PGC's Q & A with Chris Coculuzzi
Playwrights Guild of Canada talks to PGC member, Chris Coculuzzi about the importance of collaboration to the playwriting process, the importance of having a good publicist at a Fringe Festival and what draws him to historical charachters. Chris also discusses his new play, Piecing Together Pauline, which premieres at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival.
1. Give us a brief summary of your new play, Piecing Together Pauline, which is slated for this year’s Toronto Fringe?
A historical drama about the life of 19th century opera singer and composer Pauline Viardot who had an immense impact on many artist —Berlioz, Gounod, Meyerbeer, Liszt, Wagner, George Sand, and especially Ivan Turgenev—but is largely forgotten.
2. You co-authored this new work with Roxanne Deans. Do you find it easier to work with someone or alone?
I find it more valuable and authentic to the playwrighting process to collaborate. Anyone who has developed a script must acknowledge the immense value of directors, designers, dramaturgs, and actors to the writing process, not to mention all the other writers that provided research material. So why not start from the beginning with a collaborator? More importantly having a partner means you are responsible to another human for meeting deadlines and providing critical feedback. These are things that playwrights-in-residence are supported with, but for those of us with other responsibilities, such as families and other full-time employment, we have to create those supportive environments ourselves. It can be daunting if not impossible alone, but working together—building a sense of community—makes it possible.
3. How do you go about promoting a play at Fringe?
Hiring/knowing a good publicist.
4. What is the most inspiring part of participating in the Fringe?
Being a part of a celebration of Theatre - that art which is rooted in myth, ritual and community.
5. What is the biggest challenge of participating in the Fringe?
It depends on the show. I prefer to create large cast shows for Fringe because they are a bit of an anomaly—for obvious reasons. It is difficult to arrange rehearsals around the schedules of so many artists who are volunteering their time. And the lack of technical rehearsals becomes a HUGE obstacle for preparing the show.
6. Any words or advice to playwrights embarking on participating in a Fringe Festival for the first time?
Don’t get disappointed in either low turnout or bad reviews and don’t get an inflated ego if you win the patron’s pick or receive great reviews—just enjoy the celebration. Make sure to stop by the beer tent and raise a glass to all participants and try to see as many shows as you can in a demonstration of mutual support.
7. You seem particularly drawn to historical characters and adaptions, from your current work through Shakespeare’s Sports Canon and your adaptations of Dickens and Cyrano de Bergerac. What is it that draws you to figures from the past?
I think it has to do more with the musical quality of the verse/prose in Shakespeare and in a lot of 19th century fiction rather than specific figures from the past. I am not suggesting the musical qualities are the same or that there isn’t a musical quality in other writers and periods, just that I am drawn to the rhythms in Shakespeare and the 19th century. That said, I am also drawn to the romantic concept of writer as either court
jester or chronicler.
8. Many authors have a favourite inspirational quote above their desk or something inscribed in a cherished notebook to keep their muse flowing and to drive their positive energies forward. Please share one of the quotes that has kept you going as a writer.
I do not have an inspirational quote. What keeps me going as a writer is something I feel that is in everyone: the need to share stories in order to understand ourselves, our relationships, and find meaning and purpose in our brief lives.
Chris Coculuzzi has been producing, directing, performing, writing and educating in Toronto for twenty years. He was a co-founder and Artistic Producer of independent theatre company Upstart Crow Theatre Group from 1995-2005. From 2001-2005 he co-wrote and produced a series of five theatrical spectacles collectively called Shakespeare’s Sports Canon. The five plays are a hybrid of sports and environmental theatre that adapt the entire works of Shakespeare and premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival and are featured with University of Guelph’s Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare project. http://fireandairproductions.wordpress.com/writers/www.canadianshakespeares.ca and University of Victoria’s Internet Shakespeare Editions http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/. Other writing credits include an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities and Cyrano de Bergerac with Roxanne Deans.