Theatre Preview: Greg Nelson: Intimate and unplugged

By Kyle Francis

There can be no sweeter joy than projecting one’s imagination onto a barren page and bringing it to life with words–creating a world within a book is dangerously close to playing God. As much of a head-inflation writing creatively can be, writing to sustain your life is different terrain entirely. Professional writing is a treacherous jungle inhabited only by viscous chimeras, deadly scorpions, broken glass and whirling blades–needless to say, naught but the most steady survive the perils of such a place.

Many brave men and women enter this jungle, but very few see the other side. Greg Nelson is one of the lucky exceptions. He has written countless radio dramas, several episodes of The Associates, an abundance of stage plays and teaches a class at the University of Toronto on dramatic writing. A soft-spoken man possessing an uncanny command over the English language, Greg Nelson has earned the right to the unofficial title “King of the Jungle.”

“The act of creation is always a joyful one,” reflects Nelson. “I don’t have a political agenda, I don’t even have a personal agenda. I just write for myself, for pure entertainment.”

Interested in writing early on, Nelson didn’t start bringing in the bacon until he got a degree in playwriting. To be as successful as he has been in dramatic writing Nelson’s skills had to be outstanding, but he claims the key to success is not riding your strengths, but improving upon your weaknesses.

“Everyone’s good at different things,” says Nelson. “I’m good at dialogue, but this time I really worked on improving the more technical aspects of my writing, like actual plot mechanics, characterization and so on.”

Nelson’s latest creation, Mick Unplugged, is a romantic comedy about a young man expectedly named Mick, deciding to change his life and start up a record label. To the experienced cinemaphile, this probably sounds a lot like Empire Records on stage, but Nelson assures that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“In essence, it’s just a story about two people that should really be together, and the audience can tell that right off the start. That’s where the joy of this play comes in, is that the audience knows this, but the characters don’t realize it until later on,” Nelson beams with fatherly pride. “[As opposed to Empire Records] music really just forms the backdrop of the story.”

Music may provide a thematic through line for the play, but it also played a major role in its christening. Given the content of the production, Nelson logically looked within music to find his muse. He found it in old British punk music, especially The Clash’s famous album London Calling. The script does a great job of showing off its high-energy punk rawk influences, but the writing process certainly had its obstacles.

“It was my first try at the romantic-comedy genre so it had some genre-specific issues,” recalls Nelson. “I learned from writing it, because it was different from what I’m used to.”

By conquering challenges and overcoming obstacles Nelson been able to make his living doing what he loves. It starts with a flash of inspiration, leads through a treacherous gauntlet of insidious traps where many wordsmiths loose their motivation, money and minds. For those strong enough to make it through such a place, a bright field of imagination and wonder awaits. Writing is a winding path of glorious heights and abysmal lows–especially when paying the bills.

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