Jerk It!

ILA Jerk It Undercurrents February 2014I’ve long been a fan of May Can Theatre and its three talented artists, Cory Thibert, Tony Adams and Madeleine Boyes-Manseau. They’re young and fearless, so I was quite excited to hear that they were bringing their “Jerk It” project to this year’s edition of the undercurrents festival. I was even more excited when they asked me to be one of their readers.

The idea behind the project was straightforward: to present readings of a series of anonymously crowd-sourced first-hand accounts of masturbation. Each story was given to a different reader – generally with no regard to gender. So when I received my story I discovered that mine was about a young woman. It wasn’t particularly racy, either. Rather, it was a sad and poignant tale about coming of age.

Each presentation featured different readers and stories. In my case, I shared the stage with three other readers – Cory, as well as Peter Froehlich and Catriona Leger, both of whom I’ve worked with on other projects. Each story was unique and wonderfully presented by the readers, and I’m sure many in the audience would agree that the readings were a highlight of the festival.

For myself, it was a (rare) occasion to stand on the stage rather than off to the side and to present someone else’s work rather than my own. While it was fun, it was also a reminder of how intimate the relationship is between the written words and the oral interpretation of them. I will never know who wrote the story I read, but I feel a connection to her and did my best to do her words justice.

Listening In

One of the fun bits about being playwright in residence at GCTC is that I get to poke my head in on a number of interesting projects going on elsewhere in that nice building at Holland and Wellington.

In the present instance, this means accepting the invitation to sit in on some development work for a show called “The Ladies of the Lake,” which will be premiering at the undercurrents festival in February. LotL, as the folks doing the creating are calling it, went into a phase that they’re calling “final pre-production workshop” over the weekend and I was asked to offer my impressions as someone unfamiliar with the work that’s been done on the show to date.

The opportunity was appealing for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was a chance to work with an enormously talented group of artists – Kate Smith, Catriona Leger, John Doucet and Nicolas Alain. Second, I think I was able to make some helpful contributions as the group worked through various issues in the development of the production. Third, it was a chance to learn from someone else’s work as I move forward with my own projects.

This can be a slightly tricky task. Kate, who is in the midst of writing the script for the show, observed at the outset how useful it would be to get feedback from someone who’s coming to the table without any preconceptions or other investments in the project, someone who listens in and says “This is how it looks to me.” Whether how it looks to me coincides at all with what she hoped to say, and whether that matters in any way, then becomes the chewy substance of a conversation that she can then digest and act on as she sees fit.

In short, I get to ask a lot of questions and she gets to worry about the answers.

Which is a wonderful process, actually, and a lot of what I get out of it is a sense of what questions to ask myself in my own writing – and to value all the more the generosity of colleagues who read my work and offer their thoughts on how to improve it.

And by the way, I’m also happy to report that I found the project to be very exciting and can’t wait to see how it develops further – I think it’s going to be a terrific show. These folks have an interesting story to tell and there was a great rapport and chemistry in the room that will help them immeasurably as they tell that story together.

Here’s how it looked to director Catriona Leger, who was sneakily taking pictures while we worked.