As of January 7, 2013, this website will serve as an archive site only. For news, reviews and a connection with audience and creators of theatre all over the country, please go to The Charlebois Post - Canada.

Search This Blog

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ford's Focus: Alexandria Haber

Prolific Parent 
by Barbara Ford

Since coming back from summer hiatus, I am fully aware that this is the fourth female theatre profile I’ve written for CharPo but before the opposite sex congregates to raise a unified fist declaring unfair sisterhood bias, take a moment to ask yourself if it’s really fair to hold me responsible for a city overflowing with kick-ass women in theatre! 
Goulem and Haber and Repercussion
Theatre cast

Alexandria Haber started out wanting to act. She enrolled in Concordia’s theatre program and graduated in 1990. One of her first gigs after graduation was with Repercussion’s Shakespeare-in-the-Park which, that year was presenting Macbeth and A Comedy of Errors. While performing on the outdoor stages of a string of Montreal parks, she fell for fellow thespian, Al Goulem. 
Haber and Goulem had two children in quick succession, which kept Haber fairly housebound and in need of an artistic outlet. While pregnant with her second, she started to write. Her first written offspring was a one-woman play called Birthmarks. In 1995, it was chosen in the Montreal Fringe Lottery but the actress who was going to play the part wasn’t able to, so Haber had to step in. Two years later the play was remounted in the Fall for Theatre 1774’s (now Infinithéâtre) November to Remember festival.
With Goulem
With Birthmarks her calling card, Haber applied to and was accepted into the writing unit at Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal (PWM), under the Artistic Direction of Peter Smith at the time.  “It opened up a whole new world: it was possible to write and not necessarily all alone. I didn’t know the rules, how things got done so it felt wide open to me.” Writing, normally a solitary activity, became community supported, with the unit meeting once a month for a year to read, listen, brainstorm, critique and support one another’s efforts. When the unit drew to an end, they staged a public reading of all the plays at Centaur Theatre. Her offering was The Farm, which was later co-produced with Infinithéâtre in 1998.

1998 also marked Haber’s departure into radio plays with Washing Day, winner of the CBC Radio Sound FX contest in which writers were challenged to write a play around five specified sound effects. Her next was The Very Little Girl about a young woman who, after suffering a miscarriage, slowly starts to shrink. It won CBC Radio’s New Voices Competition, airing on Outfront and Monday Night Playhouse. Bill Lane produced that play and he urged Haber to write another. “I really liked working with Bill. My other experiences in radio involved no re-writing at all but Bill had a more artistic approach. There was an easy give and take to the creative process.” The result was A Grown Girl’s Guide to Gladness which aired on CBC Radio in 2004. 

Concordia Crackwalker cast which Haber directed
one year after graduating
A wellspring of productivity, Haber’s stage play The Full Molly was produced in the 1998 Fringe Fest and two years later, a second Fringe Fest play, Arrhythmia, was nominated for a MECCA (Montreal English Critics Circle Award) in the Best New Text and Best Production categories. In 2003, she collaborated with visual artist Christine Redfern to create So you wanna piece of me too, a short film produced by Buddies in Bad Times and Nightwood Theatre in Toronto for Hysteria, A Festival of Women and L’it, Infinithéâtre’s annual theatre magazine, published the text in its 2005 edition. Also in 2003, PWM commissioned Haber to write a play to commemorate their 40th Anniversary. The result was Dying To See You Again, produced in September 2003 in conjunction with Quebec’s Les journées de la culture and later again in Calgary by 8-0-8 Productions.  

That play isn’t the only Haber creation to leave the province. Her play, Ordinary Times, premiered out of town with Toronto’s Alumnae Theatre at the New Ideas Festival. It was consequently shown at Centaur, where she had been the former playwright-in-residence, in the Wildside Festival and toured to Winnipeg, under the Sarasvati Productions flag, for FemFest at the Prairie Theatre Exchange. “Quebec seems to be out of the national loop when it comes to touring. It’s a catch 22 trying to get a play done out of town: if your play has already been produced, they don’t want it but if you’re not known, your stuff is overlooked.”

Christmas Carol (l-r) Owen Clark, David Francis, Leni Parker, Charlotte Rogers,
Chris Hicks (photo: David Babcock)

However, last season (2010-11) Haber’s TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) play, I don’t like Mondays, enjoyed an extensive High School and CEGEP tour throughout the city with Geordie Theatre. This was not Haber’s first association with Geordie as a writer. In 2009, the company commissioned her to write a script based on the Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol, which was a family holiday favourite that winter.

I Don't Like Mondays
l-r Adam Driscoll, Charlotte Rogers
(photo: David Babcock)
Between the writing and her family, Haber miraculously found time to keep her acting chops in shape too, playing roles for Tricycle Productions (Charlotte’s Web), Centaur Theatre (Miss Jean Brodie and Romeo and Juliet), Imago (a director’s gym for audiences using various scenes from The Little Years) and Infinithéâtre (Seventeen (Anonymous) Women). I asked how she and Al manage their family life with two working artists as parents. “Somehow we work it out. Usually when one is working the other isn’t. I do remember one time, though, when we were both working not only at the same time but both at Centaur. I was in Romeo and Juliet, Al was in The Caretaker and he was directing The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine out in Hudson. We had an elaborate system for exchanging house keys but it didn’t always work and the kids were always calling one of us to say they were locked out. One day at Centaur I got an emergency call from one of the kids. A woman working in the box office tried to make me feel better by telling me that Al Goulem’s kids were as forgetful as mine with their keys … she had no idea we were all the same family!”

Writing for a novel is tough; I find short stories are closer to script writing.

Haber is a voracious reader of novels and short stories but for writing prose, she favours the short story format. “Writing for a novel is tough; I find short stories are closer to script writing.” In 2002, Haber wrote a short story entitled Housekeeping, which was published in Fruits of the Vine, an anthology by the Canadian Authors Association. In 2004, Loved won the Quebec Writers Federation-CBC short story competition and was published by Véhicule Press in Short Stuff: New English Stories in the spring of 2005. 2006 was productive with two short stories published in Cahoots Magazine, Saskatoon: New Year’s Day (Winter edition), and a second Housekeeping short story (Fall edition). The Housekeeping short stories were the genesis of Haber’s big hit, Housekeeping and Homewrecking (H&H), which first played at the 2007 Montreal Fringe Festival. It received an in-house workshop at PWM and a lengthier version was presented at Theatre Ste-Catherine (TSC) that fall. It won the MECCA for Best Ensemble Production the following year. Haber took a stab at farming it out to Toronto’s Factory Theatre but the project unfortunately fell apart. 

Family and Mom in Cuba
Haber was one of the actors in H&H with husband Al Goulem directing the seven member cast of both the Fringe and TSC productions. Like every other journalist who’s interviewed Haber, I unimaginatively asked how that relationship worked.  Not only is your life partner interpreting your work artistically but he’s directing you in that same work. It could be a recipe for disaster, not to mention grounds for divorce. “Al directing my scripts is our best arrangement artistically. He’s amazingly talented at knowing what matters; he has great instincts. I give him my stuff to read all the time as I’m working on it. He knows me really well, he knows my writing really well, and he has a great respect for writers and includes me in that category. I trust him implicitly and feel safe in his hands. Whether it’s Al or another director, I have no problem letting a play go once it’s written. If it’s well written, the director and the actors will know what I intended. I like to be at the initial table read, but I don’t think it’s fair to the director or the cast for me to keep hanging around making constant re-writes. They need to move it forward and get it set.”

I’m a bit trial and error, especially when I first started out … more of an unfolding writer than a structured writer...

Customarily Haber gets an idea and just starts writing with no clue as to where it will take her, with a play taking approximately a year to write unless it’s for a competition that’s suddenly appeared on her radar, in which case it’s the dawn patrol and burning the midnight oil to make the deadline. A staunch believer in routine, she tries to write every morning whether she has something on the burner or not, not a small feat for a working parent. “It’s just a good habit to get into. You’ve got to have perseverance and habit. Everybody has good ideas; good ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s getting them down on paper that counts.” 

Haber aspires to small casts for her plays but, she admitted sheepishly, frequently ends up with large casts. “I’m a bit trial and error, especially when I first started out … more of an unfolding writer than a structured writer though I’ve learned a lot more about that from Ned Cox.” She and Cox have collaborated several times since they met in the same writing unit at PWM. In 2008, she was one of three actors in Hellavator (also directed by Goulem), Cox’s dark comedy staged pre and post Halloween in a working freight elevator of the infamous Warshaw building on St-Laurent. She had her work cut out for her as the ‘straight man’ to Michel Perron and Neil Napier in the surreal script about a couple stuck in an elevator with an unusual maintenance man. “The whole play took place inside the elevator with a small audience sitting in a cordoned off hallway. The first ten minutes of the play were in total darkness and because there were no wings – it’s an office building - we had to wait in the parking lot until it was time to go up in the freight. Comedy is frigging hard, especially with Michel and Neil cracking me up every night in that parking lot!”

In 2009, Haber won Infinithéâtre’s annual Write-On-Q! competition with Life Here After and will see it produced with Imago Theatre in the Fall of 2012. That same autumn, Haber played Olive in Paul Van Dyck’s Haunted, which premiered at the St. James United Church and was recently re-mounted over the Halloween period at the Hudson Village Theatre. Van Dyck was in the same writing unit with Haber and Cox at PWM and Haunted was the play he was working on at the time. Last Spring she was one of four strong female actors in Cox’s comedy, Book Club, at the intimate Freestanding Room. 

You have to get out there and grab whatever opportunities there are...

In 2009, the International Just for Laughs Festival implemented a new initiative called Zoofest, putting out a call for submissions, though rather late in the game. If you didn’t already have a play on the shelf, it would be a mad dash to the finish line. Both Cox and Haber submitted their ideas, Haber’s was accepted, and she paired up with Cox to co-write Four minutes if you bleed. “When we were reading Hellavator at Playwrights’ and then later when we were rehearsing it, I saw that Alex and I shared the same twisted sense of humour,” said Cox in a previous interview. To meet the deadline, they divided up the workload, wrote at home and then met up, laptops in tow, at the library or at a nearby café, (they both live in NDG). “Ned is more structured than I am and I’m more definite … not afraid to say when it’s time to stop making changes and start to flesh out the structure. We stood our ground if there was something we felt strongly about but never had any stalemates; we always seemed to come to an agreement quite naturally.”

Brett Watson and Paula Jean Hixson in Four Minutes
If You Bleed by Julian Haber
I was curious about the process of getting a play produced in Centaur’s Brave New Looks. “Roy [Surette], like Gord [McCall, previous Centaur Artistic Director], is very approachable when it comes to new work. He wasn’t familiar with my work so I just picked up the phone and called him to ask for a meet. I gave him the Four minutes script; he read it and called me to say he wanted to do it. There aren’t that many initiatives here to develop new work. Outside of Playwrights’, Montreal has nothing dedicated to play development like in other Canadian theatres outside the province where they have playwriting units attached to them. You have to get out there and grab whatever opportunities there are and this was one of them.”

Hixson and Watson in Four Minutes...
Though she has no writing agent, Haber continues to perfect her craft, lately broadening her scope to include writing for film and television. She has completed two feature film thrillers (Web of Danger and Missed Connections) and La Galère, a collection of scenes for TV with Alliance Vivafilm. “It’s a whole new format with a pretty set formula you have to follow. It’s a big learning curve but I was green when I started to write for radio and I learned that so …”

Life at the Haber/Goulem household can be chaotic at times, now with four children between the ages of 8 and 18 but Haber says: “I consider us very fortunate, that we’re able to make a living doing what we love, but we couldn’t have done it without our families; they were really there for us – very supportive, especially when the kids were younger.” 

Between all the activities she’s involved with, for work and her family, you can catch Haber on Centaur’s stage in the Brave New Looks presentation of her play Four minutes if you Bleed, co-written with Ned Cox, from November 24 to December 3, 2011. For information or tickets, call the Centaur Box Office at (514) 288 – 3161.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please read our guidelines for posting comments.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.