Featured Playwright Q & A, with Anna Chatterton

1) Within the Glass, which ran in early 2016, describes the fascinating tale of two couples wanting desperately to become parents, while a critical error takes place at a fertility clinic. Can you discuss what your inspiration was for this play? Did it by chance have anything to do with your own experiences as a mother, or were you inspired by another source entirely?

Within the Glass is loosely based on a true story that I read about in the news about two very different couples undergoing fertility treatments who had the wrong embryo placed in the wrong woman’s body. It was before I was trying to conceive, and I wondered if that was my future; infertility, in vitro fertilization (IVF), botched IVF….I was lucky enough to conceive naturally in the middle of writing the play, and becoming a mother hugely influenced and deepened my writing of the play. I now had an intimate understanding of what it was to be pregnant and what it was to be a mother. I also have a very close friend who has been trying to become pregnant for the past six years, so I heard intimately what it is to want to be a mother more than anything and be in the seemingly endless process of fertility treatments. I followed a lot of infertility blogs of broken-hearted sharing their experience of trying to get pregnant, which really impacted the writing of characters who were the genetic parents in the play.

What drove me to write the play was the nightmarish dilemma presented in this story of modern-day science. The pregnant woman was given two legal choices, to terminate the pregnancy, or continue with the pregnancy and then hand the baby over to the genetic parents. I contemplated the two terrible choices the woman carrying the child was given, and I was plagued by one question:  What would I do? I was inspired by the image of two mothers desperately fighting for one baby. That expanded to two couples fighting for one baby. The law in Ontario and other provinces in our country, asserts that the fetus belongs to the genetic parents, my play still begs the question, whose child is it? What makes a mother, what makes a parent?

 

2) Perhaps a similar question can be asked about Quiver. This highly entertaining solo-performance chronicles the delicate balance of the mother-daughter relationship – especially as the single-mother. That balance becomes even more delicate as a controversial love interest is  thrown into the mix. Therefore, this question relates to one of the lead characters “Maddie”, the rebellious (younger) teen daughter – would you consider yourself to have been a “rebellious teen daughter”? Or do you perhaps hope your own daughter will become one? (I noticed that you cleverly coined the name “feisty Frida” for her)..

Quiveris inspired by and is a fictional account of a particular period in my teenage-hood, and I play a fictional and dramatic version of my fifteen-year-old self, my sixteen-year-old sister, and my single forty-something mother.

So yes, the character of Maddie is based on myself, but she gets way more rebellious than I ever did. I was actually the “good kid”— the “rebellious teen daughter” was my older sister. Not sure if I want my daughter to grow up to be rebellious… I want her to be independent and confident, but I know people who regret being so rebellious in their teens. I was a very emotional teenager who wrote desperately into my diaries, probably the very reason I am a writer now. I hope Frida won’t feel the need to rebel since she has such accepting parents, but I also hope she can skip the angst–riddled—rollercoaster emo-times I had.

 

3) There are obviously prominent feminist themes in your writing. Your work with Independent Auties, the feminist theatre collective, can certainly attest to that. Are there any particular Canadian feminists artists (female or male), who have inspired and/or informed your work?

I love Karen Hine’s body of work, Suzan-Lori-Parks, Caryl Churchill, Yasima Reza, Judith Thompson. Marie Brassard is also someone whose work I really admire. I also love the work of sound artist Alexis O’hara, she uses humour, sound and feminism in really unique ways. All these grand feminist dames inspire and inform my work.

I would also like to shout out some of my fave female theatre artists locally in Toronto such Haley McGee— a young daring dynamo, the always clever, profound and unique Lisa Codrington, masterful Donna Michelle St Bernard, the excellent and creative Marie Beath Badian, the virtuosic d’bi Young Anitafrika and genius and mentor Colleen Murphy…so many!

 

4) You are clearly a multi-talented artist – playwright, writer, librettist, actor, and of course, mother! Your plays (some of which I have mentioned), have obviously been critically-acclaimed. As a librettist moreover, many of your works have been commissioned and produced by the Canadian Opera Company; (Swoon), Tapestry Opera (Rocking Horse Winner), and World Stage/Harbourfront Centre (Voice-Box), just to name a few. And if that’s not enough, you were also awarded Best Supporting Actress for your performance as Alice, in Alice and Gertrude, at the Toronto Theatre Critics Awards – wow! So did you always imagine yourself delving into numerous genres? Or how did that unfold? And is there one genre that you are most particularly proud of?

Oh jeez, I am a dark little rain cloud so I never feel very proud or accomplished, or if I do, it is incredibly fleeting— like we’re talking a few moments and then— gone. I never would have guessed I would be working as a librettist, I didn’t even know such a role existed when I started out. However, I was in an arts program (at Claude Watson) in high school, so I studied a bunch of eclectic theatre artists and I was always drawn to the experimental, collective creation, collaborative works. So I knew even as a teenager, that that was the kind of work I was most interested in creating in the future. Perhaps at the moment I am most proud of my plays, because I gave myself a couple of dares or challenges, basically to see if I could do it. For example, can I write a traditional type of play for Tarragon Theatre? Can I write a solo play that uses technology I have no idea how to use yet? I worked super hard to fulfill those dares to myself, so there is a pride in that. But all projects are challenges to overcome. Gertrude and Alice felt like we climbed many creative mountains and battled many drafts and versions to get to the final production, and I feel so proud/relieved that we came out the other end, we figured out that beast. Each project is a puzzle, which takes years to figure out, if we really ever do actually solve it.

 

5)  What does the future hold for Anna Chatterton?

I am bringing Quiver to the Uno Festival in May. And my opera Sweat,with composer, Juliet Palmer (which premiered in Brooklyn, NY in the fall), is being produced by the Bicycle Opera Project this summer in Toronto and other bikeable cities. I am developing a new play about contemporary cowgirls called Cowgirl Up, with Alberta Theatre Projects and director Eda Holmes - as well as developing a new piece called Heroine, with Nightwood Theatre, where I am playwright-in-residence. I am writing text for a dance piece for director/choreographer Matjash Mrozewski, for a team of dancers for Proartedanzain the fall. I’m also the Artist-in-Residence for NotaBle Acts in Fredericton this July – I’ll be working on my plays and being the dramaturge for writers whose work will be presented in their festival of new plays. And lots of other projects in the works, including the founding of Industry, Hamilton’s first professional mid-sized theatre company—the brainchild of six veterans of Canadian theatre now living in Hamilton. We are currently in development of our inaugural season…stay tuned!