Author André Alexis on the importance of ‘play’ in pandemic-set audio drama

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By Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press
Sun Aug 16 2020 10:00

André Alexis says it’s important to hold onto our sense of play during a pandemic.

In fact, the award-winning Canadian author says his new audio drama started as a game between him and his partner’s daughter.

To help pass the time in lockdown, Alexis set out to write a monologue channelling the aspiring young actor’s “dark side.”

The result helped spawn Metamorphosis: a Viral Trilogy, which released its first episode on Aug. 17, created in collaboration with Toronto’s Volcano theatre company.

The series tracks the progression of a fictional pandemic in Toronto through the recorded diaries of three narrators — an octogenarian living in a long-term-care home when the outbreak first hits; a 13-year-old girl turned feral by the contagion’s fallout; and a 30-year-old woman navigating a post-quarantine world.

Alexis said the aim of the project is not to illuminate the world we’re living in, but rather, offer a diversion from it.

Stories create space where people can let their minds run away with them, he said, and confront the stakes of the current moment from a narrative distance.

“I’m interested in how the imagination plays with dire situations,” Alexis said in a video chat interview from Berlin, where he’s working on a novel during a year-long residency.

“Playfulness is a way maybe to imagine the thing, see the thing, engage with the thing, without really having to catch COVID or be right in the midst of it in a real way.”

The Trinidad-born, Ottawa-raised novelist has won worldwide acclaim for his prowess with the written word, sweeping Canada’s literary awards circuit with 2015’s Fifteen Dogs and Days by Moonlight last year.

While he got his start in theatre, the 63-year-old said he relished the opportunity to strip away the sets and the spotlights to focus on the voice as a narrative instrument.

Harking back to the radio serials of his youth, Alexis said there’s a imaginative intimacy to having someone else’s voice inside your head that lends itself to a sort of shared storytelling.

“I’m inviting you into a space, but it’s not that I’ve created the space,” he said. “It’s that we’re creating it together.”

Metamorphosis is a product of its co-presenters’ — TO Live, SummerWorks and Canadian Stage — shared commitment to working within the constraints of COVID-19 to keep “the sanctity of the human imagination” alive, Alexis said.

For the self-described lapsed Catholic, the project of storytelling is nothing short of sacred. It’s a form of “communion,” he said, a creative consecration that connects us to each other, even as the pandemic forces us apart.

“The sacred has its roots in the human imagination. You have to imagine that this world as being not the only thing,” he said.

“If my art is able to even approach something like communion, in its real sense, then I feel my life on Earth would be justified.”

The first episode of the audio series, “Lucretia in Quarantine,” launched on Aug. 17 at www.tolive.com/metamorphosis

The second installment, “Kerri Wonders,” went live on on Aug. 24 at

https://summerworks.ca/programming, followed by the release of “Nella at 86” on Aug. 31 at csgrid.canadianstage.com/metamorphosis.

Wiki Production Code: A0094

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