“Something Weird is Going to Happen”: Corenski Nowlan Talks About New Play #Swipers

This May, Theatre St. Thomas brings the world premiere of Corenski Nowlan’s #Swipers to the Black Box Theatre. Nowlan’s latest play is described as a “light-hearted romantic comedy for the Tinder generation.” To some degree, Nowlan says, that’s true. What Nowlan wants everyone to know is the whole thing is a big catfish. 

In other words, expect the unexpected.

“For ethical and legal reasons, we can’t have anyone going in blind,” Nowlan said. “They have to be aware that something weird is going to happen.”

That’s why the Facebook event for #Swipers has a lengthy content warning:

Content Warning: Expect the unexpected. This is unconventional, immersive theatre. All potential audience members must understand that the play is not what it seems. Through the use of lights, sound, projections, and masks, we are crafting a unique atmosphere that could unsettle some people.

Recommended ages 16-and-up. Moderate use of strong profanity. Safely choreographed fight scenes. Use of flashing lights. If you suffer from PTSD, an anxiety disorder, or a heart condition, please attend at your own discretion.

What’s the full story? It’s a secret, at least until opening night, but Nowlan believes the production will deliver an experience unlike any other.

“In terms of a live event. I guarantee no one is never going to have an experience like this again,” Nowlan said. “I think a lot of people are going to walk out bewildered at what they just participated in.”

For a long time, Nowlan believed #Swipers would always remain an idea, an impossible production that no one would ever put on stage. That all changed when Nowlan met Dr. Robin Whittaker, TST’s artistic producer, and pitched him his idea for #Swipers.

“This guy, he’s going to think I’m crazy,” Nowlan said. “He didn’t. He loved it!”

Nowlan and Whittaker started meeting regularly in late 2017. The two spoke for “hours and hours” about how they could “safely and ethically” manage the veil of secrecy around #Swipers. A year and a half later, Nowlan and Whittaker were ready to hold auditions.

“We told everyone at auditions, right from the beginning, we are doing something very unconventional,” Nowlan said. “This is going to be very experimental, immersive theatre. You may not like it. It may trigger you in different ways. So, we told them that anyone was free to drop out if they wanted to. We were prepared to have a second round of auditions after we did the casting. But miraculously, every single person that we offered a part to took it. They have been super enthusiastic about it.”

For Nowlan, #Swipers is an opportunity to shake people out of apathy and bring new faces to the theatre.

“I always think of theatre as, you know, it really lost out to film and TV this past half a century,” Nowlan said. “Theatre used to be the main cultural vehicle for storytelling, Everyone would go see plays. Now, theatre communities have really shrunk. What I hear from people who don’t go see theatre is oh, it’s boring.”

“It’s about that. What can you do to truly engage an audience in 2019? In 2019, people are not easily shocked by anything. As a culture, we have become so desensitized to gore, violence, and scenes of a sexual nature. What can you do to make a play interesting?”

The playwright says #Swipers has a lot to do with fear, politics, and the impact of technology in our personal lives.

“It is definitely a play that is a product of 2019,” Nowlan said.


#Swipers, written and directed by Corenski Nowlan, runs May 2 – 4 at the Black Box Theatre. 7:30pm nightly. $10 General / $5 Students + Seniors

Local Playwright Raising Awareness About Opioid Crisis in Miramichi

Last month, Corenski Nowlan’s one-act play Opi-Void premiered at the Miramichi River Community (MRC) Theatre Festival. Opi-Void addresses the prescription drug epidemic in Miramichi, an area that has “seen significant economic and cultural changes; none of which have been for the better.”

“There’s a lot of addicts in my hometown, a lot of pain and depressing stories. It’s heartbreaking,” Nowlan says. “I love my home. I’m proud to be from the Miramichi but I’m also deeply concerned and legitimately afraid for the area.”

While opioid abuse and addiction has been declared a major public health crisis in Canada, Nowlan says a local perspective is needed to understand how the opioid crisis impacts small communities like Miramichi. Nowlan views Miramichi as a “bubble culture” and distinct within the province. “I think people there understand the world in a very different way than people in New Brunswick’s southern cities; and their understanding is extremely localized,” Nowlan says. “The Miramichi area, and specifically the smaller rural settlements, are all about community.

Everyone knows everyone and everything you do can effect [sic] someone else. If you’re an addict, you’re hurting other people in your community, people you might not even think about, in ways that you probably didn’t think about. In a small town it’s a domino effect. When something bad happens, it happens to the whole community.”

Writing Opi-Void was “very easy” for Nowlan thanks to the playwright’s first hand experience and knowledge. Still, Nowlan says Opi-Void challenged and caused him anxiety because he was writing something “so true” and “so close to home.”

“Opi-Void is about a group of three friends, three addicts, who are in over their heads,” Nowlan says. “They’re trying to make sense of their lives from this insular small town perspective. They’re in a bad situation and I think they want to do the right thing, they know what the right thing is… but it’s a real struggle for them.”

About Opi-Void’s premiere at the MRC Theatre Festival, Nowlan says “[the] Miramichi audience watched this play and the characters were people they knew.”

“Theatre is a very special medium for storytelling, especially a story like this,” Nowlan says. “There’s lots of information out there about the opioid crisis. People know what the medical community says, what politicians say… but theatre provides a different perspective.”

“I want to tell stories about my home. I want to raise awareness to the problems there, start a dialog. Show people that these struggles are real and they are not alone.”

Opi-Void, presented by Herbert the Cow Productions, will run for one-night only at St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre on September 13th, 7:30PM. Admission is Pay-As-You-Will.