Age of Minority: a collection of plays in review

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ageofminority (1)What do you get when you combine a closeted militant, YouTube star rihannaboi95, and a sprint across the Death Strip? Three solo plays written by the acclaimed Canadian multidisciplinary artist Jordan Tannahill.

Tannahill (27) is quite the hot commodity in Canadian theatre. In 2014, he won the Governor General’s Award in Drama for his collection of plays titled Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays.

First published in October 2013, Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays depicts the stories of young individuals who are pushed to the margins of society due to their sexuality or political identities. Each of the plays is based on a true story.

The plays, written with young audiences in mind, are defined as Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA). This is evident in the both the style and context of the play, demonstrating the real struggles that youth face in their coming of age journeys.

However, it is not just youth who are picking up this collection of plays and responding to live performances, but people of all ages. No matter the age, the stories of these characters resonate with readers and theatre-goers. There is a rawness to them that leaves the character exposed in his or her vulnerability, all the while maintaining a sense of integrity despite persecution and moments of overwhelming fear.

The first play featured in the collection is Get Yourself Home Skyler James. It is a story about a young American girl, who enlists to the army right out of high school – with her girlfriend. This play is set before the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy. James’ secret is discovered, forcing her to make difficult decisions with no right answers.

Second in the line-up is rihannaboi95. This play is particularly interesting in the manner of which it is performed. As stated at the beginning of the script, “rihannaboi95 is meant to be performed as a YouTube confessional video (a direct-address monologue to a webcam)”. It was first live-streamed over the Internet from April 23 to 28, 2013 to audiences across the globe. The confessional provides the audience with a unique opportunity to listen, as a young boy named Sunny speaks about his passion for dance and the repercussions he faces from his family and community because of his YouTube videos.

Finally, Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes brings the collection to a close with a gut-wrenching story of eighteen-year-old Fechter’s last 59 minutes. His final minutes are spent in what was known as the Berlin Wall’s Death Strip. This is where the play begins, with Fechter bleeding from gunshot wounds inflicted by border guards; his minutes literally tick away.

Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays is unlike any other TYA piece, refreshing in its honesty. Tannahill outdoes himself in these pieces, and brings not only the characters to life but the issues each of them face. This collection of plays definitely falls into the category of “must-read” and is recommended for ages 15+.

Tannahill will be at Bishop’s this week on Thursday, Feb. 11 as the next guest in the Morris House Reading Series (MHRS). Be sure to stop by Bishop’s University’s Bookstore at 4:30 p.m. to hear Tannahill discuss his work. The reading is free to attend and a short reception will follow. Tannahill’s books will be available for purchase, so make sure to grab a copy and get it signed!

This article was written by Kristy Bockus and originally appeared in the issue of The Campus published on February 10th, 2016.

 

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Jason Camlot on Finding Inspiration, Concordia University, and the Balance between Creativity and Academia.

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Jason Camlot - Publicity Photo

Interview by Alison Petrovich

Did you always like poetry or was there a moment or poem that your passion for poetry stems from?

I think my interest in poetry developed over time. I always liked singing lyrics which I learned to do at a very young age as most of us do. I came from a pretty musical family and we did a lot of singing. I started writing songs around the age of nine when I was learning how to play the guitar. I was learning how to play songs that were popular in the 60s and 70s because I have two older sisters, so I played a lot of folk songs which I learned afterwards were informed by a lot of modern and contemporary poets. So if I was learning Bob Dylan songs, he was reading T.S. Eliot. I suppose my first exposure would have been through poetic song writers. Actually thinking about poetry on the page, as separate from oral delivery, as separate from music or singing, probably happened when I started studying poetry in high school. I published my first poems in the early grades of high school, which was when I remember poetry first becoming something that I would seek out on my own. We were reading a lot of Canadian poetry at the time as it had become integrated into the regular high school curriculum, so we were reading poets such as Earle Birney. The guidance counsellor at my high school was related to the Canadian poet A.M. Klein, so I got interested in Klein and started reading some Montreal poets and some of the other big Canadian poetry names of the period. I then became more interested in studying poetry seriously and began reading veraciously, not just Canadian poetry, but poetry from all over the world, including a lot of poetry in translation.

Living in Montreal and teaching at Concordia University, does the city environment or your career as a professor influence your writing?

That’s a great question. When I completed grad school in English I was in California and at the time I was secretly also doing poetry workshops. I always continued writing creatively, but my academic graduate supervisors told me I needed to make the choice between being an academic or a creative writer. So I said okay, but I continued secretly doing the poetry workshops with some of the creative writing professors at the school, but without telling my academic professors. Then I had some different opportunities when I came back to Canada to work, and the choices were between some institutions that were much more academic research-oriented in Ontario and Concordia was one of my other options. There are many reasons why I felt Concordia would be a good fit for me. One is that I was born in Montreal so I had family and friends here, which was a big attraction. Another reason was that I knew Concordia has a very strong creative writing program. It could be a place where I could explore pursuing both my research, my literary, historical, and critical interests, along side my creative interests. From the very beginning I imagined Concordia as a place that would be welcoming of and supportive of research and creation simultaneously, and I found that to be the case from the first year that I came here. I have colleagues who attend readings all the time. I really feel like this is a unique program in the country. Most of the other creative writing programs are MFA programs, which are a bit separate from the academic side of things. This is a program that allows me to exercise my creative and critical intelligence simultaneously. It’s been a great place to be a critic and a poet. It’s probably one of the best places in Canada to do that.

Is there a place you go or something you do when you are searching for inspiration for your writing?

I think the answer to this question has changed over the years. I used to imagine something that could facilitate my writing much more in terms of space than I do now. I think it’s partly because I have far less choice over where I am at any given moment so I don’t really have the choice to go to a particular café or hotel room or city. I used to have a lot more freedom to move around. I think now, I create environments in which I can be creative based on surrounding myself with things, whether they are texts or objects, that I think will be interesting to insight some sort of creative constraints on me. More recently I’ve been much more interested in collaborative creative processes, which probably has changed my relationship with the text. I sometimes use a text from another work, whether it is creative or not, as a kind of collaboration in my own creative process.

How do you know when you’ve written a good or bad poem? Is there a feeling you get or do you test it in some way?

There’s definitely a feeling I get when I feel like it’s really jamming. It doesn’t mean when I read it the next day that I’m going to have that feeling again. Immersing one’s self in the writing process is probably the greatest gratification of writing and in a way, that’s the most important thing for me. I am interested in the finished product and being able to share something so that it would have an affect on the reader. Re-reading and re-writing is another way. I do a lot of poetry readings out loud as well, and I find that’s an excellent way to continue the editing process of my work. I usually read it out loud to my self anyway, and reading it to an audience is another way to help me see it in a way that might make me want to make some changes or not.

Those are all of my questions, did you have anything else you would like to add?

I have enjoyed reading in the Eastern Townships and at Bishop’s University in the past. I was first invited to read there at the initiation of my former colleague Robert Allen who had close ties with people at Bishop’s in the English department and at Champlain College where he used to teach. One of my poetry collections, The Debaucher, is partially about Rob and spending time in the Townships and at Bishop’s.

Claire Holden Rothman Discusses Translation, Terrorism, and How Characters Are Born.

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Rothman Photo

Interview by Alison Petrovich

Can you pinpoint the moment when your novel, My October, began not in writing, but as an idea?

I have been thinking about the events of the autumn of 1970 for quite a few years now. And I have been fascinated by the way what we now call the “October Crisis” is talked about and not talked about here in Quebec. To this day, a lot of unease arises when the kidnappings of British diplomat James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte are mentioned. For good reason. Cross was held at gunpoint in an apartment in Montreal’s north end for almost two months. Laporte was killed by strangulation after a week of captivity. The violence of these acts, and the violence with which Ottawa and the Quebec government responded to them, shocked Quebecers to the core.
Forty-five years have passed since those events took place. Much has changed in Quebec and outside of it. Terrorism is now a word we hear almost daily on the news. But we had a brush with our own home-grown political terrorism all those years ago. And it marked and shaped us.
This book was sparked in October of 2001, about a month after Al Qaeda bombed the twin towers in New York City and every network in North America was bombarding us with US President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.” I was listening to the nightly news on Radio Canada, and a journalist read aloud an excerpt from a letter Jacques Lanctôt had written to the Montreal papers. “Au nom de toutes les victimes innocentes, je crie vengeance,” Lanctôt wrote. I was cooking supper when this came over the airwaves. I stopped stirring the pot.
Jacques Lanctôt, for those who don’t recognize the name, is the man who kidnapped James Cross in 1970.
Wow. What a strange thing to say.
It got me thinking. Three years later, I watched, by chance, a wonderful documentary film by Carl Leblanc called L’Hôtage, containing interviews with both James Cross and Jacques Lanctôt. These two men were not young anymore. They spoke of the events of October 1970 with the hindsight of over three decades. The documentary was poignant and fascinating on more levels than I can list here. And I realized I wanted to open up this subject in fiction, to examine it, air it out. There were so many stories in there that needed to be told, and in Quebec, I felt, we were now capable as a society of talking about them. To live happily and well together, people do not have to agree on things, especially things like politics, which tend to cut close to the bone. But they do have to talk. Talking and exchanging are a must. And fortunately, Quebec has a long, proud tradition of discourse.
So these were two of the moments which sparked the novel, My October, into being—a sentence heard by chance on the radio, and words heard in a cinema. Words can have an influence.
Who gets to tell the story of a person, a family, a nation? Who decides what is true, what is false? Who is the arbiter, in the end, of this thing that we call history? These were some of the questions I set out to answer.

As a novelist, do you believe art serves a moral purpose or is it solely entertainment?

I don’t believe that the purpose of literature is to convey a simple moral message. I do, however, believe that novels have an ethical component. Literature is about human beings and how they act and react under pressure. When life turns difficult, we reveal what we’re made of. Sometimes we show compassion; other times all we can manage is to shrink back and think of ourselves. Our reactions are often complex and contradictory – generosity and self-interest and resentment and even self-hatred can mingle and mix in a single gesture. Literature is not about right or wrong in the conventional sense, but about human thought and speech and actions playing out in particular instances. In this sense it is ethical. It’s also highly entertaining.

When you create a character, such as Hannah, Luc, or Hugo from My October, is there a starting point or first trait that you build from?

Characters are often composites of people I have met. I might take some aspect of someone’s personality that intrigues me and match that with the body of another person I know. Usually the starting point for a character I create exists in the world, in “real life” — which is really life seen through my eyes and therefore an imaginative construction, at best. But there is this grounding in so-called reality. Once born, the character takes on a life of his or her own and reveals who he or she is to me. Often the revelations take me by surprise.
Luc, for instance, is based on a real-life person whom I met only a few times. I do not know him well, but he intrigued me. He is a successful working artist, which I wanted for that character. And he has a physique that is impressive, which also inspired me for Luc Lévesque. Is Luc this real-life man? Not at all. I barely know the guy. But certain details of this individual’s looks and dress and speech patterns and mannerisms opened up possibilities for me that allowed the birth of a fictional being.

When translating, do you ever get stuck on an idea, moment, or phrase that does not seem translatable? If so, how do you overcome these challenges?

The job of translating is different from writing fiction. In translation there is always a text in front of the translator, already written by someone else. To me, translation is more like doing puzzles than creating something. If I am stumped by a French phrase I go first to dictionaries, of which there are many. If it’s a Québécois text, and the problem is a Québécois idiom that I don’t recognize, there are dictionaries that specialize in this. So I look things up. If that doesn’t do the trick, I consult with people. Phone up friends who might know. And I mull things over, trying out the best way to express things. Sometimes it’s hard straddling two languages. If I have been reading nothing but French for a while, the syntax of that language begins to creep into my English, or even French expressions begin to infiltrate, and momentarily I lose access to my own English idiom! It’s like seeing the world through different glasses. I have to pause and remember to pick up my English glasses again. Eventually the most appropriate English words come into focus and settle into the right order on the page.