It’s always a pleasure to feature young and determined local playwrights on TOGtE. With a BFA from York and an MFA from UBC, Dave’s not just sitting around waiting for someone to stage his work. He created Zee Zee Theatre together with partner Cameron Mackenzie, and they just finished a successful run of his new work Nelly Boy.
Dave is also an actor, librettist, screenwriter, dramaturg, and songwriter. And interviewee…
1. In one word, describe your present condition.
2. In your very own word count, describe the present condition of the Vancouver theatre scene.
Brimming with possibility.
3. What’s your “how I fell in love with the theatre” story?
The same old “as a kid I was always in the school play” etc etc story except what really engrained it as something that I would do for the rest of my life was Michel Tremblay. I saw a production of Les Belles Soeurs at the GCTC in Ottawa in, I think, grade nine which transformed me. I subsequently read all of his works, both plays and novels and fell absolutely in love with the world of his work. It really turned me on to Quebecois theatre as a whole, and just made me more determined.
4. What are your great strengths as a playwright? Weaknesses?
It will sound so trite, but I truly have no idea how to write a play. Even some of the greats have described that feeling – of approaching a page and still having no idea how to begin. And I’m very much still in that place. I’m my own worst enemy in many ways. And I procrastinate. But when I see that deadline on the horizon, the play will get written, no question. I’ve never missed a deadline in my life. I may doubt every word I’m churning out in the moment, but by an hour before deadline, I breathe belief into it somehow.
5. Who are your big influences?
Tremblay (see above), Brad Fraser, Michel Marc Bouchard, Daniel MacIvor, but mostly the biggest influences in my writing stem from seeing everything I possibly can. During my undergrad in Toronto I made a point of seeing 2-3 shows a week. Nowadays it’s not as frequent, but I still see at least 2-3 shows a month. Even the worst shows teach me something about my own practice, so I can’t begrudge them being painful experiences as an audience member.
6. Are we as a community doing enough in response to the government’s recent treatment of us?
I had a recent conversation with a theatre colleague here in town who moved here from Quebec. He’d mentioned that if these cuts happened in Quebec people would simply burn down the government offices. It would be an unthinkable act. I think we’re doing what we can, but it all seems rather polite. But, especially when juxtaposed with a crackdown on policy in the wake of the Olympics, I don’t know what other choices we have.
7. In a perfect world, through what process would a script of yours be developed into a finished piece?
My experience developing my play Nelly Boy was pretty much as good as it gets. I was commissioned to create a short piece for a Theatre Direct in Toronto in 2004 and they stayed on board its development into a full length until the workshop production in 2007 at which point my partner’s company Zee Zee Theatre took over. There’s something really amazing about having that kind of enormous timeline to really sink into a piece. But ultimately if a company gave me a reading, that would be opportunity enough to show that the plays I’m working on have possibility. So listen up, Artistic Directors, I have a million and one plays in the works and one reading is all it will take to get the ball really rolling. (If only this business were that simple!)
8. From your experience with Zee Zee, what have you found to be the largest roadblock to starting a successful independent theatre company?
Funding is always a gamble. We were lucky that with Nelly Boy we received over half our budget from Canada Council, but that’s unusual for young upstarts like us. It’s really a matter of doing everything in your power to publicize your show, and being prepared not to make anything for your own work. That becomes your investment in the company. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and then down the road, once you’ve developed a following, which we’re really starting to, things get easier.
9. What do you know about theatre now that you didn’t when you finished school?
I’m starting to get a real sense of the business. At least from a producer point of view. I still have very little idea of how, as a playwright, one gets produced in this country. You can submit all you want, but it’s a matter of proving yourself as an artist first. And the best way we’ve been able to do that is by risking our own finances (with my previous company Thirty Below Theatre and with Zee Zee) to get the work out there. The next thing I need to start figuring out is how literary agents work.
10. What are your top 3 theatre reads?
As a playwright I think the best book about process is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It’s such a down-to-Earth read, no pretention, and just something that anyone who’s ever attempted to put the pen to the page can relate to. I often use it when I teach.
Though I’ve already managed to get him in there twice, I’d have to say the work of Michel Tremblay. Not all of it is brilliant, but 90% of it is. And those are better odds than we see coming out of a lot of playwrights.
And then probably CTR (Canadian Theatre Review). The best way we can create work is by being part of the greater community. Pick up the new issue, it’s well worth it.
11. What’s next?
I just finished the Playwrights Theatre Centre Colony working on my solo show My Funny Valentine which we’d workshopped at the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto last August. The show has completely transformed to the point that very little of it remains from that workshop – new characters, new structure, new thrust. I’m going to spend some time working on that piece with the incredible actor Kyle Cameron (who you might know from Greenthumb’s Cranked). And of course I have about another 5 plays on the go simultaneously: a musical about bigamy, a summer stock play about senior citizen swingers, my epic thesis play which has been picking up accolades across the country, but still has no production in sight, and a whole bunch of juicy roles for women (finally – my female actor friends have been harassing me for years!).
But I also have a day job now. You can find me at The Cultch.