Deanna Kruger is an award-winning professional playwright and Guelph Arts Council's 2020 Youth Opportunities recipient - an award intended to encourage programs that will initiate, enhance or expand opportunities for children and youth in Guelph and Wellington County to experience or become in engaged in the arts. This winter we followed up Kruger to ask her a few questions about her journey as a playwright, and how she plans on applying the award funds to launch her new and exciting online playwriting workshop series this coming March for teens ages 14-17.
Local playwright Deanna Kruger and GAC Youth Opportunities Award recipient
Tell us about your journey as a playwright and how it has evolved. What inspires you?
I first fell in love with theatre in Tom Slater's Grade 9 drama classes at John F. Ross CVI. Ever since, theatre and playwriting has been an important part of my life. I've also written fiction and poetry over the years, but playwriting remains my passion. A key turning point in my career was being part of Nightwood Theatre's Write from the Hip script development program. The experience helped give me the confidence to truly trust my voice.
As a playwright, my primary focus is writing character-driven scripts that explore the desires, joys, and fears of complex people. I'm also really interested in creating substantial roles for older women. I draw inspiration from many places, but family stories often inspire my work—even if these stories only provide the seed of an idea, or a striking image.
As the Guelph Arts Council Youth Opportunities recipient you will be launching an online playwriting workshop series in March for teens ages 14-17 in partnership with the Guelph Public Library. Can you tell us about what you have planned and where the idea came from?
I'm so excited to be partnering with the Guelph Arts Council and the Guelph Public Library. The inspiration for the workshop came from my own experience facilitating a playwright group for adults—it's a role that has brought me great joy. I've always wanted to facilitate a similar group for teens. Given the hard year we've all had, it felt like the perfect time to try. As a parent, I've also seen how youth have been isolated during the pandemic. Teens interested in the performing arts have been doubly impacted—theatre is a collaborative art and social distancing has caused a necessary but enormous disruption in theatre education and performances. This workshop will offer local teens a creative outlet.
Everyone is welcome—I don't expect teens to have any previous theatre or writing experience. These sessions will offer something for everyone, from curious beginners to committed drama club members. We will explore different aspects of playwriting, such as world-building, character development, dialogue, and plot. I've also planned some writing prompts and brainstorming exercises.
My main priority will be making a positive, relaxed, and welcoming space that encourages youth to experiment, ask questions, take risks, and have fun. We'll embrace failure as a necessary part of art-making and life. I also look forward to laughing a lot. The free 3-part workshop runs 6:30-7:30pm on March 24, March 31, April 7. Registration is required.
In light of the pandemic your workshop will be offered online. How do you envision facilitating your online program to spark curiosity, creativity and potentially new friendships amongst participants?
I was facilitating a playwriting group for adults when the world shut down last March. As I transitioned the group to virtual meetings, I wondered: Would an online format feel cold and distant? Would our conversations flow? How could I inspire creation on a tiny screen? Thankfully, I discovered that online theatre and education is not only possible, but it can be fun, personable, and rewarding. I've learned to embrace and acknowledge the imperfect situation. Having a sense of humour really helps too. Since youth from all over the city can attend the workshop, teens will have a chance to connect with likeminded peers, so I expect some new friendships will be made.
For those who are new to playwriting, how and why will you make receiving feedback fun and accessible to youth?
One amazing part of the workshop is the opportunity for youth to share their writing with me for individual feedback. It will be a great honour to read these pages. My comments can also be delivered in whichever way best suits the author—whether as written notes, or as an audio file.
I think it's important to model positive ways to give feedback. For example, sharing what captures my imagination and asking questions designed to help the playwright continue to build their story. Or perhaps I'll suggest something to read, a work of art to look at, or a creative exercise to try. I hope to serve as a cheerleader for these young playwrights and encourage them to keep exploring the ideas, images, and themes that inspire them.
What supports do you recommend for young playwrights in Guelph who are interested in honing their skills, knowledge, and experience?
The first piece of advice I'd give to any young writer is to read A LOT. Of course, read plays. But explore other genres: novels, poetry, graphic novels, nonfiction. I'd also encourage them to begin jotting down ideas. What people, places, and stories interest you? What captivates your imagination? Have you read a news story that you can't stop thinking about? Did you met a fascinating person? What does your world look like? Take a walk around your neighbourhood and record what you see: a missing cat poster, someone delivering newspapers, a kite caught in tree branches. Sometimes a single image can spark an entire story.
Young playwrights should also pay attention to how people speak. Even though we're stuck at home, you can still stop and carefully listen to the voices around you. How fast are people speaking? When do they speed up or slow down? When do people take breaths? Are they using full- or half-sentences? How do voices overlap? When is there silence?
Where can youth and parents learn more to sign up and join your online playwriting workshop at the Guelph Public Library?
Youth and parents can learn more about the online workshop at the Guelph Public Library website (www.guelphpl.ca). Teens can sign-up through the GPL Events Calendar.