Sunday, January 09, 2011

In Conversation: LH talks to Linda Griffiths

LH: As a non-actor who writes, and has some theater experience, I admit to a certain jealousy of the actor writer combination. Not only can you give a brilliant reading from your book at the launch, but you inhabit your characters, bringing them to life again and again. It's the relationship between the author, text and performance that I envy. Does this resonate? Or, more pointedly, do you think that actor playwrights have an advantage?

LG: I believe writing is a physical activity – that is must be sensual, even if you’re just sitting on your bum in front of your lap top. Sometimes our bodies go dead, and we lose that gut feeling in our work. Actors work on a physical, emotional and intellectual level. The work is in the body. When I feel I am losing my connection to the tug in the gut that means you’re on to something, I think into my actor self. I now have two completely different ways of working. One is utterly traditional – I sit down and pound the keys like any old writer out there. The other is unique to my particular training in improvisation – I stand up and improvise. In order to do this someone has to watch, and you tape what comes out of your mouth. Audio tape is fine. Then you transcribe and spend a lot of time honing the raw material. My play Alien Creature: a visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen was written almost entirely this way, even though in print it looks very writerly. The writing came from that character, from my actor self. Age of Arousal, was an entirely traditional process with no improvising – was written on the keyboard – but even then, I’d like to think I was referencing sense memory from my actor self. I don’t know if it’s an advantage, it’s just how my life went – that acting led me to writing.

LH: Do you prefer acting or writing, or both?

LG: Acting on screen is really fun, I did a lot of that when I was younger. But my heart is with writing now. I like to do both, but I’ve turned down two acting gigs in the last while because they would interfere with writing projects. It’s been writing for a long time now.

LH: What is the last piece of theatre that you saw that excited you?

LG: It’s often young companies that excite me. I saw a show called Highway 63 – a three-hander set in Fort McMurray with National Theatre School grads in it. They went to Fort MacMurray as a group, with Layne Colemen as director and Charlotte Corbeil Coleman as writer. It was classic ‘verbatum theatre’ - they went into the community and talked to people, got the pulse of the town, the feel of the oil industry, then worked together to produce their own take on it. It’s both personal and political – I love that.

LH: You are from Montreal, and you studied at the National Theatre before settling in Toronto--do you miss it? What is the one thing you must do when you travel down the 401 to la belle province?

LG: So many things hit me when I return to Montreal. It was such an intense time when I lived there. I left when I was twenty one, so my life there was about being a student, about being afraid to commit myself to this ridiculous thing – a life in the arts. So much seemed against me. I was kicked out of National Theatre School, not because I was openly rebellious but because I was secretly rebellious. I just couldn’t connect with what I was learning there – the school has changed a great deal since then. I’ve never done very well in institutions which is so strange when I’m teaching in universities. When I come back to Montreal, I get flashes of my young life, it’s incredibly potent. I see myself and my friends walking up the mountain, slogging around the streets of the McGill Ghetto, feeling heartsick because I felt I’d never get to do what I wanted to do. I remember walking down St. Laurent in the rain wearing a red velvet cape, just walking and walking. I’d taken a one year teaching diploma at McGill – grade school teaching and I wanted to die. I walked until I realized that I was willing to do anything to act – I had a vision of myself in White Horse in the Yukon, working as a waitress and doing amateur shows – I realized I was ready to make any sacrifice. Within a month I had my first acting job. I see myself at that time in Montreal – it’s a place I love but where I’m always uncertain...


credit David Leyes
Playwright/actor Linda Griffiths will read from her own works as part of Concordia’s Writers Read series. Griffiths has written, acted, developed and produced theatre (and some film) for at least 25 years. As playwright, Griffiths is the author of twelve plays and the winner of five Dora Mavor Moore awards, a Gemini award, two Chalmer’s awards, the Quizanne International Festival Award (Jessica), a Betty Mitchell Award and Los Angeles’ A.G.A. Award for her performance in John Sayles’ film Liana. Her latest play, Age of Arousal has been widely produced, including at the Shaw Festival in 2010.

Where: J.A. De Sève Cinema, LB Building, 1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd.W.
When: Friday, January 14 at 7:30 pm

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