Alumni Theatre -- New Ideas & Why I love Rabelais

I answered a call for directors for the New Ideas Festival at the Alumni Theatre in Toronto. There are three weeks of one-act plays plus longer "Saturday Experiments." The process is intense.

Playwrights send their plays or works-in-progress to the Alum. Once the best are chosen, the theatre holds a 'meet and greet,' where playwrights get on stage and explain their concepts. After that, directors and playwrights drink a coffee and chat. Some exchange resumes and set up meetings right away. There is no guarantee that any particular director will get to direct one of the plays. The auditorium was pretty full and the number of plays are limited.

A few days after the meeting, directors receive email copies of the plays to read. We have until November 30 to network by phone etc. and submit a proposal for our two favorites. The choice will be based primarily on the preferences of the writers. Not bad. Maybe I should submit a short to them next year. Maybe you should too.

I have co-directed several times and I have directed my own school productions but this is different: adult actors and an adult audience; working with a script that isn't my own; production in a recognized venue that is publicized and open to the public. Wow.

Of course we won't get paid but many of the people involved will be ambitious, early in their careers and counting on a good show with reviews. I hope I can do the job they deserve and still have a good time. I'm very old-fashioned and still believe in doing "art for art's sake." That's one reason I think some of the best writers have always had a day job, often one that was considered more important than their writing.

My favorite example is Francois Rabelais, doctor to the king, possible spy and Renaissance man. He claimed to write his political satires featuring giant kings during his meal breaks. I'm impressed he could eat considering how scatological some passages are... Of course it's more about theories of education and politics than dirty jokes. He exhorts us to crack the bone that is this amusing book to get to it's precious essence.

Interested? Read Pantagruel, Garantua and the Tiers Livre. It's wonderful stuff and easily available in English or modern French translations.

I Prefer Rabelais: Oeuvres completes, L'integrale. Mine is dated 1973, by Editions du Seuil, Paris but it was purchased in Aix-en-Provence in the 1990's. It's sort of the French equivalent of the Riverside Chaucer in many ways with an added advantage: Each page is laid out so you can look at the middle French and modern French translation side by side. There are copious footnotes in the back to help with historical context and word nuance. It's one of my prize possessions.

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