Why Deserter?

November 27, 2017 Posted by Daniel

I have been writing Deserter for years. I first heard Joshua Key speak at a fundraiser in 2010. I wrote my first few scenes, adapted from Joshua’s book in 2012 (almost nothing from those original scenes remains in the play, but it was a start). I completed the first draft in 2015 and the production draft in 2017. It will premiere in May of 2018 and hopefully tour in 2019-20, maybe beyond. So, it’s not like this is the only thing I’ve been doing, but that’s almost 1/4 of my life!

Arne MacPherson, Majdi Bou-Matar, Andrew Cecon, Jeff Strome, Charlene Van Buekenhout and Steven Ratzlaff around the table in our 2016 workshop (photo by Solmund MacPherson)

I have never served in the army, I have never been to Iraq, I have never lived in a country under occupation by foreign soldiers. So why Deserter? Well, to me, it picks up where my last play left off. Here is how I put it in a recent grant application:

Deserter is the latest in a series of Moving Target creations exploring moral behaviour in a complex world. Our most recent play, Good People Bad Things, explored “banal evil,” from emotional abuse to genocide. We found that perpetuating evil is often as easy as “going with the flow” and that resisting social pressure can be very very difficult. Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann and many others went with the flow.

Joshua Key and other American war deserters resisted. They stood up and said “No. What we’re doing here is wrong, and I’m not going to do it anymore.” And how did we, as Canadian society, respond? While many Canadians support them, these former soldiers have lived in Canada without status – they could be deported at any minute – for more than a decade.

Starting in 2013, I interviewed Joshua Key extensively. I read memoirs of soldiers, journalistic accounts of life in Iraq, a psychiatrist’s book about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and articles about war resisters in Canada. I adapted material, riffed on material, created characters and amalgamated characters, exploring the scenes in workshops with some of the actors who will now be acting in the premiere.

I worked on Deserter with more than a little help from my friends – and in close collaboration with my dramaturg, Chris Gerrard-Pinker, as it went from a collection of scenes in no particular order to a post-modern deconstruction of the character, circular in structure, ending where it began, to what it is now: the psychological drama of a war deserter caught with a fake passport, unstuck in time due to PTSD, unstuck in place for many other reasons.

Arne MacPherson, Charlene Van Buekenhout, Jeff Strome, Karl Thordarson and Michael Lawrenchuck in a reading of the first draft of Deserter at the Carol Shields Festival, 2015. (photo by Chris MacDonald)

Deserter will premiere in Winnipeg May 17-27, 2018 at the Rachel Browne Theatre. We hope to see you there!

I love every part of the playwriting process – no matter how uncomfortable I may be during some of it, no matter how much I may have complained last time you ran into me (I complain, therefore I am) – it really is such a privilege. I love the research and discovery, the first swipes at scenes, the polishing of the scenes, the arranging and re-arranging of scene titles on recipe cards, the formation of the story. And one of my greatest joys is yet to come: sitting in the audience during each performance, watching the actors create the play every night, experiencing the play through the eyes of each new audience.

In the meantime, my job is business-y. In early November, I submitted a grant application (you just read part of it). Now I’m looking for rehearsal space. This morning, I talked to a graphic designer – okay, that’s kind of exciting. Stay tuned for the poster design! And in coming months: more partnerships, more details. Starting late December / early January we’ll have design meetings – that’s going to be great. And this is my life: a million things to do, in no particular order. And eventually we’ll have a show.

And I’m planning to write a blog post each month. Any suggestions? Any questions? Did you actually read all the way to the bottom? Thanks so much! Email me about any of the above:

MovingTargetTheatreCompany [at] gmail [dot] com.

Click here to join the Moving Target email list.

And keep checking this website for updates!

Looking forward,


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