Archives for June 2012

Critical shortage

I saw Peter Birnie at Xanadu last night. It’s the last show that Peter will review; like a lot of other writers at the Sun and Province, he has accepted an early retirement package.

Pete tells me that the Sun will fill the position with somebody who’s already on staff—which means, in all likelihood, that we’ll get somebody who knows sweet dick about theatre.


What is your protagonist DOING?


The most common problem that I run into is passive protagonists. It’s also one of the easiest and most rewarding problems to fix.

I have read drafts that were full of beautiful descriptive prose and almost no action. These manuscripts seduce at first, but very quickly become boring.

As readers, we want to see a story develop. The best way to make that happen is to allow the protagonist to identify—and pursue—a goal. Your hero won’t instantly achieve their goal, of course; they’ll have to try different strategies. As they apply these strategies, they’ll acquire enemies, allies—and wisdom. And, as that wisdom accumulates, the protagonist’s goal will deepen.

In every story that I’ve worked on, the seeds of the protagonist’s goals have always been present, although they’ve sometimes been buried. Give those seeds and little light and nourishment and—Presto! Change-o!—your manuscript can go from flat to exciting in one rewrite.


Bloody exciting

I recommend two evenings this week.

Macbeth, at Bard on the Beach, is bloody good. Colleen Wheeler makes a terrifying Lady Macbeth and Bob Frazer draws a clear and compelling arc as Mr. Mackers. Director Miles Potter makes great big choices and most of them—notably his staging of the appearance of Banquo’s ghost—pay off. Even if you feel like you’ve seen Macbeth a hundred times, this production will make it fresh for you.

I also REALLY like the double bill that I saw this Friday: This Is Cancer and The Progressive Polygamists.

I saw Bruce Horak’s Cancer at the Fringe last year and admired it very much. Seeing it for the second time, I was impressed once again by the guy’s sheer confidence and charisma. He’s transgressive: what’s a cancer show without a good Terry Fox joke?. But there’s an unsentimental emotional frankness about the show: Horak refers to his own experiences of cancer and invites audience members to do the same.

Entertaining and cathartic. What more could you ask?

And the two young women who wrote and perform The Progressive Polygamists blew me away.  Emmeila Gordon and Pippa Mackie have written a witty, audacious show about polygamy, a show that should light the fire of gender politics in everybody who sees it. And they too perform with absolute confidence. Their timing is flawless, even when they’re improvising in response to audience members.

The Cancer/Polygamists double bill is up again next weekend, June 29 and 30, at the Firehall.

And Macbeth runs on Bard’s mainstage until September 20. Don’t get cocky, though. Book now.

For my full reviews, go to

Oh. And King John opens on Bard’s second stage July 14. King John has the rep of being Shakespeare’s worst play, but I’ve just read it for the first time and I’m very excited to see what director Dean Paul Gibson and his fellow artists are going to do with it.

There are some great roles and gob-smacking scenes in this play. And it’s all about political expediency. Does that speak to our times, or what?

Watch the Straight for my preview interview with Scott Bellis (King John) and Aslam Husain (a terrific character called Philip the Bastard).


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