Saturday, May 4, 2013

Theatre For Thought, May 4, 2013

joel fishbane

Years ago, when I first came to Montreal to become a world famous writer, I was referred to Playwrights Workshop Montreal with the promise that they could help me on my quest. Not on becoming world-famous – I’m still on my own for that - but I was assured they were the folks who would help me develop my skills. At the time, writers could submit plays for dramaturgical assessment and I promptly sent along a one-act play. In reply I received a two page assessment whose insights forced me to reconsider the inner-workings of the play and launched a 15 year love affair with PWM. She was only 35 when I met her but this year she hits 50 and, as far as pentagenarians go, she’s looking pretty good. 

To honour her birthday, a gala celebration is being held in Montreal this week. Hosted by novelist / playwright Anne-Marie MacDonald (Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet), the evening will bring together a small army of playwrights and dramaturgs to present staged readings from plays developed over PWM’s 50-year history. 

That terrible play I sent them has since disappeared but others owe their existence to PWM

Created in 1963, PWM emerged as a response to the lack of Canadian drama on Canadian stages. They are not and have never been a producing organization; their only goal has always been to help writers develop their work. PWM’s bread and butter are those early drafts, the ones writers should never show agents and producers. Their business is to help writers develop their work away from the pressures of production, allowing them to focus on nothing but the text. 

Currently under the leadership of Emma Tibaldo, the organization offers a variety of services to help writers, from artistic residencies to in-house workshops involving a team of professional actors. PWM also organizes the Tadoussac Residency, a  yearly retreat for artists working to translate their work. They also offer free workshops for their members which cover a wide variety of topics, from the basics of playwright to more focused sessions on aspects of the craft.

Full disclosure: I served on the board of PWM for two years and have been a member ever since that two-page assessment crossed my desk. That terrible play I sent them has since disappeared but others owe their existence to PWM, either through workshops or through participation in their Playwright’s Unit, a gathering of select playwrights who helped support and develop one another’s work. As a playwright who came of age in Montreal, I found PWM to be an invaluable resource and a crucial part of my development. 

I also went to school with Emma Tibaldo and may come across as slightly biased when championing her tireless efforts on PWM’s behalf. She is the leader of a tiny band of devotees who work to keep PWM afloat. It is always a tough time for the arts and an even tougher time for an organization that survives entirely on government grants and fees from members; PWM has the added challenge of supporting English artists in a province where Anglo-French relations continue to be, er, frosty. 

Despite these obstacles, Tibaldo and her company of theatre-lovers remain determined to stay on course and ensure that the first 50 years of PWM was only Act One of a longer play. Their mandate is clear: to continue helping Canadian artists create the sort of theatre that can be the envy of the world. 

The gala celebration, to be held on May 6 at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre, will feature artists and dramaturgs from across the years, including Carol Libman and Aviva Ravel, two of PWM’s founding members. The evening will also include a tribute to Governor-General Award-winning translator Linda Gaboriau who has worked extensively with PWM and its members. It will be followed by a reception and charity auction. 

Tickets are still available for the fundraising gala. For more information, visit

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