Gatineau-based playwright’s work deals with grief, absence, and connections that help us heal
University of Ottawa alumnus Mishka Lavigne took home the prestigious 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama for her locally-based play Havre, her first time winning the award.
Lavigne completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the U of O in theatre and French literature. She has been active in the Ottawa-Gatineau theatre scene, in both French and English, for several years.
Since graduation, Lavigne has worked as a playwright,a literary translator, and a dramaturg. In March, her play, Copeaux, will be produced, and she is workshopping an English-language play, Shorelines.
Lavigne started writing Havre in 2015 while doing a residency at the Banff Centre. Between the writing of Havre and it’s first staging, she produced several other award-winning plays, along with working as an actor.
“Havre is a play about grief, about the empty spaces in our lives and how these empty spaces can connect to other people’s empty spaces,” said Lavigne. “To me, it’s about the people you meet at moments when you absolutely need them.”
The play centres around Elsie and Matt, who are both grieving for their parents. Elsie’s mother was a renowned public figure, and Elsie struggles to grieve privately for her celebrity mother. Eventually, she meets Matt, recently returned from Sarajevo, who had been searching for information on his birth parents and found nothing.
“Both of them are dealing with these empty spaces in their lives, and they need to connect in order to go through this grieving process,” Lavigne said.
Lavigne said things have been wonderful, and a little hectic, since her win. Nominees aren’t alerted ahead of time, so she found out along with the rest of the country. When asked how it felt to win, Lavigne replied, “I’m going to go with crazy.”
“You don’t know when you’re nominated, so I woke up with my email inbox and social media going crazy, and then I learned I had been nominated,” Lavigne said. “You kind of learn it on the (Canada Council for the Arts) press release.”
Lavigne has built her artistic profile working with Ottawa companies and Franco-Canadian companies. She said she enjoys working with the Francophonie because of how large and dispersed the community is, ranging from Acadia to British Columbia. For her, Ottawa is the best city to work bilingually.
“(Ottawa) was one of the best places to work in both languages,” said Lavigne. “I find it’s important to connect the two communities. I love to have in my projects artists from both sides of the language barrier and I feel like that’s happening more and more in Ottawa.”
The Governor General’s Literary Awards were established in 1936, and now honour French and English books in seven categories. Every year, five finalists in each category are named before the winner is announced.
This year, the Ottawa-Gatineau region scored five nominations, four of which were in French.