As someone who has been involved in theatre in the past and has acted in both stage performances and radio dramas, I was quite excited when I heard that Lynda Williams’ The Courtesan Prince was being converted into a live theatrical performance. I have often wondered what it would be like to act in a performance of speculative fiction, so I was quite excited that Michelle Carraway has allowed me to do this interview with her to share some of those quirky theatrical insights with the readers.
The performances of The Courtesan Prince will take place in November 2013 and will occur at The River Rock Casino (tentative venue, may be subject to change)
Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about the transformation of Lynda Williams’ book The Courtesan Prince into a live performance?
Michelle Carraway: Transforming “The Courtesan Prince” into a play was remarkably easy. Lynda Williams’ style is a lot like a play of Shakespeare’s if it was written as a novel rather then as a play.
Courtesan Prince reads like a classic fairy tale and translating it into a play has been a very pleasurable experience. It is a rags to riches story about a noble prince who was stolen away by the machinations of royal intrigue. Forced into humiliation, the prince is always noble and his true nature shines forth despite his situation. Courtesan Prince is filled with the joy of restoration of position and wrongs being righted. These are all traits that fit well with format of a play.
If you add in the many cases of mistaken identity and the spice of a collision of cultures, you have many of the ingredients that Lynda wrote into The Courtesan Prince and you can easily see why I was inspired to transform the novel into a play for everyone to enjoy.
Spec Can: What inspired you to change Lynda Williams’ The Courtesan Prince into a play?
Michelle Carraway: The inspiration was mostly in listening to Lynda Williams read her novels out loud. I was staying with Lynda and her family for a couple of weeks and every night, Lynda would read a chapter of one of her novels. Listening to the stories that I had heard before in this context I was inspired to have other people see the stories in the same light as I was seeing them.
When Lynda reads her stories, she can’t help but to be a dramatic reader as all of her characters are alive inside of her and she channels them forth both when she writes and when she re-reads the stories.
My imagination was taken by the idea of sharing what I was seeing with a larger audience. As I began to formulate this as an idea I began to ‘find’ the characters very vividly in other people who I then cast to play the parts. The stories that Lynda Williams writes want to be enjoyed by people and the characters want to be seen. My play is a venue for them that I am honoured to be able to provide.
Spec Can: What changes to the story of The Courtesan Prince did you have to do in order to change it into a play?
Michelle Carraway: The biggest changes that I have made to the story are simplifications. I am closely adhering to Lynda’s main plot, that of the commoner Von becoming Prince Amel and to the theme of cultures colliding.
Many sub plots and minor characters have been cut from the play in order to keep it to a level that I can manage, both as a director and as a play wright.
There won’t be any big surprises for fans of the Okal Rel Universe although I’m sure that there will be some longing for beloved minor characters and the rich subplots that fill the story.
The subplots are wealthy enough to fill out a whole play of their own so the main characters, Von and Ann are the only ones who are closely followed.
Spec Can: What are some key things that you are hoping to capture in the performance?
Michelle Carraway:I am hoping to capture the passion and purity that Lynda Williams’ writes into her characters. She is a writer who doesn’t machinate against her audience or her characters and she only writes the truth of the story. I hope to capture that clarity in my version of Courtesan Prince.
I also hope to capture the way that Lynda brought a new freshness to a rags to riches story and the depth of the characters that play in it.
Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about the actors and actresses involved?
Michelle Carraway: The actors and actresses that I have selected so far are all uniformly passionate about their craft and enthusiastic to the telling of a beautiful story.
They all come from very different backgrounds although they are all local to Vancouver and are doing the play out of love of the story and the craft. Since we have started to get together and read the scripts, we have become fast friends and have begun working as a group on some other fun projects that we have all inspired in each other.
The Courtesan Prince play is much like a creative collective rather than a Broadway play. You will find the same honest devotion that Lynda Williams writes with in each of the cast and crew members.
To find out more about the individual actors and actresses you can go to our blog site and read bios and see pictures of them. They have all agreed to write a short essay about how they felt when they first met the character that they are playing and their enthusiasm for them.
Spec Can: Were there any particular looks or personalities you were hoping to capture in your casting call?
Michelle Carraway: I have definitely been looking for the right person for each part. There are still several parts that are not cast yet as I search for the right person for the job.
Ann of New Beach, played by Nicole Anthony, looks as though she stepped off of the cover of The Courtesan Prince. When she reads the part of Ann she has exclaimed on several occasions: ‘I LOVE Ann, she is so my new hero!’.
Anthony Stark, who plays the part of Von who becomes Prince Amel, looks almost identical to Lynda Williams’ many loving descriptions of Amel. When I announced that he would be playing the role at a party, all eyes turned to Anthony, then, almost as one, everyone began to nod and said, ‘Yeah, I can totally see him as Amel.”
Spec Can: What initial chemistry have you seen between the performers? How will this work for the stage or provide challenges?
Michelle Carraway: As the actors meet each other and start to read together they have found some great chemistry. The actors who play Thomas and Ann went to acting school together and they naturally play with each other at gentle jibes that flower marvelously into the lascivious looks and open approaches from Thomas and the hard nudges that Ann responds to Thomas with.
As everyone becomes friends their ability to interact with physical comedy and force improves as well and provides flavor and validity to the scenes.
Spec Can: What are you doing about the set? What are some key features of the set that really excite you?
Michelle Carraway: The sets will be painted on a fabric background so that they can be rolled up when we are finished and used for future productions.
As with any production a lot of what will make it all come together is a lot of creativity and hopefully some good luck.
Spec Can: What are some of the exciting things you are hoping to do about costumes?
Michelle Carraway: Costumes are going to be a group effort. As many of the styles are a sort of fantasy Restoration era there will be a lot of corsets and fancy dress for women and men both.
Local shops are excited for the opportunity to be involved in the ORU legacy and many of the more valuable pieces, such as corsets have been offered for use in the play by local stores such as “Lace Embrace”.
Spec Can: How closely are you working with Lynda Williams on this performance? What input has she provided to the process so far?
Michelle Carraway: I have been working quite closely with Lynda Williams and also with her daughter, Jennifer Lott to read over the play for ideas for inaccuracy or misinterpretation. So far everyone seems happy with the streamlined version of Courtesan Prince. Lynda is very pragmatic of the need to simplify down to the major plotline and characters in order to put the story into a form short enough to put on stage.
Spec Can: What are some of the initial challenges to the performance that you have encountered so far?
Michelle Carraway: The initial challenges thus far have been finding all the right people to play the characters. The two characters, Di Mon Monitum and Ranar of Rire have been the hardest to cast so far. Capturing their essential dignity and motivation will be a difficult task that still awaits the right actors.
Spec Can: From my own years in the theatre, I know there are always those funny behind-the-scenes moments that really bind a cast together. What are some of the quirky, funny things that have happened so far?
Michelle Carraway: When I first met Andre Roshkov, the actor who plays Thomas Revert, I referred to him as Thomas within two sentences of having met him before he even read his first lines as Thomas.
Spec Can: What special effects (lighting, stage movement, etc.) are you using for this performance?
Michelle Carraway: I am getting the assistance of professional fencers in order to choreograph the fight scenes for the play.
I am also considering utilizing the expertise of local talented burlesque dancers for various scenes, especially the ones that take place at a brothel.
Spec Can: What other performances have you directed? What directing experience do you have before this?
Michelle Carraway: I have directed several independent movies, including Truth and Wine which is still in production. I have also directed many plays over the years including The Tempest and A Mid-summer’s Nights dream.
Spec Can: What other Canadian Speculative Fiction would you like to see transformed into performances?
Michelle Carraway: I would love to see some of Margaret Atwood’s writing such as After the Deluge and Oryx and Crake transformed into performances. I think that you could tantalize audiences with nearly all speculative fiction transformed into a live performance. Imagine what fun it would be to do a performance of the The Life of Pi! If it is done is such a way that the audience accepts the actors as the embodiment of their beloved characters and as long as scripts follow the reality of the novels to the best of their ability, it is always a winning combination.
Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add?
Michelle Carraway: Definitely! Stay tuned for more information and updates. Everyone needs to come and see this play. Lynda Williams has encompassed an entire universe in her novels and this play is an expression of a great Canadian’s achievements. It is the pride of Canada that we produce so many wonderful creative people but it is our shame that they aren’t promoted and supported more then they are. Show your support for our home grown achievements and have a great time while you do it.
I want to thank Ms. Carraway for this exciting glimpse into the world of speculative fiction theatre and for letting us see her creative process as it unfolds. This has been a great opportunity to see the collaborative writing process and I hope to hear more from Michelle Carraway and Lynda Williams about this project as it unfolds.