Michael Grant on His (Naked) New Play & Creating a Fictional Small Town Across His Works
Norm and Ruth were just trying to get their marriage back on track. A simple idea: to head back to a place they knew they'd been happy and see if they can re-capture the spark there. But the struggling couple gets a cheeky surprise in Michael Grant's funny and sneakily poignant play Bare Bear Bones (Playwrights Canada Press), when it turns out the campground they remember so fondly - and have unthinking returned to - is now a nudist resort.
The jiggly antics that ensue are not only hilarious, but grounded in an empathetic portrayal of just how naked and vulnerable we're willing - and sometimes unwilling - to be in front of the ones we love. An unorthodox love story, Bare Bear Bones is an entertaining look at the bits of love we're prone to covering up.
Today we're talking to Michael about writing Bare Bear Bones and his life as a playwright in general for our On Stage interview series. He tells us about a formative moment at the iconic Stratford Festival, how he gets his characters talking to one another, and how he weaves characters from his previous plays into his new works.
Do you remember an early experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a playwright?
I would have to say The Melville Boys by Norm Foster. I was in a high school drama festival and one of the other schools did a couple of scenes from it. I was blown away. I could relate to the people on the stage. I knew people like that. It changed how I approached theatre in general. It never dawned on me before that people would enjoy hearing stories of ordinary people without singing and dancing or a ton of symbolism. Growing up in rural southwestern Ontario, I didn’t have easy access to scripts, but I found a way to get that one quickly.
What is the first play you remember being affected by, and how did you happen to see or read it?
Grade eleven English class. I don’t know why because we were not studying Shakespeare but we went on a class trip to see Richard III in Stratford. I was mesmerized. As my classmates took the opportunity to nap, I was literally on the edge of my seat. When it was over I remember pointing at the stage saying. “That! That is what I want to do! I want to be a part of something like that!” Several years later I went off to theatre school but it wasn’t until years later that found my place as a playwright. In retrospect, considering I loved to write stories as a boy, it’s odd it took me so long to find the right path.
Is your writing process totally page-based, or do you sometimes speak dialogue aloud or try physically blocking out scenes while writing to work through things?
Of course there is always an eye on the number of pages but I feel my writing is character driven. Before I begin writing, I develop the characters. Quite often they are based on real people I know. I’ll create them to a point that they become predictable in my mind so essentially, if character 1 says something to character 2, character 2 will obviously say this which Character 1 will then respond with that. Creating a full rounded character is key. If I can do that, it’s simply like documenting a conversation in my head.
What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
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The people around me. My friends and family. My first play, Hamish, was inspired by the adoption of our first son. Bare Bear Bones was an exploration of relationships inspired by my own marriage, my parents, and grandparents. The bond and communication that is required to make it work. Shorthanded was inspired by my neighbours, one a rather acclaimed hockey coach and another who went on to create a local sledge hockey team. Quite often on a Saturday I’d find them talking hockey on my front lawn. Suburban Standoff was inspired by the daughter of close friends. I hadn’t written anything for some time and she kept asking me several times a week “if I had written anything?” I eventually sat down and started writing. My wife, Sherry asked me what I was doing and I told her, “I’m writing a play, I can’t disappoint Alex one more time.”
Are there themes, objects, or activities that you see cropping up repeatedly in your work that you are surprised by?
There are definitely threads woven within my writing. I don’t know if I’d say they surprise me, but they are there. I tend to focus on relationships. Family and friends are important to me and that spills over into my writing. The character are all very small town, relatable people. The people I know. I actually started weaving my plays together. One will reference another play or character in it. For example, In Suburban Standoff, Ruth and Doris from Bare Bear Bones come to the front door but never enter. I once described it as a fictional small town. I’m simply writing the tales that happen there.
What was the last play you saw or read that really knocked your socks off?
That’s easy. BANG BANG by Kat Sandler. I technically didn’t read it or see it but listened to it on the PlayME podcast. I’ve replayed it and replayed it over the past year or so. Certain scenes I’ll pull up and play for my wife. I love the characters and the timing and pace.
Michael Grant is an award-winning playwright who began writing out of necessity. He needed a script about maple syrup. Since then he has gone on to write five one-act plays and six full-length plays with more to come. His work has been produced across Canada. His first full length, Hamish, is part of the Grassroots play anthology. His third play, Shorthanded, received the Stage West Comedy Award in 2012. Other titles include Suburban Standoff and Shorthanded: A Ladies Game. He lives in Elmira, Ontario, with his wife Sherry and his three children.