Choosing to Write the Play
There’s an idea and then there’s actually writing. I haven’t been writing plays, or anything really, for a long time. I write plays so they can be produced. I am motivated by the joy of working with fellow artists and I write to have the honor of an audience listening to my words. If I don’t believe a play will be produced or if it will ever be seen by an audience, I just don’t write.
I think what really blocked me was after writing what I thought was one of my most promising plays, a full-length comedy called Husband in a Coma, and being unable to get it produced.
Plus, I had worked hard writing, directing, and producing plays in Toronto for a number of years but had been unable to get the support of mainstream theatre. I burnt myself out trying to do it alone, I simply didn’t want to produce another play by myself.
Then, in 2022, after years away, I went to the Toronto Fringe. To say I was inspired is an understatement. Ideas began flying at me. I knew I had to do more theatre.
I pitched my friend Celeste Sansregret (a performer who began in Winnipeg) an idea about a woman who lost her dog. Celeste loved it and said she wanted to perform in it and help produce. Although she had to drop out in March, I credit her enthusiasm with the existence of this play. Her input really helped me develop Dog Gone.
During the winter and early spring, Celeste and Winnipeg Stage Manager Sylvia Fisher graciously attended bi-weekly on-line development meetings and readings of Dog Gone. Celeste helped the play through to a second major rewrite (of three) until she had to drop out of the project for financial and practical reasons. Celeste Sansregret has dedicated her life to work in the theatre and while this has given her extensive rewards it has not resulted in her unfettered ability to do any project she wants to do. I missed her participation acutely.
“So, most of the things I do, I do alone. Which is fine but…”
Alice from Dog Gone
Although once again producing alone, I had some help and support from some key people who I am deeply grateful to: My awesome inspiring parents – Joan and Brian McFarlane (for always, always, always supporting me and believing in me despite everything), my sister – Lauren McFarlane ( who gave me a little money to help get through the last month and is just the best sister anyone could have), my supportive husband – Kevin Stratton (who has had to sop up so many of my tears over the years as theatre keeps breaking my heart, Hallie Clea Harris (for holding my hand when I feared I might need to perform the play!), my old friends – Tina Selby, Jane Cawthorne and Dorlene Lin who are all writers and have had to listen to my writing for far longer than anyone should have to, including my teenage angst-ridden poetry that often devolved into repeating “fuck” over and over again. And Hallie Richwine and Karl Wollinger, both of who I lost this year as they chose different journeys.
Especially important was my friend and past Far Fetched Productions company member Astrid Van Weiren who helped with finding the perfect actor for the show (yay!). Also, a big influence and comfort was my Slut star who taught me so much about one-woman shows – Heidi Weeks.
Sylvia Fisher, our Stage Manager who lives in Winnipeg has really helped me through the production by being a steady, calm presence. Knowing she had my back in Winnipeg kept me grounded.
Why this topic?
I love my dog. Intense, deep love. Yet they live such a short time, they are the source of so much guilt and worry, and sadness. I wanted to explore this love.
At first, I was attracted to exploring the bravery of choosing to love a dog. I also feel sorry for people who choose not to have animals in their life or are unable to have pets. Why do people who love dogs reject the love of a dog? Is it because it will cause them too much pain? Maybe because the dog is too much work? For me, it was neither of these reasons, I never had a dog because I didn’t think I was worthy of a dog.
Of course, ask any dog and they will say their person is perfect and perfectly worthy of their love. But that wasn’t good enough for me. How could I ever inflict myself on an innocent creature, how could I risk not living up to all they deserve? How could I face myself if I fail my dog, which I will inevitably do?
It isn’t very often that the writing of a play gives me such helpful clarity as Dog Gone did for me. At some point in the play, very close to the final draft, I felt my whole body relax as one of my characters spoke about dogs.
“Dogs are angels.“
Aggie – Dog Gone
Alice realizes that she can’t prove she’s worthy of her dog because she isn’t. Instead, she must accept the gifts that dogs offer, she must step up and embrace the love of her pet despite being unworthy.
My first dog Charlie was on “the list” to be euthanized because of his behavior. The only way I could give myself permission to own a dog was to save him from death’s door. No matter how bad I turned out to be at dog ownership, I reasoned, it was better than death.
The truth is though, I do this throughout my life, feeling unworthy of the things I want. My character, through the loss of Sassy, realizes she needs to stand up and own what she wants despite being unworthy.
The play had to be a comedy because we spend a lot of time crying over our beloved animals in real life. Most of us don’t need this release.
Like the character in my play, I experienced a huge learning curve with Charlie. Because dogs have evolved in close relationships with us, they are often hyper-attuned to our behavior. This gives us an opportunity to witness ourselves through a dog’s eyes.
Winnipeg is Special to Me
This summer will mark the third time I have spent my birthday in Winnipeg. The first time as a child when my parents took us on a camping trip out west. The second while working for a month at the beautiful St. Norbert’s Art Centre with Winnipeg poet laureate Di Brandt. At the same time, a play I directed called Growl Sweetly appeared at that year’s Winnipeg Fringe. The third will be the closing night of this year’s fringe.