Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wrapping up the Colony

This year's Colony was brimming with writerly talent and critical thought, as dramaturgs, writers, actors and PTC administrators gathered to hear and respond to four new Canadian plays. As the dramaturgical intern, I was completely giddy at the thought of sitting around a table with bright, sharp minds talking theatre. I was in dramaturgical heaven (read: nerd heaven.) I decided to see if the playwrights had as much of a blast as I did, so I asked José Teodoro and Lucia Frangione what they thought of their experience at the Colony and this is what they had to say.

José Teodoro

My time at this year’s Playwrights Colony was immersive and exhilarating: to find myself seated round a jumble of tables, being pummeled by such an array of fully engaged, thoughtful/impulsive, stimulating feedback, responses of such intelligence and specificity and just plain usefulness from everyone connected to Team PTC, not only the formidable dramaturgical bedrock, but also the guest artists, the interns, the administrative staff. And, of course, my fellow playwrights. Listening to and discussing their work was just as important a part of my play’s development and my Colony experience in general as were the hours devoted to my ownwork. (Where do they find these people, my fiendishly talented new comrades?) In an all-too short period of time my play was ushered to a place it would not have reached otherwise. So I’m grateful, obviously, and am already crating plans to persuade these people into letting me come back for seconds...

José Teodoro’s plays include The Tourist, Slowly, an exchange is taking place, Steps and Cloudless. His most recent play, MOTE, was developed at the 2011 Playwrights Colony.


José's new play MOTE is an inspired re-telling of Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Psycho. In this re-imagined staged version of the much-loved horror flick, Marion Crane and Norman Bates are met with radically different destinies than what we as audience members have come to expect. José manages to reveal and highlight a layer of psychological complexity that creates a unique and compelling framework for Hitchock's story. He confronts and challenges our expectations and generates a profound level of investment in characters we thought we knew and understood, until now. At the PTC Colony, we were able to see the draft come close to completion as José refined it over the 10 day workshop, following feedback from participating dramaturgs and writers. By the third read of the script on the last day of the workshop, José remarked that he was happy with where he was able to bring it, and that it's nearly ready to get on its feet.

Lucia Frangione

The Colony reunited me with dramaturg Lisa C. Ravensbergen: we had worked together on my play Cariboo Magi ten years ago. I can't say that the three hours we busted our chops over my kitchen table analyzing my super structure were enjoyable, in fact, I got a little grumpy with her asking me "why, why, why" but that was precisely the question that needed to be addressed and she was tough enough to wrestle it out with me. She helped me find the driving force behind the play which turned it from a poetic wandering collection of stories into an active pursuit that now earns its ending. I wrote three drafts in under two weeks: about a hundred and eighty pages. I found the guided feedback from everyone around the table very useful. What a glory-fest of brainiacs PTC collected. And I particularly appreciated the involvement of the other playwrights. We all sat in on each other's readings and were invited to offer our responses, something not done at Banff. We lucked out as writers and enjoyed each other's company immensely. I loved discussing our varying approaches to the work, how our careers have evolved, how we each survive, what theatre is doing in the various provinces we're from...I loved hearing their drafts evolve. I wish I could do this every year. Thank you PTC for one of my most valuable writer experiences so far in my career.

Lucia is an internationally-produced and award-winning playwright and actor, best known for performing in her own works: Paradise Garden, Espresso, MMM, Cariboo Magi, Chickens, and Holy Mo. Espresso toured Western Canada and ran for a year at teatr Jeleniogorski with a Polish translation then picked up by teatr Powszechny in Warsaw. A thirty-minute version of her new play Leave Of Absence won the Amnesty International contest through Activist Theatre and was performed at the 2011 Vancouver International Fringe Festival. She is currently working on a new play about the Italian internment in BC called Fresco with Bella Luna for the Italian Cultural Centre and an adaptation of Loves Labour’s Lost for St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival in Prescott. Her twenty three plays have been produced by theatres such as The Arts Club, Belfry, Ruby Slippers, Solo Collective, Chemainus Theatre, Prairie Theatre Exchange and Lambs Players San Diego. She has been the recipient of two Gordon Armstrong writing awards, the Sydney Risk award and the CAEA Stage West emerging artist award. She is published by Talon Books and is a proud member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada and PTC. Lucia also teaches a popular on-line playwright course.

Walk a Mile Joe

Lucia's newest play Walk a Mile Joe presents a profoundly honest and vulnerable world in which Joe and Mary will try anything to understand the lives they've lived and all that they've misunderstood. After not seeing him for ten yeas, Mary comes to comfort Joe after the death of his parents on a cold, Prairie winter's night and together they plunge head first into the past. They re-embody memories from their childhood, all the way until their last meeting, trying with all their might to untangle any knots they find. Filled with vibrant imagery that burns so brightly it nearly ignites the page, Walk a Mile Joe submerges us into the intimacies of a life we've never known-- but a life in which we surprisingly come to recognize our own stories. No matter who we are, time's waves polishes our memories like pebbles, and so we each are each met with same soft erosion of the past. At the Colony, we witnessed Lucia's draft transform as she re-structured the script twice through the ten day workshop. On the final day, the poeticism and theatrical structure of the script began to merge in an engaging and thought-provoking way.

Final Thoughts

Besides being fertile grounds for the growth of new and vibrant Canadian theatre, the PTC Colony also provided a chance for four playwrights to come together from different provinces and do what writers do best (when they aren't writing of course)-- party. Below is a picture of their final night at the Colony. From left to right we have Lucia Frangione, José Teodoro, Greg MacArthur, Robert Plowman and their new fabulous friend whom they met at the bar. From what I've heard from the writers, the four of them have really come together to form a great friendship. I'm not sure if this includes the blue-haired diva, but I hope so.

Emily Kedar

Dramaturgy Intern at PTC

Emily is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with an Honours BA in English and Theatre. An emerging writer and dramaturg, Emily is honoured and delighted to be the newest member of the PTC team. She has worked as a developmental dramaturg at Factory Theatre under Iris Turcott and as a production dramaturg with the Driftwood Theatre Company in Toronto. Her three main passions are poetry, theatre and gardening, and she is happily pursuing all three in her new home of Vancouver. She is blessed and blissed out to find herself on the gorgeous Pacific coast and to be so involved in making theatre that challenges, delights, and jumps to life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two Dramaturgs Drama-Nerding Out

After the amazing colony at PTC last week, Lisa C. Ravensbergen and I reflected on the experience of dramaturging new work. At this year's colony all four scripts were inspired, in whole or in part, by a specific event or work of art. Mote by José Teodoro, for example, is a re-imagined version of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and The Decameron: A City by Greg MacArthur is an inventive response to the disintegration of a specific social scene in Montreal.
This particular tid-bit of conversation between Lisa and me began with a simple yet valuable question: Should a dramaturg be privy to the source material that inspires a script? Be it a movie, a book, a historical event, or a personal experience-- does having a sound knowledge of the source enrich the development of the work or potentially skew the direction of the piece? Here's what we came up with.

Emily: I was thinking about the value of knowing/not knowing the source material that inspired a script. The key to this seems to be that the more points of view there are on a project, the more more possibilities there are for development. So if there are 2 dramaturgs on a specific project, and one knows the source material and the other doesn't, then the writer is able to see a response to his piece that comes from various points of view; an experience that parallels the various and distinct points of view of audience members.

Also it's essential to distinguish between the structure and message of the script and that of the original material.
So, this it seems to me that a dramaturg can help refine and articulate the relationship between the source material and the script. What do you think?

Lisa: I guess you're speaking to intention... the personal intention (why this particular source material... why now?).

E: In a way. I meant more that it is important to compare and contrast the form/content of the script and the source in order to figure out what the script needs to be more itself. To me it is more about the direction of the draft than the intention of the writer.

L: Except when the source is highly personal, the writer's intention may weigh more heavily for them than the script's 'direction.'

E: Very true. Interesting. I guess different forms of source material require different forms of dramaturgy.

L: Bingo!

E: Awesome. So each project elicits a unique relationship between dramaturg, writer and script, a relationship that must be a careful and sensitive response to the specific project at hand. This is perhaps why dramaturgy is so hard to define.

L: Sure. And just like an actor trains and exposes themselves to different teachers, texts, styles of acting, etc... a dramaturg will have their own artistic range and to varying degrees be more or less experienced in specific styles of dramaturgy. And the stakes are not any less intense for a dramaturg: it becomes key for a dramaturg to ask at some point, "what can I bring to this project? Is that what the writer needs or has expressed that they want? Am I the best person for this job?"

When you listened to the dramaturgs around the table last week - we all entered into the work from different points of view - and yet, I believe I was on the project that fit me and my inclinations best - as it suited the other dramaturgs to be in their pairings.

E: Right. It seems that a continual checking in with the state of the project is key, so that as it develops both the writer and the dramaturg are serving it as best they can.

L: And the tricky part is asking the right question. at the right time.

E: I guess my next question would be about focus then. Is the dramaturg always working with the intention of the writer in mind? Or does the dramaturg focus on what the script itself seems to want? Intuitively, I would say it's most likely a delicate balancing act between the two, but let's address this question next time on Lisa and Emily Drama-nerd out! Coming soon to a blog near you.

Lisa C. Ravensburgen

Creator / Actor / Dramaturg / Dancer

A tawny mix of Ojibway/ Swampy Cree and English/ Irish, Lisa C. Ravensbergen has established herself as a multi-disciplinary artist working primarily as a creator, actor, dramaturge and sometimes dancer. She supplements her somewhat eclectic and thoroughly enjoyable practice of theatre and community collaborations with the delights of motherhood and the challenges of self-produced works. She is an Associate Artist with Full Circle: First Nations Performance, a member of LMDA and a graduate of TWU and SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. Lisa is grateful for her life, for the hard lessons behind her and for the opportunities that so generously lie before her.

Emily Kedar

Dramaturgy Intern at PTC

Emily is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with an Honours BA in English and Theatre. An emerging writer and dramaturg, Emily is honoured and delighted to be the newest member of the PTC team. She has worked as a developmental dramaturg at Factory Theatre under Iris Turcott and as a production dramaturg with the Driftwood Theatre Company in Toronto. Her three pain passions are poetry, theatre and gardening, and she is happily pursuing all three in her new home of Vancouver. She is blessed and blissed to find herself on the gorgeous Pacific coast and to be so involved in making theatre that challenges, delights, and jumps to life.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

From our Washington Correspondent... a guest post from Sean Devine

Washington DC Re:Union Research Trip: Blog Entry #1

As Horseshoes & Hand Grenades and Pacific Theatre continue our development (with PTC) and pre-production work on our upcoming Fall 2011 project, Re:Union, we’re going to be blogging throughout our creation process.

For our first entry, playwright (and HHG co-artistic director) Sean Devine and production video projection designer Jason H. Thompson (based out of Los Angeles) are down in Washington DC on a research trip. Sean sent in this post:

We’ve come to DC to collect archival records that we plan to incorporate into both the production design of Re:Union as well as any exhibits that might be a part of our outreach events for Vancouver: The Activist City. Understandably there’s a wealth of information to be had here, what with the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and just everything you can see driving around the city. We’re doing a considerable amount of video shoots to help capture the scope and architectural grandeur of Washington, DC. It helps in trying to imagine just how small Norman Morrison must have felt as he drove himself past these empire-sized monuments on the way to the Pentagon to offer up his one little life in the cause of peace.

All in all, this trip is an incredible opportunity in the ongoing script development process, as we’re now able to incorporate so much more realism and detail into the project. Much thanks to Arts Partners in Creative Development for making it possible.

Most of our first day has been spent at the National Archives in nearby Maryland, which boasts the largest collection of government records in the country. The security requirements of getting in and out of the building are several times m
ore exacting than even the most nervous of airports. Not only are you physically screened, but every single piece of equipment and paper that you bring in and out of the building is carefully monitored. And no pens allowed! White gloves and pencils only.

But you quickly realize why they’re so strict. The size, diversity, and impossible-to-estimate value of this collection is unmatchable. It might even help to justify the large number of armed employees.

Jason Thompson and I are focusing our research on video and photographic records from the mid-1960s, in the era of Norman Morrison’s death. As we know,
this was a period of escalating militarism as well as activist protests.

In October 1967, a massive sit-in action was held on the grounds of the Pentagon. This protest was one of the larger events in the years-long wave of anti-war activism that Norman Morrison’s death helped to ignite. We’ve sent you a couple of the many photos that we found to help imagine what it might have been like.

Sean Devine

Founding member and Co-Artistic Director of Horsehoes & Hand Grenades. For Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Sean wrote Re:Union, acted in 4.48 Psychosis and You Are Here, and directed The Darling Family. Other Vancouver theatre credits include Death of a Salesman (Playhouse), Black Comedy and Diary of Anne Frank (Arts Club), The Blue Light (Firehall), The Tempest and Henry IV, Part I (Bard on the Beach) and a Jessie nomination for Recovery (Rumble). Sean has worked extensively in Montreal, as well as with companies in Winnipeg and New York City. Upcoming projects include developing and producing Re:Union with Horseshoes and Pacific Theatre, and writing for Pi Theatre, where he is Playwright-in-Residence. Sean has appeared and is appearing in dozens of films and television series, including a lead role in the Canada-France co-production Territories, to be released in 2011.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Block P takes on the world, via Vancouver's Eastside

Following an announcement from Wet Ink, a new writers’ collective, that they had secured the Culture Lab as a BYOV for the upcoming Vancouver International Fringe Festival, Dramaturg Heidi Taylor sat down with founders Loretta Seto and Lynna Goldhar Smith to learn about their journeys from writer to producer. Both participated in PTC’s 2010 Block P: Self-production for emerging writers with Ilena Lee Cramer.

HT: Where were you before Block P?

Loretta Seto (LS): I was pretty green in the theatre world as a playwright. I took Block M with Aaron Bushkowsky, that was my first formal entry into theatrical writing. But I am a published writer of fiction and screenplays. Theatre was new – unlike cinema or fiction, you have to take into account the physical limitations of a stage. For Fringe – since we’ve rented the Culture Lab – I have to keep it pretty simple – one person can go on, and then the next show changeover has to happen within half an hour.

Lynna Goldhar Smith (LGS): The play itself is being informed by the place it’s taking place in.

HT: It’s all given circumstances?

LS: The possibilities in the space shut down some options and open up others.

LGS: For me – It’s different – I have a theatre background – writing and making theatre for and with youth, young adults. I have an extensive background, I’m familiar with theatre tech and the role of the director. But being a producer made me feel like a beginner – it forced me to ask different kinds of questions. It did affect the writing, going back in and thinking like a producer – it’s like putting on a different set of glasses.

LS: It’s interesting to be a producer and a writer – I usually don’t want to constrain myself – I want to write it, and then hand it over to someone else and say, Make it work!

LGS: I think increasingly artists are going to have to take more initiative at all stages – to be less dependent. It was really clear from the get go with Ilena – the days of handing scripts over to literary managers to get produced are over.

HT: And there’s some question whether those days ever existed in the first place. Martin Kinch and Ben Henderson, in their report From Creation to Production, discovered that of all the AD’s they talked to (in the US, Canada, and few in the UK), one had produced one script that was submitted cold. So the work of sending out scripts is actually the work of creating personal relationships with potential producers. Creating relationships is a core activity of producing.

LGS: With Ilena, the course was so dense – it was very informative – and the first thing was: this is not theoretical. It was about getting up and doing, just from the energy in the room. I don’t know that I was all that ready to produce when I walked into the room. I wasn’t really thinking about doing it, I thought I would just learn a bit about producing. But she challenged us to step up and do it, and put an edge on what we’re doing.

LS: I knew the piece that I used to submit to Block P was not really Fringe – so I ended up writing a new piece.

LGS: Ilena really hit home from the beginning the creativity of being a producer. As writers, we don’t think about the producing part of it being creative – phoning people, asking for things, that’s horrible! – but this is imagination, too. To get people to hear what you have to offer – that’s the underpinnings of what we went forward to do. Producing is creative.

LS: That’s true, but for me it brings out these other qualities that wouldn’t be my writerly qualities – being organized, reading contracts, having to convince people of things – they are different skill sets but still creative. We’ve come up with all sorts of different ideas, the concept of Vancovuer Fringe Eastside, Wet Ink Collective. It’s absolutely creative.

LGS: And the most important thing – carving yourself out the writing space – remembering: oh right, I was supposed to have a play to put on here! You go into that little cocoon and then come out to produce. Ilena really reinforced that from the beginning.

The other thing about coming to PTC and sitting in this library, surrounded by all these great works – we had each other and we had the leadership that Ilena brought, standing behind our own validity as artists. When you sit alone in your little office – the thought arises, who the hell do I think I am – but in Block P, here we were sitting here, validating each other.

LS: I don’t think I would have come this far without Lynna – if we hadn’t started collaborating with each other, I wouldn’t have rented the Culture Lab and come up with Fringe East.

LGS: Likewise, I needed Loretta’s support. And Susinn McFarlen, our colleague in Block P, is producing her own play in our BYOV.

HT: Tell me more about Wet Ink Collective and Vancouver Fringe Eastside.

LGS: With Wet Ink collective we’ve created a space to invite other people to come and initiate projects (see the full mandate here). One of the things that is important to me as an artist is anchoring in a community. There must be 10,000 artists there on the Eastside, it’s my home – we really embraced the idea of bringing something Fringe to the Eastside. We see how the neighbourhood can be involved. The business community, the residents – as Christina Price from the Fringe said, it’s now possible to have the quintessential Fringe experience on the Eastside, with the Firehall, Sun Yat Sen, The Cultch and Havana.

HT: It’s an interesting evolution – I worked for the Fringe the year they moved from Commercial Drive to Granville Island, and it was a bumpy transition. There was a real lack of theatre space on the eastside. The last 12 years has seen a strengthening of the Fringe, where they now have the capacity, and the audience, to have full Fringe experiences in more than one neighbourhood.

LGS: How we get together – how we make events, how we have fun – it’s such a big piece of this. I want a sustainable art revolution – now we’re working to convince other artists that this isn’t just another Fringe venue. Part of the impetus for Wet Ink is to present plays that are more barebones: this is a writer, imagining a play. There’s something really essential about actor with script in hand, the audience imagining the blood, imagining the fire – Fringe gives the chance to bring some of that early-process energy to the audience.

LS: Block P is like the foundation of the creative work that we’ve done – I encourage people to contact us to build Fringe Eastside. It’s good to have an awareness and let people know on the eastside that they can see theatre in their neighbourhood.

LGS: Yes, we thought, we’re going to “bring our own venue” and our own neighbourhood.

HT: Tell me a bit about the plays you’re producing.

LS: Mine is a monologue about a woman who has issues with weight and food and body image – I wanted to give it a lighter feel. It’s called Why weight? So it’s a comedy with a darker edge.

LGS: Mine is called Sally Lives Here. It’s about a dilapidated house in East Van, and the two lost souls inside facing an uncertain future – it asks what kind of a city are we making in Vancouver? Do we want to have a resort for multimillionaires or do we have other dreams? It’s part of a trilogy, and I’ll be performing in it too. I would like our BYOV to be a playwrights’ experience – for audiences to expect to see new work in progress at the Cultch. This year we’re just getting started.

LS: Block P has been really been empowering – I can write something and make it happen. Before, after writing something - you let it sit in your drawer or on your computer – this course has made me think, I can take this piece that is really great and make it public for everyone to see. Take a giant step.

Applications for PTC’s 2011 Block P are now being accepted. Now in its third season, Block P has seen five writers move on to BYOV spots at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, under the mentorship of Ilena Lee Cramer.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Unblocked A's: Messengers of Mercy?

The Unblocked A's are a group of six writers, past participants in PTC's Block A. They meet regularly in the PTC library to share work and support each others' process.

Is it morally right to eat from the opening night buffet when you hated the show?

This was my question, brought up at our last Unblocked A gathering; a few of us had seen a show in the past week and we were discussing it.

“Of course you should. The more terrible the show the more you should eat.”

And… “No, don’t touch it. It’s there to celebrate. And if you hated the show you’re not celebrating.”

This lead to another question: can there be a messenger of mercy? This would be a person who comes to the writer, or director, or producer, before deposits are paid, before handshakes are shook, and before the grant applications are sent in, and says, ‘This script is not ready. I know you want it to be, but it’s not.’

The show we saw was interestingly produced but the script was thin. With a messenger of mercy, the script would have gone through a few more drafts, and would have had a chance at being really unique, instead of another mediocre just-add-it-to-the-bio show.

I know, theatre is tough; tough to watch, tough to make, but every underdeveloped script just grinds away at our dwindling audience. Can’t we strive for fucking brilliant? Maybe it just grinds away at me.

There can’t be a messenger of mercy, for a million good reasons, but we could imagine there is one. Maybe the question should be, just because you can produce a show, should you?

Personally, I’ve always been blessed in this regard; anyone who reads my work has become a messenger of mercy.

But, I did inch closer to ‘unity’ this week; that’s where the ideas in my head nearly match the voices on the page. The first 25 pages of my script were read out loud; it wasn’t great but it’s getting nearer. Much better than two weeks ago when the same 25 pages were read; and that was bad, uncomfortable bad. This process of having work continually read out loud is brutal and insightful.

Melissa also had her first act read. I was really impressed. It’s a luxury witnessing the development of someone else’s work.

Unblocked A… we’re chipping away.

Stanley Katz

Monday, May 23, 2011

Trunk Redux: murrhaus meets Craning Neck

PTC Associate Jeremy Waller, in rehearsal with Craning Neck and murrhaus
at The Gam Gallery

Head to The Gam Gallery Friday or Saturday night to see the reinterpretation of Jeremy Waller's Trunk (originally produced at Box Studios, 2010, PTC Colony 2009). With kinetic sound and image, Craning Neck and rock band murrhaus immerse the audience in an energy, a mood, an event.

Trunk: A Fantasy Installation in 3 Movements: Utopia, Affliction, Space
Friday, May 27 at 9:30pm - May 29 at 1:00am
The Gam Gallery 110 E. Hastings, Vancouver

Created By
Jeremy Waller, Adriana Bucz, Simon Driver

Presented by Craning Neck Theatre
May 27th and 28th - Come anytime between 9:30pm and after Midnight.
$10 at the door, cheap bar, beer wine and spirits.
IMAGE AND ROCK N ROLL, this show takes you inside an entirely new world - the London Blitz and a present day After-Hours Club... SEE IF YOU CAN FIND YOUR WAY OUT
The show loops but constantly generates, stay for the whole journey, or come late for a drink, a dance, and a stroll through delicious image and sound.

Kathleen Pollard, Adriana Bucz, and Simon Driver in rehearsal

Directed by Jeremy Waller
Performances by
Jordan Bodiguel
Adriana Bucz
Simon Driver
Kathleen Pollard

Live Rock n roll by Murrhaus

Lighting Design by Kyla Gardiner
Sound Design and Composition by David Mesiha

Check out

Jeremy Waller and Kathleen Pollard

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In development: Sea of Sand

Tuesday afternoon, I looked up from my computer to see dolphins frolicking in the waves. It wasn't a hallucination (though that's always possible when working in the theatre of the mind); I was on the ferry, Vancouver-bound, after a productive script session on my major summer project, The Only Animal's Sea of Sand, by TOA Managing Artistic Director Eric Rhys Miller. Ferry travel and lunch at Molly's Reach were definite perks to start my dramaturgical week, but the real treat was spending 48 hours in one very imaginative playwright's universe - Eric Rhys Miller's. One of the appeals of writer's retreats is the chance to have free ranging discussions about the work, to socialize with your creative team, to eat together and see each other outside of our professional roles. Being hosted by the playwright offered similar benefits - break time that included family frolicks in the woods; delicious home cooking from the playwright himself; and a chance to tap into the writer's rhythm while we worked in the same room on different parts of the play. We're entering a transitional stage, conceiving the directing plan while still firmly rooted in a detailed comb-through of the text. We both moved fluidly from laptop to script hard copy to notebook, sorting the physical image bank from the big picture plot from the actor-preparation notes. We'll be working with actors starting June 6th, and I can't wait to hear the casts' voices breathing the script into being before we get out on the beach in July.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Theatre heaven

Jan Derbyshire, PTC Associate, reports on her recent adventures in Dublin and London...

I have finished my Dublin run of Funny in the Head that included some spanky reviews and a standing ovation for the last show. I have never been able to say anything like that for one of my little shows. Usually people only stand up to leave at the end so when they just stood there, I thought this must be some Irish thing - We all stand together at the end of a show and wait for a bit. But then the clapping gave it away. My God, this is for the show. I am incredibly grateful for the response to the shows, the reviews, the people who hung out afterwards for conversations and the people who came more than once.. The conversations were wonderful, sometimes about the issues in the show but mainly about the craft and the language and people remembering little bits and quoting them back to me. It is a city of readers and theatre goers that love words and a good story. I am proud of my little play and thank all those who helped me get to it. So, really, what could be better than that.

yesterday in London I stumbled across a matinee of Hamlet at the Globe Theatre. Krikee. I may just be a girl off the farm because what a thrill for this little Alberta girl who tried to read Shakespeare on her own at 13 to see Hamlet in the bard's own theatre. Groundlings pay 5 pounds and stand to watch the show. Best seat I never had. Then bedazzled and teary-It was Fantastic- I wandered into the theatre district and happened to get a return ticket for War Horse. Oh do google pictures of the horse puppets. Anyway, workshopping a new play, Wabi Sabi for the next three days. Today's workshop was revitalizing and challenging. Home now for rewrites. I love theatre, I love stories....may I always be able to return to innocence after experience. (Blake)

As is,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nine Tenths: a process converation with Tim Carlson and Richard Wolfe

Dramaturg Heidi Taylor asked PTC Associate Tim Carlson and director Richard Wolfe to reflect on the development process for Tim's Associates project, Nine Tenths. We spent a few days in the studio in March with actors Craig Erickson and Sarah Louise Turner, while Tim delved into the meta-theatrical nature of the play. Nine Tenths investigates the rehearsal process, through four characters' journeys moving from development, through rehearsal, to technical rehearsal, to opening night.

HT: You two have worked together on Tim's new plays before in your longstanding partnership as co-AD's of Theatre Conspiracy (1995-2008) before Richard took the reins at Pi Theatre. How does Nine Tenths' process differ from your previous collaborations?

We used a similar methodology in the past working on short plays that had built-in deadlines similar to the goals we set for this workshop. In those scenarios we also ended up putting the plays on their feet during the workshopping process because they were written for specific events that had immediate production deadlines. For the full length plays we've worked on together, the time-line was much longer and in many ways, more like this process. The PTC workshop / residency process has became a kind of methodological hybrid.

TC: Yes, panic fed those early piece to a great degree. Often we would take a 12-20 page script, rehearse/workshop for a week and then put it up at a cabaret. Did this maybe a half-dozen times. It was exciting to write in that context. It was similar for two one-acts,
The Chronicle Has Hart (1999) and Night Desk (2001). Omniscience (2004) was written as my masters' thesis at UBC so it was structurally sound when we got to rehearsal but we still did a lot of discovery and rewriting in rehearsal. For Diplomacy (2006), I worked a lot with Martin Kinch prior to rehearsal but I was rewriting still in tech week, I think. I learned to feed off the rehearsal process as a playwright and Richard and I often talked of bringing an outline into a workshop and writing the whole thing in the room. The Associate program affords the opportunity. Rehearsal is the setting, largely, for Nine Tenths so I think it works on multiple levels as process.

HT: There's a thread in the piece about the relationship between autobiography and art; we all use our personal histories as source material for making theatre. How do you inhabit that territory and not get overwhelmed? Is it easier working with someone who knows the facts from which the fiction is derived? Is it challenging not to bring references into the room?

RW: Tim said there was a lot of me in the play. I'm not even certain which bits he's speaking about. I think I recognize some of the permutations, but I'm definitely not sure about all of it. And being such old friends, I recognize aspects of his story in there as well. But we never discussed any of that during the workshop. Ultimately Nine Tenths is a work of fiction and we wanted to work with the material as something that lived strongly on its own terms.

TC: There is a lot of Wolfe in the play, I think. His approach to working with actors and playwright. That's all I'll say at this point. Don't want him to think it's all about him. Nine Tenths is ultimately a play about relationships and there's a lot of my experience and thinking about the subject in the play. On one hand, I want to be brave and confront some things to see if this process and the resulting chemistry change my way of thinking — discover something new. At the same time, the relationships of lots of people around me can't help but inform the piece as well. And because of those competing influences, fiction is taking over. There aren't any moments in the piece that are strictly autobiographical.

HT: There's a pressure from our current context - and perhaps an attraction and benefit - to make process visible, to share the making of any "product" as a way to develop relationships with our audiences. What are the tradeoffs for you two in making process visible? What are the risks?

RW: Unfortunately our culture does tend to often look at art as "product" with all the commercial implications that word carries. I'm of two minds about inviting the public into the rehearsal room to view the creative process. The actors, director, stage managers and dramaturg enter into an unwritten agreement about the shared experience of a rehearsal room that's safeguarded by a professional familiarity with what it takes to make theatre. There's real risk and danger in it. Any given moment can be volatile and unpredictable. I'm happy to invite guests in to view a part of the process chosen for their benefit, but even then there's a certain amount of censorship going on in the room that comes from being aware that there are strangers in a very private space, intently listening and watching everything play out. This can put the creative practice into an artificial state to a greater or lesser extent. Families tend to behave somewhat differently when they have guests over for dinner. Because our Canadian rehearsal culture is so painfully short, it's difficult not to want to use every minute fully without worrying about what a stranger (possibly a potential sponsor) might be thinking about what they're seeing and hearing. At the same time I'm aware that most people recognize an invitation into a rehearsal is a kind of gift and, in my experience, treat it with the utmost respect.

TC: In the play, we see two actors working on a new script, from first read to opening night. One thing I've always loved about rehearsal is seeing how an actor's personality as well as talent shapes a character and my conception of the piece. Nine Tenths seeks to expose some of the magic as part of the story. I don't see a huge amount of risk there — it's simply a behind-the-scenes story. More generally, I like the idea of exposing process or trade secrets if it serves the work. The journalist part of me leans in that direction. I'm in rehearsals now for Theatre Conspiracy/GasHeart Theatre's Macbeth: nach Shakespeare and in terms of violence and sound effects we're taking about making the process or tricks visible in some senses — the discussion being what we can do in the theatre that's different from what we experience in mainstream film. Interesting in a piece that's a curtain-to-curtain bloodbath.

HT: This was the first of a series of workshops for Nine Tenths through Tim's residency with the PTC Associates. What's the next stage in the process?

TC: In our one-week workshop the script went from 20 pages of scenes to about 60 pages — almost all of the scenes are at least sketched out. I'd like to do another few days of workshopping in the summer. I'm jotting notes about the script and doing a little research but I wonder if I should resist reading it or rewriting before the workshop. My impulse, I guess, is to stick to the idea of writing in rehearsal and then doing detailed rewrites later.

Theatre Conspiracy/GasHeart Theatre's Macbeth: nach Shakespeare opens May 21. Go here for tickets.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Keeping tourist and actor happy

Jan Derbyshire's update from the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival...

Three shows down and three to go. The response has been good and I'm having many fabulous conversations after the shows. Most of these start with being told how the Irish tend to just sweep things under the rug and not talk about them and how the show sort of just blows everything up and out right there in front of them. There is a review on the festival site It's a review to promote the show but it does express the audience response to the show I think.Outside of the performance I struggle with balancing the needs of the actor and the wants of the tourist. I made it out to Howth on the train yesterday for a breath of fresh Irish sea air. I had a great coffee shop conversation with Jean who at one time worked the sex lines in Vancouver. Wild conversation by the Wild Sea. Just finished the novel Ghost Light by Joseph O' Connor about the playwright J.M.Synge and his lover the actress, Marie O'Neill. Beautifully written and soaked in the history of the Abbey Theatre. Okay Tourist wants to return to Trinity College and sit in the history of the library there but the actor needs a nap. Bought Synge's famous Playboy of the Western World and will read a bit before I nod off.

Above: Keeping tourist and actor happy. Studying lines at the end of the Quay near Samuel Beckett Bridge.

Dublin Bike that I get around town on.
Cheap rent and many locations about town.

As is,

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jan Derbyshire reporting from Dublin

PTC Associate Jan Derbyshire is performing her solo show, Funny in the Head, at the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival, May 2-7, 2011. She's sending us updates, as we jump up and down with glee at having one of our Colonists (i.e. PTC Colony 2009 alumna) take on the UK.

I am working on my Dublin tan much to the chagrin of the festival organizers. They are praying for rain as attendance soars in the drab of the drizzle or so I'm told. I'm trying not to smile too much about the sun but it is lovely sitting by the Liffey River, reading my lines and sipping damn fine coffee. I already have a crush on this city where writers walked and talked and plays are shelved along with other fiction. No pathetic little teeny tiny shelf off to the side of poetry but right among the novelists. And not just Ibsen and Shakespeare and Shaw but a lovely array of new plays too. And book stores have not gone the way of the Do Do bird here. There seems to be one every few blocks or so. Not as prolific as pubs but if people need to drink a lot I'm glad they're reading too. First show is tomorrow night and I am both nervous and excited and afraid and confident. A nice mixed state of feelings. Being together and scrambled suits me well in this 1000 year old city where one side was carefully gridded out and planned and the other side is a hodge podge that just made itself up as it went along. Pictured is some new royal friends that I met on my way through London's Gatwick airport on Friday. And me standing in the Gate Theatre before seeing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And it was hot!

As is,

Thursday, April 28, 2011

PTC writers go global

Sometimes it's hard to keep up with the many writers whose work we support here at PTC. There's often a gap between the moment I encounter a play as dramaturg, and opening night. But you if you're quick, you can catch three of our writer's works - in Vancouver, Dublin, and New York City - all within the next month.

Dave Deveau's My Funny Valentine (held over until April 30th) has garnered attention from as far away as California, in addition to rave reviews here in Vancouver. The play, which Dave workshoped and developed with guest dramaturg Don Hannah at the 2009 PTC Colony, is produced by Zee Zee Theatre at the PAL Theatre. Tickets are at The creative team behind this production is stellar: we wish Kyle Cameron, the star of this heartbreaking and galvanizing solo show, the best of luck as he takes off to New York for his MFA in the fall.

PTC Associate Jan Derbyshire takes her solo show Funny in the Head (also developed at the 2009 PTC Colony) to the Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival. Opening on election night (!), Funny in the Head is the rollicking story of a seriously bipolar comedian and her fight to stay funny. Derbyshire makes challenging stereotypes and upending the notion of mental illness and the mental health system a very funny thing indeed. Written and performed by Jan Derbyshire, A Squid Ink Production, Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival, The Cobalt Café, May 2 – 7, 2011, 9:30pm.

PTC alumna Miranda Huba will be opening her latest work, Dirty Little Machine, May 19th, at The Red Room in New York City. You can read an interview with Miranda about her writing on the blog I interview playwrights. Dirty Little Machine follows Jane and Dick, and their relationship with pornography and each other. Written in Huba's trademark blend of fairy tale and contemporary cultural critique, Dirty Little Machine is an investigation of sexual relationships and intimacy in an increasingly voyeuristic culture. The Red Room (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery), May 19-June 4, Thursday through Saturday at 8pm. Tickets ($18/$15 students & seniors) are available online at or by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444.

We applaud the work going into production - meanwhile, all burners are on high back at PTC headquarters. Martin Kinch and I are engaged with another exciting crop of new works aimed at the 2011/12 season. Development continues with the next round of PodPlays by Jan Derbyshire, C.E. Gatchalian, Joy Russell, and Quelemia Sparrow with Neworld Theatre, Screaming Weenie, and Ravenspirit Dance; Salmon Row by Nicola Harwood with Mortal Coil; Re:Union by Sean Devine with Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and Pacific Theatre; and Sea of Sand by Eric Rhys Miller with The Only Animal.

Next week, look for updates from Jan Derbyshire as she takes on Dublin, and a conversation with PTC Associate Tim Carlson and director Richard Wolfe on our recent workshop of Tim's new play, Nine Tenths.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lenore Rowntree reports from New York

Not timeless...simply annoying

Okay I’m lucky ‘cause recently I got to go to New York City, and I’m especially lucky because the group I went with was hosted by one of Vancouver’s best jazz musicians, Cory Weeds, who showed us all the secret jazz hot spots in the city. I even felt lucky when I wasn’t discovering jazz and instead was sneaking away one evening to watch a reprise of Wallace Shawn’s 1978 play Marie and Bruce. How fabulous to be seeing a smart New York writers’ play in the big apple itself, especially when it was starring the Oscar-winning actress, Marisa Tomei.

But by the time I was in the lobby of the off-Broadway Acorn Theatre reading some of the posters of past productions, I felt my luck begin to slip. The production I was about to see was being mounted by the New Group, and the posters revealed a history of productions by the New Group including several plays by Wallace Shawn, directed by Scott Elliott (who was also directing the play I was about to see), and which very often starred Frank Whaley (who was to play the part of Bruce). I started thinking cynical things like God, everywhere it’s a closed circle… even the greats have to band together … when do the little grunts like me get to have a show … why do Wallace Shawn and Frank Whaley need a group … I think you get the drift. A little more dread slipped in when they announced the production time was nearly two hours with no intermission and the lineup at the women’s washroom grew exponentially.
The cynic in me nearly said out loud, Afraid to let us out in case we don’t come back?

Sometimes my inner voice is off, but not this time. The play that I had expected to be timeless was quite simply annoying. It wasn’t the actors’ fault. They were good actors trapped in an unpleasant play about old-fashioned Yuppie existentialism. I don’t want to spend time with these kind of people in real life, so what do I do when I encounter them in the theatre? I fall asleep. As did the man beside me, unlike the woman on the other side who started checking her text messages halfway in. When it was over, before the very brief smattering of applause had even finished, the people behind me stood up, and one of them said in her most out-loud voice, “That was appalling.”

It wasn’t until I was in the lobby afterward, milling about trying to eavesdrop, that the penny dropped on why even Wallace Shawn needs his group. Frank Whaley the male lead in the show came out into the lobby and everyone sort of cleared a circle around him. Finally an acquaintance of hi
s came forward and shook his hand. Frank looked exhausted and he simply said, “That’s a really tough play to be in.” Of course it was, how could I have forgotten that? And whether it’s one of Wallace Shawn’s best plays or not, it’s really tough for him to put his words on the line and ask other people to stand up and read them, let alone ask an actor to breath life into them. We all need our groups. It’s something I learn every time I sit down with our Unblocked A group and one or the other of us trots out a new play. The writer almost always begins with some sort of caveat. “It’s not really finished… I’m hoping you can tell me if you get it … I’m even wondering myself what it’s about.” We all have to have a safe place to land.

Lenore Rowntree

Lenore Rowntree’s writing has been published in several Canadian literary journals and magazines. Her poetry was included in the anthology Best Canadian Poetry 2010 and her self-published collection of children’s poetry won a gold medal in 2007 from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. She was nominated for a CBC literary award in creative non-fiction in 2009, and her play The Woods at Tender Creek was produced in 2010 as part of the Walking Fish Festival. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays with a working title of Into the Bell Jar to be published by Brindle & Glass in 2012.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dramaturgy happens...

...especially when these folks are in the room. I'm pleased to introduce the 2011 Block D participants. Over ten discussions, we'll be unwrapping our own processes, noting current issues and practices, and examining the role of the dramaturg in the dramaturgical process. PTC Associate Lisa C. Ravensbergen will be co-facilitating the sessions as part of her new dramaturgy residency. Look for updates as the blossoms bloom.

Missy Christensen
y is a performer, creator, director, dramaturg, educator, producer, SM, production manager, production designer and inspirational speaker whose work in theatre and film has taken her across Canada. After studying Creative Writing at UVic, Missy plied her craft as a newscaster and editorialist at CITR Radio and as an advertising copy writer. A ‘life epiphany’ then led her to pursue acting at the National Theatre School of Canada. Playwrights’ Workshop was a frequent and favourite workplace when in Montreal, as was PTC in Vancouver. The investigative journey leading to discoveries of what a show, character or moment can be remains a driving force, as does the desire to work collectively toward understanding possibilities more deeply. A personal brush with death, and a subsequent acquaintance with the same as a palliative caretaker, strengthened Missy’s resolve to explore humanity; seeking connection, transformation and remembrance opportunities in art and life. Technology’s role is also of particular interest.

Yasser Ishmael
Yasser is a versatile theatre-maker, writer, actor, clown, friend and lover. Yasser grew up in the Republic of Maldives. Somewhere between ages six and nine, he read Bapsi Sidhwa's An American Brat, a book that he did not understand but
fuelled him enough to fall in love with words and imagine the journeys that awaited him beyond his small island nation. Yasser moved to Canada on his own at the age of sixteen and was introduced to the theatre, mainly training as an actor at first, at Simon Fraser University. During his acting training, Yasser also developed an interest in somatics, and currently is a student of Continuum technique (studying with Master Teacher Susan Harper on a continuing basis). His interest in the actor's craft, ensemble dynamics and somatics coupled with his love of modernist and world literature often lead to warm but unsettling theatrical events that uses a heady mixture of language and visceral aesthetics.

Martu Lasso
Martu Lasso came to Vancouver in September 2010. Since then she has collaborated on PTC´s Catalan C
onnection project, has engaged in Acting Workshops (Larry Moss), and the ongoing actors workout workshops at Vancouver Acting School. She is now a participant in the Community Dinner theatrical project for Rumble Productions. Before moving to Canada she received an MA in Hispanic Studies from the University of Washington, with a focus on 20th century plays in Latin America. Martu has performed as an actress both in Ecuador, where she was part of Malayerba Theatre Company, and in the United States where she worked with the Spanish and Drama departments at the University of Washington. In Ecuador she was part of the production team of prestigious theatre and film festivals such as Cero Latitud, and assisted the production of diverse TV and radio cultural shows. Outside of professional interests, she travels, reads, paints and cooks wonderful food for her family and friends. She enjoys living in Vancouver with her partner and two children.

Marilyn Norry
Marilyn Norry graduated from York University with a BFA in Theatre Performance. A Jessie award win
ning actor, she played Heidi in The Heidi Chronicles (Edmonton Citadel/ Vancouver Playhouse) and Hagar in The Stone Angel (Firehall), as well as performing in many new Canadian plays. Film credits include Battlestar Galactica, Reaper, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. She was story editor on the series Madison and a dramaturg at Playwrights Theater Centre from 1996 to 2007, where she also directed many staged readings. A member of the Writers Guild of Canada, she has written television episodes and feature screenplays. On stage her play One Morning I Realized I Was Licking the Kitchen Floor: a comic look at depression was a hit at the Edmonton Fringe with subsequent runs in Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and Denver. Since 2004 she’s been developing the changing complexities of My Mother’s Story, a project dedicated to gathering women’s history one mother at a time.

Joy Russell
Born in
Belize, Joy Russell is a poet, budding playwright and writer. She attended Simon Fraser University, studying contemporary dance, film, English and American Literature. She lived in London, England where she played in Afro-Bloco, an Afro-Brazilian band, worked in community arts and television as a researcher and assistant producer on documentaries such as Rebel Music: The Bob Marley Story, Pump Up The Volume, and BAFTA-nominated The Hip Hop Years. Her work has appeared in a number of literary journals and anthologies including The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008, Beyond the Pale: Dramatic Writing from First Nations Writers and Writers of Colour, Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature, The Capilano Review and Crab Orchard. She currently lives in North Vancouver.

Charlene Sayo
Charlene S
ayo is the co-author of Canada: The New Frontier for Filipino Mail-Order Brides and is a founding alumni member o f the Filipino-Canadian Youth Alliance/Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada-BC, the Tinig ng Masa Radio Collective on Vancouver's Co-op Radio and Sinag Bayan Cultural Collective. She has spoken on issues regarding Filipino-Canadian women and youth across Canada, the United States and Europe. Charlene has performed at a of number of Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society literary events, at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, at Vancouver's annual Word on the Street Literary Festival and in the closing production of Vancouver's Sistahood Celebration in 2009, Myrtle Silverspot: Kitchen Confidential. She has served as a production consultant for the Canadian premier of Dogeaters (Studio 58, Vancouver) for Pinoyville (Sinag Bayan, Montreal) and was an apprentice assistant director for Nanay: A Testimonial Play at the 2009 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Keeping the faith

We’ve now had a few orphan (instructor-less) “Unblocked A” meetings, and we’ve fallen into a good pattern. We’re good at giving each other feedback. At least no one has cried during a meeting and it seems that we all keep coming back. We have our rituals. We start by talking about our lives between meetings, then any theatre we’ve seen lately. The conversation meanders around touching on a wide variety of topics before we settle down to work. It seems that we need to ease our way into it, but we do get there.

I had originally wanted to keep meeting with the group for a vague sense that we could “support” each other. I’m starting to realize the value of that support.

First because I’ve come to discover that the first draft is not the hardest part, for me, at least. I used to think “once I have something down, then it’s just a matter of building, sculpting, it’s a piece of cake really, once that first draft is there”. “Ha” is all I have to say to that now.

I'm now into the third draft of my first act, which bears little or no resemblance to its previous incarnations and I have no idea what to do with it. In the beginning, there was optimism. The ideas were there and I didn’t know what they would look like on the page, but they were beautiful. They had potential. And yes, I had to discipline myself to keep to my 4-page-a-day 5-day-a-week writing goal, but that was okay. I had enthusiasm.

Now I’m at draft three of Act 1. And to be honest, my second draft (of Act 1) was probably a bit – hmm “challenged”, shall we say. And yes, I know it’s only draft three and there are probably twenty more in my future, but it’s tough going. My initial enthusiasm has become full-on “I’ll do it right after I finish watching America’s Next Top Model” procrastination. The sense of potential that was palpable in draft one is nowhere in sight and the ideas are on the page, but where do they go and should I really put that unicorn in that scene? No one can say what to do, or how to fix it, except supposedly me.

In these difficult times, deadlines have become very important. We all take turns having our work read and because of that I am officially accountable to a group of people to show up with something new written by April 4. And although I know my laptop won’t explode if I show up empty-handed (at least I don't think it will...), that sense of accountability keeps me going. Without it, I might be tempted to jump ship, or at least to put the script in a drawer for a while and let other things become more important. With it, I soldier on, putting one foot heavily in front of the other.

The other reason that the group is important to me right now is this: I am an emerging writer. I have never published anything. I spend my days in an office where I might be identified as “administrator”, or “colleague” or “you know, that woman, in that office, with the emails”. After work, I shuffle my way through a variety of other roles, but there isn’t any space in my life where I get to fully inhabit the identity of “writer” except twice a month in the PTC library.

Now, I know it’s a dangerous thing to look to others for this kind of acknowledgement; that I should know in my heart I'm a writer no matter what anyone else says, but it's so good. It's good to be seen as a writer by someone else, even if there are only five people in the world who think it might be the case. For three hours every two weeks I get to “talk shop” and make jokes about the importance of scotch drinking in the “process” and pose questions that only other people in this group would even entertain and damn it, it’s good for the soul. These evenings fill me up, they re-inspire me and keep me going. The more I write, the more I realize how solitary it really is so I’m grateful for this community that we’ve created. It’s true that without them I would probably still write (slowly and furtively), but with them, I am buoyed up and the journey is infinitely more enjoyable.

- Melissa Haller, PTC Member

Monday, February 21, 2011

Poetry to Playwriting: The Connecting Parts

The Unblocked A's are a group of playwrights who have emerged from PTC's 2010 Block A.

A new year. Our first meeting together as the Unblocked A’s since Block A ended. We had decided to continue meeting as a group to share, offer support, give feedback and keep the home fires burning for writing plays.

The familiar flip chart was still there, in the same place with the same page, the same figures written on white as when we started in October. Same tidy folders. Same chairs. Same square table. Comforting and reassuring, the room was ready for us. We would continue the rotation used in Block A: two people having their work read, then getting feedback. This week it was Nathaniel and I. This was the first full play I had ever finished and I was excited to hear how the pages would translate upon reading.

Everyone did a wonderful job taking on multiple roles and gave imaginative interpretations of what were previously just voices cast to my laptop or muttered inside my head. After I had the chance to digest the reading and feedback, I reflected on some of the challenges I had encountered in writing a play with a poet’s sensibility. When I started writing the play, it seemed to me that the considerations for writing a poem or play travelled two distinct roads.

Contained is the word that comes to mind when I consider the process of finding and creating a poem, the space a poem occupies. Not something tightlipped or repressed, but concentrated. I have the sense of creating a voice that lives under the radar, pulling out small details that often go unnoticed, coming in for extreme close-up on an event or object seemingly ordinary. This sense applies even if the poem is noisy, unruly, long or public. A poem is dense, a compact unit. Whereas, a play just seems larger—epic—even in the building of a small moment or action. Writing the play, I felt there were so many more elements I needed to juggle, questions I needed to answer, which were different to the ones I asked when writing a poem: “What’s the inciting incident?,” “What’s this character’s motivation?,” “Why would that character do this when he just did that?,” “How does the dialogue move the play forward?” Tracking the through lines and narratives of the different characters and story was exhilarating and daunting, yet the scale of the task was something foreign to me.

Now I see the connecting parts.

The first line of a poem is the point of attack, the place where you establish trust with the reader and listener. From this line forward, the world you create supports this trust, deviates from, or challenges, it. In a play and poetry, you create an ecosystem where the placement of a word, or action, has immediate impact upon the others. There is the world composed of the linear accretion of words and actions working their way towards cohesion, narrative and plot, but also a dynamic circular motion where they are interdependent, simultaneously creating new meanings and referring back to old ones.

The voice in a character or a poem needs to ring true when you hear it out loud (that little pea under the blanket will be heard—an elephant is hard to hide in a small room). Poems and plays track the growth and development of a voice, where patterns and behaviors establish themselves through words and lines. A reader needs cues to make the connective leap when a poem moves from ten stanzas of couplets into tercets, something so that she or he doesn’t freeze and give up. An audience needs a sign of some kind, at some point, as to how that shy, barely audible, little man slides into a life of vice with a slick banter that oozes charm and trouble—even if it always was in him. It is a challenge how one continually builds the trust towards that voice, character, or action, so that when the transition does happen, the surprise isn’t a barrier to staying in the present and moving forward with the play or poem.

One of the most interesting exercises I did in Block A—thanks to our facilitator, Jan Derbyshire— was to write an outline of my play, scenes and all. I had never done this before. On the days that I had committed to writing my play, I wrote the scenes out. It was very liberating knowing what I was going to write. I had my template, my direction, the points I needed to hit. How calming! I have yet to try this with my poetry manuscript. I’m curious, though. I know where more poems need to be written, what the themes are, yet it’s difficult to translate how an action in a poem might have a close approximation to the function it serves in a play. Is it in the line breaks, in the stanzas? How would it move the poem forward? These are my questions right now and I’m keen to try it as an experiment.

I think one can always break open, widen the possibilities of an art practice and genre by applying the tools of another one, by asking questions that at first seem illogical, ill fitting, or inappropriate. Perhaps in that locus of discomfort i
s where the richest possibilities lie. I think the line between writing poems and plays is constant, wavering. One day, who knows, maybe I’ll dream up the lighting for an opening stanza in a poem.

Born in Belize, Joy Russell is a poet, writer and budding playwright. Her writing has appeared in a number of anthologi e s and literary journals in the USA, Canada, England and the Caribbean, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2008.