Inside Fringe: In Conversation with Sam Mullins on creating & re-visiting “Weaksauce” at the 2017 Toronto Fringe
Article by Megan Robinson
Sam Mullins, writer and performer of Weaksauce, has come a long way since his first solo-show, Tinfoil Dinosaur, which opened at the Winnipeg Fringe in 2011. “I’ve never vomited from nerves except for that day […] I tried to drop out of the festival. I wanted to just go home. I was like, I can’t do it.” Mullins relives the memory as he sits across from me at the Theatre Centre, the day after opening Weaksauce at the 2017 Toronto Fringe. “It’s one thing to be running your show in your living room and it’s another thing when the whole city shuts down for the Fringe.”
Though Mullins is much more comfortable as a writer and would like nothing more than to stop performing (for all the enjoyment, there is so much anxiety) he assures me he is not about to quit. Instead, he spins it into a positive. “Nervous energy is a good thing for me on stage. It’s really easy to be vulnerable on stage when you feel really vulnerable. I don’t have to pretend.”
Weaksauce is the story of firsts in Mullins’ life: first time away from home, first love and first love triangle. It’s his contribution to his favourite genre; romantic coming-of-age. And the goal for the show? Storytelling that is efficient while still being as fun as possible. Drawing from influences like Mike Birbiglia and Tig Notaro, Mullins says, “If you can make people laugh for 45 minutes and have a couple moments of poignance, like Tig and Mike can do—I just feel like there’s such great power in it. It lifts it above standup and storytelling, it’s like this hybrid.”
The show, which played at the Toronto Fringe in 2013, remains about 90% the same as the script Mullins wrote “in like a weekend” after a busy summer touring a show with his good friends, Peter and Chris. Faced with only a week to create a whole new show for the final festival of the tour, they all headed to Sam’s family home in Vernon BC. “It was like a writers colony,” Sam recalls, grinning. “Peter and Chris in one room working on their show and me in another.”
This is where Weaksauce came to be, under the guidance of “guru” Elizabeth Blue who was also in attendance of this retreat. “She was like drinking and floating on a tube in the lake and we’d go out on the dock and be like “Lizzy! I need to read you a new draft! […] She was the biggest help ever. She gave me so many great notes. Her fingerprints are all over the show.”
With no formal director for Weaksauce, Mullins tends to ask friends for help when he thinks he needs it. On opening day of Weaksauce, he brought in Johnnie Walker (playwright of Redheaded Stepchild) to help clean up the staging a bit (after offering Walker a hundred bucks for the favour). “Johnnie has a real nose and eye for staging and blocking and character choices, and all those things are after-thoughts for me. I’m just obsessed with what the piece of paper is.” An obsession that means after Mullins has spent his time enjoying the little breakthroughs and finding the perfect line, he often hands the script off to his performer self at the last minute.
From reading through Mullins’ website, it’s clear he some good thoughts for writers. He holds true to advice from his friend and performer James Gangl that what you write about should scare the shit out of you. Mullins writes about loaded topics, stories of angst and embarrassment are where he has found his best stuff. So though there is an importance to first processing an experience, Mullins says, “you can’t be fully over it […] I love going back and working through these things. It’s fun revisiting these old times and places and people and seeing it through your eyes now, and seeing how it is different.”
What’s different for Mullins and for Weaksauce this time around? With more standup experience, he’s better at recognizing opportunities for jokes. He is in a larger venue this year than he was in 2013. Oh, and he’s engaged (!!).
When I ask if there is a connection between getting married this summer and bringing back Weaksauce he nods. “Yeah, when we got engaged and I wanted to remount one of my old shows, I was like it would be really fun to revisit falling in love for the first time in the context of me getting married. And Weaksauce was always my favourite,” Mullins says. “As I’m thinking about my vows and thinking about our journeys to each other this was a really fun thing to think about and immerse myself in […] To remember what it was like the first time that you thought you found your person. And, you know, how all of the failed relationships along the way… they weren’t failures, they were what lead us to each other.”
Who: Sam Mullins (Writer/Performer)
What: A coming-of-age comedy of first times, second chances and third wheels. ★★Canadian Comedy Award Winner for Best One-Person Show★★ “Weaksauce is first-rate theatre. Fresh, funny, and heart-poundingly alive.” – NOW
Where: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, 79A Saint George Street.
July 11th 6pm
July 13th 9:15pm
July 14th 12pm
July 15th 3:30pm