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Dual · Natures

Confessions of a Play-Hacker

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carrying on, infiltrating the theatre world of Toronto (nice place, a bit scattered - it's certainly no Whitehorse, or even a St. John's).

i met the Playwrights Guild of Canada. a nice group of people dedicate to supporting playwrights. in fact, with their new membership guidelines, they're supporting me right out of the organization. unless i can manage to get a professional production, an equity director/cast, or a six-show engagement at a juried festival in the next 8 months, i no longer qualify.

it depressed me, frustrated me (as i figured out on the train, asking myself where this strange anxiety was coming from) - until i decided to turn this crisis into an opportunity (thanks, Celia. i may approach all my problems differently, but your attitude can still turn me around).

i've been considered an emerging playwright for 5 years now. there's only so long you can be emerging. it's time to shuck off the chrysalid or crawl back in and die.

my producers this time have been encouraging me to submit it to fringe festivals, to get a cast together and workshop it for real. self-produce - or hound/hire my friends to help produce (not like there's a lack of funding in Yukon). it's more manageable than i think.

i went through this last time, putting the Lost Mummers Play on its feet - how was i going to convince someone to put the effort into writing music, casting, working accents, singing, choreographing stage fights, on and on, until i realized it was the easiest thing in the world to do.

so. this will be easy. 4 cast members. limited set and props. hell, it's practically bare stage. all of my friends are musicians. or theatre folk. or want to be. and people Outside have appreciated it. this is going to work.
Current Mood:
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i'm rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. i'm here in the Greater Toronto Area (Whitby, specifically) for my reading of Heather's String Theory with Foundry, and working away, trying to come up with a decent script for rehearsals on (when? Friday?) -- working away at the text on a laptop with a cracked screen and too many keys. as long as it can read my files.

it's not bad, i think. getting better. and drifting so far away from my original intention - it's great when that happens. i get stuck in the same scenes that don't work and being able to break the story away from the first draft is tremendous. like the big reveal was originally at the climax, but is now moving closer and closer to the middle. i'm still moving the story where i want to go, but the journey it's taking now has much better scenery.

i'm meeting the producer on Wednesday - at a place called the Artful Dodger (not the place i was thinking of - Robert's. i think that place is now Fuzion). and she's asking me if i want to meet Brad Fraser. Well, i wanted to meet Brad after Love and Human Remains, but not after Cold Meat Party. maybe Nicole has a TARDIS.

or how about meeting Sky Gilbert?
Current Mood:
Current Music:
Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach
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i performed at a reading this week. i've done this before. as a member of the playwrights guild, i can get funding to do a reading a year so it's worth it. and it gives me a chance to perform, just like my musician friends do.

i also get to hang out with other playwrights and feel like i'm really one of them. there are three other members in town (and in the whole territory. and in the whole North), all of us working on completely different projects and all at different stages. they read from works in progress, testing out pieces, giving quiet, understated readings, letting their words dazzle and enrapture the audience.

nuts to that. whilst still reading off the script in hand (an older piece, one i managed to group-produce three years ago), i gave an energetic reading, bouncing around the stage (actually a step-up level of a bookstore), trying to remember how that guy did Hamlet (Solo) so i could convey that swordfight.

besides, i have more to prove than my fellow playwrights. two of them work steady, writing and producing their own work, touring, publishing, remounting. the other is looking forward to his first production in just a couple of months.

me, i'm known (if i'm known at other, as anything other than Peggy's boyfriend) as a writer whose work no one's seen. so when i get a chance i have to show that i'm worthy to be in this illustrious company. i can't be just a little rough, sure but wait until you see the full production - i have to be good now. entertaining. memorable. this is my shot. it's all i got.
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This is partially inspired by comments from Canada Reads 2011, which i didn't listen to but read the summaries for. That and stuff going through my head while walking the dog -- i get a lot of stuff that way.

    Canadian Literature consists of small stories set in a vast landscape - or, in the case of Newfoundland lit, next to or on a huge seascape. the ultimate Canadian portrait would be a miniature person on a huge canvas backdrop. (Heather's String Theory, my play, features four characters telling their story against the backdrop of the entire universe, from Big Bang to Black Holes.)

    Canadian Literature is by definition regional literature, since Canada is merely a collection of regions, not a uniform country. There is no Great Canadian Novel because there is no single Great Canada. Each region is somewhat foreign from the next. (No matter what i write about or where i set it or where i'm living, I'll write with a Newfoundland accent - albeit one softened by Torontonian suburbs.)

    Despite regional differences, Canadian Literature is natural to Canadians. Despite surface similarities, American Literature is as foreign to Canadians as Russian, Japanese or African Literature. (i've read The Great Gatsby but i don't think it hit me the way it would an American; certainly, it did not hit me as hard as Fifth Business.)

    Any attempt to write non-regional Canadian Literature results in bland storytelling, so why bother? A story that can happen anywhere should have somewhere, whether in a windswept Newfoundland outport, the vast emptiness of a prairie farm, the bustling metropolis of Toronto, or a dark, frozen northern winter landscape. (so where does that leave Heather, a story where i've deliberately left off the name of the city? - should i surround the cast with mountains? should the light get stronger as the play moves along? should the ice on the river breakup?)
Current Location:
Whitehorse, YT
Current Mood:
pensive pensive
Current Music:
Willis Fireball
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i'm going to Toronto in April. the play i wrote that brought me to Vancouver is bringing to Toronto to take part in Foundry Theatre's play reading series.

and of course that involves more writing. let's see, i'm on the 8th draft (0.8 by my numbering - 1.0 is a bug-free release, so i'm not there yet). i've change the title from Dual Nature to Heather's String Theory. and i've reworked the characters over and over again. and pretty much anything anybody has told me, both about the play or about their lives, has ended up somewhere in the script.

i wrote another script a couple of weeks ago. and it sucked. i liked the idea, and a couple of the scenes and some of the staging ideas that came out of it, but i went in the wrong direction with the characters and emotion and therefore the plot. maybe it's not the kind of thing i should put in a play. especially when i don't know where i'm going with theatre yet.

instead, that one is going to become a short story. maybe several. i've got ideas for stories, all involving supernatural forces and my old hometown, far beyond the waves. enough for a themed collection, if i can ever get writing them. and who knows, maybe publication after that. i'll see how far it will take me.

after all, this play is taking me to Toronto. and if i put more work into it, who knows where it will take me next.
Current Music:
Various, I'm Your Fan
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i have to take a moment to savage a novel i just finished (and i did finish it - i'm not about to trash a book i couldn't get through). February by Lisa Moore. i read it because i like reading stories of my homeland (Galore by Michael Crummey wasn't bad) and i remember the Ocean Ranger disaster, the incident that forms the situation for this novel.

here's the problem with February - nothing happens. seriously. a woman's husband dies suddently and she spends the next 26 years raising their kids and not moving on, until she suddenly starts dating and gets married. and her eldest son gets a woman he barely knows pregnant. that's about it. Moore just takes 300 pages of interior monologue and near poetry to mask it. really, there's nothing underneath.

i have nothing against character driven stories, plotless stories, cool PoMo goofing that's more interesting than plot, but generally, something should happen. where's the character arc? where's the motivation? where's the crisis where everything changes? and what was the point of the subplot? there wasn't anything there.

after awhile, i dreaded picking up the book, would read just a couple of pages and toss it aside.

i read a criticism of the novel (written before the critic had read the book), that it's "unreadably Canadian" and i get it. she's right (albeit for the wrong reasons - her take is sexist, conservative bullshit you expect from the National Post - about women and feminized men, those left behind than men! of! action!) -- it's a passive hero in a dreary landscape, merely surviving.

there are Canadian novels that don't do this: Robertson Davies, for one (he's old-fashioned, of course, but deliberately so - which makes him postmodern). it's also what's wrong with a lot of Canadian theatre -- the important bit of action happened years before. if it's that important, SHOW IT!

it's enough to put me off CanLit. and NLLit. again.
Current Mood:
pissed off pissed off
Current Music:
Tom Waits, Orpans
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lack of discipline is killing me. i can't seem to sit down and write what i have to write.

anybody have any suggestions?

i keep remembering the Zen story about a monk who wanted to achieve enlightenment so desperately that he set a literal deadline for himself. on the last day, he meditated with a knife in his hand, ready to kill himself. and what do you know, it worked.

oh well, i've got deadlines for my paying work (What's Up, Yukon) so i might as well get to that.

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it's been a long time since i've written here (and anywhere) so it's time i started again.

i've noticed for a long time there's a discrepancy between the sorts of things i like to read (stuff i really admire) and what i write. i like the wide, chaotic, flinging off in all directions simultaneously, cutting edge prose of Burroughs and Acker, with the surreal imaginations of Haruki Murakami, Franz Kafka, and J. G. Ballard. but my written is stuck somewhere else entirely. i want to be postmodernist or postpostmodernist (whatever that would be) but i'm stuck in modernism and (heaven forgive me) CanLit.

besides that, i never actually get around to writing anything. must change that.

anyway, i'm taking another approach - having another go at Judas as a 1970s NY punk style monologue (hopefully with noisy, perhaps prepared, electric guitar), with rhymes, gaps, babble, vulgarity and obscenity. and the most surreal theology imaginable (but that's stolen from the original). i'm hoping this will be the kick-in-the-ass needed to get my writing back on track.

once done, i can have another pass through the novel and see what i can do with it. i also need to see about converting it into a graphic novel script. might be cool.
Current Music:
The Chieftains
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i won't say where i was last night, out of fear i might offend, piss people off, people i still want to deal with in matters literary and theatrical, but let's just say it was a 30th birthday party for an organization.

there were people comparing this organization's turning 30 to their own. in my experience, people i've met, turning 30 is when you split up with your wife, move in with your parents, and turn gay (which has nothing to do with the first thing).

whatever. so birthday party, i'm incapable of shmoozing, but i try, end up talking to the two people i know enough that i can manage to talk to a bit without eyeing the exits. Jerome has a new story and himself coming out online. and Celia's doing a show for the Olympics.

and (oh joy) the theatre will be concentration on play development instead of production this year. and to showcase, they bring out the new play they've commissioned (yes, commissioned) - some piece of crap script from the last playwriting competition (i missed, called out of town), and it's typical, mediocre garbage...and i can't help thinking that they've never approached me (sure, i wasn't ready before, when Celia, Brian, Dean, Patty, Miche, and Mitch performed theirs, but maybe now and for the last few years). and i look across the room while the reading is happening at this up-and-coming playwright, and he's sitting there (and to my embittered eyes, my friend seems to be in the throes of love) mouthing along to all his own lines. god.

see, that's the difference between me and him (and who knows how many others) - i have the decency and awareness to be embarrassed as hell when i'm hearing my own words bounced back at me. in vancouver, i kept my head down, hat pulled low, and prepared myself in case the audience rose against me. and when it was over, headed for the nearest bar.

well, at least there was beer.
Current Music:
The Smiths
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I've finally got Happy Songs About Death to the point where i can begin shipping it out. so i've started - small, kinda, but started. i sent off a query to Insomniac Press - gotta be Canadian. maybe, if i get rejected in Canada, i'll consider shipping it to the US or Newfoundland.

i've been thinking about Newfoundland, my ancestral home. i left in May 1999 and i still haven't been back. i'm a real exile. how does one get exiled from Newfoundland? it's not a pleasant ceremony. i was marched out on the docks of Port-aux-Basques, slapped soundly with a cod (a tom-cod or rounder really, i won't exaggerate - the collapse of the fish stocks has meant that the really good cod can't be found), stripped of my accent, and shoved into the hold of the next ferry to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. i was left in such a daze, i didn't stop wandering around until i found myself in Whitehorse, Yukon.

i'm not sure i could go back if i wanted too. i'd probably have to be smuggled in too, in disguise, under an assumed name -- call me, "Jack" -- and hope that they don't check my passport at the Marine Atlantic terminal. or maybe if i get really famous first, they'll let me slide. anyone interested in a new novel - a magic-realist, pomo, post-LGBTQ, take on the Orpheus and Robert Johnson, played out bars, coffeshops, parks, and church basements during the Yukon winter?
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