Q&A with Sean Minogue

What’s Prodigals about? On its surface the play is about Wesley, a law school burn-out who discovers his big-city dreams are a lot harder to achieve than he originally thought. When he’s asked to testify on behalf of an old friend who’s on trial for murder, he takes it as an opportunity to return to his hometown and reconnect with his ex-girlfriend (Jen). He’s at a crossroads in his life and thinks she’s the key to regaining the hopeful, confident feeling he once had.

    Prodigals highlights the strange mix of feelings people from smaller cities can have about where they grew up, especially if they’ve moved away. There are some lighter elements involved, like unique senses of identity and humour. But beneath that, there’s also some irrational guilt for having left. I’ve always had one foot placed firmly on each side of that divide.

Where did this story come from? I wrote the very first draft of Prodigals in 2006 for a cold reading series in Vancouver. They were hosting a night for screenwriters from Vancouver Film School, where I was a student at the time, and my submission was one of the pieces selected to be read. I received a lot of positive encouragement afterwards and decided to keep going with it.

    I was still working on the story when I saw another call for submissions – this time from Twenty-Something Theatre. I submitted a rough draft of what I had so far and they invited me to work with them on the project. The artistic producer, Sabrina Evertt, brought on Peter Boychuk as the director-dramaturge and he was incredibly helpful in showing me the ropes for playwriting over the course of the project’s development.

    After a number of drafts and table reads, someone brought up the fact that I was making so many references to people and events from Sault Ste. Marie that I should just embrace it and let my hometown be the setting for the story. That sense of permission to personalize Prodigals really encouraged me go “all in” on digging up my past to help shape each character.

What are the main differences between your play and screenplay? Nearly every scene of the play is set inside a bar. I knew this setting would be too claustrophobic for a film, so one of the first things I did when I started writing the screenplay was include a number of scenes that show off the city of Sault Ste. Marie and the homes of a few characters.

    One criticism of the play was that it never shows the audience what’s happening in the courtroom and makes references to a character (Benny) who doesn’t appear on stage. I’ve always loved this aspect of the play, but I decided to make things a little more conventional for the screenplay. This meant introducing scenes in the courthouse plus meeting Benny and his lawyer.

    The play is also an ensemble story that places Jen at its heart. She’s the one who has the biggest decision to make and it’s this decision that gives the story its emotional resonance. In adapting Prodigals into a screenplay, I rebuilt the narrative around Wesley and his inner conflict.

Were there any major court cases or specific people in Sault Ste. Marie that inspired this story? Yes and no. I drew on an amalgam of things that involved people I knew (or knew of) in the Sault. It’s a small enough city that when something big happens and it leads to a trial, you’ll hear about it. While I had a great group of friends and generally felt safe growing up, it was the anomalies within my experience that fascinated me most when I was writing Prodigals.

What are you working on now? I’ve been working on my first novel for a few years. It’s probably the most ambitious thing I’ve tried to do as a writer so far. After dedicating so much of my creative career to writing screenplays and plays, this process has been a totally refreshing slog.

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