The Perils of Female Ambition and the Cult of Glamorous Mental Illness

Avery and Dinah. Will o Wisps Avery and Dinah. Will o Wisps

It’s always exciting to meet a new playwright who persists in mounting work despite obstacles. Taking ideas first developed in high school and at university, Concordia theatre student Michael Martini wrote two plays: Ivory Towers and Will-O-Wisps. Though he intended to perform Ivory Towers as part of a department festival, circumstances intervened. So, he took a dose of advice from a professor, “Have integrity and keeping going,” which is exactly what he did. When he needed money, he held a fundraising house party. When he needed still more money, he applied for an arts grant at Concordia. He found the actors and production team he needed.

“It’s been doors closing and windows opening,” he says, and credits the Mainline Theatre for its support.

Ivory Towers focuses on five linguistic professors, all women, engaged in a word game that requires listing synonyms on demand.

Rehearsal of Ivory Towers

Rehearsal of Ivory Towers

“It’s a razor sharp, rapid contest,” says Martini. “These five strong, ferocious women alter as the contest continues and we get to see what happens when one of them fails and how the relationships change.” The play explores themes of ambition, pride, and competition.

“Originally it was written with men,” says Martini. “But women fit with the tone I was writing. The aggression was feminine.” Martini naturally gravitates towards female characters. “I’ve always found it much easier to write women characters than male characters,” he says. “As a gay playwright, it might come from a fear to write about gay characters, so it becomes easier to go into those characteristics as a woman rather than a man.”

Ivory Towers was first drafted in high school. On the other hand, the protagonist of Will-O-Wisps is a young man waiting for his prom date — a knight. “The play is a really fun play,” says Martini. “It takes place on the night of the prom and a teenaged boy and his imaginary friend are locked in a tower, waiting for his knight to take him tot he prom. We see the interaction between him and his imaginary friend as he waits for the knight to arrive. The friend, though, is an academy award winning actress, so the whole play is between the protagonist and this diva, waiting to be saved.”

The play has fantastic and absurd elements, but addresses the how glamour and mental illness are idealized, especially by the young. “It’s a teenage phenomenon to think of depression and tragedy and tragic figures as quite glamorous and worth idealization. There’s a whole culture surrounding these deep emotions. Like Sylvia Plath.”



The concept grew out of a character Martini created for a university exercise. “I hadn’t prepared anything,” he says. “I showed up with a satin housecoat and I began exploring the idea of glamour and the meeting of glamour and mental illness.”

He liked the character he developed so much that he combined it with a fantasy play he’d written some time ago in which a world of glamour and flamboyance overtakes a sad reality.

Martini is anything but sad. “It’s really been surreal to make independent theatre,” he says. “To us it doesn’t seem like it’s a big a deal as we realize it is. We feel so invested in it and it seems so necessary at this point. I can’t imagine how i would have been spending my semester otherwise. It’s a dream come true because this is what we want to be doing with our lives and what we’ve wanted to do for awhile. There’s a huge sense of reward and it’s been really, really fun.”

Martini expects that he will continue to work with the same group of actors and crew in the future. He adds, “I think it’s so important for students to keep creating work and showing that there is young, English theatre in this city. It’s important to keep student work flowing.”

Ivory Towers and Will-O-Wisps play at the Mainline Theatre (3997 St. Laurent) at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on January 18th and 19th. Tickets $6. 


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