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Artist Profile: Rosamund Small, Playwright of Outside The March’s “TomorrowLove”

Interview by Brittany Kay

Rosamund Small has always been the most kind-hearted and generous artist that I know in this city. Her passion and love for her craft is always apparent. She is insanely smart, courageous and incredibly funny, which always shines through in her work. We sat down over nachos to talk about her current show TomorrowLove, which opens tonight with Outside the March. We talk about the magic in site-specific/immersive work, her writing process and the much anticipated experience audiences will have in this fantastical show.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your show?

Rosamund Small: The show is called TomorrowLove. It’s an immersive experience with Outside the March. It’s about love and it’s set in many different versions in the very near future, where one piece of amazing technology exists. Everything else is pretty much the same as our world except for just one thing. It’s about exploring different relationships and how this one thing activates change in the way that two people relate to each other. Sometimes it ends up bringing people closer together and sometimes it pushes them further apart. TomorrowLove touches on a lot of things to do with love and identity and sometimes consent and sometimes loss. The dream is that it will be a varied experience no matter what. There’s a lot of material and the idea is that you’ll wander through this futuristic environment and find yourself in these different stories.

BK: So things are happening…

RS: Simultaneously. There are multiple things happening at the same time. I think sometimes immersive theatre is structured so that you purposefully miss things. You miss whole stories, you miss the beginning, and you miss the end. In TomorrowLove, you grasp an entire story. It’s short but it’s complete, and then there’s another one and another one. It’s quite curated and carefully put together to make sure that you get the entire narrative and then a different entire narrative.

Photo by Neil Silcox

Photo by Neil Silcox

BK: Can you talk about this lottery system the actors are going to take part in each night? There are so many layers to this experience!

RS: So many layers! It’s got a lot going on underneath in terms of how the show is put together. One really exciting thing that we came across is that I wrote all of the characters to be gender blind, so they are not necessarily man or woman. I just didn’t make that decision when I was writing it.

Typically we have really gendered stories about anything from a break up to sexual violence to anything really to do with how two people relate in a relationship. Those stories can be super valuable, but in this case I wanted to sort of push out of those ideas and explore the idea that if I didn’t know the gender of the person, how would I navigate that in the writing? The characters have genders because whatever actor is playing them inhabits their gender, but that, I think, is part of a larger piece of the feeling of the show. It’s about the self and the individual and what is innate to you and how did you end up in your life?

There is also an aspect of the show where every night there’s a lottery and the actors get assigned their roles.

BK: So the actors have to learn a lot of material?

RS: Yeah.

BK: Shit, that’s fun. Cool!

RS: That is the reaction I’m hoping for: “That’s fun!” I hope they all say that. I think it’s going to be one of those things that ends up being really fun and then really hard and you cry and then it gets really fun again. All of the actors are going to be learning about as much as Hamlet or a little more, in terms of numbers of lines

BK: Wow!

RS: They are also playing different people, so they’ll inhabit very different stories. In one sense, in a lot of theatre, you feel like you want to rehearse and rehearse until you’ve hit something, but in another way that sense of rehearsal can take away from a sort of urgency or hopefully a sense of live-ness that I think we’re finding. It’s a big risk, obviously. They’ll be rehearsed. Their scene partner will be changing. Their goals will be changing. I think the experiences intrinsically will be a little bit out of control. Where you end up is a little bit out of your control. That’s a really big theme of the show.

Photo by Neil Silcox

Photo by Neil Silcox

BK: How did you start writing this? How did this idea come to be?

RS: I started working on it about two years ago. In a way it started because Mitchell Cushman and I wanted to work on another project together. It took us a really long time to shape what that would be. We had some specific goals. We wanted to make theatre that would appeal to people that often don’t go to the theatre. That’s kind of a tenant of a lot of theatre companies, but definitely of OTM. He’s really generous and I think he really wanted to create something that was my voice. It’s not like it was going to be something that he would come up with and I would execute. He really wanted to do something that we both felt really passionately about.

We started with short stories about sex. The idea to push them into a place that couldn’t quite happen was the next thing, so then you end up in the world of technology. For me, personally, I realized that the idea of a show about technology doesn’t really interest me because I think about technology a lot in a literal way. I can think about my phone and what it means but I think this show is more of a metaphorical access point to that. The pieces of technology are very nearly possible, in fact, I think a few of them have become more possible since I’ve started writing them.

BK: What kind of technology are we talking here?

RS: One is an implant that you can get that prevents you from saying certain things that you really want to make sure you never say… so you don’t let something slip, which obviously has huge implications for relationships. Another one is you can choose to show your partner an extended montage of all of your memories. Another one is an online chatting app that actually finds you your soul mate. Another one is you can get a piece of someone’s DNA put into a little mixture and inject it into yourself so that you can experience their emotions.

BK: Why site-specific and immersive for this show?

RS: I think immersive and site-specific theatre is very magical because you immediately don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s very much how I feel about all relationships. I think how I feel about progress and technology is really surprising and personal. Immersive theatre really lends itself to heightening that experience. Sometimes people have an idea of immersive theatre being scary or that it’s going to put you on the spot or make you uncomfortable and I think, in a lot of ways, it’s the opposite of that. It’s an invitation to this world.

Photo by Neil Silcox

Photo by Neil Silcox

BK: I know a lot of your plays has been verbatim or immersive in their nature and presentation. What draws you to that kind of work? What makes you keep doing this?

RS: It’s funny because TomorrowLove is such a departure from that. This is heightened and fiction.

The draw to documentary and to interviews and to Vitals (which was fiction but really well researched) is that the world is really interesting. I would always advise writers who were stuck in their writing or were just starting to write, to think about starting there because it grounds you in the way that people actually talk and the way that things actually happen. You put so much of your heart and yourself into your documentary work but a lot of the time people don’t know that because they assume it’s more distant from you. I think, for this piece, it’s scary because it’s going to be really hard to hide that the characters and observations are going to seem like they are from me.

BK: What was your process to write this script?

RS: This is such a boring answer because it’s such a writer answer: I would just start. A lot of it is really just like improvisation except I was writing it down. I would just go. I would always go for a relationship problem or a change in a relationship or a relationship crisis and then ask how would a piece of technology either begin that or change that or heighten that? So I never made up a piece of technology and wrote the play to go with it. I started to write the story and then the necessary technology would merge into the story.

There are definitely pieces that are inspired from things that have happened to me or to people that I’ve loved. I think all writers steal shamelessly. They are much more me, honestly. They are much more from my own questions about people. Fiction is so embarrassing, somehow.

BK: The audience is invited to the Aorta? What is that?

RS:

BK: Ahh, a mystery?

RS: (she smiles.)

BK: Love that. How are your actors rehearsing this show?

RS: There has to be more than one thing rehearsing at once because there is so much material. They are all crazy pros. These artists are really, truly the real deal and really experienced, as well as being really good. They are like a crazy dream. It’s a real ensemble. So we’re reading the pieces, we’re doing the pieces, and we’re trading off because there will be more than one actor playing every part. There’s a bit of a tap in tap out mentality going on. We also have two amazing assistant directors (Llyandra Jones and Griffin McInnes) and Mitchell and myself. We’re all “do-si-do”ing the rehearsal process.

Photo by Neil Silcox

Photo by Neil Silcox

BK: Are there any fears or excitements for this show?

RS: No.

I’m joking. I’m joking so hard.

I think the fears and the excitements are always the same thing. The fear and the excitement is that I think the pieces are very vulnerable. The characters are in really vulnerable places. I feel very vulnerable. They’re really raw, sometimes in a comedic sense and sometimes in a tragic sense with really painful experiences. So the fear and the excitement is about sharing that, but that’s also such a part of theatre and such a part of love.

BK: What’s your working relationship like with Mitchell Cushman? How did you guys meet? What makes you want to continue to collaborate with him?

RS: We met at the Paprika Festival. He was working there and I was one of the oldest participants. He directed a staged reading of mine in the festival and so that’s the first time we worked together really. I think you can tell immediately when you work with someone like him that you can just trust him. You can trust him to be honest. You can trust him with your work. Actors trust him. He’s just a really sort of subtly supportive and reassuring person, you know? You also trust him because it’s so obvious how wicked smart he is.

He saw a little bit of Vitals and he asked to direct it and we turned it into Outside The March doing this huge production of it. It was incredible. It’s a very close working relationship. We’re really in each other’s business. It’s not like I write the script and he directs the show, it’s very collaborative. We argue and we compromise and we work really well together. I’m incredibly lucky to work with someone like that and to work with our whole team, as well.

BK: Why Outside The March for your show?

RS: I think the short answer is because this is the kind of work that Mitchell wants to develop with the company. I remember when I saw their production of Mr. Marmalade and it blew my mind. I was like this is the kind of theatre that I want to do.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from this show?

RS: That’s hard because you can’t really control it, no matter how hard you try. I hope they experience some empathy and have been entertained. I think entertainment is really undervalued as a quality. Not thoughtlessly, but entertained. I think it depends what kind of person you are – if you are interested in a mind-bending puzzle, you might be interested in crazy technology and its implications, if you’ve been through a break up, it might stir some things up, might make you think about your own life or it might just be an experience that you leave behind you at the door. I just hope for something.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite Book: What? That isn’t fun, that’s so hard.

Favourite Play: What? What is this? Like which is your favourite parent Brittany?

Favourite Food: Pizza. Is that a boring answer? It’s why I moved to Little Italy.

Favourite Place in Toronto: The Island, Ward’s Island specifically.

What are you listening to: I’m leaning heavily into this Carly Rae Jepsen album “Emotion”. It’s like really good… Love good pop music!

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Katherine Cullen once told me, “When you feel like you just can’t go on and something terrible has happened, it’s really important to just go to bed and wake up tomorrow.” We can fall asleep and escape and wake up and something will be recharged in us. It’s amazing.

TomorrowLove

by Rosamund Small, Presented by Outside The March

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Who:
Written by Rosamund Small
Directed and Developed by Mitchell Cushman

Ensemble
Damien Atkins
Katherine Cullen
Paul Dunn
Amy Keating
Cyrus Lane
Mayko Nguyen
Oyin Oladejo
Anand Rajaram

Producer – Michelle Yagi
Stage Manager – Kate Sandeson
Production Manager/Technical Director – Alanna McConnell
Scenic Design – Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting Design – Nick Blais
Costume Design – Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Composition and Sound Design – Richard Feren
Choreographer – Robert Binet

Associate Director – Llyandra Jones
Associate Director – Griffin McInnes
Associate Production Manager – David Costello
Apprentice Stage Manager – Kate Hennigar
Assistant Producer – Deanna Galati
Front of House and Group Sales Manager – Sabah Haque
Assistant Choreographer – Cassandra Martin
Production Consultant – Katherine Devlin Rosenfeld
Publicist – Samantha Eng

What:
An intimate immersive encounter that imagines the future of romantic connection.

Navigate your way through a series of simultaneously-unfolding duets, in which innovations in technology grant physical transformation, time and space travel, immortality, the extraction of the human soul, and a fridge that expands to hold infinite groceries—all in the name of love.

If you roll over in bed and reach for your iPhone, if you store more memories on your feed than in your brain, if you’ve ever longed to upgrade yourself or your partner, then welcome to TomorrowLove™.

From the creative team behind Vitals (2014 Dora Awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding New Play).

Where:
The Aorta (733 Mt Pleasant Rd)

When:
Show runs from From November 19 – December 18 (Mondays excluded)

Tickets:
Tickets: $40 General, $30 for under 30/arts workers http://tomorrowlove.brownpapertickets.com/

Connect:
w: outsidethemarch.ca
fb: /OutsideTheMarch
t: @outsidethemarch
ig: @outside_the_march

 

“Body As Costume” An Exploration of Process with Anthony DiFeo of Theatre Parallax Toronto’s KATA

by Anthony DiFeo

Imagine telling your designer that in order to build the costume they will need to apply pressure to it for at least an hour a day for a few months. Then you remind them that if you stop applying pressure, it will start to lose its form. It becomes imperfect with each neglectful decision you make. Couple that information with a bit of panic by letting the designer know that too much pressure or pressure in the wrong area could damage the costume and that can really set the piece behind.

Now imagine that costume is your body. Every decision you make affects the look of the show. A cheat day is only paid for by an extra work day and you’re well aware of how close the show date is. Your normal comforts are replaced by the discomfort of muscle tearing, which is fuelled by an equal mix of ambition and the fear of falling behind. You are one of four and, despite what you tell yourself, you’d hate to be the last on that list.

This is the process of KATA; a piece that only works when each performer owns the responsibility of their design.

Photo by Sam Hurley

Photo by Sam Hurley

The concept for the show itself began as an opportunity to explore masculinity and the toxic nature that often surrounds it. We were looking to create a piece that exhausted its performers and pushed them to an extreme. We’ve been constructing and reconstructing this piece for years and each time, we turn it into something we couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

kata-4

Early on, we saw a design opportunity. When discussing a revamp of costumes, we realized that our design wasn’t aligned with the piece. The costumes were meant to represent masculinity and we looked at all articles of menswear that could fit the bill. None of it worked. During these talks we hadn’t considered the intense physical training that goes into this piece. It’s completely unsustainable as a performer without months of care. The training inevitably shows up in our bodies. We quite quickly realized that we were never meant to design a costume, as we were building them through the process. KATA focuses on the concept of bodies as costume.

katad1web

Photo by Sam Hurley

During the building phase of KATA, the performers spend months managing their discipline. We make a pact that has us all eating clean and cutting what we would consider junk food, we put away all alcoholic drinks during the process, we surrender our free time to five days a week at the gym, and we subject ourselves to a weekly early morning assessment by our personal trainer (who often dresses us in garbage bags to sweat out whatever is left of us each week). What this creates is not only four men who can handle being pushed to physical extremes for a two-week run, but the bodies to match them.

Photo by Sam Hurley

Photo by Sam Hurley

The process of forming our bodies to an ideal show state is as mentally taxing as it is physically. The show is intended to explore the toxic effects of traditional masculinity in all of its competitive brutality, its emotional suppression, and its selfish pride. The journey we take to get there makes it difficult not to get sucked into the very thing we understand to be flawed. We’ve created circumstances where we feel the pressures in a heightened state and that experience is what we’re bringing to the stage.

anthakataweb

The concept of body as costume isn’t new. Actors have been shaping their bodies to fit their roles for a long time as well, all of them understanding the struggle that comes with it. What we bring is a visualization of that challenge. The bodies you’ll see shaking on stage are a physical representation of what it has been like to build the costumes for this show. Those are the moments where the performers are asking themselves not to quit as they try not to feel the pressure and pain. A question they have asked themselves daily for the months leading up to these moments.

kata-poster-2016-final-copy

KATA

Who:
Presented by Theatre Parallax Toronto

What:
A surrealist physical performance piece inspired by Antonin Artaud, KATA, explores masculinity through it’s title. A Japanese word describing specific behavioural conditioning that emphasizes the learning and reinforcement of patterns through repetition.

In KATA, four subjects are born into a dystopian world, not unlike our own, where, through the inheritance and perpetuation of long-established masculine expectations, they are bred into perfect soldiers. Observed by an audience of investors, the demands of the war industry and of fellow peers systematically enforce gender norms, hardening these men into products sold to satisfy the needs of external forces. As the product test progresses and the veneer of masculinity cracks, the audience is left asking, “ Is this a sustainable investment?”

KATA combines content and form in a way that merges theatre and performance art. In an attempt to present the unrealistic construction of the “ideal male”, our performers commit their bodies and minds to the exploration of “toxic masculinity”. They suffer through repetitive physical training, sacrifice their personal vices, and work tirelessly to attain physical and mental control. In this process they question their own masculinity, their loyalties to their art, and if this form is worth subscribing to.

Theatre Parallax hopes KATA will aid in the study of gender to better understand the development of masculinity and therefore understand the gender binary and its inequality more thoroughly as a whole.

Where:
Dancemakers Studio 313
9 Trinity Street, Toronto

When:
November 11-19 at 8pm
November 19 & 20 at 1pm

Tickets:
theatreparallaxtoronto.com

Connect:
w: theatreparallaxtoronto.com
fb: /TheatreParallaxToronto
t: @ParallaxTO
ig: @theatreparallax

 

 

In Conversation with Dr. Suvendrini Lena, playwright of “The Enchanted Loom”

by Bailey Green

The story of The Enchanted Loom, written by Dr. Suvendrini Lena, begins in Toronto, where demonstrations against the Sri Lankan civil war have taken over the Gardiner expressway. The protests take place during the final weeks of the war and trigger memories of trauma for a Tamil family. The family had come to Canada to escape the violence in Sri Lanka. The father, Thangan, was imprisoned and tortured during the war. He struggles to cope with epilepsy brought on by scars in his head from the beatings he endured. As Thangan’s seizures worsen, his family begins to unravel. In order to have a chance to heal, Thangan must decide whether to undergo a surgery that would cut out his scars but could erase pieces of his memory. One memory in particular, a memory of his oldest son who died during the war, Thangan doesn’t know if he can bear to lose. “The surgery is a metaphor for how societies and communities can move through trauma, will it fix things or won’t it? How deeply are these traumas embedded in us and in our communities?” says Dr. Suvendrini Lena, neurologist and playwright of The Enchanted Loom, produced by Factory Theatre and Cahoots Theatre, on stage now to November 27th.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

The Enchanted Loom is the product of years of hard work that took place while Dr. Lena worked full-time as a neurologist and raised her child as a single mother. The play was first developed as a research project about epilepsy. Subsequently, the play has grown to explore the dynamics of family. “I chose epilepsy because seizures are a huge disruption of consciousness. It arrests everything and you don’t know what is going to happen next,” Dr. Lena explains. “There’s a potential of being paralyzed so you’re very vulnerable. And that is what happens in war, the kind of disruptions and the way daily life becomes unlivable.” The play focuses on the question of whether or not Thangan will chose to have a surgery that Dr. Lena describes as a unique procedure: “The patients are often awake so that when the parts of the brain are being removed the doctors can preserve everything around them, as much as possible. It is one of the penultimate scenes, this awake craniotomy, and it is very evocative – you can see consciousness right in front of you.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Working on her first play has helped illuminate Dr. Lena’s work at CAMH. “I have learned a huge amount from watching the actors play these characters,” Dr Lena says. “The family life [in the play] is structured by [Thangan’s] illness and every aspect is affected[…] I teach a course on theatre and medicine to medical residents and I do that because theatre allows us to inhabit alternate lives. As doctors you need to be in a patient’s position and understand what that means.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

The play’s title is drawn from a quote written by pioneer neurophysiologist Charles Sherrington. Sherrington used ‘the enchanted loom’ as a metaphor for the mystery of the brain. “Memory, to me, is this intricate fabric that is being reworked by everything that happens. It is the key to the future but is constantly changing, being influenced by what other people remember and by the present,” Dr. Lena says. “The whole play is about the family’s memory of trauma and how it informs their future and the difficulty of remembering traumatic things but also the necessity to remember them in order to heal from them.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Marjorie Chan, Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre, is the director of The Enchanted Loom. Dr. Lena expresses her gratitude and admiration for Chan’s patience and expertise: “I don’t have a playwright’s training, but she championed this play with 6 actors and poetic medical language and has woven it together in this beautiful way. I couldn’t be in better hands. It has been spectacular, like nothing else.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

For Dr. Lena, the greatest joy of working on this play may be seeing it on stage now during its run, when the play has come together fully. “It has been so meaningful to know this is a story worth telling,” says Dr. Lena. “Epilepsy is a stigmatized illness and a difficult illness. To have people take risks to portray it and the Sri Lankan story…to remember what happened and how the future could be different… it’s quite something to see it fully realized on stage at Factory.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

The Enchanted Loom

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Who:
Written by Suvendrini Lena
Directed by Marjorie Chan
A Cahoots Theatre production in association with Factory Theatre

What:
The Sri Lankan civil war has left many scars on Thangan and his family, most noticeably the loss of his eldest son and crippling epileptic seizures brought on by his torture during the war. As the final days of the war play out; the family watches from Toronto, where a neurological procedure provides them with a chance to heal. This poetic play, part medical, part mystical is a harrowing tale of loss and hope that reminds us of the joys and pain of unconditional love for family, and freedom.

ASL Interpreted Performance, followed by a Post-Show Q&A, Sunday, November 20

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio Theatre
125 Bathurst St.
Toronto

When:
November 10-27, 2016

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

Connect:
Factory Theatre –
w: factorytheatre.ca
fb: /FactoryTheatreTO
t: @factorytoronto
Cahoots Theatre –
w: cahoots.ca
fb: /CahootsTheatre
t: @cahootstheatre
ig: @cahootstheatre

#enchantedloom

 

Artist Profile: Actor Jakob Ehman on Rebellion, Drive, Risk & “The Circle” at Tarragon Theatre

Interview by Brittany Kay

I sat down with the incredibly talented Jakob Ehman who is making his Tarragon Theatre debut in The Circle. We discussed rebellion, his drive for the craft, and the need for established theatre companies to take risks on young artists.

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

Jakob Ehman: I was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. I lived there for a short couple of years. I moved to Calgary, Alberta until I was 5 and then we drove across the country to Nova Scotia. I lived in a couple of different places in Nova Scotia: LaHave, which is in the country and very rural, I lived in Bedford, and I lived in Dartmouth where I spent the most amount of time. At the end of grade 8, I moved to Toronto and started high school here at the Danforth Collegiate Technical Institute.

BK: What made you go to theatre school?

JE: I don’t know… I can’t really remember what it was that got me into it, but I had to take some sort of arts class in high school. I was interested in drama, I guess, and I had a great teacher! Her name was Heli Kivilaht. I think I remember one of the first classes I played this character ‘Indiana Jake’ and everyone laughed. My childhood memories have a lot do with me entertaining the family. I started to like making people laugh a lot. The years went by and that drama teacher left, but while she was there, I was pretty heavily exposed to some wicked writers – David Mamet, Beckett, MacIvor. I was in grade 10 and 11 studying those writers and that was kind of crazy to me at that time. I was so fascinated by it because it reminded me of the type of films I was into when I was in high school – ones with dark writing. It seemed pretty cool just to be able to do that, to say those words. I felt like I had an affinity for it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to pursue acting or not. I was still pretty into the idea of some sort of work in policing, investigations or the military. I decided I would apply to George Brown, NTS and Ryerson.

Vivien Endicott Douglas & Jakob Ehman. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedmann.

Vivien Endicott Douglas & Jakob Ehman. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedmann.

BK: Why those three?

JE: They’re all that I really knew, I guess. I was more into the idea of doing some sort of conservatory. Figured that if I was going to go do this, I didn’t want to have to also take a bunch of other classes and be in a university setting. I kind of decided if I didn’t get in, that would be that. I would go to UofT and be a spy or something.

I got into George Brown and I loved the feeling I had when I went to that audition and the Young Centre was new, beautiful and seemed great. So I kind of left everything else behind… gave in and immersed myself into that program and into the life of what I thought it was to be an actor and eventually then a creator, which George Brown wasn’t very helpful in overall.

BK: To create your own work?

JE: Yeah.

BK: Is that where HUMANZOO came from?

JE: Yeah. Sort of. George Brown had a couple of projects that were based in creation, but they had pretty specific ideas of what being a professional actor was and what they wanted us to be, at least that’s how I felt. It was actually helpful because it really gave me something to rebel against. That’s generally when I feel most at home.

BK: When you rebel?

JE: Yeah, I’m sort of an antagonistic kind of person, especially as an artist, though not necessarily in rehearsals. I don’t want to be like that. But you know, challenging everything.

BK: So how did HUMANZOO come to be? What happened after theatre school?

JE: HUMANZOO was an idea that was formed in theatre school. My great friend Edward Charette and I lived together. I talked a lot about ideas I had, just all the time…. just spouting off things. I think it annoyed him quite a bit. We had this idea about a human zoo, a zoo for humans. The actual company was all just ideas and a name that I liked, until I was contacted from the Hamilton Fringe. Somehow a spot had opened up there and they didn’t want to put it out to the public or have a whole bunch of people applying for this spot, so they asked me if I would be interested in doing something. At that time I had no clue what that would be. I decided to take the spot and figure it out after. I spent a week in the reference library reading every play that looked interesting. I looked for ones that had small casts since we were all going to be living at my parent’s house in Hamilton. Eventually I found this play called Normal by Anthony Neilson about this real life serial killer in Germany who killed a great many people. I thought the play was terrific and felt very inspired by it as soon as I read it. I kind of took the book… went downstairs and I ripped the sticker out of it.

BK: You stole it from the library?

JE: Yeah, I stole it from the Reference Library. The Reference Library, if you’re reading this… come get me, I guess. I’ve got it and I don’t intend to give it back.

So yeah, we did that and it was awesome. We won the Critic’s Choice Award. It was the first thing I directed.

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

BK: Do you have future plans with this company?

JE: I definitely want to do stuff in the future with the company. That sort of becomes about deciding how to manage your own time. I’ve been quite fortunate in the last couple of years where I haven’t necessarily had a lot of off time to plan a production or knowing when I’m going to have time next year. I haven’t committed to deciding that I won’t accept any acting work so that I can do that.

BK: You’re not just an actor, though. You’ve also sound designed, produced, directed, and written. How do you choose when you want to do what? Is it whatever is offered at the time or is it an active choice you make?

JE: Well, we went back to the Hamilton Fringe the next year. We really enjoyed our time there. I like the city of Hamilton. I knew I wanted to direct again but I also wanted to write and sound design once I started writing the play. I always want to be doing all of those things. I think that theatre is such a collaborative thing that if you want to, you can sort of have a part in all of those things, no matter what role you are in with the production. As an actor, you are still collaborating with a director. If you fight for your ideas of your character, you could feel like you have a say in some parts of the direction.

I guess it does come down to what is offered more. Acting happens more frequently for me. It takes a lot more of my own drive to make any of the other things happen. I’ve done a couple of sound designing jobs on the side but I’ve also been involved in the production as an actor so it’s never one thing at a time.

BK: What motivates you?

JE: I think just being really hungry. I’m obsessive – about the craft and about wanting to be…awesome. I want to be better every time. I want to inspire other people. I want to inspire people who I’m working with to work as hard as I want to work, so that what we give in the moment on stage is truthful and electric and vibrating with energy and life. I’m just sort of addicted to that feeling and to that kind of presence, but that type of presence takes a lot of preparation work and a lot of thought and time. It’s literally just thinking about the work, about the character’s stories and motivations like a detective.

BK: This is part of your rehearsal process, as well?

JE: Yeah. For sure.

How can I find other things to bring into this? How can I go deeper? And sometimes it can be really simple things you might not think of. Where does this person look when someone’s talking to them? Which eye? Do they look at both eyes? There’s an infinite level of details humans have. That makes me excited to investigate.

BK: We’re going to shift into talking about The Circle. What is it about?

JE: The Circle is about a group of young people from 15-18 years old. There’s this guy Ily, who I’m playing, and he’s living in his girlfriend’s mom’s garage. He’s dropped out of school and he sells weed and works at The Keg. During the day when his girlfriend is at school he gets this call from Tyler, an old friend of his that used to live at his place. It’s this guy who’s ended up living on the street and in various squats and in and out of homelessness. Tyler calls him wanting to hang out that night and Ily agrees but meanwhile his girlfriend has also invited her friend Will over that night with his new boyfriend Daniel. There’s this clash of groups that are going to come together and it really becomes a fucked up party.

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

BK: What draws you to this character?

JE: I think I’ve played a lot of emotionally unstable and intense kind of characters. When I read this one, I was excited because it felt more like a side of me. You know, a happier kind of guy. He’s just generally smiling and laughing. He’s the kind of guy who can hang out with any group. I dunno, it felt like I needed a change and play that part of myself and to not always be going down those dark paths.

I really think that within each of the characters there’s something every person in the audience, whether young or old, can relate to. The characters are so varied. The play is about them figuring out who they are and figuring out who they want to be. They are looking for a place of belonging with each other and in their own lives.

Jakob Ehman in The Circle. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Jakob Ehman in The Circle. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

BK: This is a cast of all young people and a big first for Tarragon. It’s nearly everyone’s Tarragon debut. There’s been a bit of a trend with professional theatres not often hiring younger performers. How do you feel about Tarragon programming this kind of show filled with young actors?

JE: It’s a huge risk for them. This is Geoff’s debut play. It’s been produced before at ATP (Alberta Theatre Projects) but he’s still a very young writer. The cast needs to be playing 15-18 years old, so no matter what, you’re going to be taking a gamble on some very young actors that may or may not perform at the sort of level that an audience or critics are used to from an establishment like Tarragon. I think it’s going to pay off for them. The first step to making it pay off was hiring director Peter Pasyk, who took the time to find the right actors that were going to be able to make this thing live. Even then, it could still really have not worked out for them, but they have to do it. They have to do this play and plays like this, written by young people with young directors and young actors so that they can get younger audiences because their subscriber base is going to end and if they don’t have a new subscriber base and new people who are interested, they won’t survive. It’s a risky production but I think necessary for their survival.

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

BK: What is it like working with Peter?

JE: Peter is a funny guy.

BK: That’s it?

JE: He and I joked once when we were leaving the theatre about how he’d like to be described, and he said he’d like someone to say that he’s a funny guy. So yeah, I’ll leave it at that…

But he’s actually tremendous. He’s a tremendous director. A wonderful, lovely person to work with everyday. Really patient and demanding and never gives up on anybody or anything that he wants. I think he’s quite courageous and I had a great time working with him.

BK: Why is this story relevant today?

JE: I don’t think it’s specifically the story that makes it relevant. It’s quite simply about young people – that young people are portrayed fully, at all. They aren’t used as a device for some older character’s story. They’re not the singular teen in the play. It’s a play about them. That’s really different. That’s what’s relevant, I think.

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite Movie: That’s an impossible question.

Favourite Play: Nope.

Favourite Book: “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck.

Favourite Food: Sushi. Chino Loco’s burritos.

Last play you saw in Toronto that stayed with you: James Smith’s Lessons in Temperament.

What are you currently listening to: Solange, Bon Iver’s new album.

Advice for young emerging artists: Don’t settle for doing what a director asks you to do, always suggest something to do… make offers, continue every moment that you can. Try and give your own perspective, different intentions/objectives/movements. Never settle for just taking direction. Always take it, but give more than what you’re asked for.

The Circle

A Tarragon Theatre Production

The Circle, Tarragon Theatre

The Circle, Tarragon Theatre

Who:
by Geoffrey Simon Brown
directed by Peter Pasyk
starring Nikki Duval, Jakob Ehman, Daniel Ellis, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Brian Solomon & Jake Vanderham
set designer Patrick Lavender
lighting designer Rebecca Picherack
sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne
costume designer Joanna Yu
fight director Steve Wilsher
stage manager Sandy Plunkett
apprentice stage manager Victoria Wang

What:
Welcome to Ily’s high school garage party: there’s the genius, the drug dealer, the runaway, the kid with ADHD, and the son of a priest. Everyone’s a total mess, but it’s better than being alone on a Friday night in suburbia. This remarkable debut by 26-year-old playwright Geoffrey Simon Brown is an explosive SOS from an orphaned generation desperately looking for a place to belong.

Where:
Tarragon Theatre Extraspace
30 Bridgeman Ave.
Toronto

When:
Oct 18 – Nov 27, 2016

Tickets: 
tarragontheatre.com

Connect:
Jakob –
w: jakobehman.com
t: @JakeEhman

Tarragon –
w: tarragontheatre.com
fb: /tarragontheatre
t: @tarragontheatre

In Conversation with Nina Lee Aquino on Directing “acquiesce” & 15 Years of Collaborating with Playwright/Actor David Yee

Interview by Bailey Green

acquiesce, directed by Nina Lee Aquino and written by David Yee, kicked off Factory Theatre’s 2016/17 season “Beyond the Great White North”. The play marks Yee and Aquino’s 15 year anniversary of collaboration. Yee wrote acquiesce 15 years ago as part of the playwrights lab at Factory. Aquino was invited to a private reading of the play with dramaturge Brian Quirt. “In our hearts of hearts we knew we would come back [to acquiesce],” Aquino says. “But other works were getting first in line. Looking back there was a good reason for that, I don’t think David could have finished it before and I don’t think I could have directed it, being the director I was then.” acquiesce was rediscovered when dramaturge Iris Turcott found a draft tucked behind a filing cabinet at Factory. Turcott called Yee, gave him two notes and told him it was time to work on the play again. “It has always been one of my favourite unfinished plays of David’s,” Aquino says.

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

acquiesce tells the story of Sin Hwang, a novelist who receives news that his father has died. As per his father’s instructions, he embarks on a journey to bury his father. “He discovers secrets about himself, about his father and family history that have been brewing underneath,” Aquino says. “He gets to confront that grief and rage and not get to forgiveness but an acceptance of knowing one can correct the cycle of violence and let go of that baggage.”

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Aquino and Yee’s shared values have been a core element to their artistic partnership. Aquino has been director and dramaturge for all of Yee’s plays. “We’re here to fight, to say something, to give hope,” Aquino says. “We are despairing of the world at times but through theatre we feel like we’re doing something about it. The kinds of plays I tackle as a director reflect that.”

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Aquino speaks of how individual growth as artists has brought herself and Yee to the right time and place to tackle acquiesce. The more personal David gets with his work, the more personal I get with mine,” Aquino says. “It makes it more harrowing. Now being a mom and AD of this company is very different and I bring that experience to the table.” In 2015, Yee won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama with his play carried away on the crest of a wave (directed and dramaturged by Aquino). Aquino was the Founding Artistic Director of fu-gen theatre in 2002 (Yee is the current Artistic Director) and Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre in 2009. In June 2012, Aquino became co-artistic director of Factory Theatre with Nigel Shawn Williams, and in the Fall of 2014, Aquino was appointed sole Artistic Director of Factory Theatre.

When asked about how working on acquiesce compares to working on Yee’s other plays, Aquino says that acquiesce has been a very personal process. “An Aquino/Yee work has a social justice to it, an activist voice in it, a revolutionary,” Aquino says. “But [with acquiesce] the social justice is subtle, the angle is different. It’s in a very personal container, which is family, where the heart of an activist is born. It is the hardest Yee work that I have tackled because it is quite personal. acquiesce comes in whispers, the complexity comes in quiet ways.”

Photo of John Ng & David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of John Ng & David Yee by Dahlia Katz

The mutual respect and admiration that Aquino and Yee share is evident, as Aquino calls Yee her “most favourite playwright in the universe.” Aquino says working with Yee always challenges her as a director to grow and discover how to bring the play to life. “I never take his work for granted,” Aquino says. “He challenges me through his work, so what world do I build around the world he has built and how will that coalesce. David writes plays that are yummy for a director, if you’re the kind of director that thrives on imagination. David is magic, so how do you put the magic on stage?”

Photo of Rosie Simon & David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Photo of Rosie Simon & David Yee by Dahlia Katz

Yee takes the stage in acquiesce to play the role of Sin Hwang. Yee hasn’t acted in his own work since Paper SERIES at Summerworks in 2012. “This is the first time he’s accepted to play a role in his own play,” Aquino says. “I’ve depended on him for so much as a playwright in the past. During tech he’s a second eye, so this year will be a bit lonely! On opening who is the one person who will sit beside me? I won’t be able to crush his hand, because he’ll be onstage! There are things about it that I miss, but I don’t see anyone else playing that role.”

acquiesce

by David Yee

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Who:
Written by David Yee
Directed by Nina Lee Aquino
Co-produced with fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company
For full cast & creative team, visit the Factory Theatre website.

What:
Plagued by the success of his first book and haunted by his past, Sin Hwang arrives in Hong Kong with some unusual cargo and a lot of emotional baggage. Featuring a surreal cast of characters, from a foul-mouthed Paddington Bear to a wisecracking Buddhist monk, this sharply comedic and heartbreakingly poignant tale of self, familial and spiritual discovery reflects the cycles from which we must all break free as we find our way.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street

When:
November 3-27, 2016

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

Connect:
w: factorytheatre.ca
fb: /FactoryTheatreTO
t: @factorytoronto

Talking Canadian Stories & the Upcoming Production of AGENCY with actor Ben Sanders

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

Shaina: What’s different about working on a new play like this that’s never been done before, compared with something that has been in the theatre canon for awhile?

Ben Sanders: It’s very liberating when you don’t have to worry about the burden of a precedent for your character. Rather than doing the ten thousandth Mercutio, I get to be the very first Peter Gottschild (my character in Agency). There’s a great freedom that comes with that. My impulses and choices are brushstrokes on a fresh canvas.

Shaina: What is a ‘Canadian’ story? Would you say this is a Canadian play?

Ben: Canadian stories are anything dreamed up in the mind of a Canadian (including brand new Canadians) or anything set in Canada. Aside from some of our indigenous stories, just about all Canadian stories involve relationships to other countries. Agency is set in Germany, and features all German characters, but it also has a whole lot of the heart and soul – and some of the heritage – of Eva Barrie, a Canadian artist.

Photo of Eva Barrie & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Photo of Eva Barrie & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Shaina: What’s been the biggest challenge and biggest joy in tackling your character so far?

Ben: We’re playing with time and memory in the play. Sometimes my character is onstage as a part of someone else’s memory, rather than really being there. So I can’t be too picky about my “reality”, or my circumstances. The biggest joy, so far, is the crackling dialogue – Eva’s lines just roll off your tongue. Makes my job easy!

Shaina: Describe the show in 5 words.

Ben: Suspense. Surveillance. Betrayal. Obsession. Turtlenecks.

Photo of Earl Pastko & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Photo of Earl Pastko & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Shaina: Do you think it’s important for the other characters to explore the past as they do? At what point is this exploration positive and at what point is it detrimental to get trapped in the past?

Ben: Everybody’s got skeletons in the closet… everybody. So if you want to dig into your own past, or your family tree, you’ve got to do so with empathy, and brace yourself for unseemly discoveries. A family history is just a story we’ve been told, usually edited and revised for our benefit by people who care about us. Do you really want to challenge that story? It takes a lot of courage and offers little reward. But, then again, some stories demand to be told, and don’t ask politely.

Photo of Earl Pastko & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Photo of Earl Pastko & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Shaina: Did you have to do any research into the specific events of 1980s Berlin to tackle this play? What was the most interesting fact your discovered?

Ben: The extent of the surveillance state was pretty astounding, especially the network of “Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter” – informal collaborators. These were not official Stasi agents, just ordinary people feeding the authorities information on their acquaintances. Friends reported on friends; family reported on family. Once the wall fell, and it all came out in the open – once the hundreds of thousands of shredded files were pieced together by hand – reconciliation was not easy.

One of the most moving stories was of a woman who was devastated to learn, after the wall fell, the names of all the friends that had been reporting on her behind her back. At the end of her research into her file, she was reminded that she, also, had briefly informed on her friends, and completely forgotten about it. Surveillance and betrayal were just a part of everyday life.

Photo of Earl Pastko, Ben Sanders & Eva Barrie by Greg Wong

Photo of Earl Pastko, Ben Sanders & Eva Barrie by Greg Wong

Shaina: There is so much going on in the city right now, why should people come see this play? What will they get here that they won’t get anywhere else?

Ben: Eva Barrie is a major new talent. Her writing is totally engrossing: it’s got an impressive technical complexity – lots of tasty plot – but also a very natural, relatable tone that will catch you off-guard. And she’s written a terrific role for Earl Pastko to act the hell out of. Which he does.

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Photo of Earl Pastko, Ben Sanders & Eva Barrie by Greg Wong.

 

About Ben Sanders:


headshot-ben-sanders

Ben Sanders is a Toronto-based actor. He has performed at the Shaw Festival for seven seasons, appearing in 14 productions, including The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with the Key to the Scriptures, The Sea, Major Barbara, Cabaret, Our Betters, French without Tears, Misalliance, Serious Money, and four world premieres: Michel Marc Bouchard’s The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt, Peter Hinton and Allen Cole’s musical version of Alice in Wonderland, Lisa Codrington’s adaptation of The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, and Michael Healey’s reimagining of On the Rocks. He also performed with The Grand Theatre (A Christmas Carol, Dry Streak, Playwright’s Cabaret) and with Toronto’s Praxis Theatre (Objections to Sex and Violence, Tim Buck 2). In 2015, he was named one of NOW Magazine’s Top 10 Theatre Artists of the year, and the My Theatre Awards Performer of the Year. He trained at Ryerson University.
Up next, Ben will be back at the Grand Theatre in The Lion in Winter.

Agency

A New Play by Eva Barrie

agency-banner

Who:
Presented by Yell Rebel
Written by Eva Barrie
Directed by Megan Watson
Dramaturged by Thomas Morgan Jones
Featuring: Earl Paskto, Ben Sanders & Eva Barrie

Set & Costume Designer: Karyn McCallum
Lighting Designer: Mikael Kangas
Sound Designer: Lyon Smith
Stage Manager: Théa Pel
Technical Director: Tamara Vuckovic
Design Assistant: Echo Zhou
Producer/Production Manager: Noah Spitzer

What:
In the height of the Cold War, Hannah’s father is killed as her family makes a desperate escape out of East Berlin. Years later, she reads her father’s Stasi files and unearths a 25 year old mystery. The only one who can help her solve it: the man who spied on her father. Demanding answers and getting far more than she bargained for, Hannah takes a trip into the past.

Where:
The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West

When:
November 10th – 20th
Tuesday – Saturday 7pm
Saturday/Sunday 1pm

Tickets:
General Admission: $22.00
Arts-worker/Student $18.00
PWYC Performances: Nov. 10th (7pm), Nov. 12th (1pm), Nov. 13th (1pm) & Nov. 19th (1pm)
tickets.theatrecentre.org

Connect:
w: yellrebeltheatre.com
fb: /yellrebeltheatre
t: @yellrebelTO

 

In Conversation with Joshua Browne & Alec Toller on “The Queen’s Conjuror”

by Bailey Green

In the 16th century, John Dee—alchemist, scientist and magician—met an erratic, emotionally disturbed scryer named Edward Kelley. Dee believed Kelley had the ability to speak to angels and that this could help Dee unlock secrets beyond man’s understanding. A tumultuous partnership was formed between the two men and their wives. These flawed, complex relationships are explored in Circlesnake Productions’ new play, The Queens Conjuror, written by Joshua Browne and Alec Toller.

Director and writer Alec Toller came across John Dee on Wikipedia after he’d used the word ‘thaumaturgy’ on a date. John Dee is often considered the original wizard archetype. Dee is said to perhaps have inspired the characters of Prospero and Faust. Toller was captivated by Dee’s story and reached out to Joshua Browne. Browne, who had worked with Circlesnake Productions on Dark Matter and Angel City, says he was on board from the word ‘wizard.’

“The relationship between John Dee and Edward Kelley is really fascinating,” Browne says. Browne plays the character of Edward Kelley, “Edward Kelley was a scryer, a channel for the voices of angels. John Dee actually turned to the occult for knowledge because he reached a point in his work where he believed the knowledge of man would not get him closer to God.” Shortly after Dee and Kelley began working together, Edward and Joanna Kelley moved in with John and Jane Dee. The two couples lived and travelled together for years before the relationships began to fracture. “It wasn’t satisfying to write Kelley off as crazy or psychotic,” Toller says. “But he was very emotionally disturbed and we look at how that affects all of the relationships there.”

johndeeforqueen

John Dee with the Queen

The initial drafts of The Queens Conjuror by Toller and Browne, provided a historical baseline for improvisation with the company of actors. Feedback was instrumental when it came to writing the characters of Jane Dee and Joanna Kelley. According to Dee’s writings, Jane was integral to his work. Their relationship was quite egalitarian for the time. By contrast, all that is known of Kelly’s wife Joanna is that he despised her. “We have one man’s opinion of her,” Toller says. Browne and Toller emphasize that a central focus of this piece was ensuring that Jane and Johanna’s voices were heard.“We had to invent them,” Toller says of writing Jane and Joanna. “We explored the gender dynamics involved in the world they were living in, but it is a challenge because how do we show what the reality was without reinforcing it? We wanted to write something that is not going to ring as these women being two props for the ‘larger story’ of these men.”

john_dee_ashmolean

John Dee

Browne speaks of the risk and vulnerability involved in working on this process, “This feels like a risky show to me… I have tons of fear surrounding this show! It’s about the 16th century with very little in the way of budget[…] It’s about these contentious relationships and personal things, and how do you do that without making the play a soap opera or historical drama? And how do you write women and facilitate women writing themselves? How do you represent the patriarchy without reproducing it? As two white, male writers, we had to get our actors’ opinions and involve women in the conversation. We can acknowledge our privilege and ask how can we be better.”

In the rehearsal room Toller and Browne transitioned into their roles as director and performer, respectively. Both Browne and Toller speak of gratitude for their company of actors (Tim Walker, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Sochi Fried, John Fray) whose contributions helped The Queens Conjuror change and grow. The collaborative nature of the rehearsal process is at the core of Circlesnake’s mandate: “It’s really important when we’re engaging artists and actors who are all very talented,” Toller explains, “that they don’t just walk away with the small money you get from a profit share and maybe a fun rehearsal/show process, but that there’s an ownership there. They’ve helped make this together and it’s important that these actors get the most agency and a sense of pride in the show they made with us.”

The Queen’s Conjuror

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Who:
Directed by Alec Toller
Written by Alec Toller & Joshua Browne

Featuring Tim Walker
Joshua Browne
Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah
Sochi Fried
John Fray

What:
John Dee was a 16th century adviser to Queen Elizabeth, and a scientist and magician when those two professions were indistinguishable. The Queen’s Conjuror follows John Dee as he tries to decipher an enticing but ominous vision which he hopes will provide critical information that will impress the QueenElizabeth enough to gain her patronage. To do this, Dee enlists the help of Edward Kelley, a scryer, medium, and possible charlatan. Kelley proves to be as brilliant as he is disturbed, and Dee must work through the wretchedness of Kelley’s soul and his erratic behaviour to access his revelatory visions and gain the Queen’s support. The show explores the complexity of intimacy, the dangers of vulnerability, and the necessities of both for the alchemical transformation of the soul.

Where:
The Attic Arts Hub
1402 Queen St E

When:
Nov 3 – Nov 20
Wed – Sat, 8pm
Sun 2pm

Tickets:
$30
$20 Student/Arts Worker
queensconjuror.brownpapertickets.com

Connect:
fb: /Circlesnake
t: @Circlesnake
w: circlesnake.com