The Long and Short of it – Prairie Books NOW Review

Motivation for playwrights, comedy for readers

Collection of PTE shorts highlights some of the city’s most talented playwrights

Reviewed by Kyla Neufeld

A debate about pies, an argument about alien abductions, adolescent chess players, and a zombie asking to be remembered: all of these can be found in The Long & Short of It: A selection of short plays written by the Prairie Theatre Exchange Playwrights Unit, a new collection of “Short Shots” written by the Prairie Theatre Exchange Playwrights Unit and edited by Brian Drader, the executive director of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights.

Every year, the Playwrights Unit showcases new plays during the Carol Shields Festival of New Works. The Long & Short of It represents the best of those 50-plus plays by playwrights such as Sharon Bajer, Joseph Aragon, Rick Chafe, Debbie Patterson, James Durham, and Alix Sobler.

“There was such a cohesive voice to all of these. It ended up, I think, fitting together really well,” says Collins, adding that most of the plays have a comedic slant. “I like, too, that it feels like a snapshot of what that experience [of writing for the Carol Shields Festival] has been like,” adds Trish Cooper, author of the play “Life of Pie.”

“I actually think for anyone else it would be fun to read,” says Cooper. “There’s a lot going on.”

The Long & Short of It is dedicated to Bob Metcalfe, artistic director of PTE for 15 years, who founded both the Playwrights Unit and the Carol Shields Festival. Metcalfe has commissioned, nurtured, and produced 19 plays through the Playwrights Unit and has been a source of constant support and encouragement for local playwrights.

“When we found out that Bob Metcalfe would be leaving Prairie TheatreExchange, we thought it would be a loving parting gift to give him, to publish this book and dedicate it to him,” Collins says. “We presented it to him at the last Carol Shields Festival where he was the artistic director.”

For Brian Drader, who recently returned to Winnipeg to head MAP after being the director of playwriting at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal from 2004 to 2017, editing The Long & Short of It was like catching up with old friends.

“The PTE Unit represents many of this city’s most talented and active playwrights,” he says. “And what a pleasure to dig into their plays! To experience how my old colleagues have grown as artists and storytellers, to experience the work of two former students who have come fully into their own, and to discover the work of new playwrights who I didn’t
know except by reputation.”

Drader concludes, “To be able to so quickly get reacquainted with old colleagues and meet new ones was a blessing.” 

Moon Was a Feather – Winnipeg Free Press Review

Reviewed by Jonathan Ball

Scott Nolan’s Moon was a Feather (The Muses’ Company, 96 pages, $16) finds the Winnipeg singer/songwriter offering sad meditations in short, clipped lines: “I’m like an upright piano. / I need to at least be in tune with myself. / No one really wants / to hear a grown man sing.”

In an early poem, Nolan compares his childhood excitement for a “Judas Priest concert, / running on hormones and our parents’ liquor cabinets” to the calmer reality of the rock star life: “Meanwhile, Judas Priest played the back nine / at the Charleswood golf course.” Many of the poems try to pop the romantic bubbles that bloom to engulf some experience for a harderedged acceptance of how things are. A must-have for Nolan fans, and a strong, minimalist collection.

Moon Was a Feather – Prairie Books Now Review

Long walks and the search for stillness help germinate debut collection

Singer-songwriter Nolan lets snippets of the city speak through his poems

Reviewed by Steve Locke

The neighbourhoods, streets, and interstitial spaces of Winnipeg appear frequently in Moon Was a Feather, the first poetry collection from hometown singer-songwriter Scott Nolan. Stripped down to its quiet grit in moments of nostalgia and contemplation, the city spirit of uniqueness and integrity pokes out between lines like blades of grass through cracks in the pavement.

Take this description of spring fever from “Privacy Issues,” for example: “It always brings with it a sort of hysteria. / Two months we have / before we return / to our waking hibernation.”

“Winnipeg has its influence on everything I do,” Nolan says. “I used to defend it, yet now, I often brag about it. We live through four distinct and often difficult seasons, and historically speaking, we are a frontier town. Something about these extremes tends to foster a deficit of pretense.”

Brief but lingering, Nolan’s poems give readers an experience like glancing out through a car window during a pause at an intersection, witnessing small moments from a distance. This makes sense, given Nolan’s creative process, as most of the poems found in Moon Was a Feather were typed into an iPhone during pauses on long walks throughout the city.

“These long daily walks found me in the neighbourhood I grew up in, and frequently in the company of a childhood friend. I’m about middle-aged, I suppose, and I’m taking some inventory,” he says.

The inventory includes reflections on addiction and loneliness in “New Year’s Eve,” missing and murdered Indigenous women in “Springtime in Manitoba,” and rebellion and sharing stamped-out cigarette butts in “Grade Eight.” In “Deli,” the owner is remembered for loving baseball and jazz, and for honouring Nolan by placing a photo of him on his wall of fame.

Also remembered are certain beloved artists who have recently passed, their legacies immortalized in text. In “Telecaster Tears,” the loss of Prince Rogers Nelson is felt as the “colour / formerly known as purple” dissolves into blue and red. Gord Downie lives in “The Man Who Walks Amongst the Stars,” which articulates a feeling of homesickness in singing along with a barroom of strangers to memorized anthems of courage and hockey.

Movement and stillness both play significant roles in the collection, as one flows into the other, leading Nolan to settings that are described in “Cancelled” as “The kind of quiet you could tell your secrets to.” There, the reader becomes intimately acquainted with his introspective, detached voice.

In “Upright Piano,” the speaker watches folks enjoying ice cream on a warm summer day while he is “learning to breathe again.” Contemplating his detachment, the speaker compares himself to the titular musical instrument, claiming, “I need to at least be in tune with myself.”

These poems come from an authentic need for stillness and contemplation.

“I’ve lived with anxiety disorder for a number of years now, and have had some recent successes with the practice of meditation,” says Nolan. “Quiet and stillness twice a day for 20-minute sittings has done wonders for me.” 

Spring 2019 book preview

Coming Spring 2019:

With Glowing Hearts
by Jennifer Wynne Webber
Scirocco Drama
available April 2019

When the “Kirkland Lake gals of 1941” begin to share their story with a present-day audience, a siren sounds and they soon find themselves pulled right back into the fateful winter of 1941–42. There, they gather again at the mine-head, waiting for word on the men trapped underground, as their fear and rage builds. When the husband of one of the women is badly injured, their desire to help her quickly leads them into a much larger campaign to help all the families they can. Before long, they’ve become the heart and soul of a large-scale union-organizing drive that is fuelled by their sheer will—and sometimes giddy enthusiasm—but that is also put to the test by their own inexperience, a bitter strike, and the brutal force of the powers that be.

The Nails
by Jason Maghanoy
Scirocco Drama
available April 2019

Ally and Josh spend every summer with their father as he goes from small town to small town, working for a construction company in America. But this summer is different. This is the summer they grow up.

The Nails is a play about family. It is a play about faith. And it captures a world of freedom and extremism in all directions; love and cruelty exist within the same space here. And sometimes they feel like the same thing.

The Fighting Season
by Sean Harris Oliver
Scirocco Drama
available April 2019

Sean Harris Oliver’s The Fighting Season is a searing investigation into the Afghan War through the eyes of a Canadian field medic (Kristy), an OR surgeon (Terry), and a recovery room nurse (Karine). When all three medical professionals experience a life-changing event in the operating room of the NATO-controlled Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield, they are sent back to Canada for further evaluation. Through Kristy, Terry and Karine’s interwoven monologues we begin to understand the contribution that Canada’s medical teams made in Afghanistan, as well as the devastating impact that war has on the ones charged with saving lives.

Honour Beat
by Tara Beagan
Scirocco Drama
available April 2019

Two grown sisters face off over their mother’s death-bed. Together they confront one another, their own identities, and what will remain when their mom leaves this world. A contemporary look at the significance of faith and family, Honour Beat explores the stories this Indigenous family has told itself through the years, as their mother’s youthful spirit leads them toward forgiveness.

Moon Was a Feather
by Scott Nolan
The Muses’ Company
available April 2019

Evolving from a routine of long walks he began to help him quit smoking, Winnipeg singer, songwriter and musician Scott Nolan’s debut poetry collection Moon Was a Feather reflects on a life well-considered. Poems that chronicle a difficult youth, experience with drugs, friendships, and music are interwoven with insights gleaned from the eclectic jumble of neighbourhoods and people he encounters on his long walks. Spare—eloquent with a healthy dose of grit—the poems of Moon Was a Feather are infused with the poet’s deep appreciation for the eccentricities of fate that life throws at him, and the love for music that helps him make sense of them.

Fall 2018 book preview

For fall 2018:

Better Angels: A Parable and Eating Pomegranates Naked
by Andrea Scott
available October 2018

In Better Angels: A Parable, Akosua Mansa leaves Ghana to work for Greg and Leila Tate in the tony suburbs of a metropolitan city. But she soon finds herself in an impossible situation: like more than forty million people, she’s become trapped in modern-day slavery. Taking cues from the spider god, Anansi, Akosua will take her destiny into her own hands.

Eating Pomegranates Naked examines two couples and their single frenemy as they scratch the surface of their relationships over too much wine. What do infertility, religion, toxoplasmosis, and ice-cream have to do with Tulipmania? Maybe more than you think.

The Right Road to Pontypool
by Alex Poch-Goldin
available October 2018

Moishe Yukle Bernstein was a poor pedlar who bought land near Pontypool, Ontario, a tiny Protestant town outside Toronto. The spot became a summer getaway for Jewish garment workers from Kensington Market—and for six decades, families made their way to the small village, where they shared dreams, memories, and a pathetic waterfront. With a vast array of characters, songs, and a healthy dose of humour, The Right Road to Pontypool is a unique and moving depiction of the Jewish experience in Canada.


Janet Wilson Meets the Queen
by Beverley Cooper
available October 2018

Janet Wilson Meets the Queen begins in Vancouver, 1969, as society is undergoing profound change. Janet, a woman who places great faith in the British monarchy and its traditions, is valiantly trying to hold together her dysfunctional family: her teenaged daughter, Lilibet; her aging mother, “Granny,” and her husband, Jim. When Janet’s nephew from San Francisco arrives on her doorstep looking for refuge from the Vietnam War draft, the family grapples with what to do. While the people she cares for are irrevocably affected by the changing political landscape, Janet Wilson struggles for equilibrium, attempting to hold on to a world that refuses to stay still.

Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures
by Mark Crawford
available October 2018

Deep in Simon’s basement, there is a secret world of imagination and adventure. When his new friend Abby comes over after school to work on a class assignment, Simon steers their work toward creating a play. However, Simon’s older brother, Zach, is uneasy with their play-acting and dressing up…because, as he reveals to Abby, Simon wishes to be a girl.

As the three characters struggle through their conflicts, they improvise a fairy tale about a magic prince, an evil king, a brave young girl, and a fire-breathing dragon who’s getting more real by the minute. Can Abigail save Princess Simone from the Tower of Light? Will Zach succeed in turning his brother back into being a boy once and for all? And will Simon overcome fear and finally become their true self? Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures is a thoughtful and hilarious new play about our ability to transform.