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.