André Alexis's lockdown project? A 3-part audio drama on isolation and change
Monologues follow 3 women during fictional pandemic
What started as a fun family project in lockdown has become André Alexis's latest work: an audio drama from Toronto's Volcano theatre. Metamorphosis: A Viral Trilogy is a series of audio monologues written by the Giller Prize-winning author, a first foray into the medium for him.
Each 30 minutes long, they follow three women — Lucretia, Kerri and Nella — as they navigate a fictional pandemic in Toronto.
The first, "Lucretia in Quarantine," was written for Alexis's partner's daughter, Leah, who wanted to do some acting while in isolation.
The idea was he would write something and have her perform it, then present it to the family as a nice thing to do while in lockdown, he said. Leah soon moved onto other projects, but Alexis didn't.
"I, by that point, had been really interested in the voice because what I did was I took the opposite of Leah. I took sort of like a feral version of Leah, and I turned that into a character."
The character, Lucrectia, has become wild from being in isolation during the pandemic.
"She was interesting to me because she was defiant and strange and very proud — and I really liked all of those qualities about this character," said Alexis. "She took on her own life completely. And when she did, she took on some of the circumstances of our circumstances … and I allowed myself to sort of think about pandemics past."
The second monologue, "Kerri Wonders," came quickly. It tells the story of a woman in her 30s who is offered a pill as a years-long quarantine is lifted — and takes it.
The third, "Nella at 86," was based on his fears around his own mother's death. It took Alexis much longer to complete.
He worked with Volcano on the project, one of many departures from the stage for Canadian theatre companies this year.
In fact, Metamorphosis, which was co-presented with SummerWorks and TO Live, was Volcano's first fully digital project, and involved a composer and sound engineer.
Ideally, Alexis said, the three pieces can be listened to as meditations — using music, sound and words to cut through feelings of intense isolation.
Instead of the characters speaking to other characters, they speak directly to the listener.
"I think the theme that I emphasized and that I thought about the most is the notion of intimacy," he said. "If physical intimacy is missing, is there a way to create a sense — obviously not as intimate and not as powerful as physical intimacy — but how do we go around that?"
But change also played a large part in the work. The characters go through change, along with the audience.
Ultimately, the series "kind of gets to the heart of something that I think would be universal, which is, at the end of this, [there] is going to be change," Alexis said. "Is the world not going to look differently when you go out and kiss a stranger again? You know, just going to do that again without worrying that you're going to die or kill them? It's got to be a kind of change of how you want the world [to be.]."
You can listen to all three monologues here:
This story is part of Digital Originals, an initiative of the Canada Council for the Arts. Artists were offered a $5,000 micro-grant to either adapt their existing work or create new work for the digital world during the COVID-19 pandemic. CBC Arts has partnered with Canada Council to feature a selection of these projects.You can see more of these projects here.