In Conversation with playwright/director Kat Sandler and dramaturge Donna-Michelle St. Bernard on BANG BANG at Factory Theatre
Interview by Bailey Green.
We caught up with BANG BANG playwright/director Kat Sandler and dramaturge Donna-Michelle St. Bernard to discuss exploring collaboration, the stories we tell, and how sometimes it’s easy to ask but not as easy to listen.
BG: Kat, your new piece Bang Bang was commissioned by Factory Theatre. When did you start writing it and what initially inspired the piece?
Kat Sandler: Well, I had written a little bit of it at the Stratford writers retreat. When I met with Matt McGeachy and Nina Lee Aquino, they were interested in it, and decided to commission it for Factory. The show is inspired by the debate around racism, excessive force and shooting deaths by the police. And, of course, true stories and how we as artists tell those stories.
BG: How did Donna-Michelle St. Bernard come onboard? What were your initial reactions to the script Donna-Michelle?
Donna-Michelle St. Bernard: It was the summer of 2017 when we had a conversation about the play. We talked about her impetus before I looked at the script and our relative experience around the themes. When I saw the script I was surprised! I didn’t think you could do jokes with a story like this.
KS: I think there was a meeting before too! When I met with Matt and Nina, Matt said you need to meet Donna-Michelle and ask her questions. We had a beer at Tequila Bookworm and I’d like to think we hit it off! Didn’t we?
DM: We did but, at that time, I wasn’t sure if we were going to [get the chance to] work together.
BG: What has challenged you the most in the writing of this play?
KS: It’s challenging to have your perspective shaken, to listen, and ask questions, and take constructive criticism, especially when it’s something outside your experience and a topic is controversial. There isn’t a correct way to write about it.
DM: And the other side of that is when you’re trying to bridge two diverse experiences. What can be assumed and what cannot be assumed and how to articulate that space between experiences.
BG: Were there characters you were developing whose voices you found more challenging to find?
KS: Well, the white writer is an experience I have and I can find places for humour and truth to make him multi-dimensional. And of course, the black characters have lives I have not lived.
DM: In working in the room that Kat assembled, what you get reinforced is there is no singularity of experience. The presence of Kat doesn’t represent all white writers and my presence doesn’t represent all black perspectives. And we have gender perspectives, generational perspectives and cultural perspectives that broaden out the characters as individuals.
KS: And then the actors have agency over the things they say and where they stand. They will go deeper in the psyches than I ever will.
BG: Did you have a piece of advice that resonated with you or helped unlock something in the piece?
KS: I don’t know. I think there’s been a lot of talk about asking the questions and listening to the answers. It’s easy to ask but not easy to listen.
BG: What do you hope your audiences walk away with?
KS: I think we’ve tried to create a challenging play that shows multiple perspectives and that is entertaining!
BG: How was this new territory for you both, Donna-Michelle you’ve just come from Cake and Kat you’ve written about so many different topics, what was unique about this process?
KS: I have had a lot longer to sit with the ideas from years ago, and then the actual process of finishing the script, which was a full year. I want to defer more to other voices in the room… not feeling like I need to but wanting to. And having an institution like Factory behind you in this place of risk as a writer and director, it’s been nice for my process where those two things are very deeply combined.
DM: This is my first experience of production dramaturgy. I had a lot of guidance in terms of the parameters in this unique kind of work, and I’ve had an unexpected amount of voice in this process. I feel more embedded in this than I expected. The process has been surprisingly unsurprising in the things we have had to do with all of our stories—the amount of care and the immediacy of consequences needed.
BG: Any shows or creators you would like to shout out?
DM: Forbidden, which is a commissioned work for Tapestry Opera where I’m working with composer Afarin Mansouri. It’s an experiment with Persian music and opera and hip hop that runs February 8-11.
KS: I’m a big fan of Jordan Tannahill, so Declarations at Canadian Stage.
DM & KS: And Acha Bacha!
A Factory Commissioned World Premiere
Written and Directed by Kat Sandler
Performed by Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah,
Karen Robinson, Richard Zeppieri
Set design by Nick Blais
Costume design by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Lighting design by Oz Weaver
Sound design by Verne Good
Dramaturgy by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard
A white playwright uses the shooting of an unarmed young Black man by a police officer as a “jumping off point” for his hit play that is soon to be adapted into a major movie. As Hollywood comes knocking for the writer, he makes a surprise visit to the home of the officer involved. With Sandler’s trademark wit, BANG BANG traces the impact of what it means to be inspired by true events.
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst St. Toronto
February 1-18, 2018