Last Friday I met with David Skelton, the artistic director of Nakai Theatre, and DD Kugler, a renowned Canadian dramaturge.
A dramaturge, which is an unpleasant word, functions as an advisor to a playwright. Such a person raises concerns, make suggestions, and sometimes draws thick red lines through vast swaths of dialogue.
Both the above-mentioned men deserve much credit for making my first play, Syphilis: A Love Story, as crisp as it turned out to be.
Now, about four years after Syphilis premiered at Whitehorse’s Guild Hall, I have begun another play. I’ve scratched out about 20 pages of something I am tentatively calling, The Sabbatical of Elque Ketchum. In vague terms, it is about a group of people who are trying to make a movie about the life of a mysterious writer.
I began it over my Christmas vacation in New York City. Progress was slow and angst was high. With the help of four local thespians, I presented what I had written at Nakai’s Pivot Festival this past January. Reviews were mainly positive, but in the interest of full disclosure, nearly everyone in the audience was a friend or a family member.
Then, Justine Davidson arrived in the Yukon in early May. She had been an actor in every incarnation of my previous play and wanted to read through my new stuff. So we hitched our horses at the Dirty Northern, ordered some pizzas, and began working our way through the script.
As we read, I began to have the strange feeling that we were both thinking the same thing, and when the last scrap of dialogue had been spat forth, she confirmed my psychic intuition. “Sounds a lot like the last one, eh?” “It really does,” I said, somewhat deflated.
And it’s true, both Syphilis and this new thing have four characters — two male, two female. And most of the characters speak a version of grad-school-chic.
In fairness to Justine, she was 95 per cent encouraging, and even left me a phone message a few days later, imploring me to “keep writing”. She also pointed out that even the most revered playwrights, like Edward Albee, develop their own dialect of dialogue. It’s not a fault, but a style.
Still, rightly or wrongly, I felt artistically stalled. Of course it’s nothing a little dramaturgy can’t fix.
So Kugler, Skelton, and I hunkered down for what might be clumsily called “a brainstorming session”. You see, unlike Syphilis, where I had a decent sense of the plot from the beginning, I really have no clue where this new train is heading.
Kugler’s advice is to “write, write, write,” and not to worry about similarities in my work.
Somehow I knew that was the solution all along. Justine knew it, too. But when a dramaturge says it you have to listen. Even if it is an ugly word.