Archives for December 2011

Knockout Moments of 2011

This year, all of the Arts reviewers at the Straight picked two highlights from the past year. You can find all of them, including mine, at

Waiting … for a Happy New Year

Waiting for Godot divides theatregoers into two camps; you either love it or hate it.

The non-fans complain that it’s intimidating and/or boring. But, well produced, the play can be extremely funny—as well as harrowing. And good performers bring out the humanity, as well as the humour, in the text, making it emotionally accessible.

Blackbird Theatre’s production of Godot, which runs at the Cultch from December 29 to January 21, features Anthony F. Ingram and Simon Webb as Vladimir and Estragon, so we may be in luck.

Check out my feature interview with these two actors here:

The Meaning of Mentor, Crisis, and Climax


In the three-act structure, there’s a difference between a mentor and a Mentor. Friends, allies, and mentors might help your hero out at any point on her journey, but the capital M Mentor serves a specific function: the Mentor helps your protagonist to overcome the fear that made her refuse the Call to Adventure; the Mentor is the figure who nudges your hero into Crossing the First Threshold.

Occasionally, an author will submit an outline to me that has the Mentor appearing in Act 2 or Act 3, but, by definition, the Mentor is an Act 1 figure, a character who helps the hero to make the leap into Act 2.

I find that writers also get confused sometimes about the Crisis and the Climax. To be clear: the Climax falls hard on the heels of the Crisis. In the Crisis, the hero confronts her greatest challenge. In the Climax, she either succeeds or fails in rising to that challenge. The Climax is the outcome of the Crisis.

Make sense? If not, feel free to get in touch.

Carousel’s Wizard Is Wizard






Carousel Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz is probably the best theatrical holiday entertainment currently playing in Vancouver.

Under Carole Higgins’s direction, the cast is confidently eccentric. I especially enjoyed Mike Stack’s Tin Man, Josué Laboucaine’s Cowardly Lion, and Meghan Anderssen’s Wicked Witch of the West.

Barbara Clayden’s costumes are superb.

Tickets will be hard to get—this show is setting records for Carousel—but do yourself a favour and make the effort.

Dragon Slayers: Building Story and Building Character

Sometimes writers make the mistake of thinking that, to tell a story, all you have to do is answer the question, “What happens next?”

It’s not that simple.

As I see it, the question is more like, “What does the protagonist do next in order to reach her (or his) goal?”

It’s also important to remember that, as the protagonist, strives to reach her goal, she’s learning as she’s going. Her understanding of her goal is deepening.

Let’s take a look at this through the lens of the three-act structure. At the beginning of Act 2, she sets off in search of what she wants. In the Mid-Act Revelation, something happens that deepens her understanding of her goal. And, at the end of Act 2, there’s a major shift; the protagonist goes from pursuing what she wants to pursuing what she needs. Growing self-knowledge is implicit in all of this.

So, from this perspective, storytelling is about an ever-deepening revelation of character.

And in the Crisis and Climax in Act 3, the protagonist faces her greatest challenge. This challenge may well be physical, but it must also be psychological, a test of character. In other words, it’s not enough for the hero to simply slay the dragon. If your hero is capable of dragon-slaying from the beginning of your tale, your tale won’t be very exciting. But if your hero moves from being terrified of dragons to being capable of slaying the beasts—if your hero moves from timidity to courage—then you’ve got a story!

And a great time to set up your hero’s starting point is in the Refusal of the Call. If your hero refuses the call because she’s too afraid of dragons, then she’s got somewhere to go. And there will be lots of tension in your story because its outcome will always be in question.

Make sense? If not, feel free to drop me an email via the link on this website. I’m always happy to answer questions.

Go Crackers for Christmas

I’ve been posting my weekly theatre picks on Monday, but this week’s pick, Hotel Bethlehem, will have finished its Vancouver run by then, so I’m jumping the gun a bit.
Drew McCreadie’s script is completely wacky. Not all of it works, but, under Diane Brown’s direction, it goes by so quickly that’s not really a problem. And the show delivers more belly laughs per minute than anything else in town. For my full review, use this link:
Hotel Bethlehem runs at Studio 16 until December 10, then it moves to the Shadbolt in Burnaby December 14 to 18.

Act Out


When asked what advice I’d give to aspiring writers, I often say, “Take an acting class.” That’s because, in an acting class, you’ll find out what storytelling feels like from a character’s point of view, and you’ll get that feeling in your bones.

An actor knows that, in every scene, her character is trying to get something. She can’t get it right away, so she has to try different strategies to reach their goal.

When you’re structuring your core story, think from the point of view of your protagonist and fill in the blanks in this sentence: This is a story about ________,  who wants ________, but they can’t get it at first because_________,  so they __________.

For Hamlet, you might fill in the sentence like this: This is a story about Hamlet, who wants to avenge his father’s death, but he can’t at first because he gets caught in his own ambivalence, so he approaches the situation indirectly, challenging his mother, his murderous uncle, and the conventions of the court, without directly confronting them until the situation is out of control.

This exercise might sound simple, but, in my experience, it’s always challenging.

It’s also helpful, though, because it will keep  your story based in your protagonist’s goals. It’s not enough to simply ask, “What happens next?” In my view, it’s more interesting to ask, “What does my hero do next in order to reach her goal?”


Pleasure Principle: Pick of the Week

A wise young actor named Sasa Brown once told me that, if you’re not having fun onstage, you have no business being there.
Well, in Aaron Bushkowsky’s witty new play, After Jerusalem, actors Andrew McNee and Deborah Williams establish their right to be on any stage anywhere anytime. They’re having so much fun in this show that their pleasure is infectious, which is what makes After Jerusalem my pick of the week.
Check out my full review here:
I’ve got to say that I’m also looking forward to Carousel Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz. To read my pal Kathleen Oliver’s review, follow this handy link:

Ho Ho Homophobia

There’s nothing like a little homophobia to start off the holiday season.

On the surface, La Cage aux Folles looks like it’s promoting inclusivity, but my sense is that it is also ridicules homosexuality. The relationship between the central gay characters, Georges and Albin, is a grotesque reflection of heterosexual marriage. Even when I saw the French-Italian film in 1978, I thought: “What year is this? 1958?”  And, when Albin is taught to butch it up, a big part of the joke is that he’s effeminate.

I used to think that I was the only person in the world who reacted to this material so negatively, but I ran into a straight male actor the other night who had exactly the same response, bless him.

All of that said, Greg Armstrong-Moriss is terrific as Albin. The guy’s got a sweet, sweet voice and amazing technical control.

Check out the full online review here:

Smile! I defy you not to

Isn’t this just the best baby mug shot? The photo is by my pal Michael Edmondson, who also did the pics on this site.

Michael is a very nice guy and a terrific photographer, who specializes in weddings and kids. Do check out his work at

Lots of people have said how much they like the photos on this site. Thanks very much! And, hey, why not get some of your own?

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