Shall We Go to the Theatre? Composing, 24/03/2014

I think today I’ll be the first to advertise the latest development in my writing career outside philosophy, because it’s turned out to be the most productive part of that career so far. This November at the Pearl Company Theatre in Hamilton, my play, You Were My Friend will be available to see. 

The project has turned out to come together far quicker than I’d planned when I made the pitch to my friends and producer/directors, Mel and Jeannette. One aspect of theatre writing I’ve come to enjoy are the incredible constraints it puts on you. I learned from the negative reactions of industry professionals to my enormous, sprawling novel A Small Man’s Town that I should probably keep my eye on something smaller. And when I got the fairly simple constraint from my publishers at BlankSpace for Under the Trees, Eaten, “Keep it under 40,000 words,” it’s turned out to be some of the best prose fiction writing I’ve ever done.

You Were My Friend takes place in Toronto's Kensington
Market, a place that, despite its status as a central bohemian
tourist trap for the city's downtown, also has some very
dangerously cheap housing.
The constraints that I, and the institution of independent theatre, gave me for You Were My Friend were even greater. It was a budget. So the story has only two actors and a minimal set, with most of the transitions between dialogue and long monologue scenes done through lighting. I’m designing the characters to make actresses salivate and clamour over themselves to play them. After all, when it’s hard enough just landing a supporting role as Alison the Gunshot Victim on mid-season episodes of The Listener, you’ll love a part with at least three immensely long semi-confessional monologues apiece.

There are only two parts, both female, one mid-late-twenties and the other in her early twenties. The story takes a very social realist perspective on two roommates interacting with each other. One is an older, directionless, office worker who constantly feels as if she could lose her job to redundancy at any time. “What I do could be handled by a computer program if one of my bosses thinks to contract some tech firm to write it.” And one is a young woman who’s been kicked out of her parents’ house and is trying to survive on her own in Toronto. 

You get to watch them get to know each other, display their neuroses, hangups, bad habits, and good habits. Then it all comes crashing down because this is the recession, and social realist theatre doesn’t have happy endings in a recession. Hell, it’s hard enough to find social realist theatre or art of any kind with happy endings even in economic boom times. Scan through Mike Leigh’s catalogue and try to find something straightforwardly uplifting or optimistic, and get back to me when you’ve stopped crying in sympathy for just about everyone on screen for their pathetic existences and broken dreams. 

But I’ve written two people who are rambunctious, tragic, funny, and real. I hope you’ll see it this November and follow the production updates here throughout the spring and summer.

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