Young playwright finds inspiration in unconventional way
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2017 (1837 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
BEFITTING the name of its fledgling Winnipeg production company — Happy/Accidents — the play Heavenly Bodies arrives at a time when we happen to be neck-deep in discussions about privileged male power over vulnerable younger women, whether we’re talking about Senate candidate Roy Moore or Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Written and performed by Gislina Patterson, the play is, as she describes it, “a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who ends up confined to her house due to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“She develops an obsession with a handyman who’s working on her house, and he betrays her trust in that friendship,” says Patterson, 24.
“And it’s also about her mother, and her history of repression and learning to connect to her generational trauma and release herself from that.”
First produced at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival in 2016, the play started for Patterson with what was initially an unpleasant assignment at a writers’ workshop.
“We were given the assignment to write a monologue from a man’s perspective, telling the story of his sleeping with his boss’s 16-year-old daughter,” Patterson says.
“I was really angry. I didn’t want to write it and I really resented having to write it,” she recalls. “And then when I finally did write it, I really, really liked it. I was really excited about it as a piece of writing.”
“I showed it to a couple of people over the course of a couple of years and then I started writing this mother character as well,” Patterson says, asserting the work is purely a fiction.
“I did take a lot of inspiration from my own experience of obsessive-compulsive disorder, especially as a young person, but the teenage girl character is very different from me and the mother character is very different from my mother,” she says, referring to writer-performer Debbie Patterson.
That initially distasteful task of putting herself in the predatory headspace of an older male proved fruitful for Patterson.
“I found writing his voice kind of funny,” she says.
“I really enjoyed finding his contradictions and his very particular world view and finding the way he justifies his actions to himself.”
She says the process leads to writing more credible characters instead of one-dimensional villains.
“It’s really important when creating characters that are doing things we think shouldn’t be done, characters who are ‘the bad guys’ for those characters to be relatable, and to be likable,” she says.
“Because when you make those characters monsters, you can say: That’s a bad guy, I’m not that guy and nobody I know is like that. Nobody I know is evil.
“But if we create characters who do these things, who are relatable and look and sound like people we know, and who seem to be able to justify things for themselves, we can actually look at ourselves and our own behaviour and the people around us and I think that could theoretically lead to change.”
That ambition fits into the mission of Happy/Accidents, a company founded by local producer Angelica Schwartz devoted to creating alternative theatre in Winnipeg (Happy/Accidents produced the experimental drama Inertia at the 2017 fringe featuring Patterson in an experimental riff on Hamlet).
Patterson says the production was created in the kind of discomfort zone recommended by Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee.
“I once read an interview with her and she says when she writes plays, she thinks of the absolute last play she would like to write and then she writes that one.”
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.