Interview with the Absinthe Collective
We met up with the cast members of the Absinthe Collective in Montreal as they brought the component pieces of their show, A Leave of Absinthe, into the Mainline Theatre. During a break in their technical rehearsal, I had an opportunity to ask them a few questions about their show. Present were Margo MacDonald (MM), Richard Gelinas (RG), Teri Loretto (TL) and David Whiteley (DW).
How did you find the process of working in a collective?
MM Everybody does a little bit of everything. The process of working on it and creating on it, and still continuing, is very exciting. It’s the first time for me that I’ve created anything collectively outside of the Company of Fools. It’s been twenty years since I’ve created anything collectively.
RG She’s not really a “people person.”
TL Everybody has an opinion; we’re actors, we’re not afraid to express them.
MM David [Whiteley] is listed as our director because he is not acting in the show this time and he is acting as the outside eye, so he is constantly watching from the outside. But whenever anyone has an idea, they’re allowed to say it.
Have you had a creative impass? How do you deal with that?
TL We haven’t yet had an impass.
DW Sometimes there has been a bit of a struggle to get concensus, we sort of acknowledge it – “Well I kind of do like this thing, but I can see that we can get a concensus around this other idea so we’ll go with it.” And I can see when it has merit to it – I don’t think anyone has ever gone, “Well that’s the wrong way to do it, it doesn’t work, but no one’s listening to me.”
TL We’ve been brutal in our cuts. Fortunately this group is pretty mature and nothing is precious to us. So we’re quite willing to cut and move and paste and add, even to the stuff we wrote ourselves.
How much did everyone contribute to the process?
RG I in fact wrote none of it.
MM Richard’s fortÃ© is actually looking at things that are already written and pointing out what doesn’t quite work or suggesting a better way of doing it. He’s actually been quite helpful with that. Teri wrote a song at the beginning plus two monologue sections. David [Whiteley] did not write anything for this version, except a very important two-line exchange. So David Hersh and I wrote most of it.
TL All of the monologues for the character of Allais I found in a book. He actually wrote them about Absinthe.
RG He wrote this long stream- of-consciousness poem so we wrote that into it.
MM Several pieces are taken from actual french political tracts and just kind of put them together in this one speech.
What was the genesis of the idea?
MM Drinking, drinking…
TL Some of us were out after seeing a show, and we were talking, throwing ideas around, and on the menu at this restaurant they had Absinthe. And Margo’s husband was in the middle of talking about how he wanted to take a leave of absence from work. So I said, “Somebody write this down. A Leave of Absinthe.” And all of a sudden, all of us went “bing!”
MM What we should mention is that David Whitely came to us – David Hersh, Teri Loretto, and myself, and said, ‘You are three people I really love to work with, and I would really like for us to do a project together, so let’s find something to do.’ Our idea was to do a project that would have a long creation process, where would rehearse like Russians for nine months and create something really beautiful and astounding with lots of stage magic. But we were thinking of using an existing text like Chekhov or something like that. We all sat down and we discussed what we were fascinated with, or wanted to play, but we couldn’t find anything that fit what we were looking for. So a year went by and we were still vaguely kind of thinking about making a collective together. And then we thought we would try to do something for the fringe, even if we did something as an existing text. But then Teri came up with this idea and all of the sudden, we thought… could we do something like that?
TL Within a week we had stacks and stacks of research. Just google ‘absinthe’ and you get tons and tons of hits.
RG And Margo lived in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century, so she knew alot about it already.
What has the response to your show been so far?
TL Even just the name, they see our card, they see the green fairy, absinthe, they go ooooo… there’s a mystique about it.
MM Part of the thing we do with the play is explore the truth and the mystique. I was recently in France and brought back several different examples of absinthe, and uh…
RG We explored the mystique.
MM You can get some versions here, it’s not illegal, but the stuff that comes from France is a bit stronger, but mostly with alcohol content. The only difference between absinthe and other strong alcohols is an element that comes from the wormwood…
TL I think the name and the mystique draw people in. There are so many historical characters that are involved in absinthe. And even today, there are some people… we had a running joke that if we can get Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Robert Lepage to produce this, we’ll be rockin’!
MM We’re considering this the first step of a major project that we want to tour nationally and internationally.
TL Ideally an hour and forty minutes.
RG If we can get a big name attached, maybe we can be sponsored by an oil company.
A Leave of Absinthe plays from June 22-29 in the Arts Court Theatre.