I am so excited that it is that time of year again…time for the Carol Shields Festival of New Works at the Prairie Theatre Exchange.
As a member of PTE’s Playwrights Unit, I will be hosting the Thursday Night Gala, and I am pleased to say my new short-shots, Agony & Ecstasy Parts I -V will also be a part of the evening’s proceedings.
But that is not why I am going to urge you to check out the Carol Shields Festival at PTE. It would be great to see tons of people there to see if my jokes are working, but I am really encouraging you to come check out the Gala and some of the readings because it is a unique and remarkable weekend that you should take advantage of. Also, there are a lot of us who need you there.
As playwrights, we work in quiet rooms by ourselves for very long periods of time. We engage in full conversations in our heads, characters fighting and laughing and loving each other pretty much non-stop. But for the most part is is a solitary endeavour, sometimes quite lonely. If you’re lucky, you have friends who will read your work, and if you are really lucky, you might get a workshop for it. If you have horseshoes shoved up your ass (read: extremely lucky) you might have a production of your play. But often there is a step missing, one that your play and audiences would benefit from greatly, and that is the staged reading.
I personally loved staged readings. In many ways they boil theatre down to its essence (I am referring to traditional, script-based, Western theatre in this post. Other forms of devised and collaborative theatre are mind-blowing and awesome too…). You’ve got the actors and the words and an audience. Brilliant. What a gift. You wouldn’t want it all the time of course. There is so much to be said for a gorgeous set, beautiful costumes, enthralling lights. When done right, those greatly enhance the theatre experience. But ultimately, if you are there to hear a story, the story is what is important, and everything else is there to serve that goal: tell them the story. Let it be known.
Actors and words are not hard to come by. Winnipeg is choc-full of incredible talent, and there are way too many gifted performers and writers for the slots available to them. But audiences…audiences are harder to come by, especially for the all-important staged reading.
But if you are not an actor or a writer, its the closest thing you can do to be a part of the actual writing process and it can be a very inspirational and uplifting experience. The work is usually far from perfect. But it’s part of the fun, hearing what is already great, ruminating on what still needs work. It’s like witnessing a birth. Or more like a small child taking her first steps. You know what she’s doing, but where will she end up?
The playwrights are pretty much guaranteed to be there, measuring your response, reading the crowd. And they are not sitting through an entire run and then revisiting it later. They are looking at these staged readings as a night of work, immediate bio-feedback. Many of them will be back at their computers the very next morning, taking your critique whether you knew you were giving it or not.
It’s like you are entering that small quiet little room with them, holding their hand and saying, “Thanks for writing this. Here’s what I think.” You’re opinion is so important. And you’re making the whole process a little less lonely. You’re experiencing theatre at it’s very core. Isn’t that something?