Glebe playwright’s award-winning play, An Act of Grace, at the Gladstone

From left, actors Josh Sparks, Dianna Renee Yorke and John Muggleton prepare for the September 9 opening of John Muggleton’s play, An Act of Grace, at the Gladstone Theatre.

By Elspeth Tory

Many Glebe residents will have met John Muggleton, either in his new position as manager of adult and youth programming at Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG), or a co-founder of Glebe’s The Acting Company. I first got to know John when I signed up for his “intro to playwriting” class at GNAG this past fall. I recently sat down with him to talk about his new play, acting, and working at GNAG.

Tell me about your journey to becoming an actor and playwright.

I came to acting in a roundabout and unusual way I suppose. After obtaining my funeral directors license in the late eighties and working in the business for several years, I was looking for something to balance a stressful work life. At the urging of my friends, I auditioned for and was cast in a play at Ottawa Little Theatre (OLT) in 1991.

A few years later and after appearing in dozens of plays in and around Ottawa, I happily said good-bye to the funeral business and moved to Toronto to study and work as an actor. After six years, I moved to England to continue my studies. A few years later and back in Canada, I found work in arts administration while continuing to perform, direct and write.

Then, at the age of 50, came little Janey Summer, my daughter. Now a stay-at-home dad, I decided to focus solely on writing. I had written for television and local dinner theatre companies in the past but was determined to complete once and for all my first full length play. One year later, and dozens and dozens of rewrites, Burn premiered at Glebe’s Avalon Studio followed by a sold-out run at the Gladstone.

What is extremely rewarding for me personally is that Burn is being produced at Ottawa Little Theatre in March 2020. My mom acted there in the 50s, I in the 90s and my daughter had a cameo two years ago at the age of one! I’m also extremely proud of the fact I am the only person in 106 years to have acted, directed and been produced as a playwright at OLT.

You have a new play opening in September at the Gladstone.

Yes, my new play, An Act of Grace, was entered in the Eastern Ontario Drama League Theatre Festival last November. As I have done several rewrites since then, I was anxious to see it on stage, so I decided to produce it myself in September at the Gladstone. The original cast is returning for this production; however, I’ll be joining the cast in the role of Tony. I haven’t acted in almost six years, so I’m looking forward to getting back on stage.

What is your role at GNAG and how long have you been there?

After two years, it was time to put my daughter in daycare. I was fortunate enough to join GNAG’s management team last summer as manager of adult and youth programming, a position I have thoroughly enjoyed from the start. As a co-founder of Glebe’s Ottawa Acting Company, I enjoyed developing and managing arts programs and wanted to continue in that field. Expanding the arts programming, GNAG will be offering courses such as acting, stand-up comedy and playwriting this fall. GNAG’s management team and support staff are some of the nicest, most dedicated and hardworking people I’ve had the privilege of working with. It’s inspiring.

What do you love about live theatre?

For me, theatre is exciting, it’s challenging and it pushes me to work hard. Being an actor also reminds me to live “in the moment,” and since becoming a father, I have appreciated that even more. But there is a bigger picture. Theatre can change lives and that’s what I really love about it. Theatre training helps young people develop confidence and teaches them how to use that confidence in a positive and creative way. So many people have told me how acting classes changed their lives.

John Muggleton’s newest play, An Act of Grace, opens September 9 at the Gladstone (for tickets visit thegladstone.ca). It was awarded Best Production, Best Ensemble and The People’s Choice Award at the Eastern Ontario Drama League Theatre Festival in 2018. His play Burn was nominated by the Capital Critics Circle in 2017 as Best New Play and has since been produced seven times across Canada.

Elspeth Tory is a Glebe resident and board member at GNAG and the Glebe Community Association, and has dabbled in playwriting under John Muggleton’s tutelage.

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