McKenna James Boeckner on their new play, Marionettes.

McKenna James Boeckner was a featured playwright in our 2019 festival. Their play The Year When No One Dies was included in our Taking it to the Streets series, and we’re proud to have Boeckner back with us again and to present their new 10 minute play, Marionettes

Boeckner is a queer playwright and writer serotinously transplanted to Fredericton from Thunder Bay, Ontario to pursue a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of New Brunswick. Their current research and writing interests are geared towards fairy tales and other forms of storied historical records as vehicles to explore contemporary masculinity as it relates to queer identities. Their most recent full-length play, A Real Boy was live-streamed as part of the Plain Sight Theatre Festival and was directed by Kelly McAllister of Spearhead Theatre in October 2020.

This year’s feature, Marionettes, can trace its roots back to A Real Boy by way of the story’s two principal characters.

Marionettes originates from a very early but recently revisited draft of my most recent full-length play, A Real Boy,” said Boeckner. “While A Real Boy narrated a contemporary adaptation of Pinocchio set in Northwestern Ontario by way of examining what it means to be or become a ‘real boy’ today, this much shorter script zeroes in on two characters that were abandoned in the larger script, Connor and Crys, to explore their unique and haunted avoidance mechanisms of toxic masculinity in rural Canada. Oedipal death plots, everlasting bog bodies, and beastly boreal forests make cameos throughout.”

Boeckner further describes Marionettes origins as stemming from the person they were and the people they knew growing up queer in Murillo, Ontario, a 30 minutes outside of the murder capital of Canada, Thunder Bay. 

“Of all of my stories, this script has the most heightened, unrealistic, and poetic dialogue (shout out to fabulous dramaturge Lara Lewis who confidently talked me through this odd shift). In the dialogue, I’ve poured artistic rambles of self-doubt and social anxiety that I would usually cut from a script. This strategy, of course, was an attempt to mirror the mental states of people coming out of isolation during the pandemic. It did not make sense to me to go back to characters who speak normally or coherently to each other when many of our minds have very much been untrained to understand and interact in this way. I am, I suppose, nervous to present writing in a format that I am not entirely used to writing. That said, I think it is a necessary shift, at least for now.”

Boeckner’s work as a playwright has led to numerous commissions and performances by various festivals over the past five years. As they explain, the limited room for character and story development is part of what attracts them to the 10-minute play format.

“Something in the quick build-up and release of tension has always drawn me to this format. But also the lack of commitment to creating definitive answers and conclusions. By leaving with ambiguity, ten minutes can cause a mental replay and last way way longer than the categorical title would suggest.”

Boeckner credits NotaBle Acts for providing a valuable window into a local theatre community that has helped shape their understanding of the region and the impact theatre can have as a means of building community amongst artists of various backgrounds. 

“I don’t think I have missed one NotaBle Acts show since arriving in Fredericton three years ago,” they said. “As a writer from out-of-province who only momentarily calls Fredericton home, the festival has really attuned me to the local. It very much showcases the theatre-based talent – actors, directors, writers, etc – that flourishes in this city. The stories I’ve seen on stage, or over computer screens in 2020, are inspiring, and the connections I have made have forever changed my writing.”

Boeckner’s play Marionettes will be featured as part of this year’s Taking it to the Streets series of 10-minutes plays performed in Officer’s Square July 26-29 at 7:30m p.m. 

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