Marie-Lynn Hammond is best known as one of Canada’s most-loved singer-songwriters.
She is also a writer, editor and successful playwright, who has written both full-length and short plays.
At the 2017 Festival of the Arts, Marie-Lynn produced and performed in a staged reading of her critically applauded musical play Beaux Gestes and Beautiful Deeds.
Last winter, she gave a workshop that inspired many Spirit of the Hills writers to try their hands at writing a 10 minute play. Her own play, Mouse, is one of four that will be staged at the Festival of the Arts in Cobourg on October 24 and 25.
Q: Mouse was first performed at Theatre Calgary’s Festival of Short Plays. Have you written many short plays and submitted them to competitions?
Actually, no. I’ve only written three, though I’ve also written full-length plays and one one-acter. I submitted one to CBC radio when they used to have a drama department, but the producer there felt the play should be expanded to 40 minutes, that it was too intense for a 10-minute play. Not long after, the drama department was eliminated, so I never pursued that.
Q: Why do you enjoy short plays?
I think I’m comfortable with the form because I’m a songwriter whose songs often tell stories, so I’m used to compression, to having to get across plot and character and setting in very few lines and very few minutes.
Q: What qualities are most important in writing a successful 10 minute play?
I think one has to be able to see the potential for drama and conflict—every play, however miniaturized, needs conflict, whether comic or tragic or a mix of both—in what might look like a limited situation, such as two men just sitting on a park bench.
“To see a world in a grain of sand,” as William Blake put it. Also, the writer needs a knack for creating telling phrases, gestures, or details that can speak volumes, since he or she has only 10 minutes to get an entire story down. Penning distinctive voices for the characters helps too.
Q: Tell us a little about the characters in Mouse.
Vince is 17 or 18, a hard-scrabble, inner-city kid who presents as aggressive and tough, and clearly has had a difficult childhood. Ida appears to be in many ways his opposite, a timid woman in her early 30s with a boring job, whose life has been constrained by circumstance and her own personality. This might suggest the play is serious in nature, but while Mouse contains undercurrents of weightier themes, it plays much more as a comedy.
Q: What inspired you to write this play?
The character of the teenaged punk, Vince, was inspired by a young woman I saw on the Toronto subway (I changed her to male for dramatic reasons). She wore black leather and sported many piercings; she glared at everyone and clearly wanted to come across as tough—mean, even. And yet there was one striking thing about her that suggested otherwise. I won’t give it away here, but it’s key to my play.
Marie-Lynn was interviewed by Felicity Sidnell Reid, chair of the Festival of the Arts. Author of Alone: A Winter in the Woods, Felicity also co-hosts Word on the Hills, on 89.7 FM.