The Calpurnia writer reworked the play after the murder of George Floyd


Content of the article

Audrey Dwyer had the idea for her play, Calpurnia, long before the murder of George Floyd.

Advertisement 2

Content of the article

It was 2013, and the Winnipeg native, now 45, was part of a play-writing group in Toronto around the same time she took on a role as a maid in local production. The script called for him to be quiet during a racist verbal attack.

When another cast member praised the power of her silence, it got her thinking about the portrayal of servants in film and literature, and the evolution of “mammy” culture, a stereotype based on the notion of a maternal black woman caring for the children of a white family.

Playwright, Audrey Dwyer.
Playwright, Audrey Dwyer. Photo by Cylia von Tiedemann /handout

“I remembered To Kill a Mockingbird because I studied it a lot in high school,” Dwyer said in an interview, “and one of the characters in Harper Lee’s novel is the maid, Calpurnia. so started looking at the characters in the book and the social issues at that time, with black people being lynched, police brutality and how society dealt with racism, and I started comparing it with today, which was in 2013.”

Advertisement 3

Content of the article

She created her main character, Julie, an aspiring screenwriter from a wealthy upper-class Canadian Jamaican family who tries to write a play about the Mockingbird maid, Calpurnia, and turns to the Filipino maid. family for inspiration. Although playwright and character seem to have a lot in common, Dwyer says she would never act like Julie.

“I intentionally made it very different,” says Dwyer, Associate Artistic Director of the Royal Manitoba Theater Center in Winnipeg. “There are some things she does in this piece that are pretty explosive that I would never do, but I wrote it in a way that surprises people, and they actually laugh.”

After a long process of development, the play was first staged in 2018 by Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre, fearlessly tackling themes of covenant, white privilege and intersectionality before they came to pass. are widely understood.

Advertisement 4

Content of the article

Then came COVID-19 and the police killing of George Floyd. Captured on video, it provided compelling evidence of the mistreatment of black people and sparked a widespread reckoning with racism in almost every sector. As Dwyer saw the realization on the people around her, she felt the piece needed an update.

“A great learning has happened,” she said. “I could see so many organizations and institutions hiring diversity coaches and providing anti-oppression training, and it was reflected in film and television, media and advertisements. There was so much information that I had to rewrite the play so that the characters reflected the consciousness I saw around me.

Supported by the National Arts Center and assisted by director and playwright Sarah Garton Stanley, Dwyer overhauled her play, giving it a revamp that she says showcases both the humor and cleverness of the script. . This is the version that has just been staged at the Royal Manitoba Theater Centre, and one reviewer called it “provocative and daring”. It begins a tour at the National Arts Center this week.

Advertisement 5

Content of the article

For his part, Dwyer hopes the piece will inspire audiences in two ways. First, that they can use “fresh eyes and fresh ears” to return to some of their favorite pieces of literature, and second, to reflect on their own attitudes towards issues such as racial injustice.

“I think it’s a great thing to do,” she says of revisiting the classics. “We read a lot of books when we were young and it doesn’t hurt to go back and look at them to see how they stand today and how the world has changed. It’s such a unique moment in history that I think the play will give people a chance to laugh at how some people work through all of this information.

As for his next writing project, Dwyer is working on the lyrics to the book of a new musical titled Backstage at Carnegie Hall about a legendary African-American guitarist named Charlie Christian who was a member of Benny Goodman’s orchestra.

Advertising 6

Content of the article

But in a career that encompasses just about everything, from film, television, radio and theater productions to directing and dramaturgy, the National Theater School graduate usually has more than one project. in progress at any given time. These days, she also runs a mentorship program for theater artists in Manitoba (which has taken place online during the pandemic) and is currently directing a production of Trouble in Mind by the late African-American playwright Alice Childress which will be presented in Winnipeg and Edmonton. .

In his mind, the plethora of social issues to deal with makes it a good time to return to acting.

“During COVID, we took a break, and many of us had to do some soul-searching to reflect on how we feel in the world, who we are and what we believe in,” she said. “Seeing a live play and being able to do it as a group is just a wonderful experience.”

By Audrey Dwyer
Co-production NAC English Theatre/Royal Manitoba Theater Center (Winnipeg)/Black Theater Workshop (Montreal)

Or: Babs Asper Theatre, National Arts Center
When: April 28- May 7
Tickets and schedules: or

[email protected]

Advertisement 1


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. Visit our Community Rules for more information and details on how to adjust your E-mail settings.


Comments are closed.