Playwriting

Playwright Dara Murphy

Written by Lindsay Price

Episode 82: Playwright Dara Murphy

Dara Murphy wrote her first play in high school for a class project and her teacher submitted it to us. At the time Dara was the youngest playwright in our catalogue but now she’s got three plays with Theatrefolk and is gearing up to embark on a teaching career. Dara gets the distinction of penning the “weirdest” plays in our catalogue, listen in to learn why.

Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.

This week, I’m talking to playwright Dara Murphy. So, Dara wrote her first play in high school for a class project and her teacher submitted it to us. That was The Plucky Pie Murder for anyone who keeps close tabs on what’s in our catalogue. And, at the time, Dara was the youngest playwright in our catalogue, but now she’s got three plays with Theatrefolk and she is gearing up to embark on a teaching career. So, I think Dara gets the distinction of penning the weirdest plays in our catalogue. There’s death, blood, voodoo rituals – she covers it all.

So, let’s go find out more about her!

Lindsay: Hello everybody! Welcome to TFP – The Theatrefolk Podcast.

I am very happy to talk to another one of our playwrights, a playwright who has been with us for a very, very long time but, Dara, we have never had a conversation, have we?

Dara: No.

Lindsay: No, I don’t think so.

We have Dara Murphy. Hello, Dara!

Dara: Email conversations.

Lindsay: Many email conversations. And I think that you are our only playwright because you submitted The Plucky Pie Murder when you were in high school. So, you are – I do believe – the only playwright – we do plays for schools and student performers and you were a student. You started with us as a student.

Dara: Yeah. It was really exciting.

Lindsay: Yeah. Just so everyone knows, you have three plays with us – The Plucky Pie Murder, Camel Dung and Cloves, and Magic Fairy in the Microwave – and we will get to the wheres of all of these. But let’s go back to Plucky Pie.

So, you wrote that in school, for what?

Dara: Yeah, I think it was in grade twelve. It was actually an assignment so we all had to write a one-act play for our teacher and I like writing so I was excited about the assignment and went all out, and our teacher really liked it so she sent it to you guys and then I got the call that you were interested in publishing it so that was pretty exciting.

Lindsay: Was it unexpected?

Dara: No, I didn’t even realize she had sent it.

Lindsay: Right.

Dara: So, yeah, it was quite unexpected.

Lindsay: So unexpected you didn’t even know what was happening.

Dara: No, exactly. So, you wanted a few changes. I can’t remember what they were now but I made a few changes and then, yeah, you put it on. And it was exciting also when you would send us the emails about who was buying it and who was performing it. And I remember when the first email that somebody had bought it to perform it, we went and we went to the show and it was in Freedom, California. So, we flew there. It was, like, last-minute. My mom was like, “Let’s go!” so we all flew to California and saw it and that was really neat.

Lindsay: What did you think of you just showing up?

Dara: They were very nervous. But I was nervous, too! And it was very strange to hear the things that you hear in your head to hear it actually said out loud, so that was very weird.

Lindsay: I find it to be the most fantastical part of the whole experience. Sometimes, it’s exactly like you picture in your head, and then, sometimes it’s like, “Wow! Oh, that’s really different.”

Dara: Exactly. Or sometimes it’s better. You’re like, “Oh, I didn’t even think that line was funny and they made it work.” Sometimes, I’m like, “Oh, I thought that would have been better than it was,” you know, on certain things.

Lindsay: I’m always surprised. Things that I know, just because of rhythms because of doing it a long time that they’re going to get a laugh and then there are just some things, you’re sitting there and you’re like, “That was not on my radar at all.”

Dara: Yeah, it’s a nice, happy accident.

Lindsay: It is. What happens when you go and see one of your plays? What does it make you feel?

Dara: Oh, nervous. I think I sweat through the whole thing. Mostly, when I write stuff, I just want it to be fun, something people enjoy performing, and I am nervous, I’m listening to the audience and seeing how they’re reacting and it’s a whole mix of emotions. I haven’t actually seen that many of my plays. I saw The Plucky Pie Murder and then I saw Magic Fair in the Microwave but I never have seen Camel Dung and Cloves which is very strange.

Lindsay: Well, it’s a very strange play. Camel Dung and Cloves is sort of a play where a tea ceremony is not a soothing past time. Bad things happen. And it’s funny because, when people talk to us about it, it’s really either they really like it and they’re just in love with it or they have no idea what to make of it, and that pleases me to know because, you know, there’s the plays that are the family-friendly plays, and that everyone can do them, and they’re large casts, and they’re very warm, and they’re very engaging, and it’s really important to have those. And I just think it’s really important to have those plays that are so narrow – there’s like maybe five people in the world who read it and they love it. But I know there are girls who read Camel Dung and Cloves maybe in the privacy of their own room who just connect so much to that play, you know?

Dara: It’s pretty strange. I remember I wrote that when you guys sent an email to everyone saying, “Oh, we need some female plays,” and so I just sat down and I wrote it in a weekend, just kind of a quick little thing, and I sent it. And I didn’t know what would happen and then you guys were like, “Oh!”

Lindsay: “Let’s do this one, too!”

Dara: “We’ll do this one,” so I was like, “Yeah, that’s cool.”

Lindsay: So, you did not go to university for theatre, right?

Dara: No. Well, I had a roundabout path. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to be a famous director so I went.

Lindsay: So, you are originally from Alberta, right?

Dara: Yeah, I’m from Alberta, small town.

Lindsay: But you live right now where you went to school in, tell everybody where.

Dara: Well, I went to film school in Calgary. It was just a two-year diploma. And then, I worked a bit and I didn’t like it so much. Then, I went travelling and then I ended up going back to school to be a teacher and I went to Montreal so that’s where I am right now.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So, you started out, you wanted to be in film. Why didn’t you like that?

Dara: I switched when I was in my program to editing because I really liked editing because it was kind of like writing and you’re building a story. It actually helped with my writing because you realize you don’t want things too long and you cut things and it kind of helped in that way. And so, I really liked editing. And then, when I started working doing editing, I realized you’re actually in front of a computer all the time, and I have a lot of energy and I like to be moving and I like to be doing things and I started making videos for people. I started working for a museum and doing programming where you would write a programme and bring out special artifacts and people come and watch. And then, I started really liking that so I went into education.

Lindsay: What about teaching appeals to you?

Dara: I think because it’s so creative, you have to make up things all the time. And you’re also on the stage. You’re on all the time, too. And you have to engage this audience of your class and have them learn in different activities that you try. And so, I like that a lot.

Lindsay: You’re not the first person who I’ve interviewed here who has really taken to the creative nature of teaching which I really like. I really like to look at it in that light, you know, as opposed to herding a group of thirty and being a disciplinarian or trying to hit core curriculum or do testing, that I really like to hear that someone who wants to be a teacher thinks of it as a creative past-time.

Dara: Yeah, you have to be so creative to keep their attention and all that sort of thing, and the discipline stuff I’m still learning. I’m not so good at that. “Hey guys! Let’s do something cool!” and then pandemonium happens.

Lindsay: Then that’s when you end up in the closet.

Dara: “Why can’t I be a good teacher?”

Lindsay: So, where does then the playwriting come from? Why did you gravitate towards it? I know the first one was an assignment, but then why keep it up?

Dara: Well, I’ve always loved writing. Ever since I was little, I was always writing a novel. I still am. And so, yeah, it was a good assignment and what I like about plays is I really like writing dialogue. I have fun just matching what people say and playing on the words and things like that. So, that’s what I really like about plays is the dialogue. And, yeah, I’m not much of a description person so you can get away with not having to write a lot of description. It’s funny. When you’re in university, you have to write so many essays. You just kind of stop writing for fun and, hopefully, now that I’ve graduated I can do more of that.

Lindsay: Do them for your students.

Dara: Yeah, exactly.

Lindsay: So, what is your process like when you write a play? Camel Dung was really quick. Why do you think that that was?

Dara: I’ve found, when I’m writing, I have to do it quick because, if I start taking a break, it will never get done. You’ll read it over and you’re like, “Oh, that’s actually not that good.” But if you just get it out and then it’s done. Most of my plays have been, I’ve written them quite quickly because I just need to get the ideas out, and then you can fix it later. So, usually, it starts with a little idea – like, of a character, or like Magic Fairy in the Microwave, I just start with that opening monologue and then I wanted to write a play that would justify it and make it cool. So, I just would start with a little idea and then just go and see what happens. I usually never know how it’s going to end which can get me in trouble often when I do my writing.

Lindsay: Yeah, but then it’s a journey.

Dara: Yeah, and that’s what I like about writing. It’s fun. It’s sort of like you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re reading it as well as writing it, I guess.

Lindsay: It’s really funny. So, I just put together a proposal myself that I’m working with a company to write a play, so I kind of had to do a synopsis, and I put down an end and I looked at it – and this was before I had really written anything – and I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know if I like that.” Nothing is set in stone but it’s like I didn’t like that I saw the ending on paper before I went through the process of writing the play.

Dara: Yeah! It’s sort of the fun of it is to try and find your way, although it can get you in trouble sometimes. Yeah, when it’s good, it sort of works.

Lindsay: But when you define what the purpose is, I think, I think that that’s what I would say very strongly with, there’s a purpose for Plucky Pie, there’s a big purpose for Camel Dung, there’s a purpose for Magic Fairy – and I’ll have all of these down in the links in the show notes. But, you know, in Magic Fairy, there’s guns and knives and blood and it’s very, very clear – “kittens will be harmed” – and it’s that everything that you can’t do in a high school play, you know, Dara’s done so amazingly well. There’s a theme to the play so that it doesn’t really matter if you know what the ending’s going to be as long as you hang your hat on a strong theme, right?

Dara: Yeah, that’s true. That’s the truth, yeah. You have to know why you’re writing it, I guess.

Lindsay: Yeah, because if you know why, the details are in the doing.

Dara: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Lindsay: So, you did Magic Fairy at school, right?

Dara: Yeah, they had a Drama festival where I was going to school at Miguel and so you submit your plays and then they said, “Oh, yeah, we’ll put it on.” And so, I went to the first reading and that was cool seeing the actors read it for the first time and laughing. And I said, “Oh, this could be good.” And then, I went to the final performance. The guy who played the masked villain, there’s a bunch of fight scenes and that guy was actually a fight choreographer who did it, and he was really good, and all the fight scenes were amazing. He was doing flips, they were, you know, throwing things. It was just fantastic so it was quite a good show. I had a lot of fun watching it.

Lindsay: What was it like to go from, “Okay, here are my words on paper, here I am hearing them for the first time,” and then seeing it realized?

Dara: Yeah, it was really exciting. I had some friends there and it was just really neat. Yeah, I like to see the audience’s reaction and see how the lines would get laughs and just to see how it would flow. I also like to see how things flow because I don’t write so many plays that I don’t know how, I’d be like, “Oh, this could have been sped up, or this I could have taken more time with,” sort of things like that.

Lindsay: What do you see in your writing? Do you see your writing changing? Do you see your writing growing? Do you like just writing the way that you do? Do you see learning in anything about writing? Where do you see your writing going?

Dara: I like things that are quirky and just a little bit different and I like to surprise. I’ve tried writing serious things and it always just doesn’t work.

Lindsay: Why do you think that is?

Dara: I don’t know. I find it’s too cheesy when I write serious. I’m like, “Oh, that doesn’t ring true, that doesn’t ring true.” I go back to the weird things. I don’t know why.

Lindsay: Which is so far from reality, sometimes. That’s a very interesting thing that, the closer you get to something serious, the cheesier you think it becomes.

Dara: I just read it and I’m like, “Huh?” So, I like more of the weirder things. I was actually playing just recently with an idea of a play where the characters have to write something deep and make it more serious, but I haven’t started doing anything with that, but it’s just sort of an idea. So, I’ll see if I can challenge myself to write something a little more serious. We’ll see.

Lindsay: What advice would you give to young playwrights who are interested in the writing process or just interested in putting their work out there?

Dara: Yeah, just write a lot. I think it’s important to just finish it. Even if you are not sure of it, just finish it and then have something and just keep writing and then you can edit. It’s always the finishing that’s the hard part. And, yeah, just try different things and take ideas from here and there. Most of my plays, I take ideas from, like, I was reading just recently the Magic Fairy and just looking at different things I’ve taken from life like names of places from my old high school and just little things that I’ve been doing. Like, I’ve been playing checkers a lot so then I’ll put that in the play or, you know, just little things you take from your life.

Lindsay: It’s a better way of doing it instead of – I’ve been on a rant about how I don’t think that anybody should follow “write what you know” but you should know who you are so where you can pull, you know, do that. You know, you’re playing checkers so pull that in. Keeping a tally of names and places and having opinions on things about how that’s way more valuable.

Do you write down the things or do you just keep them in your head?

Dara: Ideas for things?

Lindsay: Yeah.

Dara: Yeah, I have different books. In my agenda, I have a little section where I write ideas for stores and, usually, I keep it in my head pretty well but I want to write it down just in case, because sometimes I’ll like, “Oh, I had a good idea for that… What was it again?” So, I try to write it down, even in my agenda, I have a little extra section where I’ll write a few things of ideas, especially now that I have more time and out of school, I want to do some more writing.

Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. Well, we’re going to hold you to that.

Do you ever think about writing for a play that is for adults?

Dara: Yeah, I have written a play for adults, and I submitted it to a contest and I didn’t win so it’s just sitting in my drawer.

Lindsay: So, then you said, “Well, to hell with that! I am wiping my hands of that.”

Dara: But I should, I should look into it more and, yeah, I really should get on that.

Lindsay: I really like the thing you said about how the most important thing is to finish because I think that’s where it trips up a lot of beginning writers – that sort of circle of ideas, you know, where you just…

Dara: Yeah, when you get an idea, at first, you have that real spark of excitement. You’re like, “Oh! That’s such a good idea!” and then you start writing and then you go for a vacation somewhere and you come back and you’re like, “Ugh,” and then it just sort of dies. That has happened to me so many times and you just have to write it while you have that excitement, and you can keep that excitement, I think, by writing every day, by having a little time. If I was more dedicated to write every day then you have that excitement going and going and that’s how the things I have finished, that I have been able to finish it.

Lindsay: Well, for writing, it’s part of your consistent daily life. You know, it’s not something you ever go back to. It’s something like, “Oh, right. Here’s my fifteen minutes and I’m just going to do that every day, like, you know, brushing your teeth.”

Dara: You do lots of writing, I see. It’s really cool.

Lindsay: You know, it’s a sickness, so… I don’t do anything else very well so it’s like this is the thing that puts food on the table and pays some bills so I should probably just keep doing it.

Dara: That’s very exciting. It’s a nice to play, I think, with the imagination.

Lindsay: Well, anything can happen in the theatre, right? Like, you can have fights and battles and you can have any character come to life, you know, whether they’re imaginary or they’re dead or they’re an animal or a plant, and you can have absolutely anything and that’s why I like theatre more than books – well, I don’t write books because I’m terrified of not writing properly – and I could never write a movie because I could not take someone just coming up and saying that they were going to rewrite it.

Dara: Oh, yeah.

Lindsay: But, also, I think that theatre audiences are more forgiving than movie audiences, and they’ll take anything you give them and just as long as you set up the world of the play, they’re along with the ride.

Dara: Yeah, and there’s something fun about theatre in that, with movies, you have to be a really good actor and all that sort of thing. But, with theatre, anyone can do it, you know? There’s all sorts of high schools and community theatre. I like to do community theatre. It’s nice when you can get good parts and good plays and a lot of people can participate in it instead of just having the one movie and then it’s done. You know, that’s what I think is exciting about these one-act plays is I see all the different places that I’ve never travelled to of schools and these people performing this thing that was in my mind so that’s pretty wild.

Lindsay: Isn’t that the awesomest thing where a person who has never met you, does not know you, just picked up a script and then read it and went, “I like this!” And then, even further than that, they’re going to actually produce it!

Dara: Yeah! It’s so strange.

Lindsay: It’s weird! It’s just fascinating. When I see that happening, I’m like, “How is that possible? Do you not know I’m just a weirdo sitting in my house, like, in my pajamas, just writing?”

Dara: That’s what you feel. Like, you don’t feel like maybe you’ve written this great American-Canadian novel, it’s something fun and how people perform it is, you’re surprised and I’m surprised by it. I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool!”

Lindsay: Pretty awesome.

Okay, Dara. Thank you so much for talking to me today and all the best with your new journey of being a teacher. It’s a pretty awesome job. I really have a lot of admiration for anybody who wants to be a teacher. What level of teaching do you want to pursue?

Dara: Mostly, I think elementary because I like teaching all the subjects but I’ve been subbing so I’ve been doing all kinds – I’ve been doing PE and I’ve been doing high school. They’re all kind of fun in their own way so we’ll see how it goes. See where I go.

Lindsay: Okay. Thank you so much, Dara!

Dara: Thank you! Have a nice week!

Lindsay: You too.

Dara: Take care.

Thank you, Dara.

Any links that were mentioned in the interview, you can find them at theatrefolk.com/episode82. I can’t believe we’re already up to 82. We’re going to be at 100 before we know it!

So, before we go today, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.

It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play! I can’t remember that tune every time. So, today, we are talking about, or I’m talking about – really, there’s only me – it’s the grand we, right? It’s the royal we. But it’s Ashland Falls by Steven Stack.

So, Steven has a couple of plays with us – The Bottom of the Lake and She Wrote, Died, and Wrote Some More – and, really, if you are looking for something, a full-length that’s a little different to do around Halloween, Ashland Falls is really going to be the play for you. I think Steven is so great at combining the comedic and the spooky. I think that’s a pretty special gift and Ashland Falls really has both in abundance.

So, in this play, Ashland Falls, a school receives a mysterious script about a girl, Ashley, who died long ago. The director disappears and then a new one arrives, just in time, who seems to know all about the story of the play. And just how did she get the dead girl’s ring?

So, here’s a short conversation from the play. Laura is the new director and Carrie is a student and she’s in the play and she’s also just found out that her boyfriend, also in the play, has been cheating on her with a very – oh, let’s say – “outgoing” girl also in the play. So, we’re going to start with Laura.

Laura: Today had to be hard for you, Carrie. I’m sorry.

Carrie: Yeah. Sorry I messed up rehearsal.

Laura: That rehearsal was messed up a long time before that. I don’t normally talk about other directors, but… wow.

Carrie: It’s really weird that he disappeared.

Laura: Maybe he got burned out. After tonight, I completely understand.

Carrie: Yeah.

Laura: Seriously though, you never know why people do what they do. Much too complicated. Except people like Savannah.

Carrie: What?

Laura: Nothing. You have any questions for me? About your character or the play?

Carrie: No. Well, yeah. Earlier you made it seem like you believe that the ghost stuff actually happened. Do you?

Laura: Honestly? I know it did. The things that I’ve heard about that night… there’s no way it can’t be true. Don’t tell anyone else I said that. Don’t want to freak them out right before the show.

Carrie: Wait. You’re serious?

Laura: I am. Some people say they still see her at time at the Falls.

Carrie: But the play—

Laura: I said they didn’t get everything right. Besides, what’s really permanent in this world?

Carrie: Certainly not a high school relationship. I wonder what she was like. Ashley/

Laura: Probably a lot like you. That’s a compliment, by the way. In the pictures of her that I saw, she was very pretty. She was also one of the kindest people that I’ve ever known. I mean, I didn’t actually know her, clearly, but stories of her always talked of her kindess.

Carrie: It’s sad that she died the way she did.

Laura: Yeah, people suck. Did Heather leave?

Carrie: Yeah. Why?

Laura: I got spell that Heather asked for from my office, and I wanted her to practice with it tonight.

Carrie: I could give it to her. I walk right by her house.

Laura: Could you do that for me?

Carrie: Sure.

Laura: Thanks. Quick question: Are you going to be okay tomorrow night? Put all of that with Savannah and Aidan aside. At least for the show.

Carrie: I will. I won’t let everyone down.

Laura: I suppose we could change the script and let you actually kill her. In the script. You know, I went through the same thing when I was your age. It was a rough time.

Carrie: But it’s not about me, right?

Laura: Well, it kind of is. Hey, I have something for you that just might help. Here.

Carrie: Ashley’s prop ring?

Laura: No. Her real ring. Got it from a friend of the family before I left.

Carrie: Is this the one she was wearing when she—

Laura: That’s what they say.

Carrie: Creepy. So what do you want me to do with it?

Laura: Wear it. Tonight and during the show. It might help you get into character.

Carrie: Okay. Thanks.

Laura: You’re welcome. So you’re leaving now?

Carrie: It might take me a little while. I have to get my stuff.

Laura: Well, I have a meeting to get to. You think you can turn off the house lights for me?

Carrie: Sure. Hey. So this really is the real spell?

Laura: And the real ring. If somebody killed a dove in this building, you have a spell in your hand that will work. I mean, if you believe that stuff.

All right. So, that’s Ashland Falls. Go to theatrefolk.com and read the sample pages. You can get the link in the show notes: theatrefolk.com/episode82.

Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.” Give us some feedback. Give us a review. That would be so nice.

And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.

Music credit: ”Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license

About the author

Lindsay Price