Q&A with Playwright David Yee
What inspired you to write this play and
specifically, to focus on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami?
It was sort of impossible to ignore. The magnitude of the
event and its impact on the global community was staggering. I was suddenly
moved by the realization that trauma knew no borders, and became fascinated
with the idea that this tragedy had united us in a way that no other event in
my lifetime had been capable of. I’m also terrified of water, which I
discovered late in life and altogether suddenly, making the creation of this
play a strange sort of interrogation of that fear.
Were any of the characters or stories
within the play drawn from personal experience? From news reports?
I did numerous personal interviews and read accounts from
survivors before and during the writing process. So, there are strands of
reality woven everywhere throughout the play, even while nothing is a precise
retelling of factual events. I was more interested in emotional truth as mined
by abstraction than I was in creating an A&E-style documentary.
What was the writing process like for this
Because of the episodic nature of the work, I found
myself writing it gradually over a longer period of time. I would work in short
installments, doing more research and interviews in the intervening time. When
I had enough of a basis for the play, I went to Thailand to finish it, writing
in rebuilt towns and hotels that had, years before, been destroyed by the water.
Were you particularly inspired by any other
plays, or films, or other artistic works?
Not really. If anything, I was really drawn to Guillaume
Apollinaire’s anthology Alcools because of the way he creates
a sense of place that is intrinsically tied to abstract
metaphor and trauma.
Why did you decide to structure the
narrative as a series of loosely interconnected vignettes?
It was too big to capture any other way. The human cost
of that day is just too much to be calculated on one bill. Any singular narrative,
no matter how extraordinary, would just be inadequate. It’s like trying to
capture a skyline in a photograph. You either get so far away that it all fits,
but you sacrifice the fine detail and individuality of the buildings.
Alternately, you move closer and take several photographs that you can later
stitch together—creating the impression of the whole while preserving the
What project or projects are you working on
I’m currently playwright-in-residence at the University
of Toronto in Mississauga, writing something for their third-year acting
students. I’m also working on a new play for Factory Theatre in Toronto about
two Canadian literary giants building a house together.