James Ryan Gobuty
The other day I had the great pleasure of speaking to the highly decorated Canadian playwright and performer Judith Thompson about her new show: Watching Glory Die. Thompson is a treasure of the Canadian stage, creating a myriad of fantastic plays, such as Lion in the Street and Palace of the End, which have earned her two Governor General Prizes for Drama, as well as several Dora Mavor Moore awards.
Though Judith Thompson’s new plays are always a source of excitement for the Canadian theatre scene, Watching Glory Die has the added excitement of seeing Judith Thompson return as a performer for the first time in 35 years. “It’s like riding a bicycle really,” Thompson commented when asked about the difficulty of returning to performance. “My actors have been so brave and so generous, always on the frontline. I thought I better do what I ask them to do and see what it’s like and put myself out there in body as well as in spirit.”
Watching Glory Die originally premiered in Vancouver before moving to Toronto’s Berkley Street Theatre. Regarding that experience, Thompson notes that: “I’ve never had the opportunity before to have a two week run, and then two more weeks of rehearsal for refinement. It’s really the way all shows should be made.” I asked Ms. Thompson if there would be any noticeable difference between the two productions to which she replied that: “It would only be noticeable if you were carefully studying the performances…there’s no perfection in art; it’s all about how well I can serve the vision that comes through me.” Thompson did say that in the Vancouver production she felt “terror” that she might “forget her lines” but she stated later: “I got comfortable and then I could play…at first there was a mixture of excitement and dread, and now it’s just excitement.”
The topic of dread brought our conversation around to the inspiration of the piece, particularly the notorious Ashley Smith case. I asked about the dread involved in not only portraying the victim, but also the supposed perpetrator, in her role as the prison guard. She replied: “I think that’s what theatre does, it implicates all of us. Each character is in custody. Glory is in custody because of a Kafkaesque system with no public supervision, which happens everywhere of course. The guard is in custody, ethical custody; she has a job, [but] she doesn’t have personal wealth. She doesn’t have the luxury of disobeying orders; she’s an ordinary citizen, not equipped to stand up. The mother is a helpless citizen, desperately needing to do something. And that’s all of us.” She also noted that part of the inspiration for her performance of the guard came from her observations of a female friend in the Canadian Armed Forces: “I think about her and the masks that women in particular in those arenas have to wear, the persona, the construction of masculinity in a female persona. I had to play butch, which I must admit was quite fun for me.”
After my conversation with Judith Thompson, I have to admit I can’t wait to go see Watching Glory Die in person, and I hope you all feel the same.
Watching Glory Die is presented by Canadian Rep Theatre, directed by Ken Gass and is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, from May 15 to June 1. Tickets can be purchased by telephone at 416-368-3110 or online at canadianrep.ca.