About the Author

Kit Brennan

Kit Brennan was born in Vancouver and grew up in Kingston, Ontario. She currently lives in Montreal where she is a faculty member and coordinates the playwriting program at Concordia University’s Department of Theatre. Her plays have been produced across Canada and include Spring Planting (Winner of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild 1993 Literary Award), Magpie (Winner of the 1992 Grain Drama Award), as well as new plays Hunger Striking and Having. Her latest book Two Hands Clapping (Signature Editions), is a volume of plays written by playwrights from coast to coast and most regions in between.

Books by this Author
Magpie, Having, Hunger Striking

from Magpie

Born and bred Presbyterian, eh? But there you go. I got an open mind. I like to know what's going on, what other people think. My ma'd die'f she knew. You're the only girl, Bernice. We got to keep them going right. We got to keep the faith. What'll people think, you not there every Sunday? They're not going! How come I got to go! I been away from home over half my life—funny how the years go. How she keeps her hold. Never kept it over my brothers, drinkin' and swearin'. Just goes to show... Anyway. One summer night, just after my third, I went to a revivalist. I did. You don't believe me. Something to do, like, see what all the fuss was. See, my friend Cheryl was always going on about him, the preacher; said he was a wonderful man, he'd make you feel so pure and that. She got me curious. And I was—well, I wasn't feeling so good, you know. And anyway. This preacher, I knew him to see him, through the Legion, eh? where my dad went. He's been around, municipal politics and that, well respected family man. Good head of silver hair. Lots of women going and the husbands didn't mind. He had a hall, a big crowd of people went every Sunday. She said, Cheryl said, it was like a well kept secret, it was a beautiful sacred place. She's like me, Cheryl—three little kids, one of them not out of diapers. Well, I got two more now, but this was three years ago, eh? And we get along all right, her and me, watch the soaps together sometimes, though I'd rather watch them on my own than gabbing away and wondering what I'd missed and that. Anyway, there I was, middle of the summer, baking in this hall with the windows closed like we were doing something we shouldn't be. My ma woulda killed me! She was all excited, Cheryl, her face all red and shining—


from Having

Erin: Are you scared, Nan? Of death? Maybe you don't want to talk about it...

Olivia: Of course I don't. Who does? Are you asking because—

Erin: I don't know why. You don't have to. Never mind.


Olivia: Yes, I'm scared. Like a chill wind down my spine whenever I think of it, because it's coming, and it's unknowable. We have no idea what to expect, none at all, no matter what the churches say. When you're young, even if you're not— completely well, you think—you have to—that death can't happen to you. It's why young people are more foolhardy, perhaps. They're not yet fully connected, to everything that's here, everything they have. It doesn't yet mean very much. Maybe that's rather fanciful

Erin: No, it's not. Go on.

Olivia: Then at my age...? You know I'm realizing you'd better learn to embrace it, because you can't sidestep death, it's not going away, and if you can't get a sort of a grip on this unknowable thing, then you're going to be in a terrible state—Stan was in such a terrible state (Looks at Erin, worried.) That's probably more than you wanted to know. Isn't it? ...Erin? There are so many ways you can do what you want with your life. Don't let this small setback stop you.

Erin: It's not small. I don't want to spend my life watching everyone else have a good time, being afraid to do anything. Like, in that ballad—why does she have to die in her bedroom, for the highwayman?

Olivia: Well, because she loves him. She wants him to be free.

Erin: She should be riding, getting away—!

Olivia: They've tied her up, she can't get free. But she thinks, at least I can help him.

Erin: No, I think he wants her dead—it makes him excited, her finger on the trigger, turned against herself.

Olivia: What do you mean, dear?

Erin: He wants to see how far he can make her go. He's a thief and a murderer. Why don't songs tell the truth!


from Hunger Striking

She makes me think, all the time, think so hard. She never coddles me, or calls me stupid. She never pretends to feel anything for me that isn't real. I see a tiny hole back into the real world.

"The suffragettes, Sarah. Women who wanted a voice, a share in shaping the world and their own lives. You've read the facts, but the truth is this: the hunger strike is a gamble. The striker must rely on the humanity of her jailors. What if they refuse to back down? What if they don't understand the importance of her demand? Her goal must be clear give me the vote, and I will eat. So, here we are. What are you demanding of me? Do you see what I'm asking? What do we need to give you to allow you to give up your hunger strike?"

My mind a blank. The words spinning around in it. It had seemed like a gift, to know about suffragettes. Why must she keep going on and on? I don't want to know why women stopped eating at the beginning of the last century, I just want to know how.

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Out on a Limb

Out on a Limb

Short Plays by New Playwrights
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from Foreword

One of the pleasures of editing an anthology is finding a narrative for the book as a whole. This one speaks of love in its many guises. The dozen plays that lie within these pages are a kind of theatrical chocolate box: often funny, with dark centres.

The plays are more often than not about love, friendship, attraction, commitment?—?and about fear of these things. The characters range from the very young to the very old. They are witty, hilarious, loyal, and bewildered; they can also be devastatingly cruel or treacherous. They do what they do because they are searching?—?wishing to find perfect love, or the answer to life’s profound mystery; to find release from a poisonous relationship, or a moment of transcendence through letting someone go. The point of view is youthful. Even the very oldest character is where she is because of a decision made in her twenties.

I coordinate the Major in Playwriting program at Concordia University, and a number of years ago, decided to fund a yearly playwriting award for work that comes out of the Theatre Department’s writing courses. I enjoy discussions with the jurors later, and have found that comedy is hard but may seem deceptively easy, and it can be underestimated. Most of the plays in this volume exhibit a lively sense of humour, often with a sting or a dark slant or a quiet tragedy at their core, which makes them moving and memorable.

Twelve short scripts, twelve complete worlds. Cast size ranges from one to four actors. There are three one-woman plays, two plays for two men, one play for two women, four plays for one man and one woman, one play for one woman and one man and one other, and one play for two women and two men. Playing time in performance, for each of the scripts, is under one hour.

The book is organized in such a way that the plays might be chronological. The first has characters who are fifteen and sixteen; the final one features a feisty ninety-one-year-old nun. Several scripts in the centre of the volume are explorations of unexpected pregnancy and what happens to a relationship when under that pressure. There is new love which is afraid of itself, and old love that is opening the door to something new. There are brothers and jealousy, a mother and daughter trying to change their lives, and the reworking of an old warning tale about little girls and temptation.

I’ve taught playwriting for many years, and often new writers choose cynicism and despair to augment their dramas. The writers in this volume, while still acknowledging that life is hard, make use of more complex observations. Life can be confusing, yes, but in moments such as those you’ll encounter in these plays, it is very much worthwhile.

This anthology will interest those seeking short plays or scenes for young actors?—?whether you are a teacher, a young professional actor or director, or anyone else who is interested in new and exciting work by emerging writers.

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Spring Planting

Caroline: How long were you married?

Garnet: More than fifty years.

Caroline: Holy! Weren't you bored?

Garnet: Maybe she was with me, I hope not—I was never bored with her, she was too interesting for that.

Caroline: She got so small. It was scary...

Garnet: Why she had to suffer... I don't hold with it.

Caroline: Me neither.

Garnet: Well. Part of nature, at our age. Anne always thought it'd be me first, though, thought that'd be easier, for me. Never trusted my cooking. Your mother now, she's got a lot of years. She'll be all right, Caroline.

Caroline: I don't know. She won't talk about Dad.

Garnet: He was too young. It was too sudden.

Caroline: It's like she thinks he's coming back. That he's just gone to the store or something, like he'll overhear her if she gives up on him, or—I don't know. Did Mum water these?

Garnet: Nope.

Caroline: Aren't you supposed to water them as soon as you put them in?

Garnet: Yep.

Caroline waters her mother's rows.

Caroline: I really miss Dad, but...

Garnet: What?

Caroline: She kinda won't let me. I remember all sorts of things that she doesn't. I don't know.

Garnet: I remember, he had a wicked left-handed swing. One time—just after you came here, you'da been about ten—he hit his thumb with a hammer—

Caroline: (Laughing.) A hammer?

Garnet: —on MacPherson's roof down the road—I thought he'd fall off he was that riled!

Caroline: But he didn't, I bet!

Garnet: Kept his balance good. Built good houses.

Caroline: Yeah. He'd say, nothing comes free in this world, kiddo. Gotta work. It's the price we pay.

Garnet: That's true. Now Caroline, speakin' about the price we pay—

Caroline: I'm on the swim team this year. We're going to Owen Sound in the fall. I'm their best swimmer, that's what my coach says. Maybe I'll be famous, swim the Atlantic, wouldn't that be something? But Mum wouldn't let me, she wants me to stay in school forever and—

Garnet: Need to tell you something! Need your help.

Caroline: (Surprised by his cutting her off) ...'Kay. What?

Garnet: Well, the thing is... dammit. Women are better at these things...

Caroline: What things?

Garnet: See, Anne always did the money things, answering the mail....She wrote the cheques and that.

Caroline: Yeah?

Garnet: Thought your mother might—the thing is... It's a secret, sunshine.

Caroline: What? Are you broke?

Garnet: No, more like... See, I can't tell Robert, it just wouldn't be right.

Caroline: Tell him what?

Garnet is getting increasingly agitated.

Garnet: Dammit I—see, I had to leave school for the farm. I'm not going to tell my grandson—all his degrees, his grinning face, laughing at me—

Caroline: Garnet?

Garnet: I—I can't read, Caroline.

Caroline: ...Really? Wow! I can't imagine not being able to read. Did people ever call you stupid?

She realizes how this sounds as Garnet registers the blow.

Garnet: Not till now.

Jill enters from the house.

Jill: I'm so excited I can't take it in. Please, you two, tell me it's real! Look at this. (Jill hands Garnet the letter, which he doesn't look at.) We're moving to Alberta!

Caroline: Alberta? What are you talking about?

Jill: They called me in March, we had an interview by phone, then I didn't hear anything. They want me!

Caroline: That's nuts! All my friends are here! I'm going to Owen Sound, Mum, in the fall. It's my swimming!

Jill: There are pools in Alberta. You'll just have to join—

Caroline: It's my team and—they're counting on me. I want to do it!

Jill: Well you can't. You'll be with me.

Caroline: Why didn't you tell me?

Jill: I'm telling you now!

Caroline: (Grabbing letter out of Garnet's hand and ripping it up.) That's what I think of your job, Mum. Shit!

Caroline runs off.

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Two Hands Clapping

rom Foreword

This collection came about out of curiosity and necessity. Curiosity: what's new across the country, how are others tackling the challenges and thrills of the form? Necessity: I teach a course at Concordia University called The Two-Hander, which (as you may suspect) is about writing a play for two actors. Many of the students who take this course have never written a play before, although the majority of them are studying theatre. They come to the course interested in finding out what it is like to create characters, tell a good story, and have their words come to life through the bodies of actors. They discover that first heart-stopping moment when their interior ideas become externalized and revealed through words, actions and events that they've sweated over and committed to paper, and on into the visceral immediacy of an audience's reaction to those very personal, and now public, ideas. That terrifying, exciting experience is a rich eye-opener for anyone who wants to make theatre, in any capacity, a part of their life.

For this book, I wanted a cross-country representation of previously unpublished scripts which included up and coming as well as established writers. A balanced mix of men and women — this in role distribution as much as in the writers themselves. I wanted full-length plays, and plays that are suited for festival or fringe time frames (thirty minutes to an hour). For teaching purposes, I needed a volume that was modestly priced with a healthy selection of scripts of varied styles, themes, and structures. Comedies as well as dramas. Social satire, fantasy, myth, storytelling. Different models of development and of production. Writers employing various angles or techniques: continuous action, intercutting of time and/or characters, actors portraying more than one character, historical events or persons as starting point or inspiration, clown, movement and dance.

Following each script, the writers talk about the work. I opened this up with a series of common questions, followed by a few more specific to the particulars of each play. They write about the initial spark of their idea, about particular structural choices such as how time works, how offstage characters function, if there's a time-lock or driving circumstance propelling the action, when and if it bends naturalism. Some of the writers are also actors, and they talk about writing work for themselves to perform. Two of the plays have been co-written — which is an interesting sidebar in itself, in a book of two-handers — so these writers discuss the process of writing with another person.

The obvious benefit of a play for two actors is that everyone is looking for a good one. They're rare gems, and highly producible. They're satisfying for audiences because you still retain the rich back and forth, the electricity, between actors. And they can be a wonderful journey for the actors because of the density of character arcs, the intensity of the experience.

I hope this collection may fill a gap, spark further productions, inspire writers, actors, designers, educators, producers and other theatre aficionados.

—Kit Brennan, editor

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Things That Go Bump

from foreword by Kit Brennan

Things that Go Bump, Volume 2 : Plays for Young Audiences is a collection of recent Canadian plays for elementary school age audiences; it is a companion volume to Things that Go Bump, Volume 1: Plays for Young Adults.

These six plays are road and audience-tested, seasoned by professional and touring productions covering most of Canada’s provinces and into the United States. Through humour and great characters, the scripts explore large issues with an entertaining verve.

Three of the plays (Lig & Bittle, Bluenose and Under the Big Top) employ the art of clowningâ��in various ingenious manifestationsâ��to explore large themes of longing and belonging. Two of the plays (The Secret Life of the Octopus and The Incredible Speediness of Jamie Cavanaugh) take place in the child’s real-life world of school and home, but follow them beyond and into the world of imagination and exploration. A Giraffe in Paris is based on a real event in the early nineteenth century, and whisks the audience into a travel adventure. Cast size for the plays varies from two to four actors.

The playwrights reside in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver; as well as writing for young audiences, they also write for film and television, they are directors and actors, they teach at universities and other professional training schools. The theatre companies which workshopped, commissioned and/or produced and toured the plays are based across Canada; these fine companies include Black Theatre Workshop (Montreal), Carousel Players (St. Catharines), Citadel Theatre (Edmonton), Concrete Theatre (Edmonton), Geordie Productions (Montreal), National Arts Centre (Ottawa), Neptune Theatre (Halifax), Persephone Theatre (Saskatoon), Quest Theatre (Calgary), Roseneath Theatre (Toronto), and Theatre New Brunswick (Fredericton).

Everyone involved in theatre for young audiences will speak of the wonderful sense of fun it generatesâ��and also of the exciting honesty of the audience. If they love it, they’ll tell you so; if they’re bored, you’ll know it. I asked each writer to talk about their experience writing this play, why and how it came about, what happened in the play’s evolution, and how it has been received by the young people for whom it was created. These notes by the writers can be found at the end of each script.

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Three on the Boards

Three people or objects placed at equidistance form a triangle, which is a sharp-cornered, spiky sort of a shape. They don't roll well, they're not curvy. They give off pointed vibes. So, I discovered, do recent Canadian plays for three actors—at least, the ones that I was drawn to for this collection.

Seven plays of various lengths, by writers living in Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal and St. John's, form a darkly and mainly urban picture of Canada in the first decade of this new century and millennium. Some of their themes are not for the faint of heart. Love is variously celebrated and thrown away—as is tolerance, as is hope. There's a lot of substance abuse, as well as other kinds of abuse; many of the characters are running as hard as they can away from themselves. At the same time, they can be endearing, caustic and often extremely funny, because they are very human. Three of the plays have a writer (poet, novelist, screenwriter, journalist) as a character, and—especially when considered together—these dramas question what it's like trying to live, stay sane and document the world we've inherited (and created) at this poised, imminent heartbeat in time. Even the two gentler, shorter comedies have dark edges: a young woman mourned by a grieving father, an affection-starved, spooky landlady. In plays for three actors, it seems everyone is fighting their own battle in a sharp-cornered ring, which flings them together and then apart. Oddly, taken as a whole, they become almost uplifting.

The playwrights range from established voices, whose work you may have encountered before, to emerging writers of various ages. Their backgrounds, too, are widely differing and contribute to the ways in which they tell their characters' stories. For each, three actors are required to work in a vibrant ensemble, with all corners fully inhabited.

With these seven plays, I hope the anthology also demonstrates the ever-evolving nature of new writig for the theatre, which is acutely aware of the speed with which we now process image, sound, and even time and space. Scenes and characters morph seamlessly, borrowing from new techniques of film as well as the ancient craft of oral storytelling, while remaining true to the necessities and immediacy of theatre.

I thank the writers whose work appears here, as well as the many other playwrights who submitted their scripts. I hope this collection may spark further productions, and perhaps a few heated discussions about our future, our country, and our theatre.

—Kit Brennan, editor

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