Five Questions with Playwright Erin Keating

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Saint John Theatre Company will bring Keating’s play, The War Bride, to the Fredericton Playhouse – October 21, 2015.

Photo by Amy Theriault.

Saint John Theatre Company will return to the Fredericton Playhouse this month with their production of Erin Keating’s play The War Bride, October 21, 2015.  Keating has spent the past five years working on her script for SJTC and now after going through several revisions, readings and discussions, her work will finally make its stage debut as part of SJTC’s current season. Opening at the BMO Theatre in Saint John October 14, the play will run until the 17 before making its way to Fredericton.

We asked Keating to share some thoughts on creating this important piece of New Brunswick theatre.

Can you share a bit of background on this story and how you came to develop it for the stage?

Saint John Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Stephen Tobias, first came to me with the idea five years ago, after hearing a story on the CBC about the final reunion of the New Brunswick War Brides. I loved the idea of the project, so I took it on. It’s gone through many, many iterations over the years – blown up, shrunk down, ten characters, two characters… it’s been a long and collaborative process with many different theatre institutions and voices helping to shape the story that it’s become today, which is a version of the story that finally feels right.

What kind of research went into writing The War Bride?

My first step was reading Melynda Jarratt’s book Captured Hearts: New Brunswick’s War Brides. Melynda has spent her entire career collecting and telling the stories of NB’s War Brides. The true stories her book contained became the inspiration for the play.  As the play has developed, I’ve added more and more of my own voice, more fiction, but there are still many nods to the real history of these women and the time.

In the early development stages, I also went to some war bride events in Fredericton, where I met a couple of the remaining War Brides, and Melynda, and heard more stories first hand.

I don’t know that this would be research, so much as more inspiration, but photographs and music also factored into my writing process. Looking at old black and white photos of the time and filling in my own “1000 words” helped kick start my imagination. And listening to music of the era while writing also helped put me in the headspace.  This is a trick I always use – when writing something new, I always create a playlist that fits the tone/feel/era of what I’m working on.

This play debuted as a reading during TNB’s 2012-2013 season.  How has the work, or your interpretation of it, evolved since then?

So much evolution! The reading that took place at TNB was a short piece.  It ran about 25 minutes. Saint John Theatre Company wanted a full production of a full-length play, around 90 minutes. Tripling the play’s length seemed like a daunting task, but I had the skeleton already, I just had to get some meat on its bones. I traveled to Saint John for a weekend this past June to meet with Stephen Tobias, the director Andrea Arbour, and dramaturge Stephen Massicotte, and we batted around ideas, discussed themes, problems and possible solutions for a couple of days.

From very early drafts of the play, there was a “present day narrator” whose memories would come to life through vignettes of the past. One of the ongoing tasks I struggled with throughout the drafts was taking more out of the narration, and putting more into action – the “show, don’t tell” adage that makes for compelling drama. It’s much more interesting to see something unfolding than to hear about it. I didn’t want to lose the voice of the narrator, but I also didn’t want to rely on her as heavily as I have in past drafts. When Stephen Massicotte and I came up with the idea of her going through an old photo album as the impetus for her story telling, it was an “a-ha” moment for me. That idea grounded her narration, shaped the story and even informed the characters and their relationships.

The War Bride will make its stage debut this month as part of Saint John Theatre Company’s current season.  How did this relationship come about?

Like I said, Stephen Tobias approached me with the project. SJTC’s Theatre on the Edge Festival had put on one of my short plays, the first play I ever wrote, in fact, in the summer of 2009, so I think he was familiar with me because of that. I also grew up in Saint John, so I have that connection going for me. I don’t think there are enough interesting and strong roles for women, or compelling stories being told about women, and so I’m always interested in writing those stories, developing those voices. So I was really intrigued and excited by this project, and honoured that he came to me to write it.

What’s next for this play and do you have other scripts in development at the moment?

I’m not sure what’s next for this play, I’m just excited that it’s finished and getting a full production after all these years. As for other scripts, I am wrapping up a two-hander about an unlikely friendship between two women both dealing with mental illness, and just started working on my first screenplay, which has been percolating in my head for almost two years, and now is finally ready to be written down.

The War Bride | The Fredericton Playhouse | October 21, 2015 | 7:30 p.m. | Buy Tickets

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