Reading plays is not only for actors who need monologues for auditions or for producers in search of their next show. It’s for theatre lovers who can’t get out to the theatre, or who’ve heard about a play that’s not being presented in their city, or who want to return to a story they loved watching unfold on stage. It’s for anyone who feels like they don’t have the time to read novels, or who skim over the long descriptions in novels to get to the dialogue. Reading plays is for anyone who likes to read.
Lisa Codrington, playwright of Up the Garden Path and The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, does not consider herself a thrill seeker.
“I’m, like, the most boring person ever,” she says with a laugh. “Artistically, I certainly like to do things that challenge me. But I’m not a daredevil.”
And yet, as she discusses her process and craft as both a playwright and an actor, the conversation continually circles back to the idea of risk-taking as a motivator in her career.
Codrington never had a grand vision of what her career would look like. Instead, she tried new things time and time again, searching for opportunities that would push her to grow as an artist, which has led her to where she is today. Despite how her life may appear to an outsider, she admits that most of the time she has no idea what she is doing until after she has done it. “There are things I’d like to do and accomplish and learn, but I’m always surprised by how I get there.”
When Codrington, a trained actor, first started to write, she came at it from an actor’s perspective: through character and voice. This was the method she used to create her first play, Cast Iron, which began as a school assignment. “I’d write a monologue until another character would come in and then it would become dialogue.”
Over time, this practice started to hinder Codrington, motivating her to look for other ways into the story. After taking a class in screenwriting at George Brown, she found her new approach: look at the story from beginning to end, using outlines and working on structure. Now, she is challenging herself through a six-month-long residency at the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). Her focus is on developing skills as a television writer, which has meant learning to write faster, focusing more on imagery than dialogue, and learning a new form of story structure.
Being in a residency, she says, is also an opportunity for her to “jump in and make mistakes.” This prompts the questions many artists grapple with: Can we set ourselves up to make mistakes? Don’t we have an instinct to produce work that will be good?
“Maybe allowing myself to make mistakes is not the clearest way of getting at that idea. I do things to challenge myself, and with the challenge comes the risk of mistakes,” she says. “Doing things where you don’t know the result. So I’m excited about television writing. I don’t know where that’ll end, but I’m willing to take that risk.”
She admits that mindset is not for everyone. Some people are driven by perfecting one thing, day in, day out. But that’s not where her inspiration manifests. So, if taking on a challenge is what motivates her, where is her struggle in writing?
“It’s more my brain. Sometimes it’s imposter syndrome. That gets a lot of airtime.”
Despite these doubts, Codrington—who is accomplished, self aware, and soft-spoken—pushes forward. It is clear she is in the driver seat of her career. Although the destination is unknown, she wouldn’t be in the job of telling stories if she wasn’t up for, and stimulated by, the challenge.
As she says herself, “If you’re in the arts, you are a risk-taker.”
About the Plays
Up the Garden Path and The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God are two plays featuring young black women who suddenly find themselves navigating unfamiliar territory on their own. As they embark on journeys from the only homes they’ve ever known, they’re challenged to think for themselves and to fight for what they want and believe in.
About the Playwright
Lisa Codrington is a Toronto-based actor and writer. Her writing, including The Aftermath, The Colony, and Cast Iron, has been produced in Toronto, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Winnipeg, and Barbados. Lisa is a recipient of the Carol Bolt Award for Playwrights and the K.M. Hunter Theatre Award. She has been playwright-in-residence at a number of theatres, including Canadian Stage, Nightwood Theatre, the Blyth Festival, and the Shaw Festival.
For information about the published play, click here