A renowned playwright is coming to town to help bring local stories to life.

Dan Needles is set to teach a six-session playwriting workshop in Haliburton and over Zoom, organized by the local Rural Rogues theatre troupe.

“I explain my approach: it’s scene writing, rather than play writing. A play is made up of scenes,” Needles said. “A scene is a moment when something changes. If you can learn to write in scenes, that approach works in any kind of writing for the stage, a novel or film.”

Needles has developed a reputation for his plays, which depict life in small town Ontario.

Sharing local culture and stories on stage is exactly what Rural Rogues wants to do, said Jennifer Rieger, a board member.

“For people who don’t live in Haliburton, it’s a wonderful way of learning Haliburton’s stories and history,” she said. “The theatre is a fantastic venue for telling stories, and we want our plays to be based on fact, but it doesn’t have to be dry fact. It’s engaging… it’s a story.”

The workshop will cost $90 and is available on a first-come-first-serve basis.

During the six workshops, three online and three in Haliburton, participants will be able to brainstorm their writing and learn from Needles how to effectively craft scenes.

“I find in these groups, the writing is never the problem, it’s how [the scene] is presented, it’s how it’s revealed,” Needles said.

He said his workshops aren’t a place for criticism.

“I don’t believe in critiques. We don’t need a drama critic at the table,” Needles said. “We’ll get a drama critic at some part in the process. What we need is a cheerleader, someone who’ll silence your inner critic.”

Needles began writing scenes about local rural life to process his grief at the way Ontario’s small town farming traditions were disappearing.

“Part of the mourning was writing down the things I remembered so they wouldn’t be lost,” he said.

When he staged his first play, “it wasn’t lost on me that quite a few of the people on stage were in the audience,” he said.

What followed were the most “nerve-wracking” two hours of his life.

At the end, a cattle farmer approached him and said, “that was good Danny, but a bit long.”

Needles said that’s the point in the process critics can play a role, far after playwrights workshop their ideas in a group setting.

“You’re going to get the cattle farmer at the end saying it’s a bit long… but you don’t need that voice at the beginning or you’d never put a pen to paper.”

Needles’ workshops begin Oct. 29. For more information contact Kate Butler at kbutler@haliburtonhighlandsmuseum.com.