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.

Fruition

The undercurrents festival is on at GCTC – go see the shows! – and two of the works featured are SKIN and Ladies of the Lake.

Wearing my GCTC playwright-in-residence hat, I got to sit in on some of the development for each of these and quite enjoyed the experience in each case. Both shows share a number of interesting elements in common, particularly their incorporation of music and movement into the stories that they’re telling. Since my work has been very much based on text and only text, this was an opportunity for me to expand my horizons a bit and see how other approaches to creation might work. This was all very fruitful: I learned a lot and (I think) contributed a bit to each of the shows in kind, but I was also very, very curious to find out what the shows would look like once they had, you know, developed.

So this past week I was glad finally to see the fruition of all that work for both the companies involved. Interestingly, at each performance I found myself feeling a little lump in my throat of pride that all the people involved in both shows were able to show the world what they’d done at the festival. My hat’s off to them all – it’s a tremendous investment of hard work, sweat, toil and tears to journey from the initial germ of an idea to the auditorium filled with people eager to see what you’ve created. I sometimes feel as though I spend most of my time in that “initial germ” state, so it’s good to be reminded that the purpose of the exercise is to share that creation with the world in performance.

Go see both shows if you can, as well as all the other fine stuff on offer at undercurrents.

Skin

I’m not the kind of person who makes a lot of New Year’s resolutions (though one year I did resolve to try and be more of a New Year’s resolution kind of guy – it didn’t really work), but this time round I did spend some time on New Year’s reflections. And one of the things I reflected on was how fortunate I’ve been recently to spend time doing things I love.

In particular, being part of the GCTC family this season has meant I’ve been able to sit in on a variety of projects that are in development. Most recently, this meant being able to join my friends at Deluxe Hot Sauce for a couple of their rehearsals with director Martha Ross as they ready their latest show, Skin, for the GCTC undercurrents festival opening next week.

One of the reasons that this particular opportunity was so appealing is that I’m a text-based kind of guy, scribbling merrily away on my own in a dark corner. (Actually, you can find me by the photocopier in the GCTC office, which is quite brightly lit.) This show, in contrast, is a powerful bit of collaborative creation by the artists involved, and sitting in the room meant that I got to see some of that creation happening before my eyes.

It was glorious.

Now, I was lucky enough to have been invited to a presentation of the play as a work-in-progress some months back, and even then I found it absolutely arresting. But on the first day I dropped in earlier this month, Martha Ross wanted to introduce a new element to the work, a kind of prologue to the piece, and I was able to witness the atoms swirling, coming together and clumping into molecules, and so on. The next day I watched them run the prologue. It was new, it was raw, and it was the absolute essence of theatre.

I learned so much from just a few hours with these artists and I think I may even have a few new things for my toolkit.

And what’s the show about? Find out for yourself. Just go see it.

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.

Residing

It’s now official, I suppose, since they’ve issued the media release … Thanks to a generous grant from the Ontario Arts Council, I am the playwright in residence at GCTC.

What does this mean, exactly?

It does not appear to mean that I can save a little rent by camping out in the green room at the theatre – which is a pity, because it’s not a bad space at all, and the theatre’s in a great neighbourhood.

What it does mean, however, is that I have the privilege of joining an inspiring community of theatre artists from whom I look forward to learning a great deal in the coming months. In particular, it means I’ll have the time and space to focus on creating some new work and to participate in the development of other new projects underway this season at GCTC.

When I sat down with GCTC last year to draft our proposal to the Ontario Arts Council, the theatre had not yet selected its new artistic director. This meant I was reduced to saying how much I looked forward to working with, um, someone … not sure who, but I know it’ll be great. I’m told this is not the ideal way to make a case for support. Happily, I’ve had the chance to sit down with the new AD, Eric Coates, who took up the reins earlier this month and I’m genuinely excited at the opportunity to share my work with him. GCTC has a history of new play development, and Eric is committed to that aspect of the company’s mission.

I’m also looking forward to working with the estimable Patrick Gauthier, who continues to produce the undercurrents festival at the theatre. This year’s launch is happening on November 15 at 5 pm at the theatre, and I’m very much looking forward to the chance to work with some of the artists he’s bringing in as they develop their projects for the festival in February.

But I can’t wait to get started – so if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do…

The official announcement is here.