by Suzanne Bowness
This week I attended the first of three opening nights in the 2019 New Ideas Festival (NIF). In two weeks, it will be my opening night as a playwright of one of the festival plays, The Reading Circle. It is my first opening night because it’s my first play in production. Quite a lot of firsts for me, thanks to NIF, so I thought I’d share a few more of them.
My first audition
I went to my first audition in January. There, at least one actress confessed that it was her first audition as well. The difference is that that brave girl was saying it from the stage. I’m not an actress. I fear the stage. For me, it was just my first time watching an audition, so more fascinating than terrifying.
Fortunately, my director, a title I now like to name drop even though my director has an actual name, Marley Kajan, is much more knowledgeable about these things. My director is an actress herself and willing to be peppered with questions, something that I am testing the limits of. Do performers always have a monologue prepared? (Yes. Marley herself has several!). What’s a side? (An audition piece from the play). What’s a better side to prep? (One that shows your range or ability to handle dialogue? Debates on this one). Are all auditions this short, like just 5 to 10 minutes? (Many are even shorter!) What’s a callback?
Questions continued into the rehearsal process. Others were also a target for them. I was paired with a dramaturg, Catherine Frid, who provided some humbling yet helpful insight that prompted me to deepen my newly introduced minor characters (my play started out as a one-woman show). Sometimes I’m not asking questions so much as observing what’s going on (not a stretch for me as an introvert writer): at rehearsals I’m mostly on the sidelines watching as my director does her thing, steering actresses’ intonations in different directions, asking about their character intentions and adding elements that never even occurred to me. Musical cues? Sure, why not. Oh, and it hasn’t stopped being surreal to hear the words you’ve written read by real people whose voices sound better than the voices you had in your head.
NIF turns 31
I may be a newcomer to this festival, but NIF itself is already 31 years old. To find out more about what I had (happily) gotten myself into, I turned to former festival coordinator Carolyn Zapf, who was until 2018 co-artistic director/producer (with Pat McCarthy) of the festival for eight years. She tells me that the founding producers of NIF were Molly Thom and Kerri MacDonald. The first festival took place in May 1988. The plan was to create “a laboratory to develop new talent and new theatrical ideas.”
“Since then, NIF has played and continues to play a role in playwright and script development, and has also provided opportunities for many Toronto directors, actors, stage managers, and technicians at an early stage in their careers,” says Zapf. NIF is also a source for Alumnae’s FireWorks Festival, which helps move plays a step further in Alumnae’s development process.
NIF plays can also move along to other productions. A play from NIF 2016, Omission, by Alice Abracen, was programmed in Alumnae’s hundredth anniversary mainstage season last year. A play called Theory, by Norman Yeung, was part of this year’s Tarragon Theatre season. Theory was a workshopped reading in NIF 2010, went on to SummerWorks 2010, and was produced at Alumnae’s FireWorks Festival in its inaugural season in November 2013. Theory won the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition in 2015.
Back in the audience
While I’ve got couple of nervous weeks to get through before my words debut, this week I got to make my debut as a festival audience member and enjoyed seeing the works of fellow playwrights, which I’d only heard to this point as snippets in auditions. From the hilariously funny and physical Bazookas (a final highlight of auditions was watching a parade of grown women each announce with straight face that they were “here to audition for the part of Boob One”) to the thought-provoking question raised by The Last Date, to the “modern fairy tale” qualities of Outside Looking In to the very current issues raised in Body Parts, Week One offered a good variety of characters and emotions.
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival continues to March 24 – a new lineup starts on Wed March 13; another on March 20. Suzanne Bowness’ play, The Reading Circle, is part of Week Three (March 20-24).
Tickets: $15/wk (4 short plays – all world premieres), plus a PWYC staged reading of one longer play at noon on Sat March 16 (Waiting For Attila) and March 23 (Harbor). Details/ticket purchase link at https://www.alumnaetheatre.com/new-ideas-festival-2019.html