From the pen to the production

By James Keller

The process of converting the simple conception of a script to its full-fledged production is one few audience members see-or are even aware of.

Enter Alberta Theatre Projects playRites 2002. The festival, a yearly staple at Calgary’s ATP, aims to seek out and develop new plays by Canada’s emerging playwrights.

"We try to look across the country and find someone who’s reached a certain amount of development and is ready to move on to the next level," says ATP Artistic Director Bob White. "We have an extensive network talking to play development centres around the country."

All but one of the four mainstage productions this year were workshopped in previous years as platform plays-weekend readings of the scripts. For Love and Money, a play following the life in Calgary’s oil patch, is the only exception.

"It gives us a chance to get a sense of just how the audience reacts," says White. Midlife, another play set against the local oil industry, and Mary’s Wedding, a World War I love story, were both platform plays last year. Moliere, an epic following the famous artist’s battle with Louis XIV, went to the platform stage three years ago. However,
not every play that reaches that stage gets to be produced by the company.

"I wish I could say it was automatic, but it’s a bit of a testing ground," he explains. "There are shows that, after the audience’s response, we have to say, ‘you know, I don’t think this is right for us.’ It doesn’t mean there’s anything ‘wrong’ with the play, but it’s just not what we’re looking for."

The platform process, both before and after a show is featured, is one of give and take. A show never arrives in the state that it leaves and the playwrights have to be willing to compromise.

The previews, spread out over a number of weeks, are also part of these changes.

"It gives us time between each of the previews to judge the audience’s response and if we want to make any changes to the production," says White, noting these can range from small changes in word choice to large dramatic cuts.

However, not every playwright that comes to ATP is as willing to compromise as others.

"It’s unfortunate because ultimately what happens here [at playRites] isn’t important, but in my opinion, they’re not going to have a very fulfilling career," explains White. "Working with theatre is working with other people. You have to realize that nothing ever emerges on the page perfectly. But, you kind of go, ‘oh well, that’s too bad and you’ll never be here again.’"

Aside from the long and involved progress from platform to play, the main attraction to playRites is still the performances themselves, something White expects audiences to easily connect with. Unlike previous years, two of the plays-Midlife and For Love and Money-are linked thematically, which will enhance the audience experience that much more.

"They’re both set in Calgary and they’re both set against the backdrop of the oil patch," says White, noting that one play follows a man’s experience and the other that of a woman. "You’re getting two opposite sides-the oil patch is pretty much a guy’s world. Even if you’re a woman married to a high profile executive, you’re still on the peripheral."

Whether or not Calgary audiences will be able to relate to these particular situations or not, White thinks there will be other themes that are more universal-especially since all four deal with personal struggle to some degree.

"In contemporary life it’s so hard to hang on to what you believe and what you want to accomplish-
the media tells you one thing and everything you pick up tells you that you should be living your life this way," he says, pointing to September 11 as a reason these feelings might be more prevalant. "You have to find a way to be happy and stay happy."

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