Thursday, 10 October 2013

PlayWorks INK 2013

Well, that happened!!!

It was a pretty amazing weekend of networking, exchanging ideas and being immersed in art and theatre making.

First of all a huge thank you to all of our sponsors, funders and supporters who helped to bring this conference to life.
  • Theatre of the New Heart - sponsor of Robert O'Hara's Masterclass
  • US Consulate - sponsor of Robert O'Hara's Masterclass
  • The Banff Centre - sponsor of Kelly Robinson's class
  • Environmental Refuelling Systems - Student Bursary Sponsor
  • Shell Theatre of Fort Saskatchewan - Student Bursary Sponsor
Where to begin?  

How about being in the presence of Mr. Christopher Plummer as he spoke eloquently and openly about his process and what it is to be an actor. Followed up by a stunning reading of "Last Chance Leduc" by Katherine Koller (winner of the 2013 APC). And that was a half day on day 1!!

I had the great fortune of being able to participate in our playwriting masterclass instructed by Mr. Robert O'Hara, called "Facing The Rewrite". His class was not about how to rewrite, but rather provided exercises and new ways of approaching the material, with an eye to breaking through those blocks. It certainly opened my eyes and has altered the way that I will approach the work from here on in. Through the two days, Mr. O'Hara gave each playwright a specific re-writing assignment which he assigned as a way of addressing a specific problem or as a way of forcing a writer to see the work in a new way. We will be publishing the list of rewriting assignments he took the writers through on our website. 

Robert admitted that he didn't have that much familiarity with Canadian playwriting, but stated to the group at the final wrap-up "If this [group] is an indication of the quality of writing and writer in this country, you guys are in good hands."

Saturday night, we were once again in the presence of greatness. Mr. Christopher Plummer performed some of his favourite pieces of Shakespearean text set to the music which was inspired by the writings of the Bard. The only way to describe it would be to state that it was like watching Beethoven play the harpsichord. A master effortlessly sharing his mastery. 

While I didn't have a chance to attend any of the other sessions, I heard nothing but great things about Kelly Robinson's Musical Theatre classes, Sharon Pollock's class on Storytelling and Narrative, Leah Cherniak's class on Director as Experimenter and Chris Craddock's sessions on Solo Creation. 

The Banff Centre was extraordinary as it always is. Not only is the setting unbelievable, but the staff and support they provided to APN and Theatre Alberta was second to none. A huge thank you to Casey, Allanah & Heloise and all of the other staff that make that center the place every artist needs to come to.

I would also like to thank Keri, Frazer, Aaron & Maura and everyone else from Theatre Alberta. They are truly the best partners one could hope to work with. And to Michelle and Tracy and all of the APN board who attended and assisted at the conference, the conference couldn't have happened without your work and brilliance. 

I had an opportunity to wrap up Robert's masterclass and asked everyone what they were going to take away from the weekend. When it came to me to speak, I shared the following; "As APN is facing some challenges, I've been asking myself 'What is it as an organization that we do and who do we do it for?'. Sitting in this room with this group of playwrights, I am reminded that you are who we do it for and this is what we do." 

You don't often get to see the fruits of your labours, but looking around that room I saw 18 playwrights that I have worked with and grown with, that APN has cultivated. The Banff Centre describes itself (accurately so) 'the largest arts incubator in the world'. If The Banff Centre is an incubator, APN is a cultivator. We prepare the soil and nutrients so that our members can plant themselves, take root and grow. This weekend reminded me why I'm holding the tiller.

Our organization has some challenges ahead and the support of our membership is going to be paramount to our continued success and growth.  We love working for you and we need you working for us. We encourage you to donate what you can, be that a financial donation, a donation of time or a donation of information. Fundraising is our major focus at the moment and if you have any thoughts on potential sponsors or leads, foundations or grants we can apply for, let us know. 

See you in 2015 for the 11th PlayWorks INK Conference...planning is already underway...

Monday, 7 October 2013

A Week in the Life by Marylou Gammans

Marylou holds a BFA with specialization in acting from Concordia University as well as a B.Ed. from University of Calgary. Having taken a hiatus from the theatre world for almost twenty years she is back in the form of a playwright. In an earlier rendition of her life she acted both on stage and for film/T.V. Her interest in teaching began when she taught mask work as a means of communicating with psychologically challenged children at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. She later continued this work as an Artist in Residence for numerous high schools. When not writing, Marylou is busy substitute teaching at the Francophone school Ste. Marguerite Bourgeoys or simply enjoying family life with her husband and three kids.

Marylou recently had her play "Early Retirement" workshopped and read at Lunchbox Theatre, we asked her to share a few thoughts as a relatively new playwright experiencing the workshop/public reading process in a professional setting.

One early Friday morning in May the phone rang and I mentally prepared myself as I  answered it to  hustle into work as a substitute teacher.Increasingly playwriting had been on my radar moving slowly away from the hobby designation and toward, do I dare say it, the professional realm, yet not so seasoned was I as to expect a call. As I approached the phone I saw the words LUNCHBOX THEATRE dancing across the display ! I almost lost it, but then composed myself and casually picked up the phone. It was Glenda Stirling direct! “ I am calling with news to make your day……” I hung up the phone and then proceeded to lose it! I thought, wow! She chose my play, my words, my ideas for the Suncor Stage One Lunchbox Festival of New Work. Early Retirement was slated to be workshopped for a week in June with professional actors and a professional director. Hmmmm... I started thinking... what does that make me? Nahh!

Day One: I woke up on the morning of June 21st with optimism. Bearing a smile ear to ear  I walked down the hill  toward the train to go to work. I felt like I was really moving toward something great ; imagine going to your  “job” in downtown Calgary with your colleagues being theatre artists.Though I was trained as an actor and had worked professionally in the past, 20+ years had gone by. I had to pinch myself. I was reacquainted with Duval Lang,  met Darcy Dunlop and gave Val Pearson a great big hug. Glenda knew that the two of us went way back and felt it to be a good fit all round. She was right. It was like being with family but with all the lousy stuff removed. Comfortable, productive, respectful and purposeful. That was the sentiment each day we worked together. Structure, structure, structure and problems….that’s what I came home with to work on after the first day.

Day Two:  I knew the routine by now. Read, confusion, discuss, notes, read again. Script doubles back. Rework pages. Find the emotional arc.Transitions. Everything Trevor Rueger, my amazing dramaturg had taught me, but this was in double time. Daily deadlines rather than self imposed weekly or even bi-monthly! Realizations - I could meet the challenge with focus and effort and, I had no personal attachment to the piece. It was no longer mine but a collaboration. Everybody plays their part - how hokey is that! It’s true though. It was almost more exciting than writing the piece. Actually it was more exciting! Definitely. The knowledge that two fabulous actors would read my words the next day created the carrot I needed to make it through the many hours of intensive rewrites that night.  

Day Three: This is the day that all goes south. It also happened to be the day that Glenda listened to the entire script!  The reading was off, the timing, my patchwork quilt  of dialogue had many loose strings. The jokes were flat, the character Carol a shrew and I felt like I’d have to start from scratch! It was all good though. I didn’t lose my head because that’s not my nature and funny enough, my composure was noted. I was surprised, but I think it came back to realising that this is my job, a great and fun job, so get the job done. There was no emotion needed. Val helped by always giving very clear and precise notes as to what approach to take for the evening rewrite. She never wanted me to attack the script on too many fronts at the same time. I think her calm demeanor led to a very manageable rewrite every night and in turn a very productive following day.

Day Four: Scenes to cut and paste; lines to rearrange and some to say goodbye to forever. I had a scene that transformed from a romantic dinner for two, to a home renovation project. The need was for Simon to do something for his wife but also to be completely underfoot. Duval suggested it, I accepted it. The writing challenge became staging a reno project in a small space and time frame. This ended up being a much better choice for the play. More timing issues, and lot’s of rewrites which had me, for the first time during this week of intensive writing, staying up until three in the morning. I felt satisfied yet intensely nervous about Friday as I headed to bed that evening completely absorbed by this experience to the exclusion of almost everything else. I knew that there was flooding in Canmore but not the extent of it. No time for news, not this week!

Day Five: The phone rang at 8:20 am. Glenda was on the phone and informed us that Mayor Nenshi had just encouraged people not to go downtown in preparation for flooding. Glenda made the call to cancel the remaining three readings in a responsible choice that would have become in the hours to follow an inevitable choice as the downtown officially closed down  due to an unfathomable flooding event. It remained closed for almost a week yet with the devastation clean up  ongoing to this day.  

Summer rolled on by and Glenda met with me to discuss rewrites for the potential reading to come in the fall. I rewrote threading in various ideas through the play to create a more cohesive flowing script.I resubmitted and through the use of Glenda’s magic wand, she was able to get three readings, three playwrights, three directors and five or six actors along with technical staff together for a staging of these plays in September; three months to the day from when they were slated!  My play Early Retirement was met with resounding applause and post play discussion to the point where Glenda kindly asked if we could continue the discussion in the hallway so that the technical staff could go home! After getting home, my daughter Elise asked why I was holding my head the whole time. I didn’t think I was but I can say that I felt like I was with a child at the dentist.  I sat nervously not knowing what to expect yet knowing that no matter the outcome, it wasn’t life or death, just uncomfortable at worst. Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all! My mantra. Turned out that my “baby” had no cavities; needed a good cleaning but no major dental work for now.

Not long after that incredibly fortunate experience, I met a woman who asked what I do for work and I caught myself saying , “ I’m a playwright and a teacher.” It’s been a great ride and I feel blessed to have had this opportunity and like anything good, it’s hard to stop at one! I’ll keep balancing the teaching which I love to do with what is becoming increasingly satisfying; creating dialogue.