My play, Dear Dollface, started out as a one woman, cabaret performance, to be performed, of course, by yours truly. But then I got tired of my own company and decided to write in another character. A one-woman show is a lonely occupation and what if the audience doesn’t like you or your character? Writing the character of Norma, was pretty easy because she was based on my own experiences. The character of Jade, the wife, was much more difficult. Once both of them had very strong voices, it was performed in a workshop setting. The main criticism was: “Beware of the ‘cantata’ style, ie. going back and forth between opposing monologues. Break it up with a couple of scenes where the two women actually meet and dialogue ensues.” Good point. What to do?
My solution was to create one scene where the two women are talking about the same situation with opposing points of view, even though they are in separate spaces. Another scene was written where the mistress imagines a cozy conversation with the wife as they commiserate about the man they share. And finally, near the end of the play, the mistress and wife meet inadvertently and the wife tears a strip off the silly mistress. All these changes were cemented in a workshop sponsored by Rising Tide Theatre in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Unfortunately, the sad fact of theatre life is that theatre companies receive development monies from granting bodies, but no producing money. We writers are encouraged to write plays and then what? No one will produce it. What to do?
Why not try it out on the small populations of Masset and Skidegate, where I was living at the time. I cast myself as Norma and Josina Davis as Jade. The local reporter gave it an excellent review and the audiences gave standing ovations. Meanwhile I applied for the Vancouver Fringe. Unfortunately Josina was not interested in doing the Fringe. What to do? There was no way I could afford going to Vancouver two weeks in advance of the Fringe and hiring another actress. Could I turn it back into a one woman play and play both characters? Yes, I could. And I did. And since I was going home to St. John’s for Christmas, would it be possible to try out my one woman, two character, play at The Resource Centre for the Arts? Yes. They had one week before Christmas available. Too late I realized that nothing was scheduled because no one would come to see a play one week before Christmas. Be that as it may, attendance wasn’t bad, and the review was excellent. I wasn’t able to fully process the experience because life (or rather, death) intervened. My father died a few days before opening night. I went on stage with his last words to me pushing me on: “I think you have a lot of courage, my dear.”
I stayed in St. John’s for several months to grieve with my family and to recover from an unexpected operation. I also decided that my marriage was over. I returned to Q.C.I., packed and left with almost nothing except Dear Dollface in my pocket. My reward for this awful/exhilarating year was my acceptance at the Vancouver Fringe 1998. Luckily, my dear cousin, Kate, was living in Vancouver and she put up with me for a couple of months while I travelled through the throes of ending a marriage and celebrating my emergence as a playwright. I’m happy to report that I enjoyed full houses and standing ovations at the Vancouver Fringe and actually made a few dollars.
Then, I sent the play to every Artistic Director in Canada and…..nada. Okay, Dear Dollface is really a woman’s story and the majority of Artistic Directors in Canada are men (95%), but really? When I was bemoaning my failure after so much success, one person said to me: “Why would any woman want to pay to see a play about the drinking, cheating, husband they are living with?” Really? But it’s a COMEDY!