Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Byron Laviolette’

A Chat with Barbara Johnston & Byron Laviolette on “Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party” at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Hallie Seline

If there is a dream collaboration in the Fringe not to miss, it’s the Fringe queens of new musicals – Barbara Johnston and Suzy Wilde (Summerland, The Fence) teaming up with interactive-theatre maven Byron Laviolette (Morro and Jasp) with Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party. We spoke with Barb and Byron about collaborating together, the excitement of trying something new in the Fringe, and how we all need a little more fun in our lives.

HS: Tell me a bit about the show and where the idea for this show came from?

Byron Laviolette: Brian Goldenberg, our producer, approached me with the idea that maybe we could find a way to take the best of current musical theatre (ie. Suzy Wilde and Barbara Johnston) and meld it with the interactive experience stuff I have been doing with Morro and Jasp. I was instantly intrigued. I’m not much of a musical guy, but had some experience with them working at Hart House on Rocky Horror and Reefer Madness, so I said yes.

HS: You have a stellar team involved. Can you speak a bit about working with each other?

Barbara Johnston: It was kind of a unique experience because the songs were written before the rest of the show. We had a song guide and character outlines to draw from, but essentially we had to build songs without knowing exact plot details – which was a challenging but really fun experience. The script was built in rehearsal with Byron and the actors, so Suzy and I didn’t even know the show until we saw it all starting to come together a couple of days ago.

Both of us are big fans of Morro and Jasp, so when we found out that Byron was on the project we were really excited to see where he was going to take this really cool concept. Suzy and I have worked together our entire lives and are constantly collaborating on projects (we’re also involved in True North Mixtape at Fringe this year) so us working together is “old hat” – in the best way possible! We have a short-hand with one another – we can read each others minds, so it makes working together heaven. It has been extremely exciting to write pop/karaoke songs for a cast of powerhouse singers who have all been so great with working with a short timeline and with our last-minute changes. Byron is an excellent collaborator – giving us lots of room to be part of the creative process and has done such great work with the actors, essentially building this show from the ground up. We have had a blast.

L-R: Jeigh Madjus, Tess Barao, Erica Peck, Kelly Holiff, Shane Hollon, Joseph Zita Photo Credit: Alex Nirta

BL: It’s been an interesting ride. There are a lot of differences in process between improv comedians, interactive performers and musical theatre actors. There are a lot of similarities too, but making sure that all processes are being honoured while trying to form a new methodology is challenging. I’m really happy with where we’ve landed though, and a lot of that credit goes to Suzy and Barb for giving us such stellar songs to work with.

HS: Why were you drawn to create this show for the Fringe? What is it about the show that makes it the perfect fit for the Fringe environment?

BJ: The concept of a site-specific Karaoke show was Brian Goldenberg’s idea, and it is a great one!

BL: I’ve done the Fringe now for something like 10 years and I was excited to try something new in the place where I believe new things have the best chance to soar and be seen. In different environments – like Morro and Jasp in Stupefaction at Crow’s – the opportunities to risk have very different stakes attached to them.

L-R: Kelly Holiff, Erica Peck, Jeigh Madjus, Tess Barao Photo Credit: Alex Nirta

HS: What do you hope audiences walk away with?

BJ: Hopefully with our tunes stuck in their head and maybe a slight hangover the next day.

BL: The tunes WILL be stuck in their heads. They are certainly stuck in mine. Like most of the work I am involved in, I hope that people have fun. We all need more fun in our lives. And meaning and feels and all that too, but I want to help build a space where people can feel invited in, involved in ways that doesn’t suck, and inspired to go out and share that sense of joy and wonder with the world around them. Keep the party going, you know?

HS: 100%! Love that. What is your go-to Karaoke song?

BJ: Mine changes, but either Sunday Morning (No Doubt) or Man! I Feel Like a Woman (Shania Twain). Suzy’s is always Sweet Child of Mine.

BL: I’m not much of a singer, but probably something from Disney. . .

HS: Where is your go-to Karaoke spot in Toronto?

BJ: Well I actually won 3rd place in a giant Karaoke contest 10 years ago during Pride lead by Foofer – the greatest Karaoke host in the city. She used to host at Crews and Tangos every Wednesday night and my friends and I would go religiously because there were always GREAT singers in the crowd. Now she has a night at WAYLA bar in Leslieville that we like to go to.

HS: Best advice you have ever received /current mantra you are living by?

BJ: When working in collaborations: The best idea wins.

BL: Yes, 100% Best idea wins. Also, find the balance in your work/life. This show is the third creation process I’ve been involved in since March (including Morro and Jasp and Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua) and you have to keep perspective as the dreams (and nightmares) swirl around you.

HS: Describe the show in 5-10 words:

BJ: Tony and Tina’s Wedding meets Company in a Teenage Dream.

BL: A Musical Mockumentary about the plight of the North American Millennial in the Modern Age.

HS: What other show(s) are on your must-see list this Fringe?

BJ: True North Mixtape (We’re in that one, but if we were not we would want to see it!)
Wild/Walled, Lipstique (both dance shows with some great dancers/choreographers).
Jay and Shilo’s Sibling Revelry!

All of them. ALL OF THEM!! Go risk. Go discover. Go play.

Maddie’s Karaoke Birthday Party

Who:
Company: Charcoal Sketch Productions
Playwright/Creator: Barbara Johnston, Suzy Wilde, and Byron Laviolette
Director: Byron Laviolette
Cast: Tess Barao, Kelly Holiff, Shane Hollon, Jeigh Madjus, Erica Peck, Joseph Zita
Producer: Brian Goldenberg, Jeff Jones

What:
It’s Maddie’s 25th birthday party but something’s not right – the guest of honour hasn’t shown up yet! Join five of Maddie’s best friends as they try to sort out where the birthday girl is at while they fight to keep the party’s spirits high (and struggle to keep their own dark secrets hidden). This intimate, interactive story unfolds over a series of hilarious and heart-breaking Karaoke-style songs in a party environment where the audience are fellow guests.

Where:
THE MONARCH TAVERN
12 Clinton Street, Toronto

When:
6th July – 8:15pm
7th July – 7:00pm
8th July – 6:30pm
9th July – 6:00pm
11th July – 8:00pm
12th July – 8:45pm
13th July – 8:15pm
14th July – 7:00pm
15th July – 7:00pm
16th July – 6:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @maddiesparty
f: /MaddiesParty

Steinbeck meets Clown in “Of Mice and Morro and Jasp” – A Chat over Tea with Co-Creators & Performers Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I had tea on a frigid evening with the talented and wonderful Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee of Morro and Jasp as they finished each others’ sentences and laughed about their upcoming show, “Of Mice and Morro and Jasp” playing now at the Factory Studio Theatre, January 28th to February 8th.

MM: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Morro and Jasp?

HMA: Morro and Jasp are clown sisters. Jasp is older.

AL: Yes, she certainly is.

HML: And more bossy. And more particular. And they have been sisters…

AL: And Morro is younger. And more unruly. And flies by the seat of her pants. But loving and free spirited. (Indicates Annis) She plays Morro. We both said a nice thing and a not so nice thing about each others’ character.

HMA: They can’t live with each other or without each other.

AL: Absolutely. They have been growing up over the years. This is our… I can’t really keep track anymore. This is show… maybe eight, nine?

HMA: They’ve gone on a series of adventures. We started out with them performing. Morro and Jasp are the ones writing the plays and putting on the plays.

AL: We help sometimes.

HML: And they’ve grown up through the series of shows that we’ve done since we started. We had three…?

AL: Three shows for young audiences and then they went through puberty, which was awkward and exciting and then they went on different vacations, then they did a cooking show and now they’re tackling a tragedy with Of Mice and Morro and Jasp.

MM: So in doing Of Mice and Morro and Jasp, do we see their growing maturity through the progression of them growing up?

HMA: Yes. And they’re at a stage in their lives where they’re struggling financially, and they’re trying to find their place in the world with jobs and how they’re accepted by society, or not accepted by society.

AL: Figuring out how to make life work. (Looks at Annis) I guess you said that.

HMA: You said it in a different way.

MM: It sounds incredibly relatable. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t say, “What’s my place in the world? How do I figure this out? I need a job!”

AL: And similarly, just how George and Lenny are figuring out where to go and how to make their dream work. The first thing that jumped out for us was that it was such a great pairing. Their relationship is so similar to our relationship and then just figuring out their similarities. George and Lenny’s journey and Morro and Jasp’s journey and how they fit.

HMA: And also to explore the sadness in their lives. The tragic elements, beyond comedy, what else there is.

AL: There are always elements of tragedy in our shows, of course, there has to be both, but we wanted to try and adapt a full on tragedy to see what would happen.

20120219-_DSC0977_2

MM: Is this because the two of you sit down and say “This is what we’re going to do”? What is your process of developing your shows? I’ve heard of some performers who say “There is me, and then there is my clown” and others who say “It’s all me”.

HMA: (laughs) That is an interesting question!

AL: We are IN our clowns, but our clowns…because we’ve been doing them for so long, they really have minds of their own. And a lot of the time, we’ll think something will be a good idea, and when we rehearse as Morro and Jasp, they will let us know. A lot of the time, we’ll try to solve the problem, and we’ll say “Let’s let Morro and Jasp solve it” and they do.

HMA: At the end of the day, your clown character is coming from you and your own individual personality, which is why clown is so specific. With some characters, you can try to replicate them and perform this other person as an actor. I find it’s a little more challenging with clown because it is so specific to your person. So, we are our clowns, but once we get into character and start exploring ideas, we have totally different ideas that will come out in different ways.

AL: It’s about impulses!

HMA: Right. We might not have those as Heather and Amy sitting at a computer coming up with ideas. Theirs will be more! Theirs will be bigger and more exciting and more extreme.

AL: We write our shows in combination with them. We do it, and then we do it in clown, and we go back and forth to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

MM: I want to hear about your cookbook. How did that come to be?

AL: We were doing a show called Morro and Jasp: Go Bake Yourself and it’s our show about cooking. Someone came to see it, and he worked in publishing and said, “Make a book, and we’ll publish it”. Those were our guidelines! We didn’t really have any!

HMA: He totally came to us with the idea. We had said, “Maybe we should make a book, that would be so much fun”. Maybe we just put it out into the universe! He gave us so much freedom. The idea was to make a cookbook combined with other things, because it came out of our cooking show.

AL: We had never planned to make a cookbook, but it was a fun match. And we both love cooking and making food, and food in general and it felt like a good fit. It was a lot of work! We had no idea how much work a cookbook would be!

HMA: The fact that he gave us so much freedom is why it worked for us. We got to discover what form and what content, and everything it would be based on our process and how we went along with it and what discoveries we made along the way. Which isn’t always what you set out to do when you make a book, because I would assume the publisher would dictate it, especially when he came to us with the idea. We didn’t know how long it was going to be either.

AL: Initially, it was supposed to be 60-80 pages, and it ended up being about 235! We just kept getting excited about all the different recipes we could put in!

MM: Are they all your own recipes?

HMA: It’s a combination of some recipes we made up, recipes that we have that we’ve used and loved, a lot of recipes from our families and friends, and some fans.

WxL-es1O

AL: Some fans wrote in and submitted recipes, which is fun.

HMA: Each of the recipes says who it’s from.

AL: It was exciting to see what we would get. And we tested everything.

HMA: Morro and Jasp tested them! (laughs)

AL: Well, we were there to guide the process.

HMA: There are also some recipes from our show, Go Bake Yourself. So it’s connected back to the show.

MM: It’s an extension of the show? A new medium?

AL: Yeah! It doesn’t run the same storyline as the show, but it’s connected.

HMA: There are similar themes about emotion and eating and those are connected. And love, and how food is a way of expressing love.

MM: Now I want to see a Morro and Jasp cooking show on TV.

HMA: So do we! That would be great!

AL: A few people have mentioned that. So we’ll see. We’d be up for it. And I think Morro and Jasp would be too. Jasp would feel like all her dreams came true.

OF MICE

MM: Of Mice and Morro and Jasp is a remount. Has it developed at all since the last time you performed it?

HMA: We’re developing it now! (laughs)

AL: We’re still developing it.

HMA: That’s where we just came from. It’s not that the story of it is changing, there aren’t dramatic rewrites, but we’re fine tuning it. We have more space to play now. At the Toronto Fringe you have a timeline. So now we have more room to breathe, and give the moments more detail. We can infuse a little more energy or breath into them.

AL: We’re coming back and going, “I think we can make this moment better. How can we do that?” “This monologue can be better”. So it’s really nice to be able to fix all the things that we wanted to fix and didn’t have time to. There are a few new elements as well, production elements that we can have.

MM: Like pyrotechnics?

HMA: (laughs)

AL: That would be fun!

HMA: The idea of the show is that times are tough. They’re on a strict budget and they’ve spent their last dollars on their set. No pyrotechnics, unfortunately. Not this time around anyway.

AL: But that is a good idea.

MM: Do you have anything else in the works? What’s next for Morro and Jasp?

AL: Morro and Jasp are in residence at Factory Theatre this season, developing their newest show, Morro and Jasp: 9 to 5, which is about them actually getting jobs. This show [Of Mice and Morro and Jasp] is about them not being able to, and the next show is about them figuring out how to actually make that happen.

HMA: Hold down a job.

AL: So that’s in process. We’re writing that right now. And also right after this show closes, we have a few days, and then we go to Ottawa to the GCTC for the Undercurrents Festival, and we’re performing Morro and Jasp Do Puberty there. Which is exciting because that’s the first in our series of adult shows, so it’s nice to give Ottawa audiences an introduction to us with that one.

MM: In going back to these other shows, are you finding out more and more about Morro and Jasp? Are Morro and Jasp discovering more about themselves?

AL: We always discover more. Every time we do a show, we change things about it. Because we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, we’ve learned a lot about Morro and Jasp, we learn so much more about who they are every time we do a show. That does inform us. We can add more detail and new things.

HMA: And also sometimes we have references or comments about things that are very timely. They’re happening now. So we’ll change them when we go back to a show. And always we’re interacting so much with the audience and the space that we’re in. Storytelling has to be alive and based on that audience and that thing and what they’re saying to you.

MM: Do you prefer that freedom of development of character and story versus an established play and character written by a playwright? Do you need both?

AL: It’s nice to have both.

HMA: They’re so different.

AL: It’s a totally different challenge. It’s nice to be able to practice both. Doing a play with a script written by someone else, whether it be a famous great playwright or someone new, always teaches us as artists a lot. So it’s nice to have the two inform each other constantly. How to bring what you know about making new work into a script that’s written and how to bridge that other kind of work into what we’re making.

HMA: And it’s a completely different exercise in that, with someone else’s script, you’re trying to interpret it and learn what’s already there and what’s hiding underneath and between the lines. With our stuff, it feels like such a rare opportunity to have a character that you enjoy and play with for so long. For, what? Ten years?

AL: Almost ten years, yeah.

HMA: And they’re so close to us because we created them. It’s a very special thing to be able to play with.

AL: We get to keep coming back to the same character and get to see what they will do in new circumstances, a new adventure, but keeping them, them. The nice thing is that there are no limits in terms of what we want to explore, but there are limits in terms of who those characters are and their relationship. That informs everything that happens.

MM: Are there certain things that Morro and Jasp would never do or say?

HMA: Never say never! (laughs) But there are certain things that they aren’t likely to do. They have their boundaries too. And those change and evolve just like anyone else. They’ve become these very dynamic people because they’ve existed for so long.

AL: I really hate it when actors say, “My character would never do that”. A lot of the time I think, “Just make it work”, but with this, Jasp, say, wouldn’t be happy wearing a pair of baggy pants. But it might be fun to see what happens when you put her in a pair of baggy pants.

HMA: So with those boundaries, it helps us put them into situations that they hate, which is funny. That’s what good theatre is, dynamics. So the more that we found out what they hate or love, the more we can play with the dynamic.

MM: To wrap up, in three words, why should people come to see Of Mice and Morro and Jasp?

(whispered consultation)

AL: Steinbeck meets clown. You’ve got to find out what that means!

Of Mice and Morro and Jasp
20120219-_DSC0953

Created and performed by Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee
Directed by Byron Laviolette
Presented by Up your Nose and In your Toes (U.N.I.T.) Productions & Factory Theatre

When: January 28th – February 8th, Tues-Sat 8pm, Thurs 1pm, Sat 2pm

Where: Factory Studio Theatre

Tickets: $25 Regular Price, $20 Student, Senior, Arts Worker
http://www.factorytheatre.ca/what-s-on/of-mice-and-morro-and-jasp/