Theatre Night in Merrickville’s ‘Theatre in the Making’ : A Collaborative Playwright Journey for the Whole Village

By Tia Lutes

 

Have you considered becoming a playwright or wondered how much love, blood, sweat, and tears go into writing a play? You are a talented actor who enjoys arts and writing so being a playwright should be second nature….right? Wrong! There is so much more to becoming a playwright than meets the eye, and nine budding playwrights in the Ottawa Valley can certainly attest to this.

It all started with a premise, a gathering of artists, and the courage to take a leap of faith!

This journey began in September 2018 for Theatre Night in Merrickville. Brian, one of TNIM’s members, approached the executives about Trafalgar 24; an event he attended and presented as a possible basis for a TNIM production. The premise of Trafalgar 24 was that 6 professional playwrights composed and performed 6 script synopses in 24 hours. The purpose of the event was twofold: fundraising for Driftwood Theatre and allowing the audience to choose which script would be developed into a full play. Brian’s presentation ignited interest and the executive began strategizing how to transform this initiative into something our own restricted resources could support. At the same time, Helen (another TNIM member) and I had the honour of attending a SPARC Community Gathering in Almonte. Here, we were introduced to SPARC and were amazed with the sense of community, networking, and support given to artistic groups within rural areas. We were surrounded by kindred spirits and rejuvenated by the spirit and energy present in the hall. That afternoon, we discovered how we could combine the idea of Trafalgar 24 with the SPARC collaboration initiatives to create a memorable event for everyone.

Utilizing our new found connections, Helen contacted Michael Clipperton of SPARC and Theatre Ontario to ask if he would do us the honour of facilitating a playwright workshop. To our delight he agreed…yahoo! Everything was falling into place as if fate had destined it to be!

Hearing back from Michael we continued planning our journey: A four day playwright workshop in February and March, then periodic write-arama meetings, and finally excerpts from the plays produced in early June in a gala evening. Akin to Trafalgar 24, the winner of our gala, which we titled Theatre in the Making, would be our Theatre Night in Merrickville entry to the Eastern Ontario One Act Festival in November 2019. It was also at this point that we decided this was the ideal time to reach out and form some collaborations with other artistic groups in the surrounding areas. We opened the workshop to other thespian groups as we welcomed both old and new faces to our green room and within our Thespian Tale family. We then reached out to the Merrickville United Arts Centre (the old united church recently restored into an events centre) with the hope of developing a relationship with the owners and using this as our event venue; strengthening our sustainability within the community and forging new relationships that foster a broader sense of community within the village we call home.

The weekend of February 9th-10th we welcomed Michael to our green room to start our writing journey. Nine talented individuals eagerly and enthusiastically gathered around the tables equipped with pen, paper, laptops, and of course cups of coffee/tea and goodies. They all seemed confident in their abilities to be a playwright and excited to commence writing. Nonetheless, as Michael spoke and shared the basics of writing a strong dialogue their sense of confidence began to waiver. Have no fear! Michael presented them with a tool box filled to overflowing with suggestions and tricks of the trade.

Over two weekends, with Michael’s calm and quiet guidance, these playwrights became parents and gave birth to their plays. Subsequently, like parenthood, these playwrights learned that there is no right or wrong way and there are always moments when that blank page stares judgmentally back at you. Then there are the unwelcome visits from Mr. Writer’s Block, Miss Busy Body, and Mother Nature which results in self consciousness and doubt. Nevertheless, no matter what, these playwrights learned the most important lesson, to be tenacious! For that is the true definition of a playwright – or any artist really – someone with tenacity and courage! With those two essentials in one’s tool box anything is possible!

The moment of truth came on June 8th, 2019 when the playwrights took a deep breath and shared their babies with the world in their premier staged readings. In the sanctuary of MUAC, with a sense of tranquility, energy, excitement and anticipation, 21 talented actors ranging in age from 11 to 70 brought the 6 plays to life. The evening was a smashing success as an audience of 88 thespian lovers and aspiring thespians alike engaged to the fullest and the unthinkable happened… a tie for first place! Despite having a winner (or two) each play is deserving of further attention and love as they all hold immeasurable potential!

Through this endeavour, not only did the playwrights learn about tenacity and courage, but so did the Theatre in the Making team. There were many trials and tribulations along the journey, but in the end it was a great initiative that created numerous relationships. These relationships will only grow stronger as we encourage the village and other artistic individuals and groups to join us on future collaborative journeys.

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