By Eunice Chong
A writer since the age of 10, Mowat student Madison Johnstone’s original play The Looking Glass garnered her praise for her “beautiful thoughts” from more than one adjudicator at the National Theatre School Drama Festival in April. Here is a Q & A with Madison:
You just received three awards, including the BJ Castleman New Play Award and Excellence in Direction, at the NTS Drama Festival. How did that feel?
Really humbling. It’s an amazing feeling, knowing that your work is appreciated and enjoyed by so many different people. It’s given me the drive to keep working for what I want, on and offstage.
Tell me about the inspiration behind The Looking Glass.
I knew that I wanted to write something about relationships — good ones and bad ones — and then I learned about a sociological concept created by C.H. Cooley called the looking-glass self. Like a mirror, when you’re talking to someone you act as you perceive how they want you to act — essentially, you’re not being yourself. I tried to write that into the characters’ interactions.
This play tackles several issues relevant to today’s teens, such as mental illness and unhealthy relationships. How daunting of a task is that?
Very daunting. I wanted to write a play that would start conversations, that would get people talking about the difficult things affecting the people that we think we know so well. At the same time, I worried that people would look at it and say that that’s not how it is, and I didn’t want to perpetuate a false narrative. I especially wanted to make sure I talked about things the right way, and didn’t glorify a bad relationship, for example.
And the reaction?
It’s been really positive so far! I was relieved that it was received well, and that the audience and adjudicators seemed to relate to it. I felt that my goal of providing entertainment with meaning was achieved.
What have you taken away from this experience?
I think that this play has given me the security that I was looking for to go forward and write more. As soon as I finished this one, I was like, I have to write another one! It’s definitely the project I’m most proud of and excited about to date, though.
What’s the next chapter in the story of Maddie Johnstone?
I’m going to study English at the University of Toronto in the fall. I’m hoping to get involved in theatre there, start another play, and maybe turn this play into a book. I’m just going to keep writing.