“Exploring Archetypes, Storytelling & Country Music that isn’t about Football” – In Conversation with Matthew Gorman, writer of WESTERN, a play with music at NSTF
Interview by Hallie Seline
I spoke with Matthew Gorman, writer of Western, a play with music, at the Next Stage Festival, to discuss exploring the Western genre in the theatre, using music as a driving force in storytelling and the excitement of watching the NSTF grow over the years.
Hallie Seline: Tell me a bit about Western, a play with music.
Matthew Gorman: Western started as a retelling of a Johnny Cash song. It’s actually written by Sting, but Johnny’s version is the good one. It’s a song about a boy accidentally shooting a man and being hanged for it. I had initially intended it to be a solo piece and just follow along with the plot from the song but as I got going, I started to like the people around that story more and more. After trying a few versions of the script, we hit on the idea of a theatrical campfire, where a story was shared between the characters and the audience rather than having it presented in a more traditional fashion. This gave us more space to breathe and see what parts of the story needed telling and what needed showing.
HS: What drew you to explore the Western genre in a theatrical setting with this piece?
MG: I like archetypes. You know a bad guy is a bad guy because he’s the bad guy. People have expectations of characters in a western, so you don’t need to spend time explaining who everyone is. The sheriff is the sheriff. You’re playing with the form those characters take.
HS: The show is described as being “a play with music”. What kind of role does the music play in the show and why was it important in the creation of the piece?
MG: Any good campfire has music playing. You pass around instruments and people take turns sharing a song. When we initially approached Gord (Bolan) about providing some music for an early staged reading, we thought he’d maybe play a few Hank Williams songs between scenes. When he showed up, he’d scored the whole thing and written a few originals. His presence in that reading showed us that he could be a featured part of the story, a driving force that influences the characters, rather than just accompaniment. We called it a play with music because it wasn’t a traditional musical, it’s a play where people sing sometimes.
HS: What are you most looking forward to this Next Stage Festival? (aside from the presentation of your piece, of course.)
MG: I was a bartender at the first couple Next Stage Festivals, so I’m always looking forward to how the feel of the whole festival grows every year and things change.
HS: If your audience could listen to a song, album or playlist before coming to see Western, what would you recommend?
MG: People should listen to lots of John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Bonnie Prince Billy, Neko Case, some Gillian Welch. Any country music that isn’t about football.
Rapid Fire Question Round:
Favourite Western Film: The Proposition. Nick Cave wrote all the music, it’s great.
What are you watching these days? I’ve been on tour most of the fall, so a lot of Netflix. I watched a bunch of Penny Dreadful. It was amazing and terrible and cheesy and great and Simon Russel Beale is always delightful.
Where do you look for inspiration? Art galleries, always.
Favourite place in the city? We’ve been members at the zoo for years. We almost got married there. It’s the best.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten? Write whatever you want, let someone else worry about how to stage it.
Describe Western in 5 words: A campfire where people die.
Western, a play with music
Presented by The Harvey Dunn Campfire
Text by Matthew Gorman
Music by Gordon Bolan
Director Geoffrey Pounsett
Featuring Mairi Babb, Gordon Bolan, Brendan Murray, and Caroline Toal
Part myth, part campfire song, this show is a reckless chase through an imagined western landscape. Nance wants a son, Reach wants a home, Dirt wants release, Jenet wants her brother, and Rabbit just wants to run. Join these acclaimed indie theatre artists ‘round the fire for a story about family, blood, and claiming what’s yours.
Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)
January 05 at 06:30 PM
January 06 at 05:15 PM
January 07 at 07:30 PM
January 08 at 04:15 PM
January 10 at 06:30 PM
January 12 at 07:15 PM
January 13 at 08:45 PM
January 14 at 02:15 PM
January 15 at 03:30 PM