Umbrella Talk with playwright Marjorie Chan

Welcome to this week's Umbrella Talk with Dora Mavor Moore Award winning actor and nominated playwright Marjorie Chan. This week Marjorie talks to us on our blog and tells us why she doesn't really drink anything on opening night; which random things she hasn't written about, but wants to write about next (eg. infanticide, Shanghai divas, ex-pat reporters, long-lost mothers and sexual voyeurs); and why academics 50 years from now would be writing about the other Marjorie Chan, an infamous paleo-geologist who could correctly answer questions about her recent dinosaur discovery in Utah.

A little more on Marjorie Chan
Marjorie is an award-winning theatre artist based in Toronto. Trained as an actor at George Brown Theatre School, Marjorie garnered a nomination for the Dora Mavor Prize in her first appearance onstage. She is the recipient of a Dora Mavor Moore Award in performance as well as the prestigious K.M. Hunter Artists’ Award. As a playwright, her acclaimed drama China Doll was nominated for several Doras, including Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Production as well as the Governor General’s Literary Award. China Doll was also performed overseas as a part of Festival Canada Hong Kong. Other full-length plays include a nanking winter, and The Madness of the Square. Along with playwright Damien Atkins, she adapted Hisashi Inoue’s celebrated play about Hiroshima, in the garden, two suns which was commissioned and performed to coincide with 60th Anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs. As a librettist, Marjorie wrote the short opera Mother Everest for which also aired nationally on CBC Radio as well as Sanctuary Song, both with composer Abigail Richardson. She has also provided text for the multidisciplinary dance piece Nanking Monologue. Invitations to festivals and retreats include: Playwrights’ Colony (Banff), Cahoots Playwriting Retreat @ Shaw, CrossCurrents Festival (Factory), Groundswell Festival (Nightwood Theatre), International Festival of Authors (Harbourfront), Dim Sum Festival (fu-Gen Theatre), Seedling Festival (Theatre Direct Canada), Hysteria Festival (Buddies in Bad Times), RED Festival, and the inaugural Stratford Writers’ Retreat. Marjorie has also been Playwright-in-Residence for Theatre Direct Canada as well as Playwright-in-Residence and Associate Artistic Director for Cahoots Theatre Projects.

Umbrella Talk with Marjorie Chan

What do you drink on opening night?
I don't really drink, so nothing really. I can't drink water, or I will have to pee every ten seconds. I can't drink coffee or I will spazz out. Some gum?

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I'm not that sure that I think about 'dream' directors. They would have to still be well-matched with the piece. For instance, I would be interested in someone with a movement-imagistic background directing 'China Doll' which I feel would be result in a very different interpretation. 'Coolest' huh? Maybe someone from Scandinavia or the Yukon.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
I tend to gravitate towards the things that already scare me. That's the thrill and the drive for me. I'm not sure what I cannot write about. I know that I am not too interested in writing about myself. Which might explain why it has taken me so long to answer these interview questions.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Random things being rattled around: pro basketball, whales, water, trees, rituals, infanticide, time travel, salmon canning, Shanghai divas, ex-pat reporters, meetings at gates, long-lost mothers and sexual voyeurs.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Oh, I would hope to live a life uninteresting enough to warrant a play. A life without too much conflict or drama. No tragic endings please.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
The same way. I am distrustful and yet curious if there is truth. Then I discard what is not useful.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Yes, I would like to see my plays produced. Sorry - what was the question?

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
Both. I do a lot of pen revisions with a pair of scissors in hand. Sometimes my cat chases the spare parts around my office, until I assume it is cut as I did not go looking for it. In my house, we call this 'cat-aturgy.' Sometimes I take old drafts and run them through a shredder and put them in my guinea pigs' cage. They play, chew and poop on my old scripts. We don't call this anything - maybe 'recycling'.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
Academics will probably write about Marjorie Chan, the paleo-geologist. And also, if anyone has her email, can you send it to me? I keep receiving questions about her recent dinosaur discovery in Utah which I am woefully unequipped to answer. (Hmm, that's an idea!)

What inspires you?
So many things. I am curious about Chinese history, but also how our world works, how people behave in different many things. My favourite work and inspiration comes when I care, when my heart yearns to tell the story. So things that do that.

Thanks for reading this week's Umbrella Talk. Next week we chat with playwright Alex Dallas. If you are a playwright who has been produced a few times here in Canada, or elsewhere, and would like to talk to us too, please send us an e-mail to Also, please join our facebook blog network at