That tricky first draft

Driftwood Metcalf Intern Artistic Director and dramaturg Caitie Graham reflects on our June playwrights retreat with some thoughts about that often elusive first draft. 

Hi! It’s Caitie here; Driftwood’s Metcalf Intern Artistic Director and Retreat Dramaturg. You’ll be hearing from me this month (how fun!) 

Last week, we hosted our second Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat of the season, with playwrights Anahita Dehbonehie, Helen Ho, and Mariya Khomutova, and it was a truly special experience. We shared good food, good conversation, and on more than one occasion we fell asleep watching a movie in the living room…

And while all of that sounds like a cozy and wonderful time, these playwrights were also hard at work generating first drafts of their new plays. And first drafts are tricky. Read on to learn more about the specific joys and challenges of being at the very beginning of a new process; something all three of our playwrights were doing last week.

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The early stages of writing a new play can be complex to navigate. It’s different for everyone, but for me at least, there’s a spectrum of experience during this period that usually hinges around the idea that – before a first draft exists – the play could be anything. On good days, this can be totally freeing; ideas flow and everything clicks – all seemingly without effort. But on rougher days, the idea of ‘anything’ can become a block; doubt pervades, you can feel lost.

In my experience, writing a first draft is basically just finding a way to stay afloat while bouncing between feeling totally empowered – and totally defeated – by possibility.  It’s doing whatever you can to trick yourself into writing one complete version of the story without running away from it entirely.

During this tumultuous stage, these are some pieces of advice I’ve learned to hang on to….

  1. A first draft’s only responsibility is to exist. That’s. It. There is no need to borrow trouble from future stages of development when all a first draft needs to do is be
  2. Getting it wrong is a necessary step before getting it right. All writing is productive, even if it doesn’t end up in the play. Exploring what doesn’t work ultimately helps us envision what does.  
  3. Remember the difference between choices and decisions. In first draft land, we are only making choices (i.e. trying on clothes, seeing what fits). Only later do we begin making decisions (i.e buying the dress). 
  4. No new play follows the same process as the one that came before it. No matter how many plays you’ve written, each new project has the power to change the way you work. Let it. 

To all the playwrights who are in the early stages of developing something new, thank you for staying in your process (no matter how uncomfortable it is at times) and for committing to the act of making something from nothing. As eager audiences of your work, we are grateful for your perseverance. 

And to you, reader. Thanks for being part of Driftwood’s new chapter. We’re in something of a new draft process ourselves, and we’re grateful for your support as we find our new way to be. 

Your favourite intern, 

Caitie.

Pictured above: Sometimes that first draft is about as elusive as your favourite feline. Like Merlin. Photo by Caitie Graham.

A different kind of summer

Well, here we are.

For the first time in Driftwood’s history, we are not spending the summer touring Shakespeare’s epic stories across southern Ontario. Willingly, at least (we’re not counting those COVID years).

The big changes at Driftwood this season have never  been more apparent than right now as we head into the summer months. Usually around this time, we’re kicking it into high gear for the  Bard’s Bus Tour. And for those of you who are really feeling that loss, I’m with you. I miss it too.

There will always be a part of me that longs for those special summers spent connecting with folks all over southern Ontario through the act of sharing Shakespeare’s plays.

But I’m also excited about what IS happening at Driftwood. Changing from a company that produces epic theatre into one which incubates and supports it is no small feat. The shifts we’ve made are big, and maybe even a little scary, but they are necessary for the long-term health of our company and our industry.

Thirty years ago, I started Driftwood Theatre because I wanted to share epic stories with people across Ontario. When I think about it, that mandate hasn’t changed all that much. Though we have changed the who and the how, that original kernel of an idea is still there: people sharing epic stories.

I love Shakespeare. I love his plays. I think they’re big, bold, messy and glorious. But Shakespeare isn’t the only storyteller who can write big, mythic tales. Many of these storytellers live right here, right now, and they need support now more than ever to get their works onstage. So we shift.  

What’s really interesting about driftwood – I mean real driftwood – is that it serves a very specific ecological purpose along the fringes of Ontario’s lakes. After meandering and wandering through our waterways, being honed and changed by the experience, it gathers and settles onto the shore and provides the shelter and stability required for massive new growth. How cool is that.

It’s exactly how I see Driftwood moving forward. We’ve traveled. We’ve been shaped by that experience. Now we’re starting a new life as a place where big ideas can take root and grow.

This summer might look different than those of our past, but it’s still full of creativity and play. With two projects lined up: 

June Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat

So far this year, we’ve welcomed three playwrights to our partnered B&B – The Gillespie House – in Prince Edward County for a week-long stay and in June we’ll welcome three more (Anahita Dehbonehie, Helen Ho and Mariya Khomutova). These retreats are an important opportunity for storytellers to break away from their day-to-day, focus exclusively on creation, and convene with other artists to share and generate ideas and find inspiration.

D&D Summer Camp

Driftwood is also keen to support young storytellers along their creative journey. This summer, we’ll be offering two Dungeons and Dragons summer camps in cooperation with The Baxter Arts Centre in Bloomfield. At our D&D camp we’re welcoming participants ages 9-12 for week-long improvisational games designed to get them thinking creatively and cooperatively as they build and share a story together. Not every person who is passionate about theatre is a performer, and our D&D camp presents a way for people to express themselves without the anxiety of getting onstage. This camp is all about imagination, play and theatricality, but without the expectation of performance.

So, while this summer is certainly new territory for Driftwood, it feels like we’re on the right path. I hope you’ll follow along with us.  

Be joyful,

Jeremy.

Photo credit: Summer Sky, by Dahlia Katz

Retreats in Full Swing

In March we hosted our first Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat of 2024. It went so well, we’re already planning for the next one!

Last month Driftwood hosted its first playwrights retreat of the season at our partnered Bed & Breakfast, The Gillespie House. We were joined by Ellen Denny (playwright, The Great(er) Maple Syrup Heist), Deivan Steele (playwright, Children of the Black Water), and Ahmed Moneka (playwright, The Onion Cellar). For one peaceful week in the County – away from day to day life – these playwrights got to explore bold new ideas, take leaps and strides in their work, and share in each other’s pursuits.

All week, we were inspired by our guests’ processes. Deivan’s routine of writing with the sunrise, Ellen’s piano playing drifting through the halls, and reading aloud The Onion Cellar chapter (from Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum) with Ahmed. It was such a unique pleasure having these artists in our space, and we are so excited for what comes of their work. 

This is River, with her World Theatre Day poster (made with her dad, Jeremy).

“Something magical happens when artists inhabit this house,” says Artistic Director (and Gillespie House co-owner) Jeremy Smith, “there’s a vibrancy and joy that just fills the space. It encourages me to rediscover that creative spirit as well – like the one we all have when we’re kids. And it was particularly special to have the house overflowing with that energy on World Theatre Day (March 27).”

But enough about us! Read on to learn more about the experience from the playwrights themselves. 

“Everyday during my residency at Gillespie House, the warm hospitality cultivated a feeling of support and joy. Our days were full of quiet focus and our evenings full of inspiring conversation. Having on-site dramaturgical support deepened my understanding of my project and gave me a lot to digest moving forward. A truly special week in a beautiful setting.”

– Ellen Denny, GHPR March 2024

“The Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat is all about enabling playwrights to do their best work, and the folks at Driftwood are exceptional at supporting the process of every individual. The gifts that GHPR gave me weren’t just time and space to work, but also a lovely introduction to a beautiful corner of Ontario, flexible support for all kinds of projects, and an invitation to really become part of the family for a week. When Driftwood says their vision is about ‘Good people sharing great stories’, nowhere is it better exemplified than this productive, collaborative, and heartwarming experience. I can’t say enough just how much I recommend GHPR to any playwright looking to kickstart their story with a wonderful team.” 

– Deivan Steele, GHPR March 2024

For those of you who may have missed it – or who need the extra nudge – our call for submissions to the June Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat (GHPR) is still open! We’re looking for emerging and established playwrights who are developing new works that are epic or mythic in nature (whatever that means to them). From June 3rd – 7th 2024, selected artists will be invited to stay at The Gillespie House where they’ll receive; full accommodation, complimentary breakfasts, a travel stipend within Ontario, access to dramaturgical support, and an honorarium of $500.00. The deadline to submit is Thursday April 18th, 2024 at midnight.

Playwrights Retreat Call for Submissions

Driftwood Theatre is now accepting applications for its next iteration of The Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat. This brand-new offering is an entirely self-directed paid opportunity that offers time and space to Ontario theatre makers who are developing new works that are epic and mythic in nature. 

The Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat Series is one of the first initiatives born of Driftwood’s new artistic focus. After a thirty-year history of touring classical theatre across Ontario, Driftwood is changing to invest even more deeply in its community by focusing on the development of new theatrical work by Ontario-based artists. With this shift, Driftwood fully embraces the etymology of its company name: providing stability within an ever-evolving environment and building a vital framework which allows ideas to take root and grow. 

This iteration of The Gillespie House Retreat will run from June 3rd to 7th, 2024 at our partnered bed-and-breakfast in Prince Edward County; The Gillespie House. We are currently looking to support emerging and/or established Ontario-based playwrights who are exploring bold new ideas for a theatrical work that is epic or mythic in nature (whatever that may mean to the applicant). We are looking for projects that are still in an ideation phase of development that explore uncharted creative territory for the applying artist. 

What we’re offering: 

  • Travel stipend within Ontario, full accommodations and complimentary daily breakfast for the duration of your stay.
  • Access to support from our on-site dramaturg and Metcalf Intern Caitie Graham, if desired. 
  • Opportunities to enjoy optional group activities in and around Prince Edward County
  • An honorarium of $500.00

**Though lunches and dinners are not covered as part of the retreat, playwrights may opt into a grocery sharing/communal cooking schedule, or dine out in downtown PEC (3-minute walk from the premises). 

What we need from you: 

Please click here to complete our submission form. On it, you will be asked to provide the following:

  • An Artist’s CV 
  • A Letter of Interest (max 1pg, PDF) OR Applicant Video (max 5mins, 1GB) that addresses the following;
    • A brief intro of who you are and what drives you as a theatre maker. 
    • A description of the project you’d like to bring to the retreat, and how you feel it connects to our mission of sharing epic and mythic stories.  
    • A description of why you’re applying for the Retreat and how you would like to use your time here.
    • Whatever else you may think is important for us to consider!
  • A writing sample from a previous work (max 10 pgs double spaced, PDF)

***Please include your full name in the title of ALL attached files. 

Apply byApril 18, 2024

All applicants will be contacted upon receipt of their submission, and again by the end of April/early May regarding the status of their application.

The Gillespie House Playwrights Retreat welcomes applicants from all backgrounds who reflect the many communities that make up the province of Ontario. In particular, we will prioritize applications from artists who identify as BIPOC and/or 2SLGBTQ+. Driftwood is also committed to providing an accessible and barrier-free environment for its staff and artists. If you have questions or concerns about the accessibility of this application process, or the retreat itself, please feel free to reach out to Caitie at cgraham@driftwoodtheatre.com for accommodations. 

Gillespie House Information

The Gillespie House Bed & Breakfast is a family-run B&B in the heart of Prince Edward County. In addition to 3 private bedrooms on the second floor, there are two large communal working spaces on the main floor that playwrights can share. For photographs and more information regarding the Gillespie House’s Accessibility and Health/Safety protocol, please visit The Gillespie House website here.