Sally is an award-winning playwright and teacher-director of theatre with, by and for young people and a performer who loves to clown. She is completing a graduate degree in writing at the University of Victoria with master playwright Joan MacLeod. Hers is a strong local voice, and a proud addition to the interview series.
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
2. In as many words as you’d like, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.
Way back I made a choice to work with young people as a theatre educator. It meant I did my own theatre work when and how I could and, for the most part, stood on the edge of the Vancouver theatre scene. It’s been exciting in the last few years to begin to insert myself slooooowly into the community. From my slightly skewed and isolated angle, here are some words that hit home for me when I think about Vancouver’s independent theatre scene: devised, collaborative, thriving, spectacle-heavy, often spectacular, innovative, interdisciplinary, imagistic, physical, site-specific, and, too often, in my humble opinion, script-light or even anti-script. I love stories. I believe our most potent theatre is rooted in the marriage of thoughtful and innovative interpretation to strong text-based drama. It’s happening on our stages, but not as often as it should.
3. What does your work as a teacher/director of young people tell you about the future of theatre here?
I’ve been working mainly at the post-secondary level for the last few years, but before that I worked with kids from every imaginable background, including at-risk teens in an inner city alternative program, ESL, special needs, and gifted students. The best thing about teaching was being able to work and learn with the kids as we created, interpreted, and watched theatre. Honestly, we did some amazing work together—original plays, devised pieces, the classics, movement-based theatre, interdisciplinary productions, clown—you name it. The kids were passionate and hungry for just about everything we did and saw. They worked their butts off, took risks, mentored one another, and had a blast. Year after year they just kept setting the bar higher. It was a privilege working and learning with them.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m pretty sure the future of theatre is safe if it rests with our youth. Too often though, I had parents come to thank me and tell me how great it was that their children were so involved and happy doing theatre, but then…‘no offense, Sally, they wouldn’t be taking theatre next year because they had to get serious about the important stuff: math, science, final exams’. Hmmm.
4. What are your great strengths as a playwright? What aspect of playwrighting frustrates you the most?
Great strengths?! I like that. Well, I think my greatest strengths are character and dialogue. I’ve got a pretty good imagination, too, and think visually. What I find most frustrating is structure, always structure. I tend to begin with an idea or an image or a character and then write around it, searching for the through line. I tend to complicate, and the search for that through line can take a hell of a long time. Sometimes I don’t find it.
5. What’s your best advice for the aspiring playwright?
I love Colleen Murphy’s advice: ‘A good script is like a brick shithouse. You’ve got to be able to throw your script at a wall and know the structure will hold.’ If you’re beginning though, I’d say the obvious: put your butt in a chair and write. Trust yourself and write about what moves you, what genuinely seems to want to come out of you, especially the wild and wonderful stuff that surprises you, even shocks or shames you because maybe it says too damn much about you. That’s the stuff that’s golden, but trusting it can be tough. I know that trusting me has been the hardest lesson for me. The lesson is ongoing.
6. How are you liking the academic writing route?
I’m loving the academic writing route. I get to work with Joan MacLeod and her colleagues; it’s an amazing faculty. I’ve been in this incredibly decadent situation where I’ve been writing full-time rather than grabbing moments here and there before and after work, and I adore Victoria and UVic. I grew up in Victoria, spent years at the university, and it still feels a lot like home.
7. Who are your great literary influences?
I read all the time, primarily fiction, from trash to the classics. I think everything I pick up influences me. Yes, like most of us, I love Shakespeare. I love the characters, the language, the universality, the crazy plots, the wild juxtapositions and the audacity of his writing. Right now, to name just a few influences: Tom Stoppard, Michael Ondaatje, Tomson Highway, and Colleen Murphy. I read a lot of books for young people. One author who writes beautifully for teens is David Almond; his novels are dark, poetic and rich in atmosphere.
8. What type of theatre would you like to see more of on our stages?
See question 2. I really hope to see a trend in combining the many strengths of our current theatre community—the innovation, risk taking, and spectacle–with the presentation of strong text-based work: new plays and classics. Kudos to the companies who are making it happen, but I want more please.
9. How has the Playwrights Theatre Centre affected your career trajectory?
The Playwrights Theatre Centre has been my home in the Vancouver theatre community. Without the PTC, well, I don’t know where I’d be. I took my first playwriting workshop at the PTC years ago with Gordon Armstrong. He was inspirational and continued to mentor me after the workshop came to an end. Chapelle Jaffe and then Martin Kinch had confidence in my writing when I had none. The PTC has provided me with readings, workshops, mentors, dramaturgy, and contacts in the theatre community. My plays have been in the New Play Festival twice and, because of the PTC, Wreckage was showcased at Magnetic North in Edmonton as part of the National Arts Centre’s ‘On the Verge’. Next up is the Flying Start program with Touchstone Theatre. I absolutely recommend the PTC to emerging playwrights.
10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?
Top three theatre reads? Impossible. They change all the time. For today, however, I’ll go with Anthony Sher’s Year of the King: An Actor’s Diary and Sketchbook; Martin McDonagh’s The Pillow Man; and Joan MacLeod’s Another Home Invasion. I was privileged to read an early draft of Joan’s beautiful play before it went into production.
11. What’s next?
I’m really excited about next year. My play, Wreckage, is being produced on the Phoenix Theatre Mainstage at UVic, directed by Fran Gebhard. I’m thrilled to say that the script’s finally being published, too, by Scirocco Drama. It should be out by September. Herr Beckmann’s People has been on a bit of a roll and was recently selected for Flying Start 2010, a collaborative program of PTC and Touchstone Theatre. It receives a full-production in Vancouver next season; Katrina Dunn directs and Martin Kinch acts as dramaturg. For my thesis, I’m working on two inter-related one-act scripts for a teen audience. Meanwhile, I’m adapting another script, Spinning You Home, into a novel for young audiences and, in the fall, I’ll be teaching playwriting at UVic and Douglas College. Immersed.
A year and a half ago I met a firecracker of a theatre publicist. Her name was Rebecca Coleman. Still is, actually.
She was, at the time, busy making a name for herself in the independent arts scene here in Vancouver. A trained actor, a theatre geek, and a single mom, she was springboarding off of her passion in order to generate a steady income to raise young Michael. And, being a workaholic, she was doing just fine at it. Better than fine, actually, she was crushing it. She was attacking her new career with a voracity that you couldn’t help but notice.
I sure couldn’t anyway, because she called me up one day and said “hey, what’s this blogging thing that you’re into all about?”.
I said oh, you know, you just get to self-publish ideas and thoughts and, well, get your stuff out there, you know?
She said “cool, I want to try it. Can I write on your site?”
Instantly detecting the scent of less work in the air I said “hell yeah. Give ‘er.” Thus began one of the more popular features of this here magazine, the Art of the Business series by Rebecca Coleman.
Turned out she was really good at it. So good in fact, that the Art of the Biz – eventually and inevitably – spun off into its own home on the internets, where it flourishes to this day. And Rebecca, well, she continued deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of Social Media, discovering its secrets and realizing its highly potent applications as a marketing weapon, and using various platforms and philosophies to great success in her own business to the increasing benefit of her clients, of which she has too many today to even talk to me. (That last part was a lie. We actually have a burgeoning business giving Social Marketing seminars, workshops and private coachings together. It’s a good thing we get along so well, and that we both have great big senses of humour.)
Now that she has popped out of the other end of that rabbit hole, she has gone ahead and assembled her collected gleanings and wisdoms into a handy Guide to Getting Started With Social Media for Artists and Arts Organizations. It went on sale over at her website at midnight last night, for an introductory offer of $19.95. It’s a simple and well-organized handbook to help you cut through the noise and weirdness of the jungle that is the new way to market. This is a jungle that all businesses, from huge multi-level corporations on down to our little indie theatre troupes have to learn to navigate now. This book is a wonderful resource, and you’re in good hands with Bex as your tour guide.
Click the cover below for more information, and to purchase a copy to call your very own:
Recently American playwright and blogger Adam Szymkowicz decided to devote his blog to the interviewing of playwrights, which he has been doing at a rather relentless rate. They’re wonderful and chock full o’ inspiration, if you’re into wonderful and inspiring things. Check them out when you’ve got the time.
A lot of the young series is resonant, but one particular response from California resident Malachy Walsh really slapped me upside the head today, and I kind of want to turn it into a poster. Here it is, exploded into list view:
What advice do you have for other playwrights?
Find people you like, then work with them and hold on to them for dear life.
If you give up, everyone else will too.
Never confuse a budget for a play.
Be good to your actors – always.
Don’t worry about what the institutions are doing – ever.
Listen to your characters before anyone else.
Write every day for as long as you can.
Write longhand whenever possible.
Writing isn’t a competitive sport, despite what the competitions and memberships and production credits suggest.
Other writers are your friends, not people you’re trying to demolish.
Coffee is good, liquor is not.
Ask for help.
Get a day job (I don’t care what David Mamet says) and keep it until it’s impossible not to.
And, my favorite, from Anne Bogart: Don’t wait.
It’s stuff like this that I use to explain the use of blogging and the internet to inquisitive folk. Each one of these is the title of a blog post waiting to happen. Thanks guys.
I know there’s an argument that some make about awards shows like the Jessies. They hold that it’s wrong to pit artists against one another, that saying this actor ‘beat’ that actor, and that this company is ‘better’ than that company etc, etc diminishes us all. They say that competition has no place in the world of art. And you know, I don’t altogether disagree.
But I went to the Jessies at the Commodore last night, and I can honestly say that I didn’t feel any of that. From where I sat all I could see was a room full of artists happy to be in a room full of people that feel excitement at the same things that they do, without having to explain that excitement to anyone. I saw people basking in the glow of community. I saw a room full of people who don’t make very much money off of the thing that they love, and celebrating it anyway. I saw revered community members proud of the industry they have created, and young professionals proud of the industry they are creating. We need to share space like this more often. We need more occasions to commune like the Jessies.
It is only by recognizing that we have power both in numbers and in passion that we are going to flourish. It is only by joining our voices together that we are going to be heard by our next audience. And then, once we’ve got their attention, we can listen to them, hear what it is that they want, and give it to them. And then we can be the greatest, most profitable theatre city in North America.
Tonight I felt a part of something. And I think that’s what theatre is supposed to be about.
Thursday June 11 – Stroke by Marie Leofeli Barlizo, director: Martin Kinch
A Filipino-Canadian family wrestles with its past when a traumatic event stirs up family secrets. A father and daughter, connected by their profession, but divided by years of emotional neglect, navigate the uncertain waters of memory and need.
Friday June 12 – Tear by Jason Maghanoy, director: Heidi Taylor
While fulfilling his duty to have his Grandfather’s tombstone made, a young boy is plunged into a world of new experiences. A Filipino homecoming for a Canadian boy.
Saturday June 13 – Herr Beckmann’s People by Sally Stubbs, director: Katrina Dunn, dramaturg: Martin Kinch
In 1970’s West Germany, secrets from the Second World War have driven a family apart. Prodigal daughter Anna forces her family to answer tough questions about their past, and in return is faced with moral dilemmas of her own.
All tickets are $10, $5 concession rate. Reservations recommended, and accepted after May 15 by phone: 604-685-6228 ext. 106.
The previous new works in the festival were Nigeria by Martin Gover, directed by Heidi Taylor and Medicine Boy by Waawaate Fobister, directed by Aiyyana Maracle. Fobister recently receive an amazing eight nominations at the upcoming Dora Awards, the Toronto version of our Jessies.
I had seen Sally Stubbs’ play Wreckage at the PTC a couple of years ago, and she has a marvelous and decidedly local voice. We are proud to be featuring an interview with Sally in an upcoming post, check back soon to read her take on her industry and craft.
The New Play Festival is not only an intimate look into the process of the creation of new Canadian theatre, but a great way to encourage our community to support local writing. And a great ignition switch for discussion.
I stumbled across this little gem of a blog yesterday, and put out a twitter link to it that instantly became my most wide-spread Re-tweet to date. It’s an aggregation of the very worst in theatre production stills culled from the wilds of the internets, and manages to be heart-wrenchingly sad and murderously funny all at the same time.
It also includes fun activities for the kids, like this production still drinking game…
– Take a shot of Southern Comfort if there’s Equity leads in the foreground somehow oblivious to some minor character emoting real hard at them…while standing only three feet behind them.
-Take a shot of Vermouth if a child actor is being used more…more like a prop than anything else, by the looks of it.
– Take a shot of Cognac if that family looks like maybe, maybe it’s finally Coming-To-Terms with that thing that happened 17 years ago this Christmas.
You’d better believe I scrolled through these in dread of finding the ghost of some old production past in there…enjoy!
PS: Rebecca’s got a great post about the art of the production still over at Art of the Biz….