Eddie, I Hate You: How To Write For Theatre When Theatre isn’t Right

My upcoming memoir “Eddie, I Hate You” was written right on the cusp of me figuring out that I wasn’t happy writing theatre anymore. I thought I abandoned the form but now, reading through the book, I’m not sure.

When I went to The National Theatre School of Canada (NTS) to study playwriting, I lived, really lived, gave everything for theatre, for the effort of fiction, the performance of fiction, the ability to show an entire room of people that if we put enough money and time into building an impossibility, it easily becomes possible.

I love fiction. I have relied on fiction to uplift my mood from a young age.

Until I was nineteen years old, I suffered terrible depressions. Fiction was my escape.

It feels like as soon as I turned 20, fiction became delusion, became psychotic break.

Hiding in my apartment at St. George and Bloor, kneeling on the floor, hugging the foot of my mattress, watching the closed door, I am sure that Toronto is about to be destroyed by a freak tsunami. People are screaming outside. There’s a tidal wave in the street. We all knew it was coming. It is here today. The people outside will die. The streets will be flooded. I need to think quickly. There is a solution. I can think of the solution. I know that I am living in a world that is unappreciated by most people. But, I do not realize that my world is fiction.

I’m sick.

My phone rings. It’s ringing from the living room. Someone needs me. I have to leave safety to answer the call.

Outside, sunshine. Everything is dry.

I know something is wrong with me. I also know there was a tidal wave. The things I know are not matching with the things I know.

I sit in a rocking chair. I pick up the phone. I tell my brother that something is wrong. I haven’t been sleeping. Or eating. I am shaking. If I have to leave my apartment, I will die.

My mother takes me to the hospital. I speak to the doctor right away.

The doctor re-thinks her diagnosis. Maybe it isn’t depression. Maybe my medication is pushing me too far. Into fiction. I need to come back.

My early-twenties is when I learn that I have bi polar disorder and a panic disorder.

I realize that my true saviour is reality. If I can learn about it, cling to it, I can stay sane.

I study science. I keep making theatre.

I mend the fact with dramatic magic, writing comedic plays about mental health and the end of the world, my two specialties. I assist my narratives into theatricality with absurdities and humour. None of it is fiction. All of it is too true. But, the truth is told on a tidal wave of impossibilities. The recipe becomes my calling card.

I still write fiction but none of it is very good. I have a hard time diving into imagination the same way. Fear must be blocking me. Lithium is also blocking me. But, then again, fear and lithium are also saving my life and pushing me further into exploring truth so, ok you two (smiling and shaking my head amicably) let’s figure out how to live with each other.

Mid-way into my twenties, I am in Montreal at NTS, dedicating three years to studying the craft of playwriting and I start to recognize a personal struggle that I am having watching things.

For some reason, despite the fact that I am a playwright, whenever I watch a play, I have no idea what is happening. I can’t seem to follow a performance.

The same thing happens with TV and film but I usually figure that’s just because I am not interested in the screen. Of course, as a playwright, it’s embarrassing to admit that I do not know how to watch a play.

Once I graduate, I slow down my aggressive pursuit of theatre. I am losing interest. I start writing novels. I start writing a creative non-fiction blog. I focus on memoir. I feel like a fraud every time I call myself a playwright, applying for grants, agreeing to projects because, while I love theatre in theory, I hate going to the theatre.

I learn a few years later that I am losing my vision.

Of course I have trouble watching things. I’m not a fraud. I’m legally blind.

Once I am diagnosed, I feel more pressure to write.

I figure, I should accomplish this dream I have of publishing a book before I can no longer read books but, what really keeps me up at night is the truth: Those of us who can’t watch spectacle deserve to at least imagine the truth as it appears dressed up on stage. We should, at least, be afforded the same sensations that people have when they go to the theatre: Empathy, excitement, vulnerability, joy.

I now consider it my job to craft theatrical texts which, whether they are being heard or read, offer the same mind-body transportation that I know is offered in the theatre even though I have not experienced it for years (other than in my own plays where I know exactly what is happening on stage because, of course, I wrote it).   

In Eddie, I Hate You, I tell too true stories, all of them guided by an exorcism I performed on myself in 2017: I wrote this serie to eliminate all the men from my past, rip them out of my body, never think about them. I knew I could renew my heart if I rid the organ of its scar tissue, cut it all out, give it all away.

My intention in each of these essays is to call on the hearts of my readers, grip their scar tissue too and rip it out along with mine. The book is a communal goodbye to the people who have abandoned us. We sit together and recognize their faults, laugh at our survival, move on. The text is theatre.

If I deliver this truth in an empathetic package, I can do with my writing what I have done with theatre: I can show the reader what’s possible by performing a dramatic version of the truth within the pages of my book.

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