If you’re a young writer looking for a career high-water mark to aspire to, you don’t have to look much further than Aaron Bushkowsky. A remarkably prolific poetry and prose author in addition to his non-stop playwrighting, he’s already received two Jessie awards and seen his plays consistently produced across the country. He has been playwright-in-res at Touchstone Theatre, Rumble Productions and The Playhouse, as well as resident film writer at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. Oh, did we mention he’s a screenwriter too? One of his films, The Alley, won the National Screen Institute Drama prize. And he teaches writing all over town as well, at Playwrights Theatre Centre, Studio 58 and the Vancouver Film School.
Yes, I know I’m sounding a bit James Lipton-y here, but I can’t help it, I’m a fan. And I’m very proud to welcome Aaron to TOGtE…
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
Between my work. And anxious because of that.
Also I think I have an anxious personality.
I blame my anxious parents.
And rising gas prices.
2. With no restrictions on content or form, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.
There needs to be more emphasis on text-driven original work by West Coast playwrights. There is a lot of talent here. Some companies like the Arts Club, The Belfry in Victoria, and Richmond Gateway Theatre are giving playwrights great opportunities by developing and producing their plays. Others need to jump on board. As it stands, the Vancouver theatre scene seems to be known more for its Site Specific projects and beautiful outdoor locations like Bard on the Beach. Ask around. But start in Toronto.
3. How well did your academic training prepare you for a career as a professional writer?
I have three degrees and rarely do all three kick in at the same time, including the MFA in Creative Writing. I also went to four film schools. A record, I’m sure. In the end, actually having a play or film produced is the best experience. You need to learn on the job. You learn by doing. And, I read somewhere that to be an expert at anything you really should put in 10,000 hours. As a writer working part-time that might take you ten years. I’ve been at it for 20. I’m not sure if I’ve made it yet. I’ll let you know in another 20.
4. Generally, how involved are you in your plays once they enter the production phase?
I stay in the room until the director kicks me out. It usually happens in the first week after I start wincing at actors’ lines. I try not to get too involved in the creative process. My job is to provide a good road-map and not to give line reads. But unfortunately, playwrights often take most of the heat with reviews. Sometimes new plays are given too much dramaturgy by critics. Maybe that’s a condition of Vancouver specifically because most of the critics in town are accomplished writers too, playwrights, film-writers, etc.
5. Do you feel that theatre holds any real responsibility to its community?
It needs to be church. Our church.
6. What has been the proudest moment of your professional career?
My Chernobyl. My last play. It just all came together and it all finally felt significant and worthwhile. And everybody involved with the project was fantastic. I saw my own play five times…and I’ve never done that before. This project had heart and tons of integrity. Thanks to Richmond Gateway and The Belfry for taking a chance on it and for helping to bring us together. I think this play actually made me less crabby as a person.
7. What is your opinion on the debate over the sanctity of scripted stage directions?
Never direct from the page! Never! You will just upset the actors. Then they will do the opposite.
8. What’s your best piece of advice for young playwrights starting out on their career?
There are five things you need to make it in this business: persistence, who you know, timing, blind ass luck, and then, talent. Work on them all equally hard.
9. What 3 theatreists, living or dead, would you like to have a drink with, and what would you ask them?
Kit Marlowe: What was Shakespeare really like?
William Shakespeare: What’s with some of those endings?
Jesus: What’s with all the drama?
10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?
I know, I know… but let’s face it, plays are a pain to read. They are MEANT to be seen (Jessie Richardson Theatre Society please note!).
11. What’s next?
The Secret Agent Story, based on Joseph Conrad’s novella and the first bombing by insurgents on British soil in 1895. Anarchists tried to bomb Greenwich Mean Time and change the course of history (and time). This is a period piece, part Black Adder and part romantic comedy.
The Project. A play about a film company’s ambitious plan to put together a documentary on starving Africans by hiring a Sharon Stone-type movie star who knows nothing about Africa. Or starvation. It’s a very black comedy, I hope, like Mamet meets The Family Guy.
A new novel – Curtains for Roy – about a dying director who is hired to direct Mid-summer Night’s Dream at an Okanagan winery only to discover the owner’s wife must star in it and she can’t act. On top of everything else, a looming forest fire threatens to shut down the production. It’s at a publisher right now and I have my fingers crossed.
A film-script too. But I can’t talk about it.
And then, a very nice glass of Riesling. In New York. Where I will be for a week watching plays and talking theatre to an old friend. And my partner, Diana, who will add colour commentary, I’m sure.