About fifteen years ago, Robert Chafe and I worked on a production that we kept saying was about death. We had experienced the deaths of several people close to us, and wanted to explore why it is that the ‘celebrations of life’ that we were attending felt so very neutral and ultimately empty. The ‘play about death’ we made wasn’t a successful one for us, though the artists involved put in a noble effort.
Environmentalist and scientist Jon Lien was concerned about the business of death too – namely in preventing it for the whales he saved. He also worked tirelessly to alleviate the burden on the environment and on the fishermen in whose nets the leviathans were caught. During our first run of the workshop production of Between Breaths in 2016, I watched the audience, as I often do. After the show, Robert said that we had finally made the show that says what we had always wanted to say about death. But watching the audience that night, I knew the play wasn’t about death at all, but about life; delicious, frightening, fierce and beautiful life, just like Jon Lien had lived it.
I hope you find joy in your introduction to, and our celebration of, the Whale Man.
I was recently asked what was different and challenging about writing this play. For sure I’ve written about real people in the past and the research process has taken me into people’s homes all across the province and beyond. I’ve sat and recorded people talking about loved ones, telling intimate stories about real lives that have come and gone, and I’ve been gobsmacked by the generosity and trust. The big difference with Between Breaths was the timing. I approached the Lien family with idea of writing this play back in 2012, a mere two years after Jon’s passing. Despite their still fresh grief, Judy, Elling and their family opened their doors and their hearts to me, as did Jon’s colleagues and friends. They all did so with the firm intent that Jon’s great legacy continue to be celebrated. Beyond all else, I hope this play serves that purpose.
Between Breaths was developed with assistance from ArtsNL, St. John’s City Arts Jury, and the Banff Centre’s Playwrights Lab, 2015. My thanks to all those who lent their time and their stories to Between Breaths: Judy Lien, Elling Lien, OJ Lien, Wayne Ledwell, Wayne Barney, Peter Hennebury, Bill Montevechhi, Holly Hogan and Danielle Devereaux.
Artistic Fraud would like to dedicate this run of Between Breaths to our dramaturge Iris Turcott.
Together with Sarah Garton Stanley, Iris provided the clarity and backbone to our most celebrated works, including Afterimage and Oil and Water. She was a true hero of the Canadian theatre, always behind the scenes and rarely getting any of the credit. We counted ourselves lucky to have had her tireless passion and wisdom on our team. Iris passed away in September 2016. Between Breaths was to be the last play she helped us create.