It's our favourite time of year - The New Groundswell Festival is upon us!
Nightwood Theatre, Toronto's only feminist theatre company, is presenting their annual festival of new works. This year is particularly fab and I'm thrilled to have a Q&A with the Halifax-based creators of THE DEBACLE (opening Dec. 2 at New Groundswell!).
Ann-Marie Kerr and Susan Leblanc-Crawford are phenomenal women. Kerr has written, directed and performed internationally, and in Canada, garnering awards and accolades seemingly everywhere she's gone. Leblanc -Crawford is a performer, director, and teacher with a huge C.V. of experience, awards and off-the beaten path qualifications. Together, they are THE DEBACLE, and, below, they've answered some questions for me about the show:
Q: This seems to be a very specific tale of loss and grief; how did the idea originate?
A-M.K: We both have a bit of a preoccupation with death and losing people. And we both come from big, close families of 5 kids. The earliest conversations and material we generated were dealing with the loss of family members and how it might feel to be the last one left in a family. I feel loss as well about having siblings and parents so far away, spread across the country from BC to NS, and wanting to be together more, and worrying about something happening to them.
S.L-C.: Though it is now very specific, the show began with us talking and improvising around the themes of death (our own, and the death of our loved ones) and then of family. In the early days, we discovered that we each had 4 siblings (2 sisters and 2 brothers) and so relationship with sisters emerged quite quickly. Ann-Marie shared a story from her childhood where she was at the lake near her house in the winter, and she discovered a frog frozen in the ice. This story, I think, was really the catalyst for the specific shape of our play.
Q: Whenever I read the synopsis, I think of my own sister and how I'd most definitely go to irrational lengths to preserve anything I could of her as well; how on earth did you find humour in this story and in the character of Margaret?
A-M.K: The specifics of memories are funny. The details, (although in the case, the context is very difficult as the character is remembering as an act of trying to save her sister and stop time), end up being both very recognizable and kind of weird at the same time. The play goes to the tiny corners of memories and gives us a rush of the absurdity of the things we do together as children.
S.L-C.: I think the humour came from sharing stories of our own growing up. Inevitably we would be laughing our heads off as we remembered funny things from our family - for example, my memory of my sister jabbing a sharp "astropop" sucker into my mouth and cutting the back of my throat. I guess it doesn't sound that funny, but looking back on it, it is. Memories of the absurd can be funny.
Q: How different would this play be if Margaret was Mark (ie. a man)?
A-M.K: All I know is that Margaret is behaving extremely, and is stuck in her denial and inability to accept her life. I don't know how that would play differently for men, it doesn't seem related to her being a woman but more her being who she is in her desperation to not be alone.
S.L-C.: My sense is that Mark would not be up high, as Margaret is in the show. He might not answer the phone, but he would pull the cord out of the wall so the phone wouldn't torture him. I think he would want to go to Claire and save her in person.
Q: Did you ever go to desperate lengths to avoid loneliness? Care to share?
A-M.K: Oh, there has been so much subconscious behaviour around this. Late night calls and visits to ex-boyfriends, enough said.
S.L-C.: I can't think of a specific example of this, though I am sure I have many similar stories. My friend and colleague Stewart talks about FOMO - fear of missing out - and I think I suffer from that at times. It usually manifests in staying up too late and then drinking one drink too many and spending money on taxis, when all I really wanted to do was go home, have a bath and go to bed.
Q: Why Nightwood? Why the new Groundswell Festival? How is this festival a solid venue for presentation?
A-M.K: It's perfect on a bunch levels for me. In the mid 90's I had lots of associations with Nightwood, attended everything they did. We formed a 10-women theatre company called "The Toronto Women's Auxiliary", and performed Groundswell and cabarets. I was also one of the 10 women directors to be asked to do The Penelopiad workshop last year. I have been informed by the women of Nightwood for years and feel super lucky to be asked to have our show here.
S.L.C.: We are so happy to be a part of this festival of shows created by teams of women, and to be associated with Nightwood Theatre is really an honour. The festival is giving us a chance to play to audiences once again - and to reach NEW (Toronto!) audiences. The events associated with the festival (networking and masterclasses) are also amazing and I look forward to meeting other creators to see and talk about the work. It's all inspiring and great!
The new Groundswell Festival is a hub of women and arts and creativity; it's a festival of contemporary women's theatre and it's really fantastic. It runs from Dec. 1 - 10 featuring 3 shows at the Berkeley St. Theatre (26 Berkeley St) and a variety of Masterclasses. Visit the Nightwood Theatre website for details.