Interview with Leah Bailly (Some Reckless Abandon)
by Dave Deveau (My Funny Valentine)
Leah Bailly, writer and citizen of the world, can never quite be pinpointed geographically. Her travels channel into her work through a multitude of genres – travel writing, poetry, screenplay, new media, and, naturally, theatre. Her latest work “Some Reckless Abandon”, which visits SummerWorks as part of a larger tour, has emerged quite organically through a variety of media. Toronto theatregoers are fortunate enough to have it land at the Passe Muraille Backspace. Leah took some time out of her jet-setting to answer some of my questions about this latest solo work:
1) What’s the draw of evangelical bible camp for you? Do you have a connection to fundamentalism? A fascination?
When I was 18 years old, I traveled for nearly three years through Latin America, backpacking sort of directionlessly from Mexico to Chile. One consistency I noticed in every country I visited was the missionary activity by big American Evangelical churches. These giant Baptist groups (complete with a bellowing Preacher with a Southern drawl) would set up in the soccer pitches and convert people night after night by offering medicine and food and salvation bribes to bring Christians into their congregations.
Evangelical Christianity has swept Latin America in recent years. Now one in five Latin Americans identify themselves as Pentecostal or Evangelical Christian, thanks largely to massive missionary efforts by these US-based churches. This missionary work is often done by teenage recruits— attractive young Christian women are very effective as an evangelizing force. These girls, often venturing out of their small rural communities for the first time, are often the most adventurous in their communities, and strike a very interesting relationship with the countries they are effectively colonizing. It made such compelling material for a play, I couldn’t resist.
2) Had you always known this piece would manifest as a solo show? What are the challenges/delights of writing for a single performer?
This piece began as a novella that I wrote in residency at The Banff Centre. Then, during the One Yellow Rabbit Summer Lab (in Calgary AB) I started playing with the idea of a voice-driven narrative that could be performed. I wanted to base the play on the young character (Madeleine) telling us from her point of view why she would sign up for Teenage Jesus Camp just to get out of her hopeless hometown. Madeleine is feisty, and a liar, and she manipulates her way into the Evangelical world as a means of escape. Having her voice relay the story was crucial.
3) What’s your working relationship with Cara? How did the two of you come to work on this project together?
Cara Yeates (the star of Some Reckless Abandon) and I met in an ashram in India in 2005. She was doing research for her last show (Bye Bye Bombay) and I was just beginning Reckless. Creative fires ignited. I showed her a very early draft of this script last summer (in 2008) and she immediately jumped on the project. Since then she has been co-producer and instrumental in not only setting up the tour (she’s a FABULOUS producer) but also as a great creative partner. Cara also brought director Lori Triolo to the project, another total rock star, and the team has really killed it since then.
4) Certainly we all have that moment of wanting to just get away from it all, where do you go? What’s your ultimate escape as an artist?
Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms
5) You seem to be all geographically all over the place right now. Tell us a bit about the places you currently occupy and what brings you there.
I work and live in transit. Currently, I live in Las Vegas NV where I am working on an international MFA in fiction, and where I also teach and edit a lit-journal. I weirdly love Las Vegas, and write about it all the time, first as a culture columnist, and most recently in various fiction projects. My next play titled “Terribles” is also set in Sin City.
Next, in January, I’m beginning a project with Journalists for Human Rights in Sierra Leone and Liberia. For five months or so I’ll be living in Freetown and Monrovia, writing articles on the West African journalists working on human rights stories. And I’m also working on my first novel, which will be partially set in the area.
Originally, I am from Calgary, but I’ve been living and traveling abroad for much of my twenties, from France to Kenya to India to Russia, and lately Vancouver, which must be one of the earth’s most stunning cities. Strangely, since my first three years in Latin America, I haven’t been back. It haunts me.
6) Where does this piece sit in the context of your other writing? Are you heading in a new direction or does it compliment your existing repertoire?
Some Reckless Abandon fits into the body of my work thematically more than anything. Most of my work (whether fiction, travel writing or theatre) deals with the concept of escape and restlessness. Like I said, in my twenties I spent something like 7 years abroad, always testing the limits of how disconnected and far away I could get. For a character like Madeleine, small communities are like traps, especially at 18 years old; any way out would be better than staying. The problem often surfaces though, that you do it alone, and the problems that you face grow to adult proportions very quickly.
7) Your piece employs a musician – how do you feel text and music work together to serve one another onstage?
Miss Emily Brown is a genius. Her music is gorgeous, like a tapestry, and emotionally complex and sweet and vulnerable and everything I think this show is about. So I think her music and my text work together in a totally complimentary way. When I asked her to use some of the material from her latest record “Part of You Pours Out of Me” she was so generous and hooked us up. Checkit: http://www.myspace.com/missemilybrown
8) What turns you on as an artist? You obviously write, but what other media excite you?
I’m working on a novel after a few years of short stories and articles and tons of travel writing, and now I have friends convincing me to write them screenplays, and collaborate on new media web projects… It all sounds amazing. My friend told me once that writing was for her the only way to surround herself with artists and be involved in their projects without having any real artistic talent like painting or music or performance. I think that is hilarious and true. We are just trying to get all of these other artists to manifest our ideas. A bit bossy. But rad.
9) As a fellow writer I’m always intrigued to hear about peoples’ process. Where do you write? When?
This project started as long as four years ago, and has taught me that my process is slow and deliberate. I move between genres: what starts as a poem turns into a short story and eventually a play. But the integral part of the work remains, often in the language. Cara and I worked hard to maintain the “teen angst poetry” aspect of this piece. Madeleine is very dramatic, and also a dreamer, and a writer too, in ways. She makes lists, describes settings, and chooses favorite moments to describe as if in photographs. That is how my writing process works too, in collage.
10) If you could whisper a single statement into the ear of your audience, what would it be?
It’s scary, because it’s real.