Cassandra Marcus Davey, the 2023 Robert Beardsley Award winner for their play, Iphigenia in Dreaming, is sure they made the right decision to move from Guelph to Toronto to study theatre and classics.
Davey grew up in Guelph and came to Toronto two years ago to study theatre production at Toronto Metropolitan University. At that point, they had one play produced in a high school drama festival. “In the middle of 2020, I wrote my first play,” they said. “I had been writing short fiction for as long as I can remember.”
After one year at TMU, with a foundation of practical knowledge, they wanted a more theoretical approach to drama. So they transferred to University of Toronto to study theatre and classics.
Asked if they came from a creative family, Davey said their mother was a high school English teacher and now a teacher librarian who supported their artistic pursuits.
“My father, also a librarian, created art and made costumes. I remember him spray- painting a Magneto helmet in the backyard.”
Davey has been in Toronto only since fall 2022, but they have filled that brief period, not only with their course work, but theatre conferences, workshops, writing projects and the vibrant theatre scene. They took part in Nightwood Theatre’s eight-week long ‘Creatryx 3.0’ program which they called “a great opportunity”.
“I’m so delighted I’ve been able to see so many plays,” they said. “The Hooves Belonged to the Deer was extraordinary. I had just finished writing Iphigenia in Dreaming.
The Hooves also had a non-linear narrative and as I watched the play, I was delighted to see a complicated narrative done so effectively.”
Other plays that made an impression include i am your spaniel, or, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare by Gislina Patterson, a drag performance lecture at Summerworks 2023 and Post-Democracy by Hannah Moscovitch. “I had seen a recording of Hannah’s play before I saw it at Tarragon Theatre. I am in awe of her – the way she makes characters speak. I love voice. Writing dialogue gets easier. I’ve written many things where not a lot happens and there is not much description. I’m handing that off to the designers – lighting, sound, and projection. My job is the text.”
In addition to modern work, Davey enjoys the works of the Bard. “Shakespeare got me right before the pandemic started. I read Julius Caesar and Measure for Measure – they are my favourites. [International theatre company, founded in the UK] Cheek by Jowl have a great version of Measure for Measure in Russian. It defies categorization.”
Davey’s favourite Canadian playwrights include Moscovitch for her dialogue – “you read it on the page, it’s perfectly paced”; Alberta-based playwright Makram Ayache – after seeing the world premiere of Hooves, “I would see anything he’s written, it was such a moving piece of theatre”; and Erin Shields who adapts classical works centering them on women (“Queen Goneril was the second play I saw in Toronto”).
“Soulpepper has free under-25 tickets. We had to review a play. I got to speak with Erin Shields at a York University conference. She is writing a play about women during the Trojan War, a commission for Stratford Festival and I’m quite excited about it.”
Another Canadian playwright Davey admires is Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho) who wrote Cockroach as well as Iphigenia and the Furies (on Taurian Land). “Reading his Iphigenia helped with my Iphigenia play – his play is funny and absurd, with excellent pacing, it made ‘baseball bat to the brain’ kind of points,” she said.
Davey is always hunting down other adaptations of classic plays. “There are always different interpretations possible.”
American actor and playwright Ellen McLaughlin, who counts Iphigenia and Other Daughters among her works, has written adaptations of many classical plays. “It’s nice to see someone get so much mileage out of classical plays,” Davey said. “And [Chicano playwright] Luis Alfaro has Oedipus, Electra and Medea adaptations that are all wonderful.”
So what’s next for this young playwright? “I’m now working on a couple things – shorter play about Helen of Troy. It’s a one-person play with Helen on the battleground, explaining why she’s eating a corpse.” The second half of the piece focuses on Clytemnestra after she kills her husband. “I’m also working on an adaption of the latter half of the Oresteia.”
Davey’s work was one of four Curtain Raiser excerpts of plays during Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival 2023 in October 2023. As for plans to workshop or mount their work, Davey is succinct. “I’m 18 – there hasn’t been much time to have plays produced. I just write plays and see what happens.” But that doesn’t mean their plays will remain on the page. “Often I’ll be in a new theatre space and I’ll think, ‘I’d love to have something put on in this room’.”