A Conversation Between Playwright and Cast on Clothes, Character, and Isolation
McKenna Boeckner is a a recent graduate of a masters degree at UMD. He’s currently enrolled in the Ph. D. English program at UNB in creative writing, and has had a number of works produced via NotaBle Acts, Spearhead Theatre, and the Plain Site Theatre Festival. Recently, Plain Site and Spearhead Theatre teamed up to present a reading of his work, A Real Boy; Or, The Pinocchio Project. Even more recently, we’ve been absolutely thrilled to partner with NotaBle Acts to present his latest work: Goblin Market. Featuring Courtney Parker and Breanna Fagan as Lizzie and Laura (respectively), Goblin Market is a tender and earnest look at companionship and intimacy in times of isolation.
At Theatre UNB, we seldom have the opportunity for a cast to meet the playwright, so we were absolutely thrilled to host this discussion. While the entire meeting contains far too many spoilers to share in its entirety, here are some of the highlights.
“During this pandemic, I’ve been very isolated, as I assume most people are. And that causes lots of anxiety and ruminations. And so I decided to write down all my feelings into plays. And that’s produced a series of it’s three right now, three shorts, queer COVID plays, one of them has been produced in the plain sight Theatre Festival, this one’s being produced here. And there’s one that hasn’t been produced yet, but maybe will be in the future.”
“I always returned to past relationships that I’ve had, or past experiences I’ve had. And this play arises from something that my mom says growing up in Northwestern Ontario walking the Grandview path, because sometimes we would find discarded clothing items or underwear in the bushes. And if me and my siblings would ask my Mom, what that was or why that was there. She’d say, oh, something bad happened. And that’s such like a vague answer. And I guess it produced like, a bunch of different thoughts in my head. Maybe there’s Goblin Man, and maybe there’s something monstrous going on. So this play really comes from that. That thought, and that comment by my mom.”
Goblin Men in the play serve as a constant symbol for the external threat of nasty, untrustworthy men and male-dominated environments. But the play itself is very centred around a very intimate story between two girls. Laura and Lizzie’s friendship is caught in the crossfire of Laura’s shady new boyfriend and the loneliness brought on by quarantine. Perhaps unsurprisingly for such a relevant story, the cast had quite enthusiastically connected with the characters, and were eager to share their interpretations of their lives outside of the script. We began discussing what the characters dressed like, which quickly led to deeper observations.
“For Laura, since she just came out of foster care, I was discussing with Len (the director) what she would wear and we were both thinking: no, she wouldn’t wear anything that would be remotely expensive or anything. So it’s more like lazy clothes. “
“I find she kind of hides her feelings, but at the same time says exactly what she thinks.”
“I find for Lizzie it’s hard to put into words how I picture her. I picture her as like one of my friends— like my one of my old friends from high school. She really doesn’t know what she wants. She’s fighting in her mind. She doesn’t know how to express how she feels. And so it’s almost like she’s constantly fighting with herself. I feel like that takes over a big part of her personality. So I don’t think she really dresses to impress.”
Both characters dressed simply, but small details of why and when all added up to a larger picture for the actors. The common theme emerging was one of anxiety.
“I forgot who it was, but somebody was describing my writing. And they said that I like to find conflict and the awkwardness of quiet situations.”
“Lots of plays are very “yelly” plays, there’s people raising their voice and yelling at each other. And my writing doesn’t usually tend towards that. It tends towards people talking quietly or not being able to say things they want to say. And maybe that’s my anxiety of not being able to express myself coming out through my writing.”
“When I’m writing young characters, for example, they say and do things that my young self wouldn’t have done. Because I was very, very shy in high school, I ate lunch under stairwells, because I didn’t know how to talk to people. So it’s almost as if my subconscious self is coming out through my characters and saying the words that I don’t know how to say in my own voice. So in that sentence, both these characters are me. Perhaps more vibrant parts of myself, or conflicting parts of myself.
This complex character development made for a challenging but engaging experience for the actors.
“It’s definitely difficult to kind of think through (character development), especially for me being a first year drama student. Lizzie really doesn’t know what she wants. And in that way it is hard as an actor to try to show what I want.”
“But going through the play multiple times, once you’ve finished it, it makes it easier to start again. I know once I start, how she feels by the end of it. And that’s really her turning point— when she does decide what she wants. And so, when starting it again, I have that kind of idea in the back of my head, that I can show physically how she gets there.”
Each artist then took turns sharing their thoughts about the purpose of the play, and what audiences should leave thinking about.
“My mind immediately goes to the thoughts from Laura’s perspective, almost that there is more to the pandemic than meets the eye, for the majority of people. I think I was frustrated with people — although it’s good to discuss — talking about what face masks to where, or what is the correct distance to go between people or to scoot around people in a grocery store, if you should pass them at all. Because, there is so much the pandemic that isn’t discussed, such as people who are leaving foster care and don’t have a place to stay afterwards, because the pandemic. Different stories like that. So I guess I’d like a more expansive awareness of this, while still being respectful toward the COVID rules, because those are important.
I would like people to leave the play thinking about the choices that they make. How they feel the things that they don’t say, or the things that they struggle with saying, and the kind of the benefits that can come out of saying something that you’re not necessarily comfortable with.
“In this play, there’s a lot communication, but there’s a lot of lack of communication.”
“So I agree with Courtney. I want people to think after they watch the play, ‘if I want to say something, if I feel something, I’m gonna say it.’”
Goblin Market will be put on as part of Duels and Duet. More information, including dates and ticketing can be found on our Facebook event page at: