SMOKE DAMAGE

A vacation in Europe becomes a quest as five women visit the landmarks where nine million women were tortured and killed as witches. The actions slip around in time, connecting the modern travelers with the women of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Smoke Damage is a blend of wit, fact, fairy tale, and chilling quotations from the Church's handbook for witch hunters.

Smoke Damage came to life under dramatic circumstances. A director called Mary Anne Lambooy invited me to be the writer for a collective creation about witches; her title for the project was Burning Times. Lambooy had never worked collectively before and soon after we began our work, handed leadership over to me on an increasingly regular basis. I wasn't just noting down ideas, as writers usually do. I was organising the rehearsal day, suggesting improvisations and how to develop them, while Lambooy smoked cigarette after cigarette behind me.  

The public workshop was coming up and the actors demanded that I be credited in the program as a co-director. No way, Lambooy said, and banished me from rehearsals. In response, the actors went on strike, insisting on the collective process. Two of them were put on suspension from Actors’ Equity as a result, and I was hauled in front of a committee which explained to me that a director is god. Duly noted. 

I was allowed back into the dress rehearsals, and, and as a compromise, the Burning Times program listed the entire ensemble as the creators – which at that point was fair. 

Ms. Lambooy disappeared into the mists of time, and Nightwood asked me to rewrite the script. I took the material and wrote the play Smoke Damage, based on the work of the ensemble. The premiere was at St. Paul’s Church in 1983, directed by Cynthia Grant, Toronto.

Published by Playwrights' Union of Canada, Toronto, 1985, and Exile Editions, Toronto, 1995.

Maureen White and Ann-Marie