Friday Playwright

Friday Playwright

BOMBERS: Reaping the Whirlwind

Remembrance Day, 2016

flight-crew

Thirty years ago, I had a neighbour named Stu Laird. He was a great guy and I really enjoyed his company but when he and his wife Dorothy were invited to dinner he would say, “I’ll be there if I’m still alive” or, “I’ll be there if I’m still ticking”. As a playwright, I’m alert to the hidden meaning behind what people say so one day I took a gamble and called him on it. I said, “Stu, why are you talking about dying? You’re not going to die between now and dinner.” He apologized. He said he’d flown rear gunner in a Halifax Bomber during WWII and had lost so many friends that he sometimes felt guilty to be alive. I was shocked… not that he remembered but that the memory affected him every day of his life. What was a rear gunner? What was a Halifax Bomber? I knew about Canada and D Day, Canada and Juno Beach, Canada liberating Holland but what was Canada’s contribution to Bomber Command?

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David S. Craig and Bob Hull. Photo taken by Mrs. Hull.

For the last thirty years I have slowly tried to answer those questions. I discovered that one third of all bomber crews were Canadian and that flying in a heavy bomber was, according to some historians, the most dangerous place to serve in WWII; only one on four air crew escaped death, serious injury or imprisonment. Of the 44,000 servicemen we lost in WWII, 10,000 died in Bomber Command. I found out that, overall, the contribution to Bomber Command, which is to say the night time bombing of Nazi Europe, was the largest contribution Canada made to the Allied war effort. We built the planes and made the bombs. We trained 130,000 pilots (130,000!) as well as bomb aimers, navigators and air gunners through the British Commonwealth Air Training program which had bases from coast to coast. I was lucky enough to talk to many who flew and survived and discovered that each one of them lived a different war, a war that each of them remembered as if it happened yesterday. Their memories are all around them and this has become the central dramatic image for the play I have written which will premiere at the 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook (near Peterborough, Ontario) on July 6th, 2017.

rear-gunner

Stu Laird passed on some years ago but I know he would have appreciated the interest I have taken in his war time experiences. He and the air crews of RCAF (6 Group) certainly don’t need a playwright to make their experiences dramatic but I think they do need one to be remembered – remembered in a way that recognizes their bravery, their sacrifice and the deadly job they were asked to do. On this Remembrance Day, I am honoured to be in their service.

David S. Craig

November 11, 2016

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The Joyful Side of Playwriting

May 30th 2016,

 

Below is a note from Persephone Theatre. This is just one of the many pleasure on the joyful side of playwriting.

Danny

Hi David,

Great to hear from you. Danny was very well received. The show reports from points all over the province were fantastic. I got a chance to see it several times and was really impressed each time with the performances and the responses. We had the amazing opportunity to fly in to Northern Saskatchewan to schools only accessible by plane through a big sponsorship with Cameco so kids living waaaaaaay up north got to see it as well. We had a lot of fun with the show as well. Danny would run away through the audience all the way to the back of the gym and hide and then kids would either give him up or “lie” to his mom that they hadn’t seen him. We also used shadow puppetry to create Angelo’s Dinosaur dad and the Taxi arriving etc. Very fun.

Cheers!

Dan

Daniel Macdonald, Artistic Associate
Persephone Theatre

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Chasing Waterfalls

There’s going to be a professional reading of my new play “Lysistrata and the Temple of Gaia”! I’m very excited to hear it performed. It’s going to happen on April 24th at 2 pm at The Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, 151 Bloor West (one block west of Spadina). Please come.

As readers of this page will know, the play is an eco-sex comedy, sub-titled “Apocolyptus Interuptus”. (Eco-sex is the next big thing) and it answers the age old “Are we going to make it?” Are we going to survive the impacts of global warming which include violent storms, killer droughts, ocean acidification and species extinction which might, in the most extreme projections, include ourselves.

global

What has always interested me is not the problem, but that we’re not doing anything about the problem. At least not anything on the scale necessary to avert serious damage to our climate. Why?

If we were all in a canoe headed for Niagara Falls it would be easy. We’d say, “Ah! We’re headed for Niagara Falls! We’re going to drown! Paddle!” and I feel confident everyone in the canoe would paddle (even the Koch Brothers). But that’s not where we are. We’re all in a canoe but the waterfall is thirty, forty, fifty years in the future. I won’t be around, so why paddle? My kids will be retired. Why should they paddle?

canoe

But then the metaphor of a waterfall doesn’t reflect the way this problem is emerging. The river is going to drop, yes, but very slowly. The ice will melt slowly. The water will rise slowly. The coral will dissolve slowly. The atmosphere will warm slowly. True – there will be violent storms, but the storms will only happen occasionally in any one place despite being much more frequent and deadly around the planet. The problem with this kind of scenario is that everyone gets used to the changes.   And we’ll be encouraged to get used to them because the cost of doing something about them will, over time, get more and more expensive if not impossible. I mean, putting a sea wall around Manhattan? Maybe. Putting a sea wall around Florida? Impossible.

Manhattan

So the problem isn’t the problem. We could solve the problem in a flash if we wanted to. The problem is we don’t think it’s a problem which is funny (or farcical) except that millions of people are going to die because of our inaction and millions more will have their lives just plain miserable with attendant social disruption globally etc. etc. That is a tragedy.

A comedy about a tragedy. That was what Aristophanes wrote in 411 BC and what I have written two thousand, four hundred and twenty-seven years later. Come out and see it. Let’s change the story.

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Mustard and Ibsen: Women and A Sense of Community

Friday, February 11, 2016

Dear Reader,

It may seem bizarre to compare Kat Sandler’s play Mustard, which recently premiered at the Tarragon Theatre, with Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, recently revived by Necessary Angel at Can Stage, but bear with me.

gabler

Cara Ricketts as Heda Gabler in the 2016 Canadian Stage Production. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Ibsen came of age in the mid 1800’s. He grew up in a small town, which was a tight but strictly ordered community, where everybody knew everyone else’s business. He fled the small town and the small country (Norway) to create a “revolutionary theatre” that championed individual freedom, particularly for women, from the arid constraints of middle class life.

This is all apparent in Hedda Gabler which shows a young middle class couple begin the play with all material and social signs of normality and ends with Hedda, who ranks with Hamlet as one of the most fascinating characters in dramatic literature, shooting killing herself to avoid a lifetime of boredom and mediocrity.

Fast-forward 125 years to Mustard and we have a portrayal of a very different family. Women, again, are the leads but the family, instead of beginning whole, begins fractured by divorce and alcoholism in the single mother and teenage pregnancy and violence on the part of her daughter. The dramatic arcs are opposite. Hedda Gabler moves tragically from the constraints of tradition and community to the freedom of death. Mustard shows two women struggling to control the excesses of personal freedom and moving towards a longing for the stability and sense of belonging that comes from relationship and community.

mustard

Sarah Dodd and Rebecca Liddiard in Mustard (Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann).

In my mind, despite the Ibsen’s astonishing control of his art, the latter is more relevant and, in Sandler’s handling of the material, more uplifting.

 

David S. Craig

Toronto

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The Playwright Who Changes Himself

July 10, 2015

Dear Reader,

One of the most exciting recent scientific discoveries is the notion of brain plasticity. The idea is that the brain, rather than being a hard wired block of concrete from puberty on, is actually more like a plastic that can, with effort, change. This came to my attention through Dr. Norman Doidge’s book “The Brain That Changes Itself”. The book tells the story of stroke survivors who cannot walk due to brain injury. Through a process of visualization and exercise, the patients regain mobility in ways that were previously thought impossible. It’s a great read.

What is astonishing about the science behind the book is the notion that a thought can change matter. In the case of the stroke survivor, the brain changes the flow of neurotransmitters in the brain. For me this conquers up images of Hindu Swamis lifting objects, or even themselves. But it also segues into the world of energy (prana for yogis, chi for tai chi). That we are walking energy fields has never been accepted in Western science. And yet, my sister spends one afternoon a week performing therapeutic touch in Toronto hospitals. The funny thing is there is no touch involved. She passes her hands a few inches over the patient’s body. The result is that the patient relaxes deeply and often falls into a refreshing sleep. But really, isn’t this voodoo? A practitioner passes her hands over a patient and something good is supposed to happen? Why would doctors, good scientists all, allow such a practice? The answer is that many of them just turn a blind eye. It was the nurses who saw the practical value in therapeutic touch and lobbied for the service to be provided (albeit by volunteers only).

I have been involved in my own brain experiment for the past three years. I have been (trying to) meditate for twenty minutes twice a day. The purpose is entirely selfish. I want to become a better playwright. I believe that the attitude I bring to the work is as important as the time I devote to the work. However, the benefits that have accrued from meditation are so incremental that they are hard to notice. But recently, during rehearsals for Double Trouble, my composer Marc Schubring said admiringly, “You are so cool with the director.” Me? Cool? I certainly didn’t feel cool. On the other hand, I was very clearly aware that losing my cool would get me nowhere. It could easily void the influence I could have on a busy director’s attention. So I was, as much as possible, quiet, respectful and strategic in my interventions. I think I got as much as possible given the situation (the situation being, as always, a lack of time). So maybe this is what Marc saw as being “cool” and maybe this has accrued from meditation… maybe…

DoubleTrouble_9

 

A friend suggested this gap between experiencing something (intuitive, right brain) and knowing something (scientific, left brain) is the result of a finite brain trying to understand a cosmic reality. You can’t know it, you can only experience it.

And on that note, have a good weekend!

David

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The Night After Opening Night!

*SPECIAL POST*

June 28th 2015

Dear Reader,

“Double Trouble” opened last night to a packed house and a cast that delivered a fantastic performance.  It all came together in the last 48 hours in one of those wonderful leaps that productions can make.  I saw it beginning at the preview yesterday afternoon and then, that night, buoyed by a supportive audience, the cast nailed it uniting text, song and production in an artistic whole.  The big improvement was in the second act. The first had come out of the box fully formed but the second, bouncing back and forth between two narratives, required rewiring.  The cast handled the new pages like pros, Kate Bryer moved them on and offstage with split second precision and the balance between humour and drama steadily improved until it locked in last night. What a relief!

DoubleTrouble_1

The cast know what they have now, they believe in it and they will never forget.  What a process!  The German Ambassador’s wife and family were in the audience and very complimentary as we’re many others.  “This play has legs” was a very nice one. But my favourite was the Mom who thanked me, “on behalf of all divorced couples for changing the ending”.  That was my big narrative gamble. In the original, written in 1949, the parents magically fall in love after ten years of bitter estrangement.  A potentially hurtful fantasy to all the modern kids living with divorced parents.  But you meddle with a story made famous by two Disney movies at your peril so it was wonderful that it worked.  In fact, it seemed so natural I had to examine how it had been changed.  Phew.  Heading back to Toronto leaving a happy theatre, composer and cast.  Very grateful… And relieved!

All the best,

David

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The Night Before Opening Night

June 26th 2015

Marc and David #1

Dear Reader,

On Tuesday I met, in person and for the first time, Marc Schubring with whom I have been collaborating with on the songs for “Double Trouble”.  It has been a most pleasurable, creative and productive experience despite the fact that Marc lives in Berlin and I live in Toronto. It is a relationship that could not have happened before internet.

Over the past few days, watching previews, there have been moments of intense satisfaction, often related to hearing Marc’s songs and my humble lyrics sung by the seven talented performers.

Tomorrow the play opens here in Bethesda and Marc and I sit, side by side in the dark of the theatre, watching the director, our midwife, give birth to a new theatrical creation. May “she” have a long life!

Have a great weekend. I will!

David
Bethesda, Maryland.

marc and david #3

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Where Else Would You Be?

 

June 20th 2015

Dear Reader,

I missed last week’s missive because something had to be jettisoned from the agenda or the good ship DSC would have sunk. It has been a busy two weeks. The busiest since I directed The Neverending Story in 2012.

Week before last saw me in Washington for the first days of rehearsal of Double Trouble. The cast is very strong and hearing them stand around the piano belting out my lyrics and Marc Schubring’s music was a thrill. Watching the book scenes get staged was less thrill. I had imagined fireworks, deep emotion, witty delivery, roars of laughter and what I saw was actors walking slowly around the stage, heads buried in scripts, speaking to the page, occasionaly looking up to say, “Is this where you want me. It’s like watching your wife in labour. It’s hard to watch, and at times you want to run but where else can you be? Where else would I want to be?

2015-06-01 09.38.17

My favourite moment was after the first read/sing thru when the publicist hugged the Artistic Director and with tears in her eyes said, “Thank You!” I took from this she thought she could sell the show. Amen to that and a low Canadian dollar.

Readers of this page will enjoy hearing one of the songs, “My Mother’s Going to Hate Me” which I have attached in a highly illegal recording that I deplore acquiring and for which I take absolutely no responsibility in removing.

I was back in Toronto late Saturday night and dropped into two twelve hour days finishing Act Two of “Lysistrata and the Temple of Gaia” for the reading at Tarragon. The last reading of the play was in December and had left me very worried. I think if I’d had the same experience at Tarragon I would have consigned the project, and six months labour, to the graveyard of noble failures, the “bottom drawer” (or its electronic equivalent, a directory called “archives”) but to my relief, the eight wonderful actors, led by Nicole Underhay and John Cleland, so ‘got’ the fun of the story that I instantly relaxed. Then I experienced a solid three hours of dramaturgical discussion led by Andrea R and Andrea D which scrolled through the narrative, the world, the characters until my brain could take no more. I left with the most wonderful gift. I couldn’t wait to get back to the computer.

But before I had even written up my notes, my director in Washington, Kate Bryer, was sending me email after email with script requests, script concerns and, of course, asking for script revisions which I am sure affected over 50% of Act Two. I was up until 4 am this morning with the last of them. Slept until 8 am. Reviewed the revisions. Sent them at 9 am. The cast arrived at 10 am, were into costume by 10:30 am, the new scenes were blocked by noon. I got the text I had hoped for, “Everyone loves the new scenes!”

I was so relieved. And then I went back to bed.

Have a great weekend,

David

Toronto.

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Weeping in Washington

Dear Reader,

I am sitting in Washington-Dulles Airport, returning from Double Trouble’s first five days of rehearsal. It’s an interesting room. Six out seven actors are women as are the Director and Stage Manager so Jamie and I are in a curious, but natural, minority.

2015-06-05 07.46.58

 

Playwrights talk about the thrill of watching a scene they have imagined come to life with real actors in three dimensions. I can trump that with the experience of having a cast of talented musical theatre singers, and where more talented than in America, delivering my lyrics to the music of Marc Schubring and the orchestrations of Nico Gaik. It’s thrilling.

But the music was the least of my worries. I was polishing and updating dialogue for at least three hours every night. The actors all have simple, direct questions about the characters, the scenes, their lines. It’s a struggle not to be defensive but so often the problem and the answer occur within seconds. We’re not talking about big concerns. Those were ironed out months ago but the details, where the devil is, are ultimately very important because they are so visible. But the overall arc of the play, when I squint my eyes and ignore the details, is really good, a credit to Kastner (the novelist). The first read/sing through, hastily rehearsed in three hours, left many of the Imagination Stage staffers in tears. The publicist hugged the Artistic Director and says, “Thank you!”, presumably because she felt she has something to sell. All good signs. I confess to weeping.   The scene where the two re-united parents and Lisa sing to an unconscious Lottie would move a Rock Eater.

Lauren Williams & Sarah Lasko

Lauren Williams (Lottie) & Sarah Lasko (Lisa)

 

I was on Skype with Marc (the composer) in Berlin throughout and the adjustments to the orchestrations rolled into our in boxes regularly. I will be on the receiving end of those email requests starting tomorrow. Bring it on. I’ll be back in Bethesda for Tech and Previews on June 23rd. Watch these pages!

 

Have a good week,

 

David

 

Washington, D.C.

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The Future of Failure

May 29th 2015

Dear Reader,

I came out of Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play and thought “this is the future of theatre”. I was only partly talking about the play. I was most impressed by the audience who were overwhelmingly young. The kind of audience every established theatre in Toronto is desperately wooing. They should consider down scaling their facility. The Aztec Theatre on Gerrard East, for this production re-christened “historic”, is a dive – a grunge palace with sagging, faded plush seats, peeling black paint and dim lighting. It reminded me of Peter Brooke’s Theatre in Paris (Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord) which was renovated to look like a ruin. “America doesn’t have enough ruins”, Brooke opined, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music followed his lead. (confused patrons would wander around asking, “when will the renovations be over?”) But back to the Aztec. We were in an old movie theatre and we were treated to beer ($6) and popcorn ($5) from wandering costumed salespeople.   We were relaxed. It was great. And packed. And the tickets were not cheap (use code SCORPIO to save 30%). All of this was proof that live theatre has a place in the hearts and wallets of young Torontonians. Sure, some of the attendance must accrue to the popularity of The Simpsons but that’s just good showmanship. And the show itself was great. Committed performances, wonky, low tech production values, direction, music, choreography, masks and some killer puppets.

Picture 1

And the play…?   Well, the play…? Sorry. Longer discussion. But let me say this. Playwright Anne Washburn has common cause with Sarah Ruhl (Passion Play last summer) and our own Jordan Tannahill. This is Theatre of Failure, a theatre of broken characters, a theatre with no linear narrative, a theatre that blends styles of performance and leaves a time bomb ticking in our hearts and minds. In a broken theatre. Runs until June 7th.

 

http://www.outsidethemarch.ca/mrburns.php

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