Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Brad Fraser

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Brad Fraser talks about his interesting pre-show drink, his happiness with the theatres that produce his work, and how he wants to be known in 50 years.

A little more about Brad Fraser

Brad Fraser’s work encompasses many forms of media over the last thirty years. His plays include; Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Poor Super Man, Martin Yesterday, Snake in Fridge, Cold Meat Party, Wolfboy, Young Art and the lyrics and book for the musical Outrageous, to name the most well known. These plays have been produced world-wide and have garnered numerous awards including The London Evening Standard Award for most promising playwright, The LA Critics Award and Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Award for best new play, The Manchester Evening News Award for best new play and many others.

His films are Love and Human Remains (directed by Academy Award winner Denys Arcand and winning Brad Canada’s Genie Award for Best Adapted Screenplay) and Leaving Metropolis- adapted from Poor Super Man (Winner of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Audience Favourite Award.) For television, he spent three seasons as a writer/producer on Queer As Folk for Showtime and Two seasons hosting his chat show Jawbreaker with Brad Fraser on Out TV, North America’s first gay and lesbian television station. Brad has also written extensively for radio in both Canada and England, turned out many print articles for the straight and gay press and a number of university lectures on the current state of the theatre and the AIDS crisis.

Brad’s newest play, True Love Lies, opened at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester England on February 2, 2009 to great acclaim. A number of worldwide productions are pending. He is currently adapting Snake in Fridge into a graphic novel and hopes to have it finished by late 2009 with the film and television versions soon to follow. Check out for more info and occasional updates.

What do you drink on opening night?
The blood of forgotten theatre reviewers. After the show I often have a few Jack Daniels.

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

Now there's a loaded question. My experience has been, generally, that the more one expects from a director the more disappointed you will be. The director of my coolest productions has always been the inventive, confident one. I found him in England at the Royal Exchange Theatre. His name is Braham Murray.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
My childhood and my family. Although I must say every play I've written has been about something that scares me. I suspect I became a writer to deal with many of the fears and anxiety I was feeling as a younger person. My attitude has always been that if whatever you're writing doesn't frighten you in some way it probably isn't worth writing.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
My childhood and my family.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
All of the above and often in the same scene. Great drama, even really good drama, defies conventions and boundaries and I've always been a genre crossing whore anyway.

How do you deal with praise?
I immediately distrust it.

With criticism?
Unless it's coming from someone whom I know and whose opinions I respect, I immediately distrust it.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
I'm pretty happy with the theatre that produce me now although I would like to have a commercial Broadway, West-End success. I'm particularly fond of the foreign theatre and language productions I've seen of my work. I think I could also be produced in my home country more.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I write in my well ordered office and many anonymous hotel rooms. I've never written with a pen or pencil and am proud of my very fast typing skills. I love my computer for revisions but I miss the muscularity of the typewriter.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
In 50 years I will be one hundred years old. I hope the academics will write about how attractive and vital I am for my age. Should that not come about I hope they will say I wrote without fear of disapproval and challenged the reviewers and audiences of the day to examine their own fears and prejudices. I also hope they will say I always set my plays in the present tense, that I wrote a kind dialogue that was reflective of the language, thought and rhythm of the day and that I upset a lot of theatre people and complicit audiences by demanding that theatre be a predominantly emotional experience- breaking away from the dry, intellectual arguments that have been passed off as interesting theatre since Shaw started writing. This movement coincided with the death of theatre as a popular art form and I suspect there's a direct correlation.

What inspires you?

The beauty of the world we live in and the love many have for their fellow man, the cruelty and indifference with which people mistreat one another, the pain we all carry, the essential goodness of most people and the ability of really good theatre to break the confines of time and space to tell stories that reverberate on a multitude of levels. Also money, alcohol, drugs, sex, music, movies, other plays and comic books.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Being AWOL

I know I haven't posted much lately. There's been a lot going on. I'm also weeks behind on a promised post for Theatre is Territory - sorry Blogfather!

The baseball season has begum and my obsession with Roy Halladay continues. I've managed to be in the ballpark for two of his starts already and I've tried to watch as much as I can. What's been really amazing is how well my team, the Toronto Blue Jays, are playing. It's been an absolute joy. The team is performing at the top of their game and their excellence is inspiring. Unfortunately, every win usually means I'm on the blogosphere for hours afterwards looking for fellow enthusiasts.

I've also been asked to direct Rusa Jeremic's fringe show, Harper Girl does Canada, based on her series of political videos. We're playing in London, Toronto and Calgary and I'd love for those in the neighbourhood to check it out.

There's also some stuff going on with family at the moment that's taking up time. I'm going to try to be more regular but apologies in advance. However, Umbrella Talks are lined up for the next few weeks, and they're doozies.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Shirley Barrie

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Shirley Barrie talks about how the time of day for her openings affect her drinking patterns, how the computer has changed her draft style, and how she likes to set challenges for herself.

A little more about Shirley Barrie

Shirley has worked in the theatre for many years as both a playwright and a producer. She and her husband, Ken Chubb, went to England for a year in 1971 and ended up staying for 14, founding the Wakefield Tricycle Company and later the Tricycle Theatre which is still a very successful theatre and arts complex on the Kilburn High Road in London. Shirley started writing young audience and family plays for the Tricycle and then for other British companies. Back in Toronto, she co-founded Straight Stitching Productions with director Lib Spry and the company produced several of her plays, winning a Chalmers Award for Straight Stitching and a Chalmers and a Dora award for Carrying the Calf.

She has continued to write plays for young and adult audiences. Most recently, in 2007 4th Line Theatre produced Beautiful Lady, Tell Me… and she is writing another play for the company about the great comic actress, Marie Dressler. Bozo’s Fortune, an adaptation of Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi, is currently in the school-touring repertoire of Shoestring Opera, and with Emil Sher she co-edited Prepare to Embark: Six Theatrical Adventures for Young Audiences published by Playwrights Canada Press. In 2006/07 she also had the amazing opportunity of spending over six months in South Africa working as Senior Story Editor on the TV drama series Jozi-H.

What do you drink on opening night?
Before or after the performance? Before: I can’t eat. And I’m stressed. So anything liquid tends to land in places other than my mouth. It’s safer for myself, and for others, if I stick to water. After: Theatre for young audiences shows tend to open in schools often in the morning. So water continues to be the drink of choice. For a play that’s opened in a theatre, I might move on to red wine if I’m feeling relatively confident, or single malt whiskey if the opportunity arises.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I was fortunate to have Molly Thom direct the first production of Beautiful Lady Tell Me… Her input and dramatic eye were crucial to the final ethos of the piece. But I’d also love to see what a director like Peter Anderson with his knowledge of clown and movement would do with it, or Eda Holmes.

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

Everything I haven’t written about yet. Almost every project begins as a scary, “I can’t do that” adventure. If the objective isn’t set by the company commissioning the piece, then I try to set myself a challenge. Often these are stylistic. With Beautiful Lady, Tell Me… (produced by 4th Line Theatre in 2007) I played with a huge subject, a large cast, a back and forth time scheme, and a variety of vaudeville styles smashing up against each other. Scary but exhilarating! Somehow it all worked and performers and audiences loved it.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
Most of the things I haven’t written about yet. On some days I want to write a literary, easy to perform, small cast play. Everybody admires the writing and everybody wants to produce the play. But that (so far) isn’t what comes out. I write plays that give great challenges to actors, and sometimes to audiences, that have quirky elements, and that are often better in the performance than the read.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
With luck, life is long, and a play is much shorter. I have had times of intense drama, great adventure, high melodrama and low comedy. But surrounding them are long stretches of the much more mundane joys and dilemmas of living that would drive most audiences screaming from the theatre.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
I tend to be suspicious of praise, and sensitive to criticism. But I’m trying to acknowledge the former in the spirit it’s given, and internalize the latter only if it makes sense in the context of what I’m trying to write. In other words my skin is growing increasingly thick – along with other parts of my anatomy.

Where would you like your work to be produced?

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
It’s evolving. I still start by hand. I’m ridiculously particular about what I write with. “My” fountain pen and “my” mechanical pencil both have to be on my desk before I start working, and it’s not a pretty sight if one of them goes missing.

I used to write everything by hand and then transcribe. As I got more used to computers, I’d write the first draft by hand, using pen or pencil depending on how confident I felt, and edit mostly on the computer. Lately, the pen or pencil beginnings, are turning into short form maps that I interpret on the computer. But in order to keep the false starts and scratch outs (which sometimes can turn out to be not so false after all) I have a holding document which for my current project is called “icky bits.”

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

I’d like them to remember me in 50 years!! I won’t be around to worry about what they say.

What inspires you?
Injustice in many forms, peculiar behaviour, the unexpected, little known stories from the past that connect with something I’m feeling or experiencing in the present, life with all its aspirations and messiness.

Monday, April 13, 2009


The Summerworks Theatre Festival (where we produced Kingship de Facto a couple of years ago) has launched a theatre journal called Works. If you haven't read it, you should try to get a hold of a copy or read it online here.
Our intent with the magazine is to feature the theatre arts, its artists and its ideas. Too often we see writing in our newspapers and literary journals about the art by individuals who are outside of the art form. There is room for this sort of journalism, however WORKS. has been created to give space for theatre artists to write
about their form, and its readers an authentic insight into the craft rather than a presumed, idealized and/or theorized.

The first issue concentrates on writers and creators and the range of articles and perspectives is really interesting. I had no intention of reading every article but found I couldn't put it down. I can't recommend it highly enough and I look forward to the next issue.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Bill Marchant

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Bill Marchant talks about his philosophy of acting, writing in restaurants, and the usefulness of praise.

A little more about Bill Marchant

Bill Marchant is a Vancouver based artist. His debut film Everyone won the Zenith D’Or for Best Film at the Montreal World Film Festival. He has had a string of successful plays across the continent, most recently with an acclaimed run of Ashes at The Firehall in Vancouver for Eye Heart Productions and most pleasurably with Clown Elections in 2006. Past productions of his scripts include Big Block Letters, Secret Hearts and A Cure for Happiness.

This year will also see the debut of two new works What Then Must We Do and The Last Days of Las Fabulosas. Fabulosas is a particularly exciting project for Marchant, reteaming him with Nancy Sivak and Suzanne Hepburn, veterans of several of his films. The two star as Vegas-style show girls touring their show in some exotic locale while contemplating girth of love. Is bigger always better?

Marchant has also acted for the last 30 years, dividing his time between the stage and screen. In addition, he is a poet and songwriter with his first book of poems, Auguries, published in 2005. His next album, Love is Not Enough, a collaboration with Michael Chase will be released in 2009. Bill Marchant is the Head of Department for Acting at Vancouver Film School.

What do you drink on opening night?

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

Me. I am a notorious stickler for depth of performance and I think that actors left to their own devices will often choose the way of comfort, ease or vanity, rich on what they have found in their head but lacking in the real sweet stuff that lies deeper in the cavities of their fear and loneliness. I love actors. I am an actor. But I think acting is best when it’s a collaborative art. The director’s primary responsibility is to play with them and capture the elusive light that only comes from the wilds of rehearsal. I love that sacred pact between us. That is our gift to the audience. Nobody could ever know my script as well as I do. I love to see another director’s interpretation but I always find them a little off from what I intended. One less ego never hurt a play.

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

I am scared of breathing. I can only write about love.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?


If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
I don’t understand genre. Everything is everything. If it doesn’t make me laugh, I don’t want to see it. If it doesn’t make me weep, it’s a lie.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
I love praise; it’s the best way to promote the next show. Criticism? I call that family.

Where would you like your work to be produced?

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?

I write in restaurants. That’s best. Home has too many distractions. I love longhand but I am a keyman more and more.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
I couldn’t care less.

What inspires you?
To quote Nick Lowe, “What lack of love has done.”

Friday, April 3, 2009


I'm on my way to the PCC conference. It's a great opportunity to meet people not just working in theatre but also in performance art, dance, & multi-disciplinary work. "Performance Creation Canada is a nationwide network dedicated to the nourishment, management and study of performance creation in Canada, and the ecology in which it flourishes."

But what I really want to highlight is the brilliance of the scheduling. Last night was a meet-and-greet starting at 5pm, followed by opportunities to see performances and a party. Today starts at the civilized time of 11am with a waffle breakfast that gives people like me who weren't attending last night a chance to register without rush while the partiers can roll in when they can. Tonight's the keynote plus performance, and then the meat of the work is done over the weekend.

I love that as someone who works weekends I can still participate, while those who have to take on 9 to 5 jobs can also participate. Philip Akin asked a while back why he couldn't get people out to Obsidian's international playwrights forum and I really think scheduling had a lot to do with it. I will be curious to see what attendance will be like for this conference.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Umbrella Talk with playwright Simon Ogden

I'm very excited about this week's Umbrella Talk as Simon has been a huge supporter of this blog. Simon is the man behind The Next Stage, Vancouver's pre-eminent theatre blog. I'm looking forward to meeting him when I'm in Vancouver for the Playwright's Guild annual conference at the end of May. In this week's interview, Simon shameless cribs from Leanna Brodie, waxes poetic about his dreams for the future of theatre, and talks about his love for Kentucky Bourbon.

A little more about Simon Ogden

Simon's immersion in the performing arts began like many 20-year-olds in Vancouver in the early '90s: by trying to get a walk-on part on The X-Files. Towards this lofty goal he started taking scene study classes at the now defunct Gastown Actors Studio, and obediently began taking the required steps towards breaking into that most hallowed of local industries. He almost immediately realized that being an actor in the TV/film industry sucks beyond all measurable comprehension, and stopped taking the required steps. Coming to terms with his 'not having what it takes' for that particular pursuit, he gradually became aware that what really floated his boat was the transcendantly good playscripts that one studies within the confines of scene study classes. Shanley, Shepard, Williams, Albee, Sherman, Stoppard...this was a whole new world to Simon, one that would pull him further and further in until he was left with little choice but to live in that world forever, never to return.

Unfortunately, that world doesn't have a whole lot of money kicking around in it, so Simon has begun to explore ways to popularize his beloved art form and expand its audience. He is doing this right now by taking on the role of marketer alongside his role as Writer-in-Residence at his young theatre company, Lyric Stage Project, which is an outcropping of Vancouver's Lyric School of Acting, an institution with a direct lineage from the aforementioned Gastown Actors Studio. He also promotes the rest of the local independent theatre scene on his popular web-based magazine The Next Stage, which features a unique Video Listings service and the successful This One Goes to Eleven interview series.

Simon has produced his own plays independently for 10 years, and has had his work produced across Canada. His work is featured in the drama curriculum of St. Andrews College in Ontario. He recently completed the companion set Dark/Light on commission from Toronto's Praxis Theatre, and had his short play A Short Recess adapted to film by filmmaker Glen McDonald, which is set to tour the festival circuit this year.

What do you drink on opening night?

Pre-show...a continuous flow of espresso-laced beverages. But that's no different than any other day, really. Given the nature of independent theatre I'm usually running around taking care of the house or calls or last-minute fire-fighting, so sharp wits are required until 8:00. Post-show...any available alcohol-laced drink will do. Given my druthers, a healthy shot of good Kentucky Bourbon with a couple of rocks. But that's no different than any other day, really.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I honestly have no idea. I don't look at my scripts as 'the play', I look at them as one-third of the play, and consciously refrain from staging them in my head (easier said than done, I'll readily grant). The direction is another third, and the work the actors bring to it is the other. (Lighting, set and sound are a huge part of it, of course, but they exist inside the triangle.) This equation explains why plays can be done over and over, and be a different work of art each time. I know how I would direct the play, but would that production be the coolest? Doubtful. Would Kim Collier find depth and meaning that I didn't know was there? There's a very, very good chance, but what speaks to her in the work might bury stuff that I'm attached to. I've had astonishingly good directors add nuances that are completely contrary to what I thought my original intent was. The question is: does the audience respond to it, even though I would have done the opposite? It's a conundrum. I pretty much think it would be cool for anybody to direct any of my plays. Literally. Like, some fifteen year old kid doing it would be awesome.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
Snakes, aging poorly, something awful happening to someone I love, getting the grade of food poisoning again that I brought back from Vegas last year, disappointing anyone, acne never going away, ending up on the street, skydiving. I can and will write about all of them. Except maybe that last one, as a bunch of smartie-pants here in Vancouver just beat me to it.

There's nothing I can't write about. Seriously. Throw me something, I'll write about it, with a direct and brutal honesty.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?

See above.

And my mom, who passed away 2 years ago. The least that woman deserves is a play.

And every one of those plays that I witness every day as I move through my city. Theatre is everywhere, most of it is free.

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Hrm. I guess it would be a pretty middle-of-the-road, middle-class search-for-the-meaning-in-life dramatic realism piece with a smattering of low-brow comedy, a couple of brief forays into science-fiction and spiritualism in the second act, just a couple of scenes of tragedy which buoy the work thematically, and mercifully only a few brief glimpses of horror, mostly off-stage.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?

With an unquenchable curiosity, equally weighted. I crave feedback and discussion on my work, and on any work that I witness, for that matter. It took a long time and a lot of hard work to be able to hear the value in both without my ego flaring up and getting in the way of all the good stuff, and even more to be able to either incorporate it into the work or discard it. But I'm glad I did, because it's helped my work tremendously. These are, after all, the opinions of the people we're writing for, and damn rights I want to hear them. Just like I always really want to spout my own opinions. If theatre isn't a dialogue between artist and witness, then what is it? It's supposed to spur discourse, it's supposed to stir emotion, and if you can't hear the other side of the conversation, well, that's just a shame. A real shame.

What I have a very hard time dealing with is indifference. It makes me furious enough to throw things at other things.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Starting right in my own backyard and moving outward in concentric rings to the rest of the universe. I believe very deeply that theatre by its very nature is about our communities, by and for the people that are in the room with the art as it's being expressed. And its buttressing and growth needs to begin in our own immediate neighbourhood. I have a dream about Black Box theatres dotting our communities like convenience stores (convenience theatres?), each of them telling their own stories. As theatre grows again into a common language we should begin to discuss the mechanisms and politics of our larger communities, our cities, our provinces, our countries, the world. But as of now I write for and about the people that come to my shows, in their city, at their time in history. I want my audience leaving saying 'holy shit, I get that. More please'.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
I write everywhere, but I do my best writing in the shower for some reason. Anyone else like that? I'm always leaving a soggy trail to my desk to get an idea or a line of dialogue down before it disappears back into the ether. As for pen or keyboard; a whole lotta both. A small, well-constructed notebook is on my person at all times, along with a medium-tipped fountain pen, which I tell people I carry because it's easier on my wrist when I'm writing a lot, but in truth it's because I like cool gear and a beautiful pen makes me want to use it. The notebook is for ideas in the moment, the laptop is for putting it all together.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
At this point I am going to establish a first for Umbrella Talk, and shamelessly crib my answer for this question from a previous interviewee; the delightful playwright Leeana Brodie. I do this for three reasons: 1. because all good writers are thieves, 2. because her answer was perfect and I can think of nothing else that could possibly fit in this space, and 3. if you're into the twitter thing you will know this as a 're-tweet', and you will understand that it is the highest compliment you can pay someone in your own sphere. And so...

"In writing with humour and insight of a varied and distinctive panoply of characters, [Ogden] showed an infectious compassion for all, without pity or sentiment for any. That is why audiences still love to see [his] plays, and actors still love to play them.

They also single-handedly created world peace, which most people see as a plus."

Thanks Leeana. Literally could not have said it better myself.

What inspires you?
This desperate need to see theatre restored to its rightful place in our culture, attendant as that entertainment option which challenges and pierces through our thick skin and goes directly to the heart, which keeps it as the only record of its ever having existed.

Good manners and direct honesty, married.

Lovely design. God is truly in the details.

The science and language of music, without which I see no point in continuing to live.

A well-crafted Kentucky Bourbon, with a couple of rocks.