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Posts tagged ‘2017 Toronto Fringe’

Inside Fringe: In Conversation with Sam Mullins on creating & re-visiting “Weaksauce” at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Article by Megan Robinson

Sam Mullins, writer and performer of Weaksauce, has come a long way since his first solo-show, Tinfoil Dinosaur, which opened at the Winnipeg Fringe in 2011. “I’ve never vomited from nerves except for that day […] I tried to drop out of the festival. I wanted to just go home. I was like, I can’t do it.” Mullins relives the memory as he sits across from me at the Theatre Centre, the day after opening Weaksauce at the 2017 Toronto Fringe. “It’s one thing to be running your show in your living room and it’s another thing when the whole city shuts down for the Fringe.”

Though Mullins is much more comfortable as a writer and would like nothing more than to stop performing (for all the enjoyment, there is so much anxiety) he assures me he is not about to quit. Instead, he spins it into a positive. “Nervous energy is a good thing for me on stage. It’s really easy to be vulnerable on stage when you feel really vulnerable. I don’t have to pretend.”

Weaksauce is the story of firsts in Mullins’ life: first time away from home, first love and first love triangle. It’s his contribution to his favourite genre; romantic coming-of-age. And the goal for the show? Storytelling that is efficient while still being as fun as possible. Drawing from influences like Mike Birbiglia and Tig Notaro, Mullins says, “If you can make people laugh for 45 minutes and have a couple moments of poignance, like Tig and Mike can do—I just feel like there’s such great power in it. It lifts it above standup and storytelling, it’s like this hybrid.”

The show, which played at the Toronto Fringe in 2013, remains about 90% the same as the script Mullins wrote “in like a weekend” after a busy summer touring a show with his good friends, Peter and Chris. Faced with only a week to create a whole new show for the final festival of the tour, they all headed to Sam’s family home in Vernon BC. “It was like a writers colony,” Sam recalls, grinning. “Peter and Chris in one room working on their show and me in another.”

This is where Weaksauce came to be, under the guidance of “guru” Elizabeth Blue who was also in attendance of this retreat. “She was like drinking and floating on a tube in the lake and we’d go out on the dock and be like “Lizzy! I need to read you a new draft! […] She was the biggest help ever. She gave me so many great notes. Her fingerprints are all over the show.”

With no formal director for Weaksauce, Mullins tends to ask friends for help when he thinks he needs it. On opening day of Weaksauce, he brought in Johnnie Walker (playwright of Redheaded Stepchild) to help clean up the staging a bit (after offering Walker a hundred bucks for the favour). “Johnnie has a real nose and eye for staging and blocking and character choices, and all those things are after-thoughts for me. I’m just obsessed with what the piece of paper is.” An obsession that means after Mullins has spent his time enjoying the little breakthroughs and finding the perfect line, he often hands the script off to his performer self at the last minute.

From reading through Mullins’ website, it’s clear he some good thoughts for writers. He holds true to advice from his friend and performer James Gangl that what you write about should scare the shit out of you. Mullins writes about loaded topics, stories of angst and embarrassment are where he has found his best stuff. So though there is an importance to first processing an experience, Mullins says, “you can’t be fully over it […] I love going back and working through these things. It’s fun revisiting these old times and places and people and seeing it through your eyes now, and seeing how it is different.”

What’s different for Mullins and for Weaksauce this time around? With more standup experience, he’s better at recognizing opportunities for jokes. He is in a larger venue this year than he was in 2013. Oh, and he’s engaged (!!).

When I ask if there is a connection between getting married this summer and bringing back Weaksauce he nods. “Yeah, when we got engaged and I wanted to remount one of my old shows, I was like it would be really fun to revisit falling in love for the first time in the context of me getting married. And Weaksauce was always my favourite,” Mullins says. “As I’m thinking about my vows and thinking about our journeys to each other this was a really fun thing to think about and immerse myself in […] To remember what it was like the first time that you thought you found your person. And, you know, how all of the failed relationships along the way… they weren’t failures, they were what lead us to each other.”

Weaksauce

Who: Sam Mullins (Writer/Performer)

What: A coming-of-age comedy of first times, second chances and third wheels. ★★Canadian Comedy Award Winner for Best One-Person Show★★ “Weaksauce is first-rate theatre. Fresh, funny, and heart-poundingly alive.” – NOW

Where: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, 79A Saint George Street.

When:
July 11th 6pm
July 13th 9:15pm
July 14th 12pm
July 15th 3:30pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @SamSMullins
f: /sammullinscomedy
w: samsmullins.com

“The Zombie Apocalypse, Bunker Necessities, and What the Post-Zombie World Would Look Like” – A Chat with Clare Blackwood on WELCOME TO THE BUNKER! at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Madryn McCabe

We spoke with Clare Blackwood, co-writer/performer of Welcome to the Bunker! at the 2017 Toronto Fringe. We chatted about why she chose to go for the post-apocalyptic zombie genre, what she would bring to the bunker if/when the zombie apocalypse happens, and what audiences should prepare for when they enter The Bunker this Fringe.

MM: Tell me a little bit about your show.

Clare Blackwood: Welcome to the Bunker! is an immersive post-apocalyptic zombie comedy set deep “under” the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. Katie, a zombie rights millennial activist, and Todd, an antisocial Gen-X prepper, have holed up in Todd’s bunker after North America has been overrun by the undead and left for…well, dead by the rest of the world. Naturally, Katie has decided that the best thing to do in this situation is to collect as many survivors as possible and bring them down into the bunker, in order to create a harmonious new society when the whole “zombie thing” has died down (pun very much intended). Together, they’ll take each audience of survivors through a very enthusiastic-yet-half-assed apocalypse orientation… that is, unless that scratching in the walls gets any louder…

MM: Why a post-apocalyptic zombie show?

CB: Why not? was my very first response, but I have a feeling you’re looking for more intelligent stuff than that. I’d like to say that with all the chaos that’s going on in the US and abroad, that intelligent theatrical commentary about how the world may very well become a post-apocalyptic wasteland sooner than we think was what we were going for when deciding what to do for Fringe, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s because I’m a giant zombie-obsessed nerd who thought the idea of two weirdos doing PowerPoint presentations about the end of the world was hilarious beyond all reason. However, there are wonderful motifs to explore in the genre, and it was interesting to use it to explore the themes of loss, generational tension, and hope for the future, in the midst of an absurd Armageddon scenario. Zombies have been used forever to make parallels to modern society’s worries and problems, and this play is no exception.

Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes. Photographer: Max Telzerow.

I originally had an idea for a show about two very polar opposite people stuck in a zombie bunker together over a year ago, when I first considered entering Fringe. However, I had dismissed the idea as unfeasible and too silly (I know, what a ridiculous concept, right? IT’S FRINGE!) and decided to do something else for the Festival. It wasn’t until a series of unforeseen events led me to having to abandon that particular show that I remembered I had this apocalyptic idea in my back pocket. So I followed my nerdy heart and found an incredible team of people ready to take on the zombies head-on. I think we’ve managed to make the zombie apocalypse fun for not only über nerds, but anyone who likes to have a silly, awesome time at the theatre.

MM: What’s your favourite zombie movie/game/TV show and why?

CB: Why must you make me choose one, you temptress?! Okay, so in terms of zombie movie, I would definitely say 28 Weeks Later. I’ve always preferred the fast-moving “infected” to the slow, shambling undead. Mo’ carnage, mo’ fun. Most people prefer the original 28 Days, and it’s admittedly a better movie, but I love Weeks because it’s just non-stop zombie mayhem goodness. In terms of video games, the original Left 4 Dead will always hold a special place in my heart. I will never tire of it. In theatre school, whenever I was super busy, headshotting the undead hordes was the best stress reliever ever. And lastly, I tried to get into The Walking Dead, but was turned off of it in the first few episodes because of the lack of the aforementioned zombie carnage. Call me bloodthirsty, but less bickering and more katana fights, please.

MM: If you could bring three things into your bunker, what would they be and why?

CB: 1) The Lord of the Rings extended edition trilogy.

2) My cat, Gandalf. He would be extraordinarily displeased with me if I didn’t, and would probably find a way in anyway and then barf on all my irreplaceable belongings.

3) My Orlando Bloom waifu body pillow. (Just kidding! Or am I.)

…Wow, that list accidentally ended up being super Tolkien-heavy. I hope you don’t think I’m a nerd. Oh my god.

Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes. Photographer: Max Telzerow.

MM: What do you think the post-zombie world will look like? After all the carnage, and you emerge from your bunker, what do you think the world will be like?

CB: I step out of the bunker and into the free air. My auburn locks have grown in the years underground, yet despite the lack of shampoo and personal hygiene it has somehow become even sexier and more luscious. My clothes are ripped, yet flattering on my figure that has somehow not become scurvy-ridden and emaciated due to lack of proper nutrition underground. There have been so many beets. So many. I look around, getting a look at a crumbled Toronto I haven’t seen in three long years. The New World Regime has done quick work. I have heard stories of the clashes between the rebels and the Winterfist Government on the bunker radio, but it is clear the military has won the War. Its factions are marked on the jackets of my fellow, similarly-beautiful survivors: the Foragers. The Warriors. The Diplomats. Conform to the characteristics of your faction or be killed. That was the law here, ever since we had won the fight against the Walkers a month ago. Now, I face my biggest challenge yet – to choose between my best friend, Graeden, and the strange, yet enticing man I had shared all those years in the bunker with – Paeder. Together, we would overthrow the dictatorship and bring peace to a land ravaged from the zombie hordes…

Oh wait. My bad. That’s from my upcoming YA dystopian zombie trilogy. Forget that happened. Let’s move along.

MM: What should your audience prepare for as they enter your bunker? What do they need to know going in?

CB: They should get ready for one hell of a ridiculous(ly fun!) immersive ride into the apocalypse! No additional preparation needed. Come in with an open, nerdy heart and be ready to laugh, because we’re going to chat you up and have a party. We can’t wait to have you as our guests down here in the bunker. And don’t worry, we’ll keep you all safe… hopefully.

Welcome to the Bunker!

Who:
Company – Portius Productions
Playwright/Creator – Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes
Director – Alison Louder
Stage Manager – Justine Cargo
Cast – Ryan F. Hughes, Clare Blackwood

What:
Zombie apocalypse got you down? Grab your prep kit and your fellow survivors and join us underground to start your new life! Say goodbye to foraging for rations, sneaking through abandoned cities, and those pesky marauding death cults! Say hello to life in the bunker, where we will guide you through adjusting to your new surroundings. Generator power! Protection from the elements! Nearly fully figured out chemical toilets! Free canned beets while supplies last!* Join us for your orientation today!

*BEETS ARE GONE

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto

When:
9th July – 9:45pm
11th July – 8:30pm
12th July – 4:45pm
13th July – 6:15pm
14th July – 3:30pm
15th July – 1:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @bunkertofringe
f: /bunkertofringe

 

A Chat with Lindsay Bellaire & Phillip Psutka of Theatre Arcturus on ROUGH MAGIC at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Madryn McCabe

We were thrilled to see that Theatre Arcturus had another show in this year’s Fringe after being amazed by their awe-inspiring production of Weird last year. We spoke with Lindsay Bellaire and Phillip Psutka about their rigorous process of creation and training and why Rough Magic is a perfect story to explore right now.

MM: Tell us about your show.

Lindsay Bellaire: A collision of air and earth, Rough Magic creates a vertical world to tell the story of Ariel and Caliban in a newly imagined prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s an aerial theatre piece: a play written in the style of Shakespeare (mostly in verse), with aerial silks and rope weaved into the world of the characters. Ariel, an airy free-spirited sprite, touches down and makes contact with a young Caliban, a ground-dwelling, god-worshipping mortal. Meeting between air and earth as two very different beings, they reach across the boundaries that make us fear the “other”, only to find themselves enslaved in the end, where the storm is conjured that begins The Tempest.

MM: What drives you to tell Shakespeare’s untold stories, the stories he only hints at in his texts?

Phillip Psutka: I’ve always had a passion for Shakespeare and I enjoy the challenge of meticulously researching whichever play of his that I am going off of, while at the same time having to fill in the blanks of the story that I am trying to tell myself. Also, the heightened text is a natural blend with the aerial arts in that they are both larger than life, in a way. Hearing the poetic, image-based language, while simultaneously seeing the intense physicality of the characters take to the air on the apparatus creates a world for the play where one element helps the other out – I feel that the audience can buy into the sound of the verse in an original contemporary script because of the heightened physicality… literally.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: You say that, although this is an original script, it was researched meticulously through Shakespeare’s text and other source material. What was that research process like? Why was it so important to do this research and not just create from an idea?

PP: To start off, I read through The Tempest a number of times – mainly looking for clues to the back story of Ariel and Caliban. Once I had compiled all of the info on them that Shakespeare provides, I then went back through the script focusing on the characters themselves: how they react to certain situations; what kind of language and images they use; how much they speak in verse vs. prose and, when they switch from one to another, what triggers it. It’s like detective work and that’s part of the fun of it. Because I was using the Arden, I also pulled inspiration from one of the Appendices: Robert Browning’s poem Caliban Upon Setebos, which is where I took the idea of Caliban being religious. After I was through with the “Sherlock Holmes” portion of the script development, I outlined the entire show, filling in the blanks of what I wasn’t able to discover through the research before writing the first draft. I think it’s totally valid to create something completely original even if it’s based off of another work; I just enjoy the research part of it so much. More than anything, I like that idea that an audience could watch Rough Magic and then jump right into a production of The Tempest and it would be one continuous story, for Ariel and Caliban at least.

MM: You talk about telling the story of “the other” in your play. Why is that? What do you seek to say to your audience?

PP: That, even though we may live in our own worlds, it’s important to remember that others do as well, and we can never know everything that has shaped that person or being into what they are at this moment in time. I feel that the ongoing challenge of being human is to not make assumptions about others, to stop and listen before passing judgement on their situation. I’ve definitely been guilty of saying irrational and disrespectful things to someone else simply because I had the hangeries, and if it’s that easy to trigger a short response to a situation and shut another person out, I can only imagine what it must be like to try to work constructively with a leader that wants to build a wall between their country and yours and has decided that you are going to pay for it: end of story, not interested in your opinion. I believe that there is always more to learn about the human existence and the best way to learn is to listen before speaking, which is a quality I feel the world is lacking in at the moment. I can certainly do it better myself, but little reminders every now and then are helpful. I hope Rough Magic serves as one of those little reminders.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: I can tell from your press photos that this is a very physically demanding show. What is your rehearsal and training process like? What is your development process? How did you develop your show?

LB: The physical training for our shows is ongoing, even when not in rehearsals or a creation process. Outside of our theatrical productions, the aerialists in the shows are professional performers, training acts for events and teaching aerial classes – it’s not a skill that we learn specifically for the show. The physical training is 4-5 times a week, in 2-3 hour sessions, year-round (with some time taken off for rest and recovery, of course).

The scripts are written by Phillip, usually over an intense period of 2-4 weeks, then edited, read out loud, and edited further. Then the rehearsal process begins, where it becomes a collaboration between the director (whom, at this point, gets final say on all decisions), writer, actors, aerial and fight choreographers, and composer. This is actually a very small team, with the actors doubling up as chorographers and writer. Costumes and lighting are also designed somewhere in there!

For Rough Magic specifically, the script was written first, and the rigging designed to suit the story (the decision to use silks and a rope, and how they would be hung). We were lucky enough to be able to bring Kevin Hammond (former AD of the Humber River Shakespeare co.) on board as our director for a 5+ month development process. Because we were creating out of a studio space in Muskoka, our process for this show was unique in that Phillip and myself would do preliminary work on each scene, getting it on its feet using some basic exercises and following our instincts. Kevin would make a trip up for a weekend intensive every 3 weeks to further develop and sculpt each scene, offering invaluable insight and guidance into the text, and establishing the balance between air and ground work. Our Stage Manager, Lisa Sciannella, travelled up for the last few weekends of rehearsals to work on the sound cues. Her job entails knowing our choreography and some aerial vocabulary, as her sound cues are based on what we’re doing in the air. She’s also a constant safety for us, acting as an outside eye and responding to any little aches, bumps or bruises we inevitably sustain at various points throughout the process.

The music and costumes are also an important component. The music was composed by Rachel C Leger, and was created to suit the feel of the piece (nautical), with a flavour for each moment where music is used. The choreography was created separately, and married together in the last month of rehearsal. The costumes, designed by Lisa Magill (Toronto) were actually designed before most of the show was on its feet, in order to get promo shots long before opening.

MM: What would you like your audiences to know going in to see Rough Magic?

LB: You do not need to have a thorough understanding of The Tempest, or even Shakespeare in general, to follow the story. Although it is inspired by The Tempest, and based on clues from Shakespeare’s text, we purposely created a show that can stand alone and be enjoyed for its own story. For those audience members who have studied The Tempest, there is definitely an added layer.

Rough Magic

Who:
Company: Theatre Arcturus
Playwright/Creator: Phillip Psutka
Director Kevin Hammond
Cast: Lindsay Bellaire, Phillip Psutka
Choreographer: Lindsay Bellaire
Fight Director: Phillip Psutka

What:
Set on a mystical island, ROUGH MAGIC follows the innocent beginnings and volatile consequences of a relationship between two unlikely beings: Ariel, an airy sprite; and Caliban, a ground-dwelling mortal. An intricate weaving of theatre, aerial work and music, the show confronts ideas of freedom and otherness through a story inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

FROM THE CREATORS OF ‘WEIRD’
WINNER: Cutting-Edge Award (2016 Toronto Fringe)
(5 stars) “Absolutely exquisite and mind blowing in its execution.” – My Entertainment World
(NNNN) “One of the most memorable shows at the Fest.” – NOW Magazine

Where:
RANDOLPH THEATRE
736 Bathurst St, Toronto

When:
9th July – 8:45pm
11th July – 1:00pm
13th July – 12:00pm
14th July – 5:45pm
15th July – 8:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @TheatreArcturus
f: /theatreacturus
i: @theatrearcturus

“Puppets, The Service Industry & The Fringe” – In Conversation with Sex T-Rex on their new show BENDY SIGN TAVERN at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Bailey Green

We spoke with Kaitlin Morrow, Seann Murray and Elliot Loran about Sex T-Rex’s site-specific Fringe show, Bendy Sign Tavern (located at Venue 26: The Paddock Tavern). We spoke about puppets, the service industry and supporting each other at the Fringe.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Kaitlin Morrow: So… because it’s a puppet show, I think a lot of people are wondering if kids are allowed, and they are, even though it’s a bar, but they have to be accompanied by someone who is… not a kid. I think it’s important to distinguish that it isn’t a ‘kids show’, but if your kid can put up with swearing, they can see the show.

Seann Murray: It’s about as racy as most of our shows. There’s certainly less murder in this one. I wouldn’t say no murder… but less.

Bailey Green: When did Bendy Sign Tavern start to take shape? I know a lot of your shows have a somewhat quick turnaround time, so when did this one start to grow?

KM: This one had a sort of longer process. I used to work at this cafe in the east end for years, and my friend worked there before I did, so I had this long-standing relationship with this place. And like most cafes, it was full of characters and we were always joking about different characters you see coming in. And then, [in 2012] Comedy Bar and Insight Productions teamed up and had this pilot week competition where you pitch a TV show and if you get accepted you perform your pilot live for TV producers. The prize was $5000 and you get to go to these pitch meetings and then… we won.

BG: You won! That’s the best ending to the story

KM: We built about 20 puppets in a month and wrote the show and put it on its feet. We didn’t get into the Fringe this year with the lottery, which was good to know, but then site-specific came up… I said, “Look I have this puppet show in my closet. Let’s pull it out and do it in a cafe.” We couldn’t find a cafe but then a bar became available so we were like, “It’ll work in a bar!” It didn’t work in a bar. The story was about characters coming in and grabbing a coffee and going and that relationship doesn’t really exist in a bar. You don’t walk up to a bar and leave.

SM: So we started the process thinking that we had this show in the bag and then on second consideration, not really. A 20 minute TV pilot set in a coffee shop does not translate to an hour-long play set in a tavern. But there are still a lot of the same elements. At its core, it’s about the service industry

KM: [The puppets] were sitting in my closet for years so it was good to get them out and make use of them.

Photo of Kaitlin Morrow by Connor Low

BG: How many puppets did you already have and how many did you need to build? What’s the creation process like?

KM: I wish I had a photo of my apartment – it’s a mess. I believe we had to make 14 new puppets for this show. Some are really simple, some are more complex.

SM: There were a few big ones, for sure, something that is worth noting is that when it comes to creation there are a lot of different styles of puppets in this show, so there are very different processes in terms of how long it takes to make them.

[this part of the interview has been removed as it was mostly the author freaking out over several awesome Sex T-Rex puppets. See the show, and you too will be amazed by puppets. Also Elliott Loran, who plays the Human Piano Player in Bendy Sign Tavern and composed original music for the show, joins the interview.]

KM: So we made two dozen of our closest friends and family suffer through a 2 hour super secret preview of the show last Sunday.

Elliott Loran: It was great to have a run before opening. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an indie company that’s done that. Usually it’s like, “Okay we might get a run in before we open.”

BG: And usually Sex T-Rex brings the show to Montreal Fringe before?

KM: It’s our first time premiering a show in Toronto… It’s a little baby show. Usually we do make changes every single show. We’re always working on it. Sometimes the change is big, sometimes it’s small, but it never stays the same. So this is just going to be a raw, fresh creation!

SM: Montreal is also an especially good community in terms of giving feedback because they are used to being the first stop on the Fringe circuit. The audiences there are so generous with trying to improve your show.

Photo by Connor Low

BG: And this show is a really different style and genre from what you’ve done before. Music is now a part of the show, as well! What has that been like?

KM: It has been wonderful working with Elliott. None of us are musicians… I’m a hobbyist musician at best.

SM: Any amount of canned music we could get for this would be repetitive and so distracting. And Elliott is someone for us to play off of, as well.

EL: We’ve written some original music for the show too, so it’s not all improvised. It’s been a fun collaborative process! How has that been for you guys having not done it before?

KM: Super fun and terrifying. I wouldn’t say it’s a musical, but there’s music!

EL: I would call it a play with music. It’s a delightful surprise that there are songs. The music that is written is a bit jazz-inspired.

KM: Also a bit of bar atmosphere, drinking music… We’ve also never straight up written a love story before. Some of our shows may have romantic elements in them but often it is like a surprise ending.

SM: All of Sex T-Rex’s other shows are an action-based show, where the principal action revolves around combat, specifically, which is not the case in the play. And as a genre parody, I guess you could say it’s a romantic comedy but it’s not even a rom com because it is very situational. It’s about a workplace and it’s about this team.

EL: The characters are so surprising and it’s so different. It’s such a mash-up of all these fantastic ideas.

SM: This story is more anecdotal – many of us in Sex T-Rex are working in the service industry. It’s probably a story that will connect to a lot of Fringe artists.

KM: Speaking of that, we’re going to be featuring a different Fringe show every show! So the Fringe artists happen to be there in the bar and we are so excited that they’re there because they are celebrities in our world and so the puppets interview them.

BG: That’s a great way to really bring in the community and give back.

KM: We’ve been doing the Fringe for so long that I feel like at this point, in a way, we sort of need to. I remember when we were starting out with Callaghan! and we had like 40 people in our audience for most shows (if we were lucky), and then the very slow growth arc where we could finally sell out a 200 seat theatre. It wasn’t like 0 to sold-out for us. We had a slow growth so we had to work for a while to build a reputation. Now that we’ve been around for a while, it’s been 5 years, there are now people who will tweet about us and help to prop us up and spread the word. That’s amazing and we want to do that for other shows.

EL: You want to share that kind of support and share the work that inspires you. There’s so much. Like, I think to the Mind of a Snail team, that did Curious Contagiousthey have a new show called Multiple Organism and it has gotten so little Fringe pre-buzz, and their work is incredible! So I’m going to be promoting the shit out of that.

Bendy Sign Tavern

Who:
Creators: Sex T-Rex
Cast: Conor Bradbury, Julian Frid, Elliott Loran, Kaitlin Morrow, Seann Murray

What:
Award winning comedy company Sex T-Rex (Second City, Just For Laughs and Atlantic Fringe Best Comedy Award winners) return to the Toronto Fringe for the fifth year in a row with a Full Service puppet Rom-Com! “Life is hard when you’re a young puppet trying to make your way in the big city. But with a song in her heart and a crew of loveable co-workers by her side, Joan will overcome rude customers, packs of Bachelorette Wolves and literally battle her deepest fears to achieve her dreams.” Note: July 9th show is 8:30pm, which is updated from printed program.

Where:
THE PADDOCK
178 Bathurst Street, Toronto

When:
6th July – 7:30pm
7th July – 7:30pm
8th July – 7:30pm
9th July – 8:30pm
10th July – 7:30pm
11th July – 7:30pm
12th July – 7:30pm
13th July – 7:30pm
14th July – 7:30pm
15th July – 7:30pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @sextrex
f: /sextrexcomedy
i: @sextrexcomedy

In Conversation with Lesley Robertson and Matt Shaw aka Rosemary & Jessop of The Diddlin’ Bibbles at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Megan Robinson

It all started in Barrie Ontario in 2015 when Lesley Robertson and Matt Shaw were performing in Theatre By the Bay’s Nine Mile Portage. At the end of every show, there was a long walk back to where they had started. At the time, the two only knew each other so well. “I thought of Lesley like a little church mouse, who would not do anything vulgar. I only really knew you from afar,” Matt Shaw says, looking at her. Lesley matches him, “Yes, I thought of you as a lowly first year.” The two were in different years at George Brown College.

But after every show, as they walked, Lesley began to sing along to Matt’s guitar playing, making up lyrics that were surprisingly crass and vulgar. Matt joined in, adding in his own disgusting jokes, and they suddenly realized that they shared a very unique and weird taste in comedy. When Theatre Inamorata asked them to perform some of their “stupid songs” they agreed, launching their first ever performance as The Diddlin’ Bibbles, a married couple from Widdlywack Wisconsin.

Since their initial five-minute set in 2015, the two have gone on to create a full-length mockumentary show around The Bibbles’ foray into the Toronto Fringe. The story follows their seven performances as well as the egos and the drama The Bibbles’ experience at the Fringe.

Matt and Lesley’s own story reminds me of how lovers meet, but for creators. I ask if they are creative soul mates, but get throaty laughs and squinty eyes in response. The two agree they don’t really believe in soul mates, but Lesley assures me that they are creatively bonded for a long time. Lesley appreciates Matt’s “gentle kindness” in dealing with her perfectionism. Matt enjoys Lesley’s openness to be even weirder than he is, always saying yes to his strangest ideas and then adding an even more absurd twist.

I spoke with Matt and Lesley about the risk in creating your own work, sharing your most private self and why the Fringe is such a great place to learn.

Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Meg Robinson: So youre both primarily actors. Have you always been interested in creating your own work?

Lesley Robertson: No.

Matt Shaw: Really?

LR: Yeah. I think in a buried deep part of my heart I was interested but I didn’t know if I would have the courage.

MS: I’ve always been interested in doing it but this is the first time that I’ve produced and written something. I wrote a play but I only had a reading of it. So this is the first time I’ve done a full production from the bottom to the top. So it’s pretty fucking nerve-wracking.

MR: Is it?

MS: It is. It’s like, you don’t have a Shakespeare script that you know someone will love to watch and already know the story. You’re creating something totally new and weird…

LR: Weird! And we often question… it’s very crass and shocking… we’re exposing this weird sense of humour that, well, I definitely keep private in my actual life. I show my friends but in this show I’m exposing to the public that…. I like poo jokes!

MS: Jokes about vaginas! And dildos! Everything!

MR: Do you struggle with the idea of “being good” or do you find you have a sense for when something is good? 

MS: That’s the whole thing about what we do, you know, you take a risk. You find it funny, the director might find it funny, your friends find it funny. But at the end of the day you are taking a risk performing something that’s brand new to people.

LR: We aren’t precious with the material. We get rid of stuff.

MS: It has to get a vote of at least 2 out of 3. At least 66%. A C+

LR: Unless one person is really attached.

MS: Or really against it.

MR: Any great “aha moments” or learning moments during this process that you would like to share?

MS: We met with a few people, one of them being Dana [Puddicombe], our director, to just show them our songs without having any…

LR: Arc, story…

MS: Or idea of what our show was going to be and Dana pitched us in the meeting maybe like 4 or 5 concepts that we could do.

LR: And we were like oh! Oh yeah!

MS: And then..

LR: And then, I think the idea of the mockumentary style was largely hers.

MS: Totally.

LR: She brought a lot of the “aha moments”. She’s been integral.

MR: What are some of your inspirations for The Bibbles?

MS: Big one is Bo Burnham. I think he’s got the comedic songwriting thing to a fucking science. Christopher Guest, Flight of the Conchords.

LR: A lot of women on SNL who do these kinda cute, kinda gross characters that I find particularly satisfying.

MR: Why the Fringe?

LR: I think the Fringe is such a great opportunity. Just the cost of it. And it’s so well advertised and well-known. It’s an incredible platform.

MS: It’s a platform for the underdogs.

LR: I went to all these seminars where they teach you about the technical stuff.

MS: Yeah! At the Fringe you learn so much. It’s like a course in producing.

LR: I’m so #blessed.

MR: What sort of future do you see for the Bibbles?

LR: I don’t know. We want to continue. Of course we will still do open mic and sets to try out material but I want to keep with long form shows. I could see it touring. I could see a sequel. The end of the play suggests a follow-up…

MS: I’m down for all of those things.

MR: Why should people see your show?

MS: (laughing) If you like songs about dildos and the smell of vaginas and how much the TTC sucks… If you like songs about existential dread…

LR: It’s a hybrid genre that’s very playful. It’s meta-theatrical about the Toronto Fringe Festival.

MS: Yes, people who really enjoy the culture of the Fringe and have done it before will enjoy our jokes.

LR: And it’s about a small-town American couple coming to Toronto, so it’s a celebration of the city too.

Rapid Fire with The Diddlin’ Bibbles:

Favourite movie, maybe a date night movie you would watch?
Rosemary: The Lion King.
Jessop: That’s yours. That’s your favourite movie Rosemary…
Rosemary: It’s ours. Do you have a separate Jessop-favourite one?
Jessop: Mission Impossible 3. Third one. With Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s a national treasure.

Which side of the bed do you each sleep on?
Rosemary: I sleep in the centre. And you sleep at the foot.
Jessop: Okay. Mhm, curled up like a little ball.
Rosemary: But he’s allowed up when we’re having the hanky panky.
Jessop: Hanky panky Rosemary? Keep talking like that and you’re gonna get in trouble.

Do you have any pets?
Rosemary: We have a collection of snakes!
Jessop: Squeaky Nietzsche is our pet goat who lost is his faith in God. We had our horse who died on our way to Toronto.

Did you ride a horse to Toronto?
Jessop: Yep, yeah we did. It died on the way.

The Diddlin’ Bibbles Live in Concert

Who:
Company: The Diddlin’ Bibbles
Created by: The Company
Director: Dana Puddicombe
Stage Manager: Laura Moniz
Producer: Michelle Langille (Theatre Inamorata)
Cast: Lesley Robertson, Matt Shaw

What:
Meet The Bibbles. A spiritual and sex-positive singer-songwriter duo, they have traveled all the way from Widdlywack, Wisconsin to perform at the prestigious Toronto Fringe Festival – their life-long dream. Jessop and Rose-Marie are ready to spread their gospel of light, love and lust through their toe-tappin’, knee-slappin’ tunes. But are they ready for all the riches, fame, and debauchery the Toronto Fringe may bring? Can their marriage survive the pressures of celebrity culture? Fame is a cruel mistress and The Bibbles are playing with fire. And musical instruments. Because they’re a band.

Where:
ST. VLADIMIR THEATRE
620 Spading Ave, Toronto

When:
6th July – 6:30pm
8th July – 1:45pm
9th July – 11:00pm
11th July – 8:30pm
13th July – 12:00pm
14th July – 5:15pm
16th July – 4:30pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @DiddlinBibbles
f: /TheDiddlinBibbles
i: @thediddlinbibbles