Whatever you do, don't ask Gil Garratt to audition for another beer commercial. Last time around, he nearly vomited.
The beer company wanted him to pretend to be a bottle cap - one that really, really wanted to open up. Around him, music played and people danced. All he had to do was burst and spew his imaginary suds. He felt like spewing something else.
"I thought, 'What the fuck am I doing? Why the fuck am I here?'" says Garratt today, with that potentially lucrative yet traumatic experience a couple of years behind him.
"I felt degraded and disillusioned. It wasn't what I wanted to do with my life."
Instead, Garratt wanted to act, write and produce for the theatre. He's finally getting his wish, and managing to pay his rent at the same time. These days his only encounters with beer bottles come after his many performances.
His latest project is Theatre Direct's Buncha' Young Artists Havin' Their Say... festival. He's one of four 20-something playwrights presenting new works for young adult audiences. Performed in rep at Theatre Passe Muraille's Backspace, the shows are open to the general public until March 12.
Don't be fooled by that YA label. There won't be any this-is-good-for-you-kids proselytizing. And there certainly won't be any product placement. All of which suits Garratt fine.
With his hair artfully mussed and his signature nervous energy on display, Garratt tells me he's been working on his play Vicious Little Boyz In The Rain for more than three years. He began it at the National Theatre School, where writing instructor John Palmer called it a cross between Hair and A Clockwork Orange.
It follows four boys, one of them actually a girl, as they trek the globe, razing city buildings and killing people who have money, status or power. They don't want to grow up. They hate intimacy. And they keep on killing until one of them suddenly encounters sensuality, love and compassion.
The show's violence made some Theatre Direct board members nervous, especially in light of the Columbine massacre, which happened long after Garratt began the piece. But the writer stuck by his guns, so to speak.
"The play's not didactic or preachy," says Garratt, who was recently seen smeared with strawberry-jam blood in James Harkness's play, Pills.
"It's about the fear of love, and people's inability to express themselves in love. Young people today are starting to look at our roles in love. The important thing is how we love, rather than what or who."
Similar themes pop up in Boys, Paul Dunn's one-hander about a trio of confused males caught in that emotional and career limbo between youth and adulthood.
"It tries to capture the attitudes that people have about the paths people follow," says Dunn, who besides writing and performing in Boys is doing triple duty as one of the violent youths in Garratt's play.
"For instance, how do students in university feel about squeegee kids? How do people feel about someone going into the arts? And is it possible to fetishize someone because of their occupation?"
Dunn, who earned kudos in David Young's play Glenn last season at Stratford, began the work as a series of monologues at NTS. After graduation, he applied for and got into the Montreal Fringe, reworked the script and performed the show.
"The Fringe show really opened a lot of doors and started this whole path of connections and confidence," Dunn says now. This week, while performing in his own show, he begins commuting for his second season at Stratford, which includes Hamlet and the new Bard-inspired work by Timothy Findley.
For Garratt, who'll soon show up in Sky Gilbert's new play about Ayn Rand, The Emotionalists, writing and producing your work is the only way to go. He recalls intense meetings with fellow playwrights Greg MacArthur, Anton Piatigorsky, John Delacourt and Ian Carpenter.
"I remember wanting to do such-and-such a role one day," he says. "Then I realized that no one would ever give me those parts just like that. That's when my friends and I started creating and producing our own work, without that outside affirmation. That's been liberating, and 50 billion times more fulfilling."