Well folks, I know this post is long overdue. The brisance of Toronto Fringe Festival has given way to a kind of post-apocalyptic scrambling for resources, which has enjoined me in spending vast numbers of consecutive hours either writing stuff up for clients (including a children’s educational book on communication inventions for Crabtree Publishing, more on that to come), or trying, desperately trying, to get a play written for the Tarragon Theatre’s RBC Emerging Playwright Contest. Attaching a $3000.00 price tag to any contest is ipso facto motivation for donating the sum of one’s creative energies, but beyond that, I’m just using it as a deadline, an anchor, something which will force me to do the actual physical labour of writing. As Dorothy Parker once put it, “I hate writing; I love having written.”
The new script (the name of which I can’t mention, lest I poison the integrity of the contest’s “blind panelist”) is almost finished (it should be, it’s due on Monday) & I have just begun to phase myself into my next creative project: directing Wesley J. Colford’s play Mature Young Adults for its upcoming run at the Atlantic Fringe Festival. Produced by the wonderful Aim for the Tangent, whose previous productions The Wakwoski Brothers (Best of Fringe 2012), & Genesis and Other Stories have earned them considerable critical acclaim & sold-out runs, MYA is a bit of an experiment in that I’ve never done the Atlantic Fringe (which is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia) before. Indeed, seemingly no one has. Aside from the fairly tortuous time we’ve had extracting information from the AF people w/r/t the actual dimensions & character of our venue, the publicity apparatus of the Halifax theatre community leaves much to be desired. Well, praise the Lord & pass the ammunition.
The production stars the playwright himself, as well as the lovely & talented Renée Haché, who performed in my play The Hystericon last month. A kind of contemporary response to David French’s Salt-Water Moon, the play explores the evolution (or devolution) of a young teenage couple in small-town Nova Scotia, as they struggle with sexual awakening, gossip, & the rigours of finding love in a thoroughly cynical world. At the behest of the Aim for the Tangent, I did a little Q &A, which should give you a nice idea of what the thing’s about:
Aim for the Tangent: What interests you about Mature Young Adults and what drew you to the project?
Alexander Offord: If you're any kind of consumer of culture at all, there are certain trends or evolutions in form that you've necessarily been saturated with, particularly in the last twenty years or so. Almost of all of these trends or forms reduce to what we might call "irony," which is to say the kind of self-conscious, wink-wink-nudge-nudge-ing that one sees in TV programs like HBO's Girls, where day-to-day tragedy & self-reproach & inner turmoil are removed from the characters' experience & replaced with a carapace of dramatic self-awareness that is both a) the inevitable consequence of a generation of hyper-educated, internet-fed young people suddenly being driven to create art, & b) dangerously seductive in terms of being accessible& entertaining to watch. It also happens, at least in my opinion, to be at times seriously abrasive to the soul. The American critic Lewish Hyde once wrote, in an essay called Alcohol and Poetry: "Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage."
Mature Young Adults appealed to me because it is about unhip, uncool, unsexy subject matter. It is about the day-to-day experience of human beings who, above all else, feel. It is about two young people who are in love, old-school love, before whole notion was reduced to eye rolling and a misting of A10 cells with dopamine in the ventral tegmental area of the brain. If there is going to be another major aesthetic movement in the coming years, I suspect it might be a return to themes or characters that are easily written off as "sentimental." It will be a second-coming of characters who don't need to be admired, only loved.
To Wesley's credit, it's also one of a very small minority of plays which I read & didn't just see the playwright trying to convince the audience how smart he is.
Were there any challenges that come to mind (either working with a new script or working on a show about Nova Scotia or not getting to go to Halifax to see the end result...)?
AO: This depends on what is meant by "challenges." I try to excise difficulty from my creative process by working with people more talented than I. Yes, there were serious cuts made to the script; yes, there are always sticky points in rehearsal, but in truth, the biggest challenge in working with Wes & Renee is resisting the temptation to dick around too much.
That being said, the venue itelf is causing me a certain amount of psychic pain, but to an extent that's the nature of Fringe. My kingdom for @#$%ing gobo...
What's the best and worst thing about working in Fringe?
AO: I have a whole rant I could do about this but I don't know of how much interest it would be to your readers. My only experiences thus far have been with the Toronto Fringe, so I can really only speak to that. I guess I would say that conceptually the Fringe is possibly the most important theatre festival in the country, in that it provides basically the only venue for emerging artists to not only a) produce their work on a budget, but b) actually get people to see the stuff. The Canadian theatre scene is so hellaciously underfunded that there is a real hostility to young artists from a lot (though not all) of the establishment. Fringe to certain extent obviates some of this restriction.
The worst thing about Fringe really doesn't come from either its patrons or staff/volunteers, but from the reviewers. A sad reality is that far too many people decide to see shows based solely on the arbitrary tastes of a particular journalist. Which, whatever, critics are just doing their job & everyone has to eat & live. But the notion that the worth or existential merit of a work can be reduced to how many fucking "N's" it gets is pretty dispiriting.
What's something you learned from your first relationship?
AO: That all grievances, no matter how small, must be aired. Fighting, or at least bickering, is very healthy in a relationship.
If you could ask a past girlfriend one thing, what would it be?
AO: I have nothing whatsoever to say to any past girlfriend. Which should tell you a great deal.
Why should people see MYA over other options in the Fringe?
AO: Because in ten years when Wesley's Artistic Director of the Tarragon Theatre, and Renee's been forced to hire servants just for the task of polishing her Doras, you'll want to be able to say that you saw them act in a shitty art gallery in Halifax for ten bucks. If you remember my name at all, it'll most likely be in some formulation of, "Oh yes, I saw his production of 'Aladdin' at the Norfolk County Theatre. It was a little slow, I thought.'"