Archive for Playwriting Posts

published in Creativity, Death, Habits, Life After Loss, Playwriting, Procrastination, Saviour Play, Souls by Maryanne | October 4, 2017 | 4 Comments

Perilous Playwriting – Let’s Air Some Dirty Laundry, Shall We?



“Be truthful, one would say, and the result is bound to be amazingly interesting.”

― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Or…rather confusing for all concerned.

Picture, if you will, a boardroom table…

Six strangers are sitting around said table: a playwright, a dramaturg and four actors. All are gathered to read aloud a play script.

What, perhaps you wonder, might this be experience be like – for the (squirming) playwright?

Imagine a big pile of dirty laundry (belonging to the playwright) being dumped on the table and then the next eight hours are spent watching a small but determined group of strangers systematically sift through (and comment on) each and every piece of one’s (not only dirty but decidedly un-sexy) undergarments.

A tad uncomfortable?

Oh, you betcha.

For that playwright was me. The script was Saviour. And the “dirty laundry” was not just my chaotic thoughts and heartbreaking emotions experienced during the darkest days of my life, but also some marital laundry as well, such as two spectacular (but significant to the story) arguments that John and I had about my habit of procrastinating on my writing and my refusal to say no to unreasonable demands placed on my time.

And those were just a few of the facts (and the human response to those facts) connected to the real-life story. Add in a complicated plot, a completely imagined world (what the soul experiences as the body dies as the result of a brain-injury), and four well-developed but overly chatty characters still trying to sort it all out themselves, and let’s just say the script was in need of…some slashing ☹

Here’s a snapshot of Saviour:

Can one soul save another? A young couple, Sam and Adri, have an argument about Adri’s procrastination as a writer and belief in Virginia Woolf’s idea that in order to write well, women need a secure income.

Sam, a police officer, goes to work that night, falls through a roof and hits his head, only to discover it is Virginia Woolf who will take him to the moment of his brain-death. Meanwhile, Sam’s Sergeant guides Adri through the early days of grief – and tells her she will receive Sam’s wage for the rest of her life.

Saviour is about the need to live and die in peace – and just how difficult that can be to achieve. The play promises the audience a fast-paced, imaginative and compelling theatrical journey that has strong links to real-life events.

Though a love story, Saviour challenges the notion of romantic love and suggests instead the staying power of tough love.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.”

– Virginia Woolf

Although I haven’t yet personally experienced this as a playwright, I suspect a workshopping of one’s entirely fictional play would be uncomfortable. After all, regardless of the story’s roots, whatever we create is an expression of our imagination. It’s our story, our creation…our baby under the knife.

But add in the fact that it is based on personal events and boy oh boy, it can get really uncomfortable.

A workshopping of one’s play can be a very useful exercise (it certainly has been for me) but it is not for the faint of heart. You pretty much have to leave your ego at the door, put on your big-girl panties, shut up and listen.

The problem, of course, is that we can’t really leave our ego at the door. Like it or not, it goes where we do. The solution to this, I have found, is to take notes. Lots of notes. And remind myself, more than once, that I have chosen to be experience this because I am HERE TO LEARN.

In other words, my big-girl panties had to be very big…granny-panties, in fact.

There are times, of course, when the playwright does get to speak…like when one of the actors asked me a question about a character’s journey that I thought was blatantly clear. But guess what: if someone has to ask the question, it obviously isn’t clear – especially if everyone else around the table has the same question.

A good question – and there were plenty of them – is pure gold in terms of figuring out how best to move forward with the next draft.

I learned an awful lot in that eight-hour workshop, both about the Saviour play and playwriting itself.

Which brings me to my next point: I choose very wisely WHO I let sort through my dirty laundry.

I have been working with the Alberta Playwrights’ Network on the Saviour script for nearly a decade. Trevor Rueger, the APN’s executive director (and the dramaturg at the table), has earned my trust over the years. Trevor knows what he’s doing. I know he’s not only going to get the right actors to the table, he’s also going to make sure the workshop is of benefit to me. The learning curve for playwriting is steep…I need constructive criticism, honest feedback and useful guidance on that seemingly endless upward climb.

Yet at the end of the day, it is my play and deep down, I KNOW which nuggets of advice to run with – and which ones to leave on the table.

And how do I know? Because of the resounding “click” I feel in my soul when someone says something I needed to hear…like another little piece of the puzzle was just put into place. And since this particular play is about the journey of four different but interconnected souls – mine being one of those – this makes sense.

That the workshop was on the actual 17th anniversary of John’s death was deliberate. I knew magic would happen. And it did. It just wasn’t the fun, Disneyland kind of magic.

It was better.

Here’s what happened:

After an intense session of brainstorming in the afternoon, Trevor called for a break. But the actor who read the part of Sam (the character based on John) and I continued chatting. Or rather, he continued chatting. I scribbled in my notebook what he had to say.

Prior to the break, we’d all been discussing WHAT it would look like for Sam to achieve peace. Sam’s goal – what he had to achieve by the end of the play (which is the moment of his brain-death) – is to be at peace with his sudden death at the age of 32. But the group had been brainstorming about what specific outcome had to happen so that Sam could be “at peace” when he died.

Here’s what the actor who played Sam said to me on break:

“I think what would give Sam the most peace is seeing that Adri is okay…and by that I mean she is taking her writing seriously and that she does, at long last, believe in herself. He needs to see that she has become empowered by him, and his sudden death, to do what she needs to do, which is write. And when he sees that she is empowered and does, finally, begin to write three months after his death, he is able to die in peace.”

I nodded and continuing scribbling like a madwoman as this total stranger summed up Sam’s journey as it relates to Adri – and therefore, of course, John’s journey as it relates to me.

And the actor had more to say.

“Oh, and I think,” he added, “that’s what the connection to Jesus as Saviour is about, too. It was likely not the intent for Jesus to come back and single-handedly save humanity with a magic sweep of his hand. Rather, his job was to be a role model to empower people to save themselves and each other.”

So I HAD hit the mark!

I just need to make the story less convoluted. Easier said than done…but certainly do-able.

After the workshop, I returned to John’s sister place, where I was staying, and collapsed on their couch…overwhelmed and exhausted. I stayed there, staring at the ceiling and processing the day – until a steak dinner got me back on my feet.

The next morning, I woke up, dusted off my bruised ego and jotted down a summary of the key insights. Thanks to the workshop, I now have a clear idea of what needs fixing, why…and how to fix it. My imagination will take care of the rest 😊

You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes and failures. 

– Elizabeth GilbertBig Magic

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life



 It’s Never Too Late to Revise – Part 2


Lynne, MA & Theresa on boardwalk

Theresa, Lynne & MA on boardwalk, Sidney, BC

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

As I mentioned at the end of last Wednesday’s blog, It’s Never Too Late to Revise, after Lynne and I had finished with The Neighbours play script, Theresa arrived and the 3 of us began working on The Widows play script.

The Widows was actually staged as a play – for one performance only – back in 2008 in Abbotsford, BC. It was a bit of a trial run and turned out to be a phenomenal learning experience for me, the playwright.

Lynne directed that performance and Theresa was one of the actresses in it, so having the two of them read the most recent version of the script out loud for me last November was extremely helpful. But it wouldn’t have been if I had much of an ego left.

I wish I could say that after listening to Theresa and Lynne read The Widows, I clapped my hands in delight and said, “Right then, it’s good to go! Let’s get this baby entered into a Fringe Festival.”


Unfortunately, my annoyingly candid and intuitive response was: “That was actually kinda boring – and I’m allowed to say that because I wrote it…about twenty times now.” 


Now don’t get me wrong: the story itself isn’t boring. The potential for The Widows to be an excellent play is there: the characters are interesting (they’re based on me and my incredible friend, Jackie!) and the situation the characters find themselves in (stuck in a hotel room while traveling through India) is perfect.

What is missing is action in the present – happening on stage – versus the two characters simply talking about past events, even though those past events are certainly dramatic (at 24, Jackie lost her husband to a drunk driver when their daughter was 2 months old; my husband died as the result of a preventable fall at unsafe workplace when we were both 32).

Theoretically, I knew this was a problem during the many rewrites done in the comfort of my own head. But it wasn’t until I heard the play read out loud for me – and the subsequent brainstorming with Theresa and Lynne about possible solutions – that I was finally able to grasp what needed to be fixed…and how.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

– Joseph Campbell

For just as it is never too late to revise, in fiction or in life, so too is it important to be able to let go of the life – or the play – we have planned, so as to be able to live – or write – the one that is waiting for us.

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”

– Henry Ford

And so, back to the drawing board I went with The Widows. But first, after all that hard work of collaborating, Lynne, Theresa and I headed to the local pub on the Saturday night to blow off a little steam…let our hair done, if you will.

I did both 🙁 and after far too much wine and not nearly enough dancing, I spent the next day pretty much passed out on my couch – leaving my houseguests to entertain themselves. In other words, there was no creative collaboration on Sunday; just a great deal of sleep and water.

This rewriting-with-the-door-open business is proving to be an awful lot of work – and, of course, highly effective.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of theJohn Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive Maryanne’s weekly blog, please sign up here


It’s Never Too Late to Revise – Lessons in Creative Collaboration


Lynne & MA goofing around on boardwalk

MA & Lynne goofing around on boardwalk, Sidney, BC

 “It’s never too late – in fiction or in life – to revise.”

– Nancy Thayer

What do you get when you cross a writing retreat with a play work-shopping session and a girl’s weekend?

I suppose it depends on the people involved – but in our case, we had a heck of a lot of fun, consumed vast quantities of food (and wine…at least, one of us did – more on that incident a little later) and yes, even made some significant headway on two plays.

I also learned (again) about the benefits of playing nicely in the sandbox with others when it comes to collaborating on a creative project. For this, I must confess, is not an area I have extensive experience in (creative collaboration or sandboxes). When it comes to writing, I prefer solitude in my sandbox – particularly during the early phases of a writing project.

As I mentioned in the November 2014 issue of The Watering Hole e-zine (Boundaries Edition), a friend and colleague of mine, Lynne Karey-McKenna, came to my place last fall for a week of work-shopping two of my play scripts, The Neighbours and The Widows. Another friend, Theresa Chevalier joined us a few days later.

We had a hoot!

The week began with Lynne heading out on an extensive grocery-shopping expedition. My pantry was loaded – a good thing because all that creative brainstorming makes a gal pretty hungry.

Our first work-task was to tackle The Neighbours, which will be a one-woman play. The script itself was in the very early stages – a few of the beginning scenes had been written but most of it was just a detailed outline.

Now, as you may have heard (I have told anyone who would listen – usually more than once), in real life, I do indeed have very strange and annoying neighbours. At least, they irritated the heck out of me for the first 3 years I lived in my home – and then, strangely enough, when I actually sat down and started writing the outline for the play script, The Neighbours, things next door improved dramatically.

For a taste of the specifics of my neighbours’ antics, you can check out the blog, Sometimes Situations Have to Go Springer. I obviously hadn’t yet read the book, Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life – nor met Zopa the Magic Monk & Meditation Master 🙂

At any rate, enough weird and wacky events had happened in the noisy little bungalow next door that I was finally motivated to write the details down, if for no other reason than to try and figure out what to do about the situation: sell my home and move, try and change their behaviour (hah!) or learn to accept what was going on and not dwell on the negative.

Now, Lynne is an actress and a director. She is also a writer but she has decades of experience in acting and directing, so her skill set is very different to mine. And this, I realize, is where collaboration can become a vital part of the creative process. Although it was important that our personalities worked well together (and they did – boy, did we have some laughs!), it was our different perspectives that really got the creative ideas flowing.

Lynne & MA in Fish on Fifth sign

MA & Lynne at Fish on Fifth, Sidney, BC

But creativity, I’m learning, is a very subjective term; it means different things to different people. As a writer who mostly specializes in creative non-fiction i.e. writing about real-life events, I may write creatively but the bulk of my work is based on reality. Fiction has never been my strong suite – I use it when I have to.

Lynne, on the other hand, has a vivid imagination that loves to explore all sorts of new and exciting possibilities. To her, reality can be an excellent starting point for a fantastic fictional story. So when it came to The Neighbours, she encouraged me to let my imagination soar.

This, however, is easier said than done. For when it comes to writing about real-life events, I am like a dog with a bone about holding on to what really happened – and what I learned from it all.

And in all fairness, prior to our brainstorming session, I don’t think Lynne was completely aware of the extent of the real-life situation next door – nor the serendipitous chain of events that led me to buying this particular home in Sidney by the Sea of all places…and certainly not what happened the day I moved in.

But the more Lynne heard about the facts, the more open she was to letting me work them into the script versus using them solely as a jumping-off point for a completely fictional play.

So that’s exactly what we did. And what an incredible process – for both of us. I would write a scene or two and then Lynne would act it out for me, so I could hear what it looked and sounded like. It was so helpful to be able to see and hear my dialogue and stage directions come to life – and then tweak accordingly. And interestingly, the more relaxed I became with the process of working with someone I trusted, the less obsessed I was about sticking to the facts.

So much so, that I nearly abandoned the pumpkin incident.

“What’s this about a pumpkin on the neighbours’ door step?” Lynne asked me one morning over coffee. She’d been reading the outline again.

“Oh that,” I said, waving my hand dismissively, “It’s no big deal. I was just a bit psycho about the carved pumpkin that was still on their doorstep in December.”

She raised her eyebrows. “And?”

“And it drove me crazy!” I said. “Who the hell leaves a rotting pumpkin on their doorstep six weeks after Halloween?”

“So what did you do?” she asked.

“I ran over there one day, grabbed it off their step and then raced back home and put it in my compost bin.”

“That,” she said with a smile, “is awesome.”


“Because it’s crazy stuff like that,” she said, “that really sheds lights on who the character is.”

And that character, of course, is based on me. This is when I realized that Lynne knew exactly what she was doing. As a director, she was working with me, the playwright. As an actress, she was observing firsthand the character’s personality and motivations…trying to figure out what made her tick. Because Lynne knew that once we figured out what made the character tick, we’d be able to figure out where the story goes – and how it ends.

But of course, it was also me and my life we were brainstorming, so the experience wasn’t just an exercise in creative collaboration; it was also a therapy session of sorts that helped me get to the bottom of what really pissed me off about the whole neighbour situation. So perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that Lynne also has years of experience as a counselor.

How’s that for the universe sending me the perfect person to help me write The Neighbours?

One of the things I love the most about writing is that the process helps me understand whatever is I’m experiencing. For although we cannot change the past, if we take the time to learn from it, then perhaps with a little help from our friends, it never is too late to revise – and tweak accordingly as we move forward in the story of our lives?

At any rate, that’s where I was at when the next house guest, Theresa, arrived to work with Lynne and I on The Widows play. And things just kept getting more and more interesting.

To be continued…please see It’s Never Too Late to Revise – Part 2.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive Maryanne’s weekly blog, please sign up here