An Academic Perspective

Theatre people aren’t the only ones interested in plays, I’ve discovered. Academics are as well.

There exists an academic organization in the United States called the American Council for Québec Studies (ACQS), which publishes academic papers and hosts conferences on a wide range of topics relating to Québec. At its most recent conference, held in Montreal, there were two sessions held on the subject of “Québec Jewish Theatre.” I was invited to be one of the panelists, both as someone who grew up in Montreal even though I no longer live there, and as a playwright who has now written about the early history of Jews living in the province with my play about Ezekiel Hart. I also had the chance to participate in a separate session devoted to “Queer Performances, Inspirations and Sources,” which featured a number of presentations, including a staged reading of The Book of Daniel, a short play set in Montreal in the 1970s and is arguably shaped by the attitudes to homosexuality of the time.

What was interesting to me in the context of this conference, which had countless other sessions on countless other (non-theatre) topics, was the opportunity to hear and learn from people without a theatre background. What’s their take on the work we do? What resonates with them? What connections do they make? Since most of those present for the sessions I was involved with were academics, it fell quite naturally to them to look for meaning in a very different mode from that of the theatre artist. I left the conference feeling a bit more able to take a step back and consider my work (or the work of my colleagues) from other perspectives, and I hope that this will enrich my approach to my work in the future.

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.

Extremely Short Play Festival – 2nd ed.

backgroundRehearsals started this week for the 2013 edition of the Extremely Short Play Festival. John Koensgen brought the first edition of this festival to the Arts Court Theatre in the spring of 2012 and I’m very glad to have been invited back this year. My contribution to the festival is called The Book of Daniel.

The rules are the same as last time: a play that tells a full story from beginning to end in 10 minutes or less. Writing these can be quite challenging – after all, you have to cram a full story into 10 minutes rather than the 100 or more that a full-length play can run. This means the playwright has to be extremely economical with words – but as in many kinds of art, constraints like this are actually a good thing, forcing the artist to scrape away absolutely all the encrusted stuff that can accumulate on a script, leaving only the essence of the play itself.

So I think festivals like these are good for the audiences, yes – you’re sure to find at least one of the shows appealing, if not all of them, in the course of the evening – but good for the playwright as well, who must excel at his or her craft.

And yes, I’m happy to report that the very popular Extremely Short Story Contest returns as well – watch for details on this next week!

So mark your calendars – the festival of 10 plays runs October 31 (yes, Halloween) through November 10 at Arts Court Theatre. Details on tickets and prices may be found here.