Muse Control

Rushmore, starring Bill Murray, didn't attract large crowds of moviegoers when it debuted in 1998, but the cult classic made an impression on U of L Fine Arts student James Wade. The 23-year-old, who was only 11 when the movie premiered, remembers watching it for the first time years after it was released.

"I don't know if I knew it at the time, but that movie inspired my interest in narratives," says Wade. "There's a scene in Rushmore where Bill Murray's character is so vividly portrayed that I relate to him on a personal level. That sense of shared experience is extraordinary because in that moment it doesn't matter that the person I'm connecting with is a character in a movie."

"He's fictional, but you can't have everything," jokes Wade, quoting a line from Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Wade's playful attitude belies the seriousness of his endeavour. He is a self-professed movie buff whose top picks include the classic Casablanca, fan-favourite Annie Hall and box-office hit Jurassic Park. He is able to drop quotes from these and other movies into everyday conversations because for him they have developed a personal relevance.

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Playwright, James Wade, draws a great deal of inspiration from Woody Allen.

"I remember every detail. The Germans wore grey, you wore blue," says Wade, illustrating his point using a line from Casablanca.

For Wade, narrative is an art form that transcends geographic, cultural and social boundaries, offering a connection between people who have never met.

"Narrative is ideological," explains Wade. "Stories take shape in response to experiences and in relation to values and beliefs. Regardless of the story being told, narrative is always part of a larger conversation."

Eager to be part of the discussion, Wade started writing his own scripts. Inspired by a summer lecture he attended two years ago, he began investigating the idea of the muse and its role in contemporary society.

"The figure of the muse played an important role in Greek culture; they believed in spirits that would visit them and inspire their artistic creations," explains Wade. "The figure of the muse has lost that significance in today's culture, and we now believe in an artistry that comes from within the individual."

Having found a subject that interested him, Wade began work on what was to become Muse Control. Treating the muse as a literal character, the play plunges audiences into the fantastic life of a struggling author, desperate to break his writer's block. Reality is suspended and twisted as his muse encourages and exposes his creative and personal truths.

"Muse Control is quirky and eccentric but that's what makes it real," explains Wade. "While writing it, I worked with some of my own neuroses as an artist, and I hope that comes across in the characters when people read the script or see the play."

Top Row (L-R), Camille Pavlenko and James Wade. Bottom Row (L-R), Brett Gartley and Devon Brayne.

Wade's self-reflection paid off as Muse Control won the 2010 U of L Play Right Prize, earning Wade a $1,500 cash award and a public reading of his play.

"Winning the Play Right Prize was obviously an honour and went a long way toward validating my work," says Wade, who is hoping for a future in writing.

The U of L Play Right Prize is one of two awards geared at young writers made possible by the generous support of U of L alumnus Terry Whitehead (BA '94).

"My time at the U of L was a very formative period in my life," says Whitehead. "My education and campus involvements helped shape my world view. I am happy to support the Play Right Prize as a way to ensure that both current and future students are given the same opportunities to explore their creativity."

In addition to winning the Play Right Prize, Muse Control is the first play from the competition to be produced at the University of Lethbridge. The play opened the 2010/11 TheatreXtra season.

"TheatreXtra provides great opportunities and experience to students with a passion for theatre," says Wade, describing the primarily student-run productions. "I've envisioned Muse Control in my head for so long, it's great to see it brought to life on stage by a group of my peers."

Wade accepts the accolades humbly and enjoys the process of producing, but he remains true to the writing process believing it to be cathartic.

"You are what you love and not what loves you," says Wade, quoting Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation.

Maybe one day someone will be quoting lines from a James Wade movie.

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