“House Upon the Hill”

March 7th, 2024 § 0 comments permalink

A Regina composer, Stewart Wilkinson, has set one of David’s poems to music, and Wascana Voices recorded the choral composition. It’s a moving piece, and I know David would be honoured that Stewart used the poem in this way.

Click this link to go to the Cypress Choral Music site, where you can listen to the work or order copies of the sheet music.

David’s writing career actually began with poetry; his first publications were poems in Canadian Boy magazine in the 1950s. He loved reading poetry all his life. “House Upon the Hill” was written about a house he saw as he travelled through Nova Scotia one summer.

Charlie Northcote, 1949–2023

February 14th, 2023 § 0 comments permalink

This weekend I learned of the death of David’s longtime agent, Charlie Northcote of Core Literary, Inc. Charlie and David had been friends since the 70s, and Charlie had represented David’s work since the mid-90s. Charlie was unfailingly kind, able to find the bright side in almost any situation, and a tireless cheerleader for his clients. He was a good friend to Mary and me throughout the years, and we are both saddened by his passing. Charlie initiated and negotiated the Finborough Theatre production of Salt-Water Moon that closed at the end of January, so he and I had been talking fairly frequently lately…it’s a bit hard for me to realize that he is gone. Here is the Stratford Beacon-Herald obituary for Charlie. My love and sympathy to his family and many friends.

Charlie in conversation with Judi Pearl and Peter Hinton at the National Arts Centre opening of Salt-Water Moon, 2011.

Playwrights Guild of Canada

July 12th, 2016 § 0 comments permalink

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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.

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Alistair MacLeod

April 23rd, 2014 § 1 comment permalink

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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.

Archives at Memorial University

April 16th, 2014 § 0 comments permalink

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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.

Happy birthday, dear Anton…

January 30th, 2013 § 0 comments permalink

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…”

David with actors from Tarragon’s The Seagull
Chekhov with actors from the Moscow Art Theatre

David Freeman, 1945 – 2012

November 17th, 2012 § 0 comments permalink

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.

Michel Tremblay, David Freeman, and David French at the Chalmers Awards, 1970s.

Writing Home Comes Home To The Tarragon

September 11th, 2012 § 0 comments 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.

 

 

Tremblay, Freeman, and French

March 6th, 2012 § 0 comments permalink

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!

Michel Tremblay, David Freeman, David French

“A Heart That Never Hardens”

January 27th, 2012 § 0 comments permalink

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.