Q&A: 6 Essential Questions

Author Priscila Uppal on adapting her memoir for the stage at Factory Theatre

Presented by Factory Theatre
Written by Priscila Uppal
Directed by Leah Cherniak

Mina James as Renata in Priscila Uppal's 6 Essential Questions.

Based on her 2013 memoir Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother, Priscila Uppal’s debut play 6 Essential Questions tells the story of Renata as she travels to Brazil to see the mother who abandoned her when she was five years old. Now playing at Factory Theatre, the world premiere is directed by Theatre Columbus Co-Founder Leah Cherniak and features Mina James as Renata as well as Elizabeth Saunders, Maggie Huculak and Richard Zeppieri.

Here, we chat with Uppal to find out more about this deeply personal work.

Theatromania: Tell us about 6 Essential Questions. What inspired this play?

PU: 6 Essential Questions is a theatrical adaptation of my recently published memoir, Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother, that recounts the details of a trip I took to Brazil to reunite with my mother 20 years after she abandoned me, my brother, and our quadriplegic father. While the memoir documents what actually happened on the trip, the play dramatizes what it felt like. The play uses a poetic and visual language to represent an intense emotional journey that vacillates between comedy and tragedy. In fact, I think the play is a comedy desperately trying to keep a tragedy at bay.

Theatromania: How would you describe this production directed by Leah Cherniak in a few sentences?

PU: Leah’s production is visually stunning, including projections and surreal lighting and sounds. The stage is, literally, a pile of garbage, representing the “garbage of the mind," where we keep the dreams and memories we don’t wish to face. (One of the four characters, who essentially guides the young woman through the strange territory that is her family, is called Doctor Garbage.) The actors have all thrown themselves into a world that works by its own rules, and Leah has spent a lot of time and care discovering how to invite the audience inside this emotional space.

Theatromania: What are some of the challenges you faced during this process?

PU: The script asks a lot from the actors and from the crew. The opening scene asks that a purse floats down from the sky and when it is opened a lullaby begins to sing from inside the purse. And it only gets more challenging from there! It has also been challenging, at times, to separate the real experience of the memoir from the surreal experience of the play—but finding moments where they intersect has also proved to be quite fascinating.

Theatromania: What has been the best part of this experience so far?

PU: The best part has been watching my poetic vision come to life on the stage. For a first-time playwright, I have no business working with all these seasoned pros and brilliant artists. I am extremely lucky and am learning as much as I can from everyone about how every element of the theatre works—artistically and technically, as I want to continue to write for the theatre. My dramaturge, Iris Turcott, and my director, Leah Cherniak, have been particularly generous with me—mentoring me every step of the way, and I am so grateful for their unrelenting support.

Theatromania: What’s next for you?

PU: I have a book of short stories coming out in 2015 and the script of 6 Essential Questions will also be published in book form in 2015. I am also working on a new play as part of the Factory Theatre Natural Resources Creation Group.

6 Essential Questions runs until March 30 at Factory Theatre. Visit factorytheatre.ca for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sat, 2014-03-01 - Sun, 2014-03-30


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