Here Julie Devaney (My Leaky Body) and Jeremy Taylor (The Beekeepers) interview each other. They’re both really bad at following rules so did this in a combination of real-time back-and-forth and week-long delays between questions. And what did they discover? That dying bees and growing old have a good deal in common with leaky bodies and healthcare. That life is really funny, even when it sucks. And that bee-keepers and doctors make unexpectedly provocative material…
Julie — What’s the most compelling thing to you about the story you’re telling here?
Jeremy — What compels me about this piece I think most of all is the deep humanness which lives on in the two characters long after their world has ceased to be anything like ours. Something about adaptation through necessity, which is a concept which has become pretty foreign to us. I feel that they’re pretty real people despite their unreal surroundings.
Jeremy — You’ve presented so many different incarnations of My Leaky Body … what’s the core element that hasn’t changed?
Julie — Well it’s always funny. In a kind of sticky, dark way. And it’s always vulnerable. To me the most important core element of the piece is to demonstrate that hard experiences are always many things at once. So whether I’m checking out the resident who’s explaining the surgery to me or bugging my partner about snoring on my stretcher, I’m still me. And it still makes me laugh, and there’s still something poetic and comedic and completely awful, all at the same time.
Julie — So why bees?
Jeremy — Well, the bees really are dying. That’s where the whole project really came from. But bees are unspeakably fascinating. Their social system is arguably more complex than ours and as such just about always affords a really beautiful allegory any time you say anything about them: communication, sexuality, politics, work, and so on. And beekeepers are infinitely fascinating people. Every one we came into contact with during the research and rehearsal period demonstrated the same deep love and respect for the creatures. It’s kind of heartbreaking to see the age-old profession dying. I could go on and on.
Jeremy — To what extent do your personal experiences with illness and healthcare drive your piece?
Julie — Well I really like what you’re saying about how the bees provide allegories between seemingly disparate things. And I think my healthcare experiences were similar. My experiences during my illness and within the healthcare system illustrated major issues in the way we function as a society. So the fact that I was really ill created this opportunity where everything in my usual external routine with the world halted. And I became a witness. So I became really driven to expose what I was seeing, and I started writing. And I always pictured myself sitting in my gown and sharing it in public. Now I actually do perform for medical students and professionals.
Julie — Have you had feedback from any of those beekeepers about the piece?
Jeremy — One or two. A woman saw it in Montreal who had kept bees when she was younger (and who in fact had done a graduate-level dissertation on bees and the potential health benefits of their stings, which is an interesting thing), and she and her husband loved it — maybe more than any other audience members during that run. In particular they seemed to have easy access to the comedic side of the show, which is something that seemed to be less obvious for other people. Across the board, though, every bee-oriented professional we spoke to was thrilled that someone was taking an interest — particularly the younger generation.
Jeremy — The dark comedy thing is clearly central in both our plays. What do you feel it offers that another format — say a straightforward tragedy — can’t?
Julie — Well I think story-telling in general creates an opening that say a lecture or a straightforward article can’t. In terms of theatre, for me, having a comedic lightness creates a space for the audience to come in. It reminds people that I am actually alright and that laughing and crying are equally legitimate releases. I think the healthcare subject matter is also extremely triggering. Everyone has either been through it themselves or with a loved one, and often come out feeling somewhat traumatized. I like to create an outlet for people to rage and laugh at those experiences at the same time. Straightforward tragedy can also have a very false ring to it at times. Life is funny. To me, that’s just real.
Julie — How about you, how does dark and funny work for you in The Beekeepers?
Jeremy — I think that’s just it — life is always tragic and hilarious at the same time. Very few things are just one or the other. The funniest things in life, for me, are the things which at their essence are the most true. There’s something unbearably funny and awkward and tragic to me about two people growing old together and growing apart together in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and all the while taking themselves uncompromisingly seriously. I feel like we could all end up there, I guess. Best to laugh at it.
Jeremy — Who else is involved in this version of My Leaky Body?
Julie — Margot Massie and Suzanne Roberts Smith are co-directing the piece. They’ve already supported me in drawing out an hour’s worth of material where there used to be much more. And they have specific theatre expertise so I really value their vision about what will work on-stage for theatre audiences. I’ll also got some wonderful feedback from various people at a workshop we did last week. Always involved is my partner, Blair Dowell, who is an artist as well as a carpenter as well as an invisible co-star who accepts the fact that I imitate him in the show and is even stage managing.
Julie — Do you have the same crew as Montreal fringe?
Jeremy — We do. Which is very exciting. Christine Armstrong (Wendy) and Andy Trithardt (Burt) premiered the show in Montreal and are both returning for this run. Our design team remains the same, too, which is great — Lara Kaluza (set and costumes), Sarah Yaffe (lights), and *safe solvent™ (photography and graphics). We are adding one new member to the team, stage manager Kinnon Elliott, who is an old friend and a very accomplished Toronto-based SM. I took on the stage management duties myself in Montreal but am thrilled to hand the job over to someone who actually knows what she’s doing.
Jeremy — The dreaded “message” question: if you could sum your play up in 7 words, what are you trying to say to the world?
Julie — Healthcare delivery needs to change. Theatre rocks. That really was seven words. Theatre rocks because we can talk about serious issues in a really provocative and entertaining way that shifts perspectives and opens dialogue.
Julie — Okay Jeremy, you get the last word. Or last seven… your turn, what’s your message?
Jeremy — The bees are dying. That’s bad news.