Yesterday (Sunday Oct 23) I attended Alumnae Theatre’s (8th?) annual Write Now! playreading event, sponsored by the theatre’s New Play Development group, and organized by Diane Forrest and Molly Thom.
As Diane explained, the event started out as more of a competition, and like the Fringe’s 24-hr playwriting contest, it was a bit gimmicky at first. Entrants were given a few unlikely items to incorporate into their scripts – like a fast car and a naked man and a log flume; a silly line of dialogue, like “…or I’ll barbecue your dog”.
Now it’s an exercise: a way for the writers and would-be writers of the company to test their skills. This year the participants were challenged to create their own stage version (in whatever style or genre desired) of a particular supplied passage from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park or Persuasion.
Diane noted that Austen, like Shakespeare, is “highly adaptable”, and in addition to multiple movie and BBC versions faithful to the original novels, there are also modern settings – like Clueless for Emma, and Bridget Jones’ Diary; as well as “interpretations” such as Patricia Rozema’s “controversial version of Mansfield Park”, and the upcoming film version of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies!
17 writers entered the challenge (twice as many as usual): the challenge details were e-mailed on Friday Oct 14, with scripts due on Sunday 16th. 10 short scripts were read yesterday:
OF MANSFIELD PARK AND PERSUAUSION by Rosemary Doyle (a combination of the two passages/books)
PERSUASION by Ramona Baillie (set in a post-apocalyptic world)
PERSUASION by Catherine Frid (“Mayor” Rob Ford, watch out!)
HANDSOME by Flora Danziger
LADIES & GENTLEMEN: INTRODUCING MISS FANNY PRICE by Marianne Fedunkiw
THE INCIDENT by Jennifer Oliver
NEVERFIELDS by Annie MacMillan
WORTH by Susan Down (a rock band plays concert at a B.C. clearcutting protest)
TOUT ÇA CHANGE by Carol Libman
SUBTLE PERSUASION by Neale Kimmel
The actors were: Taran Beaty, Tricia Brioux, Brenda Darling, Rosemary Doyle, Chantale Groulx, Anne Harper, Michelle Harris, Seema Lakhani, Ian Large, Suzette McCanny, Alan Norman, Ian Orr, and Brenda Somers.
Some of the actors had a blast doing a bit of gender-bending – Alan Norman convinced us he was wearing a dress in Rosemary Doyle’s OF MANSFIELD PARK AND PERSUAUSION; Tricia Brioux demonstrated a hilarious macho swagger in Jennifer Oliver’s THE INCIDENT; and Ian Orr channelled Mrs. Doubtfire as a Scottish maidservant named Scrubs in Annie MacMillan‘s NEVERFIELD. Way to steal the scene, Ian!
Ian Orr also played Sir Thomas twice – in Rosemary‘s OF MANSFIELD PARK AND PERSUASION and in Marianne Fedunkiuw‘s LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: INTRODUCING MISS FANNY PRICE. (Having never read Mansfield Park, I have now discovered that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling probably named the Hogwarts caretaker’s cat “Mrs. Norris” as a tribute to Sir Thomas’ sister-in-law in that novel!)
Catherine Frid’s PERSUASION had rich suburban kids going clubbing downtown. When one girl overdoses on too much Ecstasy, one of her companions is horrified to discovers that she’s the mayor’s kid. “The real mayor – Doug Ford,” the other friend clarifies. “Not the piñata Rob.” There were also a few zingers in there about cuts to arts funding, etc. Owwch.
Best line of the afternoon came from in Jennifer Oliver’s THE INCIDENT, when Kate tells Henry that he has “years of douchbaggerie to atone for.” Love that. It’s gotta be a new catchphrase.
A fun afternoon, and it will be very interesting to see if any of these scripts develop further.
Diane Forrest adds: “There were 7 other scripts that we didn’t have time to read. One was a complete detective story modelled on the Persuasion passage. We’ll be reading these over the next few NPD meetings so the playwrights can get feedback and determine whether they want to develop them further.” Cool!