Category Archives: playwriting

The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 20; “T” is for Theatre

the-letter-t-the-letter-t-22188793-2560-2560

I love theatre because it is literally alive, and live, and living right in front of my eyes. Sure, shows are workshopped and previewed, rehearsed and remounted, but every time I step into a theatre, and every time the lights go down and the actors take their marks, it is the beginning of a new, unique show. Every performance is different, no matter how the cast, the stage manager, and the director try (or don’t) for consistency. Every single show will have a dropped line, a tech malfunction, an inflection, or an improved performance. These are just a few examples of things that make every performance unique, but I think the idea is clear. Live shows are performed by living human beings. Every night is different because every night people are different. This obviously excludes casting flips, and director’s notes, but those two things also contribute to how the performance I saw on a Thursday could be different from the performance you see on the Friday.

Further to the “living thing” point, I love theatre because until the next performance, there are no do-overs. There isn’t an editing bay to cut together filmed scenes. If someone messes up on or off-stage, that miscue is a part of the show. This is not a bad thing. In fact, I celebrate it because in the shows I’ve seen, missteps have led to some of the best comedic moments and showcased the talent of the actors and their ability to seamlessly recover without breaking character. Plus, most of the time the audience won’t even notice.

Continue reading

Advertisements

2015 Summer Preview!

HEY! Here’s some writing and performing related stuff happening in my fair city of Toronto this – 2015 – summer and fall. I’ve also included events that have already passed (and that I was too dumb to get ahead of) so you (and I) can plan for next year. If you say you’re bored, it means you’re boring, or you just need to read a book or something. Go see some damn art damnit!

Stratford Festival: Stratford, Ontario is home to this 61 year-old theatre festival featuring the work of The Bard performed by some of the world’s best talent from APRIL to OCTOBER.

Shaw Festival: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario hosts performances of plays written by or written during the lifetime of George Bernard Shaw from APRIL to OCTOBER.

inspiraTO: The 10th year for this theatre festival held at the Alumnae Theatre from MAY 28th to JUNE 6th, that features blocks of 10 minute plays all revolving around a particular theme or concept.

Pedestrian Sundays: Literally walk in the streets of Toronto’s coolest neighbourhood every Sunday from MAY 31st to the end of warm weather.

Breakthroughs Film Festival: Short Film festival featuring emerging female filmmakers at the Innis Town Hall on the weekend of JUNE 5 & JUNE 6th.

EXEE: Great beers and live bands every night at The Only Cafe during the week of JUNE 13th to JUNE 20th.

Female Eye Film Festival: “Always Honest, Not Always Pretty”, goes the tagline for this film fest featuring female filmmakers and it runs from JUNE 16th to JUNE 21st at The Royal Cinema.

Open Roof Festival: Music and films for $15 ever Wednesday at 99 Sudbury from JUNE 17th to AUGUST 19th sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

NXNE: A music and arts fest that takes over the city in a good way from JUNE 17th to JUNE 21st.

Pride Toronto: The annual extravaganza of LGBTQIA culture revs Toronto up for the summer and features fantastically flamboyant marches, parades, performances, and other great “p” words at various venues from JUNE 19th to JUNE 28th.

Luminato Festival: Everything art and all in Toronto at a variety of venues and times all around the clock from JUNE 19th to JUNE 28th.

Toronto Fringe Festival: Awesome indie theatre killing it with reckless abandon, and an outstanding beer tent at venues and times that only awesome indie theatre can rock from JULY 1st to JULY 12th.

Shakespeare in High Park: Once again High Park is home to a double-bill of Shakespeare wherein the same cast performs a comedy (“The Comedy of Errors”) and a tragedy (“Julius Caesar”) on alternating nights at their outdoor amphitheatre from JULY 2nd to SEPTEMBER 6th.

ReelheART International Film & Screenplay Festival: Festival that features film screenings and script readings at various venues including The Carlton Cinema and the AGO from JULY 6th to JULY 11th.

Christie Pits Film Fest: Free/pwyc outdoor movie screenings at Christie Pits park every Sunday during JULY & AUGUST.

SummerWorks Performance Festival: SummerWorks has performers acting, singing, and dancing sometimes all at once at venues across the city from AUGUST 6th to 16th.

Toronto International Queer West Film Festival: Queer West features films from local and international LGBTQ filmmakers and promotes the beauty of diversity and creativity at The Revue Cinema from AUGUST 7th to AUGUST 9th.

Buskerfest: If you want to see someone ride a unicycle while juggling live chainsaws and holding a torch aflame in their mouth then check out Toronto’s Buskerfest along Yonge Street between College Street and Queen Street and this is now going to be a run-on sentence because I promised myself only to write one sentence per event to keep things simple and so I can’t confirm the fire-mouthed chainsaw juggler but there will be music, juggling of some sort, acrobats, food and clowns and depending on whether you like clowns or are terrified by them the clowns might be nice or sinister and the clowns and others can be found on Yonge from AUGUST 27th to AUGUST 30th.

TOindie Film Festival: Fantastic event featuring indie films from Toronto and across the world held at the local gem known as The Carlton Cinema from SEPTEMBER 3rd to SEPTEMBER 12th.

Toronto International Film Festival: A world renowned film fest featuring talent, both renowned and waiting to be rewound, from across the globe and at venues across the city from SEPTEMBER 10th to SEPTEMBER 20th.

The Word on the Street: Books, magazines, and literary “stuff” can all be at Harbourfront Centre on SEPTEMBER 27th from 11am to 6pm.

International Festival of Authors: Writers are everywhere but during this fest they can mostly be found at Harbourfront Centre talking and signing and talking and probably writing from OCTOBER 22nd to NOVEMBER 1st.

NaNoWriMo: Join authors around the world and write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of NOVEMBER.

In addition to all of this, there is the Toronto Festival of Beer, various street parties throughout Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods, and Yonge and Dundas Square always has something going on!

Stuff I’ve missed because I am an idiot but check it out to plan for next year:

Inside Out: LGBT Film Festival; Doors Open Toronto; Canadian Film Fest; Canadian Music Week (CMW); CONTACT Photography Festival; Hot Docs; TOindie Shorts Festival (affliated with the TOindie Film Festival)

 

SOURCES: NOW Magazine; The Toronto Star; the various festival websites listed above; my massive head and the memories contained therein.


The Writer’s Alphabet vol.16; “P” is for Perjury

The-letter-the-alphabet-22187494-2560-2560There are two types of perjury I’d like to cover which means I’ll probably end up only talking about one of them and then spending way too much time going on a tangent about something I have no business writing about which will all end with a much too long run-on sentence ending with a dreaded adverb(ly).

Character perjury is one of the perjuries I’d like to cover. What is it and why is it important? Character perjury, as defined here, is having a character knowing deceive other characters and just for the hell of it – themselves as well. Having characters perjure themselves, in and out of a courtroom setting, is a beautiful thing. It creates internal and external conflict and raises the stakes of the story as it will have the reader or watcher waiting for the deception to come to light and thus, a payoff is achieved. The best character perjury occurs when the payoff is almost forgotten only to have it come back at a crucial point and giving the reader the “wow” factor that comes with all great plot twists. Once again, it all comes back to conflict, stakes, and payoffs. Deception and lies are great framing devices for conflict and it is even better when characters don’t know they are deceiving themselves.

Writer perjury, defined herein, as plot inconsistencies, massive story holes, and laziness. Writer perjury is horrible. Writers perjure themselves when they sell a truth to the reader only to have it come back as utter bullshit. I’m not speaking of unreliable narrators. The unreliable narrator is a beauty thing and is typically established from the beginning of the story. An unreliable narrator can perjure themselves, however, when the payoff of the unreliability is so inconsistent with what has been established there is no rational explanation for the result. Basically the reader is left thinking, Seriously?, or, depending on how egregious the perjury, Fuck this!. Similar to how Bradley Cooper’s character reacts to Hemingway in the movie adaptation of Silver Linings Playbook.

Now I would like to talk about court perjury, except I don’t have any legal background and have decided that it probably isn’t a good idea. Thus, I will end this post here before anyone begins to have feelings about throwing their computers, tablets, or phones out a third story window.

Also, Meagan said this whole thing doesn’t really jive but she said she knows where I’m coming from and going to so hopefully you do as well. Who Meagan? I don’t know either. Oh wait! Here she is —-> Meagan’s Twitter!


The Writer’s Alphabet vol.15; “O” is for Opposition

O-fire-letter_graphicOpposition. It’s not as shitty as you might think. For writers (and everyone because writers aren’t as special as we think ourselves to be) opposition exists in 4+1 ways. 4 are in reality and 1 is on the page.

Opposition from the world at large: You might wake up and as your eyes flutter open, before leaving the quiet or hectic (un)comfort of your bed, you stare at the ceiling and think, “Fuck the world man. Fuck the world in its stupid ass. Every day I get up and write and while that goes well, I go out into this world everyone is talking about and get shit on, literally by animals and figuratively by everything else. World, why do you want me to fail? World, why must you blow horizontal snow in my face as I’m out for a walk to grab some inspiration and a coffee? World, why did I go out in a blizzard? World, why ya gotta be so all up against me B?”

NEWS FLASH: The world isn’t against you.

If the world is providing opposition it is because you are viewing it that way and need to change your perspective. Stop walking in horizontal blizzards and brew a cup of watery shit coffee at home. And if a bird shits on you, it’s not good or bad luck, it’s just the way shit literally happened. Grab some Tide and/or a bar of soap and shut it.

Opposition from the industry: Creative industries are hard to break into, be it film, music, publishing, or stage. This doesn’t mean that “the industry” is against you, it means that everyone with a brain has a story in said brain and a large percentage of those people write it down in some form or another. Then supply and demand take the wheel from Jesus and bam, economics ruins everything again. It’s not the industry, it’s Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes.

Rejection is a huge part of creativity. Besides “write everyday”, this is really the only other fact about creating. Whatever industry you hope to break into isn’t against you, it’s for you. Maybe not the you right now who is producing less than desirable work, but creative rejection is simply a push to make you a better writer/actor/singer/musician. The industry is fickle and can seem to be filled with the biggest assholes in the world who all hate your work. Maybe some parts of it are, but this still doesn’t mean it is opposing you. It means that you need to focus on yourself and your work and tune out the bird shit and the 100,000,000,000,000th rejection letter and better your creative self. Unless you have personally been a jerk to everyone in the industry and committed career suicide 100,000,000,000,000 times, the industry isn’t opposing you. Your arrogant, dumb ass is opposing you, you arrogant dumbass.

Opposition from loved ones: This is a tough one. The people we choose to have in our lives, our friends and family, are meant to be there for support. We for them and them for us. This is at least the ideal situation. In this situation, when you talk about your creativity, some of these people might tell you to give up. This could be direct or indirect, but it still stings. This is real opposition because it is from people, not a massive, inanimate glob. It is the opposition that can hurt the most because, again, it is from the people that you love and support and wish to have that love and support returned for whatever you decide to pursue with your limited time romping around in the world. Opposition from loved ones sucks. It really, really sucks. Should it lead you to give up though? No. And I’ll leave Charles Bukowski to explain why:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. If you’re going to try, go all the way. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs and, maybe your mind. Go all the way. It could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail, it could mean derision, mockery, isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your
endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And you’ll do it despite rejection and the worst odds and it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like
that. You will be alone with the gods and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. Its the only good fight there is.” – From “Roll The Dice”

Who wouldn’t want to ride anything to perfect laughter?

Opposition from yourself: While opposition from loved ones can hurt the most, opposition from yourself does hurt the most, because sometimes you don’t even realize how much it actually is hurting you.

Every creative person goes through times of doubt and ennui, where nothing is good and everything else sucks. Steven Pressfield wrote an entire book about the phenomenon so I will say two things. First, read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Second, you only live once and every day you spend devoting your time to self-opposition, you are being a bigger asshole to yourself and causing more harm than any outside asshole could ever hope to reap. Mental health issues might play a role, and, if so, get some help. Self-opposition is the absolute worst thing, and the only way to fight it is to fight it with creativity. Even just reading or listening to music can help as it stimulates your brain with other creative energy. Go for a walk and start asking, “what if?” to everything and anything that crosses your path. It works for Stephen King. I think I’m changing my name to some variety of Stev(ph)en, as they seem to do quite well with words and such.

Opposition between characters: Now for the “+1” of the group, opposition in stories and on the page. Noted Canadian stage and screen actor Colm Feore killed it when he said, “(a)nything you do, I can do better and scarier”, when asked about his character on FOX’s Gotham. He plays a villain so the scarier part works here quite well, but I like to focus on the first part of the quotation as I feel it sums up exactly how two characters should be thinking. I have spoken enough about conflict for a lifetime so blah, blah, blah, conflict is awesome, but with one sentence Feore nails all you have to think and know about creating conflict and, thus, opposition, in your work. This works for any genre, all it takes is a tweak for your lovely, original, amazing characters.

Now stop procrastinating and opposing yourself and go and create something. Anything. Nothing is not an option.


The Writer’s Alphabet vol.14; “N” is for Negative

The-letter-N-the-letter-n-22189339-2560-2560

N is for negative because all the other words were taken. Being negative is a negative way to be, so be positive and the negative takes care of itself.

That is all.

Except for this part, which is the rest of it. I read a short story – “Tableau Vivant” by Robin Black, from her collection If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This – where one character describes another in the negative, as in “not too fat but not too thin, not too smart but not a genius either.” I thought this was interesting. I have heard time and time again that great writing is brief, direct, and adverb-free. Taking those first two into account, describing something or someone in a negative sense seems like it takes more time and effort than simply describing that person, place or thing as it is, but it works in this sense because the word “average” is so subjective. It really is indefinable. Or better, a question, average in comparison to what?

My take away from this was that less is more in the way that Black only does this once in the collection and so it has impact. Second and last it was just a really cool way to use words to create a picture of a character. Yes, it took more than might have been necessary but, used sparingly, negative description is more impactful than going for the jugular and saying, “she was a babe”, “he was a stud”, “the ice cream melted like ice cream melted”, “the carpet was red and set my soul on fire”, “my bum bum hurts because of this pimple”, “the sky was blue.”


The Writer’s Alphabet vol. 13; “M” is for Meaning

The-letter-the-alphabet-22187447-2560-2560

What is the meaning of this?!?!?!?!?!?!? What means something to someone can have no meaning to someone else. Meaning is subjective, or is it? The definition of something is empirical and is also its meaning. Though what that means differs from person to person to animal to animal to person. A ball means something different to a dog than it does to a person but its dictionary definition doesn’t change. The same thing goes for objects in a story.

Let’s look at the example of a scrap of paper with a phone number on it, but no name. To one character it could just be a scrap of paper without a name. This character could think that the person who wrote down his phone number without his name could be the biggest idiot flying around on the planet. The character thinks: Why the bloody hell would someone write down their number and not put down their goddamn identifier? What possible reason could exist for this? What if I were to call this idiot and then what? Hey fuckface, you didn’t leave your name on this scrap of paper. So ya, that’s one way it could go. Though it might end up with these characters falling in love over some shared antagonism and then they get married and instead of confetti the guests throw scraps of paper with random phone numbers on them and the couple worry about eye paper cuts. Because eye paper cuts might mean something great to one person, but to this couple, eye paper cuts are the worst thing since the bad yelp review they got at the restaurant they started.

Another character might think: I’m really glad I gave that new restaurant a bad yelp review. The whole thing was lined with scraps of paper with random phone numbers and because I am the loneliest fuck in the world I decided to call some of them. Some of the numbers were out of order and some were long distance. The ones that did go through just ended in screaming matches with the person on the other end because people keep calling the number and pranking them. I’m not pranking you, I yelled at each of them, I’m really just looking for a friend. They would usually say, good luck and go fuck yourself while you’re at it, to which I would reply, I’ll take that advice with a hunk of salt you dickhead. Who cares this much about scraps of paper? Assholes! That’s who! The burger was good though.

And another character might think: This is it. I’ve found it. This is the place with the phone numbers. It only took a year and three plane rides, but I’m here. Before this character walks in the door he stares through the windows at the majesty of the one place he has wanted to visit since he read about it in a magazine a couple years ago. They had to fact check the phone numbers that line the walls because of a rash of complaints and a lawsuit, but the idea behind the whole thing was magic. He had arrived and now that he was here all he could do is stare. Who’s that cute girl eating the soup and sandwich?

And finally: This lawsuit was the best idea I ever had. Mr. & Mrs. Owners, I thank you for settling with me. Free food for life? I’ll take it! Mmmmmm, soup. On Sundays this character liked soup and a sandwich. I liked the concept but who doesn’t check if the numbers are real? She takes a bite of her sandwich and looks up out the window at the guy who has been standing there for almost ten minutes. Holy shit man! What the fuck are you staring at? Go away you freak, I’m trying to eat this free soup!

I think I went on a bit of a tangent there but meaning means different things to different people. The most important thing is that what means something to a character means something to them for a reason. An emotional connection has the biggest stakes, but as long as there is a distinct meaning then all will be well. If not, it won’t make sense and then, well, just erase the whole story and start again. Yes, even if you have 130,000 words. Chances are you’ll have to do some major editing so just start over. Just kidding! Edit it!!!


My Polysyllabic Spree March 2015

200px-TheNewYorkTrilogycoverThe New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

An interesting read. So interesting I dog-earred a page and couldn’t remember why the hell I had done so. Thankfully, the second dog-earred page I came to had notes and it was just over half the way through. That said, Auster’s New York Trilogy is a great read overall. The three short stories connect well thematically and continue with Auster’s usual themes of loss of identity, loss of sanity, and the questions of disguise.

Time plays a role as well and how our perception of an event can be skewed when we reflect on how much time was involved with it.

The idea of writer’s as ghosts, from the second story – aptly titled Ghosts – is wonderfully explored and explained.

The third story, The Locked Room, is my favourite of the three I think because it is direct and there was less work on my part as the reader to decipher what exactly was going on. There were more parts in this story that I could relate to as well, so that probably has something to do with it.

 

neverletmegoaltNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is beautiful. I have read many different reviews of this book some calling a masterpiece in subtle horror and others debunking that claim. All I can say is that, on the whole, this book is about the search for humanity. The idea of the human soul is explored and I love how Ishiguro relates the search for the soul directly to art. I’m not sure where – yes, I know I should probably research it – but I’ve heard that art in all its forms is the physical representation of the soul. This novel begs the questions, “What is the soul, and how can we prove its existence?” All the religious rhetoric and bullshit aside, the soul is simply the spark of life. Wherever this comes from I won’t hasten to guess and anyone who claims to know beyond a scientific explanation can do the long run off the short cliff, but I will say that Never Let Me Go examines the question(s) and takes up the conversation without making an ill-fated conclusion, because no conclusion is truly possible.

Ishiguro also captures emotion with precise perfection. I found myself feeling during the read. Those feelings were often mixed and like great art this book made me feel different things at the same time. It was an absolute beautiful bouquet of emotion.

Finally, this was one of those rare books that I didn’t want to end. Usually when a book is reaching its finale, things are wrapping up and the finish is welcome. When I approached the bottom of the penultimate page, I hope for another full one to follow. I was greeted with almost a quarter of a page and was grateful just for that.

Go and read this book. Now!

 

 

If-I-Loved-You-I-Would-Tell-You-This-194x300If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black

This collection of short stories is a slow build, but by the end I wanted more and more from each story. The shortest story, …Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, felt like it could have been the longest in that there was much more to explore, and I didn’t want it to end.

I felt that the overall theme of the collection was about loss, but to over explain I feel it was more like this: Nothing ends up like you thought it would but everything ends up like it should because that’s how it ended up. It is our ability to fill in the gaps between our expectations and reality – the one we create and the one created around us – that makes us who we are and determines our “happiness”, though happiness is fluid. In short, our happiness is determined by how much we fight accepting reality.

The book ends with one of the best descriptions of the fragility of life I have ever read. I won’t ruin it so you’ll just have to read!

 

Frankie&JohnnyFrankie And Johnny in the Clair De Lune A Play by Terrence McNally

This play was not what I expected but at the same time I can’t remember what I expected after reading it. It was far more explicit that what I would have expected and I enjoyed that because I feel it captures life, because life is explicit. I can’t remember what it was like in 1987 because I was seven but I assume this play was a bit risqué though not as much as I think it might have been.

McNally nails it overall but nails it right on its head near the midpoint and nestles inside the reader and audience member’s head with the dialogue and back and forth about “pardon my French”. Beauty job.

A side note: I watched the movie the next night and to say the least, it’s different. Some of what I read and pictured in the play holds up, but seeing as McNally also wrote the screenplay I wished he had keep more of the play to its form.

I want to see this produced on the stage!

April Preview: I’m going to finish The Savage Detectives and then read some other stuff. Not sure what yet.


%d bloggers like this: