A Quick Interview With The Proletariat Creator - Michael McPhee

Michael McPhee

This interview was conducted by Thomas L. Colford, HAT Communications Director.

1) For those who may not be familiar with your work, can you start us off with a quick rundown of your relationship to the arts, how you got involved with the HAT and anything you want to highlight about yourself for the readers?

I spent years as a full-time professional artist, working as a writer, director, and actor in theatre, film, and television. I had a really lovely little career, but in 2015 I walked away from it all together. For many people, they need theatre to refill their cup. It’s one of their greatest sources of joy, and there is nothing they’d rather be doing. For me theatre is torture, and I left it behind to protect my sanity. But it was a production of my play ‘Tribe of One’ at the HAT that made me like theatre again. I saw an enthusiasm around it that was missing from my mainland experience, both from the performers but also the audience. Not just for my show, but everything I saw there! It made me want to be a part of it. And now, for the most part, the only theatre I will do is in Sydney. Cape Breton is theatre to me. 

2) I know what you mean. This is almost a purity to it here. It’s been 5 years since the last time we had one of your scripts (Tribe of One) on the HAT mainstage, and this time around you’re also directing your writing. Can you share with us a bit about your process? Do you feel you really switch gears from one role to the other, or are both hats sort of on from the very beginning of brainstorming?

A project of this scope is all-encompassing from the very beginning. Even though I’m not necessarily going to end up directing it when I first start, I still think about how it will flow on stage. I like to think I come in with a pretty strong vision. But the process shifts immensely once you get in the room, because you need to see each member of the creative team as a creative entity that will warp your production. And you can either try to cram them into your initial vision, or you can listen to them and let the project organically change (usually for the better). The balance of letting go of your hubris as well as believing in your vision is the delicate line I like to walk as an artist.

3) Well said. From what I understand this show is its own standalone story and play, and simultaneously it fits into a larger exploration called Cadimus Protocol. What does the name mean, what is the project, and how does The Proletariat fit into it all?

Haha… The name. I’ll be honest, a lot of my process of writing is a somewhat shamanic experience, so while a lot of it is intricately laid out, much of it is also purely based on what rings true subconsciously. Cadimus is a word that really means nothing, but always felt right from the moment I typed it, and I think it does invoke exactly the emotional response I want. It’s like a perfect chord progression to me. 

This show is a prequel to the other plays, ‘The Contribution’ and ‘Tribe of One’. Both of those are presented in a dystopian future. The Proletariat is about how our world became that one. It is a standalone piece, with a few Easter eggs for those very familiar with the franchise. Because plays tend to be more emotional experiences than intellectual ones, it would be very difficult to require your audience to remember details of a previous play. Folks who had seen the other plays will likely remember how they felt watching it, and maybe some of the broad stroke concepts, but only a handful would remember details like history, names, or technology, so it’s best to assume your audience knows nothing.

4) As someone from the mainland (Cole Harbour originally right?) I’m curious what you feel the strengths of the HAT are and what feels unique to you about the Cape Breton theatre scene? What is it that brings you back?

The HAT is 'the little engine that could.' The advantage of a smaller market, like Cape Breton, is its earnestness, culture, and heart. As a market gets bigger it tends to lose those, but gain craftsmanship, infrastructure, and diversity. What makes the HAT so great is that it has achieved an amount of craftsmanship, infrastructure and diversity beyond what would be expected, while not losing what makes Cape Breton theatre/arts special. And there’s a reason artists from bigger markets come to experience it.

5) This a question I seem to be asking more and more lately, but is there a particular character or show you’re dying to do at the HAT?

I have a bazillion scripts I would love the HAT to do, but much of my work isn’t necessarily appropriate for that stage, at least not yet. I think they would love ‘Blood and Quick Silver’, as well as an updated version of ‘Heroic’. I would love to be in ‘Streetcar Named Desire’, maybe? I’d love to see the HAT do more raw, sexy, dangerous work like that. 

6) LASTLY, if you were to sum up The Proletariat in five words what would they be?

An epic heart-wrenching sci-fi spectacle.

Thanks so much. I’m honoured every time I can be brought back here, and I’m grateful to Wes for helping me bring this vision to life. I have poured my heart into this piece, and at least part of my sanity. I really hope you enjoy it. 

Thank you so much for doing this Michael!

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