Back from the brink Gargoyle Theatre refuses to let massive snowfall end recovery from pandemic

After starring in Sonja and Richard last February, Marina Stephenson-Kerr and Steven Ratzlaff earned the distinction of being the first actors to take the stage at the Gargoyle Theatre.

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After starring in Sonja and Richard last February, Marina Stephenson-Kerr and Steven Ratzlaff earned the distinction of being the first actors to take the stage at the Gargoyle Theatre.

An unforgiving Winnipeg winter threatened to also make them the last.

Under the weight of the historic snowfall of 2022, the Ellice Avenue theatre’s roof was compromised, with water seeping into the newly refurbished, repainted and renovated interior.

Theatre preview

Breaking Up With Me

Written by Cuinn and Connor Joseph

● Gargoyle Theatre, 585 Ellice Ave.

● Runs May 25 to June 8

Tickets online

“It pretty much immediately shut us down,” says Andrew Davidson, the local author who purchased the Mac building in 2019 and funded its rejuvenation.

Over the course of just four years at the helm of the theatre, called “Gargoyle” after his 2008 novel, Davidson has been forced to weather several local storms, along with one particularly pesky global maelstrom.

However, he has remained unmoved in his commitment to the theatre, whose mandate is to workshop new Manitoban works: every show staged at the Gargoyle is a première.

Davidson was not about to allow a few soggy shingles to sink his precious ship. The roof has been replaced and reshingled, and the ceiling, walls and stage top have been restored.

“It’s now stronger than ever,” the Pinawa-born author says.

Just in time: next week, the curtain rises on Breaking Up With Me, the Gargoyle’s second-ever performance, a pop-punk musical written by the brothers Cuinn and Connor Joseph. It’s produced by JMG Creative, whose show The Cause won Best New Manitoba Play honours at the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Festival.


Andrew Davidson says the reopened Gargoyle is ‘stronger than ever.’

Breaking Up With Me started as a school project for Cuinn, 26, who was studying astrophysics at the University of Manitoba and then decided to get a theatre degree. The show began as a 20-minute musical piece, with a strong focus on men’s mental health, says production manager Monique Gauthier, 26, who is also Cuinn’s fiancée.

Like the Gargoyle, Breaking Up With Me took its time.

The show went on the backburner for a little while, but JHG Creative, which consists of the Josephs, Gauthier and Jacob Herd, expanded the initial project to be a pop-punk concept album. Then they saw a call for submissions from the Toronto Fringe Festival for the Digital Adams Prize for Musical Theatre.

“Within a matter of a week-and-a-half, our team, mostly Connor, wrote a script,” says Gauthier. JHG earned runner-up honours, just missing out on the $3,000 prize.

After that, the group did a residency with Winnipeg’s One Trunk Theatre company, developing three music videos for Breaking Up With Me. Those promotional materials helped net JHG more than $20,000 in grant funding, mostly from the Manitoba Arts Council.


Connor Joseph (left) and brother Cuinn (second from right) co-wrote 'Breaking Up With Me', co-produced with Monique Gauthier and Jacob Herd.

In 2021, JHG was accepted to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s residency program, gaining funds to pay actors and the chance to use the RMTC theatre space for a week to develop the show.

A 70-page script expanded to 125 pages, and soon after, JHG took the finished product to the Gargoyle’s pitch day, where aspiring theatre pros make their case for a spot on the new theatre’s stage.

The script centred on a heartbroken young man named Brennan, played by Ian Ingram of local pop-punk band Badfriend. On the advice of his therapist, Brennan creates personas for his mental-health disorders, including anxiety, OCD and depression.

They take the form of a pop-punk band that won’t leave him alone — an emo Inside Out if soundtracked by My Chemical Romance.

THE GAZETTE/ Pierre Obendrauf

Lead singer Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance in concert in Montreal on May 09, 2007.

Along with the script and music videos, the team brought in recordings of 10 songs, earworms that impressed Davidson with both their musicality and relevance.

“The music was catchy, the lyrics were intelligent, and of course, it’s quite topical now,” says Davidson. He immediately offered a stage slot.

But before the curtain could go up, the roof nearly caved in, delaying the anticipated May 2022 première of Breaking Up With Me by one year.

The delay wasn’t without some benefit: the creative team was able to work with dramaturg Ellen Peterson to iron out a few kinks in the story, says Gauthier.

Meanwhile, the Josephs, both high school teachers — Cuinn teaches theatre, Connor teaches English — had more time to live in the world of pop-punk, a genre which Cuinn calls a tool to express personal struggle.

“In pop-punk, a lot of young men who were taught to bottle up their emotions and resist expressions of anything other than anger were openly expressing vulnerability.”–Connor Joseph

“In pop-punk, a lot of young men who were taught to bottle up their emotions and resist expressions of anything other than anger were openly expressing vulnerability, including deep sadness and anxiousness,” says Connor Joseph.

“Additionally, the genre adds a necessary amount of levity to what can otherwise be a heavy conversation, offering light and hope to its listeners.”

A Pop-Punk Playlist

The Free Press asked JHG Creative to share a few of their favourite pop-punk songs. Click “Read More” below to listen along and read about the reasons behind their selections.

The Free Press asked JHG Creative to share a few of their favourite pop-punk songs.

Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance

This song is about looking back on a fond memory while being taken to the afterlife. It was pivotal in the development of my music taste, but was also released the day of my parents’ divorce. Even as a 10-year-old, it was easy to draw the parallels to the end of a relationship. In a time where it was so easy to close myself off, the vow the song makes to keep your humanity against all odds is something that’s stuck with me to this day. “We’ll carry on.”

Ian Ingram

Therapy by All Time Low

“Give me therapy, I’m a walking travesty / But I’m smiling at everything.”

This song came to me at a difficult time in my life — I was going through loss of a family member, moving things out of a childhood home, and having great difficulty with my mental health as a teen. This song gave me the courage to seek help, and also happens to be the song that got me hooked on the pop-punk genre. It holds a special place in my heart.

Monique Gauthier

Hum Hallelujah by Fall Out Boy

I still don’t know why, but the first time I heard this song, it became all I listened to for a week. In a time in my life when I was struggling with undiagnosed mental illness and neurodivergence, to hear someone stand up and proclaim “I’m not doing well” through their art was a very moving experience for me!

Jacob Herd

In Too Deep by Sum 41

I was a really anxious kid and hearing this song made me feel like there were other people like me. This song is catchy but, more important, it is unapologetically anxious. It explicitly discusses trying to function when times are difficult. I hadn’t listened to it for many years, but hearing it again brought back a tidal wave of memories, past fears and a sense of relief.

Connor Joseph

Weightless by All Time Low

Sometimes when you’re in the midst of a difficult moment in life, there is a very special feeling that washes over you. The feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The feeling that you will not only bounce back, but you will thrive when you make it out of the rut. You think to yourself, “Maybe it’s not my weekend, but it’s gonna be my year.” To me, this song embodies that feeling. In one listen, I am ready to take on the world.”

Cuinn Joseph

Sometimes, the genre — which includes such bands as Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Paramore — is unfairly maligned as being for teenage girls and skater boys, says Joseph.

“Feeling misunderstood, struggling with mental illness, or being so frustrated that you want to cathartically scream are not (experiences) specific to any group of people,” he says.

“I can say confidently as a 20-something Black man that it is not just for teenage girls.”

In Breaking Up With Me, mental conditions aren’t just abstract ideas, but characters in Brennan’s universe. Duncan Cox, who last played Snoopy at MTYP, will play Depression. Josh Bellan will co-star as OCD, with Kara Joseph playing Anxiety. Nan Fewchuk plays Susan, Brennan’s therapist.

Davidson won’t have to wait so long for the next Gargoyle productions: the theatre will host four performances for the upcoming Winnipeg Fringe Festival, including the première of JHG’s next show, World’s Fair, 1876: The Centennial Exposition.

“I’m currently in the theatre with the air conditioner going,” Davidson said Wednesday, about a year after he discovered the water damage.

“It’s all very exciting.”

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Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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