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Posts tagged ‘canstage’

The Memo: A Satire of Bureaucracy

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I interviewed Tyler Seguin, director, and Helen Juvonen, producer and actor, of Thought for Food’s “The Memo” to talk about the show and their intriguing Kickstarter campaign.

MM: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about The Memo?

HJ: The Memo is a play by Vaclav Havel and we are presenting the Canadian premiere of a translation by Paul Wilson, who is also Canadian. I call it a satire of bureaucracy. What do you call it?

TS: A workplace comedy.

HJ: A workplace comedy! Plot wise, it’s in this nameless organization, which is probably a government agency of some kind, but we never actually find out what they do or what their function is. The main character, Andrew Gross, receives this memo, written in Ptydepe, which is an artificial language that has been introduced into the organization to streamline office communication and he spends the rest of the show trying to get it translated because he doesn’t understand it.

MM: And that’s the irony of the situation and he can’t read the memo and it’s supposed to streamline communication. 

TS: Exactly! And very few people in the organization know the language, and those who do know it are under mounds of red tape, so that they can’t actually do any translations for anyone.

MM: What was it about this play that made you want to produce it?

HJ: I produced a previous translation in 1999. Then, when CanStage was doing Rock and Roll, Paul Wilson was consulting on it.

TS: Rock and Roll was partially about a Czech rock band called The Plastic People of the Universe. Paul Wilson was the lead singer and guitarist for this rock band for a number of years during the 70s. Because he’s Canadian, he was deported for being seditious. This rock band became sort of a focal movement, and focal point of the dissident movement of the anti-Communist uprising. And that’s how he met Havel.

HJ: So Paul Wilson was a consultant on the production at CanStage, and in his bio, it said that he was currently working on a translation of this play. And went “Gasp! I have to do this play! I have to get my hands on this play!” And Tyler tracked down an email and said that we’d like to do the translation and he put us in touch with Havel’s literary agent in the Czech Republic and we got a copy of the new translation.

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MM: Do you know if this play has been produced anywhere? I know you said it was the Canadian premiere.

TS: It’s been done once before that we know of, that Paul knows of, and that was as part of a Havel festival in New York.

MM: That’s an exciting thing, that you are one of the first to produce this play. Do you feel like there’s any responsibility to that?

(They pause.)

TS: Yes.

(They laugh.)

HJ: It’s a little nerve wracking. This is the first time we’ve worked on a published play where we’re actually in contact with the translator. I feel like we owe him something. We owe him a good production at the end of the day.

TS: We’ve been in touch with Paul quite a lot. He’s been very supportive. We’ve talked to him about issues in the play, and ways we want to approach it and things like that, and he’s been great, he’s been really on board. But it does put a bit of pressure on us to do justice.

MM: So you’ve been getting some extra insight from the translator then?

HJ: It’s really interesting because he was friends with Havel. So we feel like we have an inside track.

TS: There was one thing we really had to talk to him about. We were like, “Well, we really want to make this little change…”

HJ: Ha! Little change!

TS: And he said, “Hmm. Well, I think Havel would approve!”

HJ: And that was the stamp of approval we needed. And the other reason that we wanted to do this play was a place we were working for… I don’t think we should say where. (She laughs)

TS: Shall we say a branch of the Ontario government?

HJ: Yes, a branch of the Ontario government. And we were going through some rather grotesque bureaucratic nightmares with them and at that time I told Tyler he should read the previous translation. “You’ll love this, this will totally make sense” and he read it and was like, “This is what’s going on in my life right now!” so when we had the opportunity to work on this new translation, we now have an inside track on what it’s trying to say because we’ve gone through something emotionally similar. There’s an emotional resonance in this play that we actually lived through ourselves. And we wanted to do this play several years ago now. As we were trying to get the script and figure out if we had the money to do it, Havel passed away. He passed away in 2011. And all the rights were put on hold. They froze his estate. So we couldn’t perform the play. And it was about a year ago that the agent called and said “You can do it now!”

MM: That’s ironic that just as you’re getting ready to do this play, you end up with bureaucratic red tape in your way.

HJ: Exactly! It’s thematic at least. And now we’ve got the time and we were able to pay the up front costs.

MM: How long ago was the play first written?

HJ: It was first performed in 1965.

MM: Do you think something that isn’t modern or a new play still has a resonance for an audience today?

HJ: It’s kind of creepy that the play was written about Communist Czechoslovakia and it’s like it could have been written today. Part of that is the translation, because Paul is Canadian. But the language doesn’t feel old, and he uses Canadian idioms as well, so it feels modern.

TS: It feels very “of the now”, but what’s fascinating is that the themes of the play, the characters, and bureaucracy hasn’t changed in at least fifty years, probably longer. So, when I read it, I recognized the characters, I’ve worked with these people, and I’ve had to go through these weird situations. Corporate culture is corporate culture. And apparently it’s always been like that. There are arbitrary rules and people who adapt to strange social norms without really thinking about it. Trying to do anything you can to appear busy without actually doing any work is such a running theme in this show, and is very much a theme of the place where I was working at the time. It definitely says something to a modern audience.

HJ: Any time I explain the show to someone, they go “Oh I get that”. I talk about this new language that’s supposed to make things more efficient, and they go “Oh yeah I get that!” I talk to people that were at their place of business when things moved over into computers, and it sounds like the exact same thing. “This is supposed to make your life more efficient” but it ends up causing more problems.

TS: Even the idea of a new language. Havel was in a lot of ways pointing at the Communist party’s corporation of language into propaganda at the time. But you see it today, you see it in corporate culture all the time. I can’t say the word “innovation” anymore without irony to it.

MM: My favourite one is “connectitude”.

TS: And does that mean anything?

MM: It does not!

TS: Exactly! Corporate speak and jargon.

HJ: We’re also seeing it in our government right now with the Fair Elections Act. Is it really about fair elections? And that twist of language.

TS: Or any time a Conservative minister gets up and says, “I’d like to provide some clarity” and you know they’re going to talk about something else. Words don’t mean what they mean anymore. They just use them as noise to confuse everyone and obfuscate and that’s very much in the play. They literally bring in a whole new language that they say is supposed to be more efficient but actually just confuses everyone and causes total chaos.

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MM: Why don’t you tell me about your Kickstarter project? 

HJ: We call it the “Give Us an Hour of Your Time” campaign because we’re asking people to donate the equivalent of one hour of their wages. That actually came about as an idea related to a Pay What You Can Performance. People are always confused about how much to pay for PWYC. “I don’t know how much to give you. Is $10 okay?” And now there are signs that state a recommended donation, and I thought, well what is a fair amount to pay? I suppose an hour of my time. I’m going to see a show for an hour or two, so an hour of my time for an hour of entertainment. And then I started joking that it would be great if a CEO came to the show and gave us an hour of his time, because then he’d pay for the whole show. We thought it was an appropriate theme because it’s set in a workplace, so a great thematic tie-in.

TS: Also Havel was a very political author, and there’s a lot of talk right now about the income gap and wage equality and the whole minimum wage debate that went on and is still going on. And we thought, we’re doing a show about workers that is inherently political at a time when that is a resonant thing, so we might as well make a statement with it, in a way that I think Havel would have liked.

MM: I thought your reward levels on your Kickstarter campaign were interesting.

TS: As part of the “Give Us an Hour of Your Time”, we looked at what an hour of different people’s time is worth using some Stats Canada and other publicly available information.

HJ: We had to do some massaging a little bit because there’s no clear hourly wage for say, a lawyer, but it’s all pretty accurate. We started at $10, which is as close to our minimum wage as Kickstarter would let us get (they don’t like decimal points), and then the next step up is average Canadian, who apparently makes $23/hr and then senator at $65, and the 1% threshold, which is shockingly low. Yes, $92/hr is still impressive…

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MM: But to think that the people who run our country are making less than $100/hr. makes you think.

HJ: And maybe that’s just in Canada. We don’t have a super wide disparity of wealth and non-wealth.

TS: I think it’s amazing just how big the swath of the 1% is in Canada. ‘Because you do have people who are making like, 30 billion dollars a year, some really obscene figures like that, but you could be one of the top income earners in Canada with less than $100/hr.

HJ: And we have Prime Minister, who makes $154/hr. All these are averaged on a 40 hour work week and a 52 week year, but I know that people work more or less than that.

TS: There’s average lawyer, $301/hr and average CEO who apparently makes $631/hr and the top CEO is something like $7200/hr.

HJ: An hour! AN HOUR! So if just one of those top earner CEOs were to give us an hour of their time, they would give us our Kickstarter goal twice over.

TS: When we were setting our target, we thought, well what do we need to put the show up? And we decided it was about $3500. And when we saw that the top CEO was $7281, we thought, close enough; we’ll just make it half of that, so 30 minutes of a CEOs time will pay for our goal.

HJ: We’re doing this show as an Equity collective, which means that no one is getting paid up front. People only get paid if we cover our expenses and make a profit. And with all the actors and the people behind the scenes, there are 17 people involved. We haven’t done it yet, but I really want to sit down and find out how many hours work hours have gone into this show, so that people can see how much people have already donated of their time to make the show happen. It’s going to be astronomical because we’re looking at over 100 rehearsal hours, multiple people per rehearsal, and then all the time that’s already been put into it. So it’s not unreasonable to ask for an hour of your time considering everything that goes into it.

TS: People seem to be overwhelmed by all the different things that are going on. There are some great projects and ideas on Kickstarter and Indiegogo and GoFundMe and people don’t know what to donate to or don’t know what an appropriate amount is. So we’ve tried to make it simple and maybe fun. If you make $14/hr, then $14 is an appropriate donation.

HJ: It’s funny to see how literally some people are taking it. Some odd dollar amounts are being given to us, and I love it! I love that somebody actually figured out how much they made and decided to contribute. And someone was like, “Well, I’m not a senator, but I like the title, so I’m going to donate at that level”. People are having fun with it, and that’s great.

TS: This is an exciting opportunity to bring to a Toronto stage an author who is so rarely done and in a fresh new translation by a Canadian, so we’re really enthusiastic about the production and hope that people can donate.

The Memo

Written by Václav Havel, translated by Paul Wilson, presented by Thought for Food Productions

The Memo3
When: April 23rd-May 10th
Where: Unit 102 Theatre
Facebook Page
Kickstarter Campaign Reference (Unfortunately the Kickstarter Campaign has is past its end date but fortunately they exceeded their goal in a 24 hour challenge! BUT… Of course you can still contribute to Thought for Food Productions by BUYING YOUR TICKETS to The Memo IN ADVANCE!)

10 Toronto Theatre Things to Look Forward to in 2012

By: Alex Johnson

Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi at Soulpepper

I missed this Best New Play winner at Fringe last summer, and regretted it. I’ve always been a quiet admirer of Ins Choi (a Soulpepper Academy alumnus and an actor who manages to find why those peripheral parts are in the script, and elevate them from walk-on role to scene-stealer). At first it seems out of step that Soulpepper would add a Fringe winner to their docket of “important” and “time-tested” classics. But the Soulpepper website calls Kim’s Convenience a “Toronto classic in the making.” Props to Soulpepper for recognizing and nurturing a more localized “classic” and props to Ins Choi for writing it. It makes for a hell of a good underdog story.

Kim’s Convenience plays January 12th – February 11th at the Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts. More information available at or

Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Presents Beckett: Feck It! at Canadian Stage

Illustration by Marilyn Koop

The title notwithstanding, I am surprised to find myself so excited about this show. I am not a Beckett fan, so the idea of sitting through a Beckett-themed musical evening shouldn’t sit right with me. However, I can’t help thinking that if anything can shed some light on Beckett, and possibly change my mind about him, it’s going to be the combined energies of Laura Condlln, Jennifer Tarver, Tom Rooney and a smattering of contemporary Irish composers. And who am I kidding…the title kind of clinches it. Maybe Canadian Stage will hand out more of those slightly naughty buttons like they did at Krapp’s Last Tape.

Beckett: Feck It! Plays February 17th – 25th at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs. For more information  or

Arts cuts by City Hall

It hurts our wallets, our functionality, our sense of protection and calm. But historically, Toronto always produces incredible work when our funding gets axed. The community bands together and breaks new ground, flipping a well-crafted bird to the higher-ups. Look at what happened with Summerworks in 2011. I, for one, would wish away the budget cuts if I could, but intend on embracing them when they come. Strange as it is, I look forward to seeing what remarkable things happen when we get put inside the pressure cooker.

I probably wouldn’t be so doe-eyed about it if I had the job responsibilities of Matthew Jocelyn….

Penny Plain by Ronnie Burkett at Factory Theatre

I can’t stress enough how everyone should see the work of The Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes. It ain’t for kids, though it might make you feel like one. I dare even the hardest, crustiest cynics to not be blissfully caught off guard. Seriously. If you’re totally unaffected, send me your address and I’ll mail you a Radiohead album. I’ll assume that’s what you listen to…

Penny Plain plays January 20th – February 26th at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. For ticket information (and a great video interview with Ronnie Burkett) check out  

Closer by Patrick Marber, Mnemonic Theatre Productions

This play made the list because I see it as a diamond in the rough. The cast is relatively unknown, the director is new on the scene; but going to this production will give you the thrill of feeling that you’ve discovered something special and substantial before anyone else has – like how I felt when I got the first Arcade Fire album weeks before it aired on Much Music. I would be very surprised if these young, up-and-coming artists weren’t on many more “Top” lists in the years to come. Not to mention, the play is infinitely better than the film – as is often the case – so exorcise Julia Roberts from your brain and go check out the real deal.

Closer plays February 1st-4th at the Winchester Theatre in Cabbagetown. For more information visit

The new “Theatre trailer” and online promotions

I get sick kicks out of sitting down on YouTube and searching for trailers and promotional videos for theatrical productions. I’ve seen some bombs, and I’ve seen some goodies (anyone remember the Jersey Shore transcripts done in the style of Oscar Wilde that promoted The Importance of Being Earnest on Broadway?). It’s interesting to see the creative ways in which people build interest for a live medium through a recorded medium, and I think that with each passing year we are going to see that creativity produce some pretty spectacular efforts. Who will have the most effective, ludicrous, sensational promotional video of 2012?

If you haven’t seen the Earnest Playbill promotions, just YouTube “jersey shore oscar wilde”. And enjoy.

The Year of the Playwright?

Is it? Maybe? Fingers crossed. I can only hope that we are moving into a revamped era where people aren’t just writing great Canadian plays, but they are being produced, watched, and taken seriously. I think that voices like Hannah Moscovitch and Anunsee Roy are showing us that the appetite for new plays is there, and following their example, more young artists are going out on a playwright’s limb. I think that very soon, the playwright will once again be a commanding force of a nature in Canadian theatre (I leave that to better people than I). 2012 is only going to bring us one step closer to that.

There are tons of great writing and creation workshops out there, so keep your ear to the ground. I’ll keep you posted through as they pop up.

The Neverending Story at Toronto’s Theatre for Young People

As if this needs any explanation. If you were born in the eighties, raised in the 90s, had even a smidge of a child’s imagination, and owned a VCR…this is a big moment in Canadian theatre for you. Atreyu and Bastian and the Childlike Empress on stage together? Live?? In the flesh?? I might have to knock me down some toddlers to get to the front row. All’s fair in Fantastica, the Land of Stories.

The Neverending Story plays February 27th-March 17th at Young People’s Theatre (it was never the Lorraine Kimsa to me!) For more information, check out There are cheapie tickets, too!

Groundling Theatre Company

Sometimes I think that every six days there is a Shakespearean start-up venture in Toronto (God knows I’ve been a part of my share). His work is like actor crack: sexy, high-stakes, showy, language that is almost edible. Everyone has an opinion on Shakespeare, and everyone wants to put their stamp on the canon. But when I heard about Groundling Theatre Company, a new Shakespeare company founded by Graham Abbey….well, I think it’s good news for all of us. Abbey knows what he is doing. He has been wrestling with the great roles and the great plays his entire career, has been mentored by the very best, and remains a staple of classical theatre in Canada. We need good Shakespeare, and I’m pleased as punch that he is helping an initiative to do just that. Although their first production isn’t slated until 2013, keep your ears clean and your eyes open and you may hear tell of something. Abbey will also be returning to Stratford for the Festival’s 2012 season. It’s a quick drive for a big treat!

For more information, you can look at their website,

The Tennessee Williams Project

Something is a-brewing in the Toronto theatre scene; something built off a love for Toronto, a need for community, a sense of artistic curiosity, and a hot and heavy love of Tennessee. The details are in the works, but we at will keep you posted.

Welcome into the Green Room

green·room [green-room, -room] – the green room is that space in a theatre or studio which accommodates performers not yet required on stage. The green room functions as a waiting room, or as a touch-up lounge so that a performer may be immediately available for a call to the stage. 

I haven’t always been the creative type. Becoming an actor was a big shock to my parents, friends and was even a pretty big shock to myself. But the ‘actor lifestyle’ has always seemed attractive to me. No, it’s not the bohemian, starving artist, “How we gonna pay this year’s rent” way of living that roped me in but it was the sense of community and family and belonging that really convinced me to take my life in this particular direction. I’ve always aimed to create a community that is intimate, supportive and artistic amongst my peers but those things are hard to find when you grow up in a suburb lacking in creative outlets. It’s really not until now, at this point in my life that I’ve found a fantastic group of artists of all mediums who are willing to challenge each other in a healthy, loving way. I’ve certainly been blessed in many ways in this past year. I’ve been surrounded by a very creative group of people, I’ve had a fairly steady flow of work and I’ve moved to the heart of one of the world’s most vibrant, vivacious cities in which I’m constantly surprised and inspired.

Yet as an emerging artist, of course there are definite struggles and slow periods. There have been times when I’ve had to balance three or four ‘joe jobs’, while tired and financially unstable, itching to be on a stage. In these past few months I’ve grown impatient, I’m not going to lie. I’ve been waiting for my phone to buzz with an offer on the other end that I just can’t refuse. But that’s not the way the world works, is it?

So why wait? If I can’t be on stage just yet, well then I can wait in the Green Room. You see, Toronto has been my Green Room this past year. When I’m not on stage I can still remain active inside the community and be stimulated by a variety of art forms. I can meet actors, painters, photographers, film makers, dancers and I can utilize their talents to teach me a few things. That is why I, along with Hallie and other members of our team, have collaborated to make this space for all artists. We want to intersect with those who are eager to create but just can’t find their way to the spotlight yet.  Let this space inspire you, challenge you, teach you and greet you. We are embracing Toronto with open minds and warm spirits and we’re letting the city educate us. Toronto is our Green Room. Everything we learn in and about this city, we’re going to share it here with you first.  So don’t be a stranger. Think of us as your company members, just hanging out, waiting with you to be called onto stage.

So welcome. I hope you like it here.

Warmest regards,

Erin Reznick