Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Oh, the Pressure! Part Two



To my readers who have asked how the Femfest “Bake-Off” playwriting competition went, thank you for your interest and thank God for second chances! 

 Me and the other four playwrights. This is supposed to be our panic look. At this point, I'm hoping height is worth points.
As promised, they gave the five of us the “recipe” (no more than five characters, no longer than ten minutes) and the three “ingredients” we must incorporate into our scripts. Having participated in this kind of contest before, I expected three random items like zombies, zambonis, and zebras or something equally unrelated. But we lucked out. Because this year’s Bake-Off is in honour of Janet Taylor who served on Sarasv├áti’s Board of Directors until her passing earlier this year, they chose three items relevant to Janet’s life. The triplet they arrived at seemed a little too easy: dressing up, ballroom dancing, and teaching someone something.

Following the meeting, hubby chauffeured me back to Portage so I could get started on my laptop in the car. I hammered out a couple of pages of monologue, then quickly scrapped it all when I arrived home and buckled down for real. The organizers encouraged us to send in progress reports and photos throughout the day. You can find those posted on their blog, here.

The account of Frances’ journey (the girl in the hat) sure made me laugh, especially the description of her imaginary boyfriend, Albert, a lawyer and football enthusiast who doesn’t mind watching romantic comedies on Netflix on Friday nights.

My own log went something like this:
10:57 a.m. Trying to write on the way out of the city in the rain.
12:10 p.m. At home at my desk. Now to really get to work.
2:07 p.m. Paused for a bowl of beet borscht, hummus on rice crackers, a pear, and tea with honey. Now back to it. Thinking of hanging a sign on my door: “Playwright at Work. Anyone who interrupts will be subjected to a grisly and unnatural stage death and then reincarnated as a stage manager.”
5:00 p.m. I have a script. I don’t much like it. I’m going for a nap. Hopefully I’ll dream something splendid with which to fix it.
6:06 p.m. I’m up. I didn’t dream up any brilliant solutions for the script, but I did finally recall the last name of the young lady I saw on my way out of the theatre this morning who went to high school with my son.
Tick Tock.
6:45 p.m. Hit “send.” Not thrilled with it.

The beauty of this competition was the second-chance feature. After receiving all five scripts by the 7:00 p.m. Friday deadline, the dramaturge, Cairn, read them over and provided feedback on Saturday evening. The final version was then due by 8:00 p.m. Sunday.

In my case, Cairn challenged me to raise the stakes with questions so basic I felt like an idiot. Every writer should know their characters must want something—what did mine want? What obstacles stand in the way? I hated to admit even to myself that I didn’t know. Duh. But I slept on it, and by morning the answers began seeping through my thick skull. I improved my little story and, if not exactly enamoured with it, I at least feel better about its potential.

Now five actors are rehearsing all five plays under Cairn’s direction. At 7:00 p.m. on Monday, September 15 at Winnipeg’s Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, actors will present the mini plays before a live audience who will vote for the script they most want to see developed into a one-act play. The winning writer will then have a few months to turn her piece into a full-length script to be presented at FemFest 2015. 

If you’d love to see what all five of us came up with, consider this your invitation. Tickets sell for an unbeatable “name your price” deal, but must be purchased in advance, online, and they apparently sell out fast. Go here to buy yours.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

You say Tomato, I say Boo-Hoo



My mother tells me she craved and ate a toasted tomato sandwich while she was in labour with me. Which explains a lot.

I never could convince my husband that a tomato sandwich qualifies as a meal. Or even as a sandwich, for that matter. He figures tomato slices are merely a nice bonus to the required meat, cheese, pickle, and perhaps lettuce.

But this time of year, I could live on toasted tomato sandwiches…if only I could. If only I hadn’t developed what we believe is Interstitial Cystitis (a hard-to-diagnose chronic condition I wrote about last winter) which causes serious pain if I eat tomatoes (and a long list of other things containing acid or potassium or caffeine or alcohol or hot spices or too much salt).

In May, I enjoyed an exceptionally good month with no pain and lots of energy. I believed God had healed me. I even planted tomatoes, certain I’d be enjoying them in August. Alas, the pain returned in June (and yes, this is challenging my faith but I’ll write about that another time) and now I must be more hyper-vigilant than ever about what goes into this body. Tomatoes trigger far more grief than all their deliciousness is worth.

It kinda breaks my heart. If I could remove one food from my long verboten list, I’d pick tomatoes. (Even before chocolate, which is saying a lot!) It’s just that eliminating tomatoes eliminates so many of our all-time favorite meals: spaghetti, lasagna, pizza, chili, tacos, and most of the soups I used to make. I hardly know how to cook without tomatoes!

But thanks to my optimistic planting spree last spring, I’m now picking gorgeous red tomatoes, slicing them for hubby, and giving them away daily. It might seem stupid to line them up on my windowsill where I can only lust for them while I wash dishes, but it’s a short season and I’ll survive it. Doesn’t mean I can’t throw a little pity party now and then, though. Is once a day too often?

I’m not sure what’s more difficult: the sadness of not being able to eat what others around me can eat, or the guilt induced by feeling sorry for myself. The dialogue between my whiney self and my conscience sounds like this:

Conscience: The nerve! How dare you feel sorry for yourself when there is such an abundance of food you can eat? When food is so readily available? When you have a job to pay for that food? When you own a car to bring it home in, a fridge to store it in, and a stove to cook it on? 

Whiney: I know, I know. But—

Conscience: You should be thankful, thankful, thankful. 

Whiney: I am! But still. It sucks. 

Conscience: Zip it, ya big baby. 

Whiney: You’re right. I’m scum. Scummier than scum.

Can you relate? Are there good, healthy things you can’t enjoy that make life seem stinking unfair? And when you allow it to bum you out, does your conscience scold you? Have you come to terms with it? How do you live with it, or should I say, without it? I’d love to hear from you.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Oh, the Pressure!



I need a special T-shirt to wear on August 29. The front should say, “Contents under pressure.”

I didn’t think of it that way when I applied to participate in an eight-hour play-writing competition taking place this Friday. In fact, I booked the day off work just in case I got picked. A few weeks later, an early morning email arrived and I wondered if I dare open it before heading off to City Hall.

First glance told me I’d been rejected: “On behalf of Sarasvati Productions I would like to thank you for your submission…blah blah...it was difficult to choose our finalists…blah blah blah.”  

But the second paragraph sent me off to my day job with a bounce in my step:  “FemFest is happy to inform you that you have been selected to be one of five participants…”

It’s part of the 2014 FemFest taking place September 13-20 at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, an annual festival featuring female theatre artists from Winnipeg, Canada, and the world. It’s put on by Sarasvati Productions, which is dedicated to using theatre to promote human understanding.

I haven’t met the other four playwrights, but the five of us are to show up at 10:00 a.m. when we’ll be given three “ingredients” our scripts must incorporate. Then we each write a short play using those ingredients and submit it by 7:00 p.m.

Then, on September 15, a team of ensemble players will perform the five mini plays before a live audience who will vote for the script they would most like to see developed into a one-act play. The winner will have nearly a year to expand the piece and it will be showcased at FemFest 2015.

When I told some fellow writers what I’d signed up for, my friend Clarice’s comment was, “I couldn’t handle the pressure.”

Gee thanks, Clarice. Now I’m nervous. Gulp. 

I reminded Clarice that God changes caterpillars into butterflies and coal into diamonds using time and PRESSURE.

Some people claim to work better under pressure, but I don’t believe it. They just work faster. I don’t think any of us enjoys pressure, but there’s a big difference between the kind you choose to subject yourself to and the kind thrust upon you uninvited.

The kind of pressure I hate is when I am interrupted from one thing and must make a rapid-fire decision about another. Like when I’m writing the next best seller and the children want to know what’s for lunch. Or how to light the barbecue. Or what’s the number for the fire department. I need time to think. 

But staying focused on one activity I enjoy for eight hours straight is another story. So going into this contest, I figure if I can hammer out a rough draft in the first four to five hours, that gives me three or four hours of tweaking before I must surrender it.

What’s the worst that can happen? There’s a good chance it’ll turn out horrible, but I have to be okay with that from the beginning. Gordon Drizschilo said, “If you do something that turns out wrong, you can almost always put it right, get over it, learn from it, or at least deny it. But once you’ve missed out on something, it’s gone. There will be the [person] you never got to say the right words to, the band you never got to see live, the winning streak you never got to cheer on, the brilliant retiring professor whose class you never took, the relative you never got very close with. It’s a long list no matter what. Try to keep it as short as possible.”

I like to think that by jumping into this challenge, I’m shortening my list by a smidge. What sort of pressure are you choosing to subject yourself to?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Please Don't Play It Again, Sam



In June, I attended a wind-up party where fellow Prairie Players members were discussing the old movie Casablanca. When I admitted I’d never seen it, my friend Terry promised to bring me a copy on VHS tape. When he delivered it, six others were in the bag: The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, Kind Hearts and Coronets, We’re No Angels, My Girl Friday, and The Lady Killers. I guess Terry figured I have no life, and he must be right because I can now say I’ve watched all of these classics from the 1940’s and 50’s. And now I’m subjecting you to my opinion.

First of all, for the life of me I can’t find the appeal of Humphrey Bogart. The only attractive thing about the man was the double-breasted suit like my dad’s 1948 wedding suit. That weird thing he does with his mouth, the nasal voice, the ever-present cigarette, and the incessant sexist and racist lines might be given to the villain in one of today’s movies, but never to the leading man. Yuck.

As for the movies themselves, either the plots are awfully slow and simple or I am. Endless dialogue expresses every thought the characters ever had, in case the viewer is too dumb to figure out what’s going on. And in case you missed a thought, you can read their minds by the over-acted facial expressions interrupted only by occasional interludes of cheesy music. Clearly, the actors were more familiar with stage performance where the audience members might be 50 feet away as opposed to a camera lens smack in the face.

Fast-forward 70 years. Hubby and I recently saw two brand new movies: Lucy, and Guardians of the Galaxy. In today’s movies, real dialogue has been replaced with fast-paced one-liners you’d need to watch several times over in order to catch them all. Violence abounds. Slashing, bashing, smashing destruction is the order of the day. Explosions, high-speed chases, and high crime are requirements. Plot lines are completely out of this world. Computer animation makes it impossible to tell what’s real. (Did they paint that actor green or just colour him in later?)

I prefer to leave both the oldest and the newest movies for someone else. Give me a good romantic comedy for laughs or a based-on-a-true-story drama for inspiration.

Here’s an exercise for you. Without thinking too hard, list your five all-time favourite movies. After you’ve listed them, look for a common thread tying then together. When you can identify a theme, chances are it’s a clue to your passion in life.

My top five all carried the theme of people overcoming some kind of mental or physical challenge, most based on true stories: Rain Man, A Beautiful Mind, I am Sam, Door to Door, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? What that says about me, I’m still trying to figure out. I certainly can’t pretend to understand what it’s like to live with autism, schizophrenia, developmental challenges, cerebral palsy, morbid obesity, or depression as depicted in these stories.

Speaking of movies and depression, everyone seems to feel the need to express an opinion about the death of Robin Williams. Other than feeling bummed because we’ve lost a brilliant humourist, there’s not much I can say. Never met the man. Pretending I understand mental illness would be stupid and wrong. Speculating on his eternal destination would be even more stupid and wrong.

Wikipedia credits Williams with 81 movies, and a quick glance at the list tells me I’ve seen about half of them. I enjoyed most of those, especially Patch Adams. The real Patch Adams practiced medicine around his philosophy of treating patients using humor and compassion. Hmm. My blog banner features the following words from scripture: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...” (Proverbs 17:22) Perhaps therein lies the key to how the theme of my favourite movies lines up with what I’m passionate about.

What are your favourite flicks?