Photos from FRANCE: Cannes

Part of the reason I applied for my current artists’ residency was its location: the French Riviera is among those almost mythical places you read about. Where the gargantuan artists and authors worked, where water, sky, and wine blend together. And, it’s 5 minutes from Cannes.

Cannes is very polished compared to Nice and Antibes, and normally I don’t like that. But it works here – the beaches, trees, ancient buildings and colour of the water aren’t overcome by the opulent hotels, fancy cars and designer shops. Everything goes together. The city isn’t remotely shy about playing up its glamorous image – the Palme D’Or symbol is on the roads, there are banners and murals of movie stars everywhere. They’re saying: “Of course movies happen here, of course the world’s most prestigious film festival is here.  Because it’s beautiful!”

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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.

How to create an Ugly Princess in 24 hours (or less)

I will be writing a new play, The Ugly Princess, almost from scratch, in 24 hours for APN’s Writeathon on 23 November. I say “almost”, because I have two scenes. This post…is about making you want to see the whole thing.

The story is linked – in my head, somehow – to this painting, now at the National Gallery in London, a painting which, the story goes, gave Sir John Tenniel the idea for how the Duchess should look in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

by Sir John Tenniel, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865. Courtesy of eBooks@Adelaide

by Sir John Tenniel, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865. Courtesy of eBooks@Adelaide

When I was asked to provide one scene, no more than ten minutes long, with two characters, for my workshop at Playworks Ink, and I realized I didn’t have anything fitting the bill, that’s when the “squidgies” set in, and I had to write a scene from this play still sitting entirely in my head. And here, exactly, is what happened:

There were twenty of us playwrights in the workshop room the first day. Robert randomly picked one person. Her scene was read out loud by two actors in the middle of the room. Robert asked the playwright what she’d intended, and she explained. Then he said: “Your assignment…is to remove all the dialogue of this character, and give ALL the dialogue in the scene to the other character. Make it a monologue.”

And I could feel everyone else in the room thinking the same thing as me: Holy. Crap.

One playwright brought part of her stage adaptation of Things Fall Apart. He told her to set in the year 3000 and make it Sci-Fi. My fellow tweeter James was told to take his very idyllic scene of a brother and sister between the two World Wars, and transform it into the first level of a violent, gory video game.

I remembered the one brilliant moment in the Muppets Tonight series, when Cindy Crawford (yeah) was on. There were some besotted pigs asking what made her a supermodel, and then laserbeams came out of her eyes and vapourized one pig. The remaining pig ran after her shouting “Cindy! Do me! DO ME!”

I was that pig. Sitting there, in trepidation and glee, thinking “Me! Me next! What do I get to do?!”

So. The two actors got my script, and after glancing at it, they asked if I wanted British accents. Hell yeah. So they read it. Everyone laughed. Robert laughed. When the scene was done, he said, “This is very interesting.” I remained calm. He did not ask me to rewrite what I had, no. My assignment was to write a NEW scene, bring in the prince, and have him meet the two ladies at once, but when he spoke to one, the other answered, so he’d be flipping back and forth between them…for five pages. He said “It’s a bit complicated, but judging by your writing I think you can do it.”

We took a break, and I was vibrating in the hallway. I went off to write, and I had those five pages in 30 minutes.

My intention is to let the rest simmer, and then pound it out in support of the marvelous group that let me go to Playworks and got this to happen. And then enter it into the KidsFringe draw for next year. Want to see it?

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“?

Not good enough…YET.

FIRST. Everyone in Edmonton: go see Let the Light of Day Through at Theatre Network. The best play to have been done here in ages. I mean it. GO!

Now.

I got another rejection letter. Yeah. It was a theatre in New York City, which wasn’t adverse to seeing scripts which had been produced before (many are), so I sent them Take a Bite. This week, I got the polite no-thank-you letter.

And I admit to feeling side-swiped. Even though we tried previously to get a tour going of the show from 2011, even though I’ve tried submitting proposals to other theatres to re-mount it, and not succeeded. I don’t quite know why I’m so surprised, so disappointed.

One of the hazards for a writer in the beginning is self-doubt. “Maybe I’m just not that good. Maybe I really don’t have anything interesting to say…”

That’s where I was, until I went to Scotland, and I re-wrote, from memory, a play I had put in my proverbial bottom drawer, and thought I had burned onto a disc, but hadn’t. A play that I thought, on finishing it, was pretty amazing. It had a workshop in Edinburgh, and everyone loved it…but no one would look at doing it. Once again, like had happened to so many of my plays before, I could feel my own enthusiasm for it draining away. I thought “NOT this one!”, and produced Take a Bite myself at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, 2007. In a sea of 1,500 shows, when you get good word of mouth, and reviews from The Stage like this, and you start selling out in your final week, and you KNOW three jury members for a major award have come to your show…you might start to think your show is good. (I still beat myself up about that last one…we didn’t win, in the end, and part of me wishes I hadn’t found out about the jury coming…and part of me is glad because I know that play is that good…!)

When I came back to Canada, Take a Bite wouldn’t leave me alone. So after sending it out hither and yon, and getting nowhere, I produced it again in its Calgary and Edmonton Fringe incarnation, in 2011. Read the reviews. The audience were blown away. And it was nominated by the critics in Calgary for best new play–not Fringe play– with Lunchbox Theatre<, One Yellow Rabbit (!), and Karen Hines, whose play was done at ATP.

So now my problem is that I KNOW I can write. I know this play is good. So why do I continue to get rejected.

Seeing Let the Light of Day Through made me think “I wish I’d written that.” It’s the kind of play which anyone would read, and say “I can’t live without seeing this.” It’s very easy to see why a director would read that script and move the earth to do it. Any theatregoer who read it would clamour to see it onstage. It is so much better than good. It may sound weird to anyone who knows Take a Bite that I would compare it with this play; I’m not exactly comparing. It’s just reminded me that I haven’t written anything that good yet. The only way I ever might, is to keep writing.

Defiance.

Following on from yesterday. What to do about firearms? Bombs? Weapons of mass destruction? Protesting against them isn’t stopping them from being used.

What to DO.

What I have is done is what I mentioned here: registered for the next MS Walk here in Edmonton on May 26, 2013. What on earth does that have to do with countering explosives? Nothing. It’s about the exact opposite.

My aunt has had MS for years, and it’s robbed her of so much I can’t contemplate it, even though I’ve watched it happen to her. I’m starting off very slow. I’m not a runner — I’m a 38-year-old with a tricky ankle and I nearly coughed up a lung the one season I played Gaelic football. So I’m doing the 2km walk, and have set the recommended goal of $125. I’m sure there’ll be no objections if I happen to raise more. My hope is, now that spring has (hopefully!) arrived, I can get out more, get more fit, and do more at the next event.

The point is to support LIFE. Instead of trying to take on guns or bombs head on, in my teeny tiny way, I’m defying them. That’s not to say petitions to stop explosives are pointless. However, at the same time, wouldn’t it be cool if every person did something — volunteering at a hospital or school, donating blood, or helping with a fundraiser — and every time a lobbyist argued for more spending on weapons, you could look them in the face and say: “I’m raising money for cancer research because tax money’s being spent instead to shoot people.” Then just walk away and keep doing your work to fight cancer. With a smile.

Every time something horrible happens, yes, be sad, and say out loud that it needn’t have happened. And then knuckle down and keep helping someone else to LIVE.

Instead of being angry and frustrated, I’ve going to say instead to anyone who just wants to hurt people: ” I DEFY YOU. “