Saturday, April 09, 2016

The dark secrets of collaboration

Guest blogger Kathy Storring
(Second in a series)
You’ve tuned in for the scandal, right?
You can already see it: with two playwrights working head-to-head on a long creative project, there must be angry tears, slamming doors, scorching arguments. (High drama, so to speak.)
But come on. We’re talking about the gentle Lea Daniel and the gregarious Gary Kirkham here. These longtime friends aren’t the combative type — quite the opposite. Gary, who lives in Cambridge, and Lea, from Kitchener, even collaborate in an interview, tossing ideas back and forth, nodding as the other speaks:
“It was so easy,” Lea says with a warm smile when asked about their writing process for their play Pocket Rocket. “We just talked and talked and talked and talked. And I feel like Gary knows many of my deepest secrets because you tell things that happened, your relationship with your parents, your friends, your kids.… We were telling stories, that’s what we did.”
Gary: “ It wasn’t about how to get ideas from your head onto the page. It was already out there. So we would just be transcribing what we just did, what we said. We would actually kind of act it out, or talk it out.
Gary adds: “Dialogue is such an easy thing for both of us. So that’s never an issue. We are both oral in that sense. People say, ‘How do you write dialogue?’ And I say, ‘How do you not?’ ”
Lea: “ We would read it to each other as we wrote it. And, as you always do, we did a lot of clunky stuff. We would think, well, we have to get here…. So we would write five times as much as we needed.”
Gary: “We both have done so much writing that we know a re-write is always in the park. So you just get it out there.”

Exploring the ‘middle ground’

It took a few years to finish this play. Both were busy with their own projects so they had to carve out bits of time here and there. But when they sat down to write, it just worked — much like the lasting friendships depicted in Pocket Rocket, which Lost & Found Theatre premieres April 20.
It helps that they both write with a similar voice, exploring what Gary describes as “the middle ground of drama and comedy.”
Pocket Rocket definitely leans more to the comic side, but its themes are big — the resilience of deep friendship and the changing Canadian identity. We will talk more about those themes in the next blog post. For now, let’s find out more about how the play developed.
The play is set in three time periods, roughly 14 years apart, starting in 1967, and Lea and Gary were determined to reflect historical accuracy as much as possible. They invested many hours of research into subjects like Canada’s Centennial Year, the galvanizing power of the Terry Fox run for cancer research and, of course, hockey because the play does revolve around road hockey.
They build this historical perspective into their extensive backstories for each of their five characters. The plot possibilities emerged from there.
Through it all — the writing, the rewriting, the workshops, the tweaks, the rehearsals, more tweaks — one basic idea carried the day: “You have to trust the play,” Lea says.

Extensive experience

Lea and Gary bring a deep well of writing talents to the project. Here are just a few of their accomplishments:
Lea Daniel: Lea is the author of several books and stories for children. For many years, she has also enjoyed a creative collaboration with partner Alan Daniel, writing and co-illustrating children's books and magazines and working on a variety of other projects ranging from advertising to sports posters. Their various honours include a 2004 Mr. Christie’s Book Award for Under a Prairie Sky; they were also short-listed for a Governor-General Award for Sody Salleratus. On the theatre side, Lea’s dramatic comedy Naked was produced by Lost & Found Theatre in 2013. Her play The Heretic has had four workshops / public readings, including juried selections in Toronto by Foundry Theatre (2010) and Equity Showcase (Off-The-Page Series, 2003). Lea is also a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada and was a founding member of Pat the Dog Playwrights’ Collective.
Gary Kirkham: This Cambridge resident is an actor and filmmaker as well as a playwright. His plays include Falling: A Wake, Pearl Gidley, Queen Milli of Galt, and Rage Against Violence (with Dwight Storring). He is an artistic associate with the MT Space and has worked in collaboration with the company on several shows, including Seasons of Immigration, Body 13, Occupy Spring, and the critically acclaimed The Last 15 Seconds. He has written several adaptations, including Radio Leacock, Easter, and Bottom and The Mechanicals. His plays have been produced by more than 50 theatres and have been translated into French, Italian and Arabic.
He has worked as a video designer for My Name Is Dakhel Faraj, Black Spring and The Ashley Smith Project. He is a member of the local film collective 12 Angry Filmmakers. And he co-runs a theatre program for ESL high school students in collaboration with MT Space and the YMCA.

Creative crossovers

As might be expected, there have been creative crossovers since Lea and Gary’s initial meeting in Writers’ Bloc in 1998.
Lea says Gary has supported her in various projects, including being dramaturge for Naked, directing an Asphalt Jungle Shorts production of her play In the East a Glass of Water and acting in a workshop for Heretic.
 “And,” Lea adds, laughing, “I’ve mostly supported Gary by going to everything he’s done.”
Next blog April 14: What’s it all about? Tune in next time for the inside scoop on Pocket Rocket.

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.

Click here for ticket info.

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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