January 13th, 2016
Michaela Di Cesare, playwright and performer in In Search of Mrs. Pirandello
Elena Belyea, playwright and performer in Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare for the Inevitable
Michaela answers QDF’s question in this video:
Here are Elena‘s answers:
QDF: The play was presented as part of last year’s Fringe Festival: How has it developed/changed since then?
Elena: Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare for the Inevitable premiered in June 2015 at the Montreal Fringe Festival, then ran for two weeks at the Edmonton Fringe Festival in August, before returning to Montreal for the 2016 Wildside Festival.
Each production has had its own (slightly different) draft, often (unfortunately) due to the need to update the steadily worsening statistics surrounding gun violence in North America. But it’s also because each show I perform teaches me more about the story, with I’m then able to incorporate into the next draft.
For example, the most recent version has the kids (audience) singing the national anthem at the beginning of the show, based on a recent suggestion from my dramaturg. It’s fun, and gets the audience involved right off the bat. Often, I have no idea what will work and what won’t. But the great thing is I can try something out and if I don’t like it, I chuck it; if it works, awesome, and on it goes to the next draft.
QDF: Why this story? Why now?
Elena: Unless you live under a boulder, you are likely aware mass shootings, gun safety, fire-arm regulation, etc. are hot topics right now.
Has this drastically impacted the piece and its development?
Hard to say.
I mean, yes, I was obviously aware of these conversations as they’ve been happening. Chances are they permeated and were among the key ingrediants as the play stewed in the crock-pot of my brain. But I never (consciously) thought, “Wow, everyone’s talking about school/mass-shootings, I’d better write a play about that!” To me, Miss Katelyn is about one woman, struggling to keep her terror and anxiety in check, more than it is about gun violence or school shootings.
QDF: How has the shift in venue impacted the production?
Elena: Shifts in house/audience/“class” size changes things except when they don’t. Miss Katelyn’s class is 20 students or it is 225 students or it is somewhere in between. Either way, she loves them all & has to keep them on track to get through everything before class ends. The latter can be more difficult with more people, but if something comes up, I go back to my toolbox of “Hey, let’s settle down” techniques, the same toolbox I would use while teaching kids at camp, or at school, or wherever.
QDF: Do you plan to continue to develop this piece or are you moving onto something new?
Elena: As I mentioned, Miss Katelyn has never really stopped being in development since its opening in June. Leonard Cohen said it takes him 10 years to finish a poem. I understand the sentiment. However, I recognize if my goal is to make Miss Katelyn perfect, I’m going to be at it forever, and frankly, I’ve got other shit to do.
As a playwright/creator/whatever, I strive to always have at least three projects on the go. Right now I’ve got Miss Katelyn, as well as two other plays I’m hoping to premiere this summer. (If you want to know more, I post news decently frequently to elenabelyea.com & my Twitter @belyeache.)
QDF: What does being a part of Centaur’s Wildside Festival mean to you?
Elena: I have this memory of seeing SNAFU Theatre’s Little Orange Men at Wildside three years ago, and thinking, “Holy shit. I want to do that.” It was this totally engaging, funny, gorgeously specific show about this girl (as I understood it) processing her grandfather’s passing— and I was a hot, sobbing mess afterwards. I laughed, I threw shoes, I bawled my damn head off.
I have another memory of being asked, during my interview for theatre school, where I wanted to be in 10 years. I said “Writing and performing my own work.”
So, I guess you could say performing Miss Katelyn at the Centaur’s Wildside Festival has been a long-time dream of mine. On top of my own show, I’ll be playing at the David Bowie tribute night this upcoming Friday, January 15th, with my mentor Nick Carpenter and his band, Somerset, which I’m also over the moon about. I’m incredibly grateful the Centaur’s jury this summer took a risk and agreed to let me continue sharing this story with so many people. And as I continue my transition into the “real world” (whatever that means), I feel much more hopeful about my prospects, encouraged by the fact that so many people have come out to see this show which is weird and funny and highly participatory, but also dark and alienating and deeply uncomfortable.
Check out In Search of Mrs. Pirandello, Mrs. Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare for the Inevitable and all the other Wildside shows at Centaur Theatre. Playing till January 17th.