Meet the Playwright: Rowan Miller

Rowan’s involvement with NotaBle Acts is unique among the many theatre artists who are with us this season. For the second year in a row, he has been managing a huge load of behind the scenes duties doing everything from working the door at festival events, meeting the public on Saturday mornings at the market, assembling our program, hanging posters and managing dozens of other tasks.

But besides being an essential part of our organizing staff, Rowan is also a playwright. His play Marvellously-Meta Misadventures, a story about a young writer with writer’s block, is one of four plays included in our lunch time performance series, Taking It To The Streets.

We asked Rowan to tell us a bit more about the story.

A play about a young playwright with writer’s block. How much of this is based on you and your experience?

Is the play based on me? The central idea, yes. I was, and still am, writing a longer piece and like in Misadventures, it was and still is, going off in some weird directions. After ending up with two and a half drafts around last May, I decided I was not yet content with any of them. Rather than submitting them to NotaBle’s One Act category unsatisfied, I decided instead to have some fun and write a slightly farcical send-up of my own situation for Taking It To The Streets.

I don’t think I supremely identify with the main character, Alexe. As the play developed I tried to make her less just a stand-in for myself and more her own person with her own solution to the problem of writer’s block that is distinct from my own. She decides to be all meta and write about writing, and I decide to write about writing and be all meta… All jokes aside though, Alexe’s journey is one of embracing post-modernism whole-heartedly to deal with her issues, then coming to temper a nihilistic conviction of with an acceptance that thoughts and ideas and stories can in fact actually have valid meaning, regardless if it’s constructed. I suppose this is a journey many writers go through, and I think I probably went through a while before writing this play. So perhaps autobiographic on a grander scale, but how I deal with writer’s block now, which is to grab a beer and have a little fun, ergo this play.

Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind your story and the amazing title? How did you decide that?

I knew my concept was already kind of tired, so I tried to spice it up with a bit of absurdity and throw in a carnie for good measure. Traditional circuses are a bit of a rare anachronism. Probably for the better given their spotty history with animal performers. I thought juxtaposing this bizarre and rather antiquated form of entertainment with a wannabe cutting-edge playwright would be a funny and strange sight and the circus/vaudevillian Showman selling poetic enlightenment as if snake oil and turning hapless takers into the butt of a larger joke for the pleasure of the incredulous worth a good laugh.

As for the title, I’m rather a fan of alliteration. I know my play would be “meta”, not so much a play about something but rather a play about plays, or at least writing. “Marvellously” alliterates with “meta” well, and all the better when rolling, ever so slightly ominous, off the tongue of the leering Showman.

What’s the best part about having your work included in this year’s festival?

It’s been absolutely fantastic. I love seeing people laugh at my jokes, and it’s an honour to have my work produced and worked on by so many talented individuals. The feedback I’ve received from dramaturge Len Falkenstein was invaluable in spurring me on to expanding the concept and making it more self-sufficient. The first draft was essentially one long and slightly confusing gag without a meaningful conclusion. Feedback from director Miguel Roy, and Alexis, Hannah, and Michael, the excellent cast, got me to really engage with the characters and give them meaningful lives, rather than cardboard cut out that only exist for the duration of the play. I’ve learned an incredible amount, and I hope to submit many more plays to NotaBle.     

Rowan Miller is enjoying his second year helping administrate NotaBle Acts, and is delighted to have Marvellously-Meta Adventures included in this year’s lineup. A student at UNB, he is honouring in political, which is to say doggerel, philosophy, and is avid writer and painter. The best part about working for NotaBle is being able to enjoy every piece of our theatrical smorgasbord, and he hopes you do the same!

Meet the Playwright: Arianna Martinez

Arianna is back for her fourth season with NotaBle Acts.  Her play Blue Ribbon is part of this year’s Street Scenes series. Described as “a wacky tale of subterfuge and spoilt produce, with viciously feuding grandparents who when competing for affection take it too far by forcing their only granddaughter to become a double agent sabotaging each other’s vegetable stands,” Blue Ribbon kicks off this year’s site-specific walking tour and will be performed in the Boyce Farmer’s Market parking lot. Feuding framers? What’s not to love?

We asked Arianna about her play and what else she is doing at this year’s festival.

What can you tell us about the play and the idea behind it?

Blue Ribbon is loosely based on stories my mother would tell me about her grandparents. When she was growing up she would spend her summers working on both of their gardens, and would get into all sorts of trouble because both grandparents had a flare for drama. The story is based on real people and real relationships, with my own added twist for fun and flavour.

How many plays have you written for NotaBle?

This will be my third play that I’ve written for NotaBle Acts. I wrote Parallel Lines for the Taking it to the Streets series two years ago, and last year I wrote The Marcy Case as a site specific, located at the Fredericton Public Library. I really love participating in this festival. It provides wonderful opportunities for artists of any level to hone their skills in a safe and supportive environment. If it weren’t for NotaBle, I don’t think I would have tried my hand at playwriting!

Did you Blue Ribbon this specifically for the Site-Specific series or was it an idea you’ve been playing with for a while now?

The idea had been percolating for a while, as I had always found the stories my mom told to be very amusing. Originally I had written the script (though it was significantly different) for film. I decided to adapt it for the stage, and thought the Boyce Farmers Market would be the perfect location.

You’re also reading in the Play Out Loud series. How’s that been going? 

I’m reading for the part of Anna in Alex Donovan’s The Forerunner. By being stripped of the ability to show action, all of care and attention is given to the way things are read. We got together as a group to read it through, and Tilly Jackson (our director) would challenge us to consider the character’s we’re bring to life (what they’re like, what they want, what inspires them, what scares them, etc) and to make sure those choices come through in our line delivery. I’ve never participating in a reading before, but the process is interesting.

Arianna Martinez is a filmmaker, playwright, and educator living in New Brunswick. She has produced several short films that have screened across Canada and has participated in NotaBle Acts theatre festival for four years.

Catch a performance of Blue Ribbon July 30 – August 1 as part of our Street Scenes: Three Site-Specific Plays series.