MFA (directing) graduate brings LGBTQ voices to stage and screen

As they prepare to cross the graduation stage, Dahl has been hard at work on a number of new creative projects

Caitlin Crawshaw - 20 June 2024

Brett Dahl (‘13 BFA, ‘24 MFA) can’t remember a time when theatre wasn’t part of their life.

“I remember being in elementary school and auditioning to be part of a touring show that performed at my school,” says Dahl, who hails from Calgary. “A few students got to have little parts. I think I played a guard or a little mouse — some stand-up character — and just held a prop.”

Dahl loved other art forms, too — like painting and writing — but was captivated by theatre in a different way. Throughout their childhood and teen years, they performed in theatre productions both at school and in the community before deciding to pursue post-secondary training after high school. Dahl headed to Edmonton for the U of A’s BFA (acting) program, considered one of the best acting programs in Canada, before launching their professional career after graduation in 2013.

With talent and grit, they became a busy actor but became frustrated when they weren’t getting the complex roles they’d hoped for. To solve this, Dahl took matters into their own hands and wrote a play for themself called Like Orpheus — a queer spin on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Instead of Orpheus venturing into the underworld to save his wife, he must save a younger version of himself who has been assaulted in a nightclub.

Produced by Theatre Outré, a queer theatre company based in Lethbridge, Like Orpheus toured internationally and earned Dahl a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award in 2018. In 2020, Dahl also received the Cultural Leaders Legacy RBC Emerging Artist Award.

“It was a real turning point,” says Dahl. As the queer leading character, Orpheus, Dahl found their voice as a theatre artist and says the play’s success motivated them to pursue writing and producing. The play has since been adapted into a film, as well, and is currently in post-production with a premiere expected next year.

The experience also contributed to Dahl’s decision to shift focus to directing and return to the U of A in 2022 for an MFA. Having found their voice as an artist, Dahl says grad school provided an opportunity to challenge themselves and take new creative risks.  

Their thesis, which received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant in 2021, explores the ways in which classical texts tell queer stories or can be re-imagined to tell queer stories through a modern lens. As part of their graduate work, Dahl directed a lesser-known Shakespearean play called Troilus and Cressida, which they describe as a “Black Mirror version of Romeo and Juliet.” The play provided opportunities for modern, queer interpretations, but also contains characters whom Shakespeare intended to be queer, says Dahl.

As they prepare to cross the stage to receive their MFA in directing, Dahl has been hard at work on a number of new creative projects. Dahl recently directed Is My Microphone On? for the Citadel Theatre Young Company and was nominated for a Sterling Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in The Hooves Belonged to the Deer. Presently, they are developing a queer bee-themed children’s musical for the Toronto theatre company Bad Hats and rehearsing for the upcoming Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Tempest. On top of all of this, Dahl is the artistic director of Theatre Outré, a role they assumed last fall. 

“A lot of my work provides a safe space for queer artists to express themselves authentically or be surrounded by other queer artists who are doing that,” says Dahl, who says their sexuality has made them ‘uncastable’ in some contexts.

In a political climate where LGBTQ rights are being undermined, Dahl is passionate about providing queer representation on stage. “Our voices are more important now than ever. It is a scary time, but it’s a time when we need to stay vocal, present, and active. I really believe representation matters.”