Performing Pontypool?

A review of Tony Burgess’ Pontypool radio drama script (Playwrights Canada Press, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille

I should start out by noting that the 2009 film Pontypool by Tony Burgess and Bruce McDonald is one of my favourite films, so I was extremely excited to hear from a colleague, Cat Ashton, that Tony Burgess had written a radio drama version of the story. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy Tony Burgess’ novel Pontypool Changes Everything upon which both the film and the radio drama were based, but I was impressed by the radio drama and its potential for performance. I have directed and performed radio dramas in the past, and therefore took a look at the script both for its literary quality and its performability. 

The characters in this radio drama were rich and complex, with intentions that could be sketched out through their dialogue, but they also allowed a lot of room for actors to bring out the complexities of these characters and add their own voices and perspectives.

The setting for the play allows a lot of potential for it to be performed. Since all of it takes place in a radio station, and most of it occurs in the sound booth, a lot of the complexities of space and setting changes are unnecessary. 

I should mention that my first day on the air occurred after watching the 2009 Pontypool and it heightened my experience of being in a sound studio, watching the various dials change, my voice oscillating on the screen, and adjusting dials to the performance of sound. I couldn’t help but think of myself as inside of the film. Performing Pontypool on air could increase this potential, letting the radio drama performers feel the setting of the station influence their delivery of their lines. 

Pontypool is a radio drama about the power of language to turn people into zombies. It is an outbreak story, situated in the small Ontario town of Pontypool where certain words in the English language have become contaminated, and where these words are spreading, transforming people into zombies who seek out voices and infect the host. It is a play that is about the power of words and the power of the radio for spreading words like viruses The play makes the reader hyper aware of the way that they are speaking and understanding language, allowing the reader to feel the potential of being infected by the words they are seeing on the page (or, if it is performed, the words they are hearing). There is a sense of danger about reading the script, a feeling that one’s mind, one’s language is potentially dangerous.

It is a play that evokes the concern that even our inquisitive nature is a danger to us because the star of the play, shock jock radio host Grant Mazzy perceives it to be important to investigate and share information about the virus even after he realizes that speaking in any way would allow the virus to spread. He has to balance his need to deliver news… with the fact that the delivery system (him) is contaminated. 

This is an infectious play, one that needles its way into your brain and invites you to keep contemplating it, keep questioning it, even as you realize that the content of the play is telling you that investigating and contemplating can be infectious.

To dicover more about the Pontypool radio drama, visit http://www.playwrightscanada.com/pontypool.html .

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 52: Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles talk about nEvermore

Edgar Allan Poe has inspired people with his darkly delightful prose and poetry, drawing the reader into a world of the macabre and mysterious. On this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I talk to two authors who were inspired to edit a collection of works that are inspired by Poe.

Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles talk about the collection “nEvermore” and about Poe’s work in general. They discuss the power of this collection for creating a certain aesthetic feeling, the tensions between maintaining Poe’s voice while also allowing for new authors to insert their voices into the text.

I interviewed Kilpatrick and Soles at Fan Expo Canada, so I appologize for the background noise and the issues it created regarding sound quality.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

You can discover more about nEvermore on Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/nevermore/nevermore-catalog.html

The Speculating Canada Website and the Speculating Canada Radio Show on Trent Radio BOTH Won Aurora Awards

Thanks to the support and encouragement of fans, followers, friends, and interviewees, BOTH the Speculating Canada website and the radio show Speculating Canada on Trent Radio won Aurora Awards. These awards wouldn’t have been possible if all of you weren’t willing to go on this adventure into speculation with me, creating a space where we can all ask powerful questions, explore the deep ideas that SF literature evokes, and imagine possibilities. 

Speculating Canada (whether in its web form or over the airwaves) is ultimately a teaching forum. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean that it is sharing facts (as some people assume teaching is), but instead that it recognizes that fans and authors are brilliant people, more than capable of thinking of the deeper ideas and messages in their literature and interrogating those deeper ideas. We as fans and authors know that little secrets – that even though we say our literature is “just a fun read”, it is always so much more because we understand ourselves and our world through stories, and speculative literature always has deeper questions in it. After all, the term Speculative Fiction says it all – it tells us that we are reading a literature of speculation, of questions, and we all know that we learn best by ASKING questions, not by just giving answers to them (because no answer covers everything). So, Speculating Canada is a forum for questions, for pondering, and for learning TOGETHER. I am honoured to be on that journey with each of you.

Many of you already know this, but the Speculating Canada website originated from a couple of factors that tied together. The first of this factors was my experience of my own disability. I have always had learning disabilities relating to memory, but a few years ago, an unrelated health disability began to create further memory issues and in order to keep up with my own research, I started to write larger notes for myself about each of the works I was reading. I have always made notes about what I read to remind myself of ideas I have had while reading fiction, but I started to take more detailled and longer notes… and it occurred to me that these were very much like reviews (well, reviews with a bit of analysis). When I realized that I was essentially already writing reviews, I allied this with my consistent desire to make teaching accessible to those outside of the university classroom. I am able to discuss issues and ideas in literature with the university students in my classroom, but I am also aware that not everyone has the privilege to be in university AND many people want to carry on the types of questions they explored in university long after they graduate. So, Speculating Canada became a place for me to put ideas out there for all of you brilliant people who read this website to participate in. 

When friends of mine and fans of the Speculating Canada website started asking me about different formats for my editorials and interviews, I finally took up Alissa Paxton’s suggestion that I turn Sepculating Canada into a radio show. Alissa was already a long-time participant in Trent Radio and she convinced me to create the show over time by gradulally interviewing me on the air for different special topics and through that she convinced me that the radio wasn’t too scary. The people who run and have shows on Trent Radio 92.7 FM made the experience of having a radio show one that was consistently filled with excitement. 
I went with a “coffee shop chat” style for the radio show because I was tired of hearing interviews of authors that were highly edited to the point that their ideas were reduced to robotic sound clips. I wanted my show to be one where the audience feels like they are right at the table with myself and the authors I interviewed – to let the listener feel like they are part of the conversation, because, dear listeners, you are always in the studio with us conceptionally even if you are listening from a distance. I don’t edit out the “ums”, “wait whats” and “likes” because they allow us to experience the author as an actual human being and allows us to realise that autors say brilliant things even when they are having to think on the fly. The fabulous people I have interviewed have been wonderful at going along with the “coffee shop chat” style of the show, letting themselves have a natural conversation… and, of course, for letting their inner geeks loose and allowing us to be fans together. I want to thank the interviewees for letting me push the interview boundaries by asking them deep questions and inviting them to interrogate and explore the deep questions of their work.

Speculating Canada has always been an opportunity to share my love of Canadian speculative fiction with others but it became so much more than that. It became another forum to teach outside of academia (and when I say “teach” I mean share questions and ideas with other brilliant people and let them know that they are able to interrogate what they are reading). It was a forum for reviews (my little love letters to the authors I adore). It provided me with a space to interview authors and share their brilliance with others – the incredible insights that go into speculative fiction writing. But the most important thing that Speculating Canada became was a community. It allowed me to meet others who are passionate about their SF, who love it and love to think about it. I met some of my most treasured friends through Speculating Canada and I want to thank everyone who has supported it. We are lucky to be part of such an amazing fan community and I feel fortunate that I have found a community to connect with and share with. Thank you to all of you who supported speculating Canada in diverse ways. 

 
 

Photo of the 2015 Aurora Award Winnder courtesy of Do-Ming Lum

 
For those unaware of the Prix Aurora Awards, these awards are Canada’s equivalent of the Hugo Awards. They honour all of the top voted creators of Canadian Speculative Fiction. To find out more about the Aurora Awards, visit their website at http://www.prixaurorawards.ca .

Here is the full list of 2015 Prix Aurora Award winners. I am so pleased to be part of such a distinguished list of brilliant people. 

Best English Novel: A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books

Best English YA Novel: TIE:

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder, Tor Books

Out of This World by Charles de Lint, Razorbill Canada

Best English Short Fiction: “Crimson Sky” by Eric Choi, Analog, July/August

Best English Poem/Song: “A Hex, With Bees” by Tony Pi, Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts Eighteen, EDGE

Best English Graphic Novel: It Never Rains by Kari Maaren, Webcomic

Best English Related Work: On Spec published by the Copper Pig Writers’ Society

Best Artist: Dan O’ Driscoll, covers for Bundoran Press and On Spec magazine

Best Fan Publication: Speculating Canada edited by Derek Newman-Stille

Best Fan Music: Kari Maaren, YouTube Channel

Best Fan Organizational: Sandra Kasturi, Chair, Chiaroscuro Reading Series: Toronto

Best Fan Related Work: Derek Newman-Stille, Speculating, Canada on Trent Radio 92.7 FM

Hollow Signals

A review of Geoff Gander’s “White Noise” in AEscifi: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.
By Derek Newman-Stille

Our world is permeated with signals – radio waves, satellite transmissions… we are surrounded by sounds that only our electronic devices can hear. Geoff Gander’s “White Noise” pushes us into an electronic blackout, a loss of communication. After three days without radio or satellite, rumours have begun: an EM disturbance, sunspots, a terrorist attack… a myriad of possible reasons why the signals have all gone dead. But, there is a noise, a noise that empties people out, erases them.

Gander explores our dependence on communication, our need for the worldwide net and the feeling of connection that it creates. Told through a conversation, Gander’s microfiction distances the reader from their connection to communication technology, pushes the reader through this snapshot of text to question the dependence we have on information and our need to feel connected. What do we do with dead air?

Gander asks the reader how permeable we have become to sound, to information. How as a society of listeners, do we cope with silence, with not knowing?

You can access “White Noise” online at AEscifi http://aescifi.ca/index.php/fiction/35-short-stories/1998-white-noise

Check out the weblink… I can ALMOST promise you that Geoff Gander’s story won’t hollow you out with whitenoise.

You can explore Geoff Gander’s website at geoffgander.wordpress.com.

Meme Zombies

A Review of Tony Burgess and Bruce McDonald’s film Pontypool (Maple Pictures, 2009)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As many of you know, I tend to focus Speculating Canada primarily on literature. This is not meant to ignore other types of texts and media, but has been an area that fascinates me.  I have recently been drawn to the film Pontypool through my love of representations of the monstrous. Since it is based on the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess, I thought it was worth exploring further.

I am not normally a huge fan of the zombie genre. I tend to find a lot of recent explorations of the zombie to be repetitive – involving the idea of viral contamination, chase scenes, and general body horror. This is not to say that there isn’t value in these zombie depictions, but it has been overdone a bit for my taste. I tend to like innovative new treatments of the zombie, and I think that is what drew me to Pontypool. The zombies in this film aren’t created by biting, scratching, an airborn virus… they are created by language.

Set in the small Ontario town of Pontypool, the movie features a small town radio station who gradually receives filtered news of a huge event. People have seemingly gone mad and are destroying the downtown, attacking one another, and mumbling gibberish the entire time. There is no official word on what is happening, and the radio station is only getting reports from random citizens as official channels stay silent on the issue.

Things hit close to home when people in the radio station itself begin to repeat phrases, alliterate, and get stuck in cycles of rhyming. This is the first stage of the virus – since the virus is contained in language, the body’s immune system kicks in to try to expel the virus by playing with language. When this immune response fails, the infected host seeks out others, homing in on them by the sound of their voice, fixating on the vocalisation of the English language to find new victims and spread to them.

Pontypool explores the idea that there could be something living in language, in consciousness that replicates itself when the brain of the new host recognises and understands words. This is a personification of the idea of the viral meme, made literal. It spreads through cultural expressions, replicating itself and moving from one area to another, expanding, spreading. Although most zombie movies involve a great deal of physical movement, one of the striking parts of this movie is that all of the movement occurs intellectually. There is little physical movement since the entire plot of the movie takes place in a radio station (and largely in the sound booth). The movement that occurs is through conversations, through hearing of events conveyed through voice and through leaps of awareness. All of the action of this movie is carried in words, through hearing action, which makes it a particularly apt medium for a movie about a virus that spreads through words. As one watches the movie, one becomes very sensitive to sound, noting differences in sound and becoming hypersensitive to the spoken word. Words feel weightier, more significant, louder, and awkward. The viewer becomes alienated from language itself.

Pontypool plays with ideas of fear and the spread of fear, focusing on the idea of voice as a medium for both understanding, but also for the spread of fear. The shock radio jockey star of this movie, Grant Massey (Stephen McHattie), begins his radio broadcast of the morning by trying to shock his listeners when he describes the threat of drug culture and drug dealers coming into small towns to create grow-ops. When his producer, Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) tells him not to scare the small town populace, he informs her that fear is what sells news, and getting people angry means bigger ratings. Here, Burgess and McDonald provide a subtle warning about the nature of media and the use of fear as a marketing tool, as well as the conflict that happens in small town Ontario where people often are both attracted to the idea of hearing about threats, but also don’t really want to hear too much about the potential horrors of the world.

The idea of fear in the media is played on further when people come into the radio station in Arabic-face (i.e. white Canadians painted to appear Arabic) in order to play music about the Middle East. Calling themselves Laurence and the Arabians, one of the members of the group is compared to Osama bin Laden and he ends his song on the radio by firing a toy machine gun in the air. This musical interlude occurs as the first inklings of a crisis begin to filter into the radio through reports, and comments well on the state of today’s society where often the Middle East, and images of terror far away, is used as a mechanism for distracting people from threats and issues close to home.

The image of terrorism resurfaces again when Massey talks to a reporter from the BBC who is calling to get clarification about reports he has received that an act of terrorism has occurred. When Massey tells him that they don’t have any details and that information is scarce, the BBC correspondant begins discussing Canada’s history of French separatism and ends his broadcast by concluding that the issue in Pontypool Ontario is actually a terrorist attack by French separatists. The media once again focuses on the notion of easy scapegoats and figures that inspire fear rather than further investigating and interrogating the notion that threats can occur locally. It is easier to search for a pre-established and culturally accepted threat than to look for new threats.

The character Grant Massey brings critical attention to the issue of the military and fear culture when he says to the military personelle who are monitoring his broadcast as they begin bombing the small community to stop the threat: “You are just killing scared people.” He later notes, when talking about how people who have the zombie virus stop making sense: “We were never making sense”, bringing critical attention to the notion of the spoken word and its ability to disseminate confusion. Pontypool evokes in the viewer a sense that more is being said through the figure of the zombie and its location in a centre of media – one finds oneself contemplating the notion that terrorism makes zombies of us all, that fear of terrorism and radical responses to beliefs in the threat of terrorism make us willing to blindly follow the voices that guide us. As a society, we are more willing to follow voices (like the zombies in this movie do when seeking new hosts for the virus) than to think for ourselves and look deeply at underlying issues.

You can check out a trailer for Pontypool at http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1386283545/

Upcoming Radio Interview With Ian Rogers

Trent Radio icon headphones 1This Saturday, January 26th, I will be posting an interview on Speculating Canada that I conducted with local Peterborough horror author Ian Rogers that I conducted on air at Trent Radio.

Mr. Rogers is the author of the supernatural noir Felix Renn series, weird westerns, and general horror literature. He has published novels such as SuperNOIRtural Tales, Deadstock, and Every House is Haunted. I conducted a previous written interview with Mr. Rogers on Speculating Canada at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/interview-with-ian-rogers/ that you can check out.

In our upcoming interview, Mr. Rogers and I discuss how local Peterborough events inspire his stories, the difference between the urban environment and the rural when it comes to inspiring him to write stories, the terror that can be embodied by the woods, haunting and place, and his own fears and how they inspire his written work.

Check out the audio file of our interview on Speculating Canada this Saturday, January 26th.