The following is an excerpt of an interview with Norm Foster which appeared in the February 6'th, 1999 edition of The New Brunswick Reader, a Saturday supplement of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal newspaper.


Reader: What's it like for you to sit in an audience and watch your characters come alive?

Foster: It's great. It's great to sit there and feel good about the play and for the actors on stage and see how much they're enjoying the audience feedback. It's really something.

Reader: Do you have opening night jitters?

Foster: If I've never seen it in front of an audience, I guess I have a touch of the jitters, but once I've seen it once and seen it work, I don't worry.

Reader: How about waiting for the reviews? How difficult is that?

Foster: I've written about twenty plays and I've probably been reviewed more than any writer in Canada, so I've seen them all and gotten used to it. The bad ones don't affect me, and the good ones, it's nice to read. The only thing I worry about is how a bad review might affect the cast, whether it's going to get them down or change the way they thought about the play when we started. The last five years have really gone well for me and I'm at a point where I'm very confident and there's nothing a critic could say that's going to tell me something about a play; that's going to make me want to change it. I think I know more about it than they do.

Reader: In what way do you think critics generally misunderstand your work?

Foster: I'm known as a comedy writer, but most of the plays have a serious side to them. Comedy isn't as respected, whether it's on the stage or screen, as drama is. When you've written as many comedies as I've written, you begin to get the "that's light" reaction. Well, try writing one.

Reader: Let's talk about writing. Can you give us a sense of how a play gets into your mind and then down on the page?

Foster: Usually, an idea will just come to me about a story or a situation-every once in a while it will be built around a character in particular. Usually I just mull it over in my mind for a month or so and if it stays with me for that long, I figure I've got something that could work. Then I'll make some rough notes and begin to sketch out the story and a couple of characters. Once I've got it to the point where I know where I want it to begin and where I want it to end, then I'll sit down and start to write. It generally takes about four months.

Reader: Comedy is so dependant on an audience's reaction. How can you tell if it works when you're writing it?

Foster: I guess I just have to trust myself-whatever I find funny, I hope the audience will find funny too; what I think is serious, I hope they find moving too. There's no source I can go to that tells me, "That's funny."

Reader: Do you try it out on your family?

Foster: No, I don't let anyone read my work until at least one draft is completely done. Then I have a couple of people I've worked with in the past and I send it to them and get their opinions. Then I'll get it workshopped and do a second draft and sometimes a third and fourth. Four is usually the maximum, but then I do some rewriting in the rehearsal process, because when you see it up on it's feet, you'll see things that don't work that you thought would work.

Reader: Your plays sometimes have darker and serious sides, but you write comedies. How do you write comedy beyond assembling some great one-liners.

Foster: A lot of times, reviewers mention the "one-liners." Well, it's never a one-liner. There's always a buildup to that punchline. It comes out of the character. It comes out of events that have happened before. A character can say a funny line, but if it's not in his character, it won't be funny. But, another character could deliver that same line and it would be very funny. It's not a matter of just thinking of one-liners and plugging them in there.

Reader: Do you see your work moving in any new directions thematically?

Foster: I'm always trying different things and I think it is changing. I think I'm a little more discerning in that I won't put something in just because it's funny. It has to fit the story. I want my plays to be more complete in that way.

Reader: Have the critics noticed?

Foster: It's funny. I've been told by a few people in the last year that with plays like Drinking Alone and Ethan Claymore, that my writing has matured quite a bit. I don't know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult. I don't want to keep writing the same story over and over again. I like to expand on my characters and give them even more depth than they had in the previous play. I guess you always think your next play is going to be your great one.

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