The process of getting a play out of the writer’s head and onto the stage is a long and winding one.
Governor General Award-winning playwright Catherine Banks wrote her first play in 1983. She learned a lot from the process, but it never saw the light of stage; her first performed play came in 1991.
“I started writing that play the week I brought my newborn daughter home from (the hospital) and it was produced the year she entered primary,” the Nova Scotian playwright says of The Summer of the Piping Plover. “It felt really wonderful when that play opened because I had learned I could do it.”
Playwriting can be a hard, lonely business, with no guarantee your work will ever be performed. Banks’ big breakthrough came last year, when Bone Cage won the coveted GG.
“It was validation shot through with joy!” she says.
Getting a play performed can be an arduous process. She had to secure funding from government agencies and sink a lot of her own cash into Bone Cage. By then, Banks was fully committed to the play’s darkly humorous story of Jamie and Chicky growing up in rural Nova Scotia.
“Why would any character ever come to me again if I didn’t see the characters of Bone Cage all the way to the stage?” she wonders.
Once a company picks up a play, there’s the tricky process of turning a playwright’s imagination into reality.
“Even when I set out to write a play that will be easily produced, in the course of writing the play it takes me to a place where I have to make a decision: Will I or won’t I allow the play to take me where it needs to go?” Banks says. Can theatre companies afford to stage it? Are there too many/too few roles?
Are the technical requirements possible?
“Only once have I made a concession to make a play ‘more producible;’ I reduced the script by one actor. In the end, I had to produce the play myself anyway and now I have a play with a ghost,” she laments.
After studying acting at university, Banks honed her skills at local writing workshops. Many institutes such as Dalhousie University offer courses on playwriting as part of theatre programs. UBC offers an MFA in creative writing and theatre (playwriting) and students at Concordia can major in playwriting.