Interview with Bill Ashwell at the Blackwing Café, Cambridge Ontario, September 14, 2019.
After seeing the play Dark Sanctuary, co-written by my friend Bill Ashwell I enjoyed it so much that I asked him if I could interview him. If you want to know more about Bill I’ve included his bio at the end.
I just saw Dark Sanctuary, a play you co-wrote with Steve Robinson, and got so immersed in it I completely lost track of time. How did you first come up with idea for the play?
- It came from possibly too many nights watching old film noir movies on TCM: The Big Sleep, Out of the Past, Chinatown
How long did it take to write the play?
- Once Steve got me off my butt about writing, he and I had a first draft completed in about 3 months.
Because it’s a cloak and dagger play did it take a long time to make it flow properly?
- In a sense, yes. We had to frequently tweak the characters and the back stories to give more of a sense of their motivations. There had to be a viable reason for Father O’Rourke to support Nicky the way he did. And Detective Widmark needed his own backstory to be what he was.
A lot of social issues are brought up during the play. Was that intentional or did they implement themselves into the play as it evolved?
- A bit of both, I think. The issues of Nicky’s homelife and Father O’Rourke’s internal struggles are real and in a sense timeless, so to speak. We just worked them into the story to expand beyond the simple noir-ish stereotypes
Why did you choose to have the play take place in 1952?
- Simply, it fits with the film noir approach. But really, the time frame isn’t that much of a factor. Just sets the scene.
Some of the actors spoke with an Irish accent. Was that intentional?
- Again, it was all in keeping with the story. We wanted the archetypal characters; the kindly priest, the busybody house keeper, the hard-boiled police detective, without dwelling on the stereotypes, simplifying the characters to the point of parody. So the accents fit with the characters and, I suppose, vice versa.
I was very impressed with the choice of actors. Were they asked or did you have auditions?
- Mainly auditions. Steve put the call out and we auditioned quite a few local and area actors. I was quite impressed with the depth of talent in this area.
You’ve also written non plays. Can you tell us about your other writing and if it is available or will be soon?
- I began writing poetry waaaayy back in the ‘80s, but had no idea what to do with it of how to hone my craft. I stumbled across the Cambridge Writers Collective in 1995, a wonderful group of writers who taught me more about writing than I could have ever imagined. I have been fortunate enough to have had some of my work published and self-published.
- Poetry taught me to bend the physical rules of writing, that expression of the idea is, in some way, more important than composition. I struggle with rhyming poetry (and don’t get me started on limericks), so free verse poetry became the vehicle by which I could effectively express myself.
Bill Ashwell has been a member of the Cambridge Writers collective (CWC) since 1995. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of CWC’s Writers Undercover Anthologies and The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook. In 2001 he published Moments of Clarity, a chapbook collection of his poetry. In 2007 his work was published in the Ascent Aspiration Magazine’s: Aguaterra Anthology of poetry and fiction. Also in 2007 he was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. Bill has also participated in numerous public poetry readings, notably, at the Cambridge Arts Festival, the 2004 Remembrance Day Service at the Galt Cenotaph, and at various local celebrations of the spoken word.
You can reach Bill at: firstname.lastname@example.org or text him at: 226-218-1242