David Sherman was barely audible when he first picked up the phone.
“Give me a second to look for a quiet spot,” he said, as the horns and cheers of a hockey game erupted in the background.
While it sounded as though Sherman was at the Bell Centre watching the Habs win, the noises were actually part of his new play, The Daily Miracle, about a desk workers and copy editors at a fictional newspaper, playing at Bain St-Michel this week.
“Sorry, I’m in a tech rehearsal, can you hear me?”
The hockey ruckus was supposed to be from a TV set in the fictional newsroom. The sounds lessen as Sherman makes his way into a corridor. “You were saying?”
Sherman is relatively new to the Montreal theatre scene. His first show, Have a Heart, a comedy about a man recovering from a heart attack set in Montreal, was produced while he was a playwright-in-residence at Centaur Theatre in 2005. Yet, the print journalism world is second nature to the former Montreal Gazette copy editor, who spent six years at the city’s only English daily.
The Daily Miracle is a fictional account of newspaper desk workers: three copy editors, a reporter and a typographer turned janitor, working between the first print and the final edition of the paper. The play happens in real time, as a newspaper is published in 90 minutes.
Sherman, who began his career at the age of 17 as a copy boy at the now-extinct Montreal Star, is quick to point out that the characters and the scenarios are not based on anyone or anything in particular.
“You know, whenever you write fictional characters,” Sherman said in a hushed tone, to avoid disrupting the rehearsal in process, “you write based on people in your life. But all the characters are amalgam of myself and my own schizophrenic personality.”
Although Sherman is certain his old coworkers will not recognize themselves in his play, a Gazette reporter has confided that there are mixed feelings at the workplace.
“Apparently some reporters from the Gazette are looking forward to the play with excitement and others with trepidation,” Sherman admitted, with a detectable smirk.
Unlike many Hollywood accounts of journalism, The Daily Miracle doesn’t focus on the big scoop or covering the big event, it’s about those who work 16-hour days behind the scenes.
“It’s a play about people who work on the desk, not reporters, so there is no big story,” Sherman said. “I think it has a lot of shades of grey. This play won’t answer any questions, but pose a lot of questions.”
Sherman hasn’t worked at a newspaper since he begun his career as a playwright, but after having written a play about the stress of publishing a daily, he quickly realized that his passion for the profession is everlasting.
“It’s like a lover,” Sherman said. “You become enchanted with it and it’s hard to let go. I still can’t leave the house without reading the newspaper.”
With subscriptions to four newspapers (including the Gazette) and a nightly routine of reading the New York Times on his iPhone before falling asleep, journalism is still much a part of his life.
In order to share his passion for the profession with his cast, Sherman took them on a tour of the Gazette one night.
“They needed to see what the news desk was really like,” said Sherman
Sherman recalls his first time at the Montreal Star as a teenager, where he saw the first photos of the first moon landing off the news wire, before they were published.
“I was one of the first people in the world seeing these photos,” Sherman said. “That experience made me love papers even more, because I was holding this treasure, before anyone else even saw it.”
Yet, newspapers have changed drastically since the first moon landing. Sherman acknowledged that most of his interviews with various Montreal media and young journalists (who “don’t read press releases and don’t have a clue what to ask”) have inquired about the future of newspapers, to which he has no certain answer.
“I think newspapers will be around for a long time,” he said. “But,” he added, “I don’t think anyone really knows.”
The voices and sounds of the tech rehearsal are audible once more. Sherman is on his way back to the newsroom, and to the fiction that was once his life.
The Daily Miracle plays today until Feb.14 at Bain St-Michel, 5300 St. Dominique. Tickets $20, $15 for students