Author | Photo Graham Isador

Emcee, Playwright & Agitator Donna-Michelle St. Bernard Is Writing From The Hip

Nightwood Theatre’s newest Program Director for their groundbreaking Write from the Hip script development program is Donna-Michelle St. Bernard (aka Belladonna the Blest). Donna-Michelle is an emcee, playwright, dramaturge and agitator. Her work has been nominated for the Siminovitch Prize, Governor General’s Literary Awards, SATA, Herman Voaden Playwriting Award, Enbridge PlayRites Award and Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play. 

With a focus on female-identifying playwrights who are emerging in their careers, Write from the Hip is designed to support new writers through mentorship, one-on-one dramaturgy, developmental workshops and readings, all working towards the completion of a full length play. Works to come out of the program include Rose Napoli’s Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells and Grace penned under the pseudonym Jane Doe. Keep an eye on Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival happening this fall; you’ll get a chance to see what Donna-Michelle has been up to. 

We chatted with her this week. 

SDTC: What is the biggest challenge in new play development?

DM: It is challenging to be patient; to have faith that the story is inevitable; to know that it’s okay, in moments, to flounder, meander and stall as we seek the clarity to see what it will be.

What is your favourite aspect of it?

My favorite aspect is the exposure to all these different practices, the machines we each build to process information that our brains won’t let go.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

Wake, coffee, wistful stares out the window as if on camera.
Read a new script someone has shared! Take no notes, just be in the story.
Break, coffee, shake fist at the news.
Search for that article I promised to share.
Get an SOS text.
Skype a playwright. Let their heart spill all over me.
Break, water (with coffee beans in it; it’s coffee), be in my feelings.
Record what has stayed with me from the morning’s reading.
Call a colleague for perspective
Dance party for one.
Read a new draft someone shared! Take more notes than anyone wants.
Cull and type notes.
Break, eat, devise a way to inconvenience an institution
ASL alphabet drill
Watch a video about something technical/unfamiliar in a script I’m reading
Watch a video about something thoroughly unproductive
Don’t go in the rabbit hole
I’m in the rabbit hole
I hope somebody comes to get me.
I stay here forever.

What life philosophy is currently guiding you?
Be good. Be as good as possible. Now be better than that. Whoa, whoa! Go easy on yourself. Where’s all this pressure coming from? Just be good. (And repeat).

What keeps you balanced/grounded/calm?
Music is the core of my life. I am best grounded by traxx that immerse me more deeply into a bright energy, or nudge me out of a dark one, or let me sink in and therefore move through it. Moving music with a strong ethical centre reminds me that the struggle is beautiful.

What issue is at top-of-mind for you lately?
I am thinking about state over-reach on ‘what’s best for the child’ – Indigenous women under instant postpartum scrutiny and threat of CAS intervention, migrant babies in tender care cages, all the children currently being raised by unbothered Nazis, all the children.

What do you hope to bring to this new role at Nightwood? What do you hope to get out of it?
I think what I bring to Nightwood is a kind of controlled wildness that is useful in the bold early stages of a project, and also crayons. I hope to engage in expansive critical dialogue with folx in the thick of the grappling, with form, arc, truth, accountability.

What is a little known fact about play development that would surprise most people?
There is no number of times you can create a new play that makes the next time less opaque. There is no amount of amazing triumphs that will make you never feel like a failure.

 

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