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Steinbeck meets Clown in “Of Mice and Morro and Jasp” – A Chat over Tea with Co-Creators & Performers Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I had tea on a frigid evening with the talented and wonderful Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee of Morro and Jasp as they finished each others’ sentences and laughed about their upcoming show, “Of Mice and Morro and Jasp” playing now at the Factory Studio Theatre, January 28th to February 8th.

MM: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Morro and Jasp?

HMA: Morro and Jasp are clown sisters. Jasp is older.

AL: Yes, she certainly is.

HML: And more bossy. And more particular. And they have been sisters…

AL: And Morro is younger. And more unruly. And flies by the seat of her pants. But loving and free spirited. (Indicates Annis) She plays Morro. We both said a nice thing and a not so nice thing about each others’ character.

HMA: They can’t live with each other or without each other.

AL: Absolutely. They have been growing up over the years. This is our… I can’t really keep track anymore. This is show… maybe eight, nine?

HMA: They’ve gone on a series of adventures. We started out with them performing. Morro and Jasp are the ones writing the plays and putting on the plays.

AL: We help sometimes.

HML: And they’ve grown up through the series of shows that we’ve done since we started. We had three…?

AL: Three shows for young audiences and then they went through puberty, which was awkward and exciting and then they went on different vacations, then they did a cooking show and now they’re tackling a tragedy with Of Mice and Morro and Jasp.

MM: So in doing Of Mice and Morro and Jasp, do we see their growing maturity through the progression of them growing up?

HMA: Yes. And they’re at a stage in their lives where they’re struggling financially, and they’re trying to find their place in the world with jobs and how they’re accepted by society, or not accepted by society.

AL: Figuring out how to make life work. (Looks at Annis) I guess you said that.

HMA: You said it in a different way.

MM: It sounds incredibly relatable. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t say, “What’s my place in the world? How do I figure this out? I need a job!”

AL: And similarly, just how George and Lenny are figuring out where to go and how to make their dream work. The first thing that jumped out for us was that it was such a great pairing. Their relationship is so similar to our relationship and then just figuring out their similarities. George and Lenny’s journey and Morro and Jasp’s journey and how they fit.

HMA: And also to explore the sadness in their lives. The tragic elements, beyond comedy, what else there is.

AL: There are always elements of tragedy in our shows, of course, there has to be both, but we wanted to try and adapt a full on tragedy to see what would happen.


MM: Is this because the two of you sit down and say “This is what we’re going to do”? What is your process of developing your shows? I’ve heard of some performers who say “There is me, and then there is my clown” and others who say “It’s all me”.

HMA: (laughs) That is an interesting question!

AL: We are IN our clowns, but our clowns…because we’ve been doing them for so long, they really have minds of their own. And a lot of the time, we’ll think something will be a good idea, and when we rehearse as Morro and Jasp, they will let us know. A lot of the time, we’ll try to solve the problem, and we’ll say “Let’s let Morro and Jasp solve it” and they do.

HMA: At the end of the day, your clown character is coming from you and your own individual personality, which is why clown is so specific. With some characters, you can try to replicate them and perform this other person as an actor. I find it’s a little more challenging with clown because it is so specific to your person. So, we are our clowns, but once we get into character and start exploring ideas, we have totally different ideas that will come out in different ways.

AL: It’s about impulses!

HMA: Right. We might not have those as Heather and Amy sitting at a computer coming up with ideas. Theirs will be more! Theirs will be bigger and more exciting and more extreme.

AL: We write our shows in combination with them. We do it, and then we do it in clown, and we go back and forth to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

MM: I want to hear about your cookbook. How did that come to be?

AL: We were doing a show called Morro and Jasp: Go Bake Yourself and it’s our show about cooking. Someone came to see it, and he worked in publishing and said, “Make a book, and we’ll publish it”. Those were our guidelines! We didn’t really have any!

HMA: He totally came to us with the idea. We had said, “Maybe we should make a book, that would be so much fun”. Maybe we just put it out into the universe! He gave us so much freedom. The idea was to make a cookbook combined with other things, because it came out of our cooking show.

AL: We had never planned to make a cookbook, but it was a fun match. And we both love cooking and making food, and food in general and it felt like a good fit. It was a lot of work! We had no idea how much work a cookbook would be!

HMA: The fact that he gave us so much freedom is why it worked for us. We got to discover what form and what content, and everything it would be based on our process and how we went along with it and what discoveries we made along the way. Which isn’t always what you set out to do when you make a book, because I would assume the publisher would dictate it, especially when he came to us with the idea. We didn’t know how long it was going to be either.

AL: Initially, it was supposed to be 60-80 pages, and it ended up being about 235! We just kept getting excited about all the different recipes we could put in!

MM: Are they all your own recipes?

HMA: It’s a combination of some recipes we made up, recipes that we have that we’ve used and loved, a lot of recipes from our families and friends, and some fans.


AL: Some fans wrote in and submitted recipes, which is fun.

HMA: Each of the recipes says who it’s from.

AL: It was exciting to see what we would get. And we tested everything.

HMA: Morro and Jasp tested them! (laughs)

AL: Well, we were there to guide the process.

HMA: There are also some recipes from our show, Go Bake Yourself. So it’s connected back to the show.

MM: It’s an extension of the show? A new medium?

AL: Yeah! It doesn’t run the same storyline as the show, but it’s connected.

HMA: There are similar themes about emotion and eating and those are connected. And love, and how food is a way of expressing love.

MM: Now I want to see a Morro and Jasp cooking show on TV.

HMA: So do we! That would be great!

AL: A few people have mentioned that. So we’ll see. We’d be up for it. And I think Morro and Jasp would be too. Jasp would feel like all her dreams came true.


MM: Of Mice and Morro and Jasp is a remount. Has it developed at all since the last time you performed it?

HMA: We’re developing it now! (laughs)

AL: We’re still developing it.

HMA: That’s where we just came from. It’s not that the story of it is changing, there aren’t dramatic rewrites, but we’re fine tuning it. We have more space to play now. At the Toronto Fringe you have a timeline. So now we have more room to breathe, and give the moments more detail. We can infuse a little more energy or breath into them.

AL: We’re coming back and going, “I think we can make this moment better. How can we do that?” “This monologue can be better”. So it’s really nice to be able to fix all the things that we wanted to fix and didn’t have time to. There are a few new elements as well, production elements that we can have.

MM: Like pyrotechnics?

HMA: (laughs)

AL: That would be fun!

HMA: The idea of the show is that times are tough. They’re on a strict budget and they’ve spent their last dollars on their set. No pyrotechnics, unfortunately. Not this time around anyway.

AL: But that is a good idea.

MM: Do you have anything else in the works? What’s next for Morro and Jasp?

AL: Morro and Jasp are in residence at Factory Theatre this season, developing their newest show, Morro and Jasp: 9 to 5, which is about them actually getting jobs. This show [Of Mice and Morro and Jasp] is about them not being able to, and the next show is about them figuring out how to actually make that happen.

HMA: Hold down a job.

AL: So that’s in process. We’re writing that right now. And also right after this show closes, we have a few days, and then we go to Ottawa to the GCTC for the Undercurrents Festival, and we’re performing Morro and Jasp Do Puberty there. Which is exciting because that’s the first in our series of adult shows, so it’s nice to give Ottawa audiences an introduction to us with that one.

MM: In going back to these other shows, are you finding out more and more about Morro and Jasp? Are Morro and Jasp discovering more about themselves?

AL: We always discover more. Every time we do a show, we change things about it. Because we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, we’ve learned a lot about Morro and Jasp, we learn so much more about who they are every time we do a show. That does inform us. We can add more detail and new things.

HMA: And also sometimes we have references or comments about things that are very timely. They’re happening now. So we’ll change them when we go back to a show. And always we’re interacting so much with the audience and the space that we’re in. Storytelling has to be alive and based on that audience and that thing and what they’re saying to you.

MM: Do you prefer that freedom of development of character and story versus an established play and character written by a playwright? Do you need both?

AL: It’s nice to have both.

HMA: They’re so different.

AL: It’s a totally different challenge. It’s nice to be able to practice both. Doing a play with a script written by someone else, whether it be a famous great playwright or someone new, always teaches us as artists a lot. So it’s nice to have the two inform each other constantly. How to bring what you know about making new work into a script that’s written and how to bridge that other kind of work into what we’re making.

HMA: And it’s a completely different exercise in that, with someone else’s script, you’re trying to interpret it and learn what’s already there and what’s hiding underneath and between the lines. With our stuff, it feels like such a rare opportunity to have a character that you enjoy and play with for so long. For, what? Ten years?

AL: Almost ten years, yeah.

HMA: And they’re so close to us because we created them. It’s a very special thing to be able to play with.

AL: We get to keep coming back to the same character and get to see what they will do in new circumstances, a new adventure, but keeping them, them. The nice thing is that there are no limits in terms of what we want to explore, but there are limits in terms of who those characters are and their relationship. That informs everything that happens.

MM: Are there certain things that Morro and Jasp would never do or say?

HMA: Never say never! (laughs) But there are certain things that they aren’t likely to do. They have their boundaries too. And those change and evolve just like anyone else. They’ve become these very dynamic people because they’ve existed for so long.

AL: I really hate it when actors say, “My character would never do that”. A lot of the time I think, “Just make it work”, but with this, Jasp, say, wouldn’t be happy wearing a pair of baggy pants. But it might be fun to see what happens when you put her in a pair of baggy pants.

HMA: So with those boundaries, it helps us put them into situations that they hate, which is funny. That’s what good theatre is, dynamics. So the more that we found out what they hate or love, the more we can play with the dynamic.

MM: To wrap up, in three words, why should people come to see Of Mice and Morro and Jasp?

(whispered consultation)

AL: Steinbeck meets clown. You’ve got to find out what that means!

Of Mice and Morro and Jasp

Created and performed by Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee
Directed by Byron Laviolette
Presented by Up your Nose and In your Toes (U.N.I.T.) Productions & Factory Theatre

When: January 28th – February 8th, Tues-Sat 8pm, Thurs 1pm, Sat 2pm

Where: Factory Studio Theatre

Tickets: $25 Regular Price, $20 Student, Senior, Arts Worker


A Chat with Sochi Fried on “Stencilboy and Other Portraits” at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Interview by Ryan Quinn

I had a cup of coffee with Sochi Fried during our lovely Toronto deep freeze to talk about Stencilboy and Other Portraits.

RQ: Would you like to tell me a little bit about the show?

SF: Sure! It’s a new play written by a woman named Susanna Fournier. She’s worked in this city as an actor, she went to National Theatre School as an actor, but she’s also been a playwright for a number of years. This is actually her first play that she started writing in high school. So it’s been a progression of ten years for this play, having it evolve and be influenced by different actors and dramaturgs. It’s the first full production of any of her work, which is really exciting. The play itself has three characters, I play a young woman named Lily who comes from the country to the city (in this world there is only the country and the city). There’s been an economic collapse, and so she’s coming to the city looking to find a very specific painter. He’s the most famous painter in this city and he’s the only state-sanctioned artist due to government cutbacks. She desperately wants to be immortalized in painting, which is what bring her there, but the first guy she meets happens to be a guy named Stencilboy. He’s an underground graffiti artist whose day job is to paint over his own graffiti that he does at night. It’s sort of a triangle between the three of them, and it goes into notions of a young generation pushing an older one out, and what traditional art is, and the value of more transient art.


Brandon Coffey, Sochi Fried, Richard Clarkin of Stencilboy and Other Portraits

RQ: So it’s this kind of self-reflective “art about art”. What do you think is so important about this kind of theatre?

SF: With any piece of theatre, there’s a certain amount of reflecting of the world around us, and this playwright is writing about what she knows, which makes it vital and energetic. Also, the gender politics of the play are very exciting. It can be really controversial, whether it’s just another old story of a young woman trying to define herself through men. Hopefully that’s not what people take from it, but then again, the question is whether or not we need to see more stories like that. So I guess why it’s important for it to be done is that it raises a lot of questions and goes into some murky, complicated territory in an interesting way. I don’t think it’s perfect in any sense, which is wonderful. It’s gritty, and strange, and it requires something of an audience. That’s always good.

RQ: What do you hope people are thinking about or discussing on the way home?

SF: I hope that they’re discussing the journey of an artist into becoming. Also the rights of an artist, what kind of stories can they appropriate, and who says what you can paint. I hope that they’re discussing what it is that would drive this woman so much to want to be desired in that way and her eventual realization that she doesn’t need that.

Playwright Susanna Fournier

Playwright Susanna Fournier

RQ: Is that what’s so attractive to you about the character of Lily? This desire and this drive?

SF: Totally. She’s aggressive in her energy. She’s very funny. She’s adventurous, ballsy, she has a lot of moxie. She calls people out on their bullshit, but she also has a lot of her own emotional baggage that she’s trying to run away from and it keeps catching up with her. She doesn’t have the skills to deal with that but as the play progresses, the experience she has allows her to grow up.

RQ: Switching gears, for the new year, what are your hopes as an artist or for the artistic community? What would you like to see in Toronto.

SF: I’d like to see more plays by women. I really would. I’d love the independent scene to support more new Canadian work. I find it surprising and frustrating the number of older American plays that keep getting put on. As an artist, I’d love to do more film. I’m also still on the hunt, I think everyone is, for collaborative partners; more really interesting, strong directors, and writers, and actors.


Sochi Fried as Lily in Stencilboy and Other Portraits

RQ: So this is going on at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. What do you think the importance of festivals are as opposed to singular mounts in this city?

SF: Well, there’s a lot of really interesting work that I’m excited to see at Next Stage this year. A whole array. But, more in general, I think the festivals have become platforms through which plays can be seen by members of the community that have clout or the wherewithal to give them a second life or a third life. So, I think that’s the great advantage. Also it’s in January, where there’s not a lot of work for theatre artists. And there are some strange time restraints to festivals in general which are not conducive to whatever the imagination wants to create, but the restraints can be interesting and force people to get their stories out there.


Stencilboy and Other Portraits

Written by Susanna Fournier
Directed by Jonathan Seinen
Presented by Paradigm Productions

Where: Factory Studio Theatre
Thu Jan 16 7.45pm
Fri Jan 17 4.45pm
Sat Jan 18 9.15pm
Sun Jan 19 2:45pm
Tickets: 15$

Loss, Comedy and the Quaids: In Conversation with Amanda Barker & Daniel Krolik – Next Stage Theatre Festival’s Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Krolik and Amanda Barker to discuss the upcoming run of their show “Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid” appearing as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival. Here they talk all things Quaid; the essentials for living on the run and creative inspiration. 

SSB: How do you think the piece has changed since your first, exceptionally successful run? 

Daniel Krolik: The thing I realized in rehearsals last week was that, more so than the numerous rewrites that we’ve made, the basic energy of the piece is what’s changed the most. In 2012, we were performing in an art gallery. No set, no lights, just us and our audience. We asked them a lot of questions directly and were basically in their laps for the show. Now it’s Amanda and me on a stage with all the trappings of a theatre piece. Even though much of our text is the same, the energy is more polished, more focused, more precise. It’s still as funny and sad and dangerous as it was at Fringe… just completely different at the same time.

Amanda Barker: It has grown in so many ways. There are undercurrented characters that run throughout the piece – they were always there, but we took the time to develop them and really examine who they were and what their journey was.  We make an appearance as ourselves as well, and we examine what it was like to meet the real Randy and Evi Quaid.

SSB: What inspired you to write this piece about the Quaids? 

DK: Amanda and I had both read the Vanity Fair article about Randy and Evi in 2010. We were trying to write something together, and we started experimenting with the idea of playing the Quaids. For me, the inspiration was twofold. First, Randy is a really good actor and has worked with most of the greats from the 1970s and 1980s. He was very close to a real comeback after his work in Brokeback Mountain, which got derailed with the events we cover in our show. I became intrigued with how this man, an established talent, was deprived (or deprived himself) of an artistic renaissance, and how devastating that would be for him. Then it was the Quaid’s experience with loss. Randy and Evi had lost a number of close friends in Hollywood – like Heath Ledger, Chris Penn, and David Carradine. How do you cope when the people in your life keep dying? How do you justify or process that? Beyond the outrageousness and the crazy Hollywood life, Randy and Evi’s story is about two people trying to stay connected in the face of terrible loss.

AB: Anyone who has heard even small pieces of their journey is fascinated. For me, it was a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales (who also wrote the original Bling Ring article) that had me hooked. I think Daniel’s was with Esquire. He actually texted me from Montreal one night asking me what I thought about a show about the Quaids and I was like – YES! Let’s do this. For me, I was always interested in Evi. She was always labled as his crazy bitch wife and I wanted to know everything I could about her. Why did everyone think she was to blame? That’s something I wanted to examine. I wanted to know who she was. She’s a strong woman and an unabashed artist.


Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid – Daniel Krolik and Amanda Barker. Photo by Marco Timpano

SSB: What was it like having the real life Quaids in the audience for your final performance in the Fringe? Did it change the show at all for you? 

DK: It was terrifying, because we didn’t know how they would respond to the show. We worked very hard to tell their story as objectively as possible, but we had no idea how they would react. Early on that night, I delivered a line of dialogue right to Randy, and he laughed. I relaxed and knew it would be ok from then on in. Amanda and I only had each other to rely on, and it’s probably the most exhilarated and connected I’ve ever felt in a show.

AB: It was insane….magical…..electric….terrifying. Daniel and I couldn’t talk once we were individually told before the show. That moment when our eyes met on stage will always be one of the single greatest moments that I will ever feel as a performer. We communicated everything in that moment – we both knew what we knew, and we both knew we were there to support each other, no matter the outcome. There may have been slight nuances that were different but for us in that performance but the show was always about their life through a media lense and so we made a safe structure knowing that they were there – we aren’t up on stage poking fun at the “Crazy Quaids”.  We never wanted the show to be that. That would have been easy and maybe funny but ultimately uninteresting for us as creators.

SSB: What was your process for creating this particular piece? 

DK: About two years of trial and error. Between our work with Jack Grinhaus, our director, and Megan Mooney, our dramaturg, scenes were reshaped, rewritten, added, taken out, cried over, put back in, ripped apart and put back together again. It’s been an extremely complicated and infinitely rewarding process.

AB: I have an English degree in addition to Theatre and have lots of experience in TV format as well but in the last decade I have also written a fair bit of sketch comedy and I think the sketch process is an easy format to get ideas and scenes generating. Being part of that world encouraged me to take risks as a writer and it taught me to generate material and to get out of self-editing. Daniel and I originally were just trying to motivate each other creatively so we challenged each other to write personal or character essays in various coffee shops in the annex.  Once possible ideas for a show started percolating, we wrote with Randy and Evi in mind as well as a shared grief experience that really affected both Daniel and me. Then it kind of followed a sketch format for a while. After about a year, what we had were a series of personal essays and sketches. We brought it to Jack Grinhaus who said – ‘yeah, I’ll play with you, but get a dramaturg!’  So we did, Megan Mooney. Both Jack and Megan have guided this piece in ways we couldn’t possibly imagine. I have so much gratitude for both of them.


SSB: What are the 5 things you’d have to take with you if you were on the run like the Quaids? 

DK: A good book. An ipod with my entire music library. Cheese and crackers. My favourite orange hoodie. And a damn good bourbon.


  1. paraben free lip balm

  2. My ipad Mini with Netflix on it and tons of open disk space!

  3. All of my points cards. I am religious about them.

  4. A bathtub. I can’t live without one.

  5. Several bags of Smartfood popcorn

SSB: Are you afraid the Hollywood Star Whackers might accidentally come after you instead?! 

DK: I’d be honoured and humbled if the Star Whackers made the effort to track us down at Next Stage. I’d be thrilled. Who are the indie Toronto theatre Star Whackers? Names. I want names.

AB: Shit….now I am. I’ll take a career that people would love to kill me for, thank you very much.  I’ll take some residual cheques so big people want to murder me for them. These are the problems I want. Sign me up.

SSB: What inspires you as artists? 

DK: A billion things. Mostly it’s the amazing work of others. Right now, I’m in love with the late, lamented HBO series Enlightened, David Rakoff’s gorgeous final book “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish”, the insane and beautiful nightmare of a film Holy Motors, the food at the Whippoorwill Restaurant at Bloor and Landsdowne, and the How Was Your Week and Ronna and Beverly podcasts. And I’m giddy with anticipation at seeing all the amazing work by everyone at Next Stage.

AB: You know what inspires me? Doing shows where an interviewer asks me these kind of questions! I think I’ve done 60 interviews in the past year and most of them were about dildos (I was touring a parody of the 50 Shades of Grey Series). This is such an amazing change.

So, that said… My freedom inspires me, it always has. I love jumping into improv sets whenever I can, the freedom of it, the support of an ensemble – that is always inspiring to me. Shortly after the first Release the Stars ended, I went to Mexico City for work and had a day off. I went to Frida Kahlo’s house, the Casa Azul. I have never been so inspired as I was that day, standing in her studio. She had to create, there was no other option. It was not a question for her. Her energy still radiates from those walls and a world of colour poured from her. You feel it. I felt much the same a year ago – I was in Chicago and I came upon an exhibition of Vivan Maier. She was a nanny who took hundreds of photos her entire life. She took them because she had to, she loved to.  And they are haunting, some of the most articulate photos you’ll ever see. They were only found because she defaulted payment on her storage facility, she never did anything with them. It comes from a different place, that creative spirit that flies out of you in inspiration. Like a bird that wants to be set free and it is just up to you not to stand in its way – let it go, give it away. The female artists who fight to create inspire me, I suppose – I think that’s why I am so intrigued by Evi Quaid. I am most inspired when I am in a community of story tellers who fight to create – Next Stage is a thrill beyond thrill for me because that’s what all of us are and I can’t wait to experience the beautiful work that will surround us at the festival. It is beyond inspiring.

Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid


Written and Performed by: Amanda Barker & Daniel Krolik
Directed by: Jack Grinhaus

Where: Factory Studio Theatre – 60 minutes

What: Comedy/Drama

WARNINGS: Adult themes

TicketsClick here

Wed Jan 8, 9:00pm
Fri Jan 10, 5:15pm
Sat Jan 11, 7.30pm
Sun Jan 12, 9:30pm
Tue Jan 14, 9:00pm
Wed Jan 15, 6:45pm
Fri Jan 17, 7:15pm
Sat Jan 18, 2:45pm
Sun Jan 19 5:15pm

Watch their NSTF Teaser here: