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“Get Yourself Home Skyler James” – In Conversation with Director Ali Joy Richardson & Performer Natasha Ramondino

by Bailey Green

“I trusted the library, like Hermione Granger, and I got to thinking—is there a solo play for a young female voice?” In the Fall of 2015, director Ali Joy Richardson asked herself this question as she searched for a script to submit for the 2016 site-specific Fringe category. Richardson knew she wanted to collaborate with actor and friend Natasha Ramondino. Then, in Jordan Tannahill’s award winning collection of short plays Age of Minority, Richardson discovered Get Yourself Home Skyler James. The play tells the funny, honest, searing account of 19-year-old ex-soldier Skyler James. Though the play diverges slightly from true events, the core story remains largely intact.

The audience finds Skyler in back of the KFC where she works. After police officers show up to talk to Skyler, her girlfriend locks herself in the bathroom. Over the course of 40 minutes, Skyler tells the woman she loves the truth about her past and reveals everything she has fought for and against. As a director, Richardson found one of the challenges of this piece was to keep her direction simple and focused. “It’s a 40 minute show of a young woman talking through a door to another young woman, [and I had to trust] that fight, that act of endurance is compelling, and not succumb to the temptation to embellish with tech or unmotivated blocking. We focused on her actions and the sustained goal of proving herself and justifying her actions.”

FringeFemme Skyler James

Actor Natasha Ramondino was drawn to the character of Skyler instantly. “I was immediately on board,” remembers Ramondino. “Skyler is so funny while she tells what is such a serious, and at times awful, story. When things get really heavy, she’ll thrown in a joke. She describes herself as the most normal girl in the world, and she really is so relatable.”

Ramondino and Richardson bounce ideas back and forth, punctuating each other’s sentences with affirmatives and nods. “There’s a good sense in the room where I know when we can stop and chat about a moment,” Ramondino says. Richardson adds, “It’s so nice to just get to work with an actor I know well. And it feels a bit spoiled to work on a show where there’s no huge cast or complicated transitions or furniture to move. We’re just stripping it down to cracking a performance.” The pair laugh about a moment in rehearsal where they were using verbs to action sections of the text. They had chosen the verb ‘embrace’, and as Ali encouraged Natasha to embrace harder, Natasha’s line got softer and softer. They stopped the rehearsal only to discover that ‘embrace” for Ali meant a hug that sweeps you off your feet but for Natasha it meant to hold someone softly in your arms.

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For both women, this play is incredibly relevant. “For me, one of the most important aspects, is that the burden of proof is always placed on the survivor of abuse or violence,” Richardson says. “The play leads to a point where Skyler discusses a conversation she has with her lawyer and the account is chilling, yet so familiar.” Richardson mentions the Canadian military probe in 2014 which found that an alarming amount of women in service had been sexually assaulted or harassed. “Women are being harassed for just being women, not to mention the [harassment for] being a gay woman,” Ramondino says.

For Ramondino, telling this story is a privilege and an honour. “It shouldn’t be so rare to have a young, queer, female voice on stage, so thank you to Jordan Tannahill. I’m very excited to bring this story to people who may not be part of the theatre community or may not feel comfortable calling themselves an ally. It will be interesting to see their expectations flipped by such a real, raw character.”

Get Yourself Home Skyler James

Presented by Binocular Theatre as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

4 x 6 Skyler Handbill

Who:
Written By: Jordan Tannahill
Company: Binocular Theatre
Company origin: Toronto, Ontario
Director: Ali Joy Richardson
Cast: Natasha Ramondino
Creative team:
Neil Silcox – Production Manager

What:
When Private Skyler James was outed as a lesbian after joining the US Army, she packed a truck, fled her base in Kentucky, and started driving north…
Based on a true story, this gripping play reveals the true damage of prejudice and the strength of a young woman’s spirit in a society that teaches, “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
(2014 Governor General’s Award)

Where:
918 Bathurst Basement, Bathurst Street

When:
July 8th at 8:00 PM
July 9th at 2:00 PM
July 9th at 8:00 PM
July 10th at 8:00 PM

Connect:
binoculartheatre.com
@Binoculart

Creating the Ultimate Shakespeare/Horror Mashups & the Necessity of Taking Risks at the Fringe & Beyond – In Conversation with “Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre” on now at the 2016 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: I’m here with three members of the team from Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre – Scott Emerson Moyle, fight director and Lord Capulet; David Kingsmill, playing Escalus and the Chorus as well as being the production manager; and Matt Bernard, the writer and director. Do you want to tell me a bit about the show?

MB: Yes! So the tag line is that it’s a comedic-horror mash-up of Romeo and Juliet. It’s the tale of two star-crossed lovers with the added element of a chainsaw-wielding maniac, kind of taken from old horror movies. So that’s thrown in to see how the story would change, and how it would alter the fates of Romeo and Juliet.

RQ: How did this come about? What was the process?

MB: My comedy troupe Bain and Bernard did shows for the St. Lawrence Shakespeare festival, it was part of their Sunday series, and we would always parody whatever Shakespeare show they were doing. So, we’ve done Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Hamlet, A Midsummer’s Nightmare (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Desdemona Anyway). So, when we were heading back in the car from our last one, the question came up of what to do next. After doing Hamlet, I thought there’s nothing else you can do after that, but we realized we hadn’t done arguably the most known Shakespeare show, Romeo and Juliet. So the idea came up of doing Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre, and we talked about it for a while, threw some ideas out there, and that was two years ago. We were sitting on it for a while, not sure how to approach the project, but we eventually had to pull the trigger on it, do it for Fringe, and see what we could create.

RQ: What do you think it is about Shakespeare and campy horror that makes them fit together so well?

SEM: The pitch I’ve been using is that the show I’m doing for Fringe is Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre is exactly what you’re picturing when I say the title. They are two really iconic sets of visuals, and two very iconic story archetypes. They’re so incredibly different that jamming them together seems to not make sense, yet somehow you can completely picture it.

MB: It’s like Snakes on a Plane in that way. Everything you need to know is in the title.

DK: Also, I think when you say “star-crossed lovers”, Romeo and Juliet is the first thing you think of. When you say “chainsaw”, Leatherface probably pops into their head immediately. So it’s two incredibly iconic things featured in the same room at the same time.

R&J Press Photo 3

RQ: I feel like there’s a certain reverence for 80s horror that we often casually dismiss.

MB: Well, yeah, the 80s is when horror films kind of came into themselves. There was a horror movement in the 60s, but then in the 70s and 80s, that’s when the slasher flicks came in. They started getting really gory, so that’s the prime time for it. We’re taking prime horror and prime Shakespeare, and it actually fits really well.

DK: It was a time when horror was based around being horrifying, not around being a shock spectacle. These days, I think if you look at something like Saw, yes it’s horrifying but the film exists to shock you by killing people in the most brutal ways we can think of. It loses some of the actual horror element and I think it goes beyond horror into something totally different. Something like Hostel takes that further still.

RQ: Suspense and disgust?

DK: Yeah, and I think suspense is certainly a part of horror, but disgust doesn’t have to be. I mean, look at Psycho. What was it, eighty-three stabbings of Janet Leigh in the shower and you never see one connect? It’s all the mind’s image filling in blanks. I think that’s something seminal of that time, as well.

RQ: Do you think horror films from the 80s said something about us in the same way that Romeo and Juliet said something about us when it was written?

MB: There was certainly a lot of chasing in those movies, everyone was chasing someone or something. I mean, I’m not sure because those movies do scare the hell out of me. They do their job.

SEM: Actually?

MB: Oh yeah. For inspiration, I had to watch all these horror movies and I was hiding my face behind my hands! I was terrified! I’d take notes and shut it right off at the end. They really work on me. So this was a very terrifying show to write.

SEM: It might not even be a very period-specific thing. I mean, Romeo and Juliet comes out of 16th Century dueling culture and people actually looking for ways to be idiots for love. But, the reason we still do it is because it’s enduring. We all know what it is to be in love and not have circumstances support that. It’s complicated. The horror thing might be pretty enduring as well. We’re scared of isolation, and a lot of horror movies are about being alone. We’re scared of the unknown, and that’s what horror gives us.

RQ: Is there also a connection when it comes to fate? Just by virtue of being a character in a horror movie, or a character in a Shakespearean tragedy…

SEM: You are on notice. You’re not getting out alive.

DK: I read once that people write fiction as a means to experience things they normally don’t. We don’t normally experience duels. We don’t normally get chased around by a psychotic killer. We don’t normally fly a rocket to Mars. Whatever it happens to be, it’s a way to experience something beyond the normal. So, I think the manifestation of a story is the product of its time, but at the center is a wish for vicarious experience.

RQ: What do you think makes Fringe perfect for a show like this?

MB: Fringe is all about the entire community coming together in one spot. Seeing the tents go up, seeing shows all around, it’s a whole two-week celebration of throwing together a show. I think this show is perfect for Fringe because we’ve got a large team on this and everyone is bringing everything they can to the table. So for two weeks everyone works on this together, and then we all go away.

DK: It’s a space that gives you permission to try something a little crazy. The professional theatre world is becoming more and more of a place where audience members aren’t willing to take risks. Producers and companies aren’t willing to take on the risk of a show that isn’t a proven commodity, that’s doing something really different. Fringe is all about embracing that risk. You just do a thing, whatever that thing is. It can be an improvised musical, it can be a mash-up of Shakespeare and horror…

SEM: Wasn’t there someone reading a phone book last year?

DK: Something slightly crazy like that, yeah. It’s great. Normally you can only get away with that if you have a level of, I suppose, celebrity.

SEM: Yeah, major theatres would have a hard time marketing this as part of their season, but because it’s Fringe, everyone is getting really excited about it. It’s a space to get weird.

R&J Press Photo 1 (1)

RQ: Is there a way to support this kind of work for the rest of the year?

SEM: (laughs) Canadian Stage should pick us up.

MB: There’s kind of a rise in “geek chic”, or an appreciation of it. There’s a theatre company in Washington that sent an email saying “We do this kind of pop culture stuff, and we’d like to do the show”, so I’d like to see more of that in Toronto. Instead of doing classic theatre all the time, doing more fun, pop culture things to address millennials. They’re the future audiences, and they grew up with video games.

DK: There needs to be a place for things like this, otherwise theatre is going to stagnate. I saw a production of Pippin in London five or six years ago that was entirely set within a video game world. After about a third of the show, he leveled up and became more powerful before going back into the dungeon… things like this. It was so spectacularly nerdy. And they got away with it because it’s a well-known, already accepted musical. I think what I’m looking for in the theatre world is for me to be able to write a video game piece or something like that with absolutely no ties to an existing license, and still have it looked at. I think that needs to happen. We need to get to a point where popular culture merges with theatre, not just in the sense of being avant-garde but by wrapping the two things together.

MB: I think when non-theatre people hear the word “theatre”, they picture someone holding a skull, or the masks. So, there’s always going to be a sense of traditional theatre, and people exploring ways to change it. Hamlet done in the post-apocalypse… things like that. Switches on the classics. But I think there will be a rise of new material that doesn’t take on classical theatre elements.

SEM: We’re starting to see genre stuff come into its own in theatre. At Storefront a couple of years ago, they did Dark Matter. It was a hard sci-fi, Battlestar Galactica take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This year at the Humber River Shakespeare’s sonnet show, where you direct a new short play in a day, I was handed a science fiction play about three martians coming to Earth. People are writing genre fiction for theatre now.

MB: It’s hard to do in theatre.

SEM: So hard!

MB: This is actually the first Fringe show in the “horror” category. It wasn’t in the pull-down list. Just things like dramatic, comedic, physical theatre, dance, and so forth.

SEM: We should have marketed this as a dance show.

DK: I think part of the problem with it being such a niche type of theatre at the moment, is that when something succeeds well at it, then it can become an accepted type of theatre. Like, look at The Woman in Black in London. It’s probably a little less scary now than when it opened, but it’s still terrifying. If you say “horror theatre” in London, everyone immediately thinks of that. It’s the only horror show, as far as I’m aware, that has run for any length of time on the London stage. I mean, I’m British, so I do have the most experience in London, but I think that’s something that happens here, as well. When something niche succeeds, it becomes the poster boy for it a little too hard, so we can only hope it will trickle down. Sometimes it does. I mean, who would have written a science fiction play before something like War of the Worlds or Journey to the Center of the Earth came along in fiction? I think fiction tends to precede theatre by a bit, and speculative science fiction, as we know it, hasn’t been around long. A hundred and thirty years? We’ve always had mythology, but until you get to H.G. Wells and his kind, you don’t get that kind of fiction. Theatre just needs to catch up with them a little bit, and maybe we’ll see more of it.

MB: It is hard to do genre fiction like horror or sci-fi onstage because so many of the elements are done in post, or with a lot of dedicated time. Though, isn’t that kind of the fun of live theatre? Recently, I was watching Total Recall. You see the new one with Colin Farrell and it’s all bullshit. It’s all CGI. So I went back to the Arnold Schwarzenegger one and there’s some great prop work! That’s fun to do in theatre as well! Our costume designer Gwyneth Barton should really also be credited for special effects. She created gore rigged into the costumes. We can’t use liquids because it’s a Fringe show, but it’s so thrilling to see actual spines and ribs and stuff. Practical effects are really thrilling, and a huge part of the puzzle of bringing genre-based stories to the stage. I really wish we could have used blood. Next time you see this show, there will be much more blood.

SEM: Can I just say, as the fight captain and guy who would have had to help clean up all that blood, I’m grateful for the “no blood” rule. Not only selfishly, but because limitations breed creativity. The scariest horror movie you’ll see is The Changeling, and they did it by never letting you see the horror. It’s this tiny, low-budget Canadian horror film. Their big special effect is a wheelchair that can roll down the stairs by itself. They blew their budget on that thing. And yet it’s terrifying because you never see the monster. Or, look at Jaws. If they had shot it as planned with an animatronic shark, it would suck. It’s awesome because their shark broke.

RQ: You just see the barrels coming across the water.

SEM: Yeah, and lots of shark-cam. All that… It’s so iconic and it’s bred from that limitation. I think in terms of how the fights in our show work, that lack of blood made us focus more on storytelling in those violent moments. That’s always the challenge. You can choreograph spectacular fights all day and night, but it’s easy to lose track of the story in that violence.

DK: The deaths in this are spectacular, but it’s not spectacle for its own sake. It’s the end of someone’s story in the show.

MB: (laughs) Regardless, blood next time.

R&J Press Photo 2

RQ: Before we finish up, this show is a mash-up of Romeo and Juliet and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I wanted to name some other Shakespeare shows and see what horror movies you’d mash them up with, now that you’ve done your research.

SEM: I love this game.

RQ: Let’s start with Hamlet.

DK: Scream.

RQ: Why?

DK: When I think of horror and a play where everybody dies, that mask is the first thing that pops into my head.

SEM: I’d say Psycho because it’s an isolated dude with a really weird relationship with his mom.

RQ: That is…uncanny. What about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

DK: Cabin in the Woods, possibly.

SEM: Or Sleepaway Camp.

DK: Actually, I change my vote to Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. Those fit together really well.

SEM: Oh yeah, people only seeing half the story, and conflict coming from the dissonance. And they play the horror in it really straight, that’s what makes it funny.

MB: Or Friday the 13th, in the woods. The lake, the summer camp, that atmosphere. I’d like to mirror some of the deaths from that. Isn’t there a drill through Kevin Bacon’s neck? That would be great for the lovers.

RQ: Julius Caesar.

MB: I’d say something with zombies for that.

SEM: It is a play about an uprising where the people in power lose control and it all goes to shit.

DK: 28 Days Later.

SEM: The first half of Julius Caesar is kind of Dawn of the Dead where the power structure is crumbling and the second half is Day of the Dead where it’s all gone to shit and they’re hiding out and trying to keep it together.

RQ: There’s been a major paradigm shift and now everyone’s zombies. Alright, last one, The Winter’s Tale.

DK: What has a zombie bear in it?

SEM: Isn’t The Winter’s Tale kind of a genre mashup on its own? It’s kind of magic and kind of not. It’s kind of self-aware storytelling but there’s a point where things get real. You know what? Cabin in the Woods. That idea that there’s a sort of magic, and a higher power pulling all the strings behind it. Cabin in the Woods has the shadowy organization, The Winter’s Tale has Time come out halfway through and say “Hope you’re enjoying it! It’s been all me so far, it’s all me for the rest of the show. You’re not going to see me again but it’s all me. We’re moving the play ahead sixteen years, see you later”. Such a small amount of screen time for such a big power player in the story.

RQ: Thanks so much for your time, and have a blast with the show!

MB: Thanks!

Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre

Presented by Bain and Bernard Comedy as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

R&J Chainsaw banner header w- Fringe

Who:
By: Matt Bernard and William Shakespeare
Director: Matt Bernard
Cast: Warren Bain, Scott Garland, Sarite Harris, Michael Iliadis, Brittany Kay, David Kingsmill, Scott Emerson Moyle, Rylan O’Reilly, Rebecca Perry, Victor Pokinko, Nicholas Porteous, Jeremy Lepalme
Creative team:
Matt Bernard – Writer/Director, Rebecca Perry – Producer, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – Dramaturge, Scott Emerson Moyle – Fight Choreographer, Kayla Brattan – Stage Manager, David Kingsmill – Production Manager, Andrew Clemens – Lighting/Sound Design, Gwyneth Barton – Costume Design, Akiva Romer-Segal – Graphic Design, Kayla Brattan – Assistant Stage Manager, Caitlin Cooke and Lacey Juk – Assistant Stage Managers

What:
Nothing is more terrifying than love. When a chainsaw-wielding maniac is added into Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, it turns Verona upside-down! Find out who is (literally!) tearing our star-crossed lovers apart in this comedic horror mash-up. “Bain & Bernard have become a favourite feature at the [St. Lawrence Shakespeare] Festival.”- Ian Farthing

Where:
Randolph Academy

When:
July 3rd at 7:00 PM
July 5th at 3:15 PM
July 7th at 9:15 PM
July 8th at 2:15 PM
July 9th at 11:30 PM
July 10th at 5:15 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
Facebook: rjmassacre
Twitter: @RJMassacre

From Windsor to Toronto & Working as a Collective – Performer Erik Helle on “Elektra” at the 2016 Fringe

Madryn McCabe had the opportunity to talk to Erik Helle, who is performing in Stichomythia Theatre’s Elektra at the Toronto Fringe Festival 2016, about bringing the show from Windsor to Toronto, timeless classics and working as a collective. 

MMC: Why don’t you tell me a little about the show?

EH: When the king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, returned from the Trojan War, he took the Trojan princess Cassandra as a trophy bride. Upon their arrival home, they were both killed in their bed by Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover Aegisthus. Because of a prophecy that her son Orestes would one day kill Clytemnestra for her deeds, the daughter of the broken family, Elektra, snuck Orestes away to save him from any further harm she feared Clytemnestra would cause him. The play begins seven years later as Elektra walks the streets mourning her father and cursing her mother. This is now her daily routine as she waits in grief for Orestes to return again one day to avenge Agamemnon’s death.

Our play is being performed at Artscape Youngplace, the first Toronto Fringe show to be hosted there. It will be in an intimate space and staged in the round and accompanied by live music. We have a very simple lay out as the story of Sophocles and particularly this translation of John Barton and Kenneth Cavander is overwhelmingly powerful.

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MMC: I see that this is a remount of a previous production that was mounted in Windsor. How has the show changed since its first performance? Do you think there’s a difference between a Windsor audience and a Toronto audience?

EH: We have some new cast members so, of course, their choices and vision are going to change the images and blocking of the play. It’s not a carbon copy of the original and we’ve clarified some things as well as made some thematic changes.

When it comes to the Windsor audience, the easiest community we had to reach out to was at the school. We had performed it as a side project after classes and we had peers, friends, family and a whole pool of people that we could reach that were enthusiastic and supportive. But it can be a little difficult to reach out to the arts community in Windsor for a number of reasons. What is great about Toronto is that the whole city is an incubator for artists and their works. A lot of it comes down to accessibilty. Toronto is a well-connected city with lots of theatres, galleries and concert halls all across it. You are never too far from stumbling into something, it seems. Windsor isn’t connected the same way. You have to seek it out to find what you are looking for. There isn’t as much chance of stumbling into a show. The less regular it is, the less casual theatre-goers there will be. It is getting better though. The city is going through changes and I think that after we left there were more artistic buds getting ready to flourish. The community wants it to grow, so it should be a matter of time.

MMC: Elektra is a traditional ancient Greek play. How do you think modern audiences will respond to it? Have you adapted the show at all for modern theatre-goers?

EH: The play, like most of the classics, is timeless. It’s humans dealing with humans. The message and themes centre around human emotion and trauma. The focus isn’t on political, technological, or social movements. When you watch this play, it’s like a soap opera. A really messed up family and their domestic dispute. That’s what there is to love about a play like this. It is about people at their wits-end and what choices they make because of it. That translates across the history of the human race. The emotions of rage, anxiety, loneliness, or joy of these ancient characters are the same that we people feel today. When it comes to subject matter, there is nothing to adapt about the play. The text is heightened but it would be the same story no matter what.

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MMC: You talk strongly of the repercussions of past deeds to a person’s life now. What about that resonates with you? How do you balance the desire for justice against the desire to move on?

EH: I like to think that people think about this a lot – about what in their past is going to come back and bite them, or even come back and help them. What we’ve done in the past can determine so much of our future if that is what you choose to live in. Elektra lives there. She lets the events of her history overwhelm her judgment and that is what creates her present state as well as her future. Other characters have let it go and chose not to let that dictate their lives. They choose rather to make an adjustment in their present to stop a cycle of violence. These other characters, like Chrysothemis or Agisthus, who aren’t even all that alike in character, are connected by this philosophy instead. It is really the majority of the characters that want the violence and cycle of hatred to stop. Some out of selfishness, some for more wholesome reasons. All it can take for things to escalate and continue is an angry and headstrong person like Elektra, locked in tradition or stubbornness or unshakable values. She looks to satiate an immediate blood lust, rather than prevent more heartache. She has no long-term plan.

MMC: This show is being produced as a collective. What was it like rehearsing and exploring the play as an ensemble without a designated director?

EH: It takes a lot of patience and communication and open-mindedness.  A process like this is not something the cast has ever done before. It comes down to that rule of improv to say ‘yes, and’ rather than ‘no, stop.’ So there are a lot of visions in the room but so much of the excitement comes from discovering where we are thinking the same things or how we can combine ideas. Or that wonderful moment when the whole group says together “Yes that’s it!” and we just springboard into a new discovery.

Elektra

Presented by Stichomythia Theatre as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

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Who:
By: Sophocles, translated by John Barton and Kenneth Cavander
Company: Stichomythia Theatre
Company origin: Windsor and Toronto/Ontario
Cast: Alice Lundy, Daniela Piccinin, Erik Helle, Eric Bleyendaal, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho, Alyson Parovel, Elizabeth Kalles, Cara Rodger, Grant Gignac.
Creative team:
Will Jarvis – Original Sound/Music Composition

What:
I walk, I dance, I weep. My father’s skull was split with an axe, seven years ago. The House of Atreus now ruled by the selfsame hands that murdered him. O, Apollo, hear me! Let the cruel actions of those that slither through our Kingdom feel the wrath of the Gods. Their bloody retribution must come. Until justice is restored, I will not rest.

Where:
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St, Toronto

When:
June 29th – July 3rd at 9pm
July 5th – July 9th at 9pm

Tickets:
Available online: 
http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/shows/elektra/
Fund What You Can Page: 
https://fwyc.ca/campaigns/elektra-sophocles-translated-john-barton-and-kenneth-cavender-2

Connect:
Twitter: @ElektraToronto

Embracing the Fast & Funny in the Site-Specific Fringe Show “Behold, the Barfly” – In Conversation with Justin Haigh

In the Greenroom’s Madryn McCabe sat down with Justin Haigh, writer, director and co-producer of Behold, the Barfly! playing at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival, to chat about the thrill behind how the show came together, working with a killer team, and the challenges and joys of working in a site-specific venue.

MMC: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the show?

JH: 

Behold, the Barfly! is a surreal and cerebral sketch comedy revue set in the subconscious mind of a slumbering barfly. It’s got traditional sketches, some rather dark humour (bring the kids!), some theatre of the mind, a couple of musical numbers, a Christmas pageant that is just plain ridiculous, and a loose through-line that I won’t spoil here but that I hope will add just a smidge of genuine emotion to counterbalance the sheer silliness of it all.

MMC: I’ve read that you were asked to do a site-specific show after one had dropped out. What was it like putting together a show in only two months?



JH: I got an email at the end of March (I guess that actually makes it three months from email to opening night… but still, a timeline of madness) informing me that another site-specific show had dropped out and I was next on the waiting list, and did I want to take their place? Having no script, no plan, no venue, no cast, no creative team, and no budget, I was hesitant for obvious reasons, but Sarah [Thorpe – assistant director/co-producer/actor] said, “If you don’t do it, you’ll probably regret it.” I realized she was right. The Fringe is probably the most affordable way of independently producing a show in Toronto with the bonus of having a built-in enthusiastic audience willing to take a chance on just about anything. I’ve always loved sketch comedy and had always wanted to give writing it a shot, so I figured this was the universe telling me to shit or get off the pot.

It’s been pretty non-stop ever since then. I’ve found the biggest challenge (other than the lack of sleep and absence of free time) was to have to put a lot of pieces together simultaneously that would normally be done sequentially. I was writing the script at the same time as securing a venue, working on graphics, approaching potential cast members – I even had to come up with a description for the show for the Fringe program when I didn’t even have the thing written.

Needless to say it’s been an incredibly stressful yet productive two and a half months, and we will see what audiences have to say, but I’m quite proud of what we have managed to accomplish in so little time.

Photo Credit:

Photo by Laura Dittmann

MMC: You’ve got a great cast, full of popular indie theatre actors. How did you put this cast together?

JH: 

Your question makes it sound like I put together the A-Team – which in some ways is accurate. We’ve got performers Jeff Hanson and Sarah Thorpe, who are well-known in the indie scene; Eric Miinch, Ned Petrie, Marsha Mason, and Steve Hobbs, who are known within the sketch and comedy community; Elizabeth Anacleto is a respected figure in the clown community; and Kevin MacPherson is a classically trained actor who has made his mark in the east coast Shakespeare scene. It’s a bit of a Swiss Army Knife of a cast in that sense, which I love because everyone brings something a little different to the table and makes for a more interesting production over all.

As for how we assembled it, I was already friends with half the cast, so call that the benefit of having a social circle filled with talented individuals. It wasn’t really a question of if we wanted to work with them, but just what parts they’d be good for. The other half were either actors that I or Sarah saw perform somewhere at some point and we made a note of their talent and that we should keep them in mind for future projects (that’s how we got in touch with Kevin and Marsha who I think were both kind of surprised to get messages out of the blue from someone they’d never met), or actors who were recommended to us, like Steve.

MMC: How do you find doing a site-specific show different from a more traditional theatrical venue?

JH: 

The biggest difference is the lack of tech – you are very much dependent on the concept, writing, and performance to get the idea across. In some ways this is a limitation, but I think it enhances the immediacy of the work. The less artifice on stage, the closer to a shared reality you are with the audience. There is also that magical element of seeing a room or space unexpectedly brought to life by performance; theatre in a theatre leaves no room for surprise or spontaneity, but theatre in a non-theatre setting still feels fun and oddly risqué.

Behold, the Barfly! 4 (Credit - Laura Dittmann)

MMC: You’re known for the cabarets Love is a Poverty You Can Sell 1&2. What can your audience expect from Behold the Barfly! that is similar? Or what sets this show apart from your others?

JH: Like LIAPYCS 1 & 2Behold, The Barfly! is set in a licensed establishment so one can expect the mood to be a bit more relaxed and a little more festive. We hope to give audience members more time than at a traditional venue to settle in, enjoy the atmosphere, grab a drink… maybe chat with some of the characters who will be floating around. I think the joyous atmosphere of the LIAPYCS shows and this one is the greatest common factor. I hope audiences will find the work to be intelligent but not labourious; the world is an increasingly dark and nutty place – I hope we can offer respite from it, even if it is only for 75 minutes.

What sets it apart is the fact that as a format and genre, this is totally unlike many of our past works which include Antigone and No Exit – Greek tragedy and existential drama this ain’t.

Behold, the Barfly!

Presented by Spoon VS Hammer as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

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Behold, the Barfly! 1 (Credit - Laura Dittmann)

Photo by Laura Dittmann

Who:
Written By: Justin Haigh
Company: Spoon vs. Hammer
Company origin: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Cast: The Spoon Vs. Hammer Players

What:
From the writer of the smash hit ‘Love is a Poverty You Can Sell’ (★★★★★ / NNNNN) comes a surreal and cerebral sketch spectacular featuring some of Toronto’s finest comedy talent! Peer into the pickled subconscious of a slumbering barfly and behold the wonders within: Mirth! Adventure! Mediocre Poetry! Sober contemplation of life choices! Dinosaurs?

When:
June 29-July 3 & July 5-10 @ 7pm; plus July 9 @ 3pm
12 Performances!

Where:
Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street, Toronto



Tickets:

$12, here: http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/tickets-and-passes/



Connect:
Web: www.SpoonVsHammer.com
Facebook: SpoonVsHammer
Twitter: @SpoonVsHammer
Instagram: @SpoonVsHammer
#BeholdTheBarfly

WARNINGS: Strobe Light, Nudity, Sexual Content, Mature Language

One More Time With Feeling… And A Beer, Of Course! The Cast of “The Comedy of Errors” on the final Fringe hurrah for Shakespeare BASH’d

by Bailey Green

One of my first articles for In the Greenroom was an interview about the Shakespeare BASHd production of Loves Labours Lost. I remember the amazing atmosphere of the rehearsal room and how much everyone laughed. Two years later, I could not be more thrilled to be making my Toronto Fringe debut with this incredible cast, crew and company. Here are some glimpses into our process. We cant wait to share it with you. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Comedy of Errors 2 - Tim Welham and Kelly Penner (as Dromio and Antipholus), photo by Kyle Purcell

Tim Welham and Kelly Penner Twinning. Photo by Kyle Purcell.

Tim Welham, who plays Dromio of Syracuse and of Ephesus, on acting Shakespearean text:

As an actor living in Canada in 2016, my world view is considerably different from someone living in Elizabethan England in 1594. Four hundred years of cultural shifts makes working within the images and references of the text feel like a herculean task. Sometimes when read, the grammar seems awkward, the sentence structure appears backwards and the words sound archaic. So I well understand why confusion and frustration is a common reaction when first reading Shakespeare.

But Shakespeare’s words were never originally intended to be read. They were meant to be spoken aloud and performed; designed for a stage, and intended for ears. This is why the language comes alive in a listener’s ear; crackling and popping into being.

While it sometimes takes serious academic work to comprehend Shakespearean textual meaning, the work of embodying how a character thinks, speaks, feels and imagines is a simpler, more practical process of allowing the language to inspire your imagination and alter your mind, body, heart and soul.

This is how an onstage Shakespearean character is created: through the sounds of the words, and how they affect the imagination of both the actor and audience. This is, of course, more difficult than it sounds, but the brilliance of Shakespeare’s writing makes it possible. By allowing the words to affect an actor’s mind, body, heart, and soul, the character is birthed into being, and a unique imaginative sonic world is created in turn for the audience.

The language, and the images the words conjure, must always be the starting point when working on Shakespeare’s texts. A Shakespearean character is just like any other human being: they have a wide vocabulary to articulate their incredible humanity – and that is a gift for any actor.

Comedy of Errors 1 - Kelly Penner as Antipholus, photo by Kyle Purcell

Kelly Penner as Antipholous of Syracuse and Ephesus. Photo by Kyle Purcell.

Kelly Penner, who plays Antipholous of Syracuse and of Ephesus, on playing double:

I was pretty excited by the idea of playing these two guys. I GET the idea of two actors playing two parts, and I’m sure I could get into it, but I dislike the idea. At least I find it far less interesting, because who are you fooling, really? Not us (the audience) but you would expect us (the audience) to believe this. “Oh, those two guys are wearing the same clothes. They must be TWINS!” So when I was asked to do this I was excited by the idea and the challenge.

Continuing from the idea of the clothes I would also dislike the idea of Antipholous of Syracuse having a limp or glasses or a mustache etc, while Antiphous of Ephesus has a hump or monocle or beard. Again, you expect [the audience] to believe this? When I finally started to build my twins, I wanted things to be simpler. My cast mate/friend/part-time lover Dave Gingerich said to me after the first read that one Antipholous was country and the other Antipholous was city. Once I had those general headings to build under, it happened pretty quickly.

Now, I had an idea where they came from, how they might speak and ideas of how they would have grown up. From there, I tried to find a simple physical and vocal cue that would help give a clear switch for myself. That’s really it. After that I just tried to learn all the lines and be open to ideas and impulses.

Oh, and breathe, listen, and trust. Those old gems.

Comedy of Errors 3 - Suzette McCanny as Adriana, photo by Kyle Purcell

Suzette McCanny as Adriana. Photo by Kyle Purcell.

Suzette McCanny, who plays Adriana, on returning to the Victory Cafe, one last time:

There is nowhere in the world I would rather be July 1st than on the deep carpeted stage of the Victory Cafe. Before I was involved as an actor with Shakespeare BASH’d, I was a dedicated fan! Lining up in the sticky Fringe heat to get a spot and a beer. The energy from the upstairs bar/theatre overflowed down the stairs and drew me in.

I have been privileged to be involved in the Shakespeare BASH’d Fringe show for the last three years and in that time I have been so lucky to work on some of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. To the Shakespeare geeks out there perhaps Love’s Labours Lost, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Comedy of Errors would not be considered obscure but I had not seen any of them in production before I was cast in the shows. What freedom and what a treat to pour myself into a brand new work from an old friend.

The women in these shows are mature and feisty. Fireballs who are full of love and justice. Even when the 400 year old text is complicated politically or sociologically, in the hands of Julia [Nish-Lapidus] and James [Wallis], I find that Shakespeare’s love for and understanding of humanity bubbles up from the depths and cannot go unnoticed. No character is shallow or incomplete.

When I first graduated from theatre school, that first year felt impossibly long and lonely but then summer came around and that first Fringe erupted. I was overwhelmed by the tent, the community, the celebration of one another’s accomplishments! I had lived through the dreary winter and had discovered manna from heaven! All my long lost friends, all the people I admired crowded into these two weeks of joy. I didn’t know then that it was cyclical and that this feeling would be back next year and that it is a part of the Toronto Theatre ecosystem, there to sustain us and give us energy to get through the dank months of February and March.

So this year, as Shakespeare BASH’d gets ready for the most exciting party of the year and says farewell to the space that has housed their overflowing energy for years, I am comforted because I know this feeling is not going anywhere. This energy is ours forever. Thank you to the community for your talent, your energy and your enthusiasm. Merry Fringemas to all and to all a good tent! See you at the Vic!

The Comedy of Errors

Presented by Shakespeare BASH’d as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

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Photo by Kyle Purcell

Who:
Written By: William Shakespeare
Company: Shakespeare BASH’d
Director: Julia Nish-Lapidus
Cast: Bailey Green, David Mackett, Suzette McCanny, Brenhan McKibben, Julia Nish-Lapidus, Drew O’Hara, Kelly Penner, David Ross, James Wallis
Creative team:
Megan Miles – Associate Director
James Walllis, Julia Nish-Lapidus – Producers
Jade Douris – Associate Producer
Kyle Purcell – Director of Marketing
Nate Bitton – Fight Director

What:
It’s the biggest party of the year and you’re invited! Join Shakespeare BASH’d in bidding a fond farewell to the Toronto Fringe the only way they know how…by having a huge party with the best audience in the city. Don’t miss their final Fringe performance: The Comedy of Errors, the Bard’s hilarious tale of shipwrecks, mistaken identity, and all out madness!

Where:
Victory Café, 581 Markham Street

When:
July 1st at 7:00 PM
July 2nd at 5:00 PM
July 2nd at 9:00 PM
July 3rd at 5:00 PM
July 5th at 7:00 PM
July 6th at 7:00 PM
July 7th at 7:00 PM
July 8th at 7:00 PM
July 9th at 7:00 PM
July 10th at 5:00 PM

Tickets: fringetoronto.com

Connect:
Web: shakespearebashd.com
Twitter: @ShakesBASHd

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In Conversation with Mani Eustis – Director of “False Start” at the 2016 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I had the chance to talk to director Mani Eustis about False Start, the show she has directed for Green Box Theatre Company, which opens this week as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival.

MMC: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the show?

ME: False Start is a story about relationships, how they evolve over time and how we overcome hardships, or at least try to work through the obstacles life throws at us. The show follows one couple at two very pivotal points in their lives. Zoey and Jake meet in high school, and the play alternates between scenes of their awkward teenage beginnings and their present married life.

MMC: This show deals with the sensitive subject of miscarriage and how it can affect a marriage, but seems to come from a place of humour. How do you, as a director, balance the humour with the drama? 

ME: I don’t know if I would say that the show comes from a place of humour, but there are definitely funny bits because life is funny, right? Even in really dark times, life can still have delightful moments. I think that it’s important not to overwhelm an audience with SAD BAD HORRIBLE DARKNESS. In my opinion, that can be very de-sensitizing. But to answer your question, as a director, I haven’t really had to balance the humour because the script and actors do a really good job of that! I am just there to make sure that jokes read timing-wise and that they come from a place of love. Most of the humour in this show comes from a place of love. I think that’s why it works with the serious subject matter.

View More: http://kristinasmith.pass.us/falsestart

MMC: I see that you directed the original workshop production of this show at last year’s New Voices Festival at Ryerson University. How has the show evolved since its first presentation? What new and familiar things can a returning audience expect?

ME: Well, both the cast and the script have changed a bit. With new actors come new perspectives on the characters and interpretations of the text. We are also focusing a lot more on the production elements this time around. The first workshop of the play was a lot more naturalistic, and quite minimal in its production elements. This time I really wanted to use lighting and sound to portray the movement through time that is so integral to the play. For example, one of the major ways we are doing this is through projections.

For this production, I am more focused on the storytelling, and doing so in a compelling and creative way. I think returning audiences will be happy to see that the show still has the same heart, but it has been refined and polished.

View More: http://kristinasmith.pass.us/falsestart

MMC: The show has four actors playing the same couple as the younger and current versions of themselves. Did the actors get to work together to create specific character traits, or did you want a decidedly marked difference between the two portrayals?

ME: We actually really lucked out with casting in that the actors look very similar, and have similar mannerisms. So it hasn’t been a huge part of the process. Overall I think the similarities between the characters shine through in the writing and the actors’ performances without any sort of forced physicality. One thing that I think helps is the fact that the actors are on stage with one another for a lot of the show (even if they are not part of the “action” of the moment). They are constantly watching one another or at least being in the presence of their younger or older self. I think that adds a unifying quality between the younger and older couples that has happened naturally.

MMC: Is there anything you want your audience to know about you or the play before they see the show?

ME: Nope, I think going into shows knowing as little as possible is the way to go!  I truly believe that the most important thing going into a play is having no expectations, an open mind and an empty bladder.

False Start

Presented by the Green Box Theatre Company as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

View More: http://kristinasmith.pass.us/falsestart

Who:
Playwright: Nicole Hrgetic
Company: Green Box Theatre Company
Director: Mani Eustis
Cast: Andrea Brown, Andrew Knowlton, Elizabeth Adams, Dylan Evans.
Creative team:
Christine Luksts – Stage Manager
David Beisel- Lighting Designer
Sophie Moynan- Set Desginer/Props Manager

What:
What happens when a misunderstood, football-obsessed teenage boy meets an intelligent, caring teenage girl? It’s textbook stuff: they fall in love, they get married, and they resent each other. Zoey and Jake have been together since high school. In the aftermath of a traumatic event, Zoey struggles to have a baby while dealing with the one she married.

Where:
St. Vladimir Theatre

When:
JUNE 30th – JULY 9th
June 30th: 10:00pm
July 2nd: 7:30pm
July 3rd: 12:00pm
July 4th: 1:00pm
July 6th: 4:30pm
July 8th: 11:00pm
July 9th: 7:00pm

Tickets:
Online: bit.ly/false-start-tickets
By Phone: 416-966-1062

Connect:
@FalseStartTO

Keeping Up With Kat – Artist Profile: Kat Sandler on her Dora Award Nominated “Mustard” & Upcoming Fringe Show “Bright Lights” (and pretty much #killingit in the Toronto Theatre scene)

Interview by Brittany Kay

What a true honor it was to sit down for a coffee with fast-paced, keeps-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, sassy and fierce Kat Sandler. We spoke about her 7 Dora nominations for Mustard, her upcoming Toronto Fringe show Bright Lights, and the inspiration you can find from your everyday.

Brittany Kay: I had the best time seeing Mustard.

Kat Sandler: Thanks dude. Yeah, it was the loveliest process. We really felt like a family.

BK: And you could definitely see that on stage.

KS: Thank you.

BK: What has been your journey getting to where you are now?

KS: Total journey? From the beginning? I started as an 8-year-old organizing my cousins into plays at the cottage and like a little tyrant, I would force the girls to be boys and vice versa and all of my family to kiss each other. It went really well. They got really good reviews from my extended family, who were probably drunk, let’s be honest.

BK: Amazing.

KS: Then I went to a super academic high school, UTS, where they didn’t really have a drama program. We did get to do the Sears Drama Festival… Man, the people at that school were fucking smart. They kind of ruined me for regular people. The world mathlete winner was in that class. They’ve gone on to be crazy politicians. Our final grade 12 projects were like, make a rocket or a robot that will cure cancer and I was like, “I’d like to write, direct, produce, and star in a play.” Everyone was like, “A play? Why?” We rented out what was once called the Pour Alex, which is now Poutineville. It was a dilapidated old tiny theatre that we were way overcharged for probably because we went in and were like,“We have this money from our parents, maybe can we have this?” And they were like, “Yes, that will be $2000 a week,” and we were like, “Yes, that’s totally fair. Here’s our money.” We rented it for three days and it sold out and I was like, “Yes, now I’m a theatre wizard and I will go to Queens, I guess, and be a star.”

I thought I really wanted to act. I always wrote. I wrote fiction and short stories. I think I wrote one movie in grade 6 and one play that we did as a reading and I thought I was hot shit. (laughs)

When I went to Queens, I mostly acted and directed. The cool thing about Queens is that you kind of make your own program. It’s not a conservatory program so you can pick and choose the classes that you think will build you as an artist in the way that you want, if you want to be an artist. Then I had my own shitty company there, called 9 Lives, which I thought was so clever because my name is Kat. No one will ever come up with a better company name than 9 lives. (laughs) That was another one where they were like you have to do a directing scene for your final project and I was like, “Cool, can we just rent a theatre and I’ll do a full-on production of The Goat, or who is Sylvia? And then I graduated and I was like, “Fuck that, I’m going to be an actor. I think I want to be really famous and be an actor.” And then, basically, I didn’t do that great of a job at that. I worked a lot with Theatre Gargantua who I think are really amazing, which is crazy because I had no business doing physical theatre at all. I can move and I can sing so I think I just duped them for 4 years.

BK: How did Theatre Brouhaha come to be?

KS: In that after school time period, my really close friend Tom McGee (we were valedictorians together at Queens), and I spent a lot of time going to theatre. We thought it was great but it wasn’t really geared at our generation and yet at the same time, people keep saying, “Oh your generation doesn’t see enough theatre and that’s why it’s dying.” Why would we see it if you don’t market it to us and talk about subjects that don’t excite us as young people? This is when I was 22/23 and the weird thing about our generation is that we remember pre and post Internet, so there was all of this technology and pop culture that just wasn’t talked about as much.

We also live in this golden age of television content. There’s so much constant access to incredible stories, wonderful characters, beautiful story arcs, fast-paced high-stake plots. It’s an embarrassment of riches of art that we get to see for free or for 9.99 a month. It’s kind of ridiculous to expect people to come and see something live when you don’t have to. You have to give them the incentive to do that. And this is how Theatre Brouhaha came to be.

And what is Brouhaha? What is that? It’s kind of like a hot fun mess. It’s a commotion. It’s something that makes you sit up and take notice. I remember one reviewer that was like, “Theatre Brouhaha pretends to have the same mandate that every new theatre company does which is challenging the audience and creating something new,” but we really thought we were, which, of course, we weren’t. We weren’t re-inventing the wheel. I don’t want to go see a play, I want to have an experience. I want to go to an event. I want to go to a party. We always used to say that if we could make something appeal to my sister’s douchey ex-boyfriend, then that would probably be great because that guy does not want to go to theatre. I think that’s where Brouhaha started. The very first show we ever did was LOVESEXMONEY – those are things that we, as people, think about and it’s also a bang-on title. It was about this girl who was selling her virginity online. We rented out the Factory Theatre. I remember a tech being there and asking us, “What are you hoping to do here?” and we said, “We’d like to break even.” He just laughed, like a full on belly laugh at us for, like, a long time. We had a really smart producer, Taylor Graham, who sold it through Groupon around Valentines Day and we sold out.

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Gwen Cumyn and Scott Clarkson in LOVESEXMONEY

We just kept trying to create theatre by putting audiences first. If I come up with an idea for a show and I can’t sell it to you in a sentence, just like the way you would with a TV log line then how can I expect people to come? Tell me what it’s about and why I shouldn’t go home and watch Breaking Bad because I know that shit is going to be amazing. What’s the hook? And once there’s the hook, what’s the image? What’s the situation? I guess since 2012, we’ve done 10 shows, and because we never really have any money, we don’t really have a responsibility to anyone but our audiences, and ourselves, which is hard and also awesome. It means we get to do exactly what we want and the only confines are how much time we have for rehearsal and everyone’s schedules.

BK: So how would you categorize what you do?

KS: I’m a playwright and director mainly and slowly moving to television. I’m making some TV moves maybe? Is that the cool way to say it? People keep saying why don’t you do TV? But you can’t just like do it. You have to know what you want there and go at it smart. For a while, I didn’t know what my voice was and now I know what it is and I know what I want to talk about and how I want to do it and what my style is. I think that’s what TV wants. They want original voices. You can go and be in a room and mimic someone’s style but to have your own is a bigger deal… I hope.

BK: What kind of stories do you want to tell?

KS: I mean, the same stories. I’m fascinated by people. I’m so inspired by actors. I have a list on my phone of just shit that I hear people say. Now people tell me too. They’re like, “I overheard this thing that I thought maybe you could use in a play.” Great, give it to me. I want it. For me, usually, I start with a situation. What’s something that is inherently interesting?

BK: Where else do you find inspiration for your work?

KS: TV. Film. Everywhere. The Internet. You can’t make up the shit that happens in real life. No writer could write Trump. Now they will, but you can’t make that guy up, it’s too good. The shit that he says is unreal. It’s such beautiful dialogue. And it’s real. It’s crazy. It’s totally nuts. It’s taking a moment in real life and then jotting it down and maybe using it for something later.

BK: What’s your process for writing? How do you keep motivated?

KS: If I don’t have a deadline, I won’t do it. I write to produce, usually. I don’t have pet projects that have been sitting in my life for 10 years. There’s a couple we can’t afford to do because there’s too many people. I’ll want to do a thing at a certain time, and then I’ll come up with the thing. The thing will be based around who’s available and what I’ve seen in the news.

I also never know the ending when I begin writing. It’s only when I get there. I almost don’t like knowing. I find that if I know, then the audience knows. If I know what happens, then I’m going to telegraph what happens. If I don’t, then I’m writing to get to what happens. It’s like when you can’t put down a good book because you’re like, “What the fuck happens in here?” My process is all over the place. It’s a brouhaha. And there’s usually whiskey involved.

BK: That’s the way to do it.

KS: The first script is always garbage. It’s just a diarrhea throwaway script and slap an ending on it and sometimes I don’t even write one. I just write ‘insert end’. Then I’ll read it with people and that’s where the process starts for me. The audience is so important to me. The first people who read it are the first audience you get and I think that actors are horribly underused. Everyone has an actor friend that wants to read a new script. Actors read more plays than everyone. They’re great at focusing on a character so that I can say, “Does it make sense when your character says that?” When I’m thinking about six characters, they are only thinking about one. I like more opinions and feedback. You can’t be precious and have hurt feelings, which, of course, we all do anyway. I think ultimately more brains are better as long as there is one brain at the end that says, “No, no, no, yes to that.”

Bright Lights in this year’s Fringe is about an alien abduction support group. I like writing and directing together because, for me, I’m never done working on the script. I don’t usually write a lot of stage directions because I know I’ll just figure it out. It’s such a collaborative process in the room with the actors, which is why casting is 98% of my job. Who do I want to be locked with in a room? Our group for the Fringe is the most punch-upy room I’ve ever been in. Everyone’s a writer. Everyone is funny. We talk about jokes, like where is the second beat of the joke? You definitely can’t overwork comedy but comedy is work. Which is so crazy. Comedy is way harder than drama. I also think there’s comedy in everything. It’s when we chose to let it out.

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Photo by John Gundy. L-R: Peter Carlone, Heather Marie Annis, Colin Munch, Amy Lee, Chris Wilson

BK: Do you ever have a dramaturge?

KS: Tom McGee is my long lifetime dramaturge. He asks me important questions. Stories have to be a conversation. I know some people can do it in a vacuum and I can’t. I’m a social writer.

BK: So you’re nominated for 7 awards at the Doras for your play Mustard that just premiered at the Tarragon. Congrats lady! Very exciting! Talk to me about the creation of Mustard.

KS: Yeah, it’s fucking crazy. It’s nuts. I’m happy for everyone. I think I wanted to write a play about an imaginary friend for a long time because I had one. I was really fascinated by the idea of where they went when they go away. My father created this character for me as a child and one day, when I was hurt, I cried out for that character instead of him. My dad sent that friend away and I never saw him for a long time because my dad was jealous of his own creation. Where do they go when we don’t need them anymore?

When I was in the Tarragon unit, they wanted something that fit their mandate. I thought this play would fit because it’s about family and belonging and addiction. I thought it would work and I wrote it and they picked it.

BK: How do you feel about the Dora nominations?

KS: I feel great. I think it’s interesting that people have been saying that this is my first professional production. Okay… but when you start charging people money for your stuff, that’s kind of when you are a professional. I think that independent and professional theatre doesn’t need to be so far a part in terms of the way people look at them. I think that creating that animosity between the two worlds is kind of unnecessary. In truth, out of the twelve plays that I’ve written, Mustard is only the third that has been eligible for the Doras. Either we were too rushed to get our shit together to invite Dora jurors or couldn’t afford to pay the fee to apply to TAPA. A lot of people don’t know that you pay to have those people come. You pay for your TAPA membership, which is totally valid. It’s funny because last year at the Doras they made a joke about how their independent jurors had to see one billion plays and only half were written by Kat Sandler, and I was like and none of them were eligible.

It’s really nice to get a nod. What’s amazing about these Doras, is that so many people in the indie community are nominated, which is really awesome and all for incredibly deserving work. So yeah, of course it feels nice to get to go as a nominee and not as a presenter.

BK: What are you going to wear?

KS: I’m coming straight from rehearsal. If it’s going to be this hot, I will probably wear a whisper of a dress so that I’m not gross and sweaty. So glamorous. I’ll wear the smallest amount that I can decently get away with.

BK: Flawless. Talk to me about your team involved with Mustard.

KS: Anand Rajaram and Sarah Dodd are both nominated in their category for best actor and actress. We were so lucky with the cast. They were so incredible. Ashlie (Corcoran) (nominated for direction) gave me a lot of control and choice in the casting. It was really easy to work with her and she was super flexible and so creative and totally brilliant. I thought that way about the cast too. You throw in our two clowns (Tony Nappo and Julian Richings) and Paolo (Santalucia) bearing his bum all over the place, it just all worked magically. Michael Gianfrancesco is nominated for both set and costume design. The set was so beautiful. I couldn’t handle it. In truth, in my entire Toronto career, no one’s ever put that much money into a set, because I wouldn’t put that money into a set. For Mustard to be cool and imaginary, the house had to be so real. He did such an incredible job and it was just tacky enough.

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Anand Rajaram and Sarah Dodd in MUSTARD at the Tarragon Theatre

BK: What are you most looking forward to at the Doras?

KS: I think it’s the feeling of the community being there. You know so many people and for all its bitchiness at times, the Toronto theatre community really loves itself and each other. We really are truly supportive when someone does something good or when they’re trying to do something good. What’s also nice is you get to see everyone dressed up and not in rehearsal clothes. It’s nice to not be in booty shorts and a disgusting t-shirt with Cheetos dust falling all over the place. Everyone is drinking and happy to be there.

BK: Tell me more about your fringe show Bright Lights opening this week.

KS: Bright Lights is about an alien abduction support group that accuses their leader of being an alien. As we’ve been working on it I’ve realized it’s kind of a comment on the absurdity of law and justice and how we view it as a society. My whole family consists of lawyers and judges out west. When we fight as a family, the arguments are so ridiculous. You can’t come into that house and not get torn apart. I think that a lot of that worked its way in and because we have such hilarious, funny people it’s really coming off the page. I wanted to work with this crew of people since I started doing Fringe. I saw Morro and Jasp and was like, “Holy shit. They’re so funny.” Peter and Chris are amazing with their sketch and improv and Colin and I are buddies from way back.

It’s totally ridiculous but always about something and always with heart.

We all love Fringe so much. We feel comfortable there. It’s given us so much. My career started at Fringe with Help Yourself. It’s like the Doras. The fringe tent is Theatre Christmas!

BK: Any advice for emerging artists?

KS: Just do it. Always. Just fucking do it. You won’t know if you’re any good at it or what to do until you do it. That was our whole thing with Theatre Brouhaha. We’re just going to do plays until someone takes notice or we just shouldn’t do them anymore. Also, listen and ask for help. The worst thing that could happen is someone can say no.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite movie: Princess Bride

Favourite book: Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes

Favourite food: Charcuterie

Favourite play: I don’t know if I can choose.

Favourite musical: My cool answer would be Book of Mormon but the little kid that ran around in her living room would say: Les Miserables.

Favourite place in Toronto: All of Toronto, Toronto is my jam. Maybe not the dark gross alleys, but the ones with graffiti are good. I like Cabbagetown.

Favourite place that you write: I write in the Dark Horse in the east end, but I’ll write anywhere that has coffee or where there are people.

Advice that you live by: Make opportunities don’t take opportunities.

Bright Lights

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Who:
Written By: Kat Sandler
Company: Theatre Brouhaha
Director: Kat Sandler
Cast: Amy Lee, Heather Marie Annis, Chris Wilson, Peter Carlone, and Colin Munch.
Dramaturg: Tom McGee

What: From Kat Sandler, Theatre Brouhaha, and the creative minds behind the Fringe smash hits Punch Up, Morro and Jasp, Peter n’ Chris, and Shakey-Shake & Friends comes a new dark comedy about survival, trust, and an alien abduction support group thrown into chaos by the suggestion that someone in their midst may not be as human as they seem.

Where: Tarragon Theatre Mainspace

When:
buy tickets  June 29th at 10:30 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 8:45 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 3:30 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 6:30 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 12:00 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 6:00 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 11:30 PM

 

Connect:
Website: TheatreBrouhaha.com
Twitter: @TheatreBrouhaha

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