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Wildside Festival's Nothing Never Happens in Norway: Interview with playwright Joanne Sarazen

Joanne Sarazen isn’t your average writer of musicals. In fact, she prefers it when everybody dies. That’s not to say that her latest show at the Wildside Theatre Festival won’t have a happy ending, but don’t expect a Canadian “Glee: The Musical.” Instead Sarazen combines live Norwegian folk rock with the political satire and social drama of Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm and The Master Builder.

Before the show’s run at the Centaur Theatre gets under way, Sarazen answered Nightlife.ca’s questions about meddling women and catchy opening numbers.


NIGHTLIFE.CA: You turned two heavy dramas – Rosmersholm and The Master Builder – into a frolicking good time of a musical. Where did that little bead of inspiration come from?
Sarazen: Nichole George approached me to write the book for an original musical and we threw some ideas around. She was interested in an adaptation of Rosmersholm, and I thought there was quite a bit of satire in The Master Builder. So I worked on both and noticed the striking similarities between the two stories, as well as the similarities between the leading male and female characters. So I tried, I hope successfully, to have the two mirror one another. And poke a little fun at them. The similarities between the male characters are most obvious in the relationship they have with the women in their lives. They’re easily convinced to make poor decisions by women who seem to waltz into their lives, and yet they both have strained relationships with their wives.

Are you a sucker for a happy ending?
I despise happy endings. I can handle a deus ex machina type of ending, or leaving things open ended. Or even the old "it was all just a dream" ending. But generally I prefer it when everybody dies.

Do you want to do the Ibsen plays justice? Or were they just a good starting point for a fun show about bored women messing stuff up?
I struggled with trying to stay true to the plays. The leading women in Ibsen plays are often symbols of Norway itself, struggling against oppression and complacency. They can’t accomplish certain goals because of their gender and are forced to use others to get what they need. Ibsen is a genius. How do you make fun of genius? I didn't want to appear as though I didn't appreciate or respect the source material. But the director, Nichole George, gave me great advice. She told me I had to write the play I wanted to write. So that's what I did. And if you want to know if Ibsen would punch me in the jaw for what I've done to two of his masterpieces, you're just going to have to see the show to find out.

Of all the musical genres you could have chosen, why Norwegian folk rock?
It was used as inspiration. But the musical uses a tremendous variety of musical styles including Kurt Weill and Edvard Grieg. Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist who scored some of Ibsen's work.

Did you know anything about Norwegian folk rock before writing the show?
Not really. And I still don't. The best description would probably be Celtic and noisy.

There are a number of fur-wearing ladies in the poster for the show. Were any vegans upset about all the fur during Fringe last year?
They seemed fine with the fur. But they were really upset when we made each audience member eat an entire 12oz rib-eye during the performance.

Did you win any awards at Fringe?
We were nominated for The Mainline Next Stage Award, The Wildside Award, and The Cirque Du Soleil Award. But we didn't win any of them. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. I guess we were invited to the Centaur based on the positive reaction we got from the Fringe.

What's next after this festival?
Hopefully a gigantic theatre company who will pay us millions of dollars will pick us up and an original musical will peak the interest of both avid theatre-goers and people who wouldn't normally go to the theatre. The cast is brilliant and the music is incredibly catchy. And my first play, Jesus Jello: The Miraculous Confection, will be remounted in Toronto this summer.

Nothing Never Happens in Norway
January 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12 | Wildside Theatre Festival
Centaur Theatre | 453 Saint-François-Xavier | centaurtheatre.com