The 31 Plays in 31 Days Challenge is an initiative for playwrights to push themselves to write a new play every day for the month of August. The project is based on the idea that to become a better writer, one must write. The pressure of a monthly goal allows playwrights to set aside preconceived notions of what they should be writing and how they should be doing it. Created by playwrights Rachel Bublitz and Tracy Held Potter, the initiative inspires playwrights around the world and creates a sense of community for artists.
In an interview with Play Cafe publicist Adrienne Pender, CJ McGillivray talks about her artistic experience, her struggles and where she finds her inspiration as a playwright. She also touches on where she found the insanity and motivation to participate in the 31 Plays in 31 Days international playwriting challenge in August 2013 and again the following year in August 2014.
INTERVIEW EXCERPT FROM PLAY CAFE
Is there an overall theme to your work as a writer?
I am attracted to morbid drama interlaced with absurdist humour, innuendo and sarcasm. I am deathly passionate about the ethical portrayal of mental illness on stage and exploring the complications of loving something or someone wholeheartedly. I personally feel that our character flaws and our struggles are what make us beautiful, so when I am crafting a character I tend to focus on their imperfections.
Our character flaws make us beautiful… Yes! When did you start writing, and when did you consider yourself a “writer?”
I wrote my first short story about a magical bowl of soup when I was seven. That thing should never see the light of day. When I was fifteen, I wrote a surrealist play for a tenth grade social studies class. It took several years of rough drafts before I felt comfortable identifying myself as a playwright. Graduating to university was where I came more into my own. Focusing on personal growth and discovery gave me the confidence that I needed to commit to the work. Now I can say without hesitation that my playwriting is a talent and a passion I will never give up on.
Some say the drafting process is where the real writing is.
Sometimes I cringe when I reflect back on past writing but it can also be an exhilarating feeling. In those moments I am tempted to streamline everything and be ruthless with cutting banter that fails to further the story. If I am passionate enough about a past idea, it can be so rewarding for me to put in the time and effort on those necessary improvements.
What do you struggle most with as a writer?
I love developing a niche and having distinctive voice in my writing but at the same time it can be limiting to write within those confines. I adore dramatic, morbid humour but I have to fight back against narrowing my creativity. Some of my greatest breakthroughs only happened because I stepped into unknown territory and risked failure. What I love most about pursuing an artistic career is that art feels limitless. I can ignore the rules of gravity, the laws of physics and whatever it might be that wants to hold back my creativity. As an audience member, I am constantly reminded that expression is most beautiful when it is raw and unashamed. Because the theatre is such an intimate space, drama is one of the most beautiful and disturbing ways to affect an audience. When art is genuine and uncensored it is impossible not to illicit an emotional response from those who share in the experience.
I’m not sure I understand the struggle – is it being too comfortable?
Yes. Too much comfort can strangle creativity.
Are you a full-time writer? What do you do during the day?
In the fall I am returning to Capilano University to complete my final year of the Acting for Stage and Screen diploma program. My professors are incredibly supportive of me as an artist and my aspirations across the board whether that be playwriting, music, acting or journalism. In the future I hope to have an artistic career that is constantly evolving, fostering connections and finding new direction.
How do you balance being a full-time student and acting/rehearsing, with finding time to write?
A lack of sleep? I will get back to you on this one when I have it all figured out.
Fair enough! How does where you live impact your writing? Or does it? What is the playwriting community like in your area, and how much are you involved with local playwrights/theatre?
I have been incredibly fortune to work with some amazing professional playwrights in my city. A couple years back I participated in a playwriting intensive at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, led by Amiel Gladstone. From there I continued my education at the Arts Club Theatre Company as part of the LEAP Playwriting Intensive. Thanks to that experience, I was fortunate enough to have Shawn Macdonald enter my life as a major support and playwriting mentor to me over the past three years. More recently, I studied writing for the stage with Hiro Kanagawa at Capilano University and I was fortunate enough to work with an absolutely hysterical and compassionate playwright, Dave Deveau, during my mentorship with the IGNITE! Playwriting Festival this past spring.
What made you decide to participate in this year’s 31 Plays challenge?
I have a slight addiction to challenging myself and testing the limits of art. When I heard about this challenge I felt like there was no other option but to throw myself into it. No point looking back.
Is there anything specific you hope to achieve while writing in August?
When I started this challenge I made a commitment to my friends and family that I would get the hell out of my comfort zone. I have a number of incredibly supportive people in my life who are keeping me honest and holding me to it.
You’re a new playwright too, but what one piece of advice would you give a new playwright?
If you can find a unique voice and personality within your writing it will help you develop the confidence you need to pursue your art fearlessly with an unapologetic presence.