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!

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.

 

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.