Q & A with Rory Runnels, the Artistic Director of Manitoba Association of Playwrights (MAP)
Rory Runnels (left) in conversation with with Danish dramaturge/director, Jens Boutrup.
Playwrights Guild of Canada talks to Manitoba Association of Playwrights (MAP) Artistic Director, Rory Runnels, about the important role playwright development centres play in the creation of theatre in Canada as well as MAP's successful 'Open Door' development program.
1. What important role do you think playwright development centres play within the larger context of the Canadian theatre community?
The importance of the centres and their work can’t be overstated when it comes to the creation of theatre in Canada. Though each centre operates in its own way, all work towards the production of new work in their region, and our combined efforts to promote and develop playwrights and playwriting is important to all playwrights, not just those who benefit directly.
2. What are MAP’s top three priorities?
The ongoing development of the playwright, whether emerging or established, as an artist; assisting theatres (both large and small) and individual playwrights in producing new Manitoba plays; and, outreach to the community through promotion of Manitoba playwrights, and the operation of a library/archive, and programs to assist in young playwrights’ development.
3. What services does MAP offer to playwrights? Can you speak a bit about some of the various programs and services that you offer, such as the Open Door, Public Readings, Workshops, Seminars, the Scirocco Drama Manitoba High School Playwriting Contest, the Harry S. Rintoul Award, the Sidney and Margaret Jarvis Playwrights Resource Centre and the Rory Runnells Studio?
The Open Door is discussed more fully below, but it remains a kind of anchor of front line development/first work with a dramaturge program. The Open Door often leads to a workshop - which sometimes includes an invited audience for the reading at the end of the process. Often workshops are done in conjunctions with theatres, such as Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, or Theatre Projects and many others. We are also planning to expand the readings MAP does next year to a ‘wider’ Open Door format, where readings of full plays are planned on a monthly basis, in addition to the more intimate ‘regular’ Open Door.
Additionally, we are doing a series of readings from Manitoba playwrights at Aqua Books (a centre for artists in Winnipeg), since we feel it’s important to present playwrights as part of a literary culture – as well as being the heart of theatrical culture. Holding seminars with visiting dramaturges/playwrights is also an important service that we offer. Most recently, we hosted a major seminar with Danish dramaturge/director, Jens Boutrup.
Our key outreach is the Scirocco Drama Manitoba High School Playwriting Competition, now in its 12th year. Sponsored by Scirocco Drama, the competition is an important tool in the growth of young playwrights, showcasing the work of five young, talented Manitoba teens chosen from across of the province. Scirocco also recently published a compilation of the best works from the competition’s first 10 years called I Was A Teenage Playwright.
The Harry Rintoul Award was established in 2002 (the year of Harry’s death), to honour the Best New Manitoba Play at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. Harry had his start at the Fringe, and it remains a vital place for both emerging and more established playwrights to produce new work.
With support from the family, MAP established an archive/library in 2002, named after Sidney and Margaret Jarvis. It is an archive of Manitoba, a library of Canadian plays, and resource material for playwrights. It is widely used by theatre artists, teachers, students, and others, including some scholars doing original research in playwriting and theatre in Manitoba and Canadian.
The Rory Runnells Studio is our workshop/rehearsal/board/performance space, which will also be doubling as a Fringe venue this year. In addition to this, we also have two writer’s studios that we rent for a modest fee.
4. I’ve heard that Open Door is one of MAP’s most popular activities. Can you tell PGC’s members a bit more about what MAP members do when they participate in Open Door?
Since 1984 MAP has had sessions under the name Open Door where playwrights bring work in progress (usually a full draft but not necessarily) for reading with actors, and for discussion with a dramaturge. It is ‘open’ in that anyone can attend to hear the play, and the dramaturge and playwright decide whether ‘audience’ input is desired. Any MAP member can present a play for reading; we have about 20 sessions from fall to spring. It is a first hearing. Often a discussion is held beforehand between the playwright and MAP’s Artistic Director to see whether the Open Door is a good forum for the play at that moment. Playwrights have found over the years the Open Door is an important part of the development of their plays, often leading to a workshop.
5. How can someone become a member of MAP?
It is open to anyone who pays their annual fees, with a reduced price for students.
6. What is the greatest advice you’ve heard given to a playwright?
The best advice is always a question to challenge the playwright to open the play, focus, and more focus. Here are 8 or them that we developed with our Danish visitor, Jens Boutrup, from last year:
What is the play about?
What is driving the play?
Where does the play begin?
What are the rules of the play?
What are you curious about in the play?
What about the play scares you?
What do you hear/see/smell/feel/taste?
If you had to cut or add one scene, what would it be?
Established in 1979, the Manitoba Association of Playwrights is a non-profit organization that supports playwrights and playwriting in Manitoba. Over the past thirty years it has played a crucial role in the development of plays and playwrights in Manitoba.