Kat Sandler's newest play BANG BANG (Playwrights Canada Press), features not only a play within a play but a movie within in a play as well. When a playwright writes the story of a Black female cop who is placed on leave after shooting a young, unarmed Black man, things get very complicated. But when Hollywood comes knocking and adapts the play - twisting many of the facts - things really go off the rails.
Tackling gun violence, police brutality, art, and appropriation, BANG BANG is timely, intense, and darkly comedic as it asks important questions about responsibility, whether personal, political, or artistic.
We're excited to welcome Kat to Open Book today to talk about the play through the lens of its eye-catching title as part of our Entitled interview.
She tells us about weaving the play within BANG BANG into its action, about the clever double meanings hiding in her single-word titles, and about her next project, a darkly witty fairy tale-inspired murder mystery.
Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.
BANG BANG is the title of my latest published play. It’s one of my favourite titles, because it’s onomatopoeic, self-referential, and metathetical in its own way. BANG BANG questions the impact of what it means to be inspired by true events, and examines our responsibility in storytelling, so I wanted a title that reflects a reinterpretation of an idea at every stage, from incident through different arts forms and shifts in storytelling.
BANG BANG tells the story of a white male writer who reads about the shooting of an unarmed Black youth by a young Black female police officer. When a major Hollywood studio options the play to turn it into a movie and casts a young Black male star in the part of the cop, the star wants to meet the person the play is based on, and the writer heads to the home of the real cop to try to get ahead of the chaos. The title of the playwright’s play, which focused on whether she had a right to shoot, was Hands Up. The title of the studio’s film, which warps the narrative, is Two Shots. Over the course of my play, the characters read the playwright’s play out loud, including the stage direction of the sound effect in the shooting moment: Bang! Bang!
What, in your opinion, is the most important function of a title?
For me, a title should loudly announce the central idea of a play; but also grab someone and shake them and say, HEY YOU, LOOK AT ME AND THINK A LITTLE, OKAY?
Because I’m also a director and producer and spend a lot of time thinking about marketing an experience, I’m trying to think about the most direct and interesting way to convey an idea, but also get bums in seats and create buzz. As soon as someone reads or hears the title of the play, it should pique interest, therefore my titles are almost always single or double word titles, usually with hard consonants, so it makes the title exciting to say as well as hear, i.e., Cockfight, Rock, Sucker, Retreat, Late Night.
I’m also usually thinking of pairing the title with a promotional image, so how can it interact with an image to excite a reader/viewer? Mustard must be about a condiment, but paired with the image of a jester hat, it raises a bunch of fun questions that you’d have to read the play description or book jacket to learn that it's about an imaginary friend.
I think titles are also great place to mess with expectations of tone through use of font/style and capitals. Many of my titles including BANG BANG, LOVESEXMONEY and my upcoming piece, YAGA, are all written in caps, which convey a sense of my brash style.
For me, a title will also often jumpstart the development process of a piece. I’ll see a word or have an idea for a concept and title it, and then develop the play from that, just because I like the word or the connotations that arise from it. Sometimes, just for practice, I’ll use a random word generator to throw out words, and imagine what the play accompanying that title might be.
What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)
Punch Up is a play about a hapless idiot who kidnaps his favourite comedian to teach him to be funny so he can win the heart of the Saddest Girl in the World, who is of course, suicidal. I had the title long before I started the play (which is normal for me—I almost always write titles before the play). “Punch up” is a comedy term that refers to improving someone’s jokes, but also sounds like a violent fight. I love it because the dual meaning is both funny and vicious, like the play, which is really about the intersection of comedy and tragedy, and the lengths we’ll go to for love. I developed it with some of my best friends, and the funniest people I’ve ever met.
What is your favourite title as a reader, from someone else's work?
Little One, by Hannah Moscovitch. It’s gorgeous—tender and creepy, tells a story as you say it, and conjures all kinds of images.
How do you feel about single-word titles?
I love them! I love the power and directness, the pomp and circumstance that comes from a single word or name as a title—it grabs you in a way that a multi-word title can’t, and I think forces the engagement of the reader in a different way.
I’m also uncommonly fond of wordplay in my single-word titles, which can be alternately very successful and totally obnoxious. Liver is about a man who dies from cirrhosis and has his liver removed to be studied, but subsequently wakes up on a gurney, very much alive. Sucker is about siblings in the wake of a terrible tragedy that befalls their town. They’re “suckers” in that the millionaire who caused the tragedy is trying to buy off the grief-stricken townspeople, but the heartbroken sister is also suffering delusions that she’s become a vampire. Delicacy is about two couples who meet at a sex club and reconvene weeks later at the older couple’s condo over fancy appetizers (delicacies) where their views clash on everything from racism to pregnancy. The title is my nod to the phrase “a delicate condition,” which was the original title of the play. I suppose these are more in-jokes for myself, but I like to think that after viewing or reading the play, they might elicit a wry chuckle (or a groan).
What are you working on now?
YAGA is a genre-bending fairy tale meets whodunit inspired by the notorious figure of Baba Yaga, the hideous old witch who lives alone in the woods grinding the bones of the wicked. A gruesome murder in a small town leads a local sheriff, a young detective, and a university professor with a taste for younger men into a labyrinth of secret lives, ancient magic, and multiple suspects.
The word “Baba” usually means a version of grandmother (i.e., babushka) and the play is about, in part, women reclaiming their stories and being seen as powerful individuals, so by removing the part of her moniker that helps make her an evil old villain, perhaps we can give identity and voice to the woman behind the witch.
You can see YAGA at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, September 17-October 20th, 2019.
Kat Sandler is a writer, screenwriter, director, and the artistic director of Theatre Brouhaha. She has directed fourteen of her original plays, including the Dora Mavor Moore Award–nominated Bang Bang, the Toronto Best of Fringe hits Bright Lights, Punch Up, Help Yourself, and Delicacy, and Liver, Cockfight, and Retreat. Her play Mustard won the 2016 Dora Award for Outstanding New Play. She was the 2015 recipient of NOW Magazine’s Audience Choice Award for Best Director and Best Playwright. She is the Canada Council Playwright-in-Residence at Tarragon Theatre and is currently working on two television productions with Shaftsbury and eOne. Kat is a graduate of Queen’s University. She lives in Toronto.