Interview With Mark Weatherley, Playwright of Fitz Happens!

Q – Fitz Happens! has had an enormously successful run at the Lighthouse Festival. How does that feel?
A- Really great. It’s very gratifying that the audiences connect so much with the material. Their laughter is music to my ears!

Q – Speaking of music, did you write the script and all the music and lyrics?
A – Yes, that’s right.

Q – You obviously have control issues.
A – Ha! I guess you could say that.

Q – It’s rare isn’t it, for the playwright to also write the music and lyrics.
A – Yeah, very. As far as the big names go, I can only think of Meredith Wilson, Lionel Bart, Jonathan Larson and Lin-Manuel Miranda. So I’m in pretty good company!

Q – Why did you choose to wear all those hats?
A – Well, as the writer, I knew the characters inside and out, so when it came to a point in the scene where I felt the character should have a song, then the music and lyrics became an extension of the dialogue. I was able to carry their thoughts in the dialogue into musical thoughts. I’m not sure I would be able to do that as efficiently with a collaborator.

Q – How would you describe the music?
A – It’s a pastiche. A variety of musical styles are represented. I had a lot of fun choosing what styles would be appropriate for which characters. For example, Fitz’s stuffy Victorian friends sing in a strict Gilbert and Sullivan style march, when Fitz takes over the tune, the tone switches over to a freewheeling sixties pop sound to represent his need to break out of tradition. I love having the music further character and plot like that.

Q – The script is very funny. Would you say there is a comedy style you were following?
A – I’ve heard people who have seen it say it is a cross between Monty Python and Mel Brooks, which I suppose is a fair enough description. I always admired the Python boys for their ability to be brainy and clever and base all at the same time.

Q – Base?
A – Well, one of the characters in Fitz is named “Whisky Dick”. Enough said, right?

Q – Fitz Happens! has a real theatricality about it. Actors play multiple characters, we zoom around from one location to another. Why did you choose that style?
A – I wanted the staging to be as zany and and fun as the script, so I made it deliberately “meta” theatrical. The stage is an incredibly sophisticated medium that can do things no other entertainment form can. I wanted to take full advantage of that to engage the audience’s imagination. It also affords lots of opportunities for gags!

Q – Why a Mountie as a lead character?
A – Why not?

Q – Was there something about the Mountie as a symbol that interested you?
A – Yeah, absolutely. Our image of the classic Mountie is that of a morally upright, honest, duty bound figure. Putting the cowardly Fitz into that role allowed for a lot of what a friend of mine calls “comic dissonance”. It became a “fish out of water” comedy which are always my favourites.

Q – Is your story based on fact?
A – No, but there really were guys like Fitz. The Victorian aristocracy had a habit of getting rid of problem sons by shipping them off to the colonies, the Canadian West mainly, with a small allowance, or “remittance”. They came to be known in Canada as “remittance men”. They all seemed to be impractical dreamers, as Fitz is, with big ideas but little practical ability to see their ideas through. In B.C. where I grew up, you could still see the remains of a horse racing oval right in the middle of a first growth forest. I remember asking myself who would be crazy enough to do something like that? The answer? The Remittance Men. But what they represent to me became the theme of Fitz Happens! – don’t be afraid of big dreams.

Q – Words to live by.
A – Indeed.