Porn producer or popular playwright? According to Norm Foster, both of these offbeat careers have the potential to pay the bills. But for the past 27 years, Foster has been able to make his living at the more precarious of the two---writing plays.
"The fact that I've been able to put my kids through school on a writer's salary is one of the things I'm most proud of," says Foster, who's in Halifax at Neptune Theatre for the world premiere of Skin Flick, a play about a middle-aged couple that turns to producing porn after being fired from their jobs.
Foster didn't set out to become Canada's most produced playwright. In fact, it was a chance invitation to audition for a community theatre production of Harvey back in 1980 that lured him from his career in radio into the world of theatre. He won the lead role in the play (and has been acting ever since) and decided to try his hand at writing for the stage. He wrote his first commercially produced play, Sinners, in 1982, and has penned more than 40 plays since.
"Norm is a brilliant structuralist," says actor Gordon Gammie, who plays Alex, the cameraman in Skin Flick. "Because of the way he writes, it's like the audience is in the palm of the actors' hands. You speak, and the audience does the rest."
Gammie, who has also appeared in Foster's The Foursome at the Chester Playhouse, praises the rhythm of the playwright's dialogue and the humanity of his characters. "His writing is so dead-on that it's easy as an actor to figure out exactly who you are and what [Foster] wants."
For well-known local actress Martha Irving, playing Daphne, the out-of-work publicist turned porn producer, is more like fun than work.
"There's a great joy in walking into a rehearsal hall and doing a really well-written play with actors who've honed their comedy chops," she says. "And that's one reason I really wanted to do Skin Flick, because comedy is an art and you kind of have to do it to learn it."
Foster, who has been sitting in on the rehearsals at Neptune Theatre and tweaking the script during the process, is a real pleasure to work with, says Irving. "One of the best things about Norm Foster is his generous laugh...he's just very approachable and generous."
While the plot of Skin Flick sounds a little like Kevin Smith's 2008 movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the play is likely to appeal to a wider audience since it lacks the grosser elements of the flick starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, and is more innocent and charming.
Foster says he's tried some things in this play that are new to him, experimenting with language and using a narrator who steps out of the play and addresses the audience directly.
"From what I've seen in rehearsals, I think Skin Flick might become one of my favourites," he says. "It helps that everyone in this cast of five people has a great sense of beats. They really know how to deliver a line, and I'm thrilled with the way it's going."
Despite his obvious love of writing for the stage and the success it has brought him, Foster has decided on a short-term career change.
"I'm taking a year off from playwriting," he announces. "I have quite a lot of plays out there, and I don't want to overdo it."
The year will be spent working on a screenplay called Mrs. Parliament's Night Out. It's the story of a 55-year-old woman who comes to a realization that she hasn't lived the life she'd planned, and who decides to make some significant changes.
"Screenwriting is really something different for me. Everything is visual so that there's not as much dialogue," Foster says. "I keep writing these really nice speeches and then I think, 'They can probably just say that with a look.'"
Skin Flick, January 20-February 15 at Neptune Theatre, 1593 Argyle, go to neptunetheatre.com or call 429-7070 for ticket prices and show times.