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SummerWorks 2010: An Interview with "Say Ginger Ale" Playwright, Marcia Johnson

donna g: I certainly did not expect to have the book Anne of Green Gables pop up in a play about a Jamaican-born Canadian woman traveling back to Jamaica. Was the book a favourite of yours or was the love of the book something you created for your character, Nadia?

Marcia Johnson: I loved that book when I read it at 13 and still loved it as an adult when I read it chapter by chapter to my goddaughter at bedtime when she was 7.

donna g: Say Ginger Ale had a reading at the 2009 International Women Playwrights Conference in Mumbai, India and was well-received. Were you surprised at the response to this Caribbean play, and could you share some of the feedback you received from the audience?

Marcia Johnson: I was very surprised. I thought that some of the humour and issues might not have translated but, in the end, family relationships and conflicts are universal. Plus, everyone has a “fitting in” or migration story. The lone male Indian actor in the reading said that he had relatives in the States. Say Ginger Ale helped them understand why they seemed to feel so guilty whenever they visited family in India.

donna g: You have a good team of actors in this play: Ordena, Andrew Moodie, Raven Dauda, Norma Clarke and Sharon Forrester. Did you hold auditions for the play or did you have these actors in mind?

Marcia Johnson: Luckily, I already knew the actors. I approached them and they all said yes. No auditions required. Thank goodness for talented friends.

donna g: You begin the play with what I call, “The Barrel Scene”. For those who haven’t seen the play yet could you please explain this very familiar item to those who may not be familiar with this item?

Marcia Johnson: Most Jamaican families I knew sent barrels filled with hand-me-downs, dry goods, toiletries and whatever else we could think to family members back home. My mother would shop and collect for months before sending a barrel or two. And yes, she would fill at as much as she could.

donna g: This play was inspired by your own trip “back home” and the legacy of your grandmother. What do you think she would have thought of the grandmother in your play? Also, Jamaican mothers can puff up with pride in public at their children’s accomplishments, but brutally honest in their criticism of the same child in private. What does your mother think of the play, and are there any elements of the play that she thought should not have been revealed about Jamaican life?

Marcia Johnson: The title of this play has been kicking around for years. I’d written a monologue about the flight from Jamaica, reuniting with my parents and meeting my new baby sister long before I’d identified myself as a playwright. I pitched the story to CBC Radio and had gotten the green light. My grandmother, who had been living in Canada for years, died and had arranged for her funeral in Jamaica. I told the story of the flight with her to Canada as part of my eulogy. I was touched that, even though people were sad, this story made them smile and even laugh. I knew it had to be in the play. My mother saw the play on Sunday. She laughed, cried, congratulated the actors on their good work, then announced that she was going to “bop me” for some of the things I’d written. Ah, yes a Jamaican mother’s compliments come laced with a few jabs to bring one down a peg. I’m sure she’ll give me all the details after closing. In the mean time, she asked for extra programs to give to her Jamaican friends here and back home.

donna g: Before going in to see the play, I was very concerned that the run time was only 45 minutes instead of the average 60 minutes of most SummerWorks plays. After seeing the play, I was pleasantly surprised at how much you covered in such a short amount of time. I was completely satisfied that I had seen a complete show. On the other hand, I could see how the play could be developed for a longer run time. Do you have any plans to expand the play after SummerWorks?

Marcia Johnson: Please pass your comments on to any producer you are in contact with. The truth is, I have been wanting to develop this play for a long time. In the 6 years since it aired on CBC and the five years since I adapted it for the stage, the furthest I ever got was staged readings. I’d submitted two scripts to the Mumbai conference and this was the one chosen. I decided to look at that reading as my fond farewell to Say Ginger Ale. I had grown to believe that it wasn’t meant to be staged. The reaction from that international audience and the offer of help from fellow Canadian playwright and attendee, Tara Goldstein, was the encouragement I needed. I submitted the script to SummerWorks and the rest is history. I’m working on several other projects now. I have no current plans for Say Ginger Ale but anything can happen. There is more than enough material for it to be expanded to two hours.

Factory Studio Theatre
Thursday, August 12, 8:00 PM
Saturday, August 14, 5:30 PM
Sunday, August 15, 10:00 PM
Box Office: 416-504-7529


gigi said…
I really enjoyed this play, the actors were all great.The direction, the staging and of course the play itself made for a perfect evening out.

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