Heading Towards the big 5-0
Emma Tibaldo talks about Playwrights' Workshop Montreal
by David Sklar
CharPo Contributor David Sklar interviewed Emma Tibaldo, Artistic Director of Playwrights Workshop Montreal (PWM). She has worked with practically every Montreal theatre company and dozens of local and national playwrights including Ned Cox, Alexis Diamond, Alex Haber, Arthur Holden, Amanda Kellock, Johanna Nutter, Greg MacArthur, and David Sherman. PWM will be celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2013.
I wrote a play.
What does PWM do?
PWM is a new play development center that has been around for 50 years. Originally started in 1963 under the QDF (Quebec Drama Federation) it’s been working with playwrights from across the country creating works for the stage, helping in the development process, being a resource to the community, and to the country in terms of new plays and translations.
How did you originally get involved with playwriting?
I wrote a play. It won a competition when I was in university and so I got involved with this organization. I did a couple of units and master classes and then I graduated from NTS (National Theatre School) in directing and started working at PWM as dramaturge-in-residence. I did that for three seasons then left to continue directing. Eventually, the position of Artistic Director came up and I started in Oct 2007.
I have grown into the position.
Do you still enjoy it?
Yes, and more so then ever because I have grown into the position. I understand what it is. I’ve grown as an artist and I think I understand what dramaturgy is and what PWM’s position is in the make-up of Canadian theatre. And I’ve met incredible writers, incredible human beings that I’ve established deep relationships with like Greg Macarthur, Robert Chafe and now Louise Brown. And I love the organization and what it does. I love that it cares about the community. I love the team here; June Park and the administrative assistant that I fall in love with every six months and then have to fall out of love with every six months when they leave which is difficult but still get to meet an incredible array of human beings. We’ve created a space here that is used creatively by lots of different people. It feels like a safe place for people to come and experiment…
And I love the holiday party.
What I love about plays is that they live in the big ideas.
What do you love about playwriting?
What I love about plays is that they live in the big ideas. That plays can take an idea and pursue it to its conclusion. And it’s always the vision of the playwright that is put forward. I love that it works in metaphors. That you can watch something unfold in an abstract way and doesn’t get bogged down in the minutiae of the everyday. That plays can allow you to look at the world in a unique way because they present the world differently, unlike film and television, which presents the world as it is, as you see it with your human eyes.
The language is often a lot more poetic than everyday language and you get to live beyond the everyday. You are watching people on stage live it as you receive it, anything can happen at any moment. When it’s boring, it’s deadly boring, but when it’s exciting it’s extraordinary. Theatre lives in the extremes.
During our master class two weeks ago, there was a rebirth of a couple of artists who were dormant and were reignited by the experience, and those things are impossible to predict.
What services do you offer at PWM?
Well, I wouldn’t call them services. It all depends on the project, it depends on the playwright and where they are with their work. So, it can be anywhere from a conversation to a workshop, to a residency, to a public reading. But it goes beyond that. We hopefully create connections between people. For example, someone does a reading and someone in the cast is really excited about the play and then decides to produce the show. That’s happened many times. Or a translation of a work goes on to worldwide distribution. That’s happened too. Those kinds of connections can happen through PWM. It is about helping emerging and established professional playwrights in Canadian theatre.
It’s about the conversation between the playwright and the dramaturge deciding what the play needs even if that will change over time. It could be giving them the time to write. It could also be someone coming from another city to Montreal to let go of their everyday responsibilities and have the time to finish their writing. Or an Artistic Director of another company just happens to ask about the workshop we’re doing, then reads the play and wants to do it. Things like that happen. During our master class two weeks ago, there was a rebirth of a couple of artists who were dormant and were reignited by the experience, and those things are impossible to predict.
So beyond the mechanics of workshops, public readings, dramaturgical sessions, master classes, it’s the conversations that are difficult to define but are the most exciting thing to see develop. It’s about deepening conversations about art and finding like-minded people who enjoy that kind of theatre.
The Glassco Playwrights Residence in Tadoussac is a phenomenal experience where people from across the country get together and spend all day creating which leads to conversations and experiences which can then go on to all sorts of different projects. So the intangibles are just as vital as the so-called “services”.
You need to be at the right place with the right person who is looking for something you can offer and then move forward together.
What are the options for Canadian playwrights out there? Is there work?
No. Wait a moment. Who am I to say that. There is no way to predict those things. Things happen in a million different ways for a million different people. If you stick to it long enough, and you put yourself out there (by going to conferences and theatres) sooner or later you will have a career. Whether it’s the career you wanted, I don’t know but if you believe in yourself as an artist strongly enough and you’re willing to stick it out long enough eventually someone will notice. It may take a long time. And choices are choices. You make a million different choices and some of them…you need luck. You need to be at the right place with the right person who is looking for something you can offer and then move forward together. Oh, it’s just impossible to know. What was the question again?
What are the options?
Well, if it’s something you have to do, you do it. And again, if you stick to it long enough and encounter the right people that you click with, then the options are huge but that’s not everybody’s experience and the doors are closed to a lot of people. Being shy is a bit of a handicap in this business because it’s really hard to do the things you need to do and not talk to people. But passion and talent are the two most important things even though talent is so subjective. It’s really about passion and a belief in your work. And the options are self-producing. Most people start that way. So it’s finding a group of people you love working and growing with, putting those shows on and finding an audience and then creating momentum for yourself and having people come to see the work. Sending your script out to a bunch of theatres is probably not going to work. Trying to get into playwriting units might help because then the artistic director is paying attention to who is in the units and is more apt to read those plays.
It’s different for everyone. I can only talk about what I did and the people I know. I went to school. I trained. I started off as a Stage Manager, figuring out the nuts and bolts of theatre by having a clear passion for what I believe is good theatre. Understanding what I want to do, understanding my passion and putting it forward regardless because I need to. And then things sort of just…happen.
We plan on continuing to be the place where people can come and think about what theatre means.
What are your future plans for PWM?
We have strong relationships with theatre companies in Montreal developing new projects and strong relationships with individual playwrights across the country and that work will continue. We plan on continuing to be the place where people can come and think about what theatre means. Practically, as we forge ahead we are trying to create a black box to help in the next phase of development, not necessarily a rehearsal room but more of a place where people can experiment dramaturgically with design before they fully immerse themselves in the process.
The big dream however is to have a space with other English language theatre companies and to create a place where people from around the world can come together. We’ve been working on this new collaborative creation centre for the last few years with Imago, Geordie, Talisman, Porte-Parole, and PWM.
But I just want to say that the company is only the sum of all the people that have worked here these past 50 year, and put their heart and soul into keep this a thriving Canadian institution.