Annabel Soutar

soutarInterviewed by Sasha Singer-Wilson

Playwright and theatre producer Annabel Soutar founded the theatre company Porte Parole Productions in Montreal with Alex Ivanovici in 2000. She has acted as Artistic Director of the company ever since. Soutar’s most recent play Seeds was published in both English and French and presented across Canada in 2013-14. In 2012 she was commissioned with director Chris Abraham to write a new documentary play – The Watershed – about fresh water for the 2015 Toronto Pan American/Para Pan American Games cultural program.

I first experienced Soutar’s work in 2012 when I saw a production of Seeds at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. It was my first encounter with documentary theatre and the form excites me greatly. It marries my love of theatre with my desire to create dialogue about current events and social and environmental issues. For this interview, we spoke on the phone, Soutar in Montreal and me in Vancouver.

Did you want to write from the time you were young?

Not at all. I never thought of myself as an “artist.” I tended to do well in subjects like math and history. I didn’t study theatre until my second year of university. And I didn’t participate as an actor, writer, or director until my late teens or early twenties.

I went to university at Princeton, in New Jersey. The one fundamental thing that they teach there, no matter what you study, is that you should learn how to write. I took history, English, and some theatre. I found that I thought differently in my theatre classes than I did in any of the others. When asked to perform a role written by a playwright from a hundred years ago, I learned more about history than I did in a history class.

I discovered the early documentary plays of Anna Deveare Smith when they premiered at the McCarter Theatre in the town of Princeton. She’s probably one of the most successful practitioners of the documentary form in North America. Her plays have not only been produced on Broadway but have had an impact on the communities where they were presented. Her plays showed me how theatre connected with my other interests, like, history, politics and journalism. They showed me that theatre wasn’t just about exploring themes from the past or entertaining an audience with a titillating drama; it actually allowed us to take a look at what was going on in our communities. Seeing her work made me realize that not only did I want to study theatre, I wanted to practice it. Not only did I want to practice it, I wanted to practice it in this way. [Read more…]

Elaine Woo

Elaine WooInterviewed by Yilin Wang

Elaine Woo is a Vancouver-based poet, librettist, and non-fiction writer. Cycling with the Dragon, her debut poetry collection, was published by Nightwood Editions in 2014 and recently nominated for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness. Her writing has also appeared in ARC Poetry Magazine, carte blanche, Ricepaper Magazine, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Her art song collaboration with Daniel Marshall, “Night-time Symphony,” won a festival prize in Boston Metro Opera’s International Composers’ Competition. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from UBC and has taught workshops for Megaphone Magazine and the Historic Joy Kagawa House.

I first met Elaine at the launch of Ricepaper Magazine’s Fall/Winter 2012 special double issue featuring Aboriginal and Asian Canadian writers. We both read at the launch, and since then, I have had the pleasure of listening to her read at many other events. Her writing explores marginalized voices, race, gender, family dynamics, and the creative process with raw emotion and experimental language. I corresponded with Elaine via email to discuss her inspiration, the publication of her first book, and her thoughts on a writer’s social responsibility.

What inspired you to first begin writing?

Creativity is my calling: I’ve always been creative, drawing prolifically as a child until my late teens. My twenties and thirties were fallow years, devoted to schooling in experimental psychology and working as a clerk/secretary. The psychology I studied had nothing to do with the soul, much to my disappointment. By mid-life, I had a lot of stories stored up inside. In 2006, when a couple of friends suggested I take up writing, I signed up for a credited creative writing course at Capilano College (before it became a university) and that was the start of my becoming actualized and whole again. Writing gave me everything to do with the intellectual, social, philosophical, and spiritual in the 21st century. [Read more…]