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.

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