Peep Show! at SkirtsAfire

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Alberta Playwrights' network is Proud to be a supporter of The skirtsafire festival, a multidisciplinary celebration of women artists in edmonton.

For the last few years, APN has partnered with Edmonton-based director and dramaturg Tracy Carroll to support Peep Show!, a reading series showcasing new plays by Edmonton's best up-and-coming playwrights. This year's Peep Show! will feature new work by Bevin Dooley and Christine Lesiak, who recently interviewed by EPL's Writer In Residence, Darrin Hagen, about their work, their influences, and the Peep Show! process.

Peep Show! is March 10 at 5 pm and March 11 at 3:30 pm at the Nina Haggerty Gallery (9225 118 Avenue, Edmonton)

 

For a complete listing of SkirtsAfire Events, visit their website: http://skirtsafire.com/

2 Playwrights discuss Exploration, Presentation and Inspiration

Written by Darrin Hagen, Writer in Residence, Edmonton Public Library

 Christine Lesiak

Christine Lesiak

For playwright Christine Lesiak, the allegorical tale of The Little Prince – one of history’s most-translated pieces of fiction – holds a remarkable spell.

“I first read the book in French when I was I elementary school, and loved it then. About 6 years ago, I went through a phase where I re-read all the books I remember loving as a child, and I was struck at the profound beauty and inherent sadness of the book - all stuff that I missed all those years ago. I realized I was not reading a children's book, and began to wonder at why it is perceived as a novella for such young readers, and in the stage versions, as theatre for young audiences. It also struck me that its core message is one to adults: a cautionary tale of the perils of loosing one's childlike wonder of the world.

“I just couldn't get the little novella out of my head! So when applied to do my MFA in Theatre Practice in 2014, it was with the particular intent to explore this text from the perspective of an adult, for adult audiences. From there, my thesis project, an immersive installation performance work, The Object of Constellations was born.”

First experienced by Edmontonians in 2016, The Object of Constellations was originally viewed – like a shooting star – in a very immersive, site-specific setting at the University of Alberta’s astronomy observatory. This appealed to Lesiak’s passion for the moment where reality meets theatricality – a natural space for her to unveil her boundless creative streak, which she discovered by falling in love with clowning.

Now, the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novella is reimagined once again as part of Peepshow, a staged reading of her newest interpretation of the tale, now entitled In The Place of Stars, presented during the Skirts Afire Festival.

“It is about a woman – a doctor of astronomy who is giving a public lecture on the night sky in Edmonton in April, 2016. It is six years after the death of her son. She’s back in Alberta for the first time in five years and she is confronting all the memories of her son; the time they spent together in her observatory under the stars when she was a researcher trying to work at night. All the stories are conjured from the constellations.”

Now, under the umbrella of the Skirts Afire, she has embraced the written word, and is exploring how the physical and the textual can coexist, and how a piece of performance can transform with every outing.

“This script for me is an extremely precious thing – it’s been on the shelf now for a couple of years since I first did it. Originally it was a site-specific show – I couldn’t imagine how it would work out of site. I knew it needed time and space to figure out what to do with it.”

Enter dramaturge/director Tracey Carroll, who has given Christine permission to allow the piece to grow – with no pressure. Peepshow is about exploring, and using the resources of the festival to allow women to create in a unique kind of environment. This experience has Christine focused more on the words this time around. The physical performer steps aside, allowing the writer to emerge.

“One of my big goals is to figure out what this play can be in a more traditional space. And the beautiful part of my conversation with Tracey was the sense of  ‘We are going to experiment and play. This is about the process and the discovery.’  

Being released from the obligation to focus on outcome allows for a more exploratory creative journey. This appeals to Christine, the physical performer. The exploration is the point here.

“For me it is so much about the journey. Which means that we have a lot of permission to try a whole bunch of different things – and I am not so terrified of making the wrong choice with something that’s so precious to me.”

 Bevin Dooley

Bevin Dooley

The second play being presented at Peepshow is Bevin Dooley’s brand-new play  27/37.  And it also has, as its inspiration, a family connection.

“My play came to being because I was trying to write something for my younger sister who was going through a career slump while living in Toronto. We somehow got on the topic of siblings and twins. Then my mom sent us this article about a woman in California who was dying from ALS and chose an assisted death. The article was written by her sister- it was about her ‘going-away’ party; she had all her friends over, had a big celebration and then after everyone left she ended her own life.

“I was really fascinated by that – by someone making such a clear and conscious decision: ‘No. This is the end.'"

“The script evolved from there – from looking at assisted death for someone who’s physically ill, to one who’s mentally ill and the challenge of convincing themselves, each other and their respective partners of the validity of the decision.”

Dooley, who studied playwriting in Dublin, Ireland, where, she says “everyone there is obsessed with this idea of death. You can’t get much higher stakes than death. I’m just fascinated with it: what goes into the consideration of the end and what happens when the end comes much sooner; I think that on a basic level people are not prepared to think about that sort of stuff.”

Also fascinating to this writer is the gendered reaction our society has to death, and even though, as she aptly puts it, “The binary is garbage – but yes, I think there is a way that men and women approach death differently – but I think it has to do with how we’re socialized as young people.

“Even in my family - men take it in stride and cry privately, whereas women mourn very socially and publicly.

“This play is a very emotional play – and so far there have actually been a lot of tears in the workshop – but there’s something about the environment of Skirts Afire that I think allows for that emotional release or that emotional vulnerability; whereas in some other workshops or environment it becomes all about the ideas and working through the problems and getting to the solution as quickly as possible rather than just sitting in the raw feelings and being sad for a minute.

“I think there’s this weird thing that happens when you work in a male-dominated space where you have to kill off -  for lack of a better word, the “feminine” part of yourself – the emotional vulnerability that is both expected and rejected in women– but that you have to silence or carve away your emotional side in a self-censoring way…. “

These two artists operate on very different levels, taking inspiration from very different sources. I asked who inspires them.

For Bevin, it’s the text-focused female playwrights that fuel her.

“One person who I hold in high regard is playwright Sarah Kane - and not just because we share a birthday – which is hilarious and grim.

“All of her plays are very dark and very gruesome and very visceral and nonlinear, but she wrote from a real place of pain in her own life. Her entire collected works are five plays and a screenplay. She died at the age of 28. Suicide. But as angry and visceral and full of rage as all of her work is, there’s a real truth to it –like it’s coming out of somewhere deep - She’s clearly pulling this out of somewhere deep inside her… Her plays never feel like it’s just someone railing against the world. It feels meditated upon. And this is how it has to come out.

“And at the complete other end of the spectrum is Annie Baker. I am so in love with that sort of hyper-natural stuttering, slow, suddenly very fast-paced real time… Real life, real time. Annie’s like my laidback angel on one shoulder; Sarah’s like my chain-smoking devil on the other.”

Christine finds her inspiration elsewhere. “I have so many profound influences… and a lot of them come from physical theatre as opposed to playwrights. Although I do love Conni Massing – a wonderful human being and such a beautiful writer. Daniel MacIvor, obviously – one of the first Canadian playwrights I read a lot of… But a lot of my influences are from more the visual world, like the work of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop or Robert Lepage. And some lesser known people – there’s a friend of mine from Vancouver called Tara Travis – who writes very small indie theatre pieces that are very quirky and funny.

“I have a lot of comedy influences… the Carol Burnetts of the world are brilliant – the Lily Tomlins… brilliant humans. Because I come from a place of clown, any kind of performance where there’s the possible of the real intervening, and interceding in the night and something new that has never happened and will never happen again happening -  That is the thing for me that is really artistically intriguing.”