Michael Mitchell: From Shakespeare to Sasquatch

Playwright Michael Mitchell says his most recent oeuvre was inspired in part by the 1972 docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek.
Playwright Michael Mitchell says his most recent oeuvre was inspired in part by the 1972 docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek.

By Neale McDevitt

Although his is a little hazy on some of the specifics, Michael Mitchell remembers when – and why – he first wanted to become a playwright.

“I was 15 and it was a McGill drama production – something by Shakespeare,” he said with a smile. “There was this beautiful woman on stage reciting these incredible lines. I remember thinking ‘I want to be in that world.’”

And while the Enrolment Services Administrative Coordinator has indeed realized his dream, his most recent production, Fear Liath – which will be part of Montreal’s Fringe Festival in June – bears little resemblance to that original, beautiful source of inspiration.

“It’s a play about Bigfoot,” said Mitchell, a wry smile playing about the corners of his mouth. “Yes, that Bigfoot.”

Fear Liath tells the story of four women living in an ancestral farmhouse who encounter Sasquatch. “It’s a horror story, my take on the Bigfoot legend,” said Mitchell. “But it is also a metaphor, because a horror story that is nothing more than people being chased through the woods is generally a piece of junk.”

But Mitchell is tight-lipped when it comes to revealing the subtext of Fear Liath. He believes that people should be free to interpret the play any way they please because often they will create layers not seen by the author. “My favorite [Samuel] Beckett quote is ‘If I knew who Godot was, I would have said.’

“Sometimes the writer is the last to know.”

Mitchell has long been interested in Sasquatch (“I think there are more than a few Bigfoot fans out there”) but is noncommittal when it comes to his personal beliefs on the beast’s veracity. “Does it matter if Bigfoot exists? I don’t really believe in spacemen but Luke Skywalker has a pretty substantial following,” he said. “What counts most of all is how well I tell the story.”

Like all good monsters or monster tales, Fear Liath has morphed. Mitchell, who has written some 15 stage productions, originally penned it as a staged reading for an Edmonton playhouse last year that was well received. Turning it into a stage play for the Fringe Festival meant taking most of the dramatic monologues and turning them into action scenes.

In all, Mitchell has spent two years working on various versions of Fear Liath. But for now, less than a month away from its June 12 premier, Mitchell has put down the pen to sit in the director’s chair and work with his actors. “Theatre is the best of both worlds,” he said. “That private, solitary life of the writer is mitigated by the really public, collaborative work of the director.”

Does this mean after the final performance that Mitchell will finally lock away Fear Liath for good?

“Art isn’t finished. Apparently it is just abandoned,” said Mitchell with a laugh. “That’s just part of a writer’s baggage.

“Some people have been perfecting their magnum opus for 20 years. But at some point you have to understand that we live in an imperfect world. Yes, Beethoven was perfect – but he went crazy. I’d rather keep my sanity. Of course, that’s coming from the guy writing plays about Bigfoot.”

Fear Liath will have six shows at Theatre La Chapelle from June 12 – 20 as part of the Montreal Fringe Festival. For ticket info call 514-849-3378. For the full Fringe Fest listings, visit www.montrealfringe.ca/