Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Grassroots and Homegrown

By Anne Mooney, Community Theatre Coordinator

I find the art of the playwright fascinating.  A playwright must find a moment, bring it to life with dialogue and then let it go—let someone else take over and make the work live for an audience.  A playwright takes something so personal—their thoughts and their words—and then opens them up to the world.  Amazing!

We have all experienced the work of the “great” playwrights – the Shakespeares, the Shaws, the Rodgers And Hammersteins whose work has become classic.  We read it, study it in school, perform it and watch it.  In our community theatres, we try to find the formula that will create great theatre for our audiences.  We often choose the classics, the standards, the tried-and-true works—perhaps because they are safe or they have the value of recognition for our audiences.  Our audiences know Neil Simon, Norm Foster and Oscar Wilde.   But many community theatre groups have new, usually local playwrights and have given them a shot.  Imagine Stratford, Ontario if the producers at the Globe Theatre over four hundred years ago hadn’t given Shakespeare his first shot as a writer.  Who knows what future classic Canadian playwright is just waiting for a big break?

We can thank Playwrights Canada Press for recognizing the value of Canadian playwrights.  They have published three volumes of plays which were selected by Theatre Ontario, plays chosen for their appeal to community theatres.  The first, Seven Short Plays from Theatre Ontario is out of print.  You can still purchase copies of the second volume entitled Ontario Playwrights.  Last year saw the publication of five full-length plays written by homegrown, Ontario playwrights – Grassroots.  These plays were originally produced by community theatre groups in Ontario.  Work from Grassroots has been showcased around the province.  Joan Burrows’ Staff Room has been produced by The Curtain Club; Theatre Guelph; Kanata Theatre; Belleville Theatre Guild and at two high schools in the GTA.  Another play of hers, Willow Quartet was recently produced by The Curtain Club and an Equity Co-op in Toronto.  Michael Grant’s Hamish was performed in Kincardine; his most recent play Bear Bare Bones had its world premiere in Elmira in February.  And Kristin Shepherd’s play, $38,000 for a Friendly Face, which first premiered in North Bay, has had a three-week-run in Alberta.

This year at Theatre Ontario Festival 2012 we are in for a treat.  Not only are there going to be four nights of fabulous theatre, one of the plays is a new work having its world premiere this year.  The Mouse House by Robert Ainsworth was performed at Peterborough Theatre Guild, and entered into the Eastern Ontario Drama League Festival in Ottawa in April, winning the right to represent the region at Theatre Ontario Festival.  It is wonderful to see new work at this level of competition.

Where can you find these wonderful new works?  Right now, the ACT-CO region is running a web page to publicize the work of new playwrights whose work premiered at community theatres.  The page is called Homegrown and can be accessed through their website at www.actco.ca (Click on Shows and then click on Homegrown Plays).  The page lists the name of the play and playwright, first community theatre production information, and a short synopsis of the play.  Contact information will also be included so that individuals can contact the playwrights directly.  While the site is still in its early stages, ACT-CO hopes this webpage will be the first place community theatre groups go in search of plays to present in coming years.

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