Intimacy, ‘rural, down-home feel’ incorporated into play about dementia on a family farm

Play later had songs workshopped into it, making a big difference, Daniel Macdonald says

“The wind takes. It breaks. It bends. It harms and steals. But it brings too.” So says the character Sarah near the end of Daniel Macdonald’s play Blow Wind.

Set on the Prairies, Macdonald’s drama about a farm family dealing with the decline of the mother, Kathleen, uses wind to great effect, while exploring and echoing themes and storylines from Shakespeare’s King Lear.

The shifting of time from the present to Kathleen’s memories is another important element in Blow Wind, poetically capturing Kathleen’s growing dementia without sounding researched or inaccurate.

“Some of the action does not rely on flashbacks so much as drifts into the mind of the main character, Kathleen, and her ever-deteriorating memory. While they are memories, they are not very reliable ones. They are simply the imaginings of her life both now and in the past,” Macdonald explains.

A similar fluidity is found in the breaking of the fourth wall throughout the play, beginning with the characters introducing themselves to the audience. The original audience was at Dancing Sky Theatre, an intimate space in a small rural town.

“This idea of intimacy, I felt, was an important characteristic in the building of the play for this theatre,” says Macdonald.

“And I thought that one of the best ways to create some of that intimacy and perhaps a sort of rural, down-home feel to the play was to have the actors, or rather the characters, speak directly to the audience as though they were friends and sort of knew each other.”

The playwright, who also runs the New Voices program at Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre in Saskatoon, says his creative process typically involves listening to music or reading related works, in this case, King Lear and other works exploring Shakespeare’s themes.

Daniel Macdonald
Daniel Macdonald

Blow Wind required some additional work, including researching Prairie farm stories to get the family right – “the way people talk, the way they think about the farm, the conflicts they might have with each other, and just the sense of the struggles that a farm family have both economically and emotionally” – and working with Eileen Laverty on the musical ideas.

Music was a big part of Blow Wind from the beginning, as Dancing Sky Theatre always brings on musicians to play during their productions. Once Macdonald knew he had a talented singer-songwriter on board, he invited Laverty to write a few songs for the play and sing them live, beginning a collaborative process of incorporating them directly into the action of the play.

The published play will include lyrics to the songs, chord charts for the music, and a link to a website to access a recording of the music by Laverty.

Macdonald is grateful to Laverty for her brilliant songwriting work. “While the play is not, technically, a musical, the music really does change the way you appreciate the play, and it would be a very different piece of theatre without it,” he says.

“It was originally written without songs in it, and then slowly workshopped in order to work the songs into it, and it made all the difference in the world.”