“Two Truths and a Lie… Oh, and a Can of Spam” – In Conversation with Storyteller Graham Isador
Interview by Brittany Kay
I had the joy of sitting down with Graham Isador, one of the creators and storytellers of Two Truths and a Lie, opening this week as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival. We spoke about the fundamentals of the show, the Storytelling community in Toronto, and how sometimes what we really need is just a feel-good performance where we can sit back and laugh.
Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your show Two Truths and a Lie?
Graham Isador: Rhiannon Archer, Helder Brum and myself tell three outrageous stories, one of which is completely fictional. The goal of the performance is to trick the audience into thinking that all of them are false or all of them are true and at the end somebody has to guess which one is the lie. If they guess right, they win a can of Spam.
BK: A can of Spam?
GI: A can of Spam.
BK: Alrighty! So there is audience participation?
GI: Ish. Do you hate audience participation?
BK: Some people do. It really depends on my mood that night.
GI: Well it’s very limited audience participation. We’re probably going to single someone out. They don’t have to do anything other than picking out which story is fake. It’s basically a fun storytelling show.
BK: Are there different stories each night?
GI: We are switching them up. So each one of us has a lie story and a truth story and, depending on the night, we decide before the show who’s going to tell what.
BK: Where did the idea for this show come from?
GI: Well it’s like the party game, right? It was just kind of a very easy, recognizable format to put the stories in and hopefully entertain some people. Helder, Rhiannon and I have all had pretty successful solo shows throughout the past year. Rhiannon’s Life Records sold out a complete Fringe run at the Backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille. Helder did very, very well with the show called Born with a Tale and I did a show called Situational Anarchy in this past SummerWorks Festival. We put together a proposal because we wanted to work together to do some sort of storytelling thing with the Fringe and this is what we had come up with for the Next Stage Festival.
BK: Where do these stories come from? Do we know what the stories are about?
GI: Nope. We’re not putting that out there. We’ve discussed what we’re going to use. Alternates included a story Rhiannon refers to as the Legend of Mudbutt, the time Helder ate a pepper so spicy he questioned his place on the space-time continuum, and a time that I became a pallbearer for a man I never met. But what we’ve come up with to share is a lot of fun. Or if it’s not, we lie until it is!
BK: What’s the process to craft and rehearse these stories? Do the three of you work together?
GI: I mean, we are all performers who are constantly doing shows. I perform probably once or twice a week. Rhiannon and Helder both perform more than that because they are stand-ups, so we’re always working on new material and always putting out different stuff. It’s the kind of material that we’ve sort of perfected, or are trying to perfect, at different shows through the city. It’s honing those skills down down down until we’ve got those tight 5-8 minute pieces to be able to give to the people.
BK: What’s your rehearsal process like?
GI: (whispers) There isn’t one. Hahaha…
Testing out the stories at different shows is kind of like our rehearsal process. They’ve been developed in front of a live audience to figure out what jokes are working. We said to each other, “Come up with 8 minutes, don’t go over that 8 minutes, and we’ll figure it out the night of.” We’re in the antechamber space. It’s a half hour. It’s fun, low-key and easy for the audience.
BK: Why is this show’s concept important right now for Toronto audiences?
GI: I think, first and foremost, this is just a show that we hope is entertaining. It’s going to be a fun half hour and a cool night out with your friends. It’s not one of those things where there are bigger through lines or emotional arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy finding morals to stories and bigger truths to that stuff, but there’s also times where you want something a little dumb and hopefully people like it.
This is honestly a night where we are telling jokes. We want to entertain some people and send them home happy. It’s a feel-good event in the winter.
BK: How did you first start working with Rhiannon and Helder? Did you know them through the storytelling community?
GI: I did a show with Rhiannon called Raconteurs, which is a monthly event that happens at the Tranzac Club. It’s a big storytelling event, which brings in about 100 people. We both admired each other’s work and wanted to be in each other’s shows. I run Pressgang out of the Garrison, which has become a little bigger with about 80-100 people per show. Rhiannon and Helder’s is called Fire Side, it happens at Dufferin Grove Park when the weather permits. We sit around a campfire and tell stories to each other.
BK: That’s wicked.
GI: Yeah, it’s free. People might have cheeky beers… It’s nice. It’s a good way to do things.
BK: I want to go to that.
GI: It’s awesome. We have marshmallows. People bring dogs. It’s a really fun show to do.
BK: What about director Tom Arthur Davis?
GI: Oh, we don’t need to talk about him.
BK: Hahaha. How is he as a director?
GI: Terrible. Just useless. I give him no credit for anything I’ve done.
No, no. We’ve known each other since University. We went to UofT together. We didn’t talk to each other for the first year and then eventually we started giving each other the head nod when we would see each other on campus. We became friends once when we got really drunk together at an improv jam in a basement. We lived together for a while and worked on various projects. He was the co-director for my SummerWorks show. We co-directed for a play I wrote called Served that happened at the Fringe two years ago. He’s been a part of Pressgang Storytelling on and off since its inception like 5 years ago. He’s genuinely the most talented director I know in this city and a total garbage human being.
BK: Nice. Good. He’ll like this.
GI: Yeah, no I love him like a brother. He’s excellent. He’s very, very good. So it was one of those things where we thought for the little rehearsal time that we had, we needed an outside eye to make sure we weren’t being too self-indulgent. Tom is good at being an outside eye and good at telling me when I’m being too self-indulgent, which is more or less all the time. So it’s a great fit.
BK: Haha. Love that. Anything else we should know about Two Truths and a Lie?
GI: The goal of this show is to make people laugh. I can’t speak to my own talents but I think that Rhiannon and Helder are some of the funniest people in this city. In terms of up-and-coming comedians, they have both performed on JFL42 this year and they both have up-and-coming projects (that they’re not allowed to talk about) but are going to be very, very big deals in the spring time. It’s the recognition of talent and being able to catch them before they’re going to be a huge deal in this city and I’m really glad that a hack like me can come along for the ride.
BK: What do you hope audiences will walk away with?
GI: I hope they just go, “Wow, that was outrageous and remember when that happened?” and that they giggle at some stuff and then relay this information to their friends.
BK: What are 3-5 words that would describe your show?
GI: Just the best party.
Rapid Fire Question Round:
Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums
Book: Permanent Midnight.
Play: Swimming to Cambodia.
Place in Toronto: Top steps of Castle Loma.
What are you currently listening to: Jeff Rosenstock/Frank Turner/Converge.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Try and say as little as you can.
Two Truths and a Lie
Presented by Pressgang Theatre
Created by Graham Isador, Helder Brum, and Rhiannon Archer
Director Tom Arthur Davis
Featuring Graham Isador, Helder Brum, and Rhiannon Archer
Where: Factory Theatre Antechamber
Wed January 4th – 9:40 pm
Thurs January 5th – 6:10pm
Fri January 6th – 8:40pm
Sat January 7th – 7:40pm
Sun January 8th – 5:40pm
Mon January 9th – 8:25pm
Tues January 10th – 7:55pm
Wed January 11th – 5:55pm
Thurs January 12th – 8:40pm
Fri January 13th – 6:40pm
Sat January 14th – 5:00pm
Sun January 15th – 4:25pm