The Drawer Boy Takes Centre Stage On Screen as the Winner of Old Oak Audience Choice Award
An iconic play with deep Canadian roots is adapted for the big screen
The Drawer Boy tells the story of a farmer’s loyalty to lifestyle, to friendship and to survival. A farmer’s loyalty, once earned, is unconditional. But is memory? Is reality? The Drawer Boy also tells the story of what happens when a stranger knocks on the door, arts begins to imitate life, and one begins to wonder if anything is truly as it seems. A quiet, simple life in the country may not be so simple or quiet after all.
Set in Clinton, Ontario, The Drawer Boy will immediately elicit a sense of recognition, comfort, and nostalgia from those of us with a heart for small town living. In many ways, our Opening Night feature embodies the spirit of South Western Ontario. In other ways, it offers no sense of comfort at all. The film may rest on simpler times, but the plot is nothing if not complex. Country clashes with city as two bachelor farmers are approached by an actor seeking out their story. Sharp comedic timing is often undercut by a dark and somewhat sinister tone as, what begins as a quiet contemplation, quickly unravels into a fit of deep-rooted remembrance.
While the relationship between actor and farmer may be an unlikely match, the creative partnership between Arturo Perez Torres and Aviva Armour-Ostroff is anything but. As co-directors and partners in life, Arturo’s passion for film and Aviva’s career in theatre created the perfect opportunity to adapt theatre into film. After five feature documentaries, this endeavour would be Arturo’s first deep dive into the world of fiction. So, this all begs the question: why choose to adapt The Drawer Boy? Why this story?
“I fell in love with The Drawer Boy because the subject matter is similar to me as a documentary filmmaker. I identified with Miles, the main character, who goes to find out about the life of farmers. It’s kind of like what you do in documentary filmmaking when you integrate yourself into another community to find out how they work and what they do and then you make a whole story in your head. That’s what Miles is doing” says Arturo.
On the other hand, Aviva “was drawn to the play because it’s an iconic piece of theatre. I remember very distinctly seeing the original production at Passe Muraille. It was the closing matinee and I squeezed into the theatre. I sat there really having one of those epiphanic moments of ‘this is where I am meant to be. This theatre’. The story is so simple and simply told - and yet, you can find so much complexity in it if you want to.”
Originally a play by Michael Healey, The Drawer Boy was inspired by The Farm Show, an alternative live performance theatre in which actors integrated themselves into farming communities in Clinton, Ontario, in 1971, so as to create a play about their lives. Given this meta undertaking, the filmmakers felt it was important to bring a new dimension to the story while still paying homage to its rich history. One example stands out: Aviva and Arturo created an entirely new character and then cast Paul Thompson, the original director of The Farm Show, to take on the role. It is in these nuanced details that the film finds its heart.
In seeking new ground, Arturo and Aviva offer a meditation on the fragility of memory, on how the remembrance and retelling of the past may actually distort it. Reflecting on his positionality as documentarian and filmmaker, Arturo points out: “If we revisit history and alter it by reinventing our stories, it can be a dangerous manipulation.” In our current digital age, this insight carries newfound resonance. What are the stories we tell ourselves to survive? What is ‘truth’ in a world of interpretation?
In 1999, The Drawer Boy took the theatre community by storm. Now, the directors are hoping the film does the same come October 25th. “The Drawer Boy broke the mould. The play transcended the stigma that theatre is only for a certain type of person. Everyone was coming to see the play. [We] hope that the film has the same effect where anyone can watch it, relate to it on some level, and be moved by it.”