In October 2010, Matthew Heiti took part in our 24-Hour Playwriting Contest. Along with a strict deadline, all participants were challenged to include the words, “button”, “peach” and “skin”.
Not only did his 24-hour script win our contest, his play, I Drag My Coffin Through The Lonesome North, took top prize in the RBC Tarragon Under 30 National Playwriting competition — just days later.
Receiver of Wreck recently received a workshop with us. Here’s what Heiti had to say about his experience.
Setting: Fom one coast of Canada to the other.
Can you give a one or two line summary of the piece? A shoe salesman chops off his foot with an axe. An esthetician has hers amputated by an outboard motor. At opposite ends of the same country, staring out at two different oceans, two people each lose something on the same day and are sent crashing together toward the dark heart of Canada. Receiver of Wreck is a grotesque comedy about human waste and the mystic potential of change.
Where did the idea for Receiver of Wreck come from?
I had been reading about the Salish Sea human foot discoveries – for a few years feet had been washing up on the West coast and none of these feet had been identified and no matching pairs found. It was such a lonely image to me, all these feet lost at sea, missing their partners. I was also reading about the giant uncharted masses of garbage floating in the ocean, called trash vortexes and listening to a lot of Tom Waits rambling late at night. Then I came across the term “Receiver of Wreck” – the government official in charge of ocean salvage – and I thought what a great mystical sounding title. So I loaded up on caffeine, deprived myself of sleep, thought about how all this connects to a button, a peach and skin… and some weird things happened.
Receiver of Wreck was written as part of Pat the Dog’s 24-Hour Playwriting Contest. How did this artificial time limit help or hinder the process?
Deadlines are always great weapons to have in the creative process. Next day deadlines, however, are an extreme kind of pressure. I usually rely on a tidal wave of research to carry me through a first draft. The 24-hour competition removed that crutch for me and forced me to trust my gut and give more of the sandbox to my subconscious. I started the play in my living room, continued it in the back of a taxi and finished it, fighting sleep, on a bus ride to Moncton. Some decisions made in this mad rush are cringe worthy later, some you don’t even remember making, but generally that late night wildness is a fun way of writing you can’t experience under normal circumstances.
What aspects of the play were you looking to explore during the workshop?
It’s a very physically challenging piece, so we decided to place an emphasis on exploring this physicality. How do two actors deal with being ‘one-legged’ for an entire play? How do these actors become shoes floating in an ocean? How do we capture this feeling of crossing an immense space? And how can we do all this with a sense of whimsy, a sense of play? In contrast, another large portion of the play is guided by the character of the Weather Man through a kind of beat poetry/narration. We wanted to look at how this speech functions rhythmically in time or counterpoint to the physical movement of the piece. And overall – how do we balance a sense of mythology with the harshness of the real world.
What did you discover about your script or yourself during the workshop?
I think fresh perspectives always open you up again to the possibilities of where a script can go. It can be overwhelming too, because it’s a reality check on how far the piece can be from being ‘complete.’ When you write in your comfy little box at home, you can keep pretending things work…even when they don’t. Having a script read aloud for the first time is a vulnerable experience, but what it exposes – the ‘bad’ lines, the flaws in logic, the character inconsistencies – are important things to confront…and laugh at.
What was the greatest benefit of the workshop?
The greatest gift the workshop gave me were the beautiful people I had a chance to work with. We had a very informal process in which I felt we were all equals meeting to make something better. By the end of the two days I had a wealth of new ideas, new ways of seeing the piece and attacking problems. It’s been a reinvigoration for my rewrites…which should be done soon…I hope.
What advice would you give a playwright going into his/her first workshop?
Please don’t be precious about your script. Walking into the workshop you need to be ready to let go of the piece and give it to others to play with. Allow this to be the humbling experience every creative process should be. That being said, while observing and listening and allowing these ideas to affect you, don’t lose focus of where you want the finished story to go.
Any final comments you’d like to add?
Thanks to Pat the Dog for the opportunity to work with such wonderfully creative people – Len, Leah, Brad, Trevor, Erica and, of course, Lisa. This contest and workshop process are invaluable tools in developing writers.