October 28, 2015
Behind the Curtain: Alyson Grant (Progress!)
QDF: What is the play about? And why did you want to tell this story?
Alyson: Progress! is an absurdist comedy that moves between comedy and sadness pretty quickly. It is trying to come to terms with the changing function of the hospitals, the Royal Vic in particular in Montreal since so many of us have very powerful memories associated with the space.
Many Montrealers were born here, were sick here, were healed here or watched a loved one die here. These buildings, these walls, hold these memories, especially for those of us who have lost somebody here; we probably associate that person with this space as it functioned as a hospital. Its changing functions have jolted those memories, churned them up. That is the main impulse behind the play: to mark the change.
QDF: Who came up with the idea to present the show at the Royal Victoria Hospital?
Alyson: Guy Sprung, the director and artistic director of Infinithéâtre. He said that we should try to stage it at the hospital. I said that’s a great idea but good luck. But the MUHC (Montreal University Hospital Centre), which is really important to note, immediately knew what we were trying to do. They opened their arms and worked hard to make it work. It wasn’t easy; the place is being shipped out. The play is also asking some big questions about the whole process, so they’ve been very generous with their help and their understanding.
QDF: How long was the writing process for Progress!?
Alyson: That is an interesting question. It has had many drafts. Guy and I work intensely together, with him as my dramaturge. He’s looking over every word, every breath. And he‘s very respectful and brings a different esthetic. He always pushes me. And then, the first time reading it with the actors, they had incredibly helpful insights, so smart. They pushed the play to a whole new level with their feedback. And then their performances kept pushing it. I was continuing to rewrite scenes and was still throwing lines at the actors as late as three days before opening.
This is my second play, and the process for the first play was similar but not that late, in terms of changing lines. The actors are pure professionals. They assure me that it is normal when working with a new play. They too have been very generous with accepting my “Oh no, that line doesn’t work, can we take it out?” discussions. It has been a fun process.
QDF: After this production, do you think you will write another draft of this play?
Alyson: It’s a Montreal story, so if it were to travel, it would have to be adapted quite a lot. And I am happy for it not to travel because to have this cast and crew in this space is something really special. You can definitely feel the memories attached to this space.
QDF: In the Royal Victoria Hospital, is this space the exact location of where you wanted to set the play? Or was there another space you wanted to use?
Alyson: There were a few options and Cassandre Chatonnier, the set, costume and props designer and I visited them and this one just jumped out as being perfect, because of the built-in little stage. So the other stage, where the hospital bed is, Tristynn built that one. And the idea is to blend the realities; you didn’t see it today, but there is a whole other reality that happens on the built–in stage. And the entrance to the space, where the audience comes in, is a beautiful Victorian room that is so evocative of the hospital.
QDF: How much research did you do for the play?
Alyson: I did a bunch of research of Montreal in the 19th century. That feeds mostly into Peter Farbridge’s speech, who will be playing #1. His character is meant more as a metaphor for Montreal. I also researched what was going on in Montreal during the time that the play is set in.
QDF: Why did you decide to write an absurd–styled play?
Alyson: Because there is no such thing as ghosts, so there is a sort of Meta-theatrical thing going on. It also allows a kind of movement between sadness and humor because there is an internal logic to this absurd universe that allows that to happen really quickly between emotions. Also, I hope for a psychological and emotional realism that would push through.
QDF: And in the show, why are your ghost characters named #1 and #2? And what are the other actors doing in the show?
Alyson: They are two first people to have died at the Royal Vic. All of the ghosts would be numbered. There are five actors playing multiple characters. It is a very demanding play on the actors. They are running constantly, changing costumes in a split second, and popping out in different places.
QDF: For an aspiring playwright, what is a tip you wished you had when you started writing?
Alyson: Give your work to people you trust and who will encourage you. Encouragement, when giving in an early draft, for me, is crucial. For this play and my first play, it was to have people who would say I can see what you are doing, it needs a lot of work, it’s a mess but I can see what you are doing. Though I know a lot of writers don’t like to show their material, it is important to get people who will be encouraging. And I think that is the main thing. Also, it is about finding time and space to do it. It is very hard for me to sit still and do it. I have a pretty busy schedule as well, so I have to fight it in my schedule when I can. However, when I was working on this play, I had minor surgery that I was recovering from. I was bed ridden and forced to sit still. And it got to a point where the play hooked me, so then I started making the time for it. I would say I was hooked to the play by page five. It is where I started feeling #1 and #2’s chemistry. They are lovely together. Peter and Danny Brochu just bring out this loveliness and care. I became affectionate for those guys from early on.
QDF: Did you have any actors in mind as you were writing the story?
Alyson: Not really. I did however imagine the lead very early on but it was a different actor who wasn’t available. KC Combs came in and she is just knocking it out of the ballpark. You can probably feel her. The scene you saw, she was in the bed and it is hard to see her full character. She is wonderful.
Progress! has extended their run till November 1st
Playing at the Royal Victoria Hospital in the Nurse’s Lounge, Pavilion H, Entrance 3, 687 ave. des Pins, Montreal QC.