This past Monday night I sat in the audience at the Sudbury Theatre Centre with my fellow playwrights, family members, friends, co-workers, and the curious theatre going public – all of us there for the same thing, to hear actors do dramatic readings of our works in progress. A graduation ceremony of sorts, it was the culmination of our twelve weeks of classes, put on for the world to see. (Or at least those souls brave enough to venture out in the -30C temperatures that night.)
Ten minute excerpts from our plays were presented, more or less, in alphabetical order by last name, meaning I was scheduled to go second last. I was surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing, despite being decidedly under the weather. I was fighting both a nasty cold and a sudden stomach bug. As they say the show must go on, so pumped full of over the counter remedies I took my place among the audience and settled in for the show.
It was exciting to watch actors breathe life into the words we had written, watching a line of dialogue get the laugh you were expecting (or not) and just watching the audience soak it all in. Considering the actors spent less than an hour with the pieces in rehearsal, getting a feel for their characters and the piece, they did an amazing job. In my other writing I often read aloud my own work to see how it sounds to the ear, listening for awkward phrasing or flat dialogue. Listening to someone else read your words aloud is an even better way to hear what works and doesn’t.
My piece was somewhat handicapped by the fact that one of the characters, Kari, has no lines of dialogue and serves as a comic foil to the narrator, Gus. As with all the pieces, Matthew Heiti, the Playwright-In-Residence and our instructor, read aloud the stage directions where necessary and in the case of my piece also read aloud my silent character’s actions. The problem with my character Kari is that a lot of his action is happening simultaneously as the narrator Gus is speaking. If it were being acted out the audience would be listening to Gus while watching Kari in the background playing off each other. As it was we had to wait for pauses in Gus’ dialogue to describe what Kari was doing. No fault of Matthew’s or the actors, but I think the structure of my piece meant that the rhythm was off slightly and the audience had to do more of the heavy lifting imagining Kari’s actions and Gus’ reaction to them.
Thankfully the Penn and Tellers of my piece aren’t on the stage the entire time by themselves, and there were other characters that joined them with back and forth dialogue that worked in a more traditional way.
As for the night itself, it was a bitter sweet experience. Meeting one last Monday night at the theatre with my fellow playwrights and knowing that this stage of the process was coming to an end. I am hopeful that many of us will continue to work on our plays and continue down the road we started. I know personally, I need to take a break to recover (health-wise especially) and look at some other neglected projects (Hello work-in-progress!) before I decide how I want to carry forward the knowledge and experience I gained in the workshop.
The support I received through out the experience was amazing. Sudbury’s theatre community is lucky to have someone as generous and as knowledgeable as Matthew Heiti. I am so grateful to Matt for sharing his time and experience with us. The Sudbury Theatre Centre and its staff were tremendous with their support, giving Matthew the space and the time to host the workshop, as well as providing us with opportunities to sit in on dress rehearsals of their current season for free. Alumni from the previous Junction workshops came out to give us their take on what they have gone on to work on since their experience and to encourage us to continue. Pat the Dog Theatre Creation also leant their support during the process, and actually made the trip from down South to come and see our plays and to encourage us to continue in the process.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have the support of your loved ones when you take on a commitment like this. Without my kids’ and my wife’s understanding and support I couldn’t have taken such huge chunks of family time away to meet each week, write, edit and go out to see plays. I am sure my kids are looking forward to the novelty of having me home Mondays nights. Thanks family!
Finally I have to thank the other 7 playwrights – Jesse, Jordano, Cait, Marnie, Jan, Line, and Anne for their support and encouragement.They each brought a unique perspective and voice to the table and were supportive in ways I can’t even begin to describe. I wish them all the best of luck in whatever they pursue after the workshop. I know they are all creative talented people and are sure to go far.
If the Sudbury Theatre Centre and Matthew host the workshop again next year, I would encourage anyone locally that is looking for opportunities to write to apply. You won’t regret it. Even if you never considered writing for theatre, look into it. I went in open-minded and learnt so much that I can also apply to my other writing.
It’s been a great experience, one I won’t soon forget, and one I hope to apply the lessons in the rest of my writing life.