Toronto musician Kevin Drew readies new play A&R Angels for theatrical premiere
At intimate Streetcar Crowsnest theatre this month
Kevin Drew (right) and Ben Kowalewicz during a rehearsal for A&R Angels
As a founding member of Canadian indie rock band Broken Social Scene, Kevin Drew has devoted his life to writing and performing music.
Now, the Toronto native is making his first foray into the world of theatre, writing and co-starring in a rock fable about two angels (Drew as Loud Angel and Ben Kowalewicz, lead singer of Billy Talent, as Soft Angel) who use music to bring people back from the brink of suicide.
Drew says he first began writing the play in 2014, inspired by a sense of rebellion against the nature of art in the social media age.
“I always wanted to make a film, and a few years back, in 2014, I was retaliating against the digital era of how art is slowly getting taken away, and I wanted, in the same way as a live show, I wanted to create something where it took a little bit of effort for people to go out and see something,” he says.
Once he began, the words started to flow out of him, and soon he had developed a script with five characters.
Drew says the play draws on themes and feelings that most humans — artists especially — can identify with.
“It was sort of easy to write about because it was about the failures and the accomplishments and the highs and the depressions and anxieties of not only being a human, but being an artist in today’s world,” he says.
The play, titled A&R Angels, raises important questions about art, mental health and the power of music, and Drew says the themes in the play are the same as those carried throughout all the work he does.
“It’s the theme of right now, and it’s the theme that I’m doing with the band as we tour America,” Drew says.
“That’s the message across the board right now — not just in the play — in general, in all the work. And to those who are oblivious to that, Godspeed. To those who aren’t, here we are.”
Along with actors Ngozi Paul, creator of Da Kink in My Hair, Maurice Dean Wint and Graham Cuthbertson, the play’s cast also features Kowalewicz as Drew’s co-star. Drew says Kowalewicz jumped at the chance to be in the play and, despite having no acting experience, has been a natural so far during rehearsals.
“I love that Ben’s doing it. I love that he’s taking a risk. He’s never acted before, and I sent him the play, and I said, ‘Do you want to do this with me? We could do it together and we would have each other’s backs. We’d have each other to fall upon,’ ” Drew says. “When I brought him in to meet Chris [Abraham, director of A&R Angels], he charmed Chris so much that he forgot Ben wasn’t an actor.”
Drew says he’s known the Billy Talent frontman for years, and he’s always been inspired by his positive attitude and outlook.
Drew is a Toronto native whose roots are all in the west end of town. He is a graduate of Etobicoke School of the Arts, and he currently lives near Bathurst and Dundas and says he’s a fan of the neighbourhood’s community feel and walkability.
Drew says working with the cast and crew on A&R Angels has involved plenty of teamwork — something he’s familiar with from writing and performing in Broken Social Scene since 1999.
The band began its North American tour for Hug of Thunder, its fifth studio album, in the U.S. on Sept. 21.
“The tour has been wonderful so far,” Drew says.