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“Collaboration, Character-Driven Plays & 90s Pop Culture” A Chat with David Mackett, James Wallis & Julia Nish-Lapidus on DUBLIN CAROL by Conor McPherson, November 14-26

Interview by Hallie Seline.

We had the pleasure of connecting with David Mackett, James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus to discuss their latest collaboration on Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol presented by Fly on the Wall Theatre. We spoke about what drew them to explore McPherson’s plays, working with director Rod Ceballos, and riffing off the play’s setting in the 90s, we do a little 90s Rapid Fire Question session on bands, trends, and catchphrases, because… how could you not?!

HS: Tell me a bit about the show and what it’s like working on it.

James Wallis: Dublin Carol is set in the back room of a funeral home in Dublin on Christmas Eve. John is running the funeral home because his boss, the mortician Noel, is in the hospital; John’s showing the ropes to young Mark, Noel’s nephew (played by moi!), on a day when his estranged daughter tells him that his ex-wife is dying from cancer. The play deals with John confronting his past, present, and future – the choices he is making and those he will make. John is a realist but also full of fantasy. McPherson is a master at understanding the grief underneath the common man. John is broken and tries to confront his former demons but he’s also unwilling to see his complacency and hypocrisy in his life. It’s been a great pleasure to work on such a deeply sad play, and amazing to work on a play about intimate conversations and emotions. Since the majority of the work I do is Shakespeare, the sparse, yet detailed text is a joyful challenge.

HS: Tell me about working with director Rod Ceballos on this.

JW: I’ve known Rod for years but never worked for him. He’s a diligent director, always thinking about what is being said and done in the moment. He’s challenging to his actors: What’s going on right now? What do you need out of this moment?

It’s been a great lesson to watch him and David Mackett working together. They’ve spent a lot of time working together and it shows. Their professionalism and creativity is evident. They work carefully and with constant focus on John’s inner world.

Rod has a great deal of experience to offer an actor, and it’s been a great pleasure to learn and work with him. Plus, he’s a good guy. The room is full of friends working on a play with passion and hard work. That’s all I care about.

HS: David, what is it about Conor McPherson’s work that draws you to it and excites you?

David Mackett: I was first introduced to McPherson’s work when I was approached to do a site-specific production of The Weir, produced by MackenzieRo as part of the 2004 Toronto Fringe. What immediately struck me about his plays is how character-driven they are – McPherson has said in interviews that not much happens in his plays (i.e. there’s not a lot of “action”, as it were), but as the play progresses, you are gradually drawn into the inner lives of the characters you are observing – their feelings of grief, loneliness, and regret. And that’s what really excites me about his work – exploring the inner emotional lives of these characters through what is said, and perhaps more importantly, what is not said. In each of the McPherson plays I’ve worked on, something happens that forces the characters to re-examine their lives – the choices they’ve made – often leaving them with a suspicion that they’ve let life pass them by. I think that’s what we all wonder about: whether we are, in fact, seizing every opportunity that comes our way, and living our own lives to the fullest.

HS: If your audience could listen to one song/band/album before coming to see the show, what would it be?

DM: Dante’s Prayer by Loreena McKennitt

HS: I heard this show is set in the 90s, which I am ALWAYS into. Let’s do some…

90s Rapid Fire Questions

JW & DM: Julia Nish-Lapidus is a huge 90s pop culture fan/enthusiast, so we leave it to her to handle this rapid fire round:

Favourite 90s band:
Julia Nish-Lapidus: All Saints! Deborah Cox! Mariah! Jimmy Ray?

Favourite 90s fashion:
JNL: Platform shoes. I even had platform flip-flops, which were not comfortable. Though I always wanted to dress like Angela from My So-Called Life, and she would never wear those.

Favourite 90s movie:
JNL: Clueless… Empire Records.

Favourite 90s trend:
JNL: Inflatable housewares. I had a chair, an ottoman, a garbage can, and a Kleenex box holder.

What would be your 90s sitcom catchphrase?
JNL: Hop to it!

If you could give your 90s self one piece of advice, what would it be?
JNL: Stop pretending you’re too cool to like boy bands. We all know you went to an O-Town concert.

Describe the show in 5-10 words.
David:
Dublin. Christmas Eve. A visit. A man’s own ghosts. Whiskey. A chance.
James: An intimate Christmas sorrowful story time
Julia: Loss, loneliness, regret, and a chance at redemption.

Dublin Carol

Who:
Written by Conor McPherson
Presented by Fly on the Wall Theatre
Directed by Fly on the Wall’s Co-Artistic Producer, Rod Ceballos
Featuring: David Mackett, James Wallis and Julia Nish-Lapidus
Production Design by Patrick Brennan
Stage Manager: Cora Matheson

What:
Dublin undertaker, John Plunkett, is a man haunted by his past – a past he would sooner forget. It’s the morning of Christmas Eve and he’s back in his office with his new assistant, after overseeing an early morning funeral. Then an unexpected visit from his estranged daughter throws his daily routine into turmoil. It’s a visit that forces him to confront the ghosts of his past…but one that offers him a final opportunity to make things right.

Where:
Artscape Youngplace
180 Shaw Street, Toronto

When:
November 14 – 26, 2017

Tickets:
$15-$25
Preview (Tuesday, November 14): $15
Tuesday – Saturday: $25
Sunday Matinee: $20
flyonthewalltheatre.ca

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“Loyalty, Musicality, Family and Leaving Home” In Conversation with Jeff Ho, creator and performer of “trace” at Factory Theatre

Interview by Bailey Green.

We spoke with Jeff Ho about his play trace, opening at Factory Theatre on November 16th (in association with b current performing arts). trace follows Ho’s own bloodline and lineage, from his great-grandmother, to his mother, to himself. The audience travels along with the journeys his family chose, or were forced to choose, over the course of their lifetimes. This two piano, one man chamber play spans decades and continents. Ho is the composer, writer and performer of the play. We spoke with Ho about loyalty, musicality, family and leaving home.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Bailey Green: Can you tell me what sparked the desire to create trace?

Jeff Ho: I started writing trace when I was still at school at the National Theatre School. During second year, we have a component where we write our own solo show. I worked with Yael Farber, and she often says “What do your ancestors demand you speak?” and in my family we have this secret: My great grandma, she had my grandpa but she also had another son, and during World War 2 she had to make, well essentially, a “Sophie’s Choice” and she had to leave a son, my great-uncle, behind. From that deep guilt and shame, she never spoke of him. I did a lot of archaeological digging, looking at when she had run to Hong Kong after the Japanese invaded and set up internment camps. There was so much unspoken, like Unit 731 and essentially a Chinese holocaust. So I wrote a long form poem, trying to speak out for all of the atrocities and how she [my great-grandmother] ran most likely because of them. And Yael said that these stories end with me now, so I began working on all of this to trace and acknowledge and try to unearth my own history.

BG: Did you interview your mother or other family members? What did you learn through this process and did it change how you saw your family?

JH: It was super cool as a way to connect to my own mom. In a lot of ways, I paralleled the lost son in my family. I ran away from home to Montreal and it was a second rift trying to not disappear in my own family. So talking to her was this way of hearing all of these childhood stories, which was so important to me. My great grandmother… she was a lioness. She was a modern women, she smoked and she never married again. “I’m happy with my one son. I’m happy to live here now. I’m good.” And that’s what she was like. I would often bring my partner over during the interviews and so my mother spoke these stories in English. She would say, “Your uncle, he swam and swam and swam and he got there,” and found the most basic ways to communicate these epic stories. I got to see a picture of my mom when she came to Canada — a woman without any English, without my father, with two sons — and also who she is now.

BG: You have gone through multiple phases of development with the script. What are you learning so far in rehearsal?

JH: I’m learning about how to give all of myself. Composing the music and playing piano, that was director Nina [Lee Aquino]’s idea. Piano is something I have grown up with since I was 5. It’s another way to give myself through music. 

Jeff Ho in trace. Photo Credit: Marko Kovacevic

BG: Can you tell me more about your relationship to the piano, both as a musician and as a composer?

JH: I started in Hong Kong at 5, it was seen as a good skill set for me to have. I totally went into it adverse, but knew I had to appease my parents. I found my love for performance, though I never got along with any of my piano teachers. But I loved the applause! How I write and how I act stems through musicality, the mood of something. And any other language is just music and that really bridged the gap for me when my english was far worse [then it is now].

BG: The music of language is in the show, as well. Canto is such a musical language.

JH: Canto is always there for me. There are things that I just don’t know how to articulate in English. [Cantonese is] so succinct, it takes four words to say what it takes a paragraph to say in English. With Great Grandma and how she dealt with her kids and how she spoke her stories, it was important to include. We hear text from the women and the men speak through music. I didn’t want the men to speak, I wanted to hear the women and what they wanted to say, and we get the intention and feeling from the men from the piano.

BG: Tell me about working with Nina Lee Aquino.

JH: It’s a new relationship. I have known her as mentor, as teacher, as dramaturge, but I have never worked with her as director. We have a shorthand, but she loves using pop culture references and as an immigrant, sometimes I get lost! It’s a fluid and natural evolution. There’s a frankness to it. She will never let me off the hook, I can never hide in my words or anything, she will challenge me to get there and not to be precious.

BG: trace is so personal. What has been the greatest challenge creating it?

JH: In giving back and acknowledging my family, I have always dealt with the guilt of leaving my home. As a teenager I felt theatre was a greater calling but I was truly breaking my mother’s heart. There was a lot of ‘you’re a terrible son, you don’t honour our family’, and I can’t [honour them] in the way they want me to. I’m nomadic and mobile and artistic. But I can honour them in the way that I know, through everything I love.

BG: Have they seen it in any form?

JH: My mom has read snippets of it. I’ll transcribe things she’s said and show them to her. I’m excited and nervous for sure. Memory is fiction, and so I want to honour and reveal truths about our family.

BG: What are some of your inspirations right now?

JH: Yael Farber. When I get down on myself or I don’t know what I want to do, I read interviews with Yael Farber. She is the most articulate, does not settle for anything less than the painful truth, and she wants to shed light on what we’re capable of. I pull out my guts and get back to work. I’ve been wrapped up in Chopin, Rachmaninoff, the more turbulent composers. And Bijork’s song Black Lake, it’s about a pain and trauma in her family, and it’s 10 minutes long.

trace

Who:
Written by and starring Jeff Ho
A Factory production in association with b current performing arts
Directed by Nina Lee Aquino

What:
trace follows three generations of mother and son from the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong to Canada in the 21st century. Combining virtuosic original piano compositions with an incredible performance and lyrical text, this exquisite and stimulating one man chamber play offers a new look into the lasting implications of sacrifice across generations.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio Theatre
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

When:
November 11-December 3

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

Connect:
@kjeffho

In Conversation with Jay Turvey & Jeff Irving on “existential thriller” GRIMLY HANDSOME at The Assembly Theatre

Interview by Megan Robinson

“You’re a mouse in my hands. You’re safe.” – Grimly Handsome (Director Jay Turvey’s favourite quote)

The excitement that director Jay Turvey and actor Jeff Irving share for their upcoming production of Grimly Handsome, starting November 4th at The Assembly Theatre, is infectious. “You’re listening to people on the cusp of inspiration right now,” Irving says with a laugh.

Grimly Handsome is the first production of their new theatre company, Theatre Animal, as well as the play’s Canadian premiere. At one point in our phone interview, Irving bounces between some ideas for their company’s creative future, telling me, “our limit is our imagination.” Creating their own work is something they’ve been talking about for years.

The director and the cast of Grimly are all ensemble members at the Shaw Festival and they’ve been rehearsing the production in Niagara-on-the-Lake on and off for a couple of months now. With load-in happening the day after the interview, Turvey and Irving are looking forward to being in the new space that Unit 102 and Leroy Theatre have created near Queen and Jameson. “They’ve been great with us,” Turvey tells me. “I’m so glad they were able to create this space for small theatre to exist and continue.” With the turnover of small theatres in Toronto shutting down, this new space is a win.

Irving describes Grimly as an “existential thriller,” and then Turvey jumps in, elaborating, “There’s a murder. There’s a serial killer on the loose who is killing young people at Christmastime.” It is a play in three parts that is funny as well as scary. They reference another actor in the show, Ben Sanders, who says that it is unlike anything he’s seen before in Toronto.

Surreal and avant-garde, the story unfolds in a way that invites the audience to lean in a little closer to make sense of what is going on. In doing so, Irving says, it forces them to “practice listening and being present in the space.” The ending leaves itself open to interpretation but is not vague for the sake of being vague, instead the play is open-ended with the hope that afterward, the audience will walk away wanting to discuss their take on it.

Julia Jarcho, the playwright, is greatly influenced by Samuel Beckett and David Lynch, and Turvey has worked with designer Christine Urquhart to create a world reflective of this. In one example, Turvey explains how they’ve worked to create a forest that is both inviting and dangerous by using lots of red, greens and blacks, playing with Jarcho’s idea of Grimm’s fairytales. The result of the design is a dream world that is both urban and other.

It is a show that deals with themes of psychological unrest and plays into the universal and very human need to find our place in the grand scope of the world. This last part is what Irving says all young people think about a lot, or at least, he does.

Grimly Handsome, is being produced at the perfect time of year. “It’s basically Halloween and Christmas. People started celebrating Christmas yesterday.” Irving says with a laugh.

Why should you see the show? Irving pulls the final punch, “It’s going to be fucking fantastic.”

Grimly Handsome

Who:
Written by: Julia Jarcho
Directed by: Jay Turvey
Cast: Jeff Irving, Ben Sanders, Julia Course
Original Music: Paul Sportelli and John-Luke Addison
Lighting: Mikael Kangas
Costume and Set Design: Christine Urquhart

What:
The Obie-award winning play is a triptych of urban stories: two unusual Christmas tree salesmen peddle their wares on the street, two cops follow the trail of a serial killer and in a vacant lot people transform in ways they never thought possible. GRIMLY HANDSOME is a haunting, comic thriller that exposes the underbelly of the city and the animal in us all.

Where:
The Assembly Theatre, 1479 Queen St West

When:
November 3rd-November 19th
Thu – Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 4pm

Tickets:
brownpapertickets.com

 

“Consent, Growing Up & Telling Difficult Stories” In Conversation with Rose Napoli, playwright of LO (OR DEAR MR. WELLS)

Interview by Bailey Green

Nightwood Theatre continues their Consent Series with Rose Napoli’s play Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells). The play tells the story of Laura (nicknamed Lo) and her teacher Mr. Wells, and is a feminist retelling of an affair between a student and teacher. Napoli began writing Lo three years ago in Nightwood’s Write from the Hip program. Andrea Donaldson, the facilitator of the program, oversaw the play from the ground up and directed the show, on stage now at Crow’s Theatre.

Napoli’s own experiences and her work with young women in schools and a juvenile detention centre inspired the work. She got to know girls who heard society tell them that their bodies were the most valuable assets they had, and how those beliefs existed in her own lived experiences as well. We spoke with Napoli about consent, vulnerability, growing up and what it takes to tell a difficult story.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.) 

Bailey Green: Youve been writing Lo (or Dear Mr Wells) for three years. What initially provoked you to write this piece and what was the development process like?

Rose Napoli: The play started years before I started writing it, 8 or 9 years ago. I was teaching in Windsor and working afternoons as a child and youth worker for at risk/in need youth and a juvenile detention centre. It’s now shut down. There wasn’t enough funding to keep it going, which is unfortunate. At the time I met a number of young women who had really complicated relationships to sexuality and consent. A lot of young women between ages 13-16, I don’t even know if they were in a position to know what they wanted and didn’t. Their bodies became currency instead of something that could give them pleasure, pride and beauty. They traded that in a lot of cases for safety. Those profound experiences, coupled with my own, made me obsessed with this issue.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas & Sam Kalilieh. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The breaking point for me came when a guidance counsellor in my school was arrested because he had been having an affair with a student who was 16-17, and [the affair had been going on] since she was in the 7th grade. Her confession was triggered by him becoming engaged to another teacher at the school. It was a horrifying time which lead me to quit teaching. I had a really hard time with how the administration handled the situation. The girl was seen as dramatizing the story, but she thought they would be together, so for her the engagement was a huge betrayal. The two teachers remained together. All of that has added to a whole lot of fire in me for a long time.

Sam Kalilieh & Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

BG: This piece contains personal subject matter, both from your own life and from the lives of young girls you have met. What was that like for you as a playwright?

RN: The play is hard for me to hear. I’ve never actually been able to listen to it without weeping. There are moments where I don’t realize that I’m the one who wrote that. Laura, played by Vivien Endicott-Douglas, thinks that now that she knows Mr. Wells in this way, maybe he’ll be the one that stays. It’s hard to listen to that as it still continues to be the reality for me. I’m 34 and I think about what I’m going to do that is wrong, sexually or not, that will confirm my deepest fear that I’m not worth sticking around for. And that’s pretty common in terms of people I have spoken with.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas & Sam Kalilieh. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I also wasn’t interested in telling a story that vilified Mr. Wells, and Sam Kalilieh, who plays him, has had a really interesting journey and a challenging time championing a predator. I don’t want to speak for him, but any time you take subject matter like this on, separating your own beliefs from the beliefs of the character is a daily struggle. But both of us and Andrea have felt that this is a deeply confused man. And therein lies the complication—it is not as simple, and yet it is absolutely black and white.

Sam Kalilieh & Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

BG: The quote written on your arm in the photo for the show (even if it costs you, you still have to share it), tell me about it and the social media campaign. 

RN: People were so creative with the #shareit campaign and I think people have craved it and wanted to talk but sometimes words are…challenging. And people came to express themselves through a photo and with a want to be a part of the conversation. The quote is in the play, something Mr. Wells says to Laura. The play is part of what Laura has written to him. He tells her as they are taking part in a creative writing club (she has an aversion to public sharing), he tells her that she has an obligation to the world to share her experience. And as she grows, she realizes that in a different way. And that’s a meta-theatrical personal line for myself, because this is not an easy thing for me to share. I feel nervous for people to see this because I don’t think it’s an easy thing to watch or even admit.

Photo of Rose Napoli by Dahlia Katz

BG: How do you feel with the run starting? 

RN: It’s wanting to shit your pants and feeling really excited and proud… there’s a lot going on. It’s a complicated time and I haven’t been that active in tech or rehearsal. I’ve been present for script evolutions but we’re talking specifics, like arguing over a comma. It’s their show now.

BG: What has it been like to be a part of the Consent Event with Ellie Moons play Asking for It and the Consent symposium?

RN: The conversations that the two plays inspire are different ones under the same heading, the consent topic we have to rewind back even further, way before the moment of no or yes. We have to think about it in how there is taking advantage of someone sexually and “no means no” and all of that. Empowering young women, not forcing them to kiss or hug family members. We send messages to children that their bodies or what they want doesn’t matter. We have to evaluate early on the message we send to young woman in particular. At the symposium we spoke about the importance of speaking about pleasure to young women. We don’t associate that as appropriate and we reinforce shame, which leads to people not being comfortable to say yes or no. I didn’t know what I wanted or what I didn’t want [when I was young], I was so confused.

BG: What would you say to your teenage self now?

RN: Oh gosh…I would tell her that she’s beautiful and she’s loved and that one day it will all make for some pretty interesting drama. I wrote a whole play for her.

Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells)

Who:
Written by Rose Napoli
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
A Nightwood Theatre production in association with Crow’s Theatre
Presented as part of The Consent Event, a play series and symposium navigating the minefield of modern sexuality.

What:
It was ten years ago that Laura was Alan Wells’ student at Northwood Catholic School. She was uncharacteristically intelligent for fifteen years old—perceptive and vulnerable—a dream student for an uninspired English teacher. Now, at twenty-five years old, Laura has written her first book. She calls it ‘Dear Mr. Wells’ and Alan is the first person she wants to read it.

A feminist retake on a student / teacher relationship, wrestling with burgeoning sexuality and consent, literature and passion, right and wrong, Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) was developed through Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip playwright’s unit.

Where:
Crow’s Theatre: 345 Carlaw Avenue

When:
October 25 – November 11, 2017

Tickets:
crowstheatre.com

Connect:
@RoseNapoli1
@nightwoodtheat
@crowstheatre

#nwLo

 

“The Actor’s Process, the Future of The Storefront & Working with Canadian Theatre Legends on George F. Walker’s THE CHANCE” In Conversation with Claire Burns

Interview by Brittany Kay

I got to sit down with one of Indie theatre’s fiercest ladies, Claire Burns, and chat about her role in George F. Walker’s The Chance on stage now at The Assembly Theatre. We spoke about working with Canadian theatre legends, her processes on and off the stage, and the future of The Storefront Theatre.

Brittany Kay: What has been your journey to where you are now?

Claire Burns: I had a really good teacher in Elementary school who did big musicals so I got involved at the early age of ten. One of my first roles was Fagin in Oliver!, pretty mature role for a ten-year-old. I then did musicals all through high school. From there, I went to UofT and got my Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History, but at the same time I was in the UC Follies. That drama club led me to projects at Hart House with people I still know and work with. And then I went to George Brown for classical theatre training.

BK: You caught the acting bug?

CB: I started to get really jealous of all my friends who were in theatre. I had to give it a go or else I was going to live with regrets. No regrets, right? After George Brown, I’ve just been working. I did a couple professional gigs at the Blyth Festival and the Grand Theatre. Since then I’ve been playwriting and acting in a lot of independent stuff, including projects at The Storefront, which I was running for the last three years. In the last year and a half/two years I’ve gotten more into directing.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

BK: How did you get involved in this show?

CB: I met Anne van​ ​Leeuwen, who is the head producer for Leroy Street Theatre and the Artistic Director of The Assembly Theatre, through the Indie scene with the shows she did at Unit 102 and at The Storefront. She’s a wonderful person and I totally support everything they’re doing with The Assembly Theatre.

George F. Walker and Wes Berger (our director) work together a lot. George wrote this new play and wanted Wes to direct it. Wes contacts Anne to be in the show and she asks who’s producing it. He said “I dunno” so she’s like “I will!” The other casting happened. Wes and I worked on a project together called The River You Step In, which is an independent film that will be coming out later this year with Astrid Van Wieren and Wes asked me to audition for this show from that.

BK: Can you tell me a little bit about the show and the character you play?

CB: My character’s name is Jo and my mother Marcy, played by Fiona Reid, are down on our luck. Marcy owes a lot of money and I’m potentially going to jail. She finds a cheque for $300,000 made out to cash in our couch left there by a guy I slept with. Comedy ensues. What could we possibly do with this cheque? Opportunity-comes-knocking type of thing.

It’s a very well written play. My character has a lot of angst. She’s living with her mom. She lost custody of her daughter, who’s six because she has a drug problem. She’s a bit quick to anger, but her mom is insane. It’s a very cool role. Deep but fun.

BK: Why this story right now?

CB: I think it’s really relevant that it’s in Parkdale, with all the MetCap buildings and the rental control issues. People are getting kicked out of their spaces because they can’t afford basic living expenses because of minimum wage. I think it’s very current. This play is part of a larger series that George has written that takes places in one of those apartments (if you think of the apartments on Jameson). The fact that it’s about that demographic and being done in a storefront space that is within that neighborhood, I just think that there are so many levels of relevancy.

BK: What draws you to the play?

CB: I love that it is only three women on stage.

BK: YAS!

Photo Credit: John Gundy

CB: You just don’t see that kind of representation on stage very often. What drew me to it was the comedy of it, the quick turns of the script, the fact that it’s George F. Walker! I was just like oh my god. The fact that I studied him in theatre school and now I’m meeting him and I get to ask him questions about acting. I think it’s been an amazing process to be working with Fiona Reid, as well.

BK: What is it like working with those legends of Canadian theatre?

CB: George has written such a fast-paced script and I love the way he works because sometimes I’ll improv or I’ll paraphrase my lines, (which I’m not proud of because I was taught to in fact learn them) but sometimes with lines it just comes out of my mouth better, you know? Because it’s so contemporary, he’s not precious about his script. He’s like, “No, no if that feels better, change that.” It’s a really live rehearsal process. He likes when we add things in. He’s got such funny, great ideas. That’s been awesome.

I really like Wes. I really like working with Wes. Wes always says it’s like jazz. We know it really well, but then we get within it, we can kind of play little notes within the play. I really like that too, because as an actor, I never like to do everything the exact same way every night. There are always little nuances. Each night can feel different. He gives us the permission to walk on that tightrope and just really commit to the moment, the moment, the moment. The play is also in real-time, which is really fun.

Fiona Reid is a goddess. She is generous. She is so kind and welcoming and humble and talented. She really asked questions about the script that I think I would have been embarrassed to say. I would have not asked because I would’ve felt like I was holding up the process or maybe I should have figured that out in my homework. Having her in the room really empowered me. We were able to figure out details and plot specifics together. I like to work that way.

We can build the moments together and took the time to do so. She’s fantastic and so specific. She’s really fun in the dressing room. She knows how to dance!

BK: Why do Indie audiences need a voice like George F. Walker’s?

CB: I don’t think George is writing his plays for the upper middle class. I think he’s really writing plays that speak to a more economically disadvantaged audience. Indie is that. It doesn’t have the same kind of restraints. I think it’s great that Indie theatre can have such an established playwright play to their crowds. I hope Indie audiences come out to this play. It’s hard not to think about the producing side of things while being in a show too.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

BK: Which leads to my next question…you wear so many different hats all of the time. How do you juggle and stay sane?

CB: I don’t know… I tend to work on projects when people ask me. As it turns out, a lot of those projects end up being generated by me and by the people who I’ve worked with at Storefront and collaborators that I know. How do I stay sane? I stopped drinking, which is really helpful for me. It allowed me to understand that sleep is really important.

I still party and stay up late, but sleep and regular sleep has kept me saner. It’s interesting that you ask about staying sane. Running Storefront was always, always on the go and now that we don’t have a space, I’m able to breathe a bit more. I’ve had time to write. I’ve gone through some recent life things that have also been able to propel me to write more. With acting, friends will ask. Directing wise, I’m trying to figure out how to climb the ladder of that career. Producing is another bag and I’m trying to get better at how to raise money. And then there’s what I actually do to make money, which has now been more community outreach. Unlike the bar or restaurant industry, it allows me to work from home.

BK: What is the future of Storefront?

CB: I really think there’s going to be a backlash on digital technology and people are going to be seeking a space where you can go to experience something particular. So I think storefront theatres are going to be needed in the country. The future is getting the business model down. We can’t rely on government funding in a way that Tarragon, TPM, and Factory did in the 80s. We have to figure out a new model. We can take the model from the Chicago Storefront Theatre movement where they’re all nightclubs with theatres in the back. The model we want to adopt are spaces that can become party spaces at night. We’re not looking for a space because you have to have money before you even get the space. I am looking for people to join our board. People like Jen Agg from the Black Hoof, her views on feminism in the restaurant industry are super relevant to the theatre industry. There needs to be subsidization on a municipal level. The city needs to give some sort of incentive to landlords to rent to artists for less, give them a tax break or something because the real estate in this city is crazy if you’re not for profit. It’s definitely not dead. We’re also producing. We’re producing a co-pro with Factory and Blood Pact Theatre called After Wrestling. Then we’re doing a Feminist Fuck It Festival in April, which will feature female identified performers and writers.

BK: Yessss. What an amazing name. I want to come!

CB: Right! FUCK IT.

(Laughter)

And we just got funding from the Canadian Heritage to present work in 2018/2019. The presenting and the producing will keep happening, while working towards finding a space.

BK: Any other upcoming projects for you?

CB: We are working on a new adaptation of I Love You Baby Blue with Paul Thompson and Clare Preuss. We want to honour TPM’s 50th Anniversary since it was first done there. I’ve been working on a play called Teeswater. It’s a town near Blyth, Ontario. It’s where my family moved to in the 1700s from Scotland. It’s a trilogy, but the one I want to focus on is about my great-aunt Margaret, who was a lesbian and lived with a woman. I want to explore what a queer relationship was in the 1940s/50s.

BK: Do you have advice for emerging artists?

CB: Diversify your skills now! If you’re an actor and you want to be an actor 80% of the time, learn about production management or lighting design. Stay relevant. You’ll meet so many different people doing different kinds of jobs. Then you’re just already networking.

BK: Sound advice. What do you want audiences walking with?

CB: I just want them to think that it is so much fun. This play, anyone can enjoy it.

Rapid Fire Question Round

What music are you listening to? Tom Petty

Favourite movie? The Wizard of Oz

Favourite book? I’ve read 33 books this year and they’re all of my favourites. I just read a book called A Little Life. I read all the time. You’d have to pick a genre and we’d go from there.

What are you watching on Netflix? Mindhunters

Last Play you saw in Toronto? Lukumi by d’bi.young anitafrika at Tarragon.

Favourite Musical? Rocky Horror Picture Show

Food? Mannings or Sour Cream

Best place in Toronto? Kensington Market, Parkdale, Gladstone Hotel and The Beaver

Best advice given to you/mantra? My mantra today is don’t be a low priority to somebody. For this industry, is don’t take anything personally and don’t be jealous, it’s not worth it.

THE​ ​CHANCE

Who:
Written by​ ​George​ ​F.​ ​Walker
Directed​ ​by​ ​Wes​ ​Berger

Where:
THE​ ​ASSEMBLY​ ​THEATRE-​ ​1479​ ​Queen​ ​St.​ ​W

When:
October​ ​14-28th,​ ​Tuesday-Saturday​ ​8pm

Tickets​:
brownpapertickets.com

“Mixing Sketch Comedy, Disney and Broadway, THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SHADOW Will Take You Down the Rabbit Hole, With a Little Help from These Hilarious Friends” In Conversation with Creator/Performer Christian Smith

Interview by Hallie Seline

After hearing the buzz about its first short run last spring, it was a pleasure to chat with creator/performer Christian Smith about the return of The Adventures of Tom Shadow, this time at the Factory Studio Theatre. We spoke about where the idea for the show came from, how this impressive group of performers came together to create it and then we delved deep into some childhood nostalgia… as you do.

Don’t miss your chance to catch The Adventures of Tom Shadow, on stage from October 11th to 22nd.

HS: Tell me a little bit about the show The Adventures of Tom Shadow.

CS: Think Disney for Adults. We’re combining the traditions of a sketch comedy show under the guise of a musical. It’s funny, but we’ve added a hefty dose of heart.

HS: Where did the idea for the show come from?

CS: One of our cast mates, Mark [Little], used to be in a sketch troupe and he had come up with a premise a while back called Tom Shadow. I won’t spoil what that sketch was about (that would spoil our show too!) but when we were meeting to discuss the show we wanted to create, that idea sort of stuck. It has evolved a lot from the original premise but, at its core, we take you down a rabbit hole in The Adventures of Tom Shadow the same way Mark originally intended with his premise. You’ll see what I mean.

HS: Can you speak to me a bit about how it was created?

CS: All five cast members (Kevin Vidal, Natalie Metcalfe, Lisa Gilroy, Mark Little & Myself) all started coming up with a story. We then broke the show down into beats, went away and wrote our own separate scenes and brought it to the group so we can then re-work the scenes as a group. Once we knew where we wanted the story to go, there was a lot of improvising through muddy parts of the script on its feet, then subsequent re-writes. It was a ton of work. Luckily all of us are improvisers and writers so we just had to find a way to meld our individual styles to suit the creation of the show.

HS: Amazing! And it’s also a musical?! Tell me a bit about the music in the show.

CS: Lisa, Natalie and Mark are exceptional song writers. We just started writing music that was both funny to us and told the story. We took a lot of inspiration from Disney and Broadway musicals, breaking down why they were so successful. We brought on a musical director (originally Nicola Dempsey, now Jordan Armstrong) and they’ve created the original music. Both M.Ds are the absolute best and crucial to the success of the show.

HS: Talk to me about the people involved: How did you come together? Have you worked together before? What has it been like working with this group?

CS: We all wanted to work with each other so we just met for coffee and decided we were going to put up a show! What came out of it was a surprise to us!

All of us have worked together in some capacity except for our director Peter Stevens. Peter is a writer/performer in the sketch comedy troupe Elephant Empire and his work is soooo very good. We all agreed he’d be the director to steer this ship and we couldn’t be happier. The cast members have all worked together before in many capacities. Natalie, Lisa, Kevin and myself have worked with Second City, as well as our M.D. Jordan Armstrong and our Lighting Designer, Meg Maguire.

We knew our Stage Manager/Sound Engineer through the Toronto comedy scene, Bad Dog Theatre Company and his group Sex T-Rex. This industry feels small sometimes, where everyone can seem to get a chance to work together. This group of people also so happen to be some of my best friends.

HS: If you could be any character from a children’s story, who would it be and why?

CS: Great question. What constitutes children’s story? I love Simba from The Lion King because he’s mischievous and can SING SO WELL! If we’re thinking younger… Sam from Green Eggs & Ham.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite movie growing up: Independence Day

Favourite childhood snack: Dill Pickle Chips

If you could choose one song that represents your childhood or yourself as a kid, what would it be? Ugh. Tough. Simpsons Theme Song? A lotta theme songs. Doug. Rugrats! For sure theme songs.

What advice would you give yourself as a kid before, as you mention for Tom Shadow, “real life comes flooding in”? Read more.

If you could have an adventure anywhere (real or made up), where would it be and what would you do? Oh man. Tokyo or the deep woods. I want to have an extended adventure (live in Japan) or try to fend for myself in the woods. That last adventure is a pipe dream. I’ll have to get better at… many things.

Describe the show in 5-10 words: We’ll make you laugh a lot and maybe cry maybe

The Adventures of Tom Shadow

Who:
Presented by Theatre Lab
Written and Performed by Lisa Gilroy, Mark Little, Natalie Metcalfe, Christian Smith, and Kevin Vidal
Directed by Peter Stevens
Music Direction by Jordan Armstrong
Sound Design / Stage Management by Seann Murray
Lighting Design by Meg Maguire

What:
Written and performed by Toronto’s top comedians, The Adventures of Tom Shadow is a hysterically-funny yet heart-wrenching comedic musical that follows the whimsical character Tom Shadow as he travels through the magical Cloud Kingdom! But what begins as a typical children’s story is immediately derailed as real life comes flooding in to destroy the magic. Think Peter Pan meets Taken…but with music!

Where:
Factory, Studio Theatre
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON

When:
October 11–22, 2017

Tickets:
In the spirit of accessible theatre, Theatre Lab will be offering tickets at three price-points to allow patrons to pick the price that fits their budget: $23, $33, $43 + HST. Patrons are encouraged to pay what they can afford. All tickets are General Admission.
https://www.factorytheatre.ca/what-s-on/tomshadow/

Connect: 
t: @TheaterLab
fb: /TheatreLab
#TomShadow

Artist Profile: Ellen Denny, Actor in LIFE AFTER

Interview by Hallie Seline

It is a pleasure to feature actor Ellen Denny who is currently starring in Britta Johnson’s new musical Life After. We spoke with her to find out a bit more about her as an artist, about her experience working on Life After, the emotional power in musicals, and a new play of her own about her great-great-aunt Harriet Brooks, one of Canada’s first female physicists. Be sure to catch Ellen on stage now in Life After at Canadian Stage until October 22nd. She’s incredible!

HS: Hi Ellen! Let’s start with getting to know you a bit more as an artist. Tell me about yourself. 

ED: Hello! I grew up in London, Ontario, trained in Halifax at Dalhousie University (BA Music & Theatre), then did some more acting training through the Citadel/Banff Program. I have been based in Toronto for about five years now, but much of that time I have spent away on contracts. I’ve started collecting provinces – this November I’m headed to Quebec, which will be my seventh! As much as the nomadic lifestyle can be tricky, I do enjoy getting to know different communities across this vast land. I perform in both musicals and plays, and have recently started writing, myself. My first full-length play is about the gender barriers faced by my great-great-aunt Harriet Brooks, one of Canada’s first female physicists.

Dan Chameroy & Ellen Denny. Photo by Michael Cooper.

HS: Amazing! Can’t wait to hear more about that in the future. What has it been like working on Life After?

ED: It is such a unique experience to work on a show that is in development, because everyday changes are being made, and the writer is right there in the room with you, and everyone is working as a team to make sure the story is being told in the clearest and strongest way possible. We had the luxury of four weeks in the rehearsal room with this piece – which runs 75 minutes – so there was opportunity to really delve in to each moment. Even though I am so excited to share Life After with an audience, I am in some ways grieving the end of rehearsals, because in this case the process was truly fulfilling.

HS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of working on Life After?

ED: Hands down, the most rewarding aspect is doing a piece by a young female writer. In this case, the incomparable Britta Johnson. A lot of the time I am telling stories written by dead white men, and so it means the world to me to interpret the work of a woman my age. There is a palpable difference in the way the character of Alice is written, because Britta understands what it is to be a young woman, and to be dealing with enormous loss in the midst of the messiness of growing up.

HS: What is your favourite aspect or moment in the show?

ED: Oof – that’s insanely hard! But one aspect of the show that I adore is our ensemble of three women (affectionately dubbed ‘The Furies’), which is a new addition since the Fringe production. Their function throughout the story is very creative and provides me with some much-needed giggles along the way.

HS: What draws you to Musical Theatre?

ED: There’s something inescapable about the emotional power of music. Something that our writer Britta Johnson harnesses expertly. It’s not just about the sung melodies, but also the instruments of the orchestration (shout out to our awesome orchestrator Lynne Shankel) that bring so many colours and feelings, things that cannot be expressed with words. For me, there’s also a sense of nostalgia in many musicals that I grew up listening to – Anne of Green Gables, Gilbert & Sullivan, all of Rodgers & Hammerstein – they bring me back to my childhood. What’s exciting about contemporary musical theatre is it’s really pushing the boundaries of the form, and I’m intrigued to see how the genre will continue to develop.

(from L to R) Ellen Denny, Trish Lindström, Tracy Michailidis, Rielle Braid, Kelsey Verzotti, Barbara Fulton, Neema Bickersteth, Anika Johnson, Dan Chameroy. Photo by Michael Cooper.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

ED: I try to see as much theatre as I can, but also other art forms: dance, opera, music, visual art. I find the work of other artists incredibly inspiring. But inspiration is everywhere. I look around the subway car and am fascinated by all the characters and stories around me.

HS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

ED: “It’s only a play.” Extremely helpful when the going gets tough! Along with that, the importance of having a life. This industry is so consuming that it can be hard to take time off to recharge or travel, but if an artist never goes out and experiences life, how can they interpret it onstage?

Ellen Denny & Tracy Michailidis. Photo by Michael Cooper.

HS: Where is your favourite place in Toronto and why?

ED: I love Cabbagetown… I’m a sucker for those heritage homes.

HS: What are you listening to/reading/watching these days?

ED: Recently binged the first season of Riverdale – a great reprieve to the intensity of rehearsals. And I’m reading Barbara Cook’s memoir. She just passed away and is forever one of my soprano inspirations.

HS: If you could take anyone out for a drink (alive or dead) who would it be and what would you want to talk about?

ED: It would be my great-great-aunt Harriet! She died in the 1930s. She didn’t leave behind a diary or anything, so sometimes in trying to write about her life I am left with BIG questions. It would be my dream to talk with her about why she made the decisions she did. And what it was really like to be a woman in science a hundred years ago. And to thank her for being a badass trail blazer.

Photo of Ellen Denny by Michael Cooper

HS: What other theatre show(s) are you most looking forward to seeing this year?

ED: I have yet to see Come From Away, so I’m excited to see it return with an all-Canadian cast. Also my friend Audrey Dwyer has her play Calpurnia at Nightwood Theatre this season. And I’d love to check out The Humans at Canadian Stage.

HS: Describe Life After in 5-10 words.

ED: The messiness of grief and the beauty of music intersect.

Life After

Who:
BOOK + MUSIC + LYRICS BY Britta Johnson
A CANADIAN STAGE, THE MUSICAL STAGE COMPANY & YONGE STREET THEATRICALS PRODUCTION
DIRECTED BY Robert McQueen
MUSIC DIRECTION BY Reza Jacobs
CHOREOGRAPHY Linda Garneau
ORCHESTRATIONS, ARRANGEMENTS & MUSIC SUPERVISION Lynne Shankel
DRAMATURG Anika Johnson
SET DESIGN Brandon Kleiman
LIGHTING DESIGN Kimberly Purtell
COSTUME DESIGN Ming Wong
SOUND DESIGN Peter McBoyle

CAST Neema Bickersteth, Rielle Braid, Dan Chameroy, Ellen Denny, Barbara Fulton, Anika Johnson, Trish Lindström, Tracy Michailidis, Kelsey Verzotti

What:
Sixteen-year old Alice is left to navigate life after her father, a superstar self-help guru, dies in a car accident. We plunge into Alice’s overactive inner world as she tries to decipher the events that led to that fateful day. An expanded and reworked production of the hit 2016 Toronto Fringe musical, Life After is a funny and frank story of love, loss and vivid imagination from one of the most exciting new voices in Canadian musical theatre.

Where:
Canadian Stage
Berkeley Street Theatre
25 Berkeley Street
Toronto

When:
On stage until October 22nd

Tickets:
canadianstage.com

Connect: 
t – @ellen_denny