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“It’s Funny. It’s Feminist. It’s a Sexy Thriller, Horror Musical!” – In Conversation with Anika Johnson & Barbara Johnston on their flagship show Blood Ties at NSTF

Interview by Hallie Seline

It’s a complete joy to connect with Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston of Johnson & Johnston, the power duo boss ladies behind Blood Ties at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. We spoke about where the inspiration for their horror musical came from, why they keep coming back to their flagship show after 10 years, and why the Next Stage Festival is like a big community party. 

Hallie Seline: This is your flagship show as Johnson & Johnston. How did the two of you meet and start creating together?

Anika Johnson & Barbara Johnston: We met as acting students at Ryerson Theatre school and wrote the first draft of this show for a festival of student work in our fourth year.

HS: So Blood Ties is based on a true story? How did you come across it?

J&J: One time Barb was stuck on a long car-trip with her family and her mom talking about this crazy day when her uncle shot himself in his bathroom and she and her friends had to clean up the mess.

HS: And what made you think “This has to be a musical!”?

J&J: Duh.

HS: This will be the fourth time presenting Blood Ties, right? The Next Stage Festival is all about bringing the work to the next level. What are you hoping for/exploring with this run of the show?

J&J: The first draft of Blood Ties was the first thing we ever wrote together, almost 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve written a whole bunch of other things, but for some reason we keep coming back to this one. In some ways, it’s the work that most unabashedly represents our taste – it’s funny, it’s feminist, it’s a horror musical, it’s a sexy thriller – and we’re excited to revisit it now as more seasoned writers and share a work that’s had some time to develop and grow.

HS: The festival is celebrating its 10th Anniversary and it’s been growing every year! Why do you think it’s so important for the theatre community and for the city for festivals like this to exist and be supported?

J&J: New work needs an audience, both for exposure and development. It’s hard for theaters to risk programming or developing a new show, especially a new musical, which takes years to finish. In a festival like Next Stage, we get the opportunity to fully realize an idea and then try it out in front of an audience – and audiences get the opportunity to see professional work from artists who may not otherwise have a platform. Plus, a festival is an event – like a giant family reunion. It brings the city together and builds community, which is so important. It’s a party. And we love to party.

HS: If your audience could listen to a song, album or playlist before coming to see Blood Ties, what would you recommend?

J&J: Maybe the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides’? But actually.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Horror Film: Scream and Fatal Attraction.
Favourite Musical: Sweeney Todd.
What you’re listening to right now: Current faves that made their way into Blood Ties somehow: Kimbra ‘Settle Down’, The Rolling Stones ‘Miss You’, Martha Wainwright ‘I am a Diamond’.
Where do you look for inspiration? For this show, classic 90’s sexy thrillers and the lives of ourselves and our friends.
Favourite place in the city? This month, we’re really into karaoke at the Duke on Queen East.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten? It’s not going to look the way you thought it would.
Describe Blood Ties in 5 words: The things we never mention.

Blood Ties

blood

Photo of Anika Johnson & Barbara Johnston by Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Edge of the Sky
Playwrights Johnson & Johnston
Director Ann Merriam
Featuring Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnston, Jeremy Lapalme, Carter Hayden and Kent Sheridan
Musical Director Jeffrey Newberry

What:
Sheila’s uncle shoots himself in his bathroom on the eve of her wedding, and when her three best friends arrive in town to celebrate they are instead faced with the task of cleaning up the considerable mess left behind. This flagship musical show by Dora-nominated team Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston has previously been a hit at SummerWorks, the Edinburgh Fringe, and on BBC America’s ‘Orphan Black.’ Based on true events.

Where: 
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 04 at 08:15 PM
January 05 at 07:00 PM
January 07 at 04:15 PM
January 08 at 06:30 PM
January 10 at 08:45 PM
January 12 at 05:15 PM
January 13 at 10:00 PM
January 14 at 02:00 PM
January 15 at 07:00 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

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