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Posts tagged ‘Discord and Din Theatre’

“Collaboration, Mentorship and Intertwining Art & Activism” In Conversation with Melissa-Jane Shaw, director of LELA & CO.

Interview by Hallie Seline

It was a complete honour and pleasure to chat with my ever-inspiring friend and mentor Melissa-Jane Shaw about her latest project directing Lela & Co. We spoke about collaboration, intertwining art and activism, and the necessity and power of mentorship in this community, both as a woman and an artist. Lela & Co. is on stage now at the Theatre Centre until October 8th.

HS: Tell me a little bit about the show and what it has been like directing this piece.

MJS: Lela & Co. gives space for a woman to tell her story of being sex trafficked by her husband, during a time of war. Beginning with memories of her childhood, Lela dives headfirst into her haunting and harrowing story with bravery, tenacity and even humour. I hope it will be a satisfying 100-minute theatrical experience, as well as a moving and motivating piece of activist art. Directing Lela & Co. has been both rewarding and hard. It’s a tricky piece and requires careful handling. It has really tested my directorial chops. While I don’t want to let the audience off the hook with the play’s challenging content, I also want to avoid gratuitous voyeurism. I hope I’ve kept that balance.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

HS: What has it been like collaborating with Discord and Din Theatre?

MJS: Well, just as Seventh Stage is really MJ Shaw, Discord and Din is really Jenna Harris, and collaborating with Jenna has been wonderful. As a co-producer, she’s incredibly hard-working, professional and level-headed. As an artist, she’s very smart and conscientious, open to taking risks and is always thinking beyond the rehearsal walls. It’s been a great collaboration, especially considering we didn’t even know each other before we started working on this show together.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

HS: Can you speak to me more about the local charitable organizations that you have aligned the show with and about the link you are making between art and activism?

MJS: Our hope is that Lela & Co. leaves the audience with a sense of “so what can I do?” We would like to capitalize on that feeling by having a local related charity present after each show for a talk-back and provide the opportunity to get involved and/or donate. We are partnering with freethem.ca, onechild.ca, ConvenantHouseToronto.ca and WhiteRibbon.ca. We are also having several school groups in for educational workshops and talk-backs. Our larger mission is to get the subject-matter of Lela & Co. beyond the walls of the theatre.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

HS: That’s incredible to hear! What’s next for yourself and for Seventh Stage Productions?

MJS: Seventh Stage will continue to develop its musical production Wendy, Darling, which is a contemporary feminist look at Wendy’s (of Peter Pan) life once they grow up. I will move onto a couple of choreography gigs and launch my dance fitness program FITPOP, a class designed to bring out everyone’s inner dancer. On a personal front, my husband and I will continue the next steps of our fertility journey. Hopefully this time next year I’ll either have a big belly or a babe in arms.

HS: What shows are you most looking forward to seeing this season?

MJS: Oh jeez… well, I’m excited to see my friend Rosa Laborde’s show Marine Life at The Tarragon. Looking forward to Nightwood’s Asking for It, which is a very compelling subject-matter to me. I’ll also see Musical Stage Company’s Life After. Otherwise, I’m a pretty terrible theatre-going planner.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

HS: What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten/What is your current mantra that you’re living by?

MJS: Stop bullying the universe! If something is too hard or you are putting more in than you’re getting out, then it’s time to let go. I have a tendency to muscle through things and work harder than I need to. This is my approach at working ‘smarter’ and letting the right things come to me, rather than me always reaching out.

HS: I would love to hear you speak a bit about Mentorship. You have been such an amazing mentor to myself and to some of my colleagues, as well. Did you have a mentor who made an impact on your life and why do you think mentorship is important in this community?

MJS: Thank you. I have been blessed to have several incredible young women come into my life. The mentorship really is mutual: the mentor gets mentored as well. Debra Goldblatt (founder of rock-it promo) was an amazing mentor and still continues to be an excellent resource. Derrick Chua (you all know him!) has been a long-standing theatre mentor and supporter of mine. Larissa Mair (casting director) provided me professional opportunities and support that gave me a leg up. My goal is to empower women via whatever opportunities and guidance I can provide. We are stronger working together to gain our rightful half of the pie.

HS: 100%! Thank you. Where do you look for inspiration?

MJS: I am inspired by great theatre, film and TV. I’m a news junkie, which also gets me riled up and can be a good source to fuel my fire. While I’m creating work, however, I find these sources can also stimulate my critical mind, which is not always helpful. Ideas seem to flourish best for me though music, yoga, art, reading and nature. These things still my restless mind and give me space to create.

HS: I love that balance. What is your favourite place in the city and why?

MJS: Parkdale. The mix of hipsters and refugees and fancy families and Tibetan monks, encompasses the diversity that is the life source of Toronto. There are also tons of good hang-out spots and it’s close to the lake.

HS: Please describe the show in 5-10 words.

MJS: Harrowing reveal of one woman’s escape from sex-slavery

Lela & Co

Who:
Written by Cordelia Lynn
Produced by Discord and Din Theatre in association with Seventh Stage Productions
Director: Melissa-Jane Shaw
Performed by: Jenna Harris & Graham Cuthbertson
Scenographer: Claire Hill
Lighting Designer: Jazz Kamal
Sound Designer: Verne Good
Associate Producer and Educational Coordinator: Brittany Kay

What:
First produced in 2015 at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Lela & Co. is a timely and gut-wrenching play about women’s worth in a capitalist world.

Based on a true story, Lela & Co. gives space for a woman to be able to tell her story of being brought into sex trafficking by her husband during a time of war. Starting off as a seemingly innocuous telling by Lela of her childhood, Lela & Co. dives headfirst into this while also exploring “truth” in storytelling, who gets to tell whose story, and the resiliency of the human spirit.

Where:
The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street West

When:
September 21st-October 8th, 2017

Tickets:
$15-$30, PWYC Sundays (additional high school student and group pricing)
http://theatrecentre.org or by calling 416.538.0988

Connect:
seventhstageproductions.com
discordanddintheatre.com
t: @MJShawB @DiscordandDin @seventh_stage #LelaCoTO

In Conversation with Jenna Harris – Playwright & Performer of “Mine” at the NSTF

Interview by Hallie Seline

It’s January. It’s cold. But if there is one thing to make this bleary month bearable, it is the excitement for The Next Stage Theatre Festival, a curated festival from The Toronto Fringe which provides past participants the opportunity to take their work “to the next level”. It is a great chance for artists to dig deeper into their projects and for audiences to see a variety of indie work and be introduced to new artists in between trips to the heated beer tent where you can connect with friends old and new and discuss the work over a local brew.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Jenna Harris, playwright/performer of Mine playing in the Factory Theatre Studio Space. We discussed the benefits of wearing many hats in the theatre world, playing with form and poetry, where she looks for inspiration, and the need to produce more work featuring the lesbian voice and authentic female sexuality. 

HS: Tell us a bit about yourself.

JH: I am an actor, writer/creator, arts educator and dancer (although formerly!), and the Founder and Artistic Director of Discord and Din Theatre. I am also a member of the [elephants] collective, a devised theatre collective. Originally from Kingston, Ontario, I went to acting school at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts (NY) before moving to Toronto.

HS: You wear a lot of hats in the theatre world. Can you speak about the benefits of this and what you’ve learned because of your experience?

JH: Absolutely! I am currently the Interim General Manager of Studio 180 Theatre, and was once the Assistant Box Office Manager at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. These two jobs, have been invaluable in teaching me the skills required, as well as the confidence, to self-produce.

Producing was not something that was taught to us or even spoken about when I went to acting school, so I never thought that would be something I would end up doing. But after moving to Toronto and seeing what a vibrant indie theatre scene existed here, and that it was possible to self-produce if you have the knowledge and skills to do so, I really wanted to learn as much as I could to create opportunities for myself and to get my work out there.

HS: Talk to us about Mine and why you wanted to put this story out in the world? 

JH: Mine is the story of the relationship between Bea and Abigail who meet when Bea is an undergrad and Abigail is her T.A. It is a story of joy, laughter, desire, miscommunication, sex, sadness, vulnerability, anger, lust, humour, growth, fear and love.

There are sort of three components to the story that, when I first started writing it, I wanted to tackle. The first one was that I was interested in musing on relationships: why they work, why they don’t, what it feels like to be in them…love, conflicts, power dynamics… And with this, the second one was, more specifically, that I wanted the relationship to be a lesbian one; not about being in a lesbian relationship, but simply about one. It’s a mystery to me why lesbian voices are not as numerous on Toronto stages as I feel they should be, given the strong lesbian presence in the theatre community and in the city as a whole. Lastly, I was interested in writing a play that paid homage in some small way to female sexuality – something that I also feel is lacking in theatre in an authentic and relatable way.

Michelle Polak and Jenna Harris in Mine

Michelle Polak and Jenna Harris in Mine

HS: Can you speak about your use of poetry in Mine and a bit about the play’s structure?  

JH: The role of poetry in this play is interesting, for me at least, because it wasn’t anything that I had planned to do. I didn’t start out by saying, “I would like to feature poetry in this piece”. It more just happened.

I am very interested in language and how we use language, particularly patterns of speech – the poetic rhythms of natural and not-so-natural speech. So this is where I first started. But then I guess I moved on to questions such as: What makes poetry/a poem? What is it about certain words or the way in which they are strung together that makes us feel things versus times when we don’t? And what does it mean when we can say things in a structured format like poetry or playwriting for that matter that we can’t in real life?

And so it was these questions as a playwright, coupled with the fact that Mine isn’t linear that I was interested to see how the theme of poetry, as well as poetry itself, could tie this play together and help to extenuate the journey of this relationship.

HS: Why do you think festivals like the NSTF are important for the Toronto arts community and Toronto as a whole?

JH: I think that festivals like NSTF provide an opportunity for artists to put their work out there in an extremely supportive environment where, not only is there the opportunity to continue to gain skills in self-producing, but also, because of the support of the Toronto Fringe, you are able to really focus attention on the art being created. This is a huge luxury.

Furthermore, NSTF creates a physical space, a hub, for artists to be able to come together and meet one another, and share and get excited about what is being created in our city, whether that’s a NSTF show or something else. Having this space and opportunity to interact with one another, and in solidarity brave the freezing winter to do so really bonds us as a community.

In terms of Toronto as a whole, I think NSTF is a chance to see work that might not be seen otherwise, or if it is, may go under the radar. Also, with the festival setting, I think people are more likely to come to one show and then maybe stay for another, see something they might not see otherwise, again exposing them to new work and artists.

Jenna Harris and Michelle Polak from Mine.

Jenna Harris and Michelle Polak from Mine.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration? 

JH: Hmmm… I think content inspiration for me usually comes from things that I find fascinating in the world or that I have questions about. I am particularly interested in the personal and the interpersonal; what makes us tick as people, as well as the ways in which we as people interact with each other and the world around us.

As for aesthetic and writing style/structure, inspiration for this has come from constantly reading plays from all over the world, but also going out and seeing theatre and other types of performance. I love being inspired by the work of others, whether that inspires me to try something new in my writing, or pushes me to risk more.

HS: What is your favourite part about the NSTF tent? 

JH: My favourite part of the NSTF tent is the atmosphere. There is so much energy and excitement in one place, you can’t help but be swept up by it. Even on our opening when it was -30, people were in the tent chatting with one another and getting revved-up to see shows. As a theatre artist, this is essentially heaven!

HS: If you could have your audience listen to a song or playlist before seeing the show, what would it be? 

JH: Oooo…good question! Well, a song that our Director Clinton Walker had us listen to was Pentatonix’s Run to You. Although I would maybe say listen to it after the show as opposed to prior to. I would say listen to something before that you love and that makes you want to get up and dance because who doesn’t love to dance?

**No cheating… listen to this after you see the show:

HS: Describe Mine in 5-10 words.

JH: Mine is about what it means to love someone.

HS: What’s another NSTF show that you are most excited about?

JH: Okay, so I’m going to be that person who answers this way: I’m excited to see all of them!

I am, actually. I’m looking forward to seeing what the other companies have been working on the past few months as we’ve been working on Mine, how diverse the shows are, and the passion with which these companies are putting their works out there.

Mine

by Jenna Harris, presented by Discord and Din Theatre as part of the Toronto Fringe’s Next Stage Theatre Festival

Mine

A bar, two strangers and a Fuzzy Navel. Mine is a rhapsodic odyssey of love, loss, laughter and the lives of two women as they build a relationship together. Composed within a haunting and sensual rhythm, this is a play that speaks to our desire and desperation to be understood, valued and loved. Our human need to belong.

Tickets: $15 – Buy here.

Connect: Discord and Din Theatre @DiscordandDin

Where: Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

Length: 60 mins

Playwright Jenna Harris
Director Clinton Walker
Featuring Jenna Harris, Michelle Polak
Sound Designer Lyon Smith
Lighting Designer Adrien Whan
Dramaturge Clinton Walker
Producer Emma Mackenzie Hillier
Stage Manager Christopher Douglas

When:

Wed Jan 7 – 6:30pm
Thu Jan 8 – 9:00pm
Sat Jan 10 – 8:45pm
Sun Jan 11 – 5:00pm
Mon Jan 12 – 7:15pm – followed by a Talkback at The Hoxton
Wed Jan 14 – 8:30pm
Fri Jan 16 – 4:45pm
Sat Jan 17 – 2:45pm
Sun Jan 18 – 4:00pm