Thoughts about the Ottawa Theatre School

The sad news in Ottawa in these early days of 2014 is the demise of the Ottawa Theatre School, as reported yesterday by the CBC. (OTS was a child of the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, which has been contributing to the theatre arts in Ottawa for over 25 years, and the CBC report notes that OSSD will continue to offer its services.)

My own connection with the school was limited. OTS and Plosive Productions were my partners in the development of my play about Marie Curie, False Assumptions, which provided OTS students with an opportunity to see how a project develops from the initial germ of an idea through script development to rehearsal and production. I was delighted to get to know the students who were involved with the project and thought their dedication to their craft was good news for the continuing health of the Ottawa theatre community.

Unfortunately, the school seems to have had a number of serious management and financial issues it was unable to overcome. I was disturbed to hear late last year that many instructors at the school – who as a rule have been drawn from the theatre community – had not been paid for their services. As is often the case, theatre professionals supplement their income through instruction and I suspect that in many cases a pay cheque that bounces can cause real hardship. Obviously, no institution would allow such a situation to develop on a whim, so I assume that the school stopped paying its instructors because it simply didn’t have the cash.

I sat in on a recent meeting of some of the instructors involved. Of course, they hoped to be paid what they were owed by the school, but what struck me in particular is the deep concern everyone shared for the welfare of the students, who now find themselves enmeshed in this terrible situation through no fault of their own. They knew what they wanted: an opportunity to learn a craft and the hope that with that learning they could go out into the community and practice it. It’s easy to say that our community is greater than any one institution and that over time things will work themselves out. This is no doubt true, and we can hope and work for a thriving Ottawa theatre scene, but we still need to pause and acknowledge the pain that many of our colleagues are now experiencing as well.

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.

Cold Read

So this new play I’m writing is about Marie Curie, the scientist who discovered radium (and radioactivity) a little over a century ago.

One of the things that will make this project interesting is the team putting it together. The play is going to be presented by Plosive Productions at the Gladstone Theatre in the new year, with the wonderful team of Chris Ralph and Teri Loretto serving as producer and director, respectively. The actors are being drawn from the third-year students at the Ottawa Theatre School. OTS has been teaming with local theatre companies in recent years to give their students some “real world” experience, and OTS and Plosive approached me earlier this year to see if I could write something new for them. The fun part is that the students, together with Teri and Chris, are going to be part of the development of the project from Day 1.

Today was Day 1 – the first chance for everyone to have a look at the first draft of the script. We decided to go with a cold read – the actors didn’t get to read anything until they were in the room and knew nothing about the play beyond the basic fact that it was about the life of Marie Curie.

For the playwright this is always a fun (if nerve-wracking) moment because it’s usually the first time he gets to hear the words that have been bouncing around in his head. And because it’s a cold read, the people in the room can serve as a proxy for the audience – they don’t know what’s going to happen next, and so their interest (or boredom) is likely to match that of a potential audience member. Fortunately, the students seemed very receptive and jumped right in – and within minutes I was scribbling away with thoughts about things that were going to need fixing; scenes I could probably cut; new scenes I was going to need … all the inspiration I’m going to need to revise the script in anticipation of the actual rehearsals for production a little farther down the road.

Teri, Chris and I will be meeting with the students over the next several weeks as part of this workshop process, and I’m very eager to hear their feedback as this project evolves.