Heroes are strange things. These mortals that we build into gods, these everyday people doing extraordinary things that impact our lives. Some lives. My life. I’ve never been excited by celebrity, but more on what people contribute, their legacy that they gift the world. Being a hero is not based on public approval, but on content.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet my own hero twice. That’s a lot for one lifetime. And in meeting him in the flesh it becomes an overwhelming and, in a way, sad reminder that though he occupies such a place in my world, I am just another admirer in his. And that’s okay. That’s as it should be.
Meeting Michel Tremblay this past week at the Vancouver Writer’s Fest brought me back to the fat, bubbly and all too eager 13 year old I was when I first encountered this master playwright’s work at the Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company in 1997. I was arriving late to the game on Tremblay, but over the past sixteen years I’ve devoted much of my work and practice to celebrating his. I missed two weeks of theatre school to travel to Winnipeg’s Master Playwright Festival the year they announced it would be TremblayFest. Staying in a hostel, mid-February, in Winnipeg, completely lost because there were no map functions on phones yet, but seeing 14 plays by my hero – I’d never been happier. At the time I was in pre-production for the English premiere of Tremblay’s first play Le Train, which I’d procured the rights for and had translated into English myself. This was my final project for my undergraduate theatre degree. Later, I would serve as production dramaturg on his play Past Perfect at Tarragon Theatre. My bookshelves are full of everything he’s ever written. My files are filled with decades of articles about him, many of them from microfiche at the National Archives in Ottawa.
So what makes us so drawn to our heroes? He was an out gay playwright long before that was acceptable let alone cool. He made a career writing strong women. He was never pigeonholed for being a “gay playwright” though some of his work is hugely gay. He was never shy about his politics, for better or for worse, and he was a loudmouth. But more than anything he created a world of characters that he would visit and revisit throughout his career which become a second home for the little gay dreamer in me. A world of strong, fat, loud Quebecois women who chain smoked and celebrated life. A world of drag queens and drug dealers on the Main. A world of writers, and the misunderstood and the undesirable and the forgotten.
Seeing him this many years later, when my entire career has been spent loving everything he does and being inspired by his legacy proved emotionally overwhelming. I listened, I took copious notes, I laughed, I asked questions, I got my autograph, I got my photo (that will sit in my office beside the photo of us 9 years ago), and I went to my car and cried. Yup, sure did. I cried because it was overwhelming and cathartic to have seen him twice in a lifetime and to remember that though heroic, though a literary god, he’s just another heavyset gay guy with great glasses and a sweet smile. And that I can relate to.