GVPTA's Communications & Special Events Assistant, Rick Chung, chatted recently with Jessie Award nominee Adam Grant Warren.
Playwright/actor Adam Grant Warren, originally from Newfoundland, has built a collection of west coast performance highlights including productions of his own solo show, Last Train In, and Real Wheels Theatre's CREEPS, for which he won his first Jessie. He’s nominated this year for his role in the powerful family drama Kill Me Now for Touchstone Theatre at the 37th annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards taking place July 15th at Bard on the Beach’s BMO Mainstage in Vanier Park.
Outside theatre, Adam is also an associate artist with All Bodies Dance Project and has a background in film, studying at VFS, screening his shorts at film festivals including VIFF, and being nominated for a Leo Award in screenwriting. His collaborations have featured at festivals including Vancouver's Art on the Spot, Victoria's SKAMpede, and Calgary's Fluid Festival. He lives in Burnaby with his wife Saleshni and their collection of stuffed sheep.
Interview conducted by Rick Chung on behalf of GVPTA.
GVTPA: Hi Adam. Congratulations on your nomination. How does it feel to be recognized for your work and nominated for artistic awards?
AGW: It feels really good. I’m honoured — proud of this work and of the team that came together to make it.
GVTPA: Are there any kinds of characters or performances you tend to gravitate to as an actor and performer?
AGW: Absolutely, I tend to gravitate toward the characters and stories less-often seen on stage and in the media as well as stories that are somehow self-reflective — aware of the expectations of a particular genre or arc and somehow working against those expectations.
I also have a huge soft sport for interesting reimaginings of the stories we all know and love.
GVTPA: What kind of work would you like to do in the future (that you haven't done)?
AGW: I’d love to play a compelling antagonist. Maybe even a flat-out villain!
Coming back to that whole idea of expectations, wheelchair-users like me (now that casting agents and directors are starting to consider us as genuine casting options) — we’re almost always asked to play the...what?...the protagonist en-route to self-actualization, or the source of positivity for someone else who’s struggling.
There are some great parts like that out there (Joey in Kill Me Now, for example) but, next, I’d like to challenge those narratives.
GVTPA: Kill Me Now explores both timeless and very timely issues surrounding family issues, personal health, and caretaking. How did the personal subject matter affect you and what kind of preparation did you do?
AGW: I say more about how it affected me in a later question, but in terms of the prep, finding Joey’s speech patterns and physicality was challenging — and sometimes painful. The most practical challenge, though, was learning to drive his power chair. I’d never so much as sat in one before. I suppose that’s an interesting thing-that-affected-me.
Everyone always asks me why I don’t have a power chair. The simple answer is that I don’t need one. The more complex answer is that a super-low-profile manual chair is a big part of the energy and the self I put into the world. Letting that go in favour of Joey’s body and needs was hard sometimes.
GVTPA: I've read that the play's brisk pace full of short scenes and lack of intermission was very intentional in putting the audience in the experience of the characters. What kind of effect did that have on your performance?
AGW: It was actually really helpful for me because I didn’t have time to let go of Joey (or his challenging and sometimes painful physicality) between scenes. We also really wrestled with questions around how much time had passed between the scenes that played out on stage.
The play deals with huge character growth and change along a fairly tight timeline, so it was interesting to find the interstitial moments for Joey. The ones that are only talked about in the script, but that let Joey make some of the big shifts he made on stage.
GVTPA: Was it difficult dealing with the quick changes while maintaining the seriousness or dramatic weight of the show and not breaking your concentration or character?
AGW: Sometimes. Ask the SMs about helping me get out of Joey’s diaper and into a suit. Other than that, kudos to the team — Roy Surette, Bob Fraser, and Mark Hildreth especially — for working so hard with me to figure out the literal ins and outs of that bathtub!
GVTPA: Kill Me Now is full of so many complex themes surrounding disabilities, assisted suicide, and raw sexuality. What was it like exploring such subject matter on a nightly basis?
AGW: For me, the challenge of that exploration wasn’t in the run of the show. It was in rehearsal — in the separation of my own lived experience as a wheelchair-user from Joey’s.
My privilege. My “disability/ability/access politics”. How were they different? Where did they intersect? When it came time for the run, the really fascinating stuff happened in feeling the moments when the audience really sat with us in the heavy stuff. Sure, audience energy is different for every show, but this was really something special.
GVTPA: Vancouver has such a diverse and talented arts and culture community. How do you feel about the local theatre industry today?
AGW: I think we’ve made a lot of headway. I also think we have much, much farther to go.
GVTPA: What's particularly exciting about the work being done?
AGW: I can’t tell you how excited I am to be making work right now. It feels like we’re in such a juicy, honest period of transition. Precisely because we have so much farther to go in the pursuit and representation of genuine diversity — of story, of performer, of administrative model, of funding possibilities. Everything.
It feels like we’re just starting to do the real work and hear the voices that have needed listening to for so long.
GVTPA: Does originally being from the east coast and Newfoundland give you any perspective on the performing arts and culture here?
AGW: That’s a really difficult question to answer honestly. I’m a proud Newfoundlander and I love the art that’s coming out of Newfoundland. However, as much as accessibility is still a concern out here, it’s an even bigger one out there. Stages, rehearsal spaces, training programs, public transit, or ven just raising awareness of the possibility that wheelchair users and folks with disabilities can pursue performance and creativity professionally.
All of that — with a lot of love and elbow grease from a few colleagues of mine out that way — is still in even earlier days. I’m grateful for the satisfying living I’ve made out here, but I grew up never seeing anyone who looked like me on stage, and I’d like to go back for a while — help in the work folks are doing to change that.
GVTPA: Do you have any random roles or jobs you can share from over the years you had to take to pay the bills or keep performing?
AGW: I was a video transcriber for exactly one day. I also wrote about condos, their neighbourhoods, histories, and amenities, for a Wikipedia-style real estate database.
Most interesting of all, I was once hired to create characters for an online dating site and then (yikes!) to chat as those characters. The website was built on the premise that users could pretend to be the people they always wished they were. Interestingly, it became one of the most nakedly human experiences of connection I’ve ever known. I think maybe my next play is in there somewhere.
GVTPA: Do you have any practical advice for other young professional artists trying to create, perform, and make a living?
AGW: Do it, and do it, and do it some more. But don’t do it for free forever. Or, rather, know the value of your work and then choose to do it for free when it suits you. Don’t work for free because people expect you to. You can’t eat your passion.
Also, your work doesn’t always have to be truthful, but it has to be honest — your best work will always be connected to the things you’ve lived. You’re going to have to assemble a living. No matter how many other things you have to do to make ends meet, you’re a f***ing artist. Everything else is field research.
GVTPA: What keeps you performing and creating theatre?
AGM: The belief that I have something worth saying. And the joy I take in hearing the voices of others.
GVPTA: Thanks so much for sharing your experiences in theatre and good luck at the Jessies!
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards show will be held at the beautiful Bard on the Beach BMO Mainstage tent at Vanier Park on Monday July 15, 2019.
VIP tickets (front and centre) - $50
Regular tickets - $35
Nominee tickets (limited quantity) - $20
Call the Bard on the Beach box office at 604.739.0559 to purchase, or get your tickets here.