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.