Spotlight Shines Wider In Local Playwriting Contest

Friday August 27th, 2021

Posted at 8:00am

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Jonathan Tessier

Making some tough decisions, a city theatre group is rewarding two local writers.

For the second time in four years, Post Productions has named co-winners for their annual Windsor-Essex playwriting contest. With finalists being separated by 1.5 points each, Joey Ouellette’s Pirate Attack on the 1C Bus Going Downtown and Jonathan Tessier’s Stuck came out on top: As a result, both will be staged by the group at Shadowbox Theatre next year.

Despite Ouellette’s A Haunting In E-Flat being a co-winner of the inaugural competition, deciding on two plays wasn’t any easier in 2021.

“We received more entries than usual this year,” said Post Productions managing director, contest co-creator, coordinator and judge, Michael K. Potter. “So many of them were strong contenders that we ended up with six finalists going into the second round. That’s never happened before. Usually we have two or three finalists.”

Still, everyone was ultimately on board with making two selections.

“As a group, we were also clearly agreed on the two strongest plays,” said guest judge Simon Du Toit. “It was a surprise to me when [Potter] and [creative director, contest co-creator and judge Fay Lynn] just said, ‘okay, we’re doing them both!’ This was the second time [Tessier] submitted Stuck and he had clearly worked hard to apply the feedback we gave him last year.”

Along with Ouellette, judges were already familiar with Tessier. Having participated every year, he showed how writers can benefit from the contest. Almost winning with Stuck in 2020, Tessier took past suggestions and created a piece that couldn’t be denied.

“I’ve now read four different drafts of Stuck (which has had at least three different titles) over a 15-month span,” said Potter. “I’ve been impressed by each of them. The script is now remarkably efficient and lean – there’s no fat or filler to be found. The story is tense and propulsive, the characters are authentic people making terrible choices and it’ll have audiences on the edge of their seats.”

Relatively new to playwriting, the co-winner has developed a style of his own. Described by the managing director as an off the rail voice and personality, Tessier’s submissions have been “rooted in an earthy, slightly seedy experience of Canada that feels authentic,” according to Potter.

This tone also informs Stuck.

“Well, I have said elsewhere that this play is like a cross between a Judith Thompson and a Quentin Tarantino work,” said Du Toit. “To me it felt inescapably Canadian, even though it’s quite bleak. To take that introspective side of Canadian culture and turn it into an action-packed thriller is quite a feat. [Tessier] pulls it off by making the characters debate each new plot complication, each new pressure point.”

Exploring different emotions, Ouellette’s Pirate Attack on the 1C Bus Going Downtown is something entirely different. Focusing on disabled characters, the comedy is about what happens when the city cancels the only bus route servicing their drop-in centre. As its closure becomes imminent, those impacted force the city and community to accept them.

Being a potentially sensitive subject, it’s something the writer handled with great care.

“As a disabled person myself, I have no problem saying this bluntly,” said Potter. “I hate nearly every story featuring disabled characters in every medium. “I hate them so much that the mere thought of them fills me with sputtering rage. Why? Because they rob disabled characters of dignity. They’re tools to be used; they’re means to an end. Dramas use disabled people as inspiration porn. Comedies use disabled people as the butt of jokes, objects of scorn and ridicule. In both cases, disabled people are used to make abled people feel better about themselves …Ouellette is an empathic writer whose soul contains an enormous reservoir of respect for human dignity, so the disabled characters in Pirate Attack are actual human beings.”

It’s something Lynn agrees with.

“Each of the main characters in Pirate Attack is a human being first and foremost,” she said. “They are written with autonomy and dignity, without patronizing or aggrandizing them or their respective disabilities. In my experience, [Ouellette] is a very empathic person who really sees people, knows how to write them and respects their voices. We aim to present this work in the spirit it was written – in the spirit of respect and dignity.”

Receiving submissions from comedy to crime, variety wasn’t an issue for this year’s contest. Having Such a diverse selection actually made things more challenging. Comparing so many genres, the main criteria stayed the same though: Entries needed compelling characters and engaging stories.

Beyond that, Post continued switching their judges panel. Doing so kept selections more unpredictable with each person bringing their preferences, experiences and perspectives to the discussion. It’s an important part of ensuring all voices are represented.

New this year were outreach director Nicholas Prsa and Windsor Feminist Theatre’s Patricia Fell.

“We had a larger panel of judges this year, two of which were new to the contest,” said Lynn. “Their insights and unique perspectives went a long way towards ultimately picking the two winners.”

Brand compatibility also played a big role in everyone’s final decisions.

“We often asked ourselves, ‘Is this our story,” said Prsa. “Is what we’re reading something that’s not only true to Post but something that audiences will find themselves simultaneously entertained, challenged and enriched by? There were quite a few pieces that brought unique ideas and stories that we’d love to see ourselves but weren’t quite our forté. Of course, we found these two pieces.”

Post Productions will meet separately with each playwright next month. From there, agreements get finalized, plays are discussed and planning begins. Once those steps are done, auditions will then be held. Stuck is currently scheduled to open in late September 2022 with Pirate Attack debuting two months later in November. With that being the case, auditions for the two will most likely begin in May and August or September respectively.

After so much time and effort, the group is serious about ensuring the best experience for everyone

“We always feel grateful for the talented playwrights in our region who entrust us with their scripts,” said the managing director. “Along with that comes an enormous sense of responsibility: the playwrights have done their part and now it’s up to us to make sure the productions we create from their scripts are artistically and commercially successful. People should come to these productions expecting to be entertained and provoked. That’s what we intend to deliver.”

 

Joey Ouellette

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