Writers on Writing #5: S. Siobhan McCarthy

I‘ve know Siobhan for many, many years. We met when she hobbled into The Alliance For Arts and Culture years ago while I was working at the SEARCH program. She’d recently had a bad car accident, and was recovering, but she stayed for a month and took the program. Over the years, we’ve auditioned together, worked through parenting stuff together (we are both solo parenting boys), bonded over our mutual obsession with Fluevogs, and shared more than a few cups of coffee.

1. I am….. S. Siobhan McCarthy a multi-hyphenate. I am an actor, writer, director, producer, and clown.

 2. Author of…      

I am a published award- winning playwright, and poet. I have a large body of work. My more acclaimed multi-media plays, “Who Are You Calling Crazy”, “Spiraling Within” and “altered states- primal scream, the edge of consciousness” have been performed across Canada. I produced the previously mentioned plays under the auspices of my theatre company, the absolut theatre company and one of my production companies, blyssful PRODUCTIONS. That being said, a production of “Spiraling Within” toured Australia and was produced by Syngy Theatre.

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I have been working in film, television and web the past few years with the intention of adapting my stage plays for the silver screen. I have also been crafting two other screenplays one of which is titled, “Sonder”, In between that, I co- created, co-wrote and co- produced the edgy comedy series, PARKED, which, is in the process of being released for the web. You can view it at www.parkedtheshow.com.

PARKED was a collaborative endeavour where I shared the writing room with Adam O. Thomas, Gorrman Lee, David Lewis and Tracey Mack. We broke stories as a team and then assigned episodes amongst us. I co-wrote the episode, “Homecoming” with Adam O. Thomas. I have sole writer credit on, “Father’s Day” and “Who’s your Daddy”

Last year I penned an episode of the television show, “Power Couples” for The Country Music Channel. I also did some ghost writing for a popular production company here in Vancouver.

 3. The first thing I ever wrote was… 

The first thing I ever wrote was a diary/ journal entry. Ever since I can remember, I have had a journal. It has been an integral part of my process and development as a writer and as a human being for that matter. I use my journal as a receptacle of my ideas, a springboard if you will. Most of my written work has evolved from from thoughts, ideas, musings and ramblings, which, were first captured into one of my journals.

Apart from my journal, the first “serious” thing that I wrote and shared with others would be a poem. In the later years of elementary school and throughout high school I wrote many poems.

 4. I knew I wanted to be a writer when…

I have always known that I needed to be a writer, until I learned that I was also an actor. It all became very complicated when I decided to be a director one hot summer’s day whilst I was in rehearsals in the UBC Theatre Department Rehearsal Space known as the “Hut”. With all of that came the art of producing. The business. I’ve always been a visionary of sorts. When I’m creating, I think of the bigger picture from the get-go. I envision the sets, locations, and costumes. The obsessive in me focuses on the details- everything in the frame. I don’t think I’m capable of solely being a writer.

When I met with Telefilm in 2007 and they encouraged me to produce, so I could get credits under my belt, so I could apply as a writer/ director to their programming. I did. So here we are seven years later and I’m thrilled to be back writing, acting, producing and soon to be directing.

 5. My first writing success was…. 

Having actors want to be in my plays and productions.

Hearing the audience in a sold-out theatre laugh at my dialogue. Making that same audience cry only moments after.

6. Who were your influences? 

Throughout high school I was obsessed with e.e Cummings (note this is from where my obsession with the lower case began) I also loved (and still do) Shakespeare, Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allen Poe. As much as I am a romantic, I also have a bit of a penchant for the darker side.

In University, I studied Theatre, Film and Creative Writing at U.B.C. Dr. Peter Loeffler was my Honours advisor and he created a special program for me that enabled me to write, direct, produce and perform my own plays. During my time there I was enthralled with Daniel McIvor, Judith Thompson, George F. Walker and Samuel Beckett. I also sought after the Beat Poets: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.

Post my degree, when I was clowning and doing my performance art regularly I was inspired by Robert Le Page and Laurie Anderson. When I was compared to Karen Finley, I took it as a compliment.

For the past 15 years I’ve been the Production Manager of the Vancouver International Film Festival Forum. Over the years, Fran Bergin, my beloved boss and the Producer of the Forum has brought in the most brilliant writers of film and television. I have been blessed to meet some of my writing heroes. A few of whom are: Charlie Kauffman, Vince Gilligan, Al Jean, Chris McKenna, James L. White, Chuck Tatham, Peter Gould, Rick Cleveland, and Terry Rossio to name only a few. I met Alex Cunningham via the Forum almost a decade ago and I’m lucky to call her my friend. She inspires to no end via her example in how she lives her life. I am privileged to watch her thrive and see that it is totally possible to do what you love to do, make money at it, and raise a family. I am a big fan of Alan Ball and Tracey Ullman. I also met Beau Willimon last year at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference, which was amazing. Seriously, who is not a fan of, “House of Cards”? I also love older Quentin Tarantino; I just wish he would stay out of his movies and have a firm editor. As a producer, I have been most influenced by Ron Yerxa. We had very candid conversations in 2007 and he encouraged me to produce others so I could be produced and produce my own work.

7. Describe your writing process.

I have always used the theatre as a venue to workshop scripts, hone dialogue and garner reviews and audience.

For many years, similar to Quentin Tarantino, I wrote to music. I would craft scenes, with the score of particular music in mind. I believe writing to be lyrical. The cadence of dialogue, the timing of the character’s thought process. I have driven actors crazy with my metronome during the rehearsal process.

Before becoming a parent, I used to write every day. If I didn’t write, I was miserable. It was my way of processing and expressing myself. I have penned plays in a night, and then work-shopped them for years before producing and performing them. Others, I have created on my feet whilst performing in my clown. I have filled copious journals with poems, scenes, random thoughts and pages of dialogue.

When I became a parent, my creative juices as a writer waned. Who has time to write when you find yourself whole-heartedly committed to attachment parenting?

Creating and Producing PARKED helped kick-start my creative writing juices again. My process, tends to be similar, albeit more disciplined to what it was before I started a family. The qualifier being, when I’m not on a deadline. I carry my journal and pen with me everywhere I go and write when the muse inspires me. Stream of consciousness, type stuff. Many years ago I participated in the One Yellow Rabbit Summer Lab Intensive and trained myself, as an artist, to be open to seeking the punctum in my daily life. To make my gaze hyper- aware of my surroundings, and to always seek out the things that wounded me. My Father was a Private Investigator when I was growing up and he taught me to question everything, keep my back to the wall, my eyes open wide and to try and be aware of everything. My time in the OYR Summer Lab Intensive helped me build on this skillset.

Sometimes, I find myself without my journal so I use the notes app in my iphone. I also tend to get great ideas when I walk late at night so I’ve been starting to record myself using voice memos. Yes that’s me, the crazy lady walking around the block talking to myself, late at night. At least there’s an app for it now. A decade or ago I used to collaborate with Bill MacDonald and we used to call our voice mails and record our “deep thoughts” there.

Once I have ideas to springboard off of in my phone, or journal, I then import or transcribe my thoughts on my computer and flesh them out into monologues. I focus on character first, which is why the walking helps. I normally find my characters from the feet up. It’s a physical discovery. Once I have their stance, I’m golden. The downside is that I have more shoes than I can count. Not because I have a shoe fetish, but because I have a plethora of characters who walk in those said shoes. I tend to frequent second hand and vintage shops for inspiration. A glove, a shoe, a purse, or random costume pieces have all aided and acted as springboards to the creation and development of my various characters.

Once I have the monologue sorted, I begin another for another character. Once I’m happy with that newer character, I will find the conflict and explore an issue or a scene that the two characters will find themselves in.

In essence, I will have a theme, I will create the characters and then make them interact in issue based, “French Scenes.” I will craft many different, “French Scenes” and then stitch them together.

When I’m on deadline, I’m far more disciplined; I open final draft and simply write. I do my best work late at night when nobody is around to distract me. I tend to procrastinate.

 8. What does success as a writer look like to you? Do you think you are successful? 

I believe a successful writer is someone who writes everyday.

I don’t equate success to money. I’m an odd duck that way.

 9. What does the future look like? What are you working on? 

I’m in the process of making a huge life and career change. After spending 21 years living and creating in Vancouver, I’m heading home to Toronto.

I will always love Vancouver, and I will be back to shoot my films. I have a feature called, “Glendale” that I optioned this last spring after I saw the play. It was penned by my friend Wade Kinley and my goal is to direct and produce it as an ultra-low inter provincial co-production between BC and the Yukon. Two brilliant actor friends have accepted to play the leads, I just need to drum up the moolah. Hence, my move to the Big Smoke.

I’d like to have a solid draft of, “Sonder” ready before the end of the year.

I’m open to any and all opportunities that may come forth as a result of PARKED. Now that PARKED is in the process of post-production and is being rolled out weekly, I look forward to exploring my slate and seeking out new collaborations.

 10. Which famous writer would you like to write your biography? 

As a writer, I can’t imagine another person wanting to write my story, so I’ll stick to my tradition and tell my own.

You can connect with Siobhan at www.siobhanmccarthy.biz and www.blyssfulproductions.com, or via twitter @siobhanisblyss.

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

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