Thursday, 11 October 2018

Stories from the Summer Theatre Intensive: Plot – It Builds Character

by Jackie Mahoney

For a week this August, I had the privilege of attending the Creation Lab as a part of Theatre Ontario’s Summer Theatre Intensive. Before taking the course, I had been feeling a little disillusioned with my writing, but having five days to escape from the hubbub of everyday life was exactly what I needed, both as a writer and a person!

When I arrived at Factory 163, everyone (the majority of whom had never met before) was mingling, laughing and getting to know their peers for the next week. When the Creation Lab group went upstairs to our delightfully creepy room (Factory 163 was an office furniture warehouse built in 1903 that is said to be VERY HAUNTED! Ooo, that sounds like the start of a great play, I’ll be right back...) and had some alone time, I was so excited to get to work.

The Creation Lab at Theatre Ontario's Summer Theatre Intensive
Our instructor, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, was unlike any teacher I had ever encountered in theatre school, in the best ways possible. I have never felt as encouraged or supported as she made us feel. She was a phenomenal facilitator in that she managed to perfectly balance time spent teaching, writing, sharing and giving feedback. She is a wealth of knowledge, both in terms of writing and life experience in general. In addition to learning about play creation, our group really bonded through sharing our personal stories with each other. She encouraged us all to, “Just write it!” and see what comes out, then place editing/necessary judgement on it later.

Our group consisted of possibly the loveliest collection of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning with. We each brought our own unique interests, writing styles, goals for the week, perspectives and life experiences, but it was these differences that made our group so strong. I will never forget the fun we had ‘reading each other’s tea leaves’ after drawing out our ideas for a play we were working on. Donna-Michelle gave all of us so many useful tools for writing, including an incredible collection of writing prompts and ways to get ‘unstuck’, which I’m sure we will all use for the rest of our writing careers.

Playwright-in-Person with Kat Sandler
at Theatre Ontario's Summer Theatre Intensive
We were also lucky enough to attend a play reading by Kat Sandler, which was one of the highlights of my week. Sitting in the Stratford Perth Museum, listening to a playwright who had met with success and who seemed to have a similar sense of humor was unreal. It felt like confirmation that yes, I could write my bad puns and dad jokes into a show and people might actually come see it and find it funny. Maybe.

My favourite exercise that we did involved going out into the community of Stratford, finding an intriguing looking individual and creating a character profile and scene based on our observations. The first time I tried to do this exercise I failed miserably: I was bored of my character two lines into writing my scene. However, on the very last night of the course I was parking my car in Waterloo when a gentleman who looked like he had just walked off the set of a 70's buddy cop film, carrying two XL Tim Horton’s coffees and a half-eaten birthday cake went into the back door of The Love Shop. I have never been so excited to write a character-driven scene in my life. I put all of my week’s learning together (2 prompts from Donna-Michelle, my classmates’ feedback, the affirmation of my comedy style courtesy of Kat Sandler etc.) and created a 15 minute play that I am quite proud of which is currently called Walter Wall Carpet.

So many wonderful people worked so hard to make this week unforgettable for everyone. Thank you Rachel, Emily, Donna-Michelle, Camille, Mackenzie, Tim, Shelley and everyone else who had a hand in the Summer Theatre Intensive. And don’t forget, if anyone ever questions your style of creation, just tell them, “It’s all a part of my process.”

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Playwright-in-Person is made possible by a grant from the Playwrights Guild of Canada's "PlayConnect" program, funded by the Canada Council.

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