dossier: Claire Hill of Safeword Theatre for DONORS

Well, it’s been a while. 

The flurry of the end of summer festivals and the prospect of a new space in the city has left me wondering when I’d get time again to devote to this  dossier project. I knew it would naturally come up, and I never had any intentions of letting it fall into obscurity, but sometimes time management kicks in and forces my hand in the direction of those things that require a bit more of my physical presence. What with hub14’s Community Chest residency with Adriana Disman’s LINK & PIN starting up, the hub14 Halloween Party and my theatre band’s first show at Theatre Caravel’s Sea Change (as well as that aforementioned “new space”) I’ve had very little time to search for those exciting new shows cropping up all over the city.

Funny then that the first dossier back is of an artist who’s been quite engrained in the very reasons this project has been on hold. 

I met Claire Hill this past summer at the Fringe Tent in Honest Ed’s Alley. Mutual friend Brandon Crone introduced me to her as basically the second half of Safeword Theatre. Safeword has a history of working with hub14, producing their first play TURTLENECK there, and I’m happy to know they are coming back for their sophomore production DONORS this week! (EDIT: although after reading her answers, it seems I was at the same edition of Monday Night of New Works as she was, because I remember her saying that and remember hearing Brandon’s script…)

I recently had the pleasure of working with Claire directly: ON AND ON (my theatre band) engaged her to design our costumes for our initial performance at the last SEA CHANGE (pictures and more info coming soon!). 

So, without further ado, I am very proud to bring you our first scenographer on the site, dossier #24:

Claire Hill, photo by Chris Cater
Photo by Chris Cater

Who are we talking to?

Claire Hill. Set Designer, scenographer, carpenter, techie, admin monkey.

What gets you going in the morning?

Literally? Coffee and my mother yelling at me to get out of bed. I don’t really believe in mornings and will do anything to avoid being awake for them. In the grander sense of what gets me going, I’d say it’s the desire to work with the people I love. I feel very lucky to be in a community with people who are not only easy to work with but fun to work with.

What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, this is what I’m going to do with my life?

It comes and goes at different phases of my career. I realized I should be in theatre (just in general) half way through second year of University, while writing an essay about something I hated, probably Wittgenstein, and staring off into the room for about twenty minutes and realizing I needed to switch majors before I died of boredom.

I’ve always been a firm believer that you should try many other things before you commit to a life in theatre, and that it needs to be the thing you must do.

Have there been times you seriously question why you pursue this lifestyle/art form? If so, what was it that keeps you in it, or has brought you back?

Constantly. Design is a difficult career. I started as a technician and learned scenic carpentry so I would know HOW things are built and could interact with technical staff. I had a great time in theatre school but when I graduated and worked professionally I was very frustrated, and I encountered problems I never could have prepared for. After my first year working as a technician I’d had enough, and was very discouraged about the arts in general, so I went back to school and completely relocated and changed everything in my life. Whenever I’ve been discouraged it usually had something to do with the scene of the city I was in, so I’ve moved around a lot and tried different places. I’ve tried a lot of different paths in theatre from techie to admin to design to academic. After I lived out west and only designed a few tiny projects, I came back to Toronto and found a community I really connect with. I love the variety and freedom I have here. This is the first time I feel like I’ve worked with like-minded folk. A professor of mine told me you need to find your tribe, and I think that is a very important element in making a design career work.


The obvious answer is that it’s Brandon Crone, who I would pretty much walk over hot coals for. The rest of it is that I love this script, I love the freedom he gives me as a scenographer to create what is best for the play. The trust is really there between us now that we’ve worked together and there’s a strong give and take between us. Very few directors give you absolute freedom to essentially design anything that comes to your mind, but he gives me that.

What kind of atmosphere do you wish to create with DONORS?

Dirty and uneasy. This script makes my skin crawl, and when I first finished reading it I kind of wanted to take a mental bath. I’m a very clean person, very organized and meticulous, so this set is my way of throwing that away and embracing a bit of chaos and a lot of mess. The challenge in design is to create an atmosphere that illustrates the mood of the show but doesn’t foreshadow the events of the play, so it’s a delicate balancing act. Then there’s just the fact that I want to do something people haven’t seen.

donors maquette
DONORS set maquette by Claire Hill

One of my major goals as a designer is to prove that Indie design can be scenographic, affordable, fresh and of the same caliber as professional design. I am so bored with black stages and ugly risers and flats. I encounter so many people who think that as soon as they make cuts to the budget the first thing that goes is set design- and of course if you’re working with realism the set is going to be the first thing you cut. But if the team is willing to do away with realism there is so much freedom. I have a long list of cheap materials I want to use and am slowly going through it. This time it was twigs and sticks and chicken wire, last time it was clear shower curtains. Fortunately I build what I design, I even have a garage at my parent’s house and a very willing recently retired father who drives me around to get materials. I essentially got this set for free because we sourced it all through people who were throwing things away. Then we built it at home.

turtleneck set
the set of TURTLENECK

How did you and Brandon Crone meet?

I met Brandon through his roommate, Alex Dault (of Single Thread Theatre Company). Three weeks after moving here my good friend took me out to Monday Night of New Works, and we were going around the circle introducing ourselves and I started by saying, “I can build things” and before I knew it Alex literally leaped across the room at me, business card in hand, insisting I get in touch with him. Brandon wasn’t at that edition of Monday Night but Alex was sent with a script from one of Brandon’s plays and when we read it, I was floored. I knew I had to track Brandon down, so I went to another reading the following week at Canadian Stage and basically walked up to him and was like, “I’m Claire. I’m bored. I want to design your sets.” I think that may be the oddest introduction I’ve ever made, but Brandon is the kind of person who rolls with that, so we met a while later about Turtleneck and his warmth and excitement made me really want to be a part of what he does.

Do you have a favourite story so far in regards to working together in the past?

Last winter, while working on Turtleneck, we opened during a snow storm. I had to run to Midoco at Bloor and Bathurst and get some big white sheets of foamcore to cover the windows adequately, so I did that. Of course when I got on the streetcar with two big pieces of foamcore as tall as me and the width of my armspan no one was happy. When I finally fought my way off at Queen I walked down this little alley way to Hub14, and tried to approach the building but was literally blown away. The foamcore was like a sail, and I just started wailing for help. Everyone inside thought I’d slipped on the steps up to the building and broken something, so they were pretty amused when they opened the door and found me struggling against the wind, being blown back about five feet, with these huge pieces of foamcore.

I also made the (slightly regrettable) decision to use the real doors of hub14 to the outside and make Brandon stage things on the fire escape in the middle of February. Basically, I didn’t feel like building a false wall with fake doors, and I’d been living in Victoria for two years and forgotten what a Toronto winter is like. The actors were so amazing about that though, and all of them had to sit in a tiny shed with just a space heater during snow storms and bitterly cold nights. Brandon stood outside for the opening scene of every play and assured people on the street that when our actors were screaming at each other it was just for a play, and not real domestic violence. I think it worked out though, since that was an element of the staging audiences really responded to.

Describe DONORS in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.

Donors is a rat in your walls. It chews a hole inside, nests its way through your insulation and your things and your food and keeps you up at night as it crawls around. It makes you angry and grosses you out and sends you off on a murderous rampage, but when you finally encounter the little bastard in the walls, there’s a sad humanity in its eyes that you can’t deny, and you almost feel bad for what you have to do.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?

This, obviously.!productions/cezk

And this, because I think more Scenographers and designers should model themselves off of the fearless Honey Badger.

DONORS Trailer #2:

donors image

dossier: Andrew Young and Shayne Monaghan for MONDAY NIGHT OF NEW WORKS

Welcome back! After a short break, the dossier series is back up and running, starting with an exciting event indeed.

What Andrew and Shayne do with their Monday Night of New Works is an absolutely indispensable commodity. Usually falling on an “every-six-weeks” kind of schedule, Monday Night of New Works (which oddly finds itself on a Tuesday this month) does the impossible by creating an open, round-table-minus-the-table atmosphere more than welcoming to those stumbling in off the streets. It is a place to bring a script and know that everyone sitting in the circle is completely open for whatever is thrown at them; it is a place to go knowing that everyone present is an actor, a playwright, a producer, a general enthusiast of theatre ready to read, hear and talk about your piece, if you want them to. There is no screening process. An email, saying you’d like to have something read is enough to guarantee space (unless they have received too many – and even then they’ll tell you to bring something anyway, because, really, who knows what’ll happen?).

Andrew and Shayne do a lovely job of making the space comfortable. As soon as you walk in you’ll be introduced to everyone there and yet to come. They usually have coffee, water and some sort of candy. The city is all the more richer for having an event so open and warm as this one. I’ve been lucky to have one of my troublesome scripts read at the last instalment, and am grateful for what I received.

That said, let’s meet the boys.

Here’s dossier #9:

Andrew Young Shayne Monaghan

Who are we talking with?

Andrew Young [above], Co-founder of Monday Night of New Works, Actor, Puppeteer, Artistic Director of My Brother the Changeling.

Shayne Monaghan [below], Co-founder of Monday Night of New Works, Actor, Playwright, Educator, Artistic Director of ChickenWing Theatre. 

What draws you to theatre?

Andrew: The direct connection with the audience, the instant reaction you are able to hear. The fact that anything can go wrong at any moment and you have to be able to adapt, rediscovering the character show after show. Everything is in flux, hopefully within the set blocking.

Shayne: A show? Well mostly I hear good reviews and do my past to see what I can. Theatre as a career? I love the adrenaline you feel when on stage. My high school made me fall in love with theatre. I was luckily enough to be part of a touring ensemble of His, Tom Slater’s, original production of “…A Permanent Solution.” and before every show he would say today you’re going to change some ones life. That gave me goosebumps.

What is the earliest memory you have of wanting, or needing to do this?

A: To perform? For me, I think I was 14 or 15, I think on a school trip to see a play. I grew up in a rural area so once a year my high school packed up a bus full of kids and made our way to the city for the day and see two shows. On the trip I saw a one-woman play called “the shape of a Girl” by Joan MacLeod. It a fairly dark story but the way it was simply one girl talking about these experiences I was enthralled by the storytelling of the show. Since then I said that’s what I want to do, tell stories.

S: It was December of 2010, and Andrew and I were sitting in our living room and, after reading our own shows for the Nth time we said to each other, “Lets invite people from school and class to come over and we can get them to do a play reading for us, and we can invite others to bring work too! We can make a night of it.”

Why Monday Night of New Works?

A: After being out of Humber for a few months, Shayne and I had gotten a few people together to read our scripts. We were sitting at the pub talking about said scripts that we were developing , or trying to write an ending to rather. Shayne and I had both read numerous drafts, new scenes over and over and found it really refreshing to hear new voices in our plays. In school we were lucky to have a playwriting class where we would bring in something and it would be read in front of the class. It was great hearing different voices week to week each with different interpretations of the characters. We said wouldn’t it be great if we could get a network of people to do the same thing on a regular basis and just keep developing these new works. Giving ourselves imposed deadlines in the process.

S: We wanted to hold it on a Monday because most theatres are dark on Mondays so we were trying to optimize our intake. Plus what else is there to do on a Monday?

What can we expect from Monday Night of New Works? (is there a mandate for what you host, what’s the layout of the event?)

A: It’s an open forum to talk about play- or screen-writing. A place to experiment with an idea and hear something off the page. A place so that you can stop forcing your roommates or friends to read your play over and over again.

S: What Andrew said, plus somewhere for fresh eyes, ears and opinions. Our slogan is: Nothing too Rough, Nothing too Short.

What is your favourite memory from a past Monday Night of New Works?

A: It’s anytime I hear a script that is brought back for a second or third time and I get to hear how it has changed and/or grown since. Or seeing something that I heard pieces of or maybe even first draft that has developed and since been mounted as a full production. Seeing it up on stage is such a great experience.

S: My favorite memory has to be our first time in the fringe creation lab when a gentleman came with a script he was developing for a community project, and we found out he came from Barrie. I was flabbergasted that we drew some one from there. Also, a friend of Andrew’s comes from Windsor. Just the dedication that people have and the repeat attendees astonishes me.

Describe Monday Night of New Works in three adjectives or a phrase.

1) Nothing too Rough, Nothing too Short

2) Social

3) Community

Do you have anything you want to share with us? A story? A photo? A song? A video?

A: Our Next Monday Night of New Works is held at the Fringe Creation Lab on March 26th (on the Tuesday[!!!]) at 7:00pm. Come Check it out if you would like to see what we are about.

During New Works we make a point of holding a brief talking point called “Shameless Self Promotion.” This is were anyone who is working on anything has the opportunity to plug anything they are working on, developing or have an idea they want to work on without trying to sound too pushy about it. In that vein we are going to continue with this Idea.

I am currently working on a show with Theatre Lab that is going up in a double bill in the Factory theatre studio space. The show is called, “To the Last Cry”. It opens March 20th and plays till the 24th with shows at 8:00pm with a 2:00pm show on the 24th as well. It’s a double bill show, so there’s Theatre Lab’s show and another put on by Pandemic theatre called “Tjorvi ” the same night. More details at

S: What I would like to share is that we try to support all the shows that come through, and the more that come, and the more people support us, the more I feel we can do. Monday Night of New Works has helped in the Launch of several successful shows. Brandon Crone’s “Turtleneck,” (2013), Alex Daults “The Campbell House Story” (2012), Victoria Velenosi “Princess of Porn” (Fringe 2012), Micheal Atlin “Zugzwang” (SummerWorks 2011), as well is this upcoming Fringe’s “The 8th Day” by Shayne Monaghan, ChickenWing Theatre.

Also Check out New Works at

Or find us on Facebook at

Or on twitter @MondayNewWorks

mnnw poster