After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!

Sarah Hayward and Stripes: The Mystery Circus

Sarah Hayward in Stripes: The Mystery Circus

As a theatre student in Montreal, Sarah Hayward saw a performer “balancing backwards, singing like Yoko Ono, and operating the light board with his toes.” That’s when she knew she wanted to write a one-woman show.

Years later, the result is Stripes: The Mystery Circus, a show about a woman who wants to run away from her regular life and join the circus.

“It begins with Polly Hymnia (the Greek muse of song),” says Hayward. “She’s prepared audition pieces for all the different circus roles: Ring Master, Escape Artist, Juggler, and Bearded Lady. She’s determined!”

And so is Hayward, who says she’d been auditioning for traditional theatre roles for years. Many of them she got. Her first professional role was Guildenstern in a Vancouver production of The Haunted House Hamlet.

“The audience could follow you around, so you’d have to think of extra things to do—like sonnets in the washroom. I did a mad scene and started to peel off layers of clothing. My brother was stuck in a doorway. His worst fear is of getting trapped. And he’s been squeamish about theatres ever since.”

Rather than something she tries to escape, Hayward’s “regular” life, which includes her job at the Vancouver Public Library, never seems to stop fueling her already fertile imagination. As she shelves plays and literature, she’s always finding things that inspire her.

“It reminds me of all the great books I can mine for material,” she says. “I like the environment—quiet, soothing to the soul. I go home with a huge pile of books.”

Another source of inspiration was the Cassandra Project, named for the figure from Greek mythology, who was given the gift of prophecy but then cursed so no one would believe her.

“The Cassandra Project was a 15 person social theatre research collective, made up of teachers, actors and voice coaches, who interviewed people about their own Cassandra experience,” explains Hayward. “Everyone seems to have one, a time when they spoke the truth and no one believed them. Then we wove them together into a performance.”

This deepened Hayward’s desire to speak in her own voice.

While she was traveling back and forth to Victoria to visit her mother in extended care, Hayward began working with voice coach Marguerite Witvoet.

“I’d come back each time full of stories, so Marguerite said, ‘sing me your stories; turn up the volume.’ And she would record and help me to reshape them. We came up with eight songs. It was the biggest gift. Me mining my own life, a personal archeology, and then turning it into a piece of theatre.”

The great thing about one-person shows, says Hayward, is that “they’re easy to produce. You don’t have to pay anyone else, and you can start from your own material. I love to see people combining all these things—dance, theatre and music. It’s very satisfying.”

When I ask if she ever misses performing with others, she says, “You really can’t do it alone. There’s always collaboration in the creative process. And on stage, the audience is your partner. You’re fully engaged as though you were with another person there.”

After the show’s run in Vancouver, Hayward takes Mystery Circus to the International New York Fringe Festival, which she calls “the thrill of a lifetime—my Olympic event.”

Stripes: The Mystery Circus can be seen at the Moberly Arts & Culture Centre, Friday through Sunday, May 28th-30th.

For more information, visit:



More in Just Between Us

On seeing the Cézannes at the Vancouver Art Gallery

All these years, I have walked by Cézanne’s paintings without really seeing a thing.

Vancouver Confidential unveils gritty, fascinating side of city's history

These bloggers, actors and tour guides “are creating a much larger conversation about Vancouver” than could be created by conventional historians.

Writer urges us to reclaim our sleep

Katt Duff loves sleep so much, she had to write a book about it
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.