RISER Recap: Hayley Moorhouse

As our RISER 2024 artists come to the end of their program, we’re checking in to hear about their time in RISER and their brilliant new works.

Hayley Moorhouse is a local playwright, performer, and producer. Recently seen on Shadow Theatre’s stage for the critically-acclaimed Robot Girls, Hayley’s playwriting work (Bird Signs, Suspension) has been seen on stages across the city.

Hayley Moorhouse, Evan Medd, Marg Lawler.

In December 2023 and March 2024, Hayley produced two workshops of her newest play Tough Guy at the Roxy Theatre (thanks to our pals at Theatre Network!)

ABOUT TOUGH GUY: Tough Guy is set in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a queer nightclub. Amateur boxer Quinn is heralded as a hero, having stopped the gunman just a few minutes into his rampage. Emerson arrives in the city. She’s a survivor of a similar shooting from two years ago, and is now making a documentary, trying to shed light on the lives of queer people impacted by homophobic and transphobic violence. Quinn shuts themself away in the boxing gym to escape the prying questions of Emerson and the heavy expectations of their friends and family – they know the grief will descend the moment they stay still, so they keep fighting.

Thanks to Brianne Jang, BB Collective for the photos from an invited reading.

Common Ground (CG): Tell us what you got up to with your time as a RISER artist!

Marg Lawler and Michelle Diaz in Tough Guy.

Hayley Moorhouse (HM): I developed the first couple drafts of my new play Tough Guy. I started the writing process in the spring of 2023, and held the first script workshop in December 2023. During that workshop I got to hear the play out loud with a lovely and supportive team, and did a TON of rewrites based on discoveries in the room. I then had a few months away from the workshop where I completed another, very different draft of the play, before diving back into the workshop world in March!

That final workshop included more exciting discussions and discoveries, more questions and ideas to move forward with, and more rewrites (I promised I wouldn’t, but I sure lied, whoops!). It ended with a small invited reading. That was the first time the play was read out loud for an audience, and it was a gratifying milestone. The play underwent so much transformation during the RISER process, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to grow. 

I was so lucky to work with the HEROIC Evan Medd (dramaturg) and Brett Dahl (director) throughout the year-long process. The workshops were brought to life by our incredible stage manager (Andraya Diogo), genius sound designer (Kena Léon) and brilliant cast (Michelle Diaz, Noori Gill, Marguerite Lawler, Autumn Strom, Meegan Sweet and Tiffany Thomas). 

By the end of the process, I had a third draft of the play, a wealth of feedback and ideas to incorporate into future development, and a ton of fulfilling new artistic relationships. 

CG: What are a couple of your biggest takeaways and lessons from your time in the program?

Autumn Strom in Tough Guy.

HM: There were SO many lessons I’ll be bringing forward into my future work. If I had to pick one, I’d say don’t forget to be gentle with yourself! I put a TON of pressure on myself to try and accomplish everything I had in my head, and it definitely lit a fire under my butt, but it also led to a lot of stress, which wasn’t always useful or fun to experience. I learned that hard work and rigour come pretty naturally to me, and what I actually needed to work on was giving myself grace.

There’s a really exciting wave in theatre right now that is prioritizing process above product, and it was so helpful to me to remember that as I was working. Sharing a script you’ve written and leading the team as a producer can be a daunting, vulnerable experience, but when I made a point to notice and celebrate moments of joy through the journey, the whole thing got a bit easier – and more fun!

I’m so grateful to the Tough Guy and RISER teams for reminding me of this powerful lesson whenever I got wrapped up in worry, and being so ready to support and help balance the workload. 

Noori Gill in Tough Guy.

CG: What are you excited to do next with Tough Guy and your other work now that you’re finishing RISER?

HM: I can’t wait to dive in and write yet another new draft of Tough Guy, and continue to workshop and hone it over the coming months and years. Hopefully it will be ready for a production in a few years!

Otherwise, I am continuing to work as an actor, writer and dramaturg. I’m also really excited to take the producer skills I learned through the RISER process and help produce the work of other artists, as well as my own!

CG: Any advice or thoughts you’d share to someone considering RISER / starting RISER?

HM: Ask every question you can think of, no matter how small (or big!) they seem. This community is so willing to support and demystify the process of producing, and the more you ask, the more you’ll get out of it. And on a related note, lean on your teammates! Everyone involved in RISER wants to see you succeed, don’t be afraid to ask for help, to bounce ideas around, or invite folks to celebrate your little victories along the way! 

RISER 2025-26 Applications are open now. Click here to learn more.

The cast of Tough Guy.