Meet the Playwright: Alex Pannier

Alex Pannier makes his NotaBle Acts playwriting debut this season with his play Casualties, a dark, multifaceted family drama directed by Jean-Michel Cliche.

Included as part of our series, Acting Out: Two One Acts Plays, the play pairs perfectly with Greg Everett’s Carrion Birds to create a thrilling evening of suspenseful storytelling.

We had a quick chat with Alex to get his take on this year’s festival, his play and what it means to be part of NotaBle Acts.

Can you start by telling us about your past involvement in NotaBle Acts?

I have been part of NotaBle Acts since the summer of 2016, and I’ve mostly worked as crew and tech, but last year I did act in the festival. This summer is new territory for me, as I’m involved in the festival as both a playwright and a crew member.

What can you tell us about Casualties? Was it something you wrote specifically for the festival?

Casualties wasn’t initially something I wrote for NotaBle, I started writing in a writing workshop class taught by Len Falkenstein last November. However, he did suggest that I should submit it to the festival- and I’m glad that I did! Casualties is a play that explores the dynamic of trauma and domestic conflict from the eyes of the children involved, but takes a nebulous and non-linear approach to the story. The children jump through time into past experiences- one scene they will be children and playing games with each other, and in the next they’ll be teenagers struggling to cope with the severe dysfunction of their household. All this as they circle around a manifestation of their shared trauma that haunts them throughout the story.

What does it mean to you as a playwright to have your work produced by NotaBle Acts?

This is first time I’ve had my writing performed, and it often still feels surreal for me, seeing the actors on stage taking the script and story to wonderful places. The dramaturgy I’ve received both from Len Falkenstein during his class, and from NotaBle’s dramaturge this season, Anna Chatterton, has been vital to this creative process, and I have nothing but gratitude for their guidance.

What’s been the best part of the festival for you so far?

The best part of this festival for me is the capacity of involvement I’ve had in the production process of Casualties as a crew member for NotaBle. It has been very fulfilling to collaborate with the director, Jean-Michel Cliche, and bring both of our artistic visions of the show to life. It’s been wonderful, because for the past few weeks I’ve been waking up every day to go design and construct most of the physical components of the show- essentially, Casualties has been my full-time job. It’s been one of those experiences where it puts a stupid grin on my face every time I think about it.


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!