Correspondence about the Development of ‘A God In Need of Help’

March 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

From last May, and including an explication of my ambitions with regards to this website that may not be possible now, given my schedule, but we’ll see:

Dear Sean (if I may),

once again, many thanks for your play script of A God in Need of Help. I have just started reading it and am toying with the idea of discussing it in an upcoming article of mine, which I will start working on in late summer. In this article, I will take a closer look at four or five contemporary Canadian plays which show that the canvas of Canadian drama has widened considerably over the past decade or so. I think your play would lend itself very well to the project.

Needless to say, it would be very helpful, if you could provide me with background material about the workshop, if there is any, and reviews of the production.

Looking forward very much to hearing from you, with all my best wishes,



Dear A,

Thanks so much for your interest. 
The development of the play is ongoing despite the workshop being over. It was three weeks long and included a rudimentary staging of the play. 
However, the production itself won’t happen until next April, so I’m not sure how that will work with your essay timeline. 
Be that as it may, I can provide you with some of the background:
I wrote a little essay some time ago about the first impulses for the play that was published in this online journal. I can’t link to the article itself. It’s in the latter half of the issue. But it includes an image of the preliminary idea jotted into my notebook while on a train in the Alps (I find it amusing that I wrote down Richard’s name as the person I should send it to but then crossed it out).
I wrote a draft or two under the auspices of Crow’s Theatre with support from Artistic Director Chris Abraham (who is an old friend), but at that time I was merely trying to create a straightforward depiction of the journey to Prague, culminating in the painting’s presentation to the emperor. This straightforward depiction didn’t work for several reasons. 
The project also proved too large for Crow’s resources, so Chris tried to generate some interest for me at the Stratford Festival. Robert Blacker, the resident dramaturg there, was kind enough to give me a residency at the Festival to work on the play, but I lacked the profile to have a project of that size undertaken by them.
Richard Rose has taken an interest in my work from the beginning (I made my debut in 1990, when he was running Necessary Angel) but I have long failed to appreciate this because he’d given every other proposal I’d sent him a pass (most of the plays I’ve written have been prodigally experimental, not so much with style as with narrative.) Still, I’ve always known he would be a good fit with my work as a director, so, after some hesitation, I finally relented and sent this one to him. 
It was only after he offered a workshop for ‘A God In Need of Help’—and then further development, and then a workshop and production—that I realized I have always been able to rely on him to read any manuscript I sent him—a rare gift. 
Richard organized three short readings of the play over the course of several months, and then decided to embark on a deeper exploration with the 3-week workspace. I thought he would make a decision to produce after the workspace was completed, but I was surprised to get an offer of production just before Christmas 2012. The workspace was in March 2013.The production will premiere in April 2014.
During the workspace, Richard conjured a brilliant solution for the carrying of the cargo. The crate was represented by a huge empty picture frame that had three functions:
-to stand upstage against the back wall, framing a slightly larger than life-size copy of the painting,
-to stand freely downstage and serve as a sort of proscenium arch for each storyteller’s version of the story,
and, most impressively,
-to be raised above the heads of the four actors playing the strongmen, each at his own corner, so the dynamics and kinesthetics of their connection to one another is well dramatized: if one stumbles, the others have to react; if one abandons his corner to lunge angrily at another, everyone has to compensate to keep the crate from falling. It manages to convey the drama of burden without actually being that heavy. I love it. 
I’ve just created a website in which will be devoted over the course of the next year to discussing all the obsessions of mine that led to this play: Prague, alchemy, classical theatre, Venice, and, of course, the painting by Albrecht Dürer that is housed in an art gallery behind the castle in Prague. (I’m confused by the photo of the country mansion featured on the gallery’s website, since the gallery itself is in the city proper.) 
Here’s the latest draft of the play. Subtle changes throughout, major changes in the final scene. I just received another batch of notes from Richard, though, so it will continue to change. I’m gratified to find he is as engaged with it as I am.
I hope this is the sort of response you had in mind with your request for background. If you have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to write.  
Sean Dixon

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