Spring Things

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I’ve just returned from an incredible week at The Banff Centre as part of the 2016 Playwrights Colony.  I was there with my collaborator Molly MacKinnon working on a new piece titled Never The Last, which premiers next month at the rEvolver Festival.  I was so grateful to meet some brilliant minds from across Canada, and to enjoy the facilities at Banff.  Molly and I worked round the clock to turn out two new drafts in one week – the result will be on stage just three weeks from now!

Another nice thing: I am in great company as one of six finalists for this year’s RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwrights Prize.  You can read more about the other amazing finalists here.

It feels like a really wonderful time to be a playwright in Canada – I’m filled with gratitude.  I also just literally got home from Banff, so I’m going to bed.  Goodnight, friends.

PGC Featured Playwright

The lovely folks at Playwrights Guild of Canada chose me as their Featured Playwright last month – I say lots of words about theatre, writing, diversity and community.  Thanks PGC!  You can read it here.

high tide

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On Monday night at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, I was honoured to received the Sydney Risk Prize for Outstanding Script by an Emerging Playwright for Selfie.  I also got to get up on stage with my very best friends in the world to accept the Jessie for Outstanding Musical – Small Theatre for Stationary: A Recession-Era Musical.

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Awards are weird and wonderful (and then weird again). In an industry where merit and success so rarely meet, it’s a bit odd to take one night a year to declare a winner.  But I think the real impulse is to celebrate and to come together – to recognize the hard work and to (try to) get all our beautiful, vibrant colleagues in one room to say, as Dawn Petten so beautifully put in her acceptance speech, that this is ‘our town’.

One of my favourite phrases is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.  I believe this, absolutely.  It’s the guiding principle of everything I do in the theatre.  When we are at our best, we all win.  And this experience has reminded me that I have been lifted by the people in this community – I am the beneficiary of programs and people who made room for me at the table.  Sometimes as artists we live in a culture of scarcity that can trick us into thinking we can’t afford to lift everyone up, when in fact the truth is that we can’t afford to leave anyone behind.  That night reminded me of the incredible generosity I’ve been shown in my short time in the professional world, and I intend to pass that kindness on to anyone I can.  Win or lose, feast or famine, it won’t always be this good – so when the tides rise and we cast our nets, the bounty will be so much greater for having everyone on board.

thought residency

I’m happy to be a contributor to the SpiderWebShow once again, this time as a thought resident for February 2015.  What is a thought resident?  According to Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley, “My desire is to offer a brief holiday from the mantle of your own thoughts and to give you the opportunity to unwind over a 30-second interlude with some of our country’s most interesting performance creators.  Each month, I invite an artist to join us in our thought-space. In turn, we invite you to listen to their thoughts. New thoughts are born online each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It is completely free and digitally intimate.”

Pretty neat eh?  It starts today, and will have three thoughts per week until it rolls over to another artist.  Tomorrow’s thought contains the word “nudity,” so if fall short in intellectual intrigue I can always fall back on sensationalism.

Thanks to Sarah and the SpiderWebShow team for inviting me to take part.

another round

My dear friend and collaborator Mishelle and I wrote a little holiday song last night.  Like the rest of the year, the holidays are as beautiful as they are sad, as joyful as they are hard.  Here’s to surviving it all and sticking it out for another round.

Self Portrait

I hate having my picture taken.  I can’t remember when I started hating it, but the impulse to cringe every time I see a lens is muscle memory now.  And in a sort of delicious circular irony, my self-loathing is evident on film and makes each picture worse than the last.  There’s a feedback loop that follows – feeling bad, looking bad.  And someone always makes the comment: “Aren’t actors supposed to love the camera?”

I think we all know now what young women (and people of all kinds, but I can only speak about what I know) are up against when it comes to self image.  Women are given a million things to be, and only allowed a tiny space to do it in.  And sometimes I feel like being an actor means jumping straight into the fire – until we add to and change the canon of Western theatre and drama, we’re often expected to embody the tropes that are part of this damaging system we grew up in.  The more I look for it, the more I see it – women in plays whose beauty (or lack thereof) is as crucial a demonstration of their character as their words and actions.  It strikes me that even in the medium that I love and trust, being beautiful is still an utterly essential thing to be.

And if you set yourself on the outside of that thing – for whatever reason – you wonder where your place is.   I think about every time I ignored someone who said I was smart because all I wanted to be was beautiful.  It’s hard to admit that, because beauty is political and frivolous and important all at the same time.  It’s everything and it’s nothing, and it’s tied to history and privilege and capitalism and a million things that are hard to understand all at once.  It’s also hard to talk about, because comparison is a weapon that is used to scare us all into silence.  When someone speaks their personal shame, I may swallow it along with them because in my eyes they’re closer to some unattainable standard – if she’s not beautiful, then what am I?

We live in a shallow culture that deplores vanity.  It’s this contradiction that makes me fascinated with the rise of the selfie.  Egotistical, perhaps, but also a celebration of one’s own (personally vetted) beauty?  Or is it the feedback loop again – seek approval to feel approved of?  I want to participate somehow, but it doesn’t work for me.  Every time – snap, cringe, delete.  The only selfies I’ve kept were a hilarious series of ‘exhaustion selfies’ I took this summer when I was working too hard and looked like hell.  The series culminated in a hospital selfie following a surgery resulting from a ridiculous (but minor) bike accident.  I don’t know why I took them.  I guess it’s because they were not beautiful at all, but they were the real thing.

I hate having my picture taken, but I love taking pictures.  I decided to challenge myself to take a self portrait (I suppose it’s a selfie if it’s on an iPhone and a ‘self portrait’ on a DSLR, no? That’s what I’ll go with).  I think, maybe with complete agency, I can do this – I set the lights, I pick the lens, I make my mirror face until I realize how dumb it really looks.  I will set up the shot and then set the timer and snap away at myself until I find my perfect face.  A beautiful face.

I only liked three photos, which were taken before I was ready.  They are a portrait of myself in a moment where I am not concerned if I am beautiful or not.  In these photos I see myself starting to slowly unclench, finger by finger, letting go of the bullshit I’ve held onto for so long.  I see myself not giving a fuck if I’ll ever be a leading lady or not.  I see myself existing just for myself.  And for once, I see myself as beautiful.

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Swimming Alone

I expected it to be quiet at Joe Creek.  I’m here at The Only Animal‘s beautiful artist retreat thanks to Playwrights Theatre Centre, who gave me a week here to work.  It’s a beautiful, bright cottage nestled between forest and ocean.  It’s a perfect place to be creative, and I have the place to myself.

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But I brought the noise with me.

I came here knowing I would do rewrites on a couple plays already well into their development, scheduled for production and with a host of other people involved.  However I mostly came here to work on a new piece, a quiet little voice that’s been whispering to me.

When I was younger, I was a total romantic.  The list of my favourite movies and plays reads like an index of tragic romance.  I can’t seem to help it.  The thing is, I’m also a brutal pragmatist.  Since romantics aren’t known for their survival skills, I’ve found myself leaning more and more to that side of myself, hearing the violins and proclamations of love fading farther and farther away.  But this little voice insists there’s a story to tell – a love story about everything I know now.

That damn pragmatist is being too loud.  Every time I start to write, I hear a barrage of is it produceable?  Is that trite?  Don’t you think that’s a bit derivative?  And so I frequently storm out of the cottage into the outdoors, looking for quiet.  There’s a beautiful forest right on the property – due to my almost compulsive refusal to do things the way I’m supposed to, I immediately forget the paths that Kendra showed me, crashing through the forest, carefully leaping over saplings and ferns.  How can I start without structure, what’s the action of this scene, what’s the thematic- SHUT UP SHUT UP and the forest loses this time.  I take a few gulps of air and I head back.

Either I know nothing about how to write a play, or the things that I do know are making it impossible.  My heart and my brain are at war.  So I pack my bag and run down to the beach.  I want to swim in the ocean.  I want it.  My heart wants it.  But the beaches here are rocky and hard to walk, the water thick with seaweed.  Beautiful to look at and so hard to tackle.  I remember the warnings in the artist’s handbook.  I remember the repeated warnings of my mom and boyfriend to be careful.  I’m on a mission though.  When I get to the beach I looked, awed, at the shimmering blue of the water, the immaculate clear sky.  I drop my bag, pull off my shoes. My feet sizzle on the rocks so I keep moving.

I hit the water and wow, it’s cold.  This seemed like a nice idea but the pragmatist guarantees it will not end well.  I push on.  I can no longer see my feet and they slip on seaweed then catch on sharp barnacles – I fall and slice my hand on something sharp below the surface.  It looks nasty and deep but while it’s bleeding hard it doesn’t hurt much and is clearly not fatal.  On I go – how, I saw some teenagers swimming here yesterday, how did they do that?  Are they born with callused feet or what?  Quietly, I hear so get off your feet.  Right.  I launch into a doggy paddle, just deep enough not to kick the bottom.  My breasts immediately fall out of my fashionable but inefficient bikini dammit dammit dammit but I realize there’s no need to be mortified because there’s no one around to see.  And despite there being no one around, I am not suddenly pulled under by some invisible current, not dragged below by a patch of seaweed.  I am awkwardly flopping along the water but I am still alive.  Please, please, I beg.  Don’t make me feel stupid for wanting this.  Let me have this.  And then years of community centre swim lessons come back to me and I roll onto my back, a starfish on the surface of the water.  The ocean’s invisible hands buoy me up and I am floating, the sun winking above.  Now it’s still, and the only sounds are the water lapping against my ears and my breathing slowing down.

Every act is an act of courage.  You need your heart to push you on and  your brain to keep you safe.  One without the other, and you’ll drown for sure.  I did it. There it is, the quiet.

I can hear it now.  My story.

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