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Interview with playwright Graeme Gerrard

Thursday, March 22, 2007

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  • Éloi ArchamBaudoin and Nathalie Nadon in the Théâtre de l'Ile production of The Salt-Wa

    Éloi ArchamBaudoin and Nathalie Nadon in the Théâtre de l'Ile production of The Salt-Wa

Written by The Peak Collective

Graeme Gerrard is an actor, writer, director and producer living in Guelph. He is currently working on the play The Hardly Boys: My Brother’s First Time. His previous writing credits include Some Play (2005), Going Back In (2004) and The Kokanee Twelve (2003). Past directing credits include The Ballad of Reading Gaol (2003) and Salt-Water Moon (1999).


The Peak: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re currently working on?

Graeme: We’re doing a new show in Guelph and Toronto. It’s a parody of The Hardy Boys, the popular juvenile book series.

The Peak: Why the Hardy Boys?

Graeme: Well, I was just looking for subject matter and I happened to read one of the Hardy Boys books, and it was pretty ridiculous. There were two things that really made me laugh: one was that they got a clue that the bad guy had grey hair and he was in New York City, and they tracked him down in New York City with that much information, and the other thing was that they ended up crouching in a bush, and it just was really gay, and it really made me laugh how much innuendo was in this one little paragraph. So I read a few more of the books and they all seemed to be pretty funny, and pretty outrageous in terms of what children are allowed to read now, so then I started writing and it kept coming and so we kept going with it.

The Peak: You’ve done plays before here in Guelph, and you’ve been in Guelph for quite some time.

Graeme: Seven years…

The Peak: Can you talk a little bit about what’s good about working in Guelph and what some of the challenges are, this being a smaller town?

Graeme: I came to Guelph as a student at the University. The University provides a lot of opportunities for actors, writers and directors, so I was really spoiled here for a number of years. But then when I graduated I found that the city as a whole actually has a few gaps in terms of venues and places for young artists. There was a period of time when myself and a few other graduates didn’t really know how to produce theatre here in Guelph, and then through some work with the E-Bar specifically we started producing some shows here in 2004 and then again in 2005, and now 2007.

The Peak: Can you talk about how you fund your projects?

Graeme: I put everything out of my own pocket and then when the tickets get sold that money gets reimbursed and any profits get spread out to the cast and crew and possibly used for future projects. It’s really small budget and anything we can do to save money we do – from making things from bedsheets to borrowing lights and things like that.

The Peak: Can you talk a little bit about how you approach your work? What’s your philosophy?

Graeme: One of the things that became apparent over the last few years of my degree at Guelph is that I enjoy doing comedy more than drama, and in that I enjoy doing collaborative and lighthearted theatre that doesn’t take itself too seriously. So for this project I obviously came up with a script but then I went to the actors and things were open for interpretation. So if an actor wanted to say a line differently or change a joke around, everything is always up for debate and discussion. In this show the second half is bonus material like on a DVD, with deleted scenes and bloopers and things like that. So as a group we’re going to play with the text. I try to just have fun with it, because if we have fun it’ll be funnier on stage and the audience will enjoy it more.

The Peak: Speaking of the audience, I’ve seen a couple of your plays here in Guelph and they’ve always been sold out. With all of the forms of entertainment that are available to people these days, what do you think it is about the theatre that draws people? What’s different about watching a play than watching a movie or TV?

Graeme: Well, it’s not that it’s rare because there is theatre going on all the time… but people don’t see as much theatre as they get inundated with television and movies, so it has that specialness to it. It’s definitely also that there’s an immediacy that you don’t get with recorded things. There’s always the chance that you could be at the show that falls apart and doesn’t make it through, which is exciting, or you could see an actual blooper which would be fun. I don’t know too many people who hate theatre compared to people who get frustrated by movies or don’t watch a lot of TV. It’s comparable to how if you like music it’s not always enough to own the band’s album, you want to go out and see the band perform live. Not because the album isn’t good but because you want to feel that electricity of a live performance.

The Peak: What do you see the role of theatre as? Obviously it’s a way for people to have fun, its entertainment, but do you see it as having any other role?

Graeme: I absolutely do. I think it almost becomes so obvious that theatre has the potential to do cultural work that I forget about it sometimes. I think a lot of people forget about it. And that’s true of this show. The politics of this show are more subtle than the overt humour that’s running throughout the show. The show’s about implying that one of the Hardy Boys is gay and the conflicts there. At the same time it’s a plot about pointing to the flaws of all the plots of the Hardy Boys where this “other” (usually a Russian spy) is committing some sort of crime -- but of course they’re juvenile books so the crime can never be violent, serious or scary, it always has to be more almost silly. So pointing out all of those politics are really our politics in this show – pointing out the way that that generation was brainwashed during the Cold War and in doing that we’re also pointing occasionally and subtly to what’s going on now with President Bush and the way the same tone is held for the way we talk about terrorists and the new “other” -- which is anything President Bush feels like talking about that week. So that’s the thing, it’s not a play about that, it’s a play parodying the Hardy Boys, but in doing that it points out the fact that that ridiculousness is still around today just pointed a little to the south – instead of Russia it’s the Middle East.

The Peak: And obviously your play says something about queer politics. . .

Graeme: I think the way my shows have approached queer most of the time is not what is or isn’t queer, it’s more like why people think something is or isn’t queer, which is again what this show is doing. It’s more about people’s misconceptions about things being gay or perceivably gay and pointing out what’s ridiculous in all that, which is part of the humour in the show.

The Peak: Thanks for taking the time to chat with The Peak today.

Graeme: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

Editor's Note: The Peak's Arts & Culture issue will be on stands soon and will be the final issue of the semester. Interested in helping out in the summer for The Peak's first fall issue? E-mail:

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  1. Posted by: on Jul 28, 2009 @ 12:24pm

    Hey!

    I was wondering if The Peak might want to write some articles on action re: climate change for the first or second fall issue? There'll be a lot of stuff on Oct. 24th for International Day of Action on Climate Change, but keeping up the discussion of Cdn gov't (political action to motivate massive individual action - and the reverse, of course) prior to that would be good...

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