A Chat with Sochi Fried on “Stencilboy and Other Portraits” at the Next Stage Theatre Festival
Interview by Ryan Quinn
I had a cup of coffee with Sochi Fried during our lovely Toronto deep freeze to talk about Stencilboy and Other Portraits.
RQ: Would you like to tell me a little bit about the show?
SF: Sure! It’s a new play written by a woman named Susanna Fournier. She’s worked in this city as an actor, she went to National Theatre School as an actor, but she’s also been a playwright for a number of years. This is actually her first play that she started writing in high school. So it’s been a progression of ten years for this play, having it evolve and be influenced by different actors and dramaturgs. It’s the first full production of any of her work, which is really exciting. The play itself has three characters, I play a young woman named Lily who comes from the country to the city (in this world there is only the country and the city). There’s been an economic collapse, and so she’s coming to the city looking to find a very specific painter. He’s the most famous painter in this city and he’s the only state-sanctioned artist due to government cutbacks. She desperately wants to be immortalized in painting, which is what bring her there, but the first guy she meets happens to be a guy named Stencilboy. He’s an underground graffiti artist whose day job is to paint over his own graffiti that he does at night. It’s sort of a triangle between the three of them, and it goes into notions of a young generation pushing an older one out, and what traditional art is, and the value of more transient art.
RQ: So it’s this kind of self-reflective “art about art”. What do you think is so important about this kind of theatre?
SF: With any piece of theatre, there’s a certain amount of reflecting of the world around us, and this playwright is writing about what she knows, which makes it vital and energetic. Also, the gender politics of the play are very exciting. It can be really controversial, whether it’s just another old story of a young woman trying to define herself through men. Hopefully that’s not what people take from it, but then again, the question is whether or not we need to see more stories like that. So I guess why it’s important for it to be done is that it raises a lot of questions and goes into some murky, complicated territory in an interesting way. I don’t think it’s perfect in any sense, which is wonderful. It’s gritty, and strange, and it requires something of an audience. That’s always good.
RQ: What do you hope people are thinking about or discussing on the way home?
SF: I hope that they’re discussing the journey of an artist into becoming. Also the rights of an artist, what kind of stories can they appropriate, and who says what you can paint. I hope that they’re discussing what it is that would drive this woman so much to want to be desired in that way and her eventual realization that she doesn’t need that.
RQ: Is that what’s so attractive to you about the character of Lily? This desire and this drive?
SF: Totally. She’s aggressive in her energy. She’s very funny. She’s adventurous, ballsy, she has a lot of moxie. She calls people out on their bullshit, but she also has a lot of her own emotional baggage that she’s trying to run away from and it keeps catching up with her. She doesn’t have the skills to deal with that but as the play progresses, the experience she has allows her to grow up.
RQ: Switching gears, for the new year, what are your hopes as an artist or for the artistic community? What would you like to see in Toronto.
SF: I’d like to see more plays by women. I really would. I’d love the independent scene to support more new Canadian work. I find it surprising and frustrating the number of older American plays that keep getting put on. As an artist, I’d love to do more film. I’m also still on the hunt, I think everyone is, for collaborative partners; more really interesting, strong directors, and writers, and actors.
RQ: So this is going on at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. What do you think the importance of festivals are as opposed to singular mounts in this city?
SF: Well, there’s a lot of really interesting work that I’m excited to see at Next Stage this year. A whole array. But, more in general, I think the festivals have become platforms through which plays can be seen by members of the community that have clout or the wherewithal to give them a second life or a third life. So, I think that’s the great advantage. Also it’s in January, where there’s not a lot of work for theatre artists. And there are some strange time restraints to festivals in general which are not conducive to whatever the imagination wants to create, but the restraints can be interesting and force people to get their stories out there.
Stencilboy and Other Portraits
Written by Susanna Fournier
Directed by Jonathan Seinen
Presented by Paradigm Productions www.paradigmtheatre.com