A Unique Collaboration--with Kathy Kacer & Jake Epstein

Monday, April 13, 2015 12:03 PM | Lena Coakley

Bill Swan took the podium for the last time as CANSCAIP President. Earlier that evening, we CANSCAIPers held an Annual General Meeting to vote in a new board of directors. (Drumroll, please!) Your new board is:

President: Sharon Jennings (pictured)

Vice President: Lena Coakley (one year)

Treasurer: Maureen McGowan (one year)

Member at Large: David J. Smith

Friend at Large: Lorna Poplak

Bill Swan will now become our Past President—an advisory position—and will also take on a new role of investigating grants and sponsorships for CANSCAIP.

Many, many thanks to Past President (or is it Past Past President now?) Karen Krossing, who headed up the nominations committee. In addition to the slate above, Karen also made recommendations to the new board regarding the appointed positions. These will be announced next month.  (Note that Recording Secretary is now an appointed position according to our new bylaws.)


With that we rolled right into the meeting. The afore-mentioned Karen Krossing had a new work:

Punch Like a Girl by Karen Krossing, YA fiction, Orca Book Publishers, ISBN 978-1459808287, $12.95.

When 17-year-old Tori shaves her head in the middle of the night, her parents are stunned. When she punches a stranger at the mall, even her friends are shocked. Nobody understands why she’s become so moody and violent. It takes one small girl’s bravery to show Tori the value of speaking up rather than lashing out.

It was a night for Past Presidents, because our other new creation was by Gisela Sherman:

The Farmerettes, by Gisela Tobien Sherman, Second Story Press, ISBN 978-1-927583-64-7, $12.95.

 The Farmerettes follows a group of teenage girls over the summer of  1943, as they work on Highberry Farm in Winona, to replace the men who have left for war. Their stories are woven together with fun and friendship, the hard work and simple pleasures of farm life, romance, tragedy, history, self-empowerment, and hope.

(There is a correlation here: volunteer for CANSCAIP=Get published. Just saying.)


Jennifer Maruno introduced the evening’s speakers, remarking that she was leaving the programming committee on a high note. 

Kathy Kacer has won the Silver Birch, Red Maple, Hackmatack and Jewish Book Awards, and was a finalist for the Geoffrey Bilson and Norma Fleck Awards. She has written many unforgettable stories inspired by real events, many of them about the Holocaust. Her books have been published in many countries including Germany, China, Slovenia, Thailand, England, Japan, and Belgium.

Her son, Canadian actor Jake Epstein, made his professional theatrical debut in a Soulpepper Theatre Company production of Our Town. He became well known after being cast in a lead role as Craig Manning on the television show Degrassi: The Next Generation. Epstein attended the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal and graduated in 2008. He made his Broadway debut in Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark and originated the role of Gerry Goffin in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

These two talented people have come together to write a new play, Therefore Choose Life, which will open at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre on April 18th. Based loosely on a true story, the play is about a Holocaust survivor who remarries and starts a new life in Canada. When a letter from the past arrives unexpectedly, he is faced with a heartbreaking dilemma about leaving his wife of thirty years, or returning to his first and true love.


Kathy: The project started for us about six years ago. I was in between writing projects and Jake had just finished touring the play, Spring Awakening.

Jake: I had come back to Toronto and didn’t have an apartment, so I was living with my parents.  My mother and I had talked in the past about writing something together. She had already written one play, an adaptation of her book The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, which had toured Canadian schools.

Kathy: Then I heard a story about a man who gets a letter from the wife he thought he had lost in the Second World War. For some reason, I thought it would work better as a play than as a novel. Jake and I spent about four months writing the first draft.

Jake: In our play, the man who has lost his first wife has moved to Toronto and married again. Twenty-five years have passed. He gets a letter saying that his first wife is alive and has been living in communist Russia. She is coming to Toronto to find him. His second wife, his son, and his son’s girlfriend all become entangled in the choice this man has: stay with his second wife, or return to the first.

Kathy: I was interested in the Holocaust element. What is the impact of that journey for this elderly man?

Jake: I was interested in telling the story of the second generation, of the children of survivors. In a way it’s my mom’s story, which is something that, for all her writing, my mom has never told.

Kathy: A lot has been written about the effect of trauma on the children of survivors. We inherit the trauma of our parents.

Jake: Once we were done with the draft, the question was, what do we do with it? I called a bunch of actor friends and we had a table read. You cringe through your first draft. We started applying for grants and festivals and found help with the Harold Green Theatre’s In the Beginning: A Jewish Playwright's Festival, which has a mandate to encourage and discover new Jewish Canadian playwrights.

Kathy: We have access to actors because Jake is an actor, but we also cold called actors we admired. I was surprised to learn that actors love to be in these kinds of projects. They want to be the ones considered.

Jake: The main reason I got Beautiful was that I was in on the ground floor. Ideally, the writers start rewriting the part with you in mind.

Kathy: We revised. We received a grant, and with the funding, we approached the Harold Green Theatre again to do a joint workshop with us.

Jake: We did a weeklong workshop with Harold Green. We got to try out some casting.

Kathy: In terms of the writing process, we started by talking. A lot. In the beginning, we had days of conversations about the themes that interested us.

Jake: Then we started mapping things out. We had to be on the same page about what each character’s emotional journey would be. Then Kathy and I took ownership of different scenes.

Kathy: We started out by saying I would write the older voices and Jake would write the younger. 

Jake: We’d email each other scenes and then start to revise and rewrite each other’s writing.

Kathy: Then we would merge our work. The pattern was: Go away and work—Come together and merge. Once we had a draft, we’d sit together and duke it out.

Jake: What was really fascinating was that once we started table readings and getting feedback, we’d both take a scene away to revise and sometimes we’d independently come up with the same lines. We really both got on the same page.

Kathy: Each time we brought our scenes together we would get closer and closer to what we both thought the story was.  I just want to mention the phenomenal cast. Jake is acting in the play…

Jake: Hey I need to write a gig for myself!

Kathy: …and we were thrilled that Sheila McCarthy asked to audition for a role. She wasn’t what I had in mind but she turned out to be fantastic. I learned that in playwriting, the more you give away the more space you leave for others to bring something to your work.

Jake: Also in the cast are Lisa Horner, Amelia Sargisson, and Avery Saltzman. It’s directed by Rachel Slaven.

Kathy: We wanted to end by asking each other the following question: Jake, what was it like to work with your talented mother and would you do it again?

Jake: Well. I’m kind of on the spot here, Kathy.  Actually, it’s been great. When this started, I knew that the idea of writing with my mom sounded a bit disastrous, but it’s been such a joyful experience. I was the first reader of a lot of my mom’s books. As a young writer to have a mentor who is also your parent has been a gift.

So I guess I should ask the same question of you.

Kathy: I always said that whatever happened with this play, the opportunity to write with my child was a golden opportunity. We came to it with great respect for other’s writing and thinking. I learned that we share the same kind of work ethic, which is so essential when you have a writing partner. We came to this as equals, and we had to work at that, but it’s never felt within the writing process that one was an authority figure. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


Q: How much rehearsal time do you get?

A: For this play it was 3.5 weeks, which is longer than some. That’s because this piece has never been done before. There is no blueprint.

Q: What’s the impact on the rest of your family.

A: They’ve been quite involved. They’ve been at every table reading and feel a part of it.

Thanks so much for joining us, Kathy and Jake!

Our next meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 13th. Keep an eye on the CANSCAIP website for more details.

(Past President, Sylvia McNicoll and our guest, Jake Epstein)