HHG Theatre featured on CBC’s The Current

Our upcoming production of Robert Schenkkan’s brand new play Building The Wall is quickly becoming one of the world’s hottest pieces of theatre, with  numerous productions planned for across the U.S., Europe, Mexico, and HHG Theatre’s production of the Canadian premiere. Recently, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright spoke to CBC’s The Current about the motivation and success of his politically-charged drama, and the upcoming Ottawa production. Find out more here!

"Building The Wall" playwright Robert Schenkkan

“Building The Wall” playwright Robert Schenkkan

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2017/18 Season Announcement: April 25!

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre has been quietly busy the last few months, putting together one of our most exciting seasons ever, filled with insightful, provocative and passionate theatre and community engagement. We’ve got an inspiring community project about the Muslim experience in Canada, as part of the Canada 150 Celebrations. We’re excited to announce the Canadian premiere of one of the hottest political plays in the US this year. And we have plenty of new projects in the works, and other exciting annoucements. Check it all out right here!

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When Present Meets Past: “Confessions”

There’s been a lot of online discussion surrounding the 1964 “Confessions of a Republican” ad, created by Doyle Dane Bernbach for the 1964 LBJ campaign. The theory is that this ad must be a fake, since the ad’s claim – in which a Republican voter is frightened of extremism within his party – is too much like what’s happening now with Donald Trump.

In 2014 I interviewed the actor who starred in this commercial. I was doing research for my new play DAISY, the true story behind the infamous 1964 television ad campaign. The actor’s name is Bill Bogert. We met in NYC near his home on the Upper West Side. We talked for about an hour. Then I asked if he wanted to watch the “Confessions” commercial. Based on the look he gave me, it had certainly been a while. Here’s the video: 

Bill Bogert “Confessions”

The “Confessions of a Republican” ad is real, folks. The comparisons between Goldwater and Trump are real, except that Trump is a whole lot closer to winning than Goldwater ever dreamed of.

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Speaking Truth to Power: Talking Diversity

From Sean Devine: A couple of years ago Valerie Sing Turner sent me an email with a question of concern over my new play DAISY, which was still in its early development. I think she may have either read a draft or heard about the characters, or something to that effect. At the time, the characters were all white, and all male. And it was going to require a large cast of 7 male actors to perform it.

Valerie wrote to me asking if I’d consider making changes to my characters, in order to add some diversity. She was asking me to change the cultural / gender make-up of characters who were based on real people! DAISY is a true story set in the real world of politics and adversiting of 1964. None of the real people in my true story were non-white or non-male.

At first, I did not respond too well to Valerie Sing Turner’s request, and said as much to her. My first obligation was to be truthful to the history I was dramatizing, and the real people whose lives I was borrowing.

And then I chose to honour Valerie’s request.

I now have a play where the lead role is a female character named Louise Brown, who took the place of a real person named Stan Lee. And another pivotal character – one might even call him the antagonist – is a fictional African-American character based on a real African-American political pioneer; though the original historical figure was certainly not.

Each of these new characters has brought with him and her nuances and complexities that I would never have found otherwise. The issue of race in American during the bloody riots of the 1960s is now a focal point of the play. A strong female character – the protagonist – is driving my story on questions of ethical struggles and opportunism that have nothing to do with her gender, just as if she were a man. But of course the male characters attack her for it, which makes her struggle all the richer.

And this play – perhaps thanks to its rich nuances – is getting a big-budget world premiere at a major American theatre company at a time in history when the subject matter is being reflected right on the streets that the theatre’s doors open onto.

So I wish to extend a heartfelt thank-you to Valerie Sing Turner, and all of the other theatre pioneers who are bravely speaking truth to power when it comes to demanding that our noble art form be truly honourable, as we seek to honour the rich diversity of lives and truths that we walk among.


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History Repeats Itself: DAISY

The cyclical nature of humankind’s foibles and achievements is a common thread to much of HHG Theatre’s work. Several of our plays – shows like Re:Union, Except in the Unlikely Event of War, and works-in-progress like Glacier and It Can’t Happen Here – are set in bygone eras or previous generations. In a sense, we’re choosing to investigate our present state through a “reflective” lens. Perhaps it’s a more direct route to coming to terms with who we are by connecting with who we’ve always been.

This is certainly the case with our new project Daisy. When we started developing this story set during the 1964 U.S. Presidential election we knew that we were using it to comment on contemporary society and democracy, but we had no idea just how similar the past was going to be to the present.

The 1964 U.S. Presidential election featured Barry Goldwater as the Republican candidate, a man who was carried forward to his Party’s nomination on a wave of extremism that he was both the progenitor of and the fortunate beneficiary of. Sound familiar?

Donald Trump (and Ted Cruz) and the current state of the Republican Party are looking frightfully similar to what was going on in 1964.

Of course, the 1964 campaign is most remembered by the infamous “Daisy Girl” ad, which is the central element to our play. But there was another famous advertisement from that campaign which was just as devastating, and which has recently come back into the public consciousness like a bolt of collective lighting.

“Confessions of a Republican” is a brilliant piece of political messaging created by Doyle Dane Bernbach that features an actor (who was a real Republican) delivering a blistering criticism of why he cannot support his nominee Barry Goldwater, even though he’s been a lifelong Republican. As you listen to this brilliant ad, it’s impossible not to hear “Trump” everytime you hear “Goldwater”.

It just so happens that this ad has gone viral over the last few days, with a huge stream online discussion and commentary about the similarities.

Bill Bogert, as the young Republican in 1964.

Bill Bogert, as the young Republican in 1964.

Bill Bogert today, still a Republican, but with no one worthy of his vote.

Bill Bogert today, still a Republican, but with no one worthy of his vote.

Playwright Sean Devine went to New York City in 2014 and got to meet and interview the actor Bill Bogert who played the “Republican” in the ad, and got to watch Mr. Bogert watch himself. Here he is:

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Fifty Years Ago Today…

On November 2, 1965, American Quaker Norman Morrison took his own life in an act of protest that continues to mystify the world today. This event bears special significance for us here at Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre, since Morrison’s actions are the subject of our production of RE:UNION, written by HHG artistic director Sean Devine.

The life and death of Norman Morrison was a subject of deep study and reflection in our company and our home for many years. We developed an ongoing correspondence with Morrison’s surviving family, and several other people who knew him personally. We defended his actions when confronted with audience members that expressed outright condemnation and anger, and empathized with those who were dumbstruck that a man could willingly sacrifice so much. Norman Morrison was a human being, after all, entitled to the same mercies and sympathetic flaws as all of us.

It was said that ony the many poets who wrote about Morrison’s act had the imagination or compassion to truly understand what he did that day in Washington. Here, we offer up one of the many poems that touched us.

Of Late – by George Starbuck

“Stephen Smith, University of Iowa sophomore, burned what he said was his draft card”
and Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland, burned what he said was himself.
You, Robert McNamara, burned what you said was a concentration
of the Enemy Aggressor.
No news medium troubled to put it in quotes.

And Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland, burned what he said was himself.
He said it with simple materials such as would be found in your kitchen.
In your office you were informed.
Reporters got cracking frantically on the mental disturbance angle.
So far nothing turns up.

Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland, burned, and while burning, screamed.
No tip-off. No release.
Nothing to quote, to manage to put in quotes.
Pity the unaccustomed hesitance of the newspaper editorialists.
Pity the press photographers, not called.

Norman Morrison, Quaker, of Baltimore Maryland, burned and was burned and said
all that there is to say in that language.
Twice what is said in yours.
It is a strange sect, Mr. McNamara, under advice to try
the whole of a thought in silence, and to oneself.

ca. 1960s, USA --- Norman Morrison is best known as the Quaker who in 1965 committed self-immolation outside of the Pentagon in protest of the Vietnam War. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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