Umbrella Talk with playwright Kate Hewlett

Welcome back to Umbrella Talk! We kick off our 2009 Umbrella Talk series with playwright and actor Kate Hewlett. Kate's play Humans Anonymous is playing this week at Toronto's Next Stage Festival. Kate tells us what theatrical project she's dying to write next, who she'd like the academics to compare her to 50 years from now and who inspires her---a person who has motivation, courage and is open to change.

A little more about Kate Hewlett

Kate, a National Theatre School and Queens University graduate, is an actor and a playwright. Her plays include Humans Anonymous and The Swearing Jar. Kate was also a member of Tarragon Theatre's Playwrights unit in 2007 and is an associate artist with Unspun Theatre. Selected theatre acting credits include Noble Parasites, Don't Wake Me, Head- Smashed-In and Unity (1918). Selected television and film acting credits include Stargate: Atlantis, Last New Year (feature), Psych and A Dog's Breakfast (feature).

Umbrella Talk with Kate Hewlett

What do you drink on opening night?

Before the show, I drink coffee. Afterwards, I drink beer...unless the show goes horribly awry, in which case I turn to tequila. Then beer. Then my own tears. Then back to coffee. It's a vicious cycle.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?

The Fonz. Because there's no one cooler than the Fonz. But PT Anderson would be a close second.

What scares you? What can't you write about?

It's funny you should ask, because Humans Anonymous is all about fear. We had our fundraiser on Tuesday (yes, even though we opened on Thursday -- I'm a little disorganized) and each person who performed was asked to state one of his or her fears. I had none left, because all of mine are in the play and I didn't want to rip off my own writing! If you see the play, you'll discover the cornucopia of fears I struggle with...
What can't I write about? Well, the idea of writing a drama scares me a lot. I use comedy as a crutch sometimes, I think, and I would find it hard to write a straight drama. Luckily, I like plays that make people laugh. But I like to add a dash of heartbreak, too, just to keep them rooted in reality.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?

I am absolutely dying to write a musical. I write music; I write plays; why not take the plunge and combine the two? I keep saying that I am going to write one, then I get caught up in acting and remounts (and facebook) and I postpone the inevitable yet again...

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)

It would have to be a comedy. I trip a lot.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?

After my first episode of Stargate Atlantis aired (I was a guest star in a few episodes) I spent hours -- literally, hours -- reading all of the online comments about my performance. The Stargate fans are loyal and lovely, so it took a long time to find a really cruel one, but when I did...I was finally able to stop looking. I needed to read the worst possible criticism in order to get over my fear of it. Now, I am less affected by reviews, praise, criticism or feedback. The most important thing is the audience reaction, and the experience itself. Reviews are only important because they affect audience turnout.

Where would you like your work to be produced?

At the Canon Theatre. I was an usher there for a little while and it would satisfy some weird fantasy to be able to watch my own play on stage there. And to act on that stage. I would also love to have my work produced in London (England. Not Ontario. London, Ontario scares me a bit.)

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?

It actually depends on the type of writing. Songs, I write by hand (usually on napkins, actually, because they tend to come to me at inconvenient times). Plays, though, I always write on my computer. I have a MacBook Air. We make a very nice couple.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?

The ultimate compliment (other than just being talked about by academics in 50 years) would be any comparison to Oscar Wilde. Or Noel Coward. Or Salma Hayek...for different reasons, obviously.

What inspires you?

I'm going to opt for the cheesy answer here and say "my mom". She went back to school when she was thirty-five years old and did her BA. Because she was raising four kids, she studied part-time and it took her thirteen years to get her degree. She went on to do her Masters degree, and after that, her PhD. She studied European history, moved to Italy, learned Italian, wrote a children's book, wrote a novel...and she's still going strong. That kind of motivation, courage and openness to change inspires me.

I am also inspired by people who are focused and confident. Like Christopher Stanton. Do you know Christopher Stanton? If not, you should. He's a genius.

Thanks for reading this week's Umbrella Talk. If you are a playwright that has been produced a few times here in Canada, or elsewhere, and would like to talk to us too, please send us a message to


Ian Mackenzie said…
Really fun interview. Can Kate Hewlett please write a theatrical remake of Three's Company?