Friday, April 01, 2016

A play is born

Guest blogger Kathy Storring
(First in a series)
Funny how the brain works.

For Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham, there is no question that their play Pocket Rocket originated with Lea.
But things get fuzzy when they try to remember how Gary came onboard.

Was it when they were on a long walk with their spouses, Chea and Alan, while visiting the Daniels’ cottage? Or was it during a far-reaching conversation sitting together on a sofa? Hmmm…
Lea Daniel
They do agree on one thing: once Lea brought the idea forward, it just clicked.
“We just started to talk about it, back and forth,” Lea recalls. “And by the end, we were already writing it together.”
Gary adds: “Originally, I was thinking: this is Lea’s play, so I was sort of talking as my dramaturgy person. But by the end, there were too many stories. … And it was a scary moment because you think: I really like this play, but I don’t want to take it away from Lea!”
No worries. Lea welcomed the collaboration. Let the writing begin.

So, what did they create?

You could say Pocket Rocket, which premieres April 20 at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre, is about road hockey. It has three “periods,” just like a hockey game. The title reflects the nickname of hockey legend Henri Richard. And the characters do bond over hockey sticks.
But that’s just the springboard.  At its heart, Pocket Rocket is a funny, poignant exploration of friendship, life’s transitions — and Canadian identity.

In the beginning…

Gary Kirkham
Lea and Gary can be forgiven for their hazy memories of their first creative mash-up. We are going back about five years, after all.
The pair had developed a friendship through Writers’ Bloc, a playwriting initiative launched in 1998 by Theatre & Company, a professional theatre troupe that had taken Kitchener-Waterloo by storm. (Lost & Found Theatre developed out of that troupe.)
Before joining Writers’ Bloc, run by dramaturge Henry Bakker, Lea had written books for children and Gary had written sketch comedy, but neither had tackled a play.
Gary is only partly joking when he intones with a laugh: “Henry Bakker changed our lives.…”
Indeed he did.
In those early days, who could have guessed that in 2001 Gary would be commissioned to write a play, Queen Milli of Galt, to open Theatre & Company’s new home, now the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts? And that was just the beginning. Since then, more than 50 theatres, including Lost & Found, have produced Gary’s plays. Falling: A Wake, which Lost & Found premiered in 2007, is currently enjoying a two-month run in Belgium, using its French translation.
Meanwhile, Lea’s drama/comedy Naked was produced by Lost & Found in 2013. Her play Heretic has had four workshops/readings, including a 2010 juried selection by Foundry Theatre in Toronto. An excerpt of Colour Me Fuchsia was presented at an International Women’s Day fundraiser in 2007.
So Writers’ Bloc was quite the launching pad.
Lea credits Bakker’s insightful coaching as well as artistic director Stuart Scadron-Wattles’ commitment to the program. The novice scripts were turned over to the troupe’s actors for a reading  — and an eye-opening education.
“All of a sudden all of the nuances that you didn’t even know about would come out,” Gary says. “That was the biggest learning curve for all of us — the words on the page were transformed by actors.”

Pocket’s progress

It was a lesson well learned. Even with experience under their belts, Lea and Gary welcome the insights that workshops and public readings bring to a script.
So they were delighted in 2014 when Pocket Rocket was chosen for a one-week workshop / reading with Theatre Calgary, a company renowned for its development of new works.
“(The actors) are in the room to bring these characters alive,” Gary says. “Not to explore the internal character like an actor, but to explore the external actions of their characters like a director would.”
But surely it must be an ego-bruising experience as a director and actors expose your play’s flaws, setting the stage for more rewrites and reshaping?
Not for Lea, who describes it as an “amazing experience” and praises the intelligence of the Calgary professionals.
“I don’t have any problems taking things out or changing things, even when I’m in the heat of the writing — if it makes it better,” she says.
Rewriting during a workshop is even easier, she says: “You’ll see (the problem) right there in front of you.”
Their commitment to quality has paid off. In 2014 Pocket Rocket was short-listed for the Playwrights Guild of Canada’s Tom Hendry award for new comedy.
Meanwhile, in Kitchener…
At the time of our interview, casting was still in progress for Lost & Found’s production of Pocket Rocket.
But director Kim Blackwell, artistic director of 4th Line Theatre in the Peterborough area, was more than familiar with the script, having led a Kitchener workshop/public reading last year. Audience reaction was positive.
Still, Lea and Gary were anticipating more tweaks ahead as rehearsals began.
“The second week (of rehearsals) is when line cuts happen pretty extensively,” Gary says. “All of a sudden the actors are emotionally there, and all of a sudden they drop a line and the scene just goes from here to here. And you go, “Wow that was great,” and the stage manager says, “Well they just dropped two lines.”  He laughs. “Those lines are gone.…”
No wonder Lea and Gary talk about playwriting as an organic process. Each step adds revelations, and each revelation brings changes and polishing.
Until the big reveal.
Next blog April 7: Lea and Gary divulge the deep, dark secrets of collaborative playwriting.

(Special thanks to photographers Alan Daniel and Tom Vogel)

So, get your tickets! Pocket Rocket is not to be missed, whether you are a hockey player, an avid bystander or, most importantly, someone who loves great theatre. Lost and Found Theatre presents Pocket Rocket April 20-30, 2016, at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener.

Extra! Extra! To get you in the mood, a collection of short street hockey videos by artist Dwight Storring will be shown before each performance of Pocket Rocket.

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