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Talking Connection, Reality and Structure with Rebecca Applebaum, Director of REALITY THEATRE at SummerWorks

Interview by Madryn McCabe

MMC: Tell me a bit about the show.

Rebecca Applebaum: Reality Theatre is unlike any other show I’ve ever seen or been a part of. It has four storylines all split in two and it’s almost structured like a palindrome, which I love. Every storyline is different: in length, in how the characters relate to each other, in the worlds that they live in, and in many other ways as well. With each story having two separated parts, there’s a sense that time has passed in each world while we’ve been away from them watching the others. And we get to tune back in just at the right moment.

MMC: What drew you to this show?

RA: I casually mentioned to Julia (Lederer, playwright of Reality Theatre) that I wanted to be a director during a period of time when we were working intensively together on two projects. She casually replied that I could direct her next play (I know, Right!?) And then she sent me the script for Reality Theatre. I read it and thought it was great. And as I’ve spent more and more time with the script, from that initial reading, to auditioning actors, to rehearsal, to performance, I’ve found myself discovering more and more how truly brilliant the writing is—how insightful, how hilarious, and how truthful it is about human vulnerability, relationships and our need for connection, as well as how misguided we often are in our attempt to figure out what to do with our lives.

MMC: Reality Theatre is made up of eight, smaller plays. How do they all connect with each other and what was it like directing eight smaller plays as opposed to one long one?

RA: A couple of themes that connect the plays and come to mind right now (and there are many) are human fallibility and the absurdity of a lot of human endeavor (be it an online quest to find a YouTube guru or selling your soul for eternal youthfulishness). And then on another side of that coin, there’s the process of facing reality after not looking at it for so long. And of course, the plays are all connected by Julia’s unique and wonderful voice, language, and ingenious comedic sensibility.

In terms of directing different plays within one piece, one of the first things that I started thinking about was how to differentiate each world. I started thinking about how each world could have a distinct relationship to the space of the theatre. So that was my initial approach to how to stage the show. One of the worlds plays with distance, one plays with vastness, another with confinement, and another with connectedness.

MMC: The plays talk about maintaining human connection in a world where communication technology is always evolving. Some would argue that all of these different technologies are better for connecting with each other, while others find it impersonal. How do you feel about all of the different ways we are able to communicate with each other? How did that affect your approach to directing?

RA: The pair of plays that are most clearly about our relationship to technology are both written with the three characters on stage together but in their own technological silos—connected but disconnected, staring intently at their screens or interfaces but blind to their surroundings. Seeing them all together like that let’s us see ourselves in relationship to each other despite the isolation we often inadvertently impose on ourselves. And with all of Julia’s brilliant humour and it being in a theatre with people laughing all together, I think it grounds us back in a shared reality and places us in a collective experience that gives us some space and perspective on our relationship to technology.

MMC: This year’s SummerWorks programming is based on the question “how do we come together?” How does Reality Theatre fit into that idea, or answer that question?

RA: Theatre is how we come together! Also, all the stuff I’ve mentioned about how the play shows us our need for human connection and brings us to an experience of shared reality.

MMC: Is there anything you want to tell the audience before they see Reality Theatre?

RA: Some trivia that people might be interested in:

  1. Originally the show was written for two men and one woman. We cast the show with two women and one man and completely changed how the roles were distributed between the actors.
  2. This may be obvious, but my generally very observant friend didn’t see it, so I thought I’d mention it just in case: the set’s backdrop (designed by Christine Urquhart) references and is a recursive copy of the exposed archway over the Factory Mainspace stage (which is usually covered by masking).

Reality Theatre

Company: QuestionMark-Exclamation Theatre
Directed by Rebecca Applebaum
Written by Julia Lederer
Performed by Akosua Amo-Adem, Krista Morin, and Andy Trithardt
Set Design by Christine Urquhart
Costume Design by Brandon Kleiman
Lighting Design by Claire Hill
Sound Design by Andy Trithardt
Produced by Stephanie Jung

Reality and fantasy blur for a woman playing a spoon in Beauty and the Beast. A man reconsiders a contract signed in blood. And the world wide web disappears into thin air. Reality Theatre is a fast moving collection of short, interwoven plays that explore our anxieties about change, the acceleration of technology, and maintaining human relationships in a world quickly becoming less human.

Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON

Saturday August 12th 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Sunday August 13th 8:00pm – 9:00pm


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