“Right now, I feel it’s the only honest way of expressing myself as an artist.”
By Lisa Guthro/Quinte Arts Council
Belleville-based playwright Peter Paylor is having a busy year: several plays in production, an upcoming workshop, a documentary script in progress, and recent membership in the Playwrights Guild of Canada, the national organization serving Canadian playwrights. In his shared space at artist & artisans gallery & studio in downtown Belleville, Paylor peels back the layers to reveal the dynamics of his creativity.
Paylor’s artistic life began as a wood sculptor. Following a kind of organic trajectory, a symbiotic relationship emerged between Paylor and a piece of wood, and together they created something new. “It blew me away that I could pick up a stick which would then become a vehicle to express myself,” he says. It made perfect sense when Paylor said he would sometimes sleep with his stick.
These days Paylor’s artistic focus is playwriting: “Right now, I feel it’s the only honest way of expressing myself as an artist.” Taking himself more seriously as a playwright was a turning point in Paylor’s creative life. “I’m more committed now. I can say, ‘I am a playwright.’ And somehow it’s more legitimate in a way I have never felt before. It may change, who knows, but right now I am emotionally and intellectually engaged with writing plays.”
Although Paylor has a degree in English Literature, his academic studies did not influence his writing. Instead, Paylor is inspired by Broadway playwright Neil Simon, not by his plays specifically, but rather by Simon’s decision to abandon television writing to focus on his own playwriting. Paylor pauses and gets up from his chair by the window, disappearing down the long hallway of the gallery. He returns with Neil Simon’s memoir Rewrites, and reads Simon’s transformative words: “I had found not only the one thing I was certain would make me happy, but I also knew I was about to enter the only world in which I could possibly exist.”
I wanted to know about those worlds. Many of Paylor’s plays are set in small towns. Paylor grew up in Cooksville, Ont., before it became the bulging metropolis of Mississauga. But it’s not the experience of small-town living that drives Paylor. For a writer, Paylor explains, small towns are a natural microcosm of everyday life. The small-town setting tightens the dramatic universe; it just makes it “less complicated to write about small things.”
Paylor is breaking ground in the way he writes parts for older women, giving them voice and space in a world that all too often renders older women invisible. What’s more, these female characters embody a kind of irreverence, flipping social conventions. Paylor says he wants to challenge our expectations of what “old” looks like. And he does just that, carefully, cleverly, and always with warmth and humour.
Paylor says his stories come to him as gifts; they travel through him, onto his yellow notepads, and then get distilled through many rewrites on the computer. The completed script is turned over to the creative team, cast and crew, who bring Paylor’s worlds to life on the stage for audiences to experience.
This year is a very good year to explore and experience the many imaginary worlds of the wonderfully creative Peter Paylor.
Upcoming performances include:
Where the River Flows at the Marmora Curling Club at 7:30 on June 15
A Wedding in (Mostly) White, Tranquility, and The Consultants: Three One Act Plays at the Old Church Theatre on October 25, 26 & 27