April 16th, 2014 § permalink
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.
October 20th, 2012 § permalink
Mary and I are at the CODE conference — the annual gathering of the Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators. We’re talking to a lot of teachers about David’s work and learning more about drama education in the province. Plus we had a great time on the epic waterslide at the Nottawasaga Inn here in Alliston!
October 2nd, 2012 § permalink
September 21st, 2012 § permalink
The Writing Home exhibit about David’s career closes on September 30, so if you haven’t seen it yet, now is a good time to plan your visit. Curated by Theatre Museum Canada and the National Arts Centre, the exhibit looks right at home in the upstairs rehearsal hall at the Tarragon. Here’s a link to the Tarragon website, which tells you times and days when the exhibit is open for viewing: http://www.tarragontheatre.com
September 11th, 2012 § permalink
The Tarragon, where most of David’s plays were originally produced, is hosting the marvellous National Arts Centre/Theatre Museum Canada display about his career, Writing Home. The exhibit will be open to the public for free from today until September 30, on each day that the Tarragon has a show.
Check the Tarragon website for details about dates and times: http://www.tarragontheatre.com/
If you’re in the Toronto area, please go see the exhibit. It’s a great tribute to David and his work.
March 23rd, 2012 § permalink
Last week, Mary and I were privileged to be invited to Windsor to see the University Players perform David’s adaptation of The Seagull. David was the Writer-in-Residence in the English Department at the University of Windsor in 2008-2009, and he loved it there. Right from the beginning, the Windsor-ites made him feel at home, and he was greatly impressed by the number of talented writers and actors that he met during his time in the city.
I was delighted to be invited to see The Seagull, but to be honest, I expected to see a high-quality, but typical, student production. As soon as the lights went down and the actors walked into the birch forest, I knew I’d been mistaken about that. I was completely blown away by the University Players show! It was an absolutely splendid production in every way. The ensemble of young people had taken Chekhov’s characters deep into their bones, and their performances shimmered. It was an astonishing night in the theatre, a superb interpretation of the work. The show was directed by J. Ed Araiza, a director, writer, and performer who is associated with New York City’s SITI Company. It starred twenty-five accomplished actors and four gifted musicians who wove a spell over the audience, and moved us to laughter and to tears.
Lionel Walsh, the head of the Drama Department, tells me that U Windsor has produced six David French plays over the years. At the party afterward, I talked to so many people who had been influenced by David’s work, and who had enjoyed getting to know him. The show itself was dedicated “to the memory of our dear friend David French.”
I’d like to thank everyone involved in the show for their beautiful work, and to thank all of David’s Windsor friends for everything they did for him. A particular thank you to Lionel for inviting Mary and me, and for taking such good care of us. The city holds a special place in our hearts, and the memory of The Seagull will remain with us always.
March 3rd, 2012 § permalink
About a week ago I received a notice from David’s agent Charlie Northcote that Cawthra Park Secondary School in Mississauga will be performing Leaving Home during the last week in April. I wrote to teacher Stacey Tiller to ask if she’d mind sharing a few details with me to post here as the show progresses. She wrote me a beautiful email about what David’s work — and his personal interest — has meant to their school. I will quote some of it here:
“I was delighted to hear from you as your late husband’s work has played an important part of our theatre education here at Cawthra for many, many years. In fact, two years ago, David came in to our school to talk to our Grade 12 students about playwriting. They were amazed and inspired. In our grade 10 year we study all of the Mercer plays for our Canadian Theatre unit. That collection of plays are my all time favourite plays and am thrilled to be able to direct Leaving Home.
Writing on the blog would be just fine! And as soon as we get some production photos, I’ll send them on to you along with our poster. If you need further information, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to oblige.
Thanks so much for your interest. My condolences on David’s passing. While I didn’t know him personally, his work will always have a place in my heart and at our school.”
David was often asked to do school visits, and sometimes it took up a whole day, as he always used public transportation. He usually came home energized and inspired by the students and their interest in his work. It’s great to know that students appreciated his making the effort to talk to them.
November 19th, 2011 § permalink
The National Arts Centre’s production of Salt-Water Moon has had uniformly wonderful reviews in the press. I posted links to several of them on David’s Facebook fan page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/David-French-Playwright-1939-2010/110950725649498 (Please “Like” this page if you’re not already a fan.)
Yesterday Sean Fitzgerald posted some reviews by Ottawa high school students on the NAC blog. Some of the reviews are raves, some not so much! But because the characters of Jacob and Mary are teenagers in Salt-Water Moon, it’s interesting to hear what 21st century teens have to say about those two young people of 1926.
October 26th, 2012 was the NAC’s student matinee of Salt-Water Moon. In the audience that day was Nadine Dawson and her students from Gloucester High School. The next day Karen Gilodo, NAC English Theatre Education and Outreach Coordinator, visited their classroom for a discussion on writing play reviews. She was very impressed by the students’ observations of the show and asked if we could share some of them for the NAC Blog.
Here are some quotes from their play reviews.
“The play is easily a play that almost anyone could like, it is full of humour that is easily understandable and emotion that is expressed so well you feel as if what you are watching is a real situation.” – Jake.
“…Max-Otto Fauteux the set designer, created an almost whimsical looking porch, with different dimensions and levels which created more visual interest not just as a background but also with Mac and Gauthier-Frankel’s performance…Salt-Water Moon has been played across Canada and around the world since 1984 but I definitely believe that the NAC was able to put their own stamp on this classic Canadian play.” – Emily
“Salt-Water Moon portrayed a profound sense of love and the beauty of it. Using technical elements to refine artistic interpretations and having been carefully directed by the elegant hands of Micheline Chevrier, the play has resulted into a spectacle. Using only two actors, David French conveyed all emotions one would feel during such circumstance. In conclusion the play is a worthwhile teaching of compassion, the importance of memories and the everlasting bind love can emit, and is without a doubt a worthwhile expenditure of time and money.” – Tanvir
“As far as my review of the play goes, Salt-Water Moon combined both humour and charm fairly well in under a two-hour time span and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of romantic comedy. This play targets both the issues of today and the issues of tomorrow very well in my opinion. Once again, I was engaged in the dilemmas of both Mary and Jacob and by the end of the play I had learned a lot about both Jacob and Mary’s relationship with one another. I was surprisingly satisfied.” – Taras.
“Overall, this was quite a fine production that I will rate eight stars as this heartwarming play appeals to all ages and its humour leaves you satisfied.” – Zaineb
“Jamie and Holly made a excellent performance considering they were the only two actors onstage. They managed to express their roles and make us laugh at the same time.” – Jonathan
“The October 26th Salt-Water Moon play at the NAC was a special play for Gloucester High School to attend. The general public was accompanied by other high schools from Ottawa. What I would like to know is if the public enjoyed our company or not?” – Jack
“The only exciting thing that happens in the play is when the characters argue. To summarize the play in simpler terms, Jacob and Mary argue for two hours and then they make up. The play ends very abruptly.” – David
“In this play Mary Snow was deeply hurt by Jacob’s abrupt departure, so Jacob tries to win her heart (impressing her)…Many things I liked about the play including the setting, the lighting, the sound, characters, direction, costumes.” – Amna
“…The performers did a great job. I respect them for the emotion they put into the performance. I don’t know how Newfoundland was in 1926 bit I think they nailed it. I give this a 3.5/5.” – Damien
“I won’t reveal much about the plot, but I will say that Salt-Water Moon truly is a romantic comedy, with Mary providing the romantic aspect and Jacob the comedic. The story is about young love, which almost all of us can relate to, and will leave some in tears from both the hilarity and the heart.” – Devan
“…Jacob leaves and it is a very sad moment in the play…or so I thought. Mary starts to cry and yell out “Jacob!!!” and me and a lot of my other classmates thought this was funny even though it was probably meant to be serious. That’s why I think this play is more directed toward an older age group 20+, unless you like dramatic/romantic plays that keep you on edge for the whole time. In total though, I liked the play and I would give it a 7/10.” – Nick
“I found the play rather entertaining. It only had two people in it, a man and woman. They were both terrific. The man had an air about him as if he were king of the land. The woman however acted as if she thought nothing of him for most of the play. At the end she makes him leave but then calls him back. I liked this about the play since if it ended with him leaving there would have been no point to the story considering the whole play was based on him trying to get her back.” – Noah
“To me, the play had many similarities to The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. What I would have suggested to the actors if I had the chance; I would have told them to be less outgoing. I thought their acting was rather melodramatic, so if they toned it down, it would’ve passed off as believable. However I was thoroughly impressed with the acting when Mary screamed out Jacob’s name in desperation.” – Roya.
[Karen Gilodo is Education and Outreach Coordinator for English Theatre at the National Arts Centre – Ed.]
September 4th, 2011 § permalink
The University of Windsor Players will be presenting David’s translation of Chekhov’s The Seagull March 1 -4 and March 7 – 11, 2012.
University of Windsor was of course where David spent a happy year as Writer-in-Residence. He used to take the train early on Monday mornings and return late on Tuesday nights. While in Windsor he spoke to dozens of students and community members about their writing projects, and had fun getting to know the faculty — especially Karl Jirgens of the English Department and Lionel Walsh (a fellow Newfoundlander) from the Drama Department. David also enjoyed teasing Alastair MacLeod, who had the office next door.
Click here to connect to the University Players Page for further information. Here’s their beautiful poster for the show:
University of Windsor Players present David's translation of The Seagull
March 17th, 2011 § permalink
Every year for several years, I coordinated a course for the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Creative Writing Department. It was really named “Dramatic Writing I,” but we used to call it “The All-Star Playwriting Class,” because I invited a different guest each week to talk about an aspect of playwriting. It was fun for the students to meet different playwrights and find out how each approached his or her work, and it was great fun for me, too. Perhaps the main lesson we all took away is that there are many ways to write plays, and one has to carve out one’s own particular way.
David, of course, was always one of the guests, sometimes on his own, and sometimes with Hrant Alianak. (The two of them had worked out an entertaining lecture that encompassed a bit of Canadian theatre history, a few hilarious theatre stories, and some how-to instructions, peppered with readings from their plays.) David got awfully nervous about doing those sort of things, but he was really very good at it.
The other day I was getting ready to go to the class I now teach when I found some notes I took one night when David was speaking at the All-Star course. I will quote some of them here, as I think the things he had to say are incredibly clear and helpful.
Some advice from David French:
You are a playwright. You build a play. It’s a craft. Like an iceberg, most of the play (the structure) is invisible.
A play is about a protagonist (only one) who wants something badly, and wants it soon. The climax of the play is when the protagonist either gets or doesn’t get what he wants. The other characters in the play either help or hinder the protagonist in his quest. The more conflict, the better. People are either literally or metaphorically fighting for their lives. The antagonist(s) should have as much at stake as the protagonist.
A play begins long before the curtain rises. The play should open with a catalyst to trigger action. Often a protagonist is at a turning point in his life; he has just made or makes a decision.
A play, like a shark, must move forward, or die.
Characters should not talk about what they feel. This is expressed through what they want and how they go about getting it. Always dramatize rather than tell. Don’t tell us that the character is jealous; show him climbing a tree to spy on his girlfriend.
Plot has to arise organically from character.
When characters exit or enter a scene, they must have a legitimate reason for doing so. In fact, make sure each character has a legitimate reason for being in the play in the first place.
Don’t overwrite — the audience is ahead of you. They’re smarter than you are; they already know.
Every good play has suspense — what will happen next?
Don’t be afraid to cut scenes or dialogue if they don’t move the action ahead.
Be careful not to write lines that are impossible for actors to say.
David often used to talk, too, about how writing was really rewriting. He worked hard to get each scene right, each line, each word. He was also adamant about owning the play you wrote — that you can listen to good advice from directors or actors, but that ultimately, it is your name that’s on the play, and you must be true to your own vision.
David was always true to his.