**Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Darrah Teitel, an award winning playwright and activist from Toronto, living in Ottawa. Her most recent plays, Behaviour (GCTC/ SpiderwebShow) and the Omnibus Bill (Counterpoint/ Tactics) were both produced in Ottawa in 2019.
What attracted you to playwriting?
Boredom. I was a little kid doing small parts in adult plays and had a lot of time to sit in the wings and backstage watching actors work. I handwrote my first plays at 11 years old while waiting to go on stage to say my lines. But I was a writer before I was a playwright. Since before I could make the pen work, my father used to let me skip to write. He would take me for breakfast and we wrote a short crime procedural novel together. I was also a prolific child diarist. It’s all typically romantic and prodigious.
How does being a feminist and a socialist activist affect your playwriting?
Activism is also something I always did. I staged my first school walk out in grade eight and got suspended. That kind of civil disobedience gets addictive. Those themes and people show up in my plays, which have been described as compulsively contrary. But fiction has never been ideological for me. I have journalism and political writing for that. I use art to complicate and problematize the problems with political dogma, and I suppose doing that is also an expression of my socialist feminist politic. Today, after seven years working in Ottawa in professional left-wing politics, a theme that emerges in most of my plays is the hypocrisy of ideologues and the bad behaviour of activists. Several of my characters are ego maniacs with Christ complexes.
How was the experience live streaming Behaviour and do you think you’ll ever consider doing it again for another play?
Oh my god, yes! It was such a privilege to have the play streamed and viewed by so many people. I was a bit annoyed when one of my close friends told me he only watched the first half hour. That sort of thing is going to happen. You can’t control the environment like you can in the theatre. But then another acquaintance approached me in a coffee shop. She’s a parent with young kids and she lives in the country and she disclosed that the theatre has been inaccessible to her for years and she was so grateful for the livestream because it allowed her to watch a play. For her alone, and for anyone who can’t afford or access theatre, we have a moral imperative to try and create more livestreams.
What are you currently working on?
Another Teitel premier is about to hit Ottawa. My play, The Omnibus Bill, is set in 1969 and is about early abortion activists in Canada. It’s opening May 31st, so I’m knee deep in the rehearsal draft now. My next play is in the early stages of development. It’s called Forever Young: A Ghetto Play, and it’s based on the political backroom drama of the socialist youth who organized the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I’m looking at the condition of young people in contemporary ghettos too, such as a Gaza.
Is there anything you would have done differently throughout your career as a playwright?
Oof! Regrets! Sure. There are some. But when you make a choice a whole bunch of experiences flow from it, and how can I regret them or who I became as a result. Moving to Ottawa to work in politics put the breaks on my writing career, obviously. But even if things have been going more slowly than they could have in Toronto, I’ve still managed to keep writing and I’ve gained a wider breadth of things to write about. I can’t regret that. I do wish I had never stopped acting. I loved acting, and wasn’t bad, but at a certain point while going to NTS, I thought people wouldn’t take me seriously as a young female writer if I was also an actor, so I just stopped. Now I recognize that a whole lot of ego and sexism played into that choice, so it makes me sad.
Is there a specific moment where PGC played a pivotal role in your career?
Look, I’m a socialist. I want a union. Not just because it helps keep playwrights out of poverty, and gives us labour rights, but because it gives us a collective voice and fulfills an almost spiritual need to claim space and authority as a profession. That said, very few people in Canada can afford to make playwriting alone their full-time profession, so is it a real profession? In that sense I guess it’s appropriate that we only have half a union? An association? Just kidding. I wish it were a full union and I will be there to salt and sign union cards if we want to go that way. Solidarity!
Also, the PGC has helped me personally with contracts, getting money and sponsored readings of my plays. They’re the best!
Disclaimer: Playwrights Guild of Canada (“PGC”) is a national arts service mandated to engage and grow an active Canadian writing community. We promote Canadian plays around the world to advance the creative rights and interests of professional Canadian playwrights for the stage. The views of our members are their own. The opinions of PGC as an association remain neutral.