When Gay For Pay Productions attended the 2023 Dora Awards, my head was swimming with images of our runaway success. Surely the attendees of Toronto theatre’s biggest night would swarm us, peppering us with insistent but thoughtful questions regarding the creative process behind the upcoming production of our new play, Blake & Clay’s Gay Agenda.
They would ask Blake if he offers one-on-one lessons in comedic timing.
They would press Clay for the secrets to his skincare routine.
And when we were announced as the winners of the evening, they would form a spontaneous, unanimous standing ovation that would take us entirely by surprise. The entire audience would be moved to their feet by our inspiring ascent from small-time indie theatre makers to Dora nominated playwrights and theatrical ground-breakers.
Of course, we would wave for everyone to sit. All this fuss for our ragtag troupe of merry-makers? We wouldn’t have it. Blake, Clay, and I don’t create award-winning theatre for the awards, or the five minutes of uninterrupted standing ovations that seem to follow us wherever we go. We create it because theatre is storytelling, now more than ever.
I imagined taking the Dora statuette and declaring, a tear in my eye, that they really are heavier than they look. Especially because they look like two tubes of tinfoil hot-glued together by a beleaguered TAPA intern.
I would thank the many people who made me the artist I am today. Like my tap teacher, Madam Claudine. Sure, she may have gotten a lot of eight-year-olds hooked on cigarettes. And yes, she was arrested for the cock-fighting ring she kept in the basement of the dance studio. But she didn’t just instill me with a classic case of juvenile smoker’s cough. She also instilled in me a classic case of artistic rigour.
I would thank my first year acting TA. She taught me that real acting involved crying most of your lines if you were a woman, and shouting most of them if you were a man. This is something I shout at Blake and Clay in every rehearsal.
Lastly, I would thank our fellow nominees. Despite not seeing a single one of their nominated plays, Gay For Pay Productions can still tell that it is an honour to be counted among such talent. I would lift my statuette, careful not to crush the delicate tinfoil beneath my nervous hands, and assure our fellow nominees that we shared this award with all of them. I do hope that in the hot tumult of awards season buzz, our shadow can offer them a cool resting place.
When all the nominees were announced, I was drawn from my thought palace by the sound of the presenter opening the card with the winner’s name on it. The audience’s anticipation was palpable. They were of course wondering if it would contain the names of Gay For Pay Productions. Wondering, and very likely hoping.
This is, as you may have guessed, a lot of pressure for our little team. Being universally beloved among your artistic community is a blessing and a curse. Our community has invested such emotional energy into our work and sent countless DMs detailing the various ways my theatre has affected their lives. DMs which are too personal to be shared on a forum as public as this, but which are no doubt very real and frequent. I do worry that I’ll let down my community, but that just comes with the territory of being a folk-hero among your peers.
Our play Gay For Pay with Blake & Clay rose from a mere Fringe hit to a bonafide Crow’s Theatre production to a Dora-nominated underdog. Did I give hope to an industry still reeling from the economic effects of Covid 19? I can’t answer that question. I can only pose it.
As the paper rustled open, we felt nothing but gratitude for the moment we were in. Blake told me that he’d resolved to simply enjoy this nomination as a celebration of our work and the work of our peers. Clay assured me he felt nothing but pleasure in the act of making live theatre. I resolved to feel the same. To embrace the bohemian wonder of living by the art. To imagine a brighter future for not just myself, but for the generation of theatre-makers yet to be born by the artistic directors, actors, and playwrights in this very hall. I do hope they’ll somehow find their place in this industry.
When it was not our names announced on the stage of the 2023 Dora Awards, I did my best to remain composed. At least, that’s what I was told when the paramedics lifted me into the ambulance. I later learned that what I experienced is known clinically as a Complete Rage Blackout. Blake and Clay, sitting next to me, witnessed many of its symptoms, including but not limited to: hissing, hair pulling, and the rending of clothing. My doctor assured me that my outburst of “this is bullshit” was a natural symptom of a textbook Complete Rage Blackout.
Some have accused me of staging my so-called “freakout” in a desperate bid to wrest attention away from my fellow nominees. Some of those people might even be Blake and Clay. But I would ask them to check their privilege and provide space for those of us living with CRB.
I learned a lot about myself at the Doras this year. What I lacked in Dora Awards, I gained in a clinical diagnosis that greatly explains why my bathroom mirror breaks every time one of my plays gets rejected from a residency program in lieu of someone who has never written a play before. But more importantly, I learned that the real win is the nomination itself. Because the only thing that says you’ve made it more than a Dora nomination is getting cut in line for the snack table by Atom Egoyan.
Blake, Clay and I are going to enjoy the moment as much as I’m enjoying the first cigarette I’ve smoked since I was nine and a half. This one’s for you, Madame Claudine.