Interview Series - Playwrights in Residence - Curtis te Brinke and his play Tire Swing

tire swing

Kevin has gone missing. Three children are left to grow up in the spaces he left behind as a strange shadow begins to consume their town. Tire Swing blends horror and fantasy into a coming of age story about the intimate relationship between loss and self discovery, and a monster hiding at the edges of the streetlight.

Advisory Board Leader Sabah Haque interviews Curtis te Brinke, one of Paprika’s Playwrights in Residence, who has worked over the past year to develop his play Tire Swing under the guidance of Artistic Programs Manger Rosamund Small and mentor Andrea Romaldi, Literary Manager at Tarragon Theatre. Curtis shares details about his process, his play Tire Swing, and his goals as one of Toronto's ambitious emerging artists.

Sabah How did you come to find yourself in theatre?
Curtis I was lucky enough to grow up a town over from The Blyth Festival, so they're to blame for me being here doing the theatre thing. I was a bookish type who didn't like sports growing up in a hockey town so one show lead to another and here I am.

SabahHow did you discover your interest for playwriting?
Curtis Being a writer was the second thing I wanted to be growing up, after a paleontologist. I was a dinosaur kid, and clearly very cool. When theatre became the big focus in my life, the two ideas just kind of merged. I think the reason why I do it has changed over the years, but that marriage of live performance and the written word is still at the heart of it for sure.

Sabah What inspired you to write Tire Swing?
Curtis Tire Swing started with an image, really. I was sitting on the front steps of The Blyth Festival a few summers ago at the dying end of the season, and I saw this group of little kids just ambling by on the sidewalk. I remember being very struck by the mystery of that part of your life and my brain took it from there. Tire Swing is in a lot of ways a meditation on my own experiences growing up queer in a small, very insulated town. The idea of queerness and otherness really permeates the characters' choices and the themes explored here. At least I hope that's part of what people are finding in it.

SabahWhat is your writing process like?
Curtis The process depends on the piece I find. The last two plays I've written were mostly done in chronological order from the start to finish of the draft as they're fairly tightly plotted plays. With Tire Swing, it began as a meandering impressionistic exploration of the disappearance and the dark magic in this town so the first few drafts were written in monologues and direct address scenes where I would be writing things before I had even connected them to the last scene I'd written. The process got a lot faster once I started getting dramaturgical feedback that was challenging me to find the plot and story of the play. And that's a really different part of it for me, because you know the characters so well by now that you really are looking at what the piece needs rather than what they need. So you're taking them on a journey with you and it can be quite exciting to not feel like you're groping around in the dark for this world.

SabahHow would you describe your play in three words?
Curtis Fear. Shadows. Light.

Sabah What has been a challenge of working on this play?
Curtis The biggest challenge lately has been dealing with the personal nature of the piece, and making room for my own self care while creating Tire Swing. The piece has become increasingly dark with each draft, and figuring out how to be true to my creation impulses while also not losing myself in the dark world the piece creates has been a challenge. We don't need to suffer for our art, and theatre school makes you so used to it that you can forget that.

Sabah What do you hope to accomplish with your theatre career?
Curtis That's a big question! Right now my focus is to get my work out there. But my long term goal is to become a produced and published playwright, while working in the theatre world creating new work. That has always been my focus and the thing that gets me up in the morning, so if I'm making new work with people who I care about and make me excited to be creating theatre I'll be in an ideal place. Playwright, director, producer is my focus right now (in that order). Hopefully I can look back on this interview twenty years from now and not laugh at my own ambition.

SabahHow has the mentorship you have received through the Paprika Festival benefitted your work?
Curtis The mentorship has completely shifted the work I've been doing on Tire Swing! While the earlier versions of the piece were far more literary and poetic, Andrea and Rosamund have pushed me to focus on how this is a live piece of theatre that needs to be seen by an audience. Andrea has also pushed me to go further with the relationships I've created between these people, and to take a more character centric approach to the way the plot unfolds. We picked up on the darker, more troublesome aspects of the narrative involving the disappearance, the monster and the sexuality explored in the piece and gave them enough focus and room to grow. The piece has gotten clearer, darker, and more explosive. I'm quite pleased with how its grown.


Catch the free reading of Tire Swing as apart of the 15th annual Paprika Festival, partnered with Native Earth Performing Arts.

When: Saturday May 28, 2016 at 2:45pm
Where: Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum Building, 585 Dundas St E

Stay tuned for the next instalment of the Advisory Board's Paprika Festival 2016 Interview Series!