Name: Maria Rosa Napoli
DOB: May 17th, 1983
Place of Birth: Montréal, Québec
Astrological Sign: Taurus
Creative Field: Writer, Performer

Wayne

How’re you feeling?

Rose

Like, at this moment?

Well, I got up and fixed my bed, I folded laundry that had been sitting on my chair, piling up. I swept the floor. I feel very calm this morning. There is something about solitude; the older I get, the more I deeply crave it.

Weirdly, when my space is open, like, tangibly, physically, living space, when I don’t have clutter, I think it affects my brain. It opens up, and I feel like I can work. It feels like I’m nesting, so I can write for like 8 hours, like a ritual or something. So, at this moment, I feel good.

Wayne

That’s good then.

Rose

Yeah, but that can change at the drop of a hat. And like, 10 minutes after you leave, I’ll weep or something, and the whole world will be hopeless…(Laughs) um, no, I feel good right now.

I also just finished watching Alias Grace yesterday. And it was so nice to watch. I think some of it was shot so beautifully, and I guess I look at Sarah Polley and I’m like, “You are my hero. You’re just making things. You’re just making beautiful things, and you’re making them with our community.” Especially where she started as an actor. I don’t even know her, but I want to believe that, that acting was insufficient, in terms of wanting to reach further, and she needed to invest in a different kind of storytelling. I love her stuff, and so it was so good to watch this and see pals and be inspired by the aesthetic and the story, and the ambiguity of the storytelling. That kind of work, that kind of storytelling, excites me.

So, in addition to cleaning my room, I was also fueling myself by being inspired by other things. Other works that people are making and puts a fire in me to make things for myself. I can’t live this life without making things, without creating. So, at this moment, I feel good. And it makes me feel proud of what I have created.

Wayne

Good.

Rose

Which isn’t always the case, I don’t always feel proud. I can be critical. Overly critical of my work. It’s never good enough; never done. And I have learned to love that part that of myself and loathe that part of myself, but today I feel happy.

Wayne

What do you think has changed?

Rose

Hmm. Like you mean? Like just to be able to feel this?

Wayne

Yeah.

Last time we talked you were between two different contracts, one in town and one out of town, and you were at the end of your rope.

Rose

You know, I think I’m a routine person.

Wayne

Right.

Rose

I’m a planner for sure. I like flipping ahead in my agenda, even if it’s mostly clear, I like knowing what days are coming and things will happen. I like having a sense of what those things are, which is problematic in this world, in this business, because of course, you know, we don’t often get that kind of security in what we do. And, in a way, I think I could do nothing else. I guess, not having security is good for someone who craves it because it means I’m always in a kind of crisis all the time. But it also challenges me all the time, and that whole mantra of “Do something that you are afraid of every day…” I feel like just the act of getting up and still choosing this business is something I am afraid of every day.

Especially, early on in the business, when I was coming out of theatre school. This insecurity, or this not knowing, was like, paralyzing, and was, in fact, the reason I said, “No, I’m not going do this. No, I’m not cut out for this.” Now I feel like, it’s interesting when I know what projects are coming up; I start to build my life in them. I feel like stories come to me at certain times, parts come to me at certain times; it feels almost spiritual.

Wayne

Yes.

Rose

Yeah, you have that too?

Wayne

Mmhm.

Rose

Where I feel like I have to play this now, I have to learn about this right now.

Wayne

Or you realize you need to play it right now.

Rose

Absolutely.

You know, I think the personal and professional parts of me are always in conflict. I think there’s a part of me that wants to work in a bookstore and make pies. Not at the same time, obviously, but you know what I mean? Like, work in the bookstore during the day, then come home and make peach pie, and, you know, we will have it for dessert after dinner. I have a cat. I just read all day. My job is like; reading while nobody is in the store, or talking to people about books when they are in store, and I don’t care if anyone buys anything, because the business will sustain itself magically.

Wayne

Right.

Rose

That part of me grows, and I don’t think it will ever go away. That part of me that wants to throw this business, and theatre of, and storytelling, and the way we do it, throw it all away and be safe. Read other peoples stories and appreciate them.

Wayne

That’s an interesting perspective because what you’re talking about is the comfort of, “I want to sit, and read, and make pies, and talk to people about things that I love.” And yet, then we make ourselves walk across hot coals because we’re like, “Oh, well this is it; otherwise my life has no meaning.” But, realistically, there are people all over the world who read books, sell books and make pies and are very content.

Rose

And are a vital part of the circle of life. Because without those people there is no reason to make the books, to make the stories, and we are all contributing to the livelihood of storytelling.

Wayne

Completely.

Rose

Which I think is essential, especially in the theatre. I remember when I first moved here, I worked in the box office and I met a lot of actors, as a ticket girl, and I vividly remember the treatment, both positive and negative, of actors or directors or artistic directors or whoever, to someone who’s ripping their tickets for them. I think it’s important to understand the role we all play; just because we may at times be the person that everyone claps for, many other people don’t get to stand with us, for whom that applause is truly deserving.

So that part of me will exist, always. That like, yearning for comfort, or yearning for quiet, and in a way, now, writing, I kind of get quiet; writing is a quiet life, certainly writing theatre. I don’t necessarily know if writing TV will be that, but, writing a play is a lonely business, and it requires solitude and long stretches of it. Not only just in the act of writing but in the fermenting of the story and of whatever that burning question is. For me, and I know everybody’s different, but for me, that seed, that grows over time of writing the play, that obsession to communicate, has to be so strong to justify people paying money and giving you time from their lives. Two hours of their life, they offer, to listening to you. When we think about that, that’s crazy; that we ask that much of people. We ask for their money, and we ask for their time because we think what we have to say is that important.

Wayne

Mmhm.

Rose

And so for me, I’m like, well it better fucking be that important.

Wayne

I think it has to be, especially today.

Rose

Mmhm. And yet, do you ever justify it? I certainly haven’t yet. There is the little part of you that kind of, I don’t know, makes you feel like you’re a fraud, or this is all such a waste of these peoples’ time and that you should fucking apologize and say, “ Go home and watch Netflix.”

Wayne

That’s what was so compelling about Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells), was that it was necessary; it was truthful. And whether someone else thinks that that show was essential or not, it was vital for you, as a woman, to start a conversation like that. To have trauma played out on stage and had people bear witness. And so, in that respect I say, that is important and that, figuratively, walking across the hot coals to make that, is worth it. But, does the act of putting things out need to happen all the time?

Rose

No.

Wayne

Do you need to be rushing to write the next play?

Rose

No.

Wayne

I was having a conversation with a cast-mate the other day, and we were talking about Daniel MacIvor versus Bryden MacDonald. Daniel is someone who has genuinely inspired me, who I respect entirely, has cultivated a massive amount of work and is one of the people responsible for putting Nova Scotia and, to some extent, Canada, on the map. But, we were saying that Daniel will sell out to pay his bills, where Bryden will take years to write a play, and it will be substantially better; Bryden is far better the writer, but Bryden will never be as famous as Daniel MacIvor.

Rose

And arguably that question of reach is crucial. I was having this conversation with another playwright-turned-television-writer, Nicolas Billon, who wrote Butcher. He was like, “If a play is highly successful, maybe some thousand people will see it,” you know? If it has a couple of different productions, then maybe you will end up reaching a couple of thousand people, but, like, the reach of television.

Wayne

Millions.

Rose

Yeah, it’s enormous. And so we have this kind of pretention around the theatre, especially small theatre, and, you know, intimate spaces, and, I don’t know, there’s something about wide reach that is interesting. I’m certainly thinking about that more and more. But, I mean, I don’t know if it’s something you can set out to do when you’re working. I don’t think you can consider reach when you’re making something. And if you do, and certainly some people do it, I am always very aware of it. When I see someone choosing to write about this very topical thing right now, but I don’t see it coming from a burning need to talk about this, I don’t think they are risking themselves.

Wayne

Well, in some context, that’s appropriation.

Rose

Yeah…I’m not ever excited by storytelling like that. And that doesn’t mean that I need directly autobiographical work for me to feel fulfilled, but I do need to feel the artists risk and vulnerability within it.

Wayne

Yeah.

Rose

And with Lo it’s so funny because there is so much of me in it, there are so many other people from my life in it, so many parts of the story, both in narrative and character-wise that are true. And then at the same time, it’s an entirely fictional work.

I had this conversation with Melissa D’Agostino, who’s one of the creators of Daughter, she and I sat down, and it was so fascinating because Adam Lazarus unabashedly said, “Some of this is real, and some of this is not. And you will never know, and I will ever tell you. And that’s not going to be part of the conversation. You are going to come and see this show, and you are going to hear some horrific things, and we are never going to let you know what has happened and what hasn’t, and that’s part of this experience.” And yet, as a woman, I don’t necessarily feel that I was afforded the same freedom.

I found this fucking blogger, in Vancouver, who I never even heard of, who wrote about the play and said, “It’s an autobiographical play based on the affair Napoli had at 15 years-old with her teacher.” And I was like, “Holy shit, that is such a brazen thing to write, even if it is someone blogging.” And then I remember sending the editor an email saying, “You know, this is a pretty serious thing you’re saying, and it’s false. I don’t know where this information came from, but you need to be aware of what you put into the world.”

I never received an email back.

Wayne

Did they change it?

Rose

No.

So, it’s like, I don’t think I was afforded the same kind of space just to tell the story and not have it, at some point, be a question of, like, what my own life in it was. Which I think was challenging for me and continues to be. But then, you know, there’s such a meta aspect to that play. Because Laura is writing about this thing that happened to her. And at a particular point, towards the end of the play, she becomes aware of other women who have had similar situations to her own and feels a kind of responsibility. She realizes this isn’t just about exposing her diary, that it’s bigger thing than that. She has this gift, and it’s actually on her, to share it, you know?

That’s the quote. My side-boob quote, “Even if it costs you…” and of course we couldn’t fit the whole thing on my side-boob for the ad, but, “Even if it costs you, and it will cost you, you have to share it.”

And it does cost me.

Wayne

Hmm.

Rose

I remember I went and saw the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit.

Wayne

At the AGO?

Rose

Yeah, I heard a curator speaking about her work. And I’m not even a huge fan of Georgia O’Keeffe, but I’m fascinated by her. And the curator said, in her opinion, Georgia spent like, an enormous amount of time out of her life, like 60 years or something, as an artist, just trying to master one painting. She was trying to paint one image. Of course, aesthetically the way that her searching manifested was very different, but the message, the point, the undercurrent of all her work was always heading in one direction, and I kind of think that maybe all artists, in some capacity, are doing that.

Wayne

Well yeah, I mean, we’re all trying to reach toward the perfect expression of who we are. But for us to do that, we have to know who we are, which is a life’s work. So it’s that, you know, striving for perfection, but never being able to achieve it; again, walking on hot coals.

Rose

Absolutely.

Wayne

But even the people who walk on hot coals have to rest their feet sometime. They can’t always do it.

Rose

It’s true.

Wayne

But because we live in a society that is so productivity based, we have forgotten the time it takes to cultivate an artist. You know? I mean, Georgia O’Keeffe lived in a desert, painting pictures alone, for God knows how long. She would go out and water the cactuses and whatever, but I mean, do you think that woman had thousands of dollars?

Rose

I know!

Wayne

Van Gogh died a poor man. He didn’t sell anything.

Rose

I know; that scares me.

Wayne

I mean we obviously live in a different time; there’s infrastructure. There are lots of things available to us, but at the same time, there is deep neglect around the time it takes to cultivate the artistic voice.

Rose

It’s true.

I also think that our lives, living our lives outside of doing work; having our hearts broken, risking vulnerability with other people, making dear friendships, getting in bike accidents, losing people, all of these things that happen to us, I think are part of the work.

Wayne

And what makes us artists is we want to share those experiences with people.

Rose

Yeah.

Wayne

We somehow find the courage to go, “You know, this is something I want to express to people, like, ‘Hey, you are not alone, I feel this, and I will volunteer as tribute.’

Rose

I mean…I struggle with that, because I agree with you, and I think, yes, there can be bravery and courage in that, but —

Wayne

There is also martyrdom.

Rose

And also a bit of, it feels like really self-serving.

Wayne

Completely.

Rose

And it feels gross, actually, parts of it. Because you think, am I? Is there something wrong with me because I can’t be private with my life? And what is unique about me? Why am I the person who has to reach out and say, “Yes, I’ve gone through this too?” Something about that feels horrific as well.

Wayne

I don’t know if you ever saw Beyonce’s Life is But a Dream documentary, but there’s this clip in it where she’s recording herself being like, “Why did God give me this talent?” You know? As if it’s like this tragic thing, but in her mind, she’s like, “I have to do this, this is what I’ve been chosen to do.” But as a viewer, I’m like “You are so full of yourself…”

Rose

I KNOW!!!

Wayne

Like, “You can step down at any time, B.” But, I mean, that would risk the whole infrastructure she’s created.

Rose

And there is like an otherworldly, I feel it, an otherworldly calling. A spirituality that I certainly feel in my work, and I have talked to many artists that also feel it. Like I’ve tried to do other things, I’ve tried very hard to make a living, make that quiet life, and have the comfort. But, you know, someone once said to me, “you don’t choose to be an artist, it chooses you.” And then, once you are chosen, every day you’re getting up, it’s like renewing your vows every fucking morning with this work that you do. But there is this also strange contentment, which I’ve certainly started feeling recently, where I think, “Oh, I could just quit at any time.”

Wayne

You could.

Rose

I could decide that I don’t want to do this anymore. And the people that love me today won’t stop loving me, just because I decided I don’t want to do this anymore. And the fact that I, you know, move through the world wanting to contribute, isn’t going to change. The way, in which I contribute, even if it’s from the quiet bookstore, will still be meaningful. My happiness will change, my distress, my fear, but also my contentment and my pride. They will all evolve and continue to exist. I don’t think pure happiness is possible. I don’t know, maybe that’s just myself. I think torture is a big part of what I do. I’m tortured a lot.

Wayne

Where does that come from?

Rose

I was raised in a culture that taught me that my role as a woman was a subservient one. And all the women in my life, I grew up in a small town, so all the women in my life were examples of this. So, living for yourself wasn’t something that happened very often, and in fact, from my vantage point, most of the women that I grew up around, actually believed, and most of them still do, that they desire to be a wife and mother and those things. Those identities come first. So I’ve always been an anomaly to my family.

I distinctly remember this conversation where my mother was on the phone with my aunt, and I picked up the phone and listened. And my mom was talking about myself and my sister, and she said I was the selfish one, which has become like a trigger word for me because I don’t think my mom wasn’t wrong. I also think there is a such a negative association with that word, but mainly for women. The expectation is that we will serve and buoy our family and our children, and we will raise them and support them as they go and achieve their dreams, often at the expense of our own lives.

And so, I think so much of my existence is wrapped in that: my youth, in my upbringing, my culture. Because even though I don’t practice that now, and my life is very different than the lives of the women I grew up with, and I’m at peace with that. I have a partner that encourages me to live for myself, who loves me for my independence and my mind. But feeling that I am required to serve, to put his needs before my own, still lives in me. It will forever. And so that dissonance between, “I’m choosing to live my life for myself,” and the shame associated with that, puts this enormous pressure on me to be extraordinary at what I do, and not only extraordinary but highly successful.

Wayne

You mean in a commercial sense?

Rose

Yes, and that it’s never enough.

I bought a condo by myself as an artist, and it was deeply satisfying to feel like, “These fucking 700-square feet of air are mine, I own this.” As a woman, as an artist, on my own, and yet, I think someone in my family commented on how a condo in Toronto is the size of their walk-in closet. And again, they are right. But that kind of pressure is not helpful in the work. So I think I’m already living and existing with that hanging over me while I’m working. And then on top of it, as a woman, it’s a numbers game, and they don’t add up to success.

Wayne

Right.

Rose

There are more of us and fewer opportunities. And that’s just the reality. I guess, those feelings kind of multiply, and I can get cynical and hopeless. It’s not an easy business, whether you’re a man or women, but some people are at a more considerable disadvantage. And I think we are starting to recognize that a little bit. Not just women, people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, and we’re starting to challenge ourselves to accept the inequity. But I think we still have a way to go regarding how to reflect that imbalance.

And for me, it’s about, who’s telling the stories. I’ve run into this recently with casting. Now that I’m writing more and sitting on the other side of the table, I’m privy to conversations, that as an actor you just wouldn’t usually have, and I kind of feel that if someone is talking about representation in casting, it’s already too late. And that where it starts is who we give the space to speak. And (as women) we just haven’t gotten that space. And I, as a woman, have felt rage because I haven’t had that space to talk from since I was a child, and now I have to fight for it. Everything feels likes a fight.

Wayne

Which is exhausting.

Rose

It is.

And sometimes it feels like, ugh! Those are the days where I think, “Fuck this!” I don’t have this fight in me for years, for a lifetime. And talking to some of the incredible heroes of my life; women who have been doing for a long time, and hearing about their fight, I think, “Shit, do I have another 30 years in me? Having to put the armour on and get ready?” I don’t know. I mean, thankfully, I think it’s become a daily thing. Rather than me thinking of it in terms of a lifetime, and getting overwhelmed, and like digging a hole for myself. I’m starting to think of it as today: Like, today I get up, and my house is clean, and I made tea, and I have a conversation with Wayne, and then I’m going to write, you know, because that’s what I choose to do with today.

Wayne

And inherently, that is rebellion. That is your armour.

Rose

Yeah, I think so.

Wayne

It’s counter to the narrative.

Rose

Mhm, yeah, I also think, and particularly for women, I can only really speak to that perspective, but I imagine other marginalized voices would say similar things, but, you have to be better. Like, you have to be better. Better than today, then you were yesterday, you have to. You’re not ever going to be given anything easily. And so being deserving of something, or being talented, that’s just the entry point, that’s just the way to get in the door. And then it’s continually rising above. And I mean, the standard has to be your own, and I recognize that. And I think I have that, as an actor. I don’t compare myself, as an actor, to other people, and I feel when I’m acting on stage, I feel like I know my self; that I can go in and make a choice, make an offering, and take the room. And I don’t apologize. And, at the same time, I feel very humble. Because every day, I see the work of astounding women in my age category. So I’m always in awe of the work that my contemporaries are doing, and I know that I’m a choice, I’m a valid, good choice, and I don’t question that.

I think writing is more vulnerable, because, even when I’m emotionally investing in characters I’m playing, they’re someone else’s words. It’s an exercise in imagination. I’m good at going on a journey that has been given to me. Where, when you write, it is from you; it is you. And you can’t escape that. The very act of doing it is acknowledging whatever truth will come out. And a lot of time you don’t know what that will be, you write, and write, and write, and there are so many times when I will sit in a theatre and go, “I came up with that? That came from me?” That’s very scary, you know?

Wayne

Yes.

Rose

So there’s a different kind of vulnerability to write, that’s attached to it for me. But I think that kind of vulnerability was the reason why I needed it. I remember I was working on Romeo and Juliet at the Citadel. I was in rehearsal thinking, “Here I am, in this beautiful theatre, playing this dream part — a character I was told I would never get to play — I should be so happy, I should be the most content.” And I wasn’t. Something was missing, and that didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy doing the show, I did, but I felt there was a part of me that was not being used yet. And it was because, ultimately, I didn’t have a voice.

Wayne

Yeah.

Rose

And now that I write things, and I have something to say, I have a contribution that is me, is mine. And it strengthens my life as an actor. There is this opinion that you can only do one or the other, when actually; I think I’m better at both because I can do either.

Wayne

Art begets art.

Rose

Big time.

Wayne

You don’t have to act 365 days a year to be considered an actor, you don’t have to write ten plays a year to be a playwright, you could make pies for eight months and then write a play, and that could be considered successful.

Rose

Yup.

And now I’m an actor until September, doing Taming of the Shrew, which is going to be so exciting at this time in my life. I also get to be in some comic plays, which I think I need. I’ve been in some dark places in the last couple of years, so I think levity is going to be a vital part of the next six months of my life. I don’t exactly know what next year will look like, and that’s okay, there’s something about that that’s exciting. Because I think that now, that I do my work, I can say without any doubt, “Something will be happening next year.” Where when I was only working as an actor, that fear of nothing happening and no job coming, and no satisfying creative outlet, it was debilitating. And now, because I generate my creative outlets, I know that there’s something so calming about that certainty; I will continue to make things for myself, which means things will always keep happening. I’m not going to stop. It’s a part of my daily existence.

Wayne

And things will come when they do.

Rose

Absolutely.

I also feel that about my life; I don’t know what will happen. Will I have a family or not? Will I have children or not? Will I be married or not? I mean these are all things, these questions that hang over me because of how I was raised, those were the pinnacle of achievements; marrying well, having children, and being fiscally successful.

Wayne

Totally.

Rose

But not independent; be attached to a fiscally successful family, but not necessarily one that involves the means coming from you.

Wayne

Well, it’s understanding that, intrinsically, by choosing the life of an artist, you are choosing the counter to financial freedom. You are choosing the counter to economic freedom, comfort even.

Rose

I know for sure that no matter what happens if I do I have a family if I do have a house or a marriage or whatever, none of it is going to be traditional. It already isn’t. Because of my own choices and my own path. And I think that now I’m in a place with my family, where for the most part they both understand, and I think enjoy it, even though they didn’t choose it. So they may not have wanted it for themselves, but I think there is a joy in seeing my own life and how it’s unfolded.

Wayne

Of course. Because I mean, especially in the confines of your family, you are representing something. You have just chosen to go, “I’m going to try and make a living out of exploring myself.”

Rose

Mmhm.

Wayne

“I’m going to go out into the world alone and try to find me,” which scares a lot of people.

Rose

It’s going to sound fucking morbid, but: we come into it alone, we leave it alone. Regardless of family, or any of that. My dad died on the road at 45-year-old, and I was asleep in my bed. I had no idea that he was dying. And as much as we can sacrifice and give to prevent loneliness, actually being alone is the one certainty that we have in this life.

Wayne

So you better get comfortable with it.

Rose

Big time.

This conversation took place at Rose’s apartment in the west end of Toronto, March 3rd, 2018.

All photos by Yuli Scheidt.