One has been named mentor, the other protégé – but which will really be which?
John Murrell hopes to learn as much from Anita Majumdar as she does from him over the next year as the two playwrights from different generations are paired up in the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards Mentorship Program.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to be more closely in touch with a young artist who is very much a part of contemporary theatre practice,” says Murrell, 68, over the phone from his “writer’s hideout” in Dead Man’s Flats, Alta. “As I get to the point where I’m pushing 70 now, that’s not always as easy as it used to be.”
The GGPAA’s Mentorship Program puts together a past recipient of the award for lifetime achievement with an mid-career artist. In the past, for instance, film star Eugene Levy mentored filmmaker Daniel Perlmutter, while dancer Veronica Tennant took on choreographer Crystal Pite as protégé.
Announced Wednesday, the mentor and protégé for 2013 are the first theatre artists to be matched – and Murrell and Majumdar could hardly be more dissimilar.
Murrell, who made his name with the still-regularly revived 1977 Second World War homefront drama Waiting for the Parade, focuses on what he calls “dramatic text” when it comes to writing a play. He is happy to hand a script off to directors and actors to bring the work to life – a process, he says, “after 40 years in the business is still kind of mysterious or magical.”
Majumdar, meanwhile, is more hands-on in production – a writer who made a name for herself by performing in shows that blended together dramatic text with several forms of classical Indian dance, notably her 2004 solo, coming-of-age play, Fish Eyes.
Despite their differences in practice, Majumdar – whose work as an actor could recently seen in Deepa Mehta’s film, Midnight’s Children – says the two have similar artistic philosophies, which they discovered when they were placed at the same table at the 50th anniversary of the Canada Council. “When we sit down, we’re actually on the same page about the process of work,” says Majumdar, who is based in Toronto, but originally from Port Moody, BC. “Our principles and our discipline and passion for imagination is alike.”
When Murrell, who has new plays at both the Stratford and Shaw Festivals this summer, was asked who he would like to mentor, Majumdar was at the top of his list. The two will meet and talk frequently over the next year – and spent a stint together at the Banff Centre in the fall working one of her many projects in development.
But Murrell hopes to pick up a thing or two as well. “There are probably young playwrights with whom I share a more immediate aesthetic, but I’ve talked with sot of them and we’re so much on the same page that we’d don’t really need to talk,” he says.
“With Anita, whose intelligence and energy I respect a lot… we come from different worlds.”