Christopher Black is an international criminal lawyer and writer. He spent 30 years as a trial lawyer in Toronto except for 7 years in the mid-80’s when he dropped out to study acting and formed his own theatre company TheatreDynamics. When the money ran out, he returned to criminal law.
His play, Love on a Park Bench, is one of 4 being staged at the Festival in October.
An Interview with the Playwright by Felicity Sidnell Reid, FOTA Chair
Q: Well Chris, what drew you away from the law to form a band of rogues and vagabonds, if not actually joining the circus?
I had been involved in theatre in high school and later amateur groups and really liked the times I was allowed on stage. But there was no chance to go into it professionally at that time and coming from a working class background I had to get educated to get a job. I focussed on psychology as a major, but when I graduated my professors advised me to think about law. And, since I liked to talk, and was impressed by Witness for the Prosecution, I became a lawyer.
I wanted to be a trial lawyer — the closest you can get to being on stage — but there was no legal aid at that time and most lawyers did real estate. So, in my mid 30’s I dropped out, went to acting school, loved it, began doing small parts in small plays, and built up a resume. I gave myself 7 years to make it.
I got some good parts; I played a scene in a TV series once with Jean Simmons. But near the end of my seven years I got a call from a lawyer asking if I would take a murder trial. I needed money, and this was a big thing so I took it, and became trapped in the law once again. But this time I was able to continue doing criminal work which was not work to me but like being on stage every day. So I have been doing that since, but trying to write all the time. I have written many articles for newspapers and journals, I like to write poetry, and have a novel out.
Q:Tell us about TheatreDynamics? What kind of plays did the company produce?
We produced plays that had something to say but were entertaining, that is dramatic, and dealing with real life. Because of budget we tried to keep to plays that had few characters and simple sets suitable for smaller audiences.
One of the problems then and now is that good plays starting in small venues cannot go to larger ones before hitting Wintergarden size. So. a lot of good plays never make it to wider audiences. I also did some writing but found when trying to produce, direct, and act, that that took all the time I had.
Q: When did you write Love on a Park Bench and what inspired it?
I wrote LOVE ON A PARK BENCH after it was announced that SOTH was looking for short plays. I decided to write something, but had no idea what. It took a few weeks— coming up with and abandoning ideas, until I had this image of two old men sitting on a park bench, reflecting on their lives, watching the world. I don’t know why I had that image, but once it was there then I wondered what was going to happen to them and of course there had to be a conflict of some sort and what was that? So it developed.
Q: Tell us a little about the play.
It can be seen simply as a light comedy about two old men who come into conflict over a woman. But more seriously, it is also about how conflict generally arises between people and nations, how irrational most conflicts are and, of course, the two men represent all of us hoping, always hoping that there is love out there somewhere, but often getting into trouble over illusions when real love is right in front of us.
The two characters appear to be enjoying the scene at the opening, and they are, but they are also thinking deeply about the past, whether they have a future, and hoping for something or someone to ease their individual loneliness. Their pain leads to conflict and then a resolution back to their now slightly improved condition.
Q: What advice would you give to someone attempting to write a successful comedy?
I’m not sure how to answer that. I didn’t intend to write a comedy though the play has a comedic element. I tried to write it as I saw and heard them.
Try to write how people naturally talk, because there is always some humour even in the worst situations. These two men are friends. They love each other despite the conflict that arises, so the love mixed with conflict comes out as humour.
Since 2015, Christopher has lived in Campbellford. Throughout his legal career, he has kept writing and has succeeded in publishing in many genres over the years.