Q+A with Valmai Goggin
From inside the Lunchbox, the director emerges. After spending the year in deep at Lunchbox Theatre as its RBC Emerging Director, Valmai Goggin now gets the chance to take the reins of her own show. She has chosen to direct The Lover, Harold Pinter’s 1962 dark, comedic tale of the sexual adventures of a married couple. Goggin sat down with Jon Roe to talk about what she learned and why she picked The Lover.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from this year? Directors often work in a little bit of a bubble in that you don’t often get to collaborate with other directors on projects. There’s a sense of, what is everyone else doing? Getting to work on four shows with four very different directors with four very different processes—it was nice to see the things in common and it was nice to see the deviations people make based on their own process and based on the script.
Was directing always part of your plan? Yeah. Like many people, I started out as an actor and within a couple years really fell in love with directing. I’ve been pursuing that for a quite a few years now.
What made you want to pursue directing? Probably the fact that I’m better at directing than I am at acting. As a director, you get to have your hands in a lot of different pots, so to speak, in terms of being able to tell the story not only from an acting perspective, but also in terms of design and environment. The bird’s eye view of the storytelling process was really appealing to me.
Did you dabble in directing prior to your MFA in directing at the University of Calgary? I spent a couple of seasons at an outdoor Shakespeare company in Sackville, N.B. and did some work there. When I really became serious about directing, I was actually living in Iqaluit, NU. and doing quite a bit of community theatre up there, including their first-ever production of a Shakespeare play. It was working up there that really renewed my interest in directing and clarified for me that I really did want to go back and pursue a higher level of training and hone my craft.
Why were you up in Iqaluit? My boyfriend and I moved up there for pretty basic student financial reasons: to get rid of some loans and a change of scenery. We went up there with a very short-term plan of staying, and ended up staying there for two years. We fell in love with the town and the people. There really is a lovely little arts community up there. We literally did community theatre out of pockets and on our kitchen tables. It really was an incredible experience. I think everyone should live up north at some point, it’s so beautiful.
Were you going to school? No, I was a wildly unqualified business sales administrator for Northwestel, which is the telecom up there. My boyfriend worked as a graphic designer. We were doing theatre in our off hours and it became clearer and clearer to me that I wanted to pursue that as a full time profession.
Why’d you pick The Lover to direct? Harold Pinter has always been my favourite playwright. His experimentations and use of language are really fascinating. His ability to communicate so much with staccato or condensed dialogue is quite extraordinary and powerful. The Lover really spoke to me as a very challenging text, both for myself as a director and for the actors, for us to wade through and navigate the story. It’s also a really classic Pinter play in that it’s the darkest of dark comedies. You’re really trying to navigate a story where people are laughing at one moment and suddenly faced with something strange and disturbing in the next. It seemed a great fit in the Lunchbox space, in terms of being able to tell the story in the theatre. Also, I really wanted a script I could sink my teeth into with a team of talented professionals.
The play’s interpretation can swing between comedy or a bit more dramatic. Do you hit the middle of the road in that sense? I think so. As with all of Pinter’s plays, it does swing the pendulum between the comic and the dramatic. Navigating between the two is part of my task as a director. It’s sometimes more powerful when you can rocket people from one extreme to the other in a one act play. I think heading too far in one direction or the other can be a bit of a misdirection. As we work our way through the script and try to break down to play, we’re trying to negotiate what are those moments of comedy and what are those moments of drama. You do all that work in the rehearsal hall and you get up in front of an audience and who knows what they’re going to think is funny or what they think is sad. It’s part of the fun and terror of it all.
Is the play going to be set in the ’60s? The play was written and set in 1962. I’ve kept it there because I feel it is a bit of a period piece in terms of the characters and the world that they live in. We toyed with the idea of updating it, but I think it’s a stronger story when you keep it in that early ’60s time period.
The sexual nature of the story was quite shocking at the time for audiences. What can contemporary audiences take away from it? Pinter wrote it at a time when the Sexual Revolution was sort of starting to get underway. Second-wave Feminism was starting to pick up and the idea of people talking openly about their relationships and the emotional and sexual qualities of that was really starting to get some traction. It really would have shocked audiences in the day. It stands the test of time because it’s really an examination of the games that we play and the rules that we set up in our relationships and in our dealings with other people. And how tenuous and breakable that can be when a person decides not to adhere to the rules or not to follow the game that’s been set up.
What’s next for you? I’m really delighted to stay on for a little bit more with Lunchbox as a festival assistant and director for this year’s Stage One Festival. I’m really excited to be working with new scripts and sitting in on some of those processes. I’m teaching for Artstrek 2013 this summer in Red Deer. I really love to teach and that’s always been a big part of my artistic career. And then in September I’m really delighted to be taking over the artistic producer role with Evergreen Theatre. It’s a theatre for young audiences company in Calgary. Their mandate involves environmentally or science-based arts education for children. We workshop and develop scripts with a curriculum component, usually something science or environment based. The shows are rehearsed and toured to schools around the province. Evergreen Theatre also runs a residency program where they send artists into schools for a week to create a show from scratch with the students. One of their newest mandates is the Big Green Puppet Bus. They’ve bought an old transit bus and converted it into a movable puppet theatre for children. I’m replacing Jacqueline Russell, who’s the outgoing artistic producer.
The Lover: RBC Emerging Director’s Showcase. Thursday, May 30 to Saturday, June 1 at Lunchbox Theatre, 160, 115 9th Ave. S.E. $10. 403-265-4292, lunchboxtheatre.com.