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“Conflict is to drama as gravity is to the universe” - says Andrew Moodie at Theatre Glendon

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Eager students piled into Theatre Glendon on February 25th  to hear the words of Canadian playwright and actor Andrew Moodie, the latest guest in Glendon’s bp nichol Reading Series. Celebrated for his plays Riot, A Common Man’s Guide to Loving Women, and Toronto the Good, among others. Moodie spoke of his personal history, his struggle to become an actor, and playwriting strategies he used while creating some of his well-known works.

Left: Andrew Moodie (photo: copyright Chris Frampton)

In her introduction of Moodie, Glendon English professor Cynthia Zimmerman stressed his emergence as a new voice and a new perspective on the theatre scene. Zimmerman mentioned her first encounter with Riot fifteen years ago, his appearance at the Keele campus during the launch of A Common Man’s Guide to Loving Women, as well as his current project, The Language of the Heart, a 1920s musical. “And I haven’t even said a word about his acting”, quipped Zimmerman, leaving Moodie the stage.

“I don’t remember at any point in time not wanting to be an actor,” said Moodie of his humble beginnings. Portraying the start of his career as somewhat typical, he told his audience: “I idealized Marlon Brando, James Dean, blah blah blah..” After an epiphany in the sixth grade, Moodie realized “that you can actually do this for a living.” An interest in the arts followed, work on a children’s play, in a show at the Canadian Theatre Company, in a made for tv movie, and so on… Repeating sounds of frustration, “errrrrrr,” at every setback, Moodie energetically recounted how he was rejected by the National Theatre School on several occasions. He described that he was told “you just don’t have what it takes,” before finally a friend convinced him that, in fact, he was already doing it, he was already a successful actor.

Once established as an actor, Moodie wanted to expand from his hometown of Ottawa. Moving from Vancouver to Toronto, where he also had trouble finding work, Moodie said he received some good advice from his girlfriend at the time, who told him to “just do something.” “And so I thought, I’m going to write a play. I’m just going to write a play,” he told Glendon students, capturing the attention of future playwrights in the room.

Moodie described his playwriting process first through recounting the approach he used in writing Riot, later describing subsequent plays for which his strategy changed slightly. To eager ears, Moodie told how he began by writing down what he wanted to say. Next, he wrote down characters on cards, and then structured their relationships, making sure that in each relationship there was some form of conflict because, as Moodie sees it, “conflict is to drama as gravity is to the universe.” As for the plot, he explained how he noted points of conflict and other elements on cards as well, before finally organizing them in order and saying to himself “Okay, alright. So that’s the play.” He had a great deal of success with Riot, as well as other plays such as Toronto the Good, on which he used the same writing strategy.

Moodie also spoke about his present work, a play inspired by Wallace Thurman’s 1932 novel Infants of the Spring, which he found to be a fascinating exploration of a community of young black artists in the 1920s. Set in the same period, The Language of the Heart tells the story of “a geeky little Canadian’s” move to New York and his subsequent experiences during the Harlem Renaissance. Telling the audience, he “lost his mind” with this play, making reference to the number of actors and musicians involved, Moodie related how producing your own work can be both incredibly frustrating and hugely fulfilling.

Moodie encouraged students in the audience to do the best work they can and not worry about reviews. “Never forget that Rodin was laughed out of Paris,” he told aspiring writers, triggering a great deal of inspired questions on his writing process.

More about Andrew Moodie

Born in Ottawa, actor, director, writer Andrew Moodie began his career on stage. His first professional performance was in a production of David Fennario's Nothing to Lose, produced and directed by Zack Crane. The play was performed at the legendary Lafayette House. From that performance he was able to launch a career performing in many of Canada's most respected theatres, including The Great Canadian Theatre Company, Factory Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, LKTYP, Second City, and the Canadian Stage Company. He garnered a Dora nomination for Best Male Performance for his rendition of Othello, and he won a Dora award for his performance in Roseneath's Theatre's production of David Craig's Health Class. In 1995, he launched a successful playwriting career when the Factory Theatre produced his play Riot. The production won the prestigious Chalmers award for Best New Production. Since then, he has written several other plays including A Common Man's Guide to Loving Women, Oui, The Lady Smith, The Real McCoy, and Toronto the Good. In 2006 he was a member of the creative team that developed the hit CBC radio drama Afghanada, which won a Writer's Guild of Canada award in 2007. In January of 2006 he became the host of the TVO series Big Ideas.

What is the bp nichol Reading Series?

The Glendon English Department has been presenting a reading series for Canadian writers, sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts, since the early 1970s. During the 1980s, the distinguished and much-loved poet, bp Nichol taught creative writing in the department and after his tragic and premature death in 1988, his colleagues named the reading series after him. In this series, several Canadian novelists, poets, short fiction writers and playwrights come to Glendon each year and read from their work. The readings are open to the public and are very popular with students and visitors alike. The format typically includes a reading by the author from a new or unpublished work, followed by a question period. Copies of the author's books are usually for sale at the reading and at the Glendon Bookstore.

Article by Glendon translation student Kathleen Dodd-Moher


Published on March 3, 2010