Move over Grindr; books are the new way of bringing people together. Just ask local playwright Jacqueline Korb and Vancouver librarians Ross Bliss and Paul Hayes.
At the Havana Theatre, books take centre stage in Korb’s romantic comedy The Last Piece as two lesbians make a connection over a stack of paperbacks, while at the Vancouver Public Library, Bliss and Hayes are combining romance and books in a totally different way.
In her new play, Korb sees books as an interesting way to bring her two characters together: one who reads and another who, like Korb, has a difficult time getting beyond the first few pages of a book.
Originally titled From the Bookstore, which she started writing just over a year ago, Korb completed the script in September and settled on its new title. “I really hated the original title because I knew that no one would want to come see a show with the word bookstore in it,” she laughs.
Telling the story of Kate and Lee, one a librarian and voracious reader and the other a furniture maker who doesn’t read as much as she thinks she should, The Last Piece is the playwright’s answer to what she sees as a lack of lesbian romantic comedies.
“Recent romantic comedies in general are not very good, let alone one that has two lesbians as the central characters,” she says. “I thought: how hard would it be to write a love story, a good romantic comedy for two women, and thought using books would be a good way to bring two people together.”
For Bliss, books and romance collided in two recent “read dating” events.
Taking their cue from the speed-dating concept, attendees participated in multiple dates throughout the evening using books as conversation starters. Specifically targeting the elusive 19- to 35-year-old demographic, which, Bliss says, doesn’t use the library as much as other age groups, one of the evenings targeted the gay community, which is only natural, he notes, given the central library’s proximity to the West End and its large gay population.
While Hayes is coy about any possible connections made during the evening, he says the event was successful enough that they are already talking about holding two more this spring, one for 30- to 55-year-olds and another for seniors aged 55 and up.
“We had 40 participants at the LGBTQ evening, and while we tried to stay away from brokering any connections, everyone seemed really engaged and appeared to be having a great time,” he says.
Organizers provided each participant with an anonymous literary name and a corresponding email account, Hayes adds, hopeful that some participants will stay in touch.
While the librarians may see books as an important part of life given their work, Tara Pratt and Joanne Gaskell, who play the roles of Kate and Lee in The Last Piece, say books are as vital to their own lives as their characters.
“I know every generation thinks they are the smartest,” Pratt says, “but as our generation questions everything, books help us think differently. Books keep us educated about the world around us and help us to connect on many different levels.”
Gaskell agrees, and not only because she has a degree in English literature.
“In The Last Piece our two characters are interesting people that I think an audience will recognize,” she says. “That they are able to make that initial connection with books is important, as I think they [books] are part of any healthy lifestyle.”
Showing a healthy same-sex relationship is exactly what Korb hopes audiences will get from her play. “I want people, gay or straight, to be able to relate to these characters. Love is universal; people get hurt and people get angry. It feels the same no matter what kind of relationship you are in.”