Playwright Andrew Moodie talks about his struggle and strategies

Eager students piled into Theatre Glendon recently to hear Canadian playwright, actor and director Andrew Moodie, celebrated for such plays as Riot, A Common Man’s Guide to Loving Women and Toronto the Good, talk about his personal history on Feb. 25. The latest guest in Glendon’s bp nichol Reading Series, Moodie also spoke about his struggle to become an actor and the playwriting strategies he used while creating some of his well-known works.

In her introduction of Moodie, Glendon English Professor Cynthia Zimmerman stressed his emergence as a new voice and a new perspective on the theatre scene. Zimmerman talked about her first encounter with Riot 15 years ago, Moodie’s appearance at the Keele campus during the launch of A Common Man’s Guide to Loving Women and his current project, The Language of the Heart, a 1920s musical. “And I haven’t even said a word about his acting,” said Zimmerman. She then handed over the stage to Moodie.

Right: Andrew Moodie. Photo by Chris Frampton

“I don’t remember at any point in time not wanting to be an actor,” said Moodie. Portraying the start of his career as somewhat typical, he told his audience: “I idealized Marlon Brando, James Dean, blah, blah, blah.” After an epiphany in Grade 6, Moodie realized “that you can actually do this for a living.” An interest in the arts followed as did work on a children’s play and in a show at the Canadian Theatre Company, as well as a made for TV movie. Looking back on some of his setbacks, Moodie recounted how he was rejected by the National Theatre School on several occasions and being told “you just don’t have what it takes” before a friend finally convinced him that, in fact, he was already doing it, he was already a successful actor.

Moving from Vancouver to Toronto, and having trouble finding work, Moodie said he received some good advice from his girlfriend at the time. “Just do something,” she had said. “And so I thought, I’m going to write a play. I’m just going to write a play,” he told Glendon students, capturing the attention of future playwrights in the room.

Moodie described his playwriting process first through recounting the approach he used in writing Riot and then describing subsequent plays for which his strategy changed slightly. One of his strategies was to begin by writing down what he wanted to say. Next, he wrote down characters on cards, and then structured their relationships, making sure that in each relationship there was some form of conflict because, as Moodie sees it, “conflict is to drama as gravity is to the universe.” As for the plot, he explained how he noted points of conflict and other elements on cards as well, before finally organizing them in order and saying to himself: “Okay, all right. So that’s the play.” He had a great deal of success with Riot, as well as some of the other plays he used the same writing strategy on.

The Ottawa-born Moodie also spoke about his present work, a play inspired by Wallace Thurman’s 1932 novel Infants of the Spring, which he found to be a fascinating exploration of a community of young black artists in the 1920s. Set in the same period, Moodie’s play, The Language of the Heart, tells the story of “a geeky little Canadian’s” move to New York and his subsequent experiences during the Harlem Renaissance. Telling the audience, he “lost his mind” with this play, making reference to the number of actors and musicians involved, Moodie related how producing your own work can be both incredibly frustrating and hugely fulfilling.

Moodie encouraged students in the audience to do the best work they can and not to worry about reviews. “Never forget that Rodin was laughed out of Paris,” he told aspiring writers, triggering a great deal of inspired questions on his writing process.

More about Andrew Moodie

Moodie’s first professional performance was in a production of David Fennario’s Nothing to Lose, which was performed at the legendary Lafayette House and produced and directed by Zack Crane. That was the launch of his career performing in many of Canada’s most respected theatres, including the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Factory Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, LKTYP, Second City and the Canadian Stage Company.

He garnered a Dora nomination for Best Male Performance for his rendition of Othello, and he won a Dora award for his performance in Roseneath’s Theatre’s production of David Craig’s Health Class. In 1995, he launched a successful playwriting career when the Factory Theatre produced his play Riot. The production won the prestigious Chalmers Award for Best New Production. Since then, he has written several other plays including A Common Man’s Guide to Loving Women, Oui, The Lady Smith, The Real McCoy, and Toronto the Good. In 2006, he was a member of the creative team that developed the hit CBC radio drama Afghanada, which won a Writer’s Guild of Canada award in 2007. In January of 2006 he became the host of the TVO series Big Ideas.

More about the bp nichol Reading Series

The Glendon English Department has been presenting a reading series for Canadian writers, sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts, since the early 1970s. During the 1980s, poet bp Nichol taught creative writing in the department and after his tragic and premature death in 1988, his colleagues named the reading series after him. As part of the series, several Canadian novelists, poets, short fiction writers and playwrights come to Glendon each year and read from their work.

Submitted by Glendon translation student Kathleen Dodd-Moher