by Bailey Green
I connected with Evan Webber to ask him a few questions about working with the current Tarragon Playwrights Unit. The upcoming Play Reading Week runs from Tuesday November 18th to Saturday November 29th in the Near Studio in the Tarragon Theatre. Each reading is at 8pm. Other Jesus, the play Webber workshopped in the Unit, will be read on Friday November 21st.
BG: Tell me a bit about yourself, where you’re from and where you live now.
EW: I’m from Ottawa, or at least I mostly grew up there. I came to Toronto when I was still young enough to do some growing up here too. But I was old enough that I only have one layer of association on things. No nostalgia.
BG: When did you start writing? Did it begin with plays or have you experimented with different forms?
EW: I always wrote things as a sort of game with myself, from when I was very young. I couldn’t read or write until I was pretty old so I listened to things and got my mom to help me write things down.
Later, writing plays became a way of expanding that game to include other people, so I started doing that when I was in high school. It gave some form to the socializing, helped me to understand the dynamics of people, so I guess I liked that. I always felt drawn more to other forms of writing, but I liked the way that reading and writing plays always implied or assumed some other collective action to come, one set in motion by the text. Most of the writing I’ve done in the last five or ten years has been with other people, collaborative writing of one kind or another.
BG: Tell me about the play you’ve written with the Unit this year.
EW: I’d had this very schematic idea to make a pageant play about the life of Jesus for non-performers, a kind of allegory about virtuosity for presumably non-virtuosic people. It’s about the life of a teacher in ancient Judea who starts performing miracles and how that changes him and his friends, and about how he takes on that identity as a miracle-performer. I guess it’s about leadership in cultural projects.
BG: What was the experience of working with the Playwrights Unit like?
EW: It’s nice to realize that everyone has a different idea about what makes something good. Like I don’t think anyone agrees. That’s really cool. That’s evident all the time.
BG: How has the Unit helped with the creation process of this play?
EW: I wanted to produce something out of the constraints of the theatre and the Playwrights Unit. There was no other good reason for me to be there or for me to take part. I don’t mean to say that you’re only supposed to do one thing in the Playwrights Unit, I just mean that there are a number of assumptions that a conventional theatre company like Tarragon holds, it’s in the walls and the floor, it affects everyone there. So I thought, maybe I can exaggerate these particular institutional assumptions into a kind of system and make something out of that. So the play is all about the Unit from that perspective. Every part of the play reflects the conditions of the Unit.
BG: What has been the most challenging aspect of this play? What themes does it deal with?
EW: Sticking with the approach. The play sketches some people who grapple with their fundamental interchangeability. So I didn’t want to write something I recognized as my own: I wanted the language of the play and its structure to come to terms with interchangeability too, to be just barely acceptable or competent. It was a challenge to stay committed to that, to not make it more clever or polished, to stick to my constraints, even when they seem to deflate the drama.
BG: What advice has helped you the most in your creative career?
EW: I don’t know. I had a dream once where I went to a Japanese restaurant with an artist I really respect and this artist told me, “Okay Evan, you’re an okay writer, you work hard and you’re thoughtful but you don’t have any vision for feelings, and without that your work is meaningless, you’re in the wrong business…”
But that was just a dream.
Playwright(s): Heiner Müller’s and Gertrude Stein’s plays always surprise me. Richard Maxwell
Author(s): Lately, I keep going back to Kathy Acker and Roberto Bolaño
Time to write: Whenever
Coffee shop: Oh, huh
Website or Blog: Facebook or maybe Bomb magazine
More information on the Tarragon Playwrights Unit and the playwrights involved can be found on their website.
Past In the Greenroom Playwrights Profiles:
Playwright Alexandria Haber: https://inthegreenroom.ca/2014/09/16/tarragon-playwright-profile-alexandria-haber/
Follow our writer Bailey on Twitter: @_BaileyGreen