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Meet The Writers: Avery Brennan

In our "Meet The Writers" series, we're learning more about the participants of the CMTWC Writers Workshop. The Toronto Writers Workshop meets every two weeks where, under the guidance of Leslie Arden, writers learn and practice the craft of composition and lyric-writing.

What was your introduction to the theatre?

My mother is a professional musician with exquisite taste. She had me listening to the cast recording of West Side Story by the time I was 3 or 4, and the songs stuck with me ever since. I studied music as a child (piano and voice), and when I was 14 years old, I auditioned for the ensemble of Oliver! with Neptune Theatre. I got cast, and decided I didn't want to do anything else with my life.

When was the moment you decided to write for the theatre?

I've always felt that there needed to be more queer content in the world for people to be able to see themselves reflected in media, which at first got me into playwriting about 7 or 8 years ago. When I decided it was time to finally come out publicly as transgender last year, I knew that would limit my options on stage in musical theatre, as a woman with a tenor voice and a body that people often associate with being male. So, I decided I would write to include our voices in the scores of new musicals, and begin to consider myself as a lyricist and composer, too.

Whose work do you admire and why?

Stephen Sondheim, for all the obvious reasons, but especially for his books, "Finishing the Hat" and "Look I Made A Hat" for how much insight he gives to the creative process. Harvey Fierstein, for the poignant queer stories he's put shared with the world. Agnes Moore (better known by her stage name, Peppermint), for her work in music, drag and activism for transgender people (and now for being the first trans woman to originate a role on Broadway in the upcoming Head Over Heels).

How do you like to write? What is your process? Where do you find inspiration?

I love writing in outlines and taking steps closer with my collaborator(s), which was a technique first introduced to me by my playwriting mentor and dramaturg, Christopher Weddell. I'll start with the absolute biggest picture (What is the story that I am trying to tell? What events happen in this story? Who are these people?) and talk about that for a few hours with my collaborator.

Once that very broad outline is set, I'll take another step closer (What physically/literally happens on stage in each of these events? Do these events carry every character's story forward in some way?) then talk about that for a few more hours (or days, usually days). And then another (actually writing the damn script/song/etc) and talk about that. Then we'll hear/see it done in real time.

After, I'll take stock of what we learned from that draft, and start all the back at that first broad outline to re-evaluate what the story is about. Wash, rinse, and repeat until I feel it's time to let it be. This process (especially the discussions had at every step) itself is what continuously inspires me, and why I love collaborating so much.

What do you want to see more of on stage?

Roles specific to trans and nonbinary performers. It's a fantastic step forward that theatre companies are starting to open up to the idea of seeing trans and nonbinary performers in their shows, but I do not believe it is enough to just cast us as characters that are written as cisgender (someone who identifies fully as the gender they were assigned at birth) or whose gender identity does not matter. We have our own unique perspectives, stories, and voices that deserve to be included in the artistic narrative.

If you had to pick one musical cast recording to be your "desert island record" which would it be?


Complete this sentence: "I write because...”

I'm not satisfied with the way things are in the world right now, and I want to open people up to new ideas for change.

What's a tip you have about collaboration?

Talk, talk, and talk some more. Open and clear communication without taking (or making) anything personal. Every discussion, including the tough ones, are about making the piece clearer and stronger.

Why did you join the Writers Workshop?

I wanted to learn to work with composers better and explore an art form that I love.

What is your favourite thing about the Writers Workshop?

Being in a room with people who have their own strong, driving reasons to write in this specific aspect of theatre. I am constantly inspired by Leslie and the work of my peers, and I leave every session feeling more determined to create change.

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