In Conversation with Michael Ross Albert, Playwright of “For a Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard” at the NSTF
Interview by Brittany Kay
Like a long distance pen pal, I had the pleasure of corresponding with the talented and compassionate playwright, Michael Ross Albert, whose show, For a Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard, is playing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. We spoke of hockey, where and what we call home, and our constant quest to find out where we belong.
BK: Tell me a bit about yourself. Where you’re from? Your journey to where you are now?
MRA: I’m from Toronto originally and I started writing plays when I was in high school. I was a participant in one of the first iterations of the Paprika Festival many many years ago. I also used to act, and did that a bunch in university, which hammered home the feeling that I really preferred to be on the other side of the footlights. I was accepted into an MFA Playwriting program at the Actors Studio Drama School in New York, so I moved to the city and started training alongside some wicked talented Method actors. I kept writing plays and putting them on. When I graduated, my friends and I co-founded Outside Inside and started producing under that banner in a bunch of different festivals. And then, my Visa expired and instead of hiring a lawyer, I moved back to Toronto and started re-discovering the city as an adult for the first time. Now, it’s a real joy to be able to produce a play of mine in this particular festival with a cast and creative team who I’m proud to call friends.
BK: What inspired this play?
MRA: In the summer of 2012, I was very interested in the idea of home. I was in the process of moving back to Canada, but was putting on a show in New York at the same time. So, I was sleeping on people’s floors, either in my mom’s basement or my old roommate’s living room. I didn’t really know where I belonged; I was unclear as to where “home” was (which is something customs agent ask you a lot when you cross the border fairly regularly and don’t have a job).
One night, in Queens, I happened to run into an old friend of mine. We started nostalgically rehashing these minute details about our shared past, like the time this funny thing happened to so-and-so, this piece of graffiti that had stuck in both our minds. Those small but very clear memories had become almost like personal talismans against… something. Adulthood, maybe. There we were, so far removed from our youth, so completely unsure of what was going to happen next in our lives, so far away from this place we hardly even thought about anymore. And those small details were the ones that still, somehow, burned very brightly. As directionless as we were at the time, these very personal but, otherwise, forgettable memories were quite comforting. I thought it was sad, but I also thought it was pretty funny. And that’s how the play was born.
Also, after years of crafting “well-made plays” at school, I wanted to rip a kitchen sink out of the wall.
BK: Are there familial ties from your own life to this play?
MRA: Not really, but there are shadows of myself in each of the characters, and aspects of my own family members and our dynamics that must have influenced the relationships in the play. But not in any glaringly autobiographical way. It’s fiction for sure.
BK: After watching the show, I assume you’re a huge hockey fan? How did hockey influence your life and this play?
MRA: I like hockey a lot. I can’t help getting swept up in it, especially if the stakes are high, like during a playoff game. What Jim Warren’s production of this play does very well, I think, is that it sets up the characters themselves as the opposing teams in a hockey game. They’re members of a family pit against one another in this very fast-paced, high-stakes competition. But, unlike hockey, even in this combative family, there’s no clear winner. In fact, probably, everyone in this play is a bit of a loser. But that’s because they don’t want to be pitted against each other. In fact, they really really love one another.
BK: What’s your favourite team?
MRA: The Leafs.
BK: Why do you think the NSTF is important for the Toronto arts community and Toronto as a whole?
MRA: The festival is curated and they program new works that appeal to various demographics. Their programming is diverse, which brings people who wouldn’t necessarily see theatre into that tent. Each show is completely different from the others. Tickets are inexpensive, so for the same price as a movie, audiences can see really high quality indie theatre, or dance, or comedy. And, the festival literally brings arts-minded people closer together, huddled in that very cozy beer tent. January can be a very depressing month in a cold city and, if nothing else, NSTF gives you an excuse to tear yourself away from Netflix vortexes and be part of a community.
BK: What is your favourite part about the NSTF tent?
MRA: It’s not the beer. It’s meeting, getting to know, and commiserating with all of the other NSTF artists, whose excellent work I’ve gotten to experience in the festival. The beer is pretty good, too.
BK: What inspires your stories? Where does your inspiration come from when you write?
MRA: I think, first and foremost, I want to write characters that actors would like to play. I think that’s the constant. Apart from that, I have no idea where the inspiration comes from most of the time. Overheard dialogue on the street, stories I’ve been told, phrases, songs, memories. Anything that surprises me.
BK: Do you have a favourite place to write?
MRA: Anywhere private with a window.
BK: What do you want audiences to walk away with?
MRA: I hope they’re able to see themselves and their loved ones in these characters. And I hope they know that, even in those moments when life sucks, they’ve got worth and they mean something to someone else.
Rapid Fire Question Round:
Best show you saw in 2014: Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at Unit 102
Favourite play: Either Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov or A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee
Favourite actor: Phillip Seymour Hoffman comes to mind
Major influence: Edward Allan Baker
Best advice you’ve ever gotten: From a writing standpoint: “Cut into the action as close to the conflict as possible.” From a producing standpoint: “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing in the first place.”
For a Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard
by Michael Ross Albert, presented by Outside Inside as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival
Game Four, Stanley Cup finals. Lawrence is having a breakdown. Sky’s been kicked out of his house. Amanda’s career is going nowhere. Mary won’t leave the living room until someone wins the Stanley Cup. And they’re all preparing for a devastating loss, both on the ice and at home. But, Lawrence has a plan to fix his family for good. A tragic comedy about heartbreak, hockey, and the places we used to call home.
Tickets – $15
Connect: Outside Inside @OutsideInsideCo
Where: Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)
Length: 75 mins
Playwright Michael Ross Albert
Director Jim Warren
Featuring Jennifer Dzialoszynski, Daniel Pagett, Geoffrey Pounsett, Caroline Toal
Wed Jan 7 – 8:15pm
Fri Jan 9 – 10:00pm
Sat Jan 10 – 4:45pm
Sun Jan 11 – 4:30pm – followed by a Talkback at The Hoxton
Mon Jan 12 – 9:30pm
Thurs Jan 15 – 7:30pm
Fri Jan 16 – 7:00pm
Sat Jan 17 – 2:30pm
Sun Jan 18 – 6:15pm