New Ideas: week two reading

As I mentioned, I was out of town on Saturday, so asked back-up/guest blogger Tina McCulloch (also Alum’s Marketing/Promotions Director and an actor in one of the week two produced shows) to give us the scoop on the week two reading, Moon and Murna (Act I). Here’s what she had to say…

Guest blogger here, covering the Week Two Saturday reading (March 19) of  Moon and Murna by Betty Jane Wylie. New Ideas co-producer Brenda Darling introduced the reading, noting that we will hear Act I during week two, and Act II in week three (Saturday, March 26). Instead of a regular talkback after Act I today, dramaturge Carolyn Zapf will interview the playwright. Following Act II next week, there will be a talkback with playwright Betty Jane Wylie and director Jeanette Dagger.

Moon and Murna begins with the meeting of the two title characters (Moon is a homeless young man; Murna is a 73-year old bag lady) outside a food bank. In a fast-paced bit of dialogue, they swap food items with each other. Murna, sensing that Moon does not belong to this lifestyle, mocks him for his “recreational scumming,” but invites him to carry her bag back to the abandoned building where she is squatting. There we get glimpses of the real people behind the faceless beggars who usually go unnoticed on city streets. We learn that Murna, whose husband left her because of her “incompetent uterus,” comes from a privileged background – she makes several references to “the place I lived before,” and that she visits her 93-year old mother once a month, picking up luxury items such as sherry and crystal glasses, and takes a bubble bath “whether I need it or not.” Actors Conor Hefferon (as Moon) and Brenda Somers (as Murna) built the suspense to a cliffhanger – “you’re gonna be awfully heavy for me to lift” – which will be resolved on March 26! For those who didn’t see Act I, there will be a recap of the plot points.

New Ideas Festival Associate Producer Carolyn Zapf (who also dramaturged the stellar Week One reading of JP Larocque’s Mythmaking) interviewed Moon and Murna playwright Betty Jane Wylie. Wylie has written non-fiction books (including The Write Track: How to Succeed as a Freelance Writer in Canada) and 37 produced plays. She was a founding member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 2003 for contributions to literature. The following is excerpted from the 15-minute interview.

CAROLYN ZAPF: How much research do you do for your plays?

BETTY JANE WYLIE: Lots! And almost everything that happens to you, finds itself into your work.

CZ:          What inspired you to write about a bag lady?

BJW:      I’ve been one. As an investigative journalist for the Toronto Star, I lived at Nellie’s [a Toronto women’s shelter] and subsisted on the welfare supplement. I learned things like how to steal toilet paper from public washrooms [as Murna does]. For another story, I lived as a former mental patient.

CZ:          Do you use people you know in your scripts?

BJW:      Yeah – look out! My youngest son Matthew was born with brain damage, and he’s inspired a lot of my work. My play “Jason” was written in his voice – I asked him questions, and used some of his answers verbatim, and adopted his rhythm for others.

CZ:          Are there problems in using real people as models?

BJW:      I’m very careful. I take the manuscript to a lawyer to check how much I can say without being sued.

CZ:          What do you think of opportunities for new playwrights today?

BJW:      Abysmal. So much depends on box office. And before they finally reach an audience, plays can be workshopped to death. Preserving the freshness is essential.

QUESTION FROM AUDIENCE MEMBER: What brought you to New Ideas?

BJW RESPONDS:               My dog died… I had a hiatus in my life, and sent out a whole bunch of applications. New Ideas Festival accepted, and here I am.

Thanks Tina! I’ll be back at the end of the week with the scoop on the week three program.

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