King of Montreal’s Hidden Histories
Careers in Motion: Donovan King, MFA’04
By Deb Cummings
In our series, Careers in Motion, we bring you interviews with alumni who are innovators, thought leaders and experts in their field. From entrepreneurs and financiers to people in the film industry, architecture and law, you will find illuminating insights from all-star professionals in this monthly slot in our newsletter.
This month, we chatted with Montreal-based arts entrepreneur Donovan King, MFA’04, who juggles almost as many jobs as there are ghosts in what Mark Twain once dubbed as “The City of a Hundred Steeples.” Not only is King founder and owner of Haunted Montreal and Irish Montreal Excursions, the UCalgary theatre studies alumnus is also a professional actor, part-time teacher and head honcho of the anti-establishment Infringement Festival in Montreal. According to a review of one of his tours on TripAdvisor, King, “was outstanding as a mad professor/historian . . . dynamic, engaging and had some humorous quips that made me laugh out loud at times.”
Q: Why did you create these walking history tours in Montreal?
A: The Irish actually built a large part of my home city, plus the Irish have storytelling in their blood, so, being Irish, stories of any genre have always fascinated me. Being able to combine forgotten tales with the actual sites where ghosts and paranormal events have occurred — there have been more than 200 sightings in Montreal — just seemed like a natural fit to me.
Q: Where did the idea for Haunted Montreal and Irish Montreal Excursions come from?
A: I wanted to embed activist messages in to historical stories that trigger reflection on issues such as colonization, labour rights, LGBTQ, anti-capitalist strategies in a late-capitalist era and
Q: When did the tours begin?
A: In 2011, and they now operate from May until early November [public season], but private tours run year-round. This December, we are starting a new Haunted Pub Crawl to allow for another winter activity. This is not my full-time job, but it is for my new business partner, fellow Irish-Montrealer Caitie Moynan. Some of the tours visit forgotten famine cemeteries, ruins of old religious institutions, Irish watering holes, the Lachine Canal and neighbourhoods like Little Dublin and Paper Hill.
Q: What kind of research did you do in order to set up this company?
A: When I returned to Montreal from England, having worked at the world’s largest horror tourist attraction, the London Dungeon, I took a course in small business at Youth Employment Services to figure out the bureaucratic logistics of actually running a business. The rest, the creative work, required no further study. I am a “Master” of theatre, according to the U of C, so this type of work — historical research, studying urban layouts, playwriting, auditioning and casting actors, media work, and so forth — comes easily and is a real pleasure.
Q: What are the top two lessons you learned at UCalgary?
A: (1) How to use theatre activism to challenge hegemonic thinking and oppressive systems, which formed the foundation for much of my work. (2) Updating an oppressive system can take decades, so patience is critical.
Q: What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
A: Theatrically challenge a system that is oppressing you or members of one of your communities and try to update it.
Q: If you went back to school, what would you take?
A: A PhD in Irish and/or cultural studies.
Q: What’s your favourite piece of clothing?
A: My tour guiding hat.
Q: What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
A: Theatre activism, ghost stories, the Infringement Festival, the Fringe Festival, why cats are preferable to dogs as pets, 21st-century LGBTQ rights, and mental health issues.
Q: Do you believe in ghosts?
A: I’m a ghost agnostic, to be honest. I’ve heard a million stories, I’ve researched them, I’ve had a few experiences that I’d classify as somewhat paranormal, but I’ve never actually seen a ghost with my own eyes. I just love it for the storytelling, I love it for the politics. Ghost stories are traditionally a way to make a social commentary in a cloaked way.
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