Calgary theatre company Seadreamer gets inside the many minds of Daniel MacIvor’s Monster

Seadreamer is a Calgary theatre company thats mandate is to “(bring) power and intent to the forefront of theatre by utilizing a single performer.” Fittingly for the season that we’re now in, the Governor-General’s Award-nominated work Monster, by Daniel MacIvor, is their latest production, which runs until Nov. Motel Theatre in Arts Commons until Nov. 3.

Prior to the opening, Caleb Gordon, Seadreamer’s artistic director and star of the current solo production, spoke with theYYSCENE.

Q: Who is directing this show? This show was originally a very specific 
partnership between Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks — how do you 
maintain the soul of the original but put your own spin on it?

A: Monster is being directed by Elizabeth Stepkowski-Tarhan. She’s a director currently based in Calgary that I’ve worked with in the past on Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. When I initially approached Elizabeth with the idea of directing me in a solo show, she was ecstatic. I clearly remember her saying “I want to work with you on something — it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, but I want to work with you.” Two weeks later, I brought her Monsterand she said “Yes. I’m on board. Just give me some dates.”

I ‘d say the soul of Monster is built into the play. Reading the words that MacIvor chose for each specific character, they each come alive in their own way. The tempo and rhythm of each character comes through in their word choice. Joe will always be, you know what I’m saying, stumbling around with his words, you see? Whereas Adam is always pointed and in control. The spin that I put on it is that it’s me, at the end of the day. I haven’t seen this play performed, and so I don’t know any of the original choices. However, I trust the playwright has written strong characters that can be embodied through me.

Q: Have you also done the other two plays in the trilogy — House and Here 
Lies Henry? What draws you to this trilogy?

A: House was the first show that I performed under Seadreamer — I’ve yet to do Here Lies Henry, but perhaps it should go on the list at this point! The draw for me is that MacIvor writes deeply personal characters grappling with the big questions of life, such as, “What does it mean to be human?” “What should we do?” and “What should I do?” These three questions are taken from Shakespeare & Company’s mandate, but I feel they are at the heart of almost every theatrical discussion. 

House was a show that Seadreamer used to explore grief and loss of relationship; at its core, it has so much on the feeling of loneliness. Monster is close to me for a different reason — I believe we all have the capacity to be a monster within our hearts, and this show has great fun playing with that exact concept. Here Lies Henry asks a singular question, and the life is spent trying to answer it. They’re dreamlike in their qualities, and that’s something that I particularly connect with — I love the very concept of dream within our reality, and Monster explores the nightmare aspect of those dreams.

Q: These are some DARK characters in some DARK situations. But also, 
weirdly, funny — tell us about the process of getting to know them. 
Who do you identify with? 

A: Ha! It’s true, it’s a very dark play. The humour is right up my alley — but you don’t need to know all the dirty details, do ya? Joe is a character we meet halfway through. He has big ideas, and his mouth and body can’t always keep up with them; but that doesn’t stop him from trying! These are definite connections to me. Funnily, when I was memorizing his lines, I found I’d be memorizing as the character. Of course, this meant I’d get halfway through a thought, and not know where to go next — the very thing Joe does!

Adam is also an exceptionally intriguing character. It’s a dangerous statement to say that I identify with him, but he has a certain curiosity that is intoxicating, combined with a certainty of thought that aligns with the best parts of myself. And really, Monty exemplifies the child I once was: so easily intrigued with morbid stories, knowing they’re taboo, but investigating deeper anyways. Poor kid.

Q: Why only solo shows?

A: I’ve always said solo shows are either the best thing to experience (because of the heartfelt effort and raw connection to the audience) or the absolute worst (because they just keep going on and on in their self-serving rant). At the end of the day, it’s a risk: and the ones that are worth it can change people from the inside. I like to think that MacIvor’s shows are definitely worth it — I remember hearing so much about him and vowing that I wouldn’t become a fan, if only because I wanted to feel superior in some way. Well, I then read House out loud, and as I cried on the floor of my yurt afterwards, I realized I might just become a fan anyways. People will also tell you they’re cheaper. They’re not wrong, but geez, is theatre expensive regardless.

Q: You crowdfunded a couple of years ago — where does crowdfunding live in the pantheon of arts funding models?

A: Crowdfunding lives in a strange purgatory; either everyone in the arts community is doing it, and there aren’t enough patrons because they’re stretched so thin, or you’re the only one, and you meet your goal well enough. Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking is a great read, but there’s a great Ted Talk that’ll bring viewers up to speed as well. It’s not something that’s easy; I like being independent, but asking for help is a form of self care. I’m getting better at it.

I guess I’m saying, it’s not my favourite, but it’s a good start for indie companies that can’t get their foot in the granting door just yet. Several years ago, that’s exactly where I was. Well, I suppose I’m still there — getting my foot in the door.

Seadreamer’s production of Monster runs until Nov. 3 at Motel Theatre in Arts Commons. Tickets can be reserved by calling 587-832-5066, by emailing or on Facebook.

Lori Montgomery is a former FFWD theatre critic who practices medicine to support her writing habit.