PLUCKED: Fear, Chickens and Bluegrass! In Conversation with director Carly Chamberlain
Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird
Shaina Silver-Baird: Based on the description on the SummerWorks webpage, I’m very intrigued, but know very little about what happens in the play itself. Tell me a bit, from your perspective, about the show.
Carly Chamberlain: The description is intentionally ambiguous because it’s actually an impossible play to describe without diminishing it in some way. Basically, it’s an absurd fable centered around a family farm. On this farm, for generations, the women have been turned into chickens by their fear. And in this world, eggs are extremely profitable – think thousands of millions of dollars. The men on the farm are trying to harvest these eggs in order to become millionaires.
The play all takes place on a single day during a period when there have been no chickens on the farm for twenty years. There are two women in the family: a mother and a daughter. The men (a father and a grandfather who has turned into a rooster), have been waiting for over 20 years for Abigail (the mother) to turn into a chicken.
The play starts on the morning that Abigail finally turns into a chicken, and that transformation sets a series of events in motion. For example, the daughter has promised herself that when her mom eventually turns into a chicken, she’s going to run away so that she doesn’t also turn into a chicken. Each scene is loosely an hour of the day as it progresses.
In a nutshell: Plucked is about fear turning women into chickens, and the men of the family making money off of that. It’s big and political, grappling with misogyny and patriarchy, but it’s also quite personal. We watch the cycles of generations in this family, repeating the same mistakes. It begs the question: is it even possible not to become our parents? The fear of that makes us lash out and try to control things we can’t actually control.
Shaina: What role does the bluegrass music play in the show?
Carly: I wouldn’t classify this show as a musical, because I imagine musicals to be beautifully sung expressions of emotion. And that’s not what this is.
The rooster (otherwise known as the grandfather) is a character in the scenes but also a kind of MC/storyteller. There are often songs underscoring, or interrupting scenes. So the music plays a pretty chaotic role in the storytelling. The rhythm is quite fast, as all the characters are on stage the whole time, often popping out of character to play some kind of instrument.
Shaina: Is it all original music?
Carly: No, all the songs are bluegrass standards that are quite old. The oldest one is called “Black Eyed Susie” and it’s impossible to know who originated it. These are standards that all the bluegrass greats have played. They’re really infectious.
I haven’t been sleeping very well, because I’ve had choruses playing on loop in my head as I lay in bed. They’re total earworms.
Shaina: I understand that you and Rachel have collaborated before?
Carly: We met at the National Theatre School while I was studying as a director and she was studying as a playwright. We were paired together to create a 15 min play – I was directing and dramaturging her piece. That play was so challenging and so exciting. It was also far from realism. For example, the opening stage direction were:
“A giant fist makes its way through a groaning door in agony.”
~ Rachel Ganz
That was the set up! I’m a pretty cerebral person and I like planning and structure. And Rachel works from a really visceral, gutsy, imaginative place. She takes a lot of risks. So I think that’s actually why we work so well together. I find I’m able to bring some structure to her images. She’s a generous writer because she doesn’t tell you exactly how you should stage her work. For example, one of the stage directions in Plucked is:
“Abigail explodes into eggs.”
~ Rachel Ganz (Plucked)
And that means whatever you want it to mean. I’m really excited by her work because it doesn’t feel safe. I never know how it’s going to go. Which is terrifying, but I feel like I have to be scared to do my best work. I can’t go in with a complete plan. It’s interesting working on this play for me, because I feel like so much of my journey developing as a director has been trying to change my relationship to fear. It’s a valuable thing, because when you’re afraid, you know you have something at risk.
Shaina: Did you start as a director?
Carly: No, I started as an actor. But I was getting to play really good roles and not feeling satisfied. I finally produced and directed a double bill of two short plays at a tiny venue. From my point of view, it was a bit of a mess because I was directing purely based on a mix of impulse and what I had liked about working with other directors, without really having a process. But it was the one time in my life when I felt like “this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” I knew there were still skills I needed to develop, so I applied to NTS and ended up getting in. Now, I’m back!
Shaina: So this is your welcome back to Toronto project?!
Carly: Yes! No pressure! With directing I find I can’t compartmentalize the way I could with acting because I had my one part. With directing I feel like I’m vulnerable all the time, because even when I’m not in rehearsal, I’m constantly processing it. It’s kind of inevitable that it becomes my everything.
Shaina: What can people expect from Plucked?
Carly: Ultimately, Plucked is not going to be for everyone. It’s dark, it’s really irreverent and the characters are not nice people. There are parts of it that will intentionally make people uncomfortable. My expectation is that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s actually exciting to me because I go to so many plays which everyone (seemingly) loves and I don’t. It’s a really alienating experience to go to a “hit” and everyone’s jumping to their feet, and I’m like… “what?!” And I feel like a lot of us secretly experience that.
I’m just not interested in doing realism in theatre. If I want to see good realism I can watch a movie. In theatre, there are so many more exciting, fun and challenging things we can do, than try to replicate real life. My hope is that this play will appeal to the people who are like me – who go see the really conventional work and are not satisfied.
Shaina: Describe “Plucked” in five words.
Company: Newborn Theatre
Written by Rachel Ganz; Directed by Carly Chamberlain; Set and Costume Design by Anna Treusch; Stage Managed and Sound Design by Daniel Bennett; Produced by Laura Paduch; Dramaturged by Jonathan Garfinkel; Lighting Design by: Frank Donato; Fight Direction by Nate Bitton; Performed by Faisal Butt, Sochi Fried, Qianna MacGilchrist, Tim Machin, Tyrone Savage, Tim Walker.
Infusing comedy, bluegrass music, and a complete lack of sentimentality, Plucked is set in a world where fear turns women into chickens, eggs are high currency, and vaginas are near-dangerous possessions. Plucked skewers patriarchy without holding punches. It exposes hard truths about fear and family. It’s funny because it’s fake; it’s vulnerable, but it’s okay because it ends with a curtain call, but it’s not okay because it’s familiar. Plucked is, after all, a true story. It’s just full of lies.
With Plucked, playwright Rachel Ganz and director Carly Chamberlain make their return to Toronto after collaborating together in Montreal at the National Theatre School of Canada. Ganz’s writing rejects the convention of the “well-made play”. Through her writing, comedy, music, and magic collide to expose humour, discomfort, and a sliver of hope.
“Rachel Ganz is an appalling, compelling, intelligent and hilarious new voice in theatre. Her play, “Vacuum”, directed for maximum distress and delight by Carly Chamberlain, was an articulate howl.” -Ann-Marie MacDonald
“Crafted chaos is one of my favorite things. It’s the feeling of a deep laugh caught in the belly because you don’t want to miss the next moment, which promises to hold as much delight as the previous. All this, plus unapologetically subversive politically-inspired outbursts!” – Tara Beagan
The Theatre Centre Mainspace
1115 Queen Street West
Friday August 5th 5:15 PM – 6:45 PM
Saturday August 6th 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
Sunday August 7th 9:15 PM – 10:45 PM
Tuesday August 9th 7:45 PM – 9:15 PM
Wednesday August 10th 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Friday August 12th 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM
Sunday August 14th 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
More Show Info: