Ian Butcher as Deke in Gross Misconduct. Photo by David Cooper.
Ian Butcher as Deke in Gross Misconduct. Photo by David Cooper.

In Vancouver playwright Meghan Gardiner’s new play Gross Misconduct, the fifty-something Deke has been in prison without a cellmate for the past twenty years.

Enter Corey, a twentysomething rich kid, who joins him in his cell.

As a complicated bond slowly forms between the two, tensions rise as they debate the nature of their crimes, and the men are forced to re-evaluate how they see each other after the true nature of their respective crimes is revealed.

As Corey begs Deke for protection inside the prison, Deke is faced with a moral dilemma and is brought face-to-face with a decision he made twenty years ago.

A prolific playwright, Gardiner has been responsible for penning shows such as Blind Spot, We Three, Love Bomb and Dissolve for a number of Vancouver theatre companies.  With Gross Misconduct she sets her sights on a story of revenge and redemption.

In this Q&A we chat with Gardiner about how setting Gross Misconduct inside a prison helped to explore its subject matter and her process in writing her new play.

This interview has been edited.

What research went into preparing to write Gross Misconduct?

Dissolve is based on my own experience of sexualized violence, so I didn’t do any research at all for that piece. I just wrote from the heart. And after touring Dissolve for over twelve years, I had the honour of speaking to hundreds of other sexual assault survivors following my shows.

There was always a panel following each performance, so not only did I speak to these brave survivors, but I also got to sit on panels and learn from the other guests that were invited to engage in the post-show dialogue. Throughout these talkbacks I learned how grey the definition of consent is, I learned that alcohol is actually the number one date rape drug, and I learned that violence against women is actually a men’s issue.

About five years ago I was on the board of a campaign called Be More Than A Bystander, put on by the Ending Violence Association of BC. The goal of the campaign was for men to engage other men on the topic of Violence Against Women, so they trained BC Lions football players to give presentations to high schools around the province. It was a huge success and continues to this day with various CFL teams now on board.

Seeing these young male teenagers at complete attention, listening to male role models, made me realize that I wanted this to be a similar framework in my next piece.

How did you come to set it in a prison, and why?

"Gross Misconduct explores the human condition and I certainly don’t provide any answers. Only big, big questions." - Meghan Gardiner on her new play Gross Misconduct.
“Gross Misconduct explores the human condition and I certainly don’t provide any answers. Only big, big questions.” – Meghan Gardiner on her new play Gross Misconduct.

I have always struggled with the prison system. Sure, there are violent, serial child molesters who should be locked up for life, but then there are less violent, or non-violent prisoners, who come out of the system more dangerous than when they first arrived.

I felt like this was a setting where strong masculinity is ever-present, and a place where the concept of punishment verses rehabilitation could be explored. And this setting has helped me explore the redemption narrative within sexualized violence.

When I first starting touring Dissolve, I remember convincing a principal to bring the boys down to the auditorium after being told they didn’t need to see it because “it wasn’t their issue”. So I am pleased at how far society has come. But the call-out culture concerns me. Instant guilt concerns me. And as the mother of a boy, I realized that if he was assaulted I would want one outcome: punishment. But if he was the assaulter, I would want a different outcome: rehabilitation.

How did you go from actor to playwright?

I still have a hard time even calling myself a playwright. The kernel of Dissolve was birthed at UBC when I was completing my BFA in acting. We were creating the premise of a solo show, and I was encouraged by my professor, Stephen Heatley, to address something that was burning inside me, that I needed to get off my chest.

I never thought anyone would ever see Dissolve, so I think my brutal, private honesty is what made that piece a success. I created the characters first and then wrote and improvised the dialogue.

For my subsequent plays I have continue to write from my experiences as an actor, with a lot of reading along the way.

Have you attended rehearsals? Is it scary hearing your words being said out loud?

Yes, it is utterly terrifying, but it’s also amazing to see the characters have bodies and voices and expressions and opinions. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of that joy.

Why should audiences come see Gross Misconduct?

Despite the content, this play has a huge heart. It’s, hopefully, funny at times, and very relevant to what’s going on today. Knowing the statistics, I do believe that this piece will resonate with every audience member in one way or another. Gross Misconduct explores the human condition and I certainly don’t provide any answers.  Only big, big questions.

Gross Misconduct plays Richmond’s Gateway Theatre (6500 Gilbert Rd, Richmond) March 14-23. Visit gatewaytheatre.com for tickets and information.