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Ms. Barrie, Tear Down This Wall (Or: Why I Listened to Ronald Reagan)

/By / Nov 8, 2016

“Well that line, you know… do people talk like that?”

I’m suddenly acutely aware of my eyebrows, trying to get them to remain as horizontal as possible.

“There are all these ellipses. I get there’s ambiguity, but, like, what are they saying?”

I realize I am squeezing my hands together under the table so hard, my fingers have turned white. I smile. I nod. I make a note. A civil gesture that shows I appreciate and value this comment.

“That moment on page 36, I just…”

I nervously cross and uncross my ankles under the table.

“… don’t buy it.”

I uncross a bit too recklessly, hit the table leg, and almost spill my water across the table. I nod again. I put a circle—circles are civil—around a section on page 36 (though it might as well have been any page).

The actors are dismissed. We all hug and say thanks and great work and it’s been a pleasure and the door closes and I sit, ankles crossed, fingers white, eyebrows horizontal.

“And?” my dramaturg, Thom, asks. “How do you feel?”

I breathe, for the first time in ninety minutes, and answer: “I want to jump off a bridge.”

“I know.”

Writing is hard. It’s really hard.

This was never a secret. I don’t expect to enlighten anyone with this fact. But in most hard circumstances, you can build up armour before going into battle. You build your defences. You build your walls. You manage to walk through the world and get shit done by creating a defence against what is putting you through anguish.

Until you write a play.

Photo by Greg Wong

Eva Barrie in rehearsal. Photo by Greg Wong

Agency is about a woman named Hannah who escapes with her parents through the Berlin Wall to West Berlin in 1986. During the escape, her father is killed. Twenty-six years later, she reads the file the Stasi (the East German secret police) kept on her father. In it, she discovers her father may not actually be dead, so she hunts down the informant who spied on him. That’s where we start the play.

It may sound like a sexy spy thriller, but that’s not my speciality. Agency is about building walls.

As a producer, wall-building is vital. We need to lead a team through battle. We need to equip ourselves with armour to meet—and be rejected by—wealthy donors, we need to negotiate contracts and stand our ground, and, most importantly, we need to create a fort for a group of artists to feel creative and safe enough to do their work.

As an actor, it’s a bit more difficult. You can’t connect with an audience from behind a fortress. So you invite them in, but you wear text and story like armour. Audiences don’t see you, they see a version of you.

But as a playwright… oh, but as a playwright!

There is nothing between you and the world.

I equate hearing an early draft of a play to getting out of a shower that was far too cold with a towel that is far too small. And a crowd has gathered in your bathroom. And everyone is ready to offer their opinion.

After that first Agency read, I didn’t want to do a rewrite. There were a million things I would have rather done.

I would have rather drank myself blind.

I would have rather found some random man on Tinder.

I would have rather gone home, crawled into bed, and weepingly whispered the lyrics to the two One Direction songs I know.

I would have rather taken the hours I had spent writing a stupid fucking garbage play and signed up for a fucking night course in something that would be—what’s that foreign word? oh yes—lucrative, so that I would not die poor, untalented, lonely, and perpetually furrow-browed.

I would have rather jumped off a bridge.

But that’s why we have dramaturgs. They stop us from bridge-jumping. They sway us away from One Direction and night courses. They tell us to drop our walls.

I’ve got a strong wall around me. The way guitarists have calloused fingers, my art has created a thick skin to protect me. I think many female artists have this wall. It helps us deal with bullshit casting calls. It helps us deal with comments like, “You’re prettier when you’re nice.” It helps us deal with the fiftieth conversation on why gender parity in the arts is necessary. It helps us deal. We need our walls to do the work.

My wall is strong.

So strong that I once sat in a parking lot in upstate New York in the middle of the night, beside a man I thought I could love forever, who said, “You’ve just got all these walls up. It’s impossible to get through to you.”

I wanted him to get through to me.

I wanted him to know what made me melancholy as a child.

I wanted him to know what I dreamt of for when we were old.

I wanted him to know me. Really.

But my wall is strong.

Despite bridge-jumping urges, I wanted to write a great play, and you can’t write from the heart if your heart is behind a wall. So after that first Agency read, I talked (read: cried) through a meeting with Thom and spent the next three days writing (read: crying) and writing (more crying).

What emerged wasn’t that much better.

I had opened a gate, and that’s a civil start. But I recognized that if I wanted to write this play, gates weren’t enough; playwriting is not civil. I had to tear down my wall.

So I took my sledgehammer, and I began to swing.

I kept sending drafts. I learned to predict Thom’s critique based on the preview line on my phone. If the email jumped right in, it was good. If it started with a salutation, I was at risk of jumping.

Swing after swing, the wall began to crumble.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I read the play and thought: “Yep. That’s it. That’s me.”

Agency took tears, sledgehammers, and a bridge-blocking dramaturg. It is a play that cost me something. But art should cost you something. Art, like a lover, should keep you up at night. It should change you from the first swing.

Ultimately, it should tear down your walls.

Eva Barrie

Eva Barrie

Eva is a Toronto-based actor, playwright, and director and will take the second-cheapest red wine on the menu, please.



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