Is this your first time working with Oldcastle? They did a reading of this play in 2010. So my first time with a full production.
How long have you been writing plays?
My first one-act went up in about 1995, so that was 18 years. Oh my god! About 18 years!
Where did the idea for this play come from?
I heard a story on NPR about colony collapse disorder; this would have been in about 2008 or 2009. And it really just struck me: We don't really notice bees even though they're everywhere and we rely on them so much. And then here's this devastating thing happening and I had never heard of it. And even now years later when it's become such a recognized issue people still don't really know that much about it. So I started thinking about what it meant for the world that something we weren't really conscious about was disappearing.
Then I started writing the beekeeper's monologues and then I started thinking about the parallels in the human world with what's happening with the bees.
Each of the five stories in the play parallel the colony collapse?
Yes, every character has some issue that they're dealing with, which parallels one of the possible causes of colony collapse disorder. Colony collapse disorder probably is a combination of things; it's probably not only one thing. So each of the characters represents in some way one of those particular issues.
Is it set up in a series of acts or are the stories interwoven?
The stories are interwoven. In fact, in each act the story jumps forward and back in time somebody who had seen the play said ‘you know the play is set up like a beehive where you kind of go through all these different rooms that are all sort of happening simultaneously. I think that's a pretty good analogy of how the play is set up.
What made you choose this narrative style?
I would say the play dictated the time. It wasn't a conscious choice on my part. This is what happened, and I don't think I'm giving too much away but we can say ‘Spoiler Alert' here. What happened was I wrote the first scene and in the first scene when he has come looking for his father and his father has gone I thought ‘oh that's interesting, they'll talk about his dad.'
Then I wrote the next scene and the dad walked in. And I realized he wanted to be in the play. And so suddenly I was stuck and the play has to take place in at least two times and physically the character wants to be in the play.
So from that I just realized that in fact it was multiple times and people were showing up at different points in their lives. In some ways it's linear but it's backwards. And out of that you come to understand the present.
How would you describe the overall tone of the play?
I would say that it's romantic and truthful and sad. I think that the play is about contrasts. You have one man who's in technology and business in the bid city and one who is a farmer who works in the earth, and it's the contrast of those two worlds. And then you have the contrast of a man who was a Vietnam veteran who killed people and now works in a bakery and feeds people, so there's a contrast and a juxtaposition of who that person is.
What do you hope people will feel or take away when they leave the show?
I would hope that people would walk away with a little more thought and compassion to the unseen things. That any given behavior has an impact on people that you never know. And that it is important we pay attention to the bees are disappearing and it is important that when someone is struggling we don't make an assumption that there's something wrong with them as people but that they are in a situation which has become untenable in some way. So have compassion for people for the things we don't know about them.
Special Talkback with the playwright, Elena Hartwell, after the Buy One, Get One Free 2 p.m. matinee on May 18.
Elena Hartwell will also be doing a writing workshop at the theatre on May 18, 9:30-12:30pm
Workshop plus show: $50