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Theatre R.F.D.
                             by Thomas Canfield
     In The Drawer Boy, playwright            bachelor farmers in their mid-
Michael Healey weaves a poignant              fifties, he unleashes a chain of
drama about the terrible price of             events that eventually culminates
war, the palliative art of story-             in life-altering transformations for
telling and the therapeutic power of          all three men. Although their story
theatre. Set against the rural canvas         is not based on actual events from
of an isolated Ontario farm in                the archives of history, Healey
1972, the play also chronicles a              drew inspiration for The Drawer
landmark experiment in Canadian               Boy from a watershed theatrical
theatre history and its dynamic               experiment that culminated in The
impact on performers and                      Farm Show, a 1972 documentary
audiences.                                    play.
     When Miles, a young actor                     This legendary event in Cana-
from Toronto, interrupts the lonely           dian theatre history, considered to
lives of Morgan and Angus, two                be an artistic milestone, was the




    The original cast of the 1972 production of The Farm Show: (L-R) Paul Thompson,
    David Fox, Anne Anglin, Fina MacDonnell, Miles Potter, Al Jones and Janet Amos.
                           Photo credit: The Farm Show, The Coach House Press, 1976.




                                                                                       35
brainchild of pioneering director       evolved into an alternative theatri-            unexpected, and the production           premise for The Drawer Boy,
     Paul Thompson. Thompson co-             cal production that was dedicated               proved highly successful.                which was his first full-length play.
     founded the Théâtre Passe Muraille      to the farmers they encountered.                    After Ted Johns, a writer with       In 1999, Healey’s play premiered
     (“Theatre Without Walls”) in            Much of the script came directly                the Théâtre Passe Muraille, tran-        at the Théâtre Passe Muraille, the
     Toronto with Jim Garrard in 1968.       from actual conversation. The final             scribed the script, The Farm Show        same theatre where, 27 years ear-
     An example of “collective cre-          result, first presented to locals in            took to the road and toured              lier, The Farm Show had its
     ation,” The Farm Show was an            Ray Bird’s cattle-auction barn in               Canada. It first played in the city of   Toronto debut. Miles Potter, an
     innovative, grassroots project that     Clinton, had no lights, costumes or             Toronto, then at cattle markets,         original cast member and co-cre-
     began as an informal outgrowth of       set, and hay bales provided seating.            auction barns and community halls        ator of The Farm Show (whom
     Rochdale College, a counter-cul-        Actors played roles as farmers, ani-            in southwestern Ontario, and sub-        Healey used as inspiration for the
     tural community in Toronto.             mals, and even agricultural                     sequently in the provinces of            fictional character of Miles),
          Often aligned with the people’s    machinery. The delight that audi-               Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The           directed the production. Angus was
     theatre movement, collective cre-       ences had in hearing and observing              revolutionary project also inspired      played by David Fox, another cast
     ation is a form of documentary or       their own language and culture was              a CBS television documentary pro-        member and co-creator of the orig-
     ethnographic theatre. Artists enter                                                     duced by prize-winning Canadian          inal production.
     a community, research a theme and                                                       novelist and poet Michael
     invent works that speak to and                                                          Ondaatje. The Clinton Special: A
     about the specific group on which                                                       Film About the Farm Show (1974)
     they are based. Through improvisa-                                                      documents the project’s impact on
     tion, both the content and the struc-                                                   local audiences, who were spell-
     ture of a play are developed. Col-                                                      bound. When interviewed, many
     lective creation attempts to engage                                                     recalled the production as a high
     audience members by sparking a                                                          point in their theatrical experience.
     dialogue on current events. Often,                                                          In the summer of 1995, Healey
     the results are socially conscious or                                                   worked as an actor with the Blyth
     politically oriented. During his                                                        Festival, located just north of Clin-
     tenure as artistic director of the                                                      ton. Founded in 1975, the festival
     Passe Muraille from 1971-82,                                                            produces theatre that reflects the
     Thompson supervised more than                                                           culture and concerns of the people
     30 collective creation projects.                                                        of southwestern Ontario. There,
          To formulate the unique the-                                                       Healey encountered many of the           Tom Barnett (left) as Miles and David Fox as
     atrical experience of The Farm                                                          original farmers and community           Angus in the original Théâtre Passe Muraille
                                                                                                                                      production of The Drawer Boy, which pre-
     Show, actors visited, lived and                                                         members whose stories had                miered on February 25, 1999. The production
     labored alongside farm families in                                                      inspired The Farm Show. Intrigued        was directed by Miles Potter who was instru-
                                                                                                                                      mental in creating The Farm Show and was
     the community of Clinton, located       Actors as tractors: cast members created many   by the long-standing impact of the       also Healey’s inspiration for the character of
     in the rural heartland of southern      of the props needed in The Farm Show,           original production, the Toronto-        Miles in The Drawer Boy. Coincidentally,
                                             including the tractor they represent above.                                              Potter directed the UMKC Department of
     Ontario. The stories they garnered                                                      based playwright developed the           Theatre’s 2002 production of Le Cid.



36                                                                                                                                                                                     37
As the characters in The               Miles offers to help out with    holds up a mirror to the two and             threatens to shatter the comfort-
     Drawer Boy embark upon a jour-         the chores in exchange for a hands-   appropriates the story of Morgan,            able, predictable security of his and
     ney of awakening and self-realiza-     on opportunity to conduct research    “the farmer boy,” and Angus, the             Morgan’s existence and forces
     tion, each unearths a unique, per-     for an improvisational theatre        once-artistic “drawer boy,” for a            them to reexamine their past.
     sonal reality that is either           piece about farming. The no-non-      vignette in his theatre project.                  Farming may seem like an
     forgotten, concealed or undiscov-      sense Morgan, amenable to the         After Morgan and Angus attend a              unusual subject for dramatic con-
     ered. The two older men, compan-       idea of free labor, puts Miles to     rehearsal and see their tale enacted         templation but, like The Farm
     ions from childhood, have lived        work as a farmhand. However, the      onstage, the experience becomes a            Show that inspired it, The Drawer
     and worked together for approxi-       city boy knows nothing about typi-    catalyst that opens a window into            Boy bridges the gap between the
     mately 30 years since returning        cal workaday farming tasks, such      Angus’s long-buried, clouded                 rural and the urban while crossing
     from military duty in World War II.    as driving a tractor, milking cows,   memories. Unpeeling forgotten                the line between truth and inven-
     Angus, who suffered a brain injury     putting up hay or gathering eggs.     and concealed truths layer by layer,         tion. In its thematic exploration of
     during bombing in the London           In more ways than one, this is a      Angus gradually begins to piece              the differences between myth and
     Blitz, is a mathematical savant        coming-of-age experience for him.     together his fragmented memories             reality, Healey’s play proves to be
     with a diminished short-term           Morgan puts the gullible young        in search of the past. In the                both a fictional detective story and
     memory and childlike approach to       actor through his paces by telling    process, he threatens to expose the          a slice of theatrical history.
     the world. Plagued with fierce,        Miles tall tales and making wry       cleverly-crafted, fictional history          Although the clash between rural
     intermittent headaches, Angus          sport of his inexperience. As         that has acted as a coping mecha-            shrewdness and urban naiveté ini-
     occupies himself with making           mishaps ensue, Morgan’s patience      nism for the two farmers–a con-              tially makes this play a pastoral
     sandwiches, baking bread and dis-      runs thin and he assigns Miles the    venient crutch that props up their           comedy, the story ultimately
     pensing an imaginary tonic that he     most absurd and tedious duties,       pain of their lives and allows them          evolves into a compelling drama of
     spoons from the kitchen faucet.        preferring to keep the actor occu-    to skirt the truth. The resurrection         loyal friendship, lost love and abid-
     Meanwhile, Morgan buries himself       pied and out of trouble. While the-   of Angus’s wounded memories                  ing devotion.
     in the daily drudgery of farm work.    atrical inspiration is the primary
     Every evening, Angus requests that     purpose of Miles’s bucolic quest,
     Morgan recite the story of their       he ultimately proves to be a quick
                                                                                       Thomas Canfield, who holds a Ph.D. in English with a specialization in Elizabethan
     past with the two English women        study and becomes more agricul-
                                                                                  drama, is pursuing a second M.A. in theatre history and dramatic literature at UMKC,
     to whom they were once engaged,        turally adroit than his hosts
                                                                                  where he was the dramaturg for this season’s production of The Country Wife, William
     an exercise that forms their nightly   imagine.
                                                                                  Wycherley’s Restoration comedy. Last season, he was the dramaturg for the Kansas
     ritual. The intimate and complex            During the course of his
                                                                                  City Rep production of King Lear, and for Romeo and Juliet at the Heart of America
     dependency of these two charac-        apprenticeship, Miles stumbles
                                                                                  Shakespeare Festival, where he will return for this summer’s production of Othello. In
     ters has often been compared to the    upon the personal history of the
                                                                                  addition to composing the program essays for Gee’s Bend and The Drawer Boy at the
     relationship between George and        two men when he overhears Mor-
                                                                                  Rep this season, Dr. Canfield also is an English instructor at Grantham University.
     Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of          gan recounting the tale of Angus’s
     Mice and Men.                          tragic injury and the aftermath.
                                            Soon, art imitates life when Miles




38                                                                                                                                                                          39

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Program Essay for The Drawer Boy

  • 1. Theatre R.F.D. by Thomas Canfield In The Drawer Boy, playwright bachelor farmers in their mid- Michael Healey weaves a poignant fifties, he unleashes a chain of drama about the terrible price of events that eventually culminates war, the palliative art of story- in life-altering transformations for telling and the therapeutic power of all three men. Although their story theatre. Set against the rural canvas is not based on actual events from of an isolated Ontario farm in the archives of history, Healey 1972, the play also chronicles a drew inspiration for The Drawer landmark experiment in Canadian Boy from a watershed theatrical theatre history and its dynamic experiment that culminated in The impact on performers and Farm Show, a 1972 documentary audiences. play. When Miles, a young actor This legendary event in Cana- from Toronto, interrupts the lonely dian theatre history, considered to lives of Morgan and Angus, two be an artistic milestone, was the The original cast of the 1972 production of The Farm Show: (L-R) Paul Thompson, David Fox, Anne Anglin, Fina MacDonnell, Miles Potter, Al Jones and Janet Amos. Photo credit: The Farm Show, The Coach House Press, 1976. 35
  • 2. brainchild of pioneering director evolved into an alternative theatri- unexpected, and the production premise for The Drawer Boy, Paul Thompson. Thompson co- cal production that was dedicated proved highly successful. which was his first full-length play. founded the Théâtre Passe Muraille to the farmers they encountered. After Ted Johns, a writer with In 1999, Healey’s play premiered (“Theatre Without Walls”) in Much of the script came directly the Théâtre Passe Muraille, tran- at the Théâtre Passe Muraille, the Toronto with Jim Garrard in 1968. from actual conversation. The final scribed the script, The Farm Show same theatre where, 27 years ear- An example of “collective cre- result, first presented to locals in took to the road and toured lier, The Farm Show had its ation,” The Farm Show was an Ray Bird’s cattle-auction barn in Canada. It first played in the city of Toronto debut. Miles Potter, an innovative, grassroots project that Clinton, had no lights, costumes or Toronto, then at cattle markets, original cast member and co-cre- began as an informal outgrowth of set, and hay bales provided seating. auction barns and community halls ator of The Farm Show (whom Rochdale College, a counter-cul- Actors played roles as farmers, ani- in southwestern Ontario, and sub- Healey used as inspiration for the tural community in Toronto. mals, and even agricultural sequently in the provinces of fictional character of Miles), Often aligned with the people’s machinery. The delight that audi- Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The directed the production. Angus was theatre movement, collective cre- ences had in hearing and observing revolutionary project also inspired played by David Fox, another cast ation is a form of documentary or their own language and culture was a CBS television documentary pro- member and co-creator of the orig- ethnographic theatre. Artists enter duced by prize-winning Canadian inal production. a community, research a theme and novelist and poet Michael invent works that speak to and Ondaatje. The Clinton Special: A about the specific group on which Film About the Farm Show (1974) they are based. Through improvisa- documents the project’s impact on tion, both the content and the struc- local audiences, who were spell- ture of a play are developed. Col- bound. When interviewed, many lective creation attempts to engage recalled the production as a high audience members by sparking a point in their theatrical experience. dialogue on current events. Often, In the summer of 1995, Healey the results are socially conscious or worked as an actor with the Blyth politically oriented. During his Festival, located just north of Clin- tenure as artistic director of the ton. Founded in 1975, the festival Passe Muraille from 1971-82, produces theatre that reflects the Thompson supervised more than culture and concerns of the people 30 collective creation projects. of southwestern Ontario. There, To formulate the unique the- Healey encountered many of the Tom Barnett (left) as Miles and David Fox as atrical experience of The Farm original farmers and community Angus in the original Théâtre Passe Muraille production of The Drawer Boy, which pre- Show, actors visited, lived and members whose stories had miered on February 25, 1999. The production labored alongside farm families in inspired The Farm Show. Intrigued was directed by Miles Potter who was instru- mental in creating The Farm Show and was the community of Clinton, located Actors as tractors: cast members created many by the long-standing impact of the also Healey’s inspiration for the character of in the rural heartland of southern of the props needed in The Farm Show, original production, the Toronto- Miles in The Drawer Boy. Coincidentally, including the tractor they represent above. Potter directed the UMKC Department of Ontario. The stories they garnered based playwright developed the Theatre’s 2002 production of Le Cid. 36 37
  • 3. As the characters in The Miles offers to help out with holds up a mirror to the two and threatens to shatter the comfort- Drawer Boy embark upon a jour- the chores in exchange for a hands- appropriates the story of Morgan, able, predictable security of his and ney of awakening and self-realiza- on opportunity to conduct research “the farmer boy,” and Angus, the Morgan’s existence and forces tion, each unearths a unique, per- for an improvisational theatre once-artistic “drawer boy,” for a them to reexamine their past. sonal reality that is either piece about farming. The no-non- vignette in his theatre project. Farming may seem like an forgotten, concealed or undiscov- sense Morgan, amenable to the After Morgan and Angus attend a unusual subject for dramatic con- ered. The two older men, compan- idea of free labor, puts Miles to rehearsal and see their tale enacted templation but, like The Farm ions from childhood, have lived work as a farmhand. However, the onstage, the experience becomes a Show that inspired it, The Drawer and worked together for approxi- city boy knows nothing about typi- catalyst that opens a window into Boy bridges the gap between the mately 30 years since returning cal workaday farming tasks, such Angus’s long-buried, clouded rural and the urban while crossing from military duty in World War II. as driving a tractor, milking cows, memories. Unpeeling forgotten the line between truth and inven- Angus, who suffered a brain injury putting up hay or gathering eggs. and concealed truths layer by layer, tion. In its thematic exploration of during bombing in the London In more ways than one, this is a Angus gradually begins to piece the differences between myth and Blitz, is a mathematical savant coming-of-age experience for him. together his fragmented memories reality, Healey’s play proves to be with a diminished short-term Morgan puts the gullible young in search of the past. In the both a fictional detective story and memory and childlike approach to actor through his paces by telling process, he threatens to expose the a slice of theatrical history. the world. Plagued with fierce, Miles tall tales and making wry cleverly-crafted, fictional history Although the clash between rural intermittent headaches, Angus sport of his inexperience. As that has acted as a coping mecha- shrewdness and urban naiveté ini- occupies himself with making mishaps ensue, Morgan’s patience nism for the two farmers–a con- tially makes this play a pastoral sandwiches, baking bread and dis- runs thin and he assigns Miles the venient crutch that props up their comedy, the story ultimately pensing an imaginary tonic that he most absurd and tedious duties, pain of their lives and allows them evolves into a compelling drama of spoons from the kitchen faucet. preferring to keep the actor occu- to skirt the truth. The resurrection loyal friendship, lost love and abid- Meanwhile, Morgan buries himself pied and out of trouble. While the- of Angus’s wounded memories ing devotion. in the daily drudgery of farm work. atrical inspiration is the primary Every evening, Angus requests that purpose of Miles’s bucolic quest, Morgan recite the story of their he ultimately proves to be a quick Thomas Canfield, who holds a Ph.D. in English with a specialization in Elizabethan past with the two English women study and becomes more agricul- drama, is pursuing a second M.A. in theatre history and dramatic literature at UMKC, to whom they were once engaged, turally adroit than his hosts where he was the dramaturg for this season’s production of The Country Wife, William an exercise that forms their nightly imagine. Wycherley’s Restoration comedy. Last season, he was the dramaturg for the Kansas ritual. The intimate and complex During the course of his City Rep production of King Lear, and for Romeo and Juliet at the Heart of America dependency of these two charac- apprenticeship, Miles stumbles Shakespeare Festival, where he will return for this summer’s production of Othello. In ters has often been compared to the upon the personal history of the addition to composing the program essays for Gee’s Bend and The Drawer Boy at the relationship between George and two men when he overhears Mor- Rep this season, Dr. Canfield also is an English instructor at Grantham University. Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of gan recounting the tale of Angus’s Mice and Men. tragic injury and the aftermath. Soon, art imitates life when Miles 38 39