The best part about interviewing Meg Coles is that she practically does the writing for you. Her work and her words are layered visions spoken clearly and with a good dose of humour, swearing, passion, and strength of intellect and conviction.
There is no hemming and hawing, no leading questions or interpretation needed. As she says, “I never find it hard to talk about my own work, because by the time anyone is asking I have been sitting with it for years.” Some of those years of thought are soon to manifest in Falling Trees. It is to be the first in a place cycle trilogy, with Part II (Building Houses) and Part III (Wasting Paper) currently in draft form.
These works form an arc that “explores resource exploitation in Newfoundland over the past one hundred years … but with dark comedy. It’s funny. I get all kinds of jokes in there.” Some of these jokes she sets up in this first installment and they will only land later in Parts II and III.
But if that seems a long time to hold the beat of a joke, it makes sense in the long life cycle of the development of these works. Coles has been “fixated” on the ideas behind this series since finishing her playwriting program at The National Theatre School of Canada in 2009.
She initially envisioned it built around the fishing industry. Her father is a fisherman and Coles grew up in rural Newfoundland (on the Northern Peninsula) where the collapse of the cod fishery changed everybody’s lives.
But she decided that both she and her potential audience are still “too close to it, [too] sentimental about it [to] be objective about why and how it happened.” Instead, Falling Trees revolves around the logging industry in the first half of the twentieth century and takes place in both a logging camp where men do the physical labour, and in town where the paper company is headquartered. This juxtaposition of “the decision makers and those decided about shows the great space [that existed] between rural Newfoundland and the paper company owner in 1938.”
This dichotomy between the rural and the urban wends back through Coles’ earlier works and reflects her own journey. Her first two professional productions in St. John’s were The Battery (2011), which was a “townie” play, says Coles, and Our Eliza (2013) which she wrote while homesick for the Northern Peninsula and is rural in its place, theme, and in its presentation.
Coles took Our Eliza on the road and out of town to bring her creation back to the places and people who gave rise to it. That urge to work within her community instead of using it outside of itself is a natural extension of her belief that, though the “great resources” in Newfoundland are always couched as “of the land,” the “thing that gets exploited and never truly valued as a resource is the young people.”
Coles’ work values people. Young and old. She is clear that she writes for everyone: townies, those from around the bay, from away, those “who’ve never seen a Jesus play in their lives.” She wants you all (or all those old enough for the PG-13 language) to come see this production.
The Arts and Culture Center will present Poverty Cove Theatre Company’s “Falling Trees” from December 9th – 12th at 8pm, with a Pay What You Can Sunday matinee on the 13th. Directed by Emma Tibaldo (who has a long running relationship with Coles as both an editor and director), the play will feature Steve O’Connell, Brian Marler, Darryl Hopkins, Evan Mercer, and Greg Malone.