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“Finding Your Process, Comradery On and Off Stage & Working with Planned Parenthood” In Conversation with actor Mattie Driscoll on Cue6’s DRY LAND at The Assembly Theatre

Interview by Jared Bishop.

We sat down with actor Mattie Driscoll to discuss Cue6 Theatre’s Toronto premiere of Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel. Mattie gets into her experience as a new actor tackling a challenging script, the comradery on and off stage and the show’s partnership with Planned Parenthood. Dry Land is a play about abortion, female friendship and resiliency, on stage now at The Assembly Theatre until September 22nd.

Jared Bishop: What was your impression when you first read the script?

Mattie Driscoll: When I first read the scene we were given for the audition, I was so excited. I was a little too excited. I was like ‘fuck, this is so good!’ This is one of the best scripts I have read maybe ever. It’s very much my style – dark humour and gross and weird and hard to watch a lot of the time. And I am coming from just graduating school from Ryerson where I didn’t have the opportunity to be a part of any shows like that. That’s not the work you are doing in school. Obviously there is a focus on classical work, which is great, but that means, as a young woman, you are playing the ingénue or a not particularly strong female character a lot of the time.

When I read the whole script it furthered my thoughts around that scene. I was just like, ‘it’s so good!’ I am astounded the playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel was only 21 when it was published. I was just really excited when I first read it.

Photo Credit: Samantha Hurley

JB: Can you talk about the Planned Parenthood partnership?

MD: Yes, I can speak to it a little. I know for Cue6 that it’s something important for them, that community outreach element. There are talk backs on Thursday nights and what we want the talk backs to be are a conversation around accessibility in Ontario and abortion rights and what that is all looking like. A focus more on that discussion instead of about the play. They are so great, we have had someone from Planned Parenthood come and speak to us because after our very first show we realized the conversations after performances sometimes involve people sharing their own stories. This is great because that’s what we want the play to do but it is a weird position to be in as an actor. To say ‘I hear you’ and to not go to a place of ‘OH, I am so sorry’. That is not how it is handled in the play. It’s coming from a place of ‘It’s ok, she is ok, her life is going to go on’, and not necessarily taking the power away from someone by assuming it was a horrible awful experience for them. We had someone come in from Planned Parenthood to talk about what language to use. They use language like ‘removing a pregnancy’, which I had never heard before. I am learning a lot about something I had thought I was pretty well versed in. I am realizing that there is still a lot to learn in that department. Planned Parenthood Toronto just seems amazing, so we’re excited that those talk backs are happening on Thursdays.

Photo Credit: Samantha Hurley

JB: In rehearsal what did you do to build the intimacy needed for the story?

MD: The thing that is super nice is that I am playing alongside my university classmate Veronica Hortiguela. So we had a lot of that level of comfort already, which was so nice. It’s made this process even better because I am working with someone I am super close with. We already had an intimacy there and a shared vocabulary because of school. We were able to work quickly and easily, and we were able to walk home together and talk about it.

In the rehearsal process, I have just loved Jill Harper (director). I think she is so great and she is so smart. Veronica and I always spoke about how she does this cleaver little thing where you think you came up with the brilliant thought but it was her who gracefully lead you there. She is trusting, which is so nice because I don’t feel like I trust myself yet necessarily. I am just coming out of school and figuring it out.

Photo Credit: Samantha Hurley

JB: How do you reset yourself between shows?

MD: Oh my god, well, I’m still kind of figuring that out. I am going to keep talking about how this show is different from school. Normally the show would have been done four times or maybe five. I have never run something for this long before, which I love. I get to do a play for this long? It is so fun and nice! So far I walk home, I chill out a little. That’s another thing why I feel grateful to be so close with Veronica because her and I get to debrief and it is important to me that she feels safe and comfortable after because it is just a different show for her than it is for me. I end the show and I am kind of okay, whereas she just had to experience what she did and that is totally different. That requires a different type of comedown. She is still navigating that as well and it is hard to make a judgement on the show when you are in that kind of clouded place. But I think we are good at making a quick joke about it, reminding ourselves that it’s fine, and kind of leaving the play there. I think I am good at leaving it there. I will be curious when people ask me this in a week because we will see how that is going. I just walk home. I try to take some deep breaths.

Photo Credit: Samantha Hurley

JB: Who do you think is the intended audience and who do you want to see this show?

MD: I want to just say a general everyone, and I want to say young women. But I feel they are who get it a little more so I want people who don’t get it. We have had conversations and watched interviews with Ruby Rae who say this is often a harder show for men to watch because the blood, for women, isn’t that freaky. It is normal but for men it is a little harder to watch. I do want young women to see this, to see themselves onstage in a way that I haven’t encountered before, but also especially men and people who don’t understand that this is a normal thing, more normal than it ought to be.

Photo Credit: Samantha Hurley

I am so curious to hear and see the rest of the run because we have had people leave, people have had to leave in the very first scene because the punches were too much for someone. Obviously we have had a few people leave during the blood. I am curious about what sets people off. We have a device to reset the energy for people but if I was on the other side watching it, I think I would freak out. I would love it as a young woman, I would see this play and say ‘yes, more of this!’ There is something about presenting woman not as fragile and the female body not portrayed as delicate. And I am so grateful for that. Ruby Rae has a note at the beginning of this play and it’s “Harshness is as true to this play as sweetness”, and that has been so fun to play with.

Dry Land

Who:
Company: Cue6
Cast:
Mattie Driscoll, Veronica Hortiguela, Jonas Trottier, Reanne Spitzer, Tim Walker
Written by: Ruby Rae Spiegel
Directed by: Jill Harper
Producers: Christine Groom, Matt Eger, Joshua Browne
Lighting Designer: Simon Rossiter
Sound Designer: Tim Lindsay
Stage Manager: Hannah MacMillan

What:
Ester is a swimmer trying to stay afloat. Amy is curled up on the locker room floor. Dry Land is a play about abortion, female friendship, and resiliency, and what happens in one high school locker room after everybody’s left.

Dry Land is the first full-length play from American playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel. Spiegel
was only 21 when Dry Land was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and its
premiere production received a five-star review from the New York Times, calling the
play “remarkable… caustic, funny and harrowing.” Dry Land has gone on to receive acclaim across the US, UK and Australia.

Where:
The Assembly Theatre – 1479 Queen Street West

When:
Sept 5th – 22nd
Wednesday – Sunday at 8pm

Tickets:
cue6.ca

“On Creative Process, Being Infatuated with All Things Theatre & Appreciating Being Brave in Different Ways” In Conversation with playwright Rosamund Small on the World Premiere of SISTERS at Soulpepper

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Playwright Rosamund Small spent much of her 2017 reading novels. One of her tasks as part of the Soulpepper Academy, under the guidance of Guillermo Verdecchia, was to find a story to adapt for the stage but it wasn’t until she read Edith Wharton’s novella, Bunner Sisters, that she knew she had the right project.

The long short story follows two sisters that run a shop together in 19th century New York City. They work together selling pieces at the front of the shop while sharing a living space in the confined quarters in the back of the shop. And when one sister is given a clock for her birthday, the story begins.

We spoke with Rosamund Small, covering everything from her creative process to her present infatuation with all things theatre-related, in light of the world premiere of her play Sisters at Soulpepper Theatre, on stage now until September 16th.


MR: What was it that you were most curious about with this story? What made you think definitely this one?

RS: It has twists and turns that were shocking to read. I mean really shocking. It’s a cliché to say things about it being a page-turner, but it really is. I think what grabbed me from the moment I opened it, is that the very first thing that happens is the older sister buys a birthday present for the younger sister, and it’s a clock. And their lives are made so beautiful by this clock. It’s the biggest deal to have a clock and to be able to know what time it is.

It brought me into it in the sense that, that’s a world; you have one counter and one bed and one clock, and that’s all you have. The stakes of that world are very high, right? The closeness to having nothing. And on the flip side, there is the joy when anything shifts for the better. It’s very extreme.

Sisters

MR: Adaptation seems like a natural fit for you, because you seem to have a history of working with things that already exist. Would you say that it felt natural?

RS: I would, and I think for some people an adaptation is ‘how do I put this book on stage’ and sometimes it’s more like an abbreviation. I thought of this as a collaboration with the material. I’d also say it’s a radical rewrite. It’s an interpretation. So I get to bring what I find curious about the story, what I find curious to add to the story, my own sense of rhythm and humour, and kind of blatantly transform things about it into what I think they should be, and what I think makes it the most dramatic. I don’t feel like I adhere to the limits of the material if I don’t want to.

MR: All of your projects seem very specific, what draws you in to a project?

RS: I was just thinking how I have the world’s weirdest resume. My resume has that I worked for the show Workin’ Moms on CBC, and worked with a ballet company. It’s just very all over the place. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way at all, I think in some ways it means I don’t know myself. But I get attracted to the most random things, and I’m very fortunate also to have support and collaboration to commit to a project for a long period of time. This play has taken a year, and it’s the shortest timeline I’ve ever worked on for a play. Vitals took two years, Tomorrowlove took over two years, so I have that time to look at source material or ideas and collaborate with people. But I need something to bounce off of. Whether I’m bouncing off realities, interviews, a novel, whatever it is, I need something to hit up against, that I can add to. That can be very helpful. Limitations are very useful.

MR: If every work you do is so different, how would you define your voice? There’s got to be something about you that makes it yours, and I’m curious if you have a definition or something you always come back to?

RS: I think it’s the search for companionship. A search for connection. Even Occupy [Performing Occupy Toronto], back in the day, I thought I was doing something about politics, and of course inherently I was, but actually, I was interested in people gathering and the impossibility and the hope that everyone will be able to connect and move forward and get along with each other. I think that brings me through all of my work.

This work is about two people who are in a way living their lives right next to each other and yet there’s a gap between them, there’s a distance between them, even though they’re physically close and they’re siblings. I find the complexities of human relationships pretty consistently compelling.

Sisters

MR: Now that you are seeing the project on its feet, how does it feel? Is it what you imagined, have they done things with it you could never have pictured?

RS: There are always things you can’t picture. I’d be really disappointed if it was exactly as I imagined it. That’s the theatre, right?

MR: What did you learn about yourself as a writer through this adaptation, something you uncovered or learned through the process?

RS: I think that less is more. I’m learning over and over again that the moments I’m going to script should not leap off the page in their completion because the actors are their completion. A play is not meant to be the full experience. Leaving those gaps and leaving those spaces for where an inhale, or a tilt of the head, or a self-conscious tug of a shirt that the actor will do without planning, is going to say more than a monologue, you know? Just reminding myself over and over that this is not for a reader, this is for someone to inhabit and observe and participate in. I mean this is Drama 101, I’m saying things that everyone learns in their first anything, but then you learn it again and again.

MR: What are you excited about with this production of Sisters?

RS: I’m excited about everything. One: that it will be beautiful. It sounds beautiful, looks beautiful. It’s also a celebration of beauty in lots of ways. These characters are interested in finding a more beautiful life and in a deeper sense of that word, in finding something glorious and celebratory and delicate about life, when they don’t have a lot of things in life that they can feel that way about. One of them goes to an orchestra and experiences that, and it’s such a profound moment for that character. I think theatre is beautiful, so there’s sort of a meta-theatrical element of seeing people engage with art on stage because the sisters are experiencing art, so we are watching them experience that.

I’m honestly really excited by the performances. It’s not a paint by numbers script, it’s a very challenging piece of work with a lot of complicated subtext, and the depth of the performances is amazing to watch. I feel like I learned so much just watching them.

While being nervous, there’s nothing I’m not excited for.

Sisters

MR: How do you feel when you look back on your work at this point in your career?

RS: I’ve obviously learned a lot, and there’s a lot of eye-rolling about bad writing habits, or self-indulgent writing habits. But there was also a time in my life where I was a certain kind of brave that I’m not now, and now I’m a certain kind of brave I didn’t use to be. I think you have to appreciate the fact that you change.

MR: What inspires you today?

RS: I’m always inspired by Anika and Britta (Johnson). They’ve got a show coming up, Dr. Silver. The word ‘immersive’ gets around a lot, but they’ve really pushed it so that it’s really a communal experience, it’s like a spiritual experience that I think speaks to their relationship with music, and I think the spiritual connection they have with music.

I’m inspired right now by a lot of books – I’m reading Miranda July’s book, The First Bad Man.

MR: Very, very crazy.

RS: It’s insane!

MR: It’s so brave

RS: It’s so brave, it’s so nice because you write something and you think ‘that’s bad, that’s insanity,’ but then you read someone else’s insanity and you think ‘that’s so great!’

I’m also in a really lovey-dove phase with art and with theatre. A friend of mine said I was a theatre mom. I’m like, ‘look at them up there just risking it all! Look at this volunteer handing out programs! The world is so beautiful, can you believe this?’

I’ve just been off the charts positive and excited for everyone and all of it, all of the time. So it’s a bit much, to be honest. I’ll probably crash soon.

MR: I love that you love theatre so much. I sometimes wonder if everyone is just going to leave for TV.

RS: I think it’s important to take breaks. I was working elsewhere, right? I was working on a television show, and while I loved that as well, and the break from that is going to bring me back to television, the grass is always greener. It was the same when I went traveling for six months. I came back and stuff I’ve been complaining about for years, I was now like, ‘this is an amazing theatre! I love this theatre. I love how cute and broken the seats are.’

But it’s nice. I’m hoping to cling to the feeling because it won’t last forever. You can’t love something that much every hour of the day. It’s just not possible and that’s all part of it.

Sisters

Sisters

Who:
Rosamund Small, Playwright
Cast:
KEVIN BUNDY, Mr. Ramy
LAURA CONDLLN, Ann
NICOLE POWER, Evelina
ELLORA PATNAIK, Puffed Sleeves Lady
RAQUEL DUFFY, Nun
KAREN ROBINSON, Mrs. Mellins

Production:
PETER PASYK, Director
MICHELLE TRACEY, Set Designer
ERIKA CONNOR, Costume Designer
KIMBERLY PURTELL, Lighting Designer
RICHARD FEREN, Composer & Sound Designer
MONICA DOTTOR, Choreographer
GUILLERMO VERDECCHIA, Dramaturg
DIANE PITBLADO, Dialect Coach
KELLY MCEVENUE, Alexander Coach
SARAH MILLER, Stage Manager
ANDREA BAGGS, Assistant Stage Manager
DAVID BEN, Magic Consultant
KATHLEEN JONES, Apprentice Stage Manager

What:
Ann and Evelina have created a little corner for themselves in New York at the turn of the century. When a handsome clockmaker comes to call, the powerful bonds of sisterhood are put to the test. Inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winner Edith Wharton’s pioneering novella, Sisters shows us hidden heroism in everyday life.

Where:
Soulpepper Theatre
50 Tank House Lane
Toronto

When:
On stage now until September 16th.

Tickets:
soulpeppertheatre.ca

Connect: 
@smallrosamund
@soulpepper

 

“Challenging Canadian Audiences, Touring as a New Mom & Celebrating the Human Body Through Performance” In Conversation with Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen on THE MERKIN SISTERS

Interview by Megan Robinson.

After being blown away by The Merkin Sisters at the 2018 Toronto Fringe, we had to chat with touring Fringe artists Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen about this anything-but-average Fringe show that they are bringing across the country. A physical comedy that is a little bit Grey Gardens with a David Lynch twist, and just a dash of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it’s an outrageous piece of theatre intended for anyone that is game.

The plot is vague, but ultimately it follows the relationship of two fallen socialites (also sisters), who are joining together to try to create the ultimate piece of art by using any means necessary. What began as a quick tongue in cheek reflection of how “we” may or may not take art too seriously, has now grown into a full 70-minute show.

This may be a new collaboration between performers and creators, Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen, but they’re already planning for part two, with brainstorming sessions underway, and the assurance that with The Merkin Sisters, anything is possible.

We spoke with Hansen and Morin-Robert about collaborating on this project, challenging your audience, and celebrating the human body through performance.


MEET CUTE

Ingrid Hansen: We met touring our own projects on the Fringe circuit, and we admired each other and partied together a little bit. Then we decided to create an experiment together. We created a piece that ended up being the ten-minute intro to this show, which we first performed at a “Women in Comedy Night” in a bar in Montreal. And we received such a big response. People were blown away, they were saying, “I dont know what I just saw, but it was incredible!” So we knew we had done something tasty that we wanted to pursue together.

Stephanie Morin-Robert: I don’t think it was intentional, like, “let’s make the craziest thing ever,” it’s just what happened because our chemistry, both onstage and offstage, kind of resulted in that.

IH: And neither of us will censor each other.

SMR: We challenge each other in that way. We keep one-upping one another.

THE COLLABORATION

SMR: Because we are performers coming from very different backgrounds, it’s exciting being able to learn from each other. For me, puppetry was very new, and I’d never done that so it was great for me to take that on.

IH: The most amazing thing with the two of us is there’s just no fear. An idea gets proposed and it’s never rejected out of fear. I trust Steph. I trust her artistic sensibility, and I trust that if we’re on stage together and something is going way wrong that we’ll find our way through it together.

SMR: And it’ll probably be better than what we planned. I think we’re ready to just roll with the punches and go with whatever is offered to us. Whether it’s an audience member heckling, or somebody arriving late, or the lights cutting out too early, or whatever little mistakes happen during a run of a show. And sometimes even deciding, you know, “That was a fuck up, but let’s keep that! That worked better than what we had planned!”

WEIRD WORK, AND POLITE CANADIAN AUDIENCES

IH: I think if we took our work to other places in Europe it wouldn’t necessarily be so wild in comparison to the other shows. I don’t know, every show I’ve made and toured in Canada in the last ten years people have said is very weird. But I think Canadians are game to go there. Just be playful with them and you’ll be really surprised how far your audience will go with you.

And some people won’t, and that’s great. We have people walk out of our show sometimes – the odd person or two. I think it’s great that they feel empowered to walk out of the theatre for whatever reason. I think it’s a sign that you’re striving for something if you do elicit that response from some people. It’s not made for everybody. And if it was made for everybody, it would probably be kind of boring

I think people are on board for The Merkin Sisters especially because it’s super out there. This show is really challenging, but it’s also really fun and playful and absurd and surreal, so there’s the deliciousness of, “I dont know what I’m watching, but I love it.” And, “I can’t believe they went there, but oh they went there… and so much farther.”

TOURING AS A NEW MOM

SMR: It’s wild. I consider myself extremely lucky to have the support system I have because touring full-time is definitely a lot, especially as a new mom.

Last year I got pregnant in Orlando, so I was pregnant for our 4 and a half month tour last summer. I was performing multiple shows in multiple festivals so, any words of advice for that might be to go a little easy if you’re pregnant and a touring artist.

Baby Olive immersed in mother Stephanie Morin-Robert’s wig for show THE MERKIN SISTERS

I was just so thankful to have a performance partner and a dear friend that was so supportive. Ingrid was really helpful after the pregnancy when things got a little rocky, and I was like, “Oh gosh, am I pushing my body too much?”

I feel thankful to be able to tour and artistically stimulate myself and still plan to make new shows. My partner is also a performer. It’s really cool to have the next two years booked and to be touring and doing theatre, and doing it as a family. And when I say “family” that expands beyond just him and I and the baby; it takes a whole community for sure.

JUMPING BACK IN (AND WEARING A BATHING SUIT)

SMR: During my pregnancy, I put on like 80-something pounds. To slowly have that come on while I was performing the show just made me feel so comfortable because I was continually doing a show where I was being comfortable in my body. We did a little BC tour, and I guess I was 7 1/2 or 8 months pregnant when we did that last show.

This is the first festival where I’m back on stage and doing the show in a bathing suit since having a baby. It’s quite helpful because a lot of stuff happens to your body when you have a baby, and I feel proud to rock that, to embrace it. When I dance I feel different; parts of my body are moving differently, so much is an adjustment, but it feels great.

The most challenging part is not necessarily my body image, and being up on stage in a bathing suit, it’s energy. It’s being up at night and still strictly breastfeeding. The time commitment and the lack of sleep are definitely what I consider the hardest things.

PEOPLE LEAVE THE THEATRE WITH AN EXTRA LITTLE SPARKLE

SMR: It’s an extremely empowering show to see as a woman because we are up there, celebrating our bodies, celebrating being weird, quirky, disgusting, and we’re embracing every moment of it. And that is contagious, the same way laughter is. We’re not there spoon-feeding it and talking about it directly, but we’re up there being empowered and embracing what it is we have and celebrating it with the audience.

IH: I think it’s really liberating for people in terms of how it really celebrates everything about the human body. That’s what’s at the heart of the show for me, personally.

The Merkin Sisters

Who:
Company – SNAFU dance theatre
Created and Performed by Ingrid Hansen & Stephanie Morin-Robert

What:
A no-holds-barred physical comedy about a strangely hilarious sibling rivalry: two fallen socialites endeavour to create the Ultimate Piece of Art, using any means necessary. This vivacious romp will charm your pants off, leaving you stunned and hungry for their return. “Visually arresting & immaculately staged, with a tender heart under its hair-raising exterior.”- Winnipeg Free Press. Imagine Bette Midler meets David Lynch and Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

Find out more: 
snafudance.com

“Working With Your Ex, The Genius of Jason Robert Brown & On Dating Another Artist” In Conversation with Tess Benger & Daniel Greenberg on reconnecting for THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Performers Tess Benger and Daniel Greenberg have quite the history.

The stars of the upcoming two-person musical, The Last Five Years at Wychwood Theatre, both studied musical theatre performance together at Sheridan College, and, perhaps more interestingly, also dated for almost five years. So, when it comes to performing this relatable love story about two passionate artists, Benger and Greenberg are in the unique position of drawing from their own relationship. After all, they know intimately what each other was like as a twenty-something-year old dealing with the ups and downs of first love.

Seeing this particular story performed by artists who share a romantic past is what Benger considers one of the biggest reasons to come out and see it.

“We’re putting this show up in ten days and four years!” she tells me during our interview.

This highly popular musical by lyricist and composer Jason Robert Brown is loosely based off one of the writer’s romantic fallouts and is told following two timelines, switching between each character’s point of view. We meet the character Jamie at the beginning of the relationship, whereas we meet Cathy at the end. While his story moves forward, hers goes backward. Only briefly, in the middle of the show, do their stories intersect.

In this candid interview with Benger and Greenberg, we talked working with your ex, the genius of JRB’s work, and what they’ve discovered about themselves through their work on the show.


MR: Can we talk about how you approached working together? Did you talk about boundaries, or did you just dive in?

DG: Back in the kind of genesis of this whole thing, I was chatting one day with Stephanie Graham, our director, and she asked me if there were any girls who I had imagined doing the show opposite and I kind of looked through my Facebook friends. One of the names that stuck out for a multitude of reasons, most so the fact that we dated for four years so many years ago, was Tess! This is a show about a relationship, similar to the length of our own, about two 20-something-year-olds, which we were at the time we dated. So I said to Steph, “Tess could really do this,” and Steph said that she was on her list too, so I reached out the next day.

TB: My side of that was I was doing a show out in Edmonton and I got this Facebook message and to be honest, since breaking up, we tried to keep in touch but that’s complicated to do. I didn’t know what he was up to in his life. I wish I had video recorded some of my friends reactions to telling them about this because Daniel and I were in the same year at Sheridan so we have a tribe of friends that were a huge part of our relationship and know all about our history. So I was like, “Could I do this? Do I want to re-live this?” But luckily, Daniel’s in a really happy relationship. I’m in a really happy relationship. So there was never really a risk of this messing with our lives and I said yes right away. There was nothing else that was going to get in the way.

MR: Daniel, why is this a show that you’ve always wanted to do?

DG: I’ll be honest, at the beginning I just wanted to sing the crap out of the score. I’ve heard it sung numerous times by certain singers who I idolize and I just wanted to do it, I wanted to be able to say that I’ve done it.

MR: So it’s a bit of a dream role?

DG: Yes, it absolutely was.

MR: I find Cathy a perplexing character. She is an actor, she is struggling with her career, struggling to be happy for Jamie (her partner). Tess, as an actor yourself, what has it been like to portray the challenges of this character?

TB: There’s not one thing that happens in this show that I can’t understand. Where I’m at right now in my career, there’s not one moment in the show where I go, “How could that have happened?” And I might see another production and be like, “Jesus Christ Cathy, get your shit together!” or “Jamie stop being such an asshole!” but maybe it’s because it’s Daniel, and maybe because it’s me, I see how human it is. Because for so long there was so much love with Daniel and I. And as two people who were so good together but didn’t work out, because of little reasons… I just see the truth in it.

MR: Do you think it is hard for two artists to date?

TB: Yeah, I do. Actually my partner is an actor and he’s transitioning into a director. And it was only two nights ago that we had the “we thought this was going to be easier” conversation.

We met at the Shaw Festival as actors, and in our first season we fell in love and we thought “Oh my gosh, we’re going to work here forever.” And it’s just hard.

And there’s always going to be dark moments and we will push through it and there is a lot of hope and there’s a lot of positivity surrounding that fear, but the fear is real.

DG: I think there are wonderful benefits to both people in the relationship being artists. Our lifestyle is a really nomadic lifestyle and it takes you all over the place for a couple weeks at a time, or a couple months at a time, and everything is new to the individual so often that having an artist as a partner, they understand what that lifestyle is. You understand the kind of ebbs and flows that this lifestyle brings you as a person.

TB: Even this! Saying to your partner, “I’m going to do a show with my ex-girlfriend where we unpack all our baggage in ten days. We have to kiss and get married, okay? See you in ten days! And please buy a ticket cause I can’t get you a comp!”

DG: And artists have to be understanding because they have done that too. They know where you are coming from. But say someone who works in an office tower somewhere might not feel great about that.

MR: But even someone who understands it might still have their reservations about it, right?

TB: And even someone who works in an office tower might be very cool about it.

DG: Sure, of course.

MR: If you could give your characters any advice what advice would you give them?

DG: For Jamie I think he needs to ask for time and space from his partner and just trust that it’s going to be okay.

TB: This is a hard one. The thing that comes to mind is trust. Trust the universe, I guess? The thing is I think Cathy is talented, and I don’t know if being a broadway actor would be the result if she trusts, but I think happiness would be.

Cathy really thinks through all the thoughts in her songs so I understand her brain and I wish I knew what she needed because Jamie’s success shouldn’t ruin her. But I think it’s just trust and self-love.

MR: If you could rewrite the ending would you change the fate of their relationship?

DG: No. I don’t think I’d change it. Their story is so their own. It’s so perfect and tragic. It’s a very real story about two working artists, who just unfortunately go off in different directions.

MR: Have you guys discovered anything new about yourself through portraying these characters and this particular struggle of being a working artist trying to make love work?

DG: For me, keep communicating. Be honest with yourself. Be honest and forthright with your loved one. You’ve got to trust your love. You’ve got to trust that they will be okay.

TB: I think as a partner giving space. I think knowing who I am coming to a partnership as a complete version of myself. I think there are a lot of holes in Cathy that she keeps trying to get Jamie to fill. And the more time I take with myself doing what I need to do to feel really wonderful just makes me a better partner, so I think that’s a nice reminder.

The whole thing has also been a reminder of a really important time in my life; which was our relationship. I think to protect yourself in a breakup there comes a point where you kind of pretend it never happened and that’s been a really interesting thing… I wouldn’t say difficult… but I’ve learned that I did bury this. And how lucky am I as an artist to get to unpack it through some of the best music ever?

MR: What is a lyric that particularly speaks to you and why?

DG: There are a lot of lyrics…

TB: Oh, you know what I like? It’s at the wedding, in “The Next Ten Minutes”, when we sing “I’m gonna love you ‘till the world explodes”. I heard that for the first time today. I don’t know if you saw that, my reaction, I was like, “THAT’S GREAT!” It’s so good. It feels very good to say these words. I’ve never felt so human on stage.

DG: Also in “The Next Ten Minutes” for me, Jamie says, “There are so many lives I want to share with you.” And “There are so many dreams I need to share with you”. It’s so true. The person who is your person, the person who you love, you just want to do absolutely everything with.

MR: We’ve talked a lot about love, are there any other themes in this show that stick out to you, or that you’ve enjoyed exploring?

DG: It’s hard to talk about the show ignoring the relationship because the show is about the relationship. I think the show takes a look largely at the balance of work life and love life in both these characters. They find personal success in their industries very differently. He becomes very successful way faster than he thought he was ever going to. Whereas she tries and tries and tries and she’s super talented and she does get success but maybe not success that is as reassuring. But when one partner is super successful and the other partner isn’t, how to balance that?

TB: Time! I guess, because “The Schmule Song” wasn’t my song so I never listened to it and now that I’ve heard it a bunch in the runs and Daniel sings it to my face, I’ve recently really felt that time is something, especially I think as an artist… Give yourself time. Take time to pay attention.

MR: Can you each ask each other one question?

TB: What’s it like doing this show with me!?

DG: Honestly, I get flashes of our relationship ages ago. There are moments where I’m like, “She’s pretty cool. She’s pretty great. I got a lot of feelings for her.” But on the flip side, I’m like, “Oh my god, Tess, relax please.”

(Tess laughs)

DG: I think that probably goes both ways though, I think Tess probably thinks the same about me.

My question: Was your initial reaction to me asking you to do the show, and be honest, was it immediate or did you have to…

TB: …It was immediate! I checked with my boyfriend to make sure he was comfortable with it and then I said yes right away. That’s your question!?

(they laugh)

MR: Final question, how do you feel that each other has changed and grown since school, now that you’re working with each other as professionals?

TB: Daniel’s gotten more confident, more self-deprecating. His neck has gotten bigger, which I noticed in a scene. And his voice has grown a lot. As a performer he’s grown so much. You know there’s only so much people can do in school. You really learn by doing in this business.

DG: Tess has always been a fantastic actress, fantastic performer. One of the big things I’ve seen spending these last 9 days with her is she’s really become more comfortable, more confident with who she is and she’s able to bring that into her work and it’s a really lovely thing to see. She’s so open-hearted and talented and caring and ridiculous but all in the best ways. It’s.. it’s really been quite an experience to have her agree to do this with me. Just cause we both have grown so much in very different ways.

TB: Mostly his neck though…

DG: Apparently!

(they laugh)

The Last Five Years

Who:
Directed by Stephanie Graham
Music Direction by Chris Tsujiuchi
Starring: Tess Benger & Daniel Greenberg
Lighting Designer: Jareth Li
Stage Manager: Thalia Kane

What:
The Last Five Years is an emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers in their twenties who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. The show’s unconventional structure consists of Cathy Hiatt, the woman, telling her story backwards while Jamie Wellerstein, the man, tells his story chronologically.

Where:
Wychwood Theatre, Artscape Wychwood Barns
601 Christie Street, Studio 176
Toronto, Ontario
M6G 4C7

When:
Five performances only!
July 27th: 7:30pm
July 28th: 1:00pm & 7:30pm
July 29th: 1:00pm & 7:30pm

Tickets:
$30 – General Admission
$25 – Arts Worker
TheLastFiveYearsYRG.brownpapertickets.com

“From TV Pilot to Site-Specific Musical & On Keeping Open to Options and Optimism” In Conversation with Kris Hagen on LIGHTERS IN THE AIR at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Jared Bishop.

Kris Hagen, often known for his comedy or his role as ‘Sketchy Looking Dude’ on Kim’s Convenience, brings his original music to the Toronto Fringe Festival. Lighters in the Air, the first show by Dive Bar Productions, is a site-specific musical set in a bar where the mic is always open. I spoke with Kris about how the story kept developing from TV Pilot, to feature, to site-specific musical, what it’s like wearing many hats with this show and on how he lives his life by keeping open to options, optimism and surrounding himself with good people.

The show is performed in the Monarch Tavern, this is where we met to chat about the show. We move throughout the space during our conversation. We start the interview with Kris behind the bar.

Kris Hagen: Water?

Jared Bishop: Yes, please.

KH: (looking over at their stage setup) I just realized I had left the table there. I kept running into it last night. There is always something to keep it fresh every night!

JB: Wait, so last night there was a table on stage that wasn’t meant to be there?

KH: Yeah, that little table there in front of the couch wasn’t supposed to be there so last night I am like walking and talking and walking backwards and it’s like right there and I am running into it.

Kris is walking me through the space, reliving moments from the show the night before.

JB: When did you know you were going to use this space?

KH: Well, basically when I decided to put it on as a live show, I thought that this space would suit the bar in this story. I had written this as a TV pilot, this was a few years ago, and I thought if I was to film it, this would be a great place to film. And I still had this place in my mind when I decided to make it into a live show. I know the Monarch has had Fringe shows before so they were perfect people to approach. When they agreed to do it, I adapted the film script into the live show. I could really visualize the space. I just thought this setup, apart from these pillars, was perfect, but I guess there will always be something when you’re working with a different space.

JB: The pillars though, they were written into the script and they even become a character in the story. This is an example of what impressed me with your use of the space. It felt like this show couldn’t happen anywhere else. What other unexpected challenges came up for you?

KH: So apparently we have the worst lighting board in history over there and these are the lights to the bar, so there are two places to change the lights on stage. So we just thought to get the cast to do it and that became part of the story as time went on. We didn’t have to bring in any other lights except for an LED strip along the base of the bar.

JB: How long was your cast in this space before the start of Fringe?

KH: We were able to get in and do a fair amount of rehearsals here starting a month ago. Being a Fringe show with a 9 person cast, everyone wasn’t always available. It was great to have the space to work with small groups in the cast. Trying to transfer a script into a site-specific space, I have never really done that. Taking a square rehearsal space and trying to move all of that into here, it would have been a nightmare. Being able to be in here saved us a lot, it just made the show feel more polished with transitions and lighting. All of that stuff would not have been possible without earlier access to this space, so we got lucky. It was fun to problem solve in a space like this.

JB: When did you start writing the story you tell in Lighters in the Air?

KH: It was originally a TV pilot. I had all these songs I had written over the years and I hadn’t done enough with them, so I started this TV pilot idea, setting it in the Toronto music and busking scene, having each episode feature one of my original songs. From there, I adapted the story into a feature film. In terms of story, it kept shifting a little bit with each version. It evolved over time. Focusing the story in a dive bar with the final version that we have now all came to me in January and February when I knew I had to adapt it for this space. It sat in the back of my mind for about a month, and then one day within an hour I had every scene finished. It all just came to the surface.

JB: Musically, where do you find inspiration?

KH: I think I’m drawn to the idea of music being a soundtrack to life. I have tended to write more sad ballads because, when I turn to write, it is more often than not when things aren’t going that well in life. I am just home by myself and the guitar is kind of my therapist so I pick it up and start improvising songs. I think it’s very helpful. It’s helped me stay calm just having those songs and, at any time, having that ability to write.

JB: How has it been wearing all of these different hats in a production? Is it something you have done before?

KH: I have done it but not like this… maybe for a short film or web series… there was some significant effort before but not like this. I have been living off of coffee and potato chips for a month. I have lost 15 pounds, so right after this I am heading back to the Good Life. But I just feel like I got to keep going. Once you get a great cast and crew together you feel responsible to do it for them, as well. I have two great assistant directors and the cast is great. It has become very collaborative. I want to be sure to be in the scenes and present when I’m acting, so it’s good to have those eyes on the outside. And everyone gets along so well, it’s a great group.

JB: Are there other parts of this experience you feel are important to share?

KH: It’s an art-imitates-life sort of thing for me. The story is about personal relationships and how important they are in a community. The dive bar is this community, it’s in rougher times but those bonds between people persist through that. Just working with this group, I think we have imitated that. Building a community out of nothing. It’s that experience for me that’s been the most fun. We are all pleased to have met each other and to be working together. We have fun and we try to bring that energy to the audience. Hopefully we are achieving that with this show.

I have always wanted to do more with music. Did that inspire me to do this show? Or is it inspiring me to focus on the music side and record an album and do more live shows? I am not sure at the moment.

JB: Your character said the exact same thing on stage

KH: Just not sure what to do next, right? As long as you have some options and some optimism and some good people around you to work with, you can always do something.

JB: I like that, options and optimism.

KH: Yeah, you find it by pursuing things actively and pursuing relationships openly and accepting. I am trying to cultivate that in my own life. Being active and optimistic can go a long way.

Lighters in the Air

What:
A musician named Leo returns to his former hangout, The Empty, a dive bar where the mic is always open.

Lighters in the Air will feature original songs by Hagen as well as nightly guest performances by some of the brightest talent in the Toronto music and comedy scenes, including Laura Tremblay (Jukebox Hero: The Musical; Stage West Calgary’s Legally Blonde: The Musical), Ben Beauchemin (Kim’s Convenience, Saving Hope), Ted Morris (Yuk Yuk’s, Just for Laughs, Sirius XM), and more!

Where:
The Monarch Tavern
12 Clinton St.
Toronto
Ontario

Who:
Company: Dive Bar Theatre
Creator: Kris Hagen
Assistant Directors: Kristen MacCulloch & Steven Holmberg
Cast: Natalia Bushnik, Balinda Corpus, Cody Crain, Anna Douglas, Rachael Fisher, Kris Hagen, Olaf Sham, Amanda Silcoff, Taylor Wittaker

Remaining Shows:
July 14th 3:00pm
July 15th 7:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

 

 

 

“Making Improv Magic, The Value of Play & Working with Colin Mochrie” In Conversation with Liz Johnston & Mimi Warshaw on ENTRANCES AND EXITS at the 2018 Fringe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

The concept of Entrances and Exits, a new farce on stage now as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, is a complicated one. To make things more complicated, it’s also entirely improvised!

This impressive and unscripted farce is split into two parts; with the first twenty minutes playing out in the living room with a series of entrances and exits into and out of the bedroom and then restarting a second time with the same scenario, but set in the bedroom. This requires that the cast do an instant replay of sorts; filling in the blanks of the story, hitting all the main plot points, and eventually culminating with a satisfying resolution. And hopefully they can make us laugh along the way.

Somehow, the cast pulls this off without any planning and with very minimal mid-show discussion.

We sat down with actor, improviser, Bad Dog Theatre Company member and Entrances and Exits co-creator Liz Johnston and Howland Company member and E&E production manager Mimi Warshaw to figure out how they make that improv magic happen, some common misconceptions about improv, and, of course, what it’s like working with Colin Mochrie.


Megan Robinson: What does a rehearsal look like for this type of improvised show?

Mimi Warshaw: Paolo (Santalucia, the director) brought a lot of his acting training into it and was really interested in playing with characters, discovering characters and trying on some clown work. So that was the beginning, just to play. That helped to know how everyone worked. That was the focus of the first half.

The last month and a half was about finding the show. And it grew in pieces. There was a lot of, “Let’s play with one room, then the next room, now let’s see what happens if we flip the set.”

A lot of playing and coming back and saying, “How did that feel? What worked? What can we do better?”

MR: Is there anything not improvised? What might be consistent throughout the show? The characters? Anything?

Liz Johnston: You really don’t know what will happen.

MW: I’ve seen maybe a dozen versions, maybe more, and no two shows have been the same.

MR: How much do you play for each other and how much is for the audience?

LJ: The audiences have been really generous, so I think we’ve been playing a lot for the audience. The thing about improv is that you also get the joy of making each other laugh. There are so many fabulous moments where someone will say something, and you just can’t help it. And the audience feels kind of in on it because they know it’s improvised. That’s really joyful. That’s what I love more than any kind of theatre, where you can really have everybody be on the same page, and they can be like, “I know exactly why this is funny. I was here for every part of it.”

MR: What is a myth or misconception about improv?

MW: I firmly believe that people think improv is just people going up and being funny. But I think good improv is funny because it’s recognizable. When I’m at an improv show, there’s always somebody who gives a suggestion like, ‘we’re in a volcano at the end of the earth.’

And I’m like, ‘we’ll never be there so…’ Maybe it would be funny, but I’m more interested in seeing somebody in a bakery having a traumatic moment and seeing the comedy in that.

I don’t know if it’s a misconception, but I like seeing reality on stage, and I think there’s comedy in that. I think that’s funnier than just a bunch of jokes.

I also think people are terrified of doing improv because they think they aren’t funny…

LJ: Another thing is that it’s nice to have people now recognize that there really are different styles of improv, that are all valuable.

So you can go to an improv show and have big laughs and fast scenes and big characters and enjoy that just as much as going to see something like this longer narrative unfold and have unexpected turns, more dramatic moments, and have them both be beautiful and both be improv.

I don’t want to run into a trap here… I love short-form improv. I love games (an easy thing to describe it as is what you see on Whose Line Is It Anyway). There’s so much joy in that, and there’s so much talent in being able to do that well. It’s truly harder than anything else. So I never want to say those aren’t worth as much as a long-form unscripted piece of theatre.

MR: So farce is very slapstick and physical. How do you improvise that sort of thing? Or do you?

MW: It’s not just physical, it leans towards the improbable, leans towards the ridiculous, so it doesn’t need to be grounded to reality. And we definitely do that. As much as there’s still truth, it still has that sense of play.

The other thing I’ve been told about farce is it doesn’t need to have to have a moral. It can just be a really beautifully fun and hilarious time.

LJ: I always forget we have so many different definitions we’ve gone through describing what farce is, but again leaning towards the improbable.

Like: There’s a dead body in the other room, this is true, what else is true? It’s not about calling the cops or trying to figure out what happened. It’s us trying to be like, “Okay, there’s a body in the other room, but we also have to make sure everything’s fine for the party.”

We like the fact that as much as it is ridiculous, it’s all stuff that could happen. It’s all about the foibles of humanity and the relationships between people and it takes those tensions that might already exist, those love affairs that exist, and heightens them to the point of the ridiculous.

MR: Must be fun!

LJ: It is nice to escape a little bit. Which is not to say that we don’t deal with the issues of what’s going on in reality, but because it is so focused on just relationships between individuals and how silly and absurd they can be, it is a bit of an escape to get to go there and just live in that ridiculous and joyful place.

MR: Have you ever showed up to rehearsal and been in the shittiest mood and not been able to find that joy?

LJ: I had one where it was an 11 pm show, and I had just done D&D Live!, which is another show that I LOVE, and it’s so funny and also improvised. I’d done that earlier in the day and I’d done another show, so I came to do the 11pm show, and I was so zonked. I could not find my energy. But it’s the same thing that happens for any performer; the audience starts to come in, you have the cast around you, you put on your costume, and you’re like, “This is the best thing ever! What’s next?”

So it’s a nice medication for tiredness.

MR: Some of the best questions can come from inside the process. Do you have a question you’d like to ask each other about your experience within the show?

MW: Liz, when you’re standing backstage, and you’re like, “I need to figure out what I’m bringing to this scenario”, what’s that process like? How do you feel in that moment?

LJ: I don’t know. I really don’t think about it. I like to just go on stage. That’s the kind of classic improv thing: if you can really get used to just trusting yourself to go onstage.

Just open the door, going, “Here we are! What happens next?”

MW: In the show, how much awareness do you have of the bedroom when you’re in the living room?

LJ: I usually have an idea of what I think is going on. And everybody is so good at having their own ideas.

We talk about this in improv, it’s called “group mind” where everyone sort of ends up on the same page without discussing it at all.

The number of times that will happen with this show… I mean, it’s the magic of it!

MR: So the magic of it is a surprise to the improvisers too? I know as an audience member, that’s how it feels. Those moments feel…

LJ: Totally, you come back, and you’re just like wow! It feels so wild.

MR: What about pushing boundaries?

LJ: You check in. You talk about it, whether it’s physical touching or subjects you can touch on that may be a boundary. Even just one night, with my nose bleeds, and I was like, “Listen, guys, it might happen. I have tissue in my pocket. I’m okay, it’s okay.” And any of those types of conversations, you just need to have them. And we’ve had those. Any good cast will talk about it constantly.

MW: There are moments where people will say things, and we’ve had this in rehearsals, where somebody will take a dive, and be like, “I’m going to propose something…”

But our cast is really supportive and really knows each other and so they’re able to support them. And that’s what I love about improv – you can do something, and guaranteed, five people will say we’ve got your back, we’ve got you, we’ll take care of you.

There have definitely been moments where you need to be risky, but these people handled that with such care, and such responsibility, they made it so safe.

LJ: Anyone who is making a faux pas, it’s coming from a place of fear.

The biggest thing in improv is you need to go on stage making a choice to make everyone else look as good as possible so if you can do that, if everybody is doing that, then everybody is going to look great. You’re setting up everyone else to succeed. You can’t do that if you’re undercutting them or sacrificing them for a laugh or commenting on something for the sake of the audience.

MR: Lastly, tell me about working with Colin Mochrie!

LJ: He’s just the most generous man.

It’s such a generous thing to do; to know your name will lend fame, or excitement to someone’s show. He does that so willingly and generously.

He did this exercise with us, which is really difficult. Everyone was struggling to keep up and we started playing with the format of the game so it got faster and went backwards and forwards, so fast! But Colin was having no trouble, just breezing through it. Everyone know’s how funny he is and how sharp, but good lord the man is fast. And so present. We’re so excited to have him on the show!

Entrances and Exits

Who:
Presented by The Howland Company in association with Bad Dog Comedy Theatre
Created by Liz Johnston & Ruth Goodwin
Director: Paolo Santalucia
Starring: Ghazal Azarbad, Conor Bradbury, Nigel Downer, Dylan Evans, Ruth Goodwin, Liz Johnston, Connor Low
Designed by: Christian Horoszczak
Production Manager: Mimi Warshaw

What:
A completely improvised play based on the structure of traditional farces we love like “The Norman Conquests” and “Noises Off”.

Where:
FACTORY THEATRE – MAINSPACE
125 Bathurst St
Toronto
Ontario
M5V 2R2

When:
13th July – 7:30pm
14th July – 9:15pm
15th July – 12:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

In Conversation with artist Tom McGee on Being a Dramaturge, Collaborating with Kat Sandler and Embracing His Own Style as Playwright & Director with FEATHERWEIGHT at the Fringe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Tom McGee is a story nerd, with a resume to prove it.

Behind every hit Theatre Brouhaha show has been McGee, working as the diligent dramaturge alongside playwright Kat Sandler. He has been there helping her craft the hilarious, dark and punchy scripts we’ve all come to expect from this ambitious company.

With their newest production, Featherweight, McGee is swapping places with Sandler. While McGee steps into the roles of writer and director, Sandler is working as both producer and dramaturge.

Featherweight is a dark comedy that promises to be as relevant as your Facebook feed and to prompt your most heated post-show debates (did you see Bang Bang?), remaining faithful to the Brouhaha mandate of creating theatre for the Netflix generation.

Brouhaha’s fast-paced shows speak to what is in the zeitgeist; this is a company that understands it is competing not only with other theatre but with all digital content. And the company has a creative process that moves as quick as their dialogue. In this age of content, it’s important to McGee that each show gets put on stage quickly, while the story is still topical. Rather than two years of development, a Brouhaha show gets more like two months (the script will get a little longer). Concerning the longevity of this style of theatre, McGee believes that it’s the memory of the play and the experience of the audience that matters more than it’s potential success in the unlikely event of a remount. Plus, at the rate Sandler and McGee can whip up a script, McGee would sooner come up with a new show that can speak to what is happening in the current moment anyway.

I got to speak with Tom to get his thoughts on the struggles of dramaturgy and learning to embrace his own writing style.


On Working with Brouhaha and Kat Sandler

Tom McGee: I’ve worked in some capacity on all of Kat’s scripts, with the exception of her long-forgotten piece Dirty Girls, which she did in the Fringe. Even Mustard and Bang Bang; I was a consulting dramaturge on both of those. Often Kat will hire me on the side because Factory and Tarragon will have their own dramaturges (who are excellent) but I’ve been working with Kat so long that our short-hand is so good. She can basically call me up and be like, “You know that thing I’m always worried about? This scene.” And I’ll be like, “Oh ya, I see what you’re talking about – how about this, this, this, and this?” And she’ll be like, “Great! Thank you! I needed that.”

As a Dramaturge, If You’re Doing Your Job Right, You’re Invisible

TM: Tom Arthur Davis, one of the guys who runs Pandemic Theatre, wrote a really interesting piece around the Dora Awards about depression and dramaturgy, “Being Nominated For An Award Made Me Suicidal,” and it’s pretty intense, but he touches on something about dramaturgy that I’ve certainly struggled with. It’s the same thing that a good editor will encounter on a film or in a novel which is; the job is to make the writer’s work as good as the writer’s work can be, and there isn’t a ton of credit in that. Aside from the writer’s indulgence at the end of the novel, that everyone usually skips, where the writer will say, “Oh my god, I can’t fucking describe how much I need my editor”, and everyone goes, “I don’t know who that is but I loved your book!”

Dramaturgy can often be that way and I struggled with that for a long time.

Kat and I are very dear friends, and she’s always been very appreciative of what I’ve done, but the first Brouhaha show we did was very, very tough.

I was producing it, and I dramaturged it, and I was a ghost. At the time I was hell-bent on being an actor, and I just helped make this company, and my name was all over the show, but I felt completely invisible. And it was really hard.

For me what ended up really helping was getting an art therapist. What I’ve been working on with her, which has been tremendously helpful, is unpacking those feelings of invisibility and how to accept personal credit when there isn’t necessarily big, flashy, showy credit. It’s definitely a struggle. Every part of the arts comes with a cost and I think this is the big one for dramaturgy.

Tom Arthur Davis summed it up in his piece, something along the lines of, your job is basically to facilitate other people’s brilliance… and that’s cool, and there’s huge satisfaction in that. Like when I can make one of Kat’s pieces click, which is what we call it: the click. It’s that moment where she’ll be like, “Great, got it, thanks,” and then she hangs up and goes and punches out like a billion pages. That feels tremendously satisfying.

Photo Credit: John Gundy. Michael Musi as Jeff in FEATHERWEIGHT

On Swapping Roles With Sandler

TM: Honestly, we’re both nerds for story so this is has always been both a job and a hobby for us. The number of times that we’re like, “Okay, we’re both really stressed. Let’s just go out and get a drink and not talk about this,” and then, of course, we end up talking about it because it’s fun!

Early on the struggle that Kat was having working as my dramaturge was she’d say, “I’m always going to try to make your script more like my scripts.” And in my head, I’m thinking Thats fucking great, your scripts are great. Let’s do that! So we had a few, not necessarily growing pains, but I had to adjust to being a little more assertive about my style and what I actually liked about my script.

I had a reading of what was supposed to be the production Featherweight script, right before we were about to go into rehearsals and it was rough. A lot of the criticisms, all fair, where people were kind of being like, “Is this what you were trying to say?” and, no one had said it outright, but it was a lot of that classic, “It’s very interesting” and I was like, “Oh shit, no one likes this…”

So I’m on the subway on the way home and Megan Miles, my wife, was like, “Do you even like this play anymore”? And I was like, “No, actually… I fucking hate it.”

I was writing some short story at the same time that was just completely bonkers and I was like, “I like this short story! It’s fun. But this play is so weighed down, and I don’t know what to do… blah blah blah.” Just admitting that got me thinking that I needed to re-write it the way I would like it to be, and suddenly it all just clicked into place! What is funny is this draft of Featherweight that’s onstage now is actually closer to the very first draft I wrote. It’s come completely full circle. Even though the characters are different, and their arguments are different, and what’s going on is kind of different, it feels more like the original because that’s when I was expressing the style I actually wanted.

Because I look up to Kat and I like Kat’s style so much I took every note as gospel. You know, my style is strange, and Kat and I have a similar tone but a different style, so I had to kind of grab hold of my own style harder for this show. Which she, again, had been advocating for the whole damn time, but just not necessarily in terms I was understanding.

Photo Credit: John Gundy
L-R: Kat Letwin as Thoth, Michael Musi as Jeff, Amanda Cordner as Anubis in FEATHERWEIGHT

A Very Brouhaha Directing Process

TM: We always work our stuff on its feet and what is on stage is wildly different than what I went in with on the first day of rehearsal. We’ve cut a bunch, we’ve changed some things, we’ve tailored it to the performers, but I’ve never run that process. I’ve always dramaturged that process, Kat’s always been the leader of that. So at first, I wasn’t sure if I could do that myself. But despite how different I am as a director and a writer, ultimately the rehearsal style ended up still being a very Brouhaha process.

That Brouhaha Style 

TM: What’s been really nice is that even just from the reviews no one has been like, “Oh this is really different from a normal Brouhaha show.” Everyone’s just taking it as a Brouhaha show, which means a lot to me. It has been many, many years, and it’s very nice to put my name and style to one of these things and have audiences respond to it in a way that I would hope for. I’ve been thinking about these audiences for a long time.

Making the Job Work for You

For me, the solution was to find ways to keep working on my own style to fill in the gaps. In this case, it was writing short stories and basically just doing things that, even if they don’t really have wide reach, they fill that need for me to be creating and developing my own voice.

I love dramaturgy. I don’t think I could make it my only output, but that’s also just me. I’ve got a really restless brain and on the one hand that’s great for dramaturgy because I always like to be chewing on something, but if I’m only chewing on other people’s stuff I tend to get restless, so it works as long as I have multiple things to sink my teeth into.

Featherweight

Who:
Director – Tom McGee
Cast – Amanda Cordner as ANUBIS
Michael Musi as JEFF
with Kat Letwin as EVERYONE ELSE
and Ammit as THE DEVOURER OF HEARTS
Producers – Kat Sandler, Tom McGee

What:
Upon dying, Jeff awakes in a bar full of ancient gods that will weigh his browser history against a feather to determine if he was a good person… or face damnation. Equal parts ‘American Gods’ and ‘Twelve Angry Men,’ FEATHERWEIGHT asks: what effect does our online life have on others? Will Jeff’s browser history damn him? Would it damn you? From the minds behind BRIGHT LIGHTS (NNNNN) and SHAKEY-SHAKE AND FRIENDS (NNNNN)

Where:
THE PADDOCK TAVERN
178 Bathurst Street
Toronto
Ontario

When:
12th July – 8:00pm
13th July – 8:00pm
14th July – 8:00pm
15th July – 8:00pm

Tickets:
Featherweight is SOLD OUT online but you can always show up early at the venue and try your luck at the door!

 

Photo of Tom McGee by James McKay