by Bailey Green
Clown sisters Morro and Jasp are trying out a completely new recipe for fun, exciting and unpredictable theatre with their new creation Anything Goes — part of Buddies’ Rhubarb Festival. Anything Goes is exactly what it sounds like. Audience members are in for a unique “one on one on one” experience (dubbed by director Byron Laviolette) as they will interact directly with Morro and Jasp for a little less than ten minutes. I spoke with Heather Marie Annis (Morro) and Amy Lee (Jasp) about their upcoming performance, their years of clowning together and being a part of Rhubarb.
Anything Goes is new territory for the ebullient and open-hearted Heather and Amy. “We call ourselves structure junkies,” Heather laughs. “People may think our shows are improv, and in some ways they are, but it is based on a very specific script and structure.” With Anything Goes, most of that is out the window. There are infinite possibilities for how any given interaction will go. The pair discuss the options with open excitement, describing how perhaps an audience member may bond with one clown and turn against the other, or what will happen if a small group wants to all interact. Heather and Amy are most excited to see the potential of what can happen when an audience member is free to play without being conscious of an external audience’s judgement.
When asked about the most challenging part of preparing, the answer comes quickly: they can’t actually rehearse. Morro and Jasp venture out into the world for adventures and interact with strangers, but beyond being present and open there isn’t much else to set in place. “My desire for control is being seriously challenged,” Heather says. The pair’s background is not based in improv either, they begin primarily with Morro and Jasp. “We can go outside the boundaries because we know what they are,” Amy says. “This [Anything Goes] is wide open. Our only structure is the human being and then we find a connection.”
So to prepare, Heather and Amy have continued to exercise their improv muscles, as well as coming up with ideas of props to have in the room and scenarios to offer. They’re both conscious of the constant assessment required for a performance of this focused nature. “If they want us to just take the reins and do something we have ideas for a jumping off point,” Heather says. Amy picks up Heather’s train of thought, “We’re challenging ourselves to do this because we really want to give each person what they need and want in that moment. The ball is in their court to decide what kind of experience they want.”
When I ask the pair what they’re most excited about for Rhubarb this year, their words tumble over each other as their enthusiasm bubbles:
Heather: It’s so inspiring to see artists who are coming up with things, and someone says an idea and you’re like “my brain!”
Amy: We’ve never done Rhubarb before. It’s an amazing festival! I love Buddies, the space –
Heather: A basement, events happen –
Amy: It’s a world of possibility –
Heather: A theatre carnival and you get –
Amy: a choose your own adventure
Heather: kind of everything!
Morro and Jasp were born during Heather and Amy’s time together at York University. The pair ended up working on a piece written by Heather about two sisters named Jamie and Mackenzie. They played multiple characters and Amy fell in love with the character work of physical theatre. Byron Laviolette was at York as well at the time and he saw the piece. Laviolette had studied Pochinko clown and was very interested in the style. He had written a turn called “Reflections” about two clowns named Morris and Jasper. He saw Heather and Amy and liked their connection. “We were saying yes to everything,” Amy says of their first years out of school, “we had no idea what we were getting into, nor did we think we’d be here ten years later.” The trio moved on to train with Pete Jarvis for two years. Their first few shows were mainly for children as part of FringeKids! The women laugh and cringe as they remember the early years where they were simultaneously figuring out how to write theatre and how to be clowns.
Then they were accepted into “adult” fringe for 2009. “We wanted to write a show about our clown characters going through puberty, we needed to tell that story,” recalls Amy. “We wanted to write the show we wanted to make without worrying whether it was appropriate. And so in Winnipeg 2008, they premiered Morro and Jasp do Puberty! Amy remembers her nerves to perform the show in front of family members and Heather bursts into giggles, “she was nervous because she humped her stuffed animal in this show. But it was so scary! We were really putting ourselves out there. People responded like, yeah that happened to me! I just didn’t think I could talk about it. Like when you go to the grocery store and hide your tampons in your bag. Like why is that a bad thing?” And the rest is clown history with their other shows, to name a few: Go Bake Yourself, Gone Wild, Of Mice and Morro… In May, they’ll be premiering a new show at Factory called 9-5, and then in July they’re bringing Morro and Jasp do Puberty to the Toronto Fringe before taking it across the pond in August to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Ten years of clowning with your awesome clown sister makes for a tight bond and it’s evident in the way Heather and Amy finish each other’s thoughts. “I don’t know anything like it in my life. When we become the characters there is this amazing intimacy that happens,” Amy says of her partnership with Heather. “The boundaries are gone. We can say and do anything to each other [as Morro and Jasp.]” Heather adds, “it’s such a freedom we have with each other that we sometimes forget about that when we work with other people.” It only makes sense, as Morro and Jasp, just like Heather and Amy, have grown up together.
Morro and Jasp: Anything Goes
Clown sisters Morro and Jasp are looking for someone to connect with. Could it be you? Come and see what happens.
When: February 11-14 at 7:30pm
Where: downstairs at Buddies
Artists: creator / performers Heather Marie Annis + Amy Lee | director / dramaturge Byron Laviolette