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Posts tagged ‘Ali Richardson’

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

by Bailey Green

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

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

FringeFemme Skyler James

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

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

20160624_Skyler_Rehearsal (0033 of 0041)

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

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

Get Yourself Home Skyler James

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

4 x 6 Skyler Handbill

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

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

918 Bathurst Basement, Bathurst Street

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


2014 Fringe Preview – Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie – Fail Better Theatre

by Bailey Green

Intelligent, witty, political, sharp, funny and exciting—a few words I would use to describe this show after sitting in on a rehearsal with the cast of Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie by Fail Better Theatre. The name of their company comes from a Samuel Beckett quote that is one of my personal favourites, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail Better.” Director Matt White and actors (and the company’s co-artistic directors) Ben Hayward and Ali Richardson talked to me about their process.

Ask a person on the street if they know of Andy Warhol, and they probably will. But what about Valerie Solanas? Chances are slim. History forgot the woman who shot Andy Warhol, but Fail Better Theatre is bringing her story to light in a powerful new piece of theatre premiering at the Toronto Fringe Festival. This immersive, site specific piece takes place at the Influx Creative Space, an art studio, where Andy Warhol and his assistant Gerard are holding a party for Val—and you’re invited.

“We didn’t initially know this piece would be about Valerie,” says actor and writer Ben Hayward, “We thought it would be about their relationship or the shooting, but the more we read we realized there’s tons of stuff about Andy Warhol but nothing about Valerie. She’s always just a footnote in Warhol’s biography.” The collaborators chose to focus on Valerie because of her dynamic and active voice. Through the process they discovered Warhol to be a much more passive and less dramatic character who often allows things to happen around him instead of provoking the action. “Rather than giving him an exorbitant amount of text, we make him a presence by omitting text,” director Matt White describes. “But he’s still there, this is his world that everyone is playing in.”

Processed with Rookie

The idea of creating “a better play” comes from the collective process of Hayward, Richardson and White. “There can’t be an ego,” Matt White says and then chuckles, “because if there was Ben would have shot me about ten days ago.” This project has been in the works for eight months and has underwent multiple radical changes. It began with Richardson and Hayward writing together, but eventually progressed to Hayward taking over the bulk of the writing—though Richardson still contributes to the script. “It’s a delicate balance have the playwrights in the room with you,” says White. “From the top you just have to instill a non-fragile environment. At the core, we have to trust that everyone is good. So you’re good, but you can always be better.” Hayward agrees, “it’s actually nice to have it change so much. I go home and work on the script and it’s awesome. Meanwhile Ali goes home and memorizes a thousand lines and then has to forget eight hundred the next day.” The three collaborators jokingly refer any and all major cuts or changes as ‘building a better play.’ “In a different play, this scene or that scene would have been really cool,” Hayward smiles.

Richardson and Hayward got lucky when a new biography about Valerie Solanas came out this past spring. “At Christmas I looked online and the biography came up for pre-order, so I emailed Professor Breanna Fahs at the Arizona State University and asked for an advance copy,” Richardson says. “That wasn’t possible but what she [the professor] did do was verify our sources.” They had found an online PDF copy of Valerie Solanas’ play Up Your Ass, but according all sources only one copy of the play exists in a museum in Pittsburgh. “It’s in the Andy Warhol museum, in a drawer in a vault because no one knows who she [Valerie] is or cares. The ultimate irony is that Andy in fact finally did steal her work, in way,” Ben says. The PDF turned out to be Valerie’s play and became one of the many sources integrated into the text of Andy Warhol Presents. To name a few of their sources: Up Your Ass, the film “I shot Andy Warhol,” Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, Valerie’s biography, multiple Andy Warhol books and a four hour PBS documentary about Warhol. Needless to say, they know the history of these two people inside and out.

The SCUM manifesto itself is widely available, and it began as the bulk of Valerie’s text. “We kept tweaking and tweaking the text to be more experientiel and to give it a storytelling quality,” Hayward says of the writing process. The company includes original music in the piece, with lyrics inspired by Valerie’s manifesto and the production added a chorus of five other actors a few weeks ago. “Matt suggested more people would help make the piece more interactive,” Hayward says—which is key for a show that requires a level of audience participation and engagement. “Ben and Ali wanted to include these adapted scenes from [Valerie’s play] Up Your Ass. But we had no one to play them. So we brought in a chorus to help animate the piece,” says White. The scenes were written with Valerie’s politics in mind, but are not actual extractions from Up Your Ass. However much of Warhol’s text in the play is actual quotes and adaptations of quotes, and the same goes for Valerie’s text.

The company is excited for their first production, and look forward to the new challenges that will come with an interactive audience. “If there is a call to action in the play, it is avoiding the temptation to be passive,” Richardson says. “The form of the piece speaks to that. There is no getting away from what’s happening in the room.”

Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie

by Fail Better Theatre presented as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival

Processed with Rookie

Directed by Matt White

Written and Performed by Ben Hayward and Ali Richardson

With Ray Jacildo, Emily Johnston, April Leung, Nick Potter, Natasha Ramondino & Jon Walls

When: July 3rd – 13th. 8pm nightly + 2pm July 10th

Where: InfluxCreative Space (141 Spadina at Richmond)