In Conversation with Hannah Moscovitch – Part 2
Blog Post by Cristina Cugliandro, Oct. 9, 2018
This week we bring you Part 2 of Cristina Cugliandro’s conversation with playwright Hannah Moscovitch
C: What makes you want to revisit this work?
H: In particular, with revisions?
C: Yeah, let’s start with what makes you want to revisit your work in general, and also then, OPC at this time.
H: Well sometimes you know, like, it’s very mixed. Because there are those plays of mine where I hit opening night, and I think, you know, that’s, and I watch it on opening night – the audience – and I think yeah, that’s the, that’s the piece. And I don’t have anything more that I want to – I don’t want to tinker, like I don’t want to fuck with the writing anymore on any level. And I think, you know, that’s good. You know, I can send that to my publisher. Then there are those pieces where I think, ooh I never, I never got it. I never quite got it, to my satisfaction. I never feel like I wrestled it; I never wrestled it ideationally to the ground in a way I needed to. Yeah so I have had a series of plays that I have definitely gone back over. And there is something sort of like…
I want to feel good about my work. You want to feel like you respected the audience by doing the most you can, being relentless towards a piece. And that doesn’t necessarily end with opening night if you haven’t seen the piece yet that you think you could offer the audience, and it hasn’t communicated fully in the way you hoped it could.
And so I have had those pieces in fact, you know, I had one called ‘The Children’s Republic’ that I re-wrote fairly significantly over the course of, not just one production, but two, like I wrote it for an Ottawa premiere, I wasn’t satisfied with the work I had done; although many people contributed very beautiful work, I didn’t feel I had. I re-wrote it for the Toronto (couldn’t discern this word – verify with Hannah), I thought I made it worse actually. And then, it was sort of a very devastating experience, and then, partly because it was also like, about an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust, so it’s really not a subject you wanna fuck up. And then I got offered the opportunity by The Belfry Theatre in Victoria and Michael Shamata just this last year, to do it again. And I thought, well, fuck. And I did it, I went out there for that whole month, re-wrote it again, felt finally like, good about it. I felt like that’s it, and I never published that piece, because I didn’t feel good about it. I never felt like I got it. And now I feel like I could publish it.
But with this piece I actually, with OPC I stalled on publication as long as I could, because I felt like I hadn’t quite got it. So it’s really, when I heard that Micheline was gonna do it, potentially, here, I was really like – the first question I had for my agent was ‘do you think she would let me revise it as part of the process for her. Like would she be open to that?’
C: Cool, and, you were talking about also, since you first wrote it you became a mother yourself. So how have – what has changed now that you’re a mom versus this play? Do you view it, in a way differently, do you view Ilana differently, or any sort of situation in it?
H: Yeah, I’m so, much more – I actually wo – I mean – this is quite something to admit, but I, re-reading it, I thought, to some degree I was prescient about what my own experience of motherhood would be. I was, oh I was shocked to find that I may have been aware five or six years ago what my own challenges in motherhood would end up being. I didn’t have to face them as extremely as Ilana did – does in the piece. But, I’m, you know, re-reading it, it is very hard not to situate myself very specifically as Ilana because it is so entirely what I am living. So it does change my perspective on the piece and then in small ways I can – in the specifics, the particulars, the details, I can – I can flesh them out with what I know just from the phenomenological experience of having been a mother. As much research as you do, there’s always some final thing that it’s helpful to have lived an experience like that that’s so massive. You know, you use your imagination, or your experience, or your research. You’ve gotta use one of those. So hopefully whichever ones you use, you’re, you’re getting there. But it definitely – there were some things that I read, and I had mothers read it when it first went up to make sure that they were, you know, copacetic. But then there are those just tiny details that it’s fun to bring from my own experience – my lived experience.
C: Yeah, cool. What a weird experience though. (haha) To write a play and then to go through it and go like ‘woah, like’.
H: ‘What did I get wrong?’
C: Or just like, what did I get right, and like, not having had that first-hand experience, but now I do, like that must be trippy as fuck.
H: It’s pretty trippy actually.
C: Yeah, yeah.
H: Actually, weirdly, like, in some way, I was like, ‘wow, good for research. Thank god’. Because I was like ‘this is actually much’ – like I went back and read it like ‘oh fuck, this is gonna suck’. And then I was like, no this is, I had mothers vet this, like, there was a reason I did that, and did that part of the research. And I was like ‘oh yeah’. And you hope for that in a way, like, because you wanna be able to write about murder without having murdered someone –
C: – Yeah.
H: Like, there are those extreme –
C: – Yeah indeed.
H: – experiences that you perhaps don’t wanna have, personally in order to be able to write about them. You know. You don’t wanna – I mean this is such a broad conversation at this point, like which experiences are you entitled to write about, is a big question.
C: Well, and that was gonna be one of my questions, like, how do you, in this, in the climate that is now, and as a writer too, how do you – how do you practice like in terms of, how do you see appropriation, how do you see writing characters that, like how – how are you dealing with, in your work, of that careful threading of experiences.
H: I think like, I tend to hold to the, the truth, or the – this is what I, I hear in my head is the axiom which is ‘not about us, without us’. And so I don’t think I would have ever written this play. So, Elisa Moolecherry, who was not Sri-Lankan, she was Indian ancestry, but she felt close enough to the experience of what being Sri-Lankan was, herself, to be able to talk to me about it. And then, we did run the play by people who, are, Tamil, to make sure that they felt comfortable with what we were saying and doing. Yeah, I still, you know, I still think cross-cultural writing has, has its dangers and there are – you know, there are certain places that I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t go, for sure. I’ve definitely extricated myself from projects when I felt like we – we were not being – I could not hold myself to, you know, ‘not a – not about us, without us’. I’ve definitely done that. Especially in the last few years where I’ve felt – and I think that there are those, those identities that are particularly, marginalized that I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t, take on. Or that they’re particularly maligned or repressed at this particular moment in time where I feel like, I wouldn’t wanna, take that on. If that makes any sense. But that’s – everyone has their own, line on these things, I think. But yeah, no definitely, having Elisa Moolecherry as a producer and a performer in it is like what – I think otherwise I wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable.
C: Yeah, so when you’re able to spearhead projects more in terms of like – I don’t know if the other projects that you pulled out (on) were commissions, and there wasn’t that conversation, and there was no – I guess, desire, for that conversation. But when you can spearhead you have, full – full power to do that, just not very difficult to do as well is have those conversations.
C: Great. Do you think the commodification of care in its relationship to capitalism and the Canadian government is a modern day version of slavery?
H: Say that again.
C: Yeah, it’s some big words! Do you think the commodification of care and it, in its relationship to capitalism, and, capitalism and the Canadian government is modern day slavery.
H: (breath out) I mean I think, it can be. It really, I think it’s, case by case. There are definitely, there’s definitely cases of that for sure, there – there’s human trafficking that’s happening into Canada, for sure. I think that there are situations, that I read about in my research that were extreme in terms of care – caregivers, that qualified as human trafficking in and of themselves, or qualified as slavery because of the rate of pay, being, nil, you know. Yeah, so I do think it happens. I don’t think – there’s a range, I think, in there, but, I do think that that’s – that’s there. That’s represented in terms of what I, I heard and what – the research I did.
C: And how do you, as, just personally, because you also expressed, being very, proud of being Canadian, and, being nationalistic, and how does your activist – because the work you do is, I would qualify it as very, socio-political and quite, quite – I would. Would you?
H: (haha) Yeah
H: No, I’m laughing cause – I don’t know why, cause I’m just like ‘awe fuck. God why can’t I just write a comedy?’ /That’s why I’m laughing.
C: – Well it might come, you know, it might, one day, but, this –
H: – I just want a comedy, – oh no!
C: – And there can be socio-political comedies as well, but how do you, how does that relationship with your love for a country then, kind of, play in, or play out, or – how have you changed versus your view of, this country, in like all of your research and the work you’ve done?
H: You know like, you know, I think – oh gosh, how do I give a good answer to this, I mean it’s like such a good question. I’m like ‘oh fuck I have to answer it’
C: It’s very personal to me too, that’s why I’m li – that’s why I’m interested in how other people deal with that.
H: Well, I mean I think that, you can be very, you can, be so – you can love your own country, so much, that you want it to be better. And you want it to be able – you want your country to take responsibility for its atrocities, and you want it to make right and be a just country, and have justice, and have equal citizenship in actuality, not in theory for all of its citizens. And you can want that, for your country, because you love it so much. I guess that’s my best answer.
C: That’s a good one. That’s a good one. Going the love way is a good one. Like, I mean – it’s always about going with the love, but I mean like – (haha) It’s, it’s hard sometimes, it is, cause you go, ‘oh look, look at everything that’s happened.’ It’s hard to go, ‘ok, how much, how much love, do I have for this country now’ because of, everything that’s behind the curtain, you know.
H: Yeah, no, and I mean like, I think if I were to, that is maybe a, a more general way of stating what I’m perhaps partly saying, which is that I’m, a Jew, and, I am very grateful to be Canadian, because my family came here to escape pogroms in Romania, and the Ukraine, and whatever family remained there, were murdered. So, for me Canada is the difference between life and death. I’m Jewish, I’m a Jew, so I also know about state-sanctioned atrocity. Because I’m Jewish, and I know what a genocide is, from the, the, from the inheritance of it. And so I can say that, the atrocities the Canadian government has committed against Indigenous people, are, horrific. That I have enough research – that I’ve spent a lot of time researching them. Enough to be like – the, to understand the similarities, between the genocide committed against Jews, and the genocide that was committed here. So, I really mean it when I say – you know what I mean? I mean it when I say, Canada’s gotta be held to – it’s, Canada’s gotta take responsibility. But also there’s questions of justice for indigenous people going forward. And that, there has not been justice for them, there has not. In my opinion. I think also, beyond my opinion, I do think that, research – like if any – the evidence suggests there is no justice for indigenous people in this country. I don’t think I need an opinion there.
H: Given what evidence exists.
C: Exactly, yeah. It’s interesting though even with like, the migrant workers, and how the, you know, these trans, trans-government agreements happen. You look at a country who’s seen on the world scale as quite a loving, polite, accepting country, and then you look at these agreements between other countries that, are to the benefit of both governments but not necessarily the people in one country or the other, and, Canada has a – definitely has a, you know, a line of, of all of that happening, even with the Jews and sending back the boats when they were, you know like… But yes I think, I think, it’s coming – it’s coming up to, be known more than it used to be, in many ways.
H: Yeah. And it’s great. I think the, the way to move forward is to take some responsibility, and address injustices that currently exist. You know. Like, that’s the kind of country I wanna live in I wanna, – like in the same way I want the people in my life to take responsibility, for the things they do wrong, say they’re fucking sorry, and fix it. You know? I feel the same about the kind of country I wanna live in.
C: Yeah, yeah, that’s great. Could you talk a bit about how you perceive each character, in, OPC? What you really, love about them, what you dislike about them – maybe those two are married. Yeah.
H: Yeah I think what I like – what I – what I, you know I, I attempt with all three to write complex characters and, people who are, very much situated within their own, you know, socio-economic status and who are operating from it in the way people tend to operate from within whatever status, or structure they have been given, you know. And so I think, that creates complexity. And that is what I both like and don’t like about the characters, if that makes any sense.
C: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Absolutely. For a final question; what’s a style or genre that you’re excited to – that you haven’t explored and are excited to still go at. Have a go at.
H: That’s a fun question! I mean (haha), anything? Uh – that’s so fun! I mean a lot, of things, honestly, like a lot comes to mind. I’d like to write a videogame – like I’d like to write for videogames, for sure. I’ve never created, my own tv show – that would be super fun. I mean in terms of theatre, I have a bunch of projects, so I feel very like, I’m lucky there.
C: Is there a subject that’s been haunting you for years that –
H: – I’d like to work with a circus sometime. There was like one project where I thought I might end up working with a circus, and I was like ‘yeah’. A subject – uh – other than the one – like a new one? Like wholly new? I’m like – I have my subjects. Shit. I have to have a new one? What’s a subject that I’m kind of interested in sometimes, that I never quite go to. I mean this isn’t really like a, broad subject, but I’m really – since I’m in Montreal I’ll say I’m really, really, really fascinated by Jewish gangsters. That there was a whole set of Jewish gangsters who lived here, and who operated here in the 1920’s and 30’s. And I’m, and I’m, my great – grandfather, I found out, not long ago, from a relative in New York that I’d never met, was bootlegging. Cause he worked in the railways, and, I found out, so he was part of the mob. My own great-grandfather. And I was like ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME’, and then I’ve been totally obsessed with the Jewish gangsters of the 1920’s partly just because it’s not an – yeah, it’s like, it’s counter the cliché. And yet there were these Jews who were assassins, called like, they had hilarious names like, ‘Tic-Toc Tannenbaum’. And ‘The Biz’. Yeah. So I’ve been totally obsessing over Jewish gangsters of Montreal from the 1920’s and 30’s.
C: That’s very cool. Maybe that’s your circus show.
C: (haha) Cool, thank you very much. Very cool.
Hannah Moscovitch is considered one of the strongest playwriting voices in Canada. Her work has won multiple awards, most recently the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize for Literature. She’s been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the Siminovitch Prize and the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. She is writing a combination of TV, opera, theatre, and film projects, including commissions with the Stratford and Shaw Festivals.