Norm Foster has been the most produced playwright in Canada every year for the past twenty years. His plays receive an average of one hundred and fifty productions annually making him, by far, the most produced playwright in the history of his country.
Born in Newmarket, Ontario on St. Valentine’s Day and raised in Toronto, Norm attended West Hill Collegiate Institute and then went on to study Radio & Television Arts at Centennial College in Toronto and then Confederation College in Thunder Bay. Upon completion of his studies, he began a radio career that would span 25 years and which would take him from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg to Kingston and finally to Fredericton, New Brunswick. It was in Fredericton in 1980 that Norm was introduced to the world of theatre.
“A friend of mine was going to audition for a community theatre production of ‘Harvey’ and he asked me to go along. I went, just to see what this theatre thing was all about, and I ended up getting the part of Elwood P. Dowd. I had never even seen a play in my life before this.”
Foster fell in love with the theatre right then and there, and two years later he penned his first professionally produced play, Sinners. It was produced by Theatre New Brunswick and directed by Malcolm Black, who would also direct Foster’s next effort, the highly successful, The Melville Boys. The Melville Boys would go on to be produced across Canada and in the United States, including a well-received run off-Broadway in New York. It would become Foster’s signature play, and the one which would bring his name to the forefront of Canadian theatre. Since then, Norm Foster has produced an astonishing output of work. Over fifty-five plays in all, including The Affections of May, the most produced play in Canada in 1991.
“One of the curses of being a playwright is that you’re never ever completely satisfied with your finished product. There is always that one line which you think you could improve. And when you improve that line, you find another. You must know when to stop.”
Foster’s plays are known mainly for their comedic qualities, but they are not without their serious moments as well. “I find it far more satisfying if I can make an audience laugh and feel a little heartache within the same story. The farces (Sinners, Self-Help) are a lot of fun to write but it’s the stories that touch an audience’s heart as well as it’s funnybone that are the most rewarding.”
Foster has had several plays published by Playwright’s Union Press. They are; Sinners, The Melville Boys, The Affections of May, The Motor Trade, Wrong For Each Other, Office Hours, Opening Night, The Long Weekend, Old Love, Skin Flick, Mending Fences, The Foursome, The Ladies Foursome, The Gentleman Clothier, On a First Name Basis and Ethan Claymore. He has also had his work published in various compilation volumes such as ‘Vintage Foster’, ‘One Act-manship’, ‘Triple Play’, and ‘The Foster Season’. Looking and The Love List are published by Samuel French.
Norm Foster does not limit his efforts to writing though. He also appears on stage as an actor several times each year.
“Acting is great fun, but writing is my first love. A lot of people out there like the ‘idea’ of being a writer. The romance of it. The notion that we all sit around in cafes and talk about our writing with other writers. Personally, I would rather do it than talk about it. The actual process of writing is what excites me. Creating a world from the ground up and populating it with characters I’ve pulled out of my head. ”
When asked to try and pin down a common theme that runs through his plays, Foster says, “I think for the most part, they’re about ordinary people just trying to get by in life. I never set out with a monumental purpose in mind. I’m not trying to teach an audience a lesson or pass along some profound message, because I don’t think I’m qualified. What I am trying to do is make them feel a little better about this world, and that’s not easy these days.”