Q & A with Shannon Bramer - "MonaRita"

Canadian, Shannon Bramer is best known for her poetry. She has authored three collections of poetry: scarf, The Refrigerator Memory, and suitcases and other poems. In 1999, Shannon was awarded the Hamilton and Region Arts Council Award.

Below Shannon discusses her most recent project, a play, MonaRita. MonaRita, a success at the Hamilton and Toronto Fringe Festivals, is a tale of two women who are coping with life's changes. This is Shannon's first play.

PGC: Congratulations on the success of your first play. How has the transition from poetry to playwriting been? 
Shannon: I'm still writing poems; I will always love writing poems--but the universe of possiblity involved in playwriting is so addictive and satisfying! Also, because my poems have always been especially obsessed with voice and characters, playwriting fits and feels good, not strange. When I first started writing MonaRita I didn't really know what it was. I hoped it might be a play. Most poets love experiments and being confronted with new forms and structures; I know I do. So I haven't really transitioned, I don't think--though I do feel like I am in a new and exciting neighbourhood, both artistically and in terms of the theatre community. 
PGC: MonaRita, a tale of the intricate and interdependent bond of two women, was also part of the Hamilton and Toronto fringe festivals. Care to share your experience? 
Shannon: MonaRita was discovered in St.John's, Newfoundland by Ruth Lawrence and Sara Tilley who continue to be involved with a wonderful festival there called The Women's Works in Progress Festival, now in its 6th year. I sent my play there in 2008 because I was looking for friendship, dramaturgy and a next step after having my first (amazing!) around-the-table reading experience at Factory Theatre. I'm  so glad I took the chance and put my script in the mail! Robert Chafe ended up being the dramaturge and Sara and Ruth asked to produce the show. I was over the moon because I knew their work and admired them both so much. When I heard they wanted to take the show on the road, I was delighted. It meant that my family would be able to see the play and that I would get to see my friends from St.John's again. Being part of the Hamilton and Toronto Fringe festivals meant I got to be part of a cultural happening that I had admired for decades! For the cast and crew of MonaRita, I know the affordability of the fringe(s) made the tour possible. The biggest challenge for me was trying to figure out how to get the word out there; I know so few people involved with theatre in Toronto and Hamilton and the cast was coming from way out of town--I didn't want them to feel disappointed with a small turn-out. Fortunately we did quite well, thanks to our reviews and a preview article in NOW magazine, which made a huge difference. I still feel so lucky.
PGC: Your play has been lauded for its honest and realistic portrayal of female relationships and the strain of coping with life's changes. Do you relate to the subject matter? And what inspired you to pen this work?
Shannon: Oh dear, I think I've always been writing about the strain of coping with life's changes! I do relate to the subject matter; I have two daughters and I have many female friends that I love both with intensity and a sense of caution. Interesting relationships, complicated relationships, can sometimes be the most rewarding and terrifying and fragile all at the same time. I'm really interested in the play between strength and fragility going on in all of us, male or female, and I'm sure that preoccupation definitely inspired the relationship in MonaRita. What I admire most about the current production is how well Sara and Ruth have managed to balance the real and the unreal in the script, and the risks they took exploring the humour in the play. I still haven't met Sherry White, the director, who is also a filmmaker and writer, but I think her interpretation of MonaRita really captured the circus-like interactions we sometimes have with one another, especially when emotions are running high.
PGC: You will be participating in this year's Sarasvati FemFest in Winnipeg, MB and the Atlantic Fringe Festival this September 2011. What are you looking forward to the most as it relates to the festival?
Shannon: Like the Hamilton and Toronto Fringe festivals I am hugely looking forward to seeing the other shows, meeting people who love making theatre AND seeing my friends from St.John's. I think FemFest will be especially rewarding as a female playwright, because I've heard the festival draws a very passionate, curious and supportive audience with lots of questions and great expectations. I'm really looking forward to that.
PGC: Do you have any plays in development or plan on writing more for the stage?
Shannon: I have three plays in the works right now: Trapsongs, The Octopus Play and The Collectors. They are all relatively short plays; I have big dreams of working with Andy Jones on The Collectors someday. I met him in St.John's in 2010 when MonaRita opened there and he dramaturged The Collectors for The Women's Work in Progress Festival that year. He was outstanding--I love how his brain works. He also has a method for working with absurd plays and I'm dying to see what he might do!  
PGC: What lessons have you learned as an early career playwright?
Shannon: I was very nervous about reviews, and especially about my friends and family's reaction to the play. It was so strange to be sitting in the audience while other people were watching the show--it was quite terrifying at first, until you hear the laughter. I think this first experience with production and the fringe circut means I'm learning a lot about theatre and audiences. I'm still a fledgling; I think the best thing I can do right now is to keep writing, dreaming and seeing lots and lots of plays. 

MonaRita will play at Sarasvati FemFest in Winnipeg, MB, September 18 and 20, 2011. Sarasvati FemFest runs from September 17 - 24, 2011. For more information: http://sarasvati.ca/fem-fest/fem-fest-home

MonaRita will also be staged the Atlantic Fringe Festival, September 8 - 11, 2011. The 21st Annual Atlantic Fringe Festival will take place September 1 - 11, 2011 in Halifax Nova Scotia. More information: www.atlanticfringe.ca