April 28th, 2014

*Once* stories on stage at the In the Soil festival

Ferris wheel at In the Soil festival

Ferris wheel at In the Soil festival

This past weekend, I went to see the theatrical version of four stories from *Once* presented by Twitches and Itches theatre company in St. Catharines, as part of In the Soil festival there. I actually tried to take a picture of the (sold out!) crowd before the lights went down, but my attempt to be unobtrusive meant that the photo is illegible. So above is a ferris wheel that was part of the festival, but had nothing to do with the play. At least it’s on the same general wavelength as the play was–cool and unexpected.

I’ve known that director Colin Anthes was working on this production for a while, and I was quite interested/excited, but I haven’t asked a tonne of questions and tried very hard not to volunteer any opinions. I figured I’d had my say in the stories, and if this group wanted to take on the task of bringing them to the stage (which I imagine was pretty hard), they deserved the right to do it any way they could think of. I learned from the very magical experience seeing the film version of How to Keep Your Day Job come to life that the best way to be amazed by your own work is to let someone else completely recreate it. It’s so stunning to see what they find.

And the *Once* play on Saturday was truly stunning. It was actually 4 little playlets: “Chilly Girl,” “Fruit Factory,” “Cal Is Helpful” and “The Words,” enacted one after another. From talking to Colin and reading this essay by one of the actors, I know that the plays came together collaboratively, with the whole cast involved, and it showed in the vigour and joy of their performances.

The cast was Eduardo DiMartino, Collin Glavac, Hayley Malouin and Caitlin Popek, the stage manager Nathan Heuchan, and the adaptor Colin Anthes. Their versions of these four stories were all incredibly faithful to the texts, while still very different from them. It was amazing how much room they found to vary pace, tone, focus, with almost no real rewriting (I think I caught maximum three small instances when the actual prose was different, each time in logical ways to make up for cut scenes or other practical matters). The humour in a number of the pieces was highlighted, the pace quickened, and some of it was simply different than I imagined. Which is good–no writer should ever get too caught up in her own imagination being the right imagination. I was also really surprised by how much music this group found in the stories–they used music in a lot of surprising ways in the plays, but actually a lot of it came from within the stories. It really surprised me, in the best possible way.

It’s possible that *Once* the play will get remounted at some point in the future, and I sincerely hope it does because more people would enjoy seeing it, I’m sure. Until then, I certainly did!

February 4th, 2014

Sometimes I do things

I wouldn’t want you guys to think I’d given up the literary lifestyle just because I rarely blog about it (or anything) these days. I do still take an interest in books, writing, and words–for the record…

February 15, 6-8:30, at The Old Nick at 123 Danforth (at Broadview), my friend Ron Schafrick will be launching his new book The Interpreters. He’ll be reading and signing, but I’ll be one of the opening acts (along with Mark Sampson. Come check it out!

My short story, Marriage, which was published in The New Quarterly last fall, was chosen for inclusion in Best Canadian Stories 2013, which will be out next fall. Very delighted!

The playwright/director/theatre guy Colin B Anthes has adapted some of the stories from Once in a live theatre performance that is going to be staged April 26 and 27 in St. Catharines. As I may have already mentioned in this space, I am SO excited about this and will definitely be there on the premiere weekend. If you live in the region or would be able to get there on those dates, please try to come. I will have more info as the situation develops, but just wanted to mention it due to the aforementioned excitement!

And I’m doing lots of other, non-literary stuff, like preparing to cast-off (at last!!) my blue knitting square; spending a lot of time failing to train my cat to do any tricks but for some reason he still really adores the process and *purrs* (very rare for him) while we’re training; visiting a bunch of babies. Oh, and one more literary thing, reading the best book ever (thanks for the recommendation, Kerry Clare!

June 27th, 2013

Rose-coloured reviews *Cats* (the musical)

I read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot when I was kid, and enjoyed it immensely. I would love to claim to have been the sort of tween who randomly read books of poetry from the 30s (and to a certain extent, I was) but I read this one because my friend Kim had gone to see *Cats* and couldn’t stop talking about it. I was clearly not going to be taken to *Cats*, because my parents, lovers of musicals though they are, are more Stephen Sondheim than Andrew Lloyd Webber. So I was very sad, and Kim suggested I might like the book as a substitute. I did! It’s just a book of nonsense rhymes introducing a variety of chubby, mischievous, happy, and sad cats. I guess nonsense rhymes is not quite right–they make sense by their own internal logic. It’s not like “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat” is immediately obvious in meaning if you’ve not read the rest of the poem, either.

And that reading has helped mold me into the adult I am now, who knows all the words to every song in *Rent* and regularly makes videos of cats I meet. I’ve never combined these two passions of mine, I think because I have never been in a city where *Cats* was playing…but I’m unobservant, so I could’ve missed it. Nevertheless, the point is that there I was, 35 years old, encountering the wonder that is *Cats* the musical for the first time.


So much dancing, so much singing, wild costumes, incredible choreography, enthused, tightly polished performers, and a *very* positive audience. Plot–eh, not so much. Old Possum’s book was a collection of poems, almost of them descriptions of individual cats. These work surprisingly well as individual songs, and give each member of the cast (well, almost each–there’s about 3 cats on-stage that have no song of their own. Weird.) Anyway, the “plot” such as it is, is that every year on the night of the Jellicle moon (which I thought meant full moon, but there are twelve of those per year, so who knows) all the Jellicle cats gather and their leader, Old Deuteronomy, chooses one cat who gets to live another life…in space.

Well, I know don’t know–they go up on a high platform at the end of the play, Old Deuteronomy and the chosen cat, and then they go behind this scrim that is suddenly lit up with zaps and flashes of green electricity and then the chosen one disappears–seemed a lot like a Trekkie teleport to me. I’ve brought this with others, who variously insist that the special cat goes to heaven or is reincarnated in a new life. Either way, basically the cats have gathered to murder one of their own. “This sounds like Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery,'” said my musical hating husband.

My husband stayed home. All musical-haters should stay home from *Cats*. I’m not saying no musical-haters will ever be brought round–you might get behind the plot of *Les Miz* or the humour of *Into the Woods* or a thousand other multifaceted musicals. But *Cats* is really really really a musical-lover’s musical. Plotless (except for the space/heaven thing), almost completely without dialogue, narrative, even setting (they’re in some kind of junkyard, never determined where or why), *Cats* is about dancing and singing, full stop. The songs are about nothing and though some of the movement onstage is very convincingly catlike, the actual dance-numbers are nothing of the kind. They are DANCE NUMBERS. Tightly choreographed, impeccably rehearsed and lovely to watch, the dance routines have very little to do with cats. They are what musical watchers love, though–big showy dances.

I ate it up with a spoon. *American Idiot* aka the Green Day musical, was the last show I saw with lots of dancing in unison. The choreography made no sense in that show–would punks dance in unison? Of course not. Well, neither would cats, but at least their routines didn’t look like high-impact aerobics. This paragraph has wandered off–what I was getting at was that *Cats* is great because it embraces what it is, a showcase for song and dance.

And singers and dancers! There are SO MANY talented people in this show–I didn’t see a misstep out of all the many routines with their oh-so-similar setup and cues. And they were always beaming, whereas you’d think a normal person would’ve sweated through his or her spandex unitard and collapsed two numbers ago. I was really impressed with the cast, and pissed that their program notes featured photos taken NOT in their cat costumes, so if you couldn’t recall a cat’s name, you couldn’t figure out who played him or her.

I’ve noticed a Toronto musical theatre phenomenon where everyone’s an outstanding dancer and there are many outstanding singers, along with some servicable ones. I didn’t didn’t see a misstep in the show, but I heard a few wobbly notes, if not outright false ones.

Quibbles, quibbles. I will be singing Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats for the rest of my days, content in the knowledge that the words mean nothing and I couldn’t do that dance routine without a dozen lines of coke and plastic surgery. Cats was well-performed, well-staged, and a joy to watch. I don’t quite know if it was well-written–the TS Eliot poems are good as far as they go, which is not far, and the one original song by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Memories” has certainly gained cultural weight (though I thought it was a bit dreary compared to the Jellicle stuff, myself). Oh, hell, who even cares what wordy explanation I can come up with about a 30-year-old musical–I loved it, but I also totally understood the man who stood and marched up the aisle ten minutes into the show, never to return. He was muttering “I can’t take this.”

July 15th, 2011

England Days 2-5: Dagenham, Romford, Windsor, Camden, and Oxford

One thing that has always marked me out as a Canadian with American roots is that I don’t care much about tea. I mean, I’m happy enough to drink tea, if you’re putting the kettle on anyway, but I don’t find delight or solace in it the way so many of my fellow Canadians and, I’m told, Britons do. I don’t even care what you put it in–I’ll drink tea with or without milk, sugar, or lemon. If I don’t feel like getting up, I’ll drink it black.

But it was kind of delightful to drink a “proper” pot of tea on our first morning at Charlie’s. Given the extremely basic level of the room, I was shocked by the quality and generosity of the morning feast. Eggs, bacon (very strange looking bacon), all the toast and jam you could handle, tomatoes, cheese, croissants, and lovely tea–it seemed *richer*, without being stronger, than the Canadian bag-in-cup kind. Thus fortified, we set for the heart of London.

Everyone I talked to who’d been to London said the best part was just walking around looking at stuff, so instead of going straight to Russell Square, we got off the tube at Covent Gardens and just wandered around. It was a bit early to see much action there, but the day was lovely and fresh, and the buildings and old markets really are gorgeous. We wandered somehow to Piccadilly Gardens, which was terrifying–the most traffic ever in the world. We went to the Waterstone’s, a nice giant bookstore, and I finally got an A-Z map–then we immediately got lost. Or perhaps we’d already been lost, but hadn’t known it until we looked at the map.

Finally we gained Russell Square–Bloomsbury!! I tried to imagine Vanessa and Virginia Stephens, Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes and all the rest walking briskly among the old townhouses (less old, then), having brilliant conversations about the next great thing in art, literature, furniture, economics. I didn’t entirely succeed, but enjoyed myself. We found a bookstore devoted entirely to the works Swedenborg, sat on the grass in Russell Square and watched the pigeons, and finally went and got something to eat from a grocery.

We carried our food to the front yard (garden?) of the British Museum, which was an absolutely perfect place to picnic. See?

The inside of the museum was pretty great too. Mark had wanted to go, and since it was free (well, a 3 pound donation is recommended, which is still pretty reasonable) I had thought we could just drop in for a little bit. But both the space and the exhibits were pretty enthralling. What I couldn’t get over was the Enlightenment Exhibit–the British Museum actually *existed* during the Enlightenment, and took on some of their collection on an as-it-happens basis. I have never seen anything like that.

After another grocery-store meal (they have really nice prepared foods in English groceries–who knew?), we went to see *Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead* at The Royal Haymarket Theatre. We had gotten the tickets from of the 8 bazillion discount ticket outlets in central London, after seeing a single tiny poster for the show on the subway. Apparently, most people want to see *Shrek the Musical* or *Legally Blond, the Musical*, but I loved this play when I read it/saw the film, and wanted to finally see it live.

Totally great! The film, with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth’s portrayls of the title characters, is pretty firmly entrenched in my mind and I think many others’ minds, and it was so delightful to another brilliant interpretation that was so *different*–bawdier, goofier, just as weird but differently so. If you’re in London this summer, I recommend.

The next morning, we had another generous breakfast, this time including Red Leicester cheese, which I wanted to try because I hadn’t had it before. Turns out, pretty much like cheddar.

Then we hit the tube and parted ways, as Mark was off to Oxford and I was headed east of London to Dagenham. Dagenham is technically in another county (Essex) but such is the size of London that it qualities as a suburb and the tube goes there. There’s also a movie made about Dagenham, but I haven’t seen it and so can’t comment. Mainly Dagenham is where my friend K. teaches grade one (“year one”, I believe they call it), bakes cupcakes and remains awesome.

I was pretty proud of myself of getting myself all the way out there solo (over an hour, and without incident). It was also great to be reunited with K., who had left Canada a year and a half before. We hung out, ate chicken at Nando’s, bought underwear at Marks and Spencer, and went to the bingo hall in Romford. All the typical daily life of the residents there, which I was delighted to try out. Here’s me goofing around in the bingo hall.

Then to bed, because early the next morning, Windsor Castle!! I don’t mind doing touristy things when they are awe-inspiring, as Windsor truly is. After taking a train reminiscent of the GO (but with only one level), surrounded by the gorgeous and the posh on their way to a horse race (I think) also in Windsor, we got to this magnificent…fortress. Seriously, if you declared war on Windsor, you’d have a hell of a time getting in there. We saw all the stuff you’d imagine–Queen Mary’s dollhouse (I am a dollhouse enthusiast), lots of art and lofty rooms, and the best part, the changing of the guard with a random little show from the marching band. Here they are:

They we wandered Windsor proper for a while, before getting back on the train and heading into the heart of London, to the very beautiful Regent’s Park. Not only did the open-air theatre in the park have the most wonderous public bathrooms I’ve ever seen:

They have an amazingly huge and commodious theatre–not that the High Park Amphitheatre isn’t wonderful, but this one had actual chairs!! We saw The Beggar’s Opera. The set was so amazing it was copyrighted, as a very polite usher informed me when he made me delete the picture I’d just taken of it. The show was well performed, but at times hard to follow and…unimaginably filthy. What were people *like* in 1728? Oversexed and amoral, apparently. I was particularly stunned by the mega-meta ending, but it was a wild performance and exciting to be there.

The next morning we got a late start, ate a tasty Canadian breakfast (maple syrup!), and tried to go into town to drop my luggage off at Paddington Station, then go explore Camden Market for a couple hours before I had to get back for my train. This was the plan but…it was Sunday. I had been feeling very bad about how much better London’s subway system is than Toronto’s, but the nice thing about ours is that it mainly works every day of the week, while London’s becomes half-inoperative and entirely slow and baffling on Sundays. What should (I think) have been an hour’s journey turned into 3, with many crowded transfers. So by the time I finally left my bags and got to Camden, I had spent 17 pounds to be free of my things for less than an hour. Camden is very nice, I think, but all I saw of it was the Doc Martens’ store (wowsers!!) and a Pret a Manger, before i had to head back. And then of course the subway station we’d come out of had closed, and we had to walk to another one. My advice is not to use the Paddington left luggage if you’ll only be gone a short time, as it is the same cost for anything under 24 hours, and it’s very expensive.

After all that hassle, it was great to get on a train and just not transfer for an hour. It was still very warm on the train, though, and I hate sitting backwards, so it was even better to get *off* the train and find Mark waiting for me at the station in Oxford. After our merry reunion, we lugged my luggage (which I had grown to loathe) into the centre of town and had a little tour, before a delightful dinner at a centuries old pub. I had the mussels, which were younger than that.

Then we got on the Oxford city bus and went out of town about half an hour, to a place called the which is basically a rest area off the highway, although more advanced than the north American version–this one had restaurants, a mini-park. a grocery store, and hotels. We stayed at the Days Inn, which was very plain and cheap, but clean and comfortable and, thrillingly, had a door on the bathroom. There was a tea/coffee centre in the room complete with biscuits, and Mark had thoughtfully placed a Dairy Milk on my pillow. Hello, Oxford!

June 7th, 2010

How to have an awesome weekend

Step 1: Accept your limits: come home from work and lie around on Friday night. Talk on the phone with amusing people, maybe read a little bit of the Lists issue of The New Quarterly. Go to bed when you are tired and try not to look at the clock if you are prone to feeling guilty for going to be before 11. Or 10.

Step 2: Get up (reasonably) early without the alarm and read more TNQ over breakfast. Then check Facebook and finally figure out that The National is a band–before when Amy posted about them, you had thought they were a hockey team.

Step 3: Realize The National is your new favourite band. Dance!

Step 4: Finish a bunch of submissions, a grant application, and some emails. Feel really productive and totally justified in going to bed at the unnamed hour you did last night.

Step 5: Think long and hard about which post office you find less annoying. Go to that post office, even if it is a longer walk. It’s sunny out.

Step 6: Buy some pop and sit on a bench in the sunshine and read more TNQ.

Step 7: Go back home and do even more work, because you are such a superstar.

Step 8: Go find a a nice person and some high-quality take-out sushi.

Step 9: Eat the sushi beside the pretty fountain in the College Park courtyard while waiting for the Urban Bard production of Twelth Night to start.

Step 10: Watch the play. Do not get annoyed that you have to stand for pretty much the entire performance and oftentimes the enormous metal pillar/twinkle lights construction (signal to the mother ship of College Park?) obscures the show. The actors are still excellent and the red-headed twins are cute. And it is cool to see people wandering out of the mall and into Illyria carrying bags from Metro and Winners.

Step 11: Tough it out when it rains. It’s only a sprinkle.

Step 12: Win the after-play raffle (illustrated copy of Hamlet).

Step 13: Run away with your booty before it starts to really pour.

Step 14: Go to a party. Hug your friends. Make charming conversation, or have it made with you.

Step 15: Eat some ice-cream cake.

Step 16: Go to bed.

Step 17: Spend almost entire Sunday lying on couch. Go outside only to go somewhere called The Ice Cream Outlet, which is apparently ungooglable but VERY VERY GOOD (and cheap!)

Step 18: Feel happy.

Step 19: Get back to work.

January 25th, 2010

Mark Purvis, 1975-2009

When I was one, my family moved into a new house. The family moving out had lost their little boy to a car when he ran into the road. He was two.

When I was in grade five, a grade-six boy in my school died in what was either a bizarre accident or a suicide.

Someone in my highschool committed suicide when I was in grade 11, and we made a memorial page in the yearbook though I don’t think many people actually knew the deceased–I don’t even know what grade he was in–which might have been part of the problem.

About four years back, a boy who had been close to my family died under circumstances I never fully understood. He was two years younger than me.

Twice in past few years, I have come across “in memoriams” in my university alumni magazine of names I recognize–one a friend of friends, one a student politician. Both died in accidents in the mountains, years and continents apart.

Those above are, until now, all the people I know in my own age group who have died.

I met Mark Purvis when we were both involved in the short-lived Free Biscuit Theatre project (apparently no web-legacy remains) in 2007-2008. I joined despite not being an actor or theatre person because I thought writing words for someone to say as opposed to read would teach my something.

It did, but I also get pressed to perform, to serve shooters at a fundraiser, to do movement exercises and generally go way outside my comfort zone. I also got the great pleasure of shutting up and listening in presence of people who were educated and passionate about something I had only ever seen from the outside.

Mark was foremost in that regard–a dedicated actor who wasn’t serious about much else. He had endless energy to try *anything* anyone suggested–I never saw him perform as a clown, but he loved that as much as the “serious” parts I did see him in. He played Mathias in the play that’s linked there, *The Bells*, a massive and demanding and very bizarre role he did for Free Biscuit. He was wall-to-wall amazing and the production brought tremendous accolades (to be fair, all the Biscuits were outstanding, but Mark had the starring role).

Mark also had a fairly strong math and spreadsheet ability, gained in various dayjobs. He volunteered to use his not-much-loved gifts to do the Free Biscuit bookkeeping. He never complained about the extra work, and I’m pretty sure he used his control of our funds to make sure he was never paid at all for his performance in *The Bells*.

I didn’t really know Mark all that much–we hung out every few weeks for a year–but I always felt really amazed at how seriously he took me, and how much he wanted to help with my sad attempts at at performance. Once, he and his girlfriend took an entire evening to go through my 10-minute monologue over and over again with me until I no longer (quite) wanted to die at the thought of doing it in front of an audience, and I know they listened seriously and intently every single time.

Once, a bunch of us went out to the suburbs to see Mark perform in an outdoor Shakespearian festival. When the performance got rained out, we repaired to Crabby Joe’s in a not-ironic-enough urban gesture, where Mark regaled us with crazy, hilarious, filthy stories. I was so proud when we realized the couple at the next table had stopped speaking to each other entirely, the better to overhear.

Once, Mark and his girlfriend had a miniperformance at their place because they had built a *stage* in their living room (with lights!) Mark comforted me about my terror of performing by telling me the story of the time he met William Shatner.

This is a memorial to a person I didn’t know well–perhaps not even a friend but rather one of those wonderful acquaintances that make life joyful. I feel lucky to have met him, and shocked that he passed away. It is terrifying to me that someone could be my own age and no longer alive–I’m not nearly ready.

Of course, no one is ever ready. All we can do, I think, is as Mark did: everything we can for everyone we meet in the moment that we are.


September 9th, 2009

A report on The Dream in High Park

I won’t be doing a real review of the production of The Tempest at Dream in High Park this year. Not because it wasn’t wonderful (it was) but because it’s over, so it would be pretty pointless to offer a review of something you can’t ever go to.

Instead, I wanted to write a bit about the experience of going to the show. I have been a fan of the Dream since coming to TO, and seen most shows offered since (except for last year’s, which was a repeat of the production of *A Midsummer Night’s Dream* from the year prior–baffling since, like me, most Dream devotees like to go every year). It’s always a fine performance in a beautiful spot with an enthuiastic crowd, and this year was no exception.

I had never, however, attended so late in the season as the second-last performance, and the last non-“family focus” one. My viewing companion and I arrived close to 2 hours early, in typical RR can’t-be-too-careful manner, and were glad we did. We got a lovely spot in the tiered-earth amphitheatre (the only sore point of the night was the volunteer insisting on absolutely no photos because “it’s equity”, which I don’t know has much to do with pictures of the amphitheatre). But even at 6:15, those really good spots were dwindling in number.

So we put down the blanket (actually, my Urban Outfitters bedspread from first-year rez) and edged it with a moat of food. Because that’s what people do at Dream while waiting for the show to start–eat elaborate and enormous picnics, and eyeball everyone else’s picnics. For example, for years I’ve seen people drinking wine out of those little stemmed dixie cups, but when I looked it up on the website this year, I found that alcoholic beverages are forbidden…but sure enough the couple to our right and in front had those cuppies, and the people behind us had a pitcher of sangria…I guess it’s ok if there aren’t any obvious bottles?

The thing to do other than eat and picnic-watch was of course people-watch, because there were *so many* there. About 20 minutes before showtime, one of the site managers announced that we were at over 750 people and new arrivals were still…arriving (sentence fail). There were people all over the hillsides, almost into the trees, and in our row we were rather intimate with our neighbours.

It was extraordinary to see perhaps 800 people out on a Saturday night to watch Shakespeare. Especially since they were all ages and demographics, not the feared “all oldsters” crowds of some of the downtown theatres’ “big shows”. The folks to my left were my parents age, quoting Obama when asked if they had room to scoot down (“Can we do it? Yes we can!”) and eating out of an elegantly pack cooler. In front and to the left were an extremely young and conservatively dressed pair on a date, very pleased with themselves and each other. My companion pointed out that two rows ahead was a father playing patticake with a 3-year-old girl. Later, the father and the mother each took responsibility for slathering one half of the child’s limbs in bug spray.

Behind us was my favourite group, 20 people gathered to celebrate a birthday. They had more and better food than I’ve ever seen come out of backpacks (a wheel of brie!), were all in a narrow range of midtwenties but an assortment of sexual orientations, and spent their time discussing a) food, b) alcohol, c) the iron man race the birthday boy had recently run, d) one of the guests’ recent engagement to a man who lives in another city, e) what is the *Tempest* about, anyway?

I love that people in Toronto just know that the Dream is a good time, that it’s fun to watch Shakespeare there not only because you can eat and snog and play with your kids at the same time, but also because these are good lusty plays and CanStage presents them for everyone, not just theatre people.

The Dream is Pay What You Can, so no one should ever miss a show due to lack of funds. And the “recommended donation” is only $20 anyway–an incredible deal.

Sorry, this is still a rave about something you can’t see for another 10 months, after all. But really, mark it on your 2010 calandar!!

I’ll give you three guesses

August 11th, 2009

Writing Exercise: Tom Stoppard’s Questions Game

Sunday evening I rewatched the film version of Tom Stoppard‘s brilliant play Rosencrantz and Guidenstern Are Dead. Since the author directed the film, it is just as wondrous as the play.

If you’ve never read or viewed this one, it’s the left-out lives of Hamlet‘s two retainers, who die off-stage and without tears or explanation towards the end of that play. It’s also about the act of writing and the definition of character, the concept of performance, and a variety of physical principals and simple machines, which are explored by one of the characters in a series of subtle and hilarious protracted gags.

This is one of the funniest movies you’re likely to see, but to get all the jokes, it helps to see it multiple times (I think this was my forth, and I saw a lot that was new!) One scene I did remember distinctly and with joy from childhood viewing was the great Questions game, that the protagonists play on Hamlet’s indoor tennis court.

The game is what it sounds like, to keep a (semi-)logical fast-paced conversation going using only questions. The characters have rules against not only statements but repetition, non-sequiteurs, rhetoric, synonyms and hesitation. This keeps the conversation fast, intense, somewhat surreal, and very tight–people are trying to win, after all.

Stoppard’s style of dialogue in general like that; the Questions game comes up almost as a kind of parody of R&G’s usual quick, confused/confusing banter. This style also reminds me of Sanford Meisner‘s repetition exercise for actors–another way of creating fast, tight dialogue.

As a lover of fine dialogue of both real and artificial forms, needless to say, a) I love this stuff and b) it’s very hard to do well, or even at all. As I said, I watched this movie as a kid, with my bro, and the first time we encountered a tennis court, we did try to play it–so frustrating! Even when you leave out some of the secondary rules about hesitation, non-sequiteurs, etc.

So, obviously, this is a great writing exercise. Obviously, you won’t end up with anything quite *realistic* in the usual sense, and if realistic is what your project is, you’ll have to redraft to use the exercise. But in addition to pace and rhythm, the all-questions-no-answers style brings a great deal of tension to dialogue–nothing says recalcitrant witness like answering a question with a question.

Ok, the exercise is: write a scene with two (or more, if you really want to push yourself) characters, in which all dialogue is in the form of question. Use the other rules at your discretion, or not at all. I’ll post mine when I’ve written it. If you write one, I’d love to see it if you send me a link, post it as a comment, or send it some other way.

I’m glad I came up with this after my actual teaching term finished–I think it’s gonna be really hard.

I’m a wrecking ball in a summer dress


July 31st, 2009

More good stuff

This week is full of good things I can recommend in a quick list, which is good because this week is also scant on time for me to write longer blog posts. So enjoy the fruits of others’ labours:

Annabel Lyon does 12 or 20 with rob mclennan (have I mentioned recently how much I love this series?)

The Hart House Players’ outdoor production of Romeo & Juliet runs until Saturday and is highly highly recommended. The spot on Philospher’s Walk is beautiful and even you know the Walk, you probably haven’t been there before (I hadn’t–there’s a grassy park on top of flight of cement stairs!) Also, and most importantly, the cast as amazing, free and relaxed and passionate, which is how I like to see Shakespeare. They play the characters young and silly and bawdy, and Mercutio and Benvolio’s banter is an especial delight. Another highlight is Juliet, a role that often gets played as a pretty hysteric. Here, Cosette Derome makes the 13-year-old lover human and funny in her giggly ardour, and later in her wretched but wry sorrow. When I looked up Derome in the program, I was surprised-but-not-really to find she’d been in my favourite play of the summer, 36 Little Plays about Hopeless Girls. I wonder what else she’s going to be in…whatever it is, I’d watch it!

Steven W. Beattie‘s desk is now viewable on Desk Space. I also love this series a lot; there are no bounds to my nosiness about fellow writers!

And finally, a while back I talked books and bars with Ian Daffern at the Victory Cafe and Dave Kemp photographed the proceedings. The result is a slideshow feature at Open Book Toronto called Open Bar. I think it’s pretty cool.

Ok, now I’m outie for the holiday. Happy Civ–I promise to write something with real paragraphs next week!

Stay with me / go places

July 7th, 2009

Rose-coloured reviews *36 Little Plays about Hopeless Girls*

36 Little Plays about Hopeless Girls is playing at Bread & Circus as part of Fringe Toronto, which means time is of the essence! There’s a showing almost daily until July 12 (see the play-title link for schedules) and then that’s it–opportunity window shut.

As you might be able to tell from the above, I am suggesting you see this play. Maybe you don’t need me to tell you this; it’s one of the buzz plays of the Fringe this year, and I heard later it elicited similar delight when it played two years ago Tranzac. I live in a box and the reason I wanted to see it is that my former classmate is in it and she posted it on her Facebook page and I like hopeless girls (empathy). I hadn’t even realized the Eye article I posted last time was a cover story until my partner-in-playgoing pointed it out, and suggested we go the $2 surcharge and get advance tickets (which was a good idea, as the show sold out).

So what’s so awesome about *Hopeless Girls*? It’s smart, it’s sharp, and it’s funny. It’s got whole-cast dance numbers between the little plays that are beyond charming–someone took the time to arrange pop songs (think Hey Ya as Muzak), and to choreograph 30-seconds of movement that really work for a dozen girls on a tiny stage, and they are executed really well–not only does everyone keep time, they look like they’re having a ball.

The characters in the plays are having less fun than their performers. The girls aren’t hopeless in big dramatic ways–no one’s on a quest for alchemy or perfect love or eternal youth. Instead, they are just trying to get noticed by their mothers, get through a work day without anyone being rude to them, survive the commute home. The plays are indeed little and so is the drama contained within them, but that makes the moments of recognition from the audience so bountiful and delightful. I definitely know about the weird way I don’t like myself when I squish a bug, how disgusting “other people’s ketchup” is, how sometimes I wish I could just lie down on the sidewalk for a minute and catch my breath. And I’ve heard that *exact* “You really still eat dairy? It’s not natural, you know!” comment several times (something that, in me at least, elicits the ironic silent reaction, “Cow!”)

I like the exaggerated modesty of the play–even props that could easily have been provided (magazines, hairbrushes) are made of cardboard. The only set is a table and chairs, and those are also covered with cardboard–leading to a semi-magical space, where everything is realistic but not quite real. This is deepened by the characters’ long elegant not-quite-real-in 2009 names–Melisande, Antoinette, Effervescence–and the fact that everyone wears a pretty pastel party dress. The disjunct of a club-scene girl sprawled on her bedroom floor complaining about being cold…while wearing a pink summer frock…is funny and somehow poignant.

This modesty belies how professional the production actually is. *36 Little Plays* is flawlessly rehearsed–everyone hits their marks, gets their props in the right place, and manages their entrances and exits smoothly–important details that are often missed in low-budget theatre. And of course I need to emphasize that the writing is extremely tight, too. Each vignette is smart and well-crafted, but the larger play coheres as well, in some strange and fascinating ways. The subtle interweaving of the characters’ narratives brought home the notion that a hopeless girl’s greatest ally and greatest weakness in times of trouble is…other hopeless girls. The overpowering sense of community towards the end was really interesting.

There is a small quirk to the play, a strange creature named Nifa whose presence, even when eventually explained, made very little sense to me. She only shows up a few times, gives rise to a few good jokes about panel vans, and doesn’t really impact the proceedings at all. In fact, the character added so little that I forgot to even mention her in the post-viewing dinner-discussion. It was only the next morning that I was like, “Oh, the hell?” If you see the play and the Nifa strand works for you, I’d be curious to know why. But even if it doesn’t, that’s a small small matter in a giant work of little plays.

Five days left!

It’s good to lay awake all night

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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