Thursday, December 23, 2010

Block A: the insider's report

PTC welcomes six emerging writers each fall to join a senior playwright for an in-depth exploration of the craft of playwriting. Stanley Katz, one of our 2010 Block A participants, offers his take on the experience.

I’m leery every time I join a creative group. They always start off with such lofty intentions and then they go sour so easily. And then that makes me doubt my constitution and I wonder if ‘maybe I’m not meant to do this?’ And it doesn’t matter how big, or small the group is, all it takes is one insistent sharer, or know-it-all, or one know-it-all-naysayer, and suddenly you dread going, if you go at all.

But… lately I had been feeling adrift in my writing. I was writing. Chipping away at various projects, and having good days too, but I felt drained. I was easily distracted. I needed some oomph. And I needed some solidarity in what I was doing.

So… PTC Library, that first meeting: surrounded, floor to ceiling, with scripts of “established” playwrights, the six of us at the table, looking down at our clean ready-to-go notebooks. This was Block A, 2010, a workshop for “emerging” playwrights. The age spread in the group was wide, but culturally we were all variations of the Western Civilisation motif.

Now, Jan Derbyshire will say it was us, the group of six that made it what it was. That it was our effort, our enthusiasm that made the experience so phenomenal. And there is truth in that, everyone really gave of themselves and put their writing out there. The whole thing was this lovely creative oasis. Our discussions about theatre and writing were insightful and lively, and our work blossomed into vibrant foundations - we all pushed to completed first drafts of our plays. And there was no irritating person… unless it was me…what?

But, you know how it goes in these groups - ninety percent of time it’s the facilitator that makes it or breaks it, especially when the facilitator is more credentialed than everyone else. The facilitator sets the tone; they guide, they mentor. So I can’t say enough great things about Jan Derbyshire. She was genuine, respectful, energetic, and focused – an angel who will be forever sitting on my shoulder.

The group met once a week for ten weeks, and every week we brought in our writing, and we talked about our writing, and it was extremely informative. That was the plot. That’s what happened. But the theme of the entire ten weeks was more profound – and even as an “emerging” writer I knew this was something fundamentally true about creating – that writing, like the violin, like love, like travel, is a continual practice. You are never done, there is no glory in slow motion, you just practice, and sometime you get acknowledged with praise. That’s it. You practice writing because it feels good, and so that when you get slammed, or froze, or blocked, you’re practiced enough to write your way through the void. The end. And the beginning. And the middle.

So it was a good group. And a good experience. Which, unlike a bad group, makes it sadder when it ends. Joy Russell, Lenore Rowntree, Nathaniel Roy, Christopher Cook, Melissa Haller, and Jan Derbyshire, thank you, you charged me up.

Stanley Katz

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seasonal joys

Monday, December 13th marked PTC's Annual General Meeting, this year a joint affair with The Only Animal. It was inspiring to revisit the activities of the 2009/10 year for both companies, and to see the sparkling documentation from NIX, TOA's theatre of snow and ice, and You and the Moon, one of my favourite plays for solo audience. I look forward to our ongoing collaboration on SOS, by Eric Rhys Miller, which PTC is developing with TOA for a summer 2011 premiere on the beaches of Spanish Banks. Whenever I feel a little soggy in here in the rain forest, I imagine making theatre in July on the beach, for which my dramaturgical tool kit will include suncreen, flip flops, and a bathing suit.

Imaginations soared in the AGM playwright readings. The Only Animal's Eric Miller, ably assisted by Lisa C. Ravensbergen, gave us a glimpse of SOS, "a lost and found story," as the amnesiac narrator terms it. Traveling Light, Jordan Hall's play in development, took us into the competitive academic world of experimental physics, and tantalized us with the sense that the experiments and experimenters may be more interconnected than they know. Jeremy Waller opened the world of Trunk, which was developed in the 2009 Colony. Trunk's moving poetics embodied the longings of its central characters, and it was a treat for me to read in for a character whose voice I've heard many times from the outside. Tim Carlson's Fractional Jets brought us into the present day aftermath of investments into the Olympic Games, stimulating laughter of recognition as big dreams are cut down to size. We look forward to a potential Theatre Conspiracy presentation of Tim's piece in 2011.

Annual General Meetings are a chance to connect the board members who support our work throughout the year with the writers who are at the heart of the company. Jan Derbyshire, before reading from her work-in-progress, MINE, thanked all the board members for their crucial support in making theatre happen. She then took us into a world of grandmothers, granddaughters, and hidden bombs - full of dynamic theatrical image, and humour that made the sometimes painful subject matter side-achingly funny. Reading from source material for a piece in development for the Talking Stick Festival, Lisa C. Ravensbergen brought to life the push and pull of desire, connecting to the audience through and between the words with a rich sensuality of language. Look for Lisa's The World is the World in its physicalized form in the New Year. The Associates' readings were rounded out by a knowing, funny, and vulnerable performance - from hand written notes - by Jenn Griffin. Her monologue from an outsider in academe touched on woundedness, intellectual curiosity, and recognition between lovers - in the context of an academic supervisor meeting. Colony writer Andrew Templeton finished the evening with a scene from Last Occupant of Troy, in which a story teller barters tales - food for the soul - for entrance into the fabled city. His comic timing playing both characters was hilarious. It was a fitting finale to a night of stories from writers to watch - and to have our imaginations nourished by.

A few script notes to finish up, and then I'm off for the holidays. But look for some guest posts between now and the new year.

Heidi Taylor

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Catalan Connection

The Catalan Connection brought three remarkable Catalan plays to a Canadian audience and theatre experts. It also offered rich human encounters between the 27 artists and 75 audience members. The brain child of Saskatoon’s Tom Bentley Fisher and Elisabet Rafòls, the project saw three plays, by three different authors, taken to three different cities in Canada. Vancouver partners PTC and Pi Theatre collaborated with producer Tant per Tant and Playwrights' Workshop Montreal to travel Tom and Elisabet’s vision across the country. The goal: a translation that will be effective in the Canadian context without betraying its Catalan view of the world. The writers Marta Buchaca, Pera Riera and Pau Miró, accompanied by the translators Tom and Elisabet from Tant per Tant, had been working on the scripts in Saskatoon, brought them to Vancouver and are in Montreal this week, testing the translation choices in three different Canadian contexts.

It is always a very delicate and thin line that makes translation effective in the new context without leaving aside its original cultural and linguistic background. What became evident in the process is that no matter how specific and local the story is, there is always a universal aspect to it, something that will make it relevant anywhere in the world.

The three plays revolved around the idea of the decay of the family institution. Buffalos by Pau Miró dealt with the repercussions of an unstable family life, the physical abuse and the abandonment of a group of siblings who will have to fight for their survival and will develop very distinct mechanisms of dealing with the reality outside the four walls of their house. The fable core of the play transports us to a continent full of wild life, buffalos, lions, elephants and giraffes.

Girls shouldn’t play soccer by Marta Buchaca takes us to an unusual situation in a waiting room where three characters will wake to the reality of not knowing anything about the secret lives of their closest family members. The issue of domestic violence and fear is also one of the common threads of the play.

Far from Nuuk by Pera Riera confronts us with the illusory links that hold an aristocratic family and their business together. The psychological development of the characters faces us with the need of parricide in order to convey a personal identity and specific role within the family dynamic. The characters will have to redefine their relationships and will be forced to wake up to an unstable reality of rupture. The story is presented in real time, an hour and a half before the sister’s wedding.

The writers, as well as the translators were present through the readings and script analysis that took place at PTC on Granville Island. The text was a living force being modified by every reading with the help of the internalization of the characters by the actors, the direction given by the dramaturges and the acute sense of literary effectiveness of the translators and writers as well as the audiences and their valuable feedback. It was fascinating to witness how the different cultural notions and backgrounds affected the interpretation of the plays taking them to new unexpected dimensions.

Overall The Catalan Connection was a project that evidenced the need to connect to other parts of the world by interpreting theatre plays that are relevant to all of us, despite the fact that they come from distant places. The more we know the stories of the world, the more we will understand our own…

Martu Lasso

Martu Lasso is from Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. During her first years of college she studied Communications, Linguistics and Literature at Universidad Católica del Ecuador. She spent her junior year in London at the film studies program of Middlesex University. The next stop was upstate New York, where she engaged in linguistic studies at New Paltz University. After having spent some time abroad she returned to Quito where she graduated with a degree in Visual Communications and Literature. In the following years she started a family, joined a theatre school and worked in diverse film, and theatre festivals, as well as cultural TV and radio shows. In 2008 Martu and her family decided to move to Seattle, where she pursued an MA in Hispanic Studies while teaching Spanish at the University of Washington. Through this process her focus of study was the theatre produced in the Hispanic world. She acted in the play “El gesticulador” by Rodolfo Ucigli. She also wrote, directed and acted in a short film and translated a collection of poems by Luis Garcia Montero. Three months ago she moved to Vancouver where she is starting a new life with her two kids and her partner.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Playwrights Central

Mere seconds after our Colony writers returned to their regular lives, PTC welcomed Tant per Tant’s Tom Bentley Fisher and Elisabet Rafòls from Saskatoon, and Catalan writers Marta Buchaca, Pau Miró, and Pere Riera from Barcelona. The Catalan Connection is now in full swing, with seventeen actors joining the writing, translating and dramaturgical teams to explore the translation of three Catalan plays. You can see the pieces in progress at our readings with Pi Theatre Saturday and Sunday this week. The gang moves on to Playwrights Workshop Montreal for a final stop on the Canadian tour next week.

Meanwhile, we have 15 PTC members attending the GVPTA Making a Scene Conference, taking their questions and inspirations to the wider community. I look forward to posting reports from the conference in the coming weeks.

The scripts are still flying over the transom for Flying Start. With 3 hours to go until the deadline, we already have over 25 local writers in the selection pool for this Touchstone Theatre/PTC partnership that brings emerging playwrights to professional production.

On Monday November 29th, PTC-affiliated dramaturgs will join the dance community for a pair of workshops with Guy Cools, a dramaturg of international reputation who will be discussing ideas of Open Dramaturgy and the Intercultural Body. As part of our commitment to research and innovation, we look forward to more partnerships with development centres across the disciplines, and extend our thanks to the Dance Centre for inviting us to this session.

To round out 2010, I look forward to seeing as many of you in person as possible on Monday December 13th, at 7 pm, when PTC joins forces with The Only Animal for our joint Annual General Meetings. It will be a particularly exciting night for me, as I get to share the work of eight writers with you, writers who inspire me on a daily basis and contribute so much to the dynamic energy here at our headquarters on Granville Island. Eric Rhys Miller, whose play SOS will be produced by The Only Animal, in summer 2011, will give us a sneak preview. PTC has supported the development of the project for over two years, and will be invested in the development right up to opening night. Colony writer Andrew Templeton will read from one of his recent works – if you lobby him, it might even be from The Last Occupant of Troy, which he transformed during the 10 days of the Colony (without losing its Python-esque sense of humour). And it will be my great pleasure to finally introduce in person our PTC Associates, who are in residence with us for three years. Tim Carlson, Jan Derbyshire, Jenn Griffin, Jordan Hall, Lisa C. Ravensbergen, and Jeremy Waller will bring a diverse, compelling range of (short) pieces to life (you’ll notice there are some superb actors in the bunch!).

Back I go to making script notes...
Heidi Taylor
Dramaturg & Acting Executive Director

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Interview with two Colony writers...

Brian Fidler and Andrew Templeton are two of the four writers participating in PTC’s fifth annual Writers Colony. Dramaturg Heidi Taylor spoke with them on the eve of the Colony to take a look under the hood at the mechanics of playwriting. 

HT: Something I’ve been curious about, not having worked with either of you as a dramaturg, is how you move from source material to script? Is it a repeatable process? How did that happen for your Colony play? 

BF: This is a new one for me for source material in terms of making it into a script. I often write the script after. I write the script for the SM and Lighting designer. It’s always been developed physically. For this one I’ve been trying something new  - to be more of a playwright. Because the source material is so close to me. The original source is from my grandma who lived with us when I was a kid – my mom was an only child, so we were her only grandchildren. When I started, it was almost too close – theatre as therapy. So I had to ask, is it a story that I really want to tell. So I made the grandma the grandpa – so I could look at the source material without breaking down – it’s so raw. The switch worked,  I could still source it but I didn’t have to cry every time I read it.

AT: Sometimes you know where you’re going with a piece – you have an outline you’re following – but The Last Occupant of Troy started as a simple writing exercise, a fun break, about two characters standing next to a door. 

Although I’m often classified as a “literary” playwright, my scripts have at their core a founding image, a visual that inspires the work. For Troy, it was two Beckett-like tramps, standing next to a door. The door was to be the only prop on stage and the actors were meant to move it around to create entrances – doorways – to different worlds. Once I had the image, I just wrote, and the characters and situations grew out of that process. My characters tend to sound an awful like me in the first draft but as I refine them, they become more and more distinct. Despite the visual keystone that underpins the work, ultimately my creative process is auditory. I’m interested in the musicality of the human voice. All of my plays have an inherent musical score and a great deal of the crafting process is refining that score, finding those rhythms.

HT: Both of you have produced your own work in other Canadian cities. What’s the best part about producing your own work? 

BF: It’s always funny the perception that people have when you do one person shows. So people have the perception that “you like to do things by yourself.” It couldn’t be further from the truth. This idea that you like to make things on your own, or don’t like to be on stage with other people. I like working with other people! And there’s so many other people involved in making the work. It’s a dialogue with the lighting designer, the sound designer… The sound designer is such a huge player in this show. It’s not a one person show, it’s me and the sound. And the army. The Whole Army.

The reason it has been the way it is – it’s cheaper – when I want to rehearse, there’s less overhead to do it myself. I can call my meetings whenever. On the other side it’s the touring – as little gear as possible and as cheaply as possible. I’m always asking how to get out of the Territory. I do larger cast stuff in the Yukon.

AT: The best part has to be creative control. Instead of your personal contribution ending at the rehearsal room door, you remain immersed in all aspects that go into a production; you remain engaged in the various dialogues. Even if you aren’t directly leading them, you’re at the table. It also impacts on the director/playwright relationship as well. It does mean having a clear sense of roles and responsibilities, so that there are no confusions. I do enjoy producing – although it can be exhausting.

HT: Any surprises? 

AT: About Toronto? Probably the biggest is that despite having a healthy ecology, the same concentric circles of engagement exist there as they do here in Vancouver: theatre professionals at the centre, theatre-devotees in the next circle and then, on the outside, the general public. Toronto theatre faces the same problems we do in Vancouver in terms of reaching out to that final, wider circle – although the inner circles are naturally that much bigger and more sustaining.

HT: Where do you find inspiration for writing for the theatre? What makes live performance relevant for you? 

BF: I think it’s similar to so many people where I had early theatre experiences that were so close to magic. Every once in a while a film comes along that is magical, but it’s never quite the same.

I like shifting perspective – something I took from Mermaid theatre – I learned from making shows for kids 2-4 years old. One of the things that keeps it alive – you change perspective on them – as long as people understand it, they really enjoy it.

AT: Although I love film – and would like to try writing for film – when I reach the end of my life and think of the top experiences I had as an audience member, I’ve no doubt the list will be dominated by theatre. And the reasons are all the clichés we hear about the performing arts: that you’re sharing time with the performers, breathing the same air, existing in a rare moment. When you see something magical happen in a film, you know it’s been digitally mastered, created in a laboratory. When you see, say, a Lepage or a Castelluci, the images that are the most affecting, the most lasting, are those that are created with bodies and concrete things: it’s ancient and visceral, it’s a form of real magic. The catharsis you experience in the performing arts is more profound because the identification is somehow more intimate and immediate. What happens on a screen always feels colder, more distant (and, of course, infinitely repeatable – it lives in our memories differently).

Although I rarely consider what I’m doing in any sort of macro way, I also feel as if my work forms a sort dialogue with all the playwrights that have gone before.

PTC hosts Brian Fidler, Andrew Templeton, Elaine Avila, and Elyne Quan at our fifth annual Writers Colony November 15-23, 2010. To meet Elyne and Elaine and hear readings from their work, join us at a PGC/Canada Council sponsored free reading, Friday, November 19, 2010, 4-5 pm at SFU Woodwards, Room 4390, 149 West Hasting, (Atrium entrance, 4th floor).

Brian Fidler (top), Andrew Templeton (bottom):