Playfully whimsical, profoundly poignant & sharply candid ruminations in Dawna J. Wightman’s honey be

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Dawna J. Wightman. Photo by Vince Lupo.

 

Montreal-born Dawna J. Wightman is an award-winning Toronto-based actor, playwright and writer. Toronto audiences will recognize Wightman from her solo show Life as a Pomegranate, as well as Yellow Birds (Alumnae Theatre’s FireWorks Festival, 2015) and A Mickey Full of Mouse (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 2016 and Toronto Fringe, 2017). She’s currently working on adapting her unpublished dark fantasy novel A Yarn of Bone & Paper, based on her ebook: Faeries Real & Imagined: How to Create Magical Adventures for Very Young Children, into a feature film. She’s also working with director Theresa Kowall-Shipp on her short Kid Gloves, set to shoot November 2018.

As part of the funding process for Kid Gloves, Wightman self-published and sold honey be, “a collection of sweet words and some that sting,” including hand-painted covers and “surprises” stuffed inside. The first 50-volume print run sold out in about a week; and a second run will be available this month, featuring cover art design by Wightman’s daughter Sabine Spare.

Much like Wightman’s theatre work, the stories, poems and snippets in honey be range from playfully whimsical to profoundly poignant to sharply candid—often all in the same story and sometimes autobiographical in nature. While there are no titles, each piece bears an italicized post-script at the end; in some cases, these take on a conversational and even self-deprecating tone, making for a personal, intimate read.

The themes of family, motherhood and friendship come up in several pieces. There’s the story about Mrs. Kay, written from the perspective of a precocious, neglected eight-year-old who finds a home with fellow misfit schoolmate Sandra Kay and her quirky family; and the goofy four-legged family member Bella in just a dog. Reminders that family can sometimes be found in unexpected places—and to never judge a book by its cover.

There’s heart-wrenching nostalgia with an ode to her son in little boy; and remembrances of wearing an itchy baby blue Phentex dress and being her mother’s go-fer at the bingo hall, in pretty little head. And the heartache and fumbling for what to say to a friend living with cancer tumble out in the visceral when we found out you had cancer and in the outpouring of loving, supportive words in the piece that follows.

Ruminations on body image and aging come up as well, from the erotic in late summer, to the sharply candid and calling bullshit on the ridiculous expectations placed on women’s bodies—professionally and personally—in tits and ass and #chubbyprettywoman, and the #MeToo shock of new neighbour.

Quirky, bittersweet, child-like grown-up, all of the stories in honey be are tinged with humour and poignancy, and the everyday acknowledgement of life’s remarkable moments. And one gets the sense that, beyond coming from a place of truth telling—there’s a deep longing to share these words. There’s a line in the movie Shadowlands, from a C.S. Lewis quote: “We read to know we are not alone”—one could easily also say “We write to let others know they are not alone.”

Copies of honey be will be available for $20.00 via emailing wightrabiit@gmail.com; website coming soon. Wightman will be performing a reading from the book at Stratford’s SpringWorks Festival on October 11.

 

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Life As A Pomegranate – interview with playwright/actor Dawna J. Wightman

As promised, here’s my interview with Life As A Pomegranate playwright/actor Dawna J. Wightman

I sent Dawna some questions via email – here’s what she had to say:

Q: You’ve gone with a more linear, chronological narrative this time around, with no flashbacks into Rozyee’s past. How did you come to find/decide on this revised structure?

A: Embarassment.

Basically the answer is I don’t want pity, so I opted out.

After the first staging, people would come to me after the show crying and telling me how sorry they are to see what a hard life I’ve had and they’ve had a hard life too. “It’s a PLAY!” Yes, there are some elements of my own truths in it and I’m glad you got something out of it but don’t make me a victim. A playwright has to either borrow someone else’s story or strip mine their own life if there is to be a story, right? But the audience thought it was all me.

So Ginette (the director) and I decided to take out the tragic flashbacks and keep the one from the bingo night because it is happy to put a stop to the pity party.

Turns out even with the flashbacks removed people still come up to me crying after the show. Guess the play touches them somewhere deep.

Q: We see the same characters in this version of the play, but each is given a different weight. We’re seeing more of Arthur and less of Rozyee’s mom – and the witch in the mirror seems more predominant. And Arthur has gone from being a mildly supportive to actively discouraging Rozyee’s dream. Can you tell us a bit about the character shifts, and how this affects their roles and impacts on Rozyee?

A: When I’m on stage I have a set of boxes in my head. There’s a box for the lines, one for blocking, timing and emotion. When I am the playwright there’s also and a box that is observing the room.

My observer told me Rozyee has to struggle more to reach the audience on a deeper vein. It’s important to me that my audience feels the story either in the heart, the hips or the head…ultimately I’ll write a play that touches them in every spot.

After the preview I threw out the idea that my story was incomprehensible. I knew by the reactions of the audiences that the story had touched on some universal truths and they could understand it. (There’s nothing worse to me than going to theatre that is so cerebral that the audience doesn’t know what’s happening.)

I worked on developing the inner critic and Arthur and Sutton. In the preview you saw they were more cartoony. In the last version the witch is more depressing, Sutton more menacing and Arthur an ass.

It’s interesting that you say we see less of Rozyee’s mom; Ma was more a part of the show this time round. I wrote the play so that Rozyee and Ma never make contact, they’re always on the phone. I wanted to turn up the ache of loving a parent but never being close to them.

Haha….this answer is so long. Short answer: Rozyee is more of a hero if she struggles more so I wrote in more struggles.

Q: I wanted to ask you about the mean girl birthday party prank anecdote. This time, it’s Sutton’s story and I seem to recall that being Rozyee’s story in the earlier version of the play. Is that right? If so, what made you decide to make it Sutton’s story?

A: You are right. (Thank you for noticing.) I love playing Sutton. I am not a writer. I write to act. I ache to act. The acting community here won’t let me in so I write characters I want to play. To take Sutton deeper (for the actor me), and to make Rozyee less of a victim (for the playwright), I got Sutton to show a bit more humanity. I gave Sutton the story.

Q: The stakes are much higher for Rozyee this time around. She was already a heroine in the earlier version of the play – but this time, she has bigger obstacles and decisions to make. How did this shift in her journey come about?

A: After the preview Nika Rylski said: “Good, now make Rozyee struggle if you want this story to last.”

So I gave Rozyee more struggle and she also grew the courage to divorce Arthur.

Q: You performed the play in New York and will be returning there. Did you perform this version of the script there? What was it like performing for those audiences, in that city?

A: Yes, I perform the same script there.

When I act, I give all of me, every cell. No tricks. No shortcuts. No methods I show up and say the lines, I open my flap and show that through the words of the playwright and the channel of the character.

I fly, I fly, fly.

In NYC, I opened myself up even more. I thought: “If I am only here on Broadway once in my life I want to say that I gave every fiber of me so that it will have been a personal success.”

I had no idea I’d be asked back.

When I get to act I am so happy I truly believe the experience is a dream I conjured. Thoughts become things, right? I am free on a stage. Now. Now. Now. No inner critic.

It was so surreal to act in NYC. I lifted my arms and fell off the cliff willingly, freely. I do this: Here. Here’s my heart. Look. Take it. It’s yours.

I thought the producers would erase the Canadian bits of the show. They loved those bits. I only changed the place where Rozyee gets her treats from Loblaws to Price Chopper so they would understand it is a grocery store.

Q: Will you be making any further revisions to the script? Any other plans for a run or tour?

A: No more revisions. There were 16 drafts to get it where it is. Tempting, but no, that egg is cooked.

Life as a Pomegranate will be in the Midwinter Madness Short Play Festival, Times Square, February 2013.

We’ve applied to six fringe lotteries across Canada for summer 2013: PEI, Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal (didn’t get in), Vancouver, Victoria UNO Festival.

If you know of anyone who wants to see it, let me know…why wouldn’t I want to fly again?

Q: You’re working on a new play right now – Yellow Bird. Will that also be a one-woman show? What can you tell us about it?

A: Yellow Bird is the story of what happened to Ma from Life as a Pomegranate. If there is grant money I can write in three men to play Ron, but if not it will be a two-hander.

Plot: Ron forges his mother’s signature and goes to fight in WW2. He is 14.

Returning from the front injured, he meets Pat and they fall in love, but the two of them are in that war together until they die at a young age, within 10 months of each other.

PTSD, shame, no moral ground…this is their love story.

I will play Ron’s mother, then his wife then his daughter.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share with folks?

Thanks for seeing my work.

 

Thanks, Dawna! With special thanks for being my first blog interview. 🙂

Life As A Pomegranate redux – same adorable misfit heroine, much bigger stakes

My pal Ty and I were among the handful of lucky folks on the waiting list who got in to see Dawna J. Wightman’s one night only performance of her one-woman show Life As A Pomegranate at the Flying Beaver Pubaret last night. A redux version of its spring premiere at Lazy Daisy’s Café – written and performed by Wightman, and directed/dramaturged by Ginette Mohr – the show has since travelled to NYC and will be returning there soon.

Wightman and I had been chatting via blog comments and that’s how I learned about this recent performance; she also told me that the play was quite different from the version I saw back in the spring – and she wasn’t kidding. We still have our misfit heroine Rozyee (Rosy) Fudge, who dreams of being a professional actor as she struggles with family obligations after being transplanted to small-town B.C., trying to “keep under the radar” to avoid rocking the boat that is her husband Arthur’s conservative outlook and job, and doing her best to support her troubled, chain-smoking mother back in Montreal.

The structure of the storytelling is more linear and chronological this time, and the characters – all played by Wightman – are each given a different weight. We still have Rozyee’s stoner neighbour Mo and Arthur’s snobby, sophisticated employee Sutton, along with Arthur and mom – with altered levels of impact. Arthur is less supportive of Rozyee’s dream, going as far as actively discouraging it in this revised version of the play. And the wicked witch in the mirror – her own internal voice of negativity – seems to be even more predominant. The stakes are much higher for Rozyee this time: her obstacles are more challenging and, in the end, she is faced with some serious life-changing decisions.

Rozyee’s indomitable spirit is still very much in evidence and the tone of the storytelling is by turns playful and heart-wrenching – and always magical. Our heroine is a sweet, child-like soul, wishing she could have a flap in her upper chest that she could open and show us all her jumbled up insides and feelings, and that we’d then feel okay to do the same – and we see a flash of this with Sutton. Rozyee still has that turquoise ball of creativity inside her, generating light that shoots out her fingertips. She still believes in herself and in magic and in her dreams.

It’s a pleasure to watch Wightman perform. She is a marvelous actor/storyteller, transitioning from character to character with ease. And a real pro when there were temporary technical difficulties with her body mic, which forced her to pause the show momentarily as sound tech Liz came up to fix the problem. She backed up the scene a bit and started over – all as if it had never happened.

I’d like to do an interview with Wightman and ask her about the changes – and the process. In the meantime, keep an eye out for Life As A Pomegranate and pay Rozyee a visit sometime. It’s a delightful, inspirational, joyful journey. And check out the Flying Beaver sometime – great food and a cozy, relaxed atmosphere. With thanks to Heather for getting us on the waiting list.

Some theatre shouts – ongoing & upcoming shows

Hey all – lots of theatre happening in Toronto right now. Here is a selection of some school, community and indie productions on right now or coming soon:

George Brown Theatre School’s production of Saturday Sunday Monday (by Eduardo De Filipo with English adaptation by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, directed by James Simon) continues this week at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, running until November 17. Check here for details: http://www.georgebrown.ca/theatre/productions/#satsunmon

Amicus Productions’ Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson novella by Robert Hatcher, directed by Harvey Levcoe) runs November 15 – 24 at their temporary home at the Papermill Theatre. For more info (you also can scroll to the bottom of this page for a map): http://www.amicusproductions.ca/current_season.php#jekyll

Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of The Drowning Girls (by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic, directed by Taryn Jorgenson) runs November 16 – December 1 in the Alumnae Theatre studio space, and features a talkback with the director, cast and creative team following the Nov 25 matinée. You can find more info here: http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/1213drown.html

Dawna J. Wightman’s one-woman show Life As A Pomegranate (by Wightman and directed by Ginette Mohr) has been revised since its early run back in the spring – and will get a one night only performance at 7 p.m. on November 23 at the Flying Beaver Pubaret (488 Parliament St., Toronto – near Carlton).

And now I’ll leave you with a photo of The Drowning Girls set, designed for Alumnae Theatre by Ed Rosing.

Passion, play & an unlikely heroine

I had the great pleasure of seeing some very talented women perform last night, this time in the east end of Toronto at Lazy Daisy’s Café, which was converted into an intimate venue for the show.

Kat Leonard opens for the premiere of Dawna J. Wightman’s one-woman show Life  As A Pomegranate, giving the audience a 15-minute sampling of some songs from her one-woman show A Depper Kind of Love (her fanatic fan opus to Johnny Depp, which ran during the Toronto Fringe Festival 2011): “Jockstrap,” “Not Us” and “Asshole.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I laugh and feel my heartstrings plucked every time I hear these songs. She moves easily through whatever space she’s performing in, dancing and drawing the audience in. And it’s such a treat to witness the reactions, especially from folks who are seeing her for the first time, including my seat mates Bonnie, Dave and Jorge – and Dave and I were the biggest laughers for both shows. Coincidentally, just before Leonard started her set, Bonnie and I had been chatting about the Dark Shadows t.v. series, which she’d recently watched on DVD, as well as the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton movie. A good, good time was had by all.

After a brief intermission, when we had another chance to sample the Lazy Daisy Café’s yummy fare, the lights went down for Life As A Pomegranate. Written and performed by Dawna J. Wightman, and directed/dramaturged by Ginette Mohr, the audience goes on a journey with the play’s heroine Rozyee (Rosy) Fudge, travelling back and forth with her through time and memory over the course of some 40 years, from the 1970s to present day.

Wightman is an excellent actor/storyteller, weaving various characters throughout Rozyee’s tale: her raspy-voiced, neurotic, chain-smoking mother; her somewhat bland but kind husband Arthur and their three children; Arthur’s snobby, sophisticated co-worker Sutton; and Rozyee’s stoner neighbour lady, as well as Rozyee herself at various ages (in an effort to rise above the ordinary dullness of day-to-day life, she revises the spelling of her name as an adult). Far from being caricatures, these are distinct, well-formed characters. Sweet, naive and adorably awkward, Rozyee dreams of being a professional actor and playwright, struggling with childhood trauma, a needy mother and later on the challenges of raising a young family in a small town (too small). Perhaps her biggest challenge is overcoming her own self-doubt, embodied in the wicked witch in the mirror, her discouraging inner voice of harsh negativity and “can’t do.”

Music and play feature prominently in this production, the beginning and ending of the play bookended by “What A Friend Have In Jesus” played on the kazoo. Wightman also incorporates other voices: soprano Judith Fiore and young singer Margot Larivière – and the effect is both haunting and lovely. The small stage is made of platforms painted in bright colours, like watercolour paintings, and Rozyee employs finger puppets to tell us the story of how she and Arthur met, wooed and married. And I’m not gonna lie to you – there was finger puppet sex. Rozyee describes her creativity as a blue ball, situated in her upper chest – near the heart – emitting creative power like an electric current out through her fingertips. Rozyee’s hair (styled by Fran at Hair Addiction) is also child-like, playful and messy. In fact, the “Pomegranate” of the play’s title is a reference to how “messy, juicy, seedy, bitter and sweet” life can be.

Life As A Pomegranate is a delight – by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. And very nicely paired with Leonard’s selections from A Depper Kind of Love as an opening act.

The very short run continues tonight and tomorrow night at Lazy Daisy’s Café (doors open at 7 p.m., showtime at 8 p.m.). Bad news is, this run is sold out. You can take your chances on cancellations, though. Lazy Daisy’s is at 1515 Gerrard St. East, just west of Coxwell – call 416-691-3401 to check on availability.

Good news is, Wightman is mounting a longer run at Essentia (2180 Queen St. East): June 29 & 30 and July 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15. Show starts at 8 p.m.  – call 416-691-3401 for tickets ($20 advance, $25 at the door).

For more info on Kat Leonard, Dawna J. Wightman and Lazy Daisy’s Café, please visit their websites:

Kat Leonard: http://www.katleonard.com/home.cfm

Dawna J. Wightman: http://www.dawnajoywightman.com/

Lazy Daisy’s Café: http://www.lazydaisyscafe.ca/