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