PGC's Q&A with Andrew Moodie
Playwrights Guild of Canada caught up with playwright, director, actor and screenwriter Andrew Moodie. He talks about his work interviewing playwrights for the Playwrights Legends Library Project, how acting and playwriting intersect, his love for theatre history, and why he doesn't live by any quotes.
1. You have conducted a number of interviews with playwrights as part of the Playwrights Legends Library Project. How did you get involved with the project? Could you tell us the story behind it?
I have been involved with the Canadian Theatre Museum for a long time. And I know Michael Wallace really well. We would bump into each other, and when he suggested I interview people, I loved the idea.
2. What was it like interviewing these theatre luminaries? What sorts of questions were you most eager to ask them?
When I was a kid, reading all those plays from European playwrights, and American playwrights, I would wonder what it would have been like to know them, to hang out with them. What amazes me, every day I work in theatre, is that some of our greatest playwrights are still alive, and walking among us. I’ve been blessed to have known a few of them, and I just want the interviews to go on and on for hours because I want to ask them about everything. But the question I’m most eager to ask them has to do with their approach to writing. If they structure, how do they structure. And what advice they have for young writers. I'm always looking for pro tips.
3. You seem to be quite fascinated by the history of Canadian theatre. Could you tell us about a particular story or anecdote that was told to you during these interviews that you feel played a pivotal moment in our history?
Too many stories. I’ll mention one, but there have been many. Linda Griffiths working with Paul Thompson on Maggie and Pierre. It was one of the first super star Canadian theatre productions that crossed the border into America, and was a huge hit across Canada.
4. You are an actor and director as well as a playwright. How do those other roles inform your work as a playwright?
Yes, absolutely. I try to make sure that I give an actor a reason to enter the stage, and a reason to leave. One of the big questions actors have for playwrights is ‘What am I doing in this scene.’ And if I have a stage direction like, ‘The sun explodes and all the characters turn into drops of water and become mist’, I want to give the director something to understand visually what I’m going for and a hint to how to achieve that vision practically, without stomping on the director’s creativity.
And being a writer has really informed my acting and directing. That’s why I started writing in the first place. I was an actor and I wanted to understand the experience of writing so that I could better understand what a writer wanted from an actor. When I was young, I was certain that I knew that a writer wanted an actor to do extensive preparation, and to do tons of research, and to work really hard at transforming themselves, and I hated what I thought were lazy actors who didn’t do the work that I thought the writer wanted. And you become a writer and you realize that different actors have different approaches to acting, and someone could walk in off the street with no training and they could be perfect for the role, and you could have Marlon Brando come back from the dead, and he would transform himself and he’d put on an accent, and he would not be right for the role. He would create a great performance, but he might not be right for the role.
It’s more complicated than that. Frustratingly so. Some days I wish art was just as simple as building a cabinet. And as a director, I am sympathetic to playwrights, but I now understand why they want to cut your favourite scene. Layne Coleman, years ago, wanted to cut one of my scenes, and I freaked out, and he was right, I was wrong, and I wish I could go back in time and do exactly as he asked, but you can’t.
5. You were recently commissioned by the Great Canadian Theatre Company. What play are you working on for them? Why this play?
It’s a play about Afghanistan and Canadian soldiers. I’ve been wanting to write something about Afghanistan for a while. When Canadians talk about our soldiers and Afghanistan, I find people don’t really know why we went there, and what is happening, so I wanted to communicate something about that.
6. Many authors have a favorite inspirational quote above their desk or something inscribed in a cherished notebook to keep their muse flowing and to drive their positive energies forward. What fuels your creativity? Please share one of the quotes that has kept you going as a writer.
I have no quotes that inspire me as a writer. None. And if I came across a really good inspirational quote, I would be so jealous that I would hate the writer who came up with it, and never use it.
I have no idea what fuels my creativity, but it never stops. I have too many stories in my head, and too many characters I’d love to play, and too many plays I’d love to direct. More than a lifetime’s worth.
But it’s dangerous. Getting lost in imaginary worlds can cut you off from the real world that you live in, and your family, and your friends. Years can go by.
I’ve wanted to hang out with Randy Hughson for years, just like in the old days back in Ottawa, but something always comes up. He just had a kid, and I’ve had kids, and I don’t want life to fade away with all I have to show for it is the product of my imagination. So Randy… whatcha doing this weekend?
Ontario-based actor/playwright/director Andrew Moodie began his playwriting career in 1995 with his first play, Riot.
As an actor he has performed in countless productions all across the country. Some selected credits include; Our Country's Good, Better Living, The Second Sheppard’s Play ( Great Canadian Theatre Company), Macbeth, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Amadeus (Stratford), Whale, Alice, Pinocchio, In the Field of Dreams, the Nelson Mandela Story, ( Young People's Theatre ) Health Class (Dora Award), The Incredible Speediness of Jamie Cavanaugh ( Roseneath Theatre) Nathan the Wise, and Hamlet ( Soulpepper) Master Harold and the Boys (Prairie Theatre Exchange), Othello (Dora Nomination) (Shakespeare in the Rough)
His theatre writing credits include: Riot, Factory Theatre, 1995, directed by Layne Coleman. (1996 Chalmers Award for Best New Play). It has since been performed in Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. Oui, Factory Theatre, 1998. Wilbur County Blues, Blythe Festival, 1998. A Common Man's Guide to Loving Women, jointly produced by Canadian Stage and the National Arts Centre, 1999, and has since been performed in Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax and Vancouver. The Lady Smith, Passe Muraille 2000, also remounted in Montreal. The Real McCoy, Factory Theatre 2007, 2008, and has since been performed in Ottawa and will be mounted in St. Louis in 2011. And finally Toronto the Good, Factory Theatre 2009 which was nominated for a Dora award for Best New Play.
His directing credits include For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, the Corner, and The Real McCoy.
His television writing credits include an episode of Drop The Beat and his radio credits include Afghanada (WGC award) for CBC.
His play The Real McCoy will be presented on 4th Line Theatre’s outdoor barnyard stages in Millbrook Ontario from August 5 – 24. This play is based on the true life story of Elijah McCoy, the extraordinary black inventor who was born in Canada to runaway slaves in 1844. A leading expert in the field of thermo-dynamics, McCoy revolutionized steam engine travel and earned 57 patents, many of them still in use today. His life was marred by tragedy but his name became an expression of authenticity.