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Posts tagged ‘drama’

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

 

Morro and Jasp on the Nature of Relationships

Article by: Morro and Jasp
Photos by: Jackson Klie
Styled by: Mahro Anfield
http://www.morroandjasp.com

On the interpretation of ‘feelings’ as they pertain to the understanding of being ‘involved’ in, as, or with a society upon which the dependence of ‘another’ is debated and discussed OR How many licks does it take to get to the centre of a Tootsie Pop?

Morro and Jasp sit, sisterly, pondering the nature of relationships – theatrical, theoretical and thematic.  They often sigh before speaking, and pause before pronouncing their opinions.  They are very much, as the French say, “a la carte”.
JASP: Morro, tell me the honest truth – how do you feel about me?
MORRO: Without you I am not a thing, I am no thing, I am a lone tree in the forest and therefore not really there. Je suis la tristess!!!! Je suis la pizza without la sauce.
JASP: Really?
MORRO: Or maybe I’d be really excited to finally not have to report to anyone but secretly I’m too chicken-shit to find out if that could be true- the risk is too great. Take cover troops. Stay protected!!!
JASP: I see.
MORRO: And what about you Jasp? What are your feelings on this subject?
JASP: I think feelings are one of, nay, the most important things we have. They’re the only thing we have really. Every morning I wake up and write a journal entry about how I feel; from the dreams I had the night before; how my day is going to go; how hungry I am (hunger is after all, a feeling), etc.
MORRO: (sarcastically) Fascinating.
JASP: (ignoring her) Sometimes I think my sister is the only one who really knows me, yet she doesn’t know me. We share the same blood but different souls. I yearn for the day I will find the one who shares a soul with mine and we can lick to the centre of the proverbial Tootsie Pop together (No offense, Morro).
MORRO: None taken.
JASP: What are your thoughts Morro?
MORRO: I was pondering the other fortnight and upon my musings I imagined a world in which there were no farms. How horrible an utterance was this that a tear I did shed from my left eye. My right eye does not release fluids so readily. Imagine a city without a farm. Don’t’ actually imagine it , that was a rhetorical question. But think of it, what would we eat? I once sat under a tree at Riverdale Farm with my tootsie pop and let two drops of said liquid fall from mine eye (still the left one). Without a farm never can one indulge in such a delight. What was the question again? Jasp, it’s your turn.
JASP: My feeling about the actual topic, not about farms, is that relationships are so impossible because people place the importance of logic over feelings and emotion. People think logic is important, but it’s an illusion. There is no logic, our feelings are really all that guide us. That’s the only reason I don’t have a boyfriend. Boys want to think they can be independent and resist my charms. But the reality is that I am so romantic that it’s hard for people to handle.
MORRO: Boys are not the topic either Jasp.
JASP: (with conviction) I believe in romance films and novels. They are my religion, if you will, and people are intimidated by the feelings I bring out in them so they run away. Their logic tells them it’s not “normal” or “practical” to feel such strong romance in this day and age. An age of course cyber-dating and cheap pornography. But old-timey romance is alive and it burns like a fire within me. (You can find my profile on Plentyoffish.com)
MORRO: Oh I get it, you’re like a chicken with it’s feet cut off.
JASP: No.
MORRO: Your life is like the sound of two hands clapping, loud but lonely, and without me you’d be —
JASP: No, you’re not listening.
MORRO: I see, I see. What you’re saying is you can’t judge a book by its colour, that life is like rolling moss, it gathers, and then gets stoned.
JASP: MORRO!
MORRO: I know Jasp, It’s always darkest after the dawn.
JASP: Whatever.
MORRO: (singing) Feeeeeelings!  Nothing more than feeeeelings!!!
Jasp gets up and leaves. Morro continues to sing until she notices Jasp has left, then is silent, with no one to hear her, she becomes still.

– fin

Leonard’s thoughts on Poetry. Our thoughts on Leonard.

By: Alex Johnson

When I first announced (rather anti-climactically) that I was going in to the arts, my dad printed off a copy of Leonard Cohen’s How to Speak Poetry, handed it to me, and said nothing. I read it. I had practically no idea what I was reading, but nevertheless understood it completely, thoroughly, profoundly.

Ever since then, I have tried to put this wonderful piece of writing into as may hands as would take it. I am forever curious as to how it moves others, and how it marries with artist’s approach (if at all).

I have invited three wonderful Toronto actors – from all stages of their careers – to offer me their thoughts on Leonard Cohen’s How to Speak Poetry (printed below). May I present…Katie Ribout, Ron Kennell, Maggie Blake, and Leonard Cohen.

LEONARD COHEN – HOW TO SPEAK POETRY

Take the word butterfly. To use this word it is not necessary to make the voice weigh less than an ounce or equip it with small dusty wings. It is not necessary to invent a sunny day or a field of daffodils. It is not necessary to be in love, or to be in love with butterflies. The word butterfly is not a real butterfly. There is the word and there is the butterfly. If you confuse these two items people have the right to laugh at you. Do not make so much of the word. Are you trying to suggest that you love butterflies more perfectly than anyone else, or really understand their nature? The word butterfly is merely data. It is not an opportunity for you to hover, soar, befriend flowers, symbolize beauty and frailty, or in any way impersonate a butterfly. Do not act out words. Never act out words. Never try to leave the floor when you talk about flying. Never close your eyes and jerk your head to one side when you talk about death. Do not fix your burning eyes on me when you speak about love. If you want to impress me when you speak about love put your hand in your pocket or under your dress and play with yourself. If ambition and the hunger for applause have driven you to speak about love you should learn how to do it without disgracing yourself or the material.

What is the expression which the age demands? The age demands no expression whatever. We have seen photographs of bereaved Asian mothers. We are not interested in the agony of your fumbled organs. There is nothing you can show on your face that can match the horror of this time. Do not even try. You will only hold yourself up to the scorn of those who have felt things deeply. We have seen newsreels of humans in the extremities of pain and dislocation. Everyone knows you are eating well and are even being paid to stand up there. You are playing to people who have experienced a catastrophe. This should make you very quiet.  Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Everyone knows you are in pain. You cannot tell the audience everything you know about love in every line of love you speak. Step aside and they will know what you know because you know it already. You have nothing to teach them. You are not more beautiful than they are. You are not wiser. Do not shout at them. Do not force a dry entry. That is bad sex. If you show the lines of your genitals, then deliver what you promise. And remember that people do not really want an acrobat in bed. What is our need? To be close to the natural man, to be close to the natural woman. Do not pretend that you are a beloved singer with a vast loyal audience which has followed the ups and downs of your life to this very moment. The bombs, flame-throwers, and all the shit have destroyed more than just the trees and villages. They have also destroyed the stage. Did you think that your profession would escape the general destruction? There is no more stage. There are no more footlights. You are among the people. Then be modest. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Be by yourself. Be in your own room. Do not put yourself on.

This is an interior landscape. It is inside. It is private. Respect the privacy of the material. These pieces were written in silence. The courage of the play is to speak them. The discipline of the play is not to violate them. Let the audience feel your love of privacy even though there is no privacy. Be good whores. The poem is not a slogan. It cannot advertise you. It cannot promote your reputation for sensitivity. You are not a stud. You are not a killer lady. All this junk about the gangsters of love. You are students of discipline. Do not act out the words. The words die when you act them out, they wither, and we are left with nothing but your ambition.

Speak the words with the exact precision with which you would check out a laundry list. Do not become emotional about the lace blouse. Do not get a hard-on when you say panties. Do not get all shivery just because of the towel. The sheets should not provoke a dreamy expression about the eyes. There is no need to weep into the handkerchief. The socks are not there to remind you of strange and distant voyages. It is just your laundry. It is just your clothes. Don’t peep through them. Just wear them.

The poem is nothing but information. It is the Constitution of the inner country. If you declaim it and blow it up with noble intentions then you are no better than the politicians whom you despise. You are just someone waving a flag and making the cheapest kind of appeal to a kind of emotional patriotism. Think of the words as science, not as art. They are a report. You are speaking before a meeting of the Explorers’ Club of the National Geographic Society. These people know all the risks of mountain climbing. They honour you by taking this for granted. If you rub their faces in it that is an insult to their hospitality. Tell them about the height of the mountain, the equipment you used, be specific about the surfaces and the time it took to scale it. Do not work the audience for gasps and sighs. If you are worthy of gasps and sighs it will not be from your appreciation of the event but from theirs. It will be in the statistics and not the trembling of the voice or the cutting of the air with your hands. It will be in the data and the quiet organization of your presence.

Avoid the flourish. Do not be afraid to be weak. Do not be ashamed to be tired. You look good when you’re tired. You look like you could go on forever. Now come into my arms. You are the image of my beauty.

MAGGIE BLAKE 

These are the sentiments that stand out to me, which I believe, are a big part of his message. At first I thought it was going to be a long wanky rant, but turns out he’s against wankiness too! A man after my own heart! I really loved this, but I don’t think I could ever take it as an entire mantra to live by- either in life or in art. We can’t always forget that there’s a stage…in fact I think it’s important to remember that we need to put stories on for a reason….. and that indeed theatre is often a platform for us to observe ourselves- but to pretend that it is not a heightened reality? I think that does a disservice to the platform and the audience. We are not always nuanced. We cannot always not care about what we say.

Maggie Blake is an exciting young Canadian actress who got her start playing Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank at the Stratford Festival. Since then she has traveled the country and the world, training enthusiastically, obsessed with reading, and landing parts with many of Canada’s major theatre companies. If you ever hear Maggie’s name attached to anything…GO. She will charm the pants off you.

KATIE RIBOUT

What I feel he is saying is to Trust and K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Two things which I strive for but have the hardest time doing.

Katie is a recent graduate of the University of Windsor’s BFA Acting Programme. Her performances have brought me to tears and laughter many times. She is now living in Toronto auditioning for anything and everything. Keep a look out for this one, and wish her luck. 

RON KENNELL

“You are playing to people who have experienced a catastrophe.” is something I carry with me all the time. This poem and the song If It Be Your Will have become a huge part of my life. I am ever mindful that I am privileged to tell the stories of others, this sentiment makes me bold and keeps me humble.

Ron Kennell is a veteran of Canadian theatre who has played everywhere from Stratford to Buddies in Bad Times. Toronto audiences will recognize him from The Tempest with Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park, and his recent mind-blowing success, The Maids at Buddies. The first piece of advice I ever heard him give a young actor was: “Read. Everything. Out loud.”