Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Feature: Amy Lee Lavoie on her play Stopheart

In The Heart of a Stegosaurus

Playwright Amy Lee Lavoie interviewed playwright Nicolas Billon about his play Iceland at Factory Theatre in March. Below is Nicolas's  interview with Amy for her play Stopheart, May 4-26 at Factory Theatre.

BILLON:  OK, so Stopheart takes place in the South Porcupine neighborhood of Timmins, Ontario. Coincidentally, that’s right around where you spent your own formative years. What was the best and worst thing about growing up there?

LAVOIE: Not right around, but neck deep in South Porcupine.

I often talk about the people in that town. They are some of the finest, kindest I know. Not to mention, they all have this incredible sense of humor; the kind that invites you in and makes you a cup of tea or offers you a cold beer from the fridge. And it’s small, right? So there’s a lot of community support and awareness. My old doctor made house calls. And still does. It’s like that. 

The worst thing? Well, at one time I felt a bit of resentment towards the lack of opportunities in remote areas like South Porcupine. Especially when I became aware of art high schools. I always thought, “I’d be so much farther ahead if I had been doing theatre at a young age!” Now I know that’s simply not true. Or at least I don’t see the world as black and white as that. There were some people along the way, of course, who scoffed at the name of my town. Which I was always confused about because I didn’t know it was a strange name or a weird place; I just came from there. After the fifth – “Is there a NORTH Porcupine?” I’d be tempted to say, “Never mind. I’m from Ohio.” But now I know better. Where I come from is so much a part of who I am. Sometimes it just takes leaving a place to fully understand how that all works. 

BILLON: What is the first piece of fiction you remember writing? Why did you write it?

LAVOIE: There are three integral pieces that I remember writing when I was young.

1) A story called “How the Stegosaurus Lives”. This short story was written and subsequently published in a book comprised of selected submissions from kids in different grade schools around the area. Those who were chosen were later invited to a “Young Author’s Conference.” I was in grade four... so, what is that? Nine?

I sent the piece to my dear friend and mentor, Colleen Murphy recently. She wrote back and said – “I can’t make fun of your story – it shows you too strongly. Your urges are in your writing even that early: blood, guts, consciousness, pathos and character.”  

2) My grade 5 public speech entitled, “Violent English”. (I guess Colleen had a point…)

3) A letter I wrote to Harriet Tubman.They were all school assignments. I remember them all as firsts because they are part of the pile of creative readcrumbs. 

BILLON: You often speak of your Italian roots; how have they influenced you?

LAVOIE: My mother is Italian. My father is French-Canadian. Both cultures have had great influence on me, no doubt. The Italian, though, lived beside and behind me my whole life. Literally. We had a “Little Italy” going on in South Porcupine. 

I grew up in a house my grandfather and his brothers built. My Nanna and Nonno lived beside us in a different house they had built. And my mother’s brother, my uncle Vince, lives, with his family, in the house directly behind ours. And beside him is a garden. I mean, obviously. What self-respecting Italian doesn’t have a garden with hockey sticks and tomatoes? So, I saw my Italian grandparents every day of my life. Not only did I see them, I would spend a lot of time with them. Finer people you will not find. And that is the greatest truth I have to share. 

The Italian culture is just so visceral and passionate. There is SO MUCH humor, laughter, my God. Whenever I feel myself heated over something political or unjust, I think of my Nonno (He passed away almost five years ago). Whenever I get nervous or feel loyalty to something or someone, my Nanna springs to mind. (She is still here, and the greatest love of my life). 

My ambition, work ethic, sense of morality - all from them. My snobbery for tomato sauce? Also from them. (cont'd)

BILLON: What are your thoughts on the fragility of the human heart?

LAVOIE: I think of the human heart medically and metaphorically. 

Every time I feel my own heart beating, or tightening, fluttering, I am aware of mortality. And how much of a hypochondriac I am.

The metaphorical heart allows my own to break. To travel, give, write and love.  

The human heart is fragile because we demand so much of it all the time. If someone is not breaking it, it’s being loved to death by an idea, attacked by disease or stretched so far as to help something. It’s a miraculous organ. So loaded.  
BILLON: I’d describe your body of work as “thematically eclectic”. Have you identified anything that pops up over and over again in your work? What are some of your obsessions?

LAVOIE: I asked my best friend recently to read a play I wrote through the Citadel Playwriting Forum. She has read my earliest work and every thing in between, actually been there through it all. Anyway. She said, “You know. If somebody picks up your plays in the future, they could write a whole academic study on the amount of times you reference dogs and horses.” So there’s that…

Rabbit Rabbit, my first play, was my no holds barred, I’m in theatre school, I can reach and write anything, exploration. It taught me a valuable lesson in thematic expression. You’ve got lots of sex in there. Societal taboos - pedophilia and child prostitution. Forbidden Love. Loneliness. Some of those themes are still present in a lot of my work. But if I had to narrow it down, I’d say death. Death is just this great big lead balloon on top of everybody’s head. We all have it in common. It’s coming or it already came; will it be quick? Will it be painful? Will it be remembered? And then there’s religion. They go hand in hand beautifully. Ah religion. I guess that’s something that pops up a lot too. And sex, sexuality… 

BILLON: What is your guiltiest guilty pleasure?

LAVOIE: Being right when it counts and with people around to clap for me when it happens. 

I think, in terms of “things,” my guiltiest guilty pleasure is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (And not in some hipster ironic way. I actually really enjoy it) It has the most INSANE dance number with axes and crosscut saws. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger and you think, “They’re all gonna DIE!” but they don’t die! They just keep dancing for what feels like forever. …It’s such a thrill.  Also, when I was younger, I always thought because of my black hair, I had to like actresses who were brunettes. Like, they were put on screen just for me. And Julie Newmar is one of the brides with the most exquisite long black hair and bangs. Can it get any better than that?

I also love listening to the fiddle. I love it so much I think I’m a fiddling prodigy but I won’t pick one up in case I’m wrong. It would be far too devastating for me. 

BILLON:You asked me this question, and I liked it so much that I want to return the favour: do you think Young Amy Lee would be happy with Amy Lee now?

LAVOIE: Good lord, no! 

First thing. I don’t own a horse. She would be having NONE of that shit. NONE of it. 

Second. Young Amy Lee would be upset that I hadn’t found a way to replace Milla Jovovich in Return to the Blue Lagoon. This of course would mean that Amy Lee NOW would have had to figure out time travel and acquire skin that tans flawlessly. Neither of which I’ve been able to figure out in my short life. 

She might like that I still live in the fullness of the imagination she created for us. But other than that it’s like, sorry, kid. I’m kind of just a taller you, with some computer skills.

Stopheart runs May 4-26 at Factory Theatre in Toronto

A picture taken by Ms Lavoie from her parents' back porch

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