Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman: What was your first play?
Tom Walmsley: A little half hour thing called ‘The Working Man’ and I wrote it as part of a contest just cause I wanted to write, when I was young I wanted to write one of everything. I didn’t have any love of theatre. There was a playwright contest and I thought ok this is my chance to write a play. And it turned out ok, it didn’t win actually but it got a production. It was like third place but it got a production and uh like a year later, it was the first year for the Banff writing program, and they had the script so they thought it would be interesting to write me so, you know, I thought why not so I went to Banff and I wrote ‘The Jones Boy’ …and then it occurred to me then that maybe I could say just what was on my mind…I didn’t go to theatre I hadn’t seen it I didn’t know what you could do and what you couldn’t do you know? My idea of great theatre then, well it still is today, is like Tennessee Williams…so I’m thinking like well I don’t have that kind of story to tell and I don’t know how to tell a story like that of course
SIG: Don’t you? I’d say in a lot of ways you and Tennessee Williams are telling very similar stories about different times and places.
TW: Well maybe similar stories but I mean, I’m not poetic in the sense that he was. I mean I’m not a great writer like he was, you know?
SIG: You don’t think you’re a great writer?
TW: No, I mean if Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, Ibsen, Arthur Miller, if those are great writers then we don’t have any. I think I’m a good writer, you know
SIG: Well do you think those are great writers?
TW: Yeah, yes I do, I don’t think…it’s undeniable.
SIG: So anyway, you were in Banff
‘I get excited by porn a lot and that is about it’
TW: I was in Banff so yeah, and I was hanging around with someone then who was more experienced at writing plays then I was, and she was saying ‘you have to know what you want’ and I thought like an idiot I do have to know what I want, cause see it sounds so wimpy to say ‘oh idono what I want,’ it’s like um…so…what I think now is it’s semantics, you don’t have to know what you want you can say ‘well I’m in the process of discovering what I want’ it’s that kinda shit you know… it’s difficult for the actors cause it makes them nervous they don’t wanna know that you don’t know what you’re doing, you know? Like when these guys started rehearsing this one I hadn’t written the ending of the play. At one point they sent me an email saying well we thought maybe it could go this way. Well…it irritated me but I understand, once the time had passed, why they did it because they had to have something to have some idea of what direction it was going in. How do you play these scenes without knowing, you know? So I wrote the ending.
SIG: So the Nun’s Vacation is your first play in how many years?
TW: First new play? I don’t know how many years
SIG: Was your last one ‘3 Squares a Day?’
TW: ‘Decent’, but I think it was the same year, I don’t know how long ago that was though. 5 years ago? 6?
‘I was undereducated, I was a high school dropout, I’d seen one play. You know all that kind of shit’
SIG: Are you nervous?
TW: No I don’t get nervous
SIG: You don’t get nervous?
SIG: Are you excited?
TW: Well you know what I always find that a difficult word you know? I mean, I don’t mean like – lets say I’m getting a book published or something like that and people always say are you excited by that and I say well, I like it, you know? I get excited by porn a lot and that is about it
SIG: Awww you’re such a romantic
TW: THAT is exciting to me, you know? I think about it all the time and I….but no no this is my job and I hope it works out but, I mean what would the excitement mean? I mean I’d rather have it done that not done…
SIG: But do you feel, cause I know I feel as an artist like my identity and my art are linked. You don’t feel that, you feel like it’s a job?
TW: No no no, but I think it has to be treated so. No no not at all I mean I think I am my work, I mean people can get to know me pretty well if they read what I’ve written and there I am…The thing I don’t like is I mean…I’m not better than anyone else, you know my father was an electrician, I used to work at General Motors myself, I mean it is a fucking job. It’s just a job that I like a lot better than any other job. But I have a lot of myself at stake when I’m writing and I have nothing at stake when I work just a regular job right? I mean nothing. Only thing you need from work is money. But I tell you idono; I mean I’m kinda a melancholic type person anyway right? So I don’t get myself revved up in that way. I mean I’m happy they are doing it and I’m happy about the people involved. I gotta find a way to answer that question better
SIG: No you don’t
TW: Well people always ask me and I don’t know what to say to people. It sounds like ‘who gives a shit’ but I don’t mean it like that
SIG: no it doesn’t, it sounds like a state of mind that I hope to strive for
TW: Why would you want that though?
SIG: Because what I am feeling right now is awful. So some sort of acknowledgement that what is happening is a thing that isn’t going to make or break the world, even if it is very important to the self
TW: Well listen this is like what, my 11th play, like it’s a – it’s a little different. Plus the fact when I was younger…I had no doubt in my mind that people were going to love it because I was so great you know?
SIG: Well tell me how I get that thought– I wanna feel that way, I feel the opposite of that
TW: Well idono see, I was lucky, that was the blessing that I was just given a lot of confidence you know? Looking at it now it was preposterous you know? It was founded on nothing. I was undereducated, I was a high school dropout, I’d seen one play. You know all that kind of shit
SIG: What as the one play you saw?
TW: ‘Hotel Baltimore’…So yeah I was always waiting, all my life ever since I was a kid I’ve always considered myself a writer even when I would meet with people who had been published and stuff like that I would, like I kinda had a layer of condescension towards them. ‘You think you’re a writer but I’m a writer’, you know? So I always imagined that I was just gonna be a great writer
SIG: What made you think that you were a writer? Was it that you read a lot?
TW: No, what made me think that I was a writer was that I started writing when I was about ten and it became part of my identity. So regardless of other things I wanted to be – I wanted to be a private detective, which I became eventually –
SIG: You were a private detective?
TW: Yeah I’ve got the license…I mean it’s over now
SIG: Oh my god, your novel [Shades] makes a lot more sense suddenly
TW: Yeah, yeah well yeah I always have a hard time giving people jobs because I haven’t had that many you know?
SIG: Yeah just private detective and writer
TW: So yeah but idono I was lucky that way, now once I wasn’t taking drugs anymore and certainly when I wasn’t drunk all the time I got a more realistic take on it, but I still don’t doubt myself in the sense of, I mean I could make a mistake in this but for me, like you know the guys that are boxers, you know? They can lose the round – you know it’s ten rounds, they can even lose the fight, it doesn’t take away that you’re still a great fighter you know? I don’t think I’m great, like I say, but I’d like to be great before I die you know– I might not, I mean I can only be as good as I can be. But that’s what I want, to be as good as I can be. That sounds like I’m joining the army
SIG: How would you know if you were great? Is there something in your life that would tell you were at the level you wanted to be at?
TW: That’s a really good question; I would have to – idono because I don’t really know. This whole great thing, we don’t really know if the great books are great books
SIG: Yeah…So there has been a huge surge over the past few years of young people doing your work constantly across the city. Why do you think that is?
TW: I have no idea. I really don’t. But I really…it’s certainly changed me around though, you know? – I mean you know you can really see the difference between when I was here in the 70’s and now
SIG: What’s the difference?
TW: Everybody’s not running around on stage naked.
SIG: Which one do you prefer?
TW: Well of course from a voyeur standpoint you want to see them naked, but from a writer’s stand point I always thought it was the cheapest game in town because no body listens to the scene. I mean seriously if you’re all just gonna take off your clothes then you can say what the fuck you like in any way you want, you can say the most banal shit, you can talk about peanuts, you know? And you’ll hear people saying ‘oh I loved that scene there was so much…so much tits and ass in that scene it just grabbed me’
SIG: Ok see but as a young person, who didn’t get to live during the 70’s and see theatre, I hear about it as a time that people were excited by what’s happening and now I feel that people aren’t excited.
TW: I agree with you and I’ll tell you why though, besides the nudity,
SIG: Besides the nudity
TW: Because when I came here, I was like 28.
‘I can’t bare it when people my age act as if they’re young. I mean, age is just a number but so’s your bank balance.’
SIG: When you came here meaning Toronto?
TW: Yeah, and the people who ran the theatres were about 28. You know? That’s the difference. Everybody’s got old. I mean uh, I think there should be a mandatory retirement age, I do.
SIG: So you think it’s ok that us young people are trying to take over –
TW: There’s no future without it. There is NO future without it…Young people are looking forward and older people are looking back, you know? For really obvious reasons. And I think the thing is, the older you get, especially when you have kids, it tends to breed a set of conservatism you know? I mean life…time takes you out, you know? And I think, I just think it’s a bad position to be in. I think probably around 40, 45 would be good
SIG: But you’re still doing it
TW: No no no, as an artistic director
SIG: Oh as an artistic director!
TW: No no I don’t mean as a writer
SIG: You mean people running –
TW: Yea if you’ve got this person, say, your own age who say is the artistic director of the Tarragon or something like that, man you’d see a whole different season But I mean, there must be young writers as well.
SIG: There are, I’ve heard of them
TW: Well you being one of them….you know a few years ago I was dating a young woman myself and there was all kinds of jumps in the culture, things I wasn’t even aware of. Like there was no such thing as a rave when I was young any more than she ever went to a Be-In
SIG: But the difference is I don’t want to go to a rave but I would love to go to a Be-In, are you kidding me?
TW: But those things have more or less legendary status because we are the majority. So we are selling it all the time to everybody ‘oh man you missed life’ please, no you didn’t. You are not missing anything from there that we are not missing from here…I can’t bare it when people my age act as if they’re young. I mean, age is just a number but so’s your bank balance. You know?
SIG: Well that’s a quote right there, that’s a t-shirt
TW: Yeah well people don’t say – you know, you don’t go to weight watchers and have them say ‘oh weight’s just a number’ well yeah it is but it tells you you’re fat, you know.
SIG: Oh my god, wonderful
TW: I’m glad you like that
SIG: So this whole thing that I am doing this for – it’s for this company that I run called Thesp, right? Which Dog House Riley and Surface Underground are a part of
SIG: So all the people that love your work, cause you know, it’s founded by me so there you go –
TW: There you have it
SIG: But um, the whole idea is uniting and helping and bringing light to the super underground art scene, specifically small theatre work and there is nothing about it in terms of age, it’s not supposed to be about age its supposed to be about size and visibility and helping people. But everyone who’s involved happens to be really young, which is interesting because if you go to other cities like New York or Chicago the people doing the same kind of work aren’t necessarily really young – you have a much more diversified range of people involved. So, as the old person who we have let into our club as it were, because people gravitate towards you and your work, because of all of the things that you have said in here as opposed to other theatre professionals who try to hold on to things and not let things change –
TW: Oh I see what you’re saying
SIG: What advice would you give to anyone?
TW: Oh idono if I would give anyone any advice. I’ll tell you one thing, I should add this, I have been like immensely flattered that people your age have been interested you know? The fact that they were doing ‘Something Red’ 30 years after it was first performed and I thought it was still a play to watch. There is no way I could mold that so I was – I like that. I don’t intend to write for an audience but it keeps me sharp, you know? Or sharper. It makes me want to write for theatre first of all and it makes me realize that I can be as unconstrained now at my age as I was when I first walked in the door.
‘The Nun’s Vacation’ by Tom Walmsley is currently running until April 8th and is presented by Dog House Riley. It is also a great spot to pick up Tom’s latest novel ‘Dog Eat Rat’. For all show details click here