Iceland at Mag North

Kawa Ada and Christine Horne in Iceland. Image by Lacey Creighton
Governor General Award-winning playwright, Nicolas Billon is the creative mind behind Iceland, one of the productions showcased at this year’s Magnetic North Theatre Festival. His piece examines how the 2008 collapse of three Icelandic banks created shockwave ripple effects across the world, bringing home the idea that “no country is an island, not even one as remote as Iceland.

In this Q&A, Billon shares some intriguing responses about his vocation and also this play, which you can catch June 25 (tonight) or June 27-28 in Dartmouth.

When and why did you first become interested in theatre?

NB: In high school, I acted in a number of productions. I was terrible. Thankfully, I didn't realise it at the time – so I kept doing it until it dawned on me that I should probably be doing something other than act. 

After CÉGEP, I started a community theatre with a friend of mine, and we put on about six plays over a period of three years. I directed most of them, and I was OK at it.

So I tried writing. Now I'd been writing since my early teens—the fiction was decent, the poetry unmentionable—so it made sense to write for the stage. I'm not sure why it took so long to figure that out.

Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?

NB: Maybe. I think the impulse to entertain is still there from the earliest days, though now I'm also curious about asking questions about the world that I wasn't when I was a teenager and in my early twenties.

What are the challenges of the vocation?

NB: Like most writers, the challenge of finding the discipline, day in and day out, to just sit and *write*. Some days are wonderful, others not so much. 

And once you are writing, the challenge is to be articulate, economical, and entertaining. Finding the right balance of those three things can be very, very hard.

What are the rewards?

NB: Creating something that I can step away from and say, "This is pretty good." There are only two or three projects that can I say that with complete confidence.

The others are constructive failures that will help me build the next ones. I find great comfort in Beckett's wise words about failure: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." 

Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?

NB: Perspirational, no question.

What inspired Iceland?

NB: Curiosity and outrage about the 2008 financial crisis and its fallout.

What can audiences here expect to experience?

NB: Well, I hope they experience a good story, well told, with a central question that will follow them home afterwards and to which they can articulate their own response or, better yet, spawn more questions.

What are your thoughts on the current state of theatre in Canada?

NB: It's a big country, and I think each province, each city has its own relationship to theatre.

In Toronto, I think one of the big questions right now is how do we tell stories that better reflect the diversity of the city. 

What can we be doing better?

NB: Making theatre more affordable would be at the top of my list. 

After that, I'd say we should challenge ourselves to create theatre that is interested in raising questions rather than dogmatic about presenting solutions. 

What's next on your creative agenda?

NB: Well, I'm finishing a new play, BUTCHER, that will premiere at Calgary's ATP theatre in October. It's a thriller that examines our notions of international justice.

I'm also working with the Cirque du Soleil on the opening ceremonies of the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. It's a project that's been both fun and challenging.

And finally, I'm waiting for the release of ELEPHANT SONG, my first feature film as a writer. It has a great cast, including Bruce Greenwood, Xavier Dolan, Catherine Keener, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Colm Feore.


Written by Nicolas Billon
Directed by Ravi Jain
Why Not Theatre (Toronto, ON)

June 25: 7:00pm
June 27: 
June 28: 
June 28: 
Alderney Landing Theatre, Dartmouth

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