Cathleen Rootsaert is a remarkable creator. She wrote plot and dialogue for the video game Mass Effect 3 by BioWare, and edited dialogue for the studio’s Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 2 games. In the late 1980s, along with rising improv stars Wes Borg, Neil Grahn, and Paul Mather, she co-founded the legendary Edmonton comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, which had a brief run as a CBC television series.
She’s the playwright behind Mimi Amok, After You, Legacy, Make Me and Mama Mia! Me a Mama? which won the Sterling Award for outstanding new work. She also won the 2005 Alberta Playwriting Award for Abigail in Twilight. She appeared on the Ken Finkelman series The Newsroom and the Winnipeg Comedy Festival special I’m Becoming a Mother. She’s a core member of the two-decade strong live improvised soap opera Die Nasty!
In this episode of MF GALAXY, Cathleen Rootsaert discusses:
Along the way, Rootsaert refers to “beats” in a script, which is a specific stage playwriting term referring to how long it takes characters to seek their goal for a scene before changing their tactics.
Kenneth T. Williams is one of Canada’s most accomplished playwrights. His work ranges from the grim to the hilarious, and is endlessly provocative. His many plays, several of which have been published, include Café Daughter, Gordon Winter, Bannock Republic, and Suicide Notes, and celebrated actors such as Lorne Cardinal and Tantoo Cardinal have appeared in his plays Thunderstick and Three Little Birds, respectively.
Williams has been the playwright-in-residence for the Drama Department at the University of Saskatchewan, where he also teaches playwriting. He splits his time between Edmonton and Saskatoon. Williams hails from the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, and is the first Indigenous person to earn an M.F.A. in playwriting from the University of Alberta.
In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Williams discusses:
Williams spoke to me by Skype in November, 2014 from his office at the University of Saskatchewan.
Vern Thiessen’s plays are among the most produced theatre in Canada, and his work has delighted audiences across the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. His many dramas include Lenin’s Embalmers, Apple, and Vimy.
He’s written for young audiences, worked on a commission for the late Leonard Nimoy, and created an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. He’s won the Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award, the Alberta Playwrights Network Competition, and Canada’s highest literary honour, the Governor General’s Award.
Despite coming from a Mennonite family in Winnipeg, Thiessen spent seventeen years in E-Town and won the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition for Einstein’s Gift. For seven years he also directed youth and community engagement theatre education in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. He’s since returned to the Big E where he’s the Artistic Director of Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre.
In this episode of MF GALAXY, Vern Thiessen discusses:
Vern Thiessen spoke with me in November, 2014 at Workshop West about his aesthetics and writing strategies that have made him one of North America’s most celebrated theatrical voices.
Tom Fontana is the writer/producer and/or showrunner on St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz, Copper, The Jury, The Beat, The Bedford Diaries, and The Borgias.
He’s also one American television’s most celebrated writers. He’s received the Cable Ace Award, the Humanitas Prize, an Edgar Award, the Austin Film Festival’s Outstanding Television Writer Award, first prize at Switzerland’s Cinéma Tout Ecran Festival, three Emmys, three awards from the Writers' Guild, four from the Television Critics Association, and four Peabodys. And all this, if his website is to be believed, without using a single computer--Fontana claims to write longhand on yellow legal paper.
Long before HBO’s The Wire took all the credit for long-form, serial innovation in US television addressing racism and oppression in the United States, there was the work of Tom Fontana. Long before Denzel Washington was an A-list money-magnet, he was guided by Fontana’s pen as Dr. Philip Chandler on the acclaimed St. Elsewhere.
Andre Braugher was frequently lauded as the finest actor on US television for his work as Detective Frank Pembleton on the Fontana-driven Homicide. Oz showcased Eamonn Walker as Muslim Minister Kareem Said, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje as Simon Adebisi, Harold Perrineau as Augustus Hill, Ernie Hudson as Warden Leo Glynn, and muMs da Schemer as Poet.
In other words, Tom Fontana, a Euro-American writer, has created some of the very best African-American, Nigerian, and Muslim characters—and in the last two cases, some of the only ones—on US television. He also created an archetype we’ll hear about later in the show: what I call “the Malcolm X Professional.”
Tom Fontana spoke with me via telephone from his office in New York at the end of March 2003, shortly after the US Academy Awards and during the illegal US invasion of Iraq, events that arise during our conversation, and which include Ari Fleischer, then a spokesman for US President George W. Bush, and Bowling for Columbine director Michael Moore who’d then just made a speech critical of Bush at the Academy Awards. Our conversation focuses on Fontana’s strategy for creating such iconic and dynamic characters.