The Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency provides professional artists with time to focus on their work in the beautiful natural setting of Riding Mountain National Park, housed in the historic Deep Bay cabin.
Follow along as we feature this years’ artists-in-residence and their exciting projects!
MAC: Tell us a little about yourself as an artist and your practice.
SR: I’m a playwright and dramaturg. My writing is character driven, and while it deals with heavy themes, it’s often playful and funny. I’m interested in different generational approaches to concepts like feminism or celebrity, and I root these perspectives in characters who are struggling to be seen by each other. Much of my work centers around young characters navigating queer and trans identities. I aspire to make work that’s as complex as the communities it’s in dialogue with—work that deepens or expands our relationship to who we are and the world we live in.
Each project brings its own questions and asks to be brought into the world on its own terms. I try to listen as carefully as I can. It’s an embodied practice: I do my best to be a well-honed instrument for the characters to speak through. It’s also an intellectual one. I research throughout the creation process, often circling back to ideas and re-engaging with first questions.
I feel most rewarded when I’m collaborating with bright, sensitive artists. I frequently work with dramaturg Fatma Sarah Elkashef on my writing projects, often casting the net wide on what a play is and can be, such as with Cult Play—an investigation into the lure of cults, what we will sacrifice for our beliefs, and femme for femme attraction. I’ve been working with Liam Zarrillo as a cultural dramaturg and performer on O Death, and this winter I’ll be dramaturging a play they’re performing in about someone transitioning while converting to Orthodox Judaism. I met Kate Hammer when she was a performer in O Death, and we’ve since started co-writing a play called Make It about the queer art scene in the UK. Megan Piercey Monafu directed my first play, This is the August, and I consistently dramaturg for her, most recently on her play about virtual reality, Strata Inc., and her new play, Tahiti. In these and many other projects, I’m excited to connect with other artists and work towards creating complex, meaningful work.
Tell us about your project—what will you be working on in the Deep Bay Cabin?
I’ll be working on O Death, a nuanced exploration of trans and queer identity, cancel culture, and the legacy of our cultural icons.
After being called out on social media for crossing a line with a fan, trans musician James and his sister, Caddy, reckon with pressure from their family, the media, and the public. At the same time, they’re launching their musical career in the shadow of their rock legend grandfather—a man who has diligently kept his violent past off the public record.
The play is dark and funny. Intimate family conversations are punctuated with surreal scenes that offer playful, non-linear access to James’s inner life. And since O Death is a play about a family of musicians, we get to hear their music and their covers of each other’s songs.
What is your relationship with the park, and what are you most looking forward to exploring?
Riding Mountain National Park is magic. It has a 1930s rustic architectural style common to Canada’s national parks. I’m hoping the Park Theatre will be open during my stay. It’s the largest log cabin theatre in North America and has been voted one of the most beautiful theatres in the world.
Both Park Theatre and the Deep Bay cabin were funded by Depression-era public works grants in the 1930s, shortly after the park was established. The cabin was first built as a Royal Canadian Air Force cottage, and, like many spaces in Canada, fell into disuse and was transformed into an artists’ residency.
Despite there being a rich and storied Indigenous history in the area, the most well-known is that of Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, or Grey Owl, a British man who pretended to be Indigenous and became a national celebrity. Belaney lived in the park for six months, and his cabin is still there. Inside, laminated photos of him are posted on the walls, and a binder containing his correspondence sits on a desk for visitors to look through. That he was a fraud is mentioned nowhere.
I remain fascinated by our cultural icons, the stories we tell about them, and the stories we don’t know because they’ve been erased.
How do you hope the park will influence or inspire your project or practice?
The time in the park feels like the Platonic ideal of what a writer’s life should be: living in in the woods, waking up early and writing with a pot of coffee, going swimming in a glacial lake, and heading into town to read the day’s pages with a drink and the sun coming down.
O Death is set in a round house in the woods. Because I’m a city mouse, I haven’t yet captured the setting and how it influences the characters: how it enables them to escape the public and the media, on the one hand, and also brings a sense of isolation and entrapment, on the other. Setting feels essential to the experience of this story. I can’t think of a better place to hide out and finish a draft.
The Riding Mountain Artists’ Residency is offered in partnership by the Manitoba Arts Council and Riding Mountain National Park.
Interested in the staying in the Deep Bay cabin? Find out how to apply to the Riding Mountain Artists Residency through the Learn – Residencies grant stream. Apply by November 1, 2022 for a residency in the summer of 2023.