The Montreal-based playwriting contest Write-On-Q, and The Pipeline readings of the winning submissions were created by Infinithéâtre, the Montreal-based theatre and production company with a mandate to support playwrights in Québec and the English language theatre community. Their mission, specifically, is to “develop, produce and broker new Québec theatre to ever-widening audiences.” Oren Safdie’s 2014 runner-up play from the contest, Mr. Goldberg Goes To Tel-Aviv will be running with Infinithéâtre starting in January 2017.
2016 marked The Pipeline’s 11th cycle, and Write-On-Q’s ninth. Now, after a decade, Guy Sprung, Artistic Director at Infinithéâtre, says many Québec playwrights have synchronized their writing clocks to the annual Write-On-Q deadline in September.
“It didn’t take a great deal of inspiration,” said Guy, about the origins of The Pipeline. “Our mandate is to develop new work. I believe that putting a play on a stage and having a public reading can really open things up for the playwright. You get a real sense of what works and what doesn’t work, and it has an impact.”
Write-On-Q is a contest that can be entered by anyone in the province of Québec, and is judged blindly, with the jury not knowing the playwright’s name. The anonymity is precisely what drew Oren Safdie to enter in the first place. “In Canadian theatre, and especially the Montreal English theatre scene, it’s a small world, and everyone sort of knows each other” said Oren. “Anonymity is truly the most democratic way of running a competition like this, because the focus is solely on the writing.”
Very often being in the top three of The Pipeline readings means the play will be picked up for production in Montreal. “In the very first Write-On-Q competition, all three of the top plays were Infinithéâtre’s next season,” said Guy. “And some have been picked up by other production companies, as well. It has really been a way for us to get close to the plays and help make decisions.”
Oren Safdie’s runner-up play from the 2014 contest, Mr. Golberg Goes to Tel Aviv, is being produced by Infinithéâtre in January 2017. Originally from Montreal, Oren now divides his time between Montreal and LA. Prior to first entering the contest four years ago, he had never had one of his plays produced in his hometown. “I grew up in Montreal, and consider myself a Montreal playwright, but most of my career has taken place in New York and Los Angeles,” he said. “My work has continuously had Montreal themes and references, so to get produced here was always a goal of mine. In a way, it was more important to me to have my plays performed in my hometown than in New York, or anywhere else, and Write-On-Q and The Pipeline were what finally made that happen.” Oren’s play Unseamly, the first of his plays ever to be produced in his home town, premiered with Infinithéâtre and then went on to a much praised production Off Broadway.
The local nature of the contest means that many of the plays have Montreal and Québec themes, which Guy thinks is important. “Theatre is about the connection between the stage and the audience, and a fundamental belief I have is that if you’re producing plays written by your own playwrights, chances are that what’s on the stage is going to reflect the audience, and challenge them as they’re watching it,” he said.
Oren’s upcoming Mr. Goldberg goes to Tel Aviv tells the story of Tony Goldberg: an award-winning, Jewish-Canadian gay author, who arrives in Tel Aviv to deliver a blistering attack on the Israeli government to the country’s left leaning literate. But before he leaves his hotel room, the conflict in the Middle East will come to him. Part farce, part suspenseful drama, Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, is a jaw-rattling ride through the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, where allegiances constantly shift, religion is irreverent, and politics is a matter of survival.
The play was inspired by the tension that can sometimes be present between North American and Israeli Jewish people. “With North American Jews leaning predominantly left, and Israelis more recently turning right, sometimes North Americans feel entitled to opinions on Israel without knowing the sacrifice of having to send a child to the army and potentially the front lines,” said Oren. “I wanted to explore the unique relationship that North American Jews have with Israel.”
Raised by Israeli parents in Montreal, Oren spent summers with relatives in Israel. “During those summers in Israel, I experienced the country in many ways,” he said. “Throughout my visits, I was keenly aware that although I was a citizen, I wasn’t really Israeli. If war broke out, it wasn’t mandatory for me to do three years in the military. I had an escape back to Montreal where the biggest disputes had to do with language signs. With this in mind, I try to see the conflict through the lens of an Israeli, rather than through a preconceived ideological stand.”
This is not Oren’s first time writing a play with these themes. In 2007, he wrote the comedic musical West Bank, UK, about an unlikely pair of roommates, one Palestinian, and one Israeli. “I try to tackle these political issues with comedy, but in staying true to comedy, with some deep thinking behind the issues as well,” he said.
Trying to bring forth some of the complexities of the conflict was one of the main drivers in Mr. Goldberg. “I have tried to give the characters their rightful say, while making fun of them all equally,” said Oren. “I wanted to show a more human side to the terrorist, the Israeli military, even the Jewish Left wing intellectual. All of the characters share things in common, but their identities and politics keep them divided.”
The play’s subject matter is certainly reflective of Infinithéâtre and The Pipeline’s goal to produce and promote plays which a Montreal audience can connect to. “I believe that the quality of the plays being developed here are on a par with anywhere else, and across Canada plays by English language Montreal-based playwrights are undervalued. I’d like to continue to try and figure out how to change that,” said Guy.
Mr. Golberg Goes to Tel Aviv runs at Théâtre St. James from January 31 until March 5, 2017. Click here for more information