Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday Feature: Nicolas Billon on Iceland

Young Nicolas Goes to "Iceland"
by Amy Lee Lavoie

Playwright Amy Lee Lavoie interviewed playwright Nicolas Billon about his play Iceland opening at Factory Theatre March 2.  In April, Nicolas will interview Amy for her play Stopheart.

LAVOIE: What were you like as a child?

BILLON: Well, from what I remember, I was a well-behaved and eccentric child. I lived very much in my own world. I read a lot, which isn’t really surprising. I loved making things – I have a vivid memory of trying (and failing) to build a working crossbow. Clearly, I wasn’t cut out to be an engineer.

I do remember being perfectly happy spending hours on end alone. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy being with other people, but I didn’t crave it all the time. I think that’s still true today; I could be aptly described as a “gregarious hermit”.

LAVOIE: What was the first piece of writing you ever did?

BILLON: When I was six, my family moved to Paris. Everything there was new and different, and I was particularly taken with PIF Gadget, a weekly magazine. Every issue included a toy you had to assemble (not unlike a Kinder Surprise). Anyway, it cost ten francs. So I took some index cards and wrote a story on them – it was more of a comic strip, really – about a soccer player who scores eleven goals in one game. His name was Marc, which by strange coincidence is also my middle name. I stapled the index cards together and sold it to my mother for eleven francs. I went out and bought my PIF Gadget and a candy bar. 

LAVOIE: Who or what gave you the best education in love?

BILLON: That’s easy: experience. This has generally taken the form of a) making difficult decisions, or b) being on the receiving end of difficult decisions.

LAVOIE: What inspired your triptych Greenland, Iceland, and Faroe Islands

BILLON: I think a triptych appealed to my sense of structure. I didn’t set out to write a triad; I was more interested in exploring a theatrical form (the monologue) with which I had very little experience.

Around the time I was working on Greenland, I read Michael Lewis’s article in Vanity Fair, “Wall Street on the Tundra”, about the banking collapse in Iceland. I loved the idea of writing a companion piece to Greenland, and Iceland was a natural (and obvious) title for it.

Today, I don’t think they work as a double-bill – too much monologue for one night. But all three plays worked well with themes I was interested in exploring: rationalism (Greenland), inequality (Iceland), and activism (Faroe Islands). The plays aren’t only about these things, of course, but they were the starting points. (cont'd)

LAVOIE: What does Iceland mean to you?

BILLON: I’ve been obsessed with Iceland for a long time. There is something about its remoteness and beauty that spoke to me. Also, I remember discovering some surprising facts about the country that warmed my literary heart. For example, Iceland publishes the most books per capita in the world.

I went for the first time in October 2012, and fell in love with the country. The landscape is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Geothermal heating is amazing. So are the outdoor pools and ‘hot pots’. I hope to go back soon.

LAVOIE: If you could take back a line or a character from your repertoire of plays, what/who would it be and why?

BILLON: I don’t think there’s anything as specific as a line or a character that I’d want to take back, but there are definitely plays that weren’t (in hindsight) ready for production.

This is most true, I think, of The Measure of Love (Stratford Festival, 2005) and The Safe Word (SummerWorks, 2011). I’m proud of them, but I recognize that there was something missing in both plays. They just didn’t quite come together on the stage, independent of any production issues. But I learned a lot from both experiences, and I hope to get another crack at them one day.

No regrets, though. It’s all part of figuring out how to write. One of the best ways to do that is to fail, I think. Or as Samuel Beckett would say, “Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

LAVOIE: Do you think Young Nicolas would be happy with Nicolas Now?

BILLON: I hope so!

I think, professionally, Young Nicolas would be impatient with Nicolas Now. He’d say, “What!? You haven’t won an Oscar yet?”

And then add something like, “And no kids, either? What have you been doing?” Thankfully, Nicolas Now would have just enough wisdom to smile and not take any of it to heart.

I hope, more than anything else, that Young Nicolas would recognize himself in Nicolas Now. If he does, then that would be something, you know?

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