Former film studies student goes international with new play

Jordan Tannahill graduated from film studies at Ryerson four years ago. He describes his time here as a period of learning how to fail.

“I made so many shitty films throughout Ryerson, and those were important stepping stones for me. And if I didn’t make those bad films, I wouldn’t have made some good ones,” Tannahill said. “There’s more to learn from your failures than even from things that do work. I learned how to fail (and) fail better.”

All Our Happy Days Are Stupid premiered at a Kensington Market gallery for an audience of 35 people. According Tannahill, who is the play director, what was just “a good night with friends,” soon became re-envisioned to reach an audience of over 300 people.

The play is now scheduled to show at the Harbourfront Centre in mid-February before making an appearance at New York’s infamous art and performance space, The Kitchen.

This all started on a summer night in 2012 when Tannahill and renowned Toronto writer Shiela Heti gathered their artist, journalist, comedic — even their cardiac surgeon friend — to rehearse a play that Heti wrote.

While reading through the script, Tannahill realized that his friends’ amateur portrayals of their characters in the play “really worked with the style of the play.”

That’s when this play, which was once called “unstageable” by the Toronto theater company, came to life.

At first, Tannahill thought this was an unproduceable play. It had 15 characters, and according to him, “sudden shifts of dramatic focus.”


Jordan Tannahill, director of All our Happy Days Are Stupid, at his Kensington market gallery, Videofag.

“There were all these different elements that seemed to make this such a challenging production, almost an impossible production to take on,” he said.

Tannahill wasn’t the only one who saw a challenge in producing the piece.

Heti wrote the script almost a decade ago, but because of her unconventional play construction, no theatre was willing to program the piece– until Tannahill gave it a shot.

He said that it was all the complex elements that attracted him to it.

“As an artist, I am often really excited by that which scares me,” Tannahill said. “If I feel really afraid of an idea or of a project, like something that seems kind of impossible to do, that seems often indicative that I should be doing that and that there’s something there worthy of pursuing.”

At 26 years old, Tannahill is one of the youngest recipients of Governor General’s Award for English language drama — which he got for his collection of monologues, Age of Minority, in 2014.

He displayed play teasers in the Art Gallery of Ontario and screened his short film, Father at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014.

As a word of advice to graduating artists, Tannahill said, “Pursue the projects that you want to pursue now, don’t wait till you have more money, don’t wait till you have the big studio backing, or big theaters programming you in their season, just make the work that feels urgent and necessary to you now and don’t compromise yourself.”

Tannahill said he would be interested in collaborating with Ryerson in the future, and that he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with the students.

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