A Fringe Festival Chat with Matthew Gorman, Writer & Director of “Adventure!” at the Factory Theatre Main Stage
Interview by Madryn McCabe
We sat down for a drink with Matthew Gorman, writer & director of Adventure! playing at the Factory Theatre Main Stage during the Toronto Fringe Festival.
MM: So, tell me about Adventure! How did it come to be?
MG: Two years ago, I was part of the 24 hour playwriting contest and the script I put together in those 24 hours became half of this year’s script, combined with half of the show I did at the Fringe last year, which was called Like a Dog. So it was kind of like… Do you remember the CBC show The Odyssey? It was this fantastic tween adventure show, where there was a kid in a coma, but his coma dream was this world where only children were in charge. So my 24 hour play was like that. There was this contemporary story, but then the dream was of this guy who thought he was Don Quixote and ran around as a knight. It didn’t really work out, so I cut it in two, and then wrote last year’s show. But, I missed all the fun swords and squires and horses and things from that show, so I thought I’d try to see what happened to them. So the characters are different, but that’s where they came from.
MM: Did you add any characters to it from the original script?
MG: Yeah, all of the monks and the crusade-y stuff are new. They didn’t really have much of a plot when they were just those odd characters. It was just that a knight freed a princess from a tower and then had nowhere to go, and that’s where that story ended. So all of the weird, “people’s crusade” stuff is new. In this version of the play there isn’t too much of that stuff, because we had to cut a lot of it. This is mainly because the original script was like, two and a half hours long.
MM: I was going to ask if there was a longer version of the play.
MG: We did a staged reading in April of the whole thing, and it clocked in at two and a half hours or something, so I polled the audience that night and I asked if we had ended at Act I, was there enough in the script to make them feel satisfied? Would they be okay knowing that Act II might never see the light of day, or should I try to truncate this whole thing and squish it into an hour, and that’s what we ended up doing.
MM: So what we see of Adventure! now at the Fringe is the truncated version?
MG: It’s the whole plotline smashed together with a lot of things taken out, some characters got turned into other people and stuff like that, but I think it’s fun. The version we have right now is pretty neat. It’s been fun to get to see it develop further and realize what the play is actually about. Because when you write it, you think it’s about one thing, but then the actors start talking, bringing the play off the page and you realize “Oh! It’s actually about something completely different.”
MM: So it changed for you as you got into rehearsals.
MG: I think so, yeah. And it’s changed a bunch since we started to the time it went up on Thursday. It got a bit darker, but other things became much, much funnier. So it’s not until you can see a character walk about that you understand what they really want. Some playwrights are brilliant and they can lock themselves in a room and they can walk out with this fully formed, masterful piece of writing, but lots of us have a messier process. There are a lot more bodies on the floor. So, what I’ll do with it after, I’m not 100% sure, but it can definitely stretch out again.
MM: So you think you’ll revisit Adventure!?
MG: I would love too! There’s a lot of stuff that we cut that I really miss. And I’m very possessive of the things I’ve written. I don’t like cutting things. (laughs) There are things you have to cut, and you get over it. When it comes to a 60 minutes slot and you’re running 65 minutes, then yeah, you cut this, you cut that, you get on with it, but….
MM: To go from a 2 ½ hour play to a 60 minute play…
MG: Yeah! There’s all kinds of stuff that I feel is missing. [The character of] Death used to be a guy who walked around, he had a castle, and it was fun. So there are things that it would be nice to revisit. Now that we have an idea of who some of these characters are, we can open it up again and we can let the actors catch their breath and not have to run around so fast onstage like they do right now.
MM: There are some really dark times in Adventure! What can you tell us about that?
MG: Well, I always thought that nothing is funny unless Death is right behind it. There’s nothing that’s really going to bring that belly laugh unless there’s fear involved in some way, unless there’s real consequence. There’s a lot of Monty Python influence in this. There’s a lot of Peter Barnes and Caryl Churchill, and angry playwrights like that, but when you think of Fawlty Towers, all of the running around, all of the whacking over the head business, et cetera, it’s not funny unless his hotel will fail if this night doesn’t go well. If his whole life savings isn’t on the line, if his wife isn’t going to leave him if this goes wrong, it’s not funny. There is important consequence. So if Pumpkin isn’t going to die, if she’s not this weird possessive person, it’s not funny that she’s running around trying to get her own castle. It’s not funny that she hates going outside if she isn’t horribly agoraphobic and would rather wall herself up as opposed to go outside and not be safe.
MM: You mentioned Caryl Churchill, which I see in the character of the boy. Is she an influential playwright to you? Who makes you want to make theatre?
MG: People like Howard Barker and Peter Barnes, people like Wadji Mouawad, all these big, spanning plays where you go to six different countries and stuff like that. There’s a Scottish writer named David Greig I’m a big fan of. There’s something about how mean Caryl Churchill is to her characters sometimes. You can only do that if you love them. You do the worst things to the people you love, right?
MM: There’s a fine line between love and hate.
MG: Right. So you write these characters, and you’re very deeply invested in them, so you break them, you do awful things to them, and that’s good! That’s why I go to theatre. I don’t want to see my own life. I live my own life every day. That’s what documentary films are for. So I want to see something with a little more imagination, a little more magic, some silliness, something over the top, something crazy, because that takes me out of my life. Something that you can look on your own life in the reflection of that distance, whether it’s a different time period, or it’s a different place, something that gets you out of your everyday. You’re in a weird room where the lights go off and people are wearing costumes and there’s nothing “real” about that, so why pretend it’s an apartment and this couple wants to break up? Who cares? That happens all the time. But the emotions are real. The realism comes in them being human beings in these extraordinary circumstances. So with Adventure! it’s nice to take a knight or a princess, and chip away at that. Take them out of the fairy tale and see what happens after the happy ending. That’s not the newest idea, obviously, but it’s fun to allow them be a real person, to have a real want, a real desire. Most of our desires are crude and nasty and mean and base and ugly. The princess wants to kill her rival, and people eat people and it’s gross and fun. It’s not fun until it’s dirty.
MM: So your company is Your Good Friends. How did that develop?
MG: [My Partner] Gillian Lewis and I also run a company call Cart/Horse, which does very serious plays. And they’re great and wonderful, but we do a more specific kind of show, these very narrative driven pieces, which usually tend to be sad, so we wanted to do something a little different. This was also a way for me to split my own writing away from that company because I wanted that company to stay doing those bigger, classier, more polished projects, and let my silly writing have its own place somewhere else, with a friendlier version of a theatre company. A “we created this thing and we’d like you to come see it” company. We want the audience to be comfortable and have a good time and for it to be an enjoyable, friendly thing.
MM: So that’s where the name comes from.
MG: Well, you think of most Fringe companies and shows and they’re about people looking at the program to see who they know and who they recognize, and going to see their friend’s show. So this way, we’re already your friends, or would like to be your friends. Fringe is all about hanging out with your friends and doing a show together. This is a way, hopefully, for people to see that I’m not all dark and depressing all the time! It’s an opportunity for me to showcase some lighter work. Some of those Cart/Horse shows get pretty bleak!
MM: So do you see Your Good Friends doing something again soon? Do you have another project in mind?
MG: There’s a thing I started working on about the Tasmanian tiger, which is an extinct marsupial that was hunted to death in Australia and Tasmania at the turn of the century. I like explorers. I like pith helmets and big moustaches and blunderbusses. You can be big and silly, but you can also be very serious in what you’re talking about. I think Adventure! is about loneliness, I think it’s about being unsatisfied with what you have, but if you do that in a silly way, it’s not necessarily about sugarcoating that message, but it’s about making people think about that without making them cry. It’s a more approachable way of dealing with those things. You don’t have to be so God-awful serious all the time. It’s nice to be loud and silly and run around and wear stupid costumes. People are more willing to talk about loneliness and sadness if the guy is dressed like a knight.
MM: So, in three words, why should people come to see Adventure!?
MG: Trumpets, knights, tigers.ADVENTURE! by Your Good Friends in association with the Toronto Fringe Festival Written and Directed by Matthew Gorman Featuring Andy Trithardt, Colin Edwards, Carter Hayden, Tara Koehler, Eleanor Hewlings and Jim Armstrong When: Opens July 4 and runs until July 13 July 4 – 10:30pm, July 6 – 3:30pm, July 7 – 10:30pm, July 9 – 3:00pm, July 10 – 1:45pm, July 11 – 7:30pm, July 13 – 9:45pm Where: Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst St. Tickets: At-the-door tickets: $10 At-the-door tickets are available at the Factory Theatre starting one hour prior to show time – cash sales only. Advance tickets: $11 50% of tickets are available for sale in advance. Purchase online: fringetoronto.com. By Phone: 416-966-1062, ext 1. In Person: During the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St W).