Today I want to give a shout-out to PGC, an organization that works for Canadian playwrights in very many ways. David was a long-time member of the organization (which began as "Playwrights Co-op" in the 70s, then became "Playwrights Union of Canada" in the 80s, and is now "Playwrights Guild of Canada".) In fact, in 2010, David was made a Lifetime Member, an honour that he cherished. The PGC website says that it "champions the role of the playwright in the creation of vibrant Canadian theatre," and that is certainly true. But PGC is also a great resource for anyone interested in theatre. If you're a director who's looking for a play to produce, an actor looking for audition monologues, or a teacher looking for plays to read with your class, PGC can help. You can search their database yourself, or ask a staff member to help you narrow your search. You can often order copies of plays right from PGC, and if you need to obtain the rights to produce a play, PGC can steer you in the right direction. If you'd like to have a playwright visit your organization, school, or library, PGC administers a Canada Council program that can help to make that happen. The Guild also maintains a calendar of events pertaining to Canadian plays and playwrights. And of course, if you're a writer, PGC has all sorts of services available, from advice about contracts to news about which theatres are looking for scripts; from workshops for writers to promotional events. PGC keeps writers in touch with one another, and with what's happening with Canadian plays and playwrights from coast to coast to coast and around the world. Check out the PGC website for more information about all of the organization's services.
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 Young's stage adaptation of that novel for Scirocco Drama. David 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.
Yesterday was Anton Chekhov's 153rd birthday. David loved Chekhov, and in fact the bedroom bookshelves are still full of biographies and various translations of the Russian master's plays, which David was using to write his last, unfinished play. David was very pleased to have been compared more than once to Chekhov, whose work he translated. David worked with a literal transcription provided by Russian scholar Donna Orwin to write the first Canadian translation of The Seagull, which opened in June of 1977 at the Tarragon Theatre. It's been praised as one of the best English-language versions of that play, and has gone on to be produced many more times. (I wish I'd been able to see the New York production that starred Laura Linney, Ethan Hawke, and several other notable actors.) David also translated one of Chekhov's one-acts, Swan Song, about an aging actor, for a Soulpepper production that starred William Webster. I will leave you with a short quotation from The Seagull, from the character of the young writer, Treplyov, who begins by comparing himself to the more established writer, Trigorin: "Trigorin's worked out his own method, it's easy for him...He describes the neck of a broken bottle glittering on a dam and the black shadow of a mill wheel -- and there's your moonlit night. But with me it's the shimmering light, the silent twinkling of the stars, the distant sounds of a piano dying on the still, fragrant air...It's excruciating. (Pause) Yes, more and more I've come to see it's not a matter of new or old forms. A man should write without thinking of form at all. He should write straight from the heart..."
This week playwright and poet David Freeman died. He was a writer of power and passion whose work opened our eyes to the world in a new way. Freeman's groundbreaking and highly theatrical play Creeps was the first play produced at the fledgling Tarragon Theatre in 1971. Creeps paints a frank and courageous portrait of a group of disabled people struggling to find meaning in a society that places little value on their lives. Since Freeman was born with cerebral palsy, he knew his subject. He also was fortunate to have placed his play in the hands of a great director (Bill Glassco) and a stellar cast that included a young John Candy. But it was the power of the writing that made Creeps such an important event in Canadian theatre history. David French used to tell the story of how he met Bill Glassco and began his long association with Bill and the Tarragon. It's a long story, but it starts with Creeps. David's sister-in-law, Marlene Aarons, had seen the play, and told David that he should go. David was reluctant, but Marlene insisted. David was so impressed with the show that he immediately knew that he wanted whoever had programmed and directed Creeps to direct his own work. He went to the box office and asked for the director's phone number. Which was given to him on the spot! David phoned Bill Glassco and made an appointment to see him. I found a photo of the two Davids along with Michel Tremblay in the closet a few months ago, and after David Freeman died, I posted it on Facebook. It was picked up by CBC and several other news outlets, but I will repost it below. I'd also like to share a beautiful poem that David Freeman sent to me after my David died in 2010. It serves as a tribute to them both. FOR DAVID FRENCH (1939-2010) The day seized In staccato rhythm Of typewriter keys As enraptured youth Captured truth. We could do no wrong On Tarragon Stage Where actors voiced Our rage. The world was our oyster: We were the pearls. The headiness made our heads Swirl. The center of attention, Hardly a day went by When our names Weren’t mentioned. Fame flees rapidly And doesn’t defy Gravity. What goes up Must come down Including Toasts of the town. The spotlight that warms Also burns. In theater, fortunes Turn On a dime. Time Goes fast. Fashions pass. But Works of passion Leave lasting Impressions. Dispersed Seeds to change The universe, However small, Are better than No seeds at all . We were young Turks Back then And now That you’re gone, Your words, your work Will live on.
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.
While going through some old photos last week, I found this wonderful shot of Michel Tremblay, David Freeman, and David French from the 1970s. I don't know the occasion or the photographer, but wanted to share it here. If you have more information, write and let us know the scoop!
Dorothy Ward, voice coach extraordinaire and a friend of the family, sent a beautiful email to Leslie about David. She has given us her permission to quote part of it here. It's particularly appropriate just now, as February 7, 2012 marks the bicentenary of Dickens' birth. A quotation fell out of a book I was reading this morning and suddenly I was aware of David's presence. Of course I had to share this. The quote is by Charles Dickens: "Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts." On our infamous car ride together he talked to me about how important it was to read great literature to learn about the craft of writing. I asked him who inspired him and he said without a moment's hesitation, "always I return to Charles Dickens - it's all there. He's the master." And so, on a cold, stark morning I am given this blessing. And I wanted to write of it. His legacy is in his plays, the characters he gave us through his own joy and pain - to teach, to reveal, to change us. In a half hour car ride he left an indelible mark on me.
Here are a few photos from Friday night's opening at the National Arts Centre. These feature the opening of the "Writing Home: David French" exhibit that took place just prior to the opening of Salt-Water Moon.
The photos from the celebration are by photographer Michel Dozois; the ones of the exhibit alone are by Yannick Beauvalet.