Question: Tell Us About a Time When You Didn’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

Illustration by Paul Blow

The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? is one of Edward Albee’s most shocking plays. For those of you who don’t know it—and without giving anything away—a situation so absurd arises where the characters don’t know if they should burst into laughter or break down in tears. We asked the cast and creative team of Soulpepper’s upcoming production of The Goat about a time they’ve felt similarly. 

Question: Tell us about a time when you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

RAQUEL DUFFY, Stevie

I was at a funeral with my parents. The only thing I knew about the deceased was that she was our ancient neighbour who used to yell at us kids for walking across her lawn. Her brother got up from a pew, carrying a small organ. He was so sweet, had the kindest eyes, and spoke lovingly about his sister. I became teary as he told us all how much she will be missed. Next, he flicked a button on the organ and a tinny repeated beat rang through the small hall. And then he started singing. The only way to describe what I heard was a mashup of Florence Foster Jenkins and Tiny Tim, with a smidge of Pavarotti thrown in at the end. At first, it seemed like a joke, so I snickered. My mom elbowed me, hard. I knew I couldn’t laugh, so I listened to the horrific sound come out of this most earnest spirit. 

It was awful and beautiful. I teetered on the brink of laughter and tears.

ALEXANDRA LORD, Costumer Designer

Whenever I see someone get hurt I honestly have a hard time resisting the urge to laugh or cry. These are such strange contradictory responses, but I think they’re because of a desire to want to make the person feel better, either by joining them in their predicament or by lightening the situation. Neither of these responses really work, and I have found that holding my breath and waiting for the person to experience their own pain fully is actually the best response. But sometimes the odd sob or chuckle sneaks out compulsively. I just can’t help it.

PAOLO SANTALUCIA, Billy

A couple of years ago, my partner and I were on our way to a birthday dinner when we thought it would be good to check the mail (never check the mail before going anywhere). Among the general smattering of junk, coupons to pizza places we’ve never heard of, and our bills, there was a letter from our landlord. The letter was unmarked, but had the weight of something foreboding. “It’s probably nothing” we said. “But let’s read it anyways.” Being the anxious people we are, we tore into it. One word popped out more than any other: EVICTION.

According to this letter, we had incorrectly followed procedures to give our notice on their timeline (which is, by the way, illegal for a landlord to say—you’re allowed to give your notice whenever you want); and we could either pay an extra $2000 to stay in our unit or face being kicked out in 24 HOURS (which is also illegal for lots of reasons). We were so shocked, and the only thing we could do was get on the TTC and go to the birthday dinner, where we laughed and drank and cried for the rest of the night.

We ended up moving in the 24 hour period, much to the surprise of the landlord, and had them reported. In the end, we were owed for the inconvenience and all was well. But that is one dinner I’ll never forget.

MEGHAN CALLAN, Stage Manager

The fast-paced seriousness of working backstage often lends itself to not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Like the time we had to stop a performance due to a front-of-house issue—get the actors off stage, pause all technical elements, discuss where and how to begin again… Only to finally discover the reason for stopping was due to a physical fight that broke out in the audience. Or like the absurd time when I had to lie on my belly in the wings, arms stretched out to repeatedly tap a Lost Boy’s leg in an attempt to stop him from picking his nose while Peter Pan was introducing Wendy.

My life with my children often has the same effect, like the first time they rode their bikes or walked to school on their own, or when they leave me notes under my pillow for when I get home after a show… Do I laugh? Or cry?

The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? runs from November 7 to 18 at Soulpepper’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

For tickets or more information, click here