Interview with Rachel Blair – Playwright & Performer of “A Man Walks Into a Bar” at the 2015 Toronto Fringe
by Bailey Green
“A woman, with the help of a man, tells a joke: A man walks into a bar and meets a waitress. As lines between the performers and the characters blur, a tense and funny standoff about gender, power, and selling sex emerges.” – A Man Walks Into a Bar
Presented by Circle Circle and written by Rachel Blair, A Man Walks into a Bar is a stark exploration of the ways men and women interact. Inspired by current events, collected stories and her own experience, the play is a frank conversation about masculine and feminine interaction. The location— the loaded and often hyper-sexualized environment of a bar.
Rachel wanted to discuss inequality, for example: how from a very early age women are taught coping strategies to avoid violence and protect themselves. “In these kinds of conversations, about gender or race, someone has privilege and someone does not,” Rachel says, “and you might not realize how privileged you are until you hear how someone else isn’t.” She strove to make each character identifiable but challenging. In her own words, she describes the play as “funny, feminist, masculine, urgent and accessible.”
The play slips between two worlds, between interaction with the audience and absorption into the woman’s story. Rachel performs the role of the woman. Blue Bigwood-Mallin plays the man, and Rachel comments on his willingness to stretch as a performer, committing to the strong opinionated nature of his role. The play began as a satire on how men negatively respond to women’s stories— corrections, suggestions, interruptions, etc. Rachel did extensive research, using Reddit and message boards to examine the ways men dismantled women’s arguments. Now before I go further, let me introduce a hashtag conceived by the cast and crew:
One of Rachel’s challenges was to make the piece as balanced as possible, “I’m trying open up a discussion that happens often, and clearly sometimes blows up in our face and creates animosity—between men and women, women and women, men and men. I wanted to be very respectful to both voices without making them caricatures or demonizing them.” Rachel mentions White Ribbon for their work, men working to end violence towards women, and expresses her gratitude for the feminists in her life.
One of whom is her director, David Matheson (Artistic Director of the Dora nominated Wordsmyth Theatre) who was a mentor of Rachel’s while she studied at York. Their friendship grew from there. “David’s great about drawing out new aspects and finding moments while being very respectful of the work,” Rachel says. When Rachel was selected from the Fringe lottery, she proceeded to write the play in two months, going through multiple drafts with her dramaturg Andrew Cheng—who she has worked with for years.
After June 1st, Rachel officially switched over to acting the role as opposed to writing the show. She initially found it challenging to let go of the male character’s justifiable opinions at points in the story.“We’ve played a lot with my character’s volition and how much she needs to keep the conversation with the man amicable and light. As a playwright I’ve written this piece, and I’m outspoken and opinionated” Rachel says, “but for the character, this is a big brave thing to talk about this idea and tell this joke to a man. I think a lot of women may have huge opinions about who they are as women and where they stand but are scared to speak up for fear that they won’t ‘do it right’ or rock the boat or to encourage judgement.”
As for her intention for the audience, she hopes people hear an opinion different from their own and find themselves understanding even though they still may disagree. She hopes women find a sense of comfort in hearing any part of their experience heard. Let’s keep the dialogue going.
A Man Walks Into a Bar
A man walks into a bar and asks a waitress for a drink. A tense and funny metatheatrical look at gender dynamics.
From Rachel Blair, 2008 New Play Contest winner for Wake (NNNN, ***** Eye Weekly, Best of Fringe) and David Matheson, Artistic Director of Dora-nominated Wordsmyth Theatre and director of [sic] (Best of Fringe) and Bluebeard (Patron’s Pick).
By: Rachel Blair
Company: Circle Circle
Company origin: Toronto, Ontario
Director: David Matheson
Dramaturg: Andrew Cheng
Warnings: Mature Language
Where: Tarragon Theatre Extraspace
July 01 at 06:30 PM
July 03 at 01:15 PM
July 04 at 07:00 PM
July 05 at 03:30 PM
July 06 at 08:30 PM
July 08 at 12:00 PM
July 11 at 05:15 PM