Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Eliza Martin’

“Working with Youth, Audience Participation & The Extraordinary Things in Life” Eliza Martin and Neil Silcox on HARVEY & THE EXTRAORDINARY at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Bailey Green.

We sat down with theatre creators Eliza Martin and Neil Silcox to discuss the upcoming site-specific Fringe show Harvey & the Extraordinary, written and performed by Eliza and directed by Neil. Harvey and the Extraordinary explores the joy and heartbreak of childhood from the perspective of an 8-year-old girl named Mimi. We spoke about working with youth, audience participation and the extraordinary things in life.

BG: How did you started working together?

Eliza Martin: I saw Neil in a production of King Lear at Hart House Theatre. He played Edgar, but more importantly I was captivated by his performance as Poor Tom.

Neil Silcox: I pretended to be a cat.

EM: I thought the cat was exemplary. Neil was friends with Jeremy Hutton, who was director of Toronto Youth Theatre at the time and then Neil came in as AD on Into the Woods, which I was in. And my first words to him were, “Did you play a cat in King Lear?”

NS: We worked together on that show, and then I directed Rent at TYT. And then I coached Eliza going into theatre school auditions, and then Eliza went to TDS [Theatre and Drama Studies] from whence I am also an alumnus. Thus a friendship was born! A year and a half ago, Eliza reached out to me with a new script she was developing, which became Harvey & the Extraordinary. Last summer we did a workshop of it over two days at the end of July in a garage that had belonged to my friends Jeff and Sarah. We thought this is perfect for the Fringe – it has a lot of give and take with the audience, it’s fun and the garage is about 200 metres from the Fringe patio, which doesn’t hurt.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: What did you learn from your workshop last summer?

EM: The piece has so much audience interaction, it’s such an integral part of the show, that we were interested in their experience and perspective on plot and characters. They had really great thoughts on storyline and what they might need clarified

NS: In some ways it’s a mystery piece in that the character of Mimi is an 8-year-old and is something of an unreliable narrator. So part of our job is to pick apart what she says to piece together the more objective reality. And some of the audience in the workshop didn’t do that and we were able to identify some ways to drop some clearer hints and guide the audience. As a director it was interesting to see the context of the show in that specific space because it is a garage in an alleyway in the heart of the city with the back door open. There was a kind of give and take with the city, which is really beautiful. And Mimi is a Torontonian kid so she has a rapport with the city. We had everything from cars driving by to people throwing firecrackers.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: What was it like interacting with an audience and where there any surprises that it brought?

EM: I was very surprised at how much I felt like they enjoyed participation and I feel a lot of that was because Mimi is a child. You feel like you get to support her in a lovely way and it makes them feel comfortable. Even though audience participation can sound scary, for myself included, there’s something really special about the relationship between Mimi, a child, and the audience, because you feel as though you are helping her with her performance. It cuts away some of the embarrassment that people sometimes experience in audience participation. That was really gratifying to discover and I look forward to continuing to explore that relationship

NS: It’s that quality that we always look for, that Mimi is always thrilled and excited by what she gets, so it’s accessible audience participation. No one ever gets anything wrong, no one is the butt of the joke. It’s a small show – we seat 19 people. In the workshop we had 2 performances and we filled it full of people quite close to us, professionally and personally. Those audiences had an understanding of who Eliza is and who I am and the work we do, so I’m really excited to have strangers in who will have fewer presumptions about who we are and the work we do.

BG: Eliza, what drew you to create a solo show?

EM: A solo show forces you into creative storytelling. What excited me is that I found I did my most creative work when I didn’t have other actors up there with me. I had to find ways to create for myself what was needed in the story. I began doing it because I wanted a way to control my own work and work on something without sort of waiting for the phone to ring. It seems like a simple answer but that’s what started it — as a way to have a project for myself. I fell in love with it as I did it and I fell in love with other people’s solo projects and being amazed at what they did and how they told their stories until it was a rabbit hole I fell down in an exciting way.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: How did working with children and young people influence this show?

NS: I’ve been teaching theatre now for 20 years, and I started with people who are about Mimi’s age, 8 or so, at a YMCA in London when I didn’t know anything. Since then I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of kids […] Randy Pausch wrote a book called The Last Lecture, in it he talks about teaching football as an educational head fake. You tell young people that you’re teaching them to play football but you’re really teaching them a bunch of other things and my philosophy of teaching youth theatre was the same thing. When you first get into theatre, we think of it as a putting on of someone else. But the beauty in theatre is about showing who you are, it is a revelation of self. It’s very personal work that Eliza does in her writing and in her performance. In rehearsal, we talk about our histories and who we were as children and how our current anxieties are similar to those young people and in Mimi.

EM: I had that experience working with you as a youth, so that’s interesting. We think we’re putting something on, when really we’re giving ourselves the freedom to express. We do talk a lot about our own personal stories and one of the reasons I reached out to Neil was not only because he’s a wonderful friend and mentor, but I feel like we share this similar sense of humour that I was interested in writing and working with in the piece. And it’s Mimi’s humour, it’s this lovely humour that I find comes from communicating with children. I love the way they talk about their lives and the discoveries they make and every day is so new and interesting. I had a little boy say to me once, “The inside of my neck is itchy” and he meant his throat but I thought it was clever that he would describe it as that. There are a few Mimis in my life and I bring in their stories and reference them often.

BG: What are three extraordinary things currently giving you life?  

EM:

  1. Samosas.
  2. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer – I’m telling everyone and their mother to read it. It’s about the exchange between audience and performer. Palmer reflects on her time as a street performer and the gift of art and human connection.
  3. Fresh cut flowers.

NS:

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – a beautiful way to shift my perspective and extremely compelling writing. It’s a great example of an old axiom about writing where you write for something extremely specific and in that it will be accessible to everyone, and if you try to write something accessible to everyone, no one will care. So Ta-Nehisi, writing for his son, a young teenage Black man in America in 2015, that specificity made it clear where there was room for the reader.
  2. Parks and Recreation – I’m watching it for the first time and it is really good. There’s a purity to each character, like a bell tone.
  3. This War of Mine – It’s a video game that is not exactly fun, but extremely compelling. The game asks what you have to do as a civilian to survive war. It’s crushing, because you can’t survive without making some awful choices. I’m interested in how different mediums find emotions that you can’t find in other media, and a video game can find guilt in a way I don’t know if a book or movie can.(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Harvey and The Extraordinary

Who:
Written & Performed by Eliza Martin
Direction by Neil Silcox

What:
Harvey & The Extraordinary invites you to follow the trail of painted cardboard signs and join eight-year-old Mimi and her hamster Harvey for their professional and not-so-silent debut!
With big dreams to join the circus, Mimi sets out to put on her very own mime show (in her garage) for a special guest of honour. Harvey & The Extraordinary explores the joy and heartbreak of childhood and what it means to maybe, just maybe, be simply ordinary.

Where:
GARAGE ON COLLEGE PLACE
181 Markham Street
Toronto
ON
M6J 2G7

When:
4th July – 7:00pm
5th July – 7:00pm
6th July – 7:00pm
7th July – 7:00pm
8th July – 7:00pm*
10th July – 7:00pm
11th July – 7:00pm*
12th July – 7:00pm
13th July – 7:00pm
14th July – 7:00pm

*Relaxed Performance

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

Advertisements

“Breaking out of the Ingénue” In Conversation with Eliza Martin: Playwright/Performer of “O”

Interview by Bailey Green.

We spoke with playwright and actor Eliza Martin about her upcoming solo show O, playing for two nights only at the Artscape Wychwood Barns on November 28 and 29. The play tells the story of Leigh, who is donning her flower crown to play Ophelia. During a tech rehearsal the day before opening, Leigh speaks to the audience about her experiences as the ingénue—namely crying and dying. Through Leigh, Martin challenges the notions surrounding these iconic roles for young women. We spoke with Martin about breaking out of the ingénue, her fascination with Ophelia and discovering her voice.

Bailey Green: Tell me about the genesis of the project.

Eliza Martin: So I started working on O in 2014 when I was about to graduate [from the University of Toronto and Sheridan College]. It was an Independent Study Project led by David Matheson, and I was interested in the character of Ophelia, perhaps for the reasons we all are. There’s that image in our head of the woman floating in the water, this history of all those famous paintings and I wanted to do a project exploring her.

BG: What else drew you to the character of Ophelia, what qualities did you want to explore more deeply?

EM: As a young woman in theatre, we think of ‘who I would play in that show’. We look at plays with the lens of the part we might be considered for. So for me, I recognized this frustration in this tiny, tiny role [Ophelia] and these limited situations that we see her in. We get her being a pawn for her dad and brother, her briefly talking to Hamlet and then as Mad Ophelia. Which is beautiful in its own right, but still—in a play that is three hours long, she only has these tiny moments, whereas Hamlet deliberates about one decision for pages. Yet for this one young woman, we get only a few glimpses into what she’s going through and hardly any text at all. At the time of my ISP, a friend of mine mentioned that she took a Shakespeare course in university and the professor spoke about the origin of Ophelia’s name—he said O is a nice emotional sound, and O is also a zero and it means nothing. I was enraged by that notion, so I called it O. I wanted this moment of defence – I just can’t let a female part mean nothing.

BG: How has this draft changed from previous drafts? Do you find your focus has changed?

EM: I think the focus has changed. It’s very much the same spirit. And a lot of the work Ali [Joy Richardson] and I did as co-creators has stayed in tact from when we workshopped O at the Paprika Festival. This time we’re digging a little deeper into the heart of both the character and the actor, Leigh. It’s a longer version and there’s a bit more darkness and ambiguity. We only had 30 minutes at Paprika, so it’s been great to be given more time to dig. I’m working with Rebecca Ballarin, who is new to the project, and our team is just amazing.

BG: How have you broken out of the ingénue role in your own career?

EM: It’s something that has always been kind of assigned to me? And because of that I used to view parts and opportunities through that lens. I’d approach Hamlet and think Ophelia and I would immediately slot myself into those expectations. And now, I have arrived at this crossroads, because if we’re going to play these parts we need to play them differently. Or perhaps they don’t belong anymore, and they need to be adapted. Or how can someone else play them to make them more compelling? Maybe I’m not the right person to play these roles anymore. I think we need to move forward with that knowledge, that these roles need to be changed or played by other people. There need to be new voices.

BG: What challenges you the most about this project?

EM: I think bringing my own self into it has been challenging. It started as a project where I wanted to explore Ophelia and Hamlet as a play and I wanted to do so with distance and from an academic perspective. But when I was working with Ali, she encouraged me to bring my own story which was very challenging and scary to do. That opened the door for the work we’re doing now, and collaborating with Rebecca, has moved the piece further in the direction I was going.

BG: Who or what is currently inspiring you?

EM: I’m very interested in the conversations being had about consent. I don’t think that was a conversation that was in O in the previous versions, but there’s a lot to be said about the power dynamic between a young woman and older man. I’m inspired by the women coming forward and talking about their experiences. It’s not something that goes very far in the show, I wouldn’t say that we really tackle issues of consent, but there’s a lot to be said for decisions we feel we need to make because we’re part of this big system. This is Leigh’s first real Equity gig, and she’s working with a well-known director, and she doesn’t feel that she is able to express herself or ask for changes that should be made.

Rapid Fire Questions:

Go-to cafe: Bloomer’s.

Album on repeat: Christmas music…don’t judge me!

Best time to write: Late at night—so toxic, so tempting.

Current favourite tea: Earl grey, any day.

Late night snack: Popcorn

O

Who:
Written and performed by Eliza Martin
Directed by Rebecca Ballarin
Sound Design by Nick Potter
Lighting Design by Steph Raposo
Production Stage Manager: Lucy McPhee
Script Advisor: Rachel Blair
Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

With Ben Hayward as Rod
and Lucy McPhee as Carol

What:
Hamlet opens tomorrow night and Leigh is ready to make her debut as Ophelia: wigged, primped, and donning her flower crown. During a brief hold in her tech rehearsal, Leigh takes the audience through basic acting skills for the ingénue and shares candid personal anecdotes, sparking a series of unsettling realizations.

O examines the stage life and death of the ingénue – the stories they tell, and the women behind them. Will we continue to accept that success for an actress means crying and dying through a career? Or can we find a way to keep our heads above water while turning the tide?

Where:
Artscape Wychwood Barns

When:
8pm November 29th & 30th 2017

Tickets:
$15, online & at the door
Tickets: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3166903

Connect:
http://www.elizamartin.ca/