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A Chat with Barbara Johnston & Byron Laviolette on “Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party” at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Hallie Seline

If there is a dream collaboration in the Fringe not to miss, it’s the Fringe queens of new musicals – Barbara Johnston and Suzy Wilde (Summerland, The Fence) teaming up with interactive-theatre maven Byron Laviolette (Morro and Jasp) with Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party. We spoke with Barb and Byron about collaborating together, the excitement of trying something new in the Fringe, and how we all need a little more fun in our lives.

HS: Tell me a bit about the show and where the idea for this show came from?

Byron Laviolette: Brian Goldenberg, our producer, approached me with the idea that maybe we could find a way to take the best of current musical theatre (ie. Suzy Wilde and Barbara Johnston) and meld it with the interactive experience stuff I have been doing with Morro and Jasp. I was instantly intrigued. I’m not much of a musical guy, but had some experience with them working at Hart House on Rocky Horror and Reefer Madness, so I said yes.

HS: You have a stellar team involved. Can you speak a bit about working with each other?

Barbara Johnston: It was kind of a unique experience because the songs were written before the rest of the show. We had a song guide and character outlines to draw from, but essentially we had to build songs without knowing exact plot details – which was a challenging but really fun experience. The script was built in rehearsal with Byron and the actors, so Suzy and I didn’t even know the show until we saw it all starting to come together a couple of days ago.

Both of us are big fans of Morro and Jasp, so when we found out that Byron was on the project we were really excited to see where he was going to take this really cool concept. Suzy and I have worked together our entire lives and are constantly collaborating on projects (we’re also involved in True North Mixtape at Fringe this year) so us working together is “old hat” – in the best way possible! We have a short-hand with one another – we can read each others minds, so it makes working together heaven. It has been extremely exciting to write pop/karaoke songs for a cast of powerhouse singers who have all been so great with working with a short timeline and with our last-minute changes. Byron is an excellent collaborator – giving us lots of room to be part of the creative process and has done such great work with the actors, essentially building this show from the ground up. We have had a blast.

L-R: Jeigh Madjus, Tess Barao, Erica Peck, Kelly Holiff, Shane Hollon, Joseph Zita Photo Credit: Alex Nirta

BL: It’s been an interesting ride. There are a lot of differences in process between improv comedians, interactive performers and musical theatre actors. There are a lot of similarities too, but making sure that all processes are being honoured while trying to form a new methodology is challenging. I’m really happy with where we’ve landed though, and a lot of that credit goes to Suzy and Barb for giving us such stellar songs to work with.

HS: Why were you drawn to create this show for the Fringe? What is it about the show that makes it the perfect fit for the Fringe environment?

BJ: The concept of a site-specific Karaoke show was Brian Goldenberg’s idea, and it is a great one!

BL: I’ve done the Fringe now for something like 10 years and I was excited to try something new in the place where I believe new things have the best chance to soar and be seen. In different environments – like Morro and Jasp in Stupefaction at Crow’s – the opportunities to risk have very different stakes attached to them.

L-R: Kelly Holiff, Erica Peck, Jeigh Madjus, Tess Barao Photo Credit: Alex Nirta

HS: What do you hope audiences walk away with?

BJ: Hopefully with our tunes stuck in their head and maybe a slight hangover the next day.

BL: The tunes WILL be stuck in their heads. They are certainly stuck in mine. Like most of the work I am involved in, I hope that people have fun. We all need more fun in our lives. And meaning and feels and all that too, but I want to help build a space where people can feel invited in, involved in ways that doesn’t suck, and inspired to go out and share that sense of joy and wonder with the world around them. Keep the party going, you know?

HS: 100%! Love that. What is your go-to Karaoke song?

BJ: Mine changes, but either Sunday Morning (No Doubt) or Man! I Feel Like a Woman (Shania Twain). Suzy’s is always Sweet Child of Mine.

BL: I’m not much of a singer, but probably something from Disney. . .

HS: Where is your go-to Karaoke spot in Toronto?

BJ: Well I actually won 3rd place in a giant Karaoke contest 10 years ago during Pride lead by Foofer – the greatest Karaoke host in the city. She used to host at Crews and Tangos every Wednesday night and my friends and I would go religiously because there were always GREAT singers in the crowd. Now she has a night at WAYLA bar in Leslieville that we like to go to.

HS: Best advice you have ever received /current mantra you are living by?

BJ: When working in collaborations: The best idea wins.

BL: Yes, 100% Best idea wins. Also, find the balance in your work/life. This show is the third creation process I’ve been involved in since March (including Morro and Jasp and Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua) and you have to keep perspective as the dreams (and nightmares) swirl around you.

HS: Describe the show in 5-10 words:

BJ: Tony and Tina’s Wedding meets Company in a Teenage Dream.

BL: A Musical Mockumentary about the plight of the North American Millennial in the Modern Age.

HS: What other show(s) are on your must-see list this Fringe?

BJ: True North Mixtape (We’re in that one, but if we were not we would want to see it!)
Wild/Walled, Lipstique (both dance shows with some great dancers/choreographers).
Jay and Shilo’s Sibling Revelry!

All of them. ALL OF THEM!! Go risk. Go discover. Go play.

Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party

Who:
Company: Charcoal Sketch Productions
Playwright/Creator: Barbara Johnston, Suzy Wilde, and Byron Laviolette
Director: Byron Laviolette
Cast: Tess Barao, Kelly Holiff, Shane Hollon, Jeigh Madjus, Erica Peck, Joseph Zita
Producer: Brian Goldenberg, Jeff Jones

What:
It’s Maddie’s 25th birthday party but something’s not right – the guest of honour hasn’t shown up yet! Join five of Maddie’s best friends as they try to sort out where the birthday girl is at while they fight to keep the party’s spirits high (and struggle to keep their own dark secrets hidden). This intimate, interactive story unfolds over a series of hilarious and heart-breaking Karaoke-style songs in a party environment where the audience are fellow guests.

Where:
THE MONARCH TAVERN
12 Clinton Street, Toronto

When:
6th July – 8:15pm
7th July – 7:00pm
8th July – 6:30pm
9th July – 6:00pm
11th July – 8:00pm
12th July – 8:45pm
13th July – 8:15pm
14th July – 7:00pm
15th July – 7:00pm
16th July – 6:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @maddiesparty
f: /MaddiesParty

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