This post is part of our In Talks series, where we pair up an emerging artist with an artist of the same discipline who is mid-career or already well established to interview each other about their work and process. Here at Imago, we believe in the power of conversation and in the mutual benefits of connecting the fresh eyes of artists who are up and coming with the eyes of wisdom from artists who have already tread that path.
This month we brought together playwrights Alexis Diamond and Rhiannon Collett.
Alexis Diamond is a playwright, opera and musical librettist, lyricist and translator who recently won an Individual Artist residency at the international Saari Residence, Finland, to create a new play, and a residency at the Bill Glassco Translation Colony in Tadoussac to complete her translation of the award-winning play Vipérine, by Pascal Brullemans. www.compositetheatre.com
Rhiannon Collett is a queer-identified playwright and performer who recently won the Playwrights Guild of Canada’s RBC Emerging Playwright Award and is the first artist to be commissioned out of Nightswimming Theatre’s 5×25 initiative. www.genderrubble.ca
Alexis Diamond: I was thinking about our points of intersection and that it was really interesting that we both took the same program at Concordia —
Rhiannon Collett: Yeah, I saw that you went to Concordia; I actually just dropped out – it’s been a really long process– but I am now officially not enrolled this semester.
AD: I actually dropped out at one point too and went to Victoria… and then I came back and finished.
Usually when people graduate from university they have their community. I left Concordia with no community because when you’re in Creative Writing, you’re not with Theatre people. So I had to build a theatre community, which took ten to fifteen years. I’m very happy with that community, but basically my entire theatre community, across Canada, was built through Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal (PWM) and Tapestry New Opera (in Toronto).
RC: I also felt a little isolated in the writing program. I feel very fortunate to have been in Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program and then after that I became a part of PWM’s Young Creators Unit. They have both been invaluable in community building.
AD: Well, you are already spreading your net quite wide, you’re in with Nightswimming Theatre, and you just won the Playwrights Guild RBC Emerging Playwrights Award.
RC: Yeah, it’s funny though, this has been such a great year for me — but I’ve realized that as an actual grown-ass-adult there’s no way that I can ever make a living at this. Ever.
AD: I like to work in five-year chunks; you give yourself five years doing what you’re doing then you re-evaluate.
RC: You’ve done a fair bit of translation. How did you get into it and how do you find the process?
AD: My day jobs have included such things as copywriting and editing, which very smoothly transitioned into translating – I was already doing translation work in my job. The switch into creative translation happened when a musician I knew got a commission from Jeunesses Musicales Canada to put on a concert play in English and French. I ended up being recommended to do the translation.
From there, I attended the translation unit at PWM, and then I won PWM’s Cole Foundation Competition for Emerging Translators for Marie-Claude Verdier’s Je n’y suis plus. Composite Theatre Co., my little ad-hoc theatre company, produced the translation, I’m Not Here, this past summer at the SummerWorks Performance Festival in Toronto, directed by Imago’s own Jen Quinn.
RC: I saw a workshop of that in Montreal! As a playwright, I always aim to be very concise with my language, and I find French work aims to be very big. Do you find that a challenge when you’re translating?
AD: There’s a character to language and French is very philosophical. It usually takes a while to get to the point (both in the sentence and in the argument), whereas in English we go: thesis statement, supporting argument, conclusion. That kind of straightforwardness and concreteness is very typical of English expression in general. Quebecois French is already quite lyrical, and so you have to find a rhythm that’s true to the French, but it also has to sound like English.
RC: What’s the nature of your relationship with the original playwright while you’re translating their text?
AD: When I’m working with an author, I will go away and do my raw translation, and then I come back and check: Did I understand this right, Is this the right nuance? … It really helps if you can have that conversation with them… What I love about translation – the beauty of translation – is that you’re just working the language. And it’s such a pleasure… It’s a different level of writing, like that phase in writing where you’re just going through the text line by line and proofreading…
RC: I love that bit, that’s the non-painful bit – when you have an actual script and you can just tweak it. Instead of asking yourself what the F— is this?!
AD: So, translation is that.
RC: You’re selling this to me!
AD: Translation is a beautiful adjunct to playwriting. But fair warning: It’s not a money maker. It pays by the word.
RC: What topics do you approach in your work?
AD: I write about idealists who are confronted with reality; I’m fascinated with characters who have something inside them that undermines their own ideal – I think that’s very human.
The thing about theatre that we always forget, because we’re immersed in theatre all the time, is that theatre is a niche. And within that niche, we are each our own niche. So this is my big mid-career artist realization: my writing voice is not in vogue right now, and my plays are not getting put on and I’m actually okay with that. I will keep writing them, because the good thing about text is that text lives on. In some ways, I am not dissimilar from the idealists I write about!
Lately, I’m getting really interested in toddlers, I think the toddler universe is a very theatrical place – every emotion they have is so big.
RC: In terms of your process when you’re writing a show…
AD: It’s taken me a really long time to understand how I need to work, but now I think I’ve figured it out. I’m going to test it out on this new play that I’m working on during my stay at the Saari Residence in Finland.
RC: I feel like I’m still very much developing my process and that academic institutions don’t really give a lot a of space for that development –
AD: I agree with that, because with writing, you’re creating more than you’re finishing, and school is more about finishing than creating.
RC: It takes a long time – playwriting is not a fast endeavor…. I’ve been very fortunate with the Nightswimming commission because it’s given me the chance to explore my creative process. I haven’t had to work so much and I haven’t been so dirt poor, so it’s granted me the privilege to spend a lot of time thinking about the work before I start making decisions.
AD: So, process aside, how would you describe your work?
RC: My work focuses on misogyny, ritual and sexuality and how those things overlap. I’m also really fascinated, as a writer, with grey areas, with liminality, with people caught in “between” places. Especially as someone who writes a lot about feminism, I love writing characters who are really flawed, who have the right gist – or the wrong gist – but they’re…problematic. They have very conflicting opinions within themselves. As a playwright, I’m fascinated by that kind of character study.
AD: I really relate to what you’re saying about the flawed character, with the inner struggle –
RC: In the new play I’m working on with Nightswimming, Wasp, I’m writing about this young girl who’s a really tough feminist. There’s a bunch of weird things happening in her town – people are being violently impregnated by angels. That being said, she is incredibly anti-abortion, she would rather die than have an abortion, so there’s this duality, this fight within her. I’m write for people who don’t necessarily understand the more subtle elements of feminism and pop culture, but who understand the conflict–
AD: And I think what I admired so much about Miranda and Dave Begin Again, the play that you just won the RBC Emerging Playwrights Award for, is that you’ve touched upon something that’s very real and happening right now. But because it’s ritualized, it lifts out of that particular moment. I feel like that’s something I’m not successful at in my writing; I haven’t quite managed to find a way to manifest that understanding in a theatrical way. And I’ve got to say, I love the name of your company: Gender Rubble.
RC: I have to credit my roommate and co-artistic director, Nakita McInnis, for that. We were making puns on feminist literature so Gender Rubble comes from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble.
AD: You’re operating in this world that I’m just getting introduced to – the discussion of gender now is very different than when I was in university.
RC: As I was writing Miranda and Dave, I really did not want to write that play – like I REALLY DID NOT WANT TO WRITE THAT PLAY. But it seems that no matter what I do, those themes of misogyny, of ritual – the daily rituals of the things that we internalize – keep finding a way into my life. I had people come see that show, who thought that the opinions presented in the show were my opinions, but that’s completely not the case – Miranda and Dave is a very body essentialist, cis-centric view on feminism. Everyone in that show is a bad feminist, which I find much more interesting theatrically.
AD: I feel like you’re probably going to have a body of work (and I use that word on purpose) where you’re unwrapping each layer, and you’re going to have to go essentialist first before you can move on to your next argument. It’s like you’re a magnet that picks up and touches on things that may have been touched on before, but it’s the way that you’ve linked them together that I really appreciated in Miranda and Dave.