By Caleigh Crow
Gina Granter knows “there’s weird things about mourning.” Weird, unpredictable things, things you never could have foreseen, things that can even make you laugh. “How would he feel about memes?” she asks.
Gina is the writer and performer of Mapping Grief, the true story of how she went on living after her partner, Blake, died suddenly sixteen years ago. The story itself is told out of order, and while it has its sad moments, it contains the full spectrum of human emotions – much like grief itself. This is Gina’s first foray into theatre, though she has made quite a name for herself as a storyteller, and is even billed as “a Confabulation favourite” by Matt Goldberg, founder and executive producer of the storytelling event.
Being the literary type, she is a product of her influences, and during our conversation she mentions the Verdi opera La Traviata as one that she’s surprised was edited out of her piece during the writing process. “That story certainly informed much of my romanticism about love, and then it didn’t even get into the show!” she says. La Traviata is the kind of tragic love story that many, Gina included, become infatuated with, but living through the reality of loss isn’t easy. “The vicarious part of it is so delicious,” she says wryly, “and then surviving past it is something else.”
La Traviata is one of many love stories that end in tragedy, but more often than not, the reader never gets to find out what happens to the characters five, ten, or twenty years after the fact, which is why Gina chose to set most of her show in the time after immediate grief. “I believed that I had found the one, because all the stories told me there was going to be a one,” she says, “and I had to renegotiate everything that I believed about relationships.”
She does take the time to reflect on the relationship, and share with the audience what it was like for twenty-year-old Gina to fall in love for the first time with twenty-one-year-old Blake, a choice she was worried was too “frivolous”, but as she told parts of the story at Confabulation and other storytelling events, she used the audience as a gauge. “When I was telling it onstage the audience was with me and I heard little noises and ‘ohs’ from them.” She grins, “There’s the innocence and the beauty of that. He and I were pretty goofy, overall-inexperienced-with-the-world people, and unabashedly just going for it. Because of the audience reaction, I improvised a few lines that got the biggest laughs.”
It’s a deeply personal story, one that fully belongs to Gina, and she’s not shying away from that fact in her performance of it. I ask her how it felt to be telling such a story at the St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE festival knowing full-well that her friends, family, and colleagues could be in the audience. She replies, “I’ve definitely thought about members of my deceased partner’s family who are invited. In some ways I felt like I maybe I didn’t say enough about him and who he was, but the show really is who he was through me, how I experienced him as a person and that relationship and afterwards. I was definitely sensitive to that.”
As a performance, it’s been a challenge to get through. “The first time I had to read something from it for friend I burst into tears and almost couldn’t get through it,” she says. “I’ve really only been processing it with the show in mind for the last year but definitely I think the show will be very honest and real and that you aren’t witnessing a character onstage.”
Mapping Grief runs from June 8th – 18th at Montreal Improv Theatre Venue A. For more information and tickets, please click here.For more information and tickets, please click here.