For years, Alison Wearing toyed with the idea of turning her reflections on growing up with a gay father into a book, but found the writing “torturous and agonizing.”
Out of desperation, she turned to theatre, creating the solo show Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter. But while performing the multimedia monologue at festivals across Canada and the U.S., Wearing (who is based in Stratford, Ontario) felt she was only skimming the surface. “There’s something much bigger underneath,” she says. “I probably owe it to myself to figure out what that is.”
After sharing her personal stories with an audience, Wearing tried writing the book again. This time she got the words down the way she’d always intended. “I was so clear about what the story was, who the main characters were, how they sounded,” she says. “When it got to the writing, honestly, I just had to show up and move my fingers.”
Published this month by Knopf Canada, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter draws on Wearing’s memories growing up in Peterborough, Ontario, on the history of the Canadian gay-rights movement, and on news stories such as the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids. A section of the book is dedicated to her father’s diary entries, letters, and news clippings saved from the early 1980s when he was coming out, and another focuses on her mother’s memories of the era.
Wearing is not the only Canadian author to have recently made the transition from stage to page. Julie Devaney’s My Leaky Body, released last fall by Goose Lane Editions, is closely tied to a solo show about her own experiences. The project was conceived while Devaney was working toward her master’s degree in disability studies at York University, speaking to medical professionals and theatre audiences about her struggles navigating the health-care system.
Devaney believes the distinction between performance and the written word isn’t as important as what’s being communicated. “Audiences, whether they’re reading or sitting in a theatre, they’re connecting to a story,” she says. “They’re relating their own personal experiences to whatever the writer or performer is sharing. There’s an unnecessary focus on form, I think, when, really, content is what people are drawn to.”
For other writers, there is a clear division between forms. While Vancouver playwright Carmen Aguirre’s one-person show, Blue Box, touches on her underground life in the 1980s Chilean resistance, she insists there is little connection to her memoir, Something Fierce (Douglas & McIntyre), which won CBC’s Canada Reads in 2012.
“There’s a misconception … because some of the content intersects, but they are completely independent of each other,” she says.
For Wearing, the process has informed and enriched both creations. When she takes the stage show back on the road later this year, the author-cum-performer plans to expand the piece with content from the book, although she acknowledges there will be limitations.
“A script is less than 30 pages. It’s a very simplified version of things. There’s only so much poetry you can thread into spoken text before it gets a bit precious,” she says. “I really feel like I can move so freely when I have unlimited space.”