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Colman Domingo: “Are we dating or are we getting married?”

I first met actor and playwright Colman Domingo two years ago when he was one of a select few writers chosen for the 2011 Sundance Theatre Lab, which had temporarily relocated here for two weeks. He was working on a play called Wild With Happy, writing and workshopping it with a company of actors. In the time since then he’s appeared as an actor in films including 42 and Lincoln, acted in other films that will open this year, including The Butler (starring Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker), and he had Wild With Happy produced as part of the 2012 / 2013 season at New York’s Public Theater (he acted in it there too).

Actor and playwright Colman Domingo, photographed during the 2011 Sundance Theater Lab. Photo: Don Lee.

Actor and playwright Colman Domingo, photographed during the 2011 Sundance Theater Lab. Photo: Don Lee.

I met up with him again, in the Cardinal Studio here, where he was spending a week of intense writing time working on a new commission, The Brothers, for the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. I asked him about everything that had happened in those two years between trips to Banff.

“I finished my first draft here, and then it went on to its workshop circuit,” he told me. “After I did the reading here, I think it was the next day I sent the script off to some artistic directors to see if there was some interest in supporting its development and immediately some theatres came onboard, almost with neckbreaking speed. So I had four workshops that were pretty much lined up, and after Banff, it was about three months later that two theatres signed on for productions. So within a year and a half we had our first production, from first conceiving it. I write quickly, and I rewrite quickly, and I love the platform of workshops. I also know when to stop that, because you can live in the workshop forever.”

When Wild With Happy was in workshop at the Public, he invited artistic directors to come and see it. “I told them this would be their one and only time to see it, because I’m not interested in reading this forever. If you come to see this and you’re interested, then you’re onboard for the production journey. I didn’t want it to go into that no-man’s land. I’ve been an actor involved with new works for years, and I know how long that can last. People will read it to death. So it’s like ‘Do you want to commit to it or not? Do you want to commit to this relationship or not? Are we dating or are we getting married?’”

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Post-Playwrights Colony recollections

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Senior playwright in residence Mieko Ouchi guide actors Sheldon Elter and Richard Lee Hsi work through a series of stage combat exercises on the Margaret Greenham stage. Photo: Brian Quirt.

The 40th Anniversary Banff Playwrights Colony concluded on April 28, and its artists have dispersed across Canada and the United States. This was my first Colony as director, and I left Banff on the mid-afternoon shuttle deeply pleased by the work so many had accomplished during the program.

Over the three weeks, plus the two-week Colony retreat in February, we brought 30 theatre artists to Banff, offered key creative time to 13 playwrights working on 14 plays, hosted 3 American artists, conducted more than 25 readings and workshop sessions with the Colony acting company, celebrated Anita Majumdar’s Governor Generals Performing Arts Award mentorship prize to work with John Murrell, and spread the word about the Colony widely via its e-newsletter and daily tweeting (search #playwrightsColony2013 for posts and photos).

In the final week we celebrated Tom Hendry’s crucial contribution to establishing the Colony in 1973 by reading his play 15 Miles of Broken Glass. 40 years later, adding to the foundation that so many have helped shape has been joyous indeed. Continue Reading →

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Playwright Greg Moss: Dredging up the grotesque

Playwright Greg Moss (right) at a reading of his new play with Playwrights Colony actors. Photo: Kim Williams.

Playwright Greg Moss (right) at a reading of his new play with Playwrights Colony actors. Photo: Kim Williams.

Greg Moss is an American playwright whose work has been described as “creepy, heartbreaking, nightmarish, and pornographic.” So I was a little nervous to meet him for an interview, but it turns out I had nothing to fear - he is a lovely person to chat with. When I asked him about the reviews of his work he laughed. Although his work can be quite humorous: Punk Play for example, takes place entirely on rollerskates, his work often touches on darker subject matter. “Theatre is meant to dredge up things that we’re not accustomed to talking about, or looking at,” he says. “It frames familiar things in an unfamiliar way, which can be a little grotesque, or a little unsettling.”

Moss was here last month as a guest of the Playwrights Colony, working with dramaturge Miriam Weisfeld, director of artistic development at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company, which has commissioned a new work from him. He was about to go into a reading with a group of Colony actors. “There’s a group of actors that will read my play back to me,” he says. “It’s a way for me to figure out what’s there.”

I wanted to know why he felt it was so important for playwrights to come together in collaborative environments like the Colony while creating new work. “It’s great to go to a new place and focus,” he told me. “It puts you up against your work in a way that you’re not always put up against. You have to generate and produce in a more compressed time frame.

Greg Moss, reflecting on Banff. Photo: Kim Williams.

Greg Moss, reflecting on Banff. Photo: Kim Williams.

“Writing around other writers is the best thing I could do, especially other playwrights” he adds. “No one else, not even other fiction writers, shares the challenges that we have, or the pleasures we have. It’s really good to feel part of that community.”  The idea of community is important to him. “Plays unlike fiction or poetry, are contingent on a variety of interpreters.”

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Playwrights 2013: “My kind of magic”

This week, we’ve invited writers from the 2013 Banff Playwrights Colony to guest blog about their experiences here.

When I was told I was getting the Margaret Greenham Theatre during my time at the Banff Playwrights Colony I thought that was strange. Strange because I was in Banff, the most beautiful place on earth. “Shouldn’t I be in a studio with a window so I can look at the scenery…or something?”

Bringing the sun into the theatre. Photo: Brian Quirt.

Bringing the Sun into the theatre. Photo: Brian Quirt.

But then again, I work in theatre. I made my choice long ago. If I wanted outdoor scenery I would have been a park ranger. But it made me think how theatre artists rarely spend time in an actual theatre, save for tech and performing for an audience.

So there I was in the Margaret Greenham Theatre being shown how to turn theatre lights on for myself. Again, very strange. I’m used to a guy, with a big voice and a small tool-belt, telling me that only trained technicians can flick a light switch on and/or off. Not here. Because I write choreography into all my work, I was given my mornings at the Colony to choreograph the dances I had written into this play.

On my first morning I found myself in a dark theatre and thought again, “Wow. Here I am in Banff and I’m inside a dark theatre with no windows.”

The irony of no daylight wasn’t lost on me. Same Same But Different is a play in which the sun appears on stage as a silent character that speaks to the story’s relationship to shadism: a by-product of colonialism, where a person of colour wishes for fair skin colour. Describing the sun to the team of Same Same But Different has been challenging. “What do you mean, Anita? So the Sun appears indoors? What does that look like to you?”

But then. In Banff. There was light. Continue Reading →

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Playwrights 2013: Community and space

This week, we’ve invited writers from the 2013 Banff Playwrights Colony to guest blog about their experiences here.

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Playwrights Colony out on the terrace of the Banff Springs Hotel. Photo: Brian Quirt

Sitting last night at the Banff Springs Hotel around a table of chatting, animated playwrights and theatre artists who come from coast to coast of Canada and parts of the U.S. I realized what a beautiful thing it is to have the opportunity to connect with writers outside of your community. From other countries. And what a rare thing it is too.

A few days ago, in the Vistas Dining Room, I had a chat with a visiting Dutch art historian who is writing a book during her stay at the Leighton Artists’ Colony, who said she was surprised by the size of Canada and the ease in which we seem to travel to different communities. In her experience, people in Holland consider the 50-minute drive between Amsterdam and Rotterdam to be virtually insurmountable. She said if you move to Rotterdam from Amsterdam, you can kiss your old friends goodbye. They will never visit! For Canadians like me, this is hard to imagine. In some large North American cities, 50 minutes is the time it takes for people to commute from their home in the suburbs to work. This is roughly the distance from Banff to Calgary. In July, I am flying to Fredericton, New Brunswick to work as Festival Dramaturg at a new play festival and I will be flying nine hours. And that’s within my own country.

It made me think about the unique challenges space and distance create for artists in Canada. The internet, skype and all the ways we stay virtually linked help of course, but there is something so powerful about being in the same room with each other as artists. Can that ever really be replicated or replaced? Continue Reading →

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Playwrights 2013: Rockabye black bear

This week, we’ve invited writers from the 2013 Banff Playwrights Colony to guest blog about their experiences here.

Fear drives my writing. Staring at a script on a laptop gives me the same queasiness as people get when they see a tarantula confidently doing a pas-de-eight across their bathtub. Staring at words I’ve put to a page instills a wave of nausea-inducing questions: is it good enough? Will anyone care? Should I toss it in, go to law school and do real estate law in an office with no windows? And once these questions are subdued with a good dose of YouTube videos, comes the good kind of fear that drives most of us playwrights: If I don’t say this, if I don’t write this, the world will not know.

Playwrights Evan Placey and Mieko Ouchi on the deck of the Painter House in the Leighton Artists' Colony. Photo: Brian Quirt.

Playwrights Evan Placey and Mieko Ouchi on the deck of the Painter House in the Leighton Artists’ Colony. Photo: Brian Quirt.

So what better place to entertain these fearful questions than in the calming, idyllic setting of Banff. But upon arrival, my dream of tranquility was replaced by a new fear brought on by those I’m sharing the space with. I don’t mean my fellow artists (though their talent and brilliance is truly scary), but the wildlife.

Making it alive from my bedroom to the Painter House in the woods where I’m writing feels like a Herculean effort. I have prepared: if I see a grizzly bear, stretch my arms and do lots of movement (perhaps an Irish jig?). If it’s a black bear, move slowly and talk soothingly, rockabye black bear, in the Banff trees, please let me see my 30th birthday…please…). And if it’s a cougar, well, at least my epitaph will be unique.

Continue Reading →

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