YPT’s Interim Artistic Associate, Education, Lois Adamson chats with playwright Christine Quintana about her new play, Selfie, which is currently in development at YPT. Selfie takes a powerful and incisive look at sexual consent, failed communication and self-image. Originally commissioned by Théâtre la Seizième, Christine’s work received the Sydney Risk Prize for Outstanding Script by an Emerging Playwright.
Lois: Christine, why did you want to write this play?
Christine: I wrote Selfie out of a response to these kind of high profile sexual assault cases that were mostly in the U.S. where teenage girls were assaulted by people at their own schools, specifically the case in Maryville that happened to a girl named Daisy Coleman. It was so horrific and so unbelievable, but because of that it makes it really easy to say, “Well, that’s not me, that’s not anybody I know… and that would never happen at my school or in my community”. So I wanted to write a piece that really looked at how it does happen, because we know it does. We know that it’s largely unreported and we also know that the majority of sexual assaults happen in cases where the victim knows the perpetrator. So I wanted to create a story that would allow everybody to find their way in and ask, “How does this happen in our community?”
Lois: And in having young audiences ask that question – “How is this happening in our communities?” – through this story, what do you hope that conversation will be? What do you want your audience to feel and think and talk about?
Christine: I feel like the concept of consent is not one that is brought to young people. I feel like a lot of sex education starts with, “When two people want to do it”, but there is so much that comes before that. I feel like even as adults you’re constantly negotiating consent and there’s no script for it and it’s so complicated. What is right and wrong is very straightforward, but how we get there – how we live in that – is not straightforward. Individuals are complicated and situations are complicated, so I want to try to open up the conversation about how we negotiate that with somebody. How do you know? How do you check in? I’ve realized that a lot of young people and adults are not clear on that.
Christine: So, [I’m] trying to offer a realistic situation that you could see your way into. For educators to be able to say, “Okay, so what needed to happen for this not to have taken place?”
Lois: I feel like consent is a super hot issue right now and very political in the news lately, such as those big, high profile cases in the U.S and in Canada. How do you make this political issue personal in your storytelling?
Christine: The thing about the three characters is that they are all good people desperately trying to do their best and who believe, for the most part, that they have done what they think to be the best thing. But there are some critical misunderstandings and some critical missteps that lead to it all falling apart… I have tried to be very accurate in my depiction of how these things often go and sometimes it’s very uncomfortable. For the character to go through a portion of the story where she blames herself is uncomfortable, but also very true to the experience for a lot of people who have experienced sexual assault. And, especially to create a character – a perpetrator – that is identifiable and that is likeable and who can be understood by the audience and who, hopefully, young people can see themselves in so they can think, “Well, how can I change the outcome?”
Lois: What has the development process been like for you?
Christine: Well, the play was first produced in French – commissioned by Théâtre la Seizième – and so it was about 35 minutes long. I submitted the script to YPT and was delighted to get a response from Stephen Colella (YPT’s Associate Artistic Director & Dramaturg), inviting me to come talk about it more. We have been in process for almost a year now and part of that meant taking a 35-minute piece and extending it to about a 55-minute piece and exploring all of the possibilities and complications that come with letting the scenes be longer, letting the characters ask more questions, make more decisions, and shake down from that. So it’s been super rewarding in that way. And on a kind of unfortunate note, these high profile sexual assault cases are continuing. There have been more every year since I started working on this play and I don’t think it’s because there are more happening. I think it’s because we are actually talking about it now. And I think our public vocabulary and level of dialogue about it is increasing, and so it allows us to get more complicated and more difficult and more honest.
Lois: Yeah. Which is both fortunate and unfortunate I guess, all at once, to be having those conversations together.
Christine: Absolutely. And I just hope that in the future, parents and teens and partners and educators can come away with questions about how they negotiate the world and how they can support each other and how we can keep each other safe. And to interrogate the things that you take as a given in your life and acknowledge that they are more complicated and require much more care and consideration than we sometimes give them.
Lois: In what ways do you think seeing a play gives people the chance to do that? Does it?
Christine: I think that it’s not a PSA [Public Service Announcement]. We all know that sexual assault is terrible. Wrong. Devastating. Don’t do it. Try to avoid it. That’s very cut and dry, but when you have three characters that care about each other, who have their own dreams and ambitions and things that they need from each other – their own complicated relationships with one another – you realize, “Oh, that could be me.” You get to spend a whole hour with these characters and you never pinpoint the moment where you’re like, “that’s it. That’s wrong and bad. Don’t do that.” Instead, you wonder, “How did we get here?” Because that’s how it happens in life.
Lois: Is there anything else you want to say? Or any questions you want to answer – questions you wished I had asked you instead of these ones?
Christine: I guess the thing that I always find surprising is how funny a lot of the play has become, considering the heavy subject matter.
Lois: That surprised you?
Christine: Mostly because of one of the characters, but it’s also because I think we don’t walk around with heavy stuff all the time. You try to get by and you live in the way that you know how to, which is often with a smile on your face and an iPhone in your hand. And so, to kind of let that live in this play as well is part of what will hopefully [make it] feel realistic. It’s important to me too, in a way, to send a message that sexual assault isn’t the end of someone’s story. It’s a part of someone’s story and will be for the rest of their life, but there is so much beyond that. To acknowledge that within the play is important to me.
Christine Quintana is an actor, playwright, and co-Artistic Producer of Delinquent Theatre. Christine’s plays include Selfie (commissioned by Théâtre la Seizième, winner of the Sidney Risk Prize for Outstanding Script by an Emerging Playwright), Our Time, and Stationary: A Recession-Era Musical (toured to Talk is Free Theatre and the Cultch in April 2015, winner of the Jessie Richardson Theatre Award for Outstanding Musical, Small Theatre) for which she also served as producer and performer. Christine co-created The Story of You and Me with collaborator Scott Button for Hive 3: The New Bees. Christine is Artistic Apprentice with the Electric Company Theatre, Marketing & Operations Coordinator with Neworld Theatre, and the Program Assistant for the LEAP Program at the Arts Club Theatre. She holds a BFA in Acting from the University of British Columbia.