I must be a writer, because I can’t stop…

…even when I try.

I haven’t posted a thing about writing, theatrical or otherwise, in months, for several reasons. The biggest, of course, is that I’m currently in southern China, teaching English. Having never been to Asia, or taught anyone under university age, those took priority, by default.

My internal jury about whether this was the best thing for me to do is still out. I am glad, however, I shook up my life, because I needed to dwell on something other than writing/theatre/drama at all for a while. Any regular followers of mine may have noticed I said basically nothing about doing my long-gestating show It Started With an Allergy at the Edmonton Fringe last summer. And I’m flummoxed to say I’m still not ready to write about it. You always hope that any show you work on will provide great experiences, memories, and fodder for further work…for now, in short, that show provided me none of that.

Over the last year or so, I had (I thought) accepted that theatre would never be my bread-and-butter, and to take a new approach. I genuinely felt ready, at last, to dive back into academia and do a PhD in drama. Imagine my dismay when, after two years of trying, I wasn’t accepted to any of the programs I wanted. Rejection is not something I’m willing to take right now, so all of my well-meaning well-wishers, offering me other possible literary programs to apply for, didn’t hear back from me.

So I spent a miserable few weeks this past fall wondering, at 41 years old, where the heck my life is going next. And bugger if the answer didn’t, I swear, just ARRIVE.

I was asleep. And woke up at 3 am thinking “Oh…that’s, that’s an idea, I have one two three complete scenes in my head, that’s a whole story beginning to end, it can wait till I get up. And have to eat breakfast. And then teach all day.” Nope. I had my laptop beside me, and, without putting my glasses on, banged out one page of the most utter nonsense one could see. It made just enough sense that in the morning, I could retype it as an outline, in actual sentences. And the following weekend, I wrote the whole play out, except for the last scene, all in one go.

It’s good. It’s REALLY good, I don’t say this often. It’s so good, I felt so good writing it, that I’m still twitchy. The last time I remotely felt this way was on finishing Take a Bite. I polished up this new play, formatted it, and I’ve made a list of places to send it.

That’s what happens to me. Whenever the doubt surfaces — am I actually a writer anyway? — it eventually appears again. I know I’m a writer because even when I try to stop, it won’t go away.

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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.

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The Ugly Princess….revealed! In August.

At last, I have a smidgen of theatre news to share: my play The Ugly Princess will have a public reading as part of Script Salon, a new reading series starting in April!

The Salon is the brainchild of David Belke, and will take place the first Sunday of every month, 7:30 pm, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

The Ugly Princess will have her day on 3 August 2014…so it will be ever-so-slightly in the Fringe after all.

Who’d like to pick a name that will live FOREVER??

Mwa ha ha.

The Writeathon is in T minus 2 hours. I’ve been tasked with keeping YOU glued to the internet for the duration, so here’s my carrot:

I will be auctioning off the FOLLOWING NAMES of characters and places IN MY PLAY, The Ugly Princess, as I write it. Click HERE to donate.

For $50, you could pick the name of —

The mad king
The handsome prince
The smarmy manservant
The pretty – but mean villianess.

For $100, you could pick the name of —

The country the ugly princess rules, or
The country the handsome prince is from.

I’ll announce the names, and the donors who’ve picked them, as they come up. The ugly princess herself has already been named, thanks to a donation from Dale Lee Kwong! But I’m keeping that under wraps until just before the Writeathon ends, tomorrow at 7pm!

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.)

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“?

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.