Playwright Daniel MacIvor wins $100,000 Siminovitch Prize

Daniel MacIvor, the Toronto-based playwright who wrote How It Works and A Beautiful View, has won the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre.

Daniel MacIvor, the Toronto-based playwright who wrote How It Works and A Beautiful View, has won the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre.

The Siminovitch Prize, Canada's richest theatre award, gives $75,000 to the winning playwright and asks him to suggest a protege, usually a young emerging playwright, to have the remaining $25,000.

MacIvor has chosen a Vancouver-based writing team — Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn — as his proteges.

Cape Breton-born MacIvor is having a stellar year. He won a $25,000 commission to write a new work from the Banff Centre for the Arts just two weeks ago and has four plays in various stages of production.

His newest play Confession opens in Guysborough, N.S., later this week, How It Works is running in Winnipeg and A Beautiful View is on in Washington. Meanwhile, he is workshopping a followup play to Confession, titled Redemption, at Montreal's National Theatre School.

The $75,000 that remains in MacIvor's hands will help him escape the mad pace that has him returning to Montreal on Tuesday to work on Redemption, off to Nova Scotia later in the week to see the Mulgrave Road Theatre Production of Confession, then to Vancouver for a conference, he told CBC News.

'I'll sleep better,' MacIvor says

"This is going to make a difference for me in terms of the time that I can take — I'll sleep better and I'll be able to do … the work that's important to me, rather than the work that's important to the rent," he said Monday.

"I'm working on a trilogy of plays right now and I have some support from some theatres, but I definitely need to take time on my own, writing time on my own."

The trilogy begins with Confession and continues with Communion and Redemption.

Like much of MacIvor's work, these plays examine the dynamics of relationships between ordinary people.

The jury for the Siminovitch Prize praised his work for giving voice to people with unusual perceptions of the world.

"Daniel's playwriting brings to the stage moments in life for which there are no words, exploring those things that escape categorization by language," said jury chairman Leonard McHardy.

Collaborates with Daniel Brooks

MacIvor's other plays include See Bob Run, Wild Abandon, The Soldier Dreams and His Greatness. He also created the solo performances of House, Here Lies Henry, Monster and Cul-de-sac, with longtime collaborator Daniel Brooks.  

In 2006, he won the Governor General's Award for Drama for his collection of five plays called I Still Love You.

His next project, the commission for Banff, is even more ambitious — the play, set in Tokyo, involves the tragic romance between a conservative Japanese translator and her Canadian boyfriend.

"It's going to be a very expensive play for me to write because I'm going to have to travel to Tokyo and live there. It's the first play that I've written that I have to do real research for," MacIvor said.

He wants to be accurate in his representation of Japanese culture. 

"It's about ... Japanese characters who are very involved in maintaining their culture and that's not something I feel I just want to read about. I want to actually experience it," he said.

A sense of immersion

'MacIvor has also committed to write the play in Japanese and English, both to give the audience the sense of being immersed in another culture and to allow the play to be performed in Japan.

For that, he has to hire a writer and translator to work with him.

"The idea of the play ... the Japanese characters speak Japanese and the English characters speak English. I want the audience to have that dislocation, but I want to create a play [in which] you can understand the story, even if you don't understand the language," he said.

He met Arnold and Hahn in 2003, during a mentorship in Montreal when he was working on A Beautiful View.

He said he was impressed with the way the two work together.

"They work together — they create theatre together and they write together. It's very much the way that I work with Daniel Brooks," MacIvor said.

He also was moved by plays such as Tuesdays and Sundays, which they wrote, produced, directed and starred in together.

"They have what would be considered an experimental approach, but the work that they do is absolutely accessible, it's very entertaining. Sometimes working with experimental process can be alienating or indulgent," he said.

The other Siminovitch finalists included Colleen Murphy, Morwen Brebner, Larry Tremblay and Daniel Danis.

The prize, first awarded in 2001, recognizes accomplishments in design, direction and playwriting in three-year cycles. It is named for scientist Lou Siminovitch and his late wife, Elinore, a playwright.

Past winners include Montreal playwright Carole Frechette, St. John's director Jillian Keiley, Toronto playwright John Mighton, Toronto set and costume designer Dany Lyne and Montreal director Brigitte Haentjens.

"It's a great honour to be part of that complement. These are names that I really respect — it's humbling and an honour to be thought of in that group," MacIvor said.