Interview with Gemma Wilcox (Shadows in Bloom)

by Ottawa Fringe

June 26, 2008

Gemma Wilcox“I live in America now, actually,” says Gemma Wilcox in a long English accent. I’m not very good at placing accents, but there’s no mistaking that one, and it prompted me to ask about where she spends her time. It turns out it’s Boulder, Colorado. How did that happen? “It’s a long story involving a man, and yoga, and a really great community out in Boulder. But it’s a love story. Some of it is in the play, and some of it’s not. I basically met a man, and got married, and got divorced, and that’s how I ended up in America.”

Her play at this year’s fringe, “Shadows in Bloom,” is actually the fourth installment of a four-piece cycle, but the pieces stand alone – you don’t need to have seen the previous three to understand the fourth. “The very simple version of this play is it follows the life of Sandra – it’s a little complicated – I don’t want to give too much away. Basically, she goes through a marriage and a divorce. This is chapter four of a four-part series. I wrote each of them two years apart. In the first story, chapter 1, she’s eighteen; she’s now turning 30. So it spans a long time.”

I ask her if what we’ll see on stage is the canvas of her life. “There’s a lot of things that are autobiographical, for sure. Including marriage, divorce, exploring a new relationship. I play twenty characters – a little girl who grew up with her father, because her mother is a drug addict – that actually is true for me – and so there are definitely pieces in there. There’s a guy in one of my plays who’s actually an amalgamation of my father, and a boyfriend, and a friend.”

Gemma WilcoxDoes she break the fourth wall in her plays, by interacting with the audience? “Yes, I do. Not all the time. A lot of it is quite natural; there’s more audience interaction in this show than the previous ones. A lot of people have commented that really like that. They don’t feel too threatened. I don’t pull them onto stage or something weird like that. But I’d say there were some … sexy moments with the audience. There’s a sexy cabaret singer, so there’s some interaction there… I turn my audience into a garden, so I water them. With an imaginary water can.”

Wilcox often starts writing her plays by jotting down lists of things that she loves and hates about people, but she’s careful to include things specifically to challenge herself. “I don’t know if there’s anything I felt I can’t do; I like to try and challenge myself. I do alot of accents and I think I’m terrible at accents. The Canadian, I’m terrible at it. I can’t do Canadian, only the eh… and aboot. And American as well, but I’ll do an American as well, because I feel I’m not very good at it. I’ve got Scottish and Welsh, and Irish… a little bit closer to home. Obviously not everything gets in, but not because I feel like I can’t do it.”

“For as long as I can remember I wanted to be an actress. Since I was five, or something. I went to this great after-school drama club that was fantastic. I trained mainly from the age of sixteen and up. Around eighteen I worked with a teacher called Jonathan Kay, who’s actually done the Canadian Fringe circuit ten years ago. He’s a professional fool, who does completely spontaneous work. Often in order to help other performers to be spontaneous, he has people draw on their own personal experiences, and gets them to play all the different characters. It’s kind of Gestalt-type work, and he’ll get them to play the cat, or the table, or your mother… and what does the table say about the mother? So that’s where alot of my inspiration has come from – playing inanimate objects, and animals, with a simple set, very clean.”

Gemma WilcoxGemma got her indoctrination into what you have to do to put on a successful fringe show by touring ten years ago with UK-based comedy group the Weird Sisters as a stage manager. “That’s how I learned to do fringe. They were a very good theatre company and they did really well in the UK. We all trained with the same teacher. And I totally understand and learned how to do fringe, which is way beyond having a good show, from them. It’s not just about the promotional aspect, but having your stuff together.”

There’s a long pause after I ask her what she hopes people will take away from her show. “I personally like to be emotionally moved when I see a show. It’s a very simple gauge for me, and I’d love to be able to offer that to other people, through authentic performance that people can relate to. I just want their hearts to be stirred, to feel more than they did when they walked in. I feel that theatre has the opportunity to do that, because it’s a live interaction, to actually surprise us into feeling deeper than we thought we could.”

Shadows in Bloom, by Gemma Wilcox, plays tonight (Friday) at 7:30, and Saturday night at 11:00, in the Arts Court theatre.

Previous interviews:
Interview with August and Frieda Strindberg (Inferno Sonata)
Interview with Shelley Liebembuk and Dylan Ryan (Raven for a Lark)
Interview with Vision Theatre (4Play: One-Acts by David Ives)
Interview with Weeping Spoon productions (Greed)
Interview with Brigette DePape (She Rules With Iron Stix)
Amy Salloway (Circumference)
The Absinthe Collective (A Leave of Absinthe)
Peter Hayes (The Tricky Part) and Greg Landucci (Mr. Fox)
Penny Ashton (MC Hot Pink / Busty Rhymes)
Keir Cutler (Teaching the Fringe)
Celeste Sansregret (Wonderbar!)
Jem Rolls (How I learned to stop worrying and love the mall)