Monday, 12 December 2011

“Beyond the Fringe” by Mark Leiren-Young | The Walrus | January 2012

Here's a really great article about what the Fringe has done for new work across Canada. What do you think?

“Beyond the Fringe” by Mark Leiren-Young | The Walrus | January 2012

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Why Theatre?

I love Keynote speeches.  They’re a chance to hear from a pro about big thoughts, big ideas, and offers a chance for big check-ins.  Unless I’m not really listening, I always come away inspired, refreshed and excited to take on more challenges.

Daniel MacIvor came through, in droves.

During his PWI 2011 keynote speech, Daniel MacIvor talked about the special privilege we have as theatre makers.  We get to move people, affect them, and create with them.  And the best part is that we get to do it live.  Live theatre offers a chance to commune with every one in the audience, onstage, and backstage.  At its best, it works like a well-oiled-creative-communing machine; at its worst, adrenaline flares and panic sets in.  Either way, it’s energizing.  It’s aLIVE.

MacIvor asked “Why do theatre?” and it’s a good question.  We can get so wrapped up in our stresses of “I should be writing more,” “I need to make a living,” and “where the hell am I going to get a big chalk board, a taxidermy dog, and a fire dancer in the next 24 hours?” Sure, our deadlines are very real…but not so scary that we should ever forget why we’re doing this.

I do theatre because I love collaboration.  I love working with other artists (administrators are included here) that are so passionate and so good at their job that I can’t help but be in awe of them.  I also love to collaborate with audiences.  It’s a rare occasion, but when an audience really gets what you’re doing, is really moved by the event—there is no bigger pay off.  We’ve affected them, asked them to think about something, posed a question to them that they’re excited to talk about.

I’ve asked some other theatre artists to share their thoughts on “Why Theatre?” and this is what they said.

Tammy Roberts, Performer/Publicist
It's two distinct facets of one thing that drives me: Shared Experience.  I love standing on a stage feeling, thinking, and breathing with a live audience.  It's electric.  I also love getting under the skin of a character, seeing what they see, feeling what they feel, acting as they would act ... sharing their experience.  When it really works, when everything connects, these shared experiences transcend the here and now -- and that's a phenomenal experience!

Jeremy Mason, Playwright/Performer/APN Board Member
Because it's hard. It's hard to choose a life where judgment is part of the game. It's hard to choose a life where you know you're not going to own a house. It's hard to choose a life where in economic uncertainty; you're "not needed". But those are the challenges that inspire me to succeed and continue creating, advocating and supporting theatre. I like being the underdog, because as an underdog you have more of an impact to inspire.

Thank you to Tammy and Jeremy for contributing, and thank you Daniel, for inspiring me to remember why I do it.

Why do you do theatre?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

First, thank-you to the wonderful people at Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre and Alberta Playwrights Network who selected my play The Art of Homecoming for inclusion in PlayWorks Ink, Alberta's biennial playwriting and theatre conference held in Calgary November 3-6.The highlight for me was working with Sharon Pollock, winner of two Governor General's awards for drama and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Sharon is a blunt-spoken woman with a good eye for superfluous dialogue and a strong sense of what makes characters work. Along with the talented actors who workshopped my play, she made many suggestions that strengthened my script. The three-day workshop culminated in a staged public reading.

I enjoyed the other two workshopped plays--Mark C. Hopkins and Charles Netto's Super 8, a delightfully idiosyncratic two-hander, and Arun Lakra's Sequence, a stunning play that made probability theory, genetics and an incurable hereditary eye disease both dramatic and exciting.

In his keynote address, Daniel MacIvor suggested that theatre plays a role comparable to religion in teaching us about the human condition. PlayWorks Ink amply demonstrated the truth of that hypothesis. Jonathan Christenson's discussion of the principles which govern Edmonton's Catalyst Theatre was one of the best sermons I've heard.

Theatre is not the only area of life which would benefit from the practise of his ten Rs (responsibility, respect, responsiveness, rythmn, repetition, readiness, risk, rigor, restlessness and refinement). Jonathan is also a master of the aphorism. (Embrace contradictions. Surrender to uncertainty. Bring generosity to your work.) I'm trying to incorporate his teachings on the need for courage and commitment into my own life. His workshop showed his principles in action and increased my respect for Catalyst's innovative and challenging work.Conferences of this nature provide wonderful opportunities for meeting interesting people and send us home inspired with enthusiasm for the important work of theatre. I am grateful to APN and Theatre Alberta for making PlayWorks Ink possible.

Betty Ternier Daniels

Friday, 4 November 2011

PlayWorks INK - Day One

Day One is in the books. Yesterday, Michelle Kneale and I finished taking care of all of the little details in preparation for the weekend. We then sat back and watched all of the careful planning with our partners at Theatre Alberta begin to come to fruition.

Fifty people joined us at the Engineered Air Theatre where Keri Ekberg (ED at Theatre Alberta) and I welcomed participants, students and audience members in advance of the play readings. Keri spoke about how we both missed PWI last year and the audience, who obviously missed the event, applauded loudly.

We then turned over the stage to a reading of Super 8 a new play by the boys who bring you Swallow-a-bicyle Theatre, Charles Netto and Mark Hopkins. Directed by Sage Theatre's Artistic Director, Kelly Reay, Kira Bradley and Dave Trimble read the piece beautifully finding the honesty and charm of the characters - two loners in search of connection in the motel bar of the first Super 8 Motel built in the US. I can't wait to see it staged at Lunchbox Theatre in the new year.

Elyne Quan, originally from Edmonton, read from two new works of hers in progress. Both works were filled with genuine characters going through family crises that were threatening to tear their relationships apart. The pieces were incredibly moving. I always love plays about people going through huge transitions in their lives. I was moved by the story of Richie, a young and talented boy, whose brother Leo was trying to get them both out of life of struggle, poverty and abuse. Then there was the second piece that concerned a man named Robert, who is dealing with not only the loss of his wife Claire after 30 years of marriage, but the family secrets that her death has brought to the surface.

Elyne then took questions from the audience and one of my favourite answers to a question (and I'm paraphrasing here) was regarding the ethnicity of her characters. She stated that she doesn't write with an ethnicity, hers or anyone elses in mind. She writes plays about people and only asks that when her plays are produced, that the actors reflect the diversity of the community in which they are being performed. It reminded me of an article I read years ago (hence I can't remember who the playwright was) who stated when asked "What is your new play about?" responded, "The same thing all my plays are about...people."

Now on to Day Two of PWI 2011. If Day One was any indication, it's going to be a great weekend.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

PlayWorks INK - UPDATE

Hey everyone,

There are still some spaces left for a couple of workshops at PWI 2011.

"If Words Be Made of Breath" with Jane McFarlane. I've had the opportunity to work with Jane as a vocal and accent coach and she's the bomb. There is no one better in Calgary when it comes to voice work. This is a great introductory course for the actor in all of us or a great refresher for those working actors. It never hurts to tune your instrument (and if it does, Jane will tell you what you're doing wrong)!!

"From The Ground Up" with Anita Miotti. I've also had the opportunity to work with Anita as a movement coach/choreographer and I'd use the word "genius" to describe her, which would make her blush. This is a great introductory course for the actor, director, dancer as well as a great refresher for those of us who are movement challenged. Anita will be the choreographic mind behind the dance/movement for Theatre Calgary's production of "Enron" by Lucy Prebble in the new year working with Antoni Cimolino from the Stratford Festival.

"Working from Within" with Joe Norman-Shaw. I've worked with Joe as well and can tell you that there isn't a better authority on acting (for both the stage and film). Joe is an accomplished actor and instructor and teaches and directs for Calgary's very successful acting studio, Company of Rogues. This is a great introductory course for actors and directors as well as for those professionals who are looking to add some new tools to their old toolbox.

If you don't know anything about PlayWorks INK and our line either need to crawl out from under your rock, or get off of dial-up internet can check out the Theatre Alberta website ( For more information on other special events taking place during the weekend celebration, click on the article linked below.

Cheers and I look forward to seeing you there.


Monday, 24 October 2011

Remembering Michelle Dias

Michelle was well-known professionally as a skilled painter and props
builder, having worked at the Citadel Theatre for over 15 years as the
Head of Scenic Art, and several years at the Banff Centre as the Head of

But Michelle also spent much of her time outside of her creative work
with paint and props as a writer.  Her one act Theatre for Young Audiences play “The Young Lion of Vinci” received an Honorable Mention at the Alberta Playwriting Competition in the Spring of 2008.

Working with Michelle on a workshop of the play that Fall allowed me to
see Michelle’s creativity shine. Her concept for the play was to have
screens on stage on which moving sketches of works of Leonardo Da
Vinci provided the backdrop for each location and situation in the piece.
She imagined a charcoal line magically drawing the pictures on the
screens, bringing to life the incredible imagination of young Nardo. After
knowing her previously as a visual artist and talented and knowledgeable
scenic artist at the Citadel, the Nardo play to me was a wonderful
merging of Michelle’s creative endeavours.

Despite her relatively new foray into writing, she was not only working on
a novel for young adult readers, about a young girl from a theatre family
who discovers she can travel through time, but also had her professional
stage debut as a playwright this month, as part of “Far From Crazy”:
eight new works by north American playwrights on the theme of mental
illness.  All the while, she worked full-time, volunteered as a Big Sister,
and wrote colourful biographies for the many kittens that she fostered
over the years for the Edmonton Humane Society.

                  Michelle was an incredibly talented theatre artist and a wonderfully thoughtful friend and colleague with a great sense of humour.
She is greatly missed by her extensive theatre family in Edmonton, Banff
and throughout the province.

Tracy Carroll
APN Edmonton Liaison

The following is an example of Michelle’s wit in a little piece that she
wrote while working in Banff:

Rehearsal Notes: Chair

Day 1
May we please have a stool ?

Day 2
Thanks for the stool.  May we please have a taller stool?

Day 3
Thanks for the taller stool.  The director has requested a bench instead.

Day 4
Regarding the bench, would it be possible to put arms and a back on it?

Day 5
Thanks for the sofa.  Although the designer would prefer it, the director feels strongly about having the bench back, and altered as requested.

Day 6
After meeting last night with the designer, the director has reconsidered the altered bench and would like to see the sofa again.  We appreciate the overtime you put into the bench and apologize for the change.

Day 7
Can we please see all the chaise lounges you have in stock?

Day 8
Thanks for bringing up the chaises.  The director has decided to stay with the sofa.  Would it be possible to shorten it?  To about loveseat size?

Day 9
The director doesn’t care for the style of the loveseat you brought in.  We will ask him to discuss it with the designer.  Meanwhile, can we pursue our request to have the sofa shortened?

Day 10
Thanks for shortening the sofa.  Unfortunately we’ve now found the arms are too low on this one and would like to see all the other sofas and loveseats you have in stock.

Day 11
Can we please have all the sofas and loveseats removed from the rehearsal hall before 10am?   The director and designer have met and have decided to try an armchair.

Day 12
Thanks for the armchair.  Do you have one with a taller back?

Day 13
Although very nice, the wingback is too tall.  Is there an armchair in stock with a back that’s shorter than the wingback but taller than the first armchair?

Day 14
Thanks for the Barcalounger.   Wrong style unfortunately, but fun.  May we keep it in the Stage Management office?   Can we please try again with another armchair?

Day 15
The director loves the new armchair.   Thank you.

Day 16
Regarding your note about the designer requesting new fabric for the armchair:  we can free up the chair after rehearsal today.  It would be great to have it back tomorrow.   Is one night enough time for the re-upholstery?

Day 17
After rehearsing with a dining room chair today, the director feels he would like to use that instead of the armchair.  Sorry!  Hope you didn’t stay too late last night!

Day 18
Do you have another dining room chair that closely matches the one we have, but without arms and with a different fabric?  And perhaps a slightly taller back? 

Day 19
Thanks for the selection of dining room chairs.  If we wanted to use a full set of six, would it be possible to recover the seats before tomorrow’s dry run?

Day 20
We have some news that will make you laugh.  The director has decided that one of the plain black orchestra chairs will be perfect.  We had one in the rehearsal hall.  Thanks and have a great day. 

Day 21
Re: the table…

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Distinct Character Voices

Creating distinctive character voices can be a tricky thing.  Often only noticed in their absence, distinctive character voices provide so much information; they can denote class, culture, region, education, age, and personality. They also make the world of the play rich and ripe for a creative team to work with.

I’ve been working with a playwright having some trouble creating distinct voices and it got me thinking that she couldn’t be the only one having this trouble (I’m also about to embark on my first playwriting challenge and I know I’m going to come up against this)…so I hit the internet to see what I could find and sent some emails out to playwrights I deeply respect to ask their opinion.

One of the most prominent things I found was that it is important first for you to have a deep understanding of the world of your play and your characters in it.  Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

Understanding the Character:
  • How old are they?
  • What class are they part of?
  • What is their education level and/or status?
  • Where do they come from?
  • What is their history?
  • Optimist or Pessimist?
  • Energetic or Lethargic?
  • Does the character hesitate?
  • Does the character refer to himself? For example, would they say “I will do that” or “It needs to be done”?
  • How does the character act towards those in a higher status? Lower status?
The way a character speaks will vary from situation to situation.  How does the character’s voice differ at work and at home? In a stressful situation or a social situation?

Here are some exercises that I gathered from playwrights Meg Braem, 
Mike Czuba, Gordon Pengilly, Lindsay Burns, and Conni Massing.

Meg Braem
First I have [my students] write monologues, this gives them the time to spend getting to know a particular character's thought and use of language without having to worry about balancing the scene's action. I still make them use conflict in the monologue because then they can see how their character sounds when in action.

Conni Massing
Try to think of things that are specific and unique to the character; do they have a verbal mannerism? (ie like, um, …, yep, etc)
The status of the character has so much to do with how they express themselves: some characters are worried about being understood or believed so they might include more description. If they are constantly seeking approval, they might trail off…
Do they assume that what they say will be believed? If so, they might use shorter more definitive statements.

Mike Czuba
Distinct character voices is not tough, but takes practice. Some things to focus on: the individual goals and objectives of each character will directly influence their voices. Tactics and status is another area of focus to influence voice. 

An exercise that helps is to do what I call 'Dives', 10 minutes of sustained stream of consciousness writing. Where you write (pen and paper, no typing) without stopping or thinking about what exactly you're writing. You can do this for each character. It doesn't have to be anything directly related to the content of the play but has to come from the character. The more you know about the character will also dictate how they speak. Letting the characters live for a little while sub-consciously might open up new doors into their personality, which again, directly influences voice. 

The biggest thing is to listen to the voices around you. Where ever you are, friends, family, strangers. Picking up on pace, inflection, word choice and turns of phrase. And most importantly, don't make them all sound like you. The first draft will always have traces of your own voice in every character, but as you proceed through future drafts you need to listen carefully to each voice as individuals.

Lindsay Burns
I start by casting the play in my head, with whomever. 
I also watch movies with the types of characters I want to get a sense of how they talk.

Gordon Pengilly
To be quite honest I think writing good dialogue, which includes the task of developing distinctive character voices, is a gift or at least a trait that a playwright just has. Other playwrights are natural born storytellers or theme masters. Having said that anybody can get better at creating character voices with practice. First: read good plays! If somebody tells you your characters all sound alike try cutting out pictures from magazines of people that remind you of your characters and tack them to the wall or on a hunk of cardboard or something. I've used pictures of famous actors. Try it. Don't be afraid that your lead character is going to sound like Sean Penn and everybody's going to know it because he won't. Once you sift it through your own inner voice and the dialogue you're creating it'll come out new and all yours.       

AM I DOING IT RIGHT?!?! Let’s see..

From Meg Braem
I have students print out their scenes without any of the character's names. We should be able to tell who is talking just by how they talk. The idea is that we shouldn't need character headings at all. If the scene's characters all sound the same and you can't really tell who is talking, it is time to go back to writing monologues to spend the time getting to know each character's voice.

Hopefully you will find something in this post that helps you the next time you find yourself having a hard time nailing down a distinct character voice. I think I can safely summarize by saying:

Know your character. Know the world of your play.
Find a way to fake it until it is a part of you.

Thank you to Lindsay, Gordon, Conni, Mike, and Meg for your generosity in sharing J

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Congratulations to Mieko Ouchi!

APN Member Mieko Ouchi has been selected as one of the finalists for the 2011 Playwrights' Guild of Canada Carol Bolt Award for her play Nisei Blue which premiered at ATP's Endbridge playRites Festival.  

The Carol Bolt award is given annually to a member of PGC who has premiered an original play within the past year.  The award recipient will be announced later this month.

Break a leg, Mieko, we're all rooting for you!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


When Brad Fraser was in town guest teaching the first Playwrights’ Boot Camp class, we discussed the notion of theatricality…and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. What makes theatre different than other art forms? What makes something distinctly theatrical?

These are tough questions especially now since so much of what we do is influenced either directly or indirectly by other art forms, other mediums, and technology.

For me, it has to do with connection and imagination.

In the theatre, we have pleasure of connecting to hundreds and even thousands of people.  They’re right there, in front of us; there is no screen, radio, or page between us.  In this intimacy, we get to move people: make them laugh, cry, break their hearts, dance in their seat, walk out, talk, think, excite them, transport them, and transform them…and we have the potential to do it in an infinite number of ways.

So I’ve asked some people what the most “theatrical” play they’ve ever seen was and here’s what they said and why:

From Kevin McKendrick, Director
The most theatrical play I ever saw was, At The Black Pig's Dyke by the Druid Theate od Galway Ireland.

The stage space was empty to begin, and the actors took on many various characters with subtle shifts in demeanor, posture and attitude. It was full of music and musicianship as well. I think it work so well because it worked upon my imagination. I was responsible for filling in so much of the detail, spurred on by the choices made by the director, designers and actors. And it was live! There is nothing more theatrical than that one aspect.

David van Belle, Playwright/Performer/Co-Artistic Director of Ghost River Theatre
I saw Fuerzabruta in New York a few years back, an amazing performance created by Diqui James from Buenos Aires, Argentina.  They unabashedly embraced spectacle--narrative was for the most part limited to a series of astonishments.  What they did best was focus on things that could only be done in the theatre--a membrane the full size of the theatre slowly lowered to just above the audience's heads, with performers sloshing around in a rolling pool of water on top of it, looking down at us through the layer of water; a massive treadmill with a running man on it who passes through various environments that roll past him on the treadmill; things like that.  

An interactive, immersive experience.  That's a good example of theatricality in action.  I saw the show just around the time that Eric Rose and I started thinking about taking over at Ghost River--I know the show inspired some of our ideas for the theatricality in Reverie.  

Graham Percy, Playwright/Actor
The most theatrical play I have ever seen was the magnificent Dragon Trilogy by Robert Lepage, which is still one of the highlights of my theatre going life.  The six hours disappeared like a dream on the back of a story that leapt through time and space with breathtaking innovation.  

Lepage is a master of transformation - of the space, of the body, and ultimately of the mind and of the heart - and for me theatricality is rooted in these transformations.  Arising from a playful exchange between the imagination of the spectator and the craft of the artist, they uproot perception and set the event in motion.  Whether it be through a simple gesture or the most elaborate stage machinery the goal remains the same, to make the invisible visible.

Tracy Carroll, Director / Dramaturg / APN Edmonton Liaison
It’s a play that I saw with an incredibly simple design that stands out in my mind as the most theatrical piece that I’ve seen. The play is called The Stones and was created, written, directed and performed by two actors from a company called Zeal Theatre in Australia.

The play is geared for teens and was performed at the Northern Alberta Children’s Festival in St. Albert several years ago. It’s about 2 young boys who are charged with manslaughter after throwing rocks off of a highway overpass and killing a driver below. The actors play the boys as well as the detectives that are questioning them about the incident on the overpass, and the set is simply two sawhorses and a ladder. The actors inventively used these set pieces to create each location in the play; smoothly transitioning from the overpass to the police station to a scene where the boys are trying to escape and one is climbing up the ladder as the other actor is holding it up. 

This production was one of the most engaging, intelligent, creative, and yes, theatrical experiences I have ever attended. Despite the fact that the play was presented in a senior centre with noise and lighting limitations, the strength of the writing shined through and the audience of teens completely bought into the story and characters…and so did I.

The Stones is a play that I’ve spoken about many times with colleagues and friends as an example of simply, great theatre. Interestingly, I don’t think that the clever staging that the actors created would have been so engaging if the script wasn’t as strong as it was. A good production, I believe, is only as strong as the script. In this case, the writing, direction, acting and design of The Stones, all came together to make this play a memorable theatrical experience for me.

I think it is important to take stock of the engaging and transformative plays we see, they'll help us remember why we keep going back, and why we keep creating.  

Thank you to David, Tracy, Kevin, and Graham...these are wonderful examples!

What is the most theatrical play you've ever seen?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Michelle Dias

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of APN member Michelle Dias. I had the opportunity and pleasure to work with her on a couple of her plays, most notably The Young Lion of Vinci and found her voice as a writer as passionate and honest as her voice as a person. Most recently she was a participant in our PROLOGUE program in May and I remember how she spoke of writing with an incredible intelligence, passion and excitement. Her flame and talent was extinguished much too soon.

My condolences go out to her entire family, the family of the Citadel Theatre and the Edmonton theatre community during this time of loss. Below is the information regarding her memorial.

On Thanksgiving Day, Monday, October 10, at 2 pm, there will be a Tribute to the Life of Michelle Dias in the Citadel’s Tucker Amphitheatre.

Please join Michelle’s parents and sisters and her Citadel family in sharing memories of a dear friend and colleague.

For more information, please contact:
Marianne Bouthillier
Associate Executive Director
Citadel Theatre/Robbins Academy
Phone: 780.428.2131

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Playwright Profile: Steve Pirot

1) What is your writing process? Do you start writing right away? Outline? Research?
I am a student of the Dr. Frankenstein School of Formalism, which requires that I write at night when the screaming mob might shut the hell up for a few hours so I can focus on my craft, please-and-thank-you. What I create comes out my perpetual research. Most of my creations are abortive failures, which should never be seen or heard by another human being. Aimless. Musing. Experiments. Plain crap.
I regularly cannibalize myself. (I’ll probably try to put this paragraph into a play someday.) I have a graveyard of scribbling to steal from, from which I stitch together some kind of form from preexisting forms. At first all I expect is a mumbling, shambling beast, that might grow to be more articulate as it acquires self-knowledge.
I like to draw outlines. I like outlines that are shaped like clouds that are shaped like elephants. I don't plot stories. It’s a nasty habit. It stunts your growth. It’s expensive. It’s linear.
I write when I feel like it, but I'm always writing, so you could deduce that I feel like it a lot. It’s fun. When I have fun writing something, then I reasonably assume that actors will have fun performing it, directors directing it, stage managers stage managing it, and the audience audiencing it.
2) Where do you write?
I don’t particularly enjoy writing on my laptop, but I usually write on my laptop. I'm trying not to take my computer everywhere I go these days, so I mostly work at home. I do enjoy how easily computers can restructure text. However, I prefer to write with pen and paper, and there is a row of benches overlooking the river valley just a block away from where I live, so when the weather is not so cold as to freeze ink, that's where I might go.
3) What do you need to have with you when you write?
I don’t ‘need’ anything, but I do like to have music when I write. I also like a bar of Lindt Excellence 80% dark chocolate, a bowl of cashews, a bowl of walnuts, and a bowl of raisins, and a big coffee, and books, and water with bubbles in it. However, I must note that these are also the things I like to have with me when I’m watching movies, or reading books, or entertaining guests: they’re my regular domestic comforts.

4) What is the last great play you saw?, What made it great?
Ladyvision: a one-woman show created (with Trent Wilkie) and performed by Jill Pollock. It’s a particular expression of her peculiar genius. It defies expectation. And it’s hilarious. And it’s heartbreaking. I would say the same of Jason Chinn’s Ladies Who Lynch. Jason understands the expectations of the audience, he builds the expectation of the audience, and then he defies them. It’s great writing, but that only allows for the possibility of a great play: it doesn’t guarantee it. What made both of these plays great were great performances.
5) Mac or PC?
I wish I could proclaim Linux, but I’ve never used it.  I’m more excited about pens. The Sharpie Fine Tip Pen is my favourite. Relatively inexpensive and fun to scriven with. It reminds me of a pen I used to use in the 80s.
6) Who are your mentors?
I’ve been influenced by hundreds of people, but my two major mentors have been Tom Peacocke (Drama Department of the U of A), and Richard Fowler (ex-Artistic Director of PRIMUS Theatre).
7) Do you have writing rituals?
8) Best advice for when you hit a wall?
The ‘wall’ is just an excuse to not write. Perhaps it’s a valid excuse. Maybe you’re exhausted, or hungry, or there’s something else you’d rather be doing/should be doing, or maybe you’re just a lazy person, or you’re scared of failure, or scared of making the wrong choice… or some other bullshit. But, there is no ‘wall’ that is any more real than Santa Claus. Stop believing in walls; stop making excuses; keep writing. Or stop writing. Writing is an act of will. Either you will or you won’t.
9) Best piece of grammar or style advice?
Brevity. Soul. Wit. 
10) If you were to write a play about your own life, what would the opening line be?
“For fuck’s sake. Not again!”

Steve Priot is a born and bred Edmontonian theatre artist.  He has a BA in Drama and a BFA Acting from the University of Alberta.  He has worked with Azimuth theatre as a road manager, actor, director, playwright, and is currently their a Co-Artistic Producer.

Whirlwind Weekend

Well, then that happened...

This past weekend (Sept 23 - 25) I had the pleasure and opportunity to attend the Playwrights' Development Centres of Canada, annual meeting and conference, hosted by Maureen Labonte and the Banff Centre for the Arts. On hand were representatives from all of the PDCC's from BC to Atlantic Canada and every province in between. On the morning of the first day every centre was asked to give a report on what their organization was up to and what was happening in their region. I reported on the new initiatives (Prologue, Boot Camp) as well as our other programming (Act One, Act Two, Playwrights Circles) and spoke of our current trend of creating greater structure to all of our programming. Not to toot APN's horn, but honk honk, we have been one of the busiest centres in Canada over the past year both from an organizational standpoint as well as playwriting itself. I received many questions and inquiries about our programs and structures over the weekend ranging from how we work, what we do and how we do it.

Each centre (thanks to the Canada Council/Playwrights' Guild of Canada) was able to bring a writer with them to the conference and the afternoon was spent discussing the work that they were doing within their region. On the second evening we heard excerpts from plays the writers were working on, all of which were amazing and incredibly diverse. From Jenny Munday's new work called Bunk Beds about two young sisters fighting for space as they both grow older to a monologue by Atlantic playwright Ryan Griffith's about a married man who one night rolls over to look in his wife's eyes and falls in love with her. The readings led to a long discussion in the bar that night about how do we get the great plays being written in every region into the hands of producers outside of those regions. I feel that this is a conversation that is going to continue right up to the date of next year's conference.

We had information sessions from Canada Council regarding their new Operational Granting Streams and from the Playwrights' Guild of Canada regarding their new programs and policies. Both incredibly eye opening and interesting. Michelle and I then headed back to Calgary before the conference ended as we had to set up the Playwrights' Guild of Canada Meet and Greet event at the Auburn Saloon, where we were privileged to hear a reading from Brad Fraser of a new work he has in development.

All in all a busy, but fantastic weekend where I got my batteries recharged. I left the weekend thinking that the PDCC organizations are not all that different from the writers we serve. For a year we work in isolation and then emerge from our regional cocoons to greet each other and check in and talk about the work that we've been doing. I find it incredibly reassuring (as I've noticed most playwrights do) when you come out of the basement and chat with others like you and discover that we are all striving to do the same things...write the play or aid the play and that as regional as we may be, we aren't at all different.

Thanks to Heather Inglis our who organized a brilliant weekend.

And now, a nap!!!


Trevor, the ED

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tip of the Trade ~ by Ellen Chorley

Tip:  Never forget the power of the the "Save As" option.  Hit a wall?  Hit "Save As" and then let yourself go in a completely different direction.  If it works, great.  If it doesn't, you can always go back to the point where you saved, only this time you might have a new perspective.

Ellen Chorley is an Edmonton-based playwright, producer and actor.  Recent plays by Ellen include "Tudor Queens: A Burlesque,"  "Big Winner,"  "Emma Burden" and the Sterling nominated "The Fairy Catcher's Companion."  Ellen is also the Founder and Artistic Producer of Promise Productions, an Edmonton based theatre fro young audiences company. 

When Art Mirrors Life or Vice Versa

Daily I get the Theatre newsfeed from the New York Times as well as getting the National and Arts newsfeeds from the Globe and Mail. This morning I came across these two articles (click on the newspapers to link to the articles), which started me wondering where do playwrights get their ideas from? If one gets their ideas from the current events of the day, how long is a current event current?

The year after 9/11 we had a number of plays with a variety of thoughts and responses to the tragedy. Then we had a period of silence until the recent 10th anniversary of the tragedy (on another thought, I always feel strange using the word anniversary when describing a tragedy as anniversary to me is a celebratory word). Will there be a time in the future when 9/11 will no longer be the subject of plays, just as the war in Vietnam has no longer become the subject of plays and movies? And when large subjects like the aforementioned are no longer the subject of plays, is that because the events are no longer current or because we've exhausted our voice on the subject? Does an audience no longer wish to hear or have we said everything to be said?

Food for thought and hopefully some dialogue.

I was also struck by the impending death of Clifford Olsen and began to wonder when a play about a man imprisoned for life who is finally facing death would surface in this country.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

APN Member Profile: Jacqueline Russell

Bio:  Jacqueline Russell is a director, performer, playwright, and producer. A graduate of the University of Alberta’s BFA Acting Program, Jacqueline has toured across Western Canada with her feminist play Raunch (with co-creator Alice Nelson). She has worked as a performer/creator on several projects with Swallow-A-Bicycle Theatre, including Into the Abyss (High Performance Rodeo) and Across the Tracks. Last year Jacqueline produced (and directed several pieces for) “Girls gone Wilde” a festival of new work from female Canadian playwrights. Jacqueline has worked extensively in the TYA genre as both a performer and director. She is the Artistic Producer of Evergreen Theatre in Calgary, AB where she directs and produces educational children’s theatre that tours across the province. Her newest artistic adventure is as the Artistic Producer for Urban Curvz Theatre in Calgary.

Who are you? 
A very lucky girl, who gets to do what she loves and get paid for it.

What are you working on?I am currently working on a play that was commissioned by the Town of Morinville in celebration of their 100th Anniversary. I went out and spent a week in Morinville last spring interviewing residents and researching the town's history and wrote most of it over the summer. It will be performed in October. Even though I made a few Corky St. Clair jokes about it, there is a lot of really griping material to be found in a small town.

What inspires you?
Other artists. Watching my friends and colleagues take on the crazy challenges of self employment, lack of resources, constant self doubt etc. and then seeing them some how managing to create phenomenal art. It makes me want to paint my face red and white and run up and down 17th ave screaming and cheering.
Jacqueline Russell in Raunch
Also brave, funny women. Tina Fey, Lucille Ball, Ariel Levy. The first play I ever wrote was about Nellie McClung. I was 13. I won a Canadian Heritage Prize for it. I always call on Nellie when I am in need of some guts and guile. 

What is your favorite play?
That's a tough question. I can think of three plays where the images and words have continued to float in my mind for years after I first saw them. I, Claudia by Kristen Thomson, Frozen by Bryony Lavery and Jake's Gift by Julia Mackey (which is part of Lunchbox Theatre’s season this fall! Don’t miss it!)

Who is your favourite playwright?
That's even tougher. Judith Thompson, Ann-Marie MacDonald, and Timberlake Wertenbaker are all playwrights who made me want to try writing plays. 

Interested in being profiled? Don't hesitate to email us and let us know! We want to get to know you. 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Welcome to the BLOG!!!

Welcome to the newest addition of Alberta Playwrights Network – our blog!

One of the best things about APN is its ability to bring together playwrights from around the province. Whether you’re a seasoned professional playwright or an emerging writer, there is something incredibly special about sharing tips of the trade and learning about the process of your colleagues and peers.

The goal of this blog is to foster that sense of community. It is our hope to engage you in discussions, inspire you to write, and maybe teach you a trick or two. We encourage you to participate in the dialogue– so please comment often, ask questions, and feel free to interact with this fantastic network of playwrights.

On the right hand side you’ll see labels appear as we create posts under certain categories – with time that list will grow, and you’ll have a lot of knowledge at your fingertips. Some of the things you’ll find here are tips of the trade, playwright profiles, and exercises that will help you flex your writing muscles – just to name a few.  For other resources don’t forget to check out our BRAND NEW website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Of course this is a new endeavor for us, so if there’s something you’d like to see, a playwright you’d love to hear from, or a question your dying to ask please let us know.

This blog belongs to all the members of APN. As we continue to work toward bringing works from the page to the stage, we also aspire to create a solid network full of inspiration and support.

Thanks for reading, and we look forward to hearing from you!

Lana Michelle Hughes
APN Board Member and social media geek 

PS. If you don't like us on facebook, follow us on twitter, contribute to our blog, we'll begin stalking you...don't laugh...we have your IP Address.