Tips from an emerging playwright

Shelter from the Storm

My interview with emerging playwright Peter Boychuk (pictured above) will appear in next week’s Georgia Straight (Thursday, May 31).

Peter’s new show, Shelter from the Storm goes up the next day (June 1) at the Firehall, where it runs in a Touchstone production until June 9. It’s about the relationships between a Vietnam draft dodger, his daughter, and a US soldier who has fled to Canada to avoid a second tour of duty in Iraq.

In the version of the interview that will appear in the Straight, Peter says all sorts of interesting things about Canada’s changing cultural values. We welcomed draft dodgers in the ’60s. So why is Canada—or at least our federal government—so hostile to war resisters now?

Peter also said some interesting things about what he’s learned about writing from his instructor  Joan Macleod at UVic, where Peter did his masters in playwriting. I want to share some of those thoughts here. Here we go.

Exploring character through monologues

Peter said: “I feel like almost everything I’ve learned about writing I’ve learned from Joan. I had an undergraduate degree [in playwriting, from Concordia] going in, but this was like a master class. I really feel like I learned the craft of writing from Joan: active dialogue, how to move a plot through character, voice. Voice was huge. Joan’s character voices are so authentic and so detailed. That’s her big thing: don’t start writing until you have an authentic voice for the character. She starts all of her plays with monologues. So I wrote a lot of monologues for this play. Some of them I ended up using; some of them just became lines.”

Getting the job done 

“She doesn’t pull a lot of punches,” Peter said of Joan.

And Peter seems to have learned a no-nonsense approach from his forthright mentor. “I try not to be precious with my writing,” he says.  “It’s work. And you do the work. I’ve written, at this point, probably a thousand pages of this play that you just have to say, “Gone! Gone! Okay! Cut that.” Find the one line that’s perfect. Joan’s big on compression. She came from a background as a poet, so her big thing is compress, compress, compress. Find the most active part of the line and just get rid of everything else. What’s pushing the story forward? What’s revealing character in the most interesting way?”

Words to live by, I say!

If you don’t know Joan Macleod’s work as a playwright, do yourself a favour and read some of it. The Shape of a Girl is masterful.


About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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