Hello Internet, today is Friday, June 7th, but let’s harken back, all the way back, to the middle of May, when I was at a playwrights’ colony in Sackville, NB.
For those of you who haven’t been, Sackville is a smallish town in New Brunswick, home to Mount Allison University, and also the permanent home of the Playwrights’ Atlantic Resource Centre (or PARC). Every May, PARC hosts a Playwrights’ Colony – an opportunity for Atlantic Canadian playwrights, at various stages in their careers, to gather to work on whatever they have in development.
This was my first time at the Colony, and in fact my first time in any formal writing retreat setting, and I can’t believe it took me this long!
First of all: they put all the playwrights together in one house. It’s residence, essentially, and you can tell from the wheelie furniture and sad-mattress single beds, but it’s also nine bedrooms in old mansion on the cusp of campus. The house itself is beautiful, the rooms are big enough to do yoga, or just to breathe and feel like you’re not boxed in.
Each playwright is assigned a dramaturge and you have access to them and their brain while you do your thing.
Sackville is the perfect place for this kind of retreat: it is big enough to have a couple of good bars and restaurants, there is a gym on campus if you’re like me and do better creatively when you’re physically active, and there’s a nice just-hipster-enough coffeeshop; but it’s not hopping with activity. You’re not just dying to go out and enjoy the nightlife or to take in every piece of culture. In short, it’s pretty much the ideal setting for getting your work done.
In week 2 of the retreat, the actors turn up to read the plays. This, by itself, would be worth the time: professional readers on your text, often for the first time, injecting your flat words with life. Freaking. Excellent.
Workshop readings take place in the fine arts building on campus, which is bursting with creativity. There is art everywhere you turn.
There are several obvious benefits to going to the Playwrights’ Colony, like for instance: dedicated time to work on your play, access to dramaturgical support for your play, and access to development opportunities like having your work read, sometimes for an audience. But what sticks with me a few weeks later are the less obvious benefits: sharing a space, physical and creative, with other playwrights for a dedicated period of time, running into them in the kitchen, talking out your creative problems to people who are facing – or who have faced – similar ones, developing friendships and connections with people working across Atlantic Canada, and seeing what they are working on.
I loved this experience and will definitely go back (as long as they’ll have me!). I encourage any playwright living in the Atlantic provinces to check out PARC. I must also offer my thanks to ArtsNL for granting me a bit of money to get me there and pay for me to eat while away from home.