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Fringe Preview: “Ups. Downs. Keyboard. Dance. Millennials.” And more of what to expect in REGICIDE, a sketch comedy show at the 2015 TO Fringe

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

SSB: Can you tell us what “Regicide” means and how it affects this piece? 

Christian Smith: Yeah! Technically It means “Killing a King”. We aren’t trying to say anything by the name apart from we really loved when the Simpsons referenced it and we all thought it was a fun name. Naming a sketch comedy troupe is hard and silly. The concept of “Regicide” influenced the poster design and thus influenced some of the scenes we’ve created. We had a great designer to work with, Raul Delgado, and he created the poster. We took some of those themes and incorporated them into the show.

SSB: Regicide is not your standard play. What was the process for creating this show? 

CS: Well, writing sketch comedy can be hard because there are so many ways to create it. Everyone in the group came from a different background and have had different experiences, so we kind of all started writing on our own to begin with. I prefer to collaborate, but in this particular process I had to focus much more on my writing and it actually helped me get to the core of the idea quicker. As you know, Fringe approaches quickly once you hear you’ve gotten a lottery spot! There are also enormous benefits to pitching the idea in a room before that and to having the other creators brainstorm on it. In this case, we all had to shift the way we work and it was exciting.

It was a great learning experience as it is our first revue as the group “Regicide“. We brought in Kerry Griffin (current Second City mainstage director) to direct the show after we had a ton of material to show him and then he shaped it.

SSB: What’s it like working with Kerry Griffin? 

CS: Kerry is a great director and great guy. He doesn’t come in with any pre-conceived notions of the show or what he wants to see from the group. He reads the room, sees where our strengths lie and goes from there. He really allowed us to find our voices and then you can see him start to put a show together. He has great instincts and such an amazing sense of humour.

SSB: There are sooo many plays in the Fringe. What sets Regicide apart? 

CS: There are going to be so many good shows! Everyone has their preference in types of comedy and what they look for in a theatrical experience. If you’re looking for topical, creative, fun and (on occasion) thought provoking; then see our show. Personally, I like to use sketch comedy as a way to hold a mirror up to society and speak about concepts or topics that move/interest me. Sometimes we need to have a discourse about some things through the guise of a comedy show for us to know it’s okay to laugh about something. Or at the very least, have us start asking questions. I hope that makes sense. Sometimes comedy can tug at your heartstrings or punch you in the gut! That’s the kind of thing I’m interested in!

SSB: How was the team assembled? Did you know each other beforehand? 

CS: We all met in the Second City Conservatory program and here we are. We had some great people work with us. They run a great establishment there at the Second City.

SSB: Describe the show in 5 words.

CS: Ups. Downs. Keyboard. Dance. Millennials.

SSB: Who’s the one person you’d want to see this show? (Could be anyone alive, dead…)

CS: Well… since you said “could be anyone alive, dead….”, the ellipses made me think that I have to pick Tupac. No one knows either way if he’s alive or dead. I’d like the rumours to stop with us, here, at the Regicide show. He is now obligated to come see the show, one way or another. Gotcha Tupac!

 

regicide poster

 

Where: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, 79 St. George St., Toronto, Ontario

When:

July 01 at 08:15 PM
July 04 at 07:30 PM
July 06 at 05:00 PM
July 07 at 03:00 PM
July 09 at 12:15 PM
July 10 at 09:15 PM
July 11 at 03:30 PM

Connect with them:

Christian Smith – Writer/Performer    @ChristianVSmith

Sam Roulston – Writer/Performer      @SamWRoulston

Emma Davey – Writer/Performer       @TheEmmaJames

Gina Phillips – Writer/Performer         @GinaPhillips

Carson Gale – Writer/Performer         @Carson_Gale

Pete DeCourcy – Writer/Performer     @PeteDeCourcy

Kerry Griffin – Director                        @Kerry_Griffin

Nicola Dempsey – Musical Director

Georgia Brown – Stage Manager

Raul Delgado – Poster Design

Connect with us:

Shaina Silver-Baird – Writer             @SSilverBaird

In the Greenroom                            @intheGreenRoom_

Tickets:

http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/shows/regicide/

 

One More Time with Feeling! Shakespeare BASH’d on remounting past hit “The Taming of the Shrew”

Interview by Hallie Seline

Hallie: Can you speak to me a little about remounting a show? 

James: It’s a really crazy experience! There’s a lot from the original production that has transferred over for us, but a lot of it is changing too. We’re three years older, with three years more experience (and marriage), so our approach to the show, the characters, and the relationship has evolved.

Julia: It’s kind of wonderful to have a full rehearsal period to revisit something you already know so well. You have an opportunity to try more and really dig deeper. Plus, we have some new people joining us for this production, so they’re bringing a new energy and perspective to the show that wasn’t there before.

Hallie: Why this show?

Julia: This show holds a special place in our hearts. It was our first full Shakespeare BASH’d production and we did it only months before our wedding. It was one of the most exciting summers of my life and the show was a huge part of it, so it’s amazing to get to revisit it and play opposite my husband again – that’s always fun.

Hallie: Anything new and exciting in this version? 

James: Lots of new and lots of old. The cast is a mix of returning and new, which is fantastic. The feel and energy of the original production is definitely still there, but the cast members are taking time to explore these characters with fresh eyes and Julia and I are discovering more and more about the controversial relationship between Kate and Petrucio. There’s definitely a lot of new stuff coming out. Plus, it’s in a new bar. The Monarch Tavern is a fantastic space and it’s allowing us to stage the show in a very different way than we did at the Victory Cafe.

Hallie: What can audiences hope to expect for this performance? 

Julia: Exciting, silly, heartwarming Shakespeare that keeps you laughing but also has a lot under the surface.

James: We’re really excited to talk with audience members after the show and see how it affected them.

Hallie: James, what’s it like to step away from the director’s role and back into acting? 

James: Of course, it’s a little tough. I’ve really enjoyed my time in the director’s position with Shakespeare’s plays. I really like shaping the story – it’s one of my favourite things. I think with acting, you have to let things be. You can’t control as much, if at all, at times, and therefore you have to take a breath and just be. Which is liberating as a storyteller. Surprises abound! Regardless, I have a great team on stage and off so I trust that the show will be fantastic!

Hallie: Describe the show to me in 5-10 words.

Julia: Hilarious, action-packed, beer-filled (and fueled), and full of love.

Hallie: What’s your favourite beer at the Monarch Tavern?

James: Great Lakes Karma Citra IPA

Julia: Oast House Barn Raiser Country Ale

Hallie: Favourite line from Taming of the Shrew:

Julia: “Ye are a baggage.” Shakespeare really knew how to hit where it hurts.

James: “Is not this well?” that’s what everyone wants to know.

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When: April 9th – 12th, 2015

Where: Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street

Tickets: $18 shakespearebashd.com/tickets

Connect: @ShakesBashd

Connect with ITGR Hallie: @HallieSeline

Artist Profile: Qasim Khan of Theatre Direct’s “Beneath the Banyan Tree”

Interview by Brittany Kay

A sit down with Qasim Khan is like no other. He radiates positivity and hilarity, making him perfect for Theatre Direct’s current run and tenth anniversary of Beneath the Banyan Tree.

With Britney Spears blaring over the radio, Qasim and I spoke about the reality of life after theatre school and how to persevere in order to succeed.

Brittany: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Your journey, as you will, to where you are now.

Qasim: I was raised in Newmarket, which was a great place to grow up. I moved there when I was 6 months old from Scarborough and went to school like normal people go to school. I guess I started doing music stuff in elementary school. I wasn’t a drama kid ever-ever. Even in high school I had the mentality that if I didn’t go into a theatre school, I was going to go into vocal jazz school.

Brittany: You don’t say.

Qasim: Yeah… drama kids were really loud and really confident and I was not. I was singing a lot. Started doing some theatre in the last couple of years of high school and community musicals. The first show I ever did was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and I played Benjamin, the baby brother. It was an amazing experience and they brought in an Equity choreographer and it was just…so fun. That sort of gave me the first taste of what doing this all the time could be like.

The show came at a time when my dad passed away in grade seven and I kind of feel like I had stopped talking to people. Being around people with the same interests and who were very nurturing, made me talk and communicate and be a human again. That was a really important thing for me to do. I then did more of it and then somehow got through high school and passed everything. Maybe it’s because I loaded my schedule with like every music class I could find.

I then auditioned into the circuit people do when auditioning for theatre schools. I had my heart set on going to the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts because it would be a musical theatre program. The only fight I’ve ever gotten into with my mom is about what school I would go to and she wanted me to go where I went – The University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM/Erindale) joint program with Sheridan College – and I wanted to go to Randolph and so we didn’t talk for a week and then we got over it.

Brittany: Yes, the parental debacle of what college versus university theatre school seems to be a very universal artist experience.

Qasim: Then I moved away to university when I was seventeen and did four years at “Sherindale”.

Brittany: haha….Sherindale nice.

Qasim: Had an okay time at Sherindale I suppose. Theatre school’s weird. Theatre school is weird when you’re seventeen. I graduated from UTM and started auditioning for stuff in my fourth year and got an agent. I moved to Toronto and then promptly didn’t work as an actor for like two years where I was working in the box office at The Young Centre for Soulpepper. Then I needed money, so I started working there full time. I did get to see a lot of the stuff that Soulpepper was doing. I didn’t know much about the company before working there except for the people – I knew I wanted to work with those people one day. I would do the odd TV thing. There was a lot of film and TV auditions and I was very unsuccessful booking most of them

Brittany: I hear that…

Qasim: Right!? I did get a couple. My first TV role was playing a terrorist on Little Mosque on the Prairie, which made my mom super proud.

Brittany: So how did you decide to audition for the Soulpepper Academy?

Qasim: There was a weird bridge into introducing myself as a performer at Soulpepper. The notice came out for the academy auditions and at the same time I was offered a promotion in the box office that would have been a great salary and great normal job. The message from my boss was that if you take the promotion, you won’t be taken seriously at your academy audition, but if you go to the academy audition we’re going to fill this position. So pick one. It was….terrifying. I said no to the job and yes to the audition.

Brittany: Talk to me about the audition.

Qasim: My first audition for the academy was hilarious. I knew all the actors in the building kind of casually… like I would book their comps.

Brittany: Haha.

Qasim: I booked off vacation time from my box office job before the audition and after because it would be very embarrassing if I did very poorly. I’d still be in the building and I’d still be booking their comps.

So Mike Ross came out to call the next person and when he saw me he was kind of confused as to what I was doing out there. When I came in they all asked if I needed something and I was like, “Um I just want to audition,” and they kind of chuckled. The audition went okay I thought, but I ended up getting a call back and eventually being a part of the Academy.

Brittany: How did your experience in the Academy shape your future as an actor and performer?

Qasim: Soulpepper came at the right time for me. I was burned out from auditioning all the time and, being close to so many ‘breaks’, was constantly questioning whether I should be doing this, and was also getting really unhealthily overweight from stuffing my face after bad auditions and working jobs I hated.

Brittany: Preach.

Qasim: My time in the Academy refueled me and gave me a year of not having to worry about auditioning, working side jobs, and I was able to get back in touch with my creativity and artistry, and get healthy again. I learned the value of mentorship at Soulpepper, which is sort of the foundation of the company. I was mentored by so many actors and directors whose work I grew up admiring. In many ways, it was a dream come true.

Part of the experience at the Academy is being cast in scene studies and productions in the season, and when this happened, my experience shifted a bit from what I expected when I entered the program. I could see my classmates being challenged and pushed and given opportunities to progress, and that was not my experience. Regardless, in the end, what I took away from Soulpepper when it comes to being in a production is how to be a great teammate. I learned how to support action on stage and how to be in an ensemble. It was humbling and I’m very grateful for that experience.

Brittany: And after that?

Qasim: I felt like I needed a bit more experience, especially when it came to Shakespeare, which I didn’t get to really bite into in the way I wanted at the Academy, and that lead me to pursue an opportunity at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, UK. In 2013, I did a Fellowship at the Globe, which is a short residency with the company – every two years they invite 20ish actors from around the world to come, play, learn, and perform. At the Globe I was given great roles to work on, great scenes to play in, and it was the perfect button on my two years of ‘upgrade training’.

Photo by Naz Afsahi.

Qasim Khan in Beneath the Banyan Tree at Theatre Direct. Photo by Naz Afsahi.

Brittany: What made you want to become an actor?

Qasim: In high school, one of the only plays I did was Morris Panych’s 7 Stories and it’s a very funny play and I’m a funny person.

Brittany: Really!? I didn’t know that…

Qasim: That was the first time I realized I could be funny and that I could control people’s laughter. I remember doing the play one afternoon for my school and immediately people were laughing at me. That moment was so exciting and truly eye-opening. I think I may have been good at other things but I didn’t pursue them out of fear that I would be really good at them and wouldn’t be able to do this. I kind of just always knew that this is what I wanted to do.

Brittany: So how did you get involved with Theatre Direct?

Qasim: Lynda Hill gave me my first professional theatre job out of university and it was a workshop. We added each other to Facebook and I really liked working with her a lot. She sent me a message about the possibility of a remount and I came in to audition for the part I have today.

Brittany: What is “Beneath the Banyan Tree” about?

Qasim: The play is about the story of a girl named Anjali and it’s the day of her 12th birthday. She has just come from India to Canada with her family. It sort of centres on her first day of school and on her birthday where her grandmother, Ajji wants to celebrate by putting her in this beautiful salwar kameez, which is this beautiful traditional dress. She doesn’t want to because she fears she will be made fun of at school. We follow her as she makes a new friend named Mason that encourages her to share her culture and to be confident about it. She realizes she can be Canadian and Indian at the same time and those things intersect in a really beautiful way.

Brittany: Tell me a little bit about your character.

Qasim: I play a character named Maitri who is the spirit of the Banyan tree, and also three animal characters from the Indian fables of the Panchatantra. The fables and stories provide the framework for the play. Maitri acts as Anjali’s confidant throughout the play and helps her along her journey.

Brittany: I know there is big element of the fantastical in this show, especially with your character. How are the elements of fantasy created on the stage?

Qasim: There is a lot of puppetry, which is gorgeous! When the play veers into the fantastical it’s done though movement. Our choreographer Lata Pada is an amazing and really well known Bharatanatyam choreographer. Cheryl Lalonde’s set design and Michael Kruse’s lighting really help create this fantastical world. The set is essentially a big tree and things can come in and out of it in really magical ways.

Photo by Naz Afsahi.

Photo by Naz Afsahi.

Brittany: This is a show that is primarily aimed for young audiences. What are the important lessons they are to take away from this play?

Qasim: Acceptance – that’s the biggest one. How can kids accept other people and feel accepted in their day-to-day lives. Friendship – which is how Anjali gets comfortable in Canada. Roots – which is a big theme because the focal set piece is a tree. The conundrum that Anjali is in is how to preserve the roots she has in India while being quote on quote Canadian and what is the right way to do that. She learns there is no right way to do that – she’s just doing it by being herself.

Brittany: How has it been having young people as the core of your audience?

Qasim: This is my first time doing a show for young audiences. It’s been a good lesson of how to preserve the quality of the show without playing to the ages of the children. You’re also always trying to keep everyone engaged. A lot of my stories are out to the kids. I get to connect to the audience in a different way than the other players do, which is kind of fun.

Brittany: Young audiences can be extremely vocal at times. Have there been any instances that stick out?

Qasim: One of the puppets I operate is an elephant and I need to make elephant noises with my mouth. When I did the sound a kid really loudly yelled, “Did you just fart?” And I wanted to be like, “No, I don’t do that… I’m polite,” but I couldn’t.

Photo by Naz Afsahi.

Photo by Naz Afsahi.

Brittany: That’s amazing. How has it been having Lynda as a director?

Qasim: She’s been with the show for ten years and originally helped develop it. The show means a lot to her. She’s taken a lot of care with the play while keeping the same solid work that has happened before. It’s been remounted several times for a reason – it’s a great show. We were still able to explore our artistry in the process and during the show. I love working with her because she gives us the frame of the show and because of the audience and specificity of the play, a lot of it works like clockwork. The fun thing for me is finding freedom within the constraints of the show. It’s been lovely to work with her and spending time with her again. She really knows how to curate a visual story for young audiences. And the cast is super fun.

Brittany: What do you want audiences walking away with?

Qasim: I want them to have just experienced a visual feast. I want them to laugh a lot. I want young people to have seen a play they can identify with. While the story is very specific about a girl coming from India, the stuff she deals with is the same stuff that kids deal with on a regular basis. When young audiences see their own experiences reflected on stage, they can relate and reflect it back onto their own lives.

Rapid Fire Questions: 

Favourite book: Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Favourite movie: Anne of Green Gables 1 and 2

Favourite musical: It changes everyday, but recently Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Favourite play: Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

Favourite place in Toronto: King East, like Church and Parliament. The history and the architecture are amazing.

Favourite Food: Hamburgers. I love fast food.

Best Advice You’ve Ever Gotten: Don’t quit and stick with it! Most importantly, surround yourself with people who can give you air.

 

Beneath the Banyan Tree

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Written by Emil Sher with choreography by Lata Pada
Directed by Lynda Hill
Costume and Set Design by Cheryl Lalonde
Lighting Design by Michael Kruse
Music by Edgardo Moreno

Recommended For Grades K – 6 | Ages 4 & Up


When: March 5 – 28

Where: Wychwood Barns

Tickets & Info: http://www.theatredirect.ca/

In Conversation: Magic, Music, Mimmo & Mona: Theatre Rhea’s OREGANO

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

In Conversation with:
Rose Napoli (playwright/ “Mona”)
Matthew Thomas Walker (director)
Diane D’Aquila (“La Strega Nera”)
Richard Greenblatt (“Mimmo”)
Beau Dixon (composer/sound designer)
of Theatre Rhea‘s OREGANO by Rose Napoli.

Shaina: How would you describe Oregano? What’s the show about?

Diane: There are moments in your life that define you. Often death is one of them. And this play is what grows out of that. For every death there’s a birth – it can be metaphoric. But I think when those moments happen, you not only have to face them, but you learn something about yourself. You learn to accept who you are. The play is about all that, in the format of a fairytale.

Rose: In the face of death, one finds their voice. We take that literally in this play, because we talk a lot about the power of the voice. Mimmo is the little boy with a special voice, and Mona is a young woman who wants to be a writer. So it’s very much about the importance of your own voice in connection to the people that shape you.

Shaina: What was your inspiration for writing the play, Rose? 

Rose: The last time I ever saw my dad was 12 years ago. It was his birthday. It was late and it was after an opening of a show. And he stayed up and waited for me and we had a very strange conversation. We were sentimental in a way that we weren’t usually. And in a way, a lot of the things he was saying to me (I didn’t know it at the time), were veiled preparations for me to live without him. I remember we said we loved each other, which we also didn’t do often. I went to bed and I thought: I’m never going to see him again. And he died shortly after that.

I think it was because of that moment, even though the realization came later on, that I started to believe in magic. And I started to believe that there are things that are bigger than us. And family is one of them. So, with Oregano I was writing my dad’s life and his death from my imagination. It’s not autobiographical in the sense that it’s not my exact relationship with him and it’s not the exact way he died. But this is the way I imagined it to be.

Shaina: Matt, you often work in a site-specific format. How are you finding the experience of creating for the Storefront, which is more of a classic black box? 

Matt: It’s definitely different and site-specific is something I’m going to have to branch away from any time I’m working in a space where I can’t control all of the factors. So I’ve been getting advice in terms of how other directors work in this situation. We hired a great set designer – Jenna McCutchen – she offered a world and I started using that. I refer back to her designs, the space she’s created, constantly and that offers information much the way a site-specific venue would. I use that for inspiration. Even though we don’t have all the time in the space that I would like, it’s our constraint and it guides the show. We’re using it expressively, much the way I like to do working in site-specific venues. It’s just a different way of working, but the space is still at the forefront of my mind all the time.

Rose: We’re also using it in a very different way than I’ve seen this space used before.

Matt: That’s something we all decided was very important to us from the get-go. We wanted to see this space used differently than audiences are accustomed to at The Storefront. We wanted to try to change people’s experience when they arrive at this venue.

And I think we are on track to do so. I think it’ll be magical.

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In Rehearsal – Rose Napoli & Richard Greenblatt

Shaina: Diane and Richard, I know you’ve worked across the country, across the continent, in huge theatres. What continues to attract you to indie productions?

Richard: The script. I’m interested in working on stories, on characters, on scripts – either as a director, or as an actor – that interest me. I also love working on new work and working with younger people who’re coming up. I do a fair amount of it, like Late Company, which we did a few years ago and are remounting this year. So you choose the project mostly based on the script; secondarily on who else is involved and certainly not for the money. If a project is interesting, and the people are too, then you go for it. I mean I didn’t know Rose, I didn’t know Matthew…

Shaina: But they’re pretty awesome.

Richard: Really?! And Diane I’ve known forever, but we’ve never worked together.

Diane: I have worked a lot of my life in big, huge, honking theatres where a lot of time’s wasted and a lot of egos get in the way. For me it’s returning to my roots. I started with The Free Theatre and Tarragon – they WERE the indie theatres in the 70s and late 60s. The Free Theatre had a dirt floor – it was FREE when I played there. So for me, it isn’t about the money, it’s about getting back to basics, it’s about working with people that I have respect for, that I want to work with, that I haven’t had the chance to yet. It’s about the challenge. And this is more challenging than some of the other stuff I get often in the big box theatres.

Shaina: What has been the biggest challenge?

Matt: The collaboration has been lovely. We have actors who have worked all across our country in these big theatres and I love that they’re coming back to work with us in indie theatre. It’s really refreshing and it’s really invigorating. So that hasn’t been a challenge.

With independent projects, it’s always scheduling. That’s always a challenge because everyone’s always doing so much. But for some reason, when you set that as the challenge that needs to be faced from the get-go, it just makes it easier. You embrace it and you approach that creatively with a good spirit and everyone has to invest fully when they’re here. That’s absolutely been the case.

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In Rehearsal – Diane D’Aquila & Richard Greenblatt

Shaina: Beau, what attracted you to the project? What’s the experience been like for you adapting this story to music?

Beau: To echo what Richard said, it’s first and foremost about the story. The most difficult thing, but it’s also the most enjoyable and challenging, is using sounds to make sure that the audience is in the world of the fairytale. I really have to marry the sounds with the text. That’s one of the magical things about theatre: using sounds, the different frequencies, the pushing of air (as I like to call it), to create a world. When you have accomplished actors, and a story that really speaks for itself, you don’t want the music to get in the way. So there’s a real push and pull that’s happening between the sound and the text. And once you get that tension and release with the sound, and once the audience is engaged and thrown into that world, it IS magical.

But the real struggle is making it believable – making the audience feel that they too are using their creative brains and are immersed in that world without feeling forced into it.

Shaina: What was the initial inspiration to make the play so musical? 

Rose: In the play, Mona, the main character, has the chance to meet her father as a young boy – a young boy who Richard plays. He plays himself from 8 years old all the way to his 50s – his whole life really. This boy has a very special ability with his voice. When he sings, he can relax the people who listen to his music so deeply, that they reveal their deepest fears.

There was always meant to be a component that brought us back in time – there are many memories in the play. The music is the thing that brings us to the different time periods in the play.

And then that concept went to the next level having Beau on board, a composer who is so versed in MADE scores. You can see his set up down there – he is making music with the strangest things! So why not take it a step further, to embrace the magic of this play and have the sounds (the rain, the thunder, all of the soundscape in the show) happen live rather than through a soundboard.

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In Rehearsal – Rose Napoli & Diane D’Aquila

 

Richard: Doing that also enhances the magic of the theatre itself. And the reason theatre is magic is because it IS imagination. And what the play is about, in a lot of ways, is the imagination, and how you can create your life as you imagine it, to a certain degree. You can certainly deal with things in your life through the way you imagine them.

If you want to make magic in the theatre, you do it by showing what’s up the sleeve. You don’t try to hide it, because we can’t do it that well in the theatre. You can do that on film, you have CGI, but we don’t. So you can make magic by saying: “imagine this is the planet earth in my hand,” and then you smash it. And everyone goes along with it because the theatre is essentially naïve. To see Beau create a storm sequence by using a tarp and a weird can with a string attached to it, is far more magical than the most realistic sound you can tape and play back over a sound system.

Diane: And you know, you get these huge budgets at these big theatres and all of a sudden it goes into another medium. To be able to use your imagination with nothing is more efficient. It’s better story telling, than when you keep throwing money at a play. Because eventually the audience thinks: “What a small battalion! They brought 50 people onstage and I don’t believe it.” But with two or three people making a lot of noise with a good folio I go: “Well there’s an army!”

There isn’t enough money in theatre to achieve what the imagination can. 

Shaina: If you could have anyone in the audience to see this show, who would it be?

Rose: My dad.

OREGANO

by Rose Napoli, presented by Theatre Rhea at The Storefront Theatre

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On stage at The Storefront Theatre

Previews – Wed. March 11 – Thurs. March 12

Opens Friday March 13 – Sunday March 22

Tickets: theatrerhea.ca/tickets

Full Dark by Sharron Matthews at the 36th annual Rhubarb Festival

by Bailey Green

I saw Sharron Matthews perform cabaret for the first time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2011. Her incredible vocals, dynamite stage presence and the way she reached out to her audience completely captivated me. About two years ago, when Sharron began her artists residency at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, I witnessed the first incarnations of her new show, Full Dark. Full Dark had a different, gritty feel, and the piece dealt with themes of fear, loneliness and grief. Now, after several workshops and performances, Sharron is bringing Full Dark to the Chamber at Buddies for the Rhubarb Festival.

Sharron originally workshopped Full Dark twice before doing a full run at Sheridan College in the fall of 2013. After the Sheridan run, Sharron wasn’t sure she could return to the project. The subject matter had weighed heavily on her and writing the show, which had turned into more of a book show, had lost its joy. She sat down with Brendan Healy (Artistic Director of Buddies) for a long talk. Brendan suggested that Sharron bring in a director and a dramaturge. “I’d always been in charge of my own voice,” Sharron remembers, “but I’d thought about it. The distance [from the project], it helped me discover news things and be brave.”

photo by Mike Bickerton

Photos by Mike Bickerton

Sharron had seen The Gay Heritage Project in early winter of 2013 and had admired it for being moving and exciting work. Specifically she was drawn to how the creators, Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn & Andrew Kushnir, married storytelling and music. She connected with Andrew Kushnir and they set up a pair of three day workshops in March and October 2014 (attended by Sharron, Andrew, Brendan, with musical director Steve Thomas joining for the second one.) The workshops went well and Andrew Kushnir became the director and dramaturge of Full Dark at Rhubarb.

On working with Andrew, Sharron praises his intuitive nature as a dramaturge and his ability to stand even farther outside as a director to decide what serves the piece best. “Andrew sees what I’m doing and helps me find ways to get there when I’m not sure,” Sharron says, “I’m not giving away the steering wheel, someone’s helping me drive.” Cabaret is a meeting of minds, between performer/writer, director, dramaturge, musical director and musicians. Sharron raves of her team which includes Jason Chesworth on guitar and mandolin and Bob DiSalle on percussion. Musical director Steve Thomas has been her go-to chief arranger for many years and “is a really safe person to have on a trip like this.” Steve Thomas has a conflict with the run at Rhubarb, so stepping in to play piano is Wayne Gwillim.

As a constantly evolving artist, Sharron continues to push the her own boundaries as a cabaret artist. Earlier last year, she performed a Prince-themed cabaret at the Global Cabaret Festival at Soulpepper. And this past January, Sharron spent a month in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico hustling to promote her shows by day and performing two separate cabarets (made up of “previously loved material”) by night.

“I wanted to find new ways to tell a story, in cabaret,” Sharron says of her residency at Buddies. “For a long time I did the kind of ‘cabaret way’, essentially a lot of comedy so then I felt I’d earned myself a ballad. Now I want to tell deeper stories in the same format.” Of the process of rehearsing and creating a fresh production out of Full Dark, Sharron says “It’s very exciting and fresh and immediate. I get so excited about coming to work every day. I haven’t felt like that since I did Les Mis when I was 21.”

When asked about Rhubarb, Sharron expresses her excitement about a festival that celebrates pieces that are in transit, in action, in progress. Work that pushes boundaries and stories that are unique to the artists who tell them. As for the moment that Sharron looks forward to the most during Full Dark, she says it is right at the end. It’s a new mash up of “XO” by Beyoncé and “Glitter in the Air” by P!nk. “It’s a gift to myself because it’s right at the end. And I know it’s there,” Sharron says, “It’s a joyous song.”

Sharron Matthews: Full Dark

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What happens when Canada’s best cabaret performer assembles a three piece band and takes a walk on the scarier side of the street? Full Dark expands Sharron Matthew’s signature style to delve into the darker sides of storytelling – about growing up fatherless, about being bullied, about sexuality and danger, the unacceptable, and the unexplained.

When: February 18-20 at 10:00pm

Where: In the Chamber at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Artists: creator / performer Sharron Matthews | director / dramaturge Andrew Kushnir | musical director / arranger Steve Thomas | guitar / mandolin Jason Chesworth | percussion Bob DiSalle

Tickets: included in your $20 Evening Pass

Full Dark is being developed by Sharron Matthews as part of Buddies’ Artist Residency Program

In Conversation with Morro and Jasp – “Anything Goes” at the Rhubarb Festival

by Bailey Green

Clown sisters Morro and Jasp are trying out a completely new recipe for fun, exciting and unpredictable theatre with their new creation Anything Goes — part of Buddies’ Rhubarb Festival. Anything Goes is exactly what it sounds like. Audience members are in for a unique “one on one on one” experience (dubbed by director Byron Laviolette) as they will interact directly with Morro and Jasp for a little less than ten minutes. I spoke with Heather Marie Annis (Morro) and Amy Lee (Jasp) about their upcoming performance, their years of clowning together and being a part of Rhubarb.

Anything Goes is new territory for the ebullient and open-hearted Heather and Amy. “We call ourselves structure junkies,” Heather laughs. “People may think our shows are improv, and in some ways they are, but it is based on a very specific script and structure.” With Anything Goes, most of that is out the window. There are infinite possibilities for how any given interaction will go. The pair discuss the options with open excitement, describing how perhaps an audience member may bond with one clown and turn against the other, or what will happen if a small group wants to all interact. Heather and Amy are most excited to see the potential of what can happen when an audience member is free to play without being conscious of an external audience’s judgement.

When asked about the most challenging part of preparing, the answer comes quickly: they can’t actually rehearse. Morro and Jasp venture out into the world for adventures and interact with strangers, but beyond being present and open there isn’t much else to set in place. “My desire for control is being seriously challenged,” Heather says. The pair’s background is not based in improv either, they begin primarily with Morro and Jasp. “We can go outside the boundaries because we know what they are,” Amy says. “This [Anything Goes] is wide open. Our only structure is the human being and then we find a connection.”

So to prepare, Heather and Amy have continued to exercise their improv muscles, as well as coming up with ideas of props to have in the room and scenarios to offer. They’re both conscious of the constant assessment required for a performance of this focused nature. “If they want us to just take the reins and do something we have ideas for a jumping off point,” Heather says. Amy picks up Heather’s train of thought, “We’re challenging ourselves to do this because we really want to give each person what they need and want in that moment. The ball is in their court to decide what kind of experience they want.”

When I ask the pair what they’re most excited about for Rhubarb this year, their words tumble over each other as their enthusiasm bubbles:

Heather: It’s so inspiring to see artists who are coming up with things, and someone says an idea and you’re like “my brain!”

Amy: We’ve never done Rhubarb before. It’s an amazing festival! I love Buddies, the space –

Heather: A basement, events happen –

Amy: It’s a world of possibility –

Heather: A theatre carnival and you get –

Amy: a choose your own adventure

Heather: kind of everything!

Morro and Jasp were born during Heather and Amy’s time together at York University. The pair ended up working on a piece written by Heather about two sisters named Jamie and Mackenzie. They played multiple characters and Amy fell in love with the character work of physical theatre. Byron Laviolette was at York as well at the time and he saw the piece. Laviolette had studied Pochinko clown and was very interested in the style. He had written a turn called “Reflections” about two clowns named Morris and Jasper. He saw Heather and Amy and liked their connection. “We were saying yes to everything,” Amy says of their first years out of school, “we had no idea what we were getting into, nor did we think we’d be here ten years later.” The trio moved on to train with Pete Jarvis for two years. Their first few shows were mainly for children as part of FringeKids! The women laugh and cringe as they remember the early years where they were simultaneously figuring out how to write theatre and how to be clowns.

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Then they were accepted into “adult” fringe for 2009. “We wanted to write a show about our clown characters going through puberty, we needed to tell that story,” recalls Amy. “We wanted to write the show we wanted to make without worrying whether it was appropriate. And so in Winnipeg 2008, they premiered Morro and Jasp do Puberty! Amy remembers her nerves to perform the show in front of family members and Heather bursts into giggles, “she was nervous because she humped her stuffed animal in this show. But it was so scary! We were really putting ourselves out there. People responded like, yeah that happened to me! I just didn’t think I could talk about it. Like when you go to the grocery store and hide your tampons in your bag. Like why is that a bad thing?” And the rest is clown history with their other shows, to name a few: Go Bake Yourself, Gone Wild, Of Mice and Morro… In May, they’ll be premiering a new show at Factory called 9-5, and then in July they’re bringing Morro and Jasp do Puberty to the Toronto Fringe before taking it across the pond in August to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Ten years of clowning with your awesome clown sister makes for a tight bond and it’s evident in the way Heather and Amy finish each other’s thoughts. “I don’t know anything like it in my life. When we become the characters there is this amazing intimacy that happens,” Amy says of her partnership with Heather. “The boundaries are gone. We can say and do anything to each other [as Morro and Jasp.]” Heather adds, “it’s such a freedom we have with each other that we sometimes forget about that when we work with other people.” It only makes sense, as Morro and Jasp, just like Heather and Amy, have grown up together.

Morro and Jasp: Anything Goes

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Clown sisters Morro and Jasp are looking for someone to connect with. Could it be you? Come and see what happens.

When: February 11-14 at 7:30pm

Where: downstairs at Buddies

Artists: creator / performers Heather Marie Annis + Amy Lee | director / dramaturge Byron Laviolette

Tickets: included in your $20 Evening Pass

 

“Ohio” and Tadeu end their lives in the Montague Parkette at the 36th annual Rhubarb Festival

by Bailey Green 

Director, composer and librettist Bruce Dow’s upcoming piece in Rhubarb Festival, “the one with the goddamn long name,” is a new opera (?) about young love and suicide that focuses on the romanticization of suffering and depression in LGBTQ teens. This theatre-with-music creation tells the story of Ohio, a pre-op trans woman played by Jordan Bell, and her suicidal bully Tadeu, played by Jordan Fantauzzo. The performance will be 25 minutes of what would be a 40 minute first act in a three act piece. “Truncated like mad,” Bruce chuckles.

The action takes place in contemporary Toronto. Tadeu works in the back of his uncle’s meat shop in Little Portugal. Tadeu is in love with a trans woman and cannot accept that he is homosexual. His self-hatred manifests in the violent bullying of Ohio (and presumably others.) The other characters include his girlfriend and members of his high school clique (played by Cassie Doane, Kayla Coolen and Danik McAfee.) The themes are current and relevant. “We pretend that here [Toronto] it’s very liberal and forward thinking, but there are still many old world areas in town where it’s primitive,” says Dow. “We hear of middle class kids thrown out for being LGBTQ, of them committing suicide even when they have resources to seek help. How much of this happens here in our own neighbourhood?”

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Photo Credit: Vince Ha

 

The piece originated from a performance Dow had seen as a child. The show was bunraku, a form of traditional Japanese theatre where three-quarter life size puppets play out the action. “You see the operators but you’re watching these amazing people, or puppets, act.” The plays have high emotion and drama, love and death. One particular bunraku writer completely captured Bruce’s fascination: Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Chikamatsu Monzaemon wrote a play called “The Love Suicide at Sonezaki” which tells a very romantic tale of trapped lovers who eventually commit suicide. Bruce was drawn to the story and adapted it, re-configuring the courtesan as Ohio and the young merchant clerk as Tadeu. The structure shifted and changed beyond the original, but the framework remains.

As for the question mark next to the words “new opera” in the show poster, Bruce describes it as a marriage between opera and theatre with music. “It’s my idea of contemporary music theatre but the libretto is how people would talk,” Dow describes after delving into a brief history of verismo opera. “It’s very graphic in content and description and language, and they’re all singing, God bless Buddies.” The music is written for two pianos, though for Rhubarb they will be singing to tracks with the help of associate music director and conductor Mike Ross. Bruce says the experience of writing has been both vulnerable cathartic and has ultimately lead him to claim the title of composer with a sense of acceptance and joy. “Working through this libretto has been very personal. Even though I am not a trans woman, I know people who are,” Bruce says of creating the character of Ohio. “I will never know what the experience is like, but I’m coming to understand it more and empathize.” Bruce also found himself reflecting on his own coming out at the height of the AIDS crisis compared to the different, and yet similar, realities faced by young LGBTQ teens now.

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Photo Credit: Vince Ha

 

“The singers are incredible,” Bruce praises his cast. “Jordan Fantauzzo is a member of the Theatre 20 Emerging Artist Ensemble and he did his MFA at The Boston Conservatory. Jordan Bell has this kick ass voice, but I don’t think anyone quite knows how absolutely great of an actor he is. Brilliant.” The other three members of the cast, Cassie, Kayla and Danik are recent Randolph grads. Their characters’ presence in the show would expand as the show developed further and Dow describes them as “smart little actors” who are “fucking fierce.” Stage manager Katie Honek, who Bruce met while Honek was apprentice SM on Sextet at the Tarragon, is brilliant and completely on top of things. Associate Director and Dramaturge Isaac Robsinson is “a smart hothead who helps me make the libretto work.” Bruce laughs, “I’m having the time of my life working on this.” Bruce also credits Mel Hague for inspiring him as an artist to be brave and risk big.

As for Rhubarb, Bruce is thrilled to be a part of the festival. “Once you’re accepted you’re given carte blanche to go create. It’s really new work in the sense of the word. Raw, and not quite complete. I can’t wait to see what other people are doing.”

 

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A new opera about the romanticization of suffering and depression in LGBTQ youth. This workshop presentation will feature early explorations of the music and writing for the first act of the show.

When: February 11-14 at 9:00pm in the Chamber

Artists: composer / libretist Bruce Dow | performers Jordan Bell + Jordan Fantauzzo with Kayla Coolen, Cassie Doane + Danik McAfee | dramaturge / associate director Isaac Robinson | production stage manager Katie Honek

Tickets: included in your $20 Evening Pass

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