by Jim Murchison
George F. Walker has received nine Chalmers Awards, five Dora Awards, three Governor General's Awards (including a 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award) and the Order of Canada. In 1997 his six-play cycle Suburban Motel premiered at Factory Theatre (Toronto) and Rattlestick Productions (New York). Plays from the cycle have since had numerous productions in the US, the UK and Germany. Walker's latest play The Burden of Self Awareness is playing at Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa.
CHARPO: What fascinates me most about your career is the way it started, working odd jobs; finally as a taxi driver seeing a pamphlet for Factory Theatre Lab: You were obviously already writing, doing poems and stories I believe? I mean were you thinking when you did your first try at a play that this was going to be your career?WALKER: Oh, Absolutely not. I just... wrote one.
CHARPO: (laughs)WALKER: I'd only seen one live play. I saw Henry... I don't know Henry something, at the Royal Alex.
CHARPO: There's so many Henrys.
CHARPO: You don’t have to be able to play all these grand scales on a musical instrument to connect with an audience.
CHARPO: And do your characters ever take you to a place so quickly that you weren’t anticipating that it actually surprises you?
CHARPO: So you're almost... improvising your way through it in a way?WALKER: Nnnng. I'm not improvising so much. I consider it the voice in the centre and if they're nuts that's fine. But really I'm not trying to tell a story for a story's sake, I'm not even here. I'm letting the characters tell their story.
CHARPO: You don't want that pretty Broadway ending that ties it ...WALKER: I can't do it, I mean not only do I not want it, I don't understand it and I can't do it. You can't... I was talking talk to an American writer about it, the notion of what you're trying to do is put your rhythms of life on stage, but then they expect you to come up with this great ending... but there's no neat ending to my plays, I call them stoppages. There are several stoppages and then well they've gotta go home. It can't go on forever. I've stumbled on to a few satisfactory endings, but I really stumbled on to them. A lot of people were dead or whatever, “Oh there it's over now”, but I never in my mind said, Oh I have to build to an end, but people do that and that's fine if that's how they work.
CHARPO: Do you ever get stressed in the actual writing process or only just before you open?
WALKER: I don't get stressed anymore.
CHARPO: You don't get stressed at all anymore?WALKER: Well what are they going to do? (Both laugh) and what can I do? This is what I do and this is how I do it. Really clearly... but you know I don't know if you've ever seen a Metallica concert. This is how they introduce themselves, “We are Metallica and this is what we do.” (right) and then they do it. And that's what I feel like. This is what I do and if people know the work, they know that... and they're all different plays whatever... if they don't someone said the other night “well there's so much swearing in this it's like an American play.” I went ... or NOT! ( both laugh) I mean, you know, well sure... I guess. I don't know where that came from. But that's his response and that's cool. It was one of their audience members. I just overheard it. But this is what I do. And I guess it's been interesting that I do this and there's an audience, I mean I have an audience. This much I know now. I don't know if it's here in this city, but I know where it is and it's various places in North America and Germany and it's because I do that... They know... they're not going to go... (chuckles) they know what they're going to get in some ways. Sometimes they get a little more than they bargained for, sometimes a little less, whatever.
CHARPO: In fact if you went out there and tried to give them The Music Man they'd be like... cursing you. It'd be like...
WALKER: Well yeah. What's that about?
CHARPO: That's not a George F Walker play!WALKER: And it's not like I think of it as a George F walker play. I just kind of think of them as what I do, and then I sign them... (Both laugh) but people have an opinion about that, whatever it is. But that Metallica thing, I'm George and this is what I do, it really clears it up. I'm not pretending to do this or that. I remember I had a discussion with Marsha Mason, Neil Simon was married to her too and she was in a play of mine in New York and she was wanting me to come see her and I said, “Why I've seen the play. I directed the play, I have no interest in going there.” And boy she got really incensed about that, really quite angry at me, “Well my ex-husband went everywhere to see his productions.” I went, “Well why the fuck would he do that?” (Both laugh) It got pretty heated at that point. You know, I mean come on. That's just misery. And so I put it out there and let it be who it is and what it is and you know it's open to interpretation, so 50/50 sometimes they nail it, sometimes they kind of nail it, sometimes they fuck it up, whatever... it's the life of a playwright. I just like to do it.
WALKER: My friends are doing a play are you coming out?
WALKER: What's wrong?
MILNER: Are you Okay here? You want to go to the office.
WALKER: I did that apartment 613 interview here. It's the quietest place in the building.
MILNER: there's an office.
WALKER: Well there are chairs!
MILNER: I'm not complaining. People are in there looking.CHARPO: This just made the interview so much more interesting. Now we have the interjection of the director .
MILNER: Here I am. Here I am.
WALKER: And he wants to tell me now where I can talk.
(Laughter. I shut off the recorder as we seem to have stumbled on to an ending)CHARPO: Well I know you're not nervous about it now but good luck (Walker laughs) and keep those cheques coming in (Walker laughs) and connecting with your audiences and it's been a pleasure talking to you.
WALKER:You too (chuckles). Take care of yourself.