For many, theatre in Canada is an alienating experience. Playwright Daniel Halpern and director David Woroner were desperate to change that.
In Canadian theatre, there are just some stories that remain untold, with the same groups underrepresented. So, Halpern wrote The Immaculate Perfection of F**king and Bleeding in a Gender Neutral Bathroom of an Upper-Middle Class High School.
Halpern’s play surrounds a group of teenagers who tackle all of their hardships in a bathroom of their high school. In particular, a transgender teen is the major focus throughout the play. The Immaculate Perfection is an ode to queer identity, overcoming the fears and experiences that haunt you, and accepting vulnerability in day-to-day life.
Both Woroner and Halpern knew topics shown in The Immaculate Perfection could be hard for some viewers. In their creative process, Halpern picked the “last play they would ever want to write.” Halpern struggled to write the play because of how visceral and hard their experiences were, especially the events the play is based on.
Writing the play, Halpern explored experiences they knew would be the hardest for them to confront. To them, the process of writing the play is a lot like watching it. It’s a complicated piece, filled with hard topics, but it’s more about how that experience can change you.
The Immaculate Perfection marks an evolution for Halpern and their work. In the past, grief and queer identity would be a theme in the background. Now, it takes the center stage.
“One of the differences between this and some of my earlier pieces of writing is that this is a piece that reflects more of an assuredness that I have now with my own gender and with questions of grief as they’ve continuously morphed over the years,” they said. “As I’ve grown, the way I write has grown alongside me.”
The events and experiences that influence The Immaculate Perfection stem directly from Halpern’s own adolescence. The themes surrounding gender and queer identity are based on Halpern’s lived experiences. However, some of the key scenes in the play are based on events they witnessed, as opposed to having lived them.
As such, Halpern and Woroner made sure there was accountability throughout the entire process through thorough consultation. They wanted to make sure that each character had an accurate and respectful portrayal. Since plays surrounding queer identity are so rare in Canadian theatre, Halpern wanted to do it right.
“I only have my own perspective as a non-binary individual, on my own non-binary experience,” Halpern said. “I would never, ever try to speak on behalf of a singular non-binary identity, or of a singular trans identity or experience.”
Whenever they would do read-throughs, Halpern would encourage their friends to comment on anything they felt was inaccurate or wrong. Throughout it all, it was vital to Halpern that the stories told through their play were true accounts of the lived experiences of transgender people, as opposed to just their own.
As is always the case with pieces that talk about hard and unexplored topics, the responses can be overly critical. After their opening night performance, Woroner hadn’t seen any responses that surprised him.
For Halpern, however, there were instances where they were pleasantly surprised by the response from audience members. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Halpern participated in an online workshop where they showed their play to a wide array of people. After their demonstration, Halpern found some of the responses shocking. Particularly from some of the older people in the audience.
“I remember being taken aback; I think this speaks to my own prejudice,” they said. “I’m very happy that this play has been able to bridge certain divides.”
Like Halpern, Woroner saw audiences pleasantly “reeled” by the themes of the play because of its rarity in Canadian theatre. To both him and Halpern, plays are meant to tackle stories that are hard to tell, understand, and hear. If audience members leave the theatre with a new outlook on those around them, Woroner feels the play has succeeded.
“That’s my hope — that people come out with a positive, beautiful outlook and think about how they interact with people around them,” said Woroner.
Halpern doesn’t have one singular message to tell through their play. In the end, they hope the audience leaves with the understanding that it’s okay to be vulnerable. The topics displayed in The Immaculate Perfection can be hard to digest, and so Halpern knows that the message is broader. It’s more specific to each individual person, as opposed to a universal idea.
“What I think is most important to take away from it is what I’ve only come to realize in the last few days … that it’s okay to be scared,” Halpern said.