Theatre 101: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Writing

by Reese

I originally started writing this piece about why I think any aspiring writer should join the Carlos Bulosan Theatre's Play Creation Unit. Upon developing this post, I realized this was more about why the CBT Play Creation Unit changed my life, and how finding your artistic voice can change yours.

Ten years ago I was a graduate of Ryerson University's Film program. (Yes kids, I'm that old.) Back then, I didn't feel like my predominately white classmates and teachers really understood the stories I was trying to tell. I felt like I didn't fit in. To be honest, I didn't. My work wasn't esoteric, nor was it hugely mainstream. I wanted to tell my stories (growing up ethnic in the suburbs, coming out, finding oneself, stories with uniquely Filipino-Canadian experiences) but found that it wasn't appreciated by my peers and mentors. My "otherness" was too foreign to myself and to them. So instead of writing and directing (which were my passions), I ended up producing and production managing my classmates' work. It was my choice, the safe one. I was good at it, but my heart wasn't in it. I soon graduated and went to work in the industry. It wasn't too long afterwards that I became disillusioned with film/television, and left.

Flash forward to present day, and the "call to be creative" still echoed in my head. Inspired by watching "Tales from the Flipside 2007", I knew I wanted to get back into writing. When the call for submissions from CBT came in the summer of 2007, I stared furiously developing ideas. It felt like I was coming back home. Upon my acceptance to the program, I gave myself two goals: 1) write, write, write and 2) learn as much as I can about theatre. It became my opportunity to fully indulge my curiosity and explore new ways of expressing oneself.

From September 2007 to January 2008, the writers met with either Nadine Villasin (CBT's Artistic Director) or Marie Beath Badian (CBT's Director of Play Creation) once a week. We met with amazing theatre artists, talked about writing processes, and just wrote a lot, and gave each other feedback. It is an awesome way to develop your writing because oftentimes it's this solitary experience. Having other writers critique your work, or even get enthused about your work is really invaluable. My favourite part of this process? Having the other writers just GET IT. What I was lacking all those years ago at Ryerson, I had found in my colleagues in the unit. I didn't need to explain my Filipino-centric themes.... it was just understood. I also started attending a LOT more theatre. I was hooked.

After our first drafts were completed in January, February to March 2008 was when the unit headed into production mode. How amazing is it that as a first-time playwright, you get to have talented actors and directors work with your script? It blew my mind during rehearsals. My characters (my imaginary family/friends) were now real-life breathing people. That was trippy. In my experience in indie film/TV, you rarely get this kind of time with the characters... theatre is so organic, and therefore sexier. It lasts for a moment, and poof, it's gone. There's something beautiful about impermanence.

By the time March 2008 came, all five plays were woven together for a two-performance showing entitled "Tales from the Flipside 2008: Claim Your Baggage". Even though it was the biggest snowstorm of the year that weekend, we managed to sell out both nights to audience acclaim. On a personal note, it was a wonderfully special (and highly unexpected) moment for me when my staunchly Catholic parents showed up and gave me a bouquet of flowers after watching a play partly based on my coming out of the closet process. Art has a funny way of transforming you as the artist, and your viewers.

Post-Flipside, the five writers were inspired enough to take our production to mainstream theatre audiences. Huge credit for the impetus to go to the Fringe goes to Dave Carley, one of our guest artists, and Marie Beath Badian. Thus was birthed a new collective, Pulang Maleta Collective (PMC) and the raison d'etre for "Baggage" at the Fringe Festival. The rest is well-documented on our blog, with the show getting love from audiences and critics alike.

After a successful run with "Baggage", the PMC is taking a well-deserved summer break. There'll be more from each of us, but in the meantime, I highly encourage the development of new voices in our artistic community. So if you are interested in developing the playwright in you, I enthusiastically recommend applying to this program. You never know how it'll inspire you or those around you. Just don't wait 10 years to do it. :D

Reese

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Call for Submissions

CARLOS BULOSAN THEATRE

Play Creation Unit

The Carlos Bulosan Theatre’s (CBT’s) mandate is to reflect on social issues affecting the Filipino and broader community. CBT is also committed to creating innovative work that reflects a vibrant, new generation of Filipino-Canadian artists. CBT seeks to encourage and develop Filipino-Canadian writers, performers, and other artists within the community.

The CBT Play Creation Unit is a novice play creation program. It introduces participants to various approaches to making theatre. Through regular workshops and sessions with professional theatre artists, we help participants identify, cultivate and explore their creative voice. Each member will create a 10-15 minute piece of theatre that will be presented in CBT’s annual showcase of new work Tales from the Flipside at the end of February 2009.

Submission Guidelines:

  • A letter of interest outlining why you would like to be part of the program, including an idea you would like to develop into a piece of theatre
  • A 1-2 page submission of creative writing (this can take the form of dialogue, poetry, prose, short story, etc.)

The Play Creation Unit begins meeting September 2008 through to January 2009.

The deadline for submissions is August 5, 2008. Submissions can be sent by email to: info@carlosbulosan.com

Submissions by mail should be sent to: Carlos Bulosan Theatre, 167 Augusta Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 2L4