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Rod Carley, his life and times & Grin Reaping

Rod Carley, Canadian writer, director, producer, actor, and professor is one of the busiest creative people I know. Rod and I share a few laughs and some happy times catching up with his career to date. Did you know that he can translate for his cat “Hilton?” You’ll find out more as part of our conversation.

Watch, Rod’s interview with Richard Fortin Presents

Richard Fortin sits down with novelist, actor, director & professor Rod Carley to talk about the practices he incorporates into his day to channel his creativity. We discuss leadership, the creative process, released and upcoming novels, the joy of teaching, his journey as an artist and the real value of finding your authentic voice.

Leacock nomination ‘a shot in the arm’ for novelist

When Rod Carley found out his second novel, Kinmount, had made the long list for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, it was “like a shot in the arm.

“Like a COVID vaccination,” Carley says.

“It is an honour for sure, especially when you look at the other authors” who made the list of 10 finalists.

Although Carley didn’t make the short list for the awards which will be announced in June, he’s still floating on the thrill and honour of making the long list.

“Long list is a bit of a misnomer,” Carley says. “You say long list and you think of 25 or 30 books. But they took 80 some books . . . and narrowed it down to 10.”

Kinmount is a celebration of the human spirit, with director Dave Middleton attempting to maintain the integrity of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the face of an eccentric producer and a “gang of misfits” in a small rural theatre.

Despite all the obstacles facing the community theatre production, “he keeps fighting to make it happen,” Carley said in an earlier interview.

That it was considered for the same list that saw some of Canada’s best humourist novelists, he says, is an incredible honour.

“Humour is an interesting animal, because everyone is different, and this takes in all different styles of humour. To make a list like that is very special indeed.”

The Stephen Leacock award is unique, Carley says, in that it is the only award of its kind recognizing humour in writing.

“It’s like what Rodney Dangerfield said in his routine, ‘I don’t get no respect.’

“I don’t know if humour gets the respect it deserves.”

Writing humour, he says, isn’t as straightforward as it appears.

“You have to conceal it in the writing so it’s not obvious,” and that ends up with almost everyone who reads it saying “I could write that.

“But the sheer amount of work, writing humour, balancing the humanity and the hilarity, is incredible,” he says.

And, whether it’s a humourous story like Kinmount or the collection of short stories he has recently completed, or the third novel he is now working on, “I’m in the book. That’s what I know best. What you write has to come from your point of view of the world.”

Humour, Carley says, is the writer’s judgment of the world.

Making the long list, he says, with writers such as Joseph Kertes, Thomas King and Morgan Murray – the writers who made the short list for this year’s award – put him in some stellar company.

All three writers are writers Carley has a lot of respect for.

It’s also a recognition of his publisher, Latitude 46 from Sudbury.

“They’ve been around for six years now, and it’s really important to see a little publishing house get that kind of recognition.”

The next edition of Kinmount will be able to tout that it was nominated for the Leacock Medal, while extending readership for his future endeavours.

Carley, who is the artistic director for Rep 21 at Canadore College, was the 2009 winner of TVO’s Big Ideas/Best Lecturer competition.

His first novel, A Matter of Will, was a finalist for the 2018 Northern Lit Award for Fiction.

He is an award-winning director, playwright and actor, and has directed and produced more than 100 theatrical productions including 15 adaptations of Shakespeare.

Article by: PJ Wilson – www.nugget.ca

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rod Carley

Rod Carley’s first novel, A Matter of Will, was a finalist for the 2018 Northern Lit Award for Fiction. His short story, “A Farewell to Steam,” was featured in the non-fiction anthology, 150 Years Up North and More, in 2018. His short story, Botox and the Brontosaurus, appears in Volume I of the online magazine Cloud Lake Literary. Rod is also an award-winning director, playwright, and actor, having directed and produced over 100 theatrical productions to date, including fifteen adaptations of Shakespeare. He was the 2009 winner of TVO’s Big Ideas/Best Lecturer competition. Kinmount is his second novel. www.rodcarley.ca.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I didn’t have to worry about Christmas gifts that year.

Critics and readers gave A Matter of Will a positive reception. It gave me the boost I needed to continue writing. My new novel, KINMOUNT, is similar to my first novel in that theatre serves as a backdrop for much of the action – more so in my new novel. A Matter of Will is the story of a picaresque rogue who goes on a journey of self-discovery and finds redemption. It takes place over thirty years. KINMOUNT unfolds over a fast and furious three weeks. The protagonist, Dave Middleton, a down-and-out stage director, has no such journey – rather he is a human pinball bouncing off the obstacles being tossed in his way and trying not “tilt”!

2 – How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

 I began reading fiction as a child, starting with the good Doctor. On Beyond Zebra opened up wild new worlds of possibilities for my hungry and overactive imagination. I read voraciously throughout high school, university, continuing into my adult life.

In my last year of high school I began writing poetry, and wrote many teen-angst abstract missives. I stumbled upon my old poetry journal last year and had a good laugh visiting my younger self and his clunky, tortured verse of unrequited love. Of course, I thought they were brilliant at the time. While at York University in the Acting/ Directing Program in the mid-eighties, I minored in Creative Writing and was fortunate enough to have bpNichol as my instructor. He was a generous and inspiring wild man. My imagination was set on fire and my poetic output improved. I’d meet him for a coffee now and then after I graduated, and it was always good to see him. He was very encouraging of young writers. His tragic early death in 1988 robbed us of one of Canada’s leading experimental writers.

I have spent thirty-five years working in Canadian theatre as a director, producer, actor, and playwright. Writing dialogue-based fiction is a natural extension of my theatre craft. Similar rules apply. Write characters that are pursuing an objective, encounter obstacles, and have to overcome those obstacles. Write stories where the main characters are tossed into a metaphorical wood chopper and have to somehow survive.

I have written non-fiction articles for academic journals regarding my adaptations of Shakespeare within a modern Canadian context. Certainly my long history of trying to make Shakespeare relevant for audiences and acting students informs Dave Middleton’s methodology in KINMOUNT.

I also enjoy writing an original kind of poetic mash-up I’ve dubbed a Carley-ku. The form was inspired by bp and began as a tribute to him. I write them as gifts for friends and to mark special occasions.

Four lines.

Lines One and Four contain one word and are the topic.

Lines Two and Three each have seven syllables and contain two ideas related to the topic.

Line Two must begin with the first two letters of Line One and end with the last two letters of Line One.

Line Three must begin with the first two letters of Line Four and end with the last two letters of Line Four.

In honour of bp, no capital letters.

For example:

canadian
call of the wild  atwood can
lives unbound   nation mature
literature

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I usually mull an idea over in my head for a few months and make a some rough notes. If I find myself still excited by the idea and returning to it, I know I’m on the right track. Next, I create an outline. I have to know how the story ends. Only then can I figure out how it begins, like a game of reverse dominos – going backward in order to go forward. My first drafts usually take about a year. I wish I could say that I have magically arrived at the final shape and that all I need to do is a little bit of tweaking. But that is not my process. I envy those authors who can have a first draft that polished. I write more than I need. It’s easier to see what is essential and what is superfluous if you have lots to choose from.

My emphasis is on characterization. If they are fully and authentically realized, then the rest will grow organically out of them. I usually begin with dialogue and fill in the details around it. For the first draft, I kill my inner editor. Only when finished, do I do extensive editing and rewriting of the first draft leading to another four drafts, which takes me another year or so to complete.

4 – Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

With a book or a short story, I know what I am working on from the beginning. Sometimes, the rejected bits of novel-in-progress may become the nucleus of a future short story.

5 – Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

 I love doing public readings. It’s where my actor training pays off. I am comfortable in front of audiences and thoroughly enjoy lifting the words off the page and bringing the characters to life, much like a live radio play. I’m the reader for my audio books. There is a video recording of two readings from KINMOUNT on my website if any of your readers are interested. www.rodcarley.ca.

In terms of my creative process, I do read my work aloud as I’m writing to make sure the rhythm works. Sometimes I improvise aloud to find a snippet of dialogue.

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I don’t know what the theme of my novel is when I start writing. I find out when I’m done. But I keep asking as I write. Anything worth reading is always many things, but there’s always one main thing. For A Matter of Will, one word to describe its theme would be Redemption. For KINMOUNT, Passion.

I draw extensively on my life for my writing. The outrageousness of human behaviour intrigues me – the extremes we go to, to try to make sense of life and fitted sheets. Most things that happen to me I tend to put through a comic filter. It’s my way of coping in the short term, like feeding my soul Pop Tarts so I can get by with less pain. It is a way of dealing with life, not avoiding it. Fiction allows me to reach for a deeper, less literal kind of truth. I forget who said, “Non-fiction reveals the lies, but only metaphor can reveal the truth.”

When I am confronted with the day-to-day depressing facts of the world, the best solution is to distract myself with humour. There is humour in every aspect of life, even in the humourless – look at Eeyore.

I am drawn to scrappy underdogs trying to get a foothold in life. I believe people can change and with that can come the correction of certain wrongs. Everyone deserves a shot at grace.

To laugh or not to laugh. I subscribe to hope in my writing which is why I write books with humour. But it’s important that my central characters have issues so that the reader will care about them. Now, not every topic can be approached with humour. Some experiences demand utmost seriousness. It’s a judgement call. But, for me, working humour into the background of sensitive topics can ease the blow and allow my message to take centre stage (pun intended.) And, in terms of messaging in my writing, it boils down to one question: “What does it mean to be human?” People are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. We read a good novel, connect with the flaws and humanity of its characters, and feel less alone.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does she/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I can’t speak for other writers. Personally, I believe I have a certain responsibility to society. Like working in the theatre, I try to hold up a mirror to society, reflecting and interpreting it, and, hopefully, providing some kind of humane insight and human connection. And challenge. And a few laughs.

8 – Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

The editor/author relationship is sacrosanct. It is as essential as the director/actor relationship. Finding the right fit is crucial. And that fit is unique to what each individual author needs. All writers need an editor who believes in their writing and genuinely wants to make their book better. Mutual trust and respect are key. Trusting your editor means you are open to receiving their constructive criticism, no matter how difficult a pill it may be to swallow.

I’ve been lucky. John Metcalf edited my first novel and is currently editing a collection of short stories I’m working on. I trust him with my literary life.

Mitchell Gauvin edited KINMOUNT. He is a brilliant editor, possessing an astute intelligence with a keen understanding of structure and weight. He helped make the book what it is.

Only when I’ve completed a second draft am I ready to hand it over to my editor.

9 – What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Don’t light a barbecue with the lid closed.

This too shall pass.

10 – How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to the novel to directing plays)? What do you see as the appeal?

It is a healthy cross-pollination. Each genre informs the other. My directing process is similar to my writing process. I look at the characters in a play and ask: What do they want more than anything? What do they have to lose? What gets in the way of them achieving their objective? How are they changed by what happens in the play? As a writer, be it a novel or short story, I ask the same questions.

Directing makes me a better writer and vice-versa.

11 – What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

One of the challenges I face is finding time to write while juggling a full-time job teaching acting at my local college and university. During the school year, I write on weekends and the Christmas break. When I am off for the summer, I write five days a week, six hours a day. I am a morning person. I start early, after a coffee and breakfast snack, and usually finish mid-afternoon. I can’t write in silence so I usually have CBC Radio on in the background. Sometimes I write to music if I’m reaching for a specific mood.

12 – When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

It depends on the day and my state of being. I can’t say that going for a long walk helps. Maybe if I was resigning as Prime Minister it would.

There are times when I talk to Mordecai Richler. I haven’t formed a stable of a dead Canadian authors, but I’m pretty close. Occasionally, it’s Shakespeare. My wife did one of those ancestry searches for each of us and, when she got the results, informed me that one of my ancestors apparently lived next door to John Shakespeare, William’s father. That’s cool, iambicly speaking.

Other times, I turn to another piece of writing, school work, or return to a book I’m reading. Or turn up the CBC.

Last resort, a row of dark chocolate with almonds.

13 – What fragrance reminds you of home?

The scent of an apple pie in the oven. It reminds me of my mother baking in the kitchen in the house I grew up in. It was a comforting smell, making me feel safe and secure. My mother died a year-and-a-half ago – the scent is now haunting and bittersweet.

14 – David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I am influenced by

Plays
Films
Music
Visual art
Colleagues, friends, family
Strangers
Overheard conversations
Hilton, a silent movie tabby cat clown
Arthur, a hyper poodle with licking issues
Pie
CBC Radio
Dead + Living Authors
The Snuggery (my writing studio)
Everything

I put together a soundtrack for KINMOUNT so that readers can listen to the music that I’ve included in the novel.

THE KINMOUNT SOUNDTRACK
(Chronological)

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
The Log-Driver’s Waltz – Wade Hemsworth
Desolation Row – Bob Dylan
Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffett
Bad Moon Rising – CCR
Pavane, Op. 50 – Gabriel Faure
Alla Turca – Sonata No. 11 – Mozart
Vivaldi – The Four Seasons – Spring
Bagatelle in A minor (Fur Elise)  – Beethoven
Sudbury Saturday Night – Stompin’ Tom Connors
Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
Ride of the Valkyries – Wagner
You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
Bobcaygeon – The Tragically Hip
Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
Gentle on my Mind – Glen Campbell
The Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
A Fifth of Beethoven – Walter Murphy
Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Pat Benatar
Footloose – Kenny Loggins
Summer Nights – Grease
Don’t Stop Believing – Journey
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
A Horse With No Name – America

15 – What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

As a young reader, I embraced the satire of Kurt Vonnegut. His writing is minimalist and dry. He avoids wordy run-on sentences. I connect with his themes of social equality and need for common decency.

I admire the autobiographical works of David Sedaris. I enjoy his self-deprecating wit, his keen observation of everyday events, and the obsessive behaviour of his characters. I write simply. My sentences aren’t complex. I don’t use big words to show off. Well, except for orthography. I’m into orthography. I learned that from David Sedaris who learned it from Raymond Carver – simple sentences I mean, not orthography.

Terry Fallis is always entertaining. I enjoy his good-hearted humorous whimsy, mischievous sense of irony, and witty dialogue.

I am a big Mordecai Richler fan. He remains an important influence on my writing – his wry social commentary, attacks on the hypocrisies of contemporary life, and his acerbic sarcasm. He would have a lot to say about the world today.

I dig Christopher Moore. He sees his characters like his children. I enjoy his daffy sensibilities, love of the bizarre and comedic supernatural experiences.

John Metcalf, Alice Munro, Lynn Coady are three short story writers I admire. I appreciate John’s vitriolic sense of humour, Alice’s subtlety, and Lynn’s dark satiric sensibilities.

And the writing of J.D. Salinger. I wanted to grow up in the Glass family.

16 – What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done?

Write my next novel.

Meet Shelagh Rogers.

17 – If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I have only been writing novels and short stories for the past ten years – a late bloomer. My many years of directing theatre and teaching acting immersed me in story structure, characterization, dialogue, plotting, and obstacles. It is the culmination of this work that has led me to transition into writing fiction – something I’ve yearned to do since bpNichol’s creative writing classes.

I am now realizing my other occupation.

18 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Originally, I did something else. But I’d always wanted to be a writer. I had stories I wanted to tell and now I’m doing it. It’s a good thing to look forward to writing whatever it is I’m working on. One of the other appeals of writing a novel is that I have control over it. Another great appeal is when I’m finished a couple of pages I can tear them up and throw them away.

19 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack by Heidi von Palleske, Dundurn Press. I read an ARC. It’s just been released.

Reading Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack is to feel Milan Kundera walking along the shores of Lake Ontario. It is a magnificent story, beginning with the seed of a boyhood blinding and branching out in haunting and surprising directions, all rooted inn that seed.

JoJo Rabbit  – directed by Taika Waititi

Most of us agree that Nazi’s aren’t funny. However, Waititi’s comic voice is so ridiculously loveable that, despite the odds, his satirical stance works. I wish I had written it.

20 – What are you currently working on?

I am in the final editing stages of a short story collection entitled Grin Reaping. Grin Reaping catalogues the foibles of the fictional Black family. In a series of interconnected short stories and musings, Rudy Black, a college English teacher stuck both in middle age and in the middle of his five siblings, transforms the strangeness of his everyday life into exaggerated home-movie prose. From the significance of tuna fish and Botox, the threat of coyotes and chickens, to the big ticket items of mortality, lizard-people, and Armageddon, Rudy tackles a range of topics with a wry, self-deprecating wit. It is the human condition writ Black, without sugar.

I am also in the early outlining stages of a new novel – it’s a comic tale of writer’s block, the chopping block, ghosts, and ghostwriters.

A New Year: Theatre Conversation in a Covid World with Rod Carley

I’ve known of Rod Carley’s work for over twenty-five years. In February 1987, I had seen his performance as Algernon in Whitby Courthouse Theatre’s production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. Whitby had also obtained a grant to hire Rod as the director of their Youth Group production ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’. The Oshawa Little Theatre had also hired Rod to direct its production of a good production of ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’.

Rod is an award-winning director, playwright and actor from North Bay, Ontario, having directed and produced over 100 theatrical productions to date including fifteen adaptations of Shakespeare. Rod is the Artistic Director of the Acting for Stage and Screen Program for Canadore College and a part-time English professor with Nipissing University.  He was the 2009 winner of TVO’s Big Ideas/Best Lecturer competition.

His first novel, A Matter of Will, was a finalist for the 2018 Northern Lit Awards for Fiction. His short story, ‘A Farewell to Stream’ was featured in the non-fiction anthology, 150 Years Up North and More. I’ve just finished his second novel Kinmount and will post a review at the conclusion of Rod’s profile.

Thanks to Nora McLellan who encouraged me to read Rod’s book and to Rod for writing it and for taking a few moments to chat with me about the state of the arts going forward from a Covid to a post Covid world:

In a couple of months, we will be coming up on one year where the doors of live theatre have been shuttered.  How have you been faring during this time?  Your immediate family?

Health wise, I’m okay. I had to cancel two directing projects and an acting project as well as my fall reading tour for my new novel KINMOUNT.

My immediate family is in good health.

Fortunately, I’m based in North Bay, ON. This region has a small number of active cases.

Teaching, Netflix, (not to be confused with teaching Netflix), family, the arts, books, the cats, Zoom chats with friends, doom scrolling, my writing, and connecting with the theatre and writing community on social media have been helping me get through COVID. Together although alone. When one of us is having a hard day, the rest jump in with words of encouragement and hope. “No one gets left behind,” is our unofficial motto.

After ten months in, everyone is weary from daily COVID battle fatigue and uncertainty of the future.

Each day feels like trying to herd a different cat.

How have you been spending your time since the theatre industry has been locked up tight as a drum?

As well as an author and free-lance director, I am the Artistic Director for the Acting for Stage and Screen Program at Canadore College – a training program I created in 2004 due to the lack of actor training north of Toronto. Because of the small number of COVID cases in this region, we have been able to keep 70% of our acting classes in the classroom, practising physical distancing and wearing masks. We are one of the few actor-training programs in the province that hasn’t had to switch entirely to on-line delivery.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing. My new novel KINMOUNT was published this past October. Launching a new book smack dab in the middle of a pandemic is not for the faint of literary heart. Using the new COVID lingo, I “pivoted” and did a virtual launch (one positive was the number of friends who were able to attend from across the country and internationally). My publisher and I have relied heavily on social media to market the book. I’m also in the final editing stage of a new collection of interconnected short stories entitled Grin Reaping.

I’ve done quite a few Zoom readings at online literary events.

Last April, I retaught myself to play the accordion and posted regularly on social media to put a little light and humour into people’s days…or drive them further over the edge.

The family tabby cat, Hilton, amuses me to no end. Our other older cat, Zoe, passed away in September. Last summer, I created a series of social media posts featuring Hilton and Zoe called “Respect for Mewing,” a purrfect parody on Uta Hagen’s “Respect for Acting.”  Their antics might even lead to a book.

I’ve also watched some very resourceful theatre companies move their programming online. Tarragon Theatre’s staged reading of David Young’s Inexpressible Island at the start of the pandemic was particularly well done – the six actors speaking out of the darkness in their respective spaces captured the isolation of the piece. I’m looking forward to watching Rick Roberts’ online mythic adventure Orestes, directed by Richard Rose, this coming February.

Still, nothing can replace live theatre. There is a sanctity to what we do as theatre artists.  People gather together to experience things that can’t otherwise be experienced – not unlike what happens in a church or synagogue.  There’s an elevation, a nobility, and a feeling of sanctuary.

Arthur Miller said, “My feeling is that people in a group, en masse, watching something, react differently, and perhaps more profoundly than they do in their living rooms.”

The late Hal Prince described the theatre as an escape for him.  Would you say that Covid has been an escape for you or would you describe this near year long absence from the theatre as something else?

COVID is a restriction rather than an escape. In the theatre, flight-within-restriction is the director’s goal. A director has to know all the resources and limitations they are working with. Only then can they know in which direction freedom lies. Ironically, for me, it’s become a working metaphor for coping during COVID.

I’ve interviewed a few artists several months ago who said that the theatre industry will probably be shut down and not go full head on until at least 2022.  There may be pockets of outdoor theatre where safety protocols are in place.  What are your comments about this? Do you think you and your colleagues/fellow artists will not return until 2022?

Dr. Fauci was recently quoted in The New York Times as saying he believed that theatres could be safe to open some time in the fall of 2021 – as long as 70% to 85% of Americans were vaccinated by then. Will those percentages apply to Canadian theatres?

The quality of a theatre’s ventilation system and the use of proper air filters will play a vital role. Theatregoers may need to continue wearing masks. Strict hygiene protocols will need to be in place.

Reduced capacity of seating has been another roadblock in the financial viability of reopening. Fauci believes theatres will start getting back to almost full capacity of seating. Another possibility is to ask audience members to show proof of a negative virus test –as required by some airlines.

I am currently directing an online college production of David Ives’ All in the Timing, scheduled to go up in April 2021. I hope my colleagues and I will be able to direct live productions by the spring of 2022. Even with the vaccine, however, we will have to see if audiences feel comfortable returning to the theatre. Post-COVID, it may take awhile until they feel fully safe.

I had a discussion recently with an Equity actor who said that yes theatre should not only entertain but, more importantly, it should transform both the actor and the audience.  How has Covid transformed you in your understanding of the theatre and where it is headed in a post Covid world?

A quote from my new novel KINMOUNT:

“For nearly four thousand years, theatre had survived religious persecution, war, plague, the rise of television, AIDS, CATS, funding cuts, and electronic media.”

 (KINMOUNT – Part Two: Madness, Chapter 8, p. 173)

 But can the theatre survive COVID?

 My response is, “Yes.”

We’ve probably all heard somebody say that come the End of the World, the only survivors will be the cockroaches. Cockroaches have been around for over 300 million years – so they’ve outlasted the dinosaurs by about 150 million years…and they are tough little creatures. They can survive on cellulose and, in a pinch, each other, and they can even soldier on without a head for a week or two – and they’re fiendishly fast as well as many of us have discovered opening an apartment door and turning on a light. They have the reputation for being survivors – living through anything from steaming hot water to nuclear holocaust….and, when they do survive Armageddon, they will probably be performing theatre!

There is something of the scrappy cockroach in every actor. Theatre has survived a variety of “end of the world” scenarios since its earliest beginnings. From the stone ages, men and women have been telling stories by enacting them even when no language existed.  Ancient Greek theatre still inspires us, and it continues to be staged in all the languages of the world. In Ancient Greece, we had an empire ensconced in domestic barbarism and military adventurism.  Yet, it was the theatre that reformulated the debates of that era with humanity and intelligence and put those qualities back in the air we still breathe more than 2,000 years later – and theatre will do that again post-COVID.

Starting in the Dark Ages, actors were forbidden the sacraments of the church unless they foreswore their profession, a decree not rescinded in many places until the 18th century. Can you imagine the great French playwright Moliere collapsing on stage to his death and being denied the last rights?  King Louis the 14th had to intervene to grant Moliere a Christian burial. Actors were treated as heretics for nearly 1,300 years! They know about tenacity and survival.

During the 1950’s the world lived under the threat of an atomic war capable of ending life on earth.  It was an age of anxiety and stress. The theatre was heavily influenced by the horrors of World War II and the threats of impending disaster.  Serious questions were raised about man’s capacity to act responsibly or even to survive.  Anxiety and guilt became major themes. Probably more than any other writer, Samuel Beckett expressed the postwar doubts about man’s capacity to understand and control his world. Now, “the end of the world” really was around the corner but it didn’t stop theatre.  The cockroach artists kept holding that cracked and broken mirror up to man’s doubtful nature.

We may see post-COVID theatre addressing similar issues – the fall of the American Empire, climate change, reconciliation, and so many other pressing societal ills – coupled with a need for humour and escape.

I think there might there be a backlash coming against digital technology. The human soul is screaming for meaning. How much spiritual hunger and alienation can we bear?

Theatre is genuine communication and not short form twitters and tweets. An audience is alive in the same space where the actors testify the truth of their characters.  Any place where you are in that kind of public forum, breathing the same air, the truth will come out.

The late Zoe Caldwell spoke about how actors should feel danger in the work. It’s a solid and swell thing to have if the actor/artist and the audience both feel it. Would you agree with Ms. Caldwell? Have you ever felt danger during this time of Covid and do you believe it will somehow influence your work when you return to the theatre?

We live in a dangerous era now where the arts are being seriously questioned.  In an uncertain economy, the arts are often among the first things to be eliminated from discretionary spending.

The fall of the American Empire is rife with danger. The rise of right-wing fascism is beyond scary.

In many articles, the pandemic has been compared to Shakespeare and the plague.

In this excerpt from my novel, KINMOUNT, down-and-out-director Dave Middleton talks to his acting company at the First Reading of his production of Romeo and Juliet:

“Romeo and Juliet was the first play to be produced in London after the infamous Black Death of 1592 to 1594 wiped out close to a third of the population,” Dave explained. “All the theatres were shut down for three years. Images and references to the plague permeate the play such that the plague itself becomes a character—much the way Caesar’s ghost haunts and dominates Julius Caesar. The plague struck and killed people with terrible speed. Usually by the fourth day you were dead. The time frame of Romeo and Juliet moves with a similar deadly speed, from the lovers’ first meeting to their deaths.”

“I can’t imagine waking up on Saturday and being dead by Tuesday,” said Miranda.

“The plague underscores all that happens, mirroring the fear and desperation of the characters’ individual worlds,” said Dave, adopting a sombre tone. “I’m pretty sure most of us have lost someone to cancer.” The company nodded uncomfortably. “We can only imagine the dreadful immediacy of Romeo and Juliet when it was first performed for an audience who had each lost family and friends to the plague. Here was a play referencing that very loss and terror.” Dave circled his troops; his director’s passion, despite himself, as infectious as the plague he was referencing. “What a gutsy and attention-getting backdrop for the love story that unfolds in the wake of Ebola, the opioid epidemic, Lyme disease, HIV, not to mention the scourge of cancer, we know what this fear is like.” Dave had hit a nerve.

“By using the original setting and its plague components,” Dave explained, “our production will serve as an analogy for today. We will play the humour of the first three acts to its fullest until the “plague” of deaths begins. We will explore the passion and exuberance of youth, the need to live every day as if it was your last, because it very well could be. Your life expectancy is thirty.”

“Whoa,” said the taller stoner. “Like I’m already middle-aged. That sucks, dude.”

 “It does,” said Dave. “You have no idea what will happen when you start your day. You could be killed in a duel, run over by horse-drawn cart, be accidentally hit on the head by a falling chamber pot, or drink water from an outdoor fountain, toxic with bacteria boiling in the summer heat, and catch the plague.”

(KINMOUNT– Part One: Meeting, Chapter 7, pp. 48-49)

Similar to the plague, COVID has reinforced the transience and fragility of our existence. We really do have to embrace the moment because the future is more uncertain than ever. Post-COVID, this reality will serve as a backdrop for much of the theatre that will be created, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The late scenic designer Ming Cho Lee spoke about great art opening doors and making us feel more sensitive.  Has this time of Covid made you sensitive to our world and has it made some impact on your life in such a way that you will bring this back with you to the theatre?

As a theatre artist, I’ve always been sensitive to the world – it’s in my DNA. Theatre has a responsibility to society – to educate, enlighten, and, hopefully, change. Theatre has been doing that for centuries. The theatre has always been, at least for me, about rekindling the soul and discovering what makes each of us human – it is the touchstone to our humanity.  It is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. It speaks to something within each of us that is fleeting and intangible.  And we feel less alone. Given our present circumstances, we need this more than over.

The power of stage is enormous because it is real. We all live in what is, but we find a thousand ways not to face it.  Great theatre strengthens our faculty to face it.  Theatre provides for the psychic well-being and sanity of a society. We will need it more than ever post-COVID.

In Shakespeare’s day, great plays were thought of as mirrors.  When you see a play, you are looking into a mirror – a pretty special mirror, one that reflects the world in a way that allows us to see its true nature.  We also see that it not only reflects the world around us, but also ourselves.  This two-way mirroring means that learning about great theatre and learning about life go hand in hand.  And it means that finding beauty and meaning in great theatre is a sort of proving ground for finding beauty and meaning in life.

Again, the late Hal Prince spoke of the fact that theatre should trigger curiosity in the actor/artist and the audience.  Has Covid sparked any interest in you about something during this time?  Has this time away from the theatre sparked further curiosity for you when you return to this art form?

The need to tell stories of what it is to be human remains crucial to me – stories about who we are, why we are, where we came from, and what we may become – with curiosity and hope. Stories that challenge the right-wing capitalist patriarchal hegemony.

I will continue to revisit relevant older works with a fresh lens, making them accessible to today’s audience. I am committed to developing new works by Northern Ontario voices.

For years, I have been working on an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar based on Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the FLQ and events surrounding the October Crisis of the 1970. In my interpretation, Caesar is, of course, based on Trudeau and, in the transported setting, he is assassinated in Ottawa by members of the FLQ as an act of revenge in the wake of his handling of “Black October.”  The adaptation would involve both official languages and would employ colour conscious casting. It might never to see the light of day.

I am also looking into creating podcasts for my new short story collection.

I am in the early outlining stages of a new novel that will be a comic tale of writer’s block, the chopping block, ghosts, and ghostwriters.

 

Joe’s review of Kinmount:

KINMOUNT REMINDS US OF THE IMPORTANCE OF AND FOR THE ARTS NOW MORE THAN EVER

While reading Rod Carley’s Kinmount, I couldn’t help but make a comparison of it to Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote for the literary term I remember from my second year undergraduate course at the University of Western Ontario – picaresque. I loved the sound of that word then and It still like the sound of it today.

Just to review this term – A picaresque hero is a charming fellow who battles sometimes humorous or satiric moments and episodes that often depict in real life the daily life of the common person. Much like Don Quixote’s fight with windmills, Carley’s protagonist (Dave Middleton) is a professional theatre director who has been hired by oddly eccentric producer Lola White to direct a community theatre production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet in Kinmount, Ontario. Dave ends up battling with oddball characters, censorship issues, stifling summer weather and shortage of monetary funds in his quest to ensure the production is staged the way he believes Shakespeare had wanted it to be staged.

I reluctantly admit I had no clue where the town was as I’ve no reason to attend so I had to look it up on a map.

Okay, once I saw where it was located, I will also be honest and state I didn’t know if I even wanted to visit the town as Middleton describes it as “Canada’s capital of unwed mothers under the age of twenty…kids having kids. And the rest are grammatically challenged and wear spandex. And that’s just the men.” I do sincerely hope Middleton’s description of the real town is tongue in cheek.

Thankfully Carley tells us at the end of his book that he “chose the name simply because of the comic noun and verb combination. For no other reason” as “The real-life Kinmount is a lovely spot nestled in the beautiful Ontario Highlands and home to a population of five hundred friendly highlanders and summer cottagers.”

Since I am a theatre and Shakespearean lover of language Kinmount, for me, became a touchstone of the crucial importance the arts provide us especially now in this time of shutdown, lockdown, and a provincial stay at home order of the worldwide pandemic.

If we have been involved in community theatre productions, Kinmount becomes a hilarious remembrance of those moments when we all stoically wondered if the show would ever come together given the ‘behind the scenes’ world of egos, divas and divos, and oddballs just to name a few. Carley’s style never becomes pedantic but instead a playful reminder of those who select to participate in theatre, whether professional or community, just why we keep returning to this dramatic format. It is for the love of the spoken word.

Rod and I spoke briefly via FaceTime about the ending of Kinmount and how touched I was at the final actions of protagonist Dave Middleton. Given the veritable struggles Dave must endure throughout the story, sometimes comical, sometimes frightening, he reveals a compassionate, human side that we must all never forget that we too can be like Dave in stressful times.

It’s worth a visit to Kinmount.

Kinmount now available at Latitude 46 Publishing (www.latitude46publishing.com), Indigo, Amazon and your favourite bookseller. I picked mine up at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Ontario.

Artricle by: Joe Szekeres – www.onstageblog.com

CBC Listen – Up North

Some books are letters. Love letters. Rod Carley of North Bay has written a second book…this one a love letter of sorts to the theater arts in Canada. The book is called Kinmount. He spoke with Up North’s Jessica Pope.

Listen to the show now!

Rod Carley’s humorous and timely fight for the arts

First things first: Rod Carley’s latest novel, about a small-town conspiracy to censor Shakespeare, is not based on his three summers staging the Bard’s plays in Brockville.

“They are not in any way a part of the story,” the Brockville-raised playwright, director and author jokingly insists, while discussing Kinmount, his second novel.

Carley, who was inducted into the Brockville and Area Music and Performing Arts Hall of Fame in 2018, now calls North Bay home.

Though his career has been in theatre, both on stage as a playwright, director and actor, and as a theatre educator, his foray into fiction continues.

Kinmount, published by Latitude 46 Publishing in Sudbury, is his second novel. His first, A Matter of Will, was a finalist for the 2018 Northern Lit Award for Fiction.

He describes Kinmount as a humorous, quixotic romp, “a comic tale about this director who has to endure everything to get the show up.”

Dave Middleton, a middle-aged, down-on-his-luck director who happens to be a descendant of the 17th-century English playwright Thomas Middleton, lands in the village of Kinmount, to direct an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet for an eccentric producer.

“As soon as he arrives he knows he’s made a mistake but he needs the gig,” said Carley.

The central character falls into a “rural conspiracy” to censor Shakespeare and an “absolutely harrowing” series of events as he fights for artistic integrity, said Carley.

“It’s about how the arts are so important to a community.”

An award-winning director, playwright and actor, Carley is also the artistic director of the Canadore College Acting for Stage and Screen Program and a part-time English professor at Nipissing University.

In his younger days, Carley directed Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Coriolanus in Brockville during the 1990s, back when Riverfest still existed and was big enough to make room for the Bard.

While the experiences of Dave Middleton are not the product of his Shakespeare summers in Brockville, they do stem from fights he had to fight elsewhere in his early 30s for the sake of artistic integrity, said Carley.

“Most things that happen to me I process through a humorous filter,” he said.

But Carley also insists “the Kinmount in the book is not the actual community that exists,” referring to the village in the Kawartha Lakes area.

Carley said he chose Kinmount for “the fun of the name,” the impact of a noun yoked to a verb.

Kinmount the book has been well-received, he notes, citing reviews from no less than Leacock-Medal-winning humourist Terry Fallis, who writes that “not since Robertson Davies’ Tempest-Tost has a community Shakespeare production been so much fun.”

The novel is available locally at Beggars Banquet Books in Gananoque, or online.

The book seems all the more valuable now – and stop me if you’ve heard me make this pivot before in this column – as a reminder of the importance of the dramatic arts at a time when they are missing.

“Now that we’re in the middle of COVID, it’s taken on a different kind of meaning,” said Carley, reflecting on the importance of live theatre.

“It reminds people of what we’re missing.”

While Brockville ponders how quickly it can reopen the Brockville Arts Centre amid the resurgent pandemic, and artists of all kinds scramble to find meaningful ways to produce during this time of isolation, Carley has used a medium that adapts perfectly to confinement, to make us pine for one that does not.

If Kinmount serves as a fast-paced comic escape from all the trials of this pandemic, its message about artistic integrity now has a broader dimension, one Carley could not have imagined when he started writing it.

“It’s the vaccine that’s going to stop COVID in its tracks,” he said.

“But it’s the arts that are going to get us through.”

City hall reporter Ronald Zajac can be reached at rzajac@postmedia.com.

 

Article by: Ronald Zajac – www.recorder.ca

Author combines tragedy, distance for comedy

It’s going to take a vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it’s the arts that will help see us through it.

And it’s the arts – and one particularly rough road to produce Romeo and Juliet – that’s at the centre of Rod Carley’s second novel, Kinmount.

“It celebrates the human spirit,” Carley says of the novel, published by Latitude 46 of Sudbury.

In the novel, the protagonist, director Dave Middleton, strives to maintain the integrity of Shakespeare’s classic in the face of an eccentric producer and a “gang of misfits” in a small rural theatre.

“No matter what the obstacles are, he keeps fighting to make it happen,” Carley says of Middleton.

It’s an apt metaphor for the time of pandemic we now find ourselves in.

“These are times when you can’t go to live theatre, to live symphony, to live dance shows, to live music,” he says. “This is a reminder of what we are missing. It’s about the importance of what arts means to a community, and it gives us hope for its return.”

It’s a world Carley is quite familiar with. Before coming to North Bay 22 years ago, Carley was himself a freelance director, receiving grants to go to different communities for “a short, intense time to put on shows” across the province and into the United States.

And there were a few occasions, he admits, when he faced the central difficulties facing Middleton, where “a producer would want to make changes to the script” that violated the playwright’s central theme.

“I always fought for the integrity of the writer, and on two occasions had to leave a project because I couldn’t do what the producer wanted.”

But while Kinmount takes a comedic look at the world, Carley admits that, in real life, it was “at times a harrowing experience.”

He remembers thinking at the time that “someday this would make a good story. I just didn’t know that years later it would be my second novel.”

It only proves the old adage, he says, that when you combine tragedy and distance, you get comedy.

“I knew I wanted to write a comic tale about a disaster, about putting on a production,” Carley says.

And with the launch coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, he says, the story and its optimistic message seem somehow right for the times.

“The book is sort of filling the gaps,” he says. “No one can see live theatre right now. The book is about survival, about the necessity of the gift of laughter in dark times. We all need that right now to cope.”

He reads out a quote from the book.

“In nearly 4,000 years theatre has survived religious persecution, wars, plagues, the rise of television, AIDS, CATS, funding cuts and electronic media.

“Looking at that, theatre will somehow survive COVID.”

Carley points out that all the characters are fictional, although some are “loosely based composites of a number of different people” he has encountered over the years.

Some were “just inventions of my overactive imagination.”

But the “mayhem” the central character faces – well, that’s a fact of life in the theatre world, he admits.

The novel has garnered numerous positive reviews, including from two-time Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour winner Terry Fallis, who calls it “funny, thoughtful, compelling and filled with humane insights about people and their passions. Not since Robertson Davies’ Tempest Tost has a community Shakespeare production been so much fun.”

Carley, who is the artistic director for Rep 21 at Canadore College, was the 2009 winner of TVO’s Big Ideas/Best Lecturer competition.

His first novel, A Matter of Will, was a finalist for the 2018 Northern Lit Award for Fiction.

He is an award-winning director, playwright and actor, and has directed and produced more than 100 theatrical productions including 15 adaptations of Shakespeare.

Kinmount is available at Chapters and Amazon.

Wordstock Sudbury

The Wordstock Sudbury literary festival has now been scheduled online through Zoom. The seventh edition of Northern Ontario’s premier literary festival takes place Nov. 5-8. All sessions will take place online, aside from the open mic hosted by Black Lives Matter, which is being held at the Sudbury Indie Cinema, 162 Mackenzie St. The schedule is available at wordstocksudbury.ca, along with guest author information.

Atricle by: PJ Wilson – www.thesudburystar.com

KINMOUNT added to Top 23 Books to Read This Fall

Fiction We Can’t Wait to Read This Fall
By Kerry Clare

We give you a list of amazing fall fiction along with the REAL reasons we’re looking forward to these books in order to demonstrate that human-generated lists beat algorithm-generated lists any and every day. And we also liberally employ the royal we….

Read Full Article

Rod Carley in conversation with Mike Jaycock

Rod Carley’s new book is a hilarious romp through the trials and tribulations of amateur summer theatre in a small rural town. Almost as good as going to a live performance and definitely a great read.

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Contact Rod

BOOK CLUBS! Rod is available for readings and signings, both in person and on-line. Contact him here to arrange your reading.

Invite me to speak at your festival, conference or book club:

705 477 1525 rod@rodcarley.ca Rod Carley rdcarley @carley_rod

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