An interview with Alice Abracen

Alice Abracen, Montreal playwright, actress and student at the National Theatre School of Canada has been featured in a number of festivals including Montreal Fringe and the Calgary Region One Act Play Festival. Her play Omission will be produced by the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto in January, and will be touring in 2018. Our media editor, Megan Hunt, sat down with Alice to talk about her work and experiences as a playwright.

Megan Hunt: Were you always drawn to writing for the stage?

Alice Abracen: I’ve always been very drawn to storytelling. It started as a kid in the back seat of the car,  with action figures or whatever I could get my hands on. I would concoct epic, elaborate fantasy tales. Then one day my mother told me, hey, you could write these down. It hadn’t really occurred to me at the time, and that was just transforming.

I actually first came into it as a lot of playwrights [do], which is as an actor. My mother started a children’s theatre company, and in grade six my mother let me start to write plays for it. I loved it. I wrote a Shakespearean musical, which was just an epic piece of fan fiction. I was mostly writing more poetry and novels for high school, then I came back to playwriting through the Dawson Theatre Club. I put on a play with my friends and peers, I got to write my own jokes and I’ve been a little addicted to that ever since. By university, I knew that was how I wanted to explore what I wanted to explore, and ask the questions I wanted to ask.

Hunt: Do you think that playwriting is a craft where theatrical experience is necessary or at least important?  Do you think that playwrights without experience in acting or the technical aspects of theatre are at a disadvantage?

Abracen: A lot of people find their way to playwriting in different ways. Some people find it through acting and directing, but some start by writing poetry or novels. For myself, starting as an actor has helped. When I’m starting to lose the thread of a character, I try to look at it as an actor would see it, and that’ll [tell] me, “oh yeah, this is what I need to fix”. But everyone has their different approach. I think a very key part of playwriting is listening. A lot of exercises in playwriting classes started with just going out and sitting on a park bench and listening. And once you get an ear for dialogue, you can go and find your own voice.

Hunt: Many of your plays, including The Guest and Omission explore the relationship between violence and religion. Could you tell me a little bit more about the experience of writing about such explosive topics for a live audience?

Abracen: The question of religion and its ties to tyranny and violence in its more extreme forms is something that’s always interested me. It’s been the framework for a lot of my plays and university essays, as well as some tipsy conversations with friends. When you’re sitting in the audience and you’re waiting for a particular moment or line that you know is a little controversial or an idea that people will recoil from, there’s a bit of squirming, but there’s nothing as thrilling as hearing an audience gasp, and hearing the ripples of conversation afterwards. I think ultimately people want to feel challenged when they come to the theatre.

Hunt: How involved are you in the productions of your work? Do you think this is a normal level of involvement for a playwright?

Abracen: It totally depends on the playwright. Some playwrights work very intensely with another collaborator. Some playwrights will finish typing it, hand it off, and never look at it again. One of the dreams, I guess, is that one day you have so many productions across the country that you couldn’t possibly be involved in all of them. I’ve been involved in different ways with different shows. I’ve never actually acted in Omission, but I’ve acted in other shows. Finding great people to work with is really important. A really good friend of mine is directing a tour of Omission, and it’s great. We’ve collaborated before; she’s brilliant, I trust her, so I’m really excited to see it passed off.