Featured Playwright Q & A, with Annabel Fitzsimmons

1) Highlighting the success of the smash hit Bittergirl, currently scheduled for productions in BC’s Granville Island Theatre from June 15 to July 29, 2017, and at the Mack Theatre as part of the Charlottetown Festival from July 5 to August 26, 2017, can you talk about your experiences on this collaboration with fellow playwrights, Alison Lawrence and Mary Francis Moore? What would you say is the most memorable thing that you learned about yourself from having worked on this project?

Bittergirl has been a labour of love on many levels. When we began writing the first drafts of bittergirl the play in 1999, we never dreamed it would have this kind of longevity, not to mention the many incarnations. Our process as a trio has evolved and developed over the years, and we have continued to support one another personally and creatively. Our deep enduring friendship and our ability to challenge one another whilst working together as a true team is rare. Mary Francis and Alison have become family to me, and that is ultimately the best part of the whole experience.

Bittergirl has taught me many things, but the most memorable? The importance of being able to laugh at myself, when to fight for an idea and when to let go, and that when the three of us follow our instincts and stay true to our collective vision, that’s where the magic happens.

 

2) Your concept of “whole living”, as I learned from your website, www. annabelfitzsimmons.com, is about “bringing awareness to life” and ultimately, “inspiring people to practice healthy and whole living” - amazing! So how would you describe your journey to whole living, and how do you apply that to playwriting?

I’m not sure we ever actually arrive at a place of “whole living.”  I see it more as a continual (and for me, often circuitous) journey that changes according to our needs and life circumstances. After graduating from university, and then subsequently theatre school, I spent the first five years of my career being an actor, a playwright, a producer, a drama teacher, and a yoga teacher.

For a long time I struggled with the idea that in order to be successful, I needed to just do one thing: to solely be a playwright or a yoga teacher. But I wasn’t happy just writing, or just teaching. I finally embraced the idea that I could carve my own path using all of my skills, and what works for another person’s creative career doesn’t necessarily work for mine. By shifting my mindset, I discovered that each element of my work makes up the “whole” of what I love to do – each part informs the other. There are some weeks when I spend the majority of my time teaching and running my mobile studio; other weeks, I’m focused purely on my writing and creative projects. This is a healthy balance for me.

With regards to writing specifically, I try to approach every project with the awareness that what worked last time may not work this time around, and to be conscious of what I’m able to bring to the table at this particular time. Each new creative endeavour is going to involve different skills, and different time commitments, and will challenge me in different ways.

 

3) You’ve referred to yourself as a “serial entrepreneur” – How has that improved or informed your creative space as a writer? Or did you find that it created more challenges at times?

Being a serial entrepreneur, for me, involves constantly reassessing what I’m doing and where I’m spending my energy and resources. In some ways this has improved my creative space as a writer because when I’m really passionate about a project, it’s easy to prioritize where I put my focus and time. But the flipside to that is when I hit a difficult writing period, when I’m blocked or struggling with a creative idea, it’s tempting to simply start work on the next thing I have coming down the pipe. I’m still learning to accept that there are periods of time when I need to focus more on freelance work and creative non-fiction writing, and that writing for theatre may take a backseat. Or when a theatre project demands much of my time, my teaching schedule might require a complete overhaul. I’m a constant work in progress, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

4) Who would you say are you are most influenced, or perhaps inspired by, among Canadian playwrights? Has that changed for you over the years?

There are so many incredible Canadian playwrights it’s difficult to narrow that down. Every time I see a show I am influenced in some way. Judith Thompson was a big inspiration for me in my early days at Ryerson theatre school. From my first reading of Crackwalker, I was struck her ability to clearly define her characters and their relationships. Kristen Thomson has also had a great impact on me. From I, Claudia to her latest, The Wedding Party, Kristen’s comedic writing and (there’s a theme here) her ability to clearly define her characters has inspired me. Just recently, I saw Marilo Nunez’s latest, Il Retorno/I Return, and her writing is always a reminder of the power of telling stories from the heart. I could go on and on…!

 

5) What does the future hold for Annabel Fitzsimmons?

I’m off to the PGC conference in a couple of weeks where I’m thrilled to be teaching a workshop that combines my creative and movement work. Then I’m traveling from coast-to-coast to see the Vancouver and PEI productions of Bittergirl – the musical. (It will also be at the Globe in Regina this fall) I’ll continue to run my mobile yoga, Pilates and meditation studio, and I’m excited about the YA show I’m currently writing.