Playing with Fire- Interview with Louise Arsenault

Interview by Alexander Luiz Cruz


Louise Arsenault, a Concordia alumna, graduate of The National Theatre School (Playwriting), and English literature professor at Dawson College, is an award-winning Montreal playwright and visual artist. Her productions include Bivouac (Imago Theatre) Innerspeak (Queen Street Theatre), Dating Jesus (Unwashed Grape), and “Strange Fire” which won 2nd place in the Write-on-Q! Competition in November.

Soliloquies: Louise, your bio is really quite extensive. How did you get into playwriting?

Louise Arsenault: I started writing plays when I was pretty young. I started off in acting, but I found the roles for women were really limited, and I thought I could do something about that. I also write poetry and paint, which I find, in a lot of ways, easier than playwriting, since it’s from a different place in yourself. Now I mostly correct essays, which is not as fun!

Let’s talk about “Strange Fire”. What was your inspiration for it? When did you start working on it?

I started working on this about 4 years ago, and it’s actually based on a real event; a friend of mine that actually self-immolated on Mount Royal almost 40 years ago. And it’s always troubled me; I’ve always thought, you know, what would’ve made somebody do something like this?

And there was this girl that I was teaching, a young woman from Pakistan, who came to talk to me about her arranged marriage. She was being pressured to go back to Pakistan and marry a man that she’d never met, that her parents were Skyping, and she wasn’t even allowed to look at his face. These two events eventually ended up in the play.

And how does the food addiction play into that?

I’m essentially looking at women’s issues, and how still, even today in the 21st century, issues like bulimia and anorexia nervosa still affect quite a bit of women. I’m also looking at addiction, and the idea that nobody can really save you from addiction— you have to be willing to save yourself. I feel like it’s something that’s not explored very much, so I wanted to address that, since it’s been very problematic in my life, especially when I was at university.

You said you’ve worked with Playwright’s Workshop on this. How was that experience?

Playwright’s Workshop worked with me for quite a few years on this, and it was great. I started this off, as I usually do, with a monologue, and then I moved on to writing. There were initially quite a few characters in the play, and we did about five workshops (which is quite a lot!). The dramaturg really challenged me to get at the core of what I was trying to say… so we actually killed off a few characters. I owe a lot of the play to them. I’ve worked with them for about 30 years; my first play in Montreal was through them.

How many re-writes of this play have you done?

It’s hard to tell… I think I’m on my 33rd re-write, but it’s not a lot, just another file.

Aside from PWW, what other resources are available to aspiring playwrights who want to get their work out there?

There’s the French version of Playwright’s Workshop – the CEAD. There’s Infinithéâtre, obviously, for developing scripts. I also think it’s great to apply to the Canada Council of the Arts, and apply to competitions like Write-On-Q! You can also put on a production yourself, which I’ve done at Theatre St Catherine, and it went really well, so sometimes that’s the best way to start out.

Any final words for our emerging Montreal playwrights?

Move to Toronto (laughs). My advice would be to get a job that’s related to writing, like teaching, so you can still be involved in that world. I’d suggest not to give up, see a lot of plays, and keep writing, as often as you can.

Submissions are open for Write-On-Q! 2018 and can be submitted to the Infinithéâtre offices from now until Tues., Sept. 4 2018 at 5413, boul. St-Laurent, Suite 302, Montreal QC H2T 1S5.

Every year Infinithéâtre proudly presents Québec’s newest discoveries in THE PIPELINE, an annual series of free and public play readings where the audience takes centre stage, offering valuable feedback that furthers script development and helps with future season selections. Louise’s reading of her play “Strange Fire” is on Friday, December 8th at 7PM at Espace Knox.

For tickets and more info visit: