PlaySmelter 2017 and Entertain Me

This past week Pat the Dog Theatre Production staged its 5th Annual Play Smelter festival which features new and developing work by local and regional playwrights. In previous years, the festival have featured staged readings, and workshops, as well as guest lectures from established playwrights such as Colleen Murphy. This year in addition to several staged readings of work in development they also produced two full plays on several nights.

Matthew Heiti’s Receiver of Wreck, which had its World debut this past February in Guelph, was staged the for the first time locally.  As well Lara Bradley’s historical based Blind Nickel Pig received an ambitious launch. Both plays were staged on several nights giving local audiences ample opportunity to participate in the marvel of live theatre.

Which brings me to the other part of this post. Part of my enjoyment from this past weeks plays and staged readings went beyond the content, beyond the playwright’s voice being brought to life, beyond the actors performances on the stages, beyond the set designers and sound artists skillful illusions. I smiled on more than one occasion during the festival and thought to myself, I love that as human beings we want to entertain each other and be entertained. That the writers and playwrights pour countless hours into crafting their stories, breathing life into them, then turn them over to producers and actors, and set designers, to further add flesh to those bones. Finally in an act of divine creation, the audience witnesses the story brought to life and you have magic.

In the day and age of YouTube where you can find long lost memories from childhood TV shows that you once thought you imagined, there’s something to be said about the ephemeral nature of live theatre. Especially small productions such as these. I was privileged to be among the few dozen each night during the Festival’s run to witness the performances I did. To see that exact combination of actors on stage in those venues, with the people that sat in the audience with me. It was truly magical moment.

I’m looking forward to next year’s Play Smelter and I hope that Lisa O’Connell, Artistic Director, and her hard working band of producers and stagehands continue to surprise audiences with such wonderful talent.

There’s so much more I could say about the individual plays and staged readings, and maybe I will post more in the coming days, but for now I just want to say thanks to everyone who gave me these wonderful memories. I know as a writer myself, you can never fully quantify the amount of work that goes into producing the final product. That the number of hands that help along the way in bringing the piece to fruition make it impossible to put a true value on the cost of the labour to produce the end result, but in the end you hope it connects with an audience.

You’ve definitely connected with me and I appreciate the effort that it took to get to this stage. Congrats!

Enter Stage Right

I know its been dark here at my blog for the past month of so, coincidentally also the same length of time that my son has been back playing hockey this fall and that I have been enrolled in the local playwright workshop hosted by Matthew Heiti and the Sudbury Theatre Centre. Yes, life has been busy.

I’ve finished two assignments for the workshop so far and am about to embark on my final assignment soon that will take me through to the end of the 12 week course. The workshop has been phenomenal not only for getting me writing and thinking about writing, but also for all the creative energy flowing in the room each Monday night. One of the things we do each week is talk about plays we have either seen in the previous week or ones that we have read. Our group is fairly diverse and each person brings a lot to the table in terms of perspective, creative energy and passion for the stage and written word. Our instructor Matthew is a generous and patient teacher, and he’s wonderful at sparking our imagination and sharing his passion for the stage. He’s given us access to a small library of Canadian plays he’s amassed and is encouraging us to read one or two plays a week to motivate us and expose us to what else is out there.

Matthew just launched his first book “The City Still Breathing”, published by Coach House Press last month as well as had the world premier of his play “Mucking in the Drift”  this past week at the Sudbury Theatre Centre which runs until Nov 10th. I had the pleasure of seeing the play opening night with my wife and it was great time. The principal actor – Daniel Roberts plays Bert Pilgrim, a 110 yr old man who has become unstuck in time and travelling through his life looking for that one moment that his whole life hinges on. Both Pilgrim’s name and being unstuck in time is a nod to Kurt Vonnegut’s  Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse Five. Set largely in the 1930s and 40s when Sudbury boasted a huge baseball league, Bert and his brother Max get recruited by a slick company man that works for the mines and is looking for talent.  Actor Roberts does a fantastic job voicing the various characters and his transitions from an old man to a spry 18 year old is a wonderment to behold.

Bert is joined on stage by the “Organ Player”, played by Scott Pietrangelo, who serves as straight man, folly artist, musical accompaniment through out the play. While the Organ Player has no dialogue (at least until the very end), he is anything but silent.

While featuring a lot of local references, it also contained universal themes about being the underdog (both the city and Bert) and about losing your history (both the city and Bert). The Sudbury audience ate up the local references, but I felt the play would work well  in any blue collar town and clearly played well with baseball aficionados of all stripes.

I’ll post more about my experience in the workshop soon, but I’ll leave it there for now.