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“On Taking Time, Listening & Why We Stretch” In Conversation with Director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster on THE WOLVES by Sarah DeLappe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, director of The Wolves, onstage now at Crow’s Theatre with The Howland Company, speaks of her process with calm and steady confidence. When it comes to directing, her approach is to give the process lots of time and to listen carefully to all collaborators. Though still a relatively new director, Courtney gives the impression in her thoughtful discussion of already having years of experience under her belt.

This is the Toronto premiere of The Wolves, a show that follows a competitive U-17 girls soccer team throughout six different games. It’s a physically demanding show, that at times required that the cast practice their soccer drills and ball handling in parks and soccer domes rather than the rehearsal hall. When it comes to unraveling the creative process, Courtney has only good things to say about her collaborators, “We have a wonderful cast and a real sense of camaraderie, and I take joy and pride in having played a part in creating that.”

We spoke with Courtney about taking one’s time with the work, and the power of theatre (and specifically The Wolves) in finding relief from the outside world.

Some days you just need a good story to escape into, right?


MR: In the marketing for this show I get the impression of teamwork and I see photos of these strong young female characters, but what is the main theme that you are personally interested in exploring as a director?

CCL: I’ve been thinking a lot about why we stretch. At the beginning of the show, they’re in a stretch circle, warming up before the game. In the show, we meet them every Saturday over six different games, and over the course of those six weeks, a lot of different things happen to these girls. They are at their most certain and confident at the beginning; they know who they are, they know what’s going to happen, they know they are the best team, and they’re all stretching together. And of course, by the end of the show, lots of different things have happened.

So, that we stretch to become flexible is what I’ve been thinking about. It’s a subtle sort of arc but hopefully by the end of the play we understand that they are learning to become yielding without losing. They are dealing with change in a way that empowers them and allows them to keep moving forward. And I just think that’s a lesson that we would all benefit from.

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

MR: I’m curious about telling these stories about groups of women specifically, because I feel like this year in theatre I’ve seen a lot more of that, not to say it’s a trend-

CCL: It’s definitely in the collective consciousness. I see it most predominantly with Shakespeare and how the various Shakespeare producers tend to produce the same plays at the same time.

MR: Are we reaching for some sort of solution or?

CCL: I just think it’s really exciting.

With our cast, the feeling in our room for me has been exceptional because when I graduated theatre school some time ago my experience was always of being one of the only young women in a show. Because there’s only one role for an ingenue, for example. It was so rare to be in a room with a lot of other women and non-binary actors of a similar age. And then adding to that, I always used to joke about just disappearing when I turned thirty-five, because it just seemed like at that time, not that long ago, there would just be no options for me. So it’s very exciting and gratifying to see that shift happening, because it does feel like, ‘Oh wow, I might have work in the future.’

And despite the depressing news cycle we’ve been in recently, it is exciting and reassuring to know that collectively we’re all recognizing that there’s been a real dearth of female stories and we’re doing our best to remedy that.

And in The Wolves you’re seeing young women talk about all kinds of things, in their outside lives they’re all kinds of different people, but the one thing is they’re really good at soccer. So we’re showing them in their position of strength and in their safe place.

I feel like that’s a shift too. We’re depicting different groups of women – they’re not mean, catty, high school stereotypes.

They are there to do one thing and that’s play soccer really well and we get a glimpse of their lives through this lens.

Photo of THE WOLVES by Dahlia Katz

MR: Does this feel like a big deal, like a turning point in your directing career?

CCL: Oh huge. It really exemplifies what The Howland Company is for, which is to give opportunities to our members that they wouldn’t otherwise get. Ruth Goodwin is the lead producer on this project and right from day one she was like, ‘Well you’re directing this’. And at various points I said things like, ‘Well, am I really qualified to direct this?’. But she’s been so encouraging. We have to stretch ourselves and we have to learn. I went into the company very specifically wanting to find opportunities to direct more. Everyone went in with slightly different goals.

It’s hard to get those directing opportunities when you don’t have a lot of experience because people need to see your work to hire you. So yes, it’s absolutely a big deal and a wonderful learning experience for me.

Heath V. Salazar & Ruth Goodwin in THE WOLVES. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

MR: What made you want to direct? Where does that spark come from?

CCL: In university I had to learn to tone down my desire to act for everyone else, and also when I entered the professional acting world. But that desire to kind of control everything never really went away.

And then just practically speaking I think a career in the Canadian theatre world is all the more fulfilling the more you diversify. There’s no real clear stairway to success in Canadian theatre and so if you have access to a lot of different income paths and a lot of different creative outlets, I think it’s just more satisfying. Directing is just another way to create opportunities for myself and get to be an artist.

MR: What do you like about directing? What does it feel like when it’s going really well?

CCL: I love collaboration. I love being the refiner in collaboration, the person who hears a bunch of ideas from a bunch of different people and is able to say ‘Okay, this part of this idea is great, and this part of this idea is great, and let’s try it all together like this’. I like to be the filter in a way. And I just love creating a room where everybody feels seen and heard and safe and thus, creative.

Which isn’t to say that theatre is always fun. When we were in tech week, and we’re in the theatre for 12 hours, there’s just a point where fun is not a possibility anymore.

Brittany Kay and Heath V. Salazar in THE WOLVES. Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: You said you get a lot of joy in helping them be creative, and finding their own joy. How do you do that? What does that look like?

CCL: A lot of listening. Making sure we take the time, when we can, everyday to go round, check in with everybody and make sure that there isn’t stuff that is slipping through the cracks. Making sure the actors feel that they can speak up. And for me that can be a challenge. Because the challenge as a director is that there is no time, right? It’s always a rush to get it done. So on this process I’ve been really trying to deliberately slow myself down and check in and listen.

MR: I’m interested in how big a part collaboration plays in your process.

CCL: It’s huge! I feel there is a shift from the tradition of the singular director or singular genius-auteur-director, though there is certainly a place for that, into more collaborative processes in the theatre. The “no man is an island” approach to making theatre is something I’m very interested in and tend to enjoy more.

THE WOLVES. Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: Outside of theatre, what do you find inspires you? What do you draw from? Maybe from what’s been going on in the news, to keep it specific.

CCL: I don’t know if I can go there. I hide from my own incredible sense of cynicism. I can’t tell you what an escape The Wolves has actually been, with so many things going on politically in the world, that I can spend the week in a room of remarkable women and non-binary creators, with all kinds of experiences and thoughts and voices. A theatre actually sometimes feels like such a relief and escape. I have a lot of pessimism about the future of humanity!! So going and playing in the dark and telling stories to each other just feels like the best and safest thing to do… But what inspires me are brave, change-makers and storytellers. And people who listen.

MR: Can you give me a name of anyone right now that comes to mind?

CCL: Alan Dilworth, the current acting artistic director at Soulpepper. I’ve just watched him over the course of a difficult year do an enormous amount of listening. Not just listening but really receiving. He’s not just show-acting with his listening, he’s really interested. And I find his quiet patience very remarkable and inspiring.

MR: Sounds like a good leader to draw from as you step into doing this more and more..

CCL: Definitely.

THE WOLVES. Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: Lastly, who is the best soccer player?

CCL: Oh, you are putting me in such a dangerous position. I don’t know if I can give you names. But I will say that there is a difference between being an excellent soccer player and being an excellent soccer actor. So, when people come and see the show I would say the people who are doing the best soccer acting may not be the best soccer players and vice versa.

MR: That’s a fair answer

CCL: Sometimes the challenge is more about restraining enthusiasm and strength in the show. You know, we’re in a theatre.

(All Photos Featured by Dahlia Katz)

The Wolves

Who:
The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre Production
Written by Sarah DeLappe
Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
Starring: Rachel Cairns, Aisha Evelyna, Ruth Goodwin, Annelise Hawrylak, Ula Jurecka, Brittany Kay, Heath V. Salazar, Hallie Seline, Amaka Umeh, Robyn Stevan
Set & Lighting Design by Jareth Li
Sound Design & Composition by Deanna H. Choi
Costume Design & Movement Coaching by Sarah Doucet
Stage Manager – Sam Hale
Production Manager – Courtney Pyke
Assistant Director – Rebecca Gibian
Apprentice Stage Manager – Hannah MacMillan
Assistant Lighting Designer – Scarlett Larry
Assistant Sound Designer – Cosette Pin

What:
Left quad. Right quad. Lunge. A girls indoor soccer team warms up. From the safety of their stretch circle, nine girls navigate and question the world around them with the determination of warriors. This provocative play, nominated for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, captures the profound beauty of adolescence and paints a portrait of  nuanced young women navigating the game, their lives and a growing understanding of a complicated world.

Where:
Crow’s Theatre
345 Carlaw Ave.
Toronto

When:
On stage now until October 27th
Monday-Saturday at 8pm
Matinees:
Wednesdays at 1:30
Thursday at 1pm
Saturday at 2pm

Tickets:
crowstheatre.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Annie Baker, Creating Theatre for Right Now & Reading People’s Minds” In Conversation with Mitchell Cushman, Director of THE ALIENS

Interview by Megan Robinson

The space at The Coal Mine Theatre has undergone yet another transformation for their upcoming production of The Aliens. Directed by Mitchell Cushman, who is well-known for his creative use of space, the black box theatre is unrecognizable as a Vermont alleyway.

“It takes place outside, which felt like a real fundamental challenge at first,” Cushman let me know from our seats in the audience, where we sat taking in the details of the set, which received some exciting final touches the day before.

Around us, the theatre’s walls were plastered with exposed brick, a handmade picnic table took center stage, and a graffitied image of half of Bernie Sanders’ face was spray painted just above our heads. With a single row of chairs lining the two walls, the length of the playing space called to mind a runway at a fashion show.

“I think it serves the naturalism of what Annie Baker is writing because the audience are really flies on the wall as opposed to feeling like they are being played to in any way.”

For the next thirty minutes, I talk to director Mitchell Cushman about Annie Baker, creating relevant theatre, and reading people’s minds.

MR: You just worked on Treasure Island at Stratford – has this been a breath of fresh air?

MC: They’re both very different. I had a great time with Treasure Island, but they couldn’t be more different. Treasure Island is a huge proscenium, thousand-seat theatre and large budget show, largely for kids.

Annie Baker writes in this kind of hyper-naturalism where everything is sort of sacrificed for the pursuit of trying to get something real on stage. That means it rejects a lot of what we expect about conventional drama. Working on this show makes me realize how much artifice goes into most theatre. Because we expect it. We expect things to be curated into something that is easily recognizable as dramatic whereas there is drama and construction to Annie Baker’s writing but in a way that is so invisible.

MR: What did you think of the play the first time you read it?

MC: I read it like 3 or 4 years ago. Honestly, I don’t know if I knew what to make of it when I first read it. I thought parts of it were interesting. But I’ve had this experience reading a couple of her other plays. They feel very thin. You get to the end, and you’re like – where was the play?

Then I had the chance to see some of her plays. I saw The Flick, and I saw a production of John with The Company Theatre. Both of those were really impactful experiences for me as an audience member, and it was after I saw John that Ted (Dykstra) wrote to me about The Aliens. When I did go back to read it with an understanding of the wavelength that she calibrated on, I found much more in it. Also, I’m now at the exact age of two of the three characters that are at the center of the play, and I think that has had an impact as well.

Photo Credit: Tim Leyes

MR: Which character do you think you most relate to? 

MC: (laughs) Probably the guy that is not my age. There are three characters KJ and Jasper and Evan.

KJ and Jasper are 30-31, they haven’t really left their hometown, and they spend their time kind of vegging around and reading poetry or sort of writing music. One of them wants to be a novelist, but they have not really done anything. But even though they haven’t done anything, they’ve had real deep life experiences, and a lot of that is based on living on the margins of society and loss and complicated family life and problems with drugs.

Evan works in the cafe… beyond that “wall”. He’s a seventeen-year-old kid working a summer job and he’s got a comfortable home life but feels at 17 that he hasn’t had a lot of experiences and maybe couldn’t be an artist, a writer, a tortured soul, or musician because he doesn’t have what he perceives to be their pain and suffering. I’m more like him. I think I said that on the first day of rehearsal. I worked in a cafe, I come from a comfortable middle-class background, and I haven’t ever felt fundamentally alone in the way I think the other characters feel in the show.

MR: So you’ve never felt like an alien?

MC: Well I don’t know that… I wouldn’t say I’ve never felt like an alien. But I’ve never really felt that society wasn’t built for me which is the way that KJ and Jasper feel, and maybe Evan feels that in a different way.

MR: Why this show right now? 

MC: The play was written in 2010, and one of the decisions we had to make was, do we set it then or now? The characters have cell phones in the show, and there are lots of stage directions of them flipping them open and closed, and that felt like by doing that we’d immediately be playing something that felt like a period piece. But the phenomenon of disenfranchisement that she writes about is only more pronounced now than it was seven years ago.

The play is set in Vermont, and I was trying to think what do I know about Vermont or what does Vermont mean to me? And you can see right here, we are sitting under a big graffiti thing of half of Bernie Sanders’ face.

Bernie Sanders is a Senator from Vermont who played such a large role in the last American presidential election and epitomizes this part of America. Vermont is very liberal and left-wing in a lot of ways, but it’s also the whitest state… I think it’s like 95 % white. Very little diversity and, among other things, the play looks at what happens when you have a very homogeneous population of people and how do their thoughts develop and how do thoughts about othering occur, and all those things feel very relevant. In its own way, the play has a lot to say about the opioid crisis and things that have only become, you know, more pronounced and tragic.

In some ways, I think she was writing something prophetic. The world around us has grown into the play

Photo Credit: Tim Leyes

MR: I did wonder why the cast was three white males…

MC: That’s interesting. As we were casting it we were trying to be conscious of that. I definitely believe theatre should be a place for diverse voices. And we like to create the most eclectic, artistic ensembles as possible. I think this play is specifically about the fact that all three of them are white. So to have cast it more racially diverse would have been to silence the themes of the play. This play was written about specific people in a specific place, and I think in doing it, it’s engaging in the conversation about the need for diversity in our communities. If you just, like, photoshop in diversity into a community where it doesn’t exist I think you’re wallpapering over some of the profound things at the center of her writing. We’ve got quite a diverse artistic team working on the show. It’s not represented in the cast of characters but I think for this piece it was the right choice.

MR: Your big thing is innovative staging, immersive theatre. I read an interview where you said it’s important to do something different because there is so much theatre going on. How do you come up with these new ideas?

MC: I think it can be kind of a trap, despite what I said in other interviews, to think about doing things that are different for the sake of being different. Almost every project I’ve worked on, the script is first and out of the script you try to find a way to tell that story. I think if instead you begin with a desire to do something different then you’re doing something to a play instead of figuring out the best way to tell a story. So I found in my practice, especially running Outside the March, but the other work I’ve done, there’s a broader canvas of ways to tell a story in a live theatre experience than the traditional framework necessarily allows for. So I try to start from a place of zero preconceptions of what the experience will be. So when I think about how to tell a story, I’m not thinking of people sitting in a proscenium space watching. I’m not picturing the experience akin to watching a movie.

MR: This show explores the idea that we can’t ever really know another person and what they are thinking. If you had the opportunity to read another person’s mind would you take it? 

MC: A specific person or telepathy in general?

MR: Let’s go with for a day, you can read everyone’s mind.

MC: I would take it because I’d be very curious but I would go somewhere where I was surrounded by nobody I knew. Because then you’d be able to answer that sort of eternal mystery of what are people thinking and what are they thinking about me as I interact with them, but you wouldn’t fundamentally destroy all of your relationships.

MR: You think it would destroy your relationships if you really knew a person?

MC: Ya.

MR: So you think it’s good that we don’t actually know the truth? Are filters important? 

MC: I think relationships are about striving to get to know someone so if you had the answer manual at the beginning then you would actually feel less close to those people. It’s about the experience of trying to break through those barriers even though, eternally, you’ll never get to the bottom of it.

MR: But isn’t that a sad pursuit? 

MC: I don’t think so. I think that’s what forges history and connection with people. It’s certainly frustrating and disarming and difficult at times, but I think that breathes the need for human connection. If we all knew what everyone thought all the time we’d be robbed of conversation. And art! Theatre comes out of that same impulse of trying to strive to get to know people and things about existence that you can’t just read in someone’s brain, so I think it’s good there are those filters. But I think we should still strive to listen better.

Photo Credit: Tim Leyes

MR: Do you think this is a hopeful story? 

MC: I wouldn’t say that it is entirely hopeful, but within the construction of it, there is something quite life-affirming.

MR: If you could talk to the characters in the show and give them advice what would you say?

MC: Don’t kick the audience.

MR: Is that advice for the actors?

MC: (He laughs) Life advice?

MR: Yes. You’re very ambitious and it seems these characters are lacking that.

MC: Well, I would say that they should try to breathe and take the pressure off themselves. Because I think it’s the pressure to accomplish great things that is kind of stunting them from accomplishing much of anything.

MR: Too scared?

MC: Too scared or because, to me, one of the big themes of the show is they idolize these great writers, but genius is a hard thing to emulate so instead they just emulate their destructive tendencies. I think that hero-worship can be dangerous in that capacity because I think the things that are easiest to copy are not the things connected with hard work and perseverance… they are more the trappings of it.

The Aliens

Who:
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Starring Maxwell Haynes, Will Greenblatt and Noah Reid
Set and Costume design by Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting design by Nick Blais
Sound Design by Sam Sholdice
Production Manager Charissa Wilcox
Produced by Diana Bentley and Sehar Bhojani

What:
Coal Mine Theatre launches the 17/18 season with Pulitzer Prize Award-winning playwright Annie Bakers THE ALIENS. Sharing the Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2010 with another Baker script, Circle Mirror Transformation, THE ALIENS, a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, premiered Off-Broadway in April 2009 and the West End in September of the same year.

Jasper (Noah Reid) and KJ (William Greenblatt) are two misfit souls who have made the out-back of a Vermont coffee shop their private sanctuary and refuge from the real world. Here they can indulge in their dreams and delusions of being a brilliant writer and a divine healer. Seventeen-year-old Evan (Maxwell Haynes) is eking out his summer working at the café and is irresistibly drawn to their world of magic mushrooms, philosophical musings and rock bands that never-were. THE ALIENS is both a cruel and compassionate examination of a lost generation and modern-day America.

Where:
Coal Mine Theatre
1454 Danforth Avenue, Toronto ON M4J 1N4

When:
Wednesday, September 20 – Sunday, October 8 at 2pm
Tuesday to Saturday 7:30pm (Mondays Dark)
Matinees are Sunday at 2pm.
No intermission. No latecomers.

Tickets:
Regular price $42.50 (plus HST)
Rush tickets $25 (cash only, at the door, 30 minutes before performance starts, subject to availability. No phone reservations).
coalminetheatre.com

Connect:
t: @coalminetheatre
f: /coalminetheatre

“Community, Hedonism & a Reminder of Why We Do What We Do” In Conversation with Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Director of GRAY

Interview by Bailey Green

It was a pleasure to sit down with director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster to chat about Theatre Inamorata’s upcoming production of Gray. Gray, set in modern-day Toronto, was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Playwright Kristofer Van Soelen re-imagines Dorian’s world, altering the genders and relationships of the characters. The cast and crew are predominantly female-identified. Gray begins when Jane sculpts Dorian and creates a work of pure beauty. But when a gallery owner named Opal introduces Dorian to the hedonism and chaos of the arts world, everything changes. As time passes, the sculpture incurs the damage that Dorian inflicts on herself and others. Gray explores art, beauty, sexuality and female identity.

Bailey Green: When were you brought on board with Gray?

Courtney Chng Lancaster: Well, I helped Theatre Inamorata looking at a different script more than a year ago and spent a little bit of time with them to see if that was a project they wanted to move forward with. Though that specific project didn’t end up working out, when they were ready to produce Gray, Michelle Langille called and asked if I wanted to direct and I said yes. 

BG: What were your initial reactions reading the script?

CCL: I thought it was fantastic and very brave. It’s a really wild adaptation. Set in the present day, the fundamental themes remain the same but a lot has been changed. Kris has really taken a wide open approach and it was really brave and made me completely terrified when I read it. [The play has] a large amount of people and spans a lot of years, so it made me nervous.

BG: Were you part of the development process, as well, and is the script still growing in rehearsal?

CCL: Kris is such a wonderfully open playwright. There was a process before I came on board, with a number of drafts before. I came into a reading six months ago and suggested some changes and a new draft came from the input from everyone in the room. And then [we had] a two-day workshop at the beginning of the summer. We’re still tweaking things as we go, seeing where we need more information and where can we trim back. Kris is wonderful. 

BG: What was your relationship to Dorian Gray (if any) before this project?

CCL: Very little. I barely remembered it, actually. I’d read it in high school. It’s quite fun, and so gothic. It’s a very dark verging on melodramatic story, which is quite pleasurable to play with on stage!

BG: How do you think a modern setting in Toronto enhances some of the themes of the play?

CCL: I think we can all relate in the theatre world to the wonderful strength of our community. In the original, the big temptation and the ultimate downfall comes from hedonism that overwhelms Dorian and becomes his drug. Kris has translated that into the dangers of getting pulled into the hedonistic part of the art world. [In the play] Dorian is not an artist but spends all her time going to these parties and is part of the scene. It explores how great the community can be, but also when does it become detrimental to the work? When is it all too much?

BG: Would you say that themes of addiction and alcoholism come up as well?

CCL: It goes hand-in-hand. Graham Isador recently wrote an article in Vice about addiction and how artists are so prone to that. When we were rehearsing and starting to link scenes together, we realized how much they drink in every scene. We need so many wine glasses in this show. A drink is a lure, an avoidance, a temptation, a polite offering. So I would say [addiction] is an unspoken theme, for sure. It’s not overt, but the audience can assume there are drugs. They’re the last ones at the party and as my grandma used to say, nothing good happens after 2am. [They have] that fixation on being at the centre of things and never taking time for yourself, always being out and socializing.

BG: And how social media really enhances the performative nature of living like that, because there’s the drive to show it to everyone else.

CCL: I’m glad you mentioned social media, because now we’re performing online how we’re out, keeping up appearances. At one point during the play Dorian celebrates having broken a threshold of followers. And it becomes the work, she has to display her hedonism, as well, lest she lose interest.

Rehearsal Photo of Tennille Read and Mamito Kukwikila taken by producer/performer Michelle Langille.

BG: What has been the most challenging aspect of working on this show?

CCL: Purely practically, I have never directed something with this number of people before. It’s a lot of bodies, and it’s been a wonderful challenge. I’m learning a lot about blocking and the physical positioning of people on stage. And how to tell what is a massive complex gothic story on an indie theatre budget with really compelling storytelling without slashing props. We don’t want to distract but it is a big tale to be telling with a minimal aesthetic onstage 

BG: What has brought you the most joy?

CCL: When it works. We’ve just finished the 3rd week of rehearsal now, and they are all wonderful team players. You have your exciting discoveries of the first two weeks, then the shiny-ness starts to wear, and then you think “Do I really know what is happening?”, “Do I really know what I’m doing here?”, the mud and the mire… it’s a hard slog, but it has been a great journey figuring out when it works.

BG: What has Gray made you reflect on in your own life?

CCL: Remembering what is important, reminding yourself why you’re doing it. I forget that on a regular basis. What you’re actually interested in as an artist. It can be very easy to be distracted by accolades and excitements, press and parties, and then to feel empty when that stuff isn’t coming anymore. So to remember why you’re an artist and what it’s about.

Rapid Fire Question Round: 

Favourite coffee shop: We’re rehearsing near Dupont and Ossignton, so right now I would say Contra Cafe, they make a really great latte. 

Current neighbourhood: We moved from the west side to Riverdale, and it’s been lovely.

What are you reading: This is so embarrassing but gardening books – Let it Rot! It’s about compost.

What are you listening to: Jason Isbell, despite how SOME people don’t appreciate him, aka my husband.

Next show on your calendar: Soulpepper’s Waiting for Godot and then Picture This. Oh and Michael Ross Albert’s Miss at the Assembly Theatre space, I’m a big Michael Ross Albert fan.

Gray

Who:
Company: Theatre Inamorata
Written by Kristofer Van Soelen
Directed by: Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
CAST: Tennille Read, Michelle Langille, Ximena Huizi, Mamito Kukwikila, Edward Charette and introducing Sydney Violet-Bristow
Set and Costume Design: Lindsay Woods
Lighting Design: Steph Raposo
Sound Design: Andy Trithardt
Stage Manager: Hannah MacMillan
Producer: Michelle Langille
Associate Producer: Emma Westray

What:
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”

When Jane meets and sculpts Dorian, a naive and exquisitely beautiful woman, it is perfection – until Dorian is swept into the hedonistic and morally ambiguous world of contemporary art. As Dorian becomes more and more self-involved and destructive, the sculpture begins to absorb her acts of cruelty, while Dorian’s youth and beauty are intact. An examination of beauty, aging and self-indulgence, Gray contrasts the themes of the classic novel with our modern world. Featuring a predominantly female-identified cast and creative team, Gray takes a hard look at female identity and the implications of our society’s obsession with beauty.

Where:
The Commons | 587a College Street, Toronto, ON

When:
Wed. Sept. 20 – 8pm (PREVIEW)
Thurs. Sept 21 – 8pm (OPENING)
**Fri. Sept. 22 – NO SHOW**
Sat. Sept. 23 – 8pm
Sun. Sept. 24 – 2pm & 8pm
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Wed. Sept. 27 – 8pm
Thurs. Sept 28 – 8pm
Fri. Sept. 29 – 8pm
Sat. Sept. 30 – 8pm
Sun. Oct. 1 – 2pm & 8pm

Tickets:
$25 General | $20 Seniors/Students/Arts-Worker | $15 Preview
theatreinamorata.com

Connect:
Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster: @courtneyvl
#Gray17
t: @TheaInamorata
i: @TheatreInamorata

A Chat with Carly Chamberlain, Director of 10 CREATIVE WAYS TO DISPOSE OF YOUR CREMAINS at the 2017 Fringe

Interview by Bailey Green

We spoke with Carly Chamberlain, artistic producer of Neoteny Theatre and director of upcoming Fringe show 10 Creative Ways to Dispose of your Cremains written by Rose Napoli. Jakob Ehman and Rose Napoli star in this two hander about millennials, emotional baggage and bed bugs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BG: Tell me about working with Rose Napoli. How did you two meet?

CC: We both went to University of Windsor in the acting program, we were one class apart and she was like an honorary member of our class. So I’ve known her for 15 years, and we were friendly but never close. When we started working together at Canadian Stage, we reconnected and really hit it off. I went away to school and during that time she had been writing and we stayed connected. When she approached me this Fall about 10 Creative Ways, it felt like the right project. We’ve known each other for a long time, so to take our relationship a new level, so to speak, has been really exciting.

BG: What drew you into the script?

CC: It’s really different from what I had worked on recently. On the surface it seems quite contemporary, colloquial and casual. The first scene is at a party, it’s about millennials, and on the surface it seems like snappy little play. But there’s a lot of anxiety and deeper issues going on under the surface. It’s a play about people who are so desperate to connect, but their baggage gets in the way and I felt like that was a familiar experience and familiar to people I know. When I read it, I felt I knew these characters. Instant connection.

BG: So where do we find these characters at the start of the play?

CC: Two people meet at a party, and they end up not really getting along, but they stumble back upon each other while they are dealing with shit in their own lives. The play takes place over 24 hours, and then an epilogue. So [we see] two seemingly mis-matched people that may have the potential for a real connection, whether that is friendship or romance. It’s not really a love story in a traditional way. It’s a Toronto story. It’s about two people trying to maybe grow up and how to do that amongst the shit of bed bugs and trying to pay rent and trying to find some meaning in what they’re doing in their lives.

R-L: Rose Napoli, Jakob Ehman

BG: So Rose also acts in 10 Creative Ways, how have you both navigated that change in roles from playwright to actor? Or is it a more fluid process?

CC: It’s a new experience and I have never directed someone in their own work. So I went in with an open mind and to see what the needs would be. The play had some workshops so we both felt confident that the script was in a good place; there were things we’d change but there wouldn’t be massive re-writes in rehearsal. It’s a fluid relationship when I’m in rehearsal with Jakob and Rose. It’s important to me when working on new work not to look to the writer in the room to answer all of our questions, you still need to investigate just the way you would with Shakespeare or Chekhov. I like plays that leave those rough edges, and now that we’re deeper in, we just jump back and forth pretty fluidly. Jakob and Rose have worked together so they have that dynamic as well and it’s a pretty open room as far as the dialogue around changing the text when it’s needed.

BG: What has been the greatest joy working on this piece?

CC: I like when I’m working with really good people and am surprised by what they come up with. They have free rein in that way. I’m working with a design team who I’ve worked with before and are people I really trust. It has been a special experience, the contributions of the whole team and a lot of my work has been in response to what everyone else is giving, I am shaping the awesome ideas of all the people in the room. Anna [Treusch] who designed the set, came to me and said ‘I can see exactly what this set is,’ and that’s not the way she usually works, usually it’s a longer, organic process. So that was so unexpected to me. And Daniel [Bennett] for sound composition, he had a really clear idea right away. So I love getting to be surprised and inspired.

BG: It seems like we’re grappling with this ‘millennial question’ in art and theatre right now, and it can be really nebulous. Could you distill 10 Creative Ways into a couple short phrases?

CC: It’s about learning how to communicate when you’re more comfortable using emojis and it’s about making a choice to let go and accept that your baggage is in the room

BG: And lastly, what are you excited to see at fringe?

CC: The Diddlin Bibbles, they are so funny and shocking and strange and I always really love so I am looking forward to seeing a full set. I’m looking forward to Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons cause I love The Howland Company stuff but also, similarly to our piece, it has a title everyone remembers but yet still doesn’t quite know what it’s about, so I like that there’s a bit of mystery around it. And Nourishment, it’s got a couple of young creators that are doing some really interesting work, strong young women, and I’m excited about it.

10 Creative Ways to Dispose of Your Cremains

Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

Who:
Written by Rose Napoli
Directed by Carly Chamberlain
Starring: Jakob Ehman & Rose Napoli
Producer: Nicole Myers-MitchellSet & Costume Design by Anna Treusch
Sound & Lighting Design by Daniel Bennett
Stage Management by Lucy McPhee
Production Management by David Costello
Photography & Graphic Design by Kyle Purcell

What:
Boy meets girl. Boy has broken vaporizer. Girl has bed bugs. “Ten Creative Ways to Dispose of your Cremains” is not just the longest title ever, it’s a millennial love letter to the misfits of the Peter Pan Generation.

From the writer of “Oregano”at the Storefront Theatre and the director of “Plucked” at Summerworks, comes a new old story about living on the outside. Starring Jakob Ehman and Rose Napoli.

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
16 Ryerson Ave.

When:
6th July – 9:30pm
8th July – 3:15pm
9th July – 8:00pm
10th July – 5:45pm
11th July – 10:15pm
13th July – 1:00pm
14th July – 8:45pm
16th July – 2:15pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect: 
Carly Chamberlain: @CarlyCha
Rose Napoli: @RoseNapoli1
Theatre Rhea: @TheatreRhea
Neoteny Theatre: /NeotenyTheatre
neotenytheatre.com

#CremainsTO

Artist Profile: Ali Joy Richardson, Director

Interview by Hallie Seline

We’re all about hard-working #bossbabes being at the helm of the theatre we see, so it was such a joy to catch up with Ali Joy Richardson to discuss her latest directing project, Liars at a Funeral, why her directing mentors have been instrumental in assembling her own director’s utility belt, and the top three pieces of advice she’s living by right now. 

HS: Tell me a bit about your current directing project, Liars at a Funeral, and what caught your interest when deciding to direct it.

Ali Joy Richardson: Liars at a Funeral is set in a funeral home in Northern Ontario where a grandmother has faked her own death in order to get her family back together for Christmas. It’s a farce: 4 doors, 5 actors playing 9 characters, and a family curse of female twins who hate one another…but without the stale sexism that’s so often sprinkled in the genre. Sophia Fabiilli has revived farce with a refreshing dose of 2017 sexuality and three generations of very funny women. Sophia told me the plot of the play over a pint at Tequila Bookworm back in September and I was hooked. I immediately sent her a batch of imagery that resonated with the play for me (Edward Gorey illustrations, Wes Anderson stills, and some weird ‘70s family Christmas photos). I’m very grateful to have been trusted with this play.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

HS: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned so far in your experience directing?

AJR: It requires rigorous, detailed homework to be able to properly play jazz in the room.

HS: Do you have a directing mentor? If so, who is it and why do you think it’s important to have a mentor?

AJR: Thank heaven for mentors. I learned the fundamentals from assistant directing for Melee Hutton and Estelle Shook and script coordinating from Andrea Donaldson. Richard Rose has been my primary teacher for the last while (his process has totally re-shaped my practice) and Aaron Willis is my go-to emergency phone call for all things theatre. These directors have given me clarity and confidence in my practice. I’ve gratefully thieved tools from each of them to assemble my own utility belt.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

HS: You have a pretty #bosslady production team going on for this show with you (director/dramaturg), Laura Jabalee Johnston (producer) and Sophia Fabiilli (playwright/producer). How has it been working with this team?

AJR: DREAMY. Lots of late night 3-way calls, endless hustle, and masterfully colour-coded email threads. They’ve made me a better artist and collaborator. I’d trust these women with my car, child, or estate (if I had any of those things).

HS: What are you most excited for audiences to experience when they come see the show?

AJR: The rollercoaster – Liars at a Funeral is very funny and bravely truthful.
Also…casket comedy.

HS: Describe the show in 5-10 words.

AJR: Just one: unstoppable.

(For a complete list of the myriad of obstacles we overcame, from the Storefront Theatre closing to our casket hinges busting right before we opened, buy anyone on the team a drink.)

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite place in the city:
The Toronto Reference Library.

Where do you look for inspiration?
Conversations, naps, and the Toronto Reference Library.

What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?
Harry Potter and the Sacred Text (a deeply nerdy podcast by two Harvard theologians) and re-reading Patti Smith’s “Just Kids”.

Best piece of advice you’ve received or current mantra you’re living by:
“What is the next right move?” (Oprah)
“Follow the campground rule – leave the audience better than you found them.” (Neil Silcox)
“Stand up from your desk every hour, Ali.” (my Mom)

Liars at a Funeral

Who:
Playwright – Sophia Fabiilli
Director & Dramaturg – Ali Joy Richardson
Ensemble – Ruby Joy, Rhea Akler, John Healy, Danny Pagett & Terry Tweed
Producers – Laura Jabalee Johnston & Sophia Fabiilli
Stage Management – Lori Anderson
Set & Wardrobe Design – Lindsay Woods
Sound Design – Nicholas Potter

What:
A black comedy about a grandmother who fakes her own death in order to reunite her family in Northern Ontario.

Grandma Mavis stages her own funeral in order to reunite her estranged family… just in time for an ice storm to trap them all in a funeral home over Christmas. Can this eccentric clan of liars navigate the rocky road to reconciliation? Or will the next 24hrs be the final nail in this dysfunctional family’s coffin?

Featuring five actors playing nine characters, Liars at a Funeral is equally hilarious and heartbreaking. It’s also a teensy bit inspired by Hamlet.

Where:
St. Vladimir Theatre
(620 Spadina Ave, south of Harbord

When:
May 5-14 2017

Tickets:
$25
truthnliestheatre.com

From one Alex to another – An interview with Alex McCooeye

By Alex “Addy” Johnson

MOST RECENTLY: Directed The Particulars and In General at Summerworks

AS AN ACTOR: The Little Prince (Geordie Productions); Beethoven Lives Upstairs (Centaur Theatre); 39 Steps (Theatre Aquarius); Harvey (Segal Centre); Nativity: A Coyote’s Christmas, Mother Courage, A Christmas Carol, The Ark 2007 (NAC); Rock, Paper, Jackknife (Centaur Theatre/Talisman); Rabbit Rabbit (Summerworks); Of Mice and Men (Montreal Theatre Ensemble). 

TRAINING: National Theatre School of Canada and the John Abbott College Professional Theatre Program.

NEXT: Starring in his own adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum at the Wildside Festival in Montreal.

INTRO:

Alex McCooeye is a Montreal-bred actor, director, and playwright. If you haven’t heard of him yet, you probably will. He’s putting down roots in Toronto. Constantly challenging assumptions, he is one of the most grounded, imaginative, and insightful young theatre-makers I know.

A few weeks before going into rehearsals for his new adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, I (the assistant director of the piece, helping out the stupendous Greg Kramer) had the chance to Skype with Alex about what it means to be an actor-director-playwright, a breed that is becoming more and more necessary.

ADDY: So….how are you settling into the Toronto theatre scene?

ALEX: It’s such a huge community. There’s this core group, I find… And then outside of that there are hundreds of talented, talented people who struggle to get work in Toronto and [end up going] back to other cities all the time to do work. And it can be a really tough year the year after you’ve been in a company [the National Arts Centre]. I’m running into people and they’re saying, “So what are you doing at the NAC this year?” Well actually, you can hire me here.

ADDY: Do you remember that moment of choice we all have when we say, “that’s it, I’m going into the theatre?”

ALEX: I have to admit that I always wanted to be the centre of attention. Like I just loved being in front of people and only through theatre school did I develop a respect for theatre and understood the meaning of what theatre can be. But it was totally born out of wanting to be the center of attention. I can’t fake that that’s not true.

ADDY: Anything in particular that you still carry with you from your theatre school days?

ALEX: I think the main thing I developed…was a love and respect for text and language. And the importance of a respect for the playwright. I think there’s this weird thing going on where theatre is being confused as a director’s medium. And it’s not, in my opinion. The director’s job is to serve the play as it has been written for the performers on stage. And there’s this new thing going on with “my take, my vision of this play” that I really can’t stand.

ADDY: So what would you say is the director’s job, specifically?

ALEX: To ensure that the actors are serving the play while empowering the actors to own their performances. It’s to not get in the way, to let the work happen. To me…eighty percent of directing is casting. So as long as you have actors that you trust, that you think are right in the roles, then eighty percent of your work is done.

ADDY: And how did you venture into playwriting?

ALEX: I’ve always kind of jotted stuff down, jotted down ideas for plays and things. [During theatre school] a friend of mine and I adapted The Tempest and Waiting for Godot into one [single play]. Pazzo was ritualistically playing all the characters in The Tempest forever until he died in a campaign to keep theatre alive. We were going to peform it in this abandoned theatre in Montreal but were kicked out and moved into a real theatre…because of fire regulations.

ADDY: And years later, you’ve adapted Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum into a two-hander. Why Poe?

ALEX: I have loved Poe and this story since I was seventeen – just as I was getting into theatre and language and Shakespeare. I was looking for another way to do Shakespeare, for another author who is like him but not as celebrated. I still think that Poe is on par with Shakespeare, but didn’t write plays and didn’t write about love.

ADDY: And why The Pit and the Pendulum in particular?

ALEX: He wrote it while he was mourning the loss of his sister. You wouldn’t know reading it that it’s a reaction to mourning, but obviously while he was dealing with internal torture he decided to write a story about external torture. I love how he deals with the monotony and the banal aspects of the human mind faced with dire circumstances. Like when he’s musing over the size of his prison cell. Because it’s so true.

Alex (left) in Of Mice and Men, Montreal Theatre Ensemble

ADDY: Why did you choose not to direct it?

ALEX: I am of the opinion that a playwright, for the most part, should not direct their own work…they need an outside eye to come in and take what they’ve written and realize it. I’ve also written the part for myself so….to write, direct, and act for me right now is unrealistic.

ADDY: Do you find yourself directing as you are writing?

ALEX: I am definitely acting it as I write it. I’m in my living room doing all the voices and practicing the dialogue and all of that. For me it’s the only way to write. It’s the only way to get the rhythms and the relationships. It’s my entry point. Why not use the experience I have as an actor?

ADDY: How much does your work as an actor and director inform your work as a writer?

ALEX: I think a great deal. I would love someone else to approach me with this play and say, “would you act in it?” But because it’s my idea, I have to write it. [Writing is] my least favourite of the three. I much prefer acting and directing. I’m just using it as a tool to say what I want to say and do the theatre I want to do. But it’s torturous, I find, to write. It’s incredible for me to see all these writer-performers out there, because one job requires such a specific set of skills and a specific personality type that completely contrasts the other job. So it’s kind of incredible. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s an exercise in self-loathing.

ADDY: Do you find it tricky to compartmentalize and separate the stresses of the day from your writing? Or conversely, is it important to let your day influence your work?

ALEX: In this instance when I’m working with a story that already exists, I cant bring a lot of what I’m going through to it. And it’s hard. Was it Chekhov that said, “No writer can work if they’re poor”? It’s tough to go out and do other things and make money and come back and write. I think I’m pretty unsuccessful at compartmentalizing. But once I’m an hour into writing, I’m with it. I’m not thinking about other things.

ADDY: Would you say your work has an aesthetic?

ALEX: The biggest compliment I ever got was when someone said, “every time I see you perform, it feels like you’re in a conversation with the theatre.” Whether that’s true or not, I think that’s something to strive towards. What is this, what does it mean, what can it be, can I do this and get away with it? 

The Pit and the Pendulum will premier at the Wildside Festival in Montreal, January 2012.