BWW Interview: Austin Playwright Maggie Gallant Discusses Finding Balance in the Current Chaos and the Video Premiere of Her Play, HOT DOGS AT THE EIFFEL TOWER
While the world continues adjusting to life under the COVID-19 cloud, the desire for delightful stories and humor feels more desperate than ever. Thank goodness there's an abundance of artists in Austin providing that much needed escape through their art; much of which has been moved to a virtual medium.
One such artist is Maggie Gallant, whose critically-acclaimed show HOT DOGS AT THE EIFFEL TOWER makes its video premiere the Hyde Park Theatre's YouTube channel this Saturday, April 11th at 8pm CDT. The video will stay up through the weekend as well for those in other time zones.
I talked with the playwright about the impact of the current pandemic, the evolution of her show, and of course, hot dogs.
I also had the privilege of reviewing HOT DOGS AT THE EIFFEL TOWER last October. Read my review here.
Madelyn Geyer: We've all been quarantined for about a month now. How are you doing?
Maggie Gallant: I was thinking about it this morning and realized that my mental health and general happiness is in direct correlation with how much I read the news, so this weekend I tried to hunker down and write, read, and research. I wasn't online very much and I felt better. I'm trying to find that balance between staying informed and then just consuming everything like a lunatic and wondering why I feel like the end of the world is literally around the corner. We're all trying to figure out where our personal balance is.
Madelyn: How is COVID-19 and the subsequent closures of everything affecting you directly?
Maggie: Much of my work as The British Woman, my business, was taking cultural, social, and music programs to retirement and memory care communities. So all of that work has completely stopped. Only a few weeks ago those communities were saying "Just out of an abundance of caution, we're not going to have any visitors here" and now it's inconceivable that any of these places would let visitors in. Part of what I've been trying to do is support others who are serving those communities. There are some wonderful mentors I've had in the senior creative engagement world who are mailing postcards to people or recording programs online. In fact, the recording of HOT DOGS AT THE EIFFEL TOWER is going to be in a few communities. The places are able to take content virtually, I'll still work with them.
From a playwriting perspective, I didn't have any shows. I deliberately didn't apply for any festivals this year because I wanted to take the time off to write new pieces this year.
Madelyn: What do you think the world or "normal" life will look like once this is over?
Maggie: I was thinking about this in the theater community. Will people just flood back into the theaters and performance spaces? I don't know, but I suppose one of the good things to come out of this is that we've seen a new way of getting content out there, whether that's people live streaming or recording their work online. In this new normal we're going to be living in, people will have different expectations of how they can receive content. While I don't think that's a replacement for sitting in a live venue with other people, expectations of what's possible have been expanded. But gatherings, I don't know. When does Broadway come back? What does that look like? And the theatrical side is one tiny element of what we're looking at. You could take any aspect of the world that's changed and say, "How is it going to look?" It's all a lot of future gazing and speculation.
Madelyn: What is your biggest hope and fear for the future?
Maggie: My biggest hope is that I and everybody I care about comes through this. I hope that everyone is okay. I am terrified for friends who are living in New York, or any of these hotspots. My biggest fear...I don't even want to think about that right now. I have to stay on the side of knowing that we'll come through this. At the Hyde Park Theatre, Ken Webster put "We will get through this" up on the front marquee. I loved that. It's a simple message, but it's true. And that's the hope that I have. I can't think about my fears because there are too many or too many bad things that could continue to happen.
Madelyn: Your critically-acclaimed show HOT DOGS AT THE EIFFEL TOWER is going to be posted on Hyde Park Theatre's YouTube channel this coming Saturday. Tell me about how the show came to be.
Maggie: I started writing HOT DOGS AT THE EIFFEL TOWER in 2006 and it was a very different show. It was a twenty-five minute piece that I wrote for the FronteraFest in Austin. I had come from doing standup comedy for a few years, and just wanted to try doing something longer. So I wrote this piece about my reunion with my birth mother and it got a great reception. I put it away, but over the years I kept coming back to it because things kept changing. Adoption is not just a single narrative or a single point in time. It changes and evolves and you evolve as a person.
Last year I got into the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in Canada and I took the sixty minute show there. Before Winnipeg, I did two previews at the Hyde Park Theatre. Ken Webster enjoyed the show, which is wonderful because there's no theater director in Austin I respect more than him. He offered me a run when I came back from Winnipeg last September. I got some lovely reviews in Winnipeg! Ken then made some changes to the show and made it better, especially for me as a performer. It ran at Hyde Park for five weeks and it was a phenomenal experience. To be part of the Hyde Park band of shows was quite remarkable.
Madelyn: Titles are notoriously hard to choose. Was HOT DOGS difficult to name?
Maggie: It wasn't difficult to name and it's actually the title I came up with in 2006. I reference it at one point in the show where you understand where this odd title came from, and then over the years I've played with a few different titles. At one point it was A Superior Type of Girl, which was another reference to something in the show, and then it was also called A Fate Worse than French. So it's had different titles which reflected changes that were made. But there's just something about that title, and people let me know they remembered the show from years ago because of the weird title. I also like the fact that you can reduce it down to just HOT DOGS.
Madelyn: Now I'm craving a hot dog!
Maggie: Yeah, we didn't really have them as kids, which is why I probably saw them as this exotic food! There's a brand, called Plum Rose or Primrose-any other Brits reading this will know- that came in a glass jar. Almost like they came from a delicatessen. There was a clear glass jar and there would be six hotdogs in brine. We'd plop those hotdogs into a little saucepan with their brine! Just lovely.
Madelyn: This show has really resonated with people. Why do you think that is?
Maggie: I think because the central theme of it, which is about figuring out where you're from and where you fit in, has to be a universal experience. You don't have to have gone through adoption to have experienced that. We all have a need to be accepted and to know our place in the world. And then a lot of people do have some experience of adoption. Whether it's themselves, a friend or whether they're an adoptee, a birth parent, or an adoptive parent. So from that perspective, it reaches more people than I ever imagined that it would. I always used to think that mine was a very narrow experience and then as I've written it, I've understood more of it. I always describe it as a prism now. When I first wrote this piece, I looked at it from a very flat, 2D perspective. As I started to understand the perspectives of the different parties involved, I started to turn it, and saw all these different ways to look at it. The more you do that, the more you find the universal themes.
When I went to Winnipeg I had some people who would approach me in tears afterwards, because it really touched them. Whenever I perform it for groups who are part of that adoption triad, there's an immediate understanding. I don't have to explain everything because people totally get it, because we all share a lot of those same emotions and perspectives. But it is nice when people come into the theater with no real knowledge of what the story is and then find something that connects them to it.
Madelyn: What are you working on currently?
Maggie: I'm taking a playwriting class right now at ACC with Laura Neil, who's a fantastic playwright. It's a great class because it keeps me accountable and puts me in the frame of mind to get back to writing. I'm using the time, writing whatever I want without too much expectation for anything. The only thing I'm trying not to do is write about this pandemic. There's people writing wonderful pieces about it, but that's not what I want to do. I want to write things for beyond that, once we're looking for some new material. I'm also thinking ahead to FronteraFest 2021!
Madelyn: You're a huge Queen fan. What do you think are the top three most underrated Queen songs?
Maggie: Hmmm. I'd have to say Death on Two Legs, Lazing on A Sunday Afternoon, and Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy.
HOT DOGS AT THE EIFFEL TOWER video premiere is also a fundraiser for the Hyde Park Theatre. The show is free to watch, but any donation is greatly appreciated. All money goes directly to HPT. The donation links will be available on the YouTube channel when the video is posted. Check out the trailer for HOT DOGS here.
Watch HOT DOGS AT THE EIFFEL TOWER-Saturday, April 11th at 8 pm CDT. For those in other time zones, the recording will be available through the weekend. Click here to watch!