What gave you the idea for this play? There were two real life events that came together in my head. The first happened in St John's in the early 80's. A woman who appeared to be disabled and unable to speak was found on the steps of the Basilica. She had a note in her pocket that read something like: "We are Americans. We can no longer afford to pay our daughter's medical bills. We are leaving her here so that she will be taken care of by Canada's health care system." She was later found out to be a fraud but I wondered at the time, when the press was vilifying her, if maybe she had helped one person because they were in some way positively affected by her. Then years later I started to hear the stories of the profound effect that going out to the crash site of the Swissair disaster had on the fisherman who wanted so much to rescue people that night. One day I asked myself what would help these men recover and in my imagination a young woman appeared on an island.

How long have you been working on (writing/researching) this play? I wrote the first draft in 2006. Of course I haven't worked on it steadily. I put it away until 2010 when I took it to the Playwright Lab at Banff, put it away again until 2017 when I was invited to a playwright residency in Gros Moren. Since 2018 I have worked on it while working on other projects.

What are some of your favourite books/authors/plays now? I love the playwrights of the American Golden Age of theatre, Miller, Williams, & Wilder. I admire the work of Colleen Murphy, Donna Michele St. Bernard, Wole Syvinka and many others. I read a lot of poetry and my current favourite book is 100 Poems to Break Your Heart editor Edward Hircsh. I read more poetry than other literature.

What is a book that you think is underread/ underappreciated? The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler. So many people in NS don't know about this beautiful novel. It isn't taught in high schools anymore.

When did you start writing? I wrote from a very young age. I had a teacher in Grade 7 who encouraged my writing so I would say I have been writing since I was 10 or so.

What is the best and/or worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? The best writing advice was from the American-Cuban playwright Maria Irene Fornes. She said never judge a first draft. Write down whatever the characters say no matter how crazy or weird or even violent. When you can't write anything more then you become the playwright and start making decisions about the draft. It is the absolute best advice and I am very grateful that I was able to meet her and learn from her.

Any plans for the next writing project? I have just finished adapting The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler. It is a big big project. Until that is on stage---which I hope it will be in 2024---I haven't really the head space to start something new. And of course there will be rewrites after Downed Hearts is over so I will have lots on my plate. Plus I am teaching playwriting at Dalhousie.

Tea or coffee? Coffee with 18% cream please.

January 15, 2024 — Vonda Hazzard

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