face of the adults in their life. And when the adults in their lives treat them as such, the relationship feels like much richer territory.
4) Talk about the Filament team helping you to bring your work to life.
The producers at Filament Incubator are actual crazy people. Producing eight plays in eight months is insane for a brand new company, and yet here we are, with Paradise Comics at the end of their season, and everyone still seems to be alive. The amount of work that goes into producing one piece of theatre is demanding enough, but eight? These guys are above and beyond committed to supporting creators in their community, and that’s a really ambitious, and wonderful, thing to be doing.
Since the start of rehearsal, my director Darwin Lyons, and the cast, have been really attentive with my script. We were lucky enough to do a week or so of table work, which informed a lot of rewriting on my end. I was able to sit in on rehearsal, participate in the conversation that followed, and go home to make changes for the next day. A lot of quick writing happened that week (is still happening, actually) and it was really exciting when a change I proposed worked, or a new discovery was made in the room. Everyone involved is really committed to making this production of Paradise Comics the strongest it can be, and I couldn’t ask for more.
5) Looking back what was the hardest part of creating something like Paradise Comics?
I’ve been with this play for a really long time, so there have been quite a few ups and downs, but I’d say the hardest part about working on this particular production, was learning how to let go of the last one. I produced Paradise Comics as part of the New Voices Festival (2014) at Ryerson University in my graduating year. I was also in it. So that experience was a lot of firsts for me; first play I’ve ever written getting its first production, first time acting in my own work, first time handing it over to a director and cast. Having that be a success changed the way I saw my career leaving theatre school, and gave me the confidence to pursue writing. So when I was faced with returning to the piece two years later, entrusting a brand new team of artists, and stepping out as an actor, I got kind of scared! It meant letting go of my fond memory of the play, and re-engaging with it as the artist I am now, as opposed to the artist I was then. So rewriting Paradise Comics earlier this summer was pretty fraught with anxiety, BUT! Quickly after meeting and getting to know Darwin, as well as the cast, I learned that the play was in good hands. And that even after all the new writing I’d put into the script, the play still had the same heart as when I first produced it.
6) Is Paradise Comics in any sense your story?
I wouldn’t say that Paradise Comics is my story necessarily. It’s my first play, so when I began I used a lot of my own life experience to develop character relationships. For example, my father is a huge comic book fan. He used to bring me along when he went shopping, so I grew up hanging out with him in comic book shops. I think I also really wanted to address my own discomfort surrounding grief in this play. I’ve been in a few situations where someone I care about has suffered a loss, and I’ve felt utterly useless at being there for them. The anxiety around feeling like you don’t know how to help someone you love is something I wanted to explore here, in addition to the loss itself.
7) What follows Paradise Comics?
Sleeping is definitely a thing I’d like to catch up on after Paradise Comics. But in addition to that, I’m going to be writing grants for other projects, and hopefully starting something new! Paradise Comics has been in my head since 2012, I’ve been developing my most recent play, POSE BALL, since the beginning of 2015, so I’m ready to start a new project. But I will sleep first. For sure.
8) Is there a teacher or influence you’d like to acknowledge?
I’d love to acknowledge my dramaturg, Paula Wing. She’s been a part of this project since the very beginning when I it with the Young Playwright’s Unit at Tarragon Theatre. She’s also been an incredible mentor over the course of my career. Not only as a playwright, but as a dramaturg, and educator. Watching her work with the young playwrights at Tarragon has influenced the way I approach new work on all levels, and her contribution to this project has been tremendous.
Filament Incubator’s slogan is “8 plays in 8 months.” Paradise Comics, the eighth play previews Nov 22nd, running Nov 23–Dec 3rd at 56K Kensington Hall (56 Kensington Ave) closing Filament Incubator’s first season.
For tickets click here .