Q&A: Carried Away on the Crest of a Wave
Tarragon playwright-in-residence David Yee connects the pieces of a natural disaster in his new play
This month, fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company artistic director David Yee debuts his first work as Tarragon Theatre playwright-in-residence. Directed by Nina Lee Aquino, Carried Away on the Crest of a Wave takes an up-close look at the aftermath of a devastating event—the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami—and how it illustrates the interconnectedness of all things. Here, we talk with Yee about what went into writing this piece, and the challenges he faced, including his personal battle with aquaphobia.
Theatromania: Tell us about Carried Away on the Crest of a Wave. What inspired this play?
DY: The play was inspired by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It’s an anthological play, not contained within a single linear narrative. Instead, there are 10 distinct stories that are told, spanning continents over the course of several years. This was important to me, because I don’t think something as massive as that event could be summed up in a traditional singular narrative. I liken it to trying to take a picture of an entire coastline: You can either step far enough back to see it all in one shot, or you take several detailed pictures closer and lay them out end-to-end, revealing the entirety of it slowly. The detail and the humanity of the stories I wanted to tell just couldn’t happen without taking several pictures.
Theatromania: Are the characters based on real people at all?
DY: Some are, some aren’t. Almost everything is based off of stories I read or heard during personal interviews with survivors. But the process of transliterating reality to theatrical practice usually means a great deal of invention, as was the case with this play. So while some characters only suffered a name change and a slight shift in circumstance, others have become a composite of many people and many stories which held a common thread.
Theatromania: What are some of the challenges you've experienced during this process?
DY: As you might expect, when the subject matter is considered one of the 10 deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, there will always be stories which can’t be told. Some are too large, or deserve their own dedicated telling, or require a history lesson to fully appreciate the impact. I could probably spend the next several years writing plays solely based on the source material and never run out of compelling stories to tell.
A fairly unique and annoying challenge is the fact that I’m aquaphobic. I have a persistent fear of water. So even though there are a number of videos that captured the waves on that day, I can’t watch any of them. I’ve seen animated time lapse reconstructions and read all of the data, but seeing the actual water terrifies me, always has.
Theatromania: Have you learned anything new or significant?
DY: I’ve learned so much over the last four or five years creating this play. I know far more about tectonic subduction and mega-thrust earthquakes than I ever expected I would, for one. What really stands out, though, is that I have been consistently surprised by what the research and interviews uncovered. I’ve heard things that made me believe in people again, in the humanity of us. Things that gave me hope. Which is kind of the last thing I expected to find in all of this. Some sort of hope.
Theatromania: What do you hope people take away from the performance?
DY: Some of the wonder that I experienced while creating it. That’s the most we can ever hope for, I think.
Carried Away on the Crest of a Wave runs until May 26 in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. Visit tarragontheatre.com for more information and to buy tickets.