Culture & Conversation

Local Playwrights Go Public

Montreal’s been a sad place to be a playwright. The two major theatres were, and some say still are, much too interested in doing second-hand U.S. and U.K. productions, and neglecting both Canadian work and local playwrights. However, there has been a sea change with Centaur’s production of Bated Breath, and In Piazza San Domenico, while the Segal is up for a play by Kent Stetson, winner of the Governor General’s award and Order of Canada. Not a huge risk, but a modest beginning.

Most discouraging has been the ongoing policy of the Playwrights Workshop to focus on public readings of playwrights not from here, and so well established they have a plethora of other venues to be developed and read in across the country. It does enhance the grantability of Playwrights to expose these playwrights because the plays are usually already contracted to open – usually elsewhere. Production in Montreal is much more unlikely. This is why public readings are enormously important to this community. This is not to say that Playwrights Workshop is not serving the community with dramaturgy and writers units and in house readings, which are truly necessary to the development of any script, and they do a splendid job.

One of the artistic directors of a major venue here has told many playwrights that they do not read plays. Being a mischief maker by nature, I organized a cast and went to the A.D.’s office where we merrily read the entire play right then and there. However, what I like to call Guerrilla Play Reading is not for everyone.

Fortunately, there are now two play reading series and they are happening this very weekend. Tableau d’hôte Theatre is in the midst of their new annual event while Infinithéâtre has a series running through tomorrow at the Bain St. Michel.

If you generally enjoy the theatre and have never been to a reading, this is a fantastic opportunity and one of the best shows in town. The actors are professional, the readings will be entertaining and will astonish, and most of all you will be doing the playwright a service by attending.

One of those benefitting from this sea change is Alexandria Haber, winner of this year’s Pam Dunn award for Life Here After, which will be read this evening at the Bain St. Michel as part of Infinithéâtre’s Pipeline series.

At lunch recently she revealed that she started as an actor and then got married and pregnant. This amazing mother of four started writing during her second pregnancy and says that she was inspired to pursue it further while participating in a playwrights’ unit at the Playwrights Workshop, and it was in a recent unit that she wrote the play that will be read tonight.

She has resumed her acting career lately, but says she chose to write because it gave her less of a sense of rejection and offered more control over what the project will be. She is inspired by her contemporaries in this community, and she is fond of playwrights such Caryl Churchill, Sam Sheppard, and Harold Pinter, and Canadians Judith Thompson and Coleen Wagner, whose Down from Heaven was recently produced here.

Like her colleagues in Montreal, Haber attends French theatre. This gives her plays a certain extra dimension. What drives her is the idea that theatre is important. She is particularly pleased when she can portray characters who affect the audience and reflect their lives. “Theatre allows us to explore the stories behind events,” she says.

Haber says that she might have been produced more often in a different city but it is the great community here that makes Montreal special. The public reading at Infinithéâtre will be her first. A mature writer will welcome comments and pick and choose the ones which will enhance the process.

“My main theme is women and their place in the world their relationships and struggles and how they fit in a changing world,” she says. “In a world where woman can technically have it all, but at what price, how do they cope?”

Tableau d’hôte Theatre presents the 1st annual New Canadian Works Series, showcasing original works from emerging and published writers. Tonight, at 7 pm, Kill Zone, a love story by Wanda Graham; tomorrow, at 8 pm, Kayak by Jordan Hall. Venue: ASM Performing Arts, 1216 Stanley, suite 300. Tickets: Or check out their site.

Tonight at Infinithéâtre’s series of free public readings, at the Bain St-Michel (5300, rue St-Dominique), Alexandria Haber’s Life Here After, winner of the second annual Pam Dunn Write-On-Q playwriting contest. Tomorrow, Nick Carpenter’s The Return of Corporal Mazenet is featured.

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