Tara Manuel’s Muskrat Dreams: You play and you play some more
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure – I’m the 12th child out of a family of 14 (Catholics obv!) and grew up in Steady Brook on the west coast. I began a career in the arts as a child actor in film and theatre and graduated from The National Theatre School in 1994. I worked in film and theatre, started writing, and moved to Europe for a couple of years where I eloped with the love of my life, became pregnant with my first son, Jack, and then brought my little family home to Newfoundland. That was over 20 years ago. Since then I’ve published a couple of works of fiction, and have written, produced, and performed multiple plays, performance pieces, web shows, and a feature film for young and adult audiences. For the last 12 years my artistic work has focused primarily on puppet theatre.
You have a multi-media background, you’re a published author, for example, and you seem to have gone back and forth with acting. What about this idea has brought you back to the theatre?
I started out as an actor but as a young woman I felt uneasy about the reality of pursuing a career in the industry. It didn’t fit me. I wasn’t interested in playing parts someone else had written. I wanted to make original work. I started writing, had a young family, and after more than a decade away from acting I began experimenting with puppetry to occupy my little boys. This is how I came back to performance. I loved performing behind a screen, it was freeing, and that experimentation grew into my first touring show for young audiences; a shadow puppetry show called St George and the Dragon, which my husband – Michael Rigler – designed and built for me. Over a five-year period I toured that show solo to 60 schools in communities from Charlottetown, Labrador, to Grey River on the south coast of the Island. Those were wonderful adventures! My second show – The Lady of the Falls – was a much larger production and toured the provinces Arts and Culture Centres in 2019. My husband Michael and I will soon begin our second virtual puppetry tour in the provinces K-6 schools.
I think we would all agree Muskrat Falls is, in every essence, a massive undertaking. How do you even approach such a topic?
I approach it like a lecture – like a subject I have been studying and trying to develop an understanding of – and it veers off madly – at times – into an absurd puppetry world.
How do you approach it as a love story?
I approach it as someone who is trying to understand what kind of love story it is. And it is on several levels. My love for the province inspired me to create this piece. Our leaders professed love for the province inspired some of them to reach for what they thought we could rightfully claim was ours – being an energy warehouse for example. Sometimes love is healthy and nurturing, sometimes it manifests in a dysfunctional and confused way.
Here’s a question I recently asked Darren Ivany (The Kraken): how do you write for puppets?
You play with them and improvise dialogue. Then you write and play some more and edit. Sometimes the best ideas come out when you approach the work as if you are a child at play when nobody is watching and you let go of judgement.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about this work?
Through the process of creating it I developed a deep respect for the people who protested the project, those who wrote about it as journalists, as citizen bloggers, and especially those who attempted to awaken the public to what they feared would be a disaster for the province out of no other desire than love for this place and concern for the people who will live to carry it on in the wake of the MF project.
Muskrat Dreams: A Love Story is presented by RCA Theatre Company and continues at the LSPU Hall tonight and tomorrow night, 8pm.