Umbrella Talk with Melissa Major

Yes, it's been a while since we've had an UT. Apologies to Melissa, who sent me this in May. Hoping to get regular interviews again, so point us to great writers!

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Melissa Major talks about saving the world, fear of the personal, and high-flying productions.

A Little More About Melissa Major

Melissa is double-jointed in her fingers. During the past 10 years she has worked on sixty-five stage productions. She is the Artistic Director and of The Cheshire Unicorn Theatre Company and has had work produced in Canada, USA, Hong Kong and India. She has won 6 awards for her work and has been nominated for several more.

Previous credits include: writer of Art is a Cupboard and Sapphire Butterfly Blue which were presented as a reading in Mumbai, India at the Women Playwright's International Conference 2009, writer/performer with Reza Jacobs on Floozy: The Musical (Toronto Fringe 2008), writer of Even Burning (Toronto Fringe 2008 & New Ideas Festival 2008), director of Kid Cosmic (Summerworks 2008), writer/performer of Unicorn Horns (IDEA World Congress of Theatre in Hong Kong, Theatre Passe Muraille & Nuit Blanche 2006), writer/director of Kicking & Smiling (Nuit Blanche 2007 & Squiggfest 2007) and writer of Art is a Cupboard (Toronto Fringe 2006 & hotINK Festival, New York 2007).

Her university degree collection began with Bachelor of Arts in (1) Theatre, (2) Psychology and (3) a Bachelor of Fine Arts Education from York University and an finally, (4) a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at University of Guelph. She is a full member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.

She is opening up MAJORspace, a new affordable rehearsal + performance space in Queen West.

What do you drink on opening night?
Oh, you know, whatever is good for the going. Maybe a vodka soda. Or a martini. Yeah, those tend to shut the nerves up nicely. Or some surprise drink. I’m really indecisive. Maybe just some juice.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
Shit, that’s a tough one. Probably some old Russian absurdist who can push the actors beyond the world of the words. Or Salvador Dali. If he could take my plays into the strange worlds of his paintings, that would be pretty cool.

What scares you?
The thought of having no one in the audience freaks me right out. Before every show I think... oh god, what will we do if no one comes. Why did I do this? What if there is only 1 person? 2? Shit shit shit.

What can't you write about?
For the longest time I couldn’t write about anything personal. None of my plays were even set in Canada, none of the people even remotely resembled people I know. I was more interested in the biographies of obscurely oppressed literary- political figures. I seem to have moved away from that. Now I’m writing about things in my own backyard. Now it scares me to write about things or people that I could be appropriating the voice of.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Oh man, so many things. I have a database of all the ideas of things I want to write about. It’s about 20 pages. I’ll never write about them all in my entire lifetime, but at least it lets me look at all of them and choose the ones I’m most excited about. I’m interested in writing about people with rare psychosomatic conditions- like someone who physically isn’t able to be touched by other people. But then I also like to satirize real issues and bring them to an absurd stage... like what about a play where the government has a program that trains squirrels to sort recycling instead of just running around in parks all day?

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
A horrific and melodramatic tragicomedy.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
Praise- I say thank you. Criticism- I say thank you extra politely to show that I’m not at all defensive about my work, when really I’m thinking: Well that’s just your opinion. Praise gives me the courage to write the next play, while criticism fuels me to write the next play because goddamnit, I’ll show you how it’s done!

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Anywhere and everywhere! The more places the better, like in the CN Tower restaurant. That would be good. Or on an airplane going to Abu Dhabi. That would be an awesome set.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
At my desk, on my laptop. I need the rhythmic tapping of the keys to help keep my thoughts coming out in a certain rhythm. I can also type faster than I can write and my hands don’t cramp up. Holding a pen is just too exhausting and painful. I can hardly write my name without my hand cramping up.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
“Melissa Major has produced the most thought-provoking material that has transcended time and will forever. Her work is so good that it is performed more than Shakespeare and it has even lead to the abolition of all war and suffering everywhere and has fixed all of the problems in the world!”

What inspires you?
When I see really great theatre. Oddly enough, it’s often physical theatre that does it for me. Then I want to write things that adapt well to physicality. I’m interested in the spectrum of where theatre verges on being dance and vice versa. That stuff inspires the hell outta me when it’s done well. I saw the production of Damaged Goods’ Do Animals Cry at Harbourfront’s world stage. At least 10 people walked out and I was amazed because I had a zillion little electricities spinning around in my brain. I don’t know what the walk-outers were thinking. They missed such an interesting experience.