“Puppets, The Service Industry & The Fringe” – In Conversation with Sex T-Rex on their new show BENDY SIGN TAVERN at the 2017 Toronto Fringe
Interview by Bailey Green
We spoke with Kaitlin Morrow, Seann Murray and Elliot Loran about Sex T-Rex’s site-specific Fringe show, Bendy Sign Tavern (located at Venue 26: The Paddock Tavern). We spoke about puppets, the service industry and supporting each other at the Fringe.
(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Kaitlin Morrow: So… because it’s a puppet show, I think a lot of people are wondering if kids are allowed, and they are, even though it’s a bar, but they have to be accompanied by someone who is… not a kid. I think it’s important to distinguish that it isn’t a ‘kids show’, but if your kid can put up with swearing, they can see the show.
Seann Murray: It’s about as racy as most of our shows. There’s certainly less murder in this one. I wouldn’t say no murder… but less.
Bailey Green: When did Bendy Sign Tavern start to take shape? I know a lot of your shows have a somewhat quick turnaround time, so when did this one start to grow?
KM: This one had a sort of longer process. I used to work at this cafe in the east end for years, and my friend worked there before I did, so I had this long-standing relationship with this place. And like most cafes, it was full of characters and we were always joking about different characters you see coming in. And then, [in 2012] Comedy Bar and Insight Productions teamed up and had this pilot week competition where you pitch a TV show and if you get accepted you perform your pilot live for TV producers. The prize was $5000 and you get to go to these pitch meetings and then… we won.
BG: You won! That’s the best ending to the story
KM: We built about 20 puppets in a month and wrote the show and put it on its feet. We didn’t get into the Fringe this year with the lottery, which was good to know, but then site-specific came up… I said, “Look I have this puppet show in my closet. Let’s pull it out and do it in a cafe.” We couldn’t find a cafe but then a bar became available so we were like, “It’ll work in a bar!” It didn’t work in a bar. The story was about characters coming in and grabbing a coffee and going and that relationship doesn’t really exist in a bar. You don’t walk up to a bar and leave.
SM: So we started the process thinking that we had this show in the bag and then on second consideration, not really. A 20 minute TV pilot set in a coffee shop does not translate to an hour-long play set in a tavern. But there are still a lot of the same elements. At its core, it’s about the service industry
KM: [The puppets] were sitting in my closet for years so it was good to get them out and make use of them.
BG: How many puppets did you already have and how many did you need to build? What’s the creation process like?
KM: I wish I had a photo of my apartment – it’s a mess. I believe we had to make 14 new puppets for this show. Some are really simple, some are more complex.
SM: There were a few big ones, for sure, something that is worth noting is that when it comes to creation there are a lot of different styles of puppets in this show, so there are very different processes in terms of how long it takes to make them.
[this part of the interview has been removed as it was mostly the author freaking out over several awesome Sex T-Rex puppets. See the show, and you too will be amazed by puppets. Also Elliott Loran, who plays the Human Piano Player in Bendy Sign Tavern and composed original music for the show, joins the interview.]
KM: So we made two dozen of our closest friends and family suffer through a 2 hour super secret preview of the show last Sunday.
Elliott Loran: It was great to have a run before opening. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an indie company that’s done that. Usually it’s like, “Okay we might get a run in before we open.”
BG: And usually Sex T-Rex brings the show to Montreal Fringe before?
KM: It’s our first time premiering a show in Toronto… It’s a little baby show. Usually we do make changes every single show. We’re always working on it. Sometimes the change is big, sometimes it’s small, but it never stays the same. So this is just going to be a raw, fresh creation!
SM: Montreal is also an especially good community in terms of giving feedback because they are used to being the first stop on the Fringe circuit. The audiences there are so generous with trying to improve your show.
BG: And this show is a really different style and genre from what you’ve done before. Music is now a part of the show, as well! What has that been like?
KM: It has been wonderful working with Elliott. None of us are musicians… I’m a hobbyist musician at best.
SM: Any amount of canned music we could get for this would be repetitive and so distracting. And Elliott is someone for us to play off of, as well.
EL: We’ve written some original music for the show too, so it’s not all improvised. It’s been a fun collaborative process! How has that been for you guys having not done it before?
KM: Super fun and terrifying. I wouldn’t say it’s a musical, but there’s music!
EL: I would call it a play with music. It’s a delightful surprise that there are songs. The music that is written is a bit jazz-inspired.
KM: Also a bit of bar atmosphere, drinking music… We’ve also never straight up written a love story before. Some of our shows may have romantic elements in them but often it is like a surprise ending.
SM: All of Sex T-Rex’s other shows are an action-based show, where the principal action revolves around combat, specifically, which is not the case in the play. And as a genre parody, I guess you could say it’s a romantic comedy but it’s not even a rom com because it is very situational. It’s about a workplace and it’s about this team.
EL: The characters are so surprising and it’s so different. It’s such a mash-up of all these fantastic ideas.
SM: This story is more anecdotal – many of us in Sex T-Rex are working in the service industry. It’s probably a story that will connect to a lot of Fringe artists.
KM: Speaking of that, we’re going to be featuring a different Fringe show every show! So the Fringe artists happen to be there in the bar and we are so excited that they’re there because they are celebrities in our world and so the puppets interview them.
BG: That’s a great way to really bring in the community and give back.
KM: We’ve been doing the Fringe for so long that I feel like at this point, in a way, we sort of need to. I remember when we were starting out with Callaghan! and we had like 40 people in our audience for most shows (if we were lucky), and then the very slow growth arc where we could finally sell out a 200 seat theatre. It wasn’t like 0 to sold-out for us. We had a slow growth so we had to work for a while to build a reputation. Now that we’ve been around for a while, it’s been 5 years, there are now people who will tweet about us and help to prop us up and spread the word. That’s amazing and we want to do that for other shows.
EL: You want to share that kind of support and share the work that inspires you. There’s so much. Like, I think to the Mind of a Snail team, that did Curious Contagious—they have a new show called Multiple Organism and it has gotten so little Fringe pre-buzz, and their work is incredible! So I’m going to be promoting the shit out of that.
Bendy Sign Tavern
Creators: Sex T-Rex
Cast: Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Elliott Loran, Kaitlin Morrow, Seann Murray
Award winning comedy company Sex T-Rex (Second City, Just For Laughs and Atlantic Fringe Best Comedy Award winners) return to the Toronto Fringe for the fifth year in a row with a Full Service puppet Rom-Com! “Life is hard when you’re a young puppet trying to make your way in the big city. But with a song in her heart and a crew of loveable co-workers by her side, Joan will overcome rude customers, packs of Bachelorette Wolves and literally battle her deepest fears to achieve her dreams.” Note: July 9th show is 8:30pm, which is updated from printed program.
178 Bathurst Street, Toronto
6th July – 7:30pm
7th July – 7:30pm
8th July – 7:30pm
9th July – 8:30pm
10th July – 7:30pm
11th July – 7:30pm
12th July – 7:30pm
13th July – 7:30pm
14th July – 7:30pm
15th July – 7:30pm