“The world has gone topsy-turvy,” says Skeleton Lee.

One of my most popular books, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World, has been transformed into an Ottawa Fringe play. How and why?

I’ve been a terrible blogger. But I’m jumping back on the wagon, not to tell you about my newest novel, Death Flight (that’ll come in a bunch of catch-up posts), but because I’m going to be in the 2019 Ottawa Fringe!

That’s right. I’m going to write, direct, act, sing, and dance on stage, risking humiliation and tragedy.

Why would I do this? As my brother once put it, “Mel, you’re a doctor. Why don’t you just be a doctor.”

Well, I like being a doctor. Sometimes I even love it. There is nothing like standing in front of someone who is crashing and basically saying, “Hang on, death. Not on my watch.”

It’s sort of like being Mrs. Weasley at the end of the Harry Potter series, only I get to battle death and disease using science instead of a wand, and I defend everyone, including but not restricted to my own family.

That said, it’s only one aspect of myself. Harry Potter did more than fight Voldemort.

I have always wanted to write. Period.

For me, it always harkens back to the Dead Poet’s Society quote: “… medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for!”

At a Fringe Festival, which is a collection of raw, random, cheap, accessible theatre, I’m alive. I’m alight with possibility. I’m watching a contortionist force the audience on stage as she bends her body around them (Andréane Leclerc) Another woman’s show made me realize how lucky I am to be a highly educated 21st century female with a devoted family, instead of a child getting raped by my umpteen brothers (Veronica Russell, in A Different Woman—although the main character here also escaped her lot through education, by becoming a teacher).

Sure, I’ve also been confused by a Fringe contemporary dance piece, and I’ve simply waited for monologues to end, but then I move on to the next show. The best of times, the most mediocre of times, all for $12 a pop.

I was one happy Fringe audience member. I wasn’t planning to join in.

But in spring 2018, the Ottawa Fringe sent me a notice about their boot camp workshops. For $20, I could spend one whole Saturday learning about dramaturgy. Or directing. Or lighting! Wow! (I went to all of them, and was thrilled to tell them that Human Remains had been recommended by the Globe and Mail that very day of dramaturgy.)

In November, I happened to open an e-mail that it was the last day to apply for the Ottawa Fringe Open Doors mentorship program, which was for Ottawa-area people who’ve never produced a show before and who identify themselves as belonging one of these groups:

  • Artist of Colour; 
  • Deaf Artists or Artists with a disability; 
  • Immigrant and Refugee Artist; 
  • Indigenous Artists – First Nations, Metis, Inuit

Two winners would get

  • A dedicated 60-min performance slot in the 2019 Ottawa Fringe Festival;
  • Waived festival fees;
  • 20 hours with a committed professional mentor of your choosing, from January-June, 2019;
  • Free access to all Fringe workshops (Fringe 101, Marketing, Tech, and Media Relations), as well as Fringe Boot Camp (Dramaturgy, Directing, Design), and our  under development workshops series [note: there was no Boot Camp this year. If they run it next year, don’t hesitate to sign up! Gather ye Boot Camps while ye may!]
  • Administrative support and blanket festival marketing

Well, of course I applied.

They randomly picked two names, and mine was the second one.

This made me feel a ton better about making a Fringe show. I wouldn’t just be drop kicked on stage. I would have a mentor.

In fact, they matched me with Eric Coates, the artistic director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. So that was awesome.

I definitely see a need for this program. At our first producers’ meeting, there was only one other artist of colour attending—the other Open Doors winner.

Plus, when I took acting workshops in Montreal last summer, another (white, male) student had terrible ideas like, “How about if I pretend this other actress and I are on a date, and you be the waitress who doesn’t understand English?”

I shook my head at him and thought, I’m so glad I’m a doctor and I don’t have to choose between pretending that’s actually acceptable, let alone funny, and making my rent this month.

However, this is an even happier ending for me: I can be a doctor who acts AND I can write the show myself to make sure that it’s not run by ignorant schmucks. Or if it is, it’s my own fault.

So why can’t I “just” be a doctor?

A US customs agent asked me the same question. I replied, “Why would I be one thing when I could be many things? I contain multitudes.”

I don’t know if he got the Walt Whitman reference, but he let me into the country.

Plus there’s the one Ralph Waldo Emerson quote I have quoted to myself since I was sixteen: do what you are afraid to do.

I’m not usually afraid in the ER. Edgy, worried, yes. Some cases are so hard, I’m knocking down the doors of other specialists for help. But afraid? Not commonly.

Throwing myself on stage, with hundreds of eyes—or worse, no eyes—trained on me? I’ll be tachycardic.

That’s not the end of my theatre beginner’s luck star dust. Once I joined the Fringe Festival, I discovered another opportunity, which I’ll outline in my next post. Da da da da! To be continued.