“A woman in front of a microphone, a master of ceremonies of her story.” In Conversation with Anna Chatterton, creator/performer of QUIVER
Interview by Hallie Seline
I had the chance to speak with prolific Toronto playwright Anna Chatterton, creator/performer/master-of-all of QUIVER. We discussed her inspiration for the piece, the importance of collaboration, taking risks, and allowing her new pieces to breath, grow and adapt with her over time.
Hallie: This is an incredible set up for a show with one performer. How did the idea for the show and then the idea for the need of this specific performance format come about?
Anna Chatterton: This story is inspired by my teenage self. When I was fifteen my older sister moved out and my mom would, at times, spend many nights at her boyfriend’s house. While I was welcome to join them, I was often alone at home. I was close to my dad but he lived in B.C., so we would talk on the phone a lot, but it was different than having him in the same city. Though I could take care of myself, it was pretty lonely. I remember a lot of silence, coming home to silence, waking up to silence.
Quiver was born out of that memory of feeling lonely, the dynamics in our single parent family and my teenage angst and anxieties. This play is a fictional account of that period in my life, and I am playing a fictional and dramatic version of myself, my sister, and my mother. I should point out that my sister and mother are actually very different than I portray them in the play – thus, fiction. The protagonist Maddie is closest to reality and myself, though I exaggerate parts of her for dramatic effect.
Hallie: Can you speak about how the play was developed?
Anna: I originally began writing the play to be a solo show but then I started to write scenes so I thought, okay I guess this is a regular three-person play. Then I started becoming really interested in sound art, and wanted to learn more about creating live vocal effects for a theatre play. Luke Brown at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton asked me if I had a play for their studio series and I started to think Quiver might actually be the right fit as a solo play working with sound in the forefront. My partner Jim Ruxton, who is an electronics engineer, did some research and found a vocal processor that could pretty much do anything. When I approached Andrea Donaldson to direct Quiver, and told her what I wanted to do she said, “I love it – a woman in front of a microphone, a master of ceremonies of her story.” Then we hired sound designer Mike Rinaldi to help me actualize my sound dreams and we created a workshop production for Aquarius.
We talk about this show as being like a radio show that you watch happening live. I think the technology serves this story as the audience is always aware of me, the creator/performer, manipulating sound in front them while telling this intimate tale about a broken family. This woman (me, the performer) needs the technology to help tell the audience this story and I am totally in control of the storytelling.
Hallie: This is your 4th premiere in Toronto this year! Can you speak to your creation process and how you like to work and how you decide when a piece is ready to premiere?
Anna: I can write fairly quickly initially but I like to have a lot of time to sit with a piece, to come back to it again and again. I believe in the long process, often I will take up to three to four years before I feel a piece is ready to premiere. I like to allow a play/libretto breathe, as I change, grow, learn, and then let the pieces I am writing to change accordingly. I feel that ideally all plays or operas should have a workshop production, as that is the best way to see a piece, to learn what works and what doesn’t work in front of an audience (who understands they are watching a work in process), and then rewrite it before a premiere.
I really like collaborating. If I am writing a play, I like working with directors fairly early in the process so we can share our visions and dreams and thoughts and I can let those dialogues and notes guide the next drafts of the play. I also often work with my company Independent Aunties (with evalyn parry and Karin Randoja), where we create our plays together from the ground up and in the studio, evalyn and I co-write and act in the plays, and Karin dramaturges and directs. In opera the composer and I will come up with the story idea together and then I write the libretto, and the composer will set my text to music.
Hallie: What would you like to see more of in Toronto Theatre?
Anna: More Risk. Allowing ourselves to fail in order to learn. Experimenting as artists, not playing it safe.
Hallie: Any advice for young emerging artists?
Anna: Have patience, and put in the work. It takes a long time to make good art. Ask for what you want, don’t expect to be asked.
Written and Performed by Anna Chatterton
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Produced by Nightwood Theatre
Presented as a double bill with Mouthpiece
“A brilliant and brave play.” – JUDITH THOMPSON
A single mother and a rebellious teenage daughter collide when a love interest comes between them, leaving 14 year old Maddie caught in the crossfire. Armed with little more than a microphone, laptop and vocal processor, writer-performer Anna Chatterton crafts and controls a sonic landscape in a masterful performance. A dark, delicious comedy about a passionate and imperfect family.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander Street, Toronto ON, M4Y 1B4
October 21 – November 6, 2016