Playwright explores fantasy land in multimedia project

While many young boys may have asked their parents for hockey gear or action figures, Toronto-based playwright and actor Jordan Tannahill grew up with a different request — maps.

“I’d ask for an atlas for Christmas almost every year,” Tannahill said. “I just loved looking at them. Loved the shapes. Loved dreaming about what could be happening in those countries.”

At age 10, Tannahill began to draw up several maps and blueprints of his own mythological country called Bravislovia. With his growing knowledge of geography, he later placed his country as a despotic former Soviet Republic situated by the Baltic Sea near Lithuania.

Tannahill didn’t stop with the maps. He created several Bravisolvian characters, towns, buildings and even invented the native language.

As a young boy, Tannahill dealt with several different situations, including divorcing parents, a mother with breast cancer and his own budding homosexuality. Bravislovia turned out to be a useful escape location.

Today, years later, Tannahill has transformed his childhood escape into an artistic, multimedia presentation.

Tying in film projections with live narration and overhead transparencies, the show Bravislovia centres on the life of a fugitive poet named Isaac Nyakov.

Bravislovia shows the situations someone can have when they live under tyranny and dictatorship,” Tannahill said. “But it’s also about Isaac, this kid who evolves from being this lonely teenager to a more self-aware gay man.”

In preparation for his show, Tannahill looked back on several of his old childhood drawings and paintings. Bravislovia is set to appear this week at the Rhubarb Festival, Toronto’s 32nd Annual Convergence of Contemporary Performance. It’s Tannahill’s latest piece in his roster of work, which includes productions like Two Men to Make a Brother, Post-Eden and the Dora Award-winning Get Yourself Home Skyler.

Nicolas Billon, a fellow Toronto-based playwright who’s play Godwin’s Law will also appear at this year’s Rhubarb Festival, describes Tannahill in flattering terms.

“As an artist, I find he has a voice and something to say — two things that aren’t always a given,” Billon said. “He’s produced a good body of work in such a short time. Considering his age, I’d say he’s an artist to watch out for.”

Bravislovia will be performed from Feb. 23-Feb. 26 as part of the festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.