Lois Ann Dort

MacIvor finds his focus in Guysborough: Development of one-man show highlights arts economy in rural Nova Scotia


Chronicle Herald April 18, 2018

GUYSBOROUGH — For its size, the Shiretown of Guysborough has always punched above it weight when it comes to cultural assets. The small coastal community of less than 1,000 people boasts a professional theatre company, Mulgrave Road Theatre, and a 300-seat performance space, the Chedabucto Place Performance Centre. Guysborough also has a peace and beauty that allows artists of any ilk to practice their craft with few distractions.

This combination of attributes led famed playwright and actor Daniel MacIvor to spend some time in Guysborough last month to develop his newest project, a one-man show called Let’s run away.

MacIvor, who currently resides in Toronto, is no stranger to Guysborough; he’s written several plays for the Mulgrave Road Theatre in years past including Marion Bridge and Confession.

Returning to Guysborough, said MacIvor, is like coming home. “I am a Cape Bretoner – an East Coaster…Being in Banff and working in the mountains, that is foreign territory to me, but being here brings me back to where I come from. For me being here, there is something of my past and where I come from that feels like it enters the work a bit more.”

Along with the secluded environment, free from disturbance, MacIvor said Guysborough was an ideal location in which to test new new material. It’s less stressful and allows him to focus on the bones of the work.

“One of the things that is wonderful is that there is less pressure. When you start a show in a place like Toronto, people are so cynical about theatre, they come in with their arms folded…They come in with some judgment. Here people come in with open hearts and open minds. They’re grateful and eager in a way that when you are in a city the size of Toronto – they are so inundated with so much stuff they start having high expectations and low gratitude. It is the reverse here…And it makes us worry less about the superficial things and be able to focus more on the heart of it.”

MacIvor is pleased to be working in Guysborough again and has brought with him his director Daniel Brooks, who before this work trip, hadn’t been to to area before. Brooks was surprised at the size of the place but quickly recognized the many benefits it had to offer a theatre company developing new work; notably the ability to focus, free from distractions other than the smart phones in their pockets.

The process for creating a one-man show differs greatly from the writing of a play for MacIvor. “I am much more a writer when doing a play. When doing a solo performance, I am much more a performer. I am coming at it on my feet a bit. The writing comes much later in the process; it’s more improvising in the beginning whereas when writing a play, it starts with writing.”

A solo show, said MacIvor, is “much more wholistic, everything is working together at the same rate. We have design coming in at the same time that we are making text and performance. It is happening in tandem.”

At the end of MacIvor’s residency at MRT, a performance of the work in progress was held in front of a  small audience. From Guysborough, MacIvor will continue to work on the show at various locations across Canada and expects to have the piece polished and completed in one year’s time.

This, said MRT’s Artistic Director Emmy Alcorn, is how MacIvor works.

“For the two weeks that they were here they were developing it, kind of doing it for themselves,” said Alcorn of MacIvor and Brooks, “But knowing that there is going to be an outside audience coming in, that really helps you focus, to be prepared, provides a deadline in one sense but also helps them see exactly what the show is.

“There are two parts of a theatre production; what’s going on on stage and what’s going on in the audience. It was an opportunity to see how this piece of work was being perceived and we had a chance to discuss that afterwards with the audience…He develops his work over time in front of audiences. He’ll be doing more development of this piece in front of other audiences. Bringing the audience in, that is part of his development process,” said Alcorn.

Mulgrave Road Theatre has long been an incubator for up and coming playwrights. But now, the vision of the organization has broadened to include more projects similar to this recent collaboration with MacIvor’s production company.

“Development never has a straight line and it never really has a beginning or end…Our long term strategy is to support, not just professional theatre artist, but also theatre companies who want to work in a retreat-like setting from the early moment of creation right up to the first production. We would offer those companies a space to work, mentorship, accommodations—it is a kind of residency,” said Alcorn noting that part of this strategy includes plans for building a black box theatre.

Bringing more people into the community creates more activity and benefits including economic spinoffs. MacIvor believes the future economic success of Guysborough could lie in the creative economy.

“It could be a real hook for Guysborough. People could come in a do a residency for a couple of weeks and develop work. It’s a wonderful culture here; the people are great, and Big G’s is a great restaurant. There are other buildings in the town that should be activated. I feel that it’s just on the edge.”

MacIvor sites the example of Marfa, Texas, a down-on-its-luck, former army airforce town, that turned its empty lots and storefronts into an art mecca. “It’s a crazy little place where they put in some galleries and some studios and now people come from all over to go to Marfa. And I feel that Guysborough could become like that. A place where interesting people could come in and do work.”

The arts is a business too, but one often undervalued by governments. “If we look around we will see examples, of places like Guysborough that have become destination points for artists; creative economic development. That brings in people, brings in money. This cultural work, it isn’t seasonal. It could potentially supplement what is lost in tourism,” said MacIvor.  “It can bring in money and bring attention to a place. Look at Fogo Island (NFLD), they are writing about it in the New York Times. Suddenly it is a destination spot for the world. Why not here?”


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