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In the Greenroom’s Next Stage Theatre Festival Favourites

We couldn’t think of a better way to start 2017 on a high note than with a jam-packed festival of new theatre, dance, music, storytelling and improv; watching artists take their work to the ‘next stage’; and, of course, some good beer tent times re-connecting to old friends and meeting new ones!

We wanted to share some of In the Greenroom’s Festival Favourites, with the hopes of inspiring you as you begin your final NSTF scheduling. We’ve chosen something different, something new, something bloody and something true… maybe.

Be sure to share your favourite festival moments!

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#NSTFestivalFaves


Something Different: MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS

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Go to MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS if you want: something different… completely different!

It’s hard to find just one word to describe MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS. Wild, weird and wonderful, this show is bold, hilarious, absurd, athletic and completely fun! There’s nostalgia. There’s glitter. There’s incredible “wow-did-they-just-do-that” dancing, blow-up props, Garden State references, singalongs, and bags of milk! Yup, it’s a total trip and the more we think back on everything we experienced during MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS, the more we smile.

**We also recommend reading the program note on the work by choreographer Alyssa Martin either before or after for an even deeper appreciation of the piece.

What:
Join dance-theatre renegades Rock Bottom Movement for a hallucinatory romp through millennial nostalgia and classic indie film. Choreographer Alyssa Martin conjures a gleefully glitter-soaked pop-culture mashup featuring 90’s singer-songwriter karaoke and athletic dance breaks.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 06:45 PM
January 12 at 07:30 PM
January 14 at 09:00 PM
January 15 at 05:15 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something New: Songbuster, an improvised musical

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Go to Songbuster if you want: something new… every time!

Songbuster, an improvised musical is perfect if you’re looking for heart-wrenchingly hilarious ballads about _____ (You fill in the blank!) At this fully improvised musical, audience members get to choose the subject matter of the play! On opening we witnessed an entire saga about comicon that we won’t soon forget. We especially loved the improvised flamenco duet… Enough said!

What:
Fast paced, ridiculous and always entertaining, the cast creates an hour-long musical from suggestions provided by the audience. This dynamite cast has been seen in mainstage musicals and comedy clubs around the country and knows how to make you laugh one moment and break out your jazz hands the next.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 07:00 PM
January 12 at 05:30 PM
January 14 at 06:00 PM
January 15 at 01:45 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something Bloody: Blood Ties

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Go to Blood Ties if you want: something bloody…fun & musical!

Witty, charming and funny dialogue, plus beautiful songwriting with clear and engaging narrative sung throughout, Blood Ties is a bloody fun musical. Hats off to their thoughtful and clever costume design and a special shout-out to performer Jeremy Lapalme!

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 12 at 05:15 PM buy tickets
January 13 at 10:00 PM buy tickets
January 14 at 02:00 PM buy tickets
January 15 at 07:00 PM buy tickets

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something True (or False… either way there’s Spam!): Two Truths And A Lie

truths

Go to Two Truths and a Lie if you want: something true… or false! Regardless, someone is going home with a can of SPAM after this truly feel-good, laugh-out-loud, intimate storytelling show, so how could you miss it?

Though filled with lies and liars, Two Truths and a Lie promises to be filled with hilarious laugh-out-loud moments for a truly feel-good time in a cozy venue. These three talented storytellers transport us to horrifying yet still somehow endearing moments in their lives, and whether you can figure out who the ultimate liar is or not, a can of Spam is up for grabs, so… who wouldn’t want that?!

What:
Each night of the festival, Graham Isador (Situational Anarchy), Helder Brum (Born with a Tale), and Rhiannon Archer (Life Records) will regale audiences with three unbelievable stories…one of which is completely made up. After the critical successes of their honest and funny solo shows, these veterans of Toronto’s storytelling scene are coming together to make you laugh while lying to your face.

Where:
Factory Theatre Antechamber (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 05:55 PM
January 12 at 08:40 PM
January 13 at 06:40 PM
January 14 at 05:40 PM
January 15 at 04:25 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


We hope this inspires you to kick off your weekend NSTFestival schedule planning and be sure to see something you wouldn’t normally! This list is just the beginning.

There’s 10 shows that have each been selected to offer something different. Be bold. See something on a whim! That’s what the festival spirit is all about. You never know what you might be surprised by.

Happy Closing, NSTF! We’ll cheers you in the beer tent!

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“It’s the scariest performance I do. But it’s also why I love this job.” – A Chat with Kristian Bruun on SONGBUSTER – an improvised musical

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

I had the joy of chatting with Kristian Bruun, one of the artists performing and creating nightly Songbuster – an improvised musical on now at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. He spoke about the need to put on more musical improv in the city, how they prepare for a performance that is always changing, and how this is both the scariest kind of performance and why he loves his job. 

Shaina Silver-Baird: How did Songbuster start? What was the inspiration for creating a fully improvised musical?

Kristian Bruun: It started with Stephanie Malek and Josh Murray in the summer of 2015. They both wanted to see more musical improv represented in the city and went out to all the people they thought would not only bring top talent, but also be fun to perform with. We all love musicals, and the excitement that comes from improvising one is unlike anything else. Originally, we were just doing a couple shows for Blockbuster Week at Bad Dog and Big City Improv Festival and it just grew from there.

songbuster

SSB: How did you get involved?

KB: Stephanie approached me and said she was putting a group together. How could I say no? I’ve worked with some of the cast before (like Nug in Evil Dead! The Musical) and it seemed like a fun project.

SSB: Is it scary going out on stage not knowing what’s going to happen?!

KB: Always. It’s the scariest performance I do. But it’s also why I love this job.

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SSB: How do you prepare/rehearse for an improvised musical?

KB: We run songs, scenes, mini versions of shows. We work on different varieties of songs and song structures. We revisit classic story arcs found in musicals, and character archetypes, and always go back to the basic foundations of storytelling. It always helps having an expert eye to guide us and this year we’ve been working a lot with Carly Heffernan, who is brilliant and always sharp with her notes.

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SSB: You did this show before at the Fringe Festival. Will this version be any different?

KB: Not really. Of course, we hope we’ll be even tighter as a group. We love these chances to do a run of shows because we always learn so much from night to night. It’s improv, so every show will be wildly different and wonderfully weird.

SSB: Do you have any favourite moments from the last run?

KB: We had a musical take place on the moon that got very randy. Everybody was making out and grinding on each other. The audience really got their money’s worth that night. Yeah. That was fun.

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SSB: Many people know you from your TV/film work. How is this style of performance different? What are the challenges and are the two related for you?

KB: This is a type of performance where I’m left to my own creativity and that of my cast mates. No script, not much of a plan… It’s so open and nerve-wracking and fantastic! It’s a complete rush being on stage with no script (also a common theme in my nightmares). I sometimes get to improv on set, but here the world is our oyster and we shuck the hell out of it.

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Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite play you saw this year: Obsidian Theatre’s stunning production of “Master Harold”… and the Boys.

Favourite movie: Swiss Army Man.

What’s on repeat on your iTunes: The Hamilton Soundtrack.

Favourite food: Roti.

Most embarrassing moment (or the most embarrassing one you’ll tell us): Anytime someone recognizes me I turn beet red, get all shy and start flop sweating. I walk away embarrassed every time. Thank god it doesn’t happen too often…

Describe Songbuster in 5 words: Musical appears before your eyes.

Songbuster – an improvised musical

songbuster-1

Photo by Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Songbuster Inc.
Created by the Ensemble – every night!
Featuring Tricia Black, Kristian Bruun, Ashley Comeau, Alexandra Hurley, Stephanie Malek, Josh Murray, Nug Nahrgang, Nicky Nasrallah and Connor Thompson
Musical Director Tom King

What:
Fast paced, ridiculous and always entertaining, the cast creates an hour long musical from suggestions provided by the audience. This dynamite cast has been seen in mainstage musicals and comedy clubs around the country and knows how to make you laugh one moment and break out your jazz hands the next.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 06 at 09:00 PM
January 07 at 04:00 PM
January 08 at 08:00 PM
January 09 at 09:00 PM
January 11 at 07:00 PM
January 12 at 05:30 PM
January 14 at 06:00 PM
January 15 at 01:45 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

“To Clap or To Boo… What would The Claque do?” – In Conversation with Mark Brownell & Victor Pokinko on CLIQUE CLAQUE

Interview by Brittany Kay

I got to sit down with playwright Mark Brownell and actor Victor Pokinko of Clique Claque, premiering at The Next Stage Festival. We talked about who and what the “Claque” are, the potential timelessness of period pieces, and the importance of the festival model as a way of producing theatre.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about the show? 

Mark Brownell: We’ve been working on the show for about two years. Last year we did Three Men in a Boat and our time machine kind of got stuck in the late 1800s in the 19th Century. Clique Claque is set in Paris and the topic is one that I have wanted to do for a long time. It’s focusing on a thing called the Paris Claque. They were essentially professional clappers who make money promoting or booing various shows. At the time, theatre was never more popular but they had a problem promoting the new shows, same as they do today. So they decided to create and hire the Claque. It started in Paris around the 1830s and kept growing and growing until the point where you couldn’t have a new opening or a new play or opera or musical piece without the Claque. They became a part of the theatre. Then, after a certain point, people started to question why that was and why these people were getting paid to do to fake an audience, essentially. Clappers would say that they are definitely part of the business. Everybody else started to think that wasn’t the case. So it’s kind of a turning point in the Claque’s existence, where people started to turn their backs on the Claque.

Victor Pokinko: The Claque also served this nefarious purpose. Actors would be able to hire the Claque to boost their own performances and convince the greater public that they were doing something better than they were. At the same time, they would be able to sabotage their competition by sending them to their counterparts and either boo, or stay completely silent during comedies, or do something to simply sabotage them and make the public think they must not be that good if no one’s clapping.

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Victor Pokinko & Thalia Kane

MB: They had several different types of applause, cheering and booing where they would talk in between the acts about the show, so it became a real art. They really perfected it. Claques have been around a lot longer; it goes back to ancient Greeks. It was at its height in the 1800s and then it started to die off as the theatre started to die off with the introduction of film and stuff like that. It still kind of existed but sort of mutated into things like laugh tracks in television.

BK: Amazing, I never knew about that.

VP: We briefly mention Wagner in the play. Wagner is responsible for the house lights going down in theatre, before that it was just lit everywhere. And that benefited the Claque because the leader of the Claque would stand behind a pillar, where they would actually give hand signals. They were these strange, elaborate, almost like an umpire in baseball, for what the Claquers should do. We made these signals for ourselves to applaud or laugh etc. So one of the reasons Wagner wanted to bring the house lights down was to foil the Claque so they couldn’t see these signals and they would have to react genuinely.

MB: That’s sort of the basis around when we meet the characters and what they are doing. It’s set up like a melodrama simply because in melodrama at the time, your fortunes would gain with virtuous activity or they would diminish with rotten activity. Most of the characters in this play are rotten and wicked and they are punished for it. Some aren’t. It’s definitely good versus evil. It’s quite a dastardly group of characters and the opposite of Three Men in a Boat.

BK: Why are you inspired by the 19th Century? Where did this inspiration first come from to write about this specific movement in theatre history? 

MB: We’ve had a lot of success in the past with period pieces. It’s liberating. To tell you a secret, it never goes out of date because with so many contemporary plays, you write them or you see them and then the situation changes. Oddly with historical drama, because it’s already happened, because it is already dated, you can play with it and it remains popular. Our historical dramas are amongst our most popular shows that get redone. I also teach Theatre History so I’m constantly kind of learning about new eras. We’re stuck in the 19th Century because it was amazing. For artists, it was immaculate. We just love doing these period pieces because it deals with the familiar and it deals with the alien at the same time. That’s really fascinating to me. We also have a very physical style and that fits very well into this time period.

BK: Three Men in a Boat was a very stylized, physical type of storytelling. Is that the case with this show?

MB: Three Men in a Boat was a style called spoken décor, where the three men and their bodies are the show. This is more along the lines of a classic melodrama, which is a different style, of course. We don’t have huge sets or anything like that. It is still quite stripped down and our director Sue Miner is very, very used to that. We were into the Poor Theatre before Grotowski.

BK: hahaha.

VP: There are a few segments where my character is led through the catacombs of Paris. How do you make the winding sewers and tunnels of Paris without the Mirvish budget? Moments like that, we snap into a physical style and then snap back out into this melodrama.

MB: The cast is very strong. We have a great mix of (they’ll kill me for saying this) older actors and young actors/emerging artists who we love working with. We’re mixing Victor and Thalia Kane with Michelle Langille, and then two gentleman Ron Kennell and Robert Clarke, who are veterans and really wonderful. The cast chemistry is really important and we like working with people who we’ve enjoyed working with before, as does everybody.

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Robert Clarke

BK: How is your working relationship with Sue and Mark coming to a new show?

VP: This is my second show with both of them and my third with Sue. It’s great. I was sort of thrown into Three Men in a Boat. That was a whirlwind of a rehearsal process and then we grew and grew as the show developed. This one feels like a new beginning – a fresh, wonderful adventure. There’s a lot of me in this character.

MB: I’ve written the character for him. Sometimes you write with actors in mind and it’s rare that they are able to do it given everybody’s crazy schedules. I wrote every one of these characters for the actors playing them. I know their quirks.

BK: Oh yes, and Victor has none…

VP: (Laughs) My character is a Polish Canadian piano playing man named Victor with big ears and a distinctive laugh.

BK: That’s not you at all.

VP: Yes, it’s a real stretch. (Laughs) Our relationship has grown in a very big way. We joke a lot in rehearsal and there is a common vocabulary we all use. It’s lovely to simply jump into that work and know exactly the style we’re going for and know the vernacular.

MB: You get into a rhythm and a language together. We’re working as a tight ensemble. We really enjoy working that way.

BK: Why is this story important for audiences today?

MB: I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s important because in any one of our period plays, there’s a reflection of the modern. The time that we’re setting it in, is at a time when Modernism kicks in and the 20th Century is around the corner. We’re in the 21st Century now, but people’s motivations are the same. The wickedness is the same. Melodrama has a bad rep. People think that Melodrama is over the top acting. It’s not that. If you really study Melodrama, it’s a sort of style that survives to this day. If you look at any Hollywood film, the manipulation of the audience is still there but it’s grown more sophisticated and subtler. You have music to pull the heartstrings. Go to a Stephen Spielberg film and find your tear ducts starting to go. Take away the sound, take away the orchestra, and sometimes you’ll see a lot of bad acting.

The laugh track has fallen out of favour, but you have things like The Big Bang Theory, which is the perfect example. Take the laugh track out of that show and sorry, but it’s not that good. We’re still cueing people constantly with music, laughter, and the chatter. It’s still with us, so I think that’s the biggest message. That said, we don’t use the Claque in this production but the audience is co-opted a bit to behave as the Claque.

VP: I think it’s a big commentary on what theatre was and has become. In a cool way, it gives an inside look into what theatre was historically. For the non-theatre people, it shows a bit of an inside look at what it is that we are struggling for and struggling against constantly.

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Thalia Kane

BK: Why does Pea Green Theatre keep coming back to the Next Stage Festival?

MB: This is our third Next Stage. We started in ’88, so it’s been a long journey. Over that time, the pie that’s available for funding from grants etc. has shrunk significantly. Our way of producing and creating theatre has changed over the years simply because there is less money available and we have to raise money in different ways. But also, for the economics of theatre itself, the festival model is very, very strong. If you’re smart and don’t have a cast of 20, you can actually make money on the Fringe tour. The Next Stage Festival, is the next step in that. The last 4 of our shows that have come up through the festival circuit have gone onto larger productions. That’s why Next Stage is important because it is literally the next stage for the work.

BK: A good stepping-stone.

MB: And that’s what it is supposed to be. Larger theatres are now plucking shows out of the Fringe. They’re taking from the festival circuits. The Festival model is the way to go. The days of licking stamps and sending off scripts to the mainstream theatre doesn’t exist anymore.

BK: What has Next Stage done for you as an actor Victor?

VP: I like festivals and they are great opportunities. Big companies come out to Next Stage and can see your work. It’s a weird thing to talk about exposure, but Next Stage is great because there are only 10 shows and people attend and really care about it. It’s nice to know there is a large artistic reach for the art we are making and wanting to share.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from Clique Claque?

MB: Primarily to be entertained.

VP: It’s nice to be transported when watching a period piece. You’re going to enter this other world. I’m excited, as an artist, to explain the Claque and this part of history. As an audience, it’s always exciting to feel like you’ve experienced history and to walk out having learned something. Hopefully, I want them to walk out with a sense of involvement in that.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Movie
VP: La Vie en Rose MB: Babette’s Feast

Favourite Book
VP: Pass! MB: A Wizard of Earthsea

Favourite Play
VP: Our Town or House OR The Goat MB: Les Liaison Dangereuses

Favourite Food
VP: Coffee MB: The whole hawg from the Bar-B-Barn in Montreal.

Favourite Place in Toronto
VP: Christie Pitts MB: Cherry Beach

Best advice you’ve ever gotten
VP: Don’t take yourself seriously. MB: Be nice to people on the way up because you’re going to meet them on the way down.

Clique Claque

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Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Pea Green Theatre Group
Written by Mark Brownell
Director Sue Miner
Featuring Robert Clarke, Thalia Kane, Ron Kennell, Michelle Langille, and Victor Pokinko

What:
Clique Claque marks Pea Green’s return to the festival after last year’s Dora-nominated hit Three Men in a Boat. Clique Claque is a dastardly period comedy/ melodrama set in 1880’s Paris. Madame Clothilde is the “Chef de Claque” – the overseer of a motley group of professional “clappers” who manipulate audience applause for cash. Together with her detestable husband she seeks to control the life and fortunes of every performing artist in Paris.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 06 at 09:30 PM
January 07 at 08:30 PM
January 08 at 04:00 PM
January 09 at 06:45 PM
January 11 at 08:45 PM
January 13 at 05:00 PM
January 14 at 06:30 PM
January 15 at 02:45 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

“Exploring Archetypes, Storytelling & Country Music that isn’t about Football” – In Conversation with Matthew Gorman, writer of WESTERN, a play with music at NSTF

Interview by Hallie Seline

I spoke with Matthew Gorman, writer of Western, a play with music, at the Next Stage Festival, to discuss exploring the Western genre in the theatre, using music as a driving force in storytelling and the excitement of watching the NSTF grow over the years.

Hallie Seline: Tell me a bit about Western, a play with music.

Matthew Gorman: Western started as a retelling of a Johnny Cash song. It’s actually written by Sting, but Johnny’s version is the good one. It’s a song about a boy accidentally shooting a man and being hanged for it. I had initially intended it to be a solo piece and just follow along with the plot from the song but as I got going, I started to like the people around that story more and more. After trying a few versions of the script, we hit on the idea of a theatrical campfire, where a story was shared between the characters and the audience rather than having it presented in a more traditional fashion. This gave us more space to breathe and see what parts of the story needed telling and what needed showing.

HS: What drew you to explore the Western genre in a theatrical setting with this piece?

MG: I like archetypes. You know a bad guy is a bad guy because he’s the bad guy. People have expectations of characters in a western, so you don’t need to spend time explaining who everyone is. The sheriff is the sheriff. You’re playing with the form those characters take.

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HS: The show is described as being “a play with music”. What kind of role does the music play in the show and why was it important in the creation of the piece?

MG: Any good campfire has music playing. You pass around instruments and people take turns sharing a song. When we initially approached Gord (Bolan) about providing some music for an early staged reading, we thought he’d maybe play a few Hank Williams songs between scenes. When he showed up, he’d scored the whole thing and written a few originals. His presence in that reading showed us that he could be a featured part of the story, a driving force that influences the characters, rather than just accompaniment. We called it a play with music because it wasn’t a traditional musical, it’s a play where people sing sometimes.

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HS: What are you most looking forward to this Next Stage Festival? (aside from the presentation of your piece, of course.)

MG: I was a bartender at the first couple Next Stage Festivals, so I’m always looking forward to how the feel of the whole festival grows every year and things change.

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

MG: People should listen to lots of John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Bonnie Prince Billy, Neko Case, some Gillian Welch. Any country music that isn’t about football.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Western Film: The Proposition. Nick Cave wrote all the music, it’s great.

What are you watching these days? I’ve been on tour most of the fall, so a lot of Netflix. I watched a bunch of Penny Dreadful. It was amazing and terrible and cheesy and great and Simon Russel Beale is always delightful.

Where do you look for inspiration? Art galleries, always.

Favourite place in the city? We’ve been members at the zoo for years. We almost got married there. It’s the best.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten? Write whatever you want, let someone else worry about how to stage it.

Describe Western in 5 words: A campfire where people die.

Western, a play with music

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Photo by Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by The Harvey Dunn Campfire
Text by Matthew Gorman
Music by Gordon Bolan
Director Geoffrey Pounsett
Featuring Mairi Babb, Gordon Bolan, Brendan Murray, and Caroline Toal

What:
Part myth, part campfire song, this show is a reckless chase through an imagined western landscape. Nance wants a son, Reach wants a home, Dirt wants release, Jenet wants her brother, and Rabbit just wants to run. Join these acclaimed indie theatre artists ‘round the fire for a story about family, blood, and claiming what’s yours.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 05 at 06:30 PM
January 06 at 05:15 PM
January 07 at 07:30 PM
January 08 at 04:15 PM
January 10 at 06:30 PM
January 12 at 07:15 PM
January 13 at 08:45 PM
January 14 at 02:15 PM
January 15 at 03:30 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

“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

“Two Truths and a Lie… Oh, and a Can of Spam” – In Conversation with Storyteller Graham Isador

Interview by Brittany Kay

I had the joy of sitting down with Graham Isador, one of the creators and storytellers of Two Truths and a Lie, opening this week as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival. We spoke about the fundamentals of the show, the Storytelling community in Toronto, and how sometimes what we really need is just a feel-good performance where we can sit back and laugh.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your show Two Truths and a Lie?

Graham Isador: Rhiannon Archer, Helder Brum and myself tell three outrageous stories, one of which is completely fictional. The goal of the performance is to trick the audience into thinking that all of them are false or all of them are true and at the end somebody has to guess which one is the lie. If they guess right, they win a can of Spam.

BK: A can of Spam?

GI: A can of Spam.

BK: Alrighty! So there is audience participation?

GI: Ish. Do you hate audience participation?

BK: Some people do. It really depends on my mood that night.

GI: Well it’s very limited audience participation. We’re probably going to single someone out. They don’t have to do anything other than picking out which story is fake. It’s basically a fun storytelling show.

BK: Are there different stories each night?

GI: We are switching them up. So each one of us has a lie story and a truth story and, depending on the night, we decide before the show who’s going to tell what.

BK: Where did the idea for this show come from?

GI: Well it’s like the party game, right? It was just kind of a very easy, recognizable format to put the stories in and hopefully entertain some people. Helder, Rhiannon and I have all had pretty successful solo shows throughout the past year. Rhiannon’s Life Records sold out a complete Fringe run at the Backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille. Helder did very, very well with the show called Born with a Tale and I did a show called Situational Anarchy in this past SummerWorks Festival. We put together a proposal because we wanted to work together to do some sort of storytelling thing with the Fringe and this is what we had come up with for the Next Stage Festival.

BK: Where do these stories come from? Do we know what the stories are about?

GI: Nope. We’re not putting that out there. We’ve discussed what we’re going to use. Alternates included a story Rhiannon refers to as the Legend of Mudbutt, the time Helder ate a pepper so spicy he questioned his place on the space-time continuum, and a time that I became a pallbearer for a man I never met. But what we’ve come up with to share is a lot of fun. Or if it’s not, we lie until it is!

BK: What’s the process to craft and rehearse these stories? Do the three of you work together?

GI: I mean, we are all performers who are constantly doing shows. I perform probably once or twice a week. Rhiannon and Helder both perform more than that because they are stand-ups, so we’re always working on new material and always putting out different stuff. It’s the kind of material that we’ve sort of perfected, or are trying to perfect, at different shows through the city. It’s honing those skills down down down until we’ve got those tight 5-8 minute pieces to be able to give to the people.

BK: What’s your rehearsal process like?

GI: (whispers) There isn’t one. Hahaha…

Testing out the stories at different shows is kind of like our rehearsal process. They’ve been developed in front of a live audience to figure out what jokes are working. We said to each other, “Come up with 8 minutes, don’t go over that 8 minutes, and we’ll figure it out the night of.” We’re in the antechamber space. It’s a half hour. It’s fun, low-key and easy for the audience.

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Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

BK: Why is this show’s concept important right now for Toronto audiences?

GI: I think, first and foremost, this is just a show that we hope is entertaining. It’s going to be a fun half hour and a cool night out with your friends. It’s not one of those things where there are bigger through lines or emotional arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy finding morals to stories and bigger truths to that stuff, but there’s also times where you want something a little dumb and hopefully people like it.

This is honestly a night where we are telling jokes. We want to entertain some people and send them home happy. It’s a feel-good event in the winter.

BK: How did you first start working with Rhiannon and Helder? Did you know them through the storytelling community? 

GI: I did a show with Rhiannon called Raconteurs, which is a monthly event that happens at the Tranzac Club. It’s a big storytelling event, which brings in about 100 people. We both admired each other’s work and wanted to be in each other’s shows. I run Pressgang out of the Garrison, which has become a little bigger with about 80-100 people per show. Rhiannon and Helder’s is called Fire Side, it happens at Dufferin Grove Park when the weather permits. We sit around a campfire and tell stories to each other.

BK: That’s wicked.

GI: Yeah, it’s free. People might have cheeky beers… It’s nice. It’s a good way to do things.

BK: I want to go to that.

GI: It’s awesome. We have marshmallows. People bring dogs. It’s a really fun show to do.

BK: What about director Tom Arthur Davis?

GI: Oh, we don’t need to talk about him.

BK: Hahaha. How is he as a director?

GI: Terrible. Just useless. I give him no credit for anything I’ve done.

No, no. We’ve known each other since University. We went to UofT together. We didn’t talk to each other for the first year and then eventually we started giving each other the head nod when we would see each other on campus. We became friends once when we got really drunk together at an improv jam in a basement. We lived together for a while and worked on various projects. He was the co-director for my SummerWorks show. We co-directed for a play I wrote called Served that happened at the Fringe two years ago. He’s been a part of Pressgang Storytelling on and off since its inception like 5 years ago. He’s genuinely the most talented director I know in this city and a total garbage human being.

BK: Nice. Good. He’ll like this.

GI: Yeah, no I love him like a brother. He’s excellent. He’s very, very good. So it was one of those things where we thought for the little rehearsal time that we had, we needed an outside eye to make sure we weren’t being too self-indulgent. Tom is good at being an outside eye and good at telling me when I’m being too self-indulgent, which is more or less all the time. So it’s a great fit.

BK: Haha. Love that. Anything else we should know about Two Truths and a Lie

GI: The goal of this show is to make people laugh. I can’t speak to my own talents but I think that Rhiannon and Helder are some of the funniest people in this city. In terms of up-and-coming comedians, they have both performed on JFL42 this year and they both have up-and-coming projects (that they’re not allowed to talk about) but are going to be very, very big deals in the spring time. It’s the recognition of talent and being able to catch them before they’re going to be a huge deal in this city and I’m really glad that a hack like me can come along for the ride.

BK: What do you hope audiences will walk away with?

GI: I hope they just go, “Wow, that was outrageous and remember when that happened?” and that they giggle at some stuff and then relay this information to their friends.

BK: What are 3-5 words that would describe your show?

GI: Just the best party.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite…
Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums
Book: Permanent Midnight.
Play: Swimming to Cambodia.
Food: Tacos
Place in Toronto: Top steps of Castle Loma.
What are you currently listening to: Jeff Rosenstock/Frank Turner/Converge.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Try and say as little as you can. 

Two Truths and a Lie

 

truths

Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Pressgang Theatre
Created by Graham Isador, Helder Brum, and Rhiannon Archer
Director Tom Arthur Davis
Featuring Graham Isador, Helder Brum, and Rhiannon Archer

Where: Factory Theatre Antechamber

When:
Wed      January 4th – 9:40 pm
Thurs   January 5th  – 6:10pm
Fri         January 6th  – 8:40pm
Sat         January 7th  – 7:40pm
Sun       January 8th  –  5:40pm
Mon      January 9th  –  8:25pm
Tues     January 10th – 7:55pm
Wed      January 11th – 5:55pm
Thurs   January 12th  – 8:40pm
Fri         January 13th  – 6:40pm
Sat         January 14th  – 5:00pm
Sun        January 15th  – 4:25pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

“Community. Creativity. Craft.” In Conversation with Scott Garland on Sing For Your Supper at the Storefront Theatre

Interview by Brittany Kay

Scott Garland has announced his departure from Storefront Theatre‘s Sing for Your Supper (SFYS). Before his final show on January 2nd, we had the chance to sit down with him and discuss what this event actually is, how it helps to foster our community’s sense of togetherness and why events like these are so important in our theatre community

Brittany Kay: What is Sing for Your Supper?

Scott Garland: SFYS is a monthly cold read series held at the Storefront Theatre, in which new writers submit incomplete, unpublished works that are then read by first-come-first-served performers who show up on the night. They get the script an hour beforehand and we then perform them on the Storefront stage that night.

BK: How do the scripts get chosen for that night?

SG: For the month prior to the night, I send out a call for scripts on social media and anyone who will hear me: We need scripts, 12 pages max to be read. They send them to me at our email address singforyoursupper.sf@gmail.com. I set a deadline, which is usually the Friday before the event, and I read everything that is submitted to us – that’s our promise. We will always read every script and then we whittle it down to about 5 or 6 scripts and that’s what gets presented.

BK: How many scripts would you say you get in a month of submissions?

SG: We’re averaging about 10 incomplete scripts every month.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Photo Credit: John Gundy

BK: Where did this event first begin?

SG: Well this is actually a tradition that started with Red One Theatre a long time ago and it was done in a few pubs. It started with Ben Blais, Brenhan McKibbon and Tyrone Savage. That was less of a show and more of people getting together with scripts and reading them. It’s had various versions and then finally about 3 years ago when Red One Theatre occupied what is now the Storefront Theatre, they wanted to bring it back. It’s changed hands a couple of times. Danny Pagett hosted it for a while, then Ben Blais and Brenhan McKibbon. I had just started going because I was performing in Rarely Pure’s production of As You Like It with Ben Blais at the Storefront. He and I got along and he liked my cold reads so he asked if I’d be interested in organizing it or taking it on. I said, “You betcha Ben,” and so I did.

BK: What was your take on the night? How did you change or tweak it to make SFYS what it is today? 

SG: I started creating a bit of a variety night out of it. SFYS has become more of an open mic night for actors. Actors don’t get a lot of chances to do cold reads of new work. This is an opportunity for people to get together with no stress, no pressure, to just mess around with some text and their craft and also for writers to possibly experiment with their stuff. In the spirit of trying to give it a little flourish, I started bringing people in. Kat Letwin, who’s a very talented performer, a wonderful comedian and a great sketch writer in her own right, covered for me for a month while I was unavailable. She’s a first-class performer so, unsurprisingly, she did very well and so I said, “What if you stuck around and we co-hosted it together?” She actually just celebrated her 2-year anniversary co-hosting and we’ve been really happy to keep her. We’ve also been very fortunate to have a local magician, Leigh Beadon, who actually premiered some magic at an earlier rendition of SFYS. He’s our halfway point at intermission. He’ll try out some feats of mentalism on the crowd. They’re always consistently mind-blowing. They make you believe. They really do.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Photo Credit: John Gundy

BK: Why is it so important for the Toronto theatre community to have an event like this? 

SG: One of the metaphors I’ve kind of used for SFYS is that it’s a bit of an elevator lobby to the indie theatre scene. We get people from all areas of the community; people who are both indoctrinated in the community or have never been to the Storefront, or people who know nothing about theatre and just show up. It’s a hub. It’s really a crossover space where members of the community come together and create art together.

For me, it’s a seed-planting and grass-nourishing event. It’s free, no one’s getting paid. All are welcome. It’s free to submit. It’s a pretty equal opportunity event because it’s first-come-first-served for readers. We do try to ensure that new readers get first priority. The best way new and interesting art can happen is if you get as many different people in a room together, creating together. It’s an opportunity for writers, actors and the un-indoctrinated to kind of experiment with the theatre community in a low stakes environment.

It’s also a dramaturgical tool for writers, which can be invaluable. You have a room full of artists with a stack of scripts and a tickle trunk full of various props and costume pieces, so let’s make some work.

BK: This is quite the meet and greet, a place where people can connect. 

SG: Yeah, exactly. Part of what we do for SFYS is that if you have any projects, workshops, shows, classes or auditions coming up that you want to spread the word on, you get 30 seconds to say your piece.

BK: What’s the turn out usually like?

SG: We never have less than 30 people. It’s cabaret style so people can come and go.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Photo Credit: John Gundy

BK: Why are you leaving?

SG: Because I’m just not that good at it. No. No. I kid. I kid.

I’m very proud of what I have done and what the event has become under my time, but I feel in order for the event to grow beyond what it currently is, it deserves fresh eyes and a new artist with a greater reach in terms of the community. Cameron Wyllie who is a very funny guy from the comedy community, is taking over my hosting duties. He is a sketch writer and performer and he produced Toronto Sketch Fest earlier this year. I feel he has much more experience producing events than I do, so I feel the event will be in very good hands.

Marissa Heintzman is taking over most of the administrative duties. She has her Masters from the University of Glasgow and has expressed much more interest in administrative handling and has actually written a thesis on the effects of modern drama and modern theatrical writing on the current generation. I feel that she will bring so much insight in terms of the sociological implications that an event like SFYS can provide to a community. Kat Letwin is staying on board. She has been, and continues to be, an irreplaceable part of SFYS.

BK: What do you hope the future is for this event?

SG: SFYS under my guidance has been an equal opportunity for female readers. One of the strongest causes I am passionate about is equality for female writers and actresses’ voices on stage. I’m a big fan of HERstory Counts, who actually previewed at SFYS last year. My biggest failing has been in outreach and diversity of communities. Art benefits from diversity. The event is only 3 years old and hopefully this will reach into as many communities as it can. SFYS can introduce people from various communities to each other, if nothing else, to foster greater community building.

BK: That’s lovely.

SG: It’s truly a platform, it’s a stage, it says, “Come one, come all.” I’m hoping more groups will approach SFYS looking for partnership on certain projects. That would be nice. Again there’s no money or funding involved in SFYS. The only real currency in this event is each other, the talents we have and the work we make. I’m hoping that an artistic bunz trading zone can happen at SFYS.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Photo Credit: John Gundy

BK: Anything else we need to know about SFYS?

SG: It’s the first Monday of every month. Really come one, come all. If you’re reader sign up starts at 7pm, but some people have been showing up at 6:30pm.

I will also say that I’m consistently overwhelmed by the talent we have at this event. There’s something admirable in people trying something for the first time and it working out spectacularly. That truly is the virtue of live theatre. The amazement of a cold read is that if it happens once, even if the script goes on to publication, you really encountered the spark of something truly new and wonderful.

BK: 3 words that describe SFYS?

SG: Community. Creativity. Craft.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Sing For Your Supper

About:
All are welcome to participate. FREE ADMISSION

Script submissions will be selected by our
incomparable hosts Kat Letwin, Scott Garland, and Cam Wyllie,
alongside indie theatre instigators.

SEND SCRIPT SUBMISSIONS TO:
singforyoursupper.sf@gmail.com

The scripts will then receive a live workshop by Toronto talent on a first come first serve basis.

SIGN UP FOR PERFORMANCE OPENS AT 7pm
CURTAIN AT 8:00

Where:
Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor Street West

When:
January 2, 2017

Find Out More: storefronttheatre.com/sing-for-your-supper/