Cocaine Plane! is a new play from Fredericton writer, Emily Bossé. A three-time recipient of the David Adams Richards prize for prose, Bossé is a recent graduate of the MA in Creative Writing Program at UNB and is currently The Fiddlehead’s nominee for the 2015 Journey Prize. This is her first play.
Cocaine Plane! is set around one of the most fascinating stories in Fredericton’s history – the time when a small plane carrying $25 million dollars worth of cocaine crash landed near Fredericton.
Emily Bossé was kind enough to take a few minutes and share some thoughts on the idea behind the play and its development process.
Where did you first come across this story and why did you choose it as the backdrop for your first play?
I first came across the story of the crash in a small booklet on the York County jail and its most famous cases. I was reading about the Hammer Brothers and was shocked to see a page or two dedicated to the Medellin captives near the back of the book. I couldn’t believe that this had happened here in Fredericton, and that I had never heard of it. The story stuck with me, it seemed like a made up zany madcap adventure, and yet it was local history. I began to mull the idea of a play over in my head, sketched out some staging ideas and drew webs of potential relationships. I’m primarily a prose writer, but as I wrote out preliminary ideas I realized the story would be well suited to the stage. I could see the separation and melding of places, boundaries, relationships and worlds play out in a physical setting. I decided I’d give it a go, and if it wasn’t working as a play I’d try it out as a short story.
As an author and playwright, do you feel a need to share stories from your surroundings?
I don’t feel you absolutely NEED to draw from your local history, but I do feel we should never discount it as source material. Sometimes we’re very quick to dismiss the familiar as unworthy of a narrative. When I set out to write something, I don’t necessarily think of it as a piece “rooted in New Brunswick history” but of course it often reflects the place where I grew up, the people I know, and the colloquialisms I’m used to. I try to look pretty much anywhere for material, but it is very satisfying to uncover a piece of local lore and share a reinvention of that story with a wider audience.
This work has been in development for some time. How has the play evolved from last year’s reading to this year’s upcoming production?
I wrote this play last year as part of my master’s degree, and as part of the script development we had a public reading in the Wilser’s room. The actors were phenomenal, and hearing it read out loud with a live audience reacting helped me with my second rewrite. I tried to pull the central themes into sharper relief and tightened up the dialogue. I’ve also cut about 20-plus pages from the original; it was really a mammoth script. Throughout the rehearsal process the play evolved constantly. The actors and director have done a stellar job at turning text into characters. It’s surreal to see a piece of writing turn into a living thing before you.
Cocaine Plane! is your first play. What would you say is the biggest challenge in writing for the stage?
When you write prose, you’re writing primarily for a triangular relationship: writer-text-reader. As soon as you begin to write for the stage the relationship becomes hexagonal. Your text is filtered through so many different variables: you’re writing for actors, the audience, there is a director who will make choices about your text, technical restrictions might affect how the play is staged…there is just so much to account for. Playwriting is also a much more communal experience. Usually when I finish a piece and send it out, I’m the only one doing that work. With a play there’s so many people pulling together to get the thing up and looking good. There’s a greater sense of vulnerability too. When I handed the script over to the actors it felt like I was giving them handfuls of my heart and brain and asking them to make something out of the mess. It’s been an adjustment but I really couldn’t ask for a better crew to work on my first show.