One of Canada’s most renowned playwrights, admits that it was ‘a great and flukey experience’ that made her start writing for the stage.
Joan MacLeod was attending the Banff Centre for the Arts as a poet, but started hanging out with a group of playwrights and actors who were also there. As a finale to the session, everyone was expected to give a reading from their work.
The “great and flukey experience” was that she had a pro actor read her work while she sat in the audience. She was instantly hooked.
“It was like discovering plays for the first time and falling in love with the form,” she says.
Her first play, Jewel, a monologue by the widow of a man killed when the oil-drilling platform Ocean Ranger sank off Newfoundland in 1982, was another learning experience for Joan.
When it premiered at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, Joan was a last-minute replacement for the scheduled actor. She had next to no acting experience and this encounter impacted greatly on the way she has since written for the stage.
However, she hopes she never has to appear as an actor again.
“If I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t know what an audience feels like from up there,” she says. “But I don’t have that gene that I want to be up there on stage. There is so much more to it than making the emotional connection with a character. Walking and talking at the same time was very hard for me.”
Since her performance in Jewel, her plays — which include Amigo’s Blue Guitar, The Hope Slide, and Toronto, Mississippi, have played widely in Canada and also internationally, and been translated into six different languages.
MacLeod has won two Chalmers Canadian Play awards and is also the recipient of a Governor General’s Award.
“I write about what I care about,” she says.
Her early experience as a social worker, looking after the mentally handicapped, helped to make her sensitive to societal problems. Her play Homechild is being presented by Courtenay Little theatre and deals with some of these problems.
The idea for Homechild came to her when she was reading about adoption and came across one of the darker aspects of Canadian history.
Between 1860 and 1948, tens of thousands of poor kids were shipped from the U.K. to Canada. These youngsters were known as “home children” and were assigned to farms to act as labourers. Some of them landed in abusive situations.
Homechild is set in 1999 and deals with the reunion of a brother and sister who had lost each other after being shipped to Canada at different times and assigned to different farms.
MacLeod’s plays are known for their humour, honesty and human observation. Her earlier interest in poetry adds to the sensitivity and enjoyment of her work.
Her daughter, Ana Celeste, was born in 1995 and her husband is an avid sailor. They met on Bowen Island and later moved to Victoria, where Joan is an assistant professor of writing.
MacLeod will make a personal appearance on the opening night of Courtenay Little Theatre’s production of Homechild, and will answer questions from the audience.
“This is an incredible chance to meet an incredible lady,” says Val Macdonald, one of the producers of the show. “We will be providing her with comfortable hospitality, but this modest playwright was happy to bring her sleeping bag and crash on someone’s floor!”
Homechild will run at the Sid Williams Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 6, 7 and 8 with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Oct. 2.