Waylaid by the Stage

In between his articles and the Bar Ads, Dave had a few months to kill, and a friend asked him to work for that time as a reporter at the Kawartha Sun, a regional weekly. Dave needed the money and agreed. He had always written. As a child he published a newspaper modestly entitled The Carley Gazette, and he was the editor of his high school yearbook (where he first ran afoul of the forces of censorship). While in Law School he also penned an amateur musical for the Peterborough Theatre Guild (a somewhat irreverent take on the life of Susanna Moodie.)

There are bears in the Canadian backwoods. Evelyn Patterson and David Fraser, in a scene from 'Susanna'. Photo by Bud Bethune.

For a number of years he had also written a satire column for the Peterborough Common Press and, later, The Kawartha Sun, under the nom de plume "Ernie Fleming". The column became a bully pulpit from which to attack the local would-be censors of literature - most notably the fundamentalists who wanted to ban Margaret Laurence's The Diviners from high school reading lists. He also spent much time attacking the local MP, Bill Domm, a Tory dinosaur who was both anti-metric and pro-capital punishment, and was leading a campaign to restore the death penalty to the criminal code. Ernie Fleming owned a variety store and grill on the Peterborough-Lakefield highway and apparently his authorial voice was sufficiently convincing that motorists would phone the paper, requesting the exact spot of the watering hole.

Working at the Sun gave Dave an excuse to approach anyone and everyone in the community, and learn about their lives. He quickly came to realize that there are no boring subjects, if a reporter is prepared to delve deeply and listen carefully. The sheer pleasure of the job soon banished all thoughts of a legal career, and so Dave skipped the Bar Admission course and stayed on at the Sun, eventually becoming that paper's editor.

Dave also continued to write his Ernie Fleming column. The Sun came out on Thursdays and Dave would sit in local restaurants, hoping to watch patrons reading his column - trying to gauge their reactions to his writing. Luckily, he would soon stumble upon a writing genre that allowed a more immediate and reliable gauge of audience response.

A small Equity company named the Otonabee Theatre Co-op, under the leadership of actor Dean Hawes, was sponsoring a playwriting competition, the prize of which exactly matched Dave's VISA debt. Thus motivated, Dave wrote (in a weekend) the first act of a play, a kind of post-atom bomb, black bedroom farce called First Strike. The O.T.C. produced the play at a local black box facility in the fall of 1982 and, with the first performance, sitting in the middle of a hyper-reactive audience, the playwriting bug bit Dave hard, and permanently.