Interview with Featured Playwright — Mark Crawford
**Each month we interview two member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspirations with the community. June is Pride month, and we’re celebrating the works of Canadian playwrights who are championing LGBTQ2S+ narratives on stage and transforming the theatre landscape.
Mark Crawford is an actor and playwright. His newest play, Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures, is written for Young Audiences and premiered with Carousel Players in April, 2017. His first play, Stag and Doe, premiered at the Blyth Festival in 2014, and quickly became one of the most-produced Canadian plays of the decade, with seven subsequent professional productions in less than two years. As an actor, Mark has performed at theatres across Canada. A graduate of the University of Toronto and Sheridan College, he grew up on his family’s beef farm near Glencoe, Ontario and now lives in Stratford.
As an actor, Mark has performed at theatres across the country including: Canadian Stage, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre…www.playwrightsguild.ca
Your work captures ordinary characters navigating and anchored in the minutiae of everyday circumstances, and takes them through these transformative journeys that unpack some very human qualities and realizations — everything is driven by the power of imagination. Can you talk about the forces that inspire you — your observations, your childhood, inner world, the world today, your own experiences….?
First of all: thank you! I guess that’s a common thread running through all of my plays: seemingly ordinary people in the muck and mire of everyday life who undergo major life changes. In the case of Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures, the characters initially transform through imagination, but end up transforming in their real lives as well. With any play, my main source of inspiration is the audience. As an actor, I’ve done lots of Theatre for Young Audiences touring. I would sometimes see kids in the audience who didn’t conform to a traditional boy-girl gender binary. I thought to myself, “Who are these kids? What is life like for them? Is there a way to write a TYA play with a character in their situation?”
Over the few years I worked on Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures, I read articles, watched documentaries, and talked to people about children and gender. I read as many children’s books on the subject I could find, most of which I found disappointingly simplistic so I was inspired to write something on the topic that was more complicated. And while the play isn’t autobiographical, we always draw on our own experience. Most artists (and most queer people) start questioning their identity at a young age, so I tapped into my own memories and feelings about that.
“I was also inspired by classic fairy tales, action-adventure movies, and the joy that is RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
I’m sure that you’ve been asked a lot of questions around the recent cancellations of Boys, Girls & Other Mythological Creatures by the NCDSB, so I won’t ask you the same questions. I personally felt very disheartened and angry when I learned about the cancellations, but it helped me realize how easy it is to become comfortable in our own bubbles and think that bigotry, racism, transphobia and homophobia only happen at an arm’s length. You’re an inspiration to a lot of us, especially playwrights, so what is your advice to aspiring playwrights and creative professionals who are trying to make impact though their work on how they can remain resilient in the face of stigma, backlash and negativity considering the current political climate?
That’s awfully nice of you to say, but I assure you, there’s a myriad of folks fighting the good fight harder and better than I ever could. At the same time as the story about the performance cancellations was being covered in the media and shared all over social media (speaking of bubbles), the play was still being performed in school gyms all over Niagara. The cast and stage manager kept me updated with beautiful, affirming, positive, and often hilarious reactions from the audiences.
Most of the noise around those school cancellations had little (or nothing) to do with my play. Very, very few people writing about it, commenting on it, or making decisions about its appropriateness had seen the show or read the script. I tried to focus on the genuine, wonderful reactions of the children for whom it’s intended.
I’m no expert on resiliency. There were moments when I felt under attack and things got kinda dark. But my advice to any creator is this: Remember why you wanted to write your play in the first place. Remember who your intended audience is and focus on them.
“Remember you’re not an expert on any given issue; you’re an artist and you’ve made a work of art. Remember that art is hard, complicated, joyful, and putting it into the world is a vulnerable act.”
Take care of yourself. Listen to other points of view. Stick to your guns. And I know it’s hard, but believe me, friends: never, ever read the comments.
Can you describe how your creative/writing process has evolved?
Hmmm…that’s a tough one.
There was a big exhibition of Alex Colville paintings at the AGO a few years ago. I absolutely loved it. Loved everything about it. In addition to all of the gorgeous paintings, there were a bunch of sketches, studies, tests, and trials. Some of them were extremely technical — a composition laid out on a grid to figure out perspective or scale. Some of them were quick and messy — ideas for subjects, tests of colours, studies of dogs, guns, hands, horses. It seems obvious, but this was real proof that none of those great paintings came out of Colville on the first go. He didn’t just sit down at the easel and paint without doing a ton of work, a ton of prep, none of which we would normally get to see.
I found it very inspiring and very comforting. So to answer your question: maybe my writing process has evolved because I’m getting better at knowing that it’s a process. It’s work. It can be a tough grind. And every play is a completely different beast.
“But those sketches and tests and studies are necessary. And they pay off.”
As an actor, you have performed all across the country. What are some of the most memorable experiences and adventures that you had on stage? And how did these experiences shape your career as a playwright?
Get any group of actors together, chances are they’re not going to talk about the times everything went well. So… there was that time we showed up to do an outdoor Shakespeare and the centrepiece of our set, a giant willow tree, had fallen down moments before. There was that first week of rehearsals when one character was played by three different actors because people kept leaving the show when family members died. There was that heatwave when the air conditioning failed at a summer theatre and we decided to go ahead and do the show for a sold-out house and probably all got heatstroke. There was that rogue toddler who ran onto the set of a TYA show during a not-very-safe moment who I scooped up and returned to his mom in the audience.
And there was that lesson I learned very early in my career that going to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet is not an ideal dinner on a two show day of a fast-paced comedy. I think we love theatrical war stories because they’re proof that what we do is live. I’ve learned so much about playwriting by being in plays.
“And I think being an actor shapes my writing because I’m very aware of that live-ness.”
While getting a play published is awesome, my interest does not lie in writing literature for people to sit and read. I’m interested in writing plays for actors to perform live in front of an audience…where anything can happen!
So what does the future look like for Mark Crawford?
My partner (shout out to fellow PGC member Paul Dunn!) and I just moved to Stratford. For the first time in my life, I have an office. It’s seriously life-changing. So the immediate future holds a lot of house painting, unpacking books, and trying to get a good deal on a barbecue. I’m hard at work these days on a new play — a commission from the Blyth Festival. It’s still early days, so I won’t say too much, but it’s a comedy and about something very, very Canadian.
I’m off to the Belfry Theatre in August to do my play Bed and Breakfast; Stag and Doe hits the stage later this summer at Bluewater Summer Playhouse; and The Birds and the Bees is about to open at Victoria Playhouse in PEI and has productions lined up over the next year at Thousand Islands Playhouse, Western Canada Theatre, and Theatre Orangeville. Who knows what the rest of the future looks like? I hope there’s lots of writing, lots of acting, and after that experience with Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures, maybe just a bit of shit-disturbing.