Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘2018 Toronto Fringe’

In Conversation with Briana Brown and Rob Kempson on Co-Directing ROBERT at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival

Interview by Hallie Seline.

When finding out about Robert by Briana Brown, running at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival, I was very intrigued to find out that it was being co-directed. In a position that is so traditionally singular and with the current conversations around power dynamics in the rehearsal hall, I was eager to catch up with co-directors Briana Brown and Rob Kempson to discuss what drew them to share this leadership role, the value of artistic respect and trust in your directing partner, and the advice they would pass along to others wanting to explore this alternative directing structure.

Hallie Seline: Where did you get the idea to co-direct this piece? 

Briana Brown: We both adjudicate at the high school NTS Drama Festival (formerly Sears) during the winter, and this year there seemed to be a number of co-directing teams. I was initially skeptical and asked them a lot of tough questions about their process and responsibilities, but in the end was wooed! Their experiences sounded so positive, and the logic made so much sense, I was really interested to experiment myself. Rob is the only person I could ever imagine doing this with, and I’m so happy he was game to try.

Rob Kempson: There are few people on this earth who I would ever consider sharing the role of director with; Bri is one of those people. So when she asked me to work on this piece with her, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity. She has such a brilliant mind and she is such an understanding and compassionate artist.

HS: What discussions need to happen before and during the process to make sure you both are on the same page? 

RK: Luckily, Bri and I tend to share a brain. We actually joke about it often, because it’s scary how regularly we have the same thoughts at the same time. So while we have had a number of meetings throughout the process to make sure that we’re on the same page, we are almost always on that page. During shared rehearsals, we would take moments outside of the rehearsal hall to touch base, and decide who would be doing the primary communication with the actors. However, often during our notes sessions, we would have the same or similar notes, so it was pretty easy to give our notes together.

BB: I concur.

Janelle Hanna and Chris Baker in ROBERT

HS: What has been the benefit of having two directors on Robert?

BB: Reassurance. Directing can be such an isolating role, and under this model, you always have a partner. When I was feeling something wasn’t working, or I couldn’t figure something out, Rob was able to both validate my experience and often confirm he was finding it challenging too. We were then able to discuss potential solutions frankly, and vulnerably, in a way one wouldn’t do with designers and actors, because you need them to have faith that you have all the answers.

I also loved watching Rob work with the actors. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in an assistant directing role, which is the only time you’re really privy to watching a director work when that is the only thing holding your focus. I also knew exactly what our challenges were, which was not an insight I had when in those AD roles, and so it was fascinating to watch him work. I picked up a lot of things that I know I’ll integrate into my process going forward.

RK: I love watching Bri direct as well. She is so wise, and offers such unique insight in all of her work. Bri speaks to actors fully–meaning the weight of the piece as a whole infects every note she offers. It gives the actors such a great understanding of a moment in the context of the work as a whole. It’s brilliant, and so different than my standard practice.

More broadly, the major benefits of working together on this piece are related to authorship. Bri is not proprietary with her writing, and so she is open to making big directorial choices to compliment the words on the page. This means that when we rehearsed, we were able to play with big open minds. It has led to some inventive choices that highlight her brilliant words, and that I would have never thought of on my own.

Janelle Hanna and Chris Baker in ROBERT

HS: And on that note, have you come across any challenges in having two people leading the process?

BB: I’d love to hear an honest response from the actors about whether we were as in sync from their perspective, as we believe we were.

I also think knowing we were sharing the weight and responsibility sometimes slowed us down a little, mostly before going into rehearsal.

RK: I also think that we almost checked in with each other a little too much… as in, we felt like we needed permission before following an impulse. So it meant that we’d say yes and thank you and okay before even trying something to see if it worked in the first place.

HS: Would you say you each have specific strengths or blind spots that compliment each other in your work? 

BB: In this particular iteration, Rob was great at noticing my blind spots as a playwright. He is more focused on physicality than I am, which was amazing to have in the room. We are, however, both exceptional choreographers.

RK: I think what Bri means is that I am a brilliant choreographer, and she is very limited in her appreciation of truly expressive movement.

HS: Have you learned some key lessons while co-directing that you’d pass on to others wanting to try this? 

BB: We have known one another for over 10 years, and have worked together in a number of capacities, so entering into this we knew that we shared a number of core values when it comes to storytelling. I can’t imagine embarking on this under any other circumstances. You need to appreciate your co-director artistically, and trust them as a human. Ego doesn’t have a place in this process. If you’re directing because you like to be the All Powerful Voice in the room, you will end up in conflict.

RK: Ego cannot have a place in most true collaboration. But when you’re collaborating on the same job, it really cannot enter the space. Bri is so good at that, and I need to work on it. It’s good that I wasn’t able to be bossy all the time. It makes me a better artist, and ultimately, it makes this production better.

HS: Tell me a bit about this show Robert, on assembling your team and what you’re excited to share with Fringe audiences? 

BB: At the core of this team is the group that put on Bad Baby: Rules Control the Fun at last year’s fringe. We’ve switched roles around a little bit, and we have invited some exceptional new artists into our process, including Rob.

RK: I’m excited about so many things: it’s site-specific, it’s funny, it’s a little dramatic, the venue is beautiful, Bri’s play is amazing, I’m co-directing a play that has my name as it’s title… etc. etc. Should I go on?

Robert

Who:
Company: Lark & Whimsy Theatre Collective
Playwright: Briana Brown
Directors: Briana Brown & Rob Kempson
Producer: Erin Vandenberg
Cast: Chris Baker & Janelle Hanna

What:
Kat and James are waiting for their father to die. Not exactly estranged, but certainly not close, the two struggle to make conversation until James reveals the worst secret he possibly could. From the team behind the 2017 Fringe hit “Bad Baby”, Jessie-nominated playwright Briana Brown (Almost, Again) delivers laughs and heart in her new award-winning play about identity and loss. With a set of bagpipes.

Co-directed by Briana Brown & Rob Kempson (Maggie & Pierre, Mockingbird), produced by Erin Vandenberg (Salt), and featuring Janelle Hanna (Prairie Nurse, Bad Baby) and Chris Baker (Deadmouse: The Musical).

Where:
ST. GEORGE THE MARTYR
197 John Street
Toronto
Ontario

When:
5th July – 8:00pm
6th July – 8:00pm
7th July – 5:00pm
7th July – 8:00pm
10th July – 8:00pm
11th July – 8:00pm
12th July – 8:00pm
13th July – 8:00pm
14th July – 5:00pm
14th July – 8:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

“From Glam Rocker, to MMA, to TV Personality, to the 2018 Toronto Fringe with ENJOY THE HOSTILITIES” 5 Questions with Robin Black

Interview by Hallie Seline.

We were excited to get the opportunity to chat with Robin Black, who has had quite the journey going from glam rocker, to mixed martial artist, to television personality, and who now adds Toronto Fringe storyteller to his list of titles. We discussed his greatest challenges both mentally and physically, his personal philosophy that kept him moving forward, and why he decided to share his story with the Toronto Fringe this summer in Enjoy the Hostilities.

HS: What an incredible journey you have already had at this point in your life! Is there a singular philosophy that you carried with you to each of your very different ventures?

Robin Black: I have a goal of getting better at something every day. I think I started thinking this way as a Martial Artist at a young age, and I apply that thinking to everything. I can get a little better at my job, a little better at editing my art, a little better at being a good husband, a little better at yoga.

This ‘growth mindset’, the idea that wherever I apply effort I will grow, has been a part of the way I’ve approached every venture in my life. It’s also a theme in our show Enjoy the Hostilities.

HS: What was harder on your body and mind: being a rock star or being a fighter?

RB: Traveling and playing rock music in a C-List Glam Rock band was definitely more damaging to my body, my relationships and my physical and mental health.

Fighting is very, very tough mentally and physically but it is rooted in healthy things; training your body and mind, getting better every day, overcoming obstacles, striving to achieve goals.

Rock and roll can be viewed, performed and expressed this way too but we had a more grungy, drug-and-alcohol-fueled interpretation of being rock performers.

Both are tough. Both damaged my body. Both were mentally stressful and challenging. Both probably took years off of my life.

HS: What experience has offered your greatest challenge and if you were faced with it again, would you deal with it in the same way?

RB: Failure is hard, and I fail a lot.

When you fail in a fight you’re so naked and alone, both metaphorically and literally. It is a very pure form of failure. It’s incredibly painful.

I would not change a thing, these setbacks are what creates your strength and resilience and ability to be stronger in your future.

What you end up wishing you could change is the PREPARATION before the failure, but you cannot, the time has passed.

So the lesson you end up learning from failure has to be lessons about preparation so that, next time, you will increase your chance of success.

HS: If you could now try any other profession at this moment, without limitation, what would it be and why?

RB: I spend my days studying Martial Arts and sharing what I find with an audience. Sometimes I tell stories. I commentate combat for people watching on television. I love what I do. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

But if something pops up that I’d rather be doing? I’ll pursue it immediately and deploy all of the passion and persistence necessary to make it happen. That’s what I always do and I’m sure I will do it again.

HS: What made you want to turn your life’s journey into a Fringe show at this time in your life?

RB: I’m not rich, I’m not famous, but I have honestly lived a life of passion and adventure.

In the process, I’ve learned some pretty cool things that I really wanted to share with people.

I also really wanted to work on something with Graham [Isador, co-creator & director] and this was so fun to build and it’s been so fun to express.

It just all came together so beautifully and I’m just so stoked for people to see it at the Fringe.

Enjoy the Hostilities

Who:
Company: Pressgang Theatre
Playwright/Creator: Robin Black and Graham Isador
Performed by Robin Black
Directed by Graham Isador

What:
Have you ever woken up in the middle of a cage fight? Have you ever overdosed backstage in a concert hall? Have you ever tried to out-drink a two time world Sumo champion? Robin Black has. It’s kind of been his job. In Enjoy The Hostilities, Robin Black (TSN, MUCHMUSIC) uses humour, storytelling, and punch drunk philosophy to share his journey from glam rocker, to mixed martial artist, to television personality. Co-written by Graham Isador (VICE, Soulpepper Playwright Unit), the show offers audiences advice on how to make the most out of almost making it.

Where:
The Bovine
542 Queen Street West
Toronto
Ontario
M5V 2B5

When:
4th July – 6:00pm
5th July – 6:00pm
8th July – 6:00pm
9th July – 6:00pm
10th July – 6:00pm
11th July – 6:00pm
12th July – 6:00pm
15th July – 6:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @robinblackmma
ig: @robinblackmma

“Working with Youth, Audience Participation & The Extraordinary Things in Life” Eliza Martin and Neil Silcox on HARVEY & THE EXTRAORDINARY at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Bailey Green.

We sat down with theatre creators Eliza Martin and Neil Silcox to discuss the upcoming site-specific Fringe show Harvey & the Extraordinary, written and performed by Eliza and directed by Neil. Harvey and the Extraordinary explores the joy and heartbreak of childhood from the perspective of an 8-year-old girl named Mimi. We spoke about working with youth, audience participation and the extraordinary things in life.

BG: How did you started working together?

Eliza Martin: I saw Neil in a production of King Lear at Hart House Theatre. He played Edgar, but more importantly I was captivated by his performance as Poor Tom.

Neil Silcox: I pretended to be a cat.

EM: I thought the cat was exemplary. Neil was friends with Jeremy Hutton, who was director of Toronto Youth Theatre at the time and then Neil came in as AD on Into the Woods, which I was in. And my first words to him were, “Did you play a cat in King Lear?”

NS: We worked together on that show, and then I directed Rent at TYT. And then I coached Eliza going into theatre school auditions, and then Eliza went to TDS [Theatre and Drama Studies] from whence I am also an alumnus. Thus a friendship was born! A year and a half ago, Eliza reached out to me with a new script she was developing, which became Harvey & the Extraordinary. Last summer we did a workshop of it over two days at the end of July in a garage that had belonged to my friends Jeff and Sarah. We thought this is perfect for the Fringe – it has a lot of give and take with the audience, it’s fun and the garage is about 200 metres from the Fringe patio, which doesn’t hurt.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: What did you learn from your workshop last summer?

EM: The piece has so much audience interaction, it’s such an integral part of the show, that we were interested in their experience and perspective on plot and characters. They had really great thoughts on storyline and what they might need clarified

NS: In some ways it’s a mystery piece in that the character of Mimi is an 8-year-old and is something of an unreliable narrator. So part of our job is to pick apart what she says to piece together the more objective reality. And some of the audience in the workshop didn’t do that and we were able to identify some ways to drop some clearer hints and guide the audience. As a director it was interesting to see the context of the show in that specific space because it is a garage in an alleyway in the heart of the city with the back door open. There was a kind of give and take with the city, which is really beautiful. And Mimi is a Torontonian kid so she has a rapport with the city. We had everything from cars driving by to people throwing firecrackers.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: What was it like interacting with an audience and where there any surprises that it brought?

EM: I was very surprised at how much I felt like they enjoyed participation and I feel a lot of that was because Mimi is a child. You feel like you get to support her in a lovely way and it makes them feel comfortable. Even though audience participation can sound scary, for myself included, there’s something really special about the relationship between Mimi, a child, and the audience, because you feel as though you are helping her with her performance. It cuts away some of the embarrassment that people sometimes experience in audience participation. That was really gratifying to discover and I look forward to continuing to explore that relationship

NS: It’s that quality that we always look for, that Mimi is always thrilled and excited by what she gets, so it’s accessible audience participation. No one ever gets anything wrong, no one is the butt of the joke. It’s a small show – we seat 19 people. In the workshop we had 2 performances and we filled it full of people quite close to us, professionally and personally. Those audiences had an understanding of who Eliza is and who I am and the work we do, so I’m really excited to have strangers in who will have fewer presumptions about who we are and the work we do.

BG: Eliza, what drew you to create a solo show?

EM: A solo show forces you into creative storytelling. What excited me is that I found I did my most creative work when I didn’t have other actors up there with me. I had to find ways to create for myself what was needed in the story. I began doing it because I wanted a way to control my own work and work on something without sort of waiting for the phone to ring. It seems like a simple answer but that’s what started it — as a way to have a project for myself. I fell in love with it as I did it and I fell in love with other people’s solo projects and being amazed at what they did and how they told their stories until it was a rabbit hole I fell down in an exciting way.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: How did working with children and young people influence this show?

NS: I’ve been teaching theatre now for 20 years, and I started with people who are about Mimi’s age, 8 or so, at a YMCA in London when I didn’t know anything. Since then I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of kids […] Randy Pausch wrote a book called The Last Lecture, in it he talks about teaching football as an educational head fake. You tell young people that you’re teaching them to play football but you’re really teaching them a bunch of other things and my philosophy of teaching youth theatre was the same thing. When you first get into theatre, we think of it as a putting on of someone else. But the beauty in theatre is about showing who you are, it is a revelation of self. It’s very personal work that Eliza does in her writing and in her performance. In rehearsal, we talk about our histories and who we were as children and how our current anxieties are similar to those young people and in Mimi.

EM: I had that experience working with you as a youth, so that’s interesting. We think we’re putting something on, when really we’re giving ourselves the freedom to express. We do talk a lot about our own personal stories and one of the reasons I reached out to Neil was not only because he’s a wonderful friend and mentor, but I feel like we share this similar sense of humour that I was interested in writing and working with in the piece. And it’s Mimi’s humour, it’s this lovely humour that I find comes from communicating with children. I love the way they talk about their lives and the discoveries they make and every day is so new and interesting. I had a little boy say to me once, “The inside of my neck is itchy” and he meant his throat but I thought it was clever that he would describe it as that. There are a few Mimis in my life and I bring in their stories and reference them often.

BG: What are three extraordinary things currently giving you life?  

EM:

  1. Samosas.
  2. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer – I’m telling everyone and their mother to read it. It’s about the exchange between audience and performer. Palmer reflects on her time as a street performer and the gift of art and human connection.
  3. Fresh cut flowers.

NS:

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – a beautiful way to shift my perspective and extremely compelling writing. It’s a great example of an old axiom about writing where you write for something extremely specific and in that it will be accessible to everyone, and if you try to write something accessible to everyone, no one will care. So Ta-Nehisi, writing for his son, a young teenage Black man in America in 2015, that specificity made it clear where there was room for the reader.
  2. Parks and Recreation – I’m watching it for the first time and it is really good. There’s a purity to each character, like a bell tone.
  3. This War of Mine – It’s a video game that is not exactly fun, but extremely compelling. The game asks what you have to do as a civilian to survive war. It’s crushing, because you can’t survive without making some awful choices. I’m interested in how different mediums find emotions that you can’t find in other media, and a video game can find guilt in a way I don’t know if a book or movie can.(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Harvey and The Extraordinary

Who:
Written & Performed by Eliza Martin
Direction by Neil Silcox

What:
Harvey & The Extraordinary invites you to follow the trail of painted cardboard signs and join eight-year-old Mimi and her hamster Harvey for their professional and not-so-silent debut!
With big dreams to join the circus, Mimi sets out to put on her very own mime show (in her garage) for a special guest of honour. Harvey & The Extraordinary explores the joy and heartbreak of childhood and what it means to maybe, just maybe, be simply ordinary.

Where:
GARAGE ON COLLEGE PLACE
181 Markham Street
Toronto
ON
M6J 2G7

When:
4th July – 7:00pm
5th July – 7:00pm
6th July – 7:00pm
7th July – 7:00pm
8th July – 7:00pm*
10th July – 7:00pm
11th July – 7:00pm*
12th July – 7:00pm
13th July – 7:00pm
14th July – 7:00pm

*Relaxed Performance

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com