CHUCK KUEPFER, Staff Reporter
Michael Grant was caught off guard when he found out his play Shorthanded had been shortlisted for the Playwrights Guild of Canada’s new comedy award.
He was even more surprised when it won.
“I had forgot I even entered the contest,” said Grant, who joined the Playwrights Guild of Canada this past the spring. “One of the forms was for this new comedy award competition, so I thought well, it can’t hurt. So I threw it in.”
Grant received the honour at a gathering of many “big-name playwrights” at the inaugural Tom Hendry Awards at Stage West in Mississauga, Oct. 22.
Shorthanded was judged as the best entry in the New Comedy category by a panel chaired by veteran Canadian playwright Norm Foster, who also presented the award, much to Grant’s delight.
“Norm Foster was somebody I’ve looked to and admired his career for years,” he said. “It was kind of like for a hockey player meeting Wayne Gretzky. It was definitely surreal.”
That hockey correlation also extends to his play. In Shorthanded, a comedy about lost dreams and second chances, eight hockey players band together for game seven of the old-timer’s hockey championship. The middle-aged men are looking for a shot at redemption, and to reverse the curse of a game-seven loss they incurred as Junior B players that has left the town without a hockey title ever since.
“I’ve had this idea for a script for the past six, seven years, maybe even more, but circumstances and situations just didn’t seem right to write the play at the time,” said Grant. “So I put it on the back burner, but it’s been in the back of my mind for a while.”
About four years ago, Grant began to work on Shorthanded, drawing from his experiences as minor hockey parent.
“I have three kids in hockey,” said Grant. “If I’m not at the theatre or at work, I’m at the arena. I’ve been the trainer for my oldest son’s team for the past number of years, and talking with his coaches helped immensely with some of the dialogue.”
The characters in the play are loosely based on his co-workers.
“When we get together in a social environment, there’s a lot of banter going on,” said Grant, “much like I imagine what goes on in a men’s hockey dressing room, so I kind of melded the two together.”
Now that the play has been recognized by the Playwrights Guild of Canada, Grant says he feels added pressure when Shorthanded hits the stage. One of four plays on Elmira Theatre’s playbill for the 2012-13 season, Shorthanded will premiere in February.
The first read through was held last week.
“It was fun to hear it just read out loud by the actual actors,” said Grant. “I think it will go over well in Elmira. I’m a little nervous now. I’ve got a tall order to fill. There were no expectations before, but now with this title it’s kind of intimidating.”
While Grant may bear the burden of success, he has a supportive community theatre group behind him.
“I owe them so much,” said Grant. “It’s a great group. I’ve worked with numerous community theatre groups, and Elmira is something special. What I’ve seen in other groups is they almost break up into teams. Elmira — there’s none of that at all. It’s all hands on deck for every show and they’ve been so supportive of me and my work.”
Grant has also written Hamish and Bare Bear Bones, as well as three one-act plays for the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival: The Wizard of the Woods, The Next Knight and The Curse of the Crown.
When Grant was finished writing his first script, he had emailed Foster, who was recognized at the Playwrights Guild of Canada awards with Lifetime Membership, and asked what to do next. Foster’s advice was to find a community theatre group to perform it, then go from there.
“Luckily Elmira theatre was generous enough to allow me to do Hamish a number of years ago, and then Bare Bear Bones,” said Grant. “It’s kind of neat. It’s just really weird that you have this whole group that’s just more than willing to bend over backwards to support you.”