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A Studio of One’s Own

on April 15, 2013
in Blog

As the Senior Playwright in Residence at this year’s Banff Playwrights Colony, I wasn’t sure exactly what this would entail. I have been lucky enough to come out to work at the Colony in past years, but never with a title.

And it turns out my own studio.

Inside the Evamy Studio, temporary home to 2013 Playwright in Residence Mieko Ouchi.

Upon arrival, Colony Director Brian Quirt and Associate Dramaturg Leora Morris handed me a key with a smile, and I knew I was in for something special. Studio #4... a beautiful space with expansive windows on four sides designed by the late Michael Evamy. The views? A tiny glen where deer come to nibble, and a lovely 100 foot pine with one particularly comfy branch that offers a local squirrel a good square-on view of his favorite TV show... me!

That first afternoon I discovered a small book that every artist who has stayed here has written in. Some have left lengthy descriptions of what they were working on, others marks have been more poetic. Always welcoming. Moving to see how many friends, colleagues and much admired but never met writers have sat at this same desk, looking out at the same old tree stump collecting moss. Playwrights sure... including past Senior Playwrights in Residence Daniel MacIvor and Vern Thiessen and another playwright from this year’s Colony Colleen Wagner, but also novelists, poets, screenwriters, non fiction writers, travel writers. There is something in reading those missives and encouragement to future writers and adding my own name and small message to the end that seems like an important step in my ongoing journey of feeling less fraudulent as a writer, more confident that I have chosen the right path and that it has indeed chosen me. Reading one writers droll scrawl “I was not the smartest person in the room. And I was alone.” made me smile. Fellow traveller. Passing poet CA Conrad’s studio the other day and seeing his snowman made me smile too. Whimsy is alive and well in these woods. Something much missed Tom Hendry, playwright, mentor and Colony champion would have appreciated. I’ve thought of him many times here.

I hosted my first play.write.night evening at my Studio this past Wednesday. Fellow playwrights Wanda Graham, Greg MacArthur, Anita Majumdar and Emily Pearlman visited and we ate, drank and talked late into the night. I am looking forward to hosting my next play.write.night next week when the second wave of artists hits the Colony along with special guest, playwright and former Theatre Arts Director John Murrell, as we expand joyously into a larger, more boisterous form. Magic.

From the woods,
Mieko

From Quintet to Colony

on April 16, 2013
in Blog
This week’s artists in the 2013 Banff Playwrights’ Colony, on the deck at the top of Lloyd Hall. Photo: Jim Oliver.

Wow. What a difference a week makes.

After a quiet but highly productive week of intense writing with fellow playwrights Wanda Graham (Sambro, N.S.), Greg MacArthur (Edmonton), Anita Majumdar (Toronto), Emily Pearlman (Ottawa) and her dramaturg Laurel Green (Calgary), as of today we have somehow grown from 5 to 25! And we continue to bring together writers from coast to coast and beyond.

This week we are joined by a joyous and fresh new wave of playwrights: Pierre Brault from Ottawa, Motion (fresh off her stint in the Banff Spoken Word Program) from Toronto, Kerry Sandomirsky from Vancouver and Jovanni Sy from Richmond, as well as two playwrights from the U.S., Greg Moss (Albuquerque, New Mexico) and Colman Domingo ( ??? ) who is doing an independent playwriting residency in the Leighton Colony at Banff, as well as Canadian Evan Placey who now resides in England. We were also pleased to welcome a new slate of collaborators who will be working with the writers: Kim Collier (Toronto), who will be working with Greg MacArthur, Mel Hague (Toronto) who will be working with Motion and Miriam Weisfeld (Washington, D.C.) who will be working with Greg Moss with more arriving later in the week.

And of course we also welcomed the talented company of actors who will be working with the playwrights over the next two weeks: Shelter Elter (Edmonton), Tracey Ferencz (Toronto), Kris Joseph (Edmonton), Richard Lee Hsi (Edmonton), Monice Peter (Calgary), Pamela Sinha (Toronto) and d’bi young anitafrica (also fresh off a stint as Faculty for the Banff Spoken Word Program) from Toronto, who will also be staying on at the Banff Centre doing her own playwriting residency after the Colony.

Tonight, I am most thrilled to be hosting my second play.write.night evening for playwrights, where we will be joined by special guest John Murrell, playwright, translator and librettist and former head of the Playwrights Colony, Artistic Director/Executive Producer of Theatre Arts and Executive Artistic Director of Performing Arts at the Banff Centre, for a collegial evening of sharing amongst writers.

I can’t wait to see where this fresh burst of energy takes us.

Mieko

The Plays that Shaped Us

on April 17, 2013
in Blog
Photo by Mieko Ouchi

Last night, I hosted my second play.write.night evening for Colony playwrights, where we were joined by the lovely and generous John Murrell, playwright, translator and librettist and former head of the Playwrights Colony, Artistic Director/Executive Producer of Theatre Arts and Executive Artistic Director of Performing Arts at the Banff Centre.

Along with Colony Director Brian Quirt, I had imagined the evening as a chance for playwrights from the Colony to spend an evening in an unusual forum. With each other. In the rehearsal hall, in the best of all worlds, playwrights are warmly welcomed, but even in these situations we can feel a kind of separation as the script is explored by our collaborators: actors, directors, designers and technicians. We are most often the only playwright in the room. play.write.night is an opportunity to change that.

After dinner, we gathered at the Painter House in the Leighton Colony. As host for the night, I kicked things off with an exercise stolen shamelessly from my good friend and former Senior Playwright in Residence at Banff Vern Thiessen. To begin, I asked each writer to pick their 3 best Canadian plays... defining “best” as they saw fit... influential, inspiring, educational, life changing. The only rule was it couldn’t be written by anyone in the room. Then I opened it up for people to share about these plays, the plays that had got them writing, the plays that kept them writing and the ones that challenged them to push further. Fantastic, joyful, eye opening stories that cut through the small talk immediately to what mattered. What moved us. What shaped us. What challenged and changed us. Hearing people talk about their own work in the context of what had come before was revelatory. It confirmed we are all in this beautiful struggle together. It reaffirmed our powerful connection to the past while we continue to push forward.

Eventually structure was left behind and we just talked. Late into the night. As John left, he thanked me for a creatively invigorating night. I must agree. I have dug into my own play today with renewed energy.

Onwards in the struggle friends-

Mieko

Fighting Words

on April 18, 2013
in Blog
Playwright Mieko Ouchi (centre) with actors and stage combatants Richard Lee Hsi and Sheldon Elter. Photo: Brian Quirt

Today I had the wonderful privilege of having a morning in the theatre. As writers, sadly this is actually quite a rare opportunity outside of production.

In the Margaret Greenham Theatre I had the opportunity to work with two Banff Playwrights Colony Company actors Richard Lee Hsi and Sheldon Elter on a new play I am writing for teen audiences called I Am For You. The script is about violence, and involves what happens when a student teacher interrupts a fight between two girls in a high school drama room and introduces them to fighting through a different lens, through the art and craft of stage combat. The play also explores Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as this is the play the school drama club is prepping to perform.

As you can imagine, a play like this, full of physical contact and choreography is difficult to fully capture on paper. This seems especially hard to write when you are sitting alone in a room, without the benefit of bodies in front of you!

So, this morning in the theatre, with Richard and Sheldon, both actors with stage combat training and experience, I was able to play with and explore skills I only vaguely remember from theatre school and my work as a professional actor. Fencing stances and quadrants. Thrusts and Parries. Retreats and Advances. Unarmed combat. Slaps, hair-pulls, throws, punches, falls. With their help I was able to begin to see the action of the play in 3-D again. A crucial, critical step in the process leading towards production.

This upcoming fall my company Concrete Theatre will premiere the play in Edmonton schools and professional theatre spaces, directed by my brilliant Artistic Co-Director Caroline Howarth. Watching Richard and Sheldon this morning on stage, I realize, I can’t wait. I can’t wait for young people to see it. I want them to experience something visceral, authentic and relevant. I hope they will be as engaged as I was. And that the play may illuminate some new perspectives. Encourage some different thinking. Help them see things in a fresh way.

Back to the fighting words-

Mieko

Community. Space. Distance.

on April 19, 2013
in Blog
Playwrights Colony out on the terrace of the Banff Springs Hotel. Photo: Brian Quirt Sitting last night at the Banff Springs Hotel around a table of chatting, animated playwrights and theatre artists who come from coast to coast of Canada and parts of the U.S. I realized what a beautiful thing it is to have the opportunity to connect with writers outside of your community. From other countries. And what a rare thing it is too.

A few days ago in the Vistas Dining Hall, I had a chat with visiting Dutch art historian who is writing a new book in the Leighton Artists Colony, who said she was surprised by the size of Canada and the ease in which we seem to travel to different communities. In her experience, people in Holland consider the 50 minute drive between Amsterdam and Rotterdam to be virtually insurmountable. She said if you move to Rotterdam from Amsterdam, you can kiss your old friends goodbye. They will never visit! For Canadians like me, this is hard to imagine. In some large North American cities, this is the time it takes for people to commute from their home in the suburbs to work. This is roughly the distance from Banff to Calgary. In July, I am flying to Fredericton, New Brunswick to work as Festival Dramaturg at a new play festival and I will be flying 9 hours. And that’s within my own country.

It made me think about the unique challenges space and distance creates for artists in Canada. The internet, skype and all the ways we stay virtually linked help of course, but there is something so powerful about being in the same room with each other as artists. Can that ever really be replicated or replaced?

Today, we are going to have having a chat with our three American Colony artists about American Theatre: Colman Domingo from New York, Greg Moss from Albuquerque, New Mexico and Miriam Weisfeld from Washington, D.C. As artists from different parts of an equally large country, I wonder what they will have to say about this conundrum.

How do we stay essential and connected to our local community, while keeping our relationships to other cities, countries and their communities alive. How do we live local, think national and work internationally? How do we do it all?

Mieko

Lighthouse Musings

on June 27, 2013
in Blog

So... I’ve arrived in Fredericton and settled into my digs looking onto the Lighthouse On the Green in Fredericton... and into my Writer in Residence office at UNB... home sweet home for the next month during my time as Festival Dramaturg at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. A beautiful little town, Fredericton is full of charming shops and restaurants, as well as quite the bustling summer cultural schedule as I’m discovering. Since arriving on Canada Day I’ve already enjoyed fireworks on the St. John River, seen the Bard in the Barracks production of The Tempest in beautiful Odell Park and am being serenaded every day by the bagpipes of the Changing of the Guard Ceremony and a variety of New Brunswick musicians in the downtown Officer’s Square. I am very excited to be joining the incredibly hard working and multi-tasking Festival organizer Len Falkenstein and working with the playwrights whose work has been chosen for the Festival as things gear up. While here I’ll be working with Erin Keating and John Spurway on their one acts, and Robin Whittaker, Jake Martin, Sarah Higgins and Jared Mallard on their 10 minute plays. In addition I’m providing feedback on five other short plays by Erin Keating, Sandra Bell, David Wojcik, Gretchen Kelbaugh and Billy Curtis and teaching a Masterclass on playwriting and screenwriting on July 20th. A full schedule! I’m also thrilled that the Festival will be doing a short workshop and reading of my new Theatre for Young Audiences play I Am For You at the Festival, which will be kick off the Festival on July 28th. The play, which won some earlier support this year from the Enbridge Award for Established Canadian Playwright in Calgary in March, is slated for a premiere production for teen audiences in November 2013 in Edmonton at Concrete Theatre. This workshop will be a welcome opportunity to examine the characters and structure on its feet, with some portions being lightly staged, and others simply read. Considering the show is a fight show, which includes fencing, unarmed combat and a large fight scene with sabres, this will be incredibly helpful for me as a writer. The reading features Theatre New Brunswick Artistic Producer Caleb Marshall, Stephanie Doucette and Kelsey Hines. So far, Fredericton has been a delight to discover. I’ve been to the Farmers Market and wandered around the historical UNB Campus. I’ve had my first lobster roll and made acquaintance with the delicious offerings of the Picaroons Craft Brewery. Looking forward to seeing what the next weeks bring!

Extreme Hospitality

on June 27, 2013
in Blog

Hedgebrook has an amazing reputation. For hosting some of the finest women writers from across the U.S. and the world for writing residencies, and for something they call ‘extreme hospitality’. Nestled on lovely Whidbey Island, just off Seattle in Washington State, Hedgebrook is a haven for women who are struggling to juggle their writing with a full life, allowing them a period of concentrated time to focus on themselves and their work.

I had come through an incredibly difficult year when I took up fellow playwright Leanna Brodie’s suggestion to apply for a residency. To put it bluntly, I was emotionally burnt out and creatively blocked. When I found out that I had been chosen for a two week Residency in one of their beautiful Amish built cottages, I was thankful, shocked, excited and… if I’m honest… more than a little nervous.

There was no need. The staff truly exemplified their brilliant idea of extreme hospitality. They welcomed me into my beautiful, tiny little Amish built Owl Cottage. Nurtured me with organic, homemade, delicious food, the epitomy of the 100 mile diet. Chatted when I need social interaction… and left me alone when I needed to do what they told me would happen… confront myself in silence. Without the distraction of TV, cell phone service, a landline and internet, I have discovered come interesting things about myself. I am a voracious reader. I enjoy Public Radio almost as much as my beloved CBC. Bicycling on a hilly island is harder than it looks. Most importantly… when given the time and space, I can write. A lot. Serenaded by frogs and the occasional owl, I have made huge strides on reworking Nisei Blue and The Tofu Wars and finally getting a chance to really dig in and start in earnest on Makepeace, my play about the first election in Iraq after the invasion. I also had the opportunity to spend time with an inspiring group of women who helped me remember why I wanted to write in the first place: Olu, Annie, Sharon, Elin, Claire, Lorraine, Karen and Sue…

Thank you Hedgebrook.