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Posts tagged ‘Children’s Theatre’

Artist Profile: It’s Not Easy Being Green… But It Feels Pretty Great – Michelle Nash and Andrew Di Rosa of The Lower Ossington Theatre’s Shrek The Musical

Interview by: Brittany Kay

An interview for CP24

An interview for CP24

We sat down with Michelle Nash and Andrew Di Rosa to talk about life after theatre school, the impact of theatre for children and their dream roles coming to life in The Lower Ossington Theatre’s current production of Shrek The Musical.

BK: This isn’t the first time the two of you have met?

MN: No. We went to the joint Theatre and Drama Studies program at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College but we were in two separate years.

BK: Have you worked together before?

MN: We worked in the University’s Erindale Fringe one act festival in a musical actually. But we’ve come such a long way since then.

ADR: Oh it’s astronomical.

BK: What about life after theatre school? What has happened between graduation until now?

MN: It’s been a year and a half since I’ve graduated. I’ve been doing a lot children’s theatre. This is the first big tech heavy, cool show I’ve gotten to do. It’s been pretty amazing being out of school. You settle into life. I feel like I’ve learned more about acting this past year, because of life experience and the practicality that allows you to apply what you have learned from school to the real world. The more shows that I do, I find, the better I get and the more comfortable I get when things go wrong, which they always do. That’s theatre for you.

ADR: I’ve just graduated. Right out of school I got a feature film from Theatre Ontario, which I did in August. That was a huge step for me because I came out of school trained heavily for theatre. I remember the director had to pull me aside and say “Hey, this is a movie now… take it down a bit.” That was a tough struggle trying to navigate those two mediums but coming back into the theatre world with Shrek was like home territory for me. It’s been such an incredible feeling.

BK: Yes! So then Shrek happened…

ADR: When I found out the LOT was doing Shrek The Musical, it was a done deal. I walked into that room and I was like “I have to get this part and I will do anything for this part!” It’s one of my dream roles.

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

BK: And it’s one of your dream roles too, Michelle!

MN: Yeah, it’s funny. We used to talk about Shrek in school, and we were obsessed. It’s just so funny that it actually happened in such a great way.

BK: When I saw the casting I was like “I die…this couldn’t be more perfectly suited to the two of you”. 

ADR: And we swore we would play these parts together. Like a joke. One of those “Michelle, one day it would be cool to be the Shrek to your Fiona.” And then literally a year later I get to fall in love with her every night.

BK: And how is the falling in love? How’s being on stage as friends together?

ADR: It’s amazing. It’s business as usual

MN: It’s easy. We both trained at the same school and know where each of us is coming from. We both just feel it. It’s almost like a scene study every night.

BK: What is the play like? People might expect it to be like the movie. How does it differ? Will their expectations be altered when they see it?

ADR: The character development is so much stronger than in the movie. You are much more invested in the characters. The songs really do that.

MN: The fairy tale characters are so minor in the movie, but in the musical, they’re very relevant. They are completely three dimensional and fleshed out.

ADR: They carry the message of the story. There are so many characters you gloss over in the movie, which is the opposite in the play.


BK: Talk to me about your director Seanna Kennedy?

MN: She specializes in children’s theatre, but this show is more than that. This show is really for the kids and she really catered to that. We have such a good team coming together to create the show. With us two, she knew how much we loved the roles and let us explore our ideas. She gave us such creative freedom.

ADR: Because we know the roles so well, we got to play with them. I feel so close to Shrek. I know who he is and what he wants and where he’s going and that’s important to an actor.

MN: The only thing I struggle with secretly is the dancing. I don’t tap…well now I do! I’m so glad Seanna took a chance and gave it to me.  I think she knew that as an actor, I could do justice to the role.

ADR: The show for me is tremendously difficult. There are some tough songs.

MN: He’s got fifteen ballads!

ADR: Literally the second act is like ballad after ballad. Plus I’m doing a Scottish accent. Plus I have a mask on my head.

BK: Yes, oh my gosh the make up! Tell me about the make up process? It looks so intense.

photo 2

MN: We had to get our facemasks done. Mine is a transformation in three minutes with a different wig, fat suit and a prosthetic nose. Andrew’s is a whole other story.

ADR: They pull on a skin tight, foam rubber head that only exposes my eyes, cheeks and mouth. They spray paint my face green. For the first couple of times, I was a little scared. Later on, they drilled holes in the ears for better sound but it wasn’t enough. So I wear a transponder with earphones throughout the whole show and I hear everything! It’s like mini monitor.

MN: And he can’t even take them out during the whole show.

ADR: The sacrifices I’ve made for that head piece are so worth it because of how incredible it looks. I walk out on stage sometimes and people applaud. They’ve done a fantastic job with the costumes and puppetry in this show.

BK: What are the best aspects of this show, for yourself and for the audience?

ADR: The song right before Act One intermission called “Who I’d Be”. It’s the song that made me fall in love with the musical.

MN: “Morning Person” is the song that made me fall in love with Shrek and I’ve used it for many auditions. Getting to do a song you do for auditions on stage is such an interesting experience. It’s such a difference to do it full out with props… it just completely comes to life, making it so satisfying to perform.

BK: And for the audience?

MN: I think, “I got you Beat.”

ADR: That’s the one that really gets the audience. It’s the moment when you feel that everyone is with you.

MN: The song has farting and burping in it and once that happens people understand what the show is. It’s always a guaranteed laugh.

ADR: You can feel the energy in the whole room.

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

MN: Also “Freak Flag!” That song is one of my favourites in the show. All the fairy tale characters just come alive.

ADR: It’s also that message that’s prevalent throughout the show – that you can be different. Embrace yourself.

MN: There was one kid opening night that had down syndrome and during that song he just stood up and started dancing! It was an incredible moment for all of us on stage and in the audience.

BK: The kids have to make the show for you. I’m sure they wait for you at the stage door.

ADR: They love the show. They appreciate every aspect of it. There was this one boy who asked for every single character by name at the stage door wanting their autograph.

BK: Kids are so affected by theatre and it’s incredible to see how much of an impression it makes on them.

ADR: It’s what makes it worth doing this show every night.


BK: Being an emerging artist, do you have any advice for your fellow actors?

MN: I think we’re still trying to figure it out ourselves.

ADR: Personally, holding back on getting an outside job right away helped me focus more. It gave me time to go out to every audition. Not having any anchor to a job is what helped me get these roles. I was always ready and willing with anything that came my way.

MN: I have the opposite experience. I have a lot of jobs. I think it’s funny, sometimes I wish I didn’t have all of these jobs, but truth be told, living in Toronto is expensive! You gotta eat. Thankfully, I have jobs that understand what I do  and give me time off when I need to do a show. But it’s hard. My advice is: Be accepting of the fact that for however long it takes you, you’re kind of going to be in the shits for a bit. You are going to be working so many jobs, but you can take things out of every experience. With serving, for example, you learn from all the different types of people that surround you and as an actor I’ve grown from that. Also, I don’t even have an agent yet.

BK: Which is so interesting because you’re always working!

MN: It just hasn’t been my focus right now because I’ve been so busy with shows. I take any opportunity that comes my way. And I’m still alive. I have a roof over my head, which is all I really need. Young actors need to understand that you’re aren’t going to have a lot of money for a while.

ADR: You’re going to have to work hard. Network. Listen to others. Pay attention. And be unknown for a very long time, which is a different feeling coming out of the small community that is theatre school. In this industry, even if you think you’re the greatest…you still have to put in the work.

MN: Even with the LOT, I’ve done five shows with them. This is first time I’ve had a lead. I’ve had to work hard and dedicate myself.

photo 1

Andrew Di Rosa and Michelle Nash as Shrek and Princess Fiona


Favourite Musical

ADR: Into the Woods
MN: The Last Five Years

Favourite Book

ADR: The Hours
MN: Harry Potter… duh!

Favourite TV Show

ADR: The Sopranos
MN: The Real World Challenge or Top Chef…Love my Reality TV.

Guilty Pleasure

ADR: Subway
MN: Red Bull

Best Advice You’ve Ever Gotten

MN: My drama teacher in high school told me, you’re going to be poor and in debt anyways so you might as well choose where you want to go. I kind of live by that.

ADR: Holger Syme from our university, UTM… He said go out there and see other people’s work. People won’t come see yours if you don’t see theirs. That’s how our community is going to thrive, by supporting each other.

The Lower Ossington Theatre presents Shrek The Musical


When: On now until October 19th
Where: Randolph Theatre, 736 Bathurst Street

Following Your Bliss with Gregory Prest & Raquel Duffy of Alligator Pie

Interview by: Hallie Seline

Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie in Rehearsal – Raquel Duffy, Mike Ross, Gregory Prest Photo credit – Nathan Kelly

Hallie Seline: Why Alligator Pie? Why Dennis Lee? How did this all come about?

Gregory Prest: Well, Soulpepper already had a working connection to Dennis through Mike Ross, another member of the Ensemble. Mike grew up writing a bunch of music to his adult poetry and children’s poetry. A few years ago he met Dennis through Soulpepper and put together a show called Civil Elegies, a one-man show that Mike wrote the music for. Dennis Lee is also a resident artist of the Young Centre so he’s around the building. It kind of seemed like an obvious choice. He was very gracious to give us the rights for us to do it.

HS: Beyond that, was there something specific about his work that made you, as the Ensemble, want to play with it?

Raquel Duffy: It was actually presented to the five of us, called the Creative Ensemble (Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross) as a suggestion. They just sort of said, how about Alligator Pie as an option to create a show? We were left with all of his books and children’s poems and started workshopping it. So although it was kind of given to us as an idea instead of us generating that idea, we just sort of took off with it! It was so fun and easy creating work with it that it just seemed natural to us. It didn’t feel forced or difficult to generate material at all. It started to flow so organically.

GP: The material itself is just so fun. I mean ‘fun’ is such a stupid word but it’s true! What I love about it is, and maybe Dennis would disagree, but it doesn’t try to teach kids anything more than just sort of reveling in the present. From the feeling of playing in a puddle to being with your sister or moments that are just fun and exciting, it’s about word play and nothing else. It’s hard to say, I just really like it. Some of [the poems] are emotional, deep and quite complicated but they’re not trying ‘to teach’.

RD: Yeah, that’s the one thing about a lot of children’s material. They really push to try and teach a lesson, at least in North America. I don’t think that’s the same in Europe at all. But it’s nice and really refreshing to be given material that you can see going a million ways.
And we are not trying to, in any way, be kids or put on that kind of character, because the voice of the text is already so present. Dennis’ voice is very clear so we’re just trying to find our own way through his poetry.

GP: That’s the big challenge: Trying to create a show for families from people five years old to the grandparents that will take them, trying to find what it is that we want to do with it and not aim too low while trying to bridge that gap. We’re not trying to create very general children’s theatre, but at the same time we want to make something accessible. It’s really trial and error. We’ll see when we get our first audience of kids.

HS: Describe a bit of your creative process and the role of ‘play’. I saw your rehearsal photos with the big glasses, the props, etc. It just looks like fun and the element of ‘play’ seems so present. Can you discuss that a bit?

Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie in Rehearsal – Raquel Duffy, Mike Ross, Gregory Prest, Ken Mackenzie and Ins Choi. Photo Credit – Nathan Kelly

RD: One of our first days in rehearsals we went to the Dollar Store, we all went our different ways and came back with these bags of, essentially crap. These became our main tools that we used. We’d start the day just by playing and run games that we would initiate ourselves.

GP: We dressed up too! It sounds ridiculous but Ken, who is a designer in the Ensemble as well, managed to put together this rack of clothes equipped with wigs and shoes and hats. So really, we just sort of played!

RD: In a lot of ways there’s no structure to it, but there is structure in the sense that someone in the group, usually guided by a poem or a song, will initiate an idea and the rest of us will play along.

GP: We’d call it ‘the kernel’. We’d bring in a kernel and say, “This is the poem, this is the kind of melody that I wrote” and people would just sort of jump on it. So initially it starts from the poem, then it gets developed through the connection to the individual, then the group plays with it, which was more exciting than five people trying to figure out what to do all at once. It gave each of the individuals of the Ensemble the space to be able to find pieces that they personally connected with amongst Dennis’ large amount of work.

RD: We would always use the phrase “follow your bliss” when going through the material to find a poem that you really connected with and have a vision for. This is so nerdy, but we’d say that we have ‘a kernel’ and once it breaks out and we’d develop it into something, we’d say “Oh the kernel popped!”

HS: What was Dennis Lee’s involvement in the collective?

GP: When we first started, we sat around with him in the room and read all of his work for children, all taking turns to read. Just hearing him read his own work was so valuable. He takes away the sort of reverence for the author that there is with theatre where often the author has long since passed. He’s more like ‘Do what you want to do. If it doesn’t work, make up a new verse.’ He’s very encouraging. We showed him two mini presentations and then he gave us notes, asking us to question certain things a little further or consider other variations. He’s been really hands-on, really supportive and has given us a lot of room, as well!

RD: Exactly. He makes suggestions but by no means is he asking us to implement them. Obviously he knows his own work really well and he’s seen a lot of different productions using his pieces so he has a lot of experience knowing what might work and what doesn’t.

HS: What stood out the most while working with his poetry as the core creative text as opposed to something from a classical repertoire like a Molière or Shakespeare?

RD: That’s a good question. I can’t separate it from us working together as a group. This is the first time it has been the five of us working specifically together in a room, though we’ve all worked together in some fashion before on different projects. I’ll just speak for myself with this one in that being able to come into a room with such an amazing group of people, being given text that holds such room for play, because it’s poetry and because Dennis has encouraged us to approach it with as much freedom as we’d like, I can’t wait to come into the room and work every day. I never feel that there is someone saying, “No, that won’t work”. Ideas are always approached with so much give. I just find it hard to comment on the experience of the creative process without connecting it to the people in the room who I’m working with. It’s been such a pleasure.

HS: A true collective.

RD: Yes! Exactly.

GP: What’s challenging and interesting about working with the poems as text is that it’s not a Molière, Shakespeare, or Eugene O’Neill, and it really is a challenge trying to connect with it as an actor and as an adult, being who we are in our lives right now. I’m also the only one out of the five who doesn’t have children all under the age of three, so that adds another aspect of your creative approach. The question is how do you keep honest about the material as an adult so you ensure that you’re not doing that bad kind of children’s theatre acting? The challenge is to stay who you are and yet be open to that child-like mentality. As an actor, it’s really interesting to make a puddle, for example, the most important thing in your world, but to not dumb it down and be an idiot. It’s really challenging to keep everything you’ve got but then reach way, way back to find that honest outlook.

HS: You had mentioned before that you are hoping to reach anyone from children from the age of five to their grandparents with this show. With such a broad target audience, how have you been working to bridge that interest gap?

GP: Well, trusting your instincts is a big thing. We perform for each other so if it’s interesting and funny for us then hopefully that will translate. It’s really tricky, to be honest. The target audience is families, which is a little generic. I was a member of the Dora jury for TYA and I saw a lot of kids’ shows. Some were amazing and some were just awful. Having one of those painful experiences sitting in the audience and seeing parents who had brought their children and were so bored was just awful. You hope to not put your own audience in that kind of position.

RD: This may not be the best analogy but my son watches a lot of Sesame Street right now and when Alicia Keys comes on and sings a song with Elmo, well my son is really into music and loves watching Elmo, but as an adult, I like sitting and listening to Alicia Keys sing and play the piano. In these skits the adults might say things that the kids are getting on a totally different level, I wouldn’t say simpler level, but I’d just say that sometimes there’s a larger, more mature joke going on that isn’t cleverer necessarily, but includes everyone. Again, as you can see, our main goal is that we don’t want to ‘dumb down’ for the kids. Both my son and I can sit, watch and enjoy everything being done because it’s creative and smart. That’s the goal.

GP: We’ve been working with actual games on stage, as well. It adds an element of ‘event’. We are actually playing a game of badminton in front of you and we are really going to try and win while we do it or we’ll do poems with a metronome and see how fast we can go. If you screw up you have to start again. There is a ‘liveness’ to it that will hopefully keep the audience engaged.

HS: With past productions like (re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song/Window on Toronto, Dirt and this production, there seems to be a growing presence of Collective work in the Soulpepper season. Is this a new initiative of Soulpepper and something that the company is trying to explore?

RD: Yes. I think it’s something that Albert has a lot of interest in. That and I think there is a growing interest for bringing in new works, like with Kim’s Convenience. It’s an area he really wants to explore, which is why I think he put together this Creative Ensemble.

GP: He was very frank and open in saying to us that this is an area the company would like to go in. With the experience and resources of the founding members, they weren’t really sure how to do it. This is part of the reason he has us here, to teach them how to expand. The goal would be to get projects going and then begin to get the founding members of the company involved so we are all creating work together.

HS: Have you started incorporating the founding members?

RD: We’re all really busy right now but we’ve started to do some nights where someone from the company brings in a piece of work and we help explore it. It may not go anywhere, but it’s just to open people up to different ways of looking at material and creating. For example, Nancy Palk brought in a Dickens’ piece for the Word Festival in December that she’s adapting. She brought it into the room and we spent a night with her and some other company members that had experience with collective work maybe twenty years ago that wanted to get their mind back into it. We’d love to have more nights like that.

GP: Definitely.

HS: So what can your audience expect from Alligator Pie when they come to see the show?

GP: Well the poetry is amazing. To hear Dennis Lee’s poetry is fantastic on its own. My hope is that it’ll be really fun! We have really great music so I’m hoping they will have an enjoyable time all around.

RD: I’m really proud of where we are right now. I mean we don’t have a completely finished show right now, but just what we’ve been doing with the music and the pieces we’re developing, it’s all very exciting. I think people will have a really fun time and leave feeling energized and excited.

GP: Lastly, I hope we leave our audience members inspired. Part of the design element for the show, by using odds and ends from the Dollar Store, was that we wanted to create this theatrical magic out of everyday objects. We wanted to make it accessible, creating using everyday materials, so that a kid in the audience could think, “That’s just a sheet and a garbage can. I can do that myself, at home!”

Alligator Pie – Credit: Brian Rea

Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie on stage October 26th – November 25th
Alligator Pie, an original Soulpepper production, brings the celebrated children’s poems of Canada’s Father Goose, Dennis Lee, to vibrant theatrical life. Soulpepper’s creation ensemble (Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross), fill the stage with music, invention and Lee’s delicious imagination.
Poems by Dennis Lee
Created by and featuring Ins ChoiRaquel DuffyKen MacKenzie,Gregory Prest and Mike Ross
Approximate running time 1 hour. There will be no intermission.
Find out more here: