A playwriting hothouse that germinated new works in Red Deer and primed local playwrights for success in other parts Canada will not survive into the new year.
After a decade of running Scripts at Work, its founders Tanya Ryga and Lynda Adams, decided not to continue offering its mentoring and workshopping opportunities for new playwrights in 2015.
It was a hard decision, but the right one, said Ryga. She noted funding in the form of government and community grants, had been harder to secure for SAW in recent years. The founders also felt it was time for new people to pick up the idea and start their own playwright mentoring program.
“It was an incredible decade and we’re so proud of the work (that came out of SAW) and the writers that are out there,” said Ryga. “But we’re confident that something else will emerge . . . If the community sees a need, it will make it happen.”
Scripts at Work got off the ground in 2004 after Ryga and Adams, instructors at Red Deer College’s Theatre Studies program, noticed many of their students were interested in writing plays, but needed help getting started.
The instructors developed a community program to mentor the creation of new plays by helping build relationships between local playwrights and professional writers, directors, actors — and eventually audiences at public script readings.
SAW sought the submission of original scripts from up-and-coming and more experienced Central Alberta writers. The best were selected for mentoring by dramaturges from Alberta and B.C. The scripts were further honed through workshops, playwriting circles and readings.
Award-winning, nationally recognized playwrights Conni Massing, Mieko Ouchi, and Daniel Libman, were among those who offered their expertise.
Some of the local writers who benefitted were:
l Rimbey native and RDC alum Thomas Andrew McKechnie, who later landed a writing internship at Toronto renowned Soulpepper Theatre. He runs a theatre company called Love and Time Machines and has written The Hangoverture, Better Worlds, Major Tom’s Last Night on Earth and other plays.
l Red Deer resident Andrew Kooman, whose play She Has A Name about sex slavery, was developed through SAW and later produced by Calgary’s Burnt Thicket Theatre. It toured across Canada and was staged in California. Kooman’s new work We Are The Body, about a prisoner of conscience in Romania, will premiere in Calgary, Red Deer and Saskatoon next spring.
l Former Red Deer resident Steve Neufeld, whose play Tumani won a SAW page-to-stage competition and was later turned into a film. Neufeld left his job as a high school English teacher to study for a Masters degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. He has since written two award-winning plays, several short stories, and screenplays. His latest screenplay is in development with River Valley Films. Neufeld is also now offering his services as dramaturge.
l Former Red Deer College film and theatre student Andy Garland, who works in Vancouver as a poet, director and screenwriter. His play A Year Off won the special merit prize at the Canadian National Playwriting Competition. A other play, Sea of Green, won the 2009 Uprising National Playwriting Competition. Garland worked at Citadel Theatre’s playwright’s unit in Edmonton, and now directs the web series Post Mortem.
l Local playwrights Blaine Newton and Leslie Greentree, who co-wrote their first play together with help from SAW. Oral Fixations was staged last fall by Ignition Theatre in Red Deer.
Greentree said she and Newton received a “tremendous” help from the program. After Oral Fixations won the 2012 SAW playwriting contest, writer/dramaturge Conni Massing and director Amy DeFelice of Edmonton were brought in to help get the script to a staged reading.
Greentree added, “We are very grateful to Tanya, Lynda and SAW.” Although she has lately returned to her novel and short-story writing, she believes some of the things she learned from the program are transferable. “I pay closer attention to the visuals in any piece of writing.”
Ryga is pleased that SAW is leaving a local legacy, of sorts, through the Original Romp. The cabaret of original plays, film, improvisation, comedy, poetry and rap that will be staged in March by RDC theatre students actually started out a decade ago as a SAW fundraiser, but continues under the management of the Student Theatre Society.
SAW will also live on through the playwrights who benefitted from the program and their works. “You can’t take that back,” said Ryga.