Best friends: A very small note for Andrew Ridgeley and Mark Hamill.

My mom died when I was fourteen.  Remember that for later.

When I was 17, I knew a guy at my Roman-Catholic high school named Jason. He was tall, nice-looking, and the prototypical life of the party. He died of a massive heart attack when we were in grade 12. He’d had a congenital heart defect which he and his family knew about — but very few people at school did. Our school held a memorial service for him, and I happened to sit near the front. I clearly saw Jason’s closest friend, and later wrote in my journal “Please help him God, he looks like I did three years ago.”

He was sitting in the pews beside the altar. With the family.

My first thought when George Michael died was for Andrew Ridgeley.  Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was released in 1984. I was 9 years old, in grade 4. I loved George, obviously, but it was Andrew I had a crush on – he looked more attainable to me (for a superstar adult who lived in Britain). He looked nice. It always bothered me a bit whenever I heard a joke about him years later (“the other one from Wham!”), because I had felt overlooked all the time too. But think about this: they’d known each other since they were 17 years old. He was likely the first person George ever told he was gay…in the early 80s.  Yes, George Michael was the utterly talented, charismatic sex symbol. Yet I think it’s now very clear, there would have been no George Michael without Andrew.

And in the same week…Carrie Fisher. Whom I adored so much in When Harry Met Sally, but who had to forever after be Princess Leia. Princess. A princess who can lead an army, shoot a laser, fix a spaceship… oh that’s not normal? Oh well, that’s what 10-year-old me thought a princess was.  Sorry Disney.  Another reason I looked up to her: she was so pretty, yet not unachievably beautiful, like the supermodels my sisters and friends and I were inundated with in the 80s and 90s. , Carrie Fisher I could actually look like! (I didn’t remotely resemble her, but I felt I could.)

Amongst the explosions, taun-tauns, Ewoks, and VADER, my favourite scene in all the  Star Wars movies is Luke asking Leia about her mother. Yes, I loved, loved, loved Han and Leia, but I identified with Luke and Leia. They were destined to be best friends. And I always felt that same twinge about Mark Hamill whenever I heard a joke about him.  Whatever else happened (or didn’t) after, he was Luke Skywalker.  And there would have been no Princess Leia, no Carrie, without Mark.

Hug your closest friends. Be the best friend who becomes family.

 

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Kabuki Theatre and Oiwa #theatre

I am a theatre junkie. Kabuki is at least as old as Shakespeare.  It’s one of THE drama traditions I heard about as soon as I decided theatre was my life. Going to a kabuki play was on my must-do list while I was in Tokyo, but it was also felt, for me, like going to a cathedral and I hadn’t been to confession.

The Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginzu, Tokyo, the largest in Japan.

The Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginzu, Tokyo, the largest in Japan.

Billboard for the show outside the theatre. Of course no photos were allowed during the show.

Billboard for the show outside the theatre. Of course no photos were allowed during the show.

It was utterly amazing. It was actually four short pieces I saw, which — with intervals when you could get full meals and beer to have at your seat! — was three and half hours long. The style of acting and the men playing women (I’ll need to post about that separately—because) took some getting used to, because it’s so utterly different from any show I’ve ever seen before, and that’s part of the reason it was enthralling.

One of MANY screens hiding the stage over the performance.

One of MANY screens hiding the stage over the performance.

Everything I felt seeing my first kabuki was wrapped up in what I’d felt earlier that day while trying to track down Oiwa…the main character in one of Japan’s creepiest ghost stories, most famous kabuki plays (I didn’t see that one, sadly), and many of the country’s successful horror films.

There are a few different versions of Oiwa’s story: here’s one of the shortest, yet best and scariest. Horror and/or Japanese film fans will recognise her likeness from the Ringu series.

I have presumed to put her into one of my stories…the short film I started work on in France over the summer, and the related feature-length screenplay I just drafted. They both concern domestic violence, culture clashes, racism, sexism, revenge, and guilt.

Theatre people are, put mildly, superstitious. We call it “The Scottish Play” or “McBoo”. We leave a “ghost light” on in the middle of the stage when the theatre is otherwise empty and dark. And in Japan, whenever an actor onstage, or an actress on film, takes the role of Oiwa, they go to her shrine in Tokyo and ask Oiwa’s permission to play her.

And that’s what I did too.

The shrine in Yotsuya, Tokyo.

The shrine in Yotsuya, Tokyo.

The trope of the Maiden Ghost, based on Oiwa, has appeared in so many incarnations now that she’s thrown the first pitch in a baseball game. Which sounds silly, but I find it actually shows that Japan takes her as seriously as kabuki; she is embedded in Japanese culture — everyone knows her, and everyone, in a strange way, loves her. She embodies something genuinely wrong — vengeance — but it’s something everyone understands and has, at some point, wanted against someone else. I’m frightened by and enthralled by her.

I hope it’s not cultural appropriation — Gore Verbinski’s remade Ringu, quite well, I thought. Yes, I went to visit Tokyo to see the city, yes I met up with an old friend who’s been in Japan 14 years. However…I also went to Tokyo specifically to visit Oiwa’s shrine and ask “is this okay?” I hope it is.

A closer look at one grave.

A closer look at one grave.

Cemetery behind the shrine.

Cemetery behind the shrine.

Today, I’m out of love with #playwriting. It’s like a bad day in a long term #relationship.

I realised something this morning, on a sunny day in the south of France. It’s a bit of a whinge. But it’s also a bit scary for me, and makes me sad.

I just sent off an application for a playwriting venture. One should keep track of how many competitions, initiatives, etc, one enters…but I’ve given up. Yes, everyone gets rejected, and I admit, tracking the number of things I entered and got rejected for became too much.

My FB and Twitter feeds have recently been filled with invitations to the Fringe shows of friends, as well as previews and reviews. I posted that I was a bit sad I didn’t have a show this year. That’s true…but not quite accurate. I’m also relieved I’m not doing a stage production, and THAT feeling makes me sad. I used to live for the insanity of putting on a show. Even when things went wrong, the result was a show I was proud of. I got the festival’s Artist Badge. I got reviews — good ones — and I could say “Yep, that’s me.” Audiences have told me how much they liked what I did.

Last year, I got my first ever 5-star review for It Started with an Allergy. I leveraged that, I promoted that show every hour of every day, and my houses still never got very big. The spectators who came loved it — there just weren’t very many of them. There’s a prestigious award given to theatre productions every year in Edmonton, and I really, REALLY hoped I might get nominated for Allergy. I didn’t. It’s occurred to me since that I don’t remember if I, or my director, invited the jury to the show! How can I not remember that? But I was also writing, producing, acting, flyering, doing the show. And I just…don’t… recall. That’s bad.

I submitted this play to yet another contest, out of resignation. I couldn’t muster anything to say in my cover letter: “yes, my play’s really good, these other industry people have said so, here’s my amazing CV of other amazing plays which nonetheless didn’t take off, PLEASE GIVE THIS TO ME.”

I wonder if that’s why I’m doing pre-production on a short film. Because it feels like I’ve done everything I possibly can in theatre, and I’m tapped. I’m on the French Riviera, on a writer’s retreat (which I paid for, didn’t get paid for, again). And still, today, I’m discouraged.

Why I love theatre technicians.

Having sent out what I believe to be a pretty kick-butt play, I’m now at the hard part: waiting. Waiting to see if anyone else with any pull to put the play onstage thinks it’s remotely as good as I think it is.

I used to wonder if writing is what I should be doing, if maybe I just really was not that good. For a while now, I’ve had a different problem: knowing that my writing is good, and still not having got one professional-level — PACT, Equity, etc — production, nor enough of a hit from one of my self-produced shows to keep working on theatre regularly.

Here is where technicians have been my saving grace.

Theatre techs — lighting, sound, set-building, the ones who do everything — are all utterly professional. They are there to make your show the absolute best it can be in the time given, and will bend over backwards, given the equipment and time they have, to give your show what it needs. And given that they work in theatre…they put up with a lot of crap.

Here’s the wonderful Henry Rollins on backstage crews. Maybe this is the reason technicians tend to be detached — I’ve never worked with one who didn’t love their work, but also maintained a very professional yet clear distance from whatever show they were working on.

And here’s the thing of which I am envious: technicians have skills. I was acquainted with a guy in Edinburgh, who produced a show at his own site-specific venue the same year we did Take a Bite.  We made a bit of money.  This fellow ended the Fringe £6,000 in debt.  The understanding among everyone involved in the show was that they were working on spec: if they show made money, they would get paid. But the producer made a terrible mistake: he assumed this included their technician. In the middle of their tech rehearsal, the tech walked out for another venue, because that’s when the producer made it clear he had no intention of paying the tech anything until and unless the show recouped its costs. He had to find and hire a new tech with one day’s notice before the start of the Edinburgh Fringe.

The technicians don’t have to like your show. They will get paid, whether your show is good or not. They will work their butts off for your show because that’s their job and they take pride in their job, but they don’t need to be invested in any show.

How do I know I’m good? Because the techs have not been able to stop themselves from saying my show is good.  When I doubt, I remember that, and grin.

I’m one of the Best!

So says the Alberta caucus of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, anyway.

The weekend of May 29 to 31, 2015, the annual PGC Conference will be held here in Edmonton.  And on the very first night, ten short plays by Edmonton writers will have public readings at the latest Script Salon.  A brand new snippet of mine, My Boyfriend’s Cat, will be one of them.

It’s only occurred to me now that this is a national event, and other theatre folk from all over Canada will be here and may be hearing my work.  So.  Cool.

photo

Allergy is getting better at 25% !

I can barely believe it, but yes:  at week 6, It Started With an Allergy is ONE QUARTER of the way to the fundraising goal we’ve set ourselves.

If YOU would like to reserve your ticket to Opening Night now, click here.

funds graph