Featured Playwright — Sunny Drake

Playwrights Guild of Canada
6 min readMar 1, 2024

Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with writer and creator, Sunny Drake! Sunny Drake’s inventive and multi-award-winning theatre works have been presented in over 60 cities across the world and translated into 6 languages. His wide range of audiences have spanned international arts festivals goers, queers in underground warehouses and seniors in regional theatres. Sunny was selected to write the 2019 World Theatre Day message for Canada. He was recently awarded the PACT Green Award for his large-scale project, CLIMATE CHANGE & OTHER SMALL TALK, in which over 100 artists in 9 cities across the world created audio dramas. He was awarded the inaugural Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prize 2019 for having a significant impact on performing arts in Ontario, and a Tom Hendry comedy award in 2021 for EVERY LITTLE NOOKIE, which was produced the following year by the Stratford Festival.

This year, Sunny premiered CHILD-ish with Pacific Theatre (Vancouver), his verbatim work where adults speak children’s exact words. The previous digital adaptation was presented by Soulpepper, Stratford Festival and others. In 2020, Downstage premiered his comedy, MEN EXPRESS THEIR FEELINGS, described by the Calgary Herald as “an instant Canadian classic”. Subsequent productions were mounted in Vancouver (2022), Saskatoon and Regina (2024).

Sunny is also a proud trans and queer artist.


Tell us how you got your start writing plays.

Now I make theatre about a wide range of themes and audiences, but when I first started my theatre practise, I was primarily focused on trans narratives. Growing up, I had little access to trans stories in any cultural medium. This constrained what I thought was possible for my theatre practice, and also for my life. My early work was propelled by my desire — no, my need — to change that. At the time, university programs with strict gender casting were not welcoming options for trans artists. So, I rolled up my sleeves and just started making theatre. I initially put on my plays and performances in esteemed venues like living rooms, backyards, basements and warehouses. To afford my rent, at one point I lived in a washroom with a mattress on the bathtub — careful not to bump the taps!

You have identified one of your “theatrical obsessions” as “getting the style and form of [the] work to mirror the content itself”. Can you explain how that works in your plays, and why it’s important to you.

I’m interested in creating multi-layered theatrical experiences for audiences. I love using the full possibilities available to us in the theatre, and that includes building what I want to say into the style and form of each piece. Some examples:

  • With my comedy, MEN EXPRESS THEIR FEELINGS, I wanted to revision masculinity for the twenty-first century, so I picked a realm in which masculinity is at its most intense: hockey. The action was based around a misunderstanding after a hockey game, and I also structured the play like a hockey game, into three periods, with instant replays of key emotional moments from different character’s points of view (like sports instant replays) and with characters stepping out to commentate.
  • EVERY LITTLE NOOKIE uses increasingly “meshed” scenes — where an actor is in more than one scene simultaneously — to mirror the increasingly intertwined relationships in a play which asks what would happen if we shook up the nuclear family. We feel the entanglement in the scene style.
  • CHILD-ish use a generational power imbalance by having adults speak children’s exact words, for an adult audience. Adults essentially become megaphones for children’s ideas and experiences, since we often take other adults more seriously.

Your theatrical podcast Climate Change and Other Small Talk recently won PACT’s 2024 Green Award, congratulations! What was it like collaborating with other artists around the world on such an urgent issue?

Epic! Inspiring! Logistically bananas! Hope-generating!

Meeting and collaborating with 100 brilliant artists around the world, to bring to life this global theatrical audio journey, was nourishing in ways that I didn’t even know that I needed. Many days I find myself slipping into despair about the state of our planet. This project taught me that me that hope is a verb. Hope is not a magical feeling that randomly descends, it comes from getting in community with people and together working towards change. I can sleep at night when I know I’m doing everything in my power to turn this ship around.

Are there differences and/or similarities in writing for a podcast format as opposed to a live stage play?

I learned that audio drama is more akin to a film than a stage play: it’s like a movie in your mind. I loved having an unlimited set and costume budget, with minimal carbon emissions. This format allowed a global sharing of local stories, which was part of the point of the project. I love theatres, and it’s also super fun that we can bring audio plays into people’s homes, schools, workplaces, to policy decision-makers, climate justice frontliners and into local community centres.

The world premiere of the live version of your verbatim work, CHILD-ish, is currently on stage in Vancouver, BC at Pacific Theatre, until March 9th. What was it like to see the script brought to the stage, and is there anything that you will take away from the experience of its world premiere?

It’s been thrilling to see the audience’s response to the work! It has validated that we need out-of-the-box theatrical works that allow us to synthesize serious themes in ways that are joyful and playful.

I wrote an essay for the Georgia Straight about what I learned from children during this project over the 7 years it took to create.

Men Express Their Feelings is also about to have a third production, this time in Saskatoon with 25th Street Theatre, Mar 9th- 20th. Do you keep working on your scripts after a first production?

I think we do a real disservice to Canadian theatre with how often new works have only one production. I learn so much from putting a work in front on an audience. I aim to be at the part of the rehearsals for the first two productions of any new script, so I can refine the script from audiences and from working with different teams to see how they interpret the script. With Men Express Their Feelings, I had an additional trajectory: during the pandemic I adapted the script into a 3 episode audio drama, and that cracked open a whole new component of the script. So then I adapted the adaptation back to the stage! Now, at its third production in Saskatoon (forth production if you count the audio adaptation), I finally just pressed send on the script and won’t be part of rehearsals. I’m so excited to hear how it goes!

What are you working on next?

I’m incubating three new theatrical works: another climate epic, a trans-centric contemporary Shakespeare adaptation, and a play about a middle-aged professional dominatrix.

Do you have any favourite Canadian plays and/or which artists are currently inspiring you?

It’s awesome to see the range of work being made by trans, non-binary and queer theatre makers! Some folks whose work I love to keep up with: Bilal Baig, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Dasha Plett and We Quit Theatre, Tsholo Khalema, Raven Wngz, Rhiannon Collette, Erum Khan, Teiya Kasahara, Heath V. Salazar, Jay Northcott, Kai Taddei, Elio Zarillo, Hanlon McGregor, Kiley May, Syrus Marcus Ware, Breton Lalama and sooooooo many others

Find out more about CHILD-ish at Pacific Theatre until March 9, 2024 HERE.

And more about 25th Street Theatre’s March 2024 production of Men Express Their Feelings HERE.

And keep up with Sunny online:
Website: www.sunnydrake.com
Insta: sunny_drake
Facebook: sunny_drake

Disclaimer: Playwrights Guild of Canada (“PGC”) is a national arts service mandated to engage and grow an active Canadian writing community. We promote Canadian plays around the world to advance the creative rights and interests of professional Canadian playwrights for the stage. The views of our members are their own. The opinions of PGC as an association remain neutral.



Playwrights Guild of Canada

Established in 1972, PGC is a registered national arts service association committed to advancing the creative rights and interests of Canadian playwrights.