In Conversation with Sophia Fabiilli – Adaptor & Performer of The Philanderess in the 2015 Toronto Fringe
Interview by Hallie Seline
I had the pleasure of chatting with the Fabulous Fabiilli. I call her that as 1 – her twitter handle is FabFabiilli and I want it to catch on and 2 – she’s inspired me to think that should be her superhero name. Currently wearing the many hats of adaptor/writer, producer, actor etc. etc. in her show The Philanderess in this year’s Fringe Festival, Sophia shares her inspiration for the adaptation, the strength of her team around her and some very good advice for surviving the ever-necessary evil of wearing those multi-tasking shoes in indie theatre. #FringeFemmeTO power!
HS: What inspired you to adapt George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer for the 21st century?
Sophia Fabiilli: Want to know my little secret? I didn’t have a project when I applied for the Fringe (gasp!). I was trying to find the perfect play to produce, but nothing felt right and my gut told me I was trying too hard. So, I sat down in my front of my bookshelf and said: “What do you really like, Sophia?” (out loud, alone, and creepily in my apartment). And there was my copy of Shaw’s Plays Unpleasant. I loved working on a scene from The Philanderer in theatre school and I realized what I really like are plays that make me laugh and make me think. I’m also very passionate about the representation of women on stage and in the media, so thought it would be interesting to re-invent the play with a woman at the centre of a modern love triangle, while trying to let Shaw’s smart, funny, and witty writing inspire my own. Then I realized this idea would involve writing a PLAY, so I went around telling myself I couldn’t possibly do THAT. Then, I finally told someone the idea, they said “DO IT”, and I started writing (and I haven’t slept a full night since).
What resulted is a weird, little farce. Our tagline is “Open relationships, ballsy sexcapades, and weeping men… What would Shaw think of that?”. Laugh? Cry? Throw rotten tomatoes from the grave? Come see the show and tell me what you think over a Steamwhistle after.
HS: You have a great group of artists working on this play. What was it like bringing something that you had been working with so intimately as an adaptor to the team you have around you?
SF: My amazing director/dramaturg/work wife, Michelle Alexander, was the first person I asked to help me with this project and I will sing her praises to anyone willing to listen. It’s been her and I since the get-go and we have slowly built our mighty little team together.
HS: What’s it been like?
SF: As an actor and producer: AWESOME. Work with great people. They’ll make you look like you know what you’re doing.
As a writer: AWESOME. And, to be honest, a little overwhelming. If you hire smart actors, they will ask hard questions about your weird little play baby, which in the moment is challenging, but in the long run is invaluable. There were a few humbling rehearsals where discrepancies were pointed out and questions were asked and I had to go back to my laptop and figure it out. Overall though, everyone’s profesh (that’s how I say professional without sounding pretentious); they all know what they’re doing and they’re all invested. I’m extremely lucky to be working with them.
HS: As you mentioned, you wear many hats for this production – adaptor, writer, producer, actor – what was your experience taking on so many roles in this show and do you have any words of advice for others who are or might one day be in the same kind of multitasking shoes?
SF: Full disclosure: writing, acting, and producing this show is by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It is as difficult as everyone tells you it is (Michelle and I answer each other’s calls “Hello! Panic Attack Central” which gives you an idea of what our lives have been like leading up to opening).
Even now that we’re open, I’m STILL working on trying to separate my different roles, but things always come up! For instance, once we started rehearsals, I was trying really to “hang up my writer hat”, but then… the ending needed a major rewrite. And then… the show was too long. And then… it was still too long. And then… it was still too long… Layer in a never-ending producing to do list and slaying my demons as an actor, and… yes, Panic Attack Central really should have been the name of my theatre company now that I think of it.
So, here’s my humble advice:
1) Just like in real life, wearing more than one hat isn’t a “good” idea. But wearing multiple hats in this crazy biz is often unavoidable, so: prioritize and carve out time in your schedule for the creative things. Often there are harder deadlines for the producer things and will take priority sometimes (okay, a lot of times), make time for the creative stuff (for writing, learning lines, warming up for your show)… because chances are the creative part is probably why you’re producing your own show in the first place.
2) Ask for help. This one is so hard! It’s hard to trust other people with your weird play baby (no one understands her like you do). Surround yourself with awesome people and let them help you. My stage manager, Laura Paduch, offered to take on producer-y things from the get-go and I will forever love her for that. I also ended up bringing on my awesome co-producer, Vikki Velenosi, who keeps forcing me to give her items off my to do list, which she then magically accomplishes. I will love her forever, too. And then there is my small army of friends who I call for advice, for help postering, or for free therapy sessions. Oh, and Mom built my set. So, yes, I would definitely recommend having handy (and retired) parents.
3) Think less, just do it. This became my weirdo Nike-inspired mantra. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed. Do one thing at a time. Make a to do list and start checking things off. Just do it.
4) Budget extra time. For everything. Yep.
5) Take care of yourself. Take breaks. Take your vitamins. Sleep. Eat well. Call your mom (especially if she built your set).
Please note: I did not do these things unless we count eating Nutella off a spoon at 2am as “eating well”.
6) Remind yourself to enjoy the process. Half way through rehearsals I realized I was stressing so much about making a play. A PLAAAY. Even though I am totally the CEO of Panic Attack Central, making theatre isn’t heart surgery, so I tried my best not to stress about it like it was (and failed, but this sounds like excellent advice, doesn’t it?).
HS: Tell us about your favourite aspect of the Fringe Festival.
SF: The lottery system. “Breaking into the scene” is really daunting and can feel impossible, but anyone can get into the Fringe! It doesn’t matter what’s on your resume!! I just love that. And the beer tent is pretty fun, I guesssss…..
HS: Describe The Philanderess in 5 words.
SF: Silly. Sexy. Weird. Ridiculous. Unicorn.
HS: We’re loving the #FringeFemmeTO hashtag you ladies started! As Femmes who are Fringing, any other shows you think we should check out?
SF: It caught on! Woohoo! I feel like an old lady who got her DVD player to work! Honestly, I have a very on-again/off-again relationship with Twitter, but this really is evidence of its power to connect people.
So many #FringeFemmeTO shows to see and so little time! Here are just a few in no particular order:
In Case We Disappear, Bout, Hanger, Adventures of a Red Headed Coffee Shop Girl, Morro and Jasp do Puberty, Waiting for Alonzo
Presented by Truth ‘n’ Lies Theatre as part of The 2015 Toronto Fringe
Meet Charlotte. She has a PhD in feminist philosophy, just asked her lawyer boyfriend to be her life partner, and authors a wildly famous blog about sleeping with men on the side. She has it all!
Until one of her lovers – and his entire family – crash her engagement party.
An outrageous, sexy, fast-paced farce inspired by G.B. Shaw’s ‘The Philanderer’!
By: Sophia Fabiilli
Company: Truth ‘n’ Lies Theatre
Company origin: Toronto, Ontario
Director: Michelle Alexander
Cast: Amos Crawley, Seth Drabinsky, Jakob Ehman, Sophia Fabiilli, Deborah Tennant and Suzanne Bennett
Stage Manager: Laura Paduch, Co-producers: Sophia Fabiilli and Vikki Velenosi, Designer: Laura Gardner, Fight Director: Nate Bitton
Where: Annex Theatre
July 02 at 07:00 PM buy tickets
July 04 at 11:00 PM buy tickets
July 06 at 01:30 PM buy tickets
July 08 at 07:30 PM buy tickets
July 10 at 05:45 PM buy tickets
July 11 at 12:30 PM buy tickets
July 12 at 04:00 PM buy tickets
Warnings: Sexual Content, Mature Language