David Geary says to “be hungry for other people’s stories”

David Geary is no stranger to the Yukon. He was here to work with Gwaandak Theatre a year ago last February. Now he’s looking forward to seeing what Whitehorse is like when it’s warmer.

Geary is originally from New Zealand, where he has mixed roots which he describes as “Maori from the Taranaki iwi tribe, and also English, Irish, Scottish settler.” He became a Canadian citizen in 2008 and has lived in Vancouver since 2012. He teaches in the prestigious Indigenous Filmmaking program at Capilano University. He is a playwright who works in theatre, film, TV, fiction and haiku, and is also a dramaturge, but he didn’t start out that way.

“I wanted to be a rock star,” he said. This didn’t come from his parents either, as they loved country music. So did he when he was young.

“When I went to boarding school at 13, in 1977, I got exposed to a whole lot of different music and veered towards alternative rock/punk rock/classic rock.”

Of course he went to university to study to be a lawyer, and try to develop some musical skills. But rugby injuries hampered his attempts to play the guitar “and then I found out I couldn’t sing, or play and sing, or play … but I did like writing lyrics for existing tunes. I wrote some awful Rod Stewart-inspired lyrics.”

The bad lyrics eventually turned into not quite so bad poetry and taking a couple of English courses changed his direction. A first year English lit course he took as an elective introduced him to many great playwrights and a second year creative writing course.

“Suddenly I was a lot more inspired to write bad poetry than study Lord Denning and the postal-acceptance rule in contract law. So I dropped my law papers (and) picked up Shakespeare. I got a C, but the great teacher made me feel Hamlet was a real person … like me … tortured and out of sorts.”

He was asked to write a short dramatic scene and enjoyed doing it. 
“I discovered I could write dialogue, joined the drama club, took drama studies and wrote short experimental plays. I was a writer. My parents were horrified. Not resigned that I would just be a teacher (which I am now), but they were somewhat appeased at the time when I got into the NZ Women’s Weekly magazine for me acting in a play in a hot tub.”

“I went to Toi Whakaari ,the New Zealand Drama School, to train as an actor after (university), so that’s how I paid the bills for a while afterwards, doing theatre, TV and commercials, but all the time working on my playwriting.”

As a writer, he works hard to impose structure on what he characterizes as his “fairly free-wheeling chaotic” nature.

“Thematically, I’m still a punk rocker and enjoy subverting norms and satire. I like to expose the underbelly below the normal surface. I also have a black comic streak, so I find it hard to write anything that is straight drama without a tinge of comedy. I think humour saves us.”

He has an affinity for Trickster characters in all their forms, from the Maoir Maui stories of New Zealand to the Raven and Coyote stories he’s learned in Canada. He writes whenever he can find the time. 
“Since I had kids I write whenever and wherever I can, as the windows of opportunity got smaller and smaller.

After arriving in Vancouver in 2012 “I looked after our boys for three years til they went to school and the only way I could keep my creative self alive was writing haiku on twitter on my mobile phone @gearsgeary. So that’s what I did and it has become a thing I do for fun still.”

He finds that deadlines are great motivators, either for projects or for study, as when he was doing his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. He finds that you need to write a lot and then winnow it down to get to the good stuff.

Switching forms is also good. Theatre, graphic stories, poetry, film, each of these contributes to a person’s overall development. He says they all feed together. He advises young writers to “be hungry for other people’s stories. Listen, read, watch Netflix, follow the news, make friends with librarians.

“Keep a journal. Write without judgment. Do black-out poems. Write song lyrics. Enter competitions. Tell jokes. Do karaoke. Dance. Make costumes. Dress up. Knit. Play sport. Do yoga. Meditate. Read the classics. Make social media work for you. Be creative in any way you can, whenever you can, and don’t let the haters, or the comments section, get you down.

“Find like-minded friends. Make friends. Smile. Say Hello. Tell stories. Put good vibes into the world. Help people. Volunteer. Give of yourself … good things will come back. Karma is real.”

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