Posted August 6, 2021
The Interview – Mark Crawford
Mark Crawford‘s plays include New Canadian Curling Club, Stag and Doe, Bed and Breakfast, The Birds and the Bees, and Chase the Ace, as well as a play for young audiences, Boys, Girls and Other Mythological Creatures. Mark’s plays have become some of the most frequently produced plays in Canada, and have been performed across the country, often breaking box office records. As an actor, he has performed on stages across the country. Mark grew up on his family’s farm near Glencoe, Ontario, studied theatre at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College, and now lives in Stratford.
What do you like best about being a playwright?
The collaboration. Whether it’s working with a dramaturge, a director, or a group of actors, I love collaborating with other theatre artists to make a script better. Writing plays is not about crafting a perfect PDF on your computer; it’s about creating a text to be performed. I don’t necessarily agree with or incorporate every piece of feedback I get, but I love hearing it, bouncing ideas around, and letting all of that information create a stronger, clearer, more dynamic play.
What’s the best piece of playwriting advice that you’ve ever received?
“Playwriting is rewriting.” — Miles Potter
Who or what do you count among your inspirations and influences?
I get inspired by many things, but often the impetus to write a play is actually about three or four ideas that coalesce into one bigger idea. I might be inspired by an article I’ve read, and a story I’ve heard, and a type of play I think I’d like to write, and a bigger issue or question I’m interested in exploring. I’m also inspired by audiences: Who are they? What is going on in their world? What are the stories or conversations they might be interested in at the theatre?
When you look at your body of work, do you see any recurring themes or subjects? If so, what are they, and why do you think you revisit them?
The idea of a “body of work” is funny to me, but I guess I have one! I’d say there are a few running themes. One is the fish-out-of-water story: for example, the central couple in Bed and Breakfast or the curling team in The New Canadian Curling Club. I’m interested in putting “the other” in the centre of the narrative. Characters in unlikely situations is a tried-and-true dramatic (and comic!) situation. Another recurring motif in my plays is the journey from heartbreak or fear to hope and freedom. That’s at the core of The Birds and the Bees, and Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures, as well as my new play Chase the Ace. Again, that’s a classic comedy character arc—think Rosalind in As You Like It—but thematically, I love the meaning that journey has in a play. It says to an audience, “Keep going, you can do this, things may get tough, but maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel…”
Your comedies are hilarious, but they always have a serious issue at heart — environmental issues, homophobia, racism. Do you begin writing with a serious theme in mind, or do the themes arise as you write?
It’s a mix of the two. Generally, I’ll have that “issue” or “big idea” in mind when I begin writing. Sometimes, the characters and story are created to build a playground on which I can explore that idea. But I don’t always know exactly what I have to say about it—and often a bigger, more universal theme emerges. In the case of a play like Stag and Doe, for example, I knew I wanted to write about the titular event, and wedding culture, and relationships, but I was several drafts in before I realized that the play is really about how we lose track of what’s important and so often can’t see the forest for the trees.
Can you describe one of your favourite nights in the theatre – either at one of your own plays or at someone else’s?
I have so many favourite nights in the theatre to choose from. One that stands out is seeing the Broadway production of Urinetown in December of 2001—only a couple of months after 9/11. I went to visit a friend in NYC on my Christmas break from theatre school. We got cheap tickets to this show she’d heard good things about. I had no idea what I was going to see. From the very first line, it was excruciatingly funny—so smart and so silly at the same time. As the lights started to dim for Act Two, an usher came up to us in our seats at the back of the theatre and said, “Come with me!” and hurried us down to the fifth or sixth row and sat us in fantastic (and probably very expensive) seats. He said, “These people left at intermission. I’ve been watching you watch the show. You love all the stuff I love, so here you go.” It was a beautiful experience to visit New York at a very tough time, but to be in an audience howling with laughter in spite of that. To have an usher say, “You get it,” was the cherry on top.
You’ve had some extraordinary theatrical experiences. I’m thinking of your very successful tour of Bed and Breakfast with Paul, or the controversy over the school tour of Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures. Do you keep a journal? Will there be a Mark Crawford memoir someday? If so, what will it be called?
I don’t really keep a journal—or not about my theatrical experiences, at least! I’ve joked that if I ever were to write a memoir, it would be titled after the much-maligned (but often accurate) note you get from a director in a comedy: “Louder, Faster, Funnier.”
Tell us about your newest play, Chase the Ace, which premieres at Lighthouse Festival Theatre this month.
Chase the Ace is a solo show which I’ve written and will be performing this summer. It starts at Lighthouse in Port Dover, then I go to Theatre Orangeville, then Festival Players of Prince Edward County, then to the Blyth Festival in September. It’s about a down-on-his-luck radio personality who gets a job running a small-town station just as the pandemic begins. He quickly discovers that the community’s Chase the Ace lottery is not on the up-and-up and there are some shady municipal politics at play. So he goes on a search for the real story…
It’s just me, a table, and a chair, touring around Ontario in my car. I play all the characters. It’s been fun to work on and rehearse. I can’t wait to get it in front of audiences. For a lot of folks, this will be their first time seeing a live performance in a year and a half, so my main goal is to give people a great, fun, joyful night out. The play is also about the importance of the truth, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and hopefully something that will resonate with audiences.