Joan MacLeod: Playwright
on drama

Joan MacLeod Joan MacLeod was born and raised in North Vancouver—spending many summers in Glengarry County in Ontario where both her parents came from. As a young woman she spent much time traveling and working in Europe, northern Africa and northern Canada—the latter present in much of her work. She graduated from the University of Victoria in 1978, studying long and short fiction with Bill Valgardson and David Godfrey. In 1981 she started graduate school at U.B.C. in the Department of Creative Writing. She was still concentrating on prose but also started writing and publishing poetry at this time. In 1983 her first novel, unpublished, was shortlisted for the Seal Book First Novel Award. At U.B.C. she became good friends with Bill Gaston who still reads the first drafts of much of her work. In 1984 Joan went to Banff’s Advanced Writers’ Studio in Poetry. She met playwright Alan Williams there and, one snowy night in June, saw him perform an excerpt from his one man show The Cockroach Triology. Between that and hearing an actor from the Playwrights’ Colony performing one of her poems Joan decided then and there (well nearly) on a life in the theatre. She began working on what became her first play Jewel a few months later.

In September 1985 Joan moved to Toronto, a first draft of Jewel in hand, tested out that summer at the Edmonton Fringe. She sent the script into Tarragon Theatre and was invited to join their Playwright’s Unit. In the Unit she started working on her first full length play Toronto, Mississippi. Based on a first act of that play, Urjo Kareda decided to open Tarragon’s 87/88 season with Toronto, Mississippi in their Main Space. Six months earlier, Jewel, a last minute replacement for a cancelled show, premiered at Tarragon’s Extra Space. MacLeod was a last minute replacement for Jewel’s scheduled actor. With next to zero acting experience she performed the entire run of her play 35 shows. This experience of course impacted tremendously the way she wrote for the stage. She also hopes to never appear as an actor on stage again. For seven years she was a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre and credits Urjo Kareda, who died in 2002, for giving her a home and a start in theatre.

Joan MacLeod’s plays include Jewel, Toronto, Mississippi, Amigo’s Blue Guitar, and The Hope Slide which all premiered at Tarragon. Little Sister and The Shape of a Girl were written for young audience but have played widely both in Canada and internationally. She continues to have an excellent working relationship with Green Thumb Theatre in Vancouver who commissioned The Shape of a Girl. 2000 which premiered in Ottawa at Great Canadadian Theatre Company also played at Tarragon. Homechild opened in January 2006 at CanStage in Toronto—Canada’s largest not-for-profit theatre. In 2009 Another Home Invasion opened at ATP in Calgary and Tarragon Theatre in Toronto – a co-production between the two theatres.  Tarragon toured the production in 2010 and 2011 from Vancouver to Halifax – with four stops in between. 

Joan MacLeod is the recipient of two Chalmers Canadian Play Awards and the Governor General’s Award. All of her plays have been produced extensively. The Shape of a Girl has been touring since its premiere five years ago, first in English and now in French and has been translated into six languages. In 2005 it toured the U.S.A. for six months including a two week run in New York City. Joan also writes poetry, prose and for television.

Joan is the mother of Ana Celeste who was born in 1995. Her husband, Bill Loach, is a surveyor and avid sailor. They met on Bowen Island where they lived for ten years before moving to Victoria so that Joan could take a position as Assistant Professor of Writing with the University there.