Interview with Michele Riml

Nov 26, 2009

What was your immediate reaction to the VanCity Credit Union ad campaign in 2002?
I liked the campaign of course. But when the Catholic Church threatened to pull the funding to VanCity’s Children’s Banking program because of the campaign, I was angry. And I thought I could write a play about this.
What made you think this would make an interesting play?
I actually thought the play would be interesting when I came to the idea of having one of the characters be a gay Catholic so that the struggle was internalized. Also, I liked that the main character was in a sense wrestling with becoming more authentic in the business of advertising. I find you can’t write issues. You have to write characters. And you have to care about the characters.
What was your writing process?
Once I have an idea for a play, I kind of walk around with it for a long time. Just to see what comes to me. Once the characters begin to speak in my head, or I see the shape of the play, I start to take notes. And when I have something worth starting, I begin to write the play. Once I begin, I have to show up for it regularly or it goes away. With Poster Boys, we did a few workshops, which benefited the play greatly.
In Poster Boys, the advertising world has a firm grip on Caroline. As someone who has first-hand experience in that world, why do you think advertising can have such an impact on how we think and act?
Advertising can reflect back to us what is wanting in our own lives and suggest a “fix” for that. It is a clever, psychological art that creates need. You have to really know yourself and be consciously making your own choices not to be seduced once in awhile. It’s also a way to connect with other people. We can all belong to a brand. I can identify you as an Ipod carrying, Gap wearing, Mini-driving member of my clan. That said, I don’t think it is as powerful as people think. Because I think people are very savvy to the manipulation of the market place now.
Poster Boys talks about target marketing and brand-believing. How comfortable are you with marketing yourself and your art, or even being considered a brand?
Not comfortable. Being considered a brand feels very limiting to me. I think we have a preoccupation with labels and markets and putting people into boxes, categories. Perhaps it’s a form of control, feeling like we can figure everything out if we know how to categorize it. Life isn’t really like that. And my experience as a writer is that sometimes people don’t know what to make of me.
I write a comedy and then I write a tragedy. I write for kids and for adults. I’d probably be a more successful “brand” if I would stick to one thing. Certainly more marketable!
You’re an award-winning playwright, whose work has been produced extensively across the country. When and why did you start writing plays?
Well, I started when I was 16, but I didn’t know I was starting. An assignment for a drama class won me the BC Young Playwright’s Search. I’ve always loved to write. It just evolved. Probably when I went to theatre school and discovered I couldn’t act!
Is there one key element that can be found in all of your work?
Probably humour. Hopefully heart.
Who or what inspires you?
Authenticity inspires me, people who are not afraid to be themselves. My son inspires me. I love understanding what makes people tick – the urge to explore that inspires me to write. Recently, I heard David Sedaris read – his kindness and unabashed honest humour inspired me.
What, in your opinion, is the greatest attribute a playwright can have?
Humility, the willingness to be teachable, learn, listen. Not preach. Compassion. I think it’s important to love the people you write about, even if they are very flawed.
If you had to sum up your career in one word, what would it be?