I’ve been reading about the history of playwriting in Canada for the Words on Plays for Vigil. It’s not completely necessary to understanding Morris Panych’s play—he in fact says that he doesn’t mean for any of his plays to be set in any specific place, much less Canada—but his focus on social outcasts does betray some interest in the Canadian character, which the country only started to try to define in 1967, the dominion’s hundredth birthday. Most cite George Ryga The Ecstasy of Rita Joe as a cultural turning point, at least in the theater community. I am putting it in my literary queue.
Ryga was not only an instrumental playwright, he was an uncompromising cultural figure. Even before Canada’s larger regional theaters would touch his work, he refused to let what he called “beggar’s theatres” do his work. It was beneath him. Granted, this stubbornness worked out for him in the end: he made his mark. But what opportunities for growth did he miss by not working in what John Doyle more kindly calls “poor theater.” Doyle is quite proud of his education, in which a lack of resources forced him and his colleagues to depend on that one resource that never depletes: imagination, both theirs and their audience’s.
This is what I feel working with the students on Alice. This is what I felt working with New Leaf in Chicago. This is what I hope to feel as work on the Onsite Theatre commission progresses, but admittedly the 2,000 miles and two time zones is going to make it trickier.
I remember making the decision senior year of high school not to go to art school: I never wanted to think of art as a job, and though I rejected the idea that college was about job training, I couldn’t deny the fact that college, despite what else you learn there, is where you learn the skills that make you employable in many fields. Their was something incongruous about making art and making money. Now even though I am fortunate to work in the theater and I love working in the theater, I do not write plays for a living. I write other things, and I edit other things, and I administrate and read and research other things. Maybe some day I will want to devote more time to writing plays, and in order to do that I would have to get paid for writing plays; but for now, this is a good balance. A balance that lets me expand my imagination in poor theater with people I enjoy.