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Norm Foster: Author of The Last Resort

September 9, 2013

Three decades ago, Norm Foster traded the airwaves for the footlights, and, long story short, broadcasting’s loss was theatre’s gain. A former radio host, he is now the most-produced playwright of the Canadian stage.

“Who knew?” Foster says, and it really does make you wonder if maybe this was one of those things that was simply meant to be.

Born in New Market, raised in Toronto, educated at Centennial College and Confederation College, Foster was doing a morning show in the Maritimes, the final destination in a journey that began in Thunder Bay and took him to Winnipeg and Kingston before plunking him down in Fredericton.

One of his pals, whose mother was active in community theatre, invited Foster to tag along to auditions and although Foster had no intention of trying out, he gave it a shot anyway, persuaded by the logic of a director’s argument that went something like this: “You’re in radio, which means you can read.”

The play, incidentally, was Harvey. Foster was given the role of Elwood P. Dowd. Acting would soon lead to writing, “a natural transition,” he calls it, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The fact that Foster chose humour, as opposed to the so-called serious stuff, makes sense in a couple of ways. For one thing, he had worked in broadcasting long enough to know that comedy was an integral part of radio. For another, well, blame it on mom and dad, who watched their share of television, and were devoted fans of Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle … you get the idea.

Most importantly, Foster has been blessed with an intangible he describes as “an ear for conversation” and it is has stood him in good stead. Writing, he says, is something that cannot be taught. “All you do is teach the form.”

Foster considers himself fortunate in that he has never been short of ideas. To label him as “prolific” would be an understatement. The canon, if you will, is comprised of more than 50 plays, one of which, The Last Resort, a musical written in collaboration with Canadian composer Leslie Arden, who contributed music and lyrics, will open the Globe Theatre’s 2013-14 season.

This production is being mounted by Max Reimer, who has staged about 20 of Foster’s plays, and of whom Foster says, “He is not only one of my favourite directors, he is one of my favourite people.”

Collaboration can be risky business. “I don’t work well with others, to be honest,” Foster says with a laugh. “It’s a whole different feeling, but it’s also only half the work, so why not?” he adds, tongue firmly in cheek.

Foster was introduced to Arden in Montreal by a mutual acquaintance in the late 1990s. They had a chat and he promised he would get back to her with something in the way of, you know, story, characters, themes. “That’s one of the challenges, but also one of the fun parts, coming up with ideas and expanding on them,” he says.

The Last Resort combines two seemingly contrasting elements, organized crime and the isolation of northern Saskatchewan, and Foster likes to think of it as “a fish-out-of-water sort of story.” It’s a murder mystery, among other things, and what makes it work, Foster says, is that “it’s populated with humour and with heart.”

The Last Resort runs from September 18 – October 6, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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