A Q&A with playwright Carlee Calver

Carlee Calver makes her NotaBle Acts debut this year with her play, A Coward-Bird’s Song. This site-specific play will take place Tuesday and Wednesday outside the Café Beaverbrook. One of downtown Fredericton’s famous willow trees will provide the background and the staging for this unique performance.

Carlee is an emerging writer, playwright, screenwriter, poet, and filmmaker. She is a recent grad from the Media Arts and Cultures program at the University of New Brunswick where she won the 2018 Muriel Miller Award in creative writing for her undergraduate work in poetry and playwriting. This fall, Carlee will be returning to UNB as a Master’s Candidate for the English MA in Creative Writing. Having mostly written for the screen, A Coward-Bird’s Song will be her debut work in NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, as well as her first ever produced play.

What can you tell us about the idea behind your play A Coward-Bird’s Song? Was it something you had been working on for a while or was it written specifically for the festival?

Originally, A Coward-Bird’s Song came from an idea I had for a three-part performance-art piece where, in bits and pieces, the audience is told the intimate story of a man and woman preparing to elope. Over the course of writing the piece, it somehow morphed into this short site-specific play right around the time of the NotaBle Acts Playwriting Competition deadline, so I took the plunge and wrote up a quick draft for the competition. Fortunately they really liked the idea, and from then on I worked with Len [Falkenstein] and Rob [Kempson] doing rewrites and fleshing out the story.

What has it been like working with Len on this as the director for your first NotaBle Acts play?

It’s great to have someone as competent and experienced in theatre as Len on your side. He’s also been great on the writing side of things in that he allows you to talk out your idea and find the answer for yourself, which I’ve really appreciated. I think that whole process has helped me a lot as a writer. I’ve had Len before as a writing professor at UNB so it has been really nice to work with him in this new way.

How has this year’s artist in residence Rob Kempson impacted your work?

I was able to attend his playwriting workshop which was very informative, and talk to him one-on-one during the festival. Before the festival, Rob would send me feedback on my script rewrites, which were always helpful and well thought out critiques. It’s been nice to have a writing mentor as great as Rob at my disposal.

Catch a performance of Carlee’s work:

A Coward-Bird’s Song

In a twilit fantasy about lost love and forlorn desire, taking flight amid the century old trees of downtown Fredericton, a ghost bird reflects on a life spent regretting the life she never lived.

July 30-31 | Willow Tree near the Beaverbrook Art Gallery | 8:30 p.m.

Admission by donation.

Greg Everett talks about Gullywhump, his NotaBle experience and the plays he’s most excited to see.

Following his 2018 one-act play Carrion Birds, which was a featured as one of two one-act plays in our 2018 festival series Acting Out, New Brunswick playwright Greg Everett is back this year with his latest work, Gullywhump.

Based on a fictional monster from a distant childhood memory, Gullywhump finds Everett continuing to create work set within the eerie, mystical (and highly fictional) world of Bvrntland.

“I have a series of one-act plays mapped out that all take place in the world of Bvrntland, an alternate-reality version of the upper Tobique River Valley and the deep interior of New Brunswick. Gullywhump is definitely part of a larger vision,” said Everett.

“A gullywhump is an indeterminate monster that my father used to tease me with when we went for walks together,” said Everett.  “Looking back as an adult, I realized that I had never even had a tangible vision of what the monster looked like, or what it did. Following Carrion Birds, when it came time to think of the next installment from the world of Bvrntland, Gullywhump is the vision that rushed to the surface – the story of an amorphous monster that stalks a pair of siblings as they revisit memories from their childhood. However, this script more than any other has grown far beyond what I ever thought it would be. It’s a story of trauma and abuse, of rupture and return, of magic and ritual, all framed by and embodied within the gullywhump.”

Everett says the play was created as a direct result of his past experience as a participant in the festival, and credits the development time, criticism, feedback and the deadlines for helping him grow as a playwright.

“One of the most important structural elements of creating, for me, is the pressure of deadlines. Another is criticism and feedback,” he said. “Without NotaBle Acts as an impetus, Gullywhump would still be an amorphous blob in my head. And there are challenges associated with the NB Acts guidelines – limits on the number of characters, simple set design, etc. – which go a long way in giving shape to something that otherwise might remain totally shapeless, so making the submission is a healthy, helpful habit even if the scripts never get selected.”

One of the biggest challenges facing New Brunswick playwrights has always been the ability to place critical and encouraging eyes on their work. This is especially true in Everett’s case. As a self-described singular and solitary artist, he’s always found support within the community that surrounds NotaBle Acts.

“I am very much a voice in the wilderness,” he said. “So to be welcome into a community and institution such as NotaBle Acts; to have other artists, and experts, say explicitly, ‘your work is worthwhile, you are worthwhile, and we believe in your vision.’ It’s indescribable. And for that to happen two years in a row, it’s no great exaggeration to say that NB Acts made my career, even though I’m in the very fledgling stages of it.

“I went from having my first play produced in last year’s festival to receiving a Creation Grant from ArtsNB for a full-length, site-specific script. And now to be back this year, to have Natasha MacLellan read my work as part of the selection committee, and to be able to work with Rob Kempson as a dramaturge. This is so cheesy, but when people ask me how things are going lately, my honest answer is absolutely amazing. Like, genuinely unbelievably well. And that’s not something that I say lightly.”

For Everett, the festival also offers a chance to be inspired by the work of other New Brunswick writers, some at a similar stage in their careers as he is.

“I was very, very excited for Fruit Machine, and I got to see that opening night,” he said. “I saw it as a work in progress last year and the way it has grown and taken shape since then is really moving. The story is important but I think the experience more poignant and that’s what Alex [Rioux] is communicating – the experience of the gay military purge of the 60s, rather than just the story of it.

“Past that, I’m very much looking forward to seeing With Love, Josephine, the other Acting Out one-act. I have so much respect for playwrights who can convey human drama and emotion in a real world, and I’m excited to see what Sophie [Tremblay-Pietre] has done.

“I’m still kicking myself for missing Jean-Michel Cliche’s site specific play S.C.O.P.E. last year,” said Everett. “I heard the latest draft read as part of the festival kickoff party and it’s aesthetically, emotionally, and structurally exactly my kind of play. So this year I’m resolved to not miss out on a first look at something that may be something much bigger again by next year.”

Greg Everett’s play Gullywhump will run August 1-3 at Memorial Hall as part of Acting Out: Two One-Act Plays. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available at the door.