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Rose Napoli

"It behooves theatre makers to consider their audiences more deeply. Who are we making the work for? If it’s just for ourselves, then we can’t expect audiences outside of the theatre community to be there. "

David Leyes

Joe Szekeres

There aren’t enough hours to speak to Canadian theatre artists and learn what they’re doing. That’s even more reason to get ourselves to the theatre as much as possible.

Thank you, Rose Napoli, for reminding me why I want to continue profiling and highlighting Canadian theatre artists. All of you are worth it.

She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and a Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of Windsor. She also had two stints of training with the Banff Citadel Professional Training Program.

For Napoli: “Training is never complete…the most important lessons I’ve learned in the theatre…all happened while I was working.”

I like hearing that. It’s reassuring that even actors always feel their training is never complete, and they continue to examine and discover new paths and avenues of exploration.

Rose and I conducted our conversation via email. She is smack dab in rehearsals right now. I have some family responsibilities that have prevented me from attending shows this past week; however, I look forward to seeing ‘Mad Madge’ as press releases are whetting my interest.

Even before I began compiling her profile, I knew I’d heard Rose’s name, but I couldn’t remember in what capacity as an actor or playwright. So, what does one do in that case?

Do some quick online research using reputable sources and avoid Wikipedia.

And I did just that.

When Rose debuted at Soulpepper, her theatre bio stated she had performed in Canadian Stage’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’

So that’s where I saw her work!

Her Soulpepper bio also indicated she was nominated for a Dora for Outstanding Performance in “The Incredible Speediness of Jamie Cavanaugh.” Rose is a television writer who has recently worked on shows for CBC, Bell/Crave, and CityTV. She is currently developing her own shows with Cameron Pictures, CBC Gem, and Circle Blue Entertainment.

A busy lady, especially with ‘Mad Madge’ opening soon.

From releases I have read about Napoli’s play: “Margaret Cavendish, known as ‘Mad Madge,’ was a 17th-century philosopher, poet, and playwright—a scandalous Jill of all trades and mistress of none. In her unapologetic pursuit of fame, Madge ditched her dysfunctional family to join the court of an unruly Queen and leave her mark on history. The script pays homage to Jane Austen and Tina Fey in the same breath. It’s a laugh-out-loud contemporary-period mashup that suggests that a woman’s hunger for unbridled attention is not so shallow.”

For those who are television watchers or paparazzi gazers, if audience members keep up with the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears, and for those who faithfully watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, Margaret Cavendish did it first. ‘Mad Madge plays fast and loose with history. The production team is interested in a show that is provocative, true, and hilarious but not historically accurate.

These are some further good reasons for all of us to get up off our sofas in front of our television sets and go to the Theatre Centre.

What drew Napoli to compile this tale?

“I initially was interested in writing a wild comedy about female rage inspired by the woman who threw the chair onto the Gardiner. I was curious about women being driven to a kind of madness because of social media. At the same time, I was reading Danielle Dutton’s book, ‘Margaret the First.’ Margaret was the OG influencer, obsessed with being famous… I thought, wow, we’ve been doing this long before Britney Spears. We’ve been doing it since the 17th century.”

From her email, I can sense Rose’s cheekiness. She wants the audience to see the show and laugh because she says ‘Mad Madge’ is funny as hell. For example, Nancy Palk’s Queen Henrietta is on the toilet for a good portion of the show. The toilet seat is made from fur, which is probably what could have occurred in the 17th century.

The cast just did a run of the show, and Rose only corpsed three times! Rehearsing comedy can be tricky, but the cast makes each other laugh, which is a good sign. The show moves fast, and the cast has to manage changing characters at the drop of a hat.

Napoli compliments director Andrea Donaldson:

“Andrea and I have worked together many times in many capacities. She directed the premiere of another play of mine, Lo, or Dear Mr. Wells. I’ve been an assistant director to her. She’s directed me as an actor in Grace and The Taming of the Shrew. This is the first time she’s directed me in my work. Andrea has been with ‘Madge’ since its inception. We have a shorthand. We have trust. We can disagree. It’s so validating to work with someone who understands who you are and what you’re doing. She is so generous, completely without ego. Which balances my flaming one.”

Rose also acknowledges the work going on behind the scenes. Astrid Janson and her team are working tirelessly in their magical costume quarters. Something like fifty costumes all have to be quick-changed, and it’s all done sustainably, which is amazing. The production team is producing a show about excess, and it’s all ecologically sound.

Napoli says she’s chuffed to be onstage again and certainly doesn’t want to negate the challenges the live entertainment sector faced through the pandemic. Still, she doesn’t worry about the future of the theatre. Robots may make movies in the next few years, but nothing can replace live performance.

Rose has become far more discerning about how she spends her time. She believes audiences have done the same in their gradual return to the theatre. She asks an important question that I think all theatre artists must consider going forward:

‘Let’s consider our audiences more deeply. Who are we making the work for? If it’s just for ourselves, then we can’t expect audiences outside the theatre community to be there.

Once ‘Mad Madge’ concludes its run at The Theatre Centre, what’s next for Napoli?

She jumps into workshops for a new musical she’s writing with composer Suzy Wilde, directed by Marie Farsi. Excerpts from the show are showing at Musical Stage’s New Works Festival in May. Then she’ll be in TV land for a while, but she'll never be far away from the theatre.

‘Mad Madge’ is a Nightwood Theatre production in association with VideoCabaret. It runs at Toronto’s The Theatre Centre April 9 -21, in the Franco Boni Theatre, 1115 Queen Street West. For tickets visit or call the Box Office (416) 538-0988.

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