Maev Beaty doesn’t like the look of that mallet. Photo by Chris Gallow.
The Mill is definitely one of the most exciting things happening right now in Toronto theatre. It’s a series of four plays written by four of the best young playwrights around these parts (Hannah Moscovitch, Matthew MacFadzean, Damien Atkins, and Tara Beagan), each centred on an historic Ontario mill. And while that might sound at first like typical Canadian theatre fodder, there is more than one twist: MacFadzean’s play (Now We Are Brody), the first in the cycle, is set in 1854; Moscovitch’s (The Huron Bride) is set twenty years prior; Beagan’s (The Woods), another three hundred years prior; and Atkins’s (Ash) is actually set in our own future. Plus, there’s lots of ghosts and gore.
Maev Beaty, one of our favourite actors (Montparnasse, Palace of the End), is currently invested in the unique acting challenge of playing the same character, Rebecca Jessop, in both of the first two plays, currently running in rep at the Young Centre. After the fold, we talk with her about what it’s like to be working on this fascinating project.
Photo by Chris Gallow.
Torontoist: You play the same character in both of the first two Mill plays. What’s it like trying to bring continuity to your performance when you’re being written by two different authors? Or, can you?
Maev Beaty: This is a neat question and it has certainly been a unique scenario. Matt’s play was written first, so his Jessup was the first “born.” She’s a fiftyish year old “dour,” lonely and fearful woman. Then Hannah wrote a pre-quel in which we meet this woman at thirty—still a bit of an old-maid age for the time, historically speaking—but here she is full of potential for love, for physical sensuality, and for passion, underneath her conservative Anglican apron and straw bonnet. It was a delicious challenge to find the links and “story in between” for her. There were twenty years of missing history I got to fill in. And yes, the plays work in two different genres—one very expressive and physically free (the “horror”), the other very contained and subtextual (the “ghost story”). So it was a wonderful challenge to find a justification for the genres and “acting styles” required and fold them somehow in character and narrative choices.
The Mill is all about ghost stories. What’s your opinion on the supernatural and genre on stage? Why don’t we see more of it?
Each of these plays has its challenges in terms of genre. Huron Bride relies on suspense and mystery and asks the audience to fill in their own fears and paranoia to boost the “fear factor.” Like all good ghost stories the audience does a lot of its own “haunting.” Now, We Are Brody is attempting to do things we NEVER see on stage—especially in a small theatre. I hate to reveal any secrets *SPOILER ALERT* but there are, shall we say, at least two deaths in Brody. And boy are they done in ways we normally reserve for film. And wheeee! It’s such great fun to participate in that kind of risk-taking theatre. To be honest, though, every night we’ve had to think quick to cover some kind of technical surprise—I think it’s one of the reasons we don’t see more of this—it’s risky, and demanding, and not necessarily guaranteed. But I think that keeps it alive—and brave—and enjoyable for a live experience.
We hear you play the “town busybody.” Is Rebecca Jessop a pain, or can you relate to her?
I would be lying if I said this was my first uptight, sexually repressed, lonely, judgmental character. But I absolutely love her. The playwrights have carefully created someone that, I believe, has damn good reasons for behaving the way she does. And I would say she has the best of intentions, given her emotional toolbox, and the given circumstances of this Mill. Can I relate to her? I AM her!
We’ve seen you work in several newly developed plays. Is this coincidence, or is there something about new play creation that you are drawn to?
This upcoming season I am going to be in three different projects that I was also involved in workshopping. This is an actor’s dream I think. Often actors workshop a play, or do a reading, or a festival production, and then can’t, for any number of reasons, be involved in the mounted production. That’s okay, it’s the way it goes, but it’s a gift when it works out this way. But, yes, I am drawn to new play creation because I believe in the actor as a primary creator—not simply an interpreter. Theatre is a human art form and the live human beings that are in the room when it’s being shaped must influence it. It’s a great privilege to be a part of that.
The first two parts of The Mill run until October 24 at the Young Centre. Both return in March when they will be run in rep with parts three and four.