Artist Profile: Sara Farb, Playwright & Performer of personal piece R-E-B-E-C-C-A at Theatre Passe Muraille
Interview by Brittany Kay
I had the utmost pleasure of sitting down with long time friend, Sara Farb, to discuss her new play, R-E-B-E-C-C-A, which opened this week at Theatre Passe Muraille. We shared our “somewhat” fondness of our suburban bubble and the journey into realizing that theatre is the fundamental lifeline that keeps us going.
Throughout the laughter and reminiscences, I couldn’t help but marvel at this woman. She is one of wit, talent and has created a truly remarkable play that shares a one of a kind story.
Brittany: How did you get to where you are now?
Sara: I’m originally from North York, so technically I’m from Toronto but my entire childhood was in Thornhill. A huge part of my childhood was spent at a community theatre program called Charactors Theatre Troupe. I went to Earl Haig Secondary School in the Claude Watson arts program as a drama major and then decided to go to the University of Toronto to get a normal person degree, because I’d been working as an actor and didn’t want to remove myself for too long. University was a constant struggle. I ended up doing really well, but it took me six years to finish. I don’t regret it for a second. It was a really good balance to exercise, especially entering a life where you know multitasking is sort of essential if you want to remain sane.
For a while, I was working as an editor for on an online publication and the acting wasn’t really happening. At the age of 24, I made a decision to leave the business.
Brittany: What made you come to that choice?
Sara: It was mostly musical theatre that I was doing and that’s already such a marginalized part of the arts community. What I offered was too astray from the norm that the musical theatre arts community is so devoted to here in this country. You know, not necessarily to its detriment, but very few risks are taken in casting. It was really hard to establish myself in any real momentous way. In like bits and pieces sure. It was just too much of a struggle… too frustrating.
I’ve always had an affinity for words and for literature and I had dabbled in online journalism. I decided that if I’m going to be unsatisfied in a profession, it might as well be one that is more lucrative, yields better results and where the competition isn’t as ferocious. I made the promise to myself that after I had a show in Halifax, that was going to be it. I enrolled in these courses to be an editor and my entire life perspective was going to be flipped after the show. This new re-focus would be in the middle and theatre would be its orbit. That’s the way it looked.
Brittany: That must have been an incredibly hard moment in your life.
Sara: I remember having this watershed conversation with my boyfriend where I felt like I was getting a divorce. I needed a clean break. It was such a huge decision and so monumental in my life. But the second I let it go, it just all came at me like I was a magnet. It was so crazy, but also very informative. I’m not an avid believer in cosmic anything but that’s the closest thing I can think of, of any universal involvement in ones’ life, it seemed. It’s inexplicable. So I decided to ride the wave, but I still didn’t take my foot out of the writing door.
It was evident that I obviously wasn’t ready to let go entirely. Eventually, it led to being asked to come in to audition for Stratford because they needed an immediate replacement. I got the part and that was sort of a no brainer.
Sara: And so now I’m an actor. The feeling that this isn’t permanent never goes away. This always feels like a temporary fix and that’s why I still write and that’s why I’m very keen on exercising other skills. I am not delusional and I don’t in any way, shape or form think that this is going to stay as good as it’s been forever. That’s simply not realistic.
It’s important to pour everything you have into what you’re doing, but if that’s all you got then I think that’s a serious problem in this industry.
Brittany: Let’s switch gears and talk about the play. How did this play come to be? What was the development process?
Sara: The last possible year I could participate in the Paprika Festival, I decided to submit. I had sort of been musing about what a play about my sister would even look like because I didn’t really want it to just be a family drama. That wasn’t it. I was kind of more interested in people’s perceptions of people with disabilities and how they might be wrong, especially in my very specific experience with my sister. I know that it’s easy to look at someone like her and feel an overwhelming sense of pity, but in reality she’s actually probably the happier of the two because she’s not aware of the minutia of day-to-day struggle. It just sort of felt like a really interesting place to start. It developed into a 20-minute piece that examined her day-to-day existence. It built a foundation for the development and growth of the play to where it exists now – with a Rebecca that is portrayed in the present and a hypothetical Rebecca.
Rebecca was born prematurely and there’s been speculation in her life that her developmental delay has to do with that. It’s a theory. That sort of coincided with the big question of what you do with legal adulthood even though there’s no comprehension of what that is or any real way of manifesting that with someone who is a perpetual child. What would a hypothetical Rebecca, who was brought fully to term, look like if she were turning eighteen? The play looks at both of those worlds on each of their respective birthdays.
Brittany: How did it come to Theatre Passe Muraille?
Sara: Rob Kempson, who ran Paprika at the time, invited me to participate in the “Old Spice” program, which invites Paprika alumni to further develop their work with a mentor of their choice. Until then, there were a couple years where the development of the play was kind of dead and I didn’t really know what to do with it. This program really sort of kicked me in the ass and it was more due to Rob’s insistence that I applied because I was on the fence about it. It’s just been a really long line of very supportive people, encouraging me to do something about it. So I had my pick of mentors and Richard Greenblatt had been very interested in the play back when I was first doing it with Paprika, so I invited him to be my mentor and dramaturg. It was a really great match. I really owe this to Rob, who brought it to the attention of Andy McKim. It’s been very much on his radar for a very long time.
Brittany: Talk to me about you relationship with your sister.
Sara: It’s very very close in the way that it is. There are few people that she feels comfortable showing all of her colours to, a part from my mom. I may be the next person in line who knows as much about the parts of Rebecca. Her life and my life will really be fused for our entire lives. I adore her to no end. It’s very protective.
Brittany: Like any other older sister would be.
Sara: Pretty much. Obviously there are significant parts of sisterhood missing. It’s like having a four-year-old sister forever. That has its benefits and its costs, but I’ve never wished her to be anything else. I’m pretty aware that I’d probably be a different person if I had an ally in my sister. That’s sort of fodder for why one writes a play like this.
Brittany: You play two Rebeccas in this play. Can you speak a bit about the two of them?
Sara: The characters’ names in the script are May and July. May is the Rebecca that exists and July is the hypothetical one if she were brought to full term. May is a pretty true to life representation that I’ve been able to master after all the time spent with my sister. It’s a little more articulate than she actually is, but it communicates what I perceive to be her thoughts and feelings. July Rebecca comes from the question of what someone would do if they had the deep feeling that they weren’t supposed to exist. The kind of person July is, is the direct opposite of May who’s fully unaware of her existence. Time is not a concept to May. July’s existence is constant. It is not supposed to have happened to her and therefore it’s always there.
Brittany: What has it been like being both playwright and actor?
Sara: It’s been extremely challenging. Richard gave me a week grace period of allowing the playwright into the room and then the playwright had to leave. It had to just be about performing the play. It’s mostly now about getting 80 minutes of theatre from beginning to end without worrying too much. Being able to treat the words like someone else wrote them is strange. Every now and then I’ll come across something and think, “I can’t believe I wrote that.” I’m trying to shelve those opinions. Not having an opinion on the writing has been a really difficult thing.
Brittany: Richard Greenblatt has been a part of so much of this process. How has it been having him as your director?
Sara: It’s been outstanding. He’s such a champion of thought-provoking, unusual stories and his commitment to this one is humbling. Anytime my confidence has waivered, he’s there to slap me out of it. He’s just got such a keen eye for developing new work and his dramaturgy skills are unbelievable. I just feel so lucky. The whole team are masters in their field and the fact that they assembled because I wrote this play is a really gratifying thing to feel.
Brittany: Who does this play speak to? Speak for?
Sara: It’s an examination of our experience with people with developmental delay and what we project onto them. How we try to fit them into our world when they necessarily might not want to fit into it. The way they operate may be preferable or more natural. It’s sort of a look at everyone’s struggle of the idea and less about what somebody who is disabled struggles with. They could be the happiest people in life but because we know what they can’t do, that’s immediately a reason for pity.
As well as I know Rebecca this is all largely hypothesized. I’ll never truly know exactly how she feels about certain things because there’s a huge lack in ability of communicating. Even for me to impose all of this on her is sort of the point of what I’m trying to get across.
Brittany: What do you want audiences walking away with?
Sara: All I want is for them to be affected. I want them to like the play. I want it to not suck (she laughs).
It’s important to come to terms with these things and how we approach certain ideas and how much we force ourselves onto everything. How something isn’t necessarily a certain way because you feel a certain way about it.
The notion of the ease with which any one of us could have ended up with a genetic disorder. How easy it is for all of that to not go according to plan. If it does go according to plan is that necessarily better?
Rapid Fire Questions:
What is your favourite…
Book: Of Human Bondage.
Movie: Recently, Whiplash.
Place to write: Revel Caffe in Stratford.
Place in Toronto: I really like walking along Bloor Street.
Food: Lately it’s been Korean food. I cannot get enough kimchi into my mouth.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Don’t give up, get ready.
Written and performed by Sara Farb. Directed and dramaturged by Richard Greenblatt. A Theatre Passe Muraille production.
Tickets: PWYC-$33 – Buy here.
Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
Length: 80 min
When: On now until March 1st.