Devising Damien: A postcard preview with playwright and performer John Murrell

When did this project begin?  

Live Your Prime, with Damien Frost began six or seven years ago. I was talking to Denise Clarke about working together after (One Yellow Rabbit) produced Talking Shakespeare. That’s when I became interested in collective creation. 

What was the genesis of the idea? 

I said, “It would please me very much if we did something about the challenges of aging.”

Tell me about the play.

The play starts with a motivational speaker who genuinely believes he is making a difference beyond selling a product. For him it’s not about money, crowds or popularity. It’s performed in the style of a documentary although we never see the documentarians; it’s as if the characters they are speaking to are cameras. It stars motivational speaker Damien Frost. Damien believes each person has ownership of his or her time and it’s how we sculpt time. He believes that time can be kneaded and baked like alluring fresh bread. Conflict arises however with his family — his son Damien Frost Jr. and his fifth wife, Darlene. 

Tell me about your creative process.

Normally, I’m the playwright and my contribution is the script in the typical hierarchy of theatre. I’ve never worked like this before, but it was exciting to work in this way. In May we talked about discovery and ideas with input from Andy (Curtis) and Blake (Brooker). We studied speakers like Tony Robbins. It was a cauldron of creativity. It was wonderful to realize we are all equals. It was like someone puts a marker on the board and maybe somebody else takes it off … It’s a brain in which we all invest! My primary contribution was to think, then write some of the text.

What are some of the questions you asked yourself while creating the piece?

We asked the questions: “What is entertainment? What is serious? What does it feel like and taste?”

Where are you now with the project?

We did four weeks of rehearsals. Now I am learning lines over the (Christmas) break, which is harder as one ages!

What’s important to you?

Three or four of my plays have never been produced; today I’m not as inclined to pitch them. If they get posthumously produced that’s fine. I just want to invest time in writing.

What kind of a writer are you?

I’m a happy writer. I know I’ve been extremely lucky and I know I’m blessed with family and friends. I write every morning starting at about 3 a.m. with pad and paper, and even if I write five words that are interesting and beautiful I feel a deep well of happiness.

Last thoughts?

I so appreciate talking with another playwright about the process because we understand the magic and torment.

Nuts and Bolts 

Festival: The High Performance Rodeo

Play: Live Your Prime, with Damien Frost 

Created by: the OYR Ensemble 

Directed by: Blake Broker 

Performed by: Denise Clarke, Andy Curtis and John Murrell

Music by: David Rhymer

Runs: Jan. 9- 27 2019 in the Big Secret theatre, Arts Commons

(Photo of the cast of Live Your Prime, with Damien Frost courtesy One Yellow Rabbit.)

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here