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!