Most of the characters Anna Chatterton creates end up dead.
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m a little obsessed with death,” the 30-something performer and writer told a full house at a Yukon Writers’ Fest reading on Wednesday.
“I’m interested in the dark side of comedy,” Chatterton said.
“So that people can laugh and then have their stomach tighten up.”
With collaborator Evayln Parry, Chatterton runs a touring show called Clean Irene and Dirty Maxine.
Billed as a “deadly comedy” the show leads the audience through a toxic nursery rhyme that’s based on the alphabet.
Each character is slaughtered, slayed and dispatched in turn.
“It’s a dark topic, but we tell it in a quick funny way so that people are able to laugh at themselves and not be scared off by the message.”
Chatterton’s pieces are dense with imagery.
They rely on rhythm and rhyme.
Chatterton chooses the words carefully so they sound good together.
And, if no word fits her purpose, she makes one up to convey the appropriate emotion.
“They’re really just tasty treats for the mouth,” she said.
“If I’m writing about sewing machines I pay attention to the rhythm of sewing machines and I let that inform my writing.”
Chatterton’s work is meant to be heard.
In fact, some of it is meant to be sung to the rafters.
She also pens librettos and works with composers in Toronto to put her words to music.
But forget about the large ladies with horned hats in these operas.
Chatterton takes a modern approach to the ancient art form.
“I’m interested in slang and the way we speak in 2007.
“Sometimes I adapt an old opera and flip it around — make the protagonist female and set it in present day circumstances.
“To engage a new younger audience in opera, it’s gotta speak to them and not be women with horns on their hats.”
Her opera Swoon, created with composer James Rolfe, was recently produced to critical acclaim by the Canadian Opera Company.
And the company just gave Chatterton and Rolfe the OK to produce another destined for the stage at its new opera house in 2011.
Chatterton started singing and acting in school plays and community theatres.
“I was pretty shy as a kid, so drama totally boosted my confidence,” she said.
“I was very a imaginative kid and I realized that was something people were interested in.”
This week Chatterton has been sharing her skills with local high school students at the Young Authors’ Conference.
“I’ll be there to inspire creativity,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to be really wild and wacky,” she said.
The cardinal rule of writing — “show don’t tell,” said Chatterton.
“Don’t forget about all the senses, what you smell, what you hear, what you see.
“And think of your characters as real people with real thought and feelings and a full life history.”
The Yukon Writer’s Fest continues with readings and music at the St. Elias Convention Centre in Haines Junction on Saturday.
Julie Cruikshank will lecture on Edward Glave at the Beringia Centre on Sunday.
And Donna Morrissey will travel throughout the territory until May 11 reading in Dawson, Mayo, Pelly Crossing, Teslin and Carcross.