Kitchener based Ciarán Myers is a dad, an award-winning theatre artist and writer, as well as the co-Artistic Director of the new theatre collective, Informal Upright. His background spans dance, acting, poetry, mime, and now fatherhood! Both of his parents are artists (Dad a poet and Mom a multi-media visual artist) and all six of his amazing siblings are artists in their own separate forms. His work is willingly influenced by a keen interest in puppetry, performance art, Romantic poetry, and the intersection of creative narratives and social politics.
I'd been interacting with Ciarán online for a while, so I was glad to get a chance to sit down with him and have an in person chat. Read on to find out about his journey as an artist, his inspirations, his advice for aspiring artists and creatives, and more.
1. You come from family of creatives and artists. It almost seems like you were destined for a life in the arts. Did you ever want to do pursue any other careers?
Teaching. Teaching the arts. It's funny, my parents made an effort to expose us to all the arts, but never pushed us into any one thing. In fact, my Mom was almost frustrating in the fact that she tells you not to pick your vocation. And my Dad was a teacher for 30 years. I went to University planning to go to teacher's college and then spent four years learning how to be an artist and became really attracted to that. I never really looked back.
2. Are you working full time as an artist now?
I am. I am and I'm not actually, to be fair. I'm really grateful. I work at the Conrad Centre doing front of house. I move the seats and I sweep the stage or whatever needs to be done. I consider that work in culture. I teach a couple classes a week and I'm writing grants a lot. And I do social media for Inter Arts Matrix.
3. What's been the highlight of your career so far?
I don't know. I think maybe actually right now! It’s the first time I've been a full time cultural worker. It's the first time somebody outside of my immediate circle has ever wanted to interview me. I have a Canadian premiere of a play that I did, that I produced myself in 2015 in Edinburgh, and this is the first time that somebody other than myself is producing my work where I'm not writing the grant, I'm not running the box office, I'm not stage managing, I've just written something and Green Light Arts is producing it. That's a highlight.
On when you know you've made it:
In my Master's degree, we had a master class from a playwright named Janet Neipris . She's amazing. She told us that she had no idea when she made it. She just one day looked at her Facebook and went "wow all my friends are incredible, I guess I must have made it". When she's telling us this, she's already had a premiere at The Royal Court and the National Theatre, really amazing successes. I think you're just sort of still chasing the end of the month financially, and you're still trying to make that play slightly better before it hits the stage, and you're just sort of on that treadmill. I think I'm inspired enough by her talk that I don't want to ever say I've made it.
4. What's your typical day like?
There is no typical day. I'll wake up, I'll make breakfast for my family, I will probably come to the library and then it's either Inter Arts Matrix, writing—which is usually editing—or it's writing grants and applications which I've been doing more of lately than any creative writing. I'll come home and make dinner and in the evenings I'm usually teaching or doing more social media for Inter Arts Matrix or something like that. My family goes to bed a couple of hours before I do and that's when I turn off my brain and watch a really bad movie. I also try not to say no to my toddler when it comes to my time. Which isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be.
5. You lived in London and Edinburgh during your master's degree. What is the arts scene like there, compared to the Waterloo Region arts scene?
I'm glad you asked. I think we need to think about our context as bigger than our region. I think that art is necessarily local and that's wonderful. Especially theatre, which is about community, so I'm about community, but if we're contributing to our community then we need to be engaged with bigger communities.
London, while too expensive to stay there, was very freeing. I went to a matinee of a clown show I'd say was 60% improvised; it was half naked, tons of audience interaction, it was a really good time. People were showing up in drag. It felt like a festival. There was a lot of drinking, it was a wild, great little clown show. That evening I went to see David Tennant perform Shakespeare and both shows were sold out, both shows had some of the same people in the audience, both shows were in the city centre, they both had a buzz around them. I went home at the end of the day and thought "I can do anything and there's an audience for it". So that's London and that's what I love about London. Another playwright I met there said that what inspires him about London is that he can't understand how the city functions. It has so many layers. You can't say what's really the centre of the city, whereas in KW you can say we were a manufacturing hub and now we're becoming a tech hub: this is what we are. That's inspiring too. Again, it comes back to context, that your context is necessarily bigger than you, which I think is really important.
Edinburgh is a similar size as Kitchener Waterloo. It's the country’s capital and it's a culturally proud society. They invest a lot in their capital culturally. The population is roughly the same. It's similarly de-centralized. And yet they have three busy roadhouses that you could compare to our Centre in the Square, they've got a major New Writing theatre a little like the Tarragon. They've got a handful of small collectives who are getting some national attention despite not having bricks and mortar. And I think a fairly thriving indie music scene. It was almost disheartening to leave that city and come to Kitchener Waterloo where there's a lot of frustration in the arts, but I think that the way Scotland invested in its capital, and because of the way that it's an old country that has been able to identify itself really well outside of the way it was colonized, there's such a pride in the artwork. Canada is still colonized. And we are such a young country that our best playwrights are mostly still alive. I think that the work we create now is perhaps more important than we think it is. And we will get to Edinburgh in a hundred years. You have to sort of breathe through your frustration and keep your eye on the prize.
I'd say the funding in the UK is pretty similar to here but the cultural engagement there is much stronger. They have so much private support, more businesses investing in the arts because people pay attention to the arts. There are more people buying tickets.
6. Who or what inspires you?
Locally, I'm really inspired by Janice Lee. She works extremely hard. She's caused a lot of cultural growth here. I'm being mentored unofficially on a small scale by Isabella Stefanescu at Inter Arts Matrix and Matt White at Green Light Arts. Isabella's got a certain tone that can make you feel like you can do anything. I think Green Light Arts has a certain drive that can help you actually—within your context—do what you want to do. I'm lucky to have those relationships.
I've been thinking a lot lately about Shaw, and this comes back to my answer about comparing Edinburgh to Kitchener. He wrote a lot of amazing plays. Plays with a lot of horsepower and complexity, but also he wrote criticism of the artists around him because he was interested in developing his context. And he helped found the National Theatre in London, which is a giant theatre. So his work is so much bigger than his writing and the energy he must have had to do all that is incredible. I think we can look at artists like that and see that maybe we shouldn't spend so much energy complaining about our lot in life but to develop it.
Coming back again to this idea of context, I also think that Daniel MacIvor, Lucy Prebble, Tim Crouch, and Zinnie Harris can't be ignored right now. I think especially Lucy Prebble and Zinnie Harris: their plays are about as close to perfect as they can be. I would encourage people living in a regional environment to be looking up writers like them.
7. When I searched Informal Upright online, I found a lot of information about Bonsai trees. In this style, the trees bend or change their direction away from the wind, other trees, buildings, or towards light. The trunk grows upright roughly in the shape of a letter ‘S’ and at every turn foliage occurs. This bend helps to give the style of informality. On the Informal Upright website, you state that in your programming you are committed to bending the conventional theatrical form. Is that a direct naming connection?
Our associate director Shawn is interested in bonsai trees. We're all interested in bonsai trees, but I think he has a special interest in them (I shouldn't speak for him) but perhaps partially as a tool for meditation. We think just the words informal upright have a musicality, and that's really important. Because we were interested in political theatre, that's the “upright,” and then the relationship with form is “informal.”
8. What's your dream project, either on your own or through Informal Upright?
That's a great question. I think what I would do is take a big, challenging, well known play, like an Ibsen or a Shaw or something, produce it inventively, perhaps immersively, and then, if money's really no object, then I would commission a handful of theatre collectives to create a new piece that responds to the production. Then say over a 15-20 year period, we would be writing and creating to each other's work. For example, Sonderlust is a small local theatre collective. I might ask them to create a piece based on Pygmalion, or whatever, and then Informal Upright would do one, Green Light Arts would do one, Inter Arts Matrix would do one, and maybe we'd leapfrog each other every ten months.
9. Any advice for aspiring artists or creatives?
Be gratuitously impatient with yourself, and be disarmingly patient with everybody else.
Seek out as much advice as you can, but only take a third of it to heart. Love what you do. It can get frustrating. It's OK to take time off and go be a farmer for a year, or whatever. You have to love what you do. Art never goes away, you can always come back.
10. What's next for you?
I'm teaching a playwright intensive at The Registry over Christmas. Green Light Arts is producing my play "Touch" in January, and I have a little ten-minute piece at the New Ideas Festival in Toronto in March.
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Interview by Glodeane Brown