Aaron Bushkowsky deals with the walking dad in Play With Monsters
Wait—is that zombie—my Dad?
The parents in Aaron Bushkowsky’s new script, Play With Monsters, are sometimes ordinary humans, but sometimes take the form of zombies and ninjas. The protagonist, Drew, is a shiftless 30-something who’s made his living stealing cars for about a decade before getting caught and serving time in jail. His mother, Karen, and his father, Bill, make no secret of their disappointment in him. Upon his release, Drew decides to take Bill, a sommelier, on a wine-tasting tour in France. Dad is immediately smitten with a vineyard owner, Marie, and Drew meets Lily, an overachiever who’s seeking to buy the vineyard. As the play unfolds, Drew’s parents evolve into zombies—products of Drew’s imaginative defences.
When Bushkowsky is asked where the inspiration for this play came from, he laughs.
“All the plays that I write usually come from roots in my family,” he says, in an office at Langara College, where he teaches playwriting at Studio 58. “I see my parents as the monsters that follow me around.” He thinks the constraints of parental expectations are universally shared: “Whether they’re dead or alive, our perception of how they [our parents] judge us is how we live our lives, usually.”
By most accounts, Bushkowsky’s success as a playwright has been considerable: he’s earned an unprecedented eight Jessie nominations for playwriting in the last 13 years. But that doesn’t count for much in the eyes of his parents, he says, who are strict German Baptists. When asked what line of work his parents would have preferred him to go into, he answers without hesitation: “Being a schoolteacher. Or being a minister in the church. And not writing. Or if you did write, you were writing for a religious organization.”
“Actually, writing for theatre is considered to be an enormous disappointment, in some ways,” he continues, “especially when it’s not done for the greater good of religion. And I’m a secular humanist, you know? Which is a huge disappointment. I’m the only one in the family to not marry a minister or a minister’s son or a missionary’s daughter.”
Nevertheless, Bushkowsky notes how much his childhood experience has shaped him as an artist. “I think the values I inherited from my family have actually provided great inspiration for me,” he says. “I think that’s an important part of who I am. You take a look at your past, and if it’s not exactly the most ideal childhood, it sure makes for interesting writing.
“And I don’t think I would have been the same writer if I didn’t have that kind of background. You know, heavily disciplined, a lot of expectations, very German, very organized, high demands on us as children,” he says. That discipline has made Bushkowsky one of the most prolific creators in the city: he sees a new script produced every one to two years, on average, in addition to teaching at three postsecondary institutions and writing fiction, poetry, and film.
When asked what he wants audiences to take away from this play, he says: “We want people to walk away from the theatre saying, ‘That was a show that had heart.’ Even though it features the undead, it has a heart.”
The Solo Collective’s Play With Monsters runs Friday (November 9) to November 18 at Performance Works.