For those fortunate enough to have spent some time living in Montreal, there is almost an indescribable quality that artists feel while living there. It’s almost as if a certain inspiration can be breathed in, and likeminded creatives loom on every corner. From cramped jam sessions in a plateau apartment, to an over-crowded gallery opening in the Mile End, there is something imaginative at play. Greg MacArthur creates an ode to Montreal titled in A City and hopes to eternalize his time spent living there through the play. A City, produced as a gallery installation, is an immersive piece of art that hopes to interact with its audience through a shared experience.
We had the opportunity to discuss A City with Greg and better understand the inspiration behind it.
Kimberley Drapack: What inspired you to write A City?
Greg MacArthur: In a word: Montreal. I had been living in that city — after moving there from T.O. — for a dozen or so years. It was a life-changing time for me. I fell in love with Montreal — my life, my friends, the physical space. When I knew my time was coming to an end, I wanted to immortalize the city somehow. The result is this play.
K: A City is said to be presented as a gallery installation or tableau vivant. Has the play been adapted for this format, or is it specified within the script?
GM: I always intended this work to be presented outside of a traditional theatre space. My works of the last few years have been playing with the conflation of live performance, text, sculpture, and installation. I am interested in using alternative spaces and venues for my work to see how it affects the viewing experience.
K: What does this set-up offer an audience as opposed to a more traditionally staged play?
GM: I think ideally it will make an audience feel more immersed in the work. It will challenge their notions of what live theatre — narrative representational work — can be. By placing this work in a new or different context, hopefully the audience will relate to it in different, or surprising ways.
K: In what ways does verbatim theatre allow the script to come alive?
GM: There is a level of casualness, of authenticity, of failure in a verbatim text. People do not speak in well-constructed paragraphs or complete thoughts. We are a changeable, messy, conflicting species. A verbatim text allows for all the strangeness and absurdities of humanity to shine through, unpolished, unedited. That being said, most of this script has been written, re-written, reworked, invented. It is meant to replicate true speech, verbatim speech. It is not truly a verbatim piece of work.
K: You stated that A City is reflective of your time spent in Montréal. Why is that?
GM: Again, the city had a profound effect on me. The script is a mash-up of my experiences, friends, hang outs, dive bars, street corners, mythologies, walks, dinner parties, strip clubs, etc. It represents a very specific time in my life. It is reminiscent of a diary for me.
K: What does a type of theatre that strips away the fourth wall offer to its audience?
GM: A more authentic, present, inclusive experience. There is no attempt at illusion or representation. There are only live bodies in space. The performers, the audience all share in the experience, together, equally, being in the here and now. No walls, no fences, no barriers.
K: It was noted that this story is meant to “explore that time in your life when you’re young, bold, feeling like the world belongs to you and your future is guaranteed, and then it inevitably comes apart.” What does this mean to you?
GM: I think everyone has a place, a time, where everything felt, if even for a brief time, perfect. Your age, your friends, your space, everything. You couldn’t imagine ever leaving, or wanting to leave. But you do. You have to. Montreal was like that to me. A crazy lover, a mysterious stranger, an intoxicating late night random encounter.
K: When writing A City, you had a large amount of source material to work with. How did you decide on what you were going to use and what you were going to save for a rainy day?
GM: Anything goes…as long as it doesn’t give away where the bodies are buried. Or get anyone arrested.
K: What lessons can we learn from A City?
GM: I don’t think there’s any lessons. I hope, rather, it jars, for members of the audience, memories — of people, of places, of times of joy and loss and love and youth.
K: A City is a piece within a trilogy of plays you have written. How do the other two stories relate to one another? Are there certain themes that crossover? What can we learn when comparing the three?
GM: All three pieces — A City, A Man Vanishes, and The Golden Suicides — are focused on the intersection of life and art, of truth and fiction, and of performance and installation. They all share a unique creative aesthetic: They are meant to be staged environmentally, as installations rather than traditional theatre pieces. The scripts are a conflation of verbatim/found text, fictional writings, and confessional musings. These works are a departure for me. They allow me to move away from a more traditional theatre aesthetic and to explore a more multi- (or inter-) disciplinary practice.
K: What can an audience member expect from A CITY?
GM: A genuine experience. A picture. A memory. Dried chickpeas. And Vitamin Water.
Don’t miss out on seeing A City at Artscape Sandbox from March 14th to April 2nd. Bring a friend, bring your high school gym teacher, or bring your grandma, and don’t miss out on the fun. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.