November 14th, 2015
Behind the Curtain: Martin Law and Isaac Robinson (An Iliad)
Actor and Co-Founder of Chocolate Moose Theatre Company
Director and Co-Founder of Moose & Moa
QDF: We all know The Iliad, but what is An Iliad about?
Martin: It is taking The Iliad, the classic, and making one poet’s story. You can see the poet as like a Homer figure if you like. It’s about making it personal to one storyteller, returning it to its tradition where it would be told orally, in person and making it somebody who has actually seen and who is trying to relate it to an audience. It’s kind of making a classic poem into a dramatic work. And of course, condensing The Iliad by a lot, it is now down to 100 minutes, which would normally take days to recite.
QDF: How is it to take such a long story and to condense it into 100 minutes and make it a one-man show?
Martin: The story is a play by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare. It is a work that has been going around to most theatres in the States. It has many awards such as Lortel Award and Obie award, these are New York awards, but it has gone international. And so far as we know, it is the Canadian Premiere that we are doing here.
QDF: This isn’t the first time you decided to produce a one-man show of a classic play. You have done Richard III as a one-man show, why do you choose those stories?
Martin: In one sense, one-man shows are really easy for us to produce. It doesn’t require a huge team to make the show happen. So I can spend more time and focus on the art. Especially, to be frank, at the stage where we are now, being emerging and putting ourselves out there, it is good to have something where if you have the time, if you have the energy, and you want to devote to getting yourself out there, you can do something like this and it is easier to produce in a sense. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it is hard to do.
QDF: How do you feel that you will be 100 minutes on stage alone?
Martin: Vulnerable, in a good way, I think. It definitely opens you up to all your fears, as kind of an actor’s demons, but it is also good as it reinforces you to think. I am an actor; I need to do this profession. It’s almost like you need to ask yourself many existential questions and you have to be bringing all the energy yourself. I am trying to think of the best way to phrase this. You are confronting everything you want to do on stage alone and you have no one else to lift you up, but then on the other hand, you can make it your best work with no distractions.
QDF: This is a co-production?
Martin: Yes, we are Chocolate moose Theatre Company and they are Moose & Moa. There is no relation or reason why there is moose in both. Isaac and I were both pretty active in the McGill Theatre scene. Isaac directed me in Waiting for Godot and he also did great fight choreography in shows that I and other people directed. Since then, he has become a stage carpenter. For that, he went to Toronto and founded his own company. Now, he is back out here. We are buddies who work together on various projects when we can. He is staying here just for this month and then he will go back to Toronto.
QDF: You graduated from McGill after studying history, what made you go into theatre?
Martin: It’s funny. I did a bit in High School, I enjoyed it, and I did it as a past time. But when I went to McGill in the History program, I auditioned for a few student productions. By the end of the degree, I realized I was spending more time in productions than on my essays and working, not to say I didn’t work hard. If you look at where you spend your time, you can’t serve two masters, right? You have to give it a try.
QDF: What would you like the audience to leave after seeing your show?
Martin: I would like them to leave with a sense of reflection on war and conflict in some sense. I think we experience it, as something that is happening somewhere else. We fortunately live somewhere where that doesn’t necessarily happen. Also, they should leave with realizing that wars don’t end, they go back with people, and they travel. Everyone has a story. And that’s something that’s more in the past because our generation hasn’t had to deal with that so much. It’s a play that I would say is anti-war, and it takes on war as a whole question. It shows its many faces; maybe it shows you things you don’t often think about. In some ways, it is not just something that is a commemoration; it’s also an exploration of the many different faces of war.
We kind of want to explore all the different phases. For example, in one scene the poet gets lost and kind of carried away while describing this battle that is a little too aggressive and violent. It brings up the fact that almost no one wants to discuss commemorating or remembering war, but there are people who do enjoy it for its violence. And that to me was, well I guess I always knew it on some level, realizing that the image of war, we have now, is where it’s an awful struggle somewhere else. And if someone comes home, they either integrate normally or they have PTSD, as awful as that may sound, but that is sometimes something we forget. There are a lot of faces that war causes to people and how it affects people. And how much we want to remember it. It is a show that shows all of the war, not just one single side of it.
I want them to walk away from the theatre with some kind of reflection, a wider array of experiences. As we were doing this play, we had to expose ourselves to that to get into the mindset.
To put it one way, wars are long periods of boredom filled with brief moments of terror. We tend to focus on just one aspect of war. We focus on what is on the TV screen. It seems we want a simple easy message. The play is saying more than just war is awful and how it is incomprehensible.
Perhaps, it is to say, that war definitely has a moral and ethical mention to it. And that is something that hopefully we portray through the character and show. Sometimes it triggers things that come from beyond moral and ethical places; there are other ways to understand it. For example, when they come back from Troy, nine years have passed, everyone they knew is dead, the fashions have changed, someone new is in power and someone new has taken over. There is not just one way to think of war, like war isn’t just fighting. Fighting is awful. Well, yes fighting is bad, but it is so much more complex than that. Hopefully, we bring a clear moral dimension but we also allow people to see other sides of it.
Isaac (Who joined us later): I would like the audience to leave with two messages about the play. First, in war, people die. And I know that sounds stupid, like, of course people die. However, we watch CNN, play video games and we read war memoirs. We think “Oh, how horrible that was.” Or we hear, a bomb went off in Kabul today, or in Ukraine, a whole bus full of people went on fire. People die. And it is real. It is tragic for the people involved. As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy and a million is a statistic. I really want to break that mold in a way that is, and I hate using this term for theatre, intimate. I want to make it a little bit real, frightening and tragic on an epic scale. I want to remind people that epics are devastating. We have even talked about the epic that is Operation Desert Shield and that it is continuing to go on to this day with ISIS and this entire Middle Eastern quagmire. If that is a 30-year epic of our modern times, well sometimes we forget that as we protest the war, that people are dying every day. And that is what I want people to think about.
The other thing, I want people to say is, being a classicist, “isn’t The Iliad a great story?” I want people to engage with the text that I love and I know it is hard to engage with because it is heavy and tense. I understand that but this is an opportunity for me to share that.
Playing from November 11th-15th