Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Toronto-based playwright and actor, Marcia Johnson. Marcia wrote monologues about two historical Canadian women, Emily Stowe and Mary Ann Shadd Cary commissioned by Myseum of Toronto. They will be performed, with fifty other monologues, at Nuit Blanche 2023.
The audio version of her play, Serving Elizabeth, is available as a PlayMe podcast produced by Expect Theatre and CBC Radio. Serving Elizabeth had productions between February 2020 and November 2022 at Western Canada Theatre, Stratford Festival, Thousand Islands Playhouse, Belfry Theatre, Peterborough Players (New Hampshire) and Theatre Aquarius.
Marcia’s zoom play A Magical Place, which she also directed, was produced on YouTube by the Stratford Festival and the National Arts Centre’s Transformation Project.
Earlier plays include You Look Great Too (Rhubarb Festival/BIBT), Perfect on Paper (Toronto Fringe Festival — also adapted for CBC Radio and winner of a silver medal and the New York Festivals Radio Awards), Say Ginger Ale (SummerWorks Festival — adapted from her CBC Radio drama of the same title and published in ‘Where is Here — the Drama of Immigration, vol. 2, Scirocco Drama).
Recent acting work includes The Beloved at Highland Arts Theatre and the upcoming Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Sudbury Theatre Centre.
Tell us how you got your start writing plays.
I started writing collaborating on a new play while on an acting contract with a touring theatre company. I ended up writing the majority of the script. That planted the seed that maybe I could write on my own
What does your writing process look like?
Ever changing. Currently, I write in the morning after doing crosswords and Wordle. It’s a good warmup. I don’t pick up where I left off the previous day but, instead, start again at page one. I might do rewrites or just re-read. It helps me keep track of the story elements and the tone.
Can you tell us about your experiences exploring and dramatizing historical events and figures; especially featuring Black people?
I am committed to telling the stories that have been underrepresented or ignored. I am especially in featuring Black women. The first play that I wrote after making that commitment was Serving Elizabeth, my most successful play. I feel a tremendous sense of validation. I love uncovering a little-known part of history and then creating characters to tell that story in an engaging way. It’s a great challenge.
Is there any advice you would give to someone interested in playwriting or who is an emerging playwright?
The first thing is to just keep writing; even if you think it’s terrible or don’t know where it’s going. Write through all your doubts and frustrations. You’ll get better. Secondly, immerse yourself in the community. Go to plays, readings, interviews. You never know where that next moment of inspiration is.
As well as writing plays, you have a storybook reading page on Facebook called “Hello It’s Marcia” where you read children’s books. Can you tell us about how that project started, and what you enjoyed most about it?
That was a pandemic project. I had to move a month into the first lockdown. When I was packing up my bookshelves, I got the idea to read the children’s books on video and post them on my Facebook page. After I moved, I borrowed books friends until the library re-opened. I’d committed to reading until the pandemic was over. Well, we’re still waiting. I finally called it quits at 500 books in December 2021. It was great fun to share some of my favourites and to discover new books.
What are you working on next?
I have four scripts in different stages of development. They are all set In the past: from the sixteenth century, mid-eighteen hundreds, early nineteen hundreds and post-World War Two.
Do you have any favourite Canadian plays and/or which artists are currently inspiring you?
I have many talented friends and colleagues. Don’t make me choose! What I will say is that I’m heartened by how many Canadian scripts are making it to our mainstages. I hope that everyone is finding ways to keep going while encouraging each other. We’re all in this together.
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.