September 16th, 2012
Morris Panych made his playwriting debut with a musical, Last Call: A Post-Nuclear Cabaret, in 1982, this site produced by Tamahnous Theatre in Vancouver. He has since written twenty plays, adapted others, and directed eighty plays, as well as film and opera. Usually featuring quirky characters, in semi-real situations, Panych’s works such as Vigil, The Overcoat, and 7 Stories have been mounted in many countries. The Trespassers might be described as typical Panych, fuelled by pathos and humour, while slightly perplexing to the audience, with shades of Samuel Beckett.
Morris Panych’s poignant drama The Trespassers (Talonbooks) ran from March 26 to April 16 2011 at the Vancouver Playhouse, having played at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria in October 2010.
It is about a fifteen-year-old boy caught between his born-again Christian mother and his rambunctious granddad, an anarchist and gambler, who arranges for his grandson’s sexual initiation. The boy comes to the attention of the police when they investigate a mysterious murder in an abandoned peach orchard. His grandfather advises, “There’s something in between lying and not lying. It’s called a story.” The following interview excerpts are from a longer interview conducted with Morris Panych by MK Piatkowski for One Big Umbrella.
BCBW: How do you write, pen or keyboard?
PANYCH: I hate to admit it, but I have almost no penmanship left. I lack the coordination even to write my own name. I believe that writing will move more and more to the keyboard, and that the work itself will more and more reflect this mutable, tangential form; no less true, but less rooted.
Committing to pen and paper is very different than committing to computer, which is not so much a commitment as a first date. I can change my writing on computer and nobody has to ever know just how shitty it was.
When I was first in creative writing at UBC, we copied our scripts on gestetner machines, which were like a kind of printing press. There were a lot more steps so I thought more carefully about what I was writing.
I wish I were the kind of person who could carry around a little notebook. Writing to me needs discipline. I get up, I get coffee, I go to my attic room, I turn on my computer, I fall asleep, I wake up, I write.
BCBW: As a writer, what scares you?
PANYCH: I am scared to write non-comedic material because I fear it will come across as melodramatic. But I have to try. Lately I have been working to take away the comedy somewhat from my writing, deal with different themes. I cannot write about contemporary politics. I think I’ve been around long enough to know that some things don’t last, trends change, philosophy evolves; what matters to me is human interaction; things that don’t change, ever—fear, anger, love, death, suspicion.
I can’t write about the war in Iraq because I don’t know what to say about it. I can say ‘war is bad’ but that’s not very interesting, and not necessarily even true. I admire people who can find something to talk about in everyday politics, who can address current issues; I can’t. I am scared of success, and failure in equal measure, but what scares me the most is writing that’s irrelevant. It’s a terrible contradiction to want to be relevant but not write about things that are current; I am pretty much doomed to failure. Sometimes I think I should write about being gay but I have nothing to say about that, either. ‘I’m gay’ is not a play; although some people seem to have made a career of it.
BCBW: Where would you like your work to be produced?
PANYCH: It’s a nice feeling to have a play make you some money, so anywhere is fine. That said, one of my favorite recent experiences was going to see Lawrence and Holloman at a little hole- in-the-wall place in Kensington Market. I felt that the play had legitimately reached its second life; a life away from the main theatre constituency. I love to have my plays achieve this second life, anywhere; in little out-of-the-way places, in big houses. It’s important to me that my work is produced in places other than just where it originated. It makes me feel like my children are finally leaving home and going out into the world to make their mark.
BCBW: What do you drink on opening night?
PANYCH: I like to start in the morning, to be honest. I like to drink enough by show time that I appear relaxed, funny, easygoing and generally feeling great about my work, when in actual fact I’m really just a little hammered.
At the Tarragon [Theatre], when Urjo Kareda was alive, we used to drink scotch all through the show; he would listen on the tanoy and I would venture, drunk, into the theatre, through the little back door. This I call the barf door, for two reasons. Immediately after any show, the obligatory cheap champagne I sip then dump into somebody else’s glass; if somebody buys me a nice bottle I hide in a washroom and drink it, if somebody else gets a nice bottle I hide in the washroom and drink it with them; as for the ‘gala’ after party, usually I have red wine because I get a free couple of plastic glasses worth.
BCBW: What inspires you?
PANYCH: To say what inspires me, sort of implies that I’m inspired, which I’m often not. But I am often moved, particularly by acts of kindness; even somebody opening a door for me and smiling can bring me to tears, of late. I feel pretty emotional when somebody displays their humanity, even in passing.
The thing that most deeply moves me is music; say, for instance, Prokofiev’s cello concerto. To think how somebody could be such a genius to construct and interweave those harmonies, and to do it with such apparent ease and wit, but more than that, how this man has reached out a hundred years and somehow known what was in my heart.
How his music speaks to me; that is moving. For art to reverberate through space is wonderful, but through time it is awe-inspiring.
BCBW: What do you want to write about that you haven’t yet?
PANYCH: Sin. What it is. I don’t know, but when I figure it out, I want to write about it. And love; I would like to write a love story—it would be sad, I think, and a little bit funny. I want to write more about lost children; since my parents both died, I feel I have become one.
Essay Date: 2011