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In Memoriam: Daniel David Moses & Brent Carver

Aug 17, 2020

CROW'S THEATRE’S FOUNDING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR (1983-2007), JIM MILLAN, REFLECTS ON THE PASSING OF TWO EXTRAORDINARY ARTISTS AND FRIENDS.

This summer, Crow’s Theatre lost two artists who changed the course of the company, artists with whom we were fortunate to share time and loved deeply. The myriad effusive and elegant tributes to both of these distinguished artists allows me to simply focus on their impact and connection to the Crow’s Theatre family.


 

Daniel David Moses, poet, playwright and teacher who passed last month, co-wrote Red River, a free adaptation of Buchner’s Woyzeck set in the Red River settlement of Winnipeg at the time of Louis Riel. Daniel hailed from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford and was part of the generation along with Tomson Highway who arrived in Toronto and created the indigenous theatre movement.

This Crow’s/Native Earth co-production in 1998 featured many tremendous indigenous actors in lead roles including Billy Merasty, Monique Mojica, Lorne Cardinal and  a young Jennifer Podemski. Native Earth and Crow’s were both part of a new generation of Canadian theatres supporting fresh talents and voices with youthful and provocative stance to share with the wider public.

Daniel was a graceful, gentle and funny man. He never carried the mantle of one being of Canada’s foremost indigenous writers but rather was humble and kind. When we spoke of finding a story to tell together and happened on the idea of a 19th C. Unfinished classic, his keen scholar’s sense, deep felt roots and historical insights were stunning.

During this cross cultural collaboration, he was always generous and open hearted with me. Daniel was a soft spoken leader but strong in his beliefs and for his community. The generations of indigenous artists he mentored, supported and inspired will continue to be a gift from him. The gift he gave me with his friendship and the public with his poems and plays will always be treasured. Meegwetch. Tobacco down and prayers up for his safe journey into the arms of his ancestors.'


Brent came up as a possible casting choice for the role of the David in Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. It was the Fall of 1989 and this controversial script by Brad Fraser had not been done except in a new works festival in Calgary. Crow’s acquired the rights but who might be able to play the damaged, sharp edged and hilarious lead? The young actors who would had been around the company didn’t quite fit. Brent had already been Hamlet at Stratford and lauded for his role in the Canadian premiere of Bent and most of everything else he had touched. 

Brent Carver & Greg Spottiswoos
Brent Carver & Greg Spottiswood

We ran a hundred seat theatre and had $500/week to offer (which was above scale. Black Label beer was sponsoring the show.) We sent him the script and arranged to chat on the phone at the intermission of Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha whom he was playing in Halifax. He liked the script but wanted to know why I wanted him and why I wanted to do the script.

I went on, as a younger somewhat nervous director does, about how the script revealed a new generation, fragmented,  lonely and desperate for connection when sex, violence and burnt out dreams seemed to be our inheritance.  It was funny and sexy and more Tarantino than Shakespeare. I didn’t know until later that this was the kind of work that he thirsted to be a part of. Numerous times he said this was the play that rejuvenated his belief in theatre.

It also led to lifelong friendships, a deep love and respect amongst everyone involved. Brent and the cast’s incredible, riveting performances, the design, the staging, the content and the beauty, pain and great humour in the script broke the glass ceiling for new Canadian plays and for Crow’s. We transferred the production commercially and then toured extensively. It was a life altering, artistic and personal experience. It also led directly to Brent being cast in Kiss of the Spiderwoman.

Our second offer to Brent, (almost a decade later) was the second show he accepted with Crow’s and his second Dora award with the company. Another deeply challenging role in an ensemble piece by a first time playwright, Lee MacDougall. A story of four junkies pulling off a bank job. It is of course more accurately about brotherhood, family, love and dreaming to escape the world that entrapped them.

This production featured electric performances from all four actors, and night after night Brent took flight as Donnie, the gentle and quirky soul of the play (of course). For Brent to fly in any role I think he needed to be playing dangerously with fire. It needed to engage his deepest soul and when you saw his glistening eyes as he told a story he was wrestling with the devils and angels to save this painful world. When he told a joke, it was as if he was inventing comedy itself as you saw it. His character would usually only find it funny long after the other characters did. Pure invention and usually out of a mix of pain and delight - And love - with Brent’s creations there was always great love and questioning. USA Today called it “everything theatre should be, daring, dangerous and disturbing”.

Directing him was to engage in deep and personal investigation. His respect for the playwright and the words or music was profound. During that exploration it was key to never praise too much and focus only on how to help him improve on what was usually already very, very, very, good. In fact, he would discard quite magnificent discoveries if they came too easily and could only be made to keep them if he saw how they served the story or another actor. 

He loved the process, but it was torturous as well as rewarding for him. To have created masterpieces on many occasions it must have always been difficult to be wrestling each new piece to that level.

He loved the companionship of his fellow actors at Crow’s and stayed in touch as much as an intensely private man could. To hear Brent sing was to hear a lyric and song twisted into new form which revealed EVERYTHING. He was a generous star and friend who changed lives with his kindness and shared brilliance. I last saw him in person at Ron White’s Memorial at Crow’s a while back. We hugged and talked and then as people began to swarm him he graciously begged off and disappeared.

I am so grateful he was part of my life. He changed the trajectory of Crow’s Theatre, me and the lives of every audience who ever saw him. For artists he set a bar so high few can reach but we all can be inspired. Rest now Brent. We love you as we always have, fully and madly.


Jim Millan was the founder of Crow’s Theatre in 1983. He directed and developed over 75 original shows as well as Canadian premieres of cutting edge works from Britain, Japan, Germany and New York.

At Crow’s, he pioneered co-producing and touring with national partners and was one of the founders of the Toronto Fringe Festival. He is the director of the Kids in the Hall comedy group. He has directed, written and produced internationally for 20 years now in 38 countries and 17 languages including Broadway, London’s West End, Paris, Las Vegas, Las Angeles, Japan, Korea, Italy, Greece and Australia.


Daniel David Moses image courtesy of Toronto Public Library
All Brent Carver Images by Cooper Shoots