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Posts tagged ‘Evan Webber’

Tarragon Theatre’s Playwrights Unit: Playwright Profile – Evan Webber

by Bailey Green

I connected with Evan Webber to ask him a few questions about working with the current Tarragon Playwrights Unit. The upcoming Play Reading Week runs from Tuesday November 18th to Saturday November 29th in the Near Studio in the Tarragon Theatre. Each reading is at 8pm. Other Jesus, the play Webber workshopped in the Unit, will be read on Friday November 21st.

BG: Tell me a bit about yourself, where you’re from and where you live now.

EW: I’m from Ottawa, or at least I mostly grew up there. I came to Toronto when I was still young enough to do some growing up here too. But I was old enough that I only have one layer of association on things. No nostalgia.

BG: When did you start writing? Did it begin with plays or have you experimented with different forms?

EW: I always wrote things as a sort of game with myself, from when I was very young. I couldn’t read or write until I was pretty old so I listened to things and got my mom to help me write things down.

Later, writing plays became a way of expanding that game to include other people, so I started doing that when I was in high school. It gave some form to the socializing, helped me to understand the dynamics of people, so I guess I liked that. I always felt drawn more to other forms of writing, but I liked the way that reading and writing plays always implied or assumed some other collective action to come, one set in motion by the text. Most of the writing I’ve done in the last five or ten years has been with other people, collaborative writing of one kind or another.

BG: Tell me about the play you’ve written with the Unit this year.

EW: I’d had this very schematic idea to make a pageant play about the life of Jesus for non-performers, a kind of allegory about virtuosity for presumably non-virtuosic people. It’s about the life of a teacher in ancient Judea who starts performing miracles and how that changes him and his friends, and about how he takes on that identity as a miracle-performer. I guess it’s about leadership in cultural projects. 

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BG: What was the experience of working with the Playwrights Unit like?

EW: It’s nice to realize that everyone has a different idea about what makes something good. Like I don’t think anyone agrees. That’s really cool. That’s evident all the time.

BG: How has the Unit helped with the creation process of this play?

EW: I wanted to produce something out of the constraints of the theatre and the Playwrights Unit. There was no other good reason for me to be there or for me to take part. I don’t mean to say that you’re only supposed to do one thing in the Playwrights Unit, I just mean that there are a number of assumptions that a conventional theatre company like Tarragon holds, it’s in the walls and the floor, it affects everyone there. So I thought, maybe I can exaggerate these particular institutional assumptions into a kind of system and make something out of that. So the play is all about the Unit from that perspective. Every part of the play reflects the conditions of the Unit.

BG: What has been the most challenging aspect of this play? What themes does it deal with?

EW: Sticking with the approach. The play sketches some people who grapple with their fundamental interchangeability. So I didn’t want to write something I recognized as my own: I wanted the language of the play and its structure to come to terms with interchangeability too, to be just barely acceptable or competent. It was a challenge to stay committed to that, to not make it more clever or polished, to stick to my constraints, even when they seem to deflate the drama.

BG: What advice has helped you the most in your creative career?

EW: I don’t know. I had a dream once where I went to a Japanese restaurant with an artist I really respect and this artist told me, “Okay Evan, you’re an okay writer, you work hard and you’re thoughtful but you don’t have any vision for feelings, and without that your work is meaningless, you’re in the wrong business…”

But that was just a dream.

 

Some Favourites:

Playwright(s): Heiner Müller’s and Gertrude Stein’s plays always surprise me. Richard Maxwell

Author(s): Lately, I keep going back to Kathy Acker and Roberto Bolaño

Time to write: Whenever

Coffee shop: Oh, huh

Website or Blog: Facebook or maybe Bomb magazine

 

More information on the Tarragon Playwrights Unit and the playwrights involved can be found on their website

 

Past In the Greenroom Playwrights Profiles:

Playwright Alexandria Haber: https://inthegreenroom.ca/2014/09/16/tarragon-playwright-profile-alexandria-haber/

Dramaturg Andrea Romaldi: https://inthegreenroom.ca/2014/06/19/tarragon-theatres-playwright-unit-an-introduction-with-dramaturg-andrea-romaldi/

 

Follow our writer Bailey on Twitter: @_BaileyGreen

Tarragon Theatre’s Playwrights Unit: An Introduction with Dramaturg Andrea Romaldi

by Bailey Green

I sat down with Andrea Romaldi, Literary Manager at the Tarragon, to discuss the 2014 Playwrights Unit. This piece is the first of an ongoing series of profiles on the members of the Unit. A playwright profile will be launched each month leading up to the play reading week at the Tarragon in November.

The Tarragon Playwrights Unit 2014 announcement arrived in my email inbox earlier this year. The playwrights? Rachel Blair, Alexandria Haber, Jessica Moss, Kat Sandler and Evan Webber. These five talented individuals will spend a year working on one of their own projects in collaboration with dramaturg Andrea Romaldi. But what exactly is this unit and how does it function? I contacted Andrea Romaldi to learn more about the process. All five playwrights generously agreed to participate in this series of features. I hope other writers or artists will find connection in these pieces. The writer’s profession is a solitary one. But the Playwrights Unit, just like In the Greenroom, encourages community.

The Unit has been in existence since 1982. The last four units have been primarily under the dramaturgical care of Andrea Romaldi. Artistic Director Richard Rose passed the reins a few years ago as demands of Tarragon’s season became more insistent. Rose returns to the process in November to direct the play reading week. Andrea Romaldi began working at Tarragon in October 2007 after completing internships with Maureen Labonté at Shaw Festival and Brian Quirt of Nightswimming. Romaldi was part of the inaugural Festival of Ideas and Creation at CanStage and worked with the Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival for a several years. And her joe job? Teaching as an artist in schools and working at the ROM’s summer camps.

The Unit meets in January, May and September with a day or half day dedicated to each play. The playwrights attend each meeting and give feedback to each other on their work. After the meetings, the writers return to their drafts until the next meeting. “Writing is a very lonely profession and so when people have the opportunity to work with others, they don’t take it lightly,” Romaldi says of the dedication of playwrights to the unit.

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In between Unit meetings, writers have the opportunity to meet with Romaldi who dramaturges their work. She offers feedback, suggests new avenues to explore or requests revisions. Romaldi adapts to each writer’s process, “some people take me up on meetings, some don’t. Part of that is how people create. Some glean what they need from the readings or discussion and some people require constant checking in to feel supported. Everyone’s process is unique.” In her many years of experience, Romaldi recognizes the sensitivity required in dealing with artists and the varied challenges each playwright faces. In the past, Romaldi has worked with a variety of challenges such as writing a play in real time or writing a play out of chronological order. Many plays require the challenge of an extensive research process. This can stunt the writer when they come to actually putting words to paper. Breaking out of the comfort zone is also a common challenge, “many playwrights cut their teeth doing a certain kind of play, for example a one person show or an episodic play,” says Romaldi. “When playwrights challenges themselves it will always challenge their process.” Other playwrights struggle with their material and fears of what others might think of them if they create unlikeable characters or tackle difficult subject matter. “Write the play you need to write,” Romaldi encourages.

The selection process is very challenging for Romaldi. She invites six playwrights a year to join the Unit. “People who are brand new to writing want to work at the Tarragon, however they often don’t have enough experience,” Romaldi says of many writers who contact her through the Tarragon website. “I direct them to places or institutions where they can develop their skills.” Romaldi says she often comes across new writers typically at festivals like SummerWorks, Fringe and occasionally Rhubarb (Rhubarb shows are often more performance art/creation based). Romaldi also draws from Tarragon’s RBC Playwriting Competition and the Theatre Creators Reserve. The Unit is open to working with alternative creators however, “the unit has a very specific infrastructure which is geared towards playwright-driven, text-based plays,” Romaldi says. The budget often can’t accommodate paying creators for the extended rehearsal period required with a collective creation or movement-based performance. “We do make offers to people who work in a less conventional way than I think people perceive of Tarragon,” Romaldi says, “they [the creators] just have to be more flexible with their needs.”

When asked what she looks for in selecting the playwrights for the unit Romaldi replied: “At Tarragon we’re looking for plays whose primary focus is exploring the human condition. We’re not looking for plays with a single perspective, an easy hero and an easy villain. Our plays ask people to look at themselves and others with complexity and compassion. No matter how good a character tries to be there’s always something that eats at them. It can cause them to do thing we may not admire, but that we are forced to understand.”

Romaldi also listed several basic qualities: strong dialogue, a clear understanding of drama and above all that scripts are written for the theatre (as opposed to the mediums of film or poetry).

The level of experience varies within the unit. Romaldi looks for playwrights who have put a play through the production process, whether it was at a small indie venue or at the Fringe. The experience of putting original work through rehearsals with actors, meetings with designers and performances with audiences is crucial to growing as a playwright. Romaldi looks for a diverse group in terms of age, skills, and experience, “some people are well beyond the minimum, some have experience in film and television want to return to theatre, some have had experience in cities outside Toronto and so perhaps Tarragon isn’t familiar with their work.” Each playwright comes into the unit at a different stage in their plays’ development. Some plays may have been in the works for years while others may have only gained an ending the night before.

Romaldi’s advice for young writers and emerging artists? “Read and see as many plays as possible.” Be analytical, but generous, and always speak about plays in compassionate terms and “respect the integrity of the creators.” Romaldi notices that writers commonly have a lot of talent but are afraid to claim their confidence. Romaldi searched for the right words to describe what she feels is essential for life as an artist, “I am allowed to be a writer. It doesn’t make me inferior or superior, it just makes me who I am. Building up the idea of the ‘nobility of the artist’ won’t help. Part of what artists are offering people is a piece of themselves. It’s complicated and it’s not easy. But at some point you just have to accept that this is who you are and this is what you are meant to do.”

Be sure to check back over the next few months to follow our Tarragon Playwrights Unit Feature as we meet with each of the playwrights.

Follow our writer Bailey on Twitter: @_BaileyGreen