Q & A with Donnie LaFlamme
On November 3 (2011), Canadian playwright Donnie Laflamme will be launching his new book, Mechanicsville Monologues. This collection of monologues chronicles the lives and culture of the community of Mechanicsville, Ottawa. Despite its small size (population-wise), Mechanicsville is large on personality. Other than being an award-winning playwright, Donnie is also an actor, director and professor.
Below Donnie talks with PGC about his new book Mechanicsville Monologues and love for his hometown and all its idiosyncrasies.
PGC: What prompted you to write this collection of monologues?
Laflamme: I published this collection of monologues because I always suspected that something was special about this neighbourhood called Mechanicsville. It has so many vestiges of working class roots, and is being gentrified so quickly. I want to freeze parts of it in time. That and the fact that I do not encounter many plays with characters like the ones I created. At an early age I was inspired by films like Goin’ Down the Road (bless them for doing it again; it’s a great sequel) and David French’s trilogy. It took me a while to stand behind my own working class roots, even though I always liked the Boss Bruce Springsteen. Once I fully accepted my background, with a few scars inside and out, I just had to tell these stories that had been with me for so long. The late Larry Brown of Oxford Mississippi was a tough guy-his book Big Bad Love (and film) made me weep. He said “write what you know” and “take the highway son”. I want to be an open man, as strong on the inside as on the outside, so the stories had to come out or they’d have weakened me just by rattling around. Also, I want my kids to have this written account of how it went for my dad and me in case it all gets cut short; I don’t want to want more time when the time comes.
PGC: Mechanicsville Monologue is centered on a small working class community in Ottawa (Ontario). What drew you to this particular setting?
Laflamme: The thing that drew me to this setting is the raw vibe it gives. When you walk around Mechanicsville and Hintonburg you hear The Four Season’s “Walk Like a Man”, and Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”. Until recently there were old school hot rod shops around here. If plays were cars, my collection of monologues is like my ’48 Chev Fleetline _a hot-rod play with open wheels_ where else could it be set but Mechanicsville? My father lived here, and now I live here with my family. Mostly, setting the stories here lets me clean up unfinished business from my childhood, like plastic surgery for the inside scars. Old Boys I have known whisper the stories to me … as long as I don’t wander out in the dark too far, they speak clearly.
PGC: What feedback have you received from the community of Mechanicsville?
Laflamme: I received a strong feeling of love from many who saw the two installments. My dad is gone, but one of my best friends dad saw it, and he was a friend of my dad’s. He grew up around here too and he loved it, and recognized some of the characters. I guess it made us all feel like it’s a cool place, something to be proud of. Some of the stories are a little exaggerated; I did hear that too.
PGC: Are you working on any new projects?
Laflamme: I am working on three projects. A new version of Eugene O’Neil’s The Hairy Ape called The Filthy Labourer, a new version of Ibsen’s The Master Builder called The Principal Architect, and Mechanicsville Monologues 3: The Adventures of Loup Garou (monologues about a badass cowboy dog who carried a six shooter in these parts as late as the 1930’s, Loup was known to be very popular with the ladies. The menfolk of Mechanicsville had to track him down).
PGC: What is the best advice you've received in your career as a playwright?
Laflamme: The best advice I have received was “don’t ask anything from anyone- there isn’t enough money in the arts around here to expect any generosity” and “stay away from public staged readings of your material; you ain’t that tough”. If you get feedback too soon, other than an audience in a full performance, your heart could get broken, you might become a child again. Larry Brown said it best “write what you know”. I know the people of my neighbourhood.
The release party for Mechanicsville Monologue will be on November 3, 2011 at 7 pm at Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeebar (1242 Wellington St., Ottawa, ON). Excerpts will be read from Mechanicsville Monologues 1 and 2. There will also be a preview reading of Mechanicsville Monologues 3: The Adventures of Loup Garou.