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Well, this year’s 24-hour playwriting competition has come and gone. I didn’t win any prizes this time, but I still have a lot of fun every year doing this.
This year was a lot of fun, since I did something on a character that I’ve always wanted to do, Paul Chartier. He’s an important figure from Canadian history, although most people will answer, “Who?” if you mention his name. I figured it was time to do a one-man, multimedia-assisted approach to his story.
As part of the festival, I did a short reading the other night, so here’s the excerpt I read. Note, of course, that this is a draft and still needs a bit of work.
Nakai 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge Cabaret
In 1966, Paul Chartier wrote the Speaker of the House of Commons asking to address Parliament. He was refused and died shortly afterwards. Now, he has been given his chance to address Parliament more than 50 years after his death, from the afterlife. The section being read takes place when he first appears before the House. The stage itself is empty, other than a projection screen with a slide of the floor of the House of Commons showing. He turns to the audience and begins his address.
Hello. My name is Paul Joseph Chartier. I was born in Fort Kent, Alberta, near Edmonton.
I don’t know where I am now, or how I know things that have happened since… since I died in 1966.
I wanted to speak to you on that day. I wrote a letter to the Speaker. The clerk wrote back and said that only members of parliament could speak here. I am glad to have this opportunity to do this after all this time.
Please. I’m very nervous. I wasn’t given any time to get ready.
(Paul stares at his speech in his hand for several seconds.)
I have this speech. I was going to give it that day. But, I think I should explain what happened.
I was angry. After all the things you have done to me, I had no way to tell you. You wouldn’t have listened anyway.
So I went to a hardware store in Newmarket. I bought ten sticks of dynamite. I opened six and put the explosive in a copper pipe. I had about two pounds of explosive in it.
I’d also bought detonators and some fuse. And then, I went to the parliament building. I had three fuses on my bomb. I had a short one, a medium one, and a longer one. I didn’t know how long to make the fuse, since I had to find out how long it would take to get from the bathroom back to the gallery so I’d know how long it should burn. I didn’t want it to burn for too long, or when I threw it on the floor, someone might realize what it was and put the fuse out.
I couldn’t sit in the visitors’ gallery that day. It was full. There was 900 school students there. I thought I would have to wait for another day to do it.
But the Commissionaire let me sit in the Lady’s gallery. They do that when it’s crowded. I was right above the centre of the floor. Right above Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker. And, they were the two main people I wanted to kill, although I really wanted to exterminate as many of you as possible.
So, I went out to the bathroom. I counted how much time I would need to get back to the gallery. Then, I went into a stall and lit the middle fuse. And, before I could even open the stall door, it went off. I died.
People laughed at me! And, it wasn’t my fault. It was that bitch at the hardware store.
I figured I needed about 20 seconds of burn time for the fuse. Twenty seconds. And I thought I had calculated it correctly. She told me it burned at 1 minute a foot. Twelve inches! One minute! I needed about 3 or 4 inches of fuse. So that was the one I used.
But, she sold me the wrong fuse. It wasn’t 60 seconds a foot. It was 40 seconds a foot. It burned for less than 10 seconds. I lit it, put it under my coat to hide it when I brought it into the gallery. I’d walk down to the railing, throw it down, and I’d give you a blast to wake you up.
But, I never even got out of the bathroom stall.
This is my legacy now. I wanted to change the country, to make it better. I wanted parliament to care about the people who make this country run.
And, all I succeeded in doing was to blow up the third floor men’s room in Centre Block of the Parliament Building. And myself. I died in a fucking toilet stall.
And it’s not fair. It should have worked.
Another year has come and gone and another playwriting competition is over. There’s nothing quite like the joys of writing, caffeine, adrenalin, and insomnia that accrue in such a short period of time.
I thought about spending it working on two plays I’ve been trying to finish over the last while. However, I thought I would write something new for a number of reasons.
A friend passed away recently. We had worked together for 22 years and, as it turned out after half of that time, our grandparents had both emigrated from the same town outside Belfast in the 1920s. I figured it was time to write a play that takes place in Ulster, namely Derry in January and February of 1972.
If you think you can write a play from scratch in 24 hours, you will be disappointed. I`m content with the first draft I managed in that time. It`s a bit ragged at the edges, but that`s how first drafts are supposed to be.
So, there`s another one on my plate. One of these days, I going to have to retire, if for no other reason than to finish a few plays…
What is Playlab, you ask. Playlab is a one-week intensive session with a dramaturge working on an existing play to bring a draft to a final production version. Nakai Theatre in Whitehorse hosts this yearly, picking five playwrights’ works that will be the most likely produced by nakai in the near future. My play, And, on the Second Day was picked this year.
When I was asked if I’d submit it, I was quite happy. I did some changes from my list of edit notes, and sent the newest along with what I was hoping to do to the dramaturge who was coming up for this. Then, I decided to check out a bit on the guy coming up in the Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre online. Yowsers. This guy’s CV is… long and distinguished to say the least. Now, to say I’m a little intimidated is an understatement. Look for yourself here.
Scary issues aside, I’m looking forward to our first meeting tomorrow morning. I’m not sure how scheduling, etc., will go; however, I have the camper partly ready and may go to a lake nearby and spend a day or two of writing somewhere else for a change. I did my final edits at the campground a few weeks ago, and was far more productive than I would have been sitting around the house. Of course, productivity will be greatly aided since I’m not taking the boat or the fishing gear…
Another Homegrown Festival comes to an end and the reading of my new play seemed to go over well. We had reasonably sized audiences, about 20 the first night and then about 50 the next two evenings. The cast and I have heard feedback and no ones seems to have had anything negative.
The cast. Front row, L-R: Tracy Erman, Mary Sloan, Sophia Marnik, Tim Green, Doug Rutherford. Back row, L-R: Winluck Wong, Dave Paquet, Loughran Thorson-Looysen, Daniel Dunphy, Santana Berryman, Kieran Poile, Colin Milne.
There were a few interesting issues that showed up. I did learn early that, due to a rescheduling of a course he needed for certification, one cast member wouldn’t be available for opening night. That was simple to deal with, since I would read his part that night. However, with the show starting at 7 PM, I had a cast member pull out because he was booked to dance in another performance. Since the performance schedule was set in lots of time, I wasn’t happy.
I was still wondering what to do, other than read the two parts (it is amazing what you can get aways with in a stage reading), when I went to the theatre and saw a friend sitting in the lobby. I dragooned him into doing on the spot, and he did it perfectly, and almost cold since he had less than an hour with the script.
The final night took a bit of juggling when one of the cast was lowered by the flu. This involved a slight shift, with another cast member reading the part of the main protagonist and I read his part. For some reason, no one thought I would be a good teenager…
Thanks to the cast, and the Homegrown Festival people who all contributed to make this a lot of fun and let me get this in front of an audience…
Rehearsal is over. Tonight, we teched the play and had dress rehearsal. Now, we are set for opening night on Wednesday.
We are doing it as a staged reading. There are a number of reasons for doing this. The cast is large. There are 10 speaking parts and one person to read stage instructions. If we actually produced the play, we would need to cast an additional five non-speaking roles. Further, a fight director is needed for four scenes. The festival calls for three performances, which would call for a substantial amount of time, effort, and it would be difficult to do, given that the play is still in development. Also, several of the cast members are high school students, close to the end of their studies.
So, now I get to wait. There’s something nerve-wracking about debuting a play. I presume I will survive it…
I’ve received some comments from friends on the play I am currently writing. This is more than helpful.
When you work in a bubble of self, there are things you will invariably miss, particularly true when, like me, you mentally image what you write. While something may be rather obvious to me in that mental picture, it may not make itself to the script. Sadly, I’m the only one that can see those mental images (or, hopefully, I’m the only one who can see those mental images). It is nice to have someone point out things that don’t add up, errors in continuity, or omissions.
By the way, this is not an easy job. You have to look at someone else’s work dispassionately, often working word to word, to find the problems that have not occurred to the author. It takes a lot of time as well… time people have often donated of their free will.
So, let me take this chance to say, “Thank you” to all who have given their time and effort to make someone else’s work better. Your suggestions may not all be used; however, your work is deeply appreciated, nonetheless…
My application form and fee are in for the 2014 Nakai Theatre Homegrown Theatre Festival. This runs from May 6-11 in Whitehorse and looks to promote local theatre developers. Most productions get three runs through the festival.
This year, I am entering the play I started writing last January. It’s presently called And on the second day, although this is its second and fourth title. I started writing it after the Newtown shootings and it deals with school shootings, from the perspective of the shooter.
I’m going to do it as a reading, as things stand now. The play has a large cast, a total of 15 with 10 speaking parts. I’m not sure, given how popular the festival is and how hard it is to get people, if I will get all 10, but I can have some people read more than one part. I looked to try and “cull the herd” bit, but there is no way to tell the story without this many characters.
So, I’m still doing final edits. I’ll probably be looking for readers sometime in March and will put out a call for people then.