Canadian playwright finds humour and pain in stories based on real life

Kristen Da Silva is a playwright with a purpose; she’ll make you laugh and cry.

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Saturday, July 22, 2023

“Writing for me is like working out a puzzle. And because it’s challenging and tends to take sustained effort, over months and months, it’s very satisfying to get a play finished.”

Playwright Kristen Da Silva is talking about how she works and how she makes theatre out of her recollections of people and things that have touched her own life.

“My stories tend to focus on family and relationships. They come from my experiences and observations of the world. If a thought comes back to me repeatedly, I take it as a sign to explore it on the page. “

Caroline Toal, Melanie Janzen & Susan Henley in a scene from Kristen Da Silva’s Where You Are at Lighthouse Theatre.

Her play “Where You Are,” which opened in Port Dover at Lighthouse Festival Theatre July 19, was inspired by the loss of her aunt to cancer. “The story is completely fictionalized but the inspiration was that personal experience.”

Da Silva explains how the play took shape in her imagination.

“The play is about two sisters who live on Manitoulin Island welcoming their daughter-niece home for a visit. When she arrives, it turns out each of them has been keeping some big, life-changing secrets. It’s a play about family, with a romance woven in. I think the reason it resonates with audiences is how universal its themes are; love, family, forgiveness, loss, and facing our own mortality.”

Da Silva’s plays, “Sugar Road” and “Beyond the Sea,” both performed at The Lighthouse Theatre, were insightful, touching pieces of theatre. That’s because she has an ability to leaven moments of sadness with the therapeutic balm of laughter.

“I try to reflect real life, where all the trials, challenges and sorrows are balanced by moments of joy and humour.”

Da Silva wasn’t always employed in the world of the theatre.

“I worked mainly in human resources-labour relations and fit theatre into my life wherever it could be crammed, but I dreamed of working in theatre full time. The timing of my leap in 2016 was greatly influenced by my aunt’s diagnosis. She wasn’t that many years past retirement when she got sick. Her life was cut short and it made me take stock of what I was spending my own life doing. My plan, if things didn’t work out, was to return to a corporate job, but I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue pursuing playwriting this long.”

Where You Are playwright Kristen Da Silva

Da Silva feels her background doing a double major in political science and labour studies has influenced her writing.

“I think all plays relate to social mores and political contexts whether the writer intends them to or not, because they’re reflections of the society within which they’re set.”

Understanding that audiences come to the theatre to feel something, Da Silva knows laughter is part of the equation.

“Laughing feels good, especially when it’s shared. Lighthouse Theatre is an incredible place for comedy. It is approached there with love and respect for the artform,” Da Silva says.

Some playwrights suggest writing comedy is much harder than writing drama.

“I think writing in general is hard. If you’re not funny, writing comedy is going to be difficult, but it can be broken down and learned.”

Also an actress, Da Silva made her first stage appearance in Grade 3 playing Sleeping Beauty’s mother in front of her classmates.

“Many people understandably feel terrified on a stage, but I feel very grounded on one. I have from the start. I feel very lucky to have found my passion so young. I just folded playwriting into what I was already doing, so for me it doesn’t feel like a move away from acting.”

A young mother with a child, Da Silva knew walking away from a steady paycheque to find work in the theatre was a risk.

“Much of what happens is out of the writer’s control. Will you get produced? Will audiences come? Will your work resonate with people? Will theatre survive the changing world? Those questions can keep you up at night. I had productions lined up, works in progress and a contingency plan, so I felt positive. It was a mitigated risk.”

Da Silva likes having her work showcased at The Lighthouse in Port Dover.

“People know The Lighthouse delivers a good time. I also think the plays there often go deeper and are more moving than expected. Comedy might not be serious, but I don’t think it’s inconsequential. It is a great way of examining things because of how disarming it is, how much it draws us in.”

You might be surprised to know Kristen Da Silva’s first play “Book Club” was produced here in Hamilton in August 2015. She rented Hamilton Theatre Inc. and was the writer, director and producer of the show.

“We played there for two weeks. It was a learning experience.”

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for 40 years.

What: Where You Are

Where: Lighthouse Festival Theatre, Port Dover

When: July 19 to Aug. 5

Tickets: $48 Students and Equity Members $15 or 1-888-779-7703