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Nirbhaya and Nightwood – Part Two: In Conversation with Kelly Thorton, Artistic Director of Nightwood Theatre

Interview by Bailey Green 

On a rainy morning in the Distillery District, I sat with down with Nightwood Theatres Artistic Director Kelly Thornton to discuss women in theatre, Nightwoods current season and Nirbhaya. 

In 2014, writer/director Yaël Farber and producer Margaret Moll reached out to Kelly Thornton with the intent of bringing Nirbhaya on a Canadian tour. “I’d known Yaël was working on a piece in India,” remembers Thornton. “And when we looked at the materials and subject matter [of Nirbhaya], for Nightwood, it’s a no brainer. This show had to come to Toronto and Nightwood is the perfect company to bring it here. We’re a politically-based company, that believes in changing the world through art and tackling the urgent issues around people’s lives.” 

Kelly Thornton met Yaël Farber in 2009 when Thornton was running the Four by Four Festival, a festival that focused on female directors, in Montreal. At the recommendation of South African director Lara Foot Newton, Thornton brought Yaël Farber in to teach a master class. They ended up running the directing program at The National Theatre School together. Thornton and Farber’s paths diverged as they went on to work on many different projects, but they remained on each other’s radar.


Nirbhaya – The Company. Photo by Sinbad Phgura.

Thornton describes Farber’s theatre as “sacred and ritualistic”. She describes that when Farber directed Miller’s The Crucible at the Old Vic in London, she asked her cast to consider giving something up and to explore the repression of their desires like the Puritans they were portraying.

Farber’s theatre seeks to ground itself in the immediate world we live in. Nirbhaya could not be a more poignant reflection of that principle. When asked about the subject matter of the show, Thornton replies:

“Violence against women has been an issue… well, basically since the beginning of time. It’s tough subject matter but we need to have this conversation. Theatre can give us catharsis and a call to move forward. And with Kathleen Wynne’s action plan to end violence coming into effect and the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25th, Nirbhaya is a cultural centre piece on this subject matter. Its impact as it travels around the world is amazing. It’s truly a transformational piece.”


(L to R) Poorna Jagannathan and Priyanka Bose in a scene from Nirbhaya.

When Thornton was asked about her focus in programming the current Nightwood season, and whether she found that any common elements appeared, she said “this season feels, for me, as if it is tackling the urgent issues of our time. It’s a highly political season.” Obeah Opera spoke about the Salem witch trials, but from the perspective of the African/Caribbean slave, and gave voice to those whose history had been silenced. Unholy tackled misogyny in religion in the form of a public debate about whether or not women should abandon religion altogether. Nirbhaya seeks to dismantle the oppressive silence surrounding the victims and survivors of sexual assault. The Public Servant deals with how public service was gutted under our former government, and how red tape can stifle the best of intentions. Refuge, written by one of Nightwood’s founders Mary Vingoe, is particularly relevant with the global refugee crisis.

When asked about what action theatre companies should take to be more inclusive of female and female-identified creators, Thornton discusses her extensive history of working with female practitioners, academics, as well as PACT, Playwrights Guild of Canada and more recently, Equity in Theatre. Thornton credits their hard work but acknowledges that we still have a long way to go:

“If you have a predominant Canadian theatre of male artistic directors, unconsciously their programming choices are affected by their gender; so I think two things have to happen. I think male AD’s have to understand that they have a responsibility—as Justin Trudeau just pointed out to the world—to stay awake to the other half of the population.               But also to get more female artistic directors into Canadian theatre. And that’s what the Canadian Women’s Directors Catalogue is about. The least women are in the regional houses, the most are in the independent scene, and so getting them in as directors in the regional houses is very important. Otherwise when the time comes to replace that regional AD, as a woman, if you’ve never directed on a regional stage you will never be consider eligible to be artistic director of that company.”

When asked what advice Thornton would give to young women beginning their careers in theatre, and she replied, “Be bold and unapologetic with your own power. Stand up and have your voice heard. Risk. Ask for what you want.”

Rapid Fire Questions with Kelly Thorton:

Currently Reading: The Element by Ken Robinson

Last Play You Saw: Unholy

TV Show You’re Addicted To: I don’t watch much TV anymore, but I guess the last show would have been Breaking Bad.

Favourite Coffee Shop: Furbo

Song Stuck in Your Head: “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls (we were auditioning for the Lawyer Show this week.)


Written and directed by Yael Farber,
Presented by Nightwood Theatre in association with Amnesty International present an Assembly, Riverside Studios and Poorna Jagannathan Production.

Nirbhaya was inspired by true events that occurred in December of 2012 in India, when a woman boarded a bus heading homeThe piece is a tapestry of personal testimonies, which tears away the shame that silences survivors of sexual violence.

When: November 18-29

Where: Harbourfront Centre Theatre

Tickets: $20-45. Purchase here.

For more info, visit Nightwood Theatre’s website.



In Conversation with Holger Syme – Adaptor & Director of The Howland Company’s upcoming workshop production of “Casimir and Caroline”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

I got the chance to speak with Holger Syme, director of Casimir and Caroline at The Luella Massey Studio Theatre, presented as part of The Howland Company’s four-day workshop weekend. Syme translated the work and adapted it with the company, and this public workshop production will run from November 19th-22nd, with talkback sessions for audience feedback.

RQ: Tell me a bit about Casimir and Caroline, which you’re directing for The Howland Company.

HS: Ah, where to start… a German director said in the 1970s that “To summarize the plot of his plays is mostly fruitless,” and I think that’s right. Casimir and Caroline, as a “story,” is about a whole bunch of people at a party: some hit on each other, some break up with each other, one has a major health disaster, one ends up in jail. But within that kind of banal, kind of mundane scenario, Horváth examines an incredibly rich cluster of questions: what does love mean in a culture in which it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish commercial and emotional relationships? What happens to desire in a consumer culture? What do you do with feelings if you have no words to give them proper expression? And, really, most broadly, how can you live a life that’s in any way ethically justifiable in a world in which everything has become consumable?

RQ: You’ve translated and adapted this text from Ödön von Horváth, and you’re directing it as well. What draws you to this particular text?

HS: Well, first of all, how astonishingly contemporary it feels. I mean, what I just said the play is “about” applies a little bit more to our adaptation than to Horváth’s original, but really only a bit — all of those themes are in the 1932 text as well, although the kind of commodity culture Horváth experienced was of course quite different from ours. He was also writing on the eve of the Nazi’s first major election victory in Germany, and that’s obviously not our political climate. But the broader economic and social picture he’s drawing on — that’s very comparable, with the unspeakable divide between rich and poor, with the widespread condition of living on the brink of social deprivation, in an existence where losing your job can mean losing everything that you think of as “your life,” and so on. So that was the text’s primary appeal: that it seemed to speak so clearly, from the 1930s, to our own moment.

But I also find Horváth’s dramaturgy extremely interesting, and his dramatic language. His plays aren’t really structured as linear narratives — they are panoramic, and that’s a very appealing structure to me. It allows for a sharp focus on character and situation, both of which make, I think, for exciting challenges for actors and directors alike; the “story” is so simple and straightforward that it forces us (makers and audiences alike) to think about the issues that are being negotiated, and it really allows for a focus on the theatrical moment: what someone is doing right now, in front of you. How they’re moving their body, how they’re acting vis-a-vis another person, what they’re saying, how they’re occupying the space. It allows the audience to watch moment by moment without having to think too hard about what happened before and what’s going to happen next.

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RQ: How was the process of adapting this text different from translating it?

HS: That’s where the language bit from earlier becomes relevant: Horváth writes in a really, really odd German. His plays read a lot like Sean O’Casey re-scripted by Pinter, if you can imagine such a thing. They’re extremely idiomatic — some dialect bits, tons of clichés, lots of 1930s pop-culture quotations, literary allusions of a not especially sophisticated kind, etc. If you translate that straightforwardly, it’ll sound awfully stilted — and partly, that stiltedness is absolutely necessary. Very few of Horváth’s characters have access to an “authentic” language: especially when they’re trying to express their deepest feelings, they sound like a Hallmark card or a self-help book. So the big challenge is not making the text sound “natural,” but finding precisely the right kind of stiltedness.

I had a first stab at that in my original translation, and then we worked very intensively, with lots of improv exercises, on finding those lines. We also felt that the gender politics of Horváth’s play were the one aspect that needed updating — his broader political perspective felt current, but his women slipped too easily into victim roles. So we made a lot of changes there, including turning two pretty marginal part-time prostitutes into corporate employees with a good deal more dramatic life. And we transformed the two older wealthy establishment figures in the original into two young overprivileged guys working in the tech industry — partly because of the Howland Company’s mandate, but also because it allowed us to focus on economic privilege more sharply, without having to negotiate generational conflicts as well.

Strictly in terms of process, the difference was that between sitting alone at home, translating the text; and spending many hours in rehearsal rooms, recording totally free and more guided improvisations, and then turning those into scenes by picking and choosing lines (alone at home). What’s really important to me, though, is that while we “adapted” Horváth’s text in the sense that we found contemporary equivalents for his own historically situated language, we are very faithfully following the original play’s dramaturgical structure. His first stage direction says that the play is set “now,” and that’s been my guiding principle: you can’t be “true” to this play if you set it in 1932 and in Munich. It’s not a history play.

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RQ: You’ve done a lot of travel, and taken in theatre in many different cultural and historical contexts. How does that inform your process as a director?

HS: That’s an incredibly difficult question. Partly, this is a research project for me: I wanted to see what happens when you bring theatrical texts and practices from other cultures into contact with actors who are trained to work in the context of our own, Canadian assumptions about theatre. But of course I’m usually “just” an audience member outside of Canada — and what you see on stage relates only in a very complicated way to what happens in the rehearsal room!

It’s definitely true that because I see so much theatre elsewhere, especially in Germany, there are things I just don’t care about that others might consider very important. And there are things that I find totally crucial that others might find silly or negligible.

RQ: Do you find that you find yourself mixing elements of world theatre with Canadian theatre practices? What would you say any uniquely Canadian theatre practices are?

HS: OK, specifics? Er… “world theatre” doesn’t really exist, as far as I’m concerned. And what I find important keeps shifting as well. But here’s a few things: there’s a kind of spontaneity in German performance that I desperately want to see more of — the ability to move while speaking, to respond immediately to anything and anyone around you (in a way that’s going to be different, often radically different, from night to night), the freedom to mess with the text quite a bit, and so on. So I’ve been pushing hard for that. I’ve tried my best to reassure my cast that whatever they think might “make sense” probably does, in that moment — and that my role really is just to tell them if it doesn’t. The impulses should come from them, and they should be empowered to offer whatever they can think of. On the other hand, I also really care about stage images — spatial relations between bodies in particular. So some moments have to be very strictly blocked. There’s a tension between those two directorial impulses.

Uniquely Canadian? I’m not sure. Certainly a focus on story — though that’s a general Anglo theatre preoccupation. A general grounding of everything in psychology, rather than, say, politics. That’s for “straight” theatre such as this — there are other, very powerful “Canadian” theatre practices, in the fields of devised theatre or movement-based theatre, but that’s not really what we’re doing.

The big challenge for me, but also the really exhilarating aspect of the work, has been to put the show on stage in a way that allows the actors to play to their strengths without giving up on my own desire to keep the project focused on politics and dramatic situation. Things like allowing a moment to keep going past what the “story” might require, because it’s interesting, or entertaining, or compelling as a theatrical moment — that’s not something I see very often around here, and it’s something I really love in German theatre. But I think it’s pretty counterintuitive to Canadian actors; I suspect it feels a bit self-indulgent to be so uneconomical. But I don’t think it is. I think it’s exciting.

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RQ: What do you think is the importance of companies like The Howland Company? Is there an eventual reshaping of the Canadian theatre landscape happening?

HS: Companies like Howland are all about creating opportunities for young actors to put thrilling, fresh work on stage — and I thinks that’s crucial if we want our theatre to remain as anything other than a social occasion (or obligation) for well-to-do people above a certain age. If I’m honest, I wish companies like this didn’t need to exist as independent outfits: I wish our larger, established institutions would make more room for this kind of work, and for these kinds of actors. There’s nothing more exciting to me in the theatre than to see actors who are still growing on stage; though it’s even more thrilling to see such actors work with very experienced colleagues, and to see those older actors having to respond to someone who’s doing things in a very different way than they’re used to. But in our current system, that’s very rare, because the young people mostly make their own work and opportunities (and can’t pay well enough to attract many more established figures), whereas actors that survive in the theatre industry for long enough to become established mostly work in a different world. There are exceptions, of course (David Ferry comes to mind as someone who frequently crosses that divide, and Soulpepper has been exemplary at integrating young performers in major roles), but it’s a real problem, and a real limitation. I hope we can figure out a way of changing that.

RQ: What do you hope people are discussing on their way back home after seeing this show?

HS: How to live. How to love. Whether to have a donut, a popsicle, or a rotisserie chicken.

RQ: As we’re heading toward the new year, what changes would you like to see happen in the Toronto theatre community next year? What would you like to see continue?

HS: Ha! See above. I always say the same thing, boringly. I want to see fewer new plays and more classics done in a new way. I want us to stop seeking inspiration on Broadway — because, seriously, why? When has thrilling art ever been inspired by rank commercialism? If we need to look for inspiration in the English-speaking world, look to London (but not the West End). Look to the Almeida and the Young Vic, and occasionally the National Theatre. Continue? To let our actors take all the risks they want. (Or would that be a new thing?) Believe more in performers and less in storytellers.

RQ: You’re the the Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English and Drama at the University of Toronto Mississauga; as well as being a Harvard Graduate. What is the relationship between the academic landscape of theatre and the performance community? Is there enough of a conversation?

HS: In short, no. But that really is a HUGE conversation topic! I’m worried about the anti-intellectual climate in many parts of the theatre world — not just here, but everywhere, really. I’m troubled by a certain kind of aloofness towards theatre people on the part of quite a few academics. I find it really unhelpful how many theatre people and academics think they know right from wrong, and think that the “others” don’t. On the other hand, I’m also always baffled by how similar some academics and some theatre makers are, in a bad way: take Shakespeare. With any given performance, you’ll have plenty of disappointed academics and theatre people who object to performance choices because they don’t reflect their own understanding of the play — but that’s not what they say. They’ll say those choices were bad, or ill-conceived, or stupid, or just “wrong.” There’s too little willingness to let a show speak for itself, to see it as simply an intriguing theatrical event that is valid and compelling in its own right, not because it “interprets” a text. And that’s true for many academics and for theatre makers and critics alike. In general, I think both academics and theatre people should take theatre itself more seriously. (And again, I could name many exceptions to all of this!)

RQ: Any parting thoughts?

HS: Brecht said that theatre had to be entertaining before it could be political. I think we’ve tried to be true to that in Casimir and Caroline — entertaining, exciting, moving, all of those things. But then, political. Or at least I hope so…


Casimir and Caroline

A workshop production

By Ödön von Horváth
Translated, Adapted, and Directed by Holger Syme
Presented by The Howland Company
Featuring: Alexander Crowther, Sophia Fabiilli, Ruth Goodwin, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Cameron Laurie, Michael Man, Jesse Nerenberg, Hallie Seline, Mishka Thébaud, Kristen Zaza.
Lighting Design: Jareth Li
Sound Design: Samuel Sholdice
Stage Manager: Jordana Weiss
Producer: James Graham

When: Thursday Nov. 19 – Sunday Nov. 22 at 8pm

Where: Luella Massey Studio Theatre, 4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto
(One block North and one block East of the Spadina/Harbord intersection)

Events: Talkbalk sessions to follow each night. All are welcome.

Tickets: $15. Buy here.



Casimir and Caroline from The Howland Company on Vimeo.

*On Sunday, November 22, presented with Casimir and Caroline as part of The Howland Company’s four-day workshop weekend , at 2pm there will also be a reading of take rimbaud, a new performance text in development by Toronto playwright Susanna Fournier, workshopped by The Howland Company.

take rimbaud

Admission will be free for this reading.

“We are all terrifying creatures these days. The Restless ones. What do the Restless seek? Comfort? Or, oblivion”

By Susanna Fournier
Presented by The Howland Company
Time: Sunday November 22nd, 2015 at 2pm
Location: Luella Massey Studio Theatre, 4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto
(One block North and one block East of the Spadina/Harbord intersection)
Tickets: Free admission

Nirbhaya and Nightwood – Part One: In Conversation with Beth Brown, Managing Director of Nightwood

Interview by Bailey Green 

It was a joy to sit down with Beth Brown, Managing Director of Nightwood Theatre. She has a kind and welcoming spirit that I noticed from the moment I met her. After discussing a shared love of animals (with the exception of mice) and a connection to the city of Montreal, over steaming mugs of tea, we spoke about Nightwood Theatres upcoming production, Nirbhaya, running November 18-29 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. The transcript of our conversation has been edited for length and clarity:

BG: How did you come in contact with Nirbhaya?

BB: We were made aware of the project through the producer Margaret Moll. She’s aware of Nightwood Theatre and our mandate and she felt it would be a perfect fit for this show. We were very inspired by the story and how it came to be. So we watched the video, reviewed the materials, and then began thinking about the logistics of bringing it to Toronto.

BG: And how did you bring it to Nightwood and Toronto?

BB: Since the production had toured before, that was very helpful to us. But one of our biggest challenges was finding a venue to put it in. Since we don’t have our own venue, we’re at the mercy of the availability of other theatres. [Nirbhaya] requires a specific stage size and we wanted a specific capacity for the audience of this show. And it was at the last minute when we found Harbourfront. Margaret wanted to get a Canadian tour for the show, so we ended up forming a strong relationship with the Cultch in Vancouver, where the show is, currently, and together we applied for funding from the Canada Council of the Arts.

BG: What common themes or elements do you see in the current Nightwood season?

BB: I love this season because of its diversity of story. There’s a lot of different stories being told. I think they’re all extremely impactful and relevant to now… to this time period. I think that they are entertaining as well as thought provoking. They grapple with issues that hit home for everyone. They are interesting and compelling.

BG: Can you tell me a bit more about your role, and what the most challenging and most rewarding aspects are?

BB: Well, I’m the managing director. Rewarding, for me, is definitely seeing the productions on stage and talking to people about them after. Whether they like them or not, I always find it to be really interesting conversation pieces about how the art affects people… what they take away from it. By and large, I have never had a conversation with someone who has disliked the work we put on stage, so that’s really rewarding to get that positive feedback and the detailed feedback as well. It’s not just ‘oh that was a great show,’ there’s always something specific that hit them or that resonated with them. Challenging is always financing, looking after the various budget lines, the nail biting as you’re watching the box office and hoping that you hit your targets and that people are going to come out and see the shows. That is always challenging. In regards to rewards, I always enjoy working with our staff and our community, the theatre community. The networking is great – so supportive and helpful.

Stay tuned for parts two and three where I speak with Artistic Director of Nightwood – Kelly Thornton, and the Writer/Director of Nirbhaya – Yael Farber!


Written and directed by Yael Farber,
Presented by Nightwood Theatre in association with Amnesty International present an Assembly, Riverside Studios and Poorna Jagannathan Production.

Nirbhaya was inspired by true events that occurred in December of 2012 in India, when a woman boarded a bus heading homeThe piece is a tapestry of personal testimonies, which tears away the shame that silences survivors of sexual violence.

When: November 18-29

Where: Harbourfront Centre Theatre

Tickets: $20-45. Purchase here.

For more info, visit Nightwood Theatre’s website.



Legends, Myths and Remounts: In Conversation with Sarah Thorpe – Writer, Co-Director & Solo actor of Soup Can Theatre’s “Heretic”

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I sat down with Sarah Thorpe, writer, co-director and solo actor of Heretic, to talk about legends, myths, and doing it all over again. 

Madryn McCabe: Tell me a bit about Heretic?

Sarah Thorpe: Heretic is essentially Joan of Arc in this afterlife space, looking back on her life and the decisions she made, and questioning whether it was worth it in the end. Should she have made the decisions that she did? I wanted to frame it in that way because, obviously, Joan was killed when she was nineteen because of what she did, so every account of her story is from someone else’s perspective, someone else’s opinion… so with some artistic license, it’s her side of the story – what she was feeling, thinking, going through… I wanted to present her in a way that takes down the saintly persona that surrounds her. She’s always depicted that way in plays and in literature, and I just thought that I wanted to explore her as a regular, vulnerable human being.

MM: What inspired Heretic? Where did the idea come from?

ST: It came from a monologue from Shaw’s Saint Joan that I had done for auditions before, and I found that it really hit an emotional note with me. I thought it would be interesting to explore this emotional connection further, and explore this person. I realized that I had all these questions… What was she thinking before her execution? What was she thinking when she stepped onto the battlefield for the first time? What was going through her mind? Was she terrified? Or thinking ‘No, I’ve got this!’

MM: How much research did you have to do into Joan’s life?

ST: A fair amount of research, but I’ve certainly taken a lot of artistic license as well. Not much of Joan is known before she joined the French army and started fighting in the 100 Years War.

MM: We seem to only know about Joan of Arc the Warrior, who heard voices from God, and only just the very brief period of time when she was fighting in the war.

ST: Right! So, we know about that, and we know that she was captured and executed. But, not a whole lot is known about her life before that. We do touch on that and how she was living this life on a farm with her parents and had a simple, medieval farming existence. The 100 Years War started in the 1330s, so she was born into a period of war going on around her, born into this environment where that was sort of what they were used to. It had gone on for so long. How I interpreted the aspect of her hearing voices was her wanting so much to say ‘No, we shouldn’t put up with this. This isn’t right. We’re being occupied, and it shouldn’t be an English king on the throne. We should do something about it.’

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

MM: Do you have a writing partner, or did you tackle this story on your own?

ST: I wrote it on my own. Justin Haigh did the dramaturgy on this remount. I re-wrote the script from the original version that we did in April.

MM: I was just about to ask, how much of an overhaul has this version gotten? Is there a lot of new stuff going on? What might bring people back who have already seen it?

ST: It’s not a huge overhaul. Some scenes were rewritten, some scenes were cut completely. In doing the remount, I thought that I could write some stuff better, and go into more depth of what I could interpret into what she was thinking and feeling and going through. So, for people who saw the April production and want to come back, I would say that there’s more emotional depth, and a bit more action. It also looks completely different. We have a whole new design team. The look of the show is totally different, yet still keeps with my vision. The way I always pictured it was people coming into a space resembling a medieval tomb. It’s kept with that same idea, but in a totally different way.

MM: Did you find that things changed much in the rehearsal room as well?

ST: Rehearsal was, again, a bit different. We have the same stage manager as last year, which is great. Directing-wise-Matt Bernard directed the April production, and this time around Scott Dermody and I are co-directing. Matt and Scott have different directing styles, so it’s been different rehearsing just because of the different approaches. I feel like I’m working harder this time around! It’s not that I wasn’t into it the first time around, and I don’t know how or why, but I feel extra committed now.

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

MM: Do you find that you can easily separate all your roles as writer, director, actor, or does each one influence what the other does?

ST: I’ve gotten better at knowing when to turn off the producer brain and turn on the actor brain, or the writer brain. Certainly when I was doing the rewrites, it was really just writer brain. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. But once we started rehearsals and looked at the script from an acting perspective, I’d sometimes think ‘Why the hell would I write something that way? What was I thinking?!’ I’ve gotten better at differentiating, and what helps me is making that bit of time to focus on the different things. I have to write a little schedule… so it’s 12-1 I’ll run lines, 1-2 I’ll do a bunch of social media and post things, then I’ll look at the design that’s just been sent, and look from that perspective. And luckily, I’m sharing the directing responsibilities. I wanted to have a hand in the directing this time, as well, to have a say in the design concept but Scott really is the eyes that are making sure I’m delivering a good performance.

MM: Do you prefer this avenue of creating your own show and having so much say in the producing versus the more traditional auditioning for another company and being directed in a specific part?

ST: As an actor, this is the first time I’ve done anything like this. I hadn’t written anything outside of theatre school. I have to say that it’s really satisfying to create my own work from the ground up. As an artist, overall I’ve really enjoyed that process. I do also enjoy the more traditional process, though. There are some scripts that I’d love to tackle as a director too.

MM: What do you want people to know coming into the show?

ST: What I find exciting and compelling is that we’re introducing people to a person who is always portrayed as higher than other humans. She’s a saint, she’s holy, she’s perfect, a saviour. I find her way more interesting when we see that she screwed up sometimes and made mistakes and bad decisions and maybe she shouldn’t have done some of what she did. I find her, and I hope everyone else does, compelling to see as a vulnerable, flawed being just trying to do what she feels is right.


Presented by Soup Can Theatre

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

Written and Performed by Sarah Thorpe
Co-Directed by Sarah Thorpe & Scott Dermody
Scenography – Alyksandra Ackerman
Lighting Designer – Randy Lee
Sound Designer/Production Manager – Wesley McKenzie
Dramaturge – Justin Haigh
Stage Manager – Kathleen Hemsworth

When: November 11 – 22, 2015

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave.

Tickets: $15-22, online: phone: 416-504-7529, in person: 16 Ryerson Ave.


Soup Can Theatre: @SoupCanTheatre

Sarah Thorpe: @thorpe_s

In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_

Madryn McCabe: @FuriousMAD



Artist Profile: Lesley Robertson takes on the role of King John in the upcoming production by Shakespeare BASH’d

Interview by Hallie Seline

Hallie Seline: King John has been scarcely performed up until last year when Stratford staged it. Why do you think King John is due for a ‘come-back’ and what about it stood out the most after working on it now in comparison to some of Shakespeare’s more often produced work in Canada?

Lesley Robertson: I think King John is definitely due for a come-back because I think we all need a break from the over-produced comedies for a bit, while still getting to enjoy Shakespeare’s spectacular poetry, characters, and timeless themes of humanity. I especially think it’s due for a come-back in the bare-bones, accessible way Shakespeare BASH’d is approaching the play.  The text is heavy with political maneuvering, battles over ‘right’, and religious language – it’s very dense and rooted in its history. But with the clear direction of James Wallis, I think we will make this difficult, murky-seeming play come alive for an audience through our emphasis on the story and language (without relying on expensive sets and costumes) and our youthful energy and passion to tell a story about oppression. I personally celebrate the play’s complexity and messy imperfections – I think it suits the story, which is full of political and moral errors and people switching back and forth between sides. I also think it’s a great time to tell a political story with Canada just having had a very interesting election and also a travelling Magna Carta exhibit!

HS: What have you discovered in exploring the character of King John? 

LR: I’ve thought a lot about manipulation and what is right and wrong. I’ve rarely played characters that, on the outside, might be perceived as ‘villainous’ or even not likeable. But from the inside, those people are simply acting in a manner they think best. They are doing what they think is right and they are simply going after what they want and need. So, I guess that’s to say, I’ve found it very interesting to empathize with someone that has been hated so widely and for centuries! (That’s not to say I think what John does is ‘good’ and ‘right’!) I think Shakespeare has created a deliciously complex play and I hope to imbue John with the complexity of any human being; we are all vulnerable. I hope to complicate the audience’s inherited perception of “Bad King John.”

HS: What are you most looking forward to in doing this piece in The Junction City Music Hall?

LR: The proximity between the audience and our playing space, I like being able to see audience members’ faces, and, of course, the beer.

HS: Describe this play in 10 words or less.

LR: Oh, I’m terrible at this… Crap, are you counting?… “Oppression.”

Lesley Robertson as King John. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Lesley Robertson as King John.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

HS: Favourite Drink at The Junction City Music Hall:

LR: I remember noting several craft tall boys that I love, but I can only remember Conductor’s Ale at the moment. Ask me again at the end of the run!

HS: Favourite rehearsal moment:

LR: When everyone laughed at me during an early movement rehearsal in which I created a giant angry horse with my body that simply yells “NEIGH!!!”

HR: Favourite place in Toronto:

LR: Other than my home, the 13th floor of Robarts Library.

HS: Where do you find inspiration?

LR: Music, literature, history, documentaries…

HS: Best advice you’ve ever gotten:

LR: Hm… My streetcar driver today said “Life is too short to be grumpy” and that was pretty great.

HS: What do you think is on your King John’s pre-show playlist?

LR: Something that really pumps me up I guess… like gangster rap… Yeah, probably some gangster rap.

King John Graphic

Directed by James Wallis

Featuring: Sochi Fried, James Graham, Bailey Green, Catherine Rainville, Lesley Robertson, Caitlyn Robson, David Ross, Matt Shaw, Tim Welham, Kate Werneburg, Jeff Yung

When: November 16 – 21, 2015

Where: Junction City Music Hall, 2907 Dundas Street West, Toronto.

Tickets: $19 online: $20 at the door.

Connect with us!

Shakespeare Bash’d: @ShakesBASHd

In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_

The Sex Ed Curriculum, Plays in Threes & Making a Statement with a Dildo – In Conversation with Rob Kempson, Playwright/Director of SHANNON 10:40

Interview by Brittany Kay

Brittany Kay: Tell me about your title character Shannon and SHANNON 10:40?

Rob Kempson: Shannon, the character, was born out of my work as a teacher and meeting students who don’t feel like they are welcomed in the environment of school. I’ve taught in a lot of settings where they are welcomed and that is truly amazing, like if you look at an arts school, for example, and the amount of students who are queer or questioning or in some of sort in-between place with their sexual identity or gender identity, those schools tend to be leaning towards a more supportive side. What was most interesting to me were kids who are incredibly confident with their sexuality and are able to talk about it openly, and the way that other kids in school respond to that kind of confidence and power. I was not one of those kids. After creating Shannon, I started thinking about myself as a queer teacher and the challenges associated with that in this day and age. I thought putting those two people on stage together might create an interesting dynamic.

BK: What has been your inspiration for writing this show?

RK: I’m producing two plays of mine this year. SHANNON 10:40 is the first one before the holidays and the second one is called Mockingbird, which will be in the Next Stage Theatre Festival in January 2016. They are part of a series that I’m calling The Graduation Plays. I think that I tend to work in threes. I kind of get obsessed with an idea for a little while and hang out with that idea in my brain. I’ve been teaching for a long time and so I’ve obviously always thought about school settings but for SHANNON 10:40 and Mockingbird, it was just their time in my brain to come into being. I was ready for them to exist. Jokingly, 2014 was the year of Grandmas for me. I did a musical that was about a grandma (The Way Back To Thursday) and then I did a piece at Hatch that featured three grandmas (#legacy). I don’t think my grandma phase is over, perhaps, but I’d like to think that now I’m on to my school phase.

Once I get interested in a given environment or topic, I want to explore that from a lot of different places before I’m done with it and sometimes you can’t fit all of that into one play, so it becomes two plays.

BK: Is there a third one in your series?

RK: I think there’s a third play… and I think I know what it’s about. I certainly didn’t imagine I would get into Next Stage this year and also get to produce SHANNON 10:40 this year, so the fact that they are being presented so close together is very exciting. I feel really lucky.

BK: Why the title of the series – The Graduation Plays?

RK: I always thought of them as a series and then a smart publicist friend of mine told me that I needed to name it as a series if it’s going to be one. Of course, initially what came to my mind was the Education Plays and I thought, “well that sounds stupid,” and then I thought that that’s not actually what this is about. It’s about all of us as an education community but also us as a world advancing in some way. Getting to somewhere that we weren’t before. That’s what graduation is in theory and I think I imagine these plays to both showcase characters and situations that challenge what we expect and challenge what we understand to be acceptable.

I think that there are so many examples of students taking back power because they need to act out, they need to say they’re not happy, they need to stand up for themselves… there’s a lot of different reasons. The term ‘graduation’ is kind of about all of that – it’s about moving forward and understanding something new. Both plays have that sort of characteristic to them.

BK: How has teaching, being in a school environment, and around these types of students influenced your writing?

RK: I feel so lucky that I get to work as an artist educator and as an artist because those two streams for me are incredibly important in my life, in my career, and they ultimately inform one another. So things that I’m working on in my artistic practice often end up infiltrating my work as an artist educator and vice versa. Things that happen in my practice as an artist educator always make their way into my writing. There’s this real sort of back and forth between those two parts of my brain.

Hallie Seline as Shannon in SHANNON 10:40

Hallie Seline as Shannon in SHANNON 10:40

BK: Why 10:40?

RK: Oh, because that’s the time of Shannon’s guidance appointment. She’s going to a guidance appointment at 10:40. It’s not like 4.48 Psychosis or anything crafty. It’s literally the time of her guidance appointment. The timeline is all about the school day and 10:40 is midway through second period, it’s right before lunch and she’s been called out of class to come to this guidance appointment. There’s a very different kind of day for students because school starts so early in the morning and ends so early in the afternoon.

BK: This play is very timely and appropriate for what some are calling The Education Crisis that is going on.

RK: Yes. It’s not really brain surgery though… Oh, the world changes but we’ve done the exact same thing for a very long time? If we expect to be relevant and expect to connect with our students and we expect to have our education system actually do anything for the community that we live in, it needs to change with the world. The bureaucracy that prevents it from doing so is, in fact, the problem. We need to be able to respond quickly with curriculum development. We need to give teachers enough autonomy to be able to work with the curriculum in an innovative and progressive way, but we also need to be able to support them as they make those choices. The message of Shannon 10:40 is definitely political in scope in the sense that a teacher, Mr. Fisher, is dealing with this desire to be a progressive forward thinking teacher and he’s not receiving the support that he needs to in order to do that effectively. Shannon is a student who’s caught in the cross-fire, not feeling represented in her school, not feeling represented in her classes that she has to take and, therefore, feeling oppressed. She is feeling like she is the victim of oppression in her everyday life as a student and so, of course, she’s going to do something to change that, because she has to.

I think the play is about students figuring out a way to state their case, to share their message, to say what they need to say—and students don’t always do that in the most appropriate way. That’s what it’s about: a student taking back the power and fighting the oppression of that system.

BK: Tell me you’re inviting Kathleen Wynne because this is so timely around what is happening right now in the world of education.

RK: I do have dreams of doing so. I’m definitely inviting some folks who are into education pedagogy and hoping we’ll be able to have a discourse around that.

BK: I think that’s what theatre is about… that, often it needs to reflect what’s happening in our day-to-day.

RK: I agree. I also think that we don’t give students tools to talk about or react to oppression, but we then oppress them. If we’re not teaching them how to react to that in a way that’s appropriate, how can we expect anything but outbursts, outrage and acts of defiance because they need to be heard. They need to say what they feel.

I think the last great bastion to knock down in a school setting is really around sexual and gender diversity and it’s way better than it used to be. It’s not like we aren’t making progress but it’s when in that progress that we need to recognize we’re never done… We still need to work. We still need to continue and develop.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from SHANNON 10:40?

RK: Hopefully, a new perspective in their toolkit when they’re thinking about the way that education works in this province. And, also, that they got to see a show with a dildo in it! We haven’t even said that—Shannon brings a dildo to school.

Rapid Fire Question Period:

Favourite movie: Sister Act 2.

Play: Impossible to choose… You Are Here by Daniel MacIvor?

Musical: Elegies.

Food: Cheese.

TV Show: Please Like Me.

Book: Favourites are so hard… I don’t like the commitment… The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Best advice you’ve ever gotten or something you live by: This is where I find myself. You have to be happy where you are.

Who: Written and Directed by Rob Kempson
Featuring Qasim Khan and Hallie Seline
Set and Costume Design by Anna Treusch
Lighting Design by Oz Weaver
Sound Design by Daniel Maslany

When: Wed‐Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm

Where: Videofag, 187 Augusta Avenue, Toronto

Tickets: $20 or $15 for Artsworkers/Students. Plus a $10 Halloween ticket treat for Saturday October 31st at 8pm.
Available at

Connect with us:

Rob Kempson – @rob_kempson #shannon1040

Brittany Kay – @brittanylkay

In the Greenroom – @intheGreenRoom_


*Disclaimer: Please note the editor’s personal involvement in the show has not affected the editing and content of this piece. The views of this interview are that of the interviewer and the subject.

Artist Profile: Jenna Harris of “This is Where We Live” at the 2015 SummerWorks Festival

Interview by Brittany Kay

My theatre crush on Jenna Harris started out when I saw “Mine” at this past year’s Next Stage Festival. Her work in this year’s Fringe Festival in ­”there/Gone” was uniquely engaging and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. My level of respect and admiration for this artist is at an all time high and that’s why it was an extreme honour to sit down and talk with Jenna about her SummerWorks show, “This is Where We Live”. We talked about the Toronto theatre community, creating your own work and finding inspiration in the world around you. 

Brittany Kay: Tell me about the play.

Jenna Harris: It’s an Australian play, written by Vancouver born playwright Vivienne Walshe. She lived here until she was 10, then moved to Australia and has been in LA for the last little while. It’s a play set in the middle of nowhere about two teenagers [Chloe and Chris], both of whom are not from there. It focuses on Chloe, who’s recently moved in with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend and so she’s figuring out her life there. It’s quite dark – it looks at both of their outcast lives and what they’re dealing with at home and a little bit with how they see the world for themselves…their disparate views of fantasy versus reality and how their life will unfold. It’s gorgeously poetic in the most beautiful way, talking about some really heart wrenching and very dark themes. These characters tell their stories through their eyes- you see the other people through their perspectives and thus they end up playing the different people.

BK: It’s just a two hander?

JH: Yes. They take on and play the different characters in their lives. It’s loosely based on the myth of Orpheus. So Chloe is Eurydice stuck in this small town hell, in which sees as an underworld. She kind of conjures Chris to come and save her maybe, but there’s some kind of connection there.

BK: How do you move from one character to the next?

JH: It’s an interesting thing because the characters are from the main characters’ perspective. So some of the characters overlap. The teacher in their school is Tim’s character’s dad. We both have slightly different views on who this dad is, but that it’s similar enough for the audience to get. So it’s playing with that. It’s a combination of physicality and voice and it happens really quickly. Sometimes it’s one word to the next.

BK: Have you been able to find your own nuances and make you own choices with a script that’s already there?

JH: We’ve done a decent amount of movement work, which has definitely made things our own. Because it is a bit like performing a poem or spoken word, there are certain things you can’t break out of due to the rhythm. But within that, there has been lots of room to play.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

BK: Your company, Discord and Din is producing it? What has it been like wearing both hats as actor and producer?

JH: It’s been interesting. For the production of Mine, [Next Stage Festival 2015] it was still my company but I wasn’t the producer on it, which was a good idea. For this one, there have been moments where there are only so many hours in the day, it’s what do you chose to do – whether it’s split 50/50 working on the show or working on the text and the acting.

BK: Like memorizing your lines…

JH: Ya, you know that… or in this case, dialect. Or whether it’s actually working on the production side. Time will tell with the show how the producing goes around. We have a really great team. We started the process as early as you know with SummerWorks. It’s almost the same design team I worked with on Next Stage so having that ability to communicate is great. It seems to have all come together.

BK: How did Discord and Din come to be?

JH: I put together this company as you end up doing when you want to put up a show. I didn’t go to school in Toronto, so when I first moved it was knowing nobody and figuring out how to negotiate and understand the business here and the people who are here. I think after a few years of being here, I decided that it was actually doable. It’s a lot trickier in New York, where I trained, to be able to put up a show. So I put together this company and the name is from a movie that I loved as a kid called the Phantom Tollbooth. It’s about this boy who’s very bored and this present arrives on his doorstep (I think the movie’s from the 70s, my aunt showed it to me) and this box opens up and it’s this car that takes him out of his boredom and into this animated world. There’s a doctor in it named Doctor Discord and he has this character with him, Din. It’s about all sounds and noises. I liked the idea of sound and noise and it doesn’t always necessarily go together, but it makes something beautiful, hopefully. That’s where that came from and shortly after, my friend wrote a show that I co-produced with her. SummerWorks used to have a performance gallery and I did something there. The company was on the backburner for a bit as other things were going on and recently it surfaced. I think I have a better sense of what I want to produce with it and the type of work I connect with. I just started to figure out more and more as time goes on what that mission is, for lack of a better word.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

BK: How did you find this play?

JH: When I have time – which is not right now – I like to read as many plays as humanly possible. Sometimes I’ll try and go through places in the world. It gets trickier when you get away from the English language countries, but at one moment I went, “Oh I don’t know anything about Australia.” I know nothing about their theatre scene. I don’t know what they’re producing. And given that we’re not altogether dissimilar as countries, in terms of coming from the British Commonwealth, I was really curious what they do there and how their system works. There happens to be a website called and it’s a huge database of plays where you can read excerpts and get a membership. I read a bunch of them and I came to this one and I kind of just went “yes”. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I knew there was something there.

BK: So, is this a North American premiere?

JH: It’s been done before but her work has never been shown in Canada. It’s her coming home debut, which is great. I found it very fascinating that out of all of the plays I read, it was one that was written by someone who is still a Canadian citizen and who was born here.

BK: Tell me a little bit about working with your director Taryn Jorgenson?

JH: Taryn I met several years ago when she was bartending. I found out she was a director and the way we talked about theatre was quite similar. It was really nice to sit down and have similar conversations. Having that same sort of excitement about the show has been great.

BK: What has it been like working with Tim Welham?

JH: It’s been great. I didn’t know him before. He and Taryn both graduated from Ryerson. He’s super lovely and open. It’s been very collaborative, as much as you can be with a script that’s already there.

BK: Talk to me about the playwright?

JH: We also have a dramaturg on this. There are things we couldn’t tell if they were Australian slang or language that she made up for the poetry of the piece. We needed someone else in the room to research and look those things up. We’ve been in dialogue with Vivienne – she’s asked a number of questions. I did too. She’s been great and available. She’s been excited and has been giving great feedback.

BK: What are some of the major themes or ideas in the piece? What do you want audiences walking away with?

JH: It is so much about these two characters that hopefully audiences will find another level of connection with them. The main one for me is the feeling of being an outsider. Neither of these characters feel like they’re a part of the world that they live in nor do they have any control whatsoever being teenagers. It’s their making the best of it and their coping strategies and how they both deal with that. Within that, it’s also about Chloe’s dissociation when things are not going right. What we do when we’re not feeling in control. It’s also the idea of home and friendship and love and how do we build that world for ourselves-not only in the moment but also in the future. I think both of them are trying to figure out where they want to be and where they see themselves being. It’s about the places where we live and where we grow up and how that affects how we go out into the world.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

BK: Let’s shelf the play and move into your life. What has been your journey up until now?

JH: I was born and raised in Kingston I did very little theatre there. I grew up around theatre but primarily was a dancer. I would do theatre camps. I think, truthfully, I always wanted to be an actor or be in theatre, I was just afraid as a kid I wasn’t going to be good at it. In my final year of high school I kind of shelved the dancing because it was just too much. I knew I wasn’t going to do that for my life, so I kind of put that on hold and did a Midsummer Night’s Dream where I was a fairy that had to make up my own name.

Then I applied to University for Physics and Astronomy and got in and then freaked out because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I took a year off and ended up doing a couple month program in the UK for acting, which was kind of my first concentrated acting program. And then came back and still didn’t think theatre was a viable option, obviously, and so did my undergrad in International Development and Anthropology at Wilfred Laurier. So that’s what I was going to go into with theatre somehow involved – theatre for social change, maybe? Laurier was tiny and so as soon as I got there the four theatre classes they had were canceled and disappeared, which I think worked to my advantage because I would audition for the fringe that happened there. It made it a safer environment to get in it and work. I did a show in my 3rd year, which was a two hander and it was kind of the first show where I went, “Oh I think I might actually be able to do something with this.” At the end of the year I applied for a couple schools in Toronto and a couple schools in New York and then told my parents. Then I went to New York to audition and ended up getting into a school there and deciding to go.

BK: What kind of program was it?

JH: It was a two-year theatre conservatory. New York was great. It’s amazing looking back realizing what you actually needed and for me, I think I needed to get away. I needed to be somewhere where I could completely fail and be in a new city where I knew no one and be completely overwhelmed. It’s theatre school – one day you’re on the top of the world and the next you’re bawling and the world is over.

BK: Yep, theatre school.

JH: Yes, so it’s a common experience for everyone. It was great and exhausting and then it came to the decision to stay or come back. I decided to come back for a number of reasons. So I arrived here not knowing anyone and not having any sense of who people were or how any of it worked. That took a bit of time to do that. I was fortunate enough that I got into a couple of small shows when I moved but quickly realized that I needed to find places where I fit.

There was a certain point where I was working at Buddies [in Bad Times Theatre] and surrounded by all of these artists but no one knew me to be an artist. I couldn’t go there and be like hire me as an actor, here’s my resume and now I’m going to go work front of house for your show, not that this is awkward at all and I’m not making it more awkward by talking about it.

So I went – okay, how do I do this? How do I build community and make connections with people?

In New York I started writing a bit because auditioning isn’t the most creative outlet. Here, I was writing more and finished a draft of a play and I had this idea for a monologue book. If I couldn’t give my stuff to other people, maybe I could solicit stuff. It was a combination of that, a Fringe show called Tick, and my decision to leave Buddies and move away from admin jobs to be an artist. It feels like in the last couple of years the foundation I started to foot when I came here now feels like there’s something actually going on.

Yeah, so there’s my really long-winded story.

BK: It’s fantastic. I find it very admirable – your perseverance to break into the Toronto theatre community. For people who are just trying to establish themselves in the theatre scene, do you have any advice?

JH: Being in the theatre is hard, regardless if you went to school here. For acting, when you do shows you naturally build that community but it is getting in there in order to do that. One of the big things that I learned which isn’t super tangible, is that having goals are great… you should absolutely have goals. In the going after them, my advice would be to stay open to anything else that is going to come your way. That doesn’t mean saying yes to everything. What theatre school does is focus you, whether that’s to focus on acting or playwriting. If your focus is too wide you’re probably going to flop around. The world isn’t quite that way. There are so many different options and so many grey areas. What it means to be an actor is so varied. It’s not necessarily one thing. The big advice is have those goals but allow yourself to be open to other possibilities and if it’s of interest, go for it. I would have never thought to become a playwright. In terms of building community – really try hard not to see it as a competition but that you’re all in it together. Do intensives or programs. Getting out there. Also trying stuff, even if it never sees the light of day. It’s bit by bit and then one day you wake up and everyone is there. What’s nice about the city is you can rent a small place and get a bunch of people together and do a small reading. Just create. Being around people that like doing stuff.

BK: Where do you find your inspiration?

JH: I like watching people. I like seeing how they interact. Sitting on a bench. I also find life really funny even at the darkest possible times and that humor is fascinating to me. What is it that makes us human is really interesting and finding ways to solidify and write that. It also comes from, sounds crazy but I’m not I swear, is hearing voices of characters and by that I mean dialogue. Sometimes that’s what starts it and I have no idea where it’s going to go.

Rapid Fire Round:

Favourite book: The Shadow of the Wind

Favourite TV show: 30 Rock

Favourite play: August Osage County

Favourite food: Anything chocolate

Favourite place in Toronto: Anything by the water.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Never settle.

This is Where We Live

presented by Discord and Din as part of the 2015 SummerWorks Performance Festival


Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace

Ticket Price: $15

Run Time: 75min

When: Wednesday August 12th 7:30 PM – 8:45 PM
Thursday August 13th 9:45 PM – 11:00 PM
Sunday August 16th 7:45 PM – 9:00 PM

About: Discord and Din Theatre

Directed by Taryn Jorgenson; Written by Vivienne Walshe; Dramaturged by Emma Mackenzie Hillier; Performed by Jenna Harris and Tim Welham; Lighting Design by Adrien Whan; Set and Costume Design by Jenna McCutchen; Sound Design by Alicia Porter; Stage Managed by Laura Paduch; Produced by Discord and Din Theatre


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