There’s no Machiavellian master plan to all this. As funds are available and as projects and writers come up, we try to make some investments.
—Bob Metcalfe, PTE artistic director
Even though new play creation isn't its primary focus, Prairie Theatre Exchange is investing a fair amount in "theatrical R&D," as artistic director Bob Metcalfe calls it.
The mid-sized company recently announced commissions for four playwrights to write new pieces - Winnipeggers Ginny Collins and Carson Nattrass, Vancouver's Lucia Frangione and decorated East Coast playwright Daniel MacIvor.
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"We're not primarily a development company," Metcalfe says. "We've always developed work since the inception of the company, but some companies exist only to develop and produce new work. I'd say we're certainly up there in terms of number of productions - I don't know if I'd say we're at the top."
Lucia Frangione and Carson Nattrass
The scripts are at various stages of completion. While Nattrass and Frangione already have first drafts of their pieces - the latter's was being developed by the Vancouver Playhouse when that 49-year-old theatre shut its doors in March - Collins and MacIvor are starting fresh, chatting with the artistic director about ideas weighing on their minds before heading to their keyboards.
"There's no Machiavellian master plan to all this. As funds are available and as projects and writers come up, we try to make some investments," Metcalfe explains.
A full commission - a play developed from brainstorming to stage-readiness - might earn a playwright approximately $8,000 at PTE. Metcalfe points out when that money is spread over the three or more years a play typically takes to develop, with workshop presentations factored in, the writers aren't making anywhere near a full living wage.
Ginny Collins and Daniel MacIvor
"I do seed commissions, giving an installment for a first draft, another for a second draft, spaced out. The hope is to give them breathing room to write... to let a playwright like Carson write full-time for a couple months."
These four pieces aren't the only commissions PTE has on the go. The theatre already has work being drafted for it by local playwrights James Durham and Joseph Aragon, as well as in-demand Toronto scribe Hannah Moscovitch.
While the final pieces may not end up being staged in a future PTE season, the holy grail Metcalfe is aiming at is a triple win - crafting a producible play, moving along the career of an upcoming writer and advancing the craft of Canadian playwriting.
"It's all about putting enough seeds in the ground so there are lots of opportunities to have something flower," Metcalfe says.