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Playwright Joan MacLeod at her home in Victoria, B.C., in 2009. (Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail)
Playwright Joan MacLeod at her home in Victoria, B.C., in 2009. (Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail)

Theatre

Joan MacLeod wins Siminovitch Prize Add to ...

Playwright Joan MacLeod leads a busy life: teaching writing full-time at the University of Victoria – and currently serving as acting department chair – while raising, with her husband, a 15-year-old daughter who swims competitively, and all that entails. All of this leaves MacLeod with zero time to write. During the school year, she puts her writing aside, picking it up again over the summer, after finals are written and marks tallied.

Enter the plot twist: MacLeod was named this year’s recipient of the lucrative Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize in Theatre at a ceremony in Toronto on Monday night. And the $75,000 award buys her a life change.

“This marks the end of full-time teaching for me,” said MacLeod. “It gives me the ability certainly not to quit or anything, but to scale back on how much I teach. I’m hoping to go even half-time by next year. So that’s really going to make a difference to the sometimes frantic pace of my life. That’s huge. That just feels like such a gift.”

MacLeod, 57, has written 10 plays, namely Another Home Invasion; Homechild; The Shape of a Girl; 2000; Little Sister; The Hope Slide; Amigo’s Blue Guitar; Toronto, Mississippi; Jewel and What to Expect, which will premiere next year. She has won a host of awards including the Governor-General’s Award for Drama for Amigo’s Blue Guitar.

But the G-G was 20 years ago and while MacLeod feels fortunate for her career, she hasn’t felt all that current when it comes to the Canadian theatre scene. “I’m so far from being the bright new thing,” she says. “So it just feels great to be celebrated like this. It’s not something that happens often at this point in someone’s career.”

The jury chose MacLeod because it “wanted to recognize Joan’s unique voice, her masterful storytelling, and the impact that her work has had among audiences in Canada and beyond,” said jury chair Maureen Labonté in a statement. Labonté also noted the important role MacLeod has played as an educator. “As a teacher, mentor and role model, she has no doubt inspired a generation of new Canadian theatre artists.”

Even if MacLeod is preparing to cut back on her day job as a result of the award, she makes it clear that teaching is important to her, too, and that she has no interest in giving it up entirely. “It’s a very rewarding job. I love my students and I’m honoured that the teaching part of me is also part of this award.”

MacLeod, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, is the second straight West Coast artist to win the prize, the largest theatre award in the country. Director Kim Collier ( Studies in Motion) won the Siminovitch last year. This year, MacLeod beat out five other nominees including last year’s G-G-winner Robert Chafe ( Afterimage), Jasmine Dubé ( Bouches Décousues), Greg McArthur ( Snowman), Mansel Robinson ( Two Rooms) and Larry Tremblay ( Abraham Lincoln va au théâtre).

The Siminovitch Prize was introduced 10 years ago, named for scientist Lou Siminovitch and his late wife Elinore, who was a playwright. The award is handed out for direction, playwriting and design in three-year cycles.

The prize also gives the winner the opportunity to select a protégé, who receives $25,000. MacLeod has chosen Toronto-based playwright Anusree Roy, who just over a week ago won the Carol Bolt Award for Playwrights for her fourth play, Brothel #9 (which also won the Dora Award for Outstanding New Play), and with whom MacLeod participated in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s playwrights’ retreat last year.

“I read [ Brothel #9]quite by fluke ... and it just knocked my socks off. I thought if I win the Siminovitch I knew she would be the writer I would choose,” says MacLeod. “She’s just a terrific writer. And she’s just been in Canada I think for 11 years from India, and English is her third language. And she is exactly who should be on our stages.”

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