The Show Must Go On

Last night was my first opportunity to see a performance of Ex Cathedra at the Ottawa Fringe. While I’d had the chance to chat from time to time with the folks putting it on and did sit in on their tech rehearsal, this was going to be my first chance to see how they interpreted the play.

Alas, fate does sometimes intervene, and one of the two actors is unable to perform due to illness. I imagine no one is more troubled by this than she is – after all that work and time, to be stuck in a sickbed is surely the last place she wants to be, and I do hope she’s better soon.

But what do you do when half of your cast can’t perform? This is Fringe, after all, and no one has the resources for understudies. And yet, as the saying goes, the show must go on!

To their credit, Troupe de la Lune has found someone to step in as a kind of understudy, and although she’s had minimal time to prepare the company was able to offer a perfectly fine “dramatic reading” of the script – and honestly, it was easy to forget after about twenty seconds that anyone was reading from a script.

Were there certain subtle nuances missing? Of course – these come out of the rehearsal process and the luxury of time to digest the script and consider the meaning of the lines. But in my own rather unscientific sample of the audience who were present last night, it was clear that people got the point of the play and were perfectly forgiving of an unfortunate situation; it would take quite the curmudgeon to feel otherwise!

So kudos to the company for figuring out how to keep going – after all, the show must go on!

Did you see one of the dramatic readings? What did you think?

Extremely Short Story Contest

Extremely Short Play Festival - New Theatre of Ottawa

*** PLEASE NOTE ***

The Contest is now closed.

And the winner is…

To celebrate its upcoming Extremely Short Play Festival, New Theatre of Ottawa is sponsoring an Extremely Short Story Contest!

Our inspiration is Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word short story: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”

Here are the Extremely Short Rules:

  • In the comments to this post, enter your name, email address and SIX WORD STORY. (Your email address will not be posted publicly.) Longer entries will be disqualified.
  • All entries must have a time stamp no later than 11:59 pm, Sunday, April 29, 2011 (Ottawa time).

At the Festival preview on May 1, director John Koensgen will announce the winning entry. The winner will receive two complimentary tickets to the festival performance of his or her choice (May 3 through May 12).

Evolution Theatre’s Double Bill

Less than a week to go until Evolution Theatre presents its newest offering, a double bill consisting of [boxhead] by Darren O’Donnell (directed by Alix Sideris and featuring Christopher Bedford and Stewart Matthews); and Mary Magdalene and Adventures in Sobriety by Berni Stapleton (directed by Andy Massingham and featuring Nancy Kenny).

These both look like terrific shows and I’m glad to see that Evolution has already had some positive buzz, notably in the Ottawa Citizen and in The Visitorium – a look at both [boxhead] and Mary Magdalene. I’m sharing my enthusiasm for these shows not only because I sit on Evolution’s board (in the interests of full disclosure) but because I’m a genuine fan of each of the artists involved with these productions.

The shows open next Wednesday, April 18, at Arts Court Theatre and run through April 28 (except Monday). Show time is 7:30 and tickets are $25 ($20 for students/seniors); there’s also a Pay What You Can Matinee on Sunday, April 22nd at 2 p.m.

You can order your tickets by phone from Arts Court at 613-564-7240 or buy them online here.

T.E. or Olivier?

As my good friend Jessica Ruano has recounted, we took the opportunity to meet Simon Callow yesterday after seeing his show, Being Shakespeare: meeting him was one of those things on Jessica’s list of Things to Do. We decided we might as well go all the way in doing this, so we asked for his autograph on our freshly bought copies of his recently published “alternative autobiography, “My Life in Pieces.”

He asked my name; I told him. As he readied his pen, he then asked: T.E. or Olivier? I parsed the question – it took me a moment – and replied: T.E. He accepted that, though I perceived a hesitation and, I thought, a little sigh of disappointment.

It was later that I noticed the blurb on the back cover remarking about his hero, Laurence Olivier.

Wrong answer.

Writer’s Block

I can’t quantify it, but I know that a tremendous amount of the “writing” that I do isn’t while sitting at a desk; it’s while walking.

On the weekend I was taking a walk with a friend from out of town and thought he might like to see the falls where the Rideau River runs into the Ottawa River. When they’re frozen in winter I find it utterly irresistible to look at them…

Rideau Falls in Winter

Before ...

As it happens, we discovered city crews at work blasting the ice on the Rideau, which they do to prevent ice jams as the river thaws and to alleviate potential flooding in the area. It’s quite dramatic to watch, the broken up chunks of ice are swept quickly over the falls into the larger river below, and the water flows. And flows.

Rideau Falls after the ice is blasted

... and After

What does all this have to do with writing?

Well, a favorite route is to walk along the Rideau, especially if I’m stuck on some bit of writing – a scene that’s not working, a reason for a character to act in a certain way. In other words, the story is as jammed in my head as the ice is on the river. Somehow – the process remains a mystery to me – these walks often clear my head sufficiently to solve whatever the problem is.

And like the falls after the ice blasts, the writing begins to flow once again.

 

My kind of keyboard!

I am old enough to remember using typewriters, including the old IBM golfballs and a Brother model that let you switch some of the characters on a couple of keys (great for when you absolutely, positively have to insert the odd α or ß. And I still have a working Continental from the 1920’s. So when I saw this…

Do high school students “get” theatre? You bet they do!

 

Maureen Smith as the Commander and Beverly Wolfe as the Sister

Jer’s Vision, a Canadian charitable organization dedicated to fighting bullying and homophobia in our schools, approached me recently to ask if they might offer a staged reading of one of my plays at a workshop they were running for students in the Ottawa area. In particular, they were interested in “Ex Cathedra,” a play about the unexpected reunion of two lesbian ex-lovers, one now a nun and the other a high-level security official, in a totalitarian state in which homosexuality is a capital crime.

Some might wonder whether a play with gay or lesbian characters like this (it’s debatable whether you can really call it a “gay play”) is suitable for high school students. Judging from the reactions of the students who attended the reading, the answer is a resounding YES. Not only did they follow the reading closely, they engaged the actors and the facilitator with a series of intelligent and interesting questions during the talkback after the reading. One student, for instance, offered a fascinating insight into how the play was an example of the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory.

Not only did they “get” the play – who the characters were, their relationships, and the issues that they had to grapple with in the course of the play – but they wanted more. Many asked after the availability of the play and others like it, suggesting a demand for challenging play anthologies. Two students approached me to ask if they could put the play on at their respective schools and many others were excited by the news that a theatre company affiliated with Jer’s Vision will be presenting a full production of “Ex Cathedra” at this year’s Ottawa Fringe.

I hope Jer’s Vision and similar organizations – and schools! – will enable more students to engage with challenging plays and the artists who create them. Not only do the students get to debate the “real-world” issues that plays can raise, but they just might also become the next generation of theatre-goers. I hope so.

Collaboration

Theatre is a collaborative art; the “it” that is theatre cannot exist without the contributions of a vast array of talents and skills assembled together: actors, directors, stage managers, lighting designers, sound designers, make-up artists, publicists, and many others, including of course the playwright.

From the perspective of the playwright, the act of writing in and of itself is therefore not entirely fulfilling. For the poet or the novelist, once the writing is done, that’s it. A reader will read the work (one hopes!) and the connection to the art will have been shared. Not so with the playwright. The words on the page are not an end unto themselves, but a tool for the many other contributors to the art to use in creating and realizing characters, scenes, moods, and so forth.

For me, then, there are many stages of the play-writing process that I enjoy: the writing itself, of course, but also the first time I hear the words spoken around a table; the first time I see the scenes brought to life in a rehearsal; and of course the first time I can observe an audience’s reaction to the opening night performance. All these are for me very much parts of the process that I value.