Remembering Sharon Pollock

A week ago on April 22, Sharon Pollock, an oft-produced playwright who was known for works that explored Canadian history and identity at a time when few of her contemporaries were doing so, died at her home in Calgary, Alberta. She was 85. Playwright and PWM’s board member Corrina Hodgson was fortunate enough to work with Ms. Pollock on one of her first plays. The following text is Corrina’s personal recollection of Sharon’s impact on her work and life.

I was in my 20s, living my dream as an MFA student at the University of British Columbia, navigating life in Vancouver and living by myself for the first time ever when I learned that Teatro Berdache would be producing my play, Quietly Overwhelmed, in Calgary. It was my first professional production and I thought life couldn’t get any better when artistic director Steve Gin informed me that my dramaturge would be Sharon Pollock.

I had grown up the daughter of parents who exposed their children to the arts from a young age, but their definition of the arts was the O’Keefe Centre, the AGO, and Mirvish Productions. I knew there was more, but it took me until my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto to find my people — and Sharon Pollock was a bright shining beacon. Her works and the works of Natalie Meisner, Judith Thompson, Djanet Sears, and of Suzan-Lori Parks fed my late teens and early 20s. I thought of their words as a trail of breadcrumbs that showed me there was another way to be in this world.

And suddenly, Sharon Pollock was in my world.

Sharon demystified the writing process at exactly the right time for me. She made it practical and real. Not mundane. Not boring, but a task that we were lucky enough to get to do. She would call me while washing dishes because she had a thought about one of my characters, or because something in the script suddenly struck her as a much larger question that I should be exploring. She made me realize that writing wasn’t precious. It was something to integrate into my daily life — like doing my dishes or sweeping my floor. Something to carry with me as I went about my everyday life. And she showed me that writers could have everyday lives.

When I finally met her in person, she was just as warm and practical as she had been over the phone. She hugged tightly and quickly, and her smile was a flash of warmth. There was nothing fake about the woman. Everything was as efficient as her words, and my god did I admire her. I think one of the things I loved best about her is that she allowed the admiration, but always directed it back to my work.

Sharon’s words have been a gift to us all, and she gave me a gift of words that I have carried with me nearly 20 years now. When I was struggling in the second act of my script, she said to me, “At the very beginning of all this, you glimpsed the whole, and it was that glimpse that motivated you to undertake this journey. Your job now is to find your way back to that whole.” Now in my 40s, I recognize that she wasn’t just giving me writing advice. Like all good dramaturges, she was giving me life advice.

Godspeed, Sharon. Your journey is complete, and you have found your way back to your whole. I am so grateful to have shared a brief moment of it with you.