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Local Theatre Company Provides Opportunity Through Collaboration

Thursday March 31st, 2022, 7:32pm


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Recently launching a new tradition, a local theatre company is continuing another.

With its March 31 deadline, Post Productions are prepared for submissions in the 5th annual Windsor-Essex Playwriting contest. Coming off the Edele Winnie women’s monologue competition at the beginning of March, it’s allowing the group to ensure local voices are heard.

Setting a record for entries last year, organizers hope 2022 will be even more diverse.

“We’ve received a lot of inquiries about this year’s contest,” said Post Productions partner and contest judge, Michael K. Potter. “Most entries are submitted within the 48 hours leading up to the deadline, so I never know what sorts of scripts to expect or how diverse the scripts will be. Over the years we’ve seen scripts of pretty much every genre. Last year we received thrillers, dramas, comedies, mysteries, sci-fi and even (finally) horror. [Partner] Fay Lynn and I always hope someone will submit a really solid romance script because we believe there’s an audience hungry for that. It’s a genre that’s been under-represented in theatre the past thirty years.”

Not simply about competition, Post’s contest uses a developmental structure to provide feedback for those participating. Helping writers to develop their craft, several rounds are included and give authors the ability to revise their submissions.”

Upon receiving all entries by the deadline, they’re then read over by judges for a few weeks. After this part of the process, everyone scores each script with a rubric and prepares commentary. Compiled by Potter, judges then discuss their opinions and select which participants move to the next round.

Those who fall below a certain average don’t move forward but are still discussed. This allows additions and changes for constructive feedback. Once finished, finalists are selected, notes are integrated into submission commentary and Potter edits everything: The final package is included with a letter informing contestants whether or not they’ve made the cut.

From there, finalists get another month to revise and resubmit their work. When that deadline comes around, the process repeats and a winner is chosen. Those who make it this far also get a second round of feedback. It’s a way to give everyone participating the knowledge and experience to improve year-over-year.

Revisions are often necessary for winning scripts, so playwrights are kept on board as workshopping, auditions and rehearsals take place. They also receive a fee equal to 10-per-cent of the gross ticket revenue when their work is produced.

With six finalists in 2021, co-winners were named for the second time since the contest began: Both will now help make history for the theatre group this season.

“All five productions we have coming up in the 2022 season (including a co-production) are original scripts, never before produced,” said Potter. “Two of those are the winners of last year’s playwriting contest. This is a new situation for us – an exciting new situation!  Last year’s winners are still on the early stages of pre-production. Stuck by Jonathan Tessier will open in late September and Pirate Attack on the 1C Bus Going Downtown by Joey Ouellette will open in late November. They’re two very different plays that we expect will do well.”

Ouellette’s play focuses on a woman coming to shut down a community centre. Upon arrival, she’s instead confronted by the complex lives of those who use the facility. Despite being written off as disabled, their biggest challenge is how inaccessible everything is to them: Highlighting their trampled rights, these people decide to take part in a series of protests.

Despite the serious subject matter however, Pirate Attack is described as a comedy.

“The show is like falling down a well and discovering a mysterious hidden world,” said Ouellette. “You think everything is fine, you’re walking along and then suddenly you’re in a different place. You’re all wet, everything looks strange and is different, but the funny thing is this other world was there all along and you just never saw it. I’m not sure what to compare it to. It’s a rather unusual show in so many ways. It mixes genres, themes and is a rather serious hilarious social justice comedy.”

When it comes to 2021’s other winning entry though, it’s the exact opposite.

“This is a story about 4 friends who get themselves in an ugly situation after one of them steals a briefcase full of cocaine,” said Tessier about Stuck. “The story has a lot to do with greed: the way greed can control our lives, the decisions we make and also how our society is constantly fuelling that lust for greed. It’s also about friendship and how it deteriorates over time. I like to think of the script almost as a dark and more accurate version of the sitcom Friends.”

Although both authors balanced criticism with staying true to their stories, Ouellette and Tessier are proof the contest’s structure works. Submitting every year since the competition began, each playwright has improved their craft as a result.

It’s also this approach that caught Tessier’s attention in the first place.

“I first heard about the contest on Post Productions’ Facebook page,” explained the writer. “They said they were looking at this contest from an educational standpoint, so that’s how I decided to look at it too. I submitted my first script knowing I probably wouldn’t win, but that I would get some great feedback. That’s exactly what happened. Submitting a script every year was such a great educational benefit. Even if my script was lousy, I would get an in-depth explanation of where I went wrong. I personally found my writing would improve so much after hearing the feedback.”
Although Tessier is anxious about audience feedback, he and Ouellette are excited for both productions to debut. As a first time playwright, it’s a process that’s entirely new to the former.

Having other plays produced, Ouellette is more excited to see his characters on stage however.

“I’m just excited to see it come to life,” he said. “The characters are so strong. They’re huge and they’re adorable. I envy the actors who are going to inhabit this. It’s going to be wild!”

As this contest continues, the first Edele Winnie women’s monologue competition was also held recently. With two nights of sold out performances, it will now become an annual event. Audiences were entertained, judges gave important feedback and contestants enjoyed the process that led to the successful event.

Post’s partnership with Waawiiyaatanong Feminist Theatre also allowed prizes to be bumped up to $300 for first place, $200 for second place, $100 for third place and $50 for everyone who participated.

With so much talent being showcased, choosing a winner was difficult.

“Honestly, the judges and audience (who also scored the performances) had a really tough job because every contestant turned in a great performance,” said Potter. “In the end, Cristina Orlando won first place, Abigaile Gagnon won second place and Linda Collard won third place. It was a wonderful event that exceeded our expectations – plus it gave us another chance to work with [Winnie,] who also wrote both plays in the double-bill we’re producing in April: The Rhinoceros Woman and Squirrel Party. She’s a delight.”

At the heart of their contests, Post Productions’ goal is to create thought-provoking entertainment for the community. Creating stories that included this helped both 2021 winners and 2019 contestant Winnie earn their victories.

Still, Ouellette thinks it’s important to keep an open mind while staying true to your vision.

“Remember that you understand your story but it must stand on its own,” he said. “Most criticism is just saying that things aren’t clear or understandable. Your goal is to communicate your story and constructive criticism can help you achieve that. It’s not personal.”

Tessier also believes future contestants should treat the competition as a learning experience.

“My advice for anyone entering a script in next year’s contest is to look at this as an education experience like I did,” said Tessier. “If you’ve never written anything before but always wanted to, submit a script to this contest. Even if you don’t win, you’ll get great feedback on your script that you can use to improve your writing. There’s really nothing better than that.”

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