Friday Playwright

Friday Playwright

LSD and GOD

March 27th 2015

Dear Reader,

Being a playwright ‘of a certain age’, I had occasion (well, many occasions) to experiment with LSD in the early seventies.  Some of this was, I readily confess, ‘just getting high’ but there was also the belief that my friends and I were pushing “The Doors of Perception”, as Aldous Huxley’s book was titled.  We were aware of Timothy Leary’s maxim “tune on, tune in, drop out” and we were certainly eager to try the first two if not the last.  Dropping out seemed to require a farm.   I know anecdotally that some people who tried this drug had bad trips but I, luckily, never did.  I experienced a deep sense of unity in the world, a sense of the continuity of life, a transcendence of time and space, heightened senses and a Niagara Falls of bonhomie.  All these feelings connect with what, in a less secular time, would have been called spiritual.

So it was with some interest that I read in the February New Yorker (“The Trip Treatment”) that there has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelic drugs, particularly psilocybin (a.k.a. magic mushrooms). One study, that has been funded by no less than the U.S. National Institute of Health, is looking at “the efficacy of using psilocybin in the treatment of anxiety in cancer patients.”  But there are also positive results in the treatment of addiction and depression.  An experience of the divine has fringe benefits. Take that Mr. Hitchens.

 

Last Tuesday I was experimenting with a very difference kind of spiritual experience, one that was not drug induced.  I led eighteen people in a ninety minute process that involved singing sacred musical phrases over and over until we were nothing but the words and the music.  Then we gently moved to pen and paper and expressed our longings to God.  That’s right.  God with a capital ‘G’.  To emphasize how old fashioned we were, the process was done by candlelight to leave the modern world behind. I gotta say it was really cool.  I know I felt much more centered, grounded and at one with the world as I walked out into the night.

 

Today I am going to see Roseneath Theatre’s excellent production of Spirit Horse directed by my friend and colleague Greg Banks. Tomorrow night Robin and I are hosting Jim Warren’s birthday party.  Act Two of Frenchys  is coming along nicely.

 

Have a great weekend.

 

David

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Reading New Work

March 20th 2015

Dear Reader,

This past Tuesday my playwrights group met for the third time.  I have never been in a playwright group and I wanted to see what I was missing.  The notion, initiated by moi meme (but now with a life of its own), was to bring a group of scripts and their scribes together to hear the work read out loud – either by the playwright or by the other playwrights.  This sounds simple enough but I didn’t realize there is a huge emotional component to the process.  It is the first time the words have been printed.  The first time they have left the house.  The first time they will be seen by anyone else.  The first time they will be spoken aloud.  You can’t help being nervous which I suspect may be what’s good about it.

I participated for the first time on Tuesday.  I decided to read from Double Trouble (aka The Parent Trap) which goes into rehearsal at Imagination Stage in late June.  I thought the script was finished.  As I prefer reading my own work, I decided I’d better rehearse my selection before I foisted it on my colleagues.  Well my goodness.  The blue pen was in my hand by the time I got to page one quarter.  Words were changed, speeches re-ordered, lines cut.  Every one of the twenty pages had changes and, I sincerely think, they were improvements.   The nervous energy I was feeling gave the work a new focus, my attention a new acuity.

Sometimes that blue pen just has to come out.

The reading itself went well but Bev Cooper asked one simple question – “Why don’t the girls tell their parents?”

I stumbled on the answer but then remembered.

“Their parents separated them when they were babies.  They’re afraid, if they tell them now, that their parents will continue to keep them apart”.

To which Bev replied, “Is that foreshadowed?”

“Yes”, I said, “in Act One…. but I’m going to look just to make sure”.

I did look.  It was foreshadowed but given the new importance I knew that beat now had, I strengthened it.

Over beer, the other two playwrights, Susan Stover and Michael Ross Albert also reported solid gains.

Good times!

Have a great weekend.

David

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The Current Climate

Dear Reader,

Two days ago, I was in a small boat, skimming over the waves, traveling south towards the Palencar Reef, one of the most beautiful and flourishing underwater environments in the Caribbean. It is thriving because it is strictly protected by the local Government. My dive master, Robert, makes his living from tourists visiting the reef so I ask him what he makes of global warming. He’s unconcerned. “Temperatures on the planet have been hotter and colder than they are now. No one can say why.”

I have to resist the urge to firmly point to the fact that 97% of climate scientists are warning us that we are headed towards perhaps irreversible climate changes but I am in a bathing suit. And he has probably not been reading Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything”. The introduction alone changed everything for me. But Robert’s response is proof that those forces that want, and profit from, obfuscating climate science have done an excellent job. Climate activists have to resort to shriller and shriller voices to be heard above the noise of the deniers who include my Prime Minister who says and does nothing. It would be so much more “convenient” if, as Robert opines, we weren’t responsible.

If there was nothing we could do. But that would be stupidity masquerading as ignorance. And it would also miss a “convenient” aspect of the problem which is one of Klein’s major points. The climate crisis is an opportunity to rebuild the public sector from the conservative led shrinkage of the last thirty years. We can solve the climate crisis quickly, and she points out where the money will come from, but she also encourages us to look at a wider picture while we’re at it. This includes legislation around campaign contributions (in Canada and the US) to stop what we can all see is legal bribery. That would restrict the power of the big: Big pharma, big agro, big gun, big prisons and of course big oil.

Klein is not naive. She sees the obstacles, as I have during my conversation with Robert, but I have seen impossible obstacles overcome in my lifetime: apartheid, the Berlin Wall, Northern Ireland, a black president, the NDP as the official opposition. The Palencar Reef is protected. We need to widen the net.

Have a great weekend,

David

Cozumel, Mexico

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A Playwright on Vacation

What is a playwright’s life on vacation?

 

Doing some research with this…

 

Getting ready for this…

 

And smartening up with this.

 

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The Musical Arteries

February 27th 2015

Dear Reader,

Since January, I have been working on Frenchys:  The Thrift Musical with composer John Roby.  I have been talking about this show for at least two years so it feels good to finally see the page counting climbing.  Today I finished the first draft of Act One – book and lyrics for six songs.  I’m feeling ready for a holiday.

Had friend and colleague Chris Craddock around the kitchen table this evening.  He’s in town for the TV awards having been nominated for Best Comedy for his show: Tiny Plastic Men.  He’s also writing lyrics so he played and I sang through a couple of numbers from our respective oeuvres.  Dueling wordsmiths.  The challenge, we agreed, is to have enough but not too much.  You want the lyrics to make an impression but not clog the musical arteries.

As promised, I can report that writing the lyrics first (as I am with John on Frenchys)  vs. the composer writing the music first (as have am with Marc Schubring on Double Trouble).   When the lyrics come first, the lyricist is responsible for the shape of the song. He or she decides how many beats per line in the verse, the chorus, the bridge.  This may be done (in my case is done) with only a rudimentary understanding of  music.  I understand what the song needs to achieve in terms of narrative and character but that may put the composer in a tough corner.  I think it’s easier for me, as a lyricist, to adjust to the composer.

The holiday in question is a trip.  First to Montreal to see the amazing Nicky Cavendish in Good Night Bird at the Centaur Theatre and then to Cozumel with Robin, Andrew and Lorna for some sun.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to escape the cold.

Have a great weekend.

David

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Cracking Bones

February 20th 2015

Dear Reader,

I am reflecting on the tragic loss of Elijah Marsh, age 3, who, yesterday at 4 am,   wandered out of his apartment building, fifteen minutes north of where I live, dressed in a T-shit, diaper and boots, into weather with a wind chill of -32C.  He was out there for six hours.  When they found him he was dead.  He must have been so scared.  Did his tears freeze to his face?  Oh god.

The weather has been that cold.  I can barely walk a block, in full winter attire, without my body warning me that I am in danger.  Which brings me to the beggars.  How do you ignore a beggar in this weather?  How do you ‘pass by on the other side’.

I was standing, Wednesday night, just north of Queen street, parking my car to see The Sound of Cracking Bones by the amazing Quebec playwright Suzanne Lebeau,  when I was cornered by a rail thin young woman.  She had no hat, hands in pockets: “Could you spare some money for food?  I’m pregnant and hungry.”  Oh god.  Is she lying?  Is she a drug addict?  Am I enabling her addiction?  Am I rationalizing?   Drug addicts get hungry too.  It’s thirty below.  She says she needs help.  I gave her ten bucks.  I feel manipulated and guilty for not giving her twenty, forty, sixty.   “Thanks”, she said, “God bless.”

Then I walk to the theatre.   A story of child soldiers.  A ten year old African girl who watched the rebels snap her brother’s neck, watched them rape her mother and then decapitate her father before being forced to become a rebel herself.  Three years later she escapes which forms the narrative of the play.  Two years after that she dies of AIDS.  The story is important but leaves me feeling subdued,  helpless.

I am a doer.  I want to respond.  But what can I do for child soldiers in Africa?  Is my awareness of the tragedy doing anything?  If the play is telling me that life can be brutal, violent and unbearably cruel, it is telling me something I already know.  ISIS has been telling us that more months.

I am throwing my support behind “Keep The Promise” (www.keepthepromise.ca) which is lobbying the government to reduce child poverty.  I have a play on the subject, Danny, King of the Basement , that I have donated for their use.  I would like to organize readings of the play to entertain, enlighten and encourage change.  I am also going to keep a roll of toonies in my parka pocket and I am going to shell out to anyone who asks.

I have not yet heard from any students at DAL in response to last weeks post.  The printed copy of Tough Case is now available and Frenchys – The Thrift Musical is coming along nicely.  I love writing lyrics.  It is the perfect activity for someone who is mildly obsessive compulsive!

Have a good weekend.

 

David

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Theatrical Possibility

An Open Letter to Theatre Students at Dalhousie University and King’s College, Halifax

Colleagues:

I have been thinking about the situation, the very polarizing and therefore dramatic situation, you have been living through.  I refer to the conduct of the male dental students who created the Facebook page that has made ‘the citizens of Dal’ the centre of an international debate.

I was particularly fascinated by the decision of the university president to offer to send the men, and those women willing to attend,  through a restorative justice process and then the strong response, backlash if you will, of others to that idea.

I have written a play, Tough Case, on restorative justice and I know, firsthand, what a transformative experience it can be.  I know, for example, that the process is victim oriented.  Those who have been harmed by a crime often emerge from a restorative justice process empowered.  I also have seen, firsthand, how offenders can own their wrongdoing, and emerge better people.  Permanently.  The reduction in recidivism (reoffending) among offenders in Nova Scotia who have gone through a restorative justice process proves the point.

However, restorative justice is a private meeting of those affected.  The benefits will accrue to those young women, who, if the process is successful, will emerge empowered and the young men who will, if the process is successful, emerge chastened and transformed.  However “those affected”, in this case, includes every woman who has been affected by rape culture, male entitlement etc.,  and every man who wants to protect women and redeem the dignity of their gender.  Can a restorative justice process encompass all these threads?   Those close to the process think it can but many people – students, faculty etc. – don’t,  They want the accused men to be expelled or criminally charged.  This would be a public punishment, deliberately painful, that will, if the process is successful, cause other young men to change their behaviour out of fear of repercussions. I personally don’t think this is an effective way to change human behaviour but I completely understand that many people think it is.

But here’s why I am writing you.  I think there is an opportunity, perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity, to create a play on all this.  If you are already doing this, bravo. How can I help?  If you are not, I encourage you to consider it.

You are the best people to do it.  First because you have lived it and second because you are emerging artists and your voice would be fresh, relevant and, if the process is successful, riveting.  So riveting.  I mean, imagine the restorative justice meeting where the male dental students and the female students walk in – to the same room – face to face – for the first time.  Imagine the tension in that room.  But the character mix would be more than those specific students.  In restorative justice, offenders and victims can bring people to support them.  So imagine what the father of one of the girls would say to the boys?  Imagine what the boyfriend of one of the girls would say to the boys?  Imagine what the mother of one of the boys would say to the girls, defending her son, his character, his future being on the line?  Imagine the feelings of the women who refused to attend?  Of the men who refused to participate…  Tense.  Riveting.  Stakes.  Global significance.  What an opportunity.

Respectfully,

David

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Can’t Fight the Music

February 7th 2015

Dear Reader,

I have never considered myself a push over, have never self-described as under-opinionated and would not reflect my boat as lacking bottom and yet I seem to have no backbone on the perennial musical theatre question:  which comes first – the lyric or the song?

For the last two years I have been working with German composer Marc Schubring who, on our first skype call, practically begged me to let him write the music first.

“If I write the music without the lyrics, I can give the melody an integrity that won’t be possible if I am trying to work around the words”, he said with this charming, soft German accent, “We will, of course, discuss the song together first.  Discuss the feeling, the movement, the purpose in the narrative and decide on a lyric ‘hook’.  Then, please, let me go away and write the music.”

I think I tried to hang onto some dignity by opining that, “I am sure there are lots of ways…” and finally, “well let’s see how it goes…” before caving in completely.

Then he sent me these gorgeous melodies.  There were times I chafed against the rigid format but mostly I worked and it worked.  (The show, Double Trouble, opens at Imagination Stage on June 27th).

Fast forward to now minus four weeks ago and I’m sitting with John Roby who has written the music for Dora winning musicals with lyricists like George F. Walker, Ray Storey and Paul Ledoux.  I tell him about my conversation with Marc.

 

“That’s funny”, he says enthusiastically, “I always write the music after the lyrics.  Like…”  And I see him reflect back on his thirty years of professional experience, “Like always.  Just send me what you’ve got. It doesn’t have to be finished.

So I caved.  New folks.  New strokes.  And it’s interesting. I have complete freedom to write the lyric in any form I want but now I have to decide.  With music first, the form was given to me.  No responsibility for the urn, just the wine within.  This way, I am creating a lyric without knowing what the emotional surround will be.  So far, I’ve written lyrics for two tunes and I’ll hear John’s musical responses next week.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

In other news:  For those of you who saw Roseneath’ s production of Smokescreen, here’s a contract from the production in Germany.   They seem to have surrounded the set with marijuana plants!    http://www.harztheater.de/bigdeal

 

Have a good weekend,

 

David

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Dead Ahead

January 30th 2015

“By going fast, you don’t allow that criticism to catch up,

you just plow right over it and just keep on going, baby,

and see where it gets you!”

Laurence Hill, Novelist, Book of Negroes

 

Dear Reader,

There is an old aphorism, and I love aphorisms, that opines:  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.  The same can be said of deadlines.  My Frenchys composer and collaborator John Roby eyeballed each other in December and said, “Let’s have a first draft by the end of March”.

 

We are both old dogs of theatre creation and we know how easy it is to fritter the time away.  A deadline, even self-imposed, is essential or you can spend three hours deciding on the best font for the title.  A deadline creates energy. It focusses priorities.  It sets the alarm.  It closes the newspaper.  It postpones the dinner party.  At the same time, a deadline, poorly conceived will raise tension beyond the useful and into the range of paralysis.  “I will never get this done!”, the inner harpy screeches and if not firmly silenced becomes a drag if not a self-fulfilling prophesy.

For me the dilemma is how much planning you need to do for the journey.  There is the David French approach which is to leave without baggage and pick up what you need along the way and then there’s my approach which can extend to writing prose descriptions of every beat of dialogue before the boat is allowed to leave the dock.  With Frenchys I have determined to ‘split the difference’. The characters, and their journeys, have been, to a great extent, mapped out.  John and I have created a list of songs.  It is now the end of January.  It is time to start and, as Mr. Hill recommends, “keep on going, baby!”  And so I will… with a fresh cup of coffee. That’s reasonable.  Isn’t it?

 

David

Toronto

 

P.S.  Toi-toi-toi to director Angela Bucher and the cast of “Big Deal?” (“Smokescreen” in Canada) who opened at the Nordharzer Städtebundtheater in Germany yesterday.

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Je Suis David S. Craig

January 23rd 2015

Dear Reader,

Two weeks ago, after the horrific murders in Paris, I posted my support of freedom of speech and my condemnation of terrorism.  I proudly stated – “Je Suis Charlie”.

Two weeks later, and the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has bravely continued to publish and has, on its latest cover, a picture of the Prophet.  I support their right to publish that cover but, even more, I support the decision of the Toronto Star not to publish that cover or any pictures that defame the Islamic prophet.

France has a culture of state secularism who’s hero is Voltaire. It is a part of their culture that was forged in the blood of the French revolution when, briefly, all the churches were closed and all the priests were fired.  This state secularism is echoed among French intellectuals in Quebec where  the provincial government there tried to enact legislation prohibiting religious clothing, like the hijab, by public employees.  Canadians across the country reacted according to our culture and our values which is one of respect for other’s traditions, cultures, religions, race and sexual orientation.  We have a culture of tolerance and it is one I honour deeply.  It is what makes Toronto, the biggest social experiment on the planet, one of the most interesting places to live ever.

And it is because I embrace a culture of tolerance and respect for “the other” that I say, “Je n’est pas Charlie”.  I am concerned that the anger and disgust at the murderers in Paris, by men who align themselves with Islam, will spill over into anger and disgust at all Muslims. After all, are we not, as the Prime Minister says, “at war” with Islamic jihadists?  Is not the most popular movie in our cinemas “American Sniper” which is about a man who killed Muslims and is quoted as saying he wished he killed more?  Is it not easy to believe that Muslims have a culture of violence (despite the fact that “murder rates are substantially lower in Muslim-majority countries”¹)? Can we really distinguish the jihadists, who are condemned by Imams all over the world, from ordinary Muslims?  In Toronto, I’m sure we can.  That’s our culture.  It’s what we teach our children.  But c’mon.  It is an inflammable situation.  If I was a Muslim in Toronto, I would be nervous.  The editors of the Toronto Star were smart to do what was right for our community.

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