By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“What’s the show I really needed to see at that age?”
That’s the question Mac Brock asked himself at 22, looking back on his 17-year-old self. So he wrote that show. Boy Trouble premieres at Nextfest and opens the festival’s 2019 mainstage lineup tonight.
“It comes from frustration,” says the exuberant theatre artist, who arrived in Edmonton a year and a half ago from his home town of Regina to study arts management at MacEwan, bringing with him a background in devised theatre and improv. “In terms of queer content (onstage), we’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re only getting really ‘clean’ representation…. We can’t show queer characters messing up because we’re still just warming up to them.”
“A queer character who makes the wrong choice, or does something we don’t like? It’s as if queer rights are at stake! O my gawd, that’s it for us. We’ve set back progress!”
The “perfect rom-com version” of what it’s like to be living a queer coming-out coming-of-age story didn’t cut it for Brock. “You meet someone who brings you out of your shell, and you live happily ever after and everyone’s really excited for you? It wasn’t my experience,” he says. “And it wasn’t the experience of a lot of people I know.”
“It feels really isolating. And It’s really messy and you feel like no one else had it messy too.” The urge to telling that story is what propelled Boy Trouble into existence. “It is, I think, really important, and something we’ve been missing. And it’s exciting to dive into that!”
Brock is a poster child for the Nextfest springboard effect. At last year’s edition his immersive play Tracks, “an experiment in eavesdropping,” was one of the festival’s “progress showing,” a developmental step somewhere between a reading and a full production. The eight-actor ensemble took audiences through all the nooks and crannies of the Backstage Theatre — dressing rooms, bathrooms, the box office, Brock’s car parked outside — as he explains. “You could be free-roaming, just wander around, overhearing intimate moments: what’s the minute thing you don’t let anybody know about?”
Tracks has won the Westbury Family Fringe Award, and its next incarnation (“our hiring priority is early-career emerging queer artists”) will be part of Fringe Theatre’s upcoming season.
Boy Trouble, by contrast, is “traditional in structure.” After all, “it is a script and it is directed — thank god not by me! Having Julie (Julie Ferguson) is beyond a lifesaver…. My brain lives so much in text and words. Julie lives so much in body and space. And that combination is such good harmony!”
Kay, the protagonist of Boy Trouble, is 17, and “is sprung into the world of online dating and shadowy anonymous sex. And he finds some power in it, and that leads down a slippery path where he’s left to figure out things for himself when he could use a hand.”
Brock, an articulate and funny sort, says his play explores “toxic masculinity and how it rears its head with gay men in a sense of entitlement and power. Having been isolated, marginalized, by family, by friends, by workplaces, it’s ‘this is our club’. Often there’s an Us vs. Them Me vs. You to it,” he thinks. “Is that an environment where they’re free to explore (for themselves)?”
Brock, whose day job is in communication and media at the Citadel, traces the birth of his new play back to last fall’s Workshop West’s playwriting bootcamp. “It started as a four or five-actor piece. But the more I worked on it, it became clear that that it was really about one character. And, hey, that was a challenge! I’ve never written a solo piece before.”
He applauds the Alberta Playwrights Network’s RBC mentorship program for providing a mentor in playwright David Van Belle. “So generous and caring!”
“We see other people coming in and out of his world. But everything is through Kay’s eyes,” says Brock who laughs in horror at the thought he might have written it for himself to be onstage, alone. “Omygod I never could!” The actor who’s occupying the juicy solo role is Max Hanic, a U of A theatre student with improv cred going into his third year. “I’m so proud to have Max telling the story! I knew from the start he was the one….”
And that story is of the moment. “While gay men do have power that wasn’t there 50 years ago, we’re ready to explore what’s next….”
Boy Trouble runs at Nextfest headquarters, the Roxy on Gateway, tonight (6 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.), plus June 8 and 9. Full schedule and tickets at nextfest.org.