2) What are you better at now, as a writer, than you used to be?
Everything, I hope. I think I’m better at giving my dialogue legs to cover ground and say things with impact.
I also have a new approach to research: now I do it last. When I wrote a play about Emma Jung (she was married to psychoanalyst Carl Jung), I researched way too much about the people, the theories, the times, and I ended up with a mountain of facts that were so amazing to me I couldn’t get them out of the script. I put Emma away for a few months and when I went back to it, even I no longer understood what my characters were saying. So I banned myself from looking at my research, and made one of the characters in Emma obsessed with her research.
3) Why plays, as opposed to – say – novels?
I always thought I was best suited to be a novelist so I could do lots of research and toil away, completely on my own. But plays are what came to me. I figure if I’m not willing to follow my instincts I might as well give up writing, go back to work and make some money.
4) How do you know if your jokes are funny?
Some settings lend themselves more to humour than others: in Golden Door the porn shop is a funnier place than the Japanese internment camp. Jokes in theatre have to be simple. But it’s not all that difficult for a writer because good actors can make almost any line funny with their delivery and body language. As a person who is simply not funny, I really envy that. Last June I wrote a speech for my sister and it was hilarious when she gave it. If I’d read that same text it would have been as funny as a Lake Ontario marine weather forecast.
5) How do you approach writing a script so that characters each have a distinct voice?
The characters grow, over time. Once I understand what they want, their unique traits start to emerge. After a while, they’ll talk to each other on their own. Sometimes it’s just chit-chat and isn’t dialogue I can use, but it’s still revealing.
6) How involved do you think the writer should be in the production phase of putting on a play?
As a playwright I think I’m too close to my words and too far from the audience. When I watched Praxis rehearsing The Master and Margarita for the Fringe, they’d play with a scene to pull out different nuances, and then decide how to go forward with it. That’s when I really understood the importance of having a director and actors work through a text.
7) Are there any common technical or stylistic mistakes you see in other writers that make you cringe?
The only writing that makes me cringe is my own, some days. I’m always curious and interested in why a writer chooses the approach they do, to tell a story.
8) Do you think that writers – more than non-writers – tend to choose words more carefully in day-to-day situations?
No. Although for me spoken, written, emailed and telephone communications are very different. For a few months I corresponded exclusively by longhand and snail mail with a friend who lives a kilometre away from me. We learned a lot about each other. After we stopped writing, we quickly grew apart and now we have no contact. I’m not sure what that means.
Some day I’ll go back to the Marshall McLuhan theories on medium and message that I learned in high school.
9) What’s your most humbling experience as a writer?
With the first play-like thing I dashed off and sent to a competition, I was convinced it would win because it was based on REAL LIFE. It didn’t and when I reread the work later I was appalled at the plot, the characters and everything else about it. I don’t even count it as a play anymore.
10) What are you working on these days?
I’m revising Golden Door following the Praxis reading, and working on a new play. I was calling it Dead Cat Bounce, but since cat lovers hate this title I now refer to it as DCB. It actually has nothing to do with cats: it’s about a street person living in Toronto.