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Set Design by Camellia Koo. Costume design by Judith Bowden. Lighting Design by Leigh Ann Vardy. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
Adapting Fall On Your Knees for the stage with Alisa Palmer
Canadian Stage interviews Alisa Palmer
We’re thrilled to present the epic, two-part stage adaption of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s internationally best-selling novel, Fall On Your Knees!
It’s an ambitious project helmed by renowned theatre artists, including co-creators Alisa Palmer directing the production and playwright Hannah Moscovitch, who developed the work over a decade together.
In this edition of CS Grid, we’re delighted to interview Alisa on what compelled her to direct the stage adaptation, why the story resonates with us today, what fans and new audiences can expect, and so much more!
Hi Alisa! Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
I'm the director and co-creator of the stage adaptation of Fall On Your Knees. I’m also the Executive Artistic Director of The National Theatre School of Canada, English Section and am based in Montreal with my wife and daughters.
What prompted the discussion to adapt the novel into a stage production?
Like so many readers, I remember where I was when I read Fall On Your Knees because I remember the effect the novel had on me. As a young, queer, gender non-conforming person, born and raised on the East Coast into a family whose tree included immigrants, settlers, secrets, and surprises, I was moved and inspired by the novel; I felt seen by the story and stirred by the hope that lay in the characters’ reckoning with truth – however searing.
As a theatre maker, I was struck by what I recognized as an inherently theatrical engine driving the novel; I could see, hear and feel the worlds that MacDonald created. I was inspired to explore a theatrical adaptation because I knew that this voice, which continued to speak and sing in my imagination long after I set the book down, would speak and sing as powerfully to an audience.
I was moved and inspired by the novel; I felt seen by the story and stirred by the hope that lay in the characters’ reckoning with truth – however searing.
When it came out, the novel Fall On Your Knees was immediately remarkable for the lesbian love story at its heart but as time has gone on, the long overdue reckoning with racism and abuses of power in our society has rendered other veins in the novel more urgent than ever. In the twenty-five years since I first read it, my children have grown up, my parents have passed away, and both my perspective and our world have shifted. In light of the increasing vulnerability of so many of our communities, the larger embrace of the novel’s story of family, both chosen and biological, is all the more poignant and powerful.
I knew that this voice, which continued to speak and sing in my imagination long after I set the book down, would speak and sing as powerfully to an audience.
Why is it important that the work be presented as a two-part performance?
In adapting the novel, we focused our attention on what is theatrically meaningful and that above all is relationships. We needed to honour the time each character needs to have their story told, and like the book, the play accumulates revelations and layers of meaning as we spend time in the various worlds of the story.
What can Fall On Your Knees readers get out of this experience? What about new audiences experiencing Fall On Your Knees for the first time?
Fans will experience the story coming to life in 3D; they’ll meet the characters, hear the music and be immersed in the suspense and romance of the novel. Anyone who has not read the novel will be taken on a journey of the rich story of the Piper sisters and their family.
Having her in the room as we explored the text gave us additional insight into the heart of the story and its many layers.
Can you briefly describe your relationship with Ann-Marie MacDonald and how that enriched the storytelling from literature to theatre?
Ann-Marie is my most frequent theatrical collaborator (and my wife, and parent to our two daughters). She is also my best friend. As the author of the novel Ann-Marie has intimate knowledge of the time, the place and all that makes the characters tick. Having her in the room as we explored the text gave us additional insight into the heart of the story and its many layers.
Having directed Ann-Marie MacDonald's plays in the past, such as Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), co-creating Three Fine Girls, Hamlet-911 and more, what makes this one special?
Ann-Marie brings incredible intelligence, joy, a true love of theatre, of theatre audiences and of readers. Working together on a play that Ann-Marie has not written makes so much room for her feedback and insight into areas beyond the text. The conversations are wide ranging!
Fall On Your Knees will be presented across four cities after a decade in the making, and it's finally getting its world premiere at Canadian Stage before it heads to London (The Grand), Ottawa (National Arts Centre) and Halifax (Neptune Theatre) beginning in 2023. Can you share your thoughts on this project's huge milestone?
I’m grateful for the drive, stamina and passion that each and every person brings to this project. Canadian theatre artists are renowned for their artistry in bringing new works to life. This play couldn’t be better served than having been the hands and hearts of Canadian artists whose ingenuity is matched only by their passion for the novel and its characters.
I'm grateful for the drive, stamina and passion that each and every person brings to this project. Canadian theatre artists are renowned for their artistry in bringing new works to life. This play couldn't be better served than having been the hands and hearts of Canadian artists whose ingenuity is matched only by their passion for the novel and its characters.
The World Premiere of Fall On Your Knees goes on stage, January 21 – February 5, 2023. A National Arts Centre, Vita Brevis Arts, Canadian Stage, Neptune Theatre, Grand Theatre production
Co-created and Written by Hannah Moscovitch Co-created and Directed by Alisa Palmer Production Dramaturgy by Mel Hague Based on the Novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Fall On Your Knees was developed with support from the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund and lead donors Margaret Fountain, C.M., DFA(hc), DHL,(hc) and David Fountain, C.M.
Fall On Your Knees at Canadian Stage is generously underwritten by: The William & Nona Heaslip Foundation – lead production underwriter Gail & Mark Appel, Alexandra Baillie, Katy Graham Debost, Kiki Delaney, Catherine Graham, and Michelle Koerner – supporting production underwriters Sara Angel and Julie Sutherland – performance underwriters
We're delighted to have welcomed Margaret Atwood and Ann-Marie MacDonald for the "In Conversation" chat hosted by Roland Gulliver (Director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors) in the Berkeley Street Theatre as part of the Fall On Your Knees ancillary events. Continue reading for some memorable moments from the evening.
Transforming an inspired idea into a large-scale creation for the stage is only possible with major financial and artistic support. Thank you to all the generous support from funders, underwriters, and donors from across the country who fuelled this project.
In this edition of CS Grid, we interview Sandra Laronde to learn more about the creation of Miigis: Underwater Panther the importance of presenting this production, what audiences can expect, and the future of Red Sky.