Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Playwrights In Profile - Ken Cameron

Playwright Ken Cameron takes a crack at a few questions about his process, inspiration and his relationship with APN. 

How has APN helped you as a playwright?
When I was a young playwright APN gave me a sense of community and belonging. APN developed its dramaturgical services just as I came of age as a writer, and I took full advantage of its resources. I am fond of telling how when I was touring in Scotland or Toronto fellow young playwrights would ask how I managed to workshop my plays. I would shrug and say "I just called APN". Every time my new colleagues were envious because at the time there was nothing like it in their country/province. It was then I recognized what a treasure we have in the Alberta Playwrights Network.

Who is your favourite playwright?
I often call Sharon Pollock one of my favourite playwrights, not just because of what she writes (that too) but because I first met Sharon when I was a 21-yearold aspiring playwright attending a meet and greet at The Stratford Festival. Later, in the bar, she ditched a fawning actor so she could focus her attentions on a wide-ranging and dynamic discussion about the state of Canadian theatre with myself and a few other students. I fell in love with her for it. But I also admire many, many other playwrights. Lately I've been fascinated by the work of Wajdi Mouawad, author of Scorched. I recall seeing it at the National Arts Centre: I was disgruntled because poor box office service made me late. Thus I didn't enjoy Act One much. Thanks goodness I stayed: the final twenty minutes of Act Two were the most powerful I've ever experienced in the theatre. That play has been on my mind lately because the film adaptation, Incindies, was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. I much prefer the play to the film by the way: I think the attempt to "show" rather than "tell" went too far in that instance, and a very complex story was simplified far too much. Its a refreshing lesson that a play has the potential get deeper into the issues, story and emotions than a film: we are so often told about the superior power of a film to tap into our emotions and its nice to see something that disputes conventional wisdom.

What inspires you?
Lately I have been inspired by real-life events: my very successful play Harvest was based on my parents and My Morocco was based on my own experiences. I used to feel that being autobiographical was an easy way out. I now realize that basing a work on real-life events increases my own emotional attachment to the work: and the audiences recognizes and responds to this with an emotional connection of their own. This is true even if an audience doesn't know its a factual story. I now try to use as much of my authentic self as I can, even when dealing with fictional subjects. After all, it takes years to write a play and see it through to production: you'd better be emotionally invested in it if you expect to summon the energy to complete the process.

One of your favourite shows you've seen this season?
Because I am no longer travelling for Magnetic North I have seen a lot more work in Calgary than I have in the past. Some of my favs this season include the Tom Waits Orchestra, Circa and The Drowsy Chaperone. I've been really into attending the live broadcasts of the National Theatre of England at Chinook Centre once a month. The broadcast of A Disappearing Number by Theatre Complicitie and Simon McBurney was one of the most moving and intelligent plays I have ever seen in my life. Of course I am writing the responses to these questions the morning of Blitzweekend, so by the time this goes to print I expect to have several more favourites!

What have you been up to since left the helm of APN?
I left APN so I could focus on playwriting. However, within four months I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime and asked to become the Artistic Director of Magnetic North Theatre Festival, Canada's National Festival of Canadian Theatre. Its a unique organization that moves to a new Canadian city every two years, and showcases a snapshot of contemporary theatre with a particular focus on touring work around Canada. Magnetic North will be hosted by Calgary in 2012 and I encourage all members to check it out and/or volunteer. Its a fantastic education on what's happening in Canadian theatre and an unparalleled opportunity to network with the Canadian theatre community who attends the festival each spring. But unfortunately I wasn't able to spend as much time playwriting as I had hoped while working at MagNorth. So, after securing Calgary as host city, I stepped down this past November. I am now writing my first ever musical using the music of Canadian alt-country icon Fred Eaglesmith!

What book is on your nightstand?
When I left APN to work on playwriting my pal Ian Prinsloo gifted me with The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This is my second time through it. It reveals my (our?) inner resistance to creativity and undermines all of the excuses I (we?) use for procrastination. The only issue is that its so effective I am now too busy writing my play to finish the book!

Mac or PC?
Mac all the way, ever since Richard McDowell introduced them to me when I was at One Yellow Rabbit. I even converted the APN offices to Mac when I was there, much to Val's chagrin. I understand from Val's profile last year that she has now gone out and bought a MacBook ...

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