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Actors given free rein to write know just what playwright wants

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/1/2010 (3906 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GIVE a performer free rein to write what he wants, and it's fascinating what he'll come up with.

Busy actors both, Winnipeggers Gordon Tanner and Steven Ratzlaff accepted the challenge from the local company Theatre Projects Manitoba to write one-act plays on whatever moved them.

Steven Ratzlaff is half of Theatre Projects’ In the Chamber.


Steven Ratzlaff is half of Theatre Projects’ In the Chamber.

Their separate commissions form the production called In the Chamber 2010, which Theatre Projects will present tonight through Saturday in the Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers' Rachel Browne Theatre, 211 Bannatyne Ave.

It marks the fifth year in a row in which Theatre Projects, a troupe mandated to produce made-in-Manitoba drama, has staged an In the Chamber piece.

"For a lot of our audience, it's their favourite thing we do," says company artistic director Ardith Boxall.

"It's very intense, very immediate, very topical work."

Ratzlaff and Tanner (who is Boxall's husband) met in August to come up with a workable theme. Based on an idea that had been rattling around in Ratzlaff's brain, they settled on the oddball notion of exploring catastrophic system failures through something called "human factor analysis."

Though it sounds a tad academic, Tanner notes that compelling drama often follows "from when things go wrong."

The two men then went home to work out their ideas. Ratzlaff came up with a story based on actual incidents in the Health Sciences Centre pediatric coronary surgery inquest of the 1990s.

"The transcripts from the inquest are available online," says Ratzlaff, who most recently appeared in Manitoba Theatre Centre's ensemble production of It's a Wonderful Life.

"Once I started reading, I was captivated by them."

Tanner, who also appeared in It's A Wonderful Life, as well as the MTC season opener, Strong Poison, invented a story about an engineer sent to investigate a horrible fire in an Alberta hog barn.

"He has a crisis of conscience," says Tanner, who left a master's program in agricultural engineering to take up acting.

"He's like me 20 years down the road if I'd gone the other way."

Both plays are essentially one-handers with their writers also doing the acting. Both are directed by Winnipeg writer-actor Sarah Constible. Both shows clock in at under an hour.

Tanner calls his Last Man in Krakendorf, which refers to the German town where his character has gone for training.

Ratzlaff calls his play Last Man in Puntarenas, a reference to the Costa Rican province where his character has an epiphany.

Both men say they find writing their scripts a satisfying departure from interpreting others' work.

"I know what's supposed to happen," Ratzlaff says. "If something's not working, you know you need to change the words."



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