PGC's Q & A with Playwrights Theatre Centre
Heidi Taylor, Incoming Artistic and Executive Director at Playwrights Theatre Centre is interviewed by Playwrights Guild of Canada about what playwrights can expect when they work with Playwrights Theatre Centre, PTC’s various programs, and details on an exciting upcoming workshop on “How to Submit a Play” that Heidi will be heading at PGC on May 24, 2012 during a visit to Toronto.
On May 28, Heidi has also organized a cabaret in Toronto featuring PGC members Joan Kivanda, Florence Gibson MacDonald, Robert Plowman, Elyne Quan, Andrew Templeton, José Teodoro, and David Yee—so mark your calendars and come out for the fun!
1. How do playwright development centres fit into Canadian theatre ecology?
I think the play development centres are a sort of underground stream that feeds Canadian theatre across the country. The movement of writers between centres helps keep ideas circulating at an early stage. We have allegiances to our local communities and connect nationally through the PDCC, and other national networks and organizations like LMDA. We share critical questions about how to develop work, whose work is being developed, and what the development and producing climate is like across the country.
2. What is Playwrights Theatre Centre’s mandate?
PTC is a dramaturgically-focused theatre company that finds, nurtures, and advances the Canadian playwright. We develop new plays from creation to performance.
3. What services does Playwrights Theatre Centre offer to playwrights? Can you speak a bit about some of the various programs you offer, such as the Dramaturgical Reading Program, PTC’s Writer’s Colony, Writers Block Programs, the Associates, and special workshops? How does each program differ from one another?
As a dramaturgically-focused theatre company, our programs are focused towards professional writers—at any stage of their practice. We curate our development programs, The PTC Associates and the PTC Writers’ Colony, to create long-lasting creative relationships with writers whose artistic vision excites us. Those programs are by application—the next call for the Colony will be out in May 2012, the call for the PTC Associates is January 2013. We aim to contribute substantially to a writer’s process—our dramaturgical skills are the fundamental resource we offer.
To find the writers whom we can best support, we engage with the playwriting community through our access programs, the Writers Blocks and the Dramaturgical Reading Program (DRP). Our Writers Blocks are 8-10 session programs, led by PTC staff or professionals from the community. They develop skills for emerging writers, from nuts and bolts writing questions to self-producing. The DRP is a fee-for-service script report program. I match scripts with local dramaturgs, who give professional assessments of the plays. That program can be accessed nationally. We also support alumni of our professional development programs as they form their own companies and writing groups, through use of our meeting space, references, and advice on professional strategy.
4. a) Tell PGC’s members a bit about what PTC Associates do during their three year term at Playwrights Theatre Centre?
The PTC Associates each develop a personal dramaturgical relationship with me, while collegial meetings stimulate cross-pollination between the writers. I support their writing process, and then help design the development process for that writing—setting up workshops, casting, planning relationships with other creators. While we’re focused on one main project, we support the writer as a whole, so we may do a reading of another project, and we publicize the Associates’ ongoing activities through our newsletter. The Associates attend a week long writing residency at Caravan Farm Theatre, and PTC supports production matching in the final year of the program.
b) The next deadline for the Associates program at PTC is JANUARY 2013. Who should apply?
We are looking for Vancouver and area playwrights who have a solid idea for a script, and an interest in dramaturgical collaboration to develop it. We’re not tied to a particular development process, and we support work from emerging to established writers. Writers who want to grow their process and their connections to the community will really enjoy the program.
5. Can you talk a bit about what playwrights can expect when they work with Playwrights Theatre Centre?
That’s hard to do—it’s an individual relationship. I ask writers to think broadly, to consider new methods, and to trust me to witness their processes from very early on. In return, I hope we generate a very rich creative environment where risk is supported, and where community is nurtured. I hope every playwright at the end of a process with PTC feels empowered and emboldened to share their vision, and that they have the tools and support to move into production.
6. On May 24, 2012, you will be coming to PGC’s headquarters in Toronto to give a workshop on “How to Submit a Play,” which will be full of great submission tips and helpful notes on the process of how to get your plays into the right hands. Can you give us a sneak peek on your thoughts on this topic? What other workshops does PTC offer to playwrights in Vancouver?
I’m very happy to meet with writers about this topic, because from the other side of the submission pile, it can be frustrating when writers don’t represent their own work well, or when people go to some effort doing things that seem thoughtful, but actually waste a lot of time for people processing applications. Plastic folders, staples, fancy paper, coloured ink… there are a lot of ways to make one’s work stand out, but these ain’t it. Online submissions create their own sets of questions, as well. So we’ll analyze some calls for submission, and have opportunities to critique each others’ cv and synopsis. It’s all about identifying who your audience is, and tailoring the submission to that reader. PTC doesn’t offer a lot of one-off workshops—we focus our activities on our core mission, and partner when possible with service organizations whose mandate is focused towards professional development.
7. What is the greatest advice you’ve heard given to a playwright?
Tom Cone, in his acceptance speech for his Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts from the City of Vancouver, encouraged all the artists in the room to support each other—to see visual art, contemporary dance, new music, new theatre, opera… Let your mind be expanded by all kinds of cultural forms and expression. I try to take that advice, and I think it’s essential for writers, too.
I would add advice for dramaturgs, to always ask the question, “What if the playwright is right,” which I learned from DD Kugler.
It’s particularly important when things are confusing or impenetrable. A script needs room for the production, it needs some unanswered or unanswerable conundrums to keep it alive.
PHOTO CREDIT: C. McLaine
PGC also chatted with two of our members who are part of the Associate Program at PTC to find out a bit more what it is like to be an Associate at PTC and some details about the plays they have been working on:
JORDAN HALL: I'm one of six Associates in PTC's inaugural program, and for me the real benefit of the Associates, (besides the amazing support for my work) is the community. Coming in, I was new to Vancouver, and very much the junior artist in the room. The program was an opportunity to meet my new peers, engage in communal discussions about how we create theatre, and to develop a sense of the ecology of theatre in Vancouver, and how I might fit into that. In many ways our meetings are like masterclasses—I have access to a pool of artistic experience that I can take with me into my own work.
My project for PTC is a play called Travelling Light, about a particle physicist who vanishes, and the effect that has on his research partner, who begins a desperate search for him while trying to finish their research. It's about our relationship as a culture to scientific ideas and the concept of genius, and I spent most of my first year in the program doing the preliminary research for it. It's by far the most ambitious piece I've ever attempted, both in the scope of its themes and the way I want to marry theatrical spectacle to the underlying ideas, and the support of the PTC has been invaluable in terms of my ability to undertake a piece of this size. PTC has provided me with space to write, financial support, dramaturgical support (from Heidi, who's pretty much the sharpest person you'll ever get to talk to), letters of reference, writing retreats, guidance in terms of finding producing partners, and the support of the other Associates and the whole PTC community. Writing of any kind is a lonely endeavour, so it's wonderful to feel like you've got people who are excited and rooting for you.
To order Red or Kayak by Jordan Hall, visit www.playwrightsguild.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
TIM CARLSON: There are writing deadlines, of course, but the ones I face in the Associates program are quite different than the self-imposed ones I face as a largely self-producing playwright. In the PTC program there is solid support over the course of three years so there's more flexibility than usual to experiment, re-think and let concept and scenes build in an organic state of mind, without producing pressures having undo influence. Plus, there's excellent feedback from Heidi and conversation with a wildly diverse talent pool in the program.
The play I have been working on, Nine Tenths, follows the development of a play, also titled Nine Tenths and has received two PTC workshops to date. Early drafts followed the interpersonal relationships of the playwright, director and two actors over three months. How and why we stay in relationships—should we settle for the nine-tenths that work, or keep searching for the missing one-tenth?—formed the core question both inside and outside the rehearsal hall. The next draft will focus exclusively on the lives of the two actors.
BIO: Tim Carlson is artistic director of Vancouver's Theatre Conspiracy. He is writing the new play Nine Tenths in the Associates program at PTC. His previous plays include Omniscience and Diplomacy (both published by Talonbooks). Theatre Conspiracy was recently awarded the $60,000 Rio Tinto Alcan Performing Arts Award for the development of Extraction, which will premiere at the Cultch in Vancouver in 2013. Visit www.conspiracy.ca