Little documentation, even less evidence - kind of an archeological endeavor here... Which definitely brings out an early predilection / casting in roles such as Callum’s been given in movies (with the whole range from dork to crazy as seen in the polls).
Notes: I once read somewhere that Callum played in Man and Superman as "Goatherd", and now cannot find any information associated to it. This community being somewhat about collective memory (ha!), I’ve put it in nevertheless. Some sources for information on plays have been lost as well, which is why I was not able to quote them. Also I’ve associated the last pic to Trelawny of the Wells - should be either from this or from Man and Superman, seeing as it’s named Shaw and there’s little possibility it’s from his role in Code Name: The Cleaner. Lastly, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to find more on Big Hands Tearing My Panties than the little blurb mentioned below - all interpretations remain open.
Callum’s theater career: a chronology
A list of stage plays Callum’s been in
- Amerika (? 1985 ?)
- American Buffalo (1985)
- Lost Souls And Missing Persons (1989)
- Man and Superman (1989)
- Trelawny of the Wells (1990)
- Big Hands Tearing My Panties (1991)
During his young years, Callum hesitated between mountain-climbing and acting as a choice of career. He thought about acting at age 18, read a lot about it without doing anything about it - he felt it was "egomaniacal to decide all of a sudden you wanted to be an actor" - until in the 1980’s a friend asked him to do voiceover work at CJSR, the University of Alberta's radio station. Callum worked there for one year, doing producing and writing. Doing a radio show hooked him on acting - "After doing the one show, on that one day, Saturday, I took all my climbing gear and books about it and threw 'em out, and I said, this is what I do now. I'm going to be an actor" - and led him to start, at 25, performing at the A.B.O.P. Theatre in Edmonton (Amerika?), and in the critically acclaimed play American Buffalo during the 1985 Home on the Fringe edition of the Edmonton Fringe Festival.
After having vainly tried his luck in Toronto, he attended Bruhanski Theatre Studio in Vancouver where he took several acting classes. (C6D note: Alex Bruhanski features with Nicholas Lea, Babz Chula and Jennifer Clement in the 1994 movie The Raffle where you can also catch a glimpse of Callum’s nape as floor director). While studying at the Studio, Callum had his first professional theatrical performance in Lost Souls And Missing Persons in 1989, at Vancouver Firehall Arts Centre, and this earned him an invitation to work at the Shaw Festival where he appeared in Man and Superman and Trelawny of the Wells.
That’s where Callum’s theater career took a down turn, when he had to burn to be reborn anew: "After a season at the festival, he returned to Vancouver where he started work on another play, but never completed it." "Drinking was beginning to affect him more than ever and at one point, after being hired for a play in Vancouver, he stopped showing up for rehearsals, earning him a poor reputation among theater directors." "I started working on a play, then I lost my mind, got on a bus and went to Seattle and flew to England in the middle of rehearsal."
Director Liesl Lafferty testifies to a later performance of Callum on stage: “My first Fringe show was Big Hands Tearing My Panties (Cambridge House, Vancouver Fringe ’91) by Cartar Bragg, featuring Callum Keith Rennie, Rondelle Reynoldson and Sandra Summerfield."
Sources: Rebel without a comb, CKR’s Biography - William & Elyse's Due South Page, The Original Callum Keith Rennie Biography
Articles & interviews extracts
Most of his biographies and many of his interviews mention his theater career. In addition to those quoted above, I selected the following extracts - from articles and interviews which have already been or will be published in the files, but deserving to be featured in this post.
From Open Mike with Mike Bullard, CTV Feb. 99
Mike: Good, good, good. Now you rarely do perform in public anymore, Callum, but you started on stage, I guess.
Callum: Um, I started in Edmonton doing a radio show, ah, for some friends. Who put together a live show every Saturday. It was like a half hour and they asked me to listen to the show and I said, Geez, this is really horrible.' And they said, 'Do you want to come down and participate?' And I went, (eeeeehhum) 'Okay.' So every Friday we would, you know, sit in a bar, write this sort of half hour live, do all the sounds and do the whole bit and uh—
Mike: You don't think that sitting in a bar, writing it, may have contributed to it being terrible?
Callum: No, umm (looking down, pause, then looks up smiling at Mike and at the same time thumbs his nose and then opens that hand out as to exclaim) it got better, let's say. Okay? Um, so--which led on to doing some plays in the Fringe Festival.
Mike: Right, and from then you went on to the Fringe Festival. Tell me about your first experience in a play? I heard it was very funny.
Callum: Um, so it was a couple of the same people who did the radio show with me and I had never been on the stage before. You know, I was 25 years old (He then leans really far back into his chair) --sort of feels a bit like this. (audience laughs, he then looks around the crowd quickly, does a stretched out smile, almost a grimace, and opens his eyes really wide quickly, almost like how a person would try to wake themselves up, then leans forward) So, you know, we rehearsed the play for three months-- get out there, you know-- it's, lights come up, I'm sitting down and I have the first line of the play and I can't remember what it is. And the co-- the, you know, other person who's in the scene with me is starting to pace around, pace around, pace around. And so I-- I'll just smoke a cigarette. So I light a cigarette. It'll come to me. I'm sure it'll come to me. Ten minutes goes by. The cigarette goes out. And **snaps fingers** oh, that's it. "What?" Then we start.
A ghost article, mentioned in William & Elyse's Due South Page, Callum Keith Rennie Articles: EDMONTON JOURNAL (Canada) Aug 11 1985 "Fringe bing crazy, exciting, appealing" (American Buffalo review) by Liz Nicholls
From "12 Steps to Stardom" from Saturday Night Magazine, March 1998
In the early eighties, friends at the University of Alberta asked him to write for and join the cast of a campus radio show inspired by the British "Goon Show." The same troupe produced David Mamet's American Buffalo at the 1985 Edmonton Fringe Festival and Rennie played the part of Bobby, the artless young protégé of two small-time cons. He had discovered his vocation...
He moved to Vancouver, questioning his own abilities - Can I act? Can I participate in the world? - and enrolled in the Bruhanski Theatre Studio. "His was a self-destructive tremendous talent," recalls Alex Brunhanski. "Callum's battles were never with his craft. They were always with Callum."
Christopher Newton, artistic director of the Shaw Festival, invited Rennie to appear in the 1990/91 season after seeing the Touchstone Theatre production of Lost Souls and Missing Persons, his first professional performance. "I recognized he was incredibly talented and charismatic with the natural gift of making dialogue sound true," says Newton. "Acting came easy to him, but at the Shaw he realized this profession could be difficult." Newton is being diplomatic. Rennie remembers missed performances, benders. "I was used to a co-op mentality," he says now, "not the corporate world of theatre. I can handle a live audience of a hundred or so but nothing bigger than that. Knowing all day long a gig is coming up, that would haunt me."
From Callum Keith Rennie GALACTICA.TV interview, December 2007
Interviewer: I'd like to start at the beginning of your career, because it is said that you didn't turn to theatre until you were 25. Had you acted before then? Or what were you doing before then?
CKR: I was just working on jobs. I really had no focus of what I wanted to do. Some friends had started at radio, doing a live theatre show in Edmonton, through the University of Alberta and asked if I wanted to be a voice on it. One thing led to another and then they were putting on a play during a big Fringe Festival in Edmonton. They decided they wanted to do a couple of plays and they'd like to get me involved in those. So I did those and things went really well, but they couldn't really take it seriously because they didn't know anything about it, so things went sort of, you know, back to my regular life. It took quite a few years more before I got some more theatre stuff and got committed to it again.
From "Callum Keith Rennie Climbs To The Top", Toronto's Globe and Mail, December 14, 1996
Before that he was on stage at the Edmonton Fringe Festival and the Shaw Festival, though his career was stop-and-go for the first few years due to "lifestyle problems." … "I was a mountaineer, through high school, and for about four years after that, that's what I did. I climbed mountains and worked at odd jobs and would go climbing. There was some sort of pull toward the arts, a couple of girlfriends who were painters. I worked at a library for awhile and I read a lot of biographies and I read a lot about acting, and I thought that would be something to do at some point. But there was something about it that seemed very ego-oriented and I was very shy, so it was hard to know how to approach it...
"I was working at a restaurant and some friends had a radio show. They asked me to listen in to see if I liked it. It was interesting, and they suggested I come down and do a voice on it.
"After doing the one show, on that one day, Saturday, I took all my climbing gear and books about it and threw 'em out, and I said, this is what I do now. I'm going to be an actor...
"It was actually the first time I quit drinking to do something. I was a bit of a rounder but I thought, if I'm going to do this and get up on stage... We rehearsed this play for three months and I quit drinking and doing anything that would take away from my focus before I got on stage...
"Not that it worked out."
Rennie laughs and explains that, as much as he loved acting, he took a long time to take it seriously, quitting every so often for up to two years at a time.
"I'd gone tree planting and I was involved in a lot of different things which were, you know, not so great. But I thought the best thing -- and the last time I was ever really focused on something -- was the Fringe stuff, which was acting. So I went and took a couple of classes with a guy in town here [Vancouver], Alex Bruhanski, and for the first time I saw that the nature of being an actor could be an art, and the nature of it could be important in the sense of culture. Yeah I was completely inspired."
Year: probably 1985 - Place: somewhere in Edmonton
The play is based on Franz Kafka's 1927 novel.
Synopsis: a darkly bizarre, tragicomic tale of a young immigrant's struggles to find a home in a new land and, along the way, to achieve The American Dream.
Role: unknown as well. From the second link below, you can try and guess which role Callum played – or which roles, since in most adaptations of the play, apart from the main roles, actors play an average of three roles. I’d go for one of the baddies, and/or "shy, lanky lift boy"…
Links: Wikipedia page on the novel, Extended summary and cast of characters
Year: 1985 - Place: Edmonton Fringe Festival, Edmonton Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
The play: 1975 stage play by David Mamet
Synopsis: (from the cover of the play) A classic tragedy, American Buffalo is the story of three men struggling in the pursuit of their distorted vision of the American Dream. By turns touching and cynical, poignant and violent, American Buffalo is a piercing story of how people can be corrupted into betraying their ideals and those they love.
Role: Bobby - "Callum portrayed Bobby, the play's simple-minded, inarticulate seer, and reviewers praised his performance as "vulnerable" and "fragile" during Edmonton Fringe Festival."
Bob is Don's "gofer" and serves him in the dual capacities of coffee-fetcher and surrogate son. While he does listen patiently to all of Don's lessons on how to "do business," the audience also learns that he frequently borrows money from him to support a drug habit. Slow-witted and dull, he is not as talkative nor excitable as Don or Teach, but he does remain faithful to Don, even after he is assaulted by Teach on the grounds that he has betrayed their robbery scheme to other thieves. Also characterized as "blank-faced apprentice hustler", "recovering junkie" or "slow, amiable kid".
Don to Bobby: Never skip breakfast (...) it wouldn't kill you to lake a vitamin.
Don: Well Bob, I'm sorry, but this isn't good enough. If you want to do business... if we got a business deal it isn't good enough. I want you to remember this.
Bobby: I do.
Don: Yeah, now... but later, what? (Pause.) Just one thing, Bob. Action counts. (Pause.) Action talks and bullshit walks.
Trivia: A movie was made in 1996 with Dustin Hoffman as Teach, Dennis Franz as Don and Sean Nelson as Bobby.
Links (and sources): American Buffalo, an introduction to the play
Lost Souls And Missing Persons
Year: 1989, 2 to 16 February - Place: Vancouver Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The play: in two acts, from the 1984 book by Sally Clark
Synopsis: The plot centres on the search for Hannah by her bewildered and equally "lost" husband (...) On a vacation to New York, she visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval collection, the Cloisters and at some point is taken in by an artist named Turner. Like his namesake, British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, he is a Romantic. If Hannah is silenced and misunderstood by her family, Turner's objectification of her reduces her to little more than a Zombie unable to communicate in anything other than gibberish. She discovers that it is pleasant to be molded and admired in this fashion, but once again she is robbed of her identity.
This disturbing characterization of the male artist as one who shapes and silences the female subject is, of course, not a new one. Where Clark departs from Romantic convention is in the idea that art grants one neither a sense of release or agency. Turner is as unhappy and lost as the others.
Of course, Hannah's search is a search for self, for identity, for her own "missing person" (...) Nor is there any sense that Hannah or any of the "lost souls" find any self awareness unless it is through some form of visceral excitement or physical proximity: a caress, sex, violence. This play that starts with Hannah's scream ends with her realization that she is living one of her nightmares; she will be stabbed by one of the many mad characters, a Mr. Cape. "This is not a dream," she cries.
Role: Callum, as Callum Rennie, played two characters: Turner and Man Three.
The Touchstone Theatre production in which Callum made "his first professional theatrical performance" won several awards.
Director: Roy Surette
Starring: Patti Allan, Leslie Jones, Ray Michal, Elisabeth Ormsby, Callum Rennie, Brian Torpe, Wes Tritter and Allan Zinyk
"Roy Surette's direction of this wonderfully nasty piece of work is as elegant and stylish as can be. Surette beautifully exploits the theatrical possibilities of Clark's script..." - Georgia Straight
"The comedy drama, about a Canadian woman who loses her memory during a visit to New York, was nominated for the best play, best director (Roy Surette), best actor (Brian Torpe), best actress (Patti Allan), best supporting actor (Allan Zinyck), best supporting actress (Leslie Jones) and in three technical categories." - The Globe & Mail
Links (and sources): Canadian Literature: Lost Souls and Missing Persons, Touchstone Theatre 1988/1989 archives
Man and Superman
Year: 1989 - Place: Shaw Festival, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, Canada
The play: 4 acts, 1903 comedy by George Bernard Shaw
Synopsis: Man and Superman is a dramatic parable based on the legend of Don Juan. It contains the famous dream scene Don Juan in Hell which involves a debate with the devil. A parody of Nietzsche’s philosophical idea of an Ubermensch or "Superman” who is liberated from society and its traditions.
Role: Callum played the Goatherd in the play directed by Christopher Newton (Shaw’s Artistic Director from 1980 to 2002)
Extracts from Act III
Evening in the Sierra Nevada…On the hill, watching the road, is a man who is either a Spaniard or a Scotchman. Probably a Spaniard, since he wears the dress of a Spanish goatherd and seems at home in the Sierra Nevada, but very like a Scotchman for all that. In the hollow, on the slope leading to the quarry-cave, are about a dozen men (a cosmopolitan gathering of social-democrats, anarchists and brigands. In the middle of their political discussion). A whistle comes from the goatherd on the hill. He springs up and points excitedly forward along the road to the north. THE GOATHERD: Automobile! Automobile! He rushes down the hill and joins the rest, who all scramble to their feet (the discussion continues with Tanner, the automobile driver, then comes in the dream scene Don Juan in Hell, and back to the Sierra again) …we suddenly remember where we were. The cry becomes distinct and urgent: it says Automobile, Automobile. The complete reality comes back with a rush: in a moment it is full morning in the Sierra; and the brigands are scrambling to their feet and making for the road as the goatherd runs down from the hill, warning them of the approach of another motor.
Trivia: In The Edmonton Sun Rennie Gets His Due interview, Callum quotes a bit from Act III Don Juan in Hell as his favourite quotation: "The punishment of the fool who pursues the better before securing the good."
Here is an extended quote: "I prefer to be my own master and not the tool of any blundering universal force. I know that beauty is good to look at; that music is good to hear; that love is good to feel… As to your Life Force, which you think irresistible, it is the most resistible thing in the world for a person of any character. But if you are naturally vulgar and credulous, as all reformers are, it will thrust you first into religion… then it will drive you from religion into science… then you will take to politics… and the end will be despair and decrepitude, broken nerve and shattered hopes, vain regrets for that worst and silliest of wastes and sacrifices, the waste and sacrifice of the power of enjoyment: in a word, the punishment of the fool who pursues the better before he has secured the good. "
Links (and sources): George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman: Act III
Trelawny of the Wells
Year: 1990 - Place: Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
The play: written in 1898 by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero
Synopsis: Rose Trelawny is a young actress at Sadler's Wells Theatre in the 1860s. Leaving the company to marry into aristocracy she is required to forsake her theatrical, and therefore morally suspect, past. The deadly dullness of respectable life drives her to distraction and Rose is forced to make a difficult decision about her future.
Role: unknown – the groom who can't seem to put two words together? Or the stage doorkeeper? see the third link below if you want to play at guess-which-role-Callum-played again.
Links (and sources): TotW at New Players Theatre, The Guide to Musical Theatre: Trelawny, list of characters & synopsis
Your take on Callum’s theater roles
Of course, unless you’ve seen the play live with Callum or at least read it, most answers will just be a wild guess. Multi-choice as usual (even more so!)
Where his role is unknown, you’d say he played…
Delamare in Amerika
shy, lanky lift boy in Amerika
the groom who can't seem to put two words together in Trelawney
stage doorkeeper in Trelawney
big hands in Big Hands Tearing My Panties
panties’ owner in Big Hands Tearing My Panties
other guess (will explain in comments)
Was he already cast as a violent character?
His performance in American Buffalo certainly was the inspiration for his role as Mamet in Men with Guns
In Lost souls, Mr. Cape is obviously Callum’s Man Three, called so because in addition to Hannah, he killed two other women
In Man and Superman, he probably got hired by the brigands as watcher after killing his only two goats
There doesn’t seem to be any murders in Amerika – may be they added just a small one for Callum?
Given the light tone of Trelawney of the Wells, we can hope he didn’t kill anyone at least in this one
If he killed anyone in any of these plays, he didn’t really mean to
Not a corpse in sight, he played characters innocent as newborn lambs at the time
As a dork or a crazy person?
Confining a woman and objectifying her might be considered as bordering on pathologically obsessive (Lost Souls)
He’s not the brightest bulb, but he tries his best (American Buffalo)
Automobile is a far more difficult word than car (Man and Superman)
All these roles seem to evoke a rather balanced and healthy personality
Given the meager photographic evidence available, how cute was he in his younger years?
Exploding from the hotness!
He was cute as pie
Your average post-adolescent guy
Definitely need more evidence
Frankly, it’s a good thing we knew him only later
Average degree of queerness?
All those lift boys in Amerika are clearly going at it like rabbits any time they can
Bobby from American Buffalo definitely had a more than filial thing for his mentor
Repressed homosexuality? (sublimated in painting live women, living with goats?)
Nothing in the description of characters or plays lends itself to such an interpretation. Well, except for that panties thing. Maybe
Obviously, any additional info is welcome!