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I am a lucky bunny. For one: I haven’t met a rutting elk.

Not a joke. Genuinely. Getting between a male elk – the ones with the ANTLERS – and the rest of his heard when all he’s thinking of is mating…bad.

I feel a bit bad that I haven’t really put myself in any danger of meeting an elk here in Banff, because I haven’t been outside much. People go to Banff to BE outdoors – to hike, to ski, to climb mountains, to go camping. I’m here to write, and bloody hell. Everything I’ve heard about the Banff Centre for the Arts…it’s like everything I heard about the Edinburgh Fringe before going. It’s all true. Multiplied by a million.

First, you do need to step outside to get from one building to another, and every one of the buildings has enormous windows…so one way or another, you see you’re in a valley surrounded by the Rockies. Yes, they’re snowy, and tall. But it’s like being hugged.

Then: for however long you’re here, you sleep here, eat here, and work here. The rooms are lovely, the food…I’m going to be dreaming about the buffets of EVERY MEAL I’ve had here. Our first dinner back on Friday, one choice was Lamb Shanks. There are at least six kinds of dessert after lunch and dinner: Homemade butterscotch ice cream. Cheesecake. Linzer torte. Everyone’s shocked at how much tea I’m drinking. Hey, if they keep offering, I’m drinking it. I haven’t seen anyone else turn down more free coffee.

I haven’t even talked about the Q and A or performance of Mr Christopher Plummer. I asked him a question. I SPOKE TO HIM. (Over a microphone, but whatever!)

I can’t write about my re-writing course with Mr O’Hara until after our session today, Don’t F*ck with my Play. I’m too giddy.

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Oh my God…that WAS amazing.

Twitter has its uses. Oh yes. “Retweet this for your chance to win tickets to War Horse !” said VUE. The touring production at the Jubilee Auditorium. I re-tweeted it without a thought. And that evening after work (because I’m one of those people who puts her phone away during work hours), I got a reply that I had WON. Two tickets, to Opening Night. Of War Horse.

So I invited my Take a Bite director Amy (who’d already seen it in New York!), and I got VERY dressed up — and was shocked at how overdressed I felt on seeing everyone there. Let’s leave that for another post, hmm?

I was slightly afraid that having heard so much about this show already, having seen photos of the puppets, I wouldn’t be as moved by it…or alternatively I’d be washing my own makeup down my face.

But…as I posted earlier, it turned out to be true…this is one of those shows that is perfect.

I actually didn’t cry that much because, I think, I was just in awe.

No in-depth analysis–I believe War Horse is beyond that. But I really recall three things:

1) I normally detest title cards — it’s like I’m being told instead of shown, or, in a historical show, like this, the dates projected onscreen tell me how I should be feeling. But not so in this show. When the words “October 1918” appeared, I sighed in relief…”Thank God, the war is almost over…
2) You’d think the horses — the puppets, that is — would overtake everything. But even in the scenes where the horses weren’t onstage, I never thought: “People. Boring. Where are the horsies?” EVERYTHING about this show — the script, the acting, the costumes, the staging of this massive touring show — were all bang on.
3) No denying, this show is what it is because of the puppets. There is nothing else like them. At the curtain call, when all the human actors came out, I was applauding, but also regretting that we wouldn’t see the horses take a bow because all their operators must be onstage. Except I was wrong — Joey and Topthorn came out, and took their bows too, and the audience went nuts, because the horses were so REAL to us. Everyone who built, moved, and did the choreography of those horses…they are geniuses, every one.

I need to read the book and movie, I do. But for the love of heaven, everybody on earth, SEE THIS ONSTAGE.

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I’ve got Banff-playwright squidgies

I don’t know how else to describe it.

Oh, there’s been a lack of time, certainly. Partly it’s procrastination – never had I felt a stronger need to wash and sanitize my rubbish bins and change my cat’s litter than this past weekend.

But the greatest enemy is SELF-DOUBT. Never doubt that. And it took a large Second Cup holiday tea, nanaimo bar and 4 HOURS to conquer it enough to get out my scene for Playworks Ink.

You see, besides seeing Mr Christopher Plummer (I can’t stop thinking that), Playworks is also going to have workshops. Classes. Classes which mundane me gets to take, from people who really, REALLY know what they’re doing. Chris Craddock is doing Solo Creation. If your life’s being is meant to be alone, onstage, JUST YOU, this is the man you need to show you how. He’s amazing. Classes with Sharon Pollock, who is among the best playwrights in Canada ever, and planet earth, and wrote Doc one of the plays which made me think “Oh God, let me write something 10 per cent as good as that one day…” I once met her, at another APN event, years ago. I hope she’s forgotten, because on hearing her name I squealed. Dignified.

I myself am taking Facing the Rewrite, with a playwright named Robert O’Hara, from New. York. City. Who has won an Obie Award. These facts would be enough to make my brain melt, but I’m also going to be taking a session with him called Don’t F*ck up my Play! This makes me weep with happiness.

Until this past weekend, on realizing, f*ck, I had to write something new, to rewrite during Facing the Rewrite, with an Obie-winning-playwright from NYC at the BANFF CENTRE. I knew exactly the scene from the new play I wanted to write…it just wouldn’t come out.

In this situation, it doesn’t work to say – “I’ve already paid, they’re not going to NOT let me in.” I’m going because I want to learn and I want to be GOOD because it’s Banff and this writer is good, and I can’t bring…mediocre.

It’s hard to explain the relief, when it did come out. It frightens me a bit that it took so long, that it felt so hard to start…and how relieved I am that once I got going, it was fine.

So. I’m excited again. I’ve heard today there is still a bit of room left in both Facing the Rewrite and Sharon’s course The Playwright as Storyteller. Really, you should sign up. Soon. Because…Don’t F*ck up my Play is full. (And Christopher Plummer is coming.)

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Pulling the plug.

This weekend, I gave up on something.

It hadn’t gotten very far, but it was something I’d been very excited about, and I was forced to admit that I simply don’t have the time or wherewithal to be a producer anymore. It sucks. But I decided I would rather pull the plug now, before too many people had invested a lot of time in something that I couldn’t do well. And I really don’t have the means to do what this project deserves.


I have something much smaller, hopefully more manageable, in the offing. And there’s Playworks Ink to look forward to. So. Much MUCH better news shortly.

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Why I dislike being a “woman writer”.

Besides the fact that “woman” in this case is used as an adjective when it’s a NOUN. I HATE THAT.

This post may seem like I’m looking the gift horse in the mouth, and I genuinely don’t know why this occurred to me today, but it has, so here we go:

This morning, I received an e-mail saying “I’m pleased to inform you that Crushed has made a sale.” I get that same e-mail about every six weeks or so.

I wrote Crushed in 1997. It had its premiere at the Walterdale Playhouse, during their Evening of One-Acts program — it’s now called Cradle to Stage (now accepting submissions…do it!). This program did — and does — get some heavyweight dramaturges to assist the playwrights. Mine was Vern Thiessen. And here it is, my little two-hander one-act, doing quite well in the fledgling world of online publishing. And a sliver of me wonders why.

It’s very short, 18 pages, though its playing time has always been not less than 30 minutes. It’s about two sisters…the younger is an abusive relationship, and she in turn is rather abusive to her older sister. It’s a very, VERY cheerful story.

Does it still have legs because there are still too few really good scripts out there for actresses? Is it because I happened to get it right — how an abused woman thinks, and how she might in turn end up hurting the people around her? Because — very unfortunately — domestic abuse is happening?

I’ve been very lucky. I have never been physically abused by a man — I wouldn’t stand for it. I have never been turned down for a job because I’m female. But maybe it’s because I’m older, and still on my own, or because there does appear to be a true movement to belittle women lately, that I’m pondering how little progress we’re actually making. I’d like to believe there are more men like these in my own sphere, who not only don’t believe I’m lesser, but would step up when another man says I am. I wish Suzanne Moore of The Guardian wasn’t right…but she is.

I hate being a “woman writer” because that implies what I’ve written about couldn’t possibly matter to anyone but other women. So I put it out there, brothers: if your sister is being beaten up by her boyfriend, isn’t that your problem? What about your daughter, or niece, or your best friend’s daughter? If that boyfriend said “She was asking for it,” would you really say “Yeah man. Women“?

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What you DON’T need in Edinburgh

When I decided to upend my life at 29, I went to Scotland because it seemed the least scary for a big move. To wit – I wanted to GET AWAY, but I knew a fair bit about the UK and Ireland because lots of friends had been there – Winchester, Galway, and Glasgow were on my list. I had the first three months there planned – wow, adventurous – and arranged for a job at a venue in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, because I figured at least I’d be among my people.

Now. Ever since I had decided theatre was going to preoccupy my existence, I had heard about Edinburgh. When high school drama students in Calgary, Alberta, Canada are aware of an event…well. A mere two months before I went, I happened to meet a lady ( and she was a LADY) from the Fringe office itself – I think it was at an information session for Magnetic North. She showed me that year’s program for the Fringe… It was, it is HUGE. I was heading for C Venues – their listings took up two pages. She cheerfully told me I wouldn’t sleep for the full three weeks and would need a liver transplant in the end.

Everything I heard about it was true… times one million.

One night, I was walking home to the flat I was sharing with 6 Fringe co-workers, and a frenzied looking fellow asked me out of nowhere:

“Oi! Wan some Ecstacy?!”

At that moment, about half a dozen young people ran by us, shrieking with laughter, wearing nothing but strategically placed glow in the dark duct tape.

I turned back to the guy who’d just tried to sell me drugs and said “What for?”

Seriously. I know Edinburgh is the setting Trainspotting. But considering the walking pianos, giant fruit, and gigantic purple cow with its legs in the air I saw while there…. I honestly wondered why you’d ever NEED drugs in Edinburgh. Going for a walk and watching the show is cheaper!

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Take Pains. Be Perfect.

“We will meet, and there we may rehearse most obscenely and courageously. Take pains. Be perfect. Adieu.” A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This morning, I ordered The Hollow Crown. I have, I admit, already seen it, and pre-ordered the DVD I could play in Canada the moment it became available. That’s for another post. (It’s excellent. All four parts. Buy it. Buy it buy it buy it.)

It will be clear to anyone who knows me, and any regular readers I have, that I’ve been going through a bit of a funk. This site is my professional face, so I won’t go on about the other facets of my existence not going right, but my professional playwriting facet hasn’t been going the way I wish either, which has compounded things.

About a month ago, I asked myself, “Why am I still doing this?” And for the first time in my life…I couldn’t answer myself right away.

I chose to devote my brain, my every moment really, to writing for theatre. I chose it because I love doing it. But WHY did I love it?

I couldn’t remember.

The wonderful Mr Simkins’ Guardian article gives one reason the majority of us (yes, I’m saying US) keep at it: “it’s a drug – and once it gets in your system, it’s difficult to break the habit”. When you do get a role, when a show you’re doing goes well, it is very like a shot of adrenaline. You feel great.

It’s the bite of the theatre bug. At the end of high school, where I’d been called one of the best actors they’d seen in a long time and an excellent writer, I asked my drama teachers if they honestly thought I could hack it in drama school. They said no. I wasn’t thick-skinned enough, I’d be eaten alive. Good, I thought, that’s that. So I did my English degree, intending to become…a journalist? …a teacher? Lying to yourself is futile, ladies and gentlemen. Halfway through my third year, I won a playwriting contest. I had been infected by the theatre bug when I was FOUR. No escape.

Take Pains. Be Perfect.

So. Apparently this is what I’m meant to do. I’ve worked my tail off at it. Other theatre professionals have told me I am good and should keep at it. And here I was, about a month ago, questioning at age 38 what the hell I’ve been doing. Ultimately I chose to write and keep writing because I love it…

But without remembering, even for myself, why I love it, I had my worst anxiety attack in years.

There were some shows in the last month I wanted to see. I didn’t go. One night I tried watching a movie at home, a movie I’d seen before and enjoyed, just to take my mind off things, and stopped it in a panic when I saw the boom mike in frame. I’m not watching the movie anymore, why is the mike…! I went to the house of my best friends, while they were feeding their kids dinner, and had a breakdown with them.

Now…we come to Shakespeare.

I was at home after a long day at my day job, watching cat videos on YouTube. I happened upon a review of The Hollow Crown series, and although I’d seen them already…I watched it.

A very brief prelude for all who haven’t seen it: the review contained a clip of the scene in Henry IV part 2, where King Henry — played by Jeremy Irons — is awake in the dead of night, wandering into the throne room of his blue-moonlit-castle, saying “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Stendhal’s Syndrome. I am not exaggerating.

Take Pains. Be Perfect.

Perfect script. Perfect adaptation of a perfect script. Perfect actor in that part. Perfect setting. Perfectly set. Perfect perfect PERFECT.

And when the last bit of The Hollow Crown was broadcast in Britain last year, and was pre-empted by Wimbledon…there was an outcry from the public. Over Shakespeare.

These films had the very best actors cast in exactly the right roles, and exactly the right crew making them, from the costumes to the swords to the direction. They were perfect, and the audience agreed.

I am still learning, in this, my long, rarely-paying playwriting career. Some tidbits I’ve learned:

– when to admit that a script I have worked diligently on is still not ready to be seen.
– when to leave the director and cast to get on with it, and when–because I’m the producer and coming up with the money–to step in.
– that the perfect actor may not always be cast in their role, sometimes for the stupidest of reasons, and so that show will not be perfect — and one must get on with life, and the next show.
– that audiences and critics are seeing your show with NEW EYES. Listen and weigh what they say…they may be right.
– that striving for the perfect show means getting hurt. Badly.

My fellow playwright Kim McCaw told me once about a good friend of his who’s been an actor in London for years. He’s been in too many shows to count, and after every show, his friends and family have come backstage and said “Well done, we really enjoyed that.” Then he was in War Horse. And everyone came backstage screaming “OH MY GOD! That was AMAZING!”

Many shows turn out badly. Some shows are good. A few are perfect.

I am taking pains to be perfect. I am hurting because I want my work not to be good, but perfect. Whenever I have written the best script, and gotten the perfect director for it, and the perfect actors in each part AND for each other, the show has been perfect. And on those few occasions, the audience, no matter how small, has loved it. I am selling only the scripts of Crushed and Take a Bite because I am that proud of them. They are, I daresay, perfect.

THAT is what I love.

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I hate being right.

I had a dread of reading this Guardian story, which a fellow APN member tweeted almost a week ago. I finally read it today. And I’ve just listened to this CBC Definitely Not the Opera podcast, which has left me seething.

In the wide world, I’m not much of anybody. So when I say “there is never enough money”, and a contributor to the Guardian says something similar, multiplied by a million, all I can think is I wanted to be wrong!

Mr Simkins says two things in his writeup that really strike me:
“People often ask me what the essential difference is between professional actors and amateurs. Their presumption is invariably that it’s to do with talent. But in fact the only defining difference is whether you have the stomach for the lifestyle – one in which rejection, disappointment and despair are part of your daily routine.”

Recently I’ve been trying to explain to people I know who aren’t involved in theatre at all what makes it so hard, and why I still insist on not giving up this whole writing plays thing when I still have to keep a day job. How do you explain that an actor who works regularly may be living at the poverty line? How does it make logical sense that a playwright can have a show produced, and then not have anything else done for years, and so has to keep working at something else entirely? If you’ve gotten there, haven’t you “made it”?

And here’s the second:
“The cruellest aspect of the acting business is not that it’s unfair, but that it’s merely indifferent. It gives everything to some and nothing to others; talent, ambition and virtue have little to do with it.”

Someone I know is an avid fan of reality TV, and one day was discussing, with genuine seriousness, how arrogant a particular contestant was. I burst out: “He’s on a reality show! Of course he’s arrogant!”

I am absolutely furious, I am stuffed to the gills with WTF, that although there seems to be widespread acknowledgement that the arts are cool and involve work, that this acknowledgement doesn’t translate to support for art. How, HOW is it that vain, brainless, arrogant people get to be on TV, while talented, hard-working people who wish to do something entertaining and important struggle to do so? Why is there a paying audience for vain, brainless, arrogant people on TV, at the expense of stories worth watching? WHY?

The DNTO podcast partly answered my question. There’s a section in it with an author named Jake Halpern, who’s written a book titled Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favourite Addiction. Please, do listen, and fear. When people say they would rather be a celebrity’s bag handler than a lawmaker, it tells me this:

audiences watch people who would otherwise never be famous, because it means anyone in that audience could one day be on TV too, and have their brush with fame.

Perhaps it’s an offshoot of my recent identity crisis from playwright to prose-writer, but I really want to do some research and write out my own ideas on this, as…an essay, I guess? Does anyone do that anymore?

For now, I feel a little less alone in feeling alone. I mostly write–and re-write–with no company other than my cat. And when a show (which I have produced myself) ends, once the joy wears off, I feel empty. Along with anger at myself for feeling self-pity when the shows of friends didn’t do so well. PLUS resentment, on behalf of us all, at morons who steal focus from us by being morons.

I will attempt to explain tomorrow just why on earth I still do this.

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Two performances, and no more…

This past week, a very young Edmonton actor, Adam Cope, died. A memorial is being held for him on Tuesday.

I first saw him play King Mark, the husband of Isolde, in a brand new production of Tristan and Isolde in March this year, at the Serca Festival of Irish Theatre. He was a fairly big, imposing guy, with ginger hair, and when he discovered Isolde was cheating on him–he got mad. Towards the end, when Isolde told Mark she had to leave to find Tristan, he had a great line: “Tristan? Tristan-who-almost-ruined-our-marriage-THAT Tristan?” The whole show was very good. And I remember thinking then “Wow. He’s really good.”

Just last month, I saw him again in Punctuate! Theatre’s clown show, Vice Re-Versa.

And that’s it. I can’t presume to say I knew him. I only saw him onstage twice, he was terrific, and I’ll never get to see him be terrific again. So, so sad.

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The day a dozen firemen rescued me!

Sort of.

Once again, we can thank Twitter:

Here’s what happened:

Back in the late fall of 2001, after the attacks on New York City and Washington DC, came the anthrax. I worked at The Edmonton Journal at the time. One day, I came home to find my electric bill in my mailbox, and this written on the back in thick, black, greasepen:


Now. I’m working at a newspaper. Canadian soldiers were walking around in fatigues and driving around in tanks. In Edmonton. I decided to be cautious and brought the (unopened) bill to the electric company’s main office downtown and asked a customer service representative about it. His advice: it was probably nothing, but don’t open it anyway. Thanks.

This was just down the block from work. So, I brought the envelope to show my boss. This is where the teasing began.

“OH, so you decided to bring it to work and share it with us?”

No. Not serious at all. Which is why one of the paper’s photographers later took a photo of the (still unopened) envelope lying on my desk while the firemen walked in.

Because: after my boss had a look at the envelope, another co-worker suggested I call 311 (the city’s helpline), and just ask about it. So I did. And got transferred to 911. And was told there would be a big bunch of people there in just a moment.

FREEZE ON: Me realizing I’ve just accidentally called the fire department.

So a dozen (or so) firemen come in, approach my desk, have a look at the envelope, and bring it into an empty boardroom to open. EVERYONE in the newsroom has gathered round, staring into the glassed-off room, partly because they’re newshounds, partly because they want to know what the HELL is happening?!

Finally, the firemen came out…envelope safely opened, nothing but my innocuous statement inside. And then the jokes started:

“You’re turning as red as your hair!”

“The good news is they owe YOU money!”

Telling my friends about this afterward:

“Your life is so much more interesting than ours.”

“So? Were any of them single?”

My friend Jessie gave a copy of the book The Bad Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want to each of her bridesmaids. It contains advice on how to meet firemen. It’s funny how closely I unintentionally followed it.