You never know when you’re writing a new play exactly what your process will be. I think this new play of mine, Those White Things in the Ocean, is my 19th play. Yet every time out, the process has been different. I’ve had to work a lot the last few years. Also, I got hit by a car almost two years ago now which resulted in a bit of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which I don’t recommend to anyone. So, while I’m usually pretty quick when it comes to writing, and have rarely been plagued with writer’s block, this play was a little slow in coming. It took a few years, writing sporadically when I had the time and energy.
I got a hurry up call when I was invited to take part in this year’s retreat at the Stratford Festival. I had to show up at Stratford with something completed. And so I finished the play, finally, before I came here, about a year later than I had originally intended. I got the best part of the play written at a self-directed residency at the Banff Centre in February, but didn’t actually manage to finish writing the first draft until August.
And then the various places in my life that employ me and pay me were kind enough to allow me these three weeks, and so I find myself in Stratford with nothing to do but concentrate on my play. Earlier today, after two weeks, I completed the second draft. Two years for the first draft, two weeks for the second. There’s no better way to point out the value of retreats like this. For those of us who have to work, these residencies give us the opportunity to keep our real careers moving forward.They allow us to write our plays.
It’s been a lovely two weeks. I learned to write in Balzac’s coffee shop, as well as in the beautiful place they provided me to stay in while I’m down here. We have had convivial meals with the folks from the festival and my playwriting brothers and sisters from across the country. All in all, a magical time.
Some of my students and young writers in general ask me about the value of doing an MFA in creative writing. I always say it’s a good idea because it allows you time to keep writing. I got my MFA years ago (York University, class of ’84) but I am still always on the look out for opportunities to have the time to write. They seem to get more and more rare and therefore more valued as one gets older. These three weeks have been so important to me. They have reminded me what I’m all about, what I’m meant to be doing in this short time I have on this planet.
Here’s a guy you’re constantly thinking of in this town, a constant source of inspiration. We were caught in the rain together . . . .