Steven Ratzlaff in TPM’s 2010 production of The Last Man in Puntarenas
Playwright Steven Ratzlaff has adapted his short play Last Man in Puntarenas to video. Now titled The Case of Juanita Sanchez, this special screening will be available on Facebook Thursday June 4th at 7:00pm. (and on Vimeo after June 5th)
Steven and dramaturg Bill Kerr sit down for a digital exchange to talk about adaptation, art, collaboration, and Nietzsche…
The Case of Juanita Sanchez is based on your short play The Last Man in Puntarenas produced by TPM in 2010 for In the Chamber–a series showcasing writer/performers. What was the inspiration for the story then and why have you adapted it for digital viewing now?
At the time my wife, Catheryn Martens, was training people in investigating critical incidents in hospitals. I tagged along a few times when she traveled and became interested in the approach she was teaching: Human Factors Analysis. This approach was first developed through looking at aircraft malfunctions and has wide application. When Gord Tanner and I were commissioned to do one act plays for In the Chamber, we thought it would be good to use the same starting point. Gord has an engineering background, so I suggested investigating critical incidents. He ended up writing about pig barn fires. (An enduring theatrical image for me is Gord in a farrowing crate.) I wrote about the death of a child in the pediatric cardiac surgery program at Health Sciences Centre in 1994. Because of significant problems that year, the program became the subject of a major inquest, so the details of the 12 deaths that occurred then are in the public record. Hugo, the fictitious character in my play, had a child whose death was examined by the inquest. Hugo was preoccupied with how experiencing life as risk assessment affected a person’s (his ex-wife’s) ability to suffer.
It was easy to imagine what Hugo would think of our present situation. It was also easy to do a bare bones film adaptation.
Gord Tanner in TPM’s 2010 In The Chamber production of Last Man in Krakendorf
Aside from focusing on the image of Gord Tanner in a farrowing crate (or rather trying not to focus on that image), I am struck by what you say about Human Factors Analysis, risk assessment and the ability to suffer. Could you expand on your yoking of these seemingly very disparate ideas, or at least on what led you to yoke them together, and, perhaps say more about Hugo’s thoughts about such ideas in the present time and situation.
In the original play Hugo had a place in Costa Rica, not far from our Premier’s place. He wanted to be thrust through the sky at tremendous speed, yet in complete safety. For such violent propulsion to become banal and commonplace, requires huge expenditures in resources, human and natural, intricately designed safety procedures, and an integrated global system that people mistake for normal life. Ditto for health care, food and power distribution and so on.
Hugo is shaken out of his coddled existence when Nietzsche appears to him in a vision (Gord Tanner sounding like Colonel Klink). Look at you, you last man, Despicable because unable to despise yourself. You dislike chaos. You make the world small. You have left the places where life is hard. You proceed carefully and live long. You take a little poison for sweet dreams and then finally a lot for an agreeable end. You still quarrel, but not too much for fear of causing indigestion. You have a high regard for health and happiness.
Steven Ratzlaff in TPM’s 2010 In The Chamber production of The Last Man in Puntarenas
Anyway, I feel more under Nietzsche’s judgment now than I did a decade ago when I wrote the play, but I care about it less. That’s called getting old and lazy. But this pandemic has shown how completely we are part of a global system that is supposedly able to manage risk, how vulnerable it is, and how afraid we are. So I thought it was a good time to revisit this play. As for suffering, we put down the family dog when he is incapacitated, but not the family member. Why? Well, it doesn’t seem right to do so, even if we have consent. We sit beside our loved one as she suffers, because we feel there is something being done by her. Maybe.
By the way, there is no Nietzsche in the film. Readers of this shouldn’t be alarmed.
What? No Nietzsche? I hardly know how to react. Would you speak more about the move to film here. What did working in this medium offer you? How did it hinder you? Speak to as well, if you would, about your long and fruitful collaboration with Sarah Constible and the move of that collaboration to this filming.
It has been a long collaboration dating back to when Sarah was a teenager. It was your colleague, Margaret Groome, who brought us together. Sarah was a last-minute emergency addition to the cast of a play I was in at The Black Hole. The play was lifted up and saved by her in one rehearsal. At the end of the production I told Sarah that I wanted to work with her at any opportunity. And that is what has happened. I was old enough to know that her large talent combined with her humour, grace and provocation in collaboration, is rare. So, working in this medium at this time offered me another chance to work with Sarah. (She directed the original play.)
Steven Ratzlaff and Sarah Constible in TPM’s 2016 production of Reservations by Steven Ratzlaff
I didn’t feel the medium hindered me because it was something I wanted to try, and some aspects of it felt like a relief. A theatre company has to put my play in their season (assuming they have one) for it to be produced. (I’m too old and lazy to consider independent production.) For this project, after a Zoom session and some emails, Sarah shows up with equipment that fits into the back of a car, and we can shoot for a few hours. She then does her editing thing and it’s ready to share with the public. I’ve written some unproduced plays, but I don’t know if I would continue to write without any prospect of sharing. So I think this experience is going to affect how I write in the future. I can imagine doing this kind of thing again. Obviously, to share the work, it’s critical to have a platform that has followers interested in this kind of thing. This is why TPM is so vital.
Bill, I’d like to ask you a question or two. They tell me that art, like religion, can flourish under suppression. Well, it looks like theatre is going to be suppressed for some time. I guess we’ll find out. But do you have any thoughts on this period of time that we have entered, particularly about political theatre?
It does look a very difficult time for theatre of any kind, let alone political theatre which can be difficult to do well at the best of times. The irony, of course, is that there will be, at the same time, a more pressing need for it. We have to find some means to articulate a way forward that will not push beyond, will not exhaust all extremes, all resources. Theatre from its Greek origins has been about finding, exploring, and extolling a communal means of living. That need is more urgent than ever.
As my faithful dramaturg and friend, more than anyone, you have seen me trying to write. I sometimes feel like a boy pushing his toy soldiers into a battle that he is unable or unwilling to join.
But that doesn’t seem right. Does it?
Steven Ratzlaff in TPM’s 2016 production of Reservations by Steven Ratzlaff
That doesn’t seem right, no. Nor does it seem accurate. What I have seen, what I have been excited to work with you on, is your insistent challenging of accepted norms. Your ideas, your plays are rightly dangerous, taking risks that put you on the edge of the accepted coming from either side of the political and social spectrum. It is at those points that you can, as the Greeks did, find, explore, and challenge what it is to live in a healthy polis. Having said that, the male characters in the plays do seem to be moving ever closer to, I’m not quite sure how to say it, ultimate ineffectiveness, perhaps, or at least a sort of willing obtuseness at times, a pushing of the envelope beyond accepted norms. Does that make any sense?
Yes, it does. Almost everything you say makes sense, one of the reasons you’re a delight to work with. I’m not sure why my characters are like that because it comes unbidden, that’s for sure. If anything, I have to rein in the impulse to make my male characters disagreeable. Any psychologically astute person could surmise what in my early life accounts for that. I can’t or don’t. Something like that could only come from the unconscious, and I have no trouble avoiding investigation because I assume the unconscious doesn’t exist.
The only theatrical reason I can imagine, would be to distance the audience from the character, as if say, “Go ahead. Dismiss me. You’ve got your excuse. I’m a jerk.” That being said, I just want to say that Hugo is more of a jerk than I am. He’s also more courageous.
Also, thank you for answering my self-deprecating question with the assuring praise I was so hoping to elicit.
The Case of Juanita Sanchez will stream on Facebook June 4th at 7:00pm.
It will be available for viewing on Vimeo starting Friday June 5th.
Featuring: Steven Ratzlaff as Hugo & Sarah Constible as Alix
Shot and Edited by Sarah Constible
Dramaturgy: Bill Kerr
Steven Ratzlaff is a Winnipeg actor, playwright and house painter. Theatre Projects Manitoba has produced three of his plays; Last Man in Puntarenas, Dionysus in Stony Mountain and Reservations. He is currently, rather belatedly, going through that necessary rite of passage for any truly Canadian playwright, writing a play set in a small town.
Bill Kerr is an Associate Professor in the Department of English, Theatre, Film and Media at the University of Manitoba. He has been working as a dramaturg and teaching dramaturgy in Winnipeg for the past twenty years which has included a long collaboration with Steven Ratzlaff, on such plays as Dionysus in Stony Mountain and Reservations for Theatre Projects, and on Banderas Bay, Gatley, and the much missed Mobile Vasectomy Unit.
TPM is looking to connect with the voices of our region by hosting online meetings. This is a time to share your artistic practice or to express your desire to work on TPM’s production and design teams. To enhance our digital meeting, we request artists to pre-submit materials that will help us learn more about you and your artistic practice.
This call is open to artists across the disciplines – performers, visual artists, producers, writers, creators, and those whose work intersects with artists. Performers who have not auditioned for TPM before are encouraged to share a short piece of their choosing. Artists and colleagues who have worked with us before are also encouraged to book a time with Ardith. We miss you. Let’s connect!
TPM is committed to creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable working environment. TPM encourages submissions from those who self-identify as members of under-represented communities.
All artists – Please see below for materials to include with your submission.
Auditions and Meetings will be held over Zoom by Artistic Director Ardith Boxall
Submission Deadline: June 5th 2020
Zoom Meetings: June 10th &11th 2020
Email submission to: [email protected]
(Please put Meeting with Ardith in the subject line)
Submit a Maximum of 4 minutes for video and sound, 5 images, and/or 5 pages of written submission.
For Performing Artists – Actors, Dancers, Writers, Musicians, Creators
– Resume and headshot
And one or more of the following options that best showcase your skills
– Optional submission of video or images showcasing your talents
– Option to do a general audition (one monologue or song) – Submission of writing or music sample
For Production, Design, and Graphic Artists
– Resume / Portfolio/Website
Theatre Projects Manitoba was founded in 1990 as an artist-driven organization and a theatre-at-large, using a variety of venues for performance locations. Committed to the cultivation of Canadian Theatre, in the past 30 years TPM has staged more than 50 new Manitoban works.
TPM’s objectives are twofold: To develop and produce theatre that illuminates the human condition as well as to provide challenging opportunities for the growth of the artists of this region
TPM parcel from home 7th edition!
Wow that week flew by! We hope you are basking in some sunshine and fresh air. We miss you a lot. All of us at TPM are working hard to navigate this new and rapidly shifting world. We are zooming and grooming, dreaming and scheming, and hoping and playing. It’s not always easy. Like each of you, we are experiencing highs and lows. Often in the same day. It’s a wild ride and often simply exhausting. Nevertheless, we are here. Thank you to everyone who has sent a note of support or words of encouragement these past weeks. We share these on our staff calls. They connect us; reminding us of our common bond. They bring joy and hope.
Even though we can’t meet up in person quite yet Manitoba’s arts community continues to find ways to bring us fantastic programming. There are lots of great performances, events, and projects coming up soon. Here are a few of our top picks!
Davis Plett and Gislina Patterson present 805-4821 at the OFFTA festival
Local artists Gislina Patterson and Davis Plett of the theatre company We Quit Theatre are showcasing their work at the OFFTA Festival, an online festival dedicated to avant-garde creation in live art.
Davis Plett was the sound designer for Beautiful Man and Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), and Gislina Patterson is a playwright and theatre artist who received the Reg Skene Award for Emerging Theatre Artist for Directing in 2019.
Their show 805-4821 is a trans coming out story made out of other stories: a dialogue from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a half-remembered swim lesson, and an 80,000-word Facebook correspondence.
The festival runs May 22-31. For more information click here to go to the OFFTA website.
‘Don’t Wanna Let U Go’ Virtual Release Party
Musician Brittany Thiessen brings us the second installment of her instagram live parties featuring some of Winnipeg’s most dynamic artists. Join the party @funlifefunlifefunlife!
‘Bring Your Own Mic’ Concert Series
The West Cultural Centre is offering a new concert series called ‘Bring Your Own Mic’.
This is series of ticketed, live-streamed concerts by select Manitoba artists brought to audiences through an accessible $2 paywall and streamed on Vimeo, essentially turning the WECC into a television studio.
Artspace call for submissions for Manitoba Arts Community
The Artspace is creating a fundraising initiative that will see the publication of a collection of visual and written pieces by Manitoba’s artistic community, capturing a unique time in our history and forging it into a keepsake momento book.
Members and friends of the Artspace community are encouraged to submit the art they are making, the words they are writing, and the things they are seeing throughout this strange time.
The submission deadline is prior to Friday June 19,2020. For more information the project and the type of artwork they are looking for visit their Facebook event page.
RMTC’s Backstage in the Peg – Episode Two
The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre brings us another great episode of Backstage in the Peg!
This episode feature more fantastic locals including a spotlight on philanthropist and arts enthusiast Gail Asper, multi-threat performer Kimberley Rampersad, and talented comedians Andrea del Campo and Gord Tanner!
These are financially challenging times for us – we are doing all we can to batten down the hatches, but the drain is real. We are doing all we can to keep our small yet mighty staff employed. If you have the capacity to give, please consider a donation to Theatre Projects Manitoba. The very best way to do this right now is through Canada Helps, who will issue you a tax receipt online and nearly instantly.