(photo credit: David Hawe)
I ask everyone, including myself, really hard questions.
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Brad Fraser is one of Canada's best known playwrights, in addition to being a director for stage and film, a talk show host and wearing many other hats. Born in Edmonton, Alberta in 1959, Mr. Fraser won his first playwriting competition at the age of 17 and has been writing ever since. His play Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love premiered at Alberta Theatre Projects PlayRites festival in 1989. It has since been produced worldwide, with highly successful runs in Toronto, New York, Chicago, Milan, Sydney and London. It has been translated into multiple languages, and was most recently produced in: Athens, Greece; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.Other produced plays include: Poor Super Man, Martin Yesterday, Snake in Fridge, Cold Meat Party, Mutants, Wolfboy, Rude Noises (For a Blank Generation), Chainsaw Love, Young Art, Return of the Bride, The Ugly Man and the musicals Outrageous and Prom Night of the Living Dead.
CHARPO: Who approached who for Kill Me Now and who said, "Yup, why not direct?" And how does casting come about long-distance between Edmonton and Toronto?
FRASER: Michael Clarke at Workshop West read the play and programmed it for their public reading presentation last Fall. It went very well and Michael wanted to see about scheduling it. We back and forthed for a few months, sent gentle feelers out to other directors who were busy and decided it would make things more expeditious if I directed it myself. I do have extensive experience directing my own work and we felt the script had enough development that it would be possible. Also I've never premiered a play in Edmonton in a professional venue and it sounded like fun to come back home in every way.
As for casting, we chatted about people, I asked around, went to Edmonton for a day of auditions and chose the five people who seemed best for the roles. Pretty much the way I'd do it anywhere.
Directing is the hardest, most poorly paid and under-appreciated role in any discipline.
CHARPO: Tell us about the genesis of the play and how it fits into the oeuvre.
FRASER: I don't think it's for me to say where it fits in the oeuvre as that's not a word I think about much. The play came out of a fascination with my disabled nephew's ability to communicate and a keen interest of the best way to theatricalize it. That was added to an experience involving my grandmother's death and questions about euthanasia and mixed with a paradox of an ethics question from the Toronto Star as well as what I'm seeing going on in the world today and it just kind of snowballed from there. It started as a two act play with another character who has since been excised but that was a bit too much and I did some major surgery and profound changes and this is what I got.
CHARPO: A playwright who directs his own work is opening himself up to all sorts of grief from commentators. What do you have to say to them in advance?
FRASER: Enjoy the show.
CHARPO: I've been reading (on Facebook) that your process is exhausting - what is it?
FRASER: It's very intense, it demands a lot of commitment and I ask everyone, including myself, really hard questions. The process gives and takes. The first week I do a ton of talking and listening as do the actors. We have to make decisions quickly and then be able to discard them if we are wrong. Each member of the team is an individual and things go best when they are treated as such. During the second week there's a lot of blocking and technical detail work and the actors start to take over but the director is still listening to, in this case, about 13 voices from cast, crew, design team, technical directors, publicity people, admin etc. The third week is allowing the actors to take over the show while still guiding them and conducting the technical end of things. Then it's week four, a great luxury in any theatre these days, you're in previews, watching the show and the audience keenly, adjusting the show and helping the actors with those final bits that really make the character live. Directing is the hardest, most poorly paid and under-appreciated role in any discipline. Oddly, it can also be one of the most satisfying. I love doing it and it works a completely different part of my creative brain than writing does but it is fucking exhausting. And all of that is made even more injurious by the fact most people have no idea what a director actually does.
CHARPO: What does it feel like to go back to the old stomping grounds?
FRASER: Great! I'm very comfortable and very comforted in Edmonton. Things have changed but there are enough touchstones that I was able to hit the ground running. I feel a strong sense of support from the community and a sense of excitement however this all turns out. The things I love and don't love about Edmonton remain basically the same as they've always been. I think that's why I think of it as home.
CHARPO: What happened to 5@50?
FRASER: Fucking nothing. It drives me insane. I'm still looking for some way to produce it. Stay tuned.
CHARPO: Finally, and I've been told by none other than Tom Stoppard that this is a dumb question, but I ask it anyway: You have become an identifiable value - in short, have arrived at a certain status - how do you carry that status? Do you feel this weight?