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Aloud is a short, comedic film about taking a chance on love.  Laurie, an outwardly-cool-but-actually-not-so-confident lesbian, encounters Suzanne, an attractive blind woman, in the coffee shop where she is a regular. Although both women are instantly smitten, their inner voices play havoc with what could be a budding romance. Their subconciouses make them second-guess themselves – thoughts like “Is she even gay?” and “Did I just say that aloud? I sound like an idiot.” – paralyze them. And there’s only so much time one can linger in a coffee shop…  It falls to Kai, the barista, to encourage Laurie to go with her gut and make the first move.

Here’s a Q & A with Aloud writer and co-producer Tina McCulloch about the genesis of this project.

Q:           What inspired you to write this script?

A:            The story itself? Well, settle back – this could take awhile! Back in the summer of 2011, one of my co-workers (yes, I have a day job) told me how she and her boyfriend met: in a lineup at Starbucks! I thought that was a great situation for a couple of strangers to meet, and as it kicked around in my head I got the idea to use two characters that had previously appeared in a play I’d written years ago.

Q:           Recycled characters?

A:            Sort of. But in my earlier piece, Laurie and Suzanne were old friends since high school; in this story they would be strangers. I justified it to myself by considering it an ‘alternate universe’.

Q:           Like in online fan fiction – ‘AU’?

A:            Exactly. The fan-writers take ‘known’ characters – from TV series, comics, whatever – and put them into new situations. That’s what I did.  

Q:           What form did it take at first?

A:            The first thing I wrote was a short story – 3 pages – of their meeting from Laurie’s point of view. I could visualize the whole thing happening in my head. It just poured out.   But something just didn’t feel complete. So a couple of days later, I wrote another short story: of the meeting from Suzanne’s point of view. Q:           Were they very different? A:            Well, a lot of the dialogue was the same, obviously! But relating the same incident from two different points of view was a fascinating exercise. I noticed afterwards that I’d written Laurie’s version in the third person, and Suzanne’s in first person. Totally unplanned – that’s just the way their voices came out. And much later I realized that both versions started off in the past tense, and switch to present when the women start having a conversation.

Q:           Did you do anything with the stories – submit them to magazine or book publishers?

A:            No, I didn’t even show them to anyone! But I had a feeling that they would develop.

Q:           And the next step was…?

A:            Almost a year later – in June of 2012 – I saw a Twitter posting calling for submissions to this Toronto theatre festival called Gay Play Day. Gay Play DayThey wanted short plays (15 minutes or less) by LGBT writers about the LGBT experience. I’d never heard of Gay Play Day, and none of my theatre friends had either. (Ed note: That’s because 2012 was the very first year of Gay Play Day – founded by Darren Stewart-Jones, producer of the HamilTEN short play Festival in Hamilton.) But I checked out their website – it’s http://gayplayday.blogspot.ca/ if you want to know! – and decided what the heck. Submissions were due in 10 days from the time I saw the Twitter post!

Q:           And did you have a suitable play ready to go?

A:            No – but I had those two short stories. And a raging case of procrastination! I couldn’t figure how to combine them for stage without (A) being repetitious with dialogue or (B) giving more weight to one character than the other. And then I finally had the brainwave of how to do it, and made it theatrical by having the subconscious voices of Laurie and Suzanne as live actors onstage along with the ‘real’ people. But nobody else could see or hear them. I called the play The Object of Her Attraction, which is a line from the Laurie-short-story.

Q:           And was it accepted into Gay Play Day?

A:            Yes – and I was so thrilled – thank you, Darren! My script was one of only 5 in the festival. I sent it to a former castmate, PJ Hammond, who’s also directed me on stage before, and asked her to direct. We didn’t hold auditions: we just asked actors that we knew to be part of it. We know a lot of actors! Another friend, Stacy Halloran, came on as AD. Gay Play Day ran for two days in September 2012, and it was a great experience.

Q:           What was the next step?

A:            This is getting to be a long and drawn-out story, isn’t it? I’ve heard that sometimes a film can be 10 years “in development” – yeah, I can see how that could happen – I still haven’t got to the film yet! OK, so the following summer – it’s now 2013 – I submit a longer script to Gay Play Day for their second festival. It’s Laurie and Suzanne, a year after their meeting, and they’ve just moved in together, but they’re having doubts. I called it Let’s Spend Our Lives Together, Maybe. We had the same cast, same directors. And another fun time was had by all.

Q:           Are we getting to the part where it becomes a film?

A:            Wait, there’s another theatre development first! Gay Play Day had three performances in late September 2013 (the venue is the Studio at Alumnae Theatre in Toronto, by the way. I think they sold out every show), and right afterwards, a theatre friend told me about a variety night being hosted in October by comedy duo Two Weird Ladies at a Toronto bar called Measure. They were looking for funny short pieces that weren’t standup or sketch comedy. I submitted Object (the 10-minute play about Laurie & Suzanne meeting), and it was accepted. So our little group happily got together again to rehearse it for a one-night performance.

Pona Tran (played Kai the barista in stage version of

Pona Tran (played Kai the barista in stage version of “Aloud”); screenwriter Tina McCulloch; Naomi Hunter (played Laurie’s subconscious in stage version) – at Queer Ideas public screenplay readings, Jan 29, 2014

One of the actors, Naomi Hunter, who played Laurie’s Subconscious, invited casting director Anne Tait, who was an acquaintance, to come see the show at Measure.   Anne couldn’t make it, but she sent Naomi a link to a screenplay development workshop called Queer Ideas, and wrote “Does Tina know about this?”

Q:           So now we’re getting to the film.

Queer Ideas founders Evert Houston (L) and Ron Leach (R) with

Queer Ideas founders Evert Houston (L) and Ron Leach (R) with “Aloud” screenwriter Tina McCulloch. Jan 29, 2014

A:            Yes, finally! I didn’t know about Queer Ideas – it was a new initiative dreamed up by casting director Ron Leach and actor/producer Evert Houston to develop short screenplays by LGBT writers.       (Ed note: Find Queer Ideas on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Queer-Ideas/615197135199850)      And no, I didn’t have a screenplay.   The last one I wrote was about 12 years ago! But I knew that Object would make a very nice short film, so I adapted the stage play into a screenplay, converting the ‘live’ Subconsciouses into voiceovers.

Q:           I think there’s a pattern here: an opportunity you never considered, not having a script ready, short timeline!… But isn’t voiceover one of the things they tell you in screenwriting class not to use? Or at least be cautious about using?

A:            Yeah, but having live people onscreen wouldn’t work like it had on stage. My script was one of 8 accepted into the Queer Ideas development workshops for November 2013. Each script (approx. 10 minutes long) would get a reading – with professional actors cast by Ron – and feedback from an industry mentor. Then the writers would take the notes and have a week to produce another draft, which was read with a different cast and mentor, two weeks after the first.

“Aloud” screenwriter Tina McCulloch, mentor Patricia Chica, and director PJ Hammond at Queer Ideas workshop, November 2013.

At my second-draft reading, I got permission for PJ Hammond (director of the stage version) to attend. The mentor was Montreal-based director Patricia Chica. At the end of the day, she told me she would love to direct it!

Q:           So now?

A:            Now it’s May 2014.

Angela Asher (read the role of Laurie); James Fanizza (screenwriter of

Angela Asher (read the role of Laurie in “Aloud”); James Fanizza (screenwriter of “Sebastian”); “Aloud” screenwriter Tina McCulloch; mentor Patricia Chica; director PJ Hammond – Queer Ideas workshop, Nov 2013.

One of the scripts from the Queer Ideas workshop, Sebastian by James Fanizza, was shot, and screens at the Inside Out Film Festival in Toronto this month! Patricia Chica is in Cannes promoting her latest short film, Serpent’s Lullaby, and then goes to Los Angeles to direct a feature this summer. Film newbies PJ and I are co-producing Aloud, with guidance from my experienced-in-film friend Michale Raske.  I’ve been tweaking the script, and we’re lining up funding details, location, cast, etc. Patricia plans to shoot this over two days in the fall, using crew she has worked with before. So it’ll be just over 3 years since I first got the idea and wrote the short stories. I guess that’s not an unusually long time in the world of film development, but it seems long to me. Can’t wait!