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On the Subject of Kissing: Shaun Benson on Stop Kiss

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

I took some time to chat with Shaun Benson, the director of the exciting production of Stop Kiss at The Toronto Fringe Festival. Here’s what he had to say about connection, same sex relationships and The Fringe!

SS: Describe Stop Kiss in 5 words… other than Stop and Kiss.

SB: Fear meets Love meets Life

SS: What attracted you and the rest of the team to this play? Why does this story have to be told?

SB: I was initially drawn to it because each scene is so immensely playable and in so many different ways.  Melissa Hood and I wanted a piece with which we could use a certain acting approach to grow our own work and grow the life of the play. Each scene — and ultimately this story — allowed that to flourish beautifully.

This story has to be told for the stupid reason that it is somehow still a problem for person A how person B spends their love and their heart and their time.  I still can’t get my head around the amount of violence perpetrated on people who choose to kiss another — same sex, different race, etc.  It’s 2013 and somehow this play is still relevant. Too bad.

SS: Can you talk a little about your rehearsal approach – the technique you used to explore the material and how you think that shaped the performances?

SB: I used Meisner as the fundamental approach to the work.  We would build the scenes with the actors using personally meaningful imaginative circumstances to guide their beginnings and then use repetition and improv work to break open the dialogue.  The real thrust from start to finish was that talking to one another and listening to one another was the most vital thing — always with those conversations riding the emotional waves of the actors’ imagined needs.  This may seem obvious but in most work I see it’s given lip service yet not realized. It shaped the performances so that nothing you see on stage comes from the generic world of ‘acting’.  Scenes between Kate and Melissa, for example – – are actually happening before your eyes with them both living the experience and the feelings and the interactions.  Again, seems obvious but when I watch them speak to one another I feel a glue and a bond that I see all too rarely.

SS: How do you think being a part of The Fringe Festival has affected the project?

SB: I think it has helped it immensely.  The Fringe itself is so dynamic and amazingly organized and there is so much rad buzz about it all — it’s a free bump.  That said, only if the show goes well!!! The other main thing is the constraints have kept me focused on what I believe really matters — the relationships between the actors.  Extra set pieces need not apply.  Trick stages need not apply.  It kept the piece honest and dynamic at its core — not dynamic through flourish — there wasn’t time or space for flourish!! And looking back — I’m so glad of that!!!!!

SS: I know you’re an established actor yourself. What inspired this venture into directing?

SB: I had begun teaching because of work I had been doing on a film in France called Populaire.  It seemed the less I understood when my co-stars would improv or riff in French (I’m not totally fluent) the more the director dug my work — so I realized all the Meisner work I had done at Playhouse West in LA was paying off since the behaviour was reading as more interesting than “how I said my lines” and that I should pass that on.  Teaching has been wonderful and Melissa – a student – approached me about directing her Fringe slot.  I had shot an indie film recently and was brimming with ideas on “how I’d have shot it”, so it seemed like I was being given a chance to put my money where my mouth was.

SS: At In The Greenroom we like to explore sources of inspiration. What inspires you?

SB: Pink Floyd, Tarantino, Scorsese, Terry Richardson, Emily Coutts, my brother Ormonde, the possibility that I am enough, God.

SS: What was the scariest or most challenging part of the process?

SB: When I realized that I couldn’t act for the actors.  My ego took a real hit because the very basis of how I want to work and be worked with is negated if a performance is imposed — so I had to let go of knowing how they would realize our beginnings.

SS: The play has been getting some awesome reviews. But why do you think audiences should come see the production?

SB: I think it is a beautiful play.  Beautifully lit, scored, acted and written — and Beauty to me is paramount.  There’s edgier stuff or more dynamic stuff or whatever but this Beauty stuff’s for real.

Stop Kiss by Diana Son
Directed by Shaun Benson
Presented by gun shy theatre
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 10:30pm-Midnight
Saturday, July 6, 2013 – 5:15pm – 6:45pm
Sunday, July 7, 2013 – 10:00pm – 11:30pm
Monday, July 8, 2013 – 8:00pm – 9:30pm
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 – 3:00pm – 4:30pm
Thursday, July 11, 2013 – 12:00pm – 1:30pm
Sunday, July 14, 2013 – 5:15pm – 6:45pm
Where: Tarragon Theatre Main Space, 30 Bridgman Avenue
Tickets or call 416-966-1062
For more info, check out their website:
NOW review:
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