Playwright Beverley Cooper (2010 cohort) has already had one world premiere this year—Janet Wilson Meets the Queen, at Ottawa's Great Canadian Theatre Company—but she's definitely not slowing down. Next up, a new work for the Blyth Festival: If Truth Be Told, inspired by censorship backlash faced by Alice Munro and Margaret Lawrence.
Here is the Blyth Festival's Gill Garratt, introducing the artistic team and poignant questions that compelled him to make If Truth Be Told his first commission as Artistic Director:
If Truth be Told is based on real cases of censorship. What led Beverley to write a play about this subject? We asked her to share with us a little about the process of imagining her way into the lives, communities, and sometimes prickly public reception, of these Canadian literary legends. Here's her response:
"In the late 70s there was a movement to ban books by Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro from high schools. Parents from Peterborough fought (and lost the fight) to remove The Diviners and Lives of Girls and Women from the curriculum. In Huron County The Diviners was eventually removed from classrooms. Both Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence felt personally attacked by these attempts to censor their work (Munro called Laurence her FFP, “Famous Fellow Pornographer”).
Through my research, I was interested in exploring these writers’ personal relationships with the communities they lived in. For all her success, Alice Munro had a fractious connection with her home town of Wingham. Many folks did not like the way she wrote or what she wrote about. Margaret Laurence was so wounded by the animosity she felt that she was unable to write another novel.
Although the rallying cry to ban the books was primarily led by fundamentalist Christians, many people in the censorship corner were reasonable parents trying to do the right thing for their own children. Today’s arguments surrounding the Ontario Sex Ed curriculum echo their concerns.
If Truth Be Told is my response to these dramatic threads, fictionalized in the form of the writer Peg Dunlop, returning to her hometown of Wayford, Ontario. The play is about the power of words, both spoken and written; how do we tell stories; how do we fight for what we believe in; how do we coexist when we have opposing views?
If Truth Be Told is being produced by The Blyth Festival, situated in beautiful, rural Huron County, the heart of Alice Munro country. The theatre is a fantastic incubator of new work. The audiences are attentive, demanding and vocal about what they like and don’t like. I’m looking forward to hearing their response to this play about a writer who writes about people very much like them."
Post-Blyth, Beverley's upcoming work will bring her back to another beloved writing & performance medium: radio drama. As a recent Chalmers Arts Fellowship recipient, she'll have the opportunity to throw herself into research on radio drama in Canada and beyond, and re-imaginine what new forms of audio drama might sound like. We look forward to hearing more of her voice, both from the stage, and from the airwaves.