grey eminence

I have spent the last few days with the Writers' Union of Canada and the Playwright's Guild of Canada, only with the Annual General Meetings, not with various keynote speakers and events (too expensive for me this year). But they were good meetings, especially the PGC, of which I am a long-term, founding member - almost founding.  I held back from joining at first because of private misgivings, fear for the group not for myself.

I recounted my history at the end of our AGM, reminiscing with a purpose but essentially being a Grey Eminence, as I told my cohorts.

[ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French cohorte, or from Latin cohors, cohort- ‘yard, retinue’. Compare with court.usage: The earliest sense of cohortis ‘a unit of men within the Roman army’. In the mid 20th century a new sense developed in the US, meaning ‘a companion or colleague’, as in young Jack arrived with three of his cohorts. Although this use is well established (it accounts for the majority of the citations for this word in the Oxford English Corpus), some people object to it on the grounds that cohort should only be used for groups of people, never for individuals. Online Dictionary]

I may be the only person left alive who was in Brian Doherty's garden in Niagara-on-the-Lake where he was proposing  an association or something of Canadian playwrights - the very term an oxymoron. He had a track record: he had already started the Shaw Festival. Why not?

I was a playwright by that time with plays produced at the Manitoba Theatre Centre , the St.Lawrence Centre, and the Stratford Festival (Third Stage, later the Tom Patterson Theatre - soon to be a multi-million dollar complex). My husband went with me; he was by that time the administrator of the Stratford Festival (he preferred to be called the manager; administrator was too fancy). His position almost wrecked the whole process.  Theatre critics covering the backyard gathering focused on Bill and me, wondering how he, and the Festival Theatre, would like it if I badgered him to get my plays produced. (As it was, the theatre was already accused of nepotism for producing my play , Mark, at the Third Stage.  I might tell that story, too, some day.)  

At that time I  didn't apply to join Playwrights Canada - I think that was its first title.  Later it was the Canadian Playwrights' Union; now it's the Playwrights' Guild of Canada.  Anyway, it wasn't until after Bill died that I applied. I was a playwright  before I was an author. My first book wasn't published until 1977 (Beginnings: A Book for Widows, a best-seller, in print for 27 years through several print-runs and 4 or 5 new editions).

It was thrilling to be A PLAYWRIGHT, and to realise there were others out there like me, wanting to take our rightful places on Canadian stages.  At that time, most Canadian theatres wanted their playwrights to be Shakespeare, American or dead. 

I was a little teary after my capsule history, impassioned as I am about the necessity of gathering and mingling and sharing our experiences and our hopes and dreams - hence annual meetings.  Large associations almost inevitably become political.  The PGC, I like to think, remains more personal than political, for me, anyway. 

This is about as good a time as any for me to tell you (again?) the difference between a playwright and a poet:

A poet is someone who forgets others long enough to be himself.  (yeah, yeah, him- or her-self.)

A playwright is someone who forgets himself long enough to be others.