"They say to write what you know," says first-time playwright Kevin Drew. "And failure makes for some of the greatest comedy."
The self-deprecating Drew, frontman for the celebrated Canadian indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene, is speaking about his new play A&R Angels, announced this week as one of the productions to be mounted for Crow's Theatre's 2017/18 schedule.
The upcoming season, which is the Toronto company's 35th and its second to be held in its new Streetcar Crowsnest facility, will offer eclectic programming, including a pair of hits brought back from 2016/17 as well as the theatrical comeback of screen actor Kim Coates and Hannah Moscovitch's drama What a Young Wife Ought to Know, which premiered at Halifax's Neptune Theatre in 2015.
A&R Angels is a comedic rock fable about the malaise of middle age and the distress of a pair of songwriters. Drew will co-star with the novice actor and fellow rock star Ben Kowalewicz (of the punk group Billy Talent). They are cast as melodious angels desperate to compose a tune that is anthemic and catchy enough to cheer up humanity.
The play is described as "semi-autobiographical" by Drew, whose Broken Social Scene is set to release Hug of Thunder (its first album in seven years) on July 7. "Failure was sitting in the room with me, and I'd never felt that way artistically before," says Drew, speaking on the phone from Los Angeles, about a rut he was in a few years ago. "I wrote the play as a way to move on."
Premiering in November, A&R Angels is part of a Crow's slate that includes a remount of last season's hit True Crime, co-written and performed by Torquil Campbell, a singer-songwriter with the Canadian indie-pop heroes Stars and an occasional member of the sprawling Broken Social Scene collective.
Drew, who wrote A&R Angels over a period of two years, gave a copy of the script to Campbell and his wife (the Shaw Festival actress Moya O'Connell), who passed it on to Crow's artistic director Chris Abraham.
"It's not a musical, but a portrait of a musician in crisis," Abraham tells The Globe. "It's about the highs and lows of a singer-songwriter, which is something I'm very interested in."
The Crow's season launches in October with plays by two emerging female voices. Rose Napoli's Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells) tells the story of a young woman looking back on her relationship with her high-school English teacher. Ellie Moon's debut work Asking For It is a documentary piece that examines gender roles and sexual consent in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.
Presented in association with Nightwood Theatre, the pairing of plays is dubbed The Consent Event. "It's theatre that is responding to the now," Abraham says.
Crow's first production last January at the Streetcar Crowsnest was The Wedding Party, and, indeed, the company's bond with its new home has been a marriage made in theatre heaven.
"We wanted big-tent offerings for the east-end community, and although we haven't pored over all the postal codes yet, we certainly saw a lot of east-enders at the theatre, again and again," Abraham says. "We wanted to mobilize this audience in the east end, and I think they took ownership and felt a belonging with what we're doing."
What Crow's will be doing next season includes a remount of the rollicking farce The Wedding Party in early 2018. In February, Outside the March and The Company Theatre join forces to produce the Canadian premiere of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, starring Canadian actor Coates (Sons of Anarchy) in his return to the stage after an almost 30-year hiatus.
In March comes What a Young Wife Ought to Know. Produced by Halifax's 2b Theatre Company, the play is an exploration of love, sex and fertility in the early 20th century, inspired by a compilation of letters sent to famous British birth-control advocate Dr. Marie Stopes.
Arriving at Streetcar Crowsnest later in the spring is the Toronto premiere of Simon Stephens's Punk Rock. Produced by the Toronto theatre ensemble the Howland Company and set in the library of a private school in England, Punk Rock concerns the anxiety of students fretting over exams and an uncertain future.
Other productions include Theatre Direct's Old Man and the River (a puppetry work for children by Lynda Hill and Thomas Morgan Jones) and Broadview, a new community theatre project created and performed by residents from Toronto's Riverside neighbourhood.
The contemporary music presenter Soundstreams returns to Streetcar Crowsnest this fall with the world premiere of Claude Vivier's Musik für das Ende. "I'm always on the lookout for works that are going to encourage audiences to move from one genre to another," Abraham says. "From music to theatre, and from theatre to opera."
After the short Toronto remount of Campbell's True Crime in January, Crow's will send the show on the road for dates at Calgary's Vertigo Theatre later in the month and then onto Victoria's Belfry Theatre in March.
As for tapping into the city's indie-music scene, Abraham says it's not by design. "But I'm interested in growing a younger audience," says Abraham, who was intrigued by the "novel story structure" of A&R Angels and who will direct Drew's debut work.
As for Drew, the musician was "shocked" by the fast development of the play. After reading A&R Angels, Abraham suggested changes, which Drew made. Abraham then offered him a contract.
"Does this mean I'm a playwright?" Drew asked.
"Yes, you're a playwright," Abraham replied.
Just like that.