Callam Rodya is the founding artistic director of the Encore Theatre Company in Sudbury, ON, where he lives and works. The company is dedicated to emerging artists and producing gritty and engaging Canadian and international work. Recently at Encore, he has directed the mainstage productions of Down Dangerous Passes Road by Michel Marc Bouchard, Closer by Patrick Marber, and is about to open Lenin’s Embalmers by Vern Thiessen. Directing is but one of his many hats. He also acts, writes, shoots, scores, designs graphics, and markets. Callam was a member of the inaugural Playwrights’ Junction at the Sudbury Theatre Centre led by Pat the Dog’s Dramaturgical Associate Matthew Heiti and is currently stumbling his way through his latest play set in a nuclear missile silo.
What do you look for in a script?
I like a script that tells me why it should be staged, not how it should be staged; something that I can visualize but isn’t completely spelled out on the page. I look for engaging material that will challenge an audience and provoke thought and discussion, and hopefully, an emotional response. I also look for theatricality – a piece that embraces the unique possibilities of the stage and can be produced with or without a lot of bells and whistles.
How important is the workshop process in developing a new script? How many is too many?
Depends on the writer, depends on the script. Work it until you’re satisfied, or until somebody buys it. The latter will probably come first.
From a practical standpoint is there an ideal number of characters or script length?
We’re currently producing a script that has eight characters. That’s about my threshold, and I’ve promised myself it’ll be a few seasons before I tackle another cast of this size. It’s difficult, not just in terms of budgeting, but also to maintain simplicity in staging. A play loses a certain amount of elegance the more bodies you have on stage: you end up having to spend more time on “blocking” and less time on finding the guts and blood. The current trend seems to be the long single-act structure. I still prefer an intermission, but only so I can sell drinks and chain-smoke at the half. Less than 75 minutes and people start asking where their money went. More than two and a half hours, with intermission, is equally dangerous. It’s all gravy in-between.
Does script formatting matter or can it get in the way?
Playwrights should tell their story however they need to on the page. As long as I can follow along, the formatting doesn’t concern me. Having said that, it’s important that the playwright provide a legend for their script. I don’t know what that “/” at the end of a line means unless you tell me. Because I’m not as smart as you are.
How do you feel about detailed stage directions?
Less is more. Ultimately, it’s the dialog that means the most to me. I don’t want to get mired in stage directions. Keep it simple and essential. If it’s implied in the dialogue, the director will find it. Say what you need to say, but let us do some of the discovery for ourselves so we actually feel like we’ve contributed to the process.
What turns you off a script?
Meandering cleverness and overindulgence. I have read and watched too many plays where the writer’s voice is obvious and overbearing. It’s okay to be clever. But a page-long monologue where three sentences will do is just a bore. Smug writing is a turnoff. I also have a lot of trouble with “therapeutic” scripts. Write about your family only if they are truly shocking and interesting, not because you need to reconcile your upbringing on the page. Ditto for broken hearts and broken dreams.
Does the topic matter as much as the delivery? Or are there topics so important any discussion is worthy of staging?
It depends. There are conversations that are always worth having. But the new play should ADD to the discussion, not just keep it going in perpetuity. On the other hand, there are plenty of subjects that we’ve heard enough about. I think they go hand in hand. Any play that reveals some interesting aspect of the human condition is worthwhile.
What bad habits from television / movie scripts does a playwright need to break?
We can’t change scenes like those crafty film people do and we can’t change scenes every two minutes. It’s also difficult to stage a gun battle or Bruce Lee fight when your audience is 30 feet away. The same goes for blood, gore, a lot of liquids, and increasingly, cigarettes. The fewer props and costumes the better.
What is the most important play of the past 100 years and why?
I’m too young and untraveled to speak with any authority, but I guess A Streetcar Named Desire should be near the top. It taught the theatre to be raw and bold and ushered in the era of naturalism and impact versus pomp and pure entertainment. The men were brutes and the women were nuts and it was shocking and shockingly successful. Theatre has had a certain authentic reverence ever since.
What do you think about the state of new plays in Canada at the moment? Are you excited by it?
Definitely. There are so many talented emerging and established writers across the country developing refreshing and novel new work. I’m especially delighted that more and more playwrights seem to be veering away from traditional Canadiana writing and developing plays with increasingly more universal resonance. It’s a great time to be working in Canadian theatre.
If you could give emerging playwrights three pieces of advice, what would they be?
- Surround yourself with people who will guilt you into finishing your play. Sometimes it’s the only thing that works.
- Write what you know, sure. But almost more importantly, write what you want to know about. Chances are we want to know about it too.
- Send me your scripts!