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Posts tagged ‘2015 SummerWorks Performance Festival’

Artist Profile: Jenna Harris of “This is Where We Live” at the 2015 SummerWorks Festival

Interview by Brittany Kay

My theatre crush on Jenna Harris started out when I saw “Mine” at this past year’s Next Stage Festival. Her work in this year’s Fringe Festival in ­”there/Gone” was uniquely engaging and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. My level of respect and admiration for this artist is at an all time high and that’s why it was an extreme honour to sit down and talk with Jenna about her SummerWorks show, “This is Where We Live”. We talked about the Toronto theatre community, creating your own work and finding inspiration in the world around you. 

Brittany Kay: Tell me about the play.

Jenna Harris: It’s an Australian play, written by Vancouver born playwright Vivienne Walshe. She lived here until she was 10, then moved to Australia and has been in LA for the last little while. It’s a play set in the middle of nowhere about two teenagers [Chloe and Chris], both of whom are not from there. It focuses on Chloe, who’s recently moved in with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend and so she’s figuring out her life there. It’s quite dark – it looks at both of their outcast lives and what they’re dealing with at home and a little bit with how they see the world for themselves…their disparate views of fantasy versus reality and how their life will unfold. It’s gorgeously poetic in the most beautiful way, talking about some really heart wrenching and very dark themes. These characters tell their stories through their eyes- you see the other people through their perspectives and thus they end up playing the different people.

BK: It’s just a two hander?

JH: Yes. They take on and play the different characters in their lives. It’s loosely based on the myth of Orpheus. So Chloe is Eurydice stuck in this small town hell, in which sees as an underworld. She kind of conjures Chris to come and save her maybe, but there’s some kind of connection there.

BK: How do you move from one character to the next?

JH: It’s an interesting thing because the characters are from the main characters’ perspective. So some of the characters overlap. The teacher in their school is Tim’s character’s dad. We both have slightly different views on who this dad is, but that it’s similar enough for the audience to get. So it’s playing with that. It’s a combination of physicality and voice and it happens really quickly. Sometimes it’s one word to the next.

BK: Have you been able to find your own nuances and make you own choices with a script that’s already there?

JH: We’ve done a decent amount of movement work, which has definitely made things our own. Because it is a bit like performing a poem or spoken word, there are certain things you can’t break out of due to the rhythm. But within that, there has been lots of room to play.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

BK: Your company, Discord and Din is producing it? What has it been like wearing both hats as actor and producer?

JH: It’s been interesting. For the production of Mine, [Next Stage Festival 2015] it was still my company but I wasn’t the producer on it, which was a good idea. For this one, there have been moments where there are only so many hours in the day, it’s what do you chose to do – whether it’s split 50/50 working on the show or working on the text and the acting.

BK: Like memorizing your lines…

JH: Ya, you know that… or in this case, dialect. Or whether it’s actually working on the production side. Time will tell with the show how the producing goes around. We have a really great team. We started the process as early as you know with SummerWorks. It’s almost the same design team I worked with on Next Stage so having that ability to communicate is great. It seems to have all come together.

BK: How did Discord and Din come to be?

JH: I put together this company as you end up doing when you want to put up a show. I didn’t go to school in Toronto, so when I first moved it was knowing nobody and figuring out how to negotiate and understand the business here and the people who are here. I think after a few years of being here, I decided that it was actually doable. It’s a lot trickier in New York, where I trained, to be able to put up a show. So I put together this company and the name is from a movie that I loved as a kid called the Phantom Tollbooth. It’s about this boy who’s very bored and this present arrives on his doorstep (I think the movie’s from the 70s, my aunt showed it to me) and this box opens up and it’s this car that takes him out of his boredom and into this animated world. There’s a doctor in it named Doctor Discord and he has this character with him, Din. It’s about all sounds and noises. I liked the idea of sound and noise and it doesn’t always necessarily go together, but it makes something beautiful, hopefully. That’s where that came from and shortly after, my friend wrote a show that I co-produced with her. SummerWorks used to have a performance gallery and I did something there. The company was on the backburner for a bit as other things were going on and recently it surfaced. I think I have a better sense of what I want to produce with it and the type of work I connect with. I just started to figure out more and more as time goes on what that mission is, for lack of a better word.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

BK: How did you find this play?

JH: When I have time – which is not right now – I like to read as many plays as humanly possible. Sometimes I’ll try and go through places in the world. It gets trickier when you get away from the English language countries, but at one moment I went, “Oh I don’t know anything about Australia.” I know nothing about their theatre scene. I don’t know what they’re producing. And given that we’re not altogether dissimilar as countries, in terms of coming from the British Commonwealth, I was really curious what they do there and how their system works. There happens to be a website called and it’s a huge database of plays where you can read excerpts and get a membership. I read a bunch of them and I came to this one and I kind of just went “yes”. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I knew there was something there.

BK: So, is this a North American premiere?

JH: It’s been done before but her work has never been shown in Canada. It’s her coming home debut, which is great. I found it very fascinating that out of all of the plays I read, it was one that was written by someone who is still a Canadian citizen and who was born here.

BK: Tell me a little bit about working with your director Taryn Jorgenson?

JH: Taryn I met several years ago when she was bartending. I found out she was a director and the way we talked about theatre was quite similar. It was really nice to sit down and have similar conversations. Having that same sort of excitement about the show has been great.

BK: What has it been like working with Tim Welham?

JH: It’s been great. I didn’t know him before. He and Taryn both graduated from Ryerson. He’s super lovely and open. It’s been very collaborative, as much as you can be with a script that’s already there.

BK: Talk to me about the playwright?

JH: We also have a dramaturg on this. There are things we couldn’t tell if they were Australian slang or language that she made up for the poetry of the piece. We needed someone else in the room to research and look those things up. We’ve been in dialogue with Vivienne – she’s asked a number of questions. I did too. She’s been great and available. She’s been excited and has been giving great feedback.

BK: What are some of the major themes or ideas in the piece? What do you want audiences walking away with?

JH: It is so much about these two characters that hopefully audiences will find another level of connection with them. The main one for me is the feeling of being an outsider. Neither of these characters feel like they’re a part of the world that they live in nor do they have any control whatsoever being teenagers. It’s their making the best of it and their coping strategies and how they both deal with that. Within that, it’s also about Chloe’s dissociation when things are not going right. What we do when we’re not feeling in control. It’s also the idea of home and friendship and love and how do we build that world for ourselves-not only in the moment but also in the future. I think both of them are trying to figure out where they want to be and where they see themselves being. It’s about the places where we live and where we grow up and how that affects how we go out into the world.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

BK: Let’s shelf the play and move into your life. What has been your journey up until now?

JH: I was born and raised in Kingston I did very little theatre there. I grew up around theatre but primarily was a dancer. I would do theatre camps. I think, truthfully, I always wanted to be an actor or be in theatre, I was just afraid as a kid I wasn’t going to be good at it. In my final year of high school I kind of shelved the dancing because it was just too much. I knew I wasn’t going to do that for my life, so I kind of put that on hold and did a Midsummer Night’s Dream where I was a fairy that had to make up my own name.

Then I applied to University for Physics and Astronomy and got in and then freaked out because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I took a year off and ended up doing a couple month program in the UK for acting, which was kind of my first concentrated acting program. And then came back and still didn’t think theatre was a viable option, obviously, and so did my undergrad in International Development and Anthropology at Wilfred Laurier. So that’s what I was going to go into with theatre somehow involved – theatre for social change, maybe? Laurier was tiny and so as soon as I got there the four theatre classes they had were canceled and disappeared, which I think worked to my advantage because I would audition for the fringe that happened there. It made it a safer environment to get in it and work. I did a show in my 3rd year, which was a two hander and it was kind of the first show where I went, “Oh I think I might actually be able to do something with this.” At the end of the year I applied for a couple schools in Toronto and a couple schools in New York and then told my parents. Then I went to New York to audition and ended up getting into a school there and deciding to go.

BK: What kind of program was it?

JH: It was a two-year theatre conservatory. New York was great. It’s amazing looking back realizing what you actually needed and for me, I think I needed to get away. I needed to be somewhere where I could completely fail and be in a new city where I knew no one and be completely overwhelmed. It’s theatre school – one day you’re on the top of the world and the next you’re bawling and the world is over.

BK: Yep, theatre school.

JH: Yes, so it’s a common experience for everyone. It was great and exhausting and then it came to the decision to stay or come back. I decided to come back for a number of reasons. So I arrived here not knowing anyone and not having any sense of who people were or how any of it worked. That took a bit of time to do that. I was fortunate enough that I got into a couple of small shows when I moved but quickly realized that I needed to find places where I fit.

There was a certain point where I was working at Buddies [in Bad Times Theatre] and surrounded by all of these artists but no one knew me to be an artist. I couldn’t go there and be like hire me as an actor, here’s my resume and now I’m going to go work front of house for your show, not that this is awkward at all and I’m not making it more awkward by talking about it.

So I went – okay, how do I do this? How do I build community and make connections with people?

In New York I started writing a bit because auditioning isn’t the most creative outlet. Here, I was writing more and finished a draft of a play and I had this idea for a monologue book. If I couldn’t give my stuff to other people, maybe I could solicit stuff. It was a combination of that, a Fringe show called Tick, and my decision to leave Buddies and move away from admin jobs to be an artist. It feels like in the last couple of years the foundation I started to foot when I came here now feels like there’s something actually going on.

Yeah, so there’s my really long-winded story.

BK: It’s fantastic. I find it very admirable – your perseverance to break into the Toronto theatre community. For people who are just trying to establish themselves in the theatre scene, do you have any advice?

JH: Being in the theatre is hard, regardless if you went to school here. For acting, when you do shows you naturally build that community but it is getting in there in order to do that. One of the big things that I learned which isn’t super tangible, is that having goals are great… you should absolutely have goals. In the going after them, my advice would be to stay open to anything else that is going to come your way. That doesn’t mean saying yes to everything. What theatre school does is focus you, whether that’s to focus on acting or playwriting. If your focus is too wide you’re probably going to flop around. The world isn’t quite that way. There are so many different options and so many grey areas. What it means to be an actor is so varied. It’s not necessarily one thing. The big advice is have those goals but allow yourself to be open to other possibilities and if it’s of interest, go for it. I would have never thought to become a playwright. In terms of building community – really try hard not to see it as a competition but that you’re all in it together. Do intensives or programs. Getting out there. Also trying stuff, even if it never sees the light of day. It’s bit by bit and then one day you wake up and everyone is there. What’s nice about the city is you can rent a small place and get a bunch of people together and do a small reading. Just create. Being around people that like doing stuff.

BK: Where do you find your inspiration?

JH: I like watching people. I like seeing how they interact. Sitting on a bench. I also find life really funny even at the darkest possible times and that humor is fascinating to me. What is it that makes us human is really interesting and finding ways to solidify and write that. It also comes from, sounds crazy but I’m not I swear, is hearing voices of characters and by that I mean dialogue. Sometimes that’s what starts it and I have no idea where it’s going to go.

Rapid Fire Round:

Favourite book: The Shadow of the Wind

Favourite TV show: 30 Rock

Favourite play: August Osage County

Favourite food: Anything chocolate

Favourite place in Toronto: Anything by the water.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Never settle.

This is Where We Live

presented by Discord and Din as part of the 2015 SummerWorks Performance Festival


Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace

Ticket Price: $15

Run Time: 75min

When: Wednesday August 12th 7:30 PM – 8:45 PM
Thursday August 13th 9:45 PM – 11:00 PM
Sunday August 16th 7:45 PM – 9:00 PM

About: Discord and Din Theatre

Directed by Taryn Jorgenson; Written by Vivienne Walshe; Dramaturged by Emma Mackenzie Hillier; Performed by Jenna Harris and Tim Welham; Lighting Design by Adrien Whan; Set and Costume Design by Jenna McCutchen; Sound Design by Alicia Porter; Stage Managed by Laura Paduch; Produced by Discord and Din Theatre

In Conversation with Julia Aplin & Jacquie PA Thomas of “The Hum” at the 2015 SummerWorks Festival

Interview by Madryn McCabe

“Listen. Can you hear it?”

We sat down with Julia Aplin, one of the performers and creators of The Hum, a theatrical experience she co-created with her partner, John Gzowski, and their daughter, 10 year old Jenny Aplin.

MM: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your show?

JA: It’s called The Hum. I created it with my partner, John, and our daughter, Jenny and it’s based on Jenny’s drawings, which have come out of family discussions about books that we’re reading, and ideas that we’re talking about. A lot of her drawings are of the outdoors, from camping trips and her experience even with wildlife in the backyard, so we’ve extrapolated stories and ideas from all of that and put it all together.

MM: Is the show based off of one particular drawing?

JA: No. I remember there was one meeting between Jacquie (Thomas, The Hum’s director) and myself in my kitchen and there was a drawing that Jenny had done stuck on the fridge of a woman who was sitting in the sun, curled up. And Jacquie said, “That’s really interesting. What is that?” It was a drawing Jenny had done from a book. She has a children’s book called We Are Stardust, and I have another book called The Universe Within, which has the same kind of information, but mine was more of a scientific adult book, so we discussed the ideas, and then Jenny drew this woman in the sun. We are stardust, scientifically. The materials in our bodies, everything that we’re made of is from stars, and she knows that, and that our sun is a star, so she put it all together into this drawing of a woman in the sun.

John Gzowski & Julia Aplin photo by Yulia Kovaleva

John Gzowski & Julia Aplin photo by Yulia Kovaleva


MM: What kind of story can we expect to see?

JA: There are some stories from when I was a kid, there are some stories of Jenny and her pet snails that she found in the garden, there are some stories of John trying to explain scientifically from a sound designer’s point of view how the earth might hum. The way we work is pretty abstract; this is the most story based piece we’ve ever done. There are a lot of emotional, dance, music moments where John plays music and I dance.

MM: It doesn’t sound like it’s the kind of theatre that lends itself to a very traditional ‘we have a script and we rehearse scene by scene’ approach. Can you talk about the elements that we might see in the show?

JA: The main elements are dance, music and there’s actually text in the show too, which is rare for me. I usually have little bits of text, but this is a big step having chunks of text, that I wrote. It’s pretty exciting. Jenny wrote her monologue and John wrote his monologue and almost all the music.

MM: Jenny is in the show as well?

JA: Yes, she is. Performing, dancing, talking, drawing. Another huge element is her drawings. She does some live drawing, which is projected, and we’ve also taken some of her other drawings that she’s done and animated them. We used The Woman with the Water, because she’s talking about the concept that the same water that’s in the lakes is the same water that we drink is the same water that’s in our bodies. We’ve got an amazing animation of The Woman with the Water, so that’s onstage with us.

MM: Is this the first time that you’ve collaborated with your family?

JA: John and I have collaborated a lot before. In fact, we first performed together at TPM in the backspace together, Quartet by Eugene Stickland. That was about nineteen years ago. Since then, we’ve done a lot of collaborations. Mostly, John composes for them, and I’m either choreographing or dancing, so this is new for us, to collaborate as a family. I’ve worked with Jenny before as a teacher, choreographing a piece for her dance class or something like that, but never with her as a fellow artist. We’re really including her artistic point of view on this.

MM: I’m really getting the impression that Jenny is an equal partner in the creative process.

JA: Exactly.

MM: Is this something that you’re focusing for a younger audience or do you feel like this is a piece for everyone?

JA: My hope is that it won’t exclude anyone. So the kids that come will have an “in” to what’s going on, but also that the adults don’t feel like they’re watching Barney the Dinosaur. I hope that it speaks on different levels. The three of us are together on different levels. We have a 10 year old, and we have–I won’t say how old (she laughs)–so between all of our different points of view, we hope to be pretty inclusive.

Julia Aplin, Jenny Aplin & John Gzowski photo by Yulia Kovaleva

Julia Aplin, Jenny Aplin & John Gzowski photo by Yulia Kovaleva

MM: Do you think you’ll collaborate with your family again?

JA: That might be a question to ask me in a week or two! (she laughs) I’m sure we will. We won’t be able to help ourselves.

MM: Where does the title The Hum come from?

JA: Have you ever read The Bone series? It’s an awesome set of graphic novels by Jeff Smith. We read the first one and kept going and it became this obsession in our family. There are characters in there who talk about The Hum Hum and there’s this one character named Thorn who does this (places two fingers to her forehead) and she can feel all kinds of things. We’d go walking in the forest and do it too, and when we heard the word, it clicked that it was a word for everything we were already feeling, and then The Hum became a catch word for something that we already knew.

We know something in our bodies. Our bodies come from this earth and we’ve been here in this form for 10,000 years. But if you keep going back through evolution, back to when your mom’s mom was a fish, that’s where we’re from. If you really go deep, you can hear that, and that’s The Hum. In our modern world, we don’t really listen to it, but now science is showing us that ‘oh this is actually, really true’. We really are from stardust, we really are connected to the earth, and the scientific principles are coming forward and people now are like, “ohhhh”. Maybe we should have known this all along.

(At this point, director Jacquie PA Thomas, artistic director of Theatre Gargantua, who are co-producing The Hum as part of the SideStream Cycle joins us, and she adds this to the conversation):

JT: This is a unique family. It’s a family of two well established and beautiful artists coming from different backgrounds, who both dabble in other artistic realms. Julia is also a musician and John does some instrument making and design. When I first proposed the idea, I thought it would be exciting to understand from a child’s perspective what it was like growing up in a family of artists.

I knew that Jenny was a drawer and we’d seen some of her work, which was really quite remarkable for such a young age. I’ve known John and Julia for over twenty years and we’ve collaborated on a number of shows, so the artistic relationship goes back years. Our new stream of performances, which we are calling SideStream Cycle allows associate artists time and space to explore something freely and offers them the opportunity to experiment with form and content. Julia had never actually performed specifically as an actor, she’s never really written anything professionally for the stage, and we’ve discovered during this process that she’s a really beautiful writer. John has never, ever acted in his life, and he’s quite charming on the stage, and of course their daughter, in terms of where the ideas came from for the piece, they all sprang from her drawings. When you look at Jenny’s drawings, a lot of them are of these beautiful, strong women who have tree branches as veins, or a winged- woman looking into the sun and she has fire coming out of her. She has this really interesting way of looking at the world, and I thought that was a good beginning point. What’s it like growing up in a family of artists, and a child’s perspective on not only family, but connections to art, connections to life, connections to the world. It seemed like a really amazing opportunity for us to explore these wonderful artists.


The Hum

presented as part of the 2015 Summerworks Festival


Julia Aplin, John Gzowski & Julia Aplin photo by Jacquie PA Thomas



In Person: At the SummerWorks box office at Factory Theatre & At the door of Theatre Passe Muraille, one hour before show time.


Monday August 10, 4:45pm

Sunday August 16 2pm


Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue

“A look into the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary times” – SEAMS at the 2015 SummerWorks Festival

Interview by Bailey Green

I sat down with several members of the Seams Collective, Polly Phokeev (playwright), Elizabeth Stuart-Morris (producer/actor) and Mikaela Davies (director) to discuss their upcoming production of Seams at SummerWorks 2015.

Polly Phokeev began writing Seams four years ago during a playwriting workshop with Djanet Sears. She was asked to write a scene for 4-7 people and was inspired by an old photo of her grandmother sitting with a few other women. “It began as a play about my grandmother, and I drew from her memories of Russia and the memories of others in her generation,” Phokeev says. “But it became a play about accountability to one’s past and the loyalty we have to our friends, family and country.” The play is set in 1939 which comes at the tail-end of Stalin’s purges. “It’s a look into the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary times,” says Polly. 

Polly worked Seams on and off for several years until it took the shape of a two and a half hour draft entitled Ranevskya and the Seamstress. They held a workshop reading and the play was well received. Producer and performer Elizabeth Stuart-Morris encouraged Polly to bring the script to the next level. “I was struck by how beautiful the story was and knew it was time to get the play on its feet,” says Elizabeth.

Polly then reached out to designer Shannon Lee Doyle. “Aesthetic was very important to me,” Polly says, “and it’s a memory play so things weave in and out, and I wanted to have the five senses very active in the piece. So I went to Shannon. She told me she liked it but that I should cut half the words, so I cut the main character of the draft and stayed with the seamstresses.”

For the design of the show, Shannon created two worlds for the characters to exist in—one is 1939 in the back of the theatre where the seamstresses work and the other is a dream world for our narrator Frosya (played by Clare Coulter) who is in the theatre with us. Those worlds break apart and become deeply entwined over the course of the play.

Next on board was director Mikaela Davies, who says she “fell in the love with this world and the people.” Dramaturge Simone Brodie became the fifth member of the Seams Collective (along with Phokeev, Stuart-Morris, Davies, Doyle) though many artists and collaborators have been involved over the process which began in January 2015.

The Collective participated in the Paprika Festival this year. Director Mikaela discussed the experience of preparing for Paprika, “We called it a workshop but we really went for it. And that has made this stage of rehearsing for SummerWorks much easier. It’s much smoother.” During Paprika, Polly and Elizabeth prepared anonymous feedback forms for their audience and they found that the firsthand comments were invaluable for the play’s development. Also during Paprika, they had a Russian actress come in for a night to perform almost all of her text in Russian. That night, a majority of the audience for that performance was Russian and the response from the community was warm.

Though the Russian audience had a very positive response, a few weeks later Polly ran into a Russian actor who questioned her about the backgrounds of the people involved with the project: how many members of the cast and creative team were Russian? This incident prompted the collective to address the ethics of storytelling. They took it one step further and hosted a panel discussion to explore who has a right to tell stories. Polly says, “We believe that with respect and with research, stories are ours to tell.” Mikaela adds, “We have to ask ourselves honestly, are we doing anyone harm? Are we silencing anyone? And for us, the answer is no.”

The play draws parallels between the Russia of 1939 and Russia in 2015. Polly shares a quote, that has become somewhat of a mantra for the collective, from Sergei Dovlatov: “We endlessly condemn comrade Stalin, and, it appears, with reason. Yet still I’d like to ask-who is it that wrote four million reports?” Mikaela emphasizes how this quote demands that the individual face the consequences of their silence.

“And it makes you consider, what stories are we covering up here in Canada? Who are we silencing?” Polly says, as she discusses the polarized international media response to Boris Nemtsov’s assassination—whereas in Russia the death was initially reported as a tragic accident with no political ties.

“This is not just a story about oppression,” says Mikaela “we want to offer another side to these characters’ relationship to their country—which of course is riddled with guilt and pain and terror—but there’s something really beautiful about the notion of service to something greater than yourself. There is a lot of beauty, integrity and love that these people feel for their country.”

When asked about how the characters cope with this obligation to their country, Elizabeth responded, “The characters are constantly grappling with the pull between what they want and their loyalty to their country. There’s a lot of hope and there’s a desire for something more. But the clothes they are wearing, the hours they are working and lack of food is something they have to face. They don’t have any easy way out. It’s a very intense world to exist in, especially when it’s a reality that many people are still living.”


Produced by The Seams Collective, presented as part of the 2015 SummerWorks Performance Festival



A dying Russian woman’s frantic recollections of her youth as a seamstress in Soviet Moscow weave through the lives of costume-makers working in a theatre during the fall of 1939. A series of love and hate stories emerge from the dust as she folds together the pieces of a past she has struggled to forget.
Seams is a play for anyone with ancestors, for a country born of immigrants, and for a community made of quilted-together culture.

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace – 16 Ryerson Avenue
Tickets: $15 Buy Now
Thursday August 6th – 5:15pm
Sunday August 9th – 7pm
Monday August 10th – 9:45pm
Tuesday August 11th – 9:30pm
Wednesday August 12th – 7pm
Friday August 14th – 9:30pm
Sunday August 16th – 4:15pm

Run Time: 90min

The Seams Collective

Directed by Mikaela Davies; Written by Polly Phokeev; Performed by Krystina Bojanowski, Clare Coulter, Sochi Fried, Jesse Lavercombe, Caitlin Robson, Elizabeth Stuart-Morris, and Ewa Wolzniczek; Dramaturged by Simone Brodie; Set and Costume Design by Shannon Lea Doyle; Assistant Set and Costume Design by Kelly Anderson, Sound Design by Nicholas Potter; Lighting Design by Steve Vargo; Stage Managed by Steve Vargo and Lisa Van Oorschot; Produced by Elizabeth Stuart-Morris; Assistant Produced by Rebecca Ballarin