Meet the Author: Erin Shields
Meet the author of the poignant collection Beautiful Man & Other Short Plays—Erin Shields!
Describe yourself in one sentence.
Writer, mother, theatre creature, teacher, dreamer, lover, laugher, worker, observer of people, wrangler of characters, imagineer of stories.
Tell us a little bit about your new book.
The plays in this book are about the inner lives of women: about pushing against the walls that contain us; about the ways in which we reshape ourselves to accommodate needs of others; about systems that were not created with us in mind.
I wrote Beautiful Man in a bleary, enraged state. Overwhelmed by the perpetual violence against women in TV, film, theatre, books (everything!); this play flew out of me as some sort of act of vengeance. A very gleeful sort of vengeance which I pushed to the absolute limit.
Unit B1717 began as a ten-minute piece created with director Geneviève Blais and her company Théâtre à corps perdus for Theatre Yes in Edmonton. We later decided to make it into a full piece and worked closely with translator Maryse Warda to translate the piece throughout the process. It was fascinating to be simultaneously creating a piece in both English and French.
And then there was you came from my very personal experience of motherhood—how beautiful and painful it is to realize that each day with your child is a step further away from your child… the point of parenthood, ultimately being to teach your child to live in the world without you. (Cue uncontrollable sobs.)
What’s something unique about you or something you like to do?
I live in a francophone neighbourhood in Montréal and therefore live my life between two languages, one of which I’m still struggling to master. I spend my days engaging deeply with complex English texts like Paradise Lost, Jane Eyre, or King Lear, and then go out into the world and try to interact with people in French—the teachers and support workers at my kids’ school, other parents, neighbours, friends, kids, etc. I’m very proud of how far I’ve come in seven years but every now and then I make a complete fool of myself. It’s humbling, to say the least.
What is something that you enjoy doing, and why?
What I most enjoy doing is making theatre. Needless to say, this past year has been more than a bit of a bummer. I love the alone writing time, but that usually culminates in getting into a room with other theatre creatures and making the play come to life. It feels like we’ve all been untethered from our meeting spaces, like we’re floating in outer space waiting to be called back to earth, back to the very serious job of making theatre.
I’ve given the hobby thing the good old college try this past year. I’m talking bread baking, cookie making, sewing gift bags, felting Christmas ornaments, strumming the old guitar, improving my French (which I suppose is more life-skill than hobby). I even rented snowshoes, skis, and skates for the winter. It’s passing the time. But I want theatre back. Please.
What are some of your favourite plays?
One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace, Brand New Ancients by Kate Tempest, Crave by Sarah Kane, Abyss by Maria Milisavljevic, trace by Jeff Ho, Huff by Cliff Cardinal, The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God by Lisa Codrington, Anatomy of a Suicide by Alice Birch, Les barbelés by Annick Lefebvre, The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs by Carole Fréchette, How to Hold Your Breath by Zinnie Harris. I could go on… I love reading plays.
What are you reading these days?
I’m reading Hamnet and Judith by Maggie O’Farrell, which is fictional glimpse into the early married life of William Shakespeare. Rather than attempt to make sense of Shakespeare’s genius or illuminate the genesis of his plays, this novel focuses on the perspective of his wife, Agnes. In fact, Shakespeare is the only character who is not named. The world O’Farrell creates is rich, her characters are nuanced, and although the story is set in the sixteenth century, the text feels extremely contemporary and necessary. I highly recommend it.
What’s something that makes you laugh?
Two satirical advice podcasts make me roll with laughter:
Phoebe Robinson’s Black Frasier is an extremely loose (like almost non-existent) take on the 90s sitcom Frasier. Phoebe interviews an incredible roster of artists, activists, thinkers, and people at large. The conversations are a great mix of fact and funny—intimate, political, illuminating, and inspiring. More than anything, Phoebe’s sense of humour is right up my alley.
I can’t get enough of Dear Joan and Jericha, Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine’s outrageous sex advice podcast. They turn the politically correct tables in such an irreverent and innovative way that every time I listen to it, I feel an overwhelming sense of catharsis. Listen to it and you’ll know what I mean. Seriously.
Learn more about Erin Shields:
Erin Shields is a Montréal-based playwright. Her adaptation of Paradise Lost premiered at the Stratford Festival and won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Playwriting Prize, and her play If We Were Birds, which premiered at Tarragon Theatre, won the 2011 Governor General’s Literary Award. Other theatre credits include Piaf/Dietrich (Mirvish Productions/Segal Centre), The Lady from the Sea (Shaw Festival), The Millennial Malcontent, Soliciting Temptation (Tarragon Theatre), and Instant (Geordie Theatre). Upcoming projects include Queen Goneril for Soulpepper, Jane Eyre for the Citadel Theatre, and Ransacking Troy for the Stratford Festival.