For My Fellow Theatre Artists: A Story of Perseverance

Posted in Production updates on November 12, 2011 by cegatchalian

We’re at the end of the run of the world premiere of Falling In Time, and I’m exhausted. The journey from pre-production to rehearsals to production has been a three-months-long process, usually working twelve-hour days, seven days a week.

But in actuality the journey has been much, much longer.

I won’t go into the whys and hows of writing Falling In Time–that’s navel-gazing.

Rather, I want to talk about the long, arduous, sweat- and tear-stained struggle to get this damn play produced. It’s a story of perserverance that I think fellow playwrights and theatre artists can learn something from.

After two years worth of play-development workshops in Toronto and Vancouver, both my agent and I felt it was time to shop the play around. The first company we approached was the one both of us had viewed as the hottest lead. Alas, the Artistic Director said no–well, they never actually said no, but rather that it was something they would be happy “to consider in future seasons,” though not this one. I read between the lines, shed a few tears. Because this Artistic Director was not only a mentor but a friend, the rejection hurt me deeply, and it took me a long while to recover from it.

But my agent forced me back on my feet and gave me a pep talk over the phone: “This play is too good to not find a producer–you just have to be patient.” I’m constitutionally deficient in patience, but meditation and therapy proved helpful–particularly as months went by and producers weren’t biting. “It’s a great play, but too risky for us,” went the bittersweet refrain. So I moved on, put it on the back-burner, started working on other projects.

Then, in the summer of 2008, Sean Cummings, a film and theatre artist who had directed two of my previous plays, took over the helm of Screaming Weenie Productions, Vancouver’s professional Queer theatre company. He had directed a workshop of Falling In Time in 2007 and had voiced interest in directing a full production, were it ever to happen. Now that he’d officially become a gatekeeper, he was in the position to program my play. And, shortly upon assuming the leadership of the company, that’s exactly what he did. And this is the story of how most plays are produced in Canada–through longstanding relationships playwrights have with artistic directors. To put it bluntly, it is, to an extent, who you know.

But the journey to production faced a huge hurdle when the funding cuts came down in 2009. Screaming Weenie, like many similarly sized arts companies, lost all its operating funding. So there would be no guaranteed start-up money for Falling In Time. Nose, meet grindstone. And prayers every night to the granting gods.

Except we knew that prayers alone wouldn’t help us raise the necessary funds; to paraphrase only slightly the maxim most of our mothers fed us, the gods help those who help themselves. So, two years out of the planned production dates, we made a list of all the project grants we were eligible for and began crafting the verbiage for the applications.  We went through about ten drafts of it, re-read it about a hundred times over, and asked colleagues, including ones from Toronto, to read it over and offer ruthless feedback.

Fittingly, just a few weeks before Christmas 2010, came our first notifications. Yes from Canada Council. Yes from the City of Vancouver. A small company–Meta.for Theatre–and a big one–the Vancouver Playhouse–both agreed to be associate producers. In the new year, more yeses: from the BC Arts Council, the City of Vancouver (again), the Hamber Foundation, the Granville Island Cultural Society, the Arch and Bruce Foundation (a foundation in the States that funds gay-themed theatre and film projects) and finally, another yes from the BC Arts Council.

In short, we did our homework. We hung in there. We persevered.

Vindication? Feelings of “so there!” to those who rejected this play? Surprisingly little. The only thing I’m really feeling right now is gratitude. Just gratitude.

Producing theatre is not for the weak-stomached or faint-hearted. To borrow a phrase from Tennessee Williams, it calls for Spartan endurance. Theatre is of the moment, and as theatre artists and producers we need to live and operate in the moment. And that means knowing that whether something is going horribly or going well, it is indeed only of the moment and that the next moment can go in a totally different direction, and that every moment is an opportunity to improvise, test your character, and learn.

What I’ve Learned From Falling In Time’s Rehearsal Process

Posted in Production updates on October 30, 2011 by cegatchalian

We are just six days away from opening night of Falling In Time, and during the last two and a half weeks of rehearsal I feel as though I’ve acquired a lifetime’s worth of playwriting wisdom. I’ve been a professional dramatist for the better part of fifteen years, so I thought I knew a lot; as it turns out, I knew very little. More accurately: truths have hit home for me more deeply while rehearsing this play than while rehearsing previous plays.

The biggest of these truths: that what may work on paper as literature doesn’t necessarily work on stage as theatre. For example, there was a sequence in the play where one of the actors, in previous drafts of the script, was required to morph from her primary character into several other characters within a space of two minutes. While it seemed joyously theatrical on the page, when we put it on its feet in rehearsal, it revealed itself as merely theatrical; that is, it resulted only in creating logistical confusion and interfering with the integrity of the primary character’s story. So we’ve ditched it, and the play is (I think) stronger as a result.

Because I come to playwriting from a literary background as opposed to a theatrical one, thinking about stage logistics doesn’t come naturally to me, so I always welcome the necessary tug-of-war that happens during rehearsal between what is called for in the script and what makes sense theatrically. That said, there’s value in not restricting oneself to write only what is in conventional terms “theatrically possible.” As an admirer of the late British playwright Sarah Kane, I’ve always held fast to her credo that if it is possible to imagine something, it is possible to represent it. This can often result in theatre that is innovative, startling and sensual–all good things, in my opinion.

Speaking of tugs-of war, there have been several in the last two and a half weeks. But they have all been for the sake of advancing the show rather than advancing egos, and always with the knowledge that with thesis and antithesis come synthesis.

Building Community: All the World’s A Stage

Posted in Production updates on October 13, 2011 by cegatchalian

The idea for All the World’s A Stage, Screaming Weenie’s newest community-building initiative, stemmed from my desire to truly engage the community in our production of Falling In Time. I wanted the production to have a real impact on people, not simply with regards to it being a good play that people liked, but also with regards to making it a springboard from which community members could, first, wrestle with and talk about the issues the play explores, and, second, fulfill their own artistic and expressive aspirations.

All the World’s A Stage is a program that selects seven individuals from diverse cultural, ethnic and sexual backgrounds and gets them to create theatre. The program occurs in two phases. Phase One has them engaged as production mentees on Falling In Time; in Phase Two they will use what they learn from their experience in Phase One to collectively create a new play that they will present at the Vancouver Playhouse Recital Hall in March 2012. The overarching purpose of the program is twofold: first, to give individuals theatre-making skills that will enhance their personal development and/or open doors for them to pursue further professional work in this field; and second, to build bridges across differences in culture, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.

The All the World’s A Stage group had their first meeting last week at the Leaky Heaven studio, and it was inspiring to see the chemistry and instant rapport the participants had with each other. This was no doubt helped by the presence of David Beare, our brilliant and passionate program facilitator who has years of experience in theatre education and drama therapy.  It’s an eclectic group–four men and three women; four queer and three non-queer; one a native of Canada, two longtime immigrants, one recent immigrant, two refugees and one currently applying for refugee status.

This was Week One of what will be a twenty-four week journey. Stay tuned for more updates.

Hello, Narcissism!

Posted in Production updates on October 8, 2011 by cegatchalian

Well, here it is, my entry into the world of blogging. I am embracing its built-in narcissism with full gusto, at least for this month leading up to the world premiere of Falling In Time, and who knows–maybe I’ll enjoy it enough that I’ll keep with it after the show closes.

The way I look at it, if you can use blogging to further something beyond your own mercenary interests, it’s a worthwhile activity. And Falling In Time is a project that is much larger than myself–it involves a director, actors and designers who are putting their souls and imaginations to the task of bringing a difficult play to life, and a production team with the smarts to make it all run as smoothly as an S-Class Mercedes. The play also deals with issues that are either taboo (male victims of sexual abuse) or forgotten (the Korean War). And I also think the many theatre artists in Vancouver and elsewhere who are trying to produce new work will find some inspiration in how Screaming Weenie Productions, a theatre company who, like many other arts organizations in BC, took a huge hit when the Direct Access cuts came down two years ago, was able, through unflinching will and determination, to make this show happen.

I’ll be blogging pretty regularly over the next four weeks. So buckle in as I give you updates on how the world premiere of Falling In Time is coming to be.