C.S. Lewis is reputed to have said “You can make anything by writing.” Putting pen to paper is often considered to be a solitary pursuit but what happens when you collaborate to bring your writing to life? Magic!
Later this month Rural Rogues Productions will be presenting five short plays in partnership with the Haliburton Highlands Museum in a show entitled RR5: Scenes from a Playwrights’ Workshop. Rural Rogues is a group that is particularly focused on presenting site-specific theatre rooted in our local history culture and landscape. This past winter a group of five budding playwrights gathered together once a week to hone their craft. For Rural Rogues this course was very much about capacity building within the local theatre community and as workshop leader Michael Clipperton commented he “was certain that there would be interest in Haliburton for this type of work – and there was.” By the end of the six-week course each participant had produced a short play which was given a staged reading in March but what to do with them next? Why fully stage them of course!
A team of local actors have been working together for the last couple of months to ready these pieces for performance under Michael Clipperton’s direction. The plays cover a wide range of topics and include moments of both comedy and drama. Linda McNamara’s play Beef or Broccoli tackles the moral issues in farming from a unique perspective while Oliver Zielke’s piece Tainted Love explores the growing role of artificial intelligence in our lives. Pass the Pickles written by Jenn Watt delves into the relationship between two very different sisters and the play I wrote Quotation is a Suitable Substitute for Wit aims to solve a local historical mystery. Steve Galea’s play Hannibal’s Heroes while also historical gives us a humorous behind the scenes look at the famed crossing of the Alps as seen through the eyes of those forgotten by history. Though hugely varied in setting and scope I would argue that these plays are all about how we make sense of the world in which we live and that’s what gives them such a wide appeal.
Though many of the playwrights had experience with some sort of writing theatre was quite new for some of them. I asked them what had made this writing experience different. Galea mentioned the collaborative nature of this sort of writing saying “At some point you have to step aside and let others develop it further” while Watt mentioned the need to express everything in the script through the medium of dialogue as opposed to description commenting “That meant great care needed to be taken in which words to use.”
For the team staging the plays it has been a very rewarding process bringing these pieces to life. All of the playwrights have been extremely generous in letting us work with and develop their pieces. Clipperton commented about working with the playwrights “They’ve said that they’re surprised when they actually see their words up on their feet. The script becomes a living breathing entity. It’s no longer just words on the page.”
The cast is also excited about working with brand new pieces. John Copeland appearing in Pass the Pickles told me “As an actor you are motivated to meet or even exceed the playwright’s vision for the play. This motivation is even stronger when the playwright will be in the audience.” Rita Jackson appearing in three of the plays added that appearing in new work is a “freeing position” for actors but that she’s keenly aware of being placed in a “trusted position” by the playwright being the first to portray this character for the stage. For Rural Rogues this is community theatre in the truest sense of the word a collaborative production by local talent rooted in our local landscape and culture and shared with our local community in the audience.
RR5: Scenes from a Playwrights’ Workshop will be presented at the Haliburton Highlands Museum on Aug. 25 at 6:30 p.m. and Aug. 26 at 2 p.m. Performances will be outdoors (weather permitting) – please bring your own seat. Tickets are just $20 and are available by contacting the museum. To paraphrase playwright Oliver Zielke when I asked how he felt about having his piece performed “[We]’ve gathered some wildflowers; here’s a bouquet just for you.” Enjoy!