Trevor Abes: Writer

Young Canadian Investor #6 – Know What You Own

Say you’re 30 years old and you own four index-based ETFs that track stock markets across the world. One of them tracks Canada, another the US of A, another Developed International Markets (Japan, Europe, Australia), and the last Emerging Markets (China, India, Brazil, South Africa, etc). Suppose further that you allocate 25% of your money to each for an even split.

Now, since you need to own ETFs for the very long term to let them grow—minimum 5 years, but ideally a couple decades or more—it pays to know how much a given stock market could drop. That way, you can calibrate expectations and avoid selling your investments due to a drop you should have been prepared for. 

Thankfully, a data provider called Morningstar offers access to this information all in one place. All you have to do is:

  1. Type a broad market ETF ticker symbol into the search bar and click on the appropriate result
  2. Click on the ‘Performance’ tab
  3. Click on ‘Show Full Chart’ on the top left of the chart
  4. Click “Max’ to see the full price history

Here are ticker symbols for four popular ETFs so you can try this out for yourself—VCN (Vanguard FTSE Canada All Cap ETF) for Canada, VUN (Vanguard US Total Market ETF) for the USA, XEF (iShares Core MSCI EAFE IMI ETF) for Developed International Markets, and XEC (iShares Core MSCI Emer Mkts IMI ETF) for Emerging Markets. Historical results are, of course, no guarantee of future performance, but they’re the best indication we have to determine the bounds of what is normal.

If it hits you that the four investments linked above have all been in existence for less than 10 years, and you’re curious about previous historical drops, have a look at the worst market plunges in US history. It should quickly become apparent that a stock market crash could be anywhere between 20% to over 80% according to past data. And if you lose 3/4 of your investments in only a couple of years, it may take the next decade for you to get back to even.

That’s why it’s so important to know your risk tolerance and calibrate it by owning an appropriate percentage of bonds. The more bonds you own, the less your portfolio will fall during the next stock market crash. To see this dampening effect in action, check these Vanguard portfolios out and focus on how the lowest 12-month return gets bigger the more stocks the portfolio contains.

As a 30-year-old, you have many years to recover from down years in the market, meaning that these down years are actually opportunities for you to invest at lower prices. But as you grow older, you’ll want to transfer an increasingly larger percentage of stocks to bonds to keep your money safe for retirement.

Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.

Young Canadian Investor #4 – The Privilege of Registered Investment Accounts

One of the great things about living in Canada is that the government allows you to open investment accounts where you can either, 1) defer your taxable income to much later in life, or 2) buy investments that can grow without you ever having to pay taxes on them period.

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Any money you invest in your RRSP, or Registered Retirement Savings Plan, will minimize your taxable income for that year by that amount. So if you contribute $5000, your taxable income for that year will be reduced by $5000. Your investments will also grow tax-free, meaning you receive dividends and capital gains in full. But when you withdraw any money, you’ll be taxed on it as income at whatever rate applies to you at that time.

RRSP contribution limits rise every year with inflation. For 2019, you may contribute up to 18% of your taxable income for the year up to a maximum of $27,830. 

Any money you invest in your TFSA, or Tax-Free Savings Account, will grow tax-free and can be withdrawn without cost at any time. The contribution limit goes up every year with inflation and currently sits at $6000.

If you’re 18 or older, and a Canadian citizen, you can contribute an amount equivalent to the total contribution room that has accumulated since TFSAs came into existence in 2009. That total is $69,500. 

Any withdrawals you make will give you an equivalent amount of contribution room come January 1st of the following year. So if you take $2000 out this year, you’ll get $2000 of contribution room in 2021 on top of the limit the government imposes.

These accounts are ways to park money and let it grow while you focus on living your life. Every major bank offers them and all you have to do to open one is ask. Seeing that a globally diversified portfolio of index funds will earn you 7% a year as a long-term average, there’s no good reason not to invest your excess cash and let it multiply while you’re young.

When you really need the money, whether because of illness, lack of work, or not wanting to work anymore, it’ll be there to give you optionality and make for easier decisions.

Any questions? Drop em in the comments!

Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.

Young Canadian Investor #3 – A Step-by-Step Checklist

You’ve probably heard plenty about investing your money, perhaps through coworkers, your parents, or by mistakenly flipping the channel to CNBC. The question about how to actually accomplish this, though, doesn’t yield a readily-available answer. Well, here’s your answer.

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I won’t go on at length about each numeral, because you can already find that information in my intro to investing. This is more about offering you an eagle’s eye view of that intro so you can take in how the investing process works. Here we go:

  1. Choose financial goals. Could be retirement, a car, an education, whatever you like.
  2. Choose investments that will allow you to meet those financial goals. If it’s short-term, a high-interest savings account that pays you around 2% per year will do. If it’s medium-term, say 3-5 years, an aggregate bond fund, which pays out a long-term average of 2-4% per year, will serve you well. If your goal is 5 years away or more, investing in a global portfolio of stock funds is your best bet because you can expect a long-term average return of 7% per year.
  3. Determine your risk tolerance. If you are risk-averse, you should have more bonds and cash than stocks in your portfolio. If you have the stomach to see your investments fluctuate in value, sometimes by half or more, with the probability of a higher return, you should own more stocks.
  4. Construct your portfolio. Whether that’s 20% bonds and 80% stocks, the inverse, or some other mix, depends on your risk tolerance and the return you need to meet your financial goals. That said, unless you’re a stock-picking genius, you should always diversify, which means owning stocks and bonds from all over the world in many different industries. ETFs are the cheapest and most efficient way for young folks just starting out like you and me to put such a portfolio together. Here’s an example for you. Focus on the lowest 12-month drawdown to get a sense of how much stocks can drop from year to year.
  5. Open a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) to hold your investments in. The former allows you to defer taxes by minimizing your taxable income by the amount of your contribution, which only makes sense if you’re making a good salary, while the latter can only be funded with after-tax dollars. Both allow investments to grow tax-free.
  6. Buy shares in your chosen investments to match the percentages in your portfolio. See the “Build an ETF Portfolio” video series for instructions from Justin Bender of Canadian Portfolio Manager.
  7. Contribute to your investments on a regular schedule that works for you.
  8. Rebalance once per year. This means selling some of your investments that have done well over the year and buying more of those that have done poorly to get you back to the percentages you chose in step 4.
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 until you meet your financial goals.

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If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.

Young Canadian Investor #2 -Maneuvering Through a Monopoly

Canada’s financial industry is dominated by six big banks—TD, RBC, Scotiabank, BMO, CIBC, and National Bank. All of them employ financial advisors who get paid by investing their clients in funds that charge very high yearly fees, a portion of which ends back in the advisors’ pockets.

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Because advisors in Canada do not have to be fiduciaries, i.e. act in the best interest of their clients, they are legally allowed to recommend investments that increase their income, even though cheaper options like indexed mutual funds or ETFs that better serve their clients are likely available, often at the very banks they work for. This is the definition of conflict of interest, but it’s called ‘the suitability rule’ under Canadian securities law. And there’s no incentive to change it, because lower fees mean a hit to the banks’ bottom lines. 

The solution? Ask your advisor to be a fiduciary for you, even if they aren’t strictly required to be. If you bring it up, they can either abide by your request or perhaps recommend someone who will.

It’s also not a bad idea to brush up on your investing basics so that, when you have some money to put away, you can give your mattress a rest, and invest it in the stock market yourself for little to no cost.

Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.

 

Young Canadian Investor #1 – Compounding is the Point

The point of investing is to use compounding to get yourself closer to your financial goals. It can seem like magic at first, but compounding simply refers to how an investment will grow exponentially if you regularly contribute to it and allow it to grow over large periods of time.

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The bike is metaphorical. It represents your financial journey. It’s a stock image; you got me. Pun intended.

$1 invested that grows on average 7% per year will become $3.87 in 20 years.

$1 invested with monthly $1 contributions that grows on average 7% per year becomes $511.41 in 20 years.

When it comes to putting money away for the benefit of your future self, there really isn’t much else to say.

That said, to make compounding work for you, you need to know which investments have the best expected return, which of them fit your financial situation, and how to go about acquiring them. To learn a little bit more about getting started, you can read my intro to investing here.

Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult with a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.

My Favorite Investing Podcasts (Part 2)

As a self-directed investor eager to improve the quality of my financial decisions, it’s a blessing that there are so many solid podcasts out there to learn from.

Whether I feel like hearing an analyst or fund manager wax poetic on their latest investment thesis, parsing through a pitch on the latest ETF, or brushing up on fundamentals like asset allocation, factor exposure, and the historical data that backs it all up, there’s always an episode to dig into.

With that said, here are 9 more financial podcasts to add to my list of favorites:

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1. Stacking Benjamins, hosted by Joe Saul-Sehy (former financial planner) and O.G. (current financial planner), is arguably the funniest personal finance podcast around. The hosts always try to keep it light and keep each other honest with zingers and bad puns that do away with the tension of honest financial discussions. There are so many good things to mention here, including solid all-around advice, neighbor Doug’s announcing prowess, and the edutaining segments about the latest in fintech products on the market.

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2. The Dough Roller Money Podcast covers personal finance topics like The F.I.R.E Movement, the role of bonds in a portfolio, and the pros and cons of different retirement accounts, with a focus on providing honest, actionable advice. I really enjoy the no-nonsense attitude of its host, Rob Berger, who is very good at clarifying when he’s offering an opinion as opposed to a cold hard financial fact. Look no further to tease out your path to financial freedom.

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3. Flirting With Models, the only podcast I know that drops a full season at a time, is for listeners interested in the latest quantitative research and rules-based investment strategies. As I read more and got deeper into the weeds as an investor, the discussions here opened up to me a little more and gave me a better sense of how to work around my behavioral biases. Its host, Corey Hoffstein, is an organic interviewer, contagiously energized by the topics, and refreshingly mindful when it comes to unpacking complex concepts into layman’s terms.

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4. The Contrarian Investor Podcast explores the investing maxim that you should zig when the rest of the market is zagging. Every interviewee has a take that runs counter to current sentiment and should appeal to anyone with the fortitude to put their money against the herd. As a value investor myself, it gives me a lot to think about.

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5. The Rational Reminder Podcast, hosted by advisors Ben Felix and Cameron Passmore, was originally intended to answer their clients’ questions, but has since grown into one of Canada’s go-to sources for financial knowledge. I like that their advice is always backed up by research, and how on-the-ball they both are about calling out bogus advice when they come across it. As a DIY investor, this one’s your best bet to set yourself up with a solid foundation for objective decision-making.

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6. Trillions is Bloomberg’s ETF podcast. It covers the latest developments in the industry and serves as a platform for managers and executives to come on and pitch their newest products. If you ask me, it works because hosts Eric Balchunas and Joel Weber aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions to skewer an inflated or myopic claim.

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7. Superinvestors and the Art of Worldly Wisdom sees value investor Jesse Felder have wide-ranging discussions with leading contemporary investors like Rob Arnott, Meb Faber, Kiril Sokoloff, and Eric Cinnamond. The interviews are rich with insights and always have something to offer that’s liable to shift your perspective. I just wish Felder had more time to record more episodes.

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8. Afford Anythinghosted by real-estate investor, Paula Pant, is a podcast that guides you through the gamut of personal finance topics like retirement, student loans, and how to save more money. Pant is incredibly thorough with every one of her answers, asks her interviewees practical questions, and always takes care to explain any terminology so everyone’s on the same page. I lied about not looking any further to tease out your path to financial independence. This show will help you get there.

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9. Gestalt University provides a highly-detailed view on the latest goings-on in the asset management industry. Topics broached thus far include machine learning, digital marketing, and investing factors such as low volatility. This is one to nerd out to if your portfolio is already in place and you’re looking to deepen your understanding of the investing landscape.

You can read Part 1 of my favorite investing podcasts here.

Of course, always and forever, never take anything you hear on these programs as advice pertaining to you, because the hosts and guests have no knowledge of your personal financial situation. Do your own research and/or consult with a professional before making investment decisions.

Review: Swim Team (Nowadays Theatre with Alma Matters Pruductions)

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Swim Team introduces us to an Iranian all-women swim team as they train in a town with no pool. The play—produced by Nowadays Theatre in collaboration with Alma Matters Productions—is an act of worship to the imagination and the barriers it can remove. It’s also a stirring metaphor about gender inequality for presenting a world where women’s rights can fall into the fantastical territory of make-believe.

The cast are on a whole other level of play here. Think about the imaginative demands placed on their characters. They swim by acting out the motions on a dusty patch of land, using towels and wringing out wet hair to keep up the suspension of disbelief. It’s enough to make you feel young again, when limitations on what might exist weren’t really an obstacle. 

But at the same time, having to occupy a space of make-believe just to participate in a sport is a powerful metaphor, one that seeks justice for oppressed women by imbuing their struggle with absurdity. As in, it’s absurd for the team to have to disavow their humanity and fictionalize their own existence to jump into some water. As in, it’s absurd that women need to strive to make something from nothing in a country where they’re already second-class citizens. The team doesn’t mention state-enforced ideology much at all, which made it harder for me to ignore its shadow in the background.

Roya (Banafsheh Taherian), the swim coach, carries the memory of students drowning on her watch with palpable anxiety. It makes for good fuel to drive her to whip her current team into shape but feels too high-octane for the task. The excess energy she could be using to forgive herself for losing the students is piled onto her new ones, generating an imbalance where something has to give, and I was on board to find out what did.

Roya and her three-person team occupy a hierarchy of strength, such that she seems tougher than Nary (Tina Bararian), who seems tougher than Katy (Mahsa Ershadifar), who seems tougher than Lili (Aylin Oyan Salahshoor). This is interesting for a number of reasons. For one, it lends a sense of order to the story, one that speaks to the regimented country they live in, the geometry of the imaginary pool they swim in, and just makes things that much tighter symbolically. It’s also a strategy that offers many chances for disruption, such that characters often change rankings. Sharing how would just spoil the story.

The details surrounding the team’s imaginary swims had me laughing the hardest. Stuff like drying off a diving board, taking deep breaths after each stroke, or making sound effects with a tub of water to mimic a toe in the pool. It’s such a roundabout way to participate in the sport, it’s as if I was watching a living Rube Goldberg Machine. I was also laughing because I couldn’t recall the last time I tried anything without filtering it through some sense of what could and could not be.

Playwright Jaber Ramezani plants little nuggets throughout to further comment on fantasy’s relationship with reality, and on his characters’ ability to imagine the lives they want into existence. For one, I became familiar with characters’ motivations as they interacted during practices, but they actually share very little about their personal histories. This combo adds up to intimacy that is somehow both authentic and fabricated. I was left thinking that we are the stories we tell ourselves, as well as solely responsible for how good we get at believing in them.

There is also Lili’s unacknowledged arm pain, which might seem disjointed but fits into the same line of thinking. Her pain is not worthy of belief as far as her coach and teammates are concerned; therefore it’s as if it doesn’t exist. Lili goes along with this erasure, replacing her pain with the truth that best serves her, that there is water in the pool. This malleability of self has a revolutionary kick to it. Lili and her team assert their autonomy and go about their business by playing God, picking and choosing the sensations and situations that deserve a life of their own. 

What ties it all together for me is how even the difficulties of friendship contribute to the team’s air of refuge. In spite of how annoyed Lili gets by Nary’s teasing, she misses her when she’s not around. And even though Lili calls her names, Nary returns to her side. Regardless of the dispute, they stick together, tight as confidants, extending each other the benefit of not having to self-censor to explore who they are. By the end, this bond borders on the sacred.

Swim Team is a bountiful offering of child-like wonder that speaks to the realities of Iranian women without overt politicization. I was combing through the layers of its deceptively simple story long after the curtain fell.

  • Swim Team runs at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. West) from November 8-17.
  • Tickets are available online, in person, or through the box office at 416-538-0988.

Poster provided by the company.

Review: But That’s Another Story (Briane Nasimok and Christel Bartelse)

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After only three performances, a new storytelling series is packing them in at the Free Times Cafe. It’s called But That’s Another Story and it gives space to a wide cross-section of genres, including fables, comic essays, and more contemporary works. Its producer-hosts, Briane Nasimok and Christel Bartelse, are two well-established voices in the Canadian performing arts. Nasimok is a Canadian Comedy Award winner who appeared in classic 1980s films like Gas and The Funny Farm. Bartelse is a Canadian Comedy Award nominee known for her internationally-acclaimed one-woman shows.

Read my full review on Mooney on Theatre.

Review: Mînowin (DanceWorks)

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Dancers of Damelahamid’s new work, Mînowin, is a mesmerizing session of song and dance about reconnecting with ancestral Indigenous knowledge, easing the struggles of Indigenous people, and exploring how progress is a continuous process of imbalance and renewal. Staged in the cozy Harbourfront Centre Theatre, this DanceWorks production flirts with epic themes in the most intimate of spaces.

Mînowin translates to ‘the act of clarifying direction’, which is right in line with the company’s reason for being. According to Margaret Grenier, Executive and Artistic Director for the Dancers of Damelahamid, “I treasure dance as the most significant inheritance I have from my ancestors. For myself, dance, song, and story have provided a protective environment to address the limitations placed on our Indigenous peoples and to create a healing space”. In other words, the company’s articulated direction, the best way to go about its life, is to continue their peoples’ long lineage of reflecting experience and tradition through art.

Dancers of Damelahamid have been restoring traditional Indigenous songs and dances for over 50 years. That history continues here with a series of dances based on teachings from the Gitxsan people, a matrilineal society from the Northwest coast of British Columbia, from which the company also hails. Gitxsan translates to ‘people of the river of mist’.

Mînowin’s most resonant example of connecting to the past, in my estimation, is the dance that centres on orcas, a Gitxsan symbol going back thousands of years. Five of the seven dancers swim through air onto a dark stage. Four of them wear fins, while the fifth holds an orca puppet, each rigged with bright lights the blue of pristine coastal water. Their calming glow, coupled with the repetitive nature of the choreography—which builds on a single rhythm and a small number of steps—left room for nothing else in my attention. The wonder of it was a bedtime story brought to life.

Margaret Grenier’s choreography achieves this entrancing effect pretty well throughout. It’s what speaks most of healing to me, how each dancer seemed so effortlessly lost in music and movement to the point of forgetting hardship, if only for a while. The more I watched, the more I felt some of that medicine was transferred to me.

The themes of imbalance and renewal come about in dances built around related images, each distinctive in their own way. In one, a dancer drops dead and somehow returns to life, the tension of it thick enough to slice. In another more symbolic example, dancers lie on the floor and balance on their stomachs like compasses in need of calibration.

Praise must go to set and visual designer, Andrew Grenier, projection and lighting designer, Andy Moro, head of interactive new media, Sammy Chien, and dancer and head of regalia, Rebecca Baker-Grenier. They have created a living, breathing world for Mînowin to exist in. I was thoroughly swept away by all the multimedia magic, including a giant multi-coloured lightning bolt, and huge white wolves and a stampede of horses running across the background. The same goes for the costumes and their lively patterns and lush primary colours. The ever-present rustling of tassels on the garments was soothing like waves reaching shore.

My guest, Erika, pointed out the challenge of maintaining the authenticity of the songs and dances against the risk of their repetitive nature growing tedious for modern audiences. We agreed that Dancers of Damelahamid faced the challenge head on. They employ technology and solid production to lend a digitally dazzling perspective to their traditional artistry.

At its root, Mînowin is an act of survival, a bid to preserve Indigenous culture by reinterpreting it for the present moment. I, for one, won’t be forgetting it any time soon.

Details:

Photo of Mînowin provided by the company.

Sourced from Mooney on Theatre.

Getting Your Investing Mind Right

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Arguably, the hardest part of investing for the long term in broad stock index funds—this includes funds that track the total US Market, Developed International Markets, Emerging Markets, or the Global Stock Market— is keeping one’s psychology in check during market extremes. 

When funds have been going up for a handful of years, most of us think the trend will continue and want to buy more shares. Even though we have to pay an increasingly high price to do so. 

When funds have been dropping for a long stretch, most of us figure it’ll get worse and feel we should sell. Even though prices haven gotten cheaper and thus more appealing.

Why do we act like this? Human nature.

How do we fix it?

One. By setting a range for how high and low stock markets can go, as per the historical record, to get an idea of good lows to buy more of, and good highs to dollar-cost-average into until prices improve. Selling investments should be limited to the reasons you invested in the first place. 

How much can markets rise before a recession knocks them down to fair value? Australia’s stock market has gone more than a quarter century without one.

How much can a country’s stock market drop, and how soon? Eighty percent is a reasonable worst case scenario. This happened in the US over two years in the late 1920s and early 1930s with the market taking over 25 years to recover. It happened again, this time over a couple decades, during the double-digit inflation of the 1960s and 1970s. 

Historically speaking, though, any time a broad index is down double digits (over 10%) constitutes poor performance and thus a buying opportunity/sale/good deal. This with the knowledge that it could drop another 70% or more and get that much sweeter.

Two. By remembering that, excluding problems with the fund’s management or issuing company, a broad market index fund going out of business would require the industrial complexes of the countries they track to go out of business too. And that’s next to impossible, whether in Canada or Spain or South Africa. Barring investment company bankruptcy, dips in your index funds’ prices per share will eventually recover. It may take many years, so it’s up to you to ensure an appropriate time horizon.

Three. By holding firm that, to benefit from index investing in stocks over the long-term, i.e. make money, you have to invest regularly and stay invested—continuously— in a diversified portfolio for ideally a decade or more.

That’s how you watch your index funds drop in value without panic-selling to avoid the stress. Easier said than done? Absolutely. 

But when you compare how inflation currently cuts what you can buy with the money in your savings account by 2% per year, every year, with a diversified portfolio’s long-term expected return of 7% per year, giving into fear looks a lot like very slowly going broke.

You can learn more by reading my introduction to investing for young Canadians.

Disclaimer: This article is meant for general education purposes only. It does not constitute financial advice as I am unaware of your personal situation. Consult a professional who abides by a fiduciary standard before making any investment decisions.

Image by The Langmaid Practice.

 

Review: The Apologist (Cleen Theatre)

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Colleen Osborn’s The Apologist , a Cleen Theatre production, is a two-hander comedy/thriller that follows a unique premise: what if it was socially acceptable to pay someone to apologize for you? What would the consequences of existing in such a world be? Set in the Imperial Pub’s back room, we are treated to a considered meditation on these ideas that manages to be both hilarious and legitimately tense. 

Evan Walsh plays Cliff Manners, a.k.a. The Apologist, a professional apologizer who will express sympathy on behalf of anyone unwilling to do it themselves. The character Walsh has given form to is commendable for his warped sense of vulnerability. Since Manners is well-practiced and able to perform being sorry so well, the kick in the gut that comes from fessing up to a mistake no longer holds sway with him. Because he cannot have shame in his line of work, having to show regret for everything from white lies, to infidelity, to crimes against humanity, there’s no morality to reign in his behaviour. He comes off like a livewire, charming on the surface, but cocksure on the edge of causing irreparable harm under the impression of just doing his job. We meet him delivering an apology to a woman from the people who recently ran her dog over.

Carmen Kruk plays that woman’s roommate, Marsha, whose quirky, fragile exterior evolves very slowly into the fanaticism of Stephen King’s Misery. What Kruk does so well is emote, allowing facial expressions to do the heavy lifting, lending a sense of care and craft to her performance. What those expressions capture feels like a split personality, where psychosis intermittently overcomes Marsha’s kind and generous mind like a TV finding and losing reception. Kruk’s enunciation work is another point in favour of craft. There’s virtuoso flair to how she derives a laugh or a chill from stretching a word out or emphasizing the wrong syllable.

The Apologist is funnier than work this creepy tends to be, and it’s creepier than work this funny tends to be. Osborn’s writing chops offer her actors all the necessary tools to make this happen, including puns, made up words, snappy turns of phrase, and lots of emotional reversals that served to pull the rug from under my expectations at every turn. She also backs up the play’s name by getting philosophical about the nature of apologies. The characters spend a lot of time discussing what merits an apology, the importance of who delivers it, and what authenticity means in a world where mistaken tones in text messages can have life-changing consequences. Their back-and-forths are fruitful in that they leave arguments in the air to stew unresolved, pointing to the play’s unspoken but ever-present truth: an apology can only be validated by the person who receives it.

Director Chelsea Dab Hilke works wonders with such a small space. The set is built around two chairs and a chest in the center that delineate a round race track of sorts, one the actors take full advantage of to enhance a line. Sometimes it’s to create distance from and a barrier between each other to sharpen a show of emotion. At others, there’s a threat of violence and the desperate need to flee. Their dynamism is evidence of some first-class blocking work. The chairs’ proximity carries airs of a therapy session, of a level of intimacy we aren’t usually privy to beyond our own. I was unsettled by this, the possibility of some grand secret always seemingly about to drop. I also found the symbol of circularity a complementary choice, signalling that characters like these are destined to keep running into each other—Manners, who doesn’t differentiate between a real apology and an impeccably performed one, and Marsha, who is perhaps unstable enough to no longer be able to tell the difference.

Where the play gets a little careless is its run time. The second half drags on because the twists and revelations happen too early, such that the plot doesn’t have much juice left to propel the story to the end. Kruk and Walsh fill in the gap with plenty of passion though. I was too caught up in their characters’ concerns to notice. When it comes down to it, The Apologist is an entertaining, substantive endeavor that blends genres into art greater than the sum of its parts. 

  • Runs at the Imperial Pub (54 Dundas East) on Saturday, October 26, at 4pm and 8pm. Tickets here.

Poster of Evan Walsh provided by the company.

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