Write On Readings wears a twofold mandate on its shoulder: to showcase the work of Toronto’s emerging playwrights and to engage the communities of Toronto’s West End.
The series is hosted by its co-founders — Suzanna Derewicz, Gina Brintnell, and Laurel Brady — three theatre artists keen on making their own lane in an industry with few other options. Poised and generous on stage, they turn the room light and familial during their table-read, all the while instilling the requisite courteousness one would expect for a night at the theatre.
Showcases are broadly themed — beginnings and endings, vices, identity— and announced with a call for submissions. Selected playwrights read for seven to ten minutes with little more than mics and scripts, prefaced with only key details to expose flaws more easily. It’s about daring to occupy space under that ceiling of strings of light, and about believing in the plays as they stand.
The access Write On offers to well-curated work — past contributors include Katie Sly and Dora Award winner Rosamund Small — at so early a stage is held together by collaborative spirit. Hosts hand out optional question cards to the audience written by the playwrights themselves and set aside a few minutes after each performance for feedback. The fact that the performers feel out their characters in real time means we’re expected to cut them some slack and be constructive. From an audience’s perspective, attending is a generative exercise of the imagination, where the stories prompted in our heads are litmus tests for those presented on stage. From an artist’s perspective, Write On is a wager on the general benevolence of others by seeking them out willingly.
For last April’s Write On IV: Vices, Derewicz, Brintnell and Brady narrowed over forty plays down to seven, the excerpts of which are briefly recollected here:
This Will Be Our Last Transmission by Natalie Frijia, where mountaineering and zombies become metaphorical bedfellows.
The Book Of James by Laura McKay, where a wife fantasizes about murdering her husband until she’s “the kind of aroused when a good breeze could finish the job.”
Sucking Dick by Kyle Capstick, where a man’s love-hate relationship with the act is complemented by a slideshow of his phone’s unsolicited dick pics.
Bill by Daniel Bagg, where buying a car as a couple is raised to myth.
What Happened In The Trees by Michael Kras, who rolled in from Hamilton with a crew of four to deliver the last part of his trilogy on teenage consent.
Nephew by Crystal Wood, where a pair of prison mates struggles to adapt to life on the outside.
Between Homes by Maryana Parfenyuk, where a young girl’s move from Russia to Canada threatens to expand her concept of home.
Musical guest, Meghan Morrison, cleansed our headspaces with some low-tempo folk music while accompanying herself on electric bass, which set a funky undertow.
Write On mirrors the city’s steady rise of DIY theatre with its own grassroots model. Rather than asking writers to work for free, Derewicz, Brintnell and Brady approach West End businesses with advertising opportunities, sometimes in person with hard copies in hand.
“We tell them, ‘We’ll put your ads in our program. We’ll give you social media promo. This is who we are. This is what we want to do,” Derewicz says. “And you know, you don’t hear from anyone for ten days, then you follow up, and some say, ‘Yeah! We’d like to do that!’ This is how we’ve been able to pay everyone who’s come through our doors, whether reader or musician, as well as ourselves."
For Derewicz, this is only the beginning.
"Moving forward, though, we’re talking workshops, offering marketing, writing and editing services, and developing a play for a year with that playwright being a part of every Write On. We have it in our brains to make this project fundable, something the Toronto Arts Council or the Ontario Arts Council would be interested in supporting. We’re showing these people that we can do it without them, but to grow, we kind of do need them.”
Write On Readings runs quarterly out of Junction City Music Hall.
Read my interview with Suzanna Derewicz here.