Thursday, 25 July 2013

Tom Form and the Speed of Love

by Gordon Pengilly

I’ll be going into rehearsals soon for my play Tom Form And The Speed Of Love which is being produced by New York’s Broad Horizons Theatre Company for the Edmonton Fringe. I haven’t had a fringe show for more than a decade, and though I’ve had several of them over the years I’ve never been involved in any of the productions. As for this one, I’m deeply involved.

My relationship with Broad Horizons goes back to 2010 when they workshopped my play Flesh & Ghost and showcased it at the Manhattan Theatre Club which was pretty exciting. It was one of those Who You Know situations. A close friend had become literary manager of Broad Horizons and gave my play to A.D. Lewis Magruder to read. Their mission is to develop and promote promising new scripts, and, while producing readings is at the core of their work, they will occasionally do full productions too. Like so many small theatres down there, they don’t mount seasons per se. They don’t receive any grants so they spend a lot of time raising money from investors and private donations toward the production of a single play which can take quite a while. The idea behind the reading of Flesh & Ghost was to attract a co-producer or some more development opportunities. It was an invited audience of theatre professionals and while it didn’t pan out, or hasn’t yet, it was still a great experience. Lots of good feedback. Good feedback builds belief and without belief you’re sunk anyway.

Meanwhile, I had this other play Tom Form And The Speed Of Love which I’d adapted from my own radio drama that Bill Lane produced in Toronto back in 1996. We workshopped the script ten years later at Factory Theatre and read it for Ken Gass, particularly, hoping he’d take it on, which he didn’t, and the project took a nap for another seven years. Actually, I’d pretty much given up on it until Lewis asked me what else I had going on and I showed him the script. Well, it just so happened he was coming to the Edmonton Fringe (this was two years ago) to do some research for a piece he was writing on fringes and their function in the development of new plays and we planned to meet there. After two or three conversations, we decided to target Tom Form for the Edmonton Fringe as a step toward a New York production in a year or two.

Producing a play for the fringe, I’m finding, is rigorous and time-consuming, made even harder by having a producer/director from out-of-town. We thought it essential to hire someone from Calgary with some fringe experience to help us pull it together and that became Jacqueline Russell (Evergreen, Urban Curvz) who’s been great. Soon after that, I approached my old friend and collaborator Jan Randall from Edmonton to compose the music for the show. This was followed by a blizzard of emails, Skypes and conference calls between Calgary, New York and Edmonton, then a workshop of the script in New York to get me going on a vital rewrite. On that note, I can’t say their workshop process or dramaturgy is much different than what we do in Canada: all the same questions are asked. If anything, for us anyway, it seems more intense than most of the workshops I’ve had up here because the stakes are so high. Every dollar and hour spent on the project is very meaningful and crucial. As I write this, we’re in really good shape. We have a great cast, designer, composer, stage manager, costumer and the script is ready for rehearsals.

If all goes as planned, it’ll be my third production in the Big Apple though this one would be much different. My first one, Hardhats And Stolen Hearts, a co-creation with Theatre Network, was at the tail-end of a tour and the second one, The Work Play, was part of a small one-act festival, neither of which I had anything to do with and the risks were low. As a direct result of that production, The Work Play was made into a short film which does say a lot for exposure down there, though. I don’t want to put a hex on Tom Form (but here I go anyway) if the play doesn’t do well at the fringe then this chance at a New York production probably shrinks a lot as nobody will invest in a show that doesn’t promise some returns. So I hope my play does well; I believe it will. After all is said and done, hope is all you have. Lots of hope is akin to belief and lots of belief is something like a promise. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. See you in Edmonton in August for our cool offering:

A scornful private detective decides to help a strange woman recover her memory. When the trail leads him into his own dark past he is forced to dig deep to let love back into his life while finding a way to win the impossible day. A film noir post-apocalyptic hybrid with original music and songs Tom Form And The Speed Of Love navigates the street-life of two teenagers and asks us to consider the existence of angels.

Playwright, Gordon Pengilly; producer/director, Lewis Magruder; associate producer, Jacqueline Russell; composer, Jan Randall; stage manager, Olivia Brooks; designer, Anton DeGroot; costume designer, Shannyn Dowsett; featuring Brian Jensen, Natascha Girgis, Andy Curtis, Cassidy Waring and Matt McKinney.

Tom Form and the Speed of Love performing at the EDMONTON FRINGE FESTIVAL.  Dates and ticket information can be found here.

Watch the TRAILER!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Flood Update - July 10, 2013

What a humbling and earth shattering experience the last few weeks has been. The APN offices and myself remained outside of the flood zone and while Michelle Kneale was also safe from the flooding, the power to her apartment building needed to be shut off for a number of days in a row and she was evacuated from downtown. Compared to the devastating losses suffered by others we experienced what could only be called a “minor inconvenience”.
 I just got off the phone with a member playwright who also resided out of the worst hit areas and we were both reflecting on the wave of feelings and emotions we went through in the early days of the emergency. We both were struck with feelings of helplessness and anxiety, as we knew that our city was being devastated and there was nothing we could do. Sitting at my home, looking at dry pavement knowing that 12 blocks away basements were being flooded, homes destroyed and lives were being drastically changed left me feeling guilty for being spared.
In the days that followed when people were able to move about the city and begin to provide assistance I was humbled by two things; the resilience of our city and the selfless spirit of Albertans. You have all heard stories of volunteerism and charity but I want to relate a personal account that made me really take stock of things. My wife Shari and I went into one of the worst hit areas to assist a colleague who was in one of the worst hit areas of town. I spent three hours in the basement assisting in pulling out furniture, carpet and personal belongings that had been destroyed beyond recognition. Someone was trying to lift a dresser and asked for help. I introduced myself to him and he told me his name was Joe. We couldn’t lift the dresser so pulled out the drawers to lighten the load when we discovered water in the top drawer. Joe, others, and myself continued pulling out the detritus overfilling two industrial refuse bins.  When the final task of removing the carpet was completed, there was nothing left for us to do. Joe and I stood around drinking water and I asked him how he knew the homeowner. Was he related? A neighbour? A friend? Joe said, “I don’t know them. Could you introduce me? I know a couple of great contractors who might be able to help them rebuild.” I introduced Joe to the homeowners; he gave them a couple of phone numbers, grabbed his tools and walked across the street to see if they needed a hand. 
While the clean up and restoration continues we are able to see the physical damages wrought by the flooding. But there are going to be intangible consequences brought about by this disaster that will continue to have a long lasting effect on Albertans and the Alberta arts community. There will be loss of revenues brought about by program cancellations, loss of venues and declining ticket sales as our audiences have been economically impacted as well. One has to expect that private sector and donor funding will also be impacted as many of our great corporate citizens and philanthropists devote resources to much needed flood relief.  Arts organizations whose resources were already stretched to capacity will need to reallocate resources to simply get back to business. Those that suffered physical losses or damage are the organizations that are most in need of assistance but in the longer term, even those not-for-profits that were not directly affected will feel an indirect effect.  The landscape has changed both literally and figuratively and will remain altered for many years to come.
As the immediacy of the events, like the flood waters, recede into memory, there will continue to be a need in this city and southern Alberta and we artists will be there to help by doing the what we do best, entertaining. Art provides us with the opportunity to escape, to reflect and to provide a voice to thoughts we are incapable of expressing. It gives us a place to commune and share and during the months and ahead, hopefully a place where you can leave the struggle behind for a few hours of unbridled enjoyment. You can’t spell “cathartic” without “art” which is why southern Alberta needs artists now more than ever. We will continue to support in whatever way we can and hope that eventually you can support in any way you can.

For more information on Calgary Arts Flood Rebuild, go to

P.S. Our thoughts and hearts go out to the citizens of High River as they begin the long process of recovery.

Also another thank you and shout out to all of the first responders, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Calgary City Council and anyone else who worked tirelessly and put their lives at risk in the early stages of the emergency.