A writing kind of summer

Hello Internet, today is Monday, June 10th, and these are my plans for the summer:

1. Finish and submit my graduate thesis;

2. Write a bunch of poems.

Also in plans, there are some other life things, like renovations (everyone’s favourite part of adulthood!), and some teaching of workshops, and I will be doing a bit of something for the St. John’s Short Plays Festival – more on that in a little while.

For now: some information on the writing part of my life:

PART ONE: Finish and submit my graduate thesis.

So, dear devout blog readers, as you may remember – I am in grad school. I’m supposed to be done by the end of August. You may also remember that I am writing a “creative thesis” – miraculous thing that it is! – and it’s a play.

Well, now it really is a play. As in, I’ve written it. So the goal now is to make the most of the incredible resources I’ve been given though this program (chiefly, access to co-supervisors and therefore dramaturgy from Drs. Jamie Skidmore and Robert Chafe) to make it best play it can be before early July when it needs to be submitted for examination. And then, hopefully, the examiners will decide that I do in fact deserve to be an MA English.

The play is called Factory Girls, and is about female munitions workers in Toronto during WWI. It’s an ensemble piece for ten women, is semi-absurdist, is two acts long and would require a relatively substantial production budget. It is very different from anything else I have ever written for a single big reason: I don’t have to think about producing it.

Here’s why:

Getting a creation grant from an arts funder is a tricky thing. Funders like the Canada Council for the Arts or ArtsNL regularly give grants to artists at the beginning of the creation period – the “I have an idea but I need time to think about it in a dedicated way and write it down” stage. BUT competition for those grants is stiff and one of the best ways you can strengthen your application is to tell them a next step for the project. So, for instance, “I am going to write a play and then ask some folks to read it around a table” is not as strong an application as “I am going to write a play and then have it produced by xx-theatre company.”

The goal of all playwriting is to get the work produced, but not having a plan to do that can be a barrier to getting the funding to write the thing in the first place. And that can affect the writing itself. You might, for example, write a play with fewer characters. You might write for a single setting, or a minimalist one. You might, if you were, say, a playwright who is also an independent theatre producer, conceptualize a show from the beginning as being as inexpensive as possible, to improve your chances of being able to produce it in the future.

You might, just pulling an example out of the air here, produce a show you wrote with 4 people in it in 2008, and then one with 2 people in 2014, and then a solo show in 2018. Or something. And all of them might have a set concept that is inexpensive and portable at its core – as in, basically written into the script.

So being able – encouraged! – to dream out a play with ten (TEN!) whole human beings in it, with a complicated moving set, with special effects, with stuff that has to break on stage… well, that’s amazing. To be free of the prospective responsibility of producing this thing and all of the logistical barriers that crop up from that is just so cool. So I am very grateful for the chance to write this as a thesis, and to have access to two great minds in the form of my supervisors.

I’m extra grateful, though, to the ten brilliant actors who gave me their time for a reading at the end of May, and who are willing to read the piece again before I submit. They are awesome and I am so lucky. What a community we have.

PART TWO: Write a bunch of poems.

So, ironically, on the subject of creation grants:

Several months ago now, I received a grant to write a poetry manuscript. This was really nice and a bit of a surprise: I’ve been writing poetry since I was about seven, and I have a high-school level Literary Arts certificate, much of which was earned through the writing of poetry. And an eon ago (we’re talking high school times, you guys), a few of my poems won prizes/were published. But it has been more than 15 years since any of that happened.

However, I have recently been encouraged to write more poetry, and the kind assessment committee at ArtsNL awarded me a bit of money, and I have been using it to dedicate more of my time to writing. I’ve re-instituted a writing practice in my life (think of it like yoga practice – you dedicate a little time every day to a thing and eventually you see/feel results), and I’ve been editing a little here and there, and I’ve been turning out a few usable pieces. So this summer, I’m dedicating some full-time weeks to a final push on this front to see what can be done about putting together something that might be described as a manuscript.

(sidenote: how do people talk about being writers? I am going to have to get better at this!)

So friends, those are my summer plans, for anyone asking (and it’s a lot of you, recently!).

While I’m here I should acknowledge ArtsNL, which last year invested $2.24 million to foster and promote the creation and enjoyment of the arts for the benefit and enjoyment of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It’ll be $3.24 million next year, if the government keeps its promises.