Arts·Queeries

'Look for the people that set you on fire': Stage legend Daniel MacIvor is back and ready to inspire

What MacIvor wants most from the audiences of his one-man shows is always the same: that they walk out with an entirely shifted perspective.

Let's Run Away is the latest in MacIvor's iconic run of solo performances in collaboration with Daniel Brooks

Daniel MacIvor in Let's Run Away. (Guntar Kravis )

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.

What Canadian stage legend Daniel MacIvor wants most from the audiences of his one-man shows is always the same: that they walk out with an entirely shifted perspective on what it was they thought they were watching when they walked in.

"What their assumptions are about what they're watching, what it is, who this is and what they need," he clarifies. "They start with a bunch of assumptions about it and by the end, they have to question all those assumptions. That's all I ever want."

It's also what you'll almost surely get when you walk out of Let's Run Away, MacIvor's latest in an iconic run of solo performances in collaboration with Daniel Brooks. Currently having its world premiere at the Berkeley Street Theatre, it's the seventh time the two have paired up after such seminal works as Here Lies Henry, Monster and Cul-de-sac. And while it is true that the credits list MacIvor writing and performing while Brooks directs, it's considerably more complex than that.

"Our relationship is the show," MacIvor explains. "I write it, but first it's me talking and it's me talking to him and me arguing with him or trying to impress him or to spite him. I'll try things, or at his encouragement I'll try things. So it's our relationship ... there's nothing but that to start."

Daniel MacIvor in Let's Run Away. (Guntar Kravis )

MacIvor says some people don't quite understand how integral Brooks is to the creative process, as writers and performers typically are given ownership "in a way."

"Yes, I wrote it and those are my words and a lot of it has exploded from my imagination, but it's under his guidance," MacIvor explains. "He's the container of it. So without him, there's no walls for it. It just goes on and on and rolls on endlessly, but he starts sort of corralling it."

In this case, Brooks was the container of Peter, MacIvor's character in Let's Run Away. The show follows Peter — an aging club kid who has generally been dealt a pretty rough hand in life — as he reads the unpublished memoir of someone close to him and particularly reflects on the parts about his own life.

"Peter kind of came forward out of all the things and all the voices and I fell in love with him," MacIvor says. "All of a sudden I just sort of thought, you know that guy who's hanging around at raves who was already too old to be hanging around raves and he was kind of embraced by the culture because he was eccentric, and then sort of chewed up and tossed out by the culture ... and then suddenly, where does he go? The thought that there's all these guys out there ... what happened to them and what are they doing?"

Daniel MacIvor in Let's Run Away. (Guntar Kravis)

MacIvor's embodiment of Peter makes for as captivating a performance as any in his storied career, though it does represent a less tempered version of MacIvor's work. 

"I think that over time [my collaborations with Brooks] have developed a more present heart — a more present vulnerability where they kind of started with a bit more rage, and now the rage has tempered somewhat."

Is that reflective of MacIvor's own relationship with rage?

"Yes," he laughs. "It's a garnish. Rage is a garnish — not the substance of the drink but just the umbrella."

Besides his rage, something else MacIvor is quick to acknowledge has changed a lot is the industry he's been working in for 35 years now.

"You know, I just think ... oh God, we never thought about careers," MacIvor says of his mid-1980s beginnings. "We never had a five-year plan. We were all like, living together and fucking one another and fighting with one another and making work together. That's what we did. We didn't think about our careers — we just thought about the show. We're doing this show and then this show ... and we'd hope people would like it, and then if they did then maybe we get to do another show. But that was before the advent of the computer and the phone and how we carry our careers in our pocket."

Daniel MacIvor in Let's Run Away. (Guntar Kravis )

Nowadays, capitalism "has crushed everything into money," MacIvor says.

"Money is what we're all trying to do. We have to make money and especially in this city. I mean, everybody has three gigs, everybody's trying to get a series ... it's so crazy. We've just become so career focused that it's really hard to remember that the thing is the thing and the show is the thing and the work is the thing."

So what advice does MacIvor have for folks starting out in theatre who still want to aspire to the thing, the show and the work all still being the thing?

"I think it's about making and finding your community and finding the people that you want to fuck and love and fight with. Work with them. Don't go looking for the most talented people. Look for the people that set you on fire."

Run away with that advice, and see where it takes you.

Let's Run Away. Written and performed by Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Daniel Brooks. Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto. Until November 17th. www.canadianstage.com

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and playing integral roles in the launch and production of series The Filmmakers and Canada's a Drag. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also a stand-up comedian, the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.