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Q&A: Sarah WaisvIsz

Photo: Christopher Snow

Playwright and performer Sarah Waisvisz was born in Europe to a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-racial family. Monstrous, or, The Miscegenation Advantage (read synopsis) is the play she wrote concurrently with her doctorate.

Monstrous is a world premiere, and can be seen every Thursday and Saturday of undercurrents.

Did your Ph.D. supervisor know you were working on Monstrous?

Sarah Waisvisz: I did not tell my Ph.D. supervisor I was working on Monstrous until the dissertation was nearly finished. When I submitted a draft of the entire dissertation to my supervisor, I included a prologue and an epilogue written in a personal voice. The writing read as prose but I knew, whether or not the pieces would make it into the final copy of the formal dissertation, that that writing was just waiting to be theatricalized, that it was the skeleton for a new work for the theatre…

The question of whether or not to include those prose pieces in the final dissertation led to a major debate by the dissertation committee. I knew then that what I had written had relevance, and sharp teeth, and I promised myself then and there I would write a script once I had defended the dissertation and graduated.

How does your academia influence your art? Or vice versa.

As an academic I am considered to be very creative and artistic, and as an artist I am considered to be very intellectual and academic… so in some ways there is a real marriage between the two areas.

The more complex answer is that I am, fundamentally, and in all cases a storyteller and a word-smith who is interested in stories, ethics, and the emotional and spiritual experience of people and communities.

In your description of Monstrous you put quotation marks around “Multicultural” Canadian society… why is that?

When I began working on my Master’s thesis I studied the 1980 “Canadian Multiculturalism Act” and I began to read articles and books by researchers who supported my own feeling that the social concept of “multiculturalism” was simply an ideal that the government wanted to legalize in Canada — but that a legal concept does not always or automatically become normal in general society or by individuals.

Moreover, although we have a legal precedent that asks us to be, or at least to strive to be open and accepting, people have their own personal prejudices, no matter how generous we think we are.

Who in Ottawa do you want to see Monstrous? 

I think that academics will be interested in the show’s tension between the head and the heart, in the protagonist’s very struggle about whether to approach a subject from the intellect or the gut.

I want people interested in questions of heritage and culture to see Monstrous because I think they will be surprised by how complex multiculturalism is for people who live in it.

I want people who identify as immigrants, refugees, and new-Canadians to see Monstrous; ultimately I want people who feel they have always been different or other for whatever reason to see Monstrous, because the show is a gift from me to all these people. It is my offering in honour of all of us who live at the intersection.