Q&A with Playwright David Yee

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 work?

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 detail.

What project or projects are you working on now?

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.

carried away on the crest of a wave

By David Yee
March 19–April 19
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, carried away on the crest of a wave weaves together nine evocative stories about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the deadliest in recorded history. The finely drawn characters illustrate the interconnectedness of our experiences, revealing the resonance of this natural disaster around the world and showing a pathway to hope.
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Posted on 18th Dec 2019