Ed Roy Speaks on New Show, Creativity and Assembly Lines

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By Harris Frost

Dora Award-winning theatre practitioner Ed Roy spoke with us in July about his new one-man show The History of the World which he’s developing in collaboration with PWM.


PWM: To start, could you speak briefly about this new project you’re working on?

Ed Roy: I’m working on a one-man show called The History of the World, which was inspired by an investigative look into my childhood and the people who raised me. It’s a fusion of a lecture and storytelling. It’s about the correlation between the lecturers’ personal history, my personal history, and historical events. And how larger events in history affect our lives in ways we aren’t conscious of.

PWM: You call this a hybrid performance. What does that entail?

Ed Roy: Well, it’s interactive in a way. I not only propose a thesis, I also interact with the audience asking them questions about their own relationship with history and consciousness. So there’s that element to it as well as the theatrical aspects of it.

PWM: I came across a video from 2013 of you performing an early version of this piece. How much has it changed in the last five years?

Ed Roy: I was an instructor at Guelph University and that’s really where I developed my lecturing style. What I find was that my students lacked an overview of history, culture, art and how that intersects with their own creation. And then I got this inspiration to start doing a three and half minute improv called The History of the World in 3 ½ Minutes. I started expanding on that gradually over the next few years. Later, when I was at the Rubaboo festival in Edmonton, the festival organizer suggested that I do a version of it, very last minute. I performed it with no notes or anything and it ended up being four hours long.

So by the time we got to that [2013] workshop you mentioned, I was starting to play with physical elements and I thought “Why am I lecturing on the history of the world?” and I started to intersperse my own personal story because I started to do investigative work to find out my personal history. And my personal history was truly clouded. So I started to infuse the lecture with that. But it was still very raw.

The mash-up between the personal stories and the historical lecture wasn’t quite melding yet, but the idea was there. And between then and now, this project has always been in the back of my mind. Now, I’ve cannibalized a lot of what was in those original versions so I really have about three plays that have congealed into one. I liken it to a painting. Any painting that we see, we’re seeing the result of many paintings that are layered beneath the painting in front of us. That’s what this is. And so is history.

PWM: What kinds of spaces do you plan on performing this piece in?

Ed Roy: I don’t know, but I did originally think about doing it in a lecture hall. Because a lecture hall is invariably theatrical. It has all the ingredients of what theatre is. So it could be interesting to do it there. [The piece] does involve a gigantic weather balloon that I use as a projection surface and for other things, so that I don’t know about that yet.

PWM: Why did you choose to work with PWM on this?

Ed Roy: A bit of it is synchronicity. But I am originally from Montreal. When Paula Danckert was here I would always be dropping in. I had a discussion with Emma a few years ago about this piece because I was looking for a dramaturg.

I think that dramaturgy works best when there’s a personal relationship as well. I am also a dramaturg myself. And to me, the best dramaturg is a knowledgeable person who can invest themselves personally in a project. So the journey becomes shared. And in the past couple of workshops that’s what Emma and I have been doing.

PWM: When will the show be premiering?

Ed Roy: How dare you!

In an ideal world: 2020 or 2021. Yesterday would be great but it needs more time. So often we rush toward that product. And in the early stages in my career as a director/dramaturg, we would do shows very, very quickly. Or I would be brought in as a director on a show with a ten- day-long rehearsal period, for a play that wasn’t finished. And I acquired the skill set to put the shows together very quickly. But on this show, I’m building relationships that’ll support how I want to work.

PWM: Does the fact that this show is so personal change your approach to writing it?

Ed Roy: It is personal. But everything we do is personal. I can’t speak for everyone, but if I’m going to spend time with an artist and we’re going to put a show on together, then the subject matter has to be something that I believe in. And it represents an aspect of me, one way or another. So if a show goes up and it’s shitty, I take that personally.

PWM: Even in the type of situation you were talking about earlier where you were brought in to a show with very little rehearsal time?

Ed Roy: I married myself completely to those shows. But here’s the thing, I died a thousand deaths when they didn’t work. I also called an end to that when I knew it wasn’t working for me. Because I decided that I’m not on an assembly line, if I had wanted to be on one I would have made that choice in my early twenties and worked at a car factory. I think that’s a trap. But that’s the challenge of this field. I can’t make this decision for anyone else but when I take on a project I take it personally.

To know something well, to come up with something original, you have to discard so much before you get to something interesting. It takes time. So with a project that has taken so long, there were projects in between and that’s also part of the process. Sometimes you pick something up off the back-burner and look at it with new eyes. And right now, all I have on my mind is this project. And then other things will reveal themselves.