Sean Harris Oliver & Tetsuro Shigematsu are among the five Canadians on the finalist list for this year’s Governor General drama award.
Sean Harris Oliver & Tetsuro Shigematsu.

They say, it is an honour just to be nominated. Vancouver playwrights Sean Harris Oliver and Tetsuro Shigematsu agree as the two find themselves as finalists for this year’s Governor General’s Literary Award for drama.

Oliver receives his nomination for The Fighting Season, a devastating look at PTSD based on his father’s experiences as a civilian doctor in Kandahar.

For the playwright, landing on the finalist list is validation for his decision not to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“I remember in 2006 when I told my father that I didn’t want to pursue a career in medicine and that I wanted to become an actor,” says Oliver in an email. “My dad just looked at me in shock and disbelief.”

Having just completed writing his Medical College Admission Test that summer, Oliver recalls thinking his father was picturing his whole life “going down the toilet.”

“So now, to have been nominated for a Governor General’s Award, for writing a play that was inspired by my dad’s experiences, and to be able to look at my father and go, ‘See, Dad, I didn’t throw my life away’ is an extraordinary feeling,” he says

Along with revelling in the nomination, Oliver is hopeful the recognition will open new doors.

“I want actors, producers, and directors to know that I’m passionate and dedicated to creating new stories and that I want to get those stories out onto the stage and screen,” he says. “I can only write the script, but I need the other people to go, ‘Yes! Let’s do this; let’s put this thing up on its feet.”

Tom Pickett, Siona Gareau-Brennan and Kyle Jespersen in 2017 production of The Fighting Season. Photo by Javier R. Sotres.
Tom Pickett, Siona Gareau-Brennan and Kyle Jespersen in 2017 production of The Fighting Season. Photo by Javier R. Sotres.

Shigematsu makes the finalist’s list for his play 1 Hour Photo, a powerful and touching glimpse into the life of family-friend, 90-year old Mas Yamamoto.

In an email, Shimematsu says he was at first confused when he learned his play was in the running.

“I thought someone must have read an article about the awards online, and then adjacent to it was an ad for my latest play,” he says via email. “They saw my name, and somehow conflated the two. I didn’t even know I was long-listed, so it really took me by surprise.”

For Shigematsu, the recognition is especially gratifying for a racialized artist living in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Calling it a “game of attrition,” he says everything conspires against you.

“There’s no money in playwrighting. No fame. No perks. You do it for … well, actually, I’m not sure why I do it,” he says. “And when you run out of reasons, you quit.”

Quoting Mark Twain, who once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment,” Shigematsu says the nomination will sustain him for some time. And with nominees receiving a $1,000 cash prize and the winners in each category taking home $25,000, already has plans for at least some of the money.

“My partner has designs on that money to pay down one of our maxed-out credit cards, but if I have my way, I’m going to buy a second-hand e-bike, and call it the ‘GG-mobile,’” he says. “That way, when I zoom along oceanside trails, I’ll remember why I love playwrighting. It’s a magic carpet ride powered by words.”

Tetsuro Shigematsu and Steve Charles in the 2017 production of 1 Hour Photo.
Tetsuro Shigematsu and Steve Charles in the 2017 production of 1 Hour Photo.

The three other finalists for this year’s award are Kevin Loring for his dysfunctional family dramedy, Thanks for Giving, Amanda Parris’ Other Side of the Game, and Hannah Moscovitch’s What a Young Wife Ought to Know.

The winners will be announced in seven categories, covering both official languages, on October 29. Governor General Julie Payette will host the winners at a Rideau Hall ceremony on December 12. Visit ggbooks.ca for more information.