Skip to main content

Director Murdoch Schon explores social and political themes on the stage

‘Theatre allows us to be physically together to tackle issues’
May 12, 2023
By Julie Barlow, MA 94

A man and woman stand face-to-face on stage, staring closely into each other's eyes. Concordia grads Oliver Price, BFA 15, and Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards, BFA 18, starred in Counter Offence, directed by Murdoch Schon, BFA 16. | Photo: Brooklyn Melnyk

After starting an acting career in their native Winnipeg, Murdoch Schon, BFA 16, discovered their true calling at Concordia. “I asked one of my professors, ‘What theatre job would be really collaborative, really research-based and would let me work with everyone — the actors, the designers and more?’” The answer was “director.”

After graduating from Concordia’s Department of Theatre with a specialization in theatre and development, Schon went on to complete the directing program at Canada’s National Theatre School in Montreal. 

Schon says Concordia gave them many of the tools they would need for a career directing plays that tackle social and political themes. “The program at Concordia was a cross-section between how political and social movements meet art-making,” they explain. 

Schon skillfully put these tools to work in March directing Counter Offencewhich tackles the intersection of sexism and racism, at Montreal’s Segal Centre for Performing Arts

Written in the aftermath of Quebec’s 1995 Referendum by Montreal playwright Rahul Varma — who is also artistic director and founding member of Teesri Dunyia Theatre — Counter Offence is the story of a murder investigation in which an Indo-Quebecois woman, Shazia, is suspected of killing her abusive husband, Shapoor, while he is in the process of immigrating.

Portrait of a person with short dark hair with green tips wears dark purple lipstick and is wearing multicoloured glasses and a white-collard shirt with a leather black jacket. “The teachers at Concordia are really passionate and push you to keep going,” says Schon of their student experience.

Schon had a specific vision for Counter Offence, which first played in 1998. “I was interested in setting the play in the 1990s and really letting the audience ask if anything had changed in the 30 years since it was written.”

The play follows multiple storylines. Schon deftly shifts the actors from scene to scene on the stage using lighting effects and choreographed dance movements. They also decided to keep some of the original humour in the script.

“When handling very traumatic or dark material, like spousal abuse, racism or systematic oppression, as a director, you have to ask how you can let the audience actually relax enough to enter the discussion.”

A ‘push to keep going’

Schon says they loved how Concordia let them thoroughly explore the world of theatre. “The theatre program puts you in the path of so many different practices and gives you the time and the space to really reflect on whether you like something.” 

They also appreciated the mix of professors with academic and professional performance backgrounds, and felt the program helped prepare them for the real challenges of a theatre career. 

“The teachers at Concordia are really passionate and push you to keep going. I ended up building tenacity and I learned how to be resourceful and inventive.”

While they were still at Concordia, Schon put that tenacity to work founding a feminist theatre festival, Revolution They Wrote, in 2014. Their work has since appeared at the Montreal Fringe FestivalPlaywrights Workshop Montreal and Imago Theatre, where they are program producer for Artista’s mentorship program for women and gender-diverse people.

Schon still likes to cast Concordia theatre grads in their productions — for Counter Offence, these included lighting designer Aurora Torok, BFA 18, and actors Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards, BFA 18, and Oliver Price, BFA 15. “It’s helpful for me as a director to understand my actors’ references. I get that with my fellow Concordia graduates.” 

In September 2023, Schon will be directing Queen Maeve, by Judith Thompson, at Stratford’s Here for Now Theatre. “It’s about an elderly woman who is a reincarnation of an Irish warrior queen called Queen Maeve. And she’s trapped in a care facility,” Schon explains. 

“Theatre allows us to be physically together to tackle issues. It also offers the opportunity for catharsis, to have our hearts beating at the same time — all of these things about community and ‘liveness’ are so integral to being able to reflect back to a culture things about itself.” 

Back to top

© Concordia University