Playwright Catherine Banks lives in a Nova Scotia fishing village. Although far from Canada's leading theatres, she has netted two Governor General's Awards for drama in the last seven years.

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This article was published 21/5/2015 (2385 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Playwright Catherine Banks lives in a Nova Scotia fishing village. Although far from Canada's leading theatres, she has netted two Governor General's Awards for drama in the last seven years.

It's an amazing catch when you consider she has never had any of her six plays produced in Toronto, where it is said all theatre of consequence goes to find recognition and an audience. Nor have any been seen in Winnipeg -- until tonight, when Sarasvàti Productions will host the première of her latest, Miss N Me, at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film.

Alissa Watson, who plays 8 ensemble characters.

Alissa Watson, who plays 8 ensemble characters.

Banks's scripts examine the dark underbelly of living in Nova Scotia, and her characters have been called Atlantic Gothic. She never strays very far from her Atlantic Canada roots.

"I really believe theatre works best when it is about a very particular place and then it becomes universal," says Banks, calling from Sambro, N.S., home to fewer than 4,000 people since 1755. "If it's an authentic, honest portrayal of a particular place, then just about anybody can connect with it, even if they are very far from rural Nova Scotia."

Her father worked for the telephone company and his career took her to 13 rural communities, where she learned to step lightly as an outsider. That's where Banks became a watcher and a listener, useful skills for a future dramatist. She inherited another key trait from her grandmother, a six-foot tall, 200-pound woman with a penchant for saying, "I am raging."

Playwright Catherine Banks: 'authentic, honest portrayal'

Playwright Catherine Banks: 'authentic, honest portrayal'

"I have her bluntness in my work," Banks says. "I don't tend to bounce around. I'm very clear."

Miss N Me is a marked departure from her GG winners, the poetical It is Solved By Walking (2012) and the more naturalistic Bone Cage (2008). The farce focuses on Dawna, a small-town hairdresser three days away from her 25th wedding anniversary. She steals her husband's plumbing van and heads out on a journey of self-discovery to New York City to meet her idol Missy Elliott, the leading lady of hip hop.

"I really wanted to look at what happens to someone who is faced with their life completely falling apart," says Banks, who will be in Winnipeg for opening night. "I had recently gone through a divorce. Dawna is in that moment when she has to decide about her marriage."

Is Dawna an alter ego?

"Perhaps," Banks says with a giggle. "It took me a while to embrace Dawna, because she was very different from me. But when I came back to the play, I found there were quite a few similarities. Once I accepted that, she just blossomed."

There are several other parallels between Dawna and Banks, the most conspicuous being their adoration of Elliott, the Grammy Award winner and respected queen of the male-dominated hip-hop world. Her teenage son turned her on to Elliott, whom she ended up listening to non-stop for six months.

"Missy Elliott has this incredible sense of self," Banks says, "...there is nothing she won't write about. I couldn't believe some of the things she was saying."

She half-jokingly told her son that she should apply for a Canada Council grant to go to New York City to see Elliott. Instead, she sent Dawna in Miss N Me.

Sarasvàti artistic director Hope McIntyre had been trailing the script for five years and was waiting for a time her company could stage it. She had presented a reading of Banks's Bitter Rose at FemFest years ago and Bone Cage is one of McIntyre's favourite plays.

"I was immediately struck by the blend of humour and poignant moments of grief," says McIntyre, who is also directing Miss N Me. "As well, the array of wacky characters made it a fun artistic challenge. I've been a fan of her writing for over a decade."

Banks admits to be very nervous about her latest work, which is inhabited by a crazy series of hitchhikers Dawna encounters on her first foray out of Nova Scotia. You can take the woman out of the Maritimes but you can't take the Maritimes out of the woman.

"The environment affects the characters and their view of the world," McIntyre says. "In this case, Dawna has lived her whole life in small-town Nova Scotia, and so her journey to New York is momentous. Often the characters in Catherine's plays feel trapped. Some can't see their way out from limited life choices. Dawna makes a bold decision to hit the road."

 

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

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