Playwright, Writing Life

The Stage or the Page? Writing the Baby or the Embryo

I was recently asked the question, ‘What do you like writing for more…the stage or the page?’ My answer was simple. I didn’t even have to think about it. It was an emphatic YES!

With a gun to my head, along with the pressure of having only ten seconds to either give one up or die, I would probably use the little time I had left to say goodbye to loved ones. Admittedly, the decision is not Sophie’s Choice or anything as life or death crucial as that…but it feels that epic. It’s a choice I would never want to make.

I always say that writing for the stage is like writing a novel without having the added responsibility of working with all that clunky, incipient prose that shows up between the dialogue. That’s why I love being a playwright. I need only worry about putting words into my characters’ mouths. All the movement and action (business) can be on the director and actors to decide. All the setting can be created by the set designers. The rest of the theatre crew deal with all that prose that doesn’t have to be there on the page. At times, that feels like getting a get-out-of-jail free card. Score! I can have fun just making my characters talk!

And it’s a lot of fun. But…there’s also something missing. I absolutely love building worlds and making sure every little detail is as it should be. The reader will hear the dialogue in a novel. And that dialogue better be authentic. There’s nothing more irritating than dialogue that simply does not sound authentic. But the reader will also see the prose. How they see everything that surrounds the dialogue is up to me. I love getting that right. I would sorely miss that if all I did was write plays. Yes, a playwright works with stage direction…we do use prose outside of dialogue. We have to at least let the rest of the theatre crew know the scaffolding that surrounds the conversation. But we don’t get to visit the minutiae of the scenes we create. I love to write my novels cinematically. I write so that the story rolls out as though it were playing out on the big screen. I like to be in control of all the details. In order to do that, I need to embrace all aspects of story. I need to paint the scenes in full.

On the stage, it’s all there in front of the audience. To an extent, what they see is the playwright’s vision. But in another way, it could be diametrically opposed to the playwright’s original vision. Outside the characters on the stage, and the words they speak, most of what the audience is seeing is director, actor, and set design interpretation. This isn’t a bad thing. Playwright’s understand that they are, in a sense, giving up a lot of control when they write for the stage. That is, in fact, part of the thrill of play-writing for me. I love to see what the other people involved in my plays do with them. I love watching the actors form their characters. Ultimately, I end up loving the characters they create a lot more than the ones I sketched out. And the directors seem to know exactly where to put the business of the play. It’s an art-form to move the actors about the stage and have them perform the best possible movements at the best possible times. That’s why a good playwright will keep the stage direction to a bare minimum. They know that the next stages of the play’s development will be for others to interpret. A theatre company is a cohesive unit. A lot of work, and a lot of trust, go into making a good play.

A still from my play, Perfect Timing. From the 2013 InspiraTO Festival, performed by Liam Doherty & Jennifer Gillespie on the main stage of the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto, Ontario (June, 2013). Perfect Timing was directed by Kim Sprenger and dramaturged by MC Thompson. Photo Credit: Ismail Atiev

In the end, the difference between playwriting and novel writing comes down to collaboration. While I’m writing my novel, I want to be the director, the actors, the set designer, everything. I want to have full control. I understand that at some point an editor will come in and make crucial improvements upon my creation, but I don’t take that into consideration while I’m creating. While I’m writing my play, I have forethought. I consider that the director and actors will work with what I give them. I understand that the creation process will still evolve when I am done with the words on the page.

Ultimately, it takes a writer to create a novel and a village to create a play. So don’t ask me what I would rather do. I love the solitary world of novel writing. I love to sit down and write something and present it to the world complete. Voila! But I also love to collaborate with the wonderfully creative and talented world of the theatre. I love being a part of something that is so much bigger than me, but that ultimately starts with me. When you write a novel, you pass your fully formed baby on to the world. When you write a play, you’re passing an embryo on to doctors who will know exactly how to bring it to fruition. I’m okay with both methods. As a writer, I’m blessed to have experienced both. So take that gun away from my head. I have a novel AND a play to write.

You can catch 2 of my plays on TUESDAY AUGUST 1st from 7pm-9pm in PORT PERRY, when they are to be STAGE READ by the folks at Theatre 3×60. Click the image to visit their page and purchase tickets ($10 gets you in to see both plays read — The History of Us AND King of the Crease)

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Playwright, Theatre, Theatre 3X60, Writing Life

Staged Readings of Two of My One-Act Plays…

THE HISTORY OF US and KING OF THE CREASE, two one-act plays I wrote, will be stage read NEXT TUESDAY (AUGUST 1st, 2017) from 7pm-9pm at Port Perry Church of the Ascension (266 North St. Port Perry).

Thanks to THEATRE 3×60 for putting this on. I was thrilled to find out that they were doing this with both of the first two one-act plays I have ever written.

If you recognize the title of the first one, THE HISTORY OF US, it’s because it began life as a 10-minute play…which I wrote for DRIFTWOOD THEATRE‘s TRAFALGAR 24 Play Creation Festival. I was fortunate enough to land two incredible actors for the original production of this play. Both Christopher Kelk and Adriano Sobretodo Jr. were phenomenal in their roles as Alzheimer’s suffering Charlie Wilkins and his son-in-law Ben. Making a ten minute play into a one-act was a difficult task, but creating more for and about these two characters was a labour of love. Charlie suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is mourning the recent loss of his wife, while adjusting to the changes taking place in his life. These changes include moving in with his son and his partner…and dealing with the complications this entails with other family members.

In King of the Crease, we have retired NHL goalie Frank Eno, who is struggling with aging and chronic back pain. His live-in adult daughter has a suitor who Frank admires while others in his family do not. It’s the story of a father and son, in the end…disguised as more of a family drama.

I hope you will join THEATRE 3×60 next Tuesday to see how these two plays pan out on the stage.

3xCanadians Staged Readings – Kevin Craig, August 1, 2017

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Port Perry Church of the Ascension (266 North St. Port Perry)

Theatre 3×60’s summer company performs staged readings of Kevin Craig’s King of the Crease and The History of Us.

CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO BE TAKEN TO THE THEATRE 3×60 WEBSITE AND A DIRECT LINK TO WHERE YOU CAN BUY TICKETS TO THE EVENT FOR $10 EACH:

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BUY TICKETS HERE: https://squareup.com/store/theatre-3×60

 

A MESSAGE FOR WRITERS AND PLAYWRIGHTS: Staged Readings are interactive and the audience has an opportunity to provide feedback on the plays being read. These readings are GREAT WORKSHOP OPPORTUNITIES for playwrights and wanna-be playwrights. It will be a learning experience for anyone thinking of taking on playwriting. And, yes…it will be a terrifying experience for me, the playwright. I’ve never done anything like this, but I have an open mind and a desire to better my playwright skills. This is just the kind of opportunity that could make me grow as a playwright. For my local writer friends, this is an invaluable experience…come, learn, contribute feedback. I hope to see you there!

 

 

 

On Writing, Playwright, W Somerset Maugham, Writing Life

I See a Ship in the Harbor…

 

I can and shall obey…

Ear-worms are fingers tapping your soul asking you to remember.

And I still find it so hard to say what I need to say.

What follows is mere rumination.

I’ve been imagining myself a playwright of late. Again. I’ve begun project after project…and even completed a couple (DETAILS TO FOLLOW IN THE COMING WEEKS).

When I started writing poetry, which may in fact be my first calisthenics endeavor with words, I thought, ‘this must be the hardest thing to write.’ Then I took on the short story and discovered poetry was easier than I thought…because the short story was near impossible. From there, I took on the novel…because it’s only MORE of a short, right? A longer short, if you will. How much more difficult could it be?

Was I in for a surprise! Culottes are not pants. The novel was difficult in its own unique way. I came upon issues that had nothing to do with the short story, even though they resemble one another in so many ways. I might argue that the short story is more difficult than the novel overall…because of what you have to put into it and the confined perimeters you are given and forced to squeeze those ingredients into. It’s a bit of a magic trick, really. But the novel…the endurance one needs to see it through to the end! The novel is almost a physical feat. It’s so exhausting.

All these word trials combined can’t really prepare one for playwriting. If novel writing is bringing a story to life, then playwriting is bringing characters to life. It’s about getting your characters to say precisely what they need to say. No FAT. No un-wanted words. It’s the novel without the movement, for the characters themselves perform the movement. You don’t get to DESCRIBE…you just get to talk.

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The great W. Somerset Maugham, 1942. Because he said a novelist can become a playwright…I write.

My ‘mentor’ and idol, W. Somerset Maugham, once said, “Thank God, I can look at a sunset now without having to think how to describe it.”  (Read his THE SUMMING UP) This was said in a sort of elation as he had moved from novel writing to play-writing. He was thrilled to be spending more time in dialogue and less tedious time building up the area around the talking. And I agree with him fully and completely.

But there is also an element of playwriting that is terrifying. It’s like removing all the trees the novel provides for shading. You are starkly naked against the stage. The reader is not going to be taking the description you wrote and running it through their imaginations and making it even bigger and better than what you originally gave them…AND crediting you with the entire picture formed by the marriage of your prose and their imaginations. The characters literally need to carry everything forward in a play. If it’s not seen and heard, it doesn’t happen.

And THIS is what I want for myself? THIS is my ultimate goal as a writer? To write conversations that must have the fortitude to stand alone? I must be crazy. Poetry makes the world prettier, short stories and novels makes the world vivid and in front of you and alive.

Plays, for the playwright at any rate, give only bodies talking. Theatre does not end with the playwright. Theatre merely begins at the end of the playwriting. The breath gets blown into the play via the director and the actors, and the dramaturge before that. The play is merely mud until those elements mould it into existence–words on paper. The playwright provides the mud and the director and actors mould it into the golem. The whole is a collaborative effort. Where a novelist needs no collaboration outside of those who polish their piece and make it its most presentable, the playwright needs a stable of people to carry their work forward. The novelist has to imagine a person sitting in a room, lounging in a chair, book in hand…their imagination knitting with the words on the page to form something greater than the sum of the novel’s parts. The playwright needs to count on the faith of many believers taking to the stage and presenting their words to a person sitting in a room, sitting in a chair, eyes wide open taking in the show. The playwright needs to step back and allow what it is they wrote to take on a new life, to become something other than what it is they wrote…something better.

I suppose there is always a collaboration. The novelist and the reader’s imagination. The playwright and the busload of people injecting the words with imagination, movement, and the business of performing them. I really must be crazy, because I do both of these things. But both are wildly rewarding in their own way. Each one gives back as much as you give into it. To see your words brought to life by actors on the stage is an alchemy I’ll never get used to. And to hear that your novel has touched a reader…untold joy. Every once in a while I reach a place of reflection and realize what these things mean to me. They are everything. The word is the light, indeed.

I’m writing a play right now, writing the conversations that will hopefully be brought to life on the stage. One must believe in that eventuality when writing a play. It is the only way for the play to be born…it must leave the page. Its characters must take flesh.

And with every line of dialogue, I remind myself that nothing can be extraneous on the page. They NEED to say only what NEEDS to be said.

And I still find it so hard to say what I need to say…

 

 

 

 

Lynne MacDonell, Male Survivor, On Writing, Playwright, Sexual Abuse, Theatre, Writing Life

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

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.

 

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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…