The Dedication of David French Lane

August 28th, 2014 § 0 comments permalink

On June 22, 2014, David French Lane was officially dedicated with a City of Toronto ceremony. About 65 friends and family members came to celebrate on that sunny Sunday morning. At the event, Rory Sinclair and Tim Grant of the HVRA spoke, and then I said a few words about what the neighbourhood meant to David, which I will condense here:

A sense of place was very important to David’s work and to his life. His plays are often associated with Newfoundland, where he began, that island that shone vivid in his imagination. And of course, he loved PEI, where he spent 40 summers. But in fact, the majority of David French’s plays were set here, in Toronto. He lived most of his life in this city. From the lean-to at the back of Mr. Nutt’s shoe repair shop where his family moved in the 1940s, to the houses on Oakwood and on Euclid. He went to Rawlinson Public School, to Oakwood Collegiate, and also to Harbord Collegiate, just down the street from here. David moved into the upstairs apartment at 254 Brunswick Avenue in the mid-1970s. It was a place with great neighbours who became lifelong friends. It was close to the Tarragon Theatre, to bookstores, and to a movie theatre -- some of the things David considered essential. He could have morning coffee and conversation at a friend’s apartment, or read his paper at JJ Muggs. All-day breakfast at Paupers Pub. Dinner at the Other Café, at the end of the street. And although some of the people and places changed throughout the decades, David stayed right here. He loved this ‘hood. It was part of him. And of course, David spent many, many hours writing plays at our kitchen table, which overlooks this very lane…

After the ceremony, the sign was unveiled and Rory played the beautiful pipe tune “The Battle of The Somme.” Afterward, many of us went to Paupers for a nosh and a drink.

The naming of the David French Lane means so much to his daughter Mary, to me, and to all of his family and friends. I’d like to thank the City, the HVRA, (Rory Sinclair and Jan Muszynski in particular) for making sure that David is now literally on the map. It’s a great honour, and we will always be grateful.

I’d like to thank everyone who came to share the day with us!

On The Map

August 24th, 2014 § 0 comments permalink

    IMG_2837    

Soldier’s Heart at Sault Theatre Workshop

June 2nd, 2014 § 0 comments permalink

Recently I had some correspondence with Harry Houston, the Past President of Sault Theatre Workshop. This spring their group put on a special performance of David's play about World War I, Soldier's Heart. I asked Harry if he could tell me a little about it, and he sent me this gorgeous poster, along with some details about the show. Soldier's Heart Poster Here's what Harry says about the special preview performance the group held: "Sault Theatre Workshop has a program where we donate a preview performance of a production to a local charity or not-for-profit group to be used as a fundraiser. We supply the venue (our Studio Theatre on Pittsburgh Avenue,) the performance, pay for the royalties and give the group 100 tickets to sell. The group sells the tickets and keeps the money. We also offer the group the opportunity to set up displays, raffle a door prize or hold silent auctions etc. on the evening of their preview. We retain the right to run the concession and “reserve” seat the Sault Star reviewer (if needed).  All we ask in return is that the ticket prices are not sold for lower than our normal prices, and that we get a written report after the event is over, detailing the funds raised for the organization. Why do we do this? Aside from helping and supporting our community, we find that this results in people coming out to our shows for the first time and they often end up becoming new audience members. We always have what we call “dress rehearsal” anyway and an audience can help the actors prepare for opening night. We like whenever possible to match the production’s theme or story line with the groups goals and it gives us a warm feeling to support some worthy causes. Our group of choice for Soldier's Heart was our local Legion (Branch 25) in Sault Ste Marie. Their attendance and word of mouth after the show increased our audiences. One gentleman told us he had to come attend as his grandfather was part of that Newfoundland regiment. It was moving at the close of each performance as the audience joined in with the singing of 'Keep The Home Fires Burning.'" I wish I could have seen the show. Here's a photo of the cast: Soldier's Heart May 2014 1

David French Lane

April 29th, 2014 § 1 comment permalink

Close up signMary and I are very happy that the lane running behind our apartment on Brunswick Avenue has been named for David! The Harbord Village Residents' Association has been honouring notable Annex residents this way, and our downstairs neighbour Jan Filips Muszynski suggested that our lane be named for David. This winter the signs appeared, and the lane became searchable on Google Maps. David lived in the apartment on Brunswick for over thirty years, and when he worked he often sat facing the lane, so it really is an apt tribute. David would have turned 75 this January. To mark the day, Mary and I invited some friends over for pie -- which was David's favourite dessert. After pie, we put our coats on and I took some photos of friends gathered around the sign. (I'll post one below.) On June 22nd, there will be an official City of Toronto ceremony to christen "David French Lane." I hope you can join us! More details will follow.

Pie PartyMoonlit sign

Lane, Tranzac

     

Alistair MacLeod

April 23rd, 2014 § 1 comment permalink

macleod

It's with sadness that I write this tribute to Alistair MacLeod, one of Canada's literary lions, who died on Easter Sunday. David and I both loved his writing. In the 1980s when I worked at Playwrights Union, our Executive Director Jane Buss gave me a copy of his wonderful short story collection, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood. I remember laughing, weeping, and marveling at MacLeod's ability to get to the beating heart of family relationships. MacLeod's novel No Great Mischief is, of course, a classic. (In 2006, I had the pleasure of selecting and editing David A. Young's stage adaptation of that novel for Scirocco Drama.)

David French and I were lucky enough to meet Alistair several years ago when Lee Gowan of the U of T School of Continuing Studies Creative Writing Department invited Alistair, David, and Michael Winter to do a reading. We all went out for dinner first, and it stands in my memory as one of those golden evenings where the company could not possibly have been improved upon.

David was to get to know Alistair better a few years later when he went to be Writer-in-Residence at the University of Windsor. Alistair's office was just down the hall from David's, and they formed a teasing friendship that apparently involved a lot of ribbing about offices. (Alistair's office was famously cluttered, while David, who was only in Windsor for a year, had a very sparse set-up.)

My condolences to Alistair's wife Anita and his children and grandchildren. His deep love for his family was apparent, and they will miss him very much.

Salt-Water Moon at the Globe Theatre

April 16th, 2014 § 0 comments permalink

SaltWaterMoon_600 This spring Globe Theatre produced Salt-Water Moon, directed by Judy Wensel. I'd like to share some of the review that appeared in the Regina Leader-Post:

"Currently on the Main Stage at Regina's Globe Theatre, Salt-Water Moon is an engrossing and entertaining love story featuring talented actors in a beautiful and creative production. Written two decades ago by well-known Canadian playwright David French, Salt-Water Moon is one of five semi-autobiographical plays about the Mercer family of Newfoundland. The 90-minute show is essentially a conversation between two characters -- Jacob Mercer, played by Josh Ramsden, and Mary Snow, played by Lauren Holfeuer...The chemistry between Holfeuer and Ramsden is excellent and they do a great job of portraying the complex characters...Salt-Water Moon explores many interesting themes and will leave theatre-goers with much on which to reflect."

Congratulations to everyone involved in the show. I've heard from many sources that it was a wonderful production! Globe SWMGlobe SWM 2Globe SWM 3                    

Archives at Memorial University

April 16th, 2014 § 0 comments permalink

IMG_3937

For many years, all of David's papers were in housed in a small filing cabinet and a mountain of cardboard boxes in our apartment's storage room. In 2001, I bought a huge lateral filing cabinet and sorted through the papers, filing them all. It was fun, and helped me to learn more about David's career. I was surprised to find newspaper articles about Leaving Home having been banned at two schools in the 1970s, for example. And I loved seeing all the original programs and production shots. David was a bit of a packrat, so I turned up old shopping lists and decades worth of Christmas cards, too!

David and I once had a conversation about archives. I mentioned that a lot of playwrights were sending their papers to the University of Guelph, where the Tarragon Theatre's archives are housed. David said that he knew that, but that many years earlier, Memorial University had asked him for his papers, and he felt that was where they should ultimately be sent.

About a year after David died, I started to think about the papers. They were still in our storage room, and one summer we had had a leak that narrowly missed the big filing cabinet. I knew that the papers would be safer at a university, and that it would be good to have them in a place where they could be made available for researchers. One day I called Memorial University. I wasn't sure who to contact, so I dialed the number for the Library, figuring that I'd have to talk to several people and perhaps be told to write a letter or email about the papers...Instead, as soon as I explained who I was and why I was calling, the voice on the other end of the phone in St. John's exclaimed, "David French! Of course! We'd love to have his papers in the archives here." So immediately, I knew that Memorial had indeed been the right choice.

It took me a long time to actually pack up the papers. Going through them again was in some ways quite difficult. I laughed, I cried...But eventually, I had seven large IKEA tubs of notebooks, drafts, letters, photos, programs, and other papers ready for Purolator to take to Newfoundland.

Colleen Quigley and her colleagues at Memorial have been terrific. I know the papers are in very good hands.

Station Arts Salt-Water Moon

July 3rd, 2013 § 0 comments permalink

Several Saskatchewan friends and family members are looking forward to seeing Salt-Water Moon at the Station Arts Theatre in Rosthern, which opens on July 5th and runs for most the month. I'm very sorry that Mary and I won't be able to see this production. Please go if you can -- it's going to be terrific! I've been corresponding with the director, Johnna Wright, and am pleased to be able to tell you a bit about the show.

Salt-Water Moon director Johnna Wright accepts the Jessie Award for Best Director, Vancouver, June 2013

By the way, just last week, Johnna won a "Jessie" award in Vancouver for her direction of The Merry Wives of Windsor for Bard on the Beach. The show led the nominations for the prestigious awards with seven nods, including best director, best actor, best supporting actor, best costumes, best set, and significant artistic achievement. Congratulations to everyone involved! Johnna has kindly given me permission to quote part of the email she sent me about some of the experiences she and cast and crew have had while rehearsing Salt-Water Moon: "...It's been an added bonus on this show that we're getting to learn more Newfoundland history. Everywhere we look in our research, we find the same observations about the bravery of the First Newfoundland Regiment at the Somme and elsewhere, and about the hardship suffered 'back home' from the enormous losses in the war. My own great-grandfather was in France during World War I, but I didn't think he had ever seen combat. Recently I was talking with my dad about Salt-Water Moon and he set me straight: turns out Dad's grandfather fought at the Battle of the Somme, as well as the second battle of Ypres, and probably for the same reason as many Newfoundlanders did. Somehow he managed to survive two years in the trenches. Our Jacob and Mary are a real-life married couple (Aaron Hursh and Caitlin Vancoughnett,) which has allowed for some shorthand in rehearsal. All those 'relationship dynamics' in the script really ring true and it's been a lot of fun to explore them with a couple who already know each others' foibles and ticklish spots. Of course they also know how to crack each other up, so we let them get that out of their system at the start of each day. We've also discovered a number of Newfoundland ex-pats in our midst. Our rehearsal hall is at Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon, where the Technical Director, Derek Butt, wandered by the other day while Caitlin and Aaron were working on their dialect. The good news is that he knew immediately they were doing Newfoundland." Johnna added that the cast and crew took a few minutes to observe Newfoundland's Memorial Day during their tech rehearsals in Rosthern. She also told me something that made me laugh -- the stage manager's name is "Jacob" -- but since that was getting confusing, he has been renamed "Sebastian" for the rehearsal period! I'm sending much love to everyone involved with this production, and wishes for broken legs all around on opening night.  

Thousand Islands Playhouse

May 3rd, 2013 § 0 comments permalink

In the years before he died, David was working on a suspense novel. The story was set in the fall in small-town Ontario, in a fictional place not unlike Gananoque. One October weekend David and I drove to Gananoque so that he could soak in the atmosphere and do a bit of research. We had fun walking around town and exploring...Somewhere I have a funny photo of him taking notes on the end of a pier! Of course, while we were in town we saw a show at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, an excellent production of The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey. I'm happy to say that the Thousand Islands Playhouse will be presenting Salt-Water Moon this fall, from October 11 to November 2nd. More information is on their website. I look forward to hearing more about their production in the fall, and I hope to get to Gananoque to see it. Here's the poster image from the show:    

Our Trip To Woodstock

February 26th, 2013 § 1 comment permalink

Jacob, Jen, and Jason Paquette with WODL awards

If you've seen the last couple of posts, you'll know that I've been corresponding with the wonderful Paquette family of Woodstock. They have a connection to David's work that began with a long-ago  production of Salt-Water Moon, and has continued through the years. This year their production of Soldier's Heart for Theatre Woodstock was a family affair: Mom Jennifer directed the show, which starred dad Jason as Esau and their son Jacob as the character he was named after. At Jennifer and Jason's invitation, Mary and I took the bus to Woodstock the day after Valentine's Day to meet the Paquette family and see the show. We arrived just before dinner, so Jennifer and Jason whisked us off to the Charles Dickens Pub for a great meal. The Charles Dickens happens to be owned by Ian Culley and his family -- and Ian was playing Bert in Soldier's Heart, so he stopped by to say hello, too. Over terrific fish and chips, Jennifer and Jason told us about their work with children's drama groups in Woodstock, and about their past productions of David's plays. Then it was time to head to the theatre. It was obvious even from the lobby displays that a great deal of thought and care had gone into this show. Old photographs, maps, artifacts, and replicas of train schedules and tickets from Newfoundland in 1924 took us back in time before we even got to our seats. Once in the theatre, we feasted our eyes on the set -- the absolutely solid-looking Bay Roberts railroad station. Every detail was just right -- from authentic props and costume pieces to the replicas of old Newfoundland stamps on the letters in the stationmaster's pouch. And then the lights went down, and we were truly transported! Theatre Woodstock's Soldier's Heart was beautiful. Jason Paquette gave a powerhouse performance in the key role of Esau, the father tormented by memories of the war. Jacob Paquette was a perfect Jacob Mercer, finding depth and shades of emotion in the son who wants to help his father heal. And Ian Culley shone as Bert, Esau's former comrade-in-arms in the Newfoundland Regiment. The performances were nuanced and deeply felt, and the story emerged so clearly. Members of the audience laughed, cried, and held their breath at moments! It was a real privilege to be there, and I thank the Paquettes, Ian Culley, and everyone involved in making this show so very special. The Western Ontario Drama League honoured the show with several well-deserved nominations and four awards! They are: Nominated for Best Actor - Jason Paquette Nominated for Best Supporting Actor - Ian Culley Nominated for Best Director - Jennifer Paquette Nominated for Best Costumes - Team led by Chris Matthews Winner for Best Performance 18 or under - Jacob Paquette Winner for Set Design - Frank Baasner and Jennifer Paquette Winner for Lighting Design - Rob Coles Winner for Best Visual Production - Soldier's Heart (this includes set design, set painting and decor, lighting, lighting operation, costumes and props) Congratulations to all! Here's a photo of us on that amazing set after the show.

Mary and I with stage manager, director, and cast of Soldier's Heart