PGC's SummerWorks Q&A
You can't say "summer" without saying SummerWorks! This year, many of PGC's members are involved in some way with the festival. We caught up with some playwrights whose shows you can catch starting August 8, and talk to them about about their plays.
SummerWorks is Ontario’s premier festival of cutting-edge professional theatre and a breeding ground for the mainstage shows of the future. What does it mean to you to have your play as part of SummerWorks 2013?
I am of course very pleased to have a show in Summerworks. For me, this is primarily an opportunity to work with Adam Lazarus, a theatre artist I admire. He approached me about an idea he had been developing, and we started talking and improvising and talking and eventually decided we should pursue the idea together. Over time and as our collaboration has developed, the idea has shifted, and it feels like something we are co-creating, though it is a solo show that Adam will perform. We decided we'd use Summerworks as a development opportunity, because it's the kind of piece that very much depends on contact/confrontation with an audience; it can't simply be developed on paper, at a table. I imagine that there will be another round of work on the piece after the festival, as we take what we learned from our run into a new 'draft'/version of the piece. We're very fortunate to have some superb collaborators — all of whom I've worked with before — as designers: Camie Koo, Michelle Ramsey, and Richard Feren. They feel, perhaps, a little high octane for where the piece is right now, but there's nothing like working with artists you know and respect. Adam has brought Aislinn Rose on as Producer, so we really have a fantastic team that is going to make it easy for Adam and me to concentrate on the work we have to do, and not get distracted by the many challenges that arise in festival settings.
When I wrote Eating Pomegranates Naked I knew I wanted it to get a mainstage production but couldn’t get any of the big theatre companies to look at it. When I expressed my frustration at this situation Paul Lampert suggested I enter the play into the Fringe or SummerWorks. I felt that SummerWorks was the best place for it after hearing a reading at the New Ideas Festival in 2012. A following reading at the Bcurrent rock paper sistahz festival that year had audience members suggesting I enter it into SummerWorks as well. When it actually got in I couldn’t breathe. I had convinced myself that it didn’t stand a chance. In short order I found a fantastic producer in Renna Reddie who produced Iceland the year before at SummerWorks. She helped me tremendously by guiding me on the right way to function in the new role of producer.
I had not planned to be a producer, it just happened when I was able to get Chapman’s Ice Cream to donate $500 worth of ice cream to the production. From there I was able to get a few more companies to support the show with in kind donations and that resulted in my ability to fundraise a significant amount to mount the show. I have learned a lot in this area because I’ve had to become more business minded without leaving the art behind completely. I now have a company called Call Me Scotty Productions which I plan on keeping in order to help produce future shows (Swings & Roundabouts and Frenemies) that I’m writing and working on for 2014. I have a registered business name, account, letterhead and PayPal account to process ad money that’s been coming in. The fact is it’s not enough to be ‘just’ an actor or playwright anymore. Diversification is not just for portfolios anymore.
I know what I have visualized with my play since the characters and scenes have lived in my head for three years but an important lesson has been ‘cutting the cord’. I am attached to Eating Pomegranates Naked but I have handed it over to director, Mumbi Tindyebwa (Nightmare Dream) to shepherd it to the next stage. I plan on attending very few rehearsals trusting that the outstanding cast and crew will produce something beautiful. The other lesson I’m learning is that I can’t do everything. I may think I can be a graphic designer, marketer, costume designer and doula for the play but I can’t. I am getting used to stepping back and breathing. For now my focus is producing, bringing in more money and promoting the show. My show is going to sell out so don’t forget to buy your tickets in advance ;)
The Ballad of Weedy Peetstrawwas created ten years ago when the artistic director of B.C.’s Caravan Farm Theatre, Estelle Shook, approached John Millard and myself with the idea of a bluegrass opera based on the Faust legend. For 35 years the Caravan has drawn artists of the highest caliber from across the country and yet its work, with a few exceptions (the NAC under Peter Hinton’s direction recently produced my plays Creation and Nativity), has not been seen in urban centers. So I couldn’t have been more pleased (and grateful, since they did the bulk of the self-producing work) when Estelle and John decided to mount a production this year for the Summerworks Festival with Jennifer Brewin (who already has experience translating Caravan shows to an urban setting: “The Story”) directing. I’m looking forward to seeing one of my Caravan plays (I’ve written fifteen for the company) showcased in Toronto at such an exciting festival.
Hm. I take issue with the idea that Summerworks is the premier festival of cutting-edge theatre. I mean Summerworks is great, but don’t forget Rhubarb! – a festival that I founded many, many years ago. Just kidding. But kinda…not. I think both Summerworks and Rhubarb! are important, because unlike The Fringe of Toronto they are adjudicated, and have standards. The Fringe Festival is great too, but it is what it is, a kind of free for all where everybody including your brother who thinks he is a standup comic can put on a show -- whereas Summerworks and Rhubarb! are festivals that have mandates and try to choose plays or performance art pieces that fit their mandates and have a certain theatrical excellence. So, to get back to your question, yes, it’s great to be a part of a festival that has standards, and where the quality of the work is often very high. Also it’s great, as an old guy (I’m 60) to be part of such a youthful venture in a youth-centred culture. We old guys have important stuff to say too (not always, but sometimes….).
That brings me to To Myself at 28 – the show I’m doing at Summerworks this year. It is in collaboration with Edward Roy (director/designer) and Spencer Charles Smith (actor). Both of my collaborators are writers and creators in their own right, and it makes for a lively collaborative atmosphere.
To Myself at 28 is all about me confronting all the demons that come with aging, and I really try and be as honest in this production as I was in the first version of this. As I mention in the play, we first produced this piece in February 2013 at a little queer venue called Videofag. Now we are going to be viewed by many more people, and for this intimate, confessional, personal show the challenge is to keep it honest but not to get too scared of baring my soul in front of a room full of strangers. We are keeping it small; it’s not about sets or lights, there are just a few slides, and Spencer and me. Sometimes talking directly to you, and you’re sitting right next to us.
We’ll see what happens.
Well, first of all, I want to say I'm thrilled to be a part of SummerWorks. I participated in the festival last year as an audience member. I got to see some very exciting work and spend time in a creative atmosphere that I found really nourishing.
Good People Bad Things is a personal/political monologue. It's me wrestling with the question of evil. Why do people do terrible things? Or support terrible things? Or at least not intervene? And, more broadly, how should we live our lives? How should I live my life? I follow 3 main plot lines – Adolf Eichmann and the Nazis, Israel/Palestine and my own ten years of activism and a couple I met whose relationship started very lovely and idealistic and gradually turned abusive.
It has taken two years, including a two-week run in Winnipeg last October and numerous rehearsal/creation periods, to bring the show to a point where it's ready. I just presented it in the Winnipeg Fringe – I did 12 performances in 12 days. People responded really well and I'm not ready for it to be over. And SummerWorks seems like the right place to take it next. A lot of the work I saw at SummerWorks last year was very challenging, and whenever I see audiences with an appetite for challenging material it sort of restores my faith in humanity.
My work so far on Good People Bad Things has been a very powerful experience for all sorts of reasons. I've learned a lot already, and I can't wait to get back on stage!