“I wasn’t setting out to write a play about camping”

An interview with Henry and Alice playwright, Michele Riml

The Arts Club’s Literary Manager Rachel Ditor sat down to talk with playwright Michele Riml about playwriting, Henry and Alice, and what happens next.

RD: Henry and Alices first appearance was in your play Sexy Laundry. When did you get the idea of writing another play for these characters?
MR: It hadn’t occurred to me until a few years ago when I went camping with a friend and we had terrible weather and a few other challenges and Henry and Alice popped into my head again. It just made me smile thinking of them in a campsite after having written about their experience in a luxury hotel in Sexy Laundry.

As a writer, I wasn’t setting out to write a play about camping. I was curious about what going “Into the Wild” means psychologically. Henry and Alice choose a geographical cure to avoid dealing with their economic problems, which have thrown them into an unknown place; a campsite, yes, but a larger unknown as well. So while they are camping and dealing with nature, I think the real “wild” they are venturing into is an emotional one. The unknown, learning to live with uncertainty, surrendering old ideas—all that interesting thematic territory to explore. And Henry and Alice seemed like the right people to help me do that.

RD: What’s it like to see your play with an audience for the first time?
MR: Honestly? Hard. I liken the lights going down as the play begins for the first time to being strapped into a roller coaster and just as it hits the first hill remembering that I hate roller coasters, but it’s too late to get off the ride. Seriously. You never really know what a play is going to be until it gets in front of an audience. It is the ultimate litmus test and I have no control over how the audience responds. So it’s hard. Ultimately rewarding though. Even exhilarating… like a roller coaster ride.

Andrew Wheeler and Susinn McFarlen. Photo by David Cooper.

RD: A play can go through changes in rehearsals based on the input of the artistic teamthe actors, director, designersdoes the audience influence change the play during previews?
MR: This is part of the roller coaster ride. I have to pay attention to how the audience is responding because it is really helpful. I think in a comedy you naturally pay attention to when the audience is laughing or when they are not. I think this play is a dramatic comedy, so I’m not as concerned with the laughs as I am with the listening. You can feel and even see when an audience is shifting and shuffling and not engaged. It can be a great cue to tighten things up, either right away or for a future production.

RD: Sexy Laundry has had many subsequent productions outside Vancouver. Have you seen any of the productions? Whats it like to see your plays produced elsewhere?
MR: t’s wonderful to have Sexy Laundry produced so often and in so many different places. It seems that marriage troubles are truly universal; audiences really relate to the play in Iceland and in LA. I love seeing what different actors and directors do with the script. Usually they have a lot of fun, and so do I. I’ve yet to see it performed in another language but my plan is to go see it in Poland this year if it is still running. They’ve mounted a wonderful production and I watched a bit of it on You Tube. I couldn’t understand a word, of course.

RD: Since Into the Wild is a kind of sequel to Sexy Laundry, do you have any plans to make this a trilogy?
MR: No. I feel like Henry and Alice have had a great run. My next project is about Ralph Waldo Emerson. Completely different.

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