An image of Maezy Reign
Maezy Reign | Photo: Sean Dennie

Maezy Reign’s Creative Life

Young artist finds purpose and healing through artistic expression

Stephen Hunt

Maezy Reign may have grown up in a house full of artists — dad Sean is a well-known Calgary photographer and mom Xstine runs the Calgary Animated Objects Society — but the 20-year-old writer, animator, actor, crafter and designer didn’t originally intend to pursue a creative life at all.

“I saw my parents make their art and I thought it was cool, but I planned on going into science, or linguistics,” Reign says, in an email interview.

That all changed one day when they hit high school.

“My friend asked me to take a technical theatre class with them, and I did,” Reign says. “And I fell in love with theatre. I started making props for the productions, then stage management, then I was doing lighting design and hanging lights, and writing my first play.”

That moment might have sent Reign off into a different direction professionally, but their creative life was always a part of their everyday one growing up in Calgary’s Ramsay neighbourhood. 

“Since growing up in an art house, we were always doing crafts,” they said. “We would make art instead of watching TV or playing video games.”

From GarageBand to Bum Family Collective

When Reign was eight, they discovered GarageBand and started playing around with vocals along with their two sisters. That led to mom Xstine suggesting the three siblings  augment their audio content with animated images. Maezy, their sisters, their mom and three cousins created the Bum Family Collective in 2013 — their animated short films have been screened at film festivals across North America.

“Our collective was very successful, even though none of us planned on going into animation as a career,” Reign says. “I really appreciated the process and thought that we put into our films, and it made me realize that if our silly little animations by kids for kids can stretch across North America, imagine what I could do with work that is bringing awareness and changing systems that have stood to oppress someone like me.”

Reign identifies as a queer, biracial, multidisciplinary artist who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Those subjects are very much top of mind for Reign, who is writing a new play called Hang in There for Nightwood Theatre in Toronto, and Teen Prophet for Lunchbox Theatre’s Stage One Festival  in Calgary, where they are a playwright artistic associate this year.

Hang in There, Reign says,  “is all about how the mental health industry isn’t actually built for the people it’s supposed to serve, as well as what it’s like to exist while mentally ill.”

Teen Prophet, meanwhile, “is a queer love story that takes place in the psych ward.” 

Reign is also working this theatre season as a lighting designer for the Alberta Theatre Projects-Downstage production of The F Word.

What was missing, growing up around theatre artists, Reign says, was stories that reflected their lived experience. “I never felt represented,” they said. “So when I started making my own art I decided that I was going to make work that will make any kid like me feel represented.”

An image of Maezy Reign
Maezy Reign | Photo: Emily Machan
Express yourself

While theatre has captured much of Reign’s imagination these days, it’s far from their only form of expressing themselves.

“I love writing the most. whether it’s plays or poetry. There’s something so familiar about stringing words together to have different meanings. Collage is my second favourite, I match my visual art with snippets from my poetry (@the.rolled.lemon on Instagram). I do lots of things within the theatre realm; acting, stage management, lighting design, general tech, pretty much anything, nothing beats the feeling of being in a theatre.”

And while Reign has already found ways to turn their creative life into one that pays, they emphasize that’s not the way to measure the value of a creative life. “I truly believe that everyone is an artist,” Reign says. “They just have to find the right medium. It’s important to be able to express yourself creatively. I also think that to be a good artist you don’t have to sell your work. 

“There’s this pressure that if you’re not making money, you’re not doing something right,” Reign adds. “The most valuable part of anyone’s art, is the fact that they made it, that’s something that no one else can replicate. I make my art for myself, if other people find comfort in it, that’s just an extra bonus.”

Whether that creativity is expressed through words, images, animation, crafts or design, Reign says there is healing power in living a creative life. “Art is definitely the central focus in my life. Writing is my favourite medium; I pull inspiration from my surroundings and personal experience. When I ride the bus, I write poetry. When I’m working at Starbucks, I’m thinking about the plot for one of my plays. If I can’t sleep I make a collage.”

Reign hopes to be able to turn their overflowing creative life into work that represents the lives of people we don’t always see on our stages and screens. “My dream is to write a play about schizophrenia and queerness, that reaches a large audience,” Reign says. “I have a diagnosis that most people find intimidating or scary. I don’t present with classic schizophrenic symptoms, mainly my ability to communicate clearly, so I plan on using that to my advantage to remove the boogeyman mentality from my community. 

“I want to create joyful and witty work that talks about the difficulties of the communities I’m part of,” Reign adds,  “without making the kind of trauma porn that you typically see about marginalized people.”

Find Reign on Instagram and learn more at maezyreign.com.

About The Storytelling Project

On November 16, 2015, Calgary Arts Development hosted a working session with approximately 30 creative Calgarians from various walks of life. Many of the small working groups voiced the need to gather and share more stories of people living creative lives.

That need has turned into The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

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