Friday, April 30, 2010

Umbrella Talk with Beverley Cooper

In this week's long-delayed Umbrella Talk (long story), Beverley Cooper talks about opening nights, her favourite directors and inspirational women.

A Little More About Beverley Cooper

Beverley has written for theatre, TV and film. Beverley’s writing for theatre includes Thin Ice (co-written with Banuta Rubess) – Dora and Chalmer’s Awards, published by Playwrights Canada Press), Clue in the Fast Lane (co-written with Ann-Marie MacDonald), the critically acclaimed The Eyes of Heaven (soon to be published by Scirocco Press) and The Woman in White (adapted from the novel by Wilkie Collins) which was produced at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton in 2008. Her play Innocence Lost: A Play about Steven Truscott was a sold out hit at the Blyth Festival in both 2008 and 2009 and was recently nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award. Innocence Lost is published by Scirocco Press. This past November Beverley was invited to speak and read from Innocence Lost at the 2009 Women Playwrights International conference in Mumbai, India.

She has written extensively for CBC radio drama; both original dramas and adaptations. Her adaptation of Rohinton Mistry’s epic novel A Fine Balance and her original drama It Came from Beyond! both earned her nominations for a Writer’s Guild of Canada Award. She worked as the story editor on the award winning radio series Afghanada, as well as producing the second season and directing five episodes. She has dramatized the following books for radio: Alias Grace, Away, The Secret World of Og (Silver Medal Award Winner - New York Festival - International Radio Awards) and The Englishman’s Boy. Other original dramas include the hugely popular series The Super Adventures of Mary Marvelous and several episodes of Hartfedt Saskatewan. Beverley’s television writing credits include episodes of Ready or Not, Sesame Park and Street Legal. She has also written a film script entitled The Partly True Adventures of Pearl Heart.

Beverley trained as an actor at Studio 58 in Vancouver, and has performed in TV, film and in theatres across the country. Beverley is a member of PEN Canada: an organization that assists writers around the world who are persecuted for the peaceful expression of their ideas. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

What do you drink on opening night?
Before the show I like to go out for dinner with supportive (this part is very important) family and friends and have a glass or two of wine to dull my nerves and give me a false sense of confidence. Over the dinner there has to be lots of chat about how successful the play is going to be as well as yummy food eaten. After the show I hold a glass of whatever someone puts in my hand - usually feeling a bit stunned and shell shocked as I "meet the people". Then later on those same supportive friends (I have very nice friends) might open a bottle of champagne - the real deal - and we will raise a glass and talk about what an extraordinary night in the theatre it was. I find that the right amount of drink will keep me in a bubble of denial quite well. But not too much.

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
I have been so lucky with the directors I have worked with. My absolute favourites are Miles Potter, Maureen White and Gina Wilkinson. They all have great minds and work me hard which is important with a first production. Each brings strong ideas to the table, but listen to my thoughts and make me laugh. As an actor I have really enjoyed working with Michael Shamata and he has given me wonderful dramaturgy over the years so I would definitely have to throw him into the mix. As well as being terrific directors, all of these folks are valued friends as well. The fact that we have worked together on new plays and remained friends is remarkable. However, if I had to choose one director right now I would have to say Maureen White because she lives in Dublin, Ireland and we don't get to see one another very often.

What scares you? What can't you write about?
I don't mind writing about dark places but there has to be some hope in the end for me. There has to be some redemption. Maybe that's because I have children and I can't imagine with a world without hope. I know that world exists - the world without hope - I just can't write about it.

What do you want to write about that you haven't yet?
I have about 5 writing ideas floating around my brain at any given time. They're kind of like the Lotto balls - I'm not sure which one is going to pop out. I have always been fascinated about the world of diplomats. I am currently developing a series for CBC radio drama called "The Diplomat's Wife".

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
I am very fond of satire. So it would probably be a satire of a blond/playwright/hockey mom's middle class life with dark and sad undertones. And, of course, lots of witty jokes.

How do you deal with praise? With criticism?
Not too well. Who does deal with it well? I don't think I'd trust a human who said it comes easily. Criticism burns and hangs around like a bad odour for years. Even with praise I find it hard to believe. Although there are times, when I have a loss of confidence, when I can recall hints of real praise and it can help me get on with my day.

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Everywhere. Big and small. I have a special fondness for the downstairs theatre at Berkeley. I like watching theatre in that space as well as performing in it. It's a good size. And it's got a particular "theatre smell" that I'm quite fond of.

Where do you write? Pen or keyboard?
First thing I do when I start a play is buy a new notebook. It's my favourite part of the whole process I think. Then I write down all my thoughts in pen. Once I start the business of writing I tap away on my iMac keyboard. Then I make notes on a hard copy of the script in pencil, ready for the next draft. And I use lots of stickies.

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
I would like to be remembered for four or five really good plays that got produced a lot and touched people in a significant way.

What inspires you?
Women like June Callwood and Margaret Atwood; writers who wrote/write wonderful words yet manage(d) to find time to raise children and save the world. My friends and family who support me. Watching, listening, reading the work of great artists. I am reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver right now. It's a thrilling novel. But, you know, I can be inspired by just seeing good acting or a newspaper article.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Garfoose

I am well aware of the irony of writing about someone who I only know through Twitter on the first day of my Twitter fast. However, since today was the day I had hoped to meet him, the story needs to be told now.

See, I had planned by this time to have read pitcher Dirk Hayhurst's book The Bullpen Gospels and spend this afternoon at the Chapters near the stadium at his book signing. I was then going to go to the Jays home opener. However, my non-income situation (hopefully changing very soon) means I haven't yet read the book and I'm not going to the game. I thought about going to the signing anyway and just observing, something I like doing with people who fascinate me but I wouldn't be home in time to catch the start of the game, and that's something that's important to me too.

So instead of being there, I want to talk about why I'm fascinated and why you should follow him on Twitter and get his book. You don't need to be a baseball fan to enjoy his writing because on top of everything else he's also studying media during the off-season.

The way he's using Twitter is incredible (@TheGarfoose). At times he's used it to raise money for causes important to him (KIVA and Haitan relief) and to raise awareness about autism, an area his wife does work in. Currently a lot of his tweets is around his new book - retweeting comments by people who like it (and sometimes don't), linking to reviews, and publicizing his signings. Other times he runs contests, usually when he hits follower milestones. Occasionally he'll share what he's doing, what he's watching, asking for help with an essay, stuff that all of us do every once and a while. He's actually pretty geeky, with a love of superheroes and a penchant to make silly videos. And then there's my favourite times when he lets his imagination run wild and he tells stories about the real origins of his teammates or the adventures of the Garfoose and Ray Halladay, the evil left handed brother (born in a Russian science lab) to my fave pitcher Roy Halladay.

This article gives you a pretty rounded sense of the man. And he totally endeared himself to me when he wrote this incredibly beautiful ode to Roy Halladay. Doesn't name him, doesn't need to. Doing it that way just adds to the poignancy of the piece.

I've described Roy in the past as a poet with the baseball. How does Dirk see pitching as art? He was asked recently and said this:
GY: Pitching is a craft. Writing is a craft. Obviously they are not the same, but I imagine there are some similarities in terms of preparation, process, etc. What skills from one arena have you been able to apply to the other?

DH: Oddly, the two don't seem to share anything for me, and I like it that way. I like writing because it is a complete escape from pitching. I control all the letters and words and can assemble them any way I like. With pitching, however, I have to let go of the ball, at which point I no longer have any say in the matter—good or bad. I know there are many arguments for both being an art form, and I suppose that's true in some cases. Yet, I don't know many painters who are called in to get the starting painter out of a jam with runners on base.

One thing writing has taught me about pitching is how small pitching is. I've said things along the lines of this, but it's true. Writing about baseball is a great way to put thoughts and feelings which seem so large and overwhelming into the confines of small, unremarkable print. Seeing events, whether big or small, in words lets me look at them more objectively. Writing has the power to diffuse and explode things, a power I use frequently.
What amazes me the most about him is his openness and honesty, his willingness to share his down times with all these strangers. I find that so difficult to do, even among friends (heck, I'm having a hard time just writing this post - I've been working on it on and off ALL day) and here is this guy sharing his trials and tribulations alongside his joie de vive and active imagination. He's someone who isn't an either/or. Baseball AND writing. Responsible adult AND big kid. I know that reading the book will tell me how he got to this point but right now I'm just so impressed that he IS there. I wasn't when I was his age. It probably has something to do with the pressure cooker that is professional baseball.

A few months ago he found out he would have to undergo shoulder surgery. For someone who had finally managed to achieve his dream, this was cruel fate indeed. And he shared his fears with us. The support he got from the "Garfooslings" demonstrates how powerful social media can be.

In the end, he realizes he can make a difference in people's lives, mostly by being himself. In his words:
That's what I wrote about: the balance of things, the value of our dreams, the time we have to chase them, and their hard price in reality. Of fantasy and a sometimes blindly ignored set of facts. And of what it's like to come through it all with more than just soppy clothes and a beaming smile, but perspective culled from our terminal competition with time. I discovered we are all more valuable then what we accomplish in our profession—Big or minor league—and I shared it as best I could.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Social Media Burnout

I am taking a week's retreat from Facebook and Twitter.

Lately, I've been finding it harder and harder to get motivated to do things that are priorities to me. I spend hours reading tweets and the linking articles, a lot of which have to do with social media. I'm also feeling less connection with working on Facebook. I'm finding that I don't have much to say. Combine this with a week where it's been extremely difficult to connect to Twitter (Rogers, I'm blaming you), I've decided that it would be best for me to take a break. I plan to refocus and get moving on these things that are important to me. My life is undergoing a big shift and this seems a good time to recalibrate. I hope I'll come back refreshed and ready to engage again.

Any messages sent me by DM on Twitter or by mail on Facebook end up in my inbox, so I can still be reached if you need me. Part of the plan is to devote more time to blogging so I'm hoping I'll have a couple of posts for you this week. This is the only time I'll break the fast, to let you know it's here.

And now, to keep a promise. This Friday and Saturday, the incomparable Sharron Matthews is doing a fundraiser for her World Domination Tour at Buddies. Details are here. Sharron's a fantastic cabaret performer and full marks for her for taking the risk internationally. Because of what she does she couldn't get funding so this is all on her dime. I know how hard that is. If you're not in Toronto you can still help, whether its throwing some money her way or having ways to help her out in NY and Edinburgh. Please help her out any way you can, for she is a wonderful soul who deserves her shot.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Umbrella Talk with Drew Carnwath

This is the second of two Umbrella Talks we're doing to support the Playwrights of Spring festival in Aurora which runs May 5-15. Playwrights of Spring’s goal is to support and encourage the development of new voices in theatre, particularly those of writers. Now in its fourth year, new scripts are solicited by playwrights in Ontario and are juried by three theatre professionals, one of whom is the Festival Dramaturge. From those scripts, the jurists (Readers) select the best two evenings of theatre that perform for one week each.

In this week's Umbrella Talk, Drew Carnwath talks about the music that inspires him, the director he wishes existed, and the stuff he doesn't dare write.

A Little More about Drew Carnwath

Drew is a Toronto-based playwright, screenwriter & performer. A former member of Tarragon Theatre Playwrights' Unit, his plays (Grace and After, Total Body Washout, Killer) have been produced across North America and published by Playwrights Canada Press. A graduate of The Canadian Film Centre, Drew is currently working on adapting 2 of his plays into feature films (Hide and Seek, Johnnyville). Most recently Drew just finshed producing and directing Vanishing World for the Discovery Channel. Upcoming: his play Virgin Tears won first prize at Playwrights of Spring and as a result will get a workshop production at Theatre Aurora.

What do you drink on opening night?
"Whatvever you're having."

Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays?
If John Sayles and Kathryn Bigelow had a love child, THAT child.

What scares you?
Right now? Not being able to answer this questionnaire.
Tomorrow? Reading my answers.
Real answer: anything bad happening to anyone I love. Seriously, I get friends and family to call me after travelling to the corner store.

What can't you write about?
Umm... I can't write about being a writer, evidently. There are some stories from my own past - true stories - so horrific and embarrassing that, even if I changed the names, dates and places...Everyone would still figure it out.

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

If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror)
Biography... on ice! Drew's-Capades! "And here he comes with the much-vaunted triple SOW COW...'

How do you deal with praise?
Just fine, thank you SO much... now tell me about my eyes.

With criticism?
To heart, with a dash of salt

Where would you like your work to be produced?
Nature abhors a vacuum, so I'd be happy to be produced just about anywhere. Hey, we already know I can be bought... we just haven't negotiated the price yet...

Where do you write?
Anyplace there's a surface ...and sometimes, even, without that.

Pen or keyboard?
Pen for sure - first drafts are always on paper, 8.5 x 14 long legal paper. I don't fire up the keyboard til the very last...

What would you like academics to write about your work in 50 years?
"He had fine incisors, a natural grip, a sliding fastball, fallen arches, and a winning disposition."

What inspires you?
Music. Always. Both inspiration and influence. London Calling. Lifes Rich Pageant. Grace. Mass Romantic. Peer Gynt Suite. Shakespeare My Butt. Songs in the Key of Life. The Bends... Al Green... Elvis Costello...Early Who... Dusty Springfield... Neko Case...