I had a chance to sit down with Martin Law of the Chocolate Moose Theatre Company. We chatted about mythology, Homer, and what’s coming next for his up and coming theatre company.
We were tucked away in the back corner of the MainLine Gallery after the Quebec Drama Federation previews, trying to escape the noise and heat of the thinning crowd. I pulled out my phone and the following is history:
Thea Gregory: How did you get into theatre? Tell me a bit about yourself.
Martin Law: Sure. With theatre, I did a bit as a kid, as a teen. When I came to McGill, I tried out for a student show, and got into the first student show I tried out for. I remember that being a huge encouragement and doing a ton of student theatre while I was doing my degree — incidentally, having nothing to do with my studies at McGill. When I graduated, I decided with a few friends that it’s worth a kick at the can. I spent so much time on the stage rather than, you know, writing my essays I thought it might be worth forming a company. So we formed Chocolate Moose Theatre Company and that’s been and with a few different partners through the years, that’s been my main mode of doing theatre work. Currently I’m running it with Julie Santini, who is fantastic.
TG: Why did you pick An Iliad?
ML: So, it is The Iliad, but it’s adapted into a script, making it An Iliad. It’s a script this poet character has written over The Iliad. It’s The Iliad and, which I love because it’s a classic – very epic and very strong text. It’s not just about war, it’s also about grief. Grief and violence as a way to deal with grief. Very dark subject matter. But something has always drawn me to it since I first remember reading it in school since reading this script itself. Something about the view itself because it draws you into that story. The adaptation is fantastic because it takes what is perhaps ancient poetry that is perhaps removed from us and it makes the characters and the motivations behind them so present. The adaptation is great at bringing out all of the elements of An Iliad in a condensed 80-90 minute form. My friend Isaac Robinson of Moose + Moa in Toronto introduced me to the script and directed me in the show last year. It’s a fantastic play.
TG: That is really fantastic, and it’s also great because The Iliad is one of the oldest pieces of writing in Western Civilization.
ML: [chuckles] Older than God, I’ve heard. The idea of Homer’s voice being older than God. We don’t know if there was anything in the historical sense called the Trojan War, but we know that these stories were passed around orally and remembered and preserved by the performing poets for years, probably centuries before it was ever written down. So there is something really incredible in thinking about something that old. The idea that it is the oldest document in the Western world that still has a lot of purchase, if indeed worldwide. It’s a strong, strong story.
TG: I’ve read it myself. It’s so visceral. You’ve got Achilles’s fury and his grief at losing Patroclus—I think I mispronounced that.
ML: Part of it is a lot of the names we use now have been Romanized. We’ve received the Iliad through so many different cultures and so many thousands of years in history. Each society has kept it alive in their own way. What I found interesting about this play, too, is that it keeps The Iliad without vulgarizing it, without butchering it, without making it too soft or too hard. It brings out the right elements of the story while presenting it to modern audiences in a very real way. Without any cheesiness, without putting a suit and a tie on it.
TG: That is so neat, and what gave you the idea of starting your own theatre company?
ML: It was [laughs] the idea I concocted with my friend Andrew Cameron the year after I graduated from university. We both loved doing theatre, we both wanted to find some way to produce it on our own. We thought it would be great to have creative control over what we could produce. It was a risk in terms of putting together some money and the time to put in some admin. We thought the ability to choose, that’s beautiful. That’s why everybody does theatre, we just did it in a form where we could do whatever stories we wanted.
TG: That’s brilliant. What kind of advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
ML: There’s an old Russian quote about war: “It’s not about who can hit the hardest, it’s about who can endure the longest.” In war—or theatre—it really applies. You’ve got to endure through all of the difficulties of funding theatre, of working other jobs to keep your company alive, of living the artist lifestyle. You’ve just got to cling on. You can’t take an easy approach to. By all means, go at it with all the drive and passion that you can, but don’t expect to make one or two knockout productions and be established. You have to sink your teeth and claws in, and no matter how hard or how many hits you take you’ve just got to keep at it. That’s the best way I can put it.
TG: Reminds me a lot of that Calvin Coolidge quote that keeps popping up on Facebook. “Nothing takes the place of determination.”
ML: Yeah, Determination. That’s the best I can put it.
TG: What’s coming up next?
ML: We have a we’ll be returning next Fringe after winning Spirit of the Fringe at this last one. I can’t be too specific at this point, but it might be a little bit about our dreams in a very literal sense. That’s the best I can tell you.
TG: Will there be An Odyssey?
ML: The whole thing is an Odyssey. Maybe? I hadn’t thought of it. Certainly, there are some classical texts that I’d like to adapt myself. As to whether The Odyssey will be one of them, we’ll see. I’ve enjoyed doing Greek classics so we’ll see what’s in store.
TG: Thank you very much!
An Iliad is at the Mainline Theatre until November 13. 8 p.m. Tickets HERE.