Play Reading

Standing Proud

I first became aware of what was going on with Tarragon Theatre and Michael Healey’s new play Proud via twitter, but it was the March 17th Globe and Mail article that got me interested. Now I’m pleased to be a part of the team of Vancouver artists standing in solidarity with our Toronto colleagues by mounting a staged reading of Michael Healey’s controversial new play, Proud on Sunday, July 22 (8:00 pm) at PL 1422. 

Some background: Michael Healey wrote Proud during his 11-year tenure as Playwright in Residence at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. When the company chose not to produce the play as part of their 2012-13 season, Healey resigned from his post. The play – a comedy – features an unnamed character called “The Prime Minister” and is about Canadian social and political values. The Tarragon Theatre denies that programming choices are effected by political pressure, but only last year Toronto’s Summerworks Theatre Festival had funding cut by Canadian Heritage after choosing to present a play that allegedly portrayed a homegrown “terrorist” sympathetically. Healey is mounting an independent production of Proud in Toronto this fall.

Playwright Michael Healey at the Toronto staged reading in spring. Photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard.

David Bloom, director of the Vancouver reading,  says, “We are producing Proud for two reasons: it’s an intelligent and provocative piece of theatre about our current political landscape, and because the greatest threat to the arts is self-censorship and fear.”

He continues, “The fact is we will never know for certain why Tarragon decided not to produce Proud. Here’s a question worth asking though: why is it so easy for us to believe they feared some kind of retribution for producing a play critical of the Harper Government™? Is it because theatre artists are innately timid, or is it because the government’s attacks on their perceived enemies have become so flagrant and outrageous? If they can set aside 8 million dollars to attack charities that disagree with their policies, surely anybody can be a target.”

The third in a trilogy of award-winning plays about Canadian values, Proud is about what we actually want out of our politics, and our politicians. One man devotes his entire life to moving the country several millimetres to the right on the political spectrum. Will he succeed? At what cost? A Pygmalion for a country that, until Stephen Harper came along, had no need for one.

Cast: Tom McBeath (Death of a Salesman)
John Cassini (God of Carnage)
Quelemia Sparrow (August: Osage County)
Gaelan Beatty (Xanadu)

Director: David Bloom (AD, Felix Culpa Theatre)
Stage Manager: Lois Dawson

Vancouver theatre companies supporting Proud include Felix Culpa, Neworld Theatre, Touchstone Theatre, Arts Club Theatre, Playwrights Theatre Centre, Ruby Slippers, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Compassionate Bone, Leaky Heaven Circus, and Pi Theatre.

Tickets are general admission, and by donation. For ticket reservations, email proudvancouver@gmail.com. To join the facebook event, click here.

Play Reading Group Needs a Venue and Scripts

After my confession about how bad I am at reading plays a number of you expressed interest in joining me to read some out loud.  Which is fantastic!  The questions that I am currently faced with are the following:

1. Where can we meet?

There are enough people interested that my living room will be too small. Does anyone have a suggestion of an affordable space for such a gathering?  Would you be willing to throw a loonie or twoonie in a bucket to help pay for a room rental?

2. What should we read?

Please make suggestions in the comments of what we should read. Or feel free to email me a word or .pdf copy of a script if you have it just lying around (lois@loisbackstage.com).

I’d love to get the group together for the first time early in February!

My Embarrassing Admission: I Have Intermittent Play Deafness

Image by flickr user baking_in_pearls, used under Creative Commons license.

Because I know a lot of playwrights, I often feel like I should be reading more plays.  The problem is, I’m really bad at reading plays. I’ve tried to be good at it. I’ve tried really hard, but its not a skill of mine.

When I sit by myself and read a play I don’t understand what I’m reading 95% of the time.  Or at least I don’t understand most of it. On reading comprehension tests in my undergrad I often got C’s and as an A student I couldn’t understand why I didn’t fully absorb what I was reading.

And these are not bad plays. In fact, some of these are GREAT plays. But even with great plays, it often isn’t as simple as sitting down and reading it and absorbing what was happening.

So I don’t do it. I don’t read plays often. I read plays when people tell me I should or when I hear about one and think that it sounds fantastic, but even then I finish the script and can’t help feeling like I’ve missed something.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me to read a play and tell her what I thought.  I read it, but my email to her was as follows: “I think I’m still unsure of it as a play.  There’s something about it that never sits right.  I wonder if it’s worth gathering some actor friends and doing a reading of it at some point – just for an opportunity to hear it out loud. Is that something you’d be interested in doing in the future?”

She liked the idea, so earlier tonight we gathered four of our actor friends in my living room and spent two hours reading the play out loud.  In compensation for their time I baked some cookies. And then I got to hear the play. I still don’t think the play is a perfect script, but after hearing it out loud I was inclined to agree with my friend that it was something I wanted to see on stage.

I’d hate to have my play-deafness cause me to lose footing in a world full of new plays, so my question to you, actor friends, is how many of you would be interested in getting together once every month or two to read plays out loud? I’m happy to host and bake and read stage directions and bring brand new plays for us to read.

Literary Expansion

This is my shelf of plays, sorted alphabetically by playwright.

Last week I was re-reading Travis Bedard‘s post over at www.2amtheatre.com about the books that every theatre student should read and was surprised at how few of them I had actually read.   I went to university and read an awful look of books about theatre, but somehow many of these had not made the cut.  This lead to an examination of my theatre bookshelf and the realization that it was time for it to grow.

Fast forward. This morning I was wandering around downtown Victoria and was struck by the number of used bookstores around.  It seems like every half a block there is another one and many of them fill more than one storefront.  While I didn’t have time to pop into any of them today (I was on a mission!), I’m already planning to go back many times over the next couple of weeks and while I’m sure I’ll pick up some novels & cook books, I think the goal will be to grow my theatre library.

Here’s the challenge though: What do I look for and buy? Certainly everything that has been suggested over on Travis’ post and also the

The technical book shelf - mostly stage management books!

ones on this list as well.

Two years ago the world theatre day meme was “Standing on Books” and we all took photos of ourselves standing on the books that have taken us to where we are now.  And its true – the books that we have read inform the art that we make and the way we approach the world.  And I want to expand my knowledge in that area.  I want to have more books to stand on next time we take a photo like that.

But could you all make some suggestions for me? Scripts, books on writing, directing, technical, theory, history, whatever you think a well rounded theatre artist should have read.

Reading Plays 2: 7 Stories

In honor of Canada Day this Wednesday, I decided that this week would be geared to Canadian playwrights.

7 Stories is one of those plays that being from Vancouver, everyone has seen, talks about, etc. I have never seen it and had never read it before now. But I certainly went into it knowing the basic plot: A man stands on a seventh storey building ledge, preparing to jump to his death but is constantly interrupted by the building’s residents.

What I didn’t know (but should have suspected) was how wonderfully quirky the 12 building resident characters are. Played by only 4 actors, the 12 characters are a great mix of comical and tragic with a lovely hint of neuroses.

I would love to see a production of this show. There is a lot of potential for interesting design choices as well as the variety of ways the shows ending could be perceived by various directors.

Reading Plays 1: Hamlet & Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

I know that it’s cheating to talk about reading plays that I’m doing, but this past week has been entirely filled by reading, re-reading, scheduling, listing, re-reading, and all of the other “first week of rehearsal” things that go with stage managing two shows in rep [point of clarification: I am SMing R&G and ASMing Hamlet].

I don’t know about you, but I read Hamlet in high school and studied it until I no longer cared about any of it. I also did a production of it when I was in university where it was cut down to 60 minutes and again, didn’t really care. All of this makes it far more interesting to read now and enjoy in a whole new way. The version we are using for the show is cut by our director using the First Folio as well as the quartos…It’s not your traditional Hamlet. There are scenes in different orders what what you’d find in most modern publications of the play and as such the character relationships are different. And I like it. I sat at the first read today, finally hearing aloud the play I have been reading all week and the characters came alive for me.

I’ve always been an auditory learner. I learned that fact in grade 3 and have been forever grateful for it. When I hear something I remember it and if I don’t hear it (but rather see it) I am far less likely to remember it. For me this means that plays I have read are not nearly as alive for me as plays that are read aloud.

On the other hand, I had never read R&G before going into this process. Sure, I knew of it, but I didn’t know anything about how it fit together, and my god is it brilliant. Every time I re-read it (by which I mean every day this week) I am amazed at some new detail. Today as we read Hamlet aloud, I was amazed by pieces of R&G where words and phrases were turned on their heads that I had not previously noticed.

Both plays are a lesson in solid playwrighting, though from completely different schools. Shakespeare is considered a master playwright for a reason. His words evoke images so beautiful and detailed while still furthering story. Stoppard’s post-modern look at the fall of the meta-narrative and the disappearance of the hero is similarly evocative, but in its simplicity and absurdity rather.

And I’ll never look at a coin toss the same way again.

New Season’s Resolution: The Summer Play Reading Plan

My new year’s resolution was to see more theatre; to be specific, 3 or more shows a month. This summer, there isn’t that much theatre to see in Kamloops and my lack of vehicle makes going elsewhere to see theatre problematic. With that in mind I have set myself a new resolution. For the next 7 weeks (until August 6th) I will read 2 plays a week and discuss them on my blog. You’ll find the first post on Thursday of this week and then every Monday & Thursday after that.

Reading plays is hard for me. I’m not a visual person. I don’t dream in pictures. When I read a play I can’t picture it staged. It’s much easier for me to spend my time watching TV or even reading novels where things are much more clearly written out for you. But connecting with theatre and the larger theatrical community doesn’t happen solely by going to see plays. Reading plays, both new and old, is a vital part of our development as theatre artists (regardless of what role we play within the theatre world). It sharpens our theatrical senses and makes us aware of the plays that are out there – both good and bad.

I have a lot of friends and aquaintences who are playwrights. I go and support the work my actor/director/designer friends are doing. Why am I not supporting the work of my playwright friends?

As a first step to finding plays I made a call on Twitter on Saturday & Sunday. I said, “I am starting to blog about reading plays. Mostly because I need to read more plays. What should I read first? Suggestions please!? #theatre” And the responses came roaring in. Here’s just a small sample of the plays people are suggesting:

  1. runismymantra I am assuming you have read top girls, anything by Ibsen, my beautiful laundrette- more of a screenplay though, Walsh by S Pollock
  2. getrealtheatre Killer Joe by T Letts, all of David Lindsay-Abaire, As Bees in Honey Drown by D Carter Beane LOTS more

  3. RyanInVancouveraugust Osage county is a great play I’d look into!!!

  4. atomicfezThe list is massive. I’d recommend ‘anything you can get your hands on’, or start with names like Orton, Pinter, Churchill #theatre

  5. kittybelleOn the not-so-obvious list: check out Ugo Betti.

  6. lekogirlAmy Freed is a completely brilliant contemp playwright with the best intelligent sense of humor. “You, Nero” is PHENOMENAL.
  7. _redshoes_Anything and everything by Wole Soyinka.

  8. MareBiddleRabbit Hole, How I Learned to Drive, Homecoming, and The Goat.

  9. fishbowlmuse@SMLois Anything by Daniel MacIvor and “Proof” by David Auburn

  10. PBCrookTry Fat Men in Skirts, by Nicky Silver #theatre

  11. helenemontagnaOne of my favorite plays ever is Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love”. Also, anything by O’Neill, esp Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

The house where I’m staying here in Kamloops belongs to the former AD of a theatre company, so there are scripts throughout the house. Some I’ve heard of or read before, but others have no name recognition. Some are on the recommended lists that people have sent to me. I plan to read some from all categories. I will try to read some Canadian plays, some international plays, some modern plays, some classics & some that defy categorization. If you have suggestions of plays I should read, please leave them in the comments section!