(Extra) Ordinary Road to Staging Realities

As a playwright and co-founder of Same Boat Theatre, the last few weeks have been a busy time of writing and rewriting my play An Ordinary Asset. The script tells the story of a troubled intelligence officer who commits treason by working for Russian intelligence but soon finds himself fighting to redeem his sense of honor in a world of grey. The play is inspired by the real life drama of Jeffrey DeLisle, a Canadian Forces officer who acted as a mole for Russian intelligence inside Canada for years before he was arrested in 2012 and convicted in 2013.

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Jeffrey Delisle arriving at court in Halifax on Jan. 10 [Devaan Ingraham / REUTERS]

Stories of spies fascinate us. Look no further than our love of James Bond or Jason Bourne to see the allure of dramatic tales of espionage. But what drew me to the story of DeLisle was, frankly, how banal it was. In almost every way, Delisle defied our traditional and romanticized idea of what a spy looks like. He wasn’t an assassin or an international man of mystery. He liked playing video games and dressing up in medieval garb pretending he was a knight. By day, he worked as an analyst with the Canadian forces but in his off hours he played a lot of World of Warcraft. Frankly, he struck me as a bit of geek.

But I’m an unabashed geek, myself. And, like Delisle, I’m also a father to a daughter that means the world to me. In his interrogation by the RCMP, Delisle cited an extramarital affair on the part of his wife as the reason for his deciding to “switch sides” in an act he called “professional suicide”. His reason for not actually committing suicide? His love for his children. So when I started writing, I think it was from a place of wanting to find something of myself in this morally complex individual.

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Cue cards were essential tools of research

I first started writing in 2013 as part of a workshop at Tarragon Theatre. This was followed by a grant through the OAC and Theatre Aquarius to complete a first draft. This draft was further developed during a three-day intensive workshop hosted by Aquarius and facilitated by Pat the Dog Theatre Creation. Writing that first draft was a challenge and resulted in a big script full of diverse story threads. But the workshop, lead by the amazing team of Lisa O’Connell (Pat the Dog) and Luke Brown (Theatre Aquarius), provided a critical step as it allowed me to see not only the strengths of the play but also what needed to go to make the script stronger.

Since then, I’ve spent almost a year and a half on revisions. None of the work has been straightforward. Diving deep into the guts of the play, I’ve had to unpack character intentions while dismantling crisis and climax points. But I’ve always returned to the fundamental story of Delisle. Despite being a work of fiction, the reality of this man and his actions have dominated my playwriting process for this script. Ultimately, this is what drew me to the Festival of Original Theatre and why I think the piece was accepted into this year’s festival and the engaging theme of Staging Realities.

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Ground zero for FOOT 2016: the Robert Gill Theatre

The latest revision and reading of this play by Same Boat Theatre will only be the second time audiences have heard it. It features another host of talented actors from my home of Hamilton. Under the direction of Aaron Joel Craig, with additional dramaturgy by Lisa O’Connell, this script is quite different from the first draft I wrote out almost two years ago. And it still isn’t finished. Ultimately, the feedback from this stage will be yet another stepping stone in the process towards an actual production of the play in the future. And I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

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