Karim Alrawi

DSC_9245_3Interviewed by Jasmine Ruff

Karim Alrawi has written stage plays, radio plays, children’s books and most recently a novel. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt and writes in both Arabic and English.

He earned an MFA in creative writing at UBC and was an International Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa. His plays have been produced internationally. His work in stage has won the John Whiting Award (UK), the Samuel Beckett Award (UK), and the Jessie Richardson Award (Canada) among others.

His debut novel Book of Sands received the inaugural HaperCollins Publishers/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction Award. The novel is set during the Arab Spring and follows the lives of a small family as they struggle against an oppressive political system. Tarek, a father and husband, has to flee with his young daughter to avoid unjust persecution and leaves his pregnant wife behind. As the novel progresses it explores tradition, religion, love and freedom.

What initially drew you to writing?

I was working for an engineering company in London (England) and was writing up my thesis for a third degree. One morning as I was having breakfast at a small cafe waiting for the office to open, I realized that this was going to be a typical day of the rest of my life and couldn’t bear the thought. So I quit. I started writing a stage play. I supported myself by working as a barman in a Soho bar, as well as doing various other jobs. But then paused to write a radio play for a BBC competition. The play won and was produced. I then returned to writing my stage play and eventually got it produced. It won an award and I was offered a job at a theatre company as literary manager. And life rolled on from there.

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Anosh Irani

Interviewed by Abeer Yusuf

Anosh Irani was born and brought up in Bombay, India and moved to Vancouver in 1998.  He is the author of the acclaimed novels The Cripple and His Talismans and The Song of Kahunsha, which was a finalist for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, was published in thirteen countries, and was a bestseller in Canada, China, and Italy. His play Bombay Black was a Dora Award winner for Outstanding New Play. Irani was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Drama for his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black.  His latest novel Dahanu Road was longlisted for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize.  He is currently working on a film for director Irena Salina (Flow) and producer Leslie Holleran (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules).

I sat down with Irani in a bagel café to talk about books and Bombay. Over the course of an hour, we talked about what one needs to be a writer, what Bombay means to Irani, immigrant woes, and how important alcohol is in making someone a writer.

How does a story come to you?

Most stories start in the form of an image.  With my first novel, The Cripple and His Talismans, it was an image of amputated limbs hanging from the ceiling in a very dark, dungeon-esque sort of place. You realize that the image doesn’t leave, and you’re compelled to explore it. When that happens, it’s both a curse and a blessing because the more you try to shake it off the deeper you end up going into it. Every story has a different starting point—some have images, some have stories that have been told to me by my family, so when I began my novel Dahanu Road, it was based on my great-grandfather digging holes in the ground on his farm to hide whiskey bottles: it was Prohibition in India at that time. So the beginnings are different, but in the end we always end up exploring character, that becomes your centre, especially in fiction.

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Anthony McCarten

TTOE_D05_ 02461Interviewed by David Geary

Anthony McCarten was nominated for two Academy Awards in 2015: one for best picture producer and one as writer of the adapted screenplay for The Theory of Everything. The film is based on Jane Hawkings’ book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, about her first marriage to world-renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. McCarten describes the story as about the love of physics and physics of love. The film was up for five Oscars in total (star Eddie Redmayne won for Best Actor), and this interview took place before the results were known.

McCarten is an all-rounder; an accomplished playwright, producer, screenwriter and novelist. His novels have been translated into 14 languages and have been finalists and award winners in both his homeland of New Zealand and internationally.

When asked for an interview about his career – from the wilds of New Zealand to the red carpet – he sent this link.

Your writing career started as a journalist?

No, at 17, I wanted to be a rock star. I had a Springsteen/Dylan/Neil Young/Tom Waits phase  (which is still on-going), and I cut a record. I wrote all the songs for the  album, did vocals and lead guitar. Oh, the folly of youth. I was wise enough to know that I sucked.  For a couple of years after that I was a journalist, the only one serving a small rural part of New Zealand. This served as my apprenticeship in writing on time for money to serve an audience. I got a free house, a car, and a cat. I was miserable. At some point I thought – Is that all there is? 

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Lucia Frangione

LUCIA3FINALwebInterviewed by Veronique West

Lucia Frangione is an internationally produced, award winning playwright and actor residing in Vancouver. She has had twenty-five plays produced, including Leave of Absence (Pacific Theatre), Paradise Garden (Arts Club Theatre) and Espresso (Pacific Theatre). Lucia is a recipient of the Gordon Armstrong Award, the Sydney Riske Award and the Stage West CAEA emerging artist award.

Lucia’s work inspires me because it is fiercely uncompromising. When she writes about a contentious subject, such as the role of women within Christianity, she tackles every perspective without simplification. Moreover, she does not hesitate to bring intensely personal experiences to the stage.

How did your playwriting career begin, and was it linked to the beginning of your acting career?

Playwriting, acting and spiritual practice have always been linked for me. I took drama in Grade 12 to get over my fear of public speaking so I could be of service in the church as a minister or teacher. I very quickly adopted the theatre as my church, in a sense, because I prefer to ask questions rather than give answers. I went to Rosebud School of the Arts: sort of a Bible college and theatre school combined. I took acting but I wrote a play my first year there and they liked it so much they paid me and produced it that summer for their dinner theatre. I switched my major to playwriting and studied for four years, but I always performed in my own plays. I continue to do so, but also work independently in both fields. It still is weird for me to write something and not perform in it. It feels like throwing a big party and not attending. [Read more…]

Tetsuro Shigematsu

KamilaInterviewed by Kamila Sediego

Tetsuro Shigematsu has done almost everything. He is or once was: a playwright, a TV writer for CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and host of CBC Radio’s The Roundup. He has also worked as a stand up comedian, filmmaker, actor (once with George Takei), Huffington Post columnist, samurai descendent and in-house expert for the MTV/SpikeTV show, Deadliest Warrior, TedTalk presenter, and MC/host/presenter for numerous organizations, festivals, and events across Canada. He wrote his play, Rising Son, an autobiographical one-person show about his relationship with his father, when he was 23 and performed it in cities around the world. The sequel to that play, Empire of the Son will have its world premiere at The Cultch in October of 2015. He is a Vanier scholar and current PhD student at UBC, examining the intersection of race and social media.

Shigematsu also acts as the Artist-in-Residence for Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre, and was a member of the selection committee for 2015’s MSG Theatre Lab. It was through this opportunity that I got to meet Shigematsu. We talked over the phone about advice, some of the worries emerging writers face, and being an Asian-Canadian writer.

How did you begin this cross-genre career of yours?

I went to art school in college and did my undergrad in fine arts, but the feedback I continuously got from my profs was that the explanations I gave for my artwork were actually more successful than the art pieces themselves. In other words: my artwork wasn’t that good but I should keep talking. At my profs’ encouragement, in lieu of bringing in finished artwork, I would just talk about what happened with my family over the weekend.

Some of these stories were painful to share but I found it therapeutic. What was surprising was that my classmates were laughing a lot. Doing self-reportage and monologues about my personal life was the beginning of my particular practice. I didn’t have any intention of taking it further until I met the couple renting my sister’s place in Montreal. The man was Paul Dervis, who at the time was the artistic director of 21st Century Theatre. After hearing my artsy monologues he said to me, “I’ll tell you what. You’re Japanese. Let’s do a show about that.” That became Rising Son.

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Jenn Engels

jenn and andrewInterviewed by Deborah Vogt

Jenn Engels is an award winning writer and producer, writing for a variety of networks including TMN, HBO Canada, CBC, CTV, Space, Rogers, Hulu, Teletoon, the CW, and SyFy. With a background in acting and stand-up comedy, Jenn has contributed to many of Canada’s top comedies, most notably all four seasons of the critically acclaimed Less Than Kind, Seed, Satisfaction, InSecurity, Dan for Mayor and Mother Up! for Rogers/Hulu. This season marks her debut in both the one-hour and genre worlds, serving as a Writer/Consulting Producer on Bitten for Space/SyFy. Jenn is a born and bred Montrealer but pays taxes in Toronto.

I was so excited to connect with Jenn Engels because I was eager to hear from a female voice working in television comedy. Not to mention, I’m a big fan of Less Than Kind. We corresponded over email.

What TV and film did you watch growing up and who are your major comedy influences?

M*A*S*H* was on in syndication forever when I was a kid, so I watched it at least twice a day for years. In Grade 5 I announced, to my parents’ delight, that I wanted to be a surgeon. I only later realized I just wanted to be Hawkeye Pierce. My other major influence was Steve Martin. I had most of his albums as a teenager and would listen to them ad nauseum. I loved, and still love, his brand of comedy from the seventies: intelligent and very witty, but unabashedly silly. [Read more…]

Judith Thompson

JUDITH hi RESInterviewed by Indu Iyer

Judith Thompson is one of Canada’s foremost theatre artists. She is a graduate of the National Theatre School, a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for Drama, and a recipient of the Order of Canada. Her most noted plays include The Crackwalker, White Biting Dog, and Lion In The Streets. Alongside playwriting, she co-creates and directs independent theatre projects, is a professor of Creative Writing at Guelph University, and on occasion, also performs.

A fellow thespian, I have long admired her work for its melange of humility and audacity. It was a huge privilege to pursue this dialogue with her. We corresponded via email.

Why theatre?

Because theatre is now. Because theatre combines the music of the human voice in spoken word, the text that is every movement, and a concentrated space. And it has an ancient tradition. [Read more…]

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…]

Catherine Banks

Catherine Banks photoInterviewed by Sarah Higgins

Catherine Banks is a renowned, award-winning Canadian playwright. She received the Nova Scotia Established Artist Award in 2008 for her body of work and has won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama twice – in 2008 for Bone Cage and in 2012 for It is Solved by Walking. The latter was translated into Catalan by the Tant per Tant theatre company and toured Barcelona in 2012. Her other works include Three Storey, Ocean View and Bitter Rose (which also aired on Bravo! TV’s Singular Series). Her latest work, Miss ‘n Me, will premiere as a Sarasvati Theatre production in Winnipeg in May, 2015.

Banks’ plays reflect the rhythm of life in rural Nova Scotia with humour, pathos and poetry. Through the particularities of specific lives, she expresses universal stories – and through the universal stories, she highlights the particular highs and lows of life in the Maritimes.

I had the pleasure of hearing her read from It is Solved by Walking at an event in Halifax several years ago, and the beauty and breath of her work enthralled me. I was grateful to be able to chat with her, over email, about her craft.

Let’s start at the start – how did you get into playwriting? Or, what was your first experience of theatre, and did that inform your choice of genre?

I grew up around my father’s family of storytellers and wits. I acted in high school and university and even wrote a monologue for my one theatre class ever (acting) but it really wasn’t until I saw Michel Tremblay’s Les belles soeurs that I understood that I had something to write about—up until that point I thought writers lived exotic lives. Tremblay characters were so grounded in real life that I understood that I had lots to write. I have said many times that the first time I sat down and wrote dialogue I felt I had come home. [Read more…]