Thursday, December 24, 2009

Way Cool!

Found out today that NOW chose Sondheim in September as one of the top 10 shows of the year. Just the other day Warren and I were talking about what an incredible thing it was, being around all these people who were passionate about the project. We knew it was something special. Nice to know we weren't the only ones who thought that way. It's a wonderful Christmas gift.

And speaking of Christmas, best wishes of the season to you all no matter what you celebrate. Here's to peace and love.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Class of Roy Halladay

I started this post back in the end of July. This is what I wrote then:

If you know about baseball, then you've probably heard ad nauseum for the last month the trade talk around Roy Halladay. I've gone on in great detail on this blog about my admiration for Doc. Last Friday night, I made the trip to the Dome and bought a ticket off a scalper so that I'd have a good seat for what may have been his last home start as a Jay.

I also had left a bunch of URLs to articles that I intended to weave into the story. A writeup from the Toronto Sun about the game I was at. A photo from that game. A National Post transcript of his rare press conference after that game. A Toronto Star photo montage showing Roy working with some underprivileged kids. An MLB article charting his rise to success. And an ESPN article about what Roy means as a Toronto sports figure that summed up a lot of what I felt.

All of this was a way to try to put into words the sense of loss I was feeling. But Roy was never traded and I never finished the post -until now. Because that day I dreaded has come. Roy is now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. I've been spending a lot of time this week reading articles and blogs as a way to mourn. I've gone by a tribute site, read wonderful posts by members of the Jays blogosphere, and have read comments by many Phillies fans who don't realize the gem they're getting.

Even to the end, he's been classy. He held himself well during the media circus last summer when the trade rumours started surfacing. To make this deal happen, to make sure the Jays got the players they wanted, he signed a very club-friendly contract extension. In a time when there's so many negative stories about athletes he has always held himself humbly, fiercely competitive on the field and a true gentleman off it.

It's been easier than July because the writing's been on the wall for a while. He wants to win. We don't have the pieces to do that yet. He deserves a World Series ring - it will cement his place in the Hall of Fame. I just wanted him to do it with us. The thing that consoles me is that he'll be 37 when his contract expires - about the time we're projecting to be competitive. I can't seem him not pitching well then, although maybe not at the level he's at now. We could bring him home, like we did Dave Stieb. And thanks to the MLB front office deciding that we have a rivalry with the Phillies, he'll come home for a series every year. So he's not completely gone. But I won't be able to watch his pitching poetry every 5 days during the season and that's a huge loss.

On my desk at home is a picture of him at Spring Training this year, all smiles. It's brightened my mood many times. On my dresser is the ball he signed for me, the word "dedication" his response to my request to sum up his success in one word. My Facebook photo is currently me with him the day that ball was signed. I don't think I'm moving any of them anytime soon. It's hard to say goodbye to a hero.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New AD for Company B

Neil Armfield is stepping down as the Artistic Director of Company B in Sydney after being a pioneer in the community for many years. The man chose to replace him, Ralph Myers, is a 30-year old set designer. You can read about it here, here, here and here.

It's an exciting and audacious choice. However, I do wonder how the directing community in Sydney is feeling today. Company B can be thought of as the equivalent of Tarragon Theatre. Thoughts?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Long time no blog

Hey everyone, sorry to have been away so long. Sondheim in September surprisingly took a lot out of me physically. (It was a great success and a totally amazing thing to have been a part of.) My bed and I have spent a lot of time together since it's been done and I'm still have some problems with blurry vision and the occasional knee twinges. I'm thinking the vision might have something to do with all the time I spend staring at a computer so I'm trying to cut back a bit. I also haven't had any Umbrella Talk interviews coming my way either so playwrights, talk to me!

These are exciting days at obu. We've been adding to our team. Walter Young of The Buzz Events has come on board as our Special Events Director and he's busily putting together a fundraiser for us to happen at the end of November. We'll be letting you know details soon and we hope you can join us. Jack Grinhaus of Bound to Create Theatre will be running the Elsewhere festival. It will be in the Tarragon Studio on February 13 & 14th, so make sure to block off your calendars now.

What this will allow me to do is to devote more of my time to our online presence and international networking to help obu to continue to move forward. We're starting to make an impact. The day after we published her Umbrella Talk, Rosemary Rowe got a call from the Shaw Festival. This is so thrilling for me because this was our hope for UT - that it would generate interest in the playwrights and hopefully lead to their work being produced. I hope I'll have many, many more of those types of stories going forward.

I'm also hoping to continue to pursue outside projects, like following my performance bug. This week I went to the Rock of Ages audition. I figured since I've been singing that music for over 20 years I might as well try it. It was scary in a good way and I enjoyed pushing myself. It was great to sing music that I love and just let go, no holding back. Lesson for life, really. It confirmed for me that I want to do more singing so I'll see where it takes me.

So hopefully I can have more time to get back to this blog. There's a lot of interesting things going on to talk about.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Rosemary Rowe

In this week's Umbrella Talk, playwright Rosemary Rowe talks about wanting to eat the world, writer ADD, and why her work should be at Shaw.

A little more about Rosemary Rowe

Rosemary Rowe is a playwright and blogger who's pretty sure Anne of Green Gables turned her gay. A long-time theatre nerd, she has recently branched out into “moving pictures” with a new web series, Seeking Simone.

Rose's recent theatre credits include co-creating/co-curating and hosting the sold-out Anne Made Me Gay: When Kindred Spirits Get Naked at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto; writing Session 12 for Solo Collective’s Solo Flights festival in Vancouver; writing Cradle-Robbing Cougar for Workshop West's Loud n' Queer Cabaret in Edmonton; and writing/performing The Diary of Rachel Keyes, Klondyke Nurse for the Hysteria Festival at Buddies. Her play Benedetta Carlini was published in NeWest Press’s NeXtFest Anthology and continues to be performed by keen theatre teens all over Canada. Rose thinks she has a BFA in Directing from York University, but refuses to pay her totally bogus library fine to find out.

Rose lives in Vancouver B.C. with her wife Kate and their junkyard dog Emmy Lou. You can read her thoughts at Creampuff Revolution.

What do you drink on opening night?
Anything sweet. I’m a girl drink drunk. And I’m not ashamed!

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I suppose it’s a cop-out, but there are so many phenomenal directors out there that I’m dying to work with (or work with again). So really - anyone other than me.

What scares you? What can't you write about?

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
One of my biggest challenges as a writer is actually finishing a piece before I move on to the next thing. I tend to get several ideas at the same time and can’t pick just one (I have the same problem with knitting). I’ve got three different projects on the go right now - so really, this question is just feeding my writer ADD. Thanks, MK.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
It would definitely be a musical. With a lot of songs about donuts and the perils of laughing at your own jokes.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
I enjoy praise when it happens! But you know, one doesn’t dwell on it. Though it IS nice to take praise out and stroke it now and then, when I’m feeling discouraged or frustrated.

I always joke that I don’t take criticism well, but I do take it seriously. It’s taken a long time for me to be able to distinguish between criticism that really applies to my work and how to make it better (which I LOVE and really appreciate and take very seriously and try very hard to incorporate) and criticism that’s really about how the other person would write the play, if it was their play – which is generally more about their influences and preferences and not about my work at all.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
I think the majority of my work’s been written for small casts and for small venues - because when you’re mainly producing at festivals, you want your show to be compact and you don’t want to pay a cast of thousands (or even of six). But my latest lesbonic historical fiction play is kind of bigger and requires a real set and I totally think they should just do it at the Shaw Festival. It fits their new mandate and I figure hey - they’re always doing gay man theatre at Stratford – maybe Shaw could be where gay lady theatre happens! Because they really go for the lesbians in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I have it all worked out, Shaw Festival. Give me a call.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I actually started writing plays because my parents got a computer when I was in high school. Without the magical ability to type, delete, cut and paste, I wouldn’t be a writer. Does that make me a Philistine? Perhaps. But at least my spellcheck knows how to spell “Philistine” correctly and to me, that’s progress.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
“I bet she thought these jokes were hilarious 50 years ago…”

What inspires you?
I’m inspired by a million things, every day. Books, blogs, photographs, film, music, tv…grand, sweeping epics and the minutiae of people’s day-to-day lives – I just want to eat the world and know everything. But I’d say the person I’m most inspired by is my wife, Kate. She’s so creative and hilarious and has a giant brain – and is endlessly generous with her various gifts, which, as a miserly person, I find inspiring.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sondheim in September

For the last few months, I've been working on a concert series, Sondheim in September. It's been a fun experience and it's very different from the work I usually do.

Yes, the producing principles are the same and that's why I was brought on to the project. But sitting in the rehearsal hall, listening to the work that's being done, I've felt way out of my comfort zone. I get most of the language but I wouldn't say that I can speak it. I'd like to.

It makes me wonder what my life would be like if I had decided as a teenager to explore singing and dancing seriously. It never occurred to me to consider it then. Yet now I use social dance and karaoke to feed the musician inside myself and I still hope to learn the piano one day. But hearing the wonderful Sondheim music I desire to sing it, and sing it well. Peter (the director) seems to think I can. But that music requires such technique that I don't feel up to it and for all I know, Peter is just humouring me.

Peter has such a clear vision of what he wants, which is great for everyone involved. I knew going in that while I would be credited with assistant directing I wouldn't get much opportunity to direct. However, what's been interesting to watch is Warren (the person who is spearheading the project) step into that role. He should have the credit, not me.

But don't think this is a downer by any means. It's been good to be involved with a whole different group of people that my normal collaborators. I've loved working with Warren and it's developed into a friendship I greatly treasure. I'm still getting to know Peter but I'm impressed with his energy and drive. It's been nice to be an important part of such a large project. And I got to play in the social media world, which is something I've come to love.

After months of work, this project is ready to be shared. It's three concerts over consecutive Monday nights, starting this Monday. Music from all of Sondheim's shows will be performed over the three nights in chronological order. (Except for Bounce - I suspect the music wasn't available because the show is still being developed.) It's a charity event with the proceeds going to the Actor's Fund of Canada, a worthy cause.

It would be great to have a huge house to start things off right. We have a huge ensemble of 50-odd people, as well as some fantastic soloists. Having heard most of the music for the first concert, I can tell you it's going to be an amazing event you won't want to miss. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Don Druick

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Don Druick talks about fear, the pen/computer dance, and the changing nature of popular culture.

A Little More About Don Druick
• award winning playwright, translator & librettist
• baroque musician
• gardener and chef

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Don Druick's plays have been produced on stage, radio and television in Canada, Europe, Japan, and the USA.

His publications include playtexts, translations and critical writing (in Descant, and the Canadian Theatre Review). Publications of his plays, Where Is Kabuki? and Through The Eyes, have both been shortlisted for the GG

His plays have been developed at Atlantic Playwrights' Resource Center, Canadian Stage Company, Nightswimming Theatre, Playwrights Theatre Centre, Playwrights Workshop Montréal, Necessary Angel Theatre, the New Play Center, and the Stratford Festival.

Don Druick’s Residencies include: Savage God Theatre Company (Vancouver); Intermedia (Vancouver); Ontario College of Art and Design; Nova Scotia College of Art and Design; Banff Center for the Arts; Image Forum (Tokyo); the Western Front (Vancouver); Concordia University; Centaur Theatre; Canadian Stage Company.

Recent commissions:
Mark; My Words (the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery)
Tulip (Nightswimming Theatre)
The Frozen Deep (Nightswimming Theatre)
Monsieur Molière’s French Scenes (Theatre & Company)
Recipe For Murder (CBC)
Blue Hands - a translation of Larry Tremblay's Les Mains Bleues (Centre des Auteurs dramatiques de Montréal)

His current plays are:
Georgeville - Passion and poetry in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, 1816; the darkest night of Lord Byron
Wildest Dreams - a deconstructed narrative; something close to love amongst the elders
• The translation of Emmanuelle Roy’s play, Lazette.

Don Druick lives in Elmira, a small Mennonite farming town near Toronto with artist Jane Buyers.

What do you drink on opening night?
A glass of something red and Italian always makes me happy.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I’ve worked with some lovely directors over the years. Anybody basically who can bring fun and intelligence, a respect for the text, and a creative POV to the project is OK by me.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
As is often said, there’s nothing like fear for focusing the mind. So fear is conceivably a gift to the writer. Tornados scare me. Violent mobs. Choking to death. But its hard to represent these things convincingly on the stage. At best only symbolically. Or to put it another way: for me writing is an articulation of self. Each play, as finished, allows the possibility of a further articulation. What I fear today only allows tomorrow’s fears to come charging through. I guess that’s the blessing.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
I’ll know it when I see it.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
A romantic comedy without the comedy.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
Hey, I likes a good bit of praise - as slushy and gushy as you can make it. As for the other thing (and I take it you don’t mean intellectual contextualization but rather just plain old negative shite), well let them say what they will.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Wherever always seems the right place.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I like to write in my kitchen, a large room with much old wood and glorious light. And I do both pen and keyboard. Notes into the machine. Text written. Printed up. Worked with a pen. Put back into the computer. Reworked. Reprinted. Etc etc etc....

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
Theatre is already a marginalized artform. When my granny was an opera singer at the beginning of the 20th Century, the complete and only experience of narrative was live. And now with all that passion and obsession that our culture has with digital capture and digitalization and digital blah blah, we theatre folks hardly seem to factor anymore. Couple this with the notion that the future is clearly not like the present. And consider as well that its not a big stretch to suggest that the academy is as susceptible to fashion as any other human institution. So what will they say in 2059 when I’ll be dead and gone (and probably most of you reading this as well)? I haven’t the foggiest. And really, I don’t care, just as long as they spell my name right.

What inspires you?
Situations simultaneously both complex and simple.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Ken Cameron

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Ken Cameron talks about the differences of his programming work versus his writing, the struggle to be more personal, and love of fountain pens.

A Little More About Ken Cameron

Ken is the Artistic Director off the Magnetic North Theatre Festival produced in partnership with the National Arts Centre English Theatre in Ottawa. With a mandate to showcase Canada’s outstanding touring productions, Magnetic North is produced in Ottawa in odd numbered years, and in a different Canadian city every other year. In 2010 the festival will be hosted by the Cities of Kitchener and Waterloo.

Also a Calgary-based playwright Ken is the author of more than fifteen plays, including Harvest which closed a near sold-out run at Ontario’s Blyth Festival and will be performed in five theatres across Ontario and in Edmonton in 2009. In 2007 Ken won the Enbridge playRites Award for the one-act version of Harvest, which The Calgary Herald described as “comic gold”.

My Morocco toured Western Canada and was nominated for Outstanding New Play at Calgary’s Betty Mitchell Awards in Calgary. Ken’s play My One And Only premiered at The Alberta Theatre Projects’ Enbridge playRites Festival ‘04 and received a second production by Edmonton’s Workshop West Theatre in April 2005. The play was featured at The National Arts Centre’s On The Verge reading series, received an Honourable Mention in the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition and was nominated for the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for playwriting and a Betty Mitchell Award for Outstanding New Play. It was produced in New York City by the Bridge Theatre Company in November 2005. All three plays will be published by Newest Press in 2010.

Ken was the Executive Director of the Alberta Playwrights' Network, a provincial organization that develops plays and playwrights around Alberta from 2001-07 and is a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.

What do you drink on opening night?
I'm a red wine guy, through and through. I even make the stuff in my basement when I have the time. I'm big on urban farming. This month I am trying to harvest apples from my neighbour's tree so I can make apple wine, while my wife is busy making home-made hummus, bruschetta and growing alfalfa sprouts. But I re-read the recipe and realized I need 42 lbs: so I'm thinking apple crisp instead. There's something about doing it yourself that gets me going: oddly, I spent many years working in independent theatre for the same reason.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I used to direct my own work for the first ten years of my career, but once I became busy as Executive Director of the Alberta Playwrights' Network, I was no longer able to do so. Once I stopped directing own work it was amazing how much better it was! Ron Jenkins directed the first production of one of my plays outside of Calgary (My One And Only at Workshop West in Edmonton) and I am dying to work with him again.

There are several directors whom I have not yet worked with but whom I admire: The immensely talented Vancouver director Kim Collier, co-Artistic Director of the Electric Company. Their work has been featured at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in the past: The One That Got Away was performed in a swimming pool: and their production of Brilliant about Nicholas Tesla toured the country after appearing at MNTF, including Centre In The Square in Kitchener. I am in awe of her visual sensibility and creative vision. But I think that my writing might have to step up a notch to attract her attention; the work that Kim is drawn to is on a grand scale, with bold ideas, while my plays are smaller in scope and scale, reflecting my own origins in indie theatre.

I can't leave this subject without also citing the work of Chris Abraham of Crow's Theatre, possibly one of the nation's finest directors. I love what he does with text-based work, which was in evidence in his production of Anton Piatgorsky's dense masterpiece Eternal Hydra at MagNorth 2009.

There's a new generation of directors whose work we are bound to see at MagNorth soon whom I would be thrilled to see direct my work: Christian Barry of 2b Theatre; Jamie Long and Maiko Bae Yamamoto of Theatre Replacement; Karen Hines who directs the clowns of horror Mump and Smoot and whose work for regional theatre has been exemplary; and Ross Manson, whose intellectual and political integrity is a model for behaviour.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
I used to have difficulty writing about myself directly, in an autobiographical sense. But as soon as I did, with my play My Morocco about the death of my sister and the often troubled relationship between us, my writing moved to a different, more heartfelt level and touched audiences in a different way. I am presently trying to maintain this movement towards investing more of myself in my work.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
I am currently exploring what happens if the genesis of a particular play is not plot or character, but an idea or theme. I am starting with a pair of small pieces, where the stakes aren't very high. I want to see if I can centre a play or performance piece around something other than a linear progression and utilizing the Artisotilian elements that I have become so married to over the past decade. In a sense I am returning to my roots of creation-based, imaginative theatre that I learned while mentoring with One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre. There I observed how a play could be fashioned out of movement or images and ideas. Oddly, despite this training, my own work remained linear and character-driven, because it was something I was good at. Now I hope to marry the best of both worlds.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (e.g.. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Comedy, I suppose: though life never seems like comedy to those who are experiencing it! I suppose that's what results in the old adage that a comedy is simply a tragedy in which everyone gets married at the end...

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
I used to be my own worst critic. As a result, whenever I received praise of any sort I sloughed it off with "yeah, but..." proceeding to find fault with whatever aspect of my work I could. I realized after a time that this kind of false modesty masked a deep insecurity and a fear of success: as if I subconsciously felt I was not worthy and dared not celebrate, for fear of drawing the wrath of Fate upon my head. So I spent a year accepting praise. And I was astonished at how much of it there was! And the gods didn't visit ruin upon me. Instead, I became more confident and thus became a better writer. I still find myself relapsing though: on those occasions I have to visualize an opening night, or recall specific praise from someone whose opinion I deeply respect.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
I would like to see my work produced at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival! But being the Artistic Director, there is an inherent conflict-of-interest there. By not considering my own work, or involving myself as a playwright with projects that might be considered, I can perform my duties with integrity. Besides, oddly enough, I don't actually write the plays that most interest me as a programmer. When I'm looking for work to fit the national stage I am looking for work that pushes our understanding of what performance could be. Often (but not always) this is director-centred or creation-based: and less often playwright-centred work. Perhaps this is, in part, why I want to move my own work away from story and character and into the realm of ideas and images for a while.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I used to write longhand, but over the past ten years I find its too slow for writing and I have to use a computer to keep up with the pace of my thoughts. I know from reading other answers to this umbrella series that I am not alone. Lately I got into fountain pens and started writing hand-written thank-you notes to the directors of plays that I have been seeing for The Magnetic North Theatre Festival. Those fountain pens helped me return to the joy of writing long-hand. And its improved the quality of my handwriting immensely! I now love making notes in my notebook just so I can see how the pen flows across the page. Sadly, fountain pens do not weather air travel well, and frequently explode in a mess of blue ink: I now can only use my fountain pens at home.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
Over a few beers with two playwright buddies, I pointed a finger at my mates and slurred "you always write the buddy play: in which there are two best friends on a journey, which allows you to capitalize on your command of dialogue. And you," I said shifting my focus to my screenwriter/playwright buddy, "are so good with plot and a certain type of character that your recent plays are like stage thrillers combined with a twisted comic sensibility." (Obviously, being writers, we are very articulate when drunk).

"Oh yeah?" they retorted to me. "Your plays always feature structure as a driving force. Your plays place characters into a situation where the dramaturgy of the play directly mirrors the character's primary dilemma. Thus the climax of the play sees the dramaturgical structure coming to a head at the precise time as the character's arc reaches its zenith, making for a powerful final image that unites both story and stagecraft."

Hint, hint to any academics out there ....

What inspires you?
Frankly, my wife. I find her courageous, talented and focused. I watch her acting with integrity every day, and I strive to be half as brave.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Lindsay Price

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Lindsay Price talks about the joy of writing for teenage audiences, the challenge of making science theatrical, and what inspires her to keep going.

A Little More About Lindsay Price

Lindsay is the resident writer for Theatrefolk, an independent publisher of original and adapted scripts for student performers. Her plays are regularly performed in schools across Canada and the United States with upcoming productions in Nebraska, Lethbridge, Georgia, California, New Hampshire and Florida.

Outside the high school arena, Lindsay most recently worked as dramaturg on Stand Up Eight, a circus show produced by the Aerial Angels. Upcoming, her play The Flying Bandit will be performed at the Sudbury Theatre Centre and she's thrilled to act as a playwright facilitator for the 2009/2010 Uth Ink program.

Her most exciting project to date is the publication of her a cappella musical Shout. It has always been her dream to write a musical and being able to provide such a challenging, rewarding piece for high school students is amazing.

You can find Lindsay's plays at:

What do you drink on opening night?
I write plays for high schools and student performers so there's really nothing stronger than Diet Coke at opening.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?

I saw a production of 'The Misanthrope' directed by Ivo van Hove at New York Theatre Workshop where mayonnaise landed on my leg. What he would do with a teen issue play I can only imagine.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
Causing a car accident. Oh, you probably mean in writing. Nothing. I adore writing in all genres, all subject matters comedic, bizarre or other wise out of my depth. I'm in the middle of trying to write a science play about nanotechnology which is so far out of my depth I take one step forward and seventy back. But that's fun too.

There are a number of things I can't write about given the age range of my market - which I find frustrating. I don't agree with the school of thought that says teenagers should be shielded from life (and swearing, apparently no teenager ever swears) as opposed to exposure and discussion. I certainly don't feel that they should be dropped in the deep end of the pool but why show them a whitewashed world, when it doesn't exist?

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Nanotechnology. Trying to theatricalize science is a huge challenge which I have not yet been able to solve. The thing is, I think I will solve it because I can see the characters and I can see their struggle. Once I can figure out the humanity of a subject, the rest is just fitting together the puzzle pieces.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Is pastoral goofy a genre?

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
If you believe the good stuff, you have to believe the bad stuff, so I try for a happy medium. I appreciate it so much when someone has a positive experience with one of my plays and that's what I take away from any praise.

As for the criticism, I listen to those I trust to be constructive. It's essential to hear constructive criticism so that the work moves forward. I also go by the rule of three. If three people tell me the same thing separately then I have to look at it.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Every high school in North America would be a nice start.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I create with pen and paper and rewrite on the keyboard. I adore the computer but there's nothing like the act of sitting down with a notebook and just the right pen and having the words flow out your brain, down your arm and on to the page.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
Hmm. I think I would rather my work still being performed in 50 years rather than being talked about.

What inspires you?
My audience. There is no group more enthusiastic, more energetic, more optimistic, more loving of theatre than a high school drama group. I love writing for teenagers because I see the power of theatre up close in every production. It can be as simple as overcoming stage fright, or as huge as someone realizing they are not alone in their particular struggle. I have had teenagers tell me being in a play saved their life and if that's not inspiration to keep writing, to keep striving to create good work, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Great collection of links

Philip at Nsaa has done it again. Check out all the great links he has in this post.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


One of the great things about writing this blog has been the people I've met through it. It's been a special treat being exposed to the various playwrights featured in Umbrella Talk.

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Dianna Fuemana and seeing her newest work, Falemalama, as part of the Planet IndigenUs festival. In the past, I wouldn't have taken the night off work to go, but I wanted to meet Dianna.

The show is lovely. It talks about her mother's journey from the Polynesian islands to New Zealand. The show has a mix of languages and switches from text to movement and back again frequently. It's a great window into a culture that is part of the fabric of New Zealand but one that we in Canada are not exposed to often.

There's one more performance tonight (Saturday) at the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront Centre and if you can, please try and see it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dido and Aeneas review

When I posted about the ticket offer, I said I'd post any feedback here. baritone said "it was an amazing performance!!!!!" Did anyone else see it? Can baritone go into some detail about the performances? I'd love to hear.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Lucia Frangione

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Lucia Frangione talks about opening nights, her inability to write tragic endings, and the sensuality of her work.

A little More About Lucia Frangione

Lucia is an internationally produced and published playwright and award winning actor, best known for performing in her own works: Paradise Garden, Espresso, MMM, Cariboo Magi, Chickens, and Holy Mo. She is the recipient of the Gordon Armstrong and Sydney Risk playwright awards. Espresso was nominated for seven Jessie awards and toured Western Canada in 2004, and has been running for a year at the Jelenia Gorski theatre in Poland. She is currently a commissioned writer for The Arts Club and is developing a new play, Sanctuary, with singer songwriter Aaron Krogman. Her eighteen plays have been produced by theatres such as The Belfry, Ruby Slippers, Solo Collective, Chemainus Theatre and Prairie Theatre Exchange. Lucia will world premier her new play Leave Of Absence with Pacific Theatre in the fall of 2010. Her debut short film, Pop Switch, is currently screening at film festivals internationally.

What do you drink on opening night?
One glass of pinot noir makes me charming. Two glasses and my clothes come off. Three glasses and I am dead asleep under the table. How many glasses I drink depends on how good or bad the show is.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I have a wishlist of directors. They include Vanessa Porteous, Kim Collier and Danny Brooks to name a few. The top of my list is still Morris Ertman. He has directed several of my plays now. He understands my rhythm, he understands my spiritual sensual exploration, he knows how to stage my swirling feminine epic stories. He is deft and visually brilliant. He knows how to speak to actors and designers. A rare combo.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
Though I write with tragic events in my plays and am no stranger to pain and despair, I can't seem to write a tragic ending. My upcoming play for Pacific Theatre is Leave Of Absence and though it involves the death of a child, I just had to find some hope for the parent in the second act. I had to find her a reason to live. I wrote it before my nightmare came true and my own baby died. And I think of friends who recently lost their only child....I have a desperate double reason for wanting that second act.

I don't like the absurd very much either. It's important for me to find the thinnest thread of hope and beauty. In fact, the thinner the better. (the hope that is, the beauty can be absolutely full figured) A well earned happy ending? Gold. One night I decided to not believe in the Divine for about ten whole minutes. It was so depressing I wanted to shoot myself. I think atheists are brave and amazing. I admire that resolve. That ability to find joy under those circumstances? Wow. Truly. I can learn from that. Sometimes I challenge myself and ask, "Lucia, do you just believe in God because you can't handle the idea of your own mortality?" You know, maybe. I don't like death one bit. Feeling trapped is frightening to me. To think I am trapped into a time frame like mortality pisses me off. The Divine gives me endless mystery and possibility. It gives continuation to the souls I love and have lost. And yes, this gives me comfort and it makes me courageous. I'll take my chances with believing. It just makes sense to me spiritually and scientifically.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
The title is Psychobilly Cleopatra. The undead spirit of Cleopatra emerges in the tattooed greaser hot rod world of psychobilly. For some reason, these things go together for me and it delights my brain. My sister fronts the Calgary based band Eve Hell and the Razors and I want to have her compose all the music. She is so cool. Truly. Pink hair, big orange double bass, smoky sassy vocals. She rocks.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Soap Opera. I got everything going on except for the evil twin.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
When teaching (I teach an internet playwriting course through Rosebud School Of The Arts in Alberta) I am careful to give specific praise as well as specific constructive feedback. It's more important to be told what "is working", especially in the early development stages.Then a writer can focus on that and build on it. The dross will fall away. I always work with a dramaturge and have readings after my significant drafts. It's important to find a dramaturge you trust who "gets" what you're on about. There are some great dramaturges in Vancouver I've been lucky enough to work with: DD Kugler and Rachel Ditor regularly. I avoid sharing ideas and drafts with friends and family. I wait for them to attend opening night. I handle constructive criticism really well and am thankful for it. How else am I going to improve? Usually if someone has an overwhelmingly negative response to my work I say to myself, "oh too bad, they just don't get it yet." I find excessively negative people tiresome and self centred. They're usually envious.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
I think the NAC in Ottawa would be very exciting as well as ATP in Calgary. I've never had a play go to Montreal either and it's high time I came to Toronto again. Other cities I'm going to hit up are: Chicago, London, Berlin, New York, Prague, Hong Kong.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
Keyboard. Though my first play was written on an electric typewriter. Yes, I am that old.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
I dream of being part of an artistic sexual spiritual revolution where the major religions (Christianity and Islam in particular) further explore or return to their mystical feminist inclusive compassionate passivist sensual roots. How's that for lofty?

I am an avid supporter of the gay community.

I think mentorship is vitally important. I have personally committed myself to three emerging artists right now in an "unofficial" mentorship for the next five years. I feel it is my responsibility as an established artist to do so.

I'd like to be remembered as one of the citizens who rallied the Canadian government to value and support arts and culture which in turn, created an explosion of work on the world stage, firmly establishing Canada as a hotbed for theatre talent.

Geesh that's a long list. I better get to work.

What inspires you?
What I see, what I hear, what I touch, what I taste, what I smell. My plays are very sensual, in particular my latest two: Paradise Garden (world premiering at the Arts Club April 2010) and Sanctuary co-written with composer Aaron Krogman. I understand the world through my body. I guess that is why I am a playwright, not a novelist. My story must live within the blood, within a heartbeat, it must drip with sweat, laugh, cry, stumble, shake, dance, kiss, breathe. I write my nightmares and I also write my dreams. I have written the same man into my plays for twenty two years. I call him my beloved. I haven't found him. But my writing is my search for him. At least I have that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

L'Affair Drabinsky

There was a fantastic piece written in the Sun over the weekend outlining the extent of Garth Drabinsky's avoidance tactics in his recent fraud trial.

This is very personal for me. I worked for Cineplex Odeon in the late 80s when Garth was still running things. I started off working box office at the Pantages when it was a single-screen movie theatre, encompassing the original balcony. People forget how Garth got control of the Pantages. At the time, it had been Famous Players' most successful theatre, the Imperial Six, which was the original theatre divided into 6 screens. The theatre was built the way all the original vaudeville houses were built, with an entrance off Yonge St (which was more expensive) and the body of the theatre on Victoria St.

The property was under two separate ownership. One encompassed the Yonge St passageway and the floor of the original theatre, the other the Victoria St frontage and the balcony. For years, Famous Players held both leases. But in a play to strike a blow to their major competitor, Garth negotiated a deal with the owners of the Victoria St side and took over that lease, effectively rendering Famous Player's lease for the other half useless. He then renovated just enough to open the theatre that I worked at.

Shrewd business move? Perhaps. Always struck me as underhanded. In any case, Famous had no choice but to give up the other half of the lease. They added in the proviso that it could only be used as a live theatre, thus giving birth to Garth's theatre aspirations.

There was a lot of stuff written about how wonderful Garth is. That wasn't the Garth I saw. The man I saw was a bully. He blamed front-line staff when sales didn't meet his expectations. I saw him reem out two of my bosses on separate occasions when they weren't there at his beck and call. They had been helping staff clean theatres so that we could get the next show in.

I remember once I became assistant manager (and sexism was alive and well then, as there were few women in management positions and we were paid less than our male counterparts) one weekend when Garth called in for numbers two minutes before that film was due to start and ranted because we didn't have figures at his beck and call. The info was in the office and at that point I was running a box office register, the other assistant was helping out behind the candy bar, and the manager was dealing with a patron issue in the lobby. Garth didn't care. He was furious. For the rest of that weekend, one of us had to go to the office every five minutes to get numbers in case he called again. Of course, he didn't.

My boss at the Pantages stayed on to be merchandise manager when the theatre reopened. He got so many contradictory messages from management and put up with so much disrespect that he quit in frustration shortly before opening. I also saw a cavalier disregard for financial protocol on the part of upper management during my time there. This was not a healthy corporate culture and those setting that culture were the ones that were convicted of fraud. I wasn't surprised at all.

So yes, I'm one of those disgruntled ex-employees that were so dismissed by the mainstream media. I know of so many people who were yelled at by Garth because they weren't performing to his expectations, which usually boiled down to not dropping everything you were doing and grovelling at his feet when he walked in a room. The talent never saw that side of him because he was shrewd enough to realize the people he needed wouldn't put up with that treatment. But if you were support staff, he considered you his serf.

And if he did so much for Toronto theatre, how come I can't remember one Canadian director, designer, playwright, or original lead he hired? Brent Carver doesn't count because he was slated to be understudy for Kiss of the Spider Woman and only got the lead when none of the New York actors approached wanted to play an openly gay man. According to Garth, Canadians were only good enough to be assistants and understudies, allowed to take over only once the press stopped paying attention.

So to me, this is karmic justice.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Rex Deverell

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Rex Deverell gives us answers that are short but oh so sweet.

A Little More About Rex Deverell

Rex Deverell is an award winning playwright - a librettist, a poet, and a sometime actor, He was Regina’s Globe Theatre Resident Playwright from 1974-1990 where he wrote prolifically for both the main stage and for young audiences.

He has also held playwright residencies at The Blyth Theatre Festival and the University of Windsor, He is currently an associate artist with Mixed Company Theatre in Toronto.

His work has won the Canadian Authors Association Medal, a Chalmers Award, the Ohio State Award, and a Major Armstrong Award. He is a member of the McMaster University Honour Society, the McMaster Alumni Gallery, the Saskatchewan Theatre Hall of Fame, and he is a life member of the Guild of Canadian Playwrights.

He has also worked as a librettist with a number of Canadian composers including Elizabeth Raum, Quentin Doolittle, and Andrew Ager.

Highlights include a Japanese production of his play “Boiler Room Suite” in Tokyo, a gala performance of “Prairie Wind” before Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in Regina, and the tour of the Banff production of the opera “Boiler Room Suite” in Wales and England.

What do you drink on opening night?

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
Any (or all) of the following: Cecil B. DeMille, Mother Teresa, Tim Burton, The Creator of the Universe, Samuel Becket, Djanet Sears.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
I'm too scared to answer this question.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
My (now deceased) father. (Sorry, Dad)

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)

How do you deal with praise?
Humble gratitude.

With criticism?

Seething bitterness.

Where would you like your work to be produced?

Where do you write?

In the heat of passion, in the State of Denial, in the Country of Looming Deadlineblivion.

Pen or keyboard?

Both, although not simultaneously.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
Whimsy did him in.

What inspires you?
A really good question! (Seriously, I'm inspired by really good questions.)

A few reviews from Rex's latest, Les Miserable Old Guys

“You'd better be sure to plan carefully to see this gem.

There was a full house of very appreciative patrons on just the second afternoon of the Fringe. Only one of these old guys is miserable; and, man, Ed has curmudgeon down to an art form! His more mellow neighbour, Charlie, tells him that Ed's late wife Alma thought him "the unhappiest man in the world!"

Charlie finds magical moments in the mundane while Ed lives "a life of pure irritation and annoyance." This contrast of temperaments between two men who have lived next door to each other almost their whole lives is absolutely hilarious! It is not a comedy throughout, as a secret emerges that causes the two old men to expose their hearts to each other in a deeply touching way. Plus a surprise ending! Superb theatre.
Lisa Campbell
(The Jenny Review)

4.5 stars from 107.1 FM.
Les Miserable Old Guys (Venue 2) by Rex Deverell

Brilliant! Admittedly I had incredibly high expectations and was concerned that because of this it would end up being like Spiderman 3.... dead to me. But Rex Deverell and Harry Nelken took the entire room (which was ironically packed with seniors) from gut-wrenching laughter to somber silent reflection and back again. It was played to perfection, and the one word review is worth repeating twice.. brilliant!

Possible objectional words/phrases: 4

Who should see this show?
If you like the movie Grumpy Old Men, you'll love Les Miserable Old Guys.

Les Miserable Old Guys
Venue 2, MTC Up the Alley
By Meryl Kaye De Leon

They may be miserable, but not for long.

Charlie (Rex Deverell) and Eddie (Harry Nelken) are two lonely, aging seniors who seem to share just about everything — from shovels and coffee to Eddie’s deceased wife Elma. Separated by an incredibly short fence, eternal optimist Charlie is the only one to provide comfort and companionship to pessimist Eddie as he tries to come to terms with Elma’s death.

This wonderfully written play by Deverell explores the depth of human relationships. Directed by Stefanie Wiens, Deverell and Nelken give flawless performances that make you think about how you’re going to be at that age. But don’t worry — Les Miserable Old Guys also provides more than enough laughs to keep you from being miserable.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll even shorten your fence to talk to your neighbour afterward.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sustaining a career when you're not 25

This article, courtesy of Nsaa, brings up something very close to home for me. There are so many different opportunities available for those 25 and under to develop and flourish, yet relatively little for mid-career artists or those coming to the theatre later in life.

I didn't choose to dedicate myself to theatre until I was 30, which meant there's been a lot of development doors that have been closed to me over the years. I think of my friend who is nearing 60 who has a talent for the stage but feels there's no way she can make it happen for her. And then there are so many playwrights who quit theatre in the prime of their careers (Jason Sherman immediately comes to mind) because they're not making a living at it. Amongst all the celebration of the young artist, what about support for the rest of us? I'd love to see some suggestions.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Catherine Banks

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Catherine Banks talks about single malt scotch, finding a lost director, and the pride of Canadian playwrights.

A Little More About Catherine Banks

Playwright, born (1957) and raised in Nova Scotia. Catherine Banks began her professional life as a Special Education teacher, and wrote plays while raising her children, Rilla and Simon, inspired by seeing a production of Les Belles-soeurs by Michel Tremblay.

Her plays include Bone Cage (Playwrights Co-op Forerunner and Ship's Company Theatre); Eula's Offer; The Summer of the Piping Plover (UpStart Theatre); Three Storey Ocean View ( Mulgrave Road Theatre , Toronto Equity Showcase); and Bitter Rose (Women's Theatre and Creativity Centre). Bitter Rose has aired on Bravo! Canada.

Her work has been performed in Manitoba, Toronto and St. John's at the LSPU Hall. Three Storey Ocean View won the Silver Medal in the 1995 du Maurier National Play Competition and was nominated for a Merrit Award for best new play in 2000. Bone Cage was awarded the Special Merit prize in the 2002 Theatre BC New Play Competition and was showcased at the National Arts Centre's On the Verge 2005. In 2008 it was awarded the Governor General’s Award for Literature (English) Drama.

Her plays are characterized by black humour, and compelling dramatic metaphor. They have been described as “Atlantic gothic,” because of their unflinching exploration of poverty, monotony and the addictions that often provide an escape from such social limitations. She has just completed writing her sixth play, Missy and Me, about a Nova Scotia housewife leaving for New York to pursue the object of her obsession Missy Elliott. She is working on her two new plays Downed Hearts, and It is Solved By Walking.

Catherine Banks currently resides in Sambro, Nova Scotia.

What do you drink on opening night?
I don’t drink before the performance but after the speeches are done I have a white wine usually. I haven’t had an opening night since I fell in love with Scotch in May so I suspect next opening it will be single malt.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I actually don’t know the director’s name but he or she directed an amazing production of Jacob’s Wake (Michael Cook) at the National Arts Centre in about 1986. (I don’t retain names at the best of times and I had only written one play at this point so it wasn’t like I thought Oh I must have this director direct my work.) The set I remember was stripped away to very bare essentials with strips of plastic on three sides of the stage where the cast entered and exited. The plastic was painted with icebergs and the whole concept of the production played on the emotional isolation of each family member. I loved the production and it has stayed with me for going on 25 years. I “googled” the production but alas I couldn’t find the name of the director. Anyway I would love to have that person direct one of my plays maybe Three Storey, Ocean View with its bending of time and complex story lines.

What scares you?
When I get to that place in a script, where I am just now with a script, and it starts to feel that it won’t be a play after all. I have worked for 3 years (in this case) and maybe it won’t be a play.

What can't you write about?
I can’t seem to write about stuff that doesn’t really matter to me. I tried to write a play once about girls who play hockey but I couldn’t find that hook that made me want to finish it enough to dig down and do it. So far, not counting the current crisis, it is the only play that I started and haven’t finished. I think about it sometimes but now I think maybe the material is dated.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
I want to write a play about mothers and daughters but I don’t think I will ever be able to do that although obviously I am a daughter AND I am the mother to a daughter.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)

Like all humans there are elements of all the genres in my life.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
Of course I loved to be praised but then I often think well they are just saying that because (insert some absurd reason like they know my grade 5 teacher’s mother). I take all criticism to heart first but later I can look at it more objectively but it’s a long 10 years in between. I have gone back and read rejection letters and realized that I actually missed all the really good things they said and hyper-focused on something like “This play isn’t right for us.”---in my head that line has been heard as “Why do you think you can write plays worthy of our attention?” I know terrible really terrible. Plus not hearing from a Theatre that I have sent a play to after say 3 months I go straight to “Why do you think you can write plays?”

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Of course I am a Canadian playwright I would like my work to be at the National Arts Centre. In the year I lived in Ottawa back in 1986 I saw the work of Michel Tremblay and Michael Cook for the first time and I had a great sense of pride that our writers could write powerful gripping work. I would like to have my work on in NYC and in London----you know all the biggies. But ultimately what matters is that the production is done well by people who love the script----even in the smallest of theatres that is the most thrilling thing of all.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?

I like to write first drafts of scenes by hand and type them in the same day. I can’t leave it too long as my hand writing and spelling are such that there is definitely a best before date on stuff that I have to be able to read---which means I have to remember what I was thinking when I scribbled it down.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?

That I wrote with clarity and honesty about my time.

What inspires you?
Poetry. I read it every day. I love poems. I am not at all a scholar I am sure there are lots of things I miss when I read a poem and I could never talk to you about meter or form or the mechanics of a good poem. But poetry lights the darkness where I struggle to do my own work.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tickets to Dido and Aeneas

The kind people of Underground/Opera are offering half price tickets ($19/$11 for under 30 and seniors) to readers of this blog for the August 18th performance of Dido and Aeneas. If you're interested, email with the subject heading Blog Offer (limit of 2 per person).

I'm unable to attend myself but I'd love to hear what you think of the show. Write your review in the comments section and I'll repost it on the blog.

More information about the show:

Underground /Opera is a new series of cutting edge, contemporary adaptations of classical opera brought to you by the avant-garde performance company Opera Erratica and the Classical Music Consort, Toronto’s most exciting new classical music ensemble. Together they are presenting a multi-media production of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Winchester Street Theatre, from August 18 - 29, 2009. Opera Erratica and the CMC bring to this masterpiece of English opera their unique mix of old music and new media—performing on period instruments, conducted by Ashiq Aziz, with a with avant-garde video projections and staging by director and designer Patrick Eakin Young. This innovative production is sure to interest opera lovers, art fans, and downtown scenesters alike and is part of an exciting new movement in Toronto’s art scene, combining classical music with contemporary culture.

What: Opera Erratica and The Classical Music Consort’s Dido and Aeneas

Where: The Winchester Street Theatre, 80 Winchester Street

When: (all performances at 8pm, unless otherwise indicated) 18 (Press Preview), 19, 21, 22, 23 (2pm), 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 August 2009

Admission: $38/$22 for under 30 and seniors

Tickets: - 416 978 8849

Friday, July 31, 2009

Yet more posting.

My first post is now up at Sondheim in September. That now makes it three blogs I'm writing for, as I finally updated In Process this week as well. And I'm also on Twitter. And I have another post in the works for here.

I guess that means Baby and I are joined at the hip for the next little while.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Kathleen Oliver

After a long hiatus (has it really been two months?), Umbrella Talk returns with Kathleen Oliver talking about praise and criticism, parenting, and showing off her son, Noah (see photo).

A Little More About Kathleen Oliver

Kathleen Oliver’s first play, Swollen Tongues, won the 1997 National Playwriting Competition and has been produced in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and London, England. Her other full-length plays are Carol’s Christmas and The Family Way. Shorter plays include Snow Queen, a monologue written in French, and Beautiful on a Budget. She recently completed the English translation of Stephan Cloutier’s Apocalypse in Kamloops. Kathleen teaches English at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, and is a regular contributor to The Georgia Straight.

What do you drink on opening night?
Lots of water.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
There are so many amazing directors I'd be thrilled to work with. But I'd love to have Dean Paul Gibson direct my next comedy.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
Hmmm. Obviously I'm so scared of it I don't even know what it is.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
It's been a few years now since I've had the time and space to feel around for the right ideas. Becoming a parent has definitely given me a whole new set of things to consider. Ask me again in a couple of years when my kid starts school!

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)

Comedy. Most definitely.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
Cautiously, especially when the script is still in development. I've learned to just take in all the feedback and evaluate it later. Whatever resonates most strongly with my own perceptions is something worth following up on. After a play is finished--well, that's another story. The really outstanding examples of criticism tend to get instantly etched in memory. I can read a negative review once and still quote it verbatim seven years later. Praise doesn't seem to stick quite so deeply, which gives you an excuse to go back and read the nice things people said about your work. I try not to take any of it personally. Well, at least not the negative stuff. As a playwright who has also worked as a critic, I understand the challenges of both tasks. You might spend four years writing a play. A critic might have four hours to get the review in. Very different parameters.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
I'd love to see it produced all over the place, but is the question really "where would I like to travel to see my work produced?" Barcelona!!

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
Keyboard for scripts. Preferably at a proper workstation, not a laptop. Special notebooks (from Japan) and fountain pen (from Paris) for thinking on paper: inspiration, ideas, feedback, and notes to myself for subsequent drafts.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?

In 50 years? Any sort of attention would be welcome.

What inspires you?
People. Complicated emotions. Unresolved conflicts. Revenge. Seeing really great plays (wow! I'd love to be able to do that!) and really bad ones (holy crap! I can do better than that!).

Monday, July 27, 2009

So what the heck's been going on, anyway?

Good question. I have been really quiet the last few weeks. Initially it was fringe madness. I ended up making 4 performances of Harper Girl and 16 other shows - all this while working my paying gig. BTW, Harper Girl opens this week in Calgary so if you're in town, be sure to catch it!

Then I had to recover from going on 4 hours of sleep for 10 days. But now I'm starting to get rolling again. I had sent out a bunch of Umbrella Talk requests right after the PGC but I hadn't heard back from anyone. I just found out they were being marked spam. Since they were sent from the company address, that's making me a little concerned. I've re-sent them and hopefully there'll be some fresh new UT in the near future.

I'm currently working on grant applications for the Elsewhere festival. Despite how we described it on the website (we're working on updating it), it's now a reading festival to introduce Australian and New Zealand writers. We finally have a launch date - mark February 13-14 in your calendars! You'll be hearing a lot more about it as we get closer to the time.

I'm also working on a charity event called Sondheim in September. I'm going to be blogging about it on the event's website so I encourage you to check it out. Great singers, great music, great team...I'm very excited.

I'm also moving into a new room, which means getting rid of old stuff and creating a space that I want. I haven't had that in a very long time and I can't wait until everything is done.

So I've been a little busy. I also didn't make it to LaMaMa - hopefully next year. But exciting changes are happening, things are moving forward, and that's a very good thing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Of perfection and passion

After over a year of trying to acquire it legally, I finally caved and downloaded The Whitlams & The Sydney Symphony Live In Concert. (I still want a legal copy so if anyone knows how I can get one, I'd greatly appreciate it.) And while it is a treat, it didn't thrill me the way I hoped it would.

See, Tim Freedman live is a force of nature - wild, unleashed, full of passion and fire. Yet here he is subdued. I don't know if it's because he was playing with the orchestra or if it was because it was being recorded, but Tim never soars in the recording. The music and vocals are pitch perfect but there's nothing behind them.

This was most glaringly obvious on Made Me Hard, written and originally recorded by Bernie Hayes. Bernie is low key yet intense in how he performs and he sang the song with a mix of wistfulness and bitterness. To get a sense of Bernie (who is a favourite of mine) you can check out this clip:

When Tim recorded it, it acquired a bouncy arrangement and a more upbeat sound but still retained some sense of the pain the lyrics allude to.

But on the symphony recording, it's all bouncy with no emotion behind it. It's just there.

I haven't seen Tim live in over five years so I was wondering if this was maybe just an unfortunate evolution. But then I heard the final three tracks, which aren't part of the orchestral show but are stripped down piano versions of previously recorded songs. (Two of which happen to be ones I have very personal connections to, and the third is a really fun older song I've never had a chance to see in concert.) And in those songs, I hear Tim's passion loud and clear. It comes out in different ways on each track but I can hear the difference. I can hear him in there, reaching out.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I know Tim is a perfectionist. I saw this happen before. My theory is that he got so concerned about getting it perfect that he disconnected from his soul and it dropped out of his music.

I believe that's something we theatre artists, in fact anyone who performs for an audience, need to be aware of. In the end, we need to be compelling, connect on a visceral level. If we worry too much about how we sound and how we present ourselves, we cut ourselves off from our audiences. Yes, we want to pursue excellence but in the end it's about the shared experience. The creator and the receiver. And we forget that at our peril.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Harper Girl Does Canada Toronto Show Times

For those wanting to catch the show, we are in the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace at these times:

Thurs. July 2nd, 9:30 p.m
Sat. July 4th, 10:15 p.m.
Sun. July 5th, 2:45 p.m.
Wed. July 8th, 6:30 p.m.
Thurs. July 9th, 4:30 p.m.
Fri. July 10th, 10:30 p.m.
Sat. July 11th, 8:00 p.m.
Sun. July 12th, 12:30 p.m.

The show runs 55 minutes. If you want to see my work and say hi, I will be in attendance for the Wednesday and Thursday shows and will be at the theatre at the end of the two late night shows. Hope to see you all there!

Da Fringe! Da Fringe!

Hello my lovelies!

Yes, Miss Ruby Jones has rubbed off on me. Tonight we open Harper Girl Does Canada in Toronto. London gave us a chance to work out the kinks and tonight marks me being officially through with the show. It's a nice feeling walking around knowing that my job is done, knowing that the show is where it should be, and feeling confident that the audience will love it. You can see reviews from London here.

London is a great fringe. With the smaller size, it was possible to get to know everyone involved, greatly assisted by the Callithump (parade) the opening night. The nightly late-night show, The NO Show, was fantastic and reminded me of the glory days of the Rumoli Bros (who are doing a one-night only tomorrow night at the Tranzac). Everyone was really friendly and helpful, and it was nice to be part of the touring posse.

Now I'm on home base, hoping to extend the hospitality to my touring brethren. Toronto is a tough fringe on touring folks because we have so much going on locally. Two performers I spent a lot of time with in London are here and I hope that they find audiences. So if you can check out Wanderlust and Weaverville Waltz, I'd really appreciate it.

And if you're going to the Hamilton fringe, you have check out Nick Wallace. His show is amazing and I hope he makes it to Toronto at some point.

Happy fringing Toronto people!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Opening out of town

Tonight I open Harper Girl Does Canada in London, ON. It's been a really wonderful experience working on this show and I hope it gets the audience it deserves. I'm really pleased at how it's come together and was pleasantly surprised at our tech yesterday at how much we had to work with in terms of lighting. It's a great venue and wonderful people involved. Now we wait and see about audiences.

The London Fringe opened Thursday night and I've had a great time so far. What amazes me is that all the venue FOH managers are volunteer. They're really lucky in having such a dedicated group of people in running the festival. And the late night talk show is fantastic, reminding me of the glory days of the Rumoli Brothers at the Tranzac club. I'm really sorry I'm only going to be here until tomorrow night - the camaraderie between the performing companies has been wonderful.

Hope to see as many of you as possible either here in London or in Toronto.

In other news, Simon has a great post at The Next Stage concerning advice to the playwright. A great read.

Also, it appears that Charles Ross has gotten the go-ahead to tour One Man Lord Of The Rings. He's taking it to Edinburgh, where it should do well. I enjoyed it, even though I'm not a fan of the books or the trilogy.

Off to do some fringing!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Luminato fringe?

I've seen this idea mentioned in a few places now and I want to nip this idea right in the bud.

Here's the problem I have with the idea of a fringe for Luminato. We already have a very successful fringe festival for theatre, comedy and dance. There's also a successful festival for photography. Many festivals for film. The week after Luminato has a successful music festival (who I think had to move their dates because of Luminato), one of two. So the only form that would benefit would be visual art/video installation, although one could argue that Nuit Blanche takes care of them.

All these festivals existed before Luminato. The artistic community is already very wary of the festival because of the way it came in and got a great deal of funding. To do a fringe would put these other festivals at risk and I can't see how it can be a benefit to anyone.

I've participated in the Adelaide fringe and honestly, it's overwhelming. Edinburgh is even more so. The reason those fringes exist was because there was nothing else there at the time. This is not the case in Toronto. I think we need an international arts festival and I'm glad Luminato exists. But it covers enough ground that we really don't need a fringe as well. And I will fight tooth and nail to stop one from happening.

Monday, June 15, 2009

No, I'm not dead

Just really busy as we prepare to open Harper Girl Does Canada in London this weekend. Hope to see some of you there.

I also got to see Lipsynch yesterday and if you get a chance to catch it at a festival near you, run to get a ticket. I really want to see it again and remain in awe of Rick Miller. I had someone last year complain about me talking specifics in regard to Black Watch so I won't go into details here but it was truly breathtaking.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

PGC, part 1

So I'm writing this sitting at the blogtender's bar. I'm in Vancouver attending the PGC conference and one of the highlights has been finally meeting Simon. He's as interesting in person as his writing and he's been instrumental in making sure I've had a good time here.

This is just a short post since I leave for the airport in less than an hour. I'll talk more about the conference in the next couple of days and a lot of the guild members will be showing up on Umbrella Talk in the next little while. And in the morning (Toronto time since I'm taking the red-eye back) I'll be seeing my favourite piece of public art, commercial division.

As Media in Canada describes it:
Mississauga, Ont.-based Samsung Electronics Canada has erected a 50-foot-tall sculpture by renowned artist Jan Lorenc outside of Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Shaped like a large palm clutching an over-sized Samsung phone, the well-travelled work of art - which first appeared at Paris' Charles De Gaulle International Airport in 2002 - has since been placed in London and Dubai.

The statue plays on Samsung's global "World in Your Hand" campaign by Seoul-based agency Cheil Worldwide, and is meant to symbolize bringing people together through communication.

The gargantuan piece, which is visible to drivers on the busy 427 highway, will remain perched at Toronto's airport for the next five years. Samsung worked with Clear Channel Outdoor to secure the space.

I've passed by it many times travelling home late at night and think it's one of the best pieces of advertising I've ever seen. And today, it will tell me that I'm home. Sad to leave Simon though. We have to do this in-person thing more often.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An amazing story

Sorry everyone, there's no Umbrella Talk this week. Between home renos, rehearsals, theatre performances and income generation, I've had no time to track interviews down. So if you want to be interviewed, contact me! Two plays professionally produced (not workshops or school situations) is the only requirement.

In the meantime, I want to pass along this great post about Roy Halladay. I haven't talked much about him recently but besides being the ace of the staff for the Toronto Blue Jays, he's a personal hero of mine I've written about before. This story talks about what he went through to reinvent himself after hitting rock bottom. It's incredibly inspiring and makes me admire him even more.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Michael Rubenfeld

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Michael Rubenfeld talks about dreams of leather journals, international productions, and posterity.

A little more about Michael Rubenfeld

Michael Rubenfeld is the Artistic Producer of the SummerWorks Theatre Festival. He is also the co-artistic director of Absit Omen Theatre with Hannah Moscovitch. Michael’s work as an actor, writer and director have been seen on stages across the country. In 2008, he was Dora-nominated for his play, My Fellow Creatures. He recently performed his play, Spain, in New York City (Bridge Theatre Company) and directed his short piece, An Exercise in Futility, for the Rhubarb! Festival (being remounted for the Clown Festival in June).

In May, he will be performing in his piece, The Book of Judith, co-created with Sarah Stanley in a large tent on the CAMH grounds. The piece is a one-man musical (with a choir) telling the story of his relationship to Judith Snow, a quadriplegic woman, and their attempt to make theatre together. Michael is a 2001 graduate of the National Theatre School.

What do you drink on opening night?
Whatever I can.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
Sarah Stanley, or Quentin Tarantino.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
I'm not sure. I tend to only write about what scares me. That said, I think things like science and math scare me, because I don't feel smart enough to write a play about them. I would love to write a play like Copenhagen but it would probably end up coming out more like Proof.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Religion, death and my mother.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Absurdist Tragedy

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
I like praise as long as its sincere. It's very easy to tell who is full of shit and who isn't. Criticism is great also, as long as its mindful.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
New York, U.K and Germany

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
Always keyboard. I have romantic dreams of writing in leather bound books, but I am much too lazy.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
Michael Rubenfeld was really brave and really hot.

What inspires you?

Courage, complexity and love.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Bobby Del Rio

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Bobby Del Rio talks about why audiences are dwindling, his favourite directors, and how he plans on making his mark.

A little more about Bobby Del Rio

Bobby Del Rio has written: Porn Life (named one of 2007's best shows by Fab Magazine's 3-time Emmy nominee Paul Bellini), Christian Values (#3 selling hit of 2001 Toronto Fringe Festival/NOW Magazine cover story), When Children Fall (named one of 2000's "best Fringe/SummerWorks shows" by Eye Weekly), Half-Chinx Taking Over the World (published in Spring 2002 issue of Canadian Theatre Review/broadcast on CBC Radio), Professionally Ethnic (published in Summer 2009 issue of Canadian Theatre Review), and Child Hood (SummerWorks 2005). He was the sole subject of a 30-minute documentary that aired nationally on Bravo!, beat playwrights all across North America to receive a prestigious writing showcase in New York City, is the inaugural recipient of the Robertson Davies Playwriting Award and is currently developing feature film scripts with established film producers. His latest play is entitled The Market. Please check out!!

What do you drink on opening night?

Protein shake. I'm not much of a drinker. I'm a health guy.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I'll pick 3.

1. Ross Manson. He directed a reading of my play Professionally Ethnic. He was awesome to work with, and I'd work with him on anything.

2. Chris Abraham. I find him to be the most inventive theatre director working in Toronto.

3. Daniel Brooks. His raw intellect and perpetually creative spirit are inspiring.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
I'm not scared of anything. I tend to write about the things that other people won't.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
I would've said the stock market a few weeks ago. But I just wrote a new play called The Market. So scratch that. I want to write about Native genocide, and I've wanted to incorporate mathematics into a play for awhile now. I was a big math guy before I wanted to be an actor, so I'd love to utilize that skill set... I also want to start writing novels.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Part farce, part political thriller, part teen drama, part existentialist, and part intellectual masturbation. Definitely not a musical.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
I like praise and hate criticism. But I'm well aware that they both essentially mean nothing. I just do the best I can. Inevitably, the audience tells you everything you need to know...

Where would you like your work to be produced?

A couple years ago I would've listed some of the most established theatres in the country. But now I want to work with exciting artists who 'get' the work I'm trying to do. We've been producing far too much mediocrity in this country for far too long, and that's part of the reason audiences have dried up. Try getting someone outside the theatre community to attend your play. It rarely happens. If we get over our fictitious egos and start focusing on telling the best stories to a wide audience, they will come...

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?


What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
I'd like them to say that I revolutionized the way multiculturalism was conceived in Canada, that I changed the definition of normalcy, that I created innovative work that brought people under 35 back to the theatre, that I displayed a range of content with unparallelled contrasts, that I turned being a Canadian playwright into a badge of honour as opposed to an apology, that I was the first playwright in decades to start riots, and that I found a way to make money doing it. ;)

What inspires you?
The potential humanity has to use our collective brilliance to save lives instead of sell people useless shit all the time.