**Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Mieko Ouchi, who works as a writer, director, dramaturg and actor. A finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Drama and recipient of the Carol Bolt Award, Mieko’s plays are translated into six languages and produced across Canada and internationally.
How did you get started as a playwright?
Like most writers, I think I took a very serpentine path to writing. In High School, I wrote a short play that was workshopped at ATP in Calgary at a writing program for teens called Theatreblitz! as well as starting a full length play about the Dada art movement, which I worked on in a first year Playwriting Class at U of A, which ultimately became The Dada Play many years later. I took a break from writing while I did my training in the BFA Acting Program at the U of A, and starting my career as an actor, but that didn’t last long. In my first year out of school, I started work on a documentary film about my family called Shepherd’s Pie and Sushi (NFB/CBC), as the writer and co-director. I went on to write several more film scripts in the next few years as I worked as a filmmaker, before Catalyst Theatre asked me to write a short play for a project called Twelve. Twelve artists were asked to each write a 6 minute theatre piece based on a set designed by Bretta Gerecke and a number drawn from a hat. I created and performed Eight Ways To Say Goodbye. That text became the first five monologues of The Red Priest (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye),which I consider my first play.
What inspires you to write?
Actors. I love writing for actors and seeing them breathe life into the humans I try to imagine and conjure. I am always filled with awe when I work with them. They make the work joyful and surprising, and somehow, magically, crafted and raw at the same time. Miraculous.
These days, I’m also inspired by outrage. For me, it’s a powerful and necessary motivator for change. As hard as it is to feel, it’s often necessary to move us to action. The trick is to let it connect us to our core values. To not be crushed by it. And ultimately, to harness this primal feeling for good.
Finally, I’m very inspired by young people right now. I’ve had the chance to work with many, through my work at Concrete Theatre of course, but also through my work with amazing students at the post-secondary level and young artists I mentor across the country. They help me see things with fresh eyes, challenge my beliefs, my process, my ideas. Most of all they continually demand relevance. And who can blame them? They want theatre that has something to say about who we are now. And isn’t that a brilliant thing to be reminded of on a daily basis?
What have you been working on recently?
With my AD hat on, I’m working on building a national tour of our inclusive Concrete Theatre production of Songs My Mother Never Sung Me by Dave Clarke, which features a mixed cast of Deaf and hearing artists performing in ASL and sung English. So excited to be sharing this production with more communities across the country. As a playwright, I’m working on my new one woman show Burning Mom, which explores the story of my mom’s epic journey to Burning Man, the year after my father died. As sad as it is to think about my dad’s passing, I’m also inspired by my mom’s incredible search for meaning and joy.
How do you feel about the arts funding cuts happening in Alberta?
The funding cuts are devastating on so many levels. They will set our community back years. And not just the arts community. The wider community too. What hurts the most is that many of the cuts target the most vulnerable for the benefit of the most privileged.
What’s your favourite thing about being a PGC member?
I like spending time with my fellow writers. They are smart, thoughtful, funny people and writing can be really lonely sometimes. Connecting with others and hearing about what they’re thinking about and working on, helps recharge me, gets me going again.
What are some of your hobbies outside of theatre?
Ah, good question. Okay. Two things.
I love gardening. It gets me out of my head and into the dirt. I find it kind of hopeful. I like to wander around the yard with a mug of coffee and visit all my plants, give them a drink or a dead head if they need it, but mostly I just like to see how they are doing.
I’m also part of a book club with four friends who are not in theatre. It’s about reading novels, yes, but it’s also very much about the elaborate theme dinners we create for each book. We’ve had a prison dinner, medieval monastic space rations, turn of the century Russian peasant fare, Florida fast food and a night of cowboy fireside chow among others. Next is The Goldfinch.
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.