Welcome 2015

Chalk up another successful spin around the sun. No earth destroying asteroids. Check. No, global nuclear annihilation. Check. No zombie hordes. (Looks around carefully) Check. So here I sit with the shiny opportunity of another 365 days ahead of me. (Less the 22 1/2 hours eaten up already out of today).

Before I get to plans for 2015, a little retrospective of 2014 is in order. Besides avoiding those world altering catastrophes mentioned above, I did have some highlights worth mentioning.

  • Last Stop PosterIn January 2014 I finished my Playwrights’ Junction Workshop with a public reading of a scene from my WIP by professional actors. You can read more about my experience here: Last Stop with the Playwrights’ Junction
  • IMG_2439In May 2014 I attended a writing workshop with the fabulous Chuck Wendig that was hosted by the Toronto Romance Writers  where Chuck discussed at length his own journey as a writer and helped walk us through some of the things he learned along the way. Great teacher, funny guy, and actually doesn’t swear as much as you would think based on his blog posts at Terribleminds.com. (Fanboy aside: It wasn’t the first time I met Chuck in person, but I did get a great Selfie with him and got to go out to dinner with him and some of the writers from the Toronto Romance Writers so it was an extra special workshop for me.)
  • Fiction Vale - Episode 3 Cover RevealIn May 2014 my short story Second Harvest was published in Fictionvale.com’s Episode 3: A Different Outcome. It’s my first professional sale and a story I’m very proud of. You can get a copy of it here: Fictionvale Store

 

While I’m proud of all I accomplished this past year, I have to admit two of those things – the Playwrights’ Workshop and the publication of my short story – were set in motion in 2013. Not that the lead time diminished the accomplishments, just highlighting the fact that some accomplishments are not finite acts that fit nicely in a calendar year.

So where does that leave us heading into 2015. Well for starters you’ll notice there was no mention of my current novel that I am working on. Let’s just say 2014 may not have seen my best effort on that front. I made some fits and starts on it, but to borrow a phrase Chuck Wendig used during his workshop I kind of felt like I was an old man at the mall, not sure what I had come for when I was working on it this year.

So for 2015 in lieu of specific line item resolutions I am going to pledge one thing to myself:

To Do Better. In All Things.

This includes my writing, relationships with family and friends, health and fitness, my reading habits, and pretty much anything else I can think of. I will strive to do better than last year and not get hung up on what I did or didn’t do previously.

I have big plans for 2015 more of which I hope I can share with you as the year progresses.

I hope 2015 is a good and productive year for all the writers I know out there and whatever your passion is don’t let this precious time slip by. You never know when that next asteroid/zombie horde is due.

 

 

Last Stop with the Playwrights’ Junction

Last Stop Poster

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.

 

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.

 

Playwrights’ Junction

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Playbill from last year’s Playwrights’ Junction workshop readings

As if my life wasn’t full enough right now with work, family, and writing, I’ve decided to take on another writing project. This one involving the stage.

The Sudbury Theatre Centre has a playwright-in-residence, Matthew Heti, who has been leading a workshop for new playwrights for the past couple of years. I was interested in applying last year, but due to circumstances couldn’t commit the time.

I did attend last year’s presentation of the playwrights’ work they created during the workshop. Each playwright had a scene from their work read dramatically by actors in front of an audience. I was blown away by the variety of stories that were presented last year and the talent of the writers. I was also impressed with Matthew’s enthusiasm for the work and his support of the developing writers.

So when the call went out for participants for this year’s workshop, I happily applied. I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to see live theatre growing up in the Soo, but that all changed when I moved to Toronto. In addition to seeing some of the bigger productions hosted by hosted at the Royal Alexander and Princess of Wales, I was a frequent visitor of the theatres like Factory Theatre, Theatre Passe Muarille, Tarragon Theatre, Buddies in Bad Times, and Harbourfront’s World Stage. I was fortunate enough to gorge myself on several seasons of The Toronto Fringe Festival, which was like a buffet of live theatre where you could sample different fare from all over. I owe a lot of my Toronto theatre education to my cousin Don, without who I would never have tried such a variety of performances.

I was exposed to so many great actors/playwrights/directors during that time far too many to name here. In my application to the Playwrights’ Junction I did single out a few playwrights, whose work I can’t seem to shake from memory. Daniel MacIvor and his fierce and minimalist one man plays (Henry Lies Here, House, Monster). John Mighton a mathematician who writes witty and thoughtful plays (Possible Worlds, The Little Years) that blends science fiction and human nature in creative and original ways. And finally I had to include Robert LePage (who I’ve seen more of his films than his stage plays), who’s grand visual designs for the stage are incredible.

While I haven’t made a lot of opportunity to see live theatre since moving to Sudbury (almost  *cough* 7 *cough* years ago) I am hoping to change that now that my kids are getting older and I am more established in my job.

I received word last week that I was accepted into the Playwrights’ Junction and just last night I attended our first meeting. As Matthew said it was a bit like a first date, with the 8 participants getting to know a little about each other as well as getting a feel for what Matthew has in store for us over the next twelve weeks of the workshop.

It felt a bit like going back to school in a way. The nervousness, excitement, and oh, yes the anxiety. Having a group photo taken on the first day, certainly just added to that atmosphere. I am looking forward to stretching my brain in new ways and getting to work with and be inspired by a group of new artists that bring such a variety of talents and insight to the table.

I hope I’ll be able to share some of my progress with the workshop here on my blog so stay tuned.