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A Kindred Artist Soul: Playwright Anita Majumdar on being mentored by John Murrell

Aninta Majumdar in Same Same But Different © photo: Michael Cooper

The Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Mentorship Program helps past recipients of the Awards inspire mid-career Canadian artists. The program serves as a creative catalyst and an investment in future Canadian artistic achievement.

Each year, a past recipient is invited to act as the program’s mentor. In consultation with the NAC artistic leadership, the mentor selects an artist from the same performing arts discipline whom he or she would like to have as a protégé. A partnership between the NAC and the GGPAA Foundation, the program is generously supported by The Keg Spirit Foundation.

In this post, playwright, actor and dancer Anita Majumdar writes about her year working with renowned Canadian playwright John Murrell, in creative partnership with the Banff Centre.

The mentorship had started out with the idea that I would learn more about heightened text, and how writing in verse might look on me, as the kind of writer that I am.

While I haven't abandoned that idea (I had a very strong story concept I'm almost certain will be the next play I begin work on), and while John and I spent a lot of time in Banff looking at various forms and my response to them (including Urdu poetic texts like the ghazal), we found our conversations eventually floating towards publishing, and my long-term frustration of communicating stage pictures in my written stage directions on the page.

John read all of my written work and we spoke extensively about the challenges of communicating stage directions, especially in reference to dance, and a codified dance like Indian dance in which I specialize and enlist in my work. John suggested that I not subtract the joy and candour that is predominant in my dialogue work, and that the stage directions be an extension of that set language.

John felt it was important at this juncture in my career that I be published, and explore the unfettered territory (for me) to take my understanding of playwriting as a blueprint for designers/actors to interpret, into the realm where playwriting functions as storytelling to the general public, whether they are a theatre practitioner or not.

And now I'm happy to announce that my first series of solo shows (starting with Fish Eyes) will be published in the Spring of 2015 in alliance with the Banff Centre. We have come up with a graphic novel concept with Playwright's Canada Press, in which a hired illustrator will be assigned to taking particular dances and creating snapshot moments that encapsulate the moment framed within the dances, that help move and drive the central character's conflict forward.

In addition to that, after seeing my play Same Same But Different in Toronto, Playwright's Canada Press/ Banff Centre is also interested in offering that script the same concept, and we will work together in the next while to see that out. As I undergo a very new step in my playwriting career, John and I will likely stay in contact so I can bounce ideas off of him. 

I'm very excited about these new developments and all that I've learned through John in this past year. It's been such a treat and not much like work … but rather being in the company of a kindred artist soul (despite being at such different places in our respective careers).

Read more stories about the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.