Early look at new work

Playworks Ink is about more than workshops for theatre geeks

PlayWorks Ink is an annual event featuring workshops play readings and forums. This year there will also be an uplifting keynote address Confronting Ourselves: Writing Tragedy in a Godless World.

“Tragedy is always about right against right” explains playwright Colleen Murphy who is delivering the keynote address this year. Her play The Piper was presented by Downstage this past spring.

Murphy knows her topic well. Her Governor General’s Award-winning play The December Man which appeared at Alberta Theatre Projects’ Enbridge playRites Festival deals with suicide and the infamous 1989 massacre of female students at Montreal’s École Polytechnique.

Murphy gives me a brief primer on what makes a tragedy: there’s action; someone usually dies during the course of the play; the stakes are high; and the characters are all in the right in their own minds.

“Usually the audience can relate to both sides. They can’t say ‘That’s the bad guy that’s the good guy’” she says using Sophocles’s Antigone as an example.

Contrary to what one might think Murphy says tragedy can also be uplifting because of the catharsis it provides.

Besides listening to Murphy’s exploration of tragedy PlayWorks Ink is also an opportunity to hear plays in development through four showcase readings.

The first reading on Thursday evening is of Calgary playwright Stephen Massicotte’s latest work The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe . Massicotte says a conversation with Ground Zero’s Ryan Luhning about the possibilities of creating a “horror play” inspired the project. As Poe lays dying he calls out the name of a mystery man named Reynolds. The play examines the possibilities of who or what caused Poe’s death.

For something completely different there’s The Bob Shivery Show by Saskatchewan playwright David Sealy. Sealy describes it as a “road play” that sees the title character hitchhiking along the Trans-Canada Highway to Calgary a road Sealy says he’s been on himself too many times to count enroute to visit his brother.

Sealy says the old sitcom model of a “straight man surrounded on all sides by craziness” was his jumping-off point for the piece. Shivery is heading to Calgary in pursuit of the woman he loves who out of the blue picked up and moved West. Along the way he has adventures and misadventures meeting a cast of characters including a devilish insurance salesman and a hard-line cop. Sealy says the audience can also expect some aspects of the supernatural to make their way into the play.

Saturday evening’s reading will be Keeping Your Distance by the winner of the 2009 Alberta Playwriting Competition’s Discovery Prize Jeremy Park.

It tells the story of a growing friendship between a married man — whose ill wife is suffering memory loss — and a young woman. It examines the impact of memories on a relationship and what happens to peoples’ identities within that relationship when the memories become impossible to maintain.

Last but not least is the Sunday afternoon reading of Meg Braem’s Blood: A Scientific Romance . The recent graduate of the University of Calgary’s playwriting program is also the winner of the 2009 Alberta Playwriting Competition’s grand prize. Blood follows the lives of twin sisters who are orphaned in a car crash. Witnessing how the sisters rely on each other to heal and grow the doctor who cares for them begins to perform various experiments.

Sunday also sees a panel discussion on the future of Canadian theatre moderated by ATP dramaturg Vicki Stroich with panelists Murphy Newfoundland theatre artist Jillian Keiley and director Ron Jenkins.

While Murphy maintains there’s a lot more to be done she says what excites her most about Canadian theatre right now is that “there are so many good playwrights and they’re all writing.”

“Calgary is a very hot place for theatre right now.”