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Artist Profile: Ellen Denny, Actor in LIFE AFTER

Interview by Hallie Seline

It is a pleasure to feature actor Ellen Denny who is currently starring in Britta Johnson’s new musical Life After. We spoke with her to find out a bit more about her as an artist, about her experience working on Life After, the emotional power in musicals, and a new play of her own about her great-great-aunt Harriet Brooks, one of Canada’s first female physicists. Be sure to catch Ellen on stage now in Life After at Canadian Stage until October 22nd. She’s incredible!

HS: Hi Ellen! Let’s start with getting to know you a bit more as an artist. Tell me about yourself. 

ED: Hello! I grew up in London, Ontario, trained in Halifax at Dalhousie University (BA Music & Theatre), then did some more acting training through the Citadel/Banff Program. I have been based in Toronto for about five years now, but much of that time I have spent away on contracts. I’ve started collecting provinces – this November I’m headed to Quebec, which will be my seventh! As much as the nomadic lifestyle can be tricky, I do enjoy getting to know different communities across this vast land. I perform in both musicals and plays, and have recently started writing, myself. My first full-length play is about the gender barriers faced by my great-great-aunt Harriet Brooks, one of Canada’s first female physicists.

Dan Chameroy & Ellen Denny. Photo by Michael Cooper.

HS: Amazing! Can’t wait to hear more about that in the future. What has it been like working on Life After?

ED: It is such a unique experience to work on a show that is in development, because everyday changes are being made, and the writer is right there in the room with you, and everyone is working as a team to make sure the story is being told in the clearest and strongest way possible. We had the luxury of four weeks in the rehearsal room with this piece – which runs 75 minutes – so there was opportunity to really delve in to each moment. Even though I am so excited to share Life After with an audience, I am in some ways grieving the end of rehearsals, because in this case the process was truly fulfilling.

HS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of working on Life After?

ED: Hands down, the most rewarding aspect is doing a piece by a young female writer. In this case, the incomparable Britta Johnson. A lot of the time I am telling stories written by dead white men, and so it means the world to me to interpret the work of a woman my age. There is a palpable difference in the way the character of Alice is written, because Britta understands what it is to be a young woman, and to be dealing with enormous loss in the midst of the messiness of growing up.

HS: What is your favourite aspect or moment in the show?

ED: Oof – that’s insanely hard! But one aspect of the show that I adore is our ensemble of three women (affectionately dubbed ‘The Furies’), which is a new addition since the Fringe production. Their function throughout the story is very creative and provides me with some much-needed giggles along the way.

HS: What draws you to Musical Theatre?

ED: There’s something inescapable about the emotional power of music. Something that our writer Britta Johnson harnesses expertly. It’s not just about the sung melodies, but also the instruments of the orchestration (shout out to our awesome orchestrator Lynne Shankel) that bring so many colours and feelings, things that cannot be expressed with words. For me, there’s also a sense of nostalgia in many musicals that I grew up listening to – Anne of Green Gables, Gilbert & Sullivan, all of Rodgers & Hammerstein – they bring me back to my childhood. What’s exciting about contemporary musical theatre is it’s really pushing the boundaries of the form, and I’m intrigued to see how the genre will continue to develop.

(from L to R) Ellen Denny, Trish Lindström, Tracy Michailidis, Rielle Braid, Kelsey Verzotti, Barbara Fulton, Neema Bickersteth, Anika Johnson, Dan Chameroy. Photo by Michael Cooper.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

ED: I try to see as much theatre as I can, but also other art forms: dance, opera, music, visual art. I find the work of other artists incredibly inspiring. But inspiration is everywhere. I look around the subway car and am fascinated by all the characters and stories around me.

HS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

ED: “It’s only a play.” Extremely helpful when the going gets tough! Along with that, the importance of having a life. This industry is so consuming that it can be hard to take time off to recharge or travel, but if an artist never goes out and experiences life, how can they interpret it onstage?

Ellen Denny & Tracy Michailidis. Photo by Michael Cooper.

HS: Where is your favourite place in Toronto and why?

ED: I love Cabbagetown… I’m a sucker for those heritage homes.

HS: What are you listening to/reading/watching these days?

ED: Recently binged the first season of Riverdale – a great reprieve to the intensity of rehearsals. And I’m reading Barbara Cook’s memoir. She just passed away and is forever one of my soprano inspirations.

HS: If you could take anyone out for a drink (alive or dead) who would it be and what would you want to talk about?

ED: It would be my great-great-aunt Harriet! She died in the 1930s. She didn’t leave behind a diary or anything, so sometimes in trying to write about her life I am left with BIG questions. It would be my dream to talk with her about why she made the decisions she did. And what it was really like to be a woman in science a hundred years ago. And to thank her for being a badass trail blazer.

Photo of Ellen Denny by Michael Cooper

HS: What other theatre show(s) are you most looking forward to seeing this year?

ED: I have yet to see Come From Away, so I’m excited to see it return with an all-Canadian cast. Also my friend Audrey Dwyer has her play Calpurnia at Nightwood Theatre this season. And I’d love to check out The Humans at Canadian Stage.

HS: Describe Life After in 5-10 words.

ED: The messiness of grief and the beauty of music intersect.

Life After

BOOK + MUSIC + LYRICS BY Britta Johnson
DIRECTED BY Robert McQueen
DRAMATURG Anika Johnson
SET DESIGN Brandon Kleiman
LIGHTING DESIGN Kimberly Purtell

CAST Neema Bickersteth, Rielle Braid, Dan Chameroy, Ellen Denny, Barbara Fulton, Anika Johnson, Trish Lindström, Tracy Michailidis, Kelsey Verzotti

Sixteen-year old Alice is left to navigate life after her father, a superstar self-help guru, dies in a car accident. We plunge into Alice’s overactive inner world as she tries to decipher the events that led to that fateful day. An expanded and reworked production of the hit 2016 Toronto Fringe musical, Life After is a funny and frank story of love, loss and vivid imagination from one of the most exciting new voices in Canadian musical theatre.

Canadian Stage
Berkeley Street Theatre
25 Berkeley Street

On stage until October 22nd


t – @ellen_denny

“Concord Floral: A real, raw look at teenage life.” Interview with ensemble member Rashida Shaw

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird  

SSB: How long have you been involved with this play?

Rashida Shaw: I have been involved with Concord Floral since its first workshop presentation at Canadian Stage’s Festival of Ideas and Creations in the spring of 2012. The following November, we did another workshop at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Bring The Buzz Festival. In October 2014, we presented the full 80-minute world premiere production at the Theatre Centre (co-produced by Why Not Theatre). All three iterations were drastically different from one another, yet depicted similar themes of adolescence, suburban sprawl, and modern representations of medieval images/text.

Photo by Erin Brubacher

Photo by Erin Brubacher

SSB: How has it changed from its first workshop to now?

RS: The very first workshop we did was seven pages long with very little dialogue. It relied heavily on image-based aesthetics through the use of tableaux and a projection screen that showed medieval themed paintings. The piece was largely centred around little snippets of a day at a high school and through the incorporation of live music and images; it provided a unique visceral experience for the audience.

I think this version differs from the earlier workshops as you get to learn more about each individual character: their thoughts, hopes, and fears. Having more text allows you to watch these characters go through a much more developed narrative journey. There is no projection screen and it’s a very minimal set, with a greater emphasis on sound and lightning. The first workshop was a glance into an event that took place during one day, inviting audiences into “the teenage world”. In this version, we dive to a much greater depth of what is means to be a teenager in our present day. We explore questions concerning the notion of collective responsibility, not only as young people, but as humans.

Jessica Munk, Erum Khan. Photo by Erin Brubacher.

Jessica Munk, Erum Khan. Photo by Erin Brubacher.

SSB: What has been the biggest challenge of the process?

RS: The biggest challenge of the process thus far is being true to this version’s iteration and not falling back on how I performed my role in 2014.  I’ve realized it’s been extremely difficult for me to stray away from my muscle memory of how I used to talk and move, and challenge myself to find new nuances in the role and be open to trying something different.

SSB: Why do you think this story is important?

RS: I think this story is important because it shows realistic views on what it is like to be a teenager. We are complex individuals who face heartbreak, joy, disappointment – some teenagers have to grow up before their time. The play examines topics and themes that are largely considered taboo for adults to talk about and that are especially rare for young people to be seen talking about in theatre (or any artistic medium), let alone doing. It’s important because teenagers are not what you see on a television show played by thirty year olds. They are humans living on this planet trying to figure things out just like everyone else and this show gets that.

Photo by Erin Brubacher.

Photo by Erin Brubacher.

SSB: Do you think this play is an accurate representation of your peers?

RS: I believe this play is an accurate representation of my peers because of the casual conversational style of dialogue in the play; the slang terms that come from our day-to-day life; having actual young voices and bodies on stage, and the fact that as a cast, we relate to the characters we play because they are so close to ourselves.

SSB: What’s it like working with more than one director?

RS: Well, we basically have three directors and it’s surprisingly easy and seamless for the most part. Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner, our co-directors, are like our moms and Erum Khan, our assistant director, is like our big sister (even though she’s a year younger than me). Erin and Cara are so in sync that they usually finish each other’s sentences like weird couples or identical twins. There are also times when only one of them can be at a rehearsal and we might get conflicting notes but when they’re both back in the room one of them will say: “Oh yeah, I see what you’re saying. We should try that.” They all have different yet similar styles that mesh well for us in this process. It allows us to appreciate and understand the piece and our roles through a multitude of viewpoints. One director might ask us to try to think about a line from a new perspective, another will ask us to approach something in a different way, while the other might ask how/if a specific moment felt different and why. It’s nice having different views and a sort of 360° super director. We’re very fortunate and lucky to have three cohesive directors.

Photo by Erin Brubacher

Photo by Erin Brubacher

SSB: Why do you do theatre?

RS: In grade 5, I played The Grinch in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and was bit by the acting bug. I do theatre specifically because it’s a living, changing thing; you never know what’s going to happen with live art and that’s what’s so exciting and what keeps it fresh. Audiences are a big part of that through the give and take between performer and viewer. When I hear their first reaction, I’m like “Ok, now we’re in the same world, now we can play.” I do theatre because I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t. It’s my greatest passion and it brings me the most joy in life (next to food of course).

SSB: Who do you think this play will speak to?

RS: Anyone who has ever been a teenager.

Photo by Erin Brubacher

Photo by Erin Brubacher

Concord Floral

A Brubacher / Spooner / Tannahill production presented by Canadian Stage


Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directors | Erin Brubacher & Cara Spooner
Assistant Director | Erum Khan
Lighting Design | Kimberley Purtell
Sound Design | Christopher Willes
Sound Consultant | Matthew Pencer
Stage Manager | Chad Dembski

A haunting tale set around Concord Floral, once a million square foot abandoned greenhouse and hangout for neighbourhood kids in Vaughan, Concord Floral re-imagines Giovanni Boccaccio’s 13th century literary masterpiece The Decameron in a contemporary Canadian suburb, in which ten teens must flee a plague they have brought upon themselves. This Canadian Stage production brings together ten youth performers from the GTA and across the country to play ten teenagers (plus a fox, a bird, a couch, and a greenhouse), in this piece about beauty, cruelty, mercy and the modern adolescent experience.

Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street)

September 27 – October 16


facebook – Canadian Stage
twitter – @canadianstage
hashtag – #csConcord




In Conversation with Julia Krauss of “Orpheus and Eurydice”

by Bailey Green

The tale has been told for centuries in many ways but in basic terms the story of Orpheus and Eurydice goes something like this: Eurydice and Orpheus fall in love. One day Eurydice enters the forest and is bitten by a snake. She succumbs to poison and dies. Orpheus enters the Underworld to find his love and with his beautiful singing, charms Hades. Hades permits Orpheus to lead Eurydice out of the underworld on one condition – that Orpheus must not look back at her. Not once. But as they walk, Orpheus cannot contain his fear. He looks back and Eurydice is lost to him forever.

Four years ago, co-directors Julia Krauss and Nicholas Walsh were living in Kitchener. After seeing a version of Orpheus and Eurydice at Ghost River Theatre in Calgary, they were intrigued by the imagery of this myth. Walsh at the time was running a youth company, and so Krauss and Walsh decided to work with teens using the myth as a jumping off point. What emerged was a story of youth and first love, pain and loss.

The piece toured for two years to high schools in Southern Ontario. “Last year, when we moved to Toronto,” Krauss says, “we wondered how and if the show would change if we worked with adult performers on it. Once you’re older, there’s a different kind of life experience.” Krauss and Walsh assembled a collective of twenty performers—young professionals who have finished their education in dance, theatre or physical theatre. “We were intrigued by what breaks a relationship apart, what will break that deal between two people,” Krauss says. “And the bodies are older, so they tell a different story.”

Walsh and Krauss are partners in life and in theatre. “We see ourselves as context keepers, the people who put the ends together,” Krauss says of their work in devised theatre. “We’re interested in collective collaboration work that shows the final product. Everyone is passionate about it, and that shows in the final project.” Walsh, a drummer with a love for basketball, has a great sense of organization on stage and a strong awareness of sound and music. Krauss describes herself as a visual person, finding imagery in bodies and their shapes. “We balance each other out in that regard,” Krauss says of Walsh. “When we first did the piece, it was a celebration of our partnership. And so it’s been really lovely to revisit it. Being in a committed relationship is not always roses and sunshine, which we can explore with an older cast because they have had similar experience.”

Julia Krauss was born and raised in Germany and left when she was 19. Two years later she came to Canada and discovered that her accent created barriers for her to get involved with theatre. “I felt reminded that I am different,” Krauss said, “and it became something I was aware of because of casting directors. But when I worked with Majdi Bou-Matar at the MT space, he is all about celebrating cultural background. The work [we were doing] was created through improv and for the first time I felt free. That was my personal entry to devised work. Suddenly I fit in and was recognized for what Majdi called my ‘German expressionism’.”

Krauss feels grateful and inspired to work with a large ensemble of courageous and open artists. “One of my mentors when I first went into devised work told me why would you rely on your own brain when you have twenty to twenty-five people in the room?” Krauss remembers. “Everyone has a voice and story, and we, as directors, keep the bigger picture in mind […] but I love the rehearsal process. It’s a beautiful thing to watch people share and offer something really vulnerable.” Krauss hopes the piece asks audiences to consider what it takes to stay in a “functioning, fluid human relationship with another person,” and consider what may hold us back from truly embracing another person.

Orpheus and Eurydice

O&E-10_10_10 ad (1)

Presented by Theatre TOnight

performed by
/ rhiannon bronnimann
/ cheryl chan
/ roberto ercoli
/ mateo galindo torres
/ vivek hariharan
/ marion henkelmann
/ julia hussey
/ sarah ignaczewski
/ mamito kukwikila
/ diana luong
/ brittany miranda
/ damian norman
/ brian postalian
/ amanda pye
/ hugh ritchie
/ shakeil rollock
/ kyle shields
/ dylan shumka-white
/ elizabeth stuart-morris
/ kathia wittenborn

directed by
/ julia krauss
/ nicholas walsh”

“two people meet.
they fall in love. and it is thrilling. it is soft.
but it is also consuming and exhausting.

orpheus & eurydice
is an invitation to reflect on past and current relationships,
to wonder what could have been,
and to embrace what is now.

through the context of the myth, it presents
an emotionally raw and
physically captivating
exploration of our desire
for connection.

The Berkeley Street Rehearsal Hall, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto

March 16 – 20, 2016
Wed Mar 16, 9pm
Thurs Mar 17, 9pm
Fri Mar 18, 9pm
Sat Mar 19, 8pm
Sun Mar 20, 8pm

20 adult / $15 student, senior, or artsworker

For more information, visit their website here. 



On Our Radar TO: Get Stoked for Theatre this Holiday Season


With the world slowing down a little for the holidays, now is the time to kick back, relax and spend some time with the ones you love. What better way to cap off 2013 than to enjoy one of these fine productions. They’re a little bit naughty and a little bit nice… just the right amount to spice up your holiday life. These shows are On Our Radar, Toronto, and we think you should get stoked for theatre this Holiday Season!


Venus in Fur

By David Ives, presented by Canadian Stage


“A young actress determined to land the lead plays a cat-and-mouse game with the play’s director.”

This is a remount of the production that ran in the fall and be glad it’s back! This is a production that you need to put at the top of your to-see list this holiday season and catch it before it goes again. Not only is this production sexy, smart and funny, Carly Street’s sharp, seamless performance is a marvel to watch. If that doesn’t convince you, we suppose you’ll just have to mosey on down to the theatre and let this production put you in the mood.

Where: Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley

When: December 13th-29th, Tue-Sat 7pm, mat Sat-Sun 1pm (Dec 24th at 1pm; no shoes Dec 25-26)

Tickets: $24-$59, 416-368-3110,


Weather the Weather or how we make it home together!

By Haley McGee, presented by Theatre Columbus


“In an original fairy tale by Toronto playwright, Haley McGee, a young girl must outwit trolls and gnomes in this outdoor production for all ages.”

A perfect show for the whole family or to reconnect with your inner child, this outdoor play unfolds in the historic Evergreen Brickworks with magic, adventure, a great cast and enough charm to warm even the coldest winter-begrudging hearts. With that in mind, dress warmly and be sure to catch this lovely Canadian gem this holiday season.

Where: Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview

When: December 11th-29th (no shows December 17th & 24th-26th) Tue-Sun 8pm, mat December 21st & 23rd 5pm

Tickets: $12.50-$32 416-504-7529,


Elizabeth – Darcy: An Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

By Hallie Burt and Kate Werneburg, presented by Burt and Werneburg


“In Regency England, Elizabeth Bennet, a bright, spirited, young woman, meets the wealthy and arrogant Mr. Darcy. Their first impressions are challenged and finally overturned, as over time, they come to respect, admiration, and true love. Join Burt and Werneburg as they create an exciting period piece that illuminates a universal human experience through immersion, humour, and investment.”

Clever and charming, this 2013 Toronto Fringe two-hander deserved this remount in the historic Campbell House Museum. This entertaining and inventive adaptation is definitely on our radar for the holidays, and of particular note is the sharp skill in which Burt and Werneburg flip between their cast of characters.

Where: The Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen Street West

When: December 14th – 29th 2pm & 8pm (check online for specific dates and times)

Tickets: $20, 416-597-0227×2

Evil Dead – The Musical

By Christopher Bond, George Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla and Melissa Morris, presented by Starvox Entertainment/Jeffrey Latimer Entertainment


“The musical based on the Evil Dead film franchise returns home for its 10th anniversary.”

On the flip side, if you’ve had enough of holiday cheer, why not fill your December with some horror, blood and gore with a mixture of song and dance, of course. You’re sure to have a bloody good time!

Where: Randolph Theatre, 736 Bathurst

When: October 29th– January 5th Tue-Thu 8pm, Fri-Sat 7pm and 10:30pm, Sun 3pm.

Tickets: $19.99-$79.99



By Miklós László, adapted by Adam Pettle & Brenda Robins, presented by Soulpepper


“By great demand, the award-winning, heart-warming holiday hit returns! In this uproarious comedy for the whole family, that forms the basis for both The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail, two shop clerks kindle a tender love affair through anonymous letters while they unwittingly squabble with one another in person.”

Between the lavish set, vivacious staging, live music elements and charming, smile-inducing performances, Parfumerie is a feel-good feast for the soul. If you’re looking to stay in the holiday mood, head on down to the Distillery District to catch this seamless performance.

Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill

When: November 28th – December 28th

Tickets: $32-$68, 416-866-8666,

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