A peek behind the curtain

hart-ezekiel-4337As readers know, for much of 2013 I’ve had the good fortune to be a member of the Playwrights Unit at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, near Kingston. Meeting once a month, five playwrights have been working with Artistic Director Ashlie Corcoran and Assistant Artistic Director Charlotte Gowdy to develop new scripts.

The goal of this exercise has been to present these scripts in a series of staged readings in December. For those who might like to attend, here are the details:

2013 PlayReading Week

My own contribution, which will be presented on Thursday, December 5, is a play called The Jew from Three Rivers about a man who was my first cousin five times removed. In 1807, the citizens of Trois-Rivières made history: theirs was the first community in Lower Canada – and the British Empire – to choose someone professing the Jewish faith as their political representative. But Ezekiel Hart (pictured here) was never allowed to take his seat in the House of Assembly, in spite of being re-elected by his constituents. The Jew from Three Rivers tells his story, which resonates in our own day as governments grapple with how to accommodate religious and cultural differences in our society.

The readings actually provide an opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see a bit of how a script is developed. These are staged readings, not performances. Though each project has a director and actors, their objective isn’t so much to perform as it is to inform – in particular, to give the playwright feedback on what works and what doesn’t work at this stage of the project’s development.

If you can join us in Gananoque, you get to be a part of that process as well. After each reading there will be a discussion with the audience and the artists, and I know that this conversation will be invaluable to me as I decide how to improve the script in the next round of writing.

Admission to the readings are free – I hope to see you there!

Daniel and his friends

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Maureen Smith, Eric Craig and Brian K. Stewart in The Book of Daniel. Photo credit: Andrew Alexander.

If you haven’t had the chance to do so yet, I hope you’ll try and make it to the Extremely Short New Play Festival, which runs through November 10 at Arts Court. I joined the company for opening night and thought that director John Koensgen and the New Theatre of Ottawa did a terrific job with all the ten plays on offer.

Of course, I’m very proud of my own play, The Book of Daniel, which is one of the ten plays, but I have to say that I was mightily impressed with what my fellow Ottawa playwrights have created and with the magic that John and his stellar cast of Eric Craig, Maureen Smith, Brian K. Stewart and Colleen Sutton have imparted to each of the scripts. Kudos too to the design team – from the handwritten dialogue that preceded each play to the costumes covered in letters of the alphabet to the music and the lighting, the festival was very well done.

Equally astonishing is the capacity of the actors to switch characters on a dime. It’s one thing to figure out a character in rehearsal – but half a dozen or more? To take but one example, Eric Craig manages to transform himself from a menacing truck driver to my own young Daniel to dimwitted trailer trash and more – and that’s just in the second half of the show.

It’s always satisfying to see the words I’ve written come to life in production, and I’m sure the other playwrights will agree that our artistic collaborators have done justice to our words. So do try and get out to the festival – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as we did. You can buy your tickets here or at the door at Arts Court.