Theatre Hera West presents Caity Quinn’s Ties of Blood, a fictionalized biopic re-interpreting the lives and art of the Bronte siblings.
In this Q&A with director Nick Heffelfinger we find out more about the show and the challenges in presenting a show about people from real-life.
1Tell me about the show.
Ties of Blood is a fiction-based-on-fact tale of the famous Bronte family, three heroines of English literature and their mysteriously unknown brother. The show chronicles the upbringing of four artistic geniuses as they struggle between the opposing desires of artistic fulfillment and commercial success. Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne also tackle the challenges of alcoholism, drug addiction, and illness, woven in to a tale of betrayal, scandal, failure, loss, and grief.
Ties of Blood is a fantastical biopic of the Bronte brood featuring excerpts from letters, diaries, journal entries, and other found texts, as well as scenes from Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, compiled and composed by playwright Caity Quinn.
Live music composed and arranged by director/co-designer Nick Heffelfinger made up of traditional songs and original music based on the poetry of Emily Bronte completes the artistic dreamscape as we travel back to Haworth and watch a family of literary titans fall.
2What was it about Ties of Blood that attracted you to the project?
When I first read the play, I was astonished that I had never heard this story before. The more I read and the more research I did, the more fascinated I became with this family of tragically misunderstood intellectuals who met such early and unexpected ends, just as they had begun to take the literature of the English language by storm. I had so many ideas for how I wanted to see this story told and so many questions that I knew I could only answer by exploring this text with a team of talented artists at my side.
3The show is billed as a “shocking reimagining of the lives of the Brontes”. How much of the story is fictionalized?
One of the fascinating things about this family is that the tragic and sudden nature of their deaths, as well as the time period they lived in, has meant that very little is factually recorded as the absolute truth of their history.
Most of the details were collected as part of one of any number of biographies of Emily or Charlotte, all of which are based mostly on speculation, rumours, stories from local residents, and examination of whatever letters or other texts biographers could get their hands on.
We played quite liberally with the timeline of the events in Brontes’ lives, but most of the action of the play is based on at least one historical account or examination of the evidence they left behind.
What’s shocking about this story is that so very little of it is actually made up. The truth, as they say, is always stranger than fiction.
4What does the re-imagining add to the sisters story?
One of the things which this text really emphasizes is the struggle all three of the Bronte women went through in order to have their work published.
In the mid-1800s it was laughable for a woman to think she could create a career for herself as an author or any form of artist for that matter. While their brother’s letters to poets and authors of significance were met with praise and encouragement, Charlotte was reminded that writing should not be the work of a woman and that she should only pursue it as an idle enjoyment.
All three of these women are now widely recognized as heroes of feminist literature and this story does a great service to that legacy.
5Does the re-imagining help to bring these historical figures into a contemporary context?
The show certainly has a much more contemporary feel to it, although we do place the action and the characters themselves within a historically accurate time and place.
The design of this show is intended to be simplistic but authentic, in order to allow the characters themselves and the texts they so gracefully left behind to carry the burden of the story.
Although these characters were navigating the challenges of rural living in Yorkshire in the middle of the 19th century, the themes, hardships, and personal relationships they navigate are completely relevant in 2017.
6Is there a challenge in directing a show with people from real life?
The biggest challenge I think that a director faces when working on a piece based on real people is to negotiate the compromise between authenticity and theatricality.
There are times where we make a choice about the direction of a scene based on something from the historical context of the human beings we’re examining, in an attempt to create a version of them that seems credible.
Other times, in order to tell the story in a more dramatically compelling fashion, we have to willfully acknowledge that we are interpreting these characters in a different way, either by making different choices about the way they interact with the world around them, or sometimes by involving them in action that may not ever have occurred and, in some cases, events that we know are nothing more than speculation and compelling storytelling.
It’s a fine balance, but one that’s a joy to undertake.
7Why should someone come see the show?
Ties of Blood is an original work of Canadian theatre by a female playwright which celebrates the legacy of three literary luminaries and tells the shocking tale of their downfall.
It’s a fresh, intense, dramatic, enthralling and exciting journey through the history of a band of misunderstood misfits whose genius was overshadowed by tragedy, jealousy, substance abuse, and grief which eventually consumed them all.
In just over an hour audiences learn the tale of this mysterious family through live music, excerpts from their works, and original text which paints the fascinating portrait of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Bronte, four brilliant artists who died before the world could ever see their true potential.
Ties of Blood plays the Havana Theatre (1212 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) from May 10-20. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets.