SummerWorks 2014 Artist Profile – Erin Fleck: Playwright, Performer, Puppeteer – Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales
Interview by Hallie Seline
Hallie Seline: Could you talk a bit about your show Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales playing now as part of the SummerWorks 2014 Juried Series and where you got the inspiration to write it?
Erin Fleck: Growing up, I remember my parents, grandparents and important adults in my life telling me fairy-tales, fables and other stories to teach me about the world. In many cases, they were lessons outlining morality, how to be a good person to others, or how to find my place in the world. Which, according to them, and me, was going to be something important, something for the history books. We all are the heroes of our own story, right?
I remember most of the stories told to me by my parents tending to frame life as a positive adventure, where things always work out in the end, even if the journey gets hard along the way. Good things happen to “good” people, and “bad” people get what’s coming to them… or at the very least they learn something and become better people.
But when you grow up, it becomes very apparent that this isn’t the case most of the time. Of course, there can be a lot of beautiful things to celebrate in life, but things don’t always work out, even for the nicest, most caring, well-intentioned people out there. And people who do evil things don’t always have to answer for them.
(And to add another level to that, ideas of what or who is “good” or “bad” are never that cut and dry.)
Life often throws you disappointments, unwanted responsibilities, lowered expectations, and in some cases, tragedies that you have to survive. I think this realization also coincides with an age where most people consider us too old to sit down, curl up and have someone read aloud to us from a book of treasured tales.
So, I started writing the Tales with that idea in mind. People who are trying to be heroes in their own stories, but end up having the heroism or that poignancy snatched away by circumstance. But I still wanted the telling of their stories to capture the magic and whimsy of the tales I loved as a kid. And also, I didn’t want to lose the sense of surviving those things, and keeping on, because we do that every day.
HS: You have quite the team of creative people working on it with you (sound designers, puppet makers, video artists etc.) Being the playwright, what surprised you the most while developing the show to its current version?
EF: Honestly, the amount of enthusiasm, passion and resourcefulness that all of the artists have, who’ve been involved with the development since the beginning. I love the show and the stories, but there was a part of me in the early stages that thought, who besides me is going to care about this whimsical and sad little world, that is actually a huge logistical undertaking? And to have so many talented people throw themselves into it has been overwhelming and wonderful.
We had Jordan [Tannahill] and Will [Ellis] at Videofag back in January (where we did the first workshop) saying “We will give you space, make this thing happen”. My director Maya [Rabinovitch] heard my ideas about a puppet show in a blanket fort and what I was trying to create as an experience with this show, and thought “Ya, let’s just go for it. We’ll deal with logistics later.” Our designer Roxanne Ignatius has been living with 100 yards of blankets for the last few months to build a tent big enough for the LOT Studio space. Sarah Fairlie, who runs Caterwaul with me, and is the puppet designer and main builder, has designed five puppet shows and a stop motion film in the last eight months. The puppeteers and narrators that have come on board, are all incredibly talented and busy actors and performers, and they’ve just taken whatever has been thrown at them, and given back insight into the stories that has been so helpful to me as the creator. And since she’s come on board, Pip [Bradford], our stage manager and technician, somehow managed to look at our five shows worth of puppets, a 25 x 30 foot tent, four projectors and a puppet screen and say “Why yes, we can get that ready in 25 minutes before curtain, no problem, Erin.”
HS: What are you most excited for the audience to experience with the show (We’re really excited about this blanket fort that you can watch in!)
EF: We opened on Thursday, so I’m cheating a little bit with this question. We’d just gotten the tent up and set up all of the inside seating and puppets, and I was waiting behind our shadow screen as the audience was let in. And all I could hear were people reacting to realizing that they were walking into a giant blanket fort built for them. They were pointing out details to each other, exploring the space, identifying knickknacks, wondering what everything was going to mean to the show they were about to see. Having that off the top of the show really sets the performance for me. We’re doing five different puppet shows in and around the audience. Sometimes you can see us as puppeteers and narrators and sometimes you can’t. Having the audience already curious, already engaging with the space, really sets the tone for how we want to engage them with the stories. It really is a “these stories are sad, but we’re all in this together” kind of environment for that 60 minutes.
HS: Why do you think festivals like SummerWorks are so important to the Toronto theatre scene?
EF: I’m a playwright who creates new work primarily, and I’m also a puppeteer. Having a festival that focuses on supporting artistic risk and innovation on stage, while encouraging their audiences to do the same, provides artists with a relatively safe space to create, develop and showcase their work. Those opportunities aren’t always so available with such a high level of exposure for that work.
HS: Best advice you’ve ever gotten.
EF: This was about being a writer:
No one cares about your work as much as you do. So make sure you’re doing it. People will invest in it, and you, only if you believe in it and put it out into the world for others to see.
HS: Favourite place in Toronto.
EF: Toronto Island. Hands down.
HS: Where do you look for inspiration?
EF: I write a lot from personal experience, but I’m also a pretty big history, literary, folklore nerd, so I find as a writer I’m often trying to weave those things together. It harkens back to the inspiration for the show really. It’s the attempt to find the epic in your own personal narrative.
HS: Tell us in five to ten words why you think someone should come see the show?
EF: We’ll make you sad, but we’ll hold your hand through it.
HS: If the audience were to listen to a song or soundtrack before coming to see the show, what should it be?
EF: I’ve had a lot of music playing during the writing and building of this piece. (You need it when you are exacto-knifing bristol board for hours on end!) In fact, on our production blog I was tracking an “Unintentionally Depressing Soundtrack” If you’re interested, it’s here: erinmaefleck.tumblr.com
But in terms of a go-to for the writing of the Tales, I always came back to this:
Just Another Diamond Day – Vashti Bunyan
Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales
Written by Erin Fleck, Directed by Maya Rabinovitch presented by Caterwaul Theatre as part of the 2014 SummerWorks Festival
Puppet Design by Sarah Fairlie and Erin Fleck
Video Art Direction by Sarah Fairlie
Musical Direction by Brad Casey
Set Design by Roxanne Ignatius
Lighting Design by Pip Bradford
Performed by Glyn Bowerman, Sascha Cole, Talia DelCogliano, Erin Fleck, Marcus Jamin, Jordi Mand, Michelle Urbano, Brian Webber
Where – The Lower Ossington Theatre Studio
When -Thursday August 7, 8:30pm
Saturday August 9, 8:00pm
Sunday August 10, 12:30pm
Monday August 11, 9:00pm
Wednesday August 13, 4:00pm
Thursday August 14, 10:00pm
Saturday August 16, 6:00pm
Sunday August 17, 7:00pm
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