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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Bold Exploration: Pig Girl

HHG Theatre continues to operate out of both Vancouver and Ottawa, developing and creating work in both cities which reflects our mission to use theatre in order “to reveal the vulnerable heart and champion the brave idea.” HHG Theatre co-founder and associate artist Mindy Parfitt sends in this latest blog post about her ongoing work in Vancouver on one of the most controversial new Canadian plays in years: Colleen Murphy’s PIG GIRL.

When I was a small child there was a family that lived down the street and around the corner. We were a family of four kids as were they. Sarah, my counterpart and I would play in the forests and parks that surrounded our houses. We ate red licorice and popcorn twists. During grades 8 and 9 Sarah and I started to go downtown. Sarah ended up living on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She became a drug addict and a street-based sex worker. Her life came to an end on Robert Pickton’s farm. So when Colleen Murphy gave me her play PIG GIRL to read I was struck deeply by its exploration of violence against woman using Pickton and his farm as a framework.

I saw the premiere of the play in Edmonton and since that time have been in discussions with Rachel Ditor at the Arts Club about a possible life for this play in Vancouver. We chatted about what might need to happen in conjunction with a production, who would need to be involved and what does the play add to the discussion about the missing and murdered woman from our city.

PIG GIRL is a very violent portrayal of the events which took place on that farm. As I was watching the premiere I wondered what it would be like to remove some of the brutality. I had concerns. I didn’t want to silence the woman more. HHG Theatre along with the Arts Club received some funding from BCAC to hold a staging & design workshop and a reading of the play to an invited audience. For several reasons we decided to separate those two events. From October 16-18 I held a staging & design workshop at the Shadbolt Centre (many thanks to them for supporting this project) with four wonderful actors: Kerry Sandomirsky, Quelemia Sparrow, Frank Zotter and Kevin MacDonald. The workshop also engaged frequent HHG Theatre collaborator and associate artist John Webber as our set & lighting designer.


The purpose of these 3 days was to see if my idea for re-staging the play was viable and to spend some concentrated time talking about if and how this piece could be done in Vancouver. It was a rewarding and fruitful experience. We talked a lot about violence on stage, about our society’s perception of poverty, sex work and our relationships with indigenous communities.

The second stage of the process will be a reading and discussion with theatre makers and community organizers. This event is being planned with the Arts Club. More information will follow.

One of the ideas that surfaced was that of waking up. The process of coming out of one state and into a new one is an engaging adventure. But it also entails letting go of a past identity, of things we love and hold dear. The murdered and missing women are part of our city’s story. In order to change, we must understand our collective responsibility for creating an environment that allowed for this horrible event. We must understand what it is we are attached to that enabled and continues to enable atrocities that happen.



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A new direction for our artistic director!

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre artistic managing director Sean Devine  is running as the NDP candidate in the new federal riding of Nepean. Regardless of how this goes, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre will continue along in its mission.

For more info and to find out how you might support Sean visit www.seandevine.ndp.ca


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Westward bound and packing some history

As I sit in an airport in Ottawa waiting to board a flight to Seattle, inside my bag is arguably one of the most valuable and unique archival items I’ve ever had the good fortune to discover through research – EVER! Indiana Jones himself could swipe the item itself from my bag and yell “It belongs in a museum!” and he wouldn’t be exaggerating.

I’m headed to Seattle to take part in a three-day script workshop of DAISY at ACT Theatre. The workshop will be led by ACT’s artistic-director-in-waiting John Langs (original director of RE:UNION), and it’s the last step before we can confirm that there will be an international co-production of DAISY between ACT Theatre and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre in Summer 2016.

DAISY is the true story of the creation of the most infamous political television commercial ever produced, the “Daisy Girl” ad. It was the centerpiece of the 1964 U.S. Presidential election. The ad literally changed – some say for the worse – the way that political ads are created and even experienced. The world of political communications was never again the same after the creation of this spot.

DAISY has been the most thoroughly researched projects I’ve ever created. The access I’ve had has been unprecedented. Today, I’m traveling with a reel of tape created by advertising genius Tony Schwartz that is literally labeled “Johnson Bomb Mix – Three Versions”. It’s an original tape containing three separate versions of what is widely known as one of the most famous soundtracks in modern media history.

And I’ve never played it. I’m hoping to do so in Seattle for the first time.

Stay tuned.

These tapes represent the 'B-side' alternate recordings of the most infamous political ad ever. It's astonishing that they're in my possession.

These tapes represent the ‘B-side’ alternate recordings of the most infamous political ad ever. It’s astonishing that they’re in my possession.

Inside the box. Delicate 1/4 inch tape that I haven't even listened to yet! But it's as rare and valuable as unwitnessed history.

Inside the box. Delicate 1/4 inch tape that I haven’t even listened to yet! But it’s as rare and valuable as unwitnessed history.

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So long Mag North and RE:UNION

And so it goes…Years of preparation. Months of labor. Weeks of sleeplessness. For brief days, nights and moments of joyful execution. RE:UNION has come and gone, and we’re all so grateful for the contributions of so many for having made it such a worthwhile and enjoyable endeavor.

A big thank you to our hosts at Magnetic North Theatre Festival for having brought our show to this great event. Brenda Leadlay, Jennifer Fornelli, Jackie Young, Rachel Savard, Kristen Holfeuer, Owen Schellenberger, Thea Klinger and the numerous volunteers put in a lot of work to keep this great event going.

Thanks to Kevin Ryan at the NAC and Jonathan Lockhart at Academic Hall for making sure the right machines go in the right places.

Thanks to HHG Theatre publicist / associate producer Nancy Kenny and outreach coordinator Megan Piercey Monafu for their behind-the-scenes work.

A HUGE thanks to our ridiculously hard-working and resourceful production team of Lois Dawson, Kyle Ahluwalia, Jess Preece, and John Doucet.

And we could not have done this show without the talents and passions of our creative team: director / playwright / producer Sean Devine, director John Langs, cast Alexa Devine, Andrew Wheeler and Brad Long, and designers John Webber, Jason H. Thompson, Noah Drew, Flo Barrett and Vanessa Imeson.

And finally, we are very happy with how much the City of Ottawa and its artistic community has welcomed Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre. We’re loving our new home, and we look forward to bringing you more great theatre in the months / years / decades to come.

Until next time!

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Mag North Theatre Festival Delegates!

From June 5 – 9, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre’s production of RE:UNION is part of the mainstage program of the 2015 Magnetic North Theatre Festival. We look forward to hosting Ottawa’s theatre-going community, but also the national and international assembly of theatre presenters, producers and artists participating in the Festival’s Industry Series.


Please come and experience RE:UNION, with our three remaining performances:

  • Sunday June 7 @ 4pm
  • Monday June 8 @ 8pm
  • Tuesday June 9 @ 8pm

We’ve prepared a brochure with touring / project information about RE:UNION, as well as abot two other HHG Theatre projects: DAISY and THE ICELAND PROJECT. Please review a PDF of our HHG Theatre Project Info or ask for a hard copy from HHG Theatre co-artistic director Sean Devine in person or via email at sean@horseshoesandhandgrenades.ca

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