“I find it hard writing drama,” said Grant. “I tried several years ago to do a ‘30-Hour Theatre-a-thon’ where we had one night to write a script – a short, one-act script, a 20-minute play – and I challenged myself to write a drama, and I found it so difficult.”
But of course, Grant knows firsthand that comedy is fragile.
“There’s a rhythm to it, and the punchline doesn’t work when that rhythm gets broken,” said Grant. “It’s almost like a symphony. And all of a sudden there’s a line, either I’ve written it incorrect, or the actor is slow delivering it, it’s like the needle went across the record.”
Milton Berle once described the rhythm of a joke as, “Dit-dit-dit-dot, dit-dit-dit-dot, dit-dit-dit-joke” (seriously, put anything in Jay Leno’s monologue against this rubric), and Grant sees the craft in similarly mathematical terms.
“I love the process of the setup of the joke then the payoff,” Grant said. “At times when writing comedy it’s almost, ‘setup-setup-setup, there’s your payoff / setup-setup-setup, your next payoff.’ So it’s just a series of setups and payoffs.”
Grant will now bring his comic instincts to some sober topics. Shorthanded, which opens February 8, takes place in the dressing room of a hockey rink, where eight middle-aged men are each going through their own midlife crisis. Grant teased, “It’s about lost dreams, second chances; friendship, and how far a person would go for a friend; and the trials and tribulations an average middle-aged man goes through, such as divorce, or alcoholism, or drug abuse, or dealing with kids.”
Grant said he drew on the people around him to create something true to life. “In this case, I based the characters on my coworkers at my day job. I took elements of them and just blew them out of proportion and exploited them. So, by the end of it, there’s no connection to them, but that’s where it started from.
“I just in general try to find the humour in stuff, which is ironic, because when I first started out as an actor, I was told I played everything too serious, and I had to lighten up. So maybe it’s something I did subconsciously where the pendulum swung far into the other end.”
Grant wrote two earlier plays with the Elmira Theatre Company – Hamish in 2007, and Bare Bear Bones in 2012. His new play won the New Comedy Award from the Playwrights Guild of Canada, but February 8 will mark its debut performance.
Grant said that working with the Elmira Theatre Company’s cast – including John Bigelow, Joe Brenner, Bill Calder, Andrew Frey and Brandon Maxwell – has further sharpened the award-winning script. “You have your script, but then as you go through the rehearsal process, it almost becomes more of a workshop. Changes are made on the fly, going, ‘Well, okay, this doesn’t work, what I intended on the page here isn’t transferring well onto the stage.’”
The Elmira Theatre Company production of Shorthanded opens at 8 p.m. on February 8, at 76 Howard Ave. The 8 p.m. shows will continue on Saturday and Sunday, then February 14-16. Matinees at 2:30 p.m. will be performed on February 10 and 17. Tickets are $18, available at the Centre in the Square box office in Kitchener by calling 578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977, online at www.centre-square.com. More information can be found at www.elmiratheatre.com.