When Yukon playwright Patti Flather launched the book of her highly acclaimed play, Paradise, on a warm June evening at Baked Café in Whitehorse, Mac’s Fireweed Books sold out all their copies.
“The thing about a play, is after it’s produced it’s done. A book lasts,” says Flather.
Flather is a co-founder of Gwaandak Theatre, which premiered the play in the Yukon, then toured it to the IMPACT festival in Kitchener, in collaboration with MT Space, a Waterloo-area multicultural theatre company.
Paradise examines trauma, mental illness and addiction through the eyes of Wally, an unemployed logger; George, a doctor; and his daughter, Rachel, in an unnamed Canadian city, where their neighbour Kahlil lived before being arrested while volunteering for Afghanaid.
Scenes revolve between viewpoints of the characters in Canada, Central America, Afghanistan and a foreign prison in an undisclosed location.
“There’s humour and hope,” says Flather, “while still addressing hard-hitting topics.”
On stage, the audience can see the viewpoints change. Readers of the book will visualize the flow of the story. Later, actors, in character, will interact with other actors, in character, as the story lines intersect.
Paradise was a work-in-progress for five years before it was produced. Numerous designers, directors, actors – and even the local Mental Health Association of Yukon and the Anti-Poverty Coalition – had input.
“I love the cross-pollination and exchange of storytelling ways,” says Flather. “I’m grateful for the help to tell the story.”
Initial support came from a Nakai Theatre commission, which brought Flather together with dramaturge DD Kugler from Simon Fraser University. Gwaandak Theatre further developed the play, including a workshop in Whitehorse, with Lebanese-Canadian director Majdi Bou-Matar and MT Space artists. While touring here, and during a three-week workshop in Kitchener, they helped her develop realistic characters with depth.
“I trimmed a lot as I saw what actors can do. It was a beautiful marriage of the poetry and imagery of words, coupled with the power and energy of MT Space. What was left became the book.”
The publishing process is quite different for plays than prose. Canada doesn’t have many theatre publishers, so Flather submitted to Playwrights Canada Press, an independent publishing house originally founded by the Playwrights Guild of Canada, of which she is a member. In a few months they accepted it, and Flather attended the launch of their spring titles in Toronto.
“As a book, the play is a suggestion – the bones of the story,” says Flather. “But it allows more people to have access to the literature that comes from the theatre.”
It also gives performers and educators more choice of contemporary Canadian works to study, read and perform, nationally and internationally.
“Publication raises the profile of the work. I would be thrilled to see different interpretations.”
Another benefit Flather notes is that “in Whitehorse we’re not on the radar. It’s important for us to get out there and be passionate about why we care. I’m proud of Paradise and no one will know about it if I don’t say anything.”
Flather plans to promote Paradise to other companies, theatre schools and festivals. As well, Gwaandak and MT Space are planning a tour in 2018 in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.
And Mac’s has more copies in stock.