Fear and art: Dispatches from Deneh’Cho Thompson on creating his Fringe play

This is the second of a series of notes by Deneh’Cho Thompson on creating and developing his Fringe play. Deneh won the Fringe New Play Prize based on a statement of intention and some writing on a piece called The Girl Who was Raised by Wolverine.  It was apparent that there was something of a nod to traditional Wolverine tales of the Dene people, and Deneh made it clear that he wanted to pay attention to Indigenous dramaturgy as well as the things he learned at university in creating this tale for 2016.


Playwriting is the most vulnerable thing I have ever done, it brings me to tears, it makes me angry and I find myself running away or turning to vice.


As I write The Girl Who was Raised by Wolverine I am spending a lot of time dissecting my relationships with my parents. While examining these relationships I return to moments of love, kindness and generosity, but also to moments of hate, spite, and selfishness. Some of these memories conjure important realizations, the most painful of which paint either parent in dark, greasy colours – the residue of their own struggles hindering my growth as a human being. I have never felt such resentment towards anyone before writing this play, let alone towards two people that I love and respect. I am fearful of this resentment. I am afraid that these feelings might overcome the love I have for my mother and father. At the same time, I am aware that the best way to overcome the fear is to face it – but that is no easy task.

Playwriting is the most vulnerable thing I have ever done, it brings me to tears, it makes me angry and I find myself running away or turning to vice. As a theatre creator I spend a lot of time discussing the work I most value as an artist; the plays I find most engaging grapple with personal struggles that the playwright has survived. It is not enough to have seen an event – a great playwright has lived the event, and then relives the event every time they sit down to write. Playwriting is scary, and I am often afraid to sit down and do the work. Beyond the immediate fear, I have recently started articulating the obstacles that I create for myself. I accept new, non-playwriting, work to excuse myself from facing my fears.

Outside of the the theatre, I recently had an encounter with fear when I connected with an old friend. We left on poor terms some time ago, and reconnected recently across a large expanse of time and space. The thing that held us back from being closer, from even reaching out to build a bridge, was fear. Fear that the other didn’t want to hear/be heard from, or the fear of retraumatizing or repeating past traumas. And now the connection with this friend is deeper than ever, having faced fear and come out together instead of alone. The compassion we held for each other over time needed only to be aired for both of us to move on.

I would like to thank everyone standing beside me while I sort out my fears. And thank you to all of you standing beside your colleagues and loved ones, the compassion you give helps them face their own fears. Our compassion as a community is essential to the work we do, and will be instrumental in the continued evolution of our field.


(Photo: Tai Grauman as Stephanie in “The Girl Who Was Raised By Wolverine”. Photo by Melanie Orr Photography)