Interview by: Ryan Quinn
We sat down with Eric Regimbald of Pinchback Productions to discuss their upcoming production of Blackbird by Adam Rapp and his thoughts about the Toronto theatre scene and about the healthy opportunity for growth when taking the plunge with a bold, strong play choice.
RQ: Can you tell me a little bit about Blackbird?
ER: It’s a play by Adam Rapp, a two-hander. It takes place in the dead of winter, at Christmas Eve on Canal Street. It follows two “losers”. He’s a Gulf War vet, she’s an ex-stripper, and he’s trying to wean her off heroin. It’s a really dirty world that has cast them aside. What’s their place in society? But they realize more-so now than ever that they’ve found each other and they need each other to survive. I should mention that when I bring up this play, a lot of people think of the David Harrower play of the same name, which is also a two-hander that’s quite dark.
RQ: What draws you to this play?
ER: Well, I’ve always wanted to do a two-hander. Especially after doing my touring job as a children’s performer, which is fun but not very character-satisfying. I just wanted to sink my teeth into something visceral. Something real and exciting. So, my producing parter and acting partner Alona Metzer and I read a few plays, including One Night Stand by Carol Bolt, which would have been a really fun character to play, but this one is a little further out of my range and a little scarier. I also feel like a lot of people who put up theatre, especially Shakespeare, don’t seem to look into the last time a show was put up. The same shows seem to be done by different people all the time. So, we wanted to do one that hasn’t been done in around ten years, and this fit the bill. We wouldn’t put this up if it was done last year. Even if you might have something different to say with it, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
RQ: How did this come about?
ER: I met Alona doing class simulations at Ryerson. I heard that she’s a producer and I’m always looking for new people to work with. We started by trying to write something, but I found that that wasn’t what I was really into, so we ended up deciding on doing a published play instead.
RQ: Do you think this show has importance now in Toronto? Do these characters resonate somehow culturally?
ER: The love story is the key thing we’re really trying to flesh out. Anyone can relate to a love story, and I think that’s relevant. I mean, it’s also relevant in that I hope it’s still snowing out in March. People can really feel that isolation, that cold. It would be different if we did this show in the summer, it would resonate a lot differently. It’s such a dark, winter show.
RQ: You have these really ugly, grimy characters, and this really beautiful love story. What’s your approach for getting to the heart of the show when the surface is so dirty?
ER: Adam Rapp’s language really juxtaposes all this swearing and talk of heroin with this really clear dialogue that they need each other. There’s a reason you come into the story at this point in the lives of these characters. So, the struggle is clearly there, and the need, and you just tell the love story around that. It’s exactly what you were saying, it’s that they can’t live without each other, and why not. They don’t want to be in their situation. If they were up on stage doing heroin and swearing and loving it, the story would be totally lost. He’s struggling to recover, and she just broke up with a violent, shady dealer, so they’re really trying to salvage a life together. It’s about finding the humanity.
RQ: What are your goals this year as an artist?
ER: I wanted to get a play done early in the year. I put up a play last year in Fringe, but I wanted to get one up early, especially since I’m on the road a lot. It’s that time to do something and not sit around. I’m hoping to work on some other projects later in the year. It feels good to put something up this early in the year, then there’s the hunger for “what’s next”, you know?
RQ: I want to go back on something for a second. Why do you think so many plays are done so often in this city, and do you believe there’s a shortage of original work while young companies tend to do British and American classic work?
ER: A lot of people seem to be afraid to buy rights to shows. They’ll go to Shakespeare right away because it’s free and the problem is that sometimes they don’t have anything to say, or they don’t have the training to bring them to the level that other local companies are doing the work at. What I’m passionate about is contemporary theatre, and a lot of the modern work I see falls toward doing theatre exercises on stage. It doesn’t make sense. I’m disappointed, and don’t get me wrong, I see amazing modern shows that use movement work as well; but a lot of the stuff I see just doesn’t live up to what it could be. It is an accomplishment to put up a show, but that shouldn’t be enough for you. I mean, obviously we’re doing this show partly for ourselves as well, but it can’t be just about that.
RQ: Do you feel that the theatre community is afraid to critique itself?
ER: I think so. I think people are really polite, and we’re not helping each other. I would love to have someone come up to me after this show and tell me why they didn’t like it. It’s better than hearing nothing. We’re trying to be strong in our voice, and we’re prepared for some people to have negative reactions to it.
Presented by Pinchback Productions
When: March 14th to 23rd
Where: Hub14 theatre.
Tickets: Available at the door or at http://blackbird.brownpapertickets.com.