May 26, 2019

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The fixer-upper is ready

Like his favourite place in the bush, Jake MacDonald's The Cottage needed a bit of work

Winnipeg author Jake MacDonald is a free-range kind of writer. Cutting a wide swath on the literary landscape, he has written novels (including Juliana and the Medicine Fish), short stories, reams of journalistic pieces, memoirs, radio plays and movie scripts

But when he was already past an age when most people are applying for pension benefits, MacDonald finally tried his hand at serious playwrighting for the theatre.

“My approach has always been to try to come up with a story that I like that intrigues me, and then try to find the best home for it... the best medium,” he says.

With The Cottage, MacDonald, 70, takes on the titular getaway “one of the icons of our culture in this country.

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Winnipeg author Jake MacDonald is a free-range kind of writer. Cutting a wide swath on the literary landscape, he has written novels (including Juliana and the Medicine Fish), short stories, reams of journalistic pieces, memoirs, radio plays and movie scripts

THEATRE PREVIEW

Click to Expand

The Cottage  

By Jake MacDonald

Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

To May 18

Tickets $27 to $100 at www.royalmtc.ca

But when he was already past an age when most people are applying for pension benefits, MacDonald finally tried his hand at serious playwrighting for the theatre.

"My approach has always been to try to come up with a story that I like that intrigues me, and then try to find the best home for it... the best medium," he says.

With The Cottage, MacDonald, 70, takes on the titular getaway "one of the icons of our culture in this country.

"Part of our shared story in this part of Canada is the cottage and particularly the conflicts, the difficult bargains, agreements and compromises that people have to make... in order to have that relationship having a place in the bush."

Jake MacDonald (Petra Kaufmann photo)</p>

Jake MacDonald (Petra Kaufmann photo)

MacDonald’s play The Cottage, which gets its world première this week at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre mainstage, sees a family reunion in the designated home-away-from-home, where an ailing matriarch challenges her middle-aged children to spend a weekend hammering out an agreement regarding what to do with the cottage after she’s gone.

"Sort of Queen Lear in the bush," MacDonald says. "When I first came up with this idea, I was talking to my daughter and I asked her make a list of all the negatives of having a cottage.

"And she said, ‘What negatives?’ Because she’s a kid, right? But for me, there’s an enormous cost — real financial costs and all kinds other costs.

"So I thought this question would make a good new play, and to my knowledge, there’s never been a Canadian play about something so obvious it’s right in front of our noses."

“Part of our shared story in this part of Canada is the cottage and particularly the conflicts, the difficult bargains, agreements and compromises that people have to make... in order to have that relationship having a place in the bush.”

MacDonald took his idea directly to the best person he could think of to realize his vision.

"I thought: why don’t I just start at the top? So I called Steven Schipper and asked him if you want to meet me for lunch."

The lunch with Royal MTC’s outgoing artistic director was not exactly the ideal pitch meeting.

"I showed up half an hour late because I got the time wrong — a good way to make a first impression," MacDonald says. "Steven had just about finished his lunch when I arrived. But he got halfway through my pitch and he held up his hand and said, ‘Stop! Go home and start writing! You’ve already convinced me. You don’t even have to say anymore.’

(Dylan Hewlett photo)</p>

(Dylan Hewlett photo)

"That was four years ago," MacDonald says, recalling another lunch meeting with Schipper after he had turned in a 150-page script.

‘I thought it had most of what I was trying to get into the story," he says. "I said, ‘Now, Steven, I think some of it works better than others. And he’s so deadpan. He says, ‘Jake, none of it works.’

"That sort of rocked me back on my heels a little bit, but he said: ‘Are you willing to go to another draft? And I said, ‘I’ll go to as many drafts as it takes to get the story squared away.

"I have to say in my defence that I think part of Steven’s management style is to scare people," he says. "But I think that it’s a good management style and it definitely gets your attention. I think the Jets could’ve used a little bit of that in the last couple of weeks."

(Dylan Hewlett photo)</p>

(Dylan Hewlett photo)

A dozen drafts later, MacDonald and Schipper found a play worthy of producing. "I think the core story hasn’t changed, but it’s much tighter, slimmer, faster... which is a good thing," MacDonald says.

Significantly, this is the mainstage play that will close the curtain for Schipper’s 30-year run at the helm of Royal MTC. The fact is not lost on MacDonald.

"I don’t know if Steven expected that this would be his last play," MacDonald says. "What he told me initially was I want to get this in before I go."

It was Schipper’s idea to mount the play on the mainstage, which took MacDonald by surprise.

"I thought it was going to the Warehouse from the time I started writing it, because (the mainstage) is a pretty big house and I saw it as kind of an intimate story.

"So I’m going to be very interested to see how it plays," MacDonald says. "But Steven thinks it will be more than fine in the big house... and he seems to know what he’s talking about."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 at 6:41 PM CDT: Fixes multiple typos.

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