By Keith Tomasek, October 24, 2018
Michael Healey’s play “The Drawer Boy” is one of Canada’s most successful cultural exports. Between the years 2000 and 2010 it was the fourth most-produced play in the US, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The play was adapted into a film, shot in Blyth Ontario, that is opening the Forest City Film Festival on Thursday, Oct. 25. It’s a rare chance to see the new film which has already won a dozen awards at international film festivals.
Healey’s long-time collaborator Miles Potter, who directed the original stage production of “The Drawer Boy,” will be presenting an opening night talk prior to the film. After the screening, the film’s co-directors Arturo Perez Torres and Aviva Armour-Ostroff will be speaking.
Healy is currently adapting “The Front Page” for the Stratford Festival’s 2019 season. The production will become the first work by a Canadian playwright performed on the Festival Theatre stage.
Also at the Stratford Festival – this season Potter directed the critically acclaimed “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
In January 2019 Potter is directing Healey’s “1979” at the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre in Toronto.
Still from “The Drawer Boy”
I had a chance to ask Healey a few questions about his creative process.
We often hear of writers describing a time when an entire work came to them and they wrote something in a few days. The other side of that is a project that takes a writer years complete. How long was the process of writing ‘The Drawer Boy?”
The process on “The Drawer Boy” was a couple of years to a first draft. Mostly because I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I was focussed on two things: writing fun, hard scenes for actors, and adhering to a two-act structure. Neither of those things have anything to do with plot, and so I wrote a lot that had nothing to do with the events of the play. And then I had to settle on the story.
I got lucky in a lot of ways, and having all that time — no one knew or cared I was writing a play— is one way I was lucky.
“The Drawer Boy” has been translated into French, German, Japanese, Hindi, and Portuguese. Have you ever seen a production in a foreign language and if so did it provide any insights into your writing?
I’ve only seen the play in French.
My French is bad. It was confusing.
Do you follow a writing routine?
I try to write as early in the day as possible. I try not to sit down until I have a sense of what I’m going to write because otherwise, I’ll freeze up. I walk a lot before I open the laptop. Those are the only constants.
As well as your current work adapting Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s ‘The Front Page’ for the Stratford Festival you have adapted Bernard Shaw. Describe the unique challenge associated with adapting your own play for the screen.
In the case of “The Drawer Boy” film, I let Aviva and Arturo have absolute freedom to make the film. They wrote the script, and it’s beautiful, and they deserve all the credit. My adapted by credit was negotiated between agents, and I really don’t deserve it.
You have collaborated frequently with Miles Potter, who will be directing your upcoming production of “1979.” Miles will be speaking at the screening of ‘The Drawer Boy” in London. What would you say is the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of working with Miles?
Miles started as an actor, as did I. We are both concerned with making actable scenes, putting the actors at the centre of the story.
Also, Miles has excellent taste and an extremely level head. When I’m panicking, he’s steadily getting us all to opening night. And If you’ve seen his production of Long Day’s Journey into Night at Stratford this season, you know he’s truly a great artist.
Short Answer – respond with one or two sentences explaining your pick.
Fiction or Non – Fiction?
Non-fiction. Plot is the great manipulator.
Notebook or Keyboard?
I’m a lousy typist and have handwriting so bad I often can’t decipher it.
It’s ridiculous I ended up a writer.
Pierre Trudeau or Justin Trudeau?
Margaret. There’s a huge, Shakespearean play available there.
Shakespeare or Shaw
Shakespeare makes me feel so many things. But the excitement I get from well-produced, well-argued Shaw is unique in my life.
Follow Michael Healey on Twitter.
As well as the film screenings, the Forest City Film Festival is presenting several industry events that might be of interest to writers and actors.
Moving Your idea to the Web. A panel session with web series creators exploring the exciting opportunities and challenges of creating web series.
Friday, Oct. 26 2:00 pm
Writing for Representation. A panel session with industry insiders demonstrating how to build a career as a writer and attract professional representation.
Sunday, October 28, 12:30 pm
Working with Talent. A very special live demonstration of how a director works with talent, specifically for the camera. Director George Mihalka has directed international feature films include the cult horror classic “My Bloody Valentine,” and “Bullet to Beijing,” starring Michael Caine and Michael Gambon.
Currently Mihalka is working as showrunner/executive producer for Reel One Entertainment, Los Angeles.
Sunday, October 28, 2:30 pm
Visit the Forest City Film Festival Industry Sessions website for details.