PGC's Interview with AGM Readers
Playwrights Guild of Canada held our AGM from June 1-3 in Winnipeg and it was a great success. Thank you to all PGC members who were able to attend – it was so great to see you all there. In celebration of PGC’s 40th anniversary, we had some exciting events planned for the AGM, including a Women’s Caucus Meeting and Cocktail Mixer where PGC member Talia Pura gave a powerful reading, and a Reading Cabaret at Aqua Books hosted by Vern Thiessen, where PGC members Ken Cameron, Rick Chafe, Lisa Codrington, James Durham, Hope McIntyre, and Stephen Orlov read and wowed the audience with excerpts of their work.
In order to celebrate such amazing readings, PGC touched base with all of the performers and asked them a few questions about being PGC members in celebration of PGC’s 40th anniversary, and chatted about their creative processes around playwriting.
1. How long have you been a member of PGC?
RICK CHAFE: No idea. Since sometime around the close of the last century.
LISA CODRINGTON: I have been a member since 2005.
JAMES DURHAM: Six years.
HOPE MCINTYRE: I joined as an Associate Member about twelve years ago.
STEPHEN ORLOV: I think about twenty-two years, more or less.
TALIA PURA: I’m not sure—more than five years, less than ten—I think!
RICK CHAFE: Pretty much the existence of people who call themselves playwrights in Canada. The production of Canadian plays in Canadian theatres. The beginnings days now of Canadian plays in theatres beyond Canadian borders. A genuine, useful and enforceable contract with Canadian theatres. Ten percent royalties. The existence of Playwrights Canada Press and probably all other publishers of Canadian plays as well. Colleagues, collegiality, contacts, networks. Advocacy, information, mentorship, education.
I highly doubt I would still be writing plays if PGC had never existed.
LISA CODRINGTON: It means having a place to ask questions and get support.
JAMES DURHAM: It means that I have a community of artists with a shared vision of Canadian playwriting.
HOPE MCINTYRE: For me it is about both community and advocacy. Being a member means I am part of a network of other playwrights, rather than toiling in complete isolation. I also believe that my membership allows me to be part of a national voice for playwrights represented by PGC.
STEPHEN ORLOV: Membership in PGC isn't merely a stamp of professional status. I've always felt that good company is a far more powerful and inspiring force than individual willpower. That's true as much in personal relations as with collective bargaining, and PGC gives me both.
TALIA PURA: It means that I can feel supported in my journey as a playwright. I also have access to submission calls and news affecting playwrights in Canada.
3. What do you do when writer’s block comes to town?
RICK CHAFE: Pass.
LISA CODRINGTON: Go for a really long walk.
JAMES DURHAM: I leave town.
HOPE MCINTYRE: When I have time, I go for a walk to clear my head and also just ruminate about the play. In reality though I’m often working with such a tight timeframe in which I can write, so I force myself to work through it. I just keep typing, almost like a free-flow exercise, and hope that what comes up works even if I wasn’t feeling inspired.
STEPHEN ORLOV: I don't have a magic pill. I certainly can't think my way out of it. The simple answer is to write a bit every day no matter what comes out, for it's the act of writing that knocks down the psychological wall, but that's easier said than done. That's why deadlines help me immensely. Even if I don't have a workshop or production timeline in sight, sometimes sharing my writing with others I respect, even just brainstorming a bit, gets it out of the head, lets it breathe and helps me work with a new hit of energy and emotional focus.
TALIA PURA: I usually have more than one project on the go, so a block in one simply makes me turn to another for a time. Also, I work really well to deadlines, so even if I don’t have an external one, I create an internal deadline, and try to stick to it. It keeps me working and on track.
4. Most inspiring moment as a playwright?
RICK CHAFE: Lots. Pick one.
The moment I experience at least once every rehearsal period, but the one I remember is the first day, my first produced play, Talk to Me! Talk to Me! co-written with Bruce McManus and Norm Dugas, Prairie Theatre Exchange rehearsal hall... actors Mariam Bernstein, Darryl Baron, Stuart Carmichael and Susan... (sorry Susan, forgotten your last name), are working out the initial blocking and I have this out of body experience, watching it all from somewhere above and fifty feet away, thinking, “these people are actually treating this ludicrous scene I've written seriously... everyone in this room is having way too much fun... I am actually being paid to do what I've been doing for free since I was two years old? Ba ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!"
The moment (and many when you're really lucky) in every rehearsal when someone—an actor, director, designer, prop builder, lighting tech—comes up with some way to do something you've written that's a thousand times better than anything you had in mind when you typed the words.
The moment in every performance, mine or anyone else's, before the performance, when the lights go down to black, and for one moment everything's perfect, and everything's possible, and no matter what we know, we still don't know what we might see tonight.
LISA CODRINGTON: Seeing my play Cast Iron performed for school children in Barbados.
JAMES DURHAM: The most inspiring moment is when the director and the actors realize your vision of the play.
HOPE MCINTYRE: I don’t know if this is the most inspiring, but certainly the most recent to remind me of why playwriting is important was with a monologue I wrote for International Women’s Week. It was based on an aboriginal woman who was willing to sit down with me and share her story. She is a recovering alcoholic and the process was inspiring for both of us. Although hesitant at first, it was clear that sharing her story was liberating. I was honoured to be entrusted with it and felt inspired to put pen to paper in order to do justice to her struggle. She brought her children to the performance of the piece and not only did having the piece performed have a powerful effect on her and her children, it touched many others.
STEPHEN ORLOV: I flew to London a month or so after 9-11 for the world premiere of Sperm Count, the second in my trilogy of plays about relations between the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas. America had just invaded Afghanistan, London was hot in protest, and I joined a hundred thousand demonstrators in Trafalgar Square. Despite the progressive theme of my play, the theatre received several bomb threats during rehearsals. My director, Julia Pascal, the first woman to direct at London's National Theatre, raised the alarm, but we all decided to go ahead with the production and opening night was magical. That evening I learned a lot more about why I'm a playwright.
TALIA PURA: Having an idea for a play that I can feel will be a good one. Waking up in the morning and realizing that I just dreamt an entire new script (it happens), then writing it down fast, before it’s gone. Touching the ‘send’ button on a finished project, to a destination waiting for it.
5. What’s your top trick to calm pre-reading jitters?
RICK CHAFE: Trick? There's a trick?
LISA CODRINGTON: I think pre-reading jitters are good, they keep you on your toes.
JAMES DURHAM: I tell myself I can’t forget my lines because they are right in front of me and that if I get them wrong anyway they are my lines, so it’s just another re-write.
HOPE MCINTYRE: Generally preparation is my one way to calm jitters. I take time to select the work to be read and read it out loud a few times beforehand. If I don’t feel prepared or haven’t had the time to do this then I rely on deep breathing.
STEPHEN ORLOV: I have some acting experience, so I'm usually not that nervous before a public reading. Holding that script in hand helps. My mantra is to just be natural during opening comments and trust my characters during the read. No tricks, but rehearsing well helps me relax beforehand and focus into character at the podium.
TALIA PURA: Just breathe. Being an actor really helps. I really don’t have any trouble with pre-reading jitters.
Rick Chafe's plays have been produced across Canada, most recently The Secret Mask, Beowulf, Shakespeare’s Dog, adapted from Leon Rooke’s Governor General’s Award-winning novel, The Odyssey, and Strike! The Musical co-written with Danny Schur (www.strikethemusical.com). Rick has also taught playwriting at every level of school and post-secondary. In collaboration with Yvette Nolan, he developed the Governor General’s Citation-winning Cross-Cultural Playwriting Program, which paired drama classes from Northern and Southern Manitoba in a year-long exchange project of visiting each other’s communities and collaboratively writing and performing a play based on the experience. The project has been successfully repeated six times. Rick is a Siminovitch Prize nominee and recipient of the Manitoba Arts Council 2011 Major Arts Award for his next work, NOLA, a play for two actors and a jazz trio. Rick is a member of the Prairie Theatre Exchange Playwrights Unit. He lives in Winnipeg with his wife, daughter, and two and a half cats.
Lisa Codrington is a playwright and actor based in Toronto. Most recently her play, The Aftermath was presented at Nightwood Theatre's New Groundswell Festival and currently she is playwright-in-residence at The Blyth Festival.
Hope McIntyre holds a BFA in performance and an MFA in directing. She is in her 13th year as Artistic Director of Sarasvàti Productions and teaches at the University of Winnipeg. She is a published playwright and has received awards and productions across Canada, the U.S. and Australia.
Stephen Orlov is a Montréal-based playwright, dramaturge, teacher and workshop animator. His plays have been showcased in Canada and in international theatre centres such as Chicago, London and New York City. He has served as president of Playwrights' Workshop Montréal, PGC Vice President and playwright-in-residence at the Centaur Theatre. Stephen currently serves on the executive committeesof Playwrights Guild of Canada and Playwrights Canada Press.
As a playwright, Talia Pura has had many productions, several publications, and a CBC radio drama commission. Recently, her inclusion in the Canadian Forces artists program has meant that much of her work has had a military theme. She has just made a short film, called Intel, and a feature film, Anywhere But Here, is in development. Her last play, Cry After Midnight, will receive a reading at the Women Playwrights International Conference in Stockholm in August, 2012.