Image: Illustration from The Nest by Jon Klassen

The Nest

Adapted by Brian Quirt
from the novel by Kenneth Oppel

The Nest is a thriller in which ten-year-old Stevie comes to believe that the wasps in the nest on the side of her family’s home are conspiring to replace her baby brother, who is deeply ill, with a perfect copy they are manufacturing in the nest. Can the wasps help, or are they bringing to life both Stevie’s greatest desire and her greatest fear? Stevie is drawn into the wasp’s conspiracy to save her brother’s life, but comes to realize, almost too late, what the wasps are actually planning! 

Touching on the realities of many young families, the story weaves Stevie’s sense of her outsider status in the family with her compulsions and anxieties and the family’s splintering in the face of a major health crisis. Can the wasps help, or are they bringing to life both Stevie’s greatest desire and her greatest fears? 

In the terrifying climax of the story the wasps invade the home and only Stevie can protect the baby, bringing the theatrical adaptation to a thrilling close in this new version featuring an ensemble of five female performers.

Dramaturgy & process

Nightswimming is deep in the process of adapting Ken’s novel into a theatrical piece, with a text crafted by Brian and contributions of artists who have participated in readings and workshops. 

The Nest touches on the realities of many young families, as Stevie’s anxieties and compulsions escalate in the midst of a larger family crisis. Anxiety is a crucial issue among young people, and Ken has found a brilliant way to take us inside that feeling, giving it shape, status and a propulsive narrative. Exploring that through the form of a heart-wrenching thriller is what attracted me to this story.

The initial draft of the adaptation was created by having actors read the text of the novel aloud, mining it for dramatic conflicts, searching for powerful images, and editing it for both length and strong theatrical moments. The adaptation is conceived as an ensemble piece in which the performers will create a vocal soundscape with the audience, an approach tested in early workshop sessions to great effect.

Nightswimming returned to The Nest in October 2021 in a weeklong workshop at Factory Theatre, with actors in-person in the space and director Mieko Ouchi on Zoom. Brian had the chance to hear his adaptation read live and in-person for the first time since the pandemic began. The team also returned to the concept of a live soundscape—conjuring the wasps through sound alone—created by the performers and audience throughout the play.

In May 2022, Nightswimming held another workshop of The Nest in Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Upstairs Theatre, with the whole team in-person including Mieko. The focus continued to be the creation of the wasp soundscape, as well as narrative flow, ensemble-building, and the rudiments of staging.

A second workshop session in October 2022 further honed the text of the adaptation while simultaneously exploring the nuances of the soundscape, staging the piece in the round, incorporating audience members and their voices, and some initial ideas about lighting and design.


Workshops have benefited from the significant contributions of Tracey Ferencz and Jeff Ho, Mieko Ouchi, Gloria Mok, Brittany Ryan and Jenna Rodgers.

The following artists have participated in Nightswimming readings:
Maddie Bautista, Rachel Cairns, Patricia Cerra, Jasmine Chen, Gillian Clark, Amanda Cordner, Nathaniel Hanula-James, Phoebe Hu, Jani Lauzon, Eponine Lee, April Leung, Anita Majumdar, Qianna MacGilchrist, Myekah Payne, PJ Prudat, Asha Vijayasingham, Michaela Washburn, Bahareh Yaraghi.

Development and readings were held at the Banff Centre as part of the 2016, 2019 and 2021 Banff Playwrights Labs: participants included Dalal Badr, Patricia Cerra, Alan Dominguez, Sheldon Elter, June Fukumura, Kris Joseph, Emilie Leclerc, Kristen Padayas, Jenna Rodgers, Mike Tan, Colin Wolf, Adrienne Wong. Thank you all.

Ken’s book was very well received when it was published in 2015. Here are a selection of comments on the book….

In his best work to date, Kenneth Oppel tells the story of a perpetually anxious child with a gravely ill baby brother and persistent dreams of angel-esque creatures… It’s a masterpiece.

The Globe and Mail

Oppel tenderly champions the world of the broken and anxious, the sick and the flawed. Readers will find much to savor here, both scary and subtle.

The New York Times

Read more about Ken Oppel, this novel and his other work here.