Sarah Dennison is a playwright, props builder and designer based in Cambridge, ON. After graduating from the University of Guelph’s theatre program, she spent three seasons with the Thousand Islands Playhouse and built props for over thirty productions. During that time she also worked as a freelance props builder for St. Lawrence College and Theatre Kingston. In 2013 she was a member of the Playhouse’s inaugural Playwright’s Unit (directed by Charlotte Gowdy) and in 2015 was the director, designer and co-creator of Finding Temperance (The Muddy Mary Project). Sarah is the commissioned playwright for Sonderlust’s debut project, Wives Tales, which has been supported by the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund and Pat the Dog Theatre Creation.
What inspires you as a writer?
I like to people watch. I don’t drive so I take public transportation everywhere, and I always find inspiration there. I also collect a lot of great material at my day job (hotel front desk). Other than “real life”, I find a lot of inspiration in music (I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I’m writing so I listen to a lot of jazz). I’m inspired/challenged by writers I admire, like Carson McCullers (whose picture has been on my bulletin board forever, a gentle reminder that she published her first/most brilliant novel at age twenty-three, so there’s no time to waste even though I’m really good at that). I’m also inspired by my grandfather, a writer and incredible person, who I look up to figuratively and literally when I’m writing (his photo is above my desk).
You are writing a play as part of Wives Tales for Sonderlust. This project is unique, as you were given curated notes based on meetings with different wives but never actually sat in on the meetings. What has it been like to write something based on women you never interacted with?
Strange. The notes I received were so smart and profound all on their own, it was like trying to reshape something that just kept snapping back to its original form. That is why I am glad we have decided to create two projects from Wives Tales, because that material, straight from the source, is just too beautiful to be messed with/edited/left out if it doesn’t fit with the “flow” of my play. I think it’s kind of cool, how it worked out that way. I wouldn’t have my script if it weren’t for those notes; they’re like the groundwork, the foundation… the spirit!
What has the experience of working with a dramaturg been like for you? How has it helped you develop your work?
Sharing my writing is like metaphoric nails across a chalkboard for me. I am very protective and insecure about it, so I was hesitant about the whole thing. I am lucky to have a dramaturg that is patient and very intuitive. Lisa understands what I’m trying to say and what I need to do to make that apparent to everyone else. She asks tough questions (most I still don’t have the answer to…), but I’m glad she’s there to ask them. It is nice to have someone in your corner in this process because writing can be sort of lonely sometimes.
Cover art by Jason Cianelli