Human Moments in Time - an interview with Heather Taylor

This interview first appeared on Metaroar. One sunny afternoon on the South Bank over coffee and cake I spoke to poet, writer, performer and playwright Heather Taylor about her three new pieces Hostage : Bleach : Burn.

Can you tell me a little about how these new plays came in to being?

I wrote "Hostage" first. A friend suggested an actor whom she thought I should meet. When I met him he said to me 'I hear you are political, I'm not political' and that idea, that someone who did not have strong a political identity would end up in this situation, was the initial inspiration for the play.

The play is set in an unknown and unnamed place. It could be anywhere because it's about being held as a mental hostage. It was written at the time when Ken Bigley was killed and there were many questions coming up. The character describes his need to get away from his home country by saying "I'm not here for the money, I'm here to escape". There is a sense of other characters there but the audience does not see them. There were three prose sections in the play originally but they were removed and are now part of a collection called 'Horizon and Back', a collection of my poetry.

"Bleach" was inspired by a friend who was living in a small town in western Canada whose uncle died of AIDS. There was little acceptance of this in the community and I realised that the subject matter also brought to light other issues like adoption rights and gay marriage.

I wrote 'Burn' to conclude the trilogy. The play is about secrecy and was inspired by an incident where Pierre Laporte, a French Canadian, was taken hostage and killed. My main character is called Pierre Laporte Morell who believes that his mother has had an affair with the original Pierre Laporte.

People have asked why I am not performing the pieces myself but I feel that having an actor and director to work with gives a new dimension to the work.

Are there any themes that tie Hostage, Bleach and Burn together?

All the plays are about people who are trapped. It was a real revelation for me to work with a designer. The set appears to be sinking like the characters themselves. Also each piece has a ghost in it, a dead son, uncle and a dead father.

'Hostage' has an English protagonist, 'Bleach' is set in Western Canada and 'Burn' in Montreal - how relevant is a national and linguistic identity to these works?

I wanted to explore the prejudices of small town western Canada in 'Bleach', in 'Hostage' there seemed to be a lot of British people who were being held at the time and I wanted to look at this, and 'Burn' I specifically chose something that would include something in French. There is both French and English spoken in Montreal and I wanted to examine that divide. Some of the play is in French but it is not important that the audience know the language. In fact I got some of the dialogue translated for me.

What influence has poetry had on your dramatic writing ?

The stuff I write is very naturalistic. I choose my words very carefully, and I have poetic moments. Some people say that I should have more but I like naturalism. Although I am now playing with different styles.

I try and tell a story in my poetry, I look for a story in a word. I like to be very subtle and that comes from poetry. I trained as an actor and actors feedback that my work very much written with the performer in mind. I deliberately write without stage directions as I want the director to come in and say 'What can I do with this?'

The characters in these three new plays are in very difficult places in their lives where they have no choice - can you tell me more about this ?

I have always thought about the idea that 'where you are from is what makes you'. The only time your metal shows is in crisis, and what happens when you become broken.

Finally, what motivates you to write?

I think this is the story I want to tell, how should I do it? I try and tell those human moments in time.