World Theatre Day 2013

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The Gladstone Theatre team with the Rubber Chicken Award

Yesterday was World Theatre Day, and Ottawa’s Company of Fools once again organized the Ottawa Theatre Challenge to mark the occasion. I was approached by Nicholas Amott, a young actor of my acquaintance, to join him as a competitor in the challenge.

The way it works is this: each team is given 48 hours to prepare a five-minute play using three “objects of inspiration” that have been randomly assigned among the theatre companies involved. This year’s objects comprised a song, an object from someone’s house (not necessarily a household object), and a proverb. Nick and I were assigned the song “Seasons of Love” from Rent, a lucky penny, and the Russian proverb “Hope Dies Last.”

The Challenge, hosted by Teri Loretto, who has just finished directing my play False Assumptions, is great fun and gives Ottawa’s theatre community a welcome excuse to come together and celebrate our common passion to create. It’s also generally a very silly evening – which is what you might expect when it’s run by the Fools, bribes for judges Natalie Joy Quesnel, Patrick Gauthier and Eric Coates are heartily encouraged, and the prize for the winner is the coveted Rubber Chicken Award. All proceeds go to a charity chosen by the previous year’s winner – in this case, the ALS Society of Canada.

Part of the fun for me was the delight in being on stage for a change – usually I’m tucked safely away backstage somewhere – and I thought I detected a few gasps of astonishment from the audience at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage when I made my way into the spotlight. But it was also a joy to see what the other 14 companies were inspired to bring to the stage, and it was a real delight to see the Gladstone Theatre team win the rubber chicken for their inspiring Finnish homage to Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. (Their version, which I hope someone captured on video, is a truly profound complement – and compliment – to the version I saw in Ireland last year.)

So kudos to the Fools for making this happen, and congratulations to the Gladstone for their well-earned victory!

(And for those who might be wondering: Nick and I did walk away with the “Worst Presentation of Bribe” award, an achievement we are both happy to wear with pride.)

Getting Ready to Open

FA-poster-finalMarie Curie is about to come to life!

No, I am not musing about anything so metaphysical as the raising of the dead. But the cast, comprising the graduating students of the Ottawa Theatre School, have been in rehearsal for the last few weeks and are busy now with costume fittings, going over their lines, working out the finer points of their characters with director Teri Loretto, and eager discussions about ways to get word of the play out in the world of social media. It’s been great fun to watch.

Along the way, the script has evolved enormously from the days of our first reading together back in September. Among other things, for example, the title of the piece has evolved from The Notebooks of Marie Curie, which as a working title really did convey what the play was about, to False Assumptions, a title which I hope the audience will agree conveys what the play is really about as it looks at those notebooks. For me this is one of the most interesting aspects of the journey, and it’s one I highlighted in that first reading many months ago to the others around the table: the script that the actors will present to their audience at the Gladstone is very much evolved from the one they first met in September.

That’s as it should be, of course. The whole point of the work in these last few months has been to improve and refine the story on the page, and I am deeply indebted to Teri, to producer Chris Ralph, and to the actors (among many others), whose counsel and suggestions have made a vast difference to the quality of the script and so to the story that these actors will be presenting as of next week.

My job, then, is done. All the changes to the text that will be made have been made. I leave it in the many good hands of my friends at OTS and Plosive and look forward to settling back in my seat on opening night and watch the magic of the theatre do its thing.

If you’re in the Ottawa area and would like to see the show, you can order your tickets online at the Gladstone.

Meanwhile in Gananoque

logo-300pxA friend mentioned to me some time ago that there was a new artistic director at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, near Kingston. Her name is Ashlie Corcoran, and one of the things she decided to do at TIP was to set up a Playwrights Unit for 2013. So earlier this year she invited four other playwrights and myself to meet with her and Assistant Artistic Director Charlotte Gowdy at the Playhouse once a month for the next year. We’re each working on a brand new piece, and we each get allotted a couple of sessions over the year to share and discuss our work. Ashlie’s plan is to present readings of our work at the Playhouse in December 2013.

The other playwrights are all relatively local: Douglas Bowie, many of whose works have already been produced at TIP; Craig Walker, who teaches in the theatre department at Queen’s University; Sarah Dennison, a recent graduate of the theatre program at Guelph; and my fellow Ottawa playwright Jessica Anderson.

The project I decided to work on at TIP is one that’s been in the back of my idea drawer for a very long time – because it’s an interesting bit of family history. In the early nineteenth century, an ancestor of mine won election to the Lower Canada assembly for the riding of Trois Rivières, but he was prevented from taking his seat because he was Jewish. The “Hart Affair” was a significant political issue in its day, and it wasn’t until quite a few years later that the rights of Jewish subjects to hold office was established in British North America.

Our group’s March meeting was last night at the Playhouse, and it was my turn to present. I had about 20 pages of scenes that I wanted to share and I was typically nervous and worried – what would these other writers think of my work? – and busily thinking up all sorts of excuses for my failings. But I was absolutely delighted with the supportive and constructive feedback from the other people around the table. And that’s the value of a group like this. It’s energizing. I spent the drive home thinking about everyone’s comments and the wheels are spinning madly in my head as I ponder what I want to do next with the script. Writing groups sometimes work and sometimes don’t – often it’s a question of chemistry between the people in the room. This one certainly works, and I’m grateful to Ashlie for organizing it and for inviting me to participate in it.

Stay tuned for more updates on this project over the rest of 2013, and pencil in December 5 at the Playhouse – that’s when my work is scheduled to be presented.