Winnipegger wins international BBC radio play award

Joanne Gutknecht radio play Playing with Fire beat out more than 1,000 other entries from 112 countries. The BBC judges called her dialogue “delicious.”

Joanne Gutknecht is heading to London Friday to see recording of her drama

Winnipeg's Joanne Gutknecht won the BBC World Service's 25th International Radio Playwriting Competition 2016. (courtesy Joanne Gutknecht)

Joanne Gutknecht never actively pursued the world of writing but it seems the world of writing has actively pursued the Winnipeg woman.

As a student in the rural Manitoba community of Ashern, teachers were impressed with how well she could write. At her High School graduation, she won awards for top marks in English and science. But at the University of Manitoba she made her choice.


Even so, professors in her required English courses were impressed by her skills. She got a letter from the English department inviting her to come on over to the arts side.

She didn't, and eventually left university to take a job at Arctic Cooperatives Limited. She flies frequently to communities in Canada's Arctic. Still, writing has never been far from her mind.

"I guess you could say I've always had ideas floating in my head and I'll have these moments where I'm like, 'Ah that's such an amazing idea,' and I'll write it down and I'll think to myself, 'You know, I really should pursue this,' and it just never seems to happen," Gutknecht said.

"Last year I found myself — 'Here I am 31,' and I've always wanted to do something submit something just to try it and see if I do have that talent that I've been told I had."

Then as she was driving she heard a radio ad for the 25th annual International Radio Playwriting Competition for the BBC World Service.

She kept hearing the ad over and over. She decided it was time to take a shot. She never expected to win.

"It was a really good feeling to have said, 'I've finally done something. I've finally submitted it. Let's hear what the judges say.'"

The judges loved it

Judges called Gutknecht's dialogue "delicious."

Her radio play Playing with Fire beat out more than 1,000 other entries from 112 countries. She won first place in the English as a first language category.

There are two other winners in separate categories — both are working playwrights. "It's crazy that I'm being awarded alongside them," she said.

Gutknecht's play is about a wildfire that's speeding towards a community in rural Canada and the stresses experienced by a couple and their son.

Gutknecht grew up outside of Ashern and remembers a wildfire scorching the area when she was a small child.

She wanted to write about rural Canada, because she says people in other countries find it especially fascinating.

"People just kind of can't grasp how far apart we all live from one another," she said. "I grew up even outside the local community so I was always in the bushes so to speak. And I've always found that lifestyle kind of incredible. You have to drive everywhere, and you're so removed from everything."

She flies to London Friday and will be there to watch the recording of her radio play.

Gutknecht has been working long distance with the director and doing little edits here and there.

"Winning the competition is one thing, but now it's going into production," she said. "I've been working with extremely experienced people which is just incredible. There's such an insight that I've never experienced before. They've been able to read my own play that I wrote and find things in it that I was completely oblivious to."

The play is scheduled to broadcast on BBC airwaves in early 2017.