**Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Diane Flacks, who is a writer/actor. Recently, Diane played the titular role of Nathan in “Nathan the Wise” in Stratford’s 2019/2020 season. She wrote and starred in “Unholy”, her acclaimed play about women and religion for Nightwood Theatre. “Unholy” was nominated for a Dora, was filmed live for Zoomer tv and published in 2019. Selected plays include “Waiting Room”, “Bear With Me”, “Random Acts”, “SIBS” (with Richard Greenblatt). TV writing includes “Workin’ Moms”, “Baroness von Sketch Show”, and “Kids in the Hall” — for which she was nominated for an Emmy. She was a national parenting columnist for CBC radio, and a feature columnist for the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail among others. Her four solo shows “Myth Me”, “By A Thread”, “Random Acts” and “Bear With Me”, have been remounted internationally. Upcoming: a one-person play, “Guilt”, a play Stratford-seeded play, “Blessed” and a re-telling of the Greek story of Cassandra. http://mqlit.ca/playwrights/diane-flacks/
What initially attracted you to playwriting?
I started as a young actor almost thirty years ago and realized what I was being asked to read for (mostly in tv) was often bullshit. Sexist, or at least with inauthentic female voices. I knew I would get zero work in that kind of world, and it would be up to me to create work that I wanted to do, and that I actually would be good at. I discovered the power of direct connection between the creation of the text and the performance. The ability to say the unsayable and as an actor have to then DO IT. It forces the writing process to be active and playable. So, I began as an actor who wrote and became a writer who acts.
What is your biggest challenge as a playwright?
My nickname is Murky Flacks. I gave it to myself hoping that the actors of Waiting Room would disagree. They didn’t. I have a lot of tangental and lateral thoughts in my brain that I know go together, but to others, they are very obscure. Playwrighting can feel like sculpting to me. I start with a pile of precious dirt and chisel my way through to a nugget that I hope will be art.
Is there anything new you’ve been working on during quarantine?
Chips. CrossFIt. In that order. To be honest, I’m finding it more difficult to write than it should be. Every writer wants time and space to think, research and write. But my mental landscape is crowded by visceral concerns about my own and my kids’ safety, the Atwoody-ian future of our planet, and the revolution that is hopefully coming for racial justice. It’s easier to respond to thoughtful questions like these than sit and write a new play. So much is happening and it’s so dire that sometimes it’s daunting to create a larger scope project. That said, I am (or should be) working on three plays:
I’m currently going back to my roots and have written a new solo show, directed by Alisa Palmer, called GUILT, my first in ten years. It’s about a self-sacrificing mother who blows her life up by having an affair and ending her 20-year relationship, and it’s also about accountability, psychic legacies of blame, conscience, and what we humans owe to each other. It asks what we really pursue in life as individuals, and what is worth the cost. I performed an adapted excerpt for TOLIVE’s Living Room series, that invites artists from multiple disciplines to perform something from their living rooms. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrsifUje9vE
Blessed is a seed from the Stratford Festival. The play was granted the Elliot Hayes Playwrighting award in 2020. The play is about a modern family “curse” of mental illness borne from trauma, which mirrors the interactions of biblical angels in the lives of the founding mothers and fathers of the Hebrew nation.
Cassandra began when I was invited to be part of the Stratford Playwright residency in 2019. It is a retelling of Aeschylus’s story of Cassandra, from her point of view as she returns from the dead to confront us now. She was blessed with prophecy from the Greek God Apollo, but when she refused to sleep with him, he cursed her that no one would believe her prophetic warnings. It’s a look at historical abuse of power, whistle blowers, and the consequences of thousands of years of inaction in the face of dire warnings. It offers hope for a new version of justice and a new way to balance the scales, inspired by the end of The Oresteian Trilogy where the Greek Chorus becomes a panel of judges. I read an excerpt of Cassandra for Soulpepper Theatre’s Fresh Ink in May 2020. Director Jennifer Tarver is slated to work with me on the play.
What was the thought process behind making Unholy available online?
Moses Znaimer came to see the show and approached us to let them film it in their studio for their live-to-camera play series. It’s about religion and debate and a lot of their programming surrounds that. The play was written as a fictional youtube live-to-tv debate with flashbacks that illuminate cognitive dissonance and crisis in the debaters, so getting to do it live with TV cameras was perfection!
What is your favourite Canadian play?
Oh man, that is tough. I can’t pick a favourite, but I can tell you some that influenced me and made me realize how vital new Canadian theatre could be. Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet by Ann-Marie MacDonald was a revelation. Funny, feminist, and literary and so SMART. White Biting Dog — visceral and WEIRD and true. Drawer Boy, human and humane, tightly and actively written. House by Daniel McIvor for the biting interaction with the audience. All the Mump and Smoot clown shows and Pochsy’s Lips by Karen Hines — I love that truthful, unabashed relationship with the audience. All these plays affirmed what I adored and what became parts of my writing voice. The last play that blew my mind was Betroffenheit by Jonathan Young. Turning unspeakable nightmarish tragedy into something so insanely specific and brilliant made the audience literally scream and cry in our seats.
If not a playwright, what would you be today?
Well employed and financially stable.
Dear god, maybe a lawyer. Or a rabbi. Maybe a psychologist. Likely, still a raging homo.
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.