Don’t you just love those moments when you hear written work read aloud by the authors themselves and everything just clicks? It happened to me not long ago at Noir at the Bar–Toronto, where a funky group of criminally-minded writers and readers gathered over snacks and drinkies to hear the latest from artists north and south of the border.
Imagine my joy at finding a Toronto-based novelist, filmmaker and playwright–that’s P-L-A-Y-W-R-I-G-H-T–at a nearby table prepping a selection from her debut novel. Poised, polished, personable, Hope Thompson calmed my fear of performing for the first time in front of this august group and then went on to WOW! me with HER words…
…and her resume.
This woman’s done a lot.
And she’s super cool too.
I have the greatest respect for live performance. As a playwright, do you physically walk-through your scenes as you compose, or do you leave that to the actors to work out?
Yes, there is nothing like a live performance, which is one of the reasons I love working in theatre so much. To answer your question, I don’t so much “walk through” the scenes as “talk through” them—and that makes it a bit awkward to write in public because I need to say the lines out loud and in the voice of the character—and with all their gestures. My strategy is that if I can act out the scene and it feels right to me then it hopefully will work for the actors, too.
You have written a number of plays, eight of which have been produced for the stage. To what extent were you a part of the collaborative effort? Care to share an anecdote?
In a lot of my theatrical experience, I’ve been producing as well as writing, and because of that, I’ve been a part of everything—from casting, to hiring crew, running props around—even onstage in the darkness helping with the set pieces between scenes. But yes, I like to be as much a part of the production as possible. Some playwrights do not attend rehearsals but I like to be there to watch the play come alive, to follow the director’s work with the actors and to talk out issues that arise, changes to the text, etc., that come up during rehearsal. In my last production in Toronto, I got sick and couldn’t attend any more than the first few rehearsals. I had the feeling the cast and director were actually happier without me there; they could make their own line changes. But if I’m allowed to be, I like to be a part of the entire process. Hearing your own words come alive on stage is such a rare and thrilling experience that I don’t like to miss anything. I even attend every performance.
For Torontonians, it is virtually impossible not to know about Buddies in Bad Times. For our international readers, can you describe the theatre, its history, and successes?
Sure! Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is North America’s—and quite possibly the world’s—oldest and largest queer theatre. Sky Gilbert was one of the founders back in 1978 and in the role of Artistic Director, he was the driving force behind the theatre for its first 18 years. In terms of successes, so many of Canada’s greatest theatrical talents have gotten their start there—from Ann Marie MacDonald, Gavin Crawford, Diane Flacks to Daniel MacIvor, Kawa Ada and Brad Fraser, just to name a few. Buddies is also home to the Rhubarb Festival of New Work, which was where my first play, GREEN, was produced. And by the way, “rhubarb”, refers to the word actors say, silently, when they are on stage but in the background—and pretending to have a conversation.
And you write for the screen too. Was this an organic segue from live performance?
It was actually the other way around. I started writing short film scripts and directing and producing them. When I was living in Pittsburgh for a few years, I wrote a short film script and sent it to a friend in Toronto to get her thoughts on it. She decided it would make a better play than film as all the action took place in one room. This was GREEN – a parlour room comedy with a criminal twist. She was also working at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and suggested I enter the script into the Rhubarb festival. A few months later, the play was produced. That was back in 2004. I loved the experience and my writing career took a turn towards theatre from that point forward.
You’ve lived and worked in a few of places. What stokes your creative drive? Is it physical space?
In terms of physical space, I write mostly in libraries and at the Toronto Writers Centre. It can be hard to carve out time to work but I have a pretty good schedule right now. Once I am in the chair and writing I can get lost in it. And that’s when the creative drive is really firing. Another thing to stoke it is deadlines. They really help!
Playwrite? Or playwright? I must know.
I believe it’s playwright, and that’s the spelling I prefer. It feels essential and hardworking, like millwright.
Ed. – Makes sense to me! 😀
Tell me about The Blonde, your queer noir WIP?
The Blonde is a queer crime story set in 1984 Toronto and it introduces lesbian private detective, Sidney Lake. This is her first murder case and the victim is a beautiful blonde who Sid just happens to be in love with. In this novel I am trying to invoke both a Chandleresque and pulpy noir quality to the story.
Do blondes get killed more than brunettes? Why / Why not?
Well, they have more fun. Maybe there’s a price? There’s something very retro about calling someone a “blonde” and I wanted Lake, my heroine, to be able to do that, hence the pulpy feel.
Ed. – I think I’ll leave the peroxide bottle in the cupboard. lol.
Your noir inspirations go way back to the ‘40s and ‘50s. Can you describe these for our readers and explain how you make them fresh for the time we live in.
I would define noir as urban despair. The main character is often on a lonely journey and struggling against forces that seem fated against him or her. Noir stories are usually set at night and include long shadows that metaphorically function like the fingers of fate reaching for the hero, or bars of shadow cast by a venetian blind that suggest the bars of a prison, trapping the hero. Another key ingredient is a femme fatale character—a woman that the male hero is drawn to but who will ultimately cause his demise. Some classic noir films are Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep and even Blade Runner. Cornell Woolrich is one of my favourite writers. I’m a little obsessed with him and am writing a feature theatrical script based on a night in his life. He is considered the father of noir.
Have I forgotten anything?
The Blonde will be published… soon! Please check back to www.hopethompson.net for details. I’ll have details about the Woolrich play’s development there as well. Thanks!
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us, Hope. Good luck with the book and the new play. Visit again, soon!
About the Author
Hope is a Canadian playwright, filmmaker and crime writer. She is obsessed with mystery, film noir, camp and comedy and has written and directed several award-winning short films (It Happened In The Stacks, Switch) and one-act plays (She Walks The Line, Stiff, Trapped!) in these genres. Her film, Switch, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and her recent play, Trapped! is being published this year in a Playwrights Canada Press anthology. Hope is currently at work on her first novel, The Blonde and a new theatre project. www.hopethompson.net