New production at GCTC focuses on the misbehaviour of those in power

Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard, Sarah Kitz and Zoë Sweet star in Behaviour. Photo: Andrew Alexander

When playwright Darrah Teitel’s Behaviour debuts at the Great Canadian Theatre Company on March 12, it may give pause to some of those millennials eager to snag an exhilarating job on Parliament Hill.

The story’s centrepiece is Mara.  With a new baby, an attractive partner and a challenging position as a staffer on the Hill, she is sitting pretty. Until she isn’t.

Billed as an exploration of the abuses of power that are being increasingly illuminated by the #MeToo movement, the play examines how the lives of government workers are affected by those abuses.

Behaviour is directed by Michael Wheeler and, in a first for GCTC, the production will be live streamed worldwide for free on March 27, World Theatre Day.

Mara’s working life “feels exciting and stressful and very contemporary in terms of the left-wing politics that are discussed because her work is further on the left side of the spectrum,” says Ottawa-based Teitel. “At first blush, it seems like the kind of job that a lot of millennials crave and enjoy, where they’re working themselves up an organizational ladder (where) they believe in the politics … Then things start to go bad.”

Mara’s marriage – a relatable partnership between two young professionals — is on a similar trajectory, she suggests.

“One reason I wrote the play and set it on the Hill is because people are particularly vulnerable to power imbalances (there),” she says. She explains that’s because staffers work in a hierarchical structure for politicians who can have outsized egos and find it difficult to separate themselves from their work. When a less powerful staffer tries to exert herself, she’s perceived as a threat, with abuse the potential result.

Women, already the object of abuse in the larger world to an extent that’s almost normalized, are particularly vulnerable in this situation, Teitel says. “What is abnormal is speaking out against it.”

Teitel, who was GCTC’c playwright in residence in 2015 and 2017, knows something of this world.

She was an NDP staffer on the Hill for five years. A non-disclosure agreement means she can’t discuss anything about her employment, which included working for the NDP critics for the Status of Women and Indigenous Affairs. However, she is adamant that, while her play was “influenced” by what she observed in her job, Mara’s story is not her own.

As well, her time as a staffer had definite upsides, she says. Her skill set rocketed. “It bore so many similarities to theatre and playwriting in the sense that every day you were spinning left-wing narratives and interpreting and writing those for the public. And it’s a huge privilege to be so proximate to so many powerful people. I’ve met some amazing politicians.”

Teitel, who’s been nominated for Dora and other awards, is having a bit of a Hill-related banner year in Ottawa. In addition to Behaviour at GCTC, her play The Omnibus Bill, about reproductive rights and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 Omnibus Bill, is at Arts Court at the end of May.

Working on Behaviour has been a learning experience, according to its director. “I’m a straight white guy … a physical manifestation of privilege,” says Wheeler. “A huge challenge directing this piece is making sure I’m always listening to my collaborators, to Darrah and the other women in the room. I feel we’re shifting from the auteur director era to a more collaborative director era, and this show has been a huge reminder (of that).”

Wheeler is also co-creator at the performance arts website, which will live stream the performance later this month.

He says that live streaming has become affordable and is no longer the sole provenance of big-budget organizations like Britain’s National Theatre Live, which streams productions to cinemas worldwide.

He adds that there is no archive of SpiderWebShow’s streams. True to the nature of live theatre, once it’s over, it’s gone forever.

Teitel, who’s been nominated for a Dora and other awards, says of the streaming, “I love it as a socialist and as a feminist because it enables the democratization of a form of high art in a free way that allows it to participate in a political conversation anywhere in the world. I just think it’s a brilliant gift to be able to live stream theatre.”

Behaviour is at GCTC March 12-31 (March 12 & 13, previews; opening night, March 14). Tickets: GCTC box office, 613-236-5196,

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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.