WRITE FROM THE HIP part of Groundswell, a festival of new plays by women. Presented by Nightwood at the Tapestry/Nightwood Studio (55 Mill, studio 315). Saturday (August 27) at 8 pm. Pwyc. 416-944-1740 ext 4.
When a girl's gotta write, a girl's gotta write.
But it's Nightwood Theatre that helps channel that writing onto the stage.
For years, the feminist company's fostered the work of Canadian women playwrights, not only in its mainstage presentations but also through the annual Groundswell festival of new plays.
Nightwood's also been encouraging and developing young voices with the Write From The Hip program, a training-and-workshop series that highlights the emerging work of women aged 19 to 29.
The sixth annual Write From the Hip, set for the final night of this year's Groundswell, presents works by half a dozen novice playwrights.
Anna Chatterton, who coordinates the program with Lisa Codrington, understands its importance. After all, she was in the first Write From The Hip program. She's now also fine-tuning a Nightwood program called Busting Out, for younger women from 12 to 16.
"Like the current crop of writers, I drew from my own experiences for my first play," she recalls. "It's really double-edged to create from that perspective. On the one hand, you feel so vulnerable about the subject matter. On the other, it's good to get it out there and see the value of presenting your own story."
What she's learned - and hopes she's passed on to younger writers - is that it's okay to fictionalize the material, that taking artistic licence is part of the joy of playwriting.
This year, most of those in the group - Sylwia Balzacs, Lena Lee, Kellee Ngan, Kathleen Phillips, Karine Silverwomyn and Saidah Baba Talibah - are new to theatre.
"They've written poetry and short stories, but plays are something else," says Chatterton. "In the workshops from April and August, they've learned about dialogue, monologue and the importance of showing rather than telling."
Unit members Lee and Silverwomyn have a background in performance poetry, which they've presented at Mayworks. Lee, who works as a therapist in the mental health community, has also performed during Asian Heritage Month; Silverwomyn has created her own zines and taught workshops to queer youth.
"I never thought I'd write a play," says Silverwomyn, "and even laughed when people told me I should. I like poetry because it's short and concise, but I was drawn to Nightwood because a lot of people I respect, like Djanet Sears, Marjorie Chan, Diane Flacks and Lisa Codrington, are involved with the company."
Codrington's play Cast Iron went through the entire Nightwood development process, from Write From The Hip to Groundswell and then to full production last season.
Lee hooked up with Nightwood when she saw a call for submissions in NOW, and decided that the story she was writing could have a different kind of life onstage.
"I'd seen Marjorie Chan's China Doll but didn't realize it was a Nightwood production. Now I know that the company is an amazing place to be working. They push the boundaries, encourage you to tell a tough story and help you find the courage to do so."
Lee's piece, Forbidden Fruit, is about a Chinese family dealing with schizophrenia; the central figure has to break the silent taboo around her brother's condition. The playwright points out that while the story is a specific one, it also touches other communities.
Broken Toe, Silverwomyn's play, is about three women on a bus - a lesbian couple and a straight professor - on their way to commit an act that speaks against the injustices they see in the world.
"I was drawn to Nightwood because it's explicitly political," she says with a smile. "There's no hidden agenda - politics is the agenda."
For both women, the company's nurturing environment has been vital.
"It's amazing being around a group of artistic women who are courageous in developing their voices in so many ways," enthuses Lee. "We weren't told to be formulaic or to please anyone, just allowed to find our own way of presenting a story."
"I also appreciate the networking we tapped into," continues Silverwomyn. "Listening to people like trey anthony, Marcia Johnson, Nina Aquino and Weyni Mengesha, hearing how they took their own ideas and developed them for the stage, was wonderful. It's encouraging to know that you can believe in what you want to do and then get it done.
"Just being able to let your guard down in a safe environment was something to cherish."
"If I take away nothing else from the Nightwood experience," says Lee, "I know that I want to write forever. I don't know what the form will be, but now that I've been given the space to develop that skill, I won't lose it."