A Bittersweet Play About Journalistic Ideals Made Me SmileTuesday, May 14, 2013
On Saturday I read Shelley Fralic’s Weekend Review essay, In Reverence of writing – and newspapers in the Vancouver Sun.
That evening it dawned on me that Mark Leiren-Young and Shelley Fralic are idealistic birds of a feather.
The former who worked as a reporter of the Williams Lake Tribune until 1986 (as a young journalist right out of UBC) had the ambition to one day work for a big city newspaper.
The latter works for a big city newspaper that is becoming thinner in content as newspapers attempt to find a solution that circumvents the mantra of the 21st century – the best stuff has to be free.
I do not know Mark Leiren-Young that well but I know him enough to state here that I have never seen him without a smile on his face. Such is his bubbly personality that if I were a woman married to him and I had to wake up to such a positive view of life I would divorce him on the spot. I have an arrangement with my wife that we don’t talk while having our daily breakfast in bed while we read our Vancouver Sun and our NY Times (both as real-ink-in-your fingers versions).
The play was funny at times - after all Mark Leiren-Young has been known for writing humorous essays and or standing up at comedy clubs. But the play was also not funny, and extremely serious when I came to understand to what degree the play was fully autobiographical.
Zachary Stevenson, who had the young Clint Eastwood mannerisms down pat, played the young man right out of journalism school who finds out the hard way that idealism has to be put away in the back pocket if one is to write for a small town newspaper.
Stevenson quickly finds how bribes, corruption and the status quo are what keep a town’s functions running smoothly by those who are in power. As in many other small communities (that I have attended in my stint as a artist/teacher for the now defunct program Outreach Program of Emily Carr and as a annual report photographer for logging operations and pulp mills in Western Canada) it was evident that Native Canadians were under the radar of most them.
Everything about Never Shoot a Stampede Queen rang true to me. I remember once going to teach photography in one of the interior communities whose name begins with Fort. I was warned by Nini Baird (then in charge of the Outreach Program of Emily Carr) that one of my students was the editor of the town’s paper and that she would probably smoke pot in class. She did.
Another time in Prince George, it was a Friday night, I watched snow swirl outside in the highway and I was completely depressed. The music from the stripper bar downstairs was not promising. I switched on the TV and I was saved by Clint Eastwood, and Ruth Gordon in Every Which Way but Loose.
Another playwright may have written a play that would have been hilariously funny. But Mark Leiren-Young instead chose to give us a play from his heart. A man of ideals who believes in truth in journalism (particularly investigative journalism) will not make us laugh just to make us laugh. There has to be more than that if our present state of affairs will ever improve.
It is my hope that Mark Leiren-Young never forgets to smile and that Shelley Fralic (who says she is an optimist) will still be around to see people across her vast newsroom.
And if she happens to see that freelancer who writes theatrical reviews cross the newsroom (with a big smile), acknowledge him as both of you are optimists.