Notes from the Playwright

Notes from the Playwright

Once upon a time I wrote about something very close to my broken heart for the stage. I wrote a 40 minute one-woman show about my first year of bereavement after my brother died by suicide. As a theatre creator it was the best way to express myself and to process and understand what had happened. It accomplished some of those things.

I workshopped it, staged it, toured it, and still do it today on request. It propelled me into a new chapter of my life sharing my story and becoming a mental health advocate, smashing stigma around mental illness and most specifically the stigma surrounding suicide. I even trained up and became an ASIST trainer and teach suicide prevention to groups of people.

It has been 9 years since my brother took his life, and I am still rattled. I still get situational depression around his deathaversary every November. I call this seasonal depression the Novembears. I wrote a children’s book about it. I have had strangers ridicule me for my open grief, I have had people leave my circle of friends because I couldn’t “get over it already”, and I have even had fallouts with family who thought the same way. This play is about a sister who loses her brother and someone says to her:
“You must love that boy something fierce.”
“Death changes nothing,” she replies.
This is what the show is about.

Scarred Leather Trailer

It’s also about the guilt, the shame, the sadness, the grief of losing someone and how that stays with you regardless of time. The grief changes, and the grief changes you. It’s not as all consuming, it gets “easier” (air quotes, you get it right?) but it never goes away, not completely, at least not at the 9 year mark for me.

I wanted to write something that felt like my journey through grief to this point. Truthfully I wanted something ready to mark his 10th year of passing. I don’t know why, maybe because like the first year with Everything But the Cat… it would help me start a new chapter of healing.

Scarred Leather is the next chapter – the journey has been laborious just like a cowgirl on horseback – complete with saddle sores and weariness; the pistol is the aggressive blame and shame trying to take down anyone in its path; the Victorian structure is society’s rules around how to deal with death (that’s why my heroine challenges it with dressing like a man, she lives fully outside it’s rules/stigma); and the characters around her are all dealing with death in different ways and their ghosts/memories haunt them in different ways too, because we all deal with death in different ways. It can make us hide our true selves, deceive ourselves and others, it can change us for better or worse, it takes the things we love and leaves a gaping hole, and it can tear us down to build something new in its place.

Scarred Leather gets its name from a cowboy term referring to the imperfections in ones leathers, namely the saddle, which it gets after years of use. The scars are from enduring harsh weather, long rides, and being thrown around the barn. We can see these scars on our own flesh as imperfections, or as a life lived complete with mistakes and regrets and the lessons learned from them.

This workshop production is not traditional in any sense, because what you think grief is from the outside, like this Western seems to be, is very different from what it actually is.

I hope you enjoy the show.

And you can have a listen to the cast and creators on Stageworthy Podcast

Scarred Leather Character Portraits

Scarred Leather Character Portraits

The cast behind my upcoming staged reading of my haunted western “Scarred Leather” all had their photos taken by me in my living room and then I set out to edit them some Deadwood portraits for their characters…

Jason Martorino as The Mysterious Stranger
Caroline Concordia as Eliza Montcastle
Phil Rickaby as Bill the Bartender

Each character is from 1847, old Upper Canada, in the wilds of the new land called home – the outback of the Western world.

Come see it March 19-24th at Red Sandcastle Theatre: https://www.whiskeygingercollective.org/events-1

Poster Reveal for my Western

Western poster with a red head in an orange duster coat and pistol raised to the viewer, the ghost of a man in all black in a black cowboy hat. in the distance a hauntingly dark saloon sits vacant on the hills of Canada in 1842

I am excited to have my haunted Western, Scarred Leather, at the first ever Whiskey Ginger Collective New Works Festival at Red Sandcastle Theatre March 19-24th (plug plug plug)

But more excited to challenge myself in not just writing a period piece, not just collaborating with talented actors Jason Martorino, Phil Rickaby, and Caroline Concordia, but to up my photoshop skills to make the visuals for it! That includes my poster:

Western poster with a red head in an orange duster coat and pistol raised to the viewer, the ghost of a man in all black in a black cowboy hat. in the distance a hauntingly dark saloon sits vacant on the hills of Canada in 1842

Thanks to Ryan Fisher I got some great cowgirl shots over the past year, and then Jason Martorino channeled his inner Man in the Black in an impromptu photoshoot with me; thus this homage to the early 90’s Western craze (which The Quick and the Dead is among my favourites! I mean do I even have to mention Back to the Future 3 as my favourite movie of ever?!) was made. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.

We are doing a staged reading as it is still in development, but we will be doing light rehearsals until the festival, and of course it will be costumed because why do a Western in plain clothes?! You can see behind the scenes and updates on Whiskey Ginger Collective’s social media:

https://www.instagram.com/whiskeygingercollective/
https://twitter.com/WhiskeyGingerC4
https://www.facebook.com/whiskeygingercollective/

Hope to see you there! Now, back to editing the script….

Western: First Draft

Some of you may know I love the Western genre, so much so that I had a few cosplay photoshoots with RainyFresh Photography. I have been working on a one-act play for Whisky Ginger Collective theatre festival in March 2019, and it’s been a slow process. Full of procrastination and doubt, but after a few months I have a first draft AND a title:

“Scarred Leather” comes from a keyword search, themes exploration, and phrases around my story. It alludes to weather beaten chaps, worn saddles, sun burnt and scarred skin is the life of a cowgirl. But it also speaks to how the past leaves a mark on the present.

The audience warning so far reads “use of gunshots, foul language, and R’lyehian. Vengeful Gods may be invoked.” Here is a sample of it:

Now to give it a rest and then re-read for a 1.2 draft then it’s off to beg for eyes on it to see the holes I can’t see because I’m too close to it. Welcome to my process for playwriting.

Rebellious Women: Remount!

Rebellious Women: Remount!

Next year, our great nation will be celebrating 150 years of Canadian history and culture! Now the history nerd in me is going nuts with all the great programming that I know is coming to the museums I work at – but also that I will be in an episode of Canada: The Story of Us on the CBC is exciting!

PLUS: it has been confirmed that my one-woman play about Mrs. Gibson and the women of the Upper Canada Rebellion will be remounted at Gibson House Museum in August!

I’m stoked to look back at this play I wrote back in… oh man, 2010?! Dust it off and send it back into rehearsal/the parlour. It is a site specific piece that tells the woman’s side of what happened in December of 1837…

Rebellious Women: Teasoons Raised
Rebellious Women: Teaspoons Raised

 

“November 1851: In the front parlour of Mrs. Gibson’s newly built home in Willow Dale, a table is set with cake and tea. Mrs. Gibson and her guests: Mrs. Cummer and Mrs. Sheppard, have gathered. Gibson House hosts the three unique women of Willow Dale whose lives were touched by the events of the 1837 Rebellion. Based on letters and journals, discover history through the perspective of the wives, daughters, and mothers of those men who fought for change on Yonge Street.”

 

 

 

More updates on tickets and specifics to come!

Sonnet Show!

I am one of the playwrights for the Humber River Shakespeare Co. Sonnet Show this coming May 24th. I get 14 days to write 14 minutes based on 14 lines of Shakespeare (aka a sonnet)

I got sonnet 75:

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-season’d showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As ‘twixt a miser and his wealth is found.
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better’d that the world may see my pleasure:
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had, or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

And I have 3 Women actors and 2 Male actors… guess which room I got at the museum? The kitchen!!!

Montgomerys Inn4  View from the Tavern into the KitchenMontgomerys Inn 3  The view from the “back door” Montgomerys Inn 2  Into the PantryMontgomerys Inn 1  The repro dishes I can use!Montgomerys Inn The hearth!

I also work here from time to time as I am a historical interpreter. This is an Irish household that had a tavern and inn along with some farming in the mid 1800’s. It has been restored to the year 1847 (right when the Irish Potato Famine is in full swing!)

I want to write something about food and love. I want the audience to experience food. I want the actors to be servers and cook food… Will I get my wish?! Here’s hoping – and off to the proverbial drawing board (aka my lap top)!

 

The good, the sad, and the ugly

First the sad news:

Secret Lives of Lovers has been put on hold indefinitely. Yes, the movie where I was playing Grace, the dancer alcoholic, is pretty much done at this point. We got two days on set – I did my tango which took a lot from me as I have never had to be something I’m not. I know, I know that sounds silly – I’m an actor – I clearly am not Lady Macbeth or a lesbian from Montreal (both great roles I had such fun playing in the past) – but this was a talent I couldn’t fake. I had to ACTUALLY dance. And I loved the challenge. It opened my heart and mind to a new me: one that just says yes even when severe doubt persisted. So I thank Five Strangers Films for that experience. And I hope someday soon to be Grace and get to finish creating her with the wonderful people involved in that production.

The good news – I’m researching my new play about love: why we keep it and why we discard it. But the catch, because I’m trying to stay away from writing a rom-com; is that I want to find science to back me up. There are several thoughts on why and how we love – like this gem that my friend Val showed me is Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love which defines different relationships. Fascinating! So this is my mind-set. It is a really slow process as I am still heart-broken about the movie being shut down.  But if you have any ideas on love, preferably something like this TED Talk then please pass it on!

And lastly – my play Everything But the Cat… is having it’s first staged public reading at Alumnae on March 23rd at 12 noon for a pwyc audience. I am terrified and excited. I hope to see you there 🙂

A little about me – for The New Ideas Festival

Hello! Thanks for stopping by to read a little about me and why I wrote “Everything But the Cat…”

andrewsmokebreakI wrote the play in response to my brother’s suicide. It is the first year of bereavement and what I did to cope. I really wanted this to be through the filter of one person – because every person has a unique story, their story. My play is not a recount of my brother’s life,  nor is it about how he died. It’s about how the death of someone, a family member specifically, shakes you and takes you hostage to your darkest self. This self-quake shakes everything you know and love, and for me, for this story, it made things crumble apart and I was left to pick up the pieces.

I adore the works of Daniel MacIvor and Sandra Shamas – the solo show masters in my eyes. The comedy within the solo show, and the honesty that one can achieve with this “confessional theatre” is fascinating to me. I want that. I wanted this to be an insight into a year of bereavement for someone you could relate to, someone you see on the subway crying into her iPod and wonder if you should say something. That person you see fuming with rage because her plastic lid for her coffee cup won’t fit – clearly the rage it isn’t just about that lid. Jump into those heavy and sad shoes of that person and see that there is still love, hope, and joy that is just itching to come out. It just can’t right now. It’s caught beneath something heavy called mourning.

I’m also an actor here in Toronto. I am working on an Indie Feature with Marc Morgenstern and Five Stranger Films called “Secret Lives of Lovers” which just began shooting. I adore doing voice work and I’m looking forward to working with Cardiac Game Studio on “The Princess of Nothing” video game this year too! Who doesn’t like pretending to be a kick-ass viking princess with an axe?!

So I hope you can come out on March 23rd at 12 noon to Alumnae Studio Theatre, and I hope you can stay after and chat with me and my team of “Everything But the Cat…” during the Q&A to follow.

Thanks!

Next Big Thing: Writer’s Interview

A writer friend, Chloe Whitehorn, tagged me in her writer’s “interview” that will be shared with other writers all over the web! Here are my answers:

What is your working title of your play? It’s called “Everything But The Cat…”

Where did the idea come from for the play? As an actor and sometimes playwright for the City of Toronto Museums – the most natural way to express my grief for the passing of my brother in 2010 was to write a play about it. The play is not just about death, but more about the topic of loss. Who we lose, what we lose – this can be relationships, the death of a loved one (or stranger), items that we hold dear – everything can be precious. Even your cat 😉

What genre does your play fall under? I would say Dramedy in the form of a Not-So-One-Woman-Show

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  I would cast myself! Ha! As a Canadian theatre creator I think it is necessary to make work for yourself, it’s not just a survival technique (hey I get to pay myself in this blockbuster right?!) but also it ensures you are making the type of art that moves you – that fulfills you. And if I was booked up I would cast Emma Stone, as long as she dyed her hair back to red. I love her work and her fantastically genuine presence on film.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your play? 

Loss is sometimes greater than leaving your umbrella on the subway.

Will your play be self-produced or mounted by a theatre?  So far it has been picked up by the New Ideas Festival at Alumnae Theatre for their 2013 run. I will have a one-off reading/staging of my show on March 23rd 2013. From there I am planning on filming it so I can submit for some grant proposals. Ultimately I would love to tour it to high schools or universities to raise awareness about mental health and dealing with loss. I hope to partner with a mental health institute to being a support package to schools when I visit so they have resources for any type of follow up.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your script? First draft took a year. It is basically a diary of the events that happened to me personally, then redrafted into something a bit more fictionalized as to help make it flow and exclude all the boring-ness of my actual life 😉 I have been working with Bricoteer Experiments Theatre; thank you James and Grey!  They helped me workshop the script through the use of puppetry. Dramaturg and editors, these two brought me out of my comfort zone and into a creative place where I was ready to give my story shape with well thought-out criticism and feedback.

What other plays would you compare this story to within your genre? My two big influences on this piece are Sandra Shamas (her one-woman shows, especially My Boyfriends Back and there’s Going to be Laundry was a huge inspiration/validation for my diary approach – or what I call Confessional Theatre,) and Daniel MacIvor’s solo shows (House, Monster, Here Lies Henry) were a great way to study pace and character work with one person on stage.

Who or what inspired you to write this play? Well, there are those playwrights above that act as inspirations…. But mainly the fact I couldn’t help but write this story. I was selfish and used the pen and page to help me work out what I was going through as I hit bereavement hard. So many people wanted to know what happened to my brother and to my family – to me. And so, this play about my one year of bereavement tells all those things. The horrors of depression, the triumph of finding love, the loss of someone dear to me, twice, three times – I lost count. But the fact that so many people sought me out to hear my story – to hear my brother’s story – I knew I had to write it out. And I knew it had to be theatre and not any other medium as I wanted the storyteller aspect to this. It needed the opportunity to connect with it’s audience in real time, in a real space. Film would create too much distance. A book seemed too close to being an actual diary and no room for the spontaneity I had learned through reading/watching MacIvor’s work with Brooks. No. It had to be theatre.

What else about your play might pique the audience’s interest?  I don’t want to ride anyone’s coat tails, so as much as I love MacIvor and Shamas – I wrote my piece to stand apart. How you might ask? I really am in love with shadows and silhouettes and the effect of them onstage.  I want my one-woman show to be not-so-one-woman with these shadows taking the form of everyone else in the show. She will essentially be alone with a scrim/screen behind her, yet she will find herself in a crowded subway “full of people” who will be nothing more than the shadows of the subway patrons. The saying “ever feel alone in a crowded room” comes to mind when I try to explain this to people. So come and see my experiment! I will be working with Steph Ouaknine who is already working on the projection designs for these shadow players.

I hope you can join me on March 23rd 2013 at Alumnae Theatre for the first ever public staged reading of “Everything But The Cat…”

 

Who tagged me? Well this talented red head:  Chloë Ariane Whitehorn

https://www.facebook.com/ChloeWhitehorn

Who I tagged:

AJ LaFlamme http://www.artbytheft.com/