Bringing Levity to a Serious Issue -A Reluctant Playwright Tackles a New Play

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

lev·i·ty
ˈlevədē/
noun
noun: levity; plural noun: levities
  1. humor or frivolity, especially the treatment of a serious matter with humor or in a manner lacking due respect.

Whenever I attempt to tackle a serious life issue faced by real-life people in my writing, my aim is always to intersperse the message with a brand of levity that is neither offensive to the reading/watching audience nor disrespectful to the target subject facing the real-life issue being tackled (I apologize for the run-on sentence). This task is not as easy as it probably doesn’t sound, especially when I am a member of the target group I’m writing about. But I tackle issues. It’s one of the things I like to do with my writing. I don’t shy away from the task because it is difficult to accomplish. I embrace it. It’s a challenge a choose to take on.

Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about Childhood Sexual Abuse and where Toronto area men could go for help to overcome the side-effects of this devastating crime (Sadly and happily it is google search-and-found almost daily by those seeking help–sadly, because it’s heartbreaking to think there are that many victims out there and happily because I’m glad they are finding help through the provided links). I wrote about a miracle worker who has made it her life’s work to heal men and help them recover their lives from the morass of their broken childhoods. Lynne MacDonell brings men from victimhood to survivorhood to thriverhood. She does this with individual therapy and guided and thriver-led group therapy.

 

day4-37

I built this Inukshuk on West Fork Trail on Oak Creek just outside of Sedona, Arizona, this past September. It’s a symbol found in abundance in Lynne MacDonell’s office. I built it for my group brothers…

I am now YEARS into my own personal healing journey. One day, while awaiting the commencement of a group therapy session, a conversation about plays and theatre led to a discussion about a play which takes place in a therapy group session. The guys know that I’ve been writing plays for a few years now. At first, it was a bit of a joke. “And we can have the guy who…” and we would outline all the shady/crazy/funny/sad characters that would take the stage in the play. We had all the archetypes covered, all the stereotypes, all of US. It was a discussion of life imitating art imitating life imitating art.

A funny thing began to happen about ten minutes in to our conversation. I got that warm flush of excitement I receive when a kernel of an idea begins to grow and take possession of my creative brain. The downhill snowball effect of the creativity engine kicked in and I became excited. “And we can make it funny–I mean, fucking hilarious, right–because look at us. Even we know there are funny things about us. We’re a cesspool of fodder for funny.” And someone else said, “At the same time, we could educate. We could get a message out. We could immobilize.”

And then, inevitably in discussions such as this, someone swung into that dangerous territory where they spurted out something like, “We could change the world!” And the conversation kind of fizzled out at that point because we all felt just a bit foolish for getting excited about something we were dreaming up as a sort of joke to pass the time as we were waiting for all the others to arrive.

The thing with creativity kernels, however, is that they fester. They live in those dark halls of the mind where a writer’s fictional worlds get built. They occasionally come out of their rooms and clutter your everyday thoughts. They say, “Hey! Remember me!” like they are drugs and the writer is the junkie looking for a fix.

That play idea has been battling for head-space ever since we concocted the idea. It whispers to me while I’m writing other things. It walks across my thoughtscape holding placards that read, “Don’t you forget about me!” It campaigns to be taken out of its cell and allowed access to the playground. Sometimes there is nothing one can do to stop the growth of an idea. Nothing, that is, but write.

So now I’m faced with a large task. Write a play about childhood sexual abuse that audiences would actually want to see. We are talking about an issue that is avoided like the plague. BY EVERYONE. Don’t talk, don’t talk, don’t talk. You spend your life hearing that mantra. You live by it. You swallow the pain. You attempt–incredibly failingly–to convince yourself that you’re okay, that you don’t need to talk about it. You attempt to talk about it and you are silenced. It is THE topic not to be touched. NOBODY WANTS TO ADMIT IT HAPPENS. EVERYBODY WANTS IMMUNITY FROM ITS EXISTENCE. Let the victims deal with it…why should we? It didn’t happen to us.

But this thing in my head won’t be silenced. Some bonehead in my men’s childhood sexual abuse recovery group made a tiny little suggestion one day a year or so ago, and like that tiny fucking piece of metal in the woods in Stephen King’s TOMMYKNOCKERS, I stumbled over it. I have fallen victim to it. I have been digging. And, ladies and gentlemen, it is getting bigger. The synopsis of TOMMYKNOCKERS goes something like this… After a writer discovers a piece of metal sticking out of the ground in the woods behind her house, she starts to dig — and dig and dig. For me, that little piece of metal was the flip suggestion that I put our experience on a stage. AND that I make it funny. But more poignant than funny, because what would be the point of making it a comedy? I believe the term dramedy was bandied about.

Enter LEVITY. Enter LAUGHING. Enter ‘Make it respectful’.

Enter a fine-edged sword. It’s a monumental task to walk the edge of a sword without getting cut. But I think I have found my next project. Or, rather–and this is totally WRITER TALK talking here–my next project has found me. My mission, should I choose to accept it–like I have any choice in the matter–is to write the play. To make it funny. To make it eye-opening. To make it a topic of discussion for those imagined audiences that may or may not ever see it. To open the door and shed the light. To make us real but not pathetic, lovable but not pitiable, funny but not caricatures or stereotypes, endearing but not detestable.

THE TRUTH IS some see US as contemptible and unappealing, pariahs who would invariably perpetuate the cycle of what we have endured. Some are incapable of stripping VICTIM from our personhood. Or, even worse, they are incapable of stripping PERPETRATOR from our personhood. They believe in the monkey-see/monkey-do ness of the crime, the dreaded VAMPIRE MYTH. That look we sometimes get…like the person looking at you has already determined your guilt. Or, even if they don’t determine your guilt and your potential of perpetuating the crime-cycle, that other look…the suspicion of your complicity in what happened to you.

YEP. These are all things. And here I am about to jump into the waters of this idea that will not rest. Here am I about to attempt to write a play that may never have an audience because of its potential ICK factor. I am also aware that the therapy group setting has been done…successfully. I go into this with only one wish: WRITE A POIGNANT WITTY SOMETIMES BREATHTAKINGLY SAD KNEESLAPPINGLY FUNNY PLAY THAT WOULD APPEAL TO A LARGE AUDIENCE. No biggie. Thanks for planting the kernel, guys. I’ll now attempt to hit this one out of the park for the brotherhood…and for our incredibly fearless champion, Saint Lynne of the Broken Boys Healing Club. With levity.

LIGHTS UP…

Writing Through a Crisis of Happiness

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The following was originally published in the WCDR Wordweaver in the spring of 2014.
WRITING THROUGH A CRISIS OF HAPPINESS
It’s been ages since I’ve had a daily writing regime. I was fanatical about my sacred hour of writing before the rooster crowed. Then life changed. Drastically. I came down with a debilitating Crisis of Happiness™.
20150325_154726.jpg

A Lazy Trip through the Canals of Suzhou, the Venice of the East.

          I write from darkness. I’m a writer because of my misery-laden psyche. From darkness comes creativity. Remove darkness, and the urgency to write evaporates. Happiness equals a dry well.
20150326_185629.jpg

An Evening Stroll in Wuxi Shi, Jiangsu Sheng, China.

          While on my recent vacation to China and Hong Kong, I planned to re-institute my early-morning writing hour. I thought it’d be easier to get back into my regime while vacationing. But Beijing was breathtakingly beautiful. This made for great writing fodder, but also ramped up my Crisis of Happiness™.
shanghai.jpg

A Day of Shopping in Shanghai.

          We travelled almost every day. We went from Beijing to Shanghai to Suzhou to Hangzhou to Wuxi to Shanghai to Hong Kong. Most mornings I awoke in a different hotel room than the morning before. With 14 days to re-establish my habit, I persevered.
20150327_162031.jpg

Boating in Hangzhou Shi, Zhejiang Sheng, China

          Writing is a discipline. We must take it seriously in order for it to have importance in our lives. I had been using it as a crutch to prop up the rest of my life. One early morning in Shanghai, I considered a change of perspective. Write from a place of joy. Such an easy concept. If I could write from a wounded psyche, I could also write from joy. I embraced the pre-dawn vista of Shanghai spread out before me like a frenetic wonderland and I picked up my pen. I wrote. I was back.
20150324_133038.jpg

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China (Selfie-Capital of the World!)

          I can’t, however, write about the place I’m in. Amid the unsurpassed beauty of Suzhou—Venice of the East—I wrote about how, atop the Eiffel Tower, the blinding Paris sunsets distort the views of the beautiful city below. Having spent the previous day boating through Suzhou’s beautiful canals, I happily wrote about
Paris sunsets.
hongkong2.jpg

A Tipsy Night in the streets of Hong Kong.

          This morning, I awoke with a vivid memory of a tipsy evening in a restaurant atop the peak overlooking Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. I wrote about being down in the harbour earlier that day, and how water lapped at the hulls of the ancient heritage boats precisely the same way it lapped at new boats. The ancient ones were festooned with Chinese lanterns and decorous accoutrements, but their seaworthiness seemed questionable. The powerful
new motorboats were sleek, sexy, and clearly capable of seafaring adventures.
hongkong.jpg

I see a ship in the harbour…and boats, too.

          I wrote about how perspective changes a person. I used to be one of those rickety old boats swaying in the wake of the newer models, always fearing that today is the day I sink. Oh, how I tried to write my way out of sinking. But I realized one need not be the shiny new boat to stay afloat. One need only move the pen across the page.
note

Write. Bear Witness.

          Writers are witnesses not only on the days we’re miserable and tired. We must also be witnesses on the days we’re overcome with joie de vivre. We must bear witness every day.
          It’s 5:00 a.m. Can I get a witness…

A Playwright’s Dream – Trafalgar 24 by Driftwood Theatre

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS ONE I WROTE FOR THE WCDR WORDWEAVER NEWSLETTER, FOR THEIR MAY/JUNE 2009 ISSUE. It describes my very first foray into play-writing. It’s a little aged today, as I have now had 10 short plays produced…6 of them for Trafalgar24. I just wanted to give a little flavour into the experience from a playwright’s POV. It’s an amazing experience.
Following the article, I have posted some info on this year’s (2017) Trafalgar24 event. GET TICKETS! I promise you, it will be an experience you’ll never forget. One of the best nights out of the year, for sure.
Here’s the article:
A Playwright’s Dream – Trafalgar 24 by Driftwood Theatre
 
 
 
It’s Friday the 13th and we are in a dark basement corridor of a haunted 19th century castle. Out of the eerie silence come the first ear-shattering shrieks.
 
 
          “Margo! Margo!” A girl runs towards us. She is lost, panicked and terrified.
 
 
          So begins the unfolding of one of my lifelong dreams. The girl’s shouts are words I penned twenty-four hours earlier when I was locked into that basement and forced to write a 10-minute play.
 
 
          Forced is an exaggeration. The fulfillment of my dream actually began a month earlier when I wrote a hesitant e-mail to Ruth Walker. I had received a WCDR e-mail calling for playwrights for Driftwood Theatre’s 6th annual Trafalgar24 event and I ruminated over whether or not I should apply. Actually, I painfully agonized. I asked Ruth if I was completely crazy to even consider contacting Jeremy Smith, Driftwood’s artistic director.
 
 
          When I received Ruth’s encouragement (instead of the expected laughter), I sent Jeremy an e-mail. I began with the truth: I am not now, nor have I ever been a playwright. I followed my confession with much pleading and begging. You see, I had always imagined myself as a playwright. Imagination is a wasted gift when not forced into action.
 
 
          Much to my surprise—and horror—I received the following reply from Jeremy: I am delighted to inform you that if you still have an interest in staying up all night in a haunted castle between Thursday, March 12, and Friday, March 13, we would love to have you.
 
 
          Fast forward a month and here I am in the dark basement corridor, in the back row of a standing-room-only, sardine-packed audience. The young woman is lunging toward us, shrieking out her lost friend’s name. I’d like to say I wrote a dramatic play that would move my audience to tears—I went in there with visions of Blanche Dubois meets Phantom of the Opera—but that would be a lie.
 
 
          When we arrived at the castle twenty-four hours earlier, we playwrights were each given a sheet of paper. Mine included three things: headshots of my actors, the room I was assigned to and the play’s theme—Friday the 13th in a haunted castle. I took one look at my actresses and I knew what to write. I sat on the floor of the basement corridor and attempted to bring my newly acquired vision to life.
 
 
          Within an hour and a half, I victoriously announced: Done. Comedy. Now I can relax about deadline & edit.
 
 
          Throughout the hours of edits that followed, I was comforted by one fact: Lucy Brennan was upstairs. I interrupted her and commiserated with her a few times throughout the night. We even went on a Tim Hortons’ run with some of the other playwrights. She was my unwitting rock. She had no idea how much comfort I took in knowing she was a mere staircase away.
 
 
          Come morning, the playwrights were allowed to go home. As we drove to our beds, the actors and directors swarmed the castle. They only had a few hours to read and rehearse the ten plays we had left behind. It was all very The Elves and the Shoemakers if you ask me.
 
 
          Opening night! The Trafalgar24 play-creation festival is a fundraising event for Driftwood Theatre. What’s special about Driftwood is that they bring professional theatre to Ontario communities for pay-what-you-can admission. Trafalgar24 helps to make this possible. The event had a wonderful silent auction and a dessert table to rival every dessert table ever assembled on this or any other planet. It also had a dizzying array of talented actors and actresses who poured their hearts into roles that did not even exist less than 24 hours earlier.
 
 
          I was now an audience member. Each person in attendance viewed six of the 10 plays. I saw some incredibly heart-wrenching performances. I travelled from the library to the cathedral to the piano room and beyond—Lucy Brennan’s was my favourite! I was mesmerized by the beauty of the night—flawlessly orchestrated by all—including the stage director, WCDR’s own Nancy Melcher.
 
 
          I made my way to the basement. In the hushed moments prior to my character’s screams, I noticed the evening’s emcee standing to my left. Neil Crone, the man who has given me years of poignant laughter, was about to watch my words brought to life. I was suddenly more terrified than I had been when faced with the impossible demand of writing a play in eight hours. But I had forced my imagination into action. I was now a playwright.
 
 
          ‘Lucy‘ made her way onto the set and was startled, poked and prodded by the wickedly playful ‘Margo.’ Neil Crone laughed! I will beg Mr. Smith to allow me to be a part of the next Trafalgar24. If he doesn’t grant me the incredible honour of being playwright, I will be there in the audience watching another year of magic unfold. Only a fool would miss it!
 
END OF ARTICLE
Want to learn more about the 2017 Driftwood Theatre Trafalgar 24 Play Creation Festival? FOLLOW THIS LINK TO READ ABOUT THIS YEAR’S PLAYWRIGHTS, JUST ANNOUNCED!
 
 
HERE’S A LINK TO THE DRIFTWOOD THEATRE WEBSITE. Don’t miss Trafalgar 24 2017. You’ll love it!

INKSLINGERS – Destination SCOTLAND! Writing-Yoga-Discovery Retreat

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Come and steep yourself in Scottish literature and landscape. ~ So goes the new call to arms (to pens?) on The Inkslingers’ website.

Are you going to answer the call? It’s always a good idea to invest in your writing life. You owe it to yourself to explore your craft with the same passion with which you explore the world…total immersion. No better way to do it than to do the two things together. Let Inkslingers, along with the literary landscape of Scotland, take you on a writing adventure this July! Wanderlust and Writing are perfect partners…and with Inkslingers guiding the way, you cannot go wrong.

The INKSLINGERS are taking a group of writers to SCOTLAND for a retreat of immersion in words and place.

From July 15 to 23, 2017,

Inkslingers will be offering

a writing/yoga/discovery retreat

in stunning, storied Scotland!

Writers will explore Glasgow, Ayrshire, Fort Augustus on the shores of Loch Ness, Dunkeld, and, Edinburgh. Yoga Classes will be offered by Yoga instructor and Poet, Kate Marshall Flaherty, and the writing sessions will be led by Sue Reynolds, with additional support from Kate and James Dewar. There will be a tour of a distillery, a sheepdog display, the Peter Pan Museum, Edinburgh Castle…and much more. Be prepared to be fully immersed in your surroundings! And you will have the finest writing workshop facilitators guiding your writing experience along the way.

glasgow-250x248

The copy on the INKSLINGERS’ website says it all:

It is Inkslingers’ mission to deliver writing workshops and retreats that enrich the experience and strengthen the craft of each participant while building community and keeping each writer safe in their creativity. ~ INKSLINGERS

I have been a recipient of their ability to deliver on that promise. Both James Dewar and Susan Lynn Reynolds have made me a better writer.

Who are the Inkslingers? Susan Lynn Reynolds was my initial introduction to the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. I originally took her memoir workshop at a library in Durham Region back in 2002 or 2003. From there, I followed her all the way to Uxbridge, Ontario, the very next day to attend a regular on-the-spot writing group she facilitated at the library there. And I never looked back! Sue is an amazing teacher/facilitator. With her exuberance and passion for writing, and her understanding and knowledge of the craft, she makes an exemplary mentor. After attending her on-the-spot group for a couple of years, I later took an extended workshop on novel writing with Sue…and it got me on my current path of novel-writing. YOU CAN READ SUE’S BIO HERE.

James Dewar is the poet who gave me my first introduction to open-mic and poetry performance. He took a chance on me as a spoken word poet before I was ready…and he ignited a passion in me to strive to be a better poet and a better speaker. He’s a natural teacher/mentor. I also attended a poetry workshop led by James, and it was phenomenal and enlightening. I’d recommend them to anyone. You can read about my experience at James’s POETRY SANCTUARY HERE. The sanctuaries are so worth the drive north of the city. YOU CAN READ JAMES’S BIO HERE.

The-Lovat-Arms-Hotel-Fort-Augustus3-w.jpg

Last year (2016) The Inkslingers took a group of writers on a retreat in IRELAND. The whole adventure is captured in their online diaries. You can read all about that retreat at the Inkslingers’ website, to see the detail and care they take in planning their writing adventures:

THE INKSLINGERS IRELAND DIARIES

08-Sue-James-on-Hapenny-bridge-in-Dublin-cropped.jpg

James Dewar and Sue Reynolds are The Inkslingers (Ireland, 2016)

This 2017 writing retreat to Scotland has an EARLY BIRD PRICING DISCOUNT for those who book before MARCH 31st. VISIT HERE FOR PRICING AND REGISTRATION INFORMATION

Scotland is the home and inspiration of a number of the great influences of Western literature: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, J.M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Dunnett, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Muriel Sparks, George MacDonald, Samuel Johnson, Kenneth Grahame, Louise Welsh, Josephine Tey and J.K. Rowling, and the iconic Robbie Burns! ~ INKSLINGERS