ANGELA: I made a mistake.
GABE: A big mistake or a small—
ANGELA: Big one.
GABE: Doubt it.
ANGELA: A huge mistake! Ginormous even!
GABE: Now you have to tell me.
ANGELA: (takes a deep breath) I made a deal with the devil and now she’s slowly feeding my soul to a horde of monsters.
Unlike her relatable, yet flawed, characters, Makrenna Sterdan’s plays don’t make many mistakes.
In addition to directing, acting and plawriting, Makrenna is a full-time teacher and is also involved in filmmaking. This post will focus on her plays…
What Would Tina Fey Do? takes its title from a supposed Christian saying that became popular in the 90s and transposing it onto American actress, comedian, writer, producer, and playwright Tina Fey.
Nora is dealing with a difficult actor and turns to her Lord and personal savior, Tina Fey. The play is short enough we can read the whole dang thing:
Aside from the fact Nora has pretty much pegged this dude’s MO: Use a woman’s interest in a project to seduce her. Oh and the “nice guy” thing? It’s not very nice.
In case you didn’t notice, Nora is referencing Fey’s appearence on Saturday Night Live in 2017.
Good for Nora and an interesting treatise on the benefits and dangers of celebrity worship and projecting our lives and problems onto someone who has no vested interest in our lives.
Makrenna’s next short play, Geese, shows us what happens when the bridegroom and the bride’s brother/best man get trapped by a bunch of…geese…at a golf rental store.
The duo strategize…
“Just a little bit.” But Tristan doesn’t want to hurt the poor Canada geese.
And thus we are left with an ambiguous ending. Do Tristan and Ben win? Or do the Canada Geese? Or perhaps the bride?
Makrenna’s next take on society is Doing it for the Fame (the same reason I write this blog).
I like the flexibility Sterdan gives the theatremakers.
In truth the reason could easily be a blend of several.
At the end, the answers are htting the nail on the head. These are commonreasons given by victims of domestic abuse. Don’t believe me? Check out Surviving R. Kelly .
I like that the play/game ends on a positive note.
Our final Sterdan masterpiece is The Iceberg. It’s the play the opening lines of this blog came from. It is also the longest play we’ll go over, clocking in at nearly 50 glorious pages of a coffee shop, some soul-selling and Lilith. And in a kinda postmodern way – there’s more to the story than is apparent.
Gabe goes to a coffee shop that’s full of…monsters. He’s none too happy about this. Oh, and Angela is responsible for said monsters.
Gee, Gabe. Don’t pry.
Meanwhile, the gang run into Lilith who is in charge of the monsters and everything but isn’t really Satan. Angela and Gabe try…
I don’t see that triple-layered dialogue all too often. Interesting conflict here, since Gabe and Angela want opposite sides of what is basically the same deal.
More than meets the eye here.
Hey! It’s the first lines of this blog and also a very common, if successful, trope.
And it all wraps up with Lilith finding peace and Angela finding possible love. Did I not mention this is a romantic comedy? Albeit one with soul-selling, a Babylonian mythological creature and a dude who just wanted some coffee.
She should be a barista. Makrenna was nice enough to answer some questions about herself and her work:
How did you start playwriting?
Although I’ve always had an interest in writing, I transitioned into playwriting naturally during junior high. I took my first drama class in Grade 7, which is when we started writing scenes. I continued writing throughout high school before deciding to pursue playwriting seriously by studying it in University, and producing my first show in 2012.
2. What are your influences?
Hmmmmmm . . . the two main artists who’ve influenced my work are Tom Stoppard and Tina Fey. I love how Tom Stoppard has the amazing ability to integrate philosophy into his plays, along with witty dialogue. I admire Tina Fey for her ability to make comedic stories that deal with serious issues.
3. What is your most memorable production and why?
My most memorable production would have to be one I had the honour of directing. The play was “A Case of Anxiety” by Mark Harvey Levine which I directed for Seoul Players’ 2017 Ten Minute Play Festival. I loved directing this show because the script was amazing, and the cast was as well. For a cast of seven who had a fight scene (along with extensive physicality) to choreograph, I felt like we bonded very well and worked very cohesively as a group. During one of the performances, the final fight scene was off. Of course, I was the only one who noticed, because they improvised the scene brilliantly. Whenever I direct a cast, or commit to doing a theatre production with others, I always strive for this level of cohesion. “A Case of Anxiety” really raised to bar for me and showed how great working on a theatre project can be.
4. What is your least memorable production and why?
My least memorable production would have to be my first show. I produced a one woman show for the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in 2012 called The Death Test. It was my first go at a theatre show, and from a technical standpoint it went well. From an artistic standpoint, I felt a bit empty because I immediately knew the show could have been better. I had written and performed the show by myself, but I knew to make real art I needed a broader community, with more collaboration. After that, I put a greater effort into working with other theatre artists.
5. What’s your funniest theatre story?
Well . . . it was actually during a rehearsal for “A Case of Anxiety”. I was terrified during our fight scene because we had wooden swords and there was a lot of running around. I was worried someone was going to get hurt, so I kept telling everyone to be careful, and I think they might have been a bit annoyed by it. But, of course, when I was filling in for one of the actors who was missing, I was the one to (accidentally) hit my then-boyfriend with one of the wooden swords.
He wasn’t even in the show—he just came to rehearsal to help out.
6. What are your writing habits like?
I am a huge Netflix addict, so often when I write I have a television show on in the background for at least the first hour. Of course, I also need to make time to write, which at times can be difficult. But oftentimes after finishing work, or a volunteer shift, I have a lot of mental stimulation which I then reroute into writing.
7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?
When you have writer’s block, just keep writing. I often find for myself that writer’s block is just the absence of good ideas, not necessarily ideas. Just get the writing done, and worry if it’s good with the next draft.
8. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?
There are a couple Canadian playwrights who I would recommend. Norm Foster is an excellent comedy writer, and I immensely enjoyed the opportunity to direct his My Darling Judith. Joanna Glass is also a very interesting writer, who I feel really captures themes prevalent in Canadian literature.
9. What are common themes in your work?
I find feminist themes are something I keep going back to, and usually with humour or satire. I just find some things I read in the news completely nonsensical, and I write work to reflect how nonsensical it is. I also enjoy throwing in a good dash of mythology and magic realism, just to keep things interesting.
10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
I wished that I had collaborated more with other writers and theatre professionals when I was just starting out. I didn’t know how to reach out to others, though, so I mostly just wrote alone in my room. Theatre got so much better when I started directing and participating in theatre productions in other capacities because it helped me meet other artists.
11. How does your experience as a theatre director inform your writing?
Theatre, film, and art in general is a collaborative process. When I work as a director, I use my playwriting experience to interpret the script. When I write a script, I use my directing experience to inform the writing. Since I know what a director is looking for, and how certain things might be interpreted, I try as much as possible to put those sorts of things into the scripts I write. Another thing directing has taught me is how to let the script go. Putting your script into the hands of a director can be one of the most difficult parts of playwriting—but it’s necessary. Theatre is collaborative. Having directed, I know what aspects of a script are my responsibility to write, and what aspects I need to let the director handle. Directing has opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of theatre, and how the story isn’t the sole responsibility of the playwright—directors, actors, stage managers, lighting designers, costume designers, everybody contributes to the art in a performance. Working with others is what makes art beautiful. Stressful at times. But beautiful and worth doing in the long run.
12. You’re the second playwright on this blog who has mentioned Lilith in a play. What does Lilith bring to the table?
Lilith appears in “The Iceberg”, where throughout you’re not sure if she’s actually the devil or not. Lilith was the perfect name because, depending on the legend, she’s either a demon of the night, or in others she’s just someone who refused to be subservient to a man. She plays different roles depending on whether you look at religion, mythology, literature, etc. For the practicality of the play, I chose the name Lilith to be misleading. She’s definitely one of the most interesting mythological characters.
13. Iceberg started as a short and is now a longer one act. What advice would you give playwrights who want to expand short pieces?
The main thing is to think about why you’re expanding it. Some stories are only meant to be five minutes, others are meant to be two acts. Similarly, some stories are meant to be plays, some are meant to be novels or movies, and flipping between mediums and lengths requires understanding what the new form will bring to the table. For example, a shorter form is great to deliver a message, while a longer form gives a chance to look at characters in depth. If you want to expand a piece, then there should be something more to explore.
14. Where did you get the idea for a game show about domestic violence?
I wrote “Doing It for the Fame”, the game show piece in question, for a specific opportunity. It was for the 2016 Cabaret of Monologues by Sarasvati Productions. The prompt was “Stolen Sisters”, and they were looking for pieces on violence against women. At the time, in Canada, the big news was the Jian Ghomeshi trial that was going to happen in 2016. He was charged with sexually assaulting several women. There was a large group of people who strongly stated that they believed the women. Then, there was also a large group pushing back and saying the women were just “doing it for the fame.” So, I knew I wanted to address the issue women face with believability when they go to trial. I didn’t know which angle to take, though. Some time passed, and I was just listening to music when Lady Gaga’s “Doing It for the Fame” came on. I was inspired. The chorus sounded like an opening theme to a game show! And the perfect title for the monologue. So that was the long process that culminated in a satirical game show that addresses domestic violence, and several of the issues I noticed especially with the lead up to Jian Ghomeshi’s trial.
15. What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.
What’s the next project you’re working on?
Red Lips Productions will have a show in the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. For this show, I’ll be writing a comedic zombie one-act. If you’re in Winnipeg, stay tuned for more details!