Project Dramaturg Joanna Garfinkel and Fringe New Play Prize winners Sara Vickruck and Anais West share thoughts about the development of Poly Queer Love Ballad and the unique relationship between songwriting, slam poetry and playwriting.
The play follows Nina, a polyamorous bisexual poet, and Gabbie, a monogamous lesbian songwriter. With a microphone, a loop pedal, and array of instruments, they struggle to reconcile their fierce mutual attraction with their opposing perspectives on sex. The show explores conceptions about polyamory, queerness, and the dynamics in relationships between women, while aiming to create a new representation of intimacy that isn’t confined by genre, medium, or societal obligations.
Joanna: I have had the great fortune to be working with Anais West and Sara Vickruck on Poly Queer Love Ballad since November. This process has combined script sessions, studio workshops and music development, and has allowed me the opportunity to draw from my music and poetry past(s) as well as from my current collaborative model of dramaturgical development.
It’s been so gratifying to work with Anais and Sara and their play that presents a queer narrative with great jokes, songs that won’t get out of your head, and a frankly sexy vision frequently dismissed from the mainstream lens of women’s relationships.
How to build a musical:
Sara: With “Alternative Lifestyle Haircut” I was fooling around with genres and had been watching a Jack Johnson riff on Youtube. Playing off that sound, I came up with a smooth melody feel. The chorus came first: (sings) “oooh girl,” and then developed a bit of the verse…it was trying to fit all these ideas we wanted in the melodic form we had. Then, Anais and I collaborated on the lyrics.
Anais: We asked “how do we put important narrative points in, apart from the fun queer culture part?” and we sat in a room and asked “what about this rhyme?” And bounced them off each other.
Sara: Anais would give me a lyric, and I would sing it, and see how it would work. When I write music by myself, I have a feeling in my body, and I just let it spin itself out into a song. It’s harder to write songs that have more structure around what needs to be said.
Anais: I really relish the challenge of how to fit words into things. I can go into things with a more analytical or cerebral approach.
Sara: One thing I wanted to do was challenge my genre abilities…That’s also why one of our songs has a sansula in it, to try new things.
How to relate slam poetry to playwriting and songwriting:
Anais: One of the reasons I like slam poetry: it’s a genre built for people without formal training, a discipline for weirdos and outsiders – outside Canlit, theatrical and accessible in ways outside of literature. I find slam very theatrical, it’s people talking about issues deeply personal to them, with larger political connotations and reverberations, talking about personal experiences including sexual violence, or eating disorders, personal experiences still raw to them; it lends itself to something like playwriting. Ability as a poet can lead to ability as lyricist, especially with a collaborator who can compose.
Sara: I often enjoy slam poetry that uses music; it really helps to ground it and give a landscape to play on top of. With an intuitive musician the music can add to the words and they can play together.
How to collaborate across genres and writers:
Anais: Sara’s “jurisdiction” is the music, and mine is the poetry. We both contribute to both, but when it comes down to who is going to make a decision, she gets the music and I get the words. The dialogue is both of us, we talk about it and it is quite collaborative. The dialogue is heightened, more condensed and almost like poetry.
The lens Sara lends is as a lesbian who has been monogamous most of her life, and the perspective I lend is someone who has been bi and poly most of my life. We share perspective and some identities with the characters, but the characters are fictionalized, and created.
Joanna: Working on this project is so fulfilling, particularly figuring out the dramaturgy of it. We love determining how music and poetry come into the work; both satisfying and challenging audience expectations about storytelling.
People can follow their progress on facebook, look for them at the Fringe, and see them at Pride in Art in the coming year.