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“Building on Your Work Over Time, Creating from a Place of Rage & How We Move Forward” In Conversation with Playwright Erin Shields & Director Andrea Donaldson on BEAUTIFUL MAN

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Originally performed as part of the SummerWorks Festival in 2015, Beautiful Man, written by Erin Shields, is taking on a new life at Factory Theatre, on stage now until May 26th. This feminist comedy, directed by Shield’s long-time collaborator Andrea Donaldson, promises big laughs, but also, provocation – with a narrative presented through the female gaze.

We spoke with Shields and Donaldson about this new iteration of their show, reworking the original script, creating from a place of rage, and what they find most inspiring these days.

Megan Robinson: The show was originally presented in 2015 at SummerWorks, so what was it that prompted this remount?

Andrea Donaldson: After the SummerWorks show we were really excited to find a partner to give it another life. There were some revisions that we were dreaming of, so we reached out to Nina (Lee Aquino – Artistic Director of Factory Theatre) and she was very enthusiastic. She threw it in her season and was quite generous to say, you know, “we want to be involved in the further development of it.” So they gave us a workshop last May, and now here were are. We have a brand new cast, and half of our design team is new, which is really exciting.

Erin Shields: And from a content point of view – 2015 was a very different time than right now in terms of how we’re talking about gender, gender equity, and about representation in film, television and theatre. 2015 was before #metoo. I don’t know that we’re post #metoo, but it’s been interesting for me revisiting the script in terms of that. In thinking, “okay, where are we now in this conversation?” And trying to address that with the revisions.

Ashley Botting, Jesse LaVercombe, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: Why build on this show, as opposed to tackling these questions with a whole new show? Is this show speaking both to 2015 and now?

ES: Everything I make is feminist, so I’m always engaging in my writing with “where are we now and what’s going on and what’s changed.” I don’t want to give too many spoilers away but I wrote a whole other section that is another movement in terms of this play. Part of it was editing and going back in, and some of it is completely new.

AD: And if I can add on, it feels like the impetus to write more came, yes, from responding to the world that changed in four years but in our SummerWorks production we were learning a lot dramaturgically about the piece. In that brief study with an audience, Erin and I were scrutinizing it and looking where energetically it wanted to shift and asking the question of “what next”.

MR: I guess my question is about knowing when a show is done, if there is always inspiration to go further? Was that a question you asked or was it always clear that there was more to say?

ES: When we did the first show it was very fast and furious. I wrote the show in two or three days, and then it was on stage within five months. I think even going in we knew there would be more. It felt like a workshop in front of an audience. It’s a comedy, so trying to figure that out without an audience is really challenging. We knew it wasn’t a final draft. Often when I write a play, it takes anywhere between three and six years for it to get to the stage so you often have cycles of dramaturgy and cycles of workshops or readings. Even the early days, when Andrea and I worked together on Montparnasse, we did it three times. So I think we’ve always understood that for theatre, because it’s a live art, you need that feedback from other people… certainly I do… before I’m willing to say “this is it”. How do you know it’s ever done? That’s a good question.

AD: I feel like this play is now done. I have no question around that.

Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Jesse LaVercombe, Sofia Rodriguez-byJoseph Michael Photography 107

Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Jesse LaVercombe, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: I read that the show was inspired by a sense of rage. Did working on the show allow you to process that rage, and did it make a difference for you? If so, how?

ES: Totally. Many of my plays start from a place of rage. From going, “that’s not fair” or “why is it like this?” I’ve often talked about how this came out of having a residue left in my body every time I watched popular television. I’d come away being like, “Oh, this Game of Thrones show is so great!” Then I’d be like, “Ew, all those women were sexually assaulted and I just watched it cuddling with my husband on the couch.” There’s something so weird about that. Doing this play has absolutely been cathartic. And I often heard the audience members say that after our SummerWorks production too, because it goes pretty far. There’s something I hope that is illuminating about it. I think we already know a lot of these things, but we don’t think deeply about them. We’re just so used to seeing women being raped on television, so we don’t think, “Oh my God, how many raped women have I seen in the last two months?” It’s ridiculous!

MR: What’s on your mind these days? Anything new that’s inspiring you?

ES: I’m thinking about how we move forward now. Especially with this wonderful moment we all experienced a year and a half ago, where we saw all of these giants being toppled in every industry. It felt like a real moment of triumph. It feels like, now, those massive figures have fallen and there are these gaps everywhere. And we’re looking around and thinking, what work do we still have to do, and what world do we all want to live in together? Those are very big questions. I think personally that’s where I’m at, and that’s what I’m working through with my work. And even on subjects of the play – we talked about Game of Thrones so much, and I remember seeing the first few episodes and it was all raping and fucking all the time, and really gratuitous violence against women. And in watching it now, watching this season, it’s so interesting to see how the women are treated has shifted. Even in this massive show, the female characters are super strong – the hero of the penultimate episode is an eighteen-year-old girl. When has that happened? Probably never, except in some young adult literature. But this is the most popular mainstream thing and that is who the hero is. It made me think. It made me wonder if there is change on the horizon.

Ashley Botting, Jesse LaVercombe, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: What is a traditionally male role you want to see a woman play? Since your whole thing is flipping gender roles.

AD: How do I say this… I’m curious to see what are the capabilities of the female roles that aren’t still in reference to a patriarchal perspective. So not just switcheroos. It makes me think of when I directed Romeo and Juliet and I conflated the roles of the Capulets, the mom and dad, into a single mom, and found in that combination the depth of emotional range that was not afforded to Mama Capulet. And seeing that embodied, seeing her move through that, felt like the most satisfying role, in a way, because we don’t get to see a mom who is violent to her daughter and who has really high standards for her daughter. It’s not only seeing women in particular roles, but seeing unexpected ways of embodying those roles that, especially in TV and film, are rarely afforded to women.

MR: What was a theatrical experience that made you feel really deeply seen as a female-identifying creator?

ES: I think when I see work done by my peers and my contemporaries I get really excited. I haven’t seen these plays, but I’m excited by the ambition in the work Susanna Fournier is creating. It’s imaginative, it’s poetic, it’s destructive. It makes me excited that she has been supported and celebrated for this massive endeavour. I want more of that.

AD: What’s coming for me is Rose Napoli’s Lo or Dear Mr. Wells, which Vivien Endicott-Douglas performed in. I find that there’s this great attention that playwrights are bringing to writing younger characters who are having full and complex experiences and kind of damning the critics around what that singular portrayal might be reduced down to. As a young person coming into my own sexual life, I never felt that experience was represented or understood or handled with any kind of care or imagination or sophistication.

Jesse LaVercombe, Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez-by Joseph Michael Photography 326

Jesse LaVercombe, Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: What’s an experience you have had recently that you could fit into your play Beautiful Man?

ES: Everyday! There are so many. The other day I went to meet a friend in a bar just down the street. And both myself and my friend are in our early 40s and the bartender kept calling us girls. And I just felt my rage. He must have been like 26 or 27. I thought to myself, “Should I say something and be like, we’re women?” He was so insistent on making me into a child. It’s a part of the popular language, but I had to ask myself if I wanted to say something and get something going with this dude or did I just want to ignore it and laugh about it with my friend afterward. Which is what I did.

AD: But it cost something.

ES: Yeah.

AD: A couple nights ago after rehearsal, Ashley (Botting), who’s in the cast, called an Uber. We were going to drop her off first and then me. And when the Uber showed up it was a guy, but there was a guy in the front seat as well. So Ashley was like, “Oh there’s someone in here, we didn’t call Uber pool, what’s up?” And the guy goes, “Yeah, he’s my bodyguard.” And Ashley and I were both doing that quiet awkward decision-making together. But we decided, no, we’re fine, we’re capable. So we get into the car and Ashley tries to make a joke about it, that doesn’t land. And we feel like there’s something sketchy going on. You know, we’re in a car with two dudes we don’t know, based on the trust of an app. So we’re kind of trying to perform normality. And then at a certain point, I was just like, “Ash, I’m going to get out with you.” It was just the whole thing of physical safety and trying to be cool, trying to not be scared, like, “I’m fine, I’m tough, I’m capable… people aren’t bad.” But then ultimately going, actually, what if people are bad, you know? That was my most recent physical safety thing.

MR: Right, but also them not helping you feel safe. There’s a world in which you would feel better if those people were conscious of how you feel and did the work to help you out.

AD: Right. So I either have to swallow that or perform that. There’s a cost to that.

Beautiful Man

A Factory Theatre Production
Written by Erin Shields
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Starring Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofía Rodríguez, Jesse LaVercombe
Set Design by Gillian Gallow
Costume Design by Ming Wong
Lighting Design by Jason Hand
Music and Sound Design by Richard Feren

A scathing satire about the portrayal of women in film and television, three friends take us on a whirlwind tour of an upside-down world where women are the hunters, not the hunted; the heroes, not the victims; the subjects, not the objects, all while gazing at the semi-nude Beautiful Man. You’ll never watch your favourite binge-worthy shows the same way again.

Factory Theatre – Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street.

May 4-26


“Making Improv Magic, The Value of Play & Working with Colin Mochrie” In Conversation with Liz Johnston & Mimi Warshaw on ENTRANCES AND EXITS at the 2018 Fringe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

The concept of Entrances and Exits, a new farce on stage now as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, is a complicated one. To make things more complicated, it’s also entirely improvised!

This impressive and unscripted farce is split into two parts; with the first twenty minutes playing out in the living room with a series of entrances and exits into and out of the bedroom and then restarting a second time with the same scenario, but set in the bedroom. This requires that the cast do an instant replay of sorts; filling in the blanks of the story, hitting all the main plot points, and eventually culminating with a satisfying resolution. And hopefully they can make us laugh along the way.

Somehow, the cast pulls this off without any planning and with very minimal mid-show discussion.

We sat down with actor, improviser, Bad Dog Theatre Company member and Entrances and Exits co-creator Liz Johnston and Howland Company member and E&E production manager Mimi Warshaw to figure out how they make that improv magic happen, some common misconceptions about improv, and, of course, what it’s like working with Colin Mochrie.

Megan Robinson: What does a rehearsal look like for this type of improvised show?

Mimi Warshaw: Paolo (Santalucia, the director) brought a lot of his acting training into it and was really interested in playing with characters, discovering characters and trying on some clown work. So that was the beginning, just to play. That helped to know how everyone worked. That was the focus of the first half.

The last month and a half was about finding the show. And it grew in pieces. There was a lot of, “Let’s play with one room, then the next room, now let’s see what happens if we flip the set.”

A lot of playing and coming back and saying, “How did that feel? What worked? What can we do better?”

MR: Is there anything not improvised? What might be consistent throughout the show? The characters? Anything?

Liz Johnston: You really don’t know what will happen.

MW: I’ve seen maybe a dozen versions, maybe more, and no two shows have been the same.

MR: How much do you play for each other and how much is for the audience?

LJ: The audiences have been really generous, so I think we’ve been playing a lot for the audience. The thing about improv is that you also get the joy of making each other laugh. There are so many fabulous moments where someone will say something, and you just can’t help it. And the audience feels kind of in on it because they know it’s improvised. That’s really joyful. That’s what I love more than any kind of theatre, where you can really have everybody be on the same page, and they can be like, “I know exactly why this is funny. I was here for every part of it.”

MR: What is a myth or misconception about improv?

MW: I firmly believe that people think improv is just people going up and being funny. But I think good improv is funny because it’s recognizable. When I’m at an improv show, there’s always somebody who gives a suggestion like, ‘we’re in a volcano at the end of the earth.’

And I’m like, ‘we’ll never be there so…’ Maybe it would be funny, but I’m more interested in seeing somebody in a bakery having a traumatic moment and seeing the comedy in that.

I don’t know if it’s a misconception, but I like seeing reality on stage, and I think there’s comedy in that. I think that’s funnier than just a bunch of jokes.

I also think people are terrified of doing improv because they think they aren’t funny…

LJ: Another thing is that it’s nice to have people now recognize that there really are different styles of improv, that are all valuable.

So you can go to an improv show and have big laughs and fast scenes and big characters and enjoy that just as much as going to see something like this longer narrative unfold and have unexpected turns, more dramatic moments, and have them both be beautiful and both be improv.

I don’t want to run into a trap here… I love short-form improv. I love games (an easy thing to describe it as is what you see on Whose Line Is It Anyway). There’s so much joy in that, and there’s so much talent in being able to do that well. It’s truly harder than anything else. So I never want to say those aren’t worth as much as a long-form unscripted piece of theatre.

MR: So farce is very slapstick and physical. How do you improvise that sort of thing? Or do you?

MW: It’s not just physical, it leans towards the improbable, leans towards the ridiculous, so it doesn’t need to be grounded to reality. And we definitely do that. As much as there’s still truth, it still has that sense of play.

The other thing I’ve been told about farce is it doesn’t need to have to have a moral. It can just be a really beautifully fun and hilarious time.

LJ: I always forget we have so many different definitions we’ve gone through describing what farce is, but again leaning towards the improbable.

Like: There’s a dead body in the other room, this is true, what else is true? It’s not about calling the cops or trying to figure out what happened. It’s us trying to be like, “Okay, there’s a body in the other room, but we also have to make sure everything’s fine for the party.”

We like the fact that as much as it is ridiculous, it’s all stuff that could happen. It’s all about the foibles of humanity and the relationships between people and it takes those tensions that might already exist, those love affairs that exist, and heightens them to the point of the ridiculous.

MR: Must be fun!

LJ: It is nice to escape a little bit. Which is not to say that we don’t deal with the issues of what’s going on in reality, but because it is so focused on just relationships between individuals and how silly and absurd they can be, it is a bit of an escape to get to go there and just live in that ridiculous and joyful place.

MR: Have you ever showed up to rehearsal and been in the shittiest mood and not been able to find that joy?

LJ: I had one where it was an 11 pm show, and I had just done D&D Live!, which is another show that I LOVE, and it’s so funny and also improvised. I’d done that earlier in the day and I’d done another show, so I came to do the 11pm show, and I was so zonked. I could not find my energy. But it’s the same thing that happens for any performer; the audience starts to come in, you have the cast around you, you put on your costume, and you’re like, “This is the best thing ever! What’s next?”

So it’s a nice medication for tiredness.

MR: Some of the best questions can come from inside the process. Do you have a question you’d like to ask each other about your experience within the show?

MW: Liz, when you’re standing backstage, and you’re like, “I need to figure out what I’m bringing to this scenario”, what’s that process like? How do you feel in that moment?

LJ: I don’t know. I really don’t think about it. I like to just go on stage. That’s the kind of classic improv thing: if you can really get used to just trusting yourself to go onstage.

Just open the door, going, “Here we are! What happens next?”

MW: In the show, how much awareness do you have of the bedroom when you’re in the living room?

LJ: I usually have an idea of what I think is going on. And everybody is so good at having their own ideas.

We talk about this in improv, it’s called “group mind” where everyone sort of ends up on the same page without discussing it at all.

The number of times that will happen with this show… I mean, it’s the magic of it!

MR: So the magic of it is a surprise to the improvisers too? I know as an audience member, that’s how it feels. Those moments feel…

LJ: Totally, you come back, and you’re just like wow! It feels so wild.

MR: What about pushing boundaries?

LJ: You check in. You talk about it, whether it’s physical touching or subjects you can touch on that may be a boundary. Even just one night, with my nose bleeds, and I was like, “Listen, guys, it might happen. I have tissue in my pocket. I’m okay, it’s okay.” And any of those types of conversations, you just need to have them. And we’ve had those. Any good cast will talk about it constantly.

MW: There are moments where people will say things, and we’ve had this in rehearsals, where somebody will take a dive, and be like, “I’m going to propose something…”

But our cast is really supportive and really knows each other and so they’re able to support them. And that’s what I love about improv – you can do something, and guaranteed, five people will say we’ve got your back, we’ve got you, we’ll take care of you.

There have definitely been moments where you need to be risky, but these people handled that with such care, and such responsibility, they made it so safe.

LJ: Anyone who is making a faux pas, it’s coming from a place of fear.

The biggest thing in improv is you need to go on stage making a choice to make everyone else look as good as possible so if you can do that, if everybody is doing that, then everybody is going to look great. You’re setting up everyone else to succeed. You can’t do that if you’re undercutting them or sacrificing them for a laugh or commenting on something for the sake of the audience.

MR: Lastly, tell me about working with Colin Mochrie!

LJ: He’s just the most generous man.

It’s such a generous thing to do; to know your name will lend fame, or excitement to someone’s show. He does that so willingly and generously.

He did this exercise with us, which is really difficult. Everyone was struggling to keep up and we started playing with the format of the game so it got faster and went backwards and forwards, so fast! But Colin was having no trouble, just breezing through it. Everyone know’s how funny he is and how sharp, but good lord the man is fast. And so present. We’re so excited to have him on the show!

Entrances and Exits

Presented by The Howland Company in association with Bad Dog Comedy Theatre
Created by Liz Johnston & Ruth Goodwin
Director: Paolo Santalucia
Starring: Ghazal Azarbad, Conor Bradbury, Nigel Downer, Dylan Evans, Ruth Goodwin, Liz Johnston, Connor Low
Designed by: Christian Horoszczak
Production Manager: Mimi Warshaw

A completely improvised play based on the structure of traditional farces we love like “The Norman Conquests” and “Noises Off”.

125 Bathurst St
M5V 2R2

13th July – 7:30pm
14th July – 9:15pm
15th July – 12:00pm


“Recovery from Trauma, The “R” Word & the Power of Being A Storyteller in This Moment” In Conversation with Actor Tamara Podemski on THE MONUMENT at Factory Theatre

Interview by Bailey Green.

We spoke with award-winning Ojibway actor, dancer and singer/songwriter Tamara Podemski about playing the role of Mejra in Colleen Wagner’s Governor General award-winning play, The Monument. The Monument tells the story of a soldier, guilty of war crimes and fleeing from a death sentence, who gives himself over to a woman who has endured the horrific trauma of war. Factory Theatre’s production, directed by acclaimed Métis director Jani Lauzon, frames the play within the context of the centuries long war against the Indigenous people of Turtle Island. We spoke with Tamara about recovery from trauma, ‘the R word’ (reconciliation) and finding joy in darkness.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bailey Green: What was your relationship to The Monument prior to beginning this production? Had you seen other productions?

Tamara Pondemski: It was a brand new experience. I had heard it referenced as it is a famous play but I had never seen it, so I didn’t know it well enough to know what indigenizing The Monument meant, when it was presented to me.

The Monument – Augusto Bitter and Tamara Podemski – Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: Tell me more about your reaction reading the script for the first time, looking at the play through the lens of the war against the Indigenous people of Turtle Island.

TP: It’s very current. As an artist, an activist, and working in the Native community, this is the work I have been doing with Native youth, Native women, and conversations in my family. So there was nothing brand new but what was most exciting was that we would be able to explore this alternate method of storytelling. And through this transmission of knowledge, we would be able to shift this colonial narrative. The theatre just offers this beautiful alternative way to communicate really complex ideas without people feeling that it is stuffed down their throats. The power of the text is the power of the text, but what we are infusing into it is that different perspective, an indigenous injection into the work. The play wasn’t meant to be about war against Native people, but I believe it really does work and Jani [Lauzon] and Factory believes it works. It isn’t really a far stretch when you understand that a 500 year silent genocide has happened. When that is your experience, it’s not hard to see how The Monument fits. What is going to be really interesting is to see how ready people are to accept that that is what has been going on.

The Monument – Tamara Podemski and Augusto Bitter – Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: Absolutely, I feel theres a resistance among settlers to revisit this history, theres willful ignorance there.

TP: Yes, and the sales pitch of Canada to the world is that we are this peaceful, equal, human rights focused and forward-thinking country. So it’s disrupting these notions to remind people that blood has been spilled here and it has been going on for longer than 150 years. We need to shake up their concepts of what it is to live in a country of war, the last place in the world people would say had participated in a war like this, and it’s an active war.

The Monument – Elahe Marjovi_s set design for The Monument incorporates conceptual imagery from The REDress Project. (Founder Jaimie Black – Photo by Joseph

BG: Tell me more about your character, what about her do you identify with?

TP: Mejra is a mother whose daughter has been murdered. She wants answers, she wants a resolution, she wants to find a place in her heart where she can reconcile the pain, anger and forgiveness with the perpetrators. I relate to her on so many levels because mostly in her application of how she tries to get the answers. She is so emotionally raw, she is very triggered and I relate a lot to that trauma response. I don’t often have the advantage of well thought-out behaviour or response. It’s very reactive and I understand that very well. As the granddaughter of a residential school survivor and the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, they passed that knowledge down to their children and we as a second generation of survivors have inherited that trauma. And we have the luxury to talk about it, my parents didn’t have that. We have a safe space to be able to process it. Recovery is more acceptable now and that wasn’t the experience of my parents.

I’m slightly different from Mejra, as she is very isolated in her grief and trauma. And in that one sense [she] isn’t reflective of how we grieve as Indigenous people – it is very communal. In a way that allows Mejra to be even worse off because she doesn’t have her community and is cut off. She is going through the grief on her own, which is why the need of another person with Stetko and also why they are perfectly matched. There’s a form of reconciliation, oh there’s the “R” word, but it is a beautiful example of it. And it’s a lot uglier than people want it to be. It’s ugly and messy and very triggering.

The Monument – Tamara Podemski and Augusto Bitter – Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: What has been the most challenging aspect of working on this production, with triggering subject matter?

TP: This might sound a little weird…but nothing. I had prepared for a very difficult rehearsal process but what Jani has created is one of the safest spaces of creation that I have ever experienced. We start with each day with a smudge, as we are working with spirits and we’re asking the murdered and missing spirits of our sisters to be with us onstage. We have a responsibility to do that work in a respectful and culturally appropriate way. We’re considering our role as storytellers, the connection with each other and with our Creator, however you may define that. There is a safety that is created and it allows the strength and security to go to those places. For me, I’ve never done a two-hander so the stamina required, it’s more lines that I have had to work with, more time on your legs. You’re going non stop for the whole play. But that is just practical. Emotionally/spiritually I have been very supported by Jani and by my brother Augusto [Bitter, who plays Stetko]. Every day is joyful and an incredible experience. We are really privileged to be actors at this time. It’s a critical time as story tellers, to have this other access point to people’s minds and hearts when people are zoned in to their phones, tuning out of a quite oppressive world. It’s our job to crack open people’s hearts and minds.

The Monument

Written by Colleen Wagner
Directed by Jani Lauzon
Starring Augusto Bitter & Tamara Podemski

The Monument tells the story of a soldier desperate to escape death for his war crimes who agrees to give himself to the complete servitude of an unknown woman. A harrowing and visceral journey of two people forced to confront the atrocities of war, this Governor-General’s Award-winning play asks questions that remain painfully familiar on our front pages today.

Re-imagining the conflict as the silent 500 year war that has been waged against the people of Turtle Island since European colonization, Lauzon’s lens on Wagner’s classic play will confront many of the dark and uncomfortable truths of Canada’s complicity around missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

March 15-April 1, 2018


A Chat with Charlie Kerr, co-writer and actor in AFTER WRESTLING

Interview by Bailey Green

We got to chat with Charlie Kerr, co-writer and actor in After Wrestling, on stage now at Factory Theatre. We spoke about his collaboration with co-writer Bryce Hodgson, how he navigates working with two different creative hats, and on ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Bailey Green: How did you and co-writer Bryce Hodgson meet? When did you start writing together and what’s your process like as co-creators?

Charlie Kerr: Brycey and I met when we were ten and twelve years old. I was home schooled until the fifth grade when I started public school. Bryce and I were actually both in the program for kids with learning disabilities together. As we grew up, we played in punk bands together and have always been collaborating on one thing or another. In 2014 he suggested we write a play together and something clicked. Two plays later, it’s still the same process of getting in a room together, talking things through and trying to make each other laugh.

After Wrestling – Charlie Kerr – photo by John Gundy

BG: What was the genesis behind After Wrestling? Was there a particular event or incident that inspired the story or did it grow from exploring broader themes?

CK: Yeah, Bryce and I had a friend die by suicide about seven years ago, and it shaped our lives in a really unique way. One day Bryce came to me with this concept for a play of a young man named Hogan whose life is falling apart because his best friend died by suicide and his sister, Leah, who is forced to take care of and live with her wacky, grieving brother. And from there it just grew and evolved.

BG: What has the transition from co-writer to performer been like for you?

CK: Anthony Shim, who also stars in the play, took me aside pretty early on and told me not to be a writer on stage and that was incredible advice. I really took it to heart. So yeah, during the rehearsal process I had to let go of the fact that I co-wrote the thing and approach the character like anything else I would act in. It’s been incredible and surreal to do it for an audience because I have been saying Hogan’s lines for like three years now.

After Wrestling – Leah Osler, Gabe Grey – photo by John Gundy

BG: There’s been a shift in the conversation around mental health in the last few years. Do you feel the stigma is lessening? What do we still need to focus on?

CK: It was less than a hundred years ago when Sigmund Freud first suggested that human beings’ best bet for dealing with their mental problems was talking through them, until then hypnotism was the gold standard for mental health issues. So I believe we are progressing bit by bit everyday. Like, I am twenty-six and when I was a kid struggling and I was self-harming and having panic attacks all the time, I had no idea what was going on. I just thought I was bad at dealing with life. I had no concept that I had a chemical imbalance that could be treated. Ten years ago. there was not nearly the open mental health discussion there is today. While writing this play, I took a mental health first aid course. I think getting educated the best you can on the subject is one of the most productive things you can do. I mean, in all walks of life we need to focus on empathy love and kindness. Something I think we should focus on is the stigma against getting medication. That stigma, in my opinion, is particularly toxic because for some loved ones of mine it makes the difference of life and death.

BG: What do you hope your audiences walk away with?

CK: I hope they laugh and I hope they are entertained. And ideally I would hope they would leave having compassion for those who struggle with mental health issues and empathy for those who are grieving a death of someone close to them.

After Wrestling – Gabe Grey, Leah Osler, Charlie Kerr, Anthony Shim – photo by John Gundy

BG: Tell me about Blood Pact Theatre and about partnering with Storefront and Factory Theatre.

CK: Blood Pact Theatre was created and founded by Bryce, Libby Osler, Bri Proke and I. We created it in Vancouver and put up our first play that Bryce and I wrote in 2015. And then we brought our company out to Toronto for our second show after it was selected from Storefront’s open submissions and that turned out to be a great partnership. Then last year Factory Theatre asked Storefront if they could recommend any plays for their new season and they suggested After Wrestling. That’s the coles’ notes version, at least. But yeah, it’s an incredible team! We couldn’t be happier to work with this many talented kindred spirits. It’s a dream-come-true.

BG: Any upcoming shows or artists you would like to shout out?

CK: Sorry, I have such After Wrestling tunnel vision right now because we just opened so all I can really shout out is like Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, which I binged on netflix and loved. I saw Kat Sandler’s Bang Bang on my day off, which I thought was cool and made me laugh. Black Boys looks really good, Bunny looks awesome. I have seen two shows that Unit 102 put on and I love their work. The thing is Toronto is a city filled with great culture and a vibrant theatre scene. So you can’t really go wrong!

After Wrestling

Produced by Blood Pact Theatre with the generous support of Storefront Theatre in association with Factory Theatre
Written by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr

When your best friend kills himself and Facebook stalking your ex-girlfriend just ain’t what it used to be, look no further than rolling in duck feces and living in the park. Unfortunately for Hogan, his sister and the cops don’t share his same enthusiasm for DIY self-help.

After Wrestling is a slacker-comedy turned suicide-mystery that finds itself in a booze- and grief- fuelled magic realism debate on love, life, and after-death.

Factory Theatre – Studio Theatre
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

March 1-18, 2018


In Conversation with playwright/director Kat Sandler and dramaturge Donna-Michelle St. Bernard on BANG BANG at Factory Theatre

Interview by Bailey Green.

We caught up with BANG BANG playwright/director Kat Sandler and dramaturge Donna-Michelle St. Bernard to discuss exploring collaboration, the stories we tell, and how sometimes it’s easy to ask but not as easy to listen.

BG: Kat, your new piece Bang Bang was commissioned by Factory Theatre. When did you start writing it and what initially inspired the piece?

Kat Sandler: Well, I had written a little bit of it at the Stratford writers retreat. When I met with Matt McGeachy and Nina Lee Aquino, they were interested in it, and decided to commission it for Factory. The show is inspired by the debate around racism, excessive force and shooting deaths by the police. And, of course, true stories and how we as artists tell those stories.

BG: How did Donna-Michelle St. Bernard come onboard? What were your initial reactions to the script Donna-Michelle?

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard: It was the summer of 2017 when we had a conversation about the play. We talked about her impetus before I looked at the script and our relative experience around the themes. When I saw the script I was surprised! I didn’t think you could do jokes with a story like this.

KS: I think there was a meeting before too! When I met with Matt and Nina, Matt said you need to meet Donna-Michelle and ask her questions. We had a beer at Tequila Bookworm and I’d like to think we hit it off! Didn’t we?

DM: We did but, at that time, I wasn’t sure if we were going to [get the chance to] work together.

BANG BANG – Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: What has challenged you the most in the writing of this play?

KS: It’s challenging to have your perspective shaken, to listen, and ask questions, and take constructive criticism, especially when it’s something outside your experience and a topic is controversial. There isn’t a correct way to write about it.

DM: And the other side of that is when you’re trying to bridge two diverse experiences. What can be assumed and what cannot be assumed and how to articulate that space between experiences.

BANG BANG – Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: Were there characters you were developing whose voices you found more challenging to find?

KS: Well, the white writer is an experience I have and I can find places for humour and truth to make him multi-dimensional. And of course, the black characters have lives I have not lived.

DM: In working in the room that Kat assembled, what you get reinforced is there is no singularity of experience. The presence of Kat doesn’t represent all white writers and my presence doesn’t represent all black perspectives. And we have gender perspectives, generational perspectives and cultural perspectives that broaden out the characters as individuals.

KS: And then the actors have agency over the things they say and where they stand. They will go deeper in the psyches than I ever will.

BG: Did you have a piece of advice that resonated with you or helped unlock something in the piece?

KS: I don’t know. I think there’s been a lot of talk about asking the questions and listening to the answers. It’s easy to ask but not easy to listen.

BG: What do you hope your audiences walk away with?

KS: I think we’ve tried to create a challenging play that shows multiple perspectives and that is entertaining!

BANG BANG – Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: How was this new territory for you both, Donna-Michelle you’ve just come from Cake and Kat you’ve written about so many different topics, what was unique about this process?

KS: I have had a lot longer to sit with the ideas from years ago, and then the actual process of finishing the script, which was a full year. I want to defer more to other voices in the room… not feeling like I need to but wanting to. And having an institution like Factory behind you in this place of risk as a writer and director, it’s been nice for my process where those two things are very deeply combined.

DM: This is my first experience of production dramaturgy. I had a lot of guidance in terms of the parameters in this unique kind of work, and I’ve had an unexpected amount of voice in this process. I feel more embedded in this than I expected. The process has been surprisingly unsurprising in the things we have had to do with all of our stories—the amount of care and the immediacy of consequences needed.

BG: Any shows or creators you would like to shout out?

DM: Forbidden, which is a commissioned work for Tapestry Opera where I’m working with composer Afarin Mansouri. It’s an experiment with Persian music and opera and hip hop that runs February 8-11.

KS: I’m a big fan of Jordan Tannahill, so Declarations at Canadian Stage.

DM & KS: And Acha Bacha!


A Factory Commissioned World Premiere
Written and Directed by Kat Sandler
Performed by Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah,
Karen Robinson, Richard Zeppieri
Set design by Nick Blais
Costume design by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Lighting design by Oz Weaver
Sound design by Verne Good
Dramaturgy by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard

A white playwright uses the shooting of an unarmed young Black man by a police officer as a “jumping off point” for his hit play that is soon to be adapted into a major movie. As Hollywood comes knocking for the writer, he makes a surprise visit to the home of the officer involved. With Sandler’s trademark wit, BANG BANG traces the impact of what it means to be inspired by true events.

Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst St. Toronto

February 1-18, 2018


Kat Sandler: @katsandler
Donna-Michelle St. Bernard: @BelladonnaNHP
Factory Theatre:
t: @FactoryToronto
fb: /FactoryTheatreTO 

2018 Next Stage Festival Profile: Leila Live!

Interview by Brittany Kay.

It’s easy to fall in love with Leila. She will have you giggling the second you meet her and will probably add herself into your contacts before you leave. If you haven’t seen her Formation video, you are missing out. I had the distinct privilege of talking to the Persian Princess herself about her show Leila Live! at The Next Stage Festival.

Brittany Kay: Who is Leila?

Leila: Hi there! My name is Leila and I am a real-life Persian Princess. I am originally from Tehran, Iran and have been performing my solo shows Love With Leila and A Very Leila Christmas across Canada (and one time in America before that disgusting monster became president) for the past three years. The critics have named me the ‘Persian Judy Garland’ but I self-identify as the ‘Persian Ariana Grande’ (as you will see in my show). People may also recognize me from my hit YouTube videos such as: The Fresh Queen of Tehran, My hijab brings all the boys to the yard, and my own take on Beyonce’s Formation.

My biggest dream—other than being a broadway star and having my own Netflix series—is to date Zac Efron. I think he is so talented, good looking and I believe we have a lot in common so we would be a really good match.

I have been quite active on Tinder lately – I am single and ready to mingle, looking for the right guy! No on has matched with me yet but I am staying optimistic and know that it will happen soon.

BK: What inspired you to create this story?

L: My newest show Leila Live! is my first venture into the world of CABARET! I wanted to start off this new year by trying something completely different. In this show, I am not only acting and telling a story, but I am showcasing a big variety of my talents such as: monologuing, dancing, original singer songwriting, stand up, impressions, sound effects and puppets. That’s right! There is a lot going on in this tight 30 minute show. We are really hoping to find potential agents, producers and boyfriends after one of the performances. If you are interested please email me:

BK: Where else can we see some of your work? I see you have quite the social media following! How did that happen?

L: You know it really just happened naturally. I love to be social and I love to take pictures so Instagram is really the perfect platform for me. I am also on Twitter but I don’t like birds that much. On Instagram I am trying to show what it is like to be a touring performer but also to give advice to my internet friends – #tiptuesday and #wisdomwednesday have been quite popular posts. But none are nearly as fun as #mancrushmonday – I have to start posting about some guys other than Zac Efron though because I think he blocked me but my mother is looking into it for me. You can expect to see some new YouTube videos later this year as well as the launch of my very first album!

BK: Why is this show and more importantly Leila as a person, important for our community today?

L: Earlier this year someone told me that they had never seen a show with a Middle Eastern character who is portrayed as a nice and fun person. That made me really sad!!! We are not just the terrorists and angry cab drivers—we are real human beings with families, personalities, dreams, ambitions and are usually really freaking funny and full of joy. I want people to have fun with me! I want my audience to laugh and feel like they are just hanging out with me and not watching a ‘show’ in a theatre. Like we are friends, because we are friends! And in the end we get to see a little bit of ourselves in one another.

I just finished a run of my show A Very Leila Christmas in Kitchener with an amazing theatre company called Green Light Arts. We packed the theatre for 5 nights and even got the Mayor of Kitchener to come and sing a duet with me. The night was full of so much joy and laughter (and a few tears because let’s face it the holidays aren’t fun and games all the time) but so many people said that they have never smiled so much, that they didn’t know they could laugh so hard and that this kind of laughing was therapeutic. I mean, what is better than that really?

BK: Talk to me about Leilas Girlfriends?

L: Leila’s Girlfriends is one of my favourite projects I have ever done. It was a partnership program with the Immigrant Working Centre and the Good Shepherd in Hamilton. I hosted a storytelling workshop for newcomer women to help them share their own stories of being in Canada. The ones who felt comfortable enough joined me on stage for a performance on International Women’s Day. It was so empowering to watch these beautiful women stand up in front of sold out audiences and share their voice for the first time. I had shivers each night and had to hold my tears back. Some of these women are still very good friends of mine.

BK: Why is The Next Stage Festival the perfect platform for you and your work?

L: Well this is quite literally the next stage for me. This is the first time that I am performing a cabaret show. I am trying out never before seen material in a different style than I am used to and I get to do it 12 nights in a row! My mother and I have been rehearsing this showcase in our living room for a few months now and we are so excited to share it with an audience.

BK: Are there any other shows that you are excited to see in the festival?

L: My friend Christel Bartelse is performing her new clown show The Surprise in the same venue as me (Factory Antechamber). We did a Double Bill of our shows Love With Leila and All KIDding Aside last year at the Toronto Centre of the Arts and I am so happy to share a space with her again. She is so talented and funny and she has the most beautiful hair. Really, go check out her ginger locks – they are gorgeous.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

L: My Instagram account on their phone.

BK: Anything else we need to know?

L: My venue is the warmest one in the entire building… so… that should be enough of a reason to buy a ticket.

Leila Live!

Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

Written and Performed by me (Leila)
Directed by my mother (Farideh)

Real life Persian Princess seeking a real guy who is trusting, healthy, and has his Canadian citizenship. Must enjoy authentic middle eastern cuisine, hypnotic dance moves, and little bit of fluff and scruff. No smoking, drinking, or drugging allowed! If my parents don’t like you chances are I will 😉 Swipe right for singing, dancing, acting, joking, and modeling my me (Leila).

Factory Antechamber
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

January 3rd – 14th
January 10th – 5:55pm
January 11th – 8:40pm
January 12th – 8:40pm
January 13th – 5:25pm
January 14th – 3:55pm


fb: /badgirlleila
t: @_badgirl_leila
ig: @_badgirl_leila

NSTF Artists take it to the “Next Stage” in 2018

As one year ends and a new one begins, The Next Stage Festival is a time that we always look forward to over here at In the Greenroom. The festival offers a space for the Toronto theatre community to gather, re-connect, re-charge, and re-inspire themselves as we collectively re-focus on community, development, and growth in this first wintery month of the new year. What an incredible GIFT because DAMN it’s real cold and dreary out there and we all need a little reason to leave the house and RE-CONNECT with art, artists, ideas and create the space to experience something new!

We had the pleasure of connecting with this year’s NSTF artists to discuss their work, the importance of the festival, and we asked them to reflect on their hopes/goals/mantras for themselves as artists and for the Toronto arts community for 2018.

We hope this may help to inspire you as the year kicks off. Go out, see something new at Next Stage, and let us know what your hopes/goals/mantras are in 2018 in the comments below, or by connecting with us on facebook, twitter and instagram!

A very HAPPY NEW YEAR beauties. See you in that sweet sweet heated beer tent!

– Hallie

Hallie Seline
Co-founder & Editor in Chief

In the Greenroom

Good Morning, Viet Mom

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Good Morning, Viet Mom is a hilarious and moving solo show by me, the devilishly handsome Franco Nguyen, that explores family created through my stand-up sets and storytelling circles. From our sold-out run at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival, we’re taking it to the “next stage” with a revamped production including a new script and additional design elements and a larger creative team.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Next Stage audiences are extra crazy and dedicated. They head out in the dead of winter to see theatre…and to drink beer in a tent. They’re essentially winter camping. That fiery spirit is so important for any community. It allows for inspiration, conversation and it keeps things lit.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We’re looking forward to new voices in Toronto’s arts community. We want to see more work by and for Toronto’s unseen communities. Work that pushes the boundaries of what Toronto, Arts and Community mean. You know, stuff that’s accessible to people who work in factories and at McDonald’s. And people who regularly check World Star Hip Hop online.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

To be more honest and present, and also to make that paper, baby!

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re looking forward to seeing the work of our #NSTFunny partners – The Harold Experience and Sex T-Rex’s SwordPlay

fb: /Soaring-Skies-Collective

For show dates, times and tickets for Good Morning, Viet Mom, click here. 

The Harold Experience

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

The Harold Experience is a completely improvised comedy show featuring some of Canada’s best improvisers and produced by Toronto’s newest improv company, The Assembly. Using suggestions and stories from the audience, the performers create an entire show with intertwining plots that come together for a satisfying conclusion. The show is based on one of improv’s oldest forms, The Harold. Typically, this form comes with some hesitance because it’s so difficult to perform, but our cast is up to the challenge of pulling it off. We’re taking it to the “next stage” by upping the polish while keeping it fun, funny, and interesting for general audiences.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

The Next Stage Theatre Festival is important because it’s the first big show for The Assembly. The Assembly is less than a year old and has made such great strides in these past months – starting with a collective of improv teams, moving into offering classes, and now, producing a show at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. Showcasing our art form and continuing to legitimize improv (and specifically this type of improv) is incredibly important to us and our community, and being part of Next Stage really confirms that.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We would love to see improv (specifically, long-form improv)! Improv exists within its own community, and our brand of improv (long-form) exists within its own even smaller community. It would be great to see more of long-form and all types of improv throughout the entire arts community.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Major goals for The Assembly include continuing to grow our classes (we currently have seven classes with almost 90 students), continuing to develop and showcase talent at our monthly shows, moving into new spaces in the city (we offer classes in three different locations and have shows at three other locations), and persevering as a very young, very niche improv company!

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re so looking forward to seeing Franco Nguyen’s Good Morning, Viet Mom (Franco is actually a member of The Assembly on the incredible team TallboyzIIMen and his show is an amazing mix of funny and touching with really cool audiovisual elements) and Sex T-Rex’s Swordplay (Sex T-Rex is so funny and their productions have their signature cinematic style, which is so cool and unique).

fb: /theassemblyimprov
ig: @theassemblyimprov
t: @TheAssemblyTO

For show dates, times and tickets for The Harold Experience, click here. 

Birthday Balloon

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Birthday Balloon was first commissioned by Rising Tide Theatre Company in Newfoundland in 2016 and presented as a part of their festival in Trinity, NL. I read Steve Cochrane’s play and felt it absolutely needed to be done off the island, on the mainland we’ll say. I felt there was an audience here for it and a need for it to be done and so I decided to produce it. The Next Stage Theatre Festival felt like the perfect place to do such a thing. The NSTF provides a perfect platform to produce a new work. It is an extremely respected festival which provides an enormous amount of support to companies, especially ones like my new venture, Mauzy May Productions. The application fee alone of $30 instead of hundreds of dollars was such an appealing factor. The NSTF makes it possible to produce works of a high-caliber that will be seen by your respected peers because it is an extension of the Toronto Fringe which is such an institution in the Toronto community. The NSTF makes the prospect of producing affordable theatre quite plausible. The NSTF has made it possible to present Birthday Balloon with the hopes of getting an opportunity be programmed by an already established theatre company.

Birthday Balloon is a universal story of loss and perseverance, yet very specific to Newfoundland and its new identity after an economic crisis that threatened the very existence of rural NL. After the fall of the cod fishery and the cod moratorium, rural Newfoundland, as we knew it, changed drastically. We saw men, many men, leave their homes and head off to Fort McMurray, AB to try to make a living for their families. This came at a cost to many families. Through the lens of a dying marriage after a tremendous loss, Birthday Balloon tells the story of the enormous cost to one family.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

As stated above, the NSTF provides a tremendous opportunity for artists. The entire vibe, if I can call it that, since being accepted into the festival has been nothing but support and encouragement. In a word: community. My company and this production have been embraced by the Fringe and many other theatre people and companies simply by association and the festival hasn’t even started yet! I have felt guidance as an artist and received help throughout the past few months from the NSTF company, which obviously helps me, as a producer, feel really strong and positive about the production I am presenting. The sense of community with all the shows is tangible. It’s present. And it’s comforting. We are all in this together, as a community, and we want to present something special together to the Toronto theatre community at large.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

To be honest, I would like to see even more affordable opportunities, like NSTF, for independent artists, for new voices, for groundbreaking material to have a place to be seen. With NSTF, for example, it costs an audience member $15 to see a show of a high-caliber. Outside of their own personal expenses, it costs a producer $30 to have a venue, a well-known venue in the city, to present their piece. It’s a win-win situation! People in the city and outside the city get to take a chance on seeing some culture without breaking the bank. This is always appealing for an audience member and it provides so much exposure for many that wouldn’t get it otherwise.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Be brave, tell your stories the way you want to tell them. Tell the stories that you want to hear. Don’t wait for the chance, keep making it happen. Give a voice to women, a voice that is often not heard.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I am most looking forward to seeing Rumspringa Break… for two big reasons! My dear friend, Matt Murray (who wrote Myth of the Ostrich that I was in in the 2015 NSTF) wrote it AND my director, Steven Gallagher (who also directed Myth!) is directing it!

For show dates, times and tickets for Birthday Balloon, click here. 


Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

JONNO is a fictionalized retelling of a true sexual assault case that shocked Canadians back in 2014, when the news first broke about a beloved radio host’s violent and predatory behaviour towards women. The play was first produced by Echo Theatre at the 2016 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. When we initially decided to bring it to Toronto’s Next Stage Theatre Festival, we were a little worried that the story might be a little dated, and that the play’s angry and aggressive retelling of the assault might do nothing more than re-open old wounds. Little did we know that, in a matter of weeks, the media would be flooded with new sexual assault accusations and #metoo stories from countless women around the world. Our Next Stage production of JONNO isn’t just about one man and the women he assaulted— it’s about how we as a society seem to keep letting these incidents happen, and what we are going to do to hold each other accountable and move forward.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

JONNO was a difficult play to stage — both because of the show’s content, and because of today’s heated political climate. And yet, those are also the same reasons that made us feel certain that this show needed to produced HERE and NOW. Being a part of the Next Stage Festival gave us access to the resources and support that we needed to bring this work to life in a safe and accessible manner. It’s thanks to festivals like these, and thanks to the fabulous staff hard at work behind the scenes, that new and challenging pieces of theatre like this one are given the space they need to thrive.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

Theatre is great when it is bold, innovative, and urgent — but, more importantly, it is great when it kickstarts a conversation and creates a dialogue with its audiences. We are really excited to hear what people think about JONNO. We know that we as artists are fallible: we don’t expect everyone to love the work that we produce, and we don’t expect everyone to agree with the stance that we take on a particular subject. But when we create avenues for further discussion, what begins as simply criticism can morph into an opportunity for growth and change. Then, instead of simply telling or retelling a story, our art is actually paving the way for real progress. (If only EVERY production had a beer tent for its audiences to stay and chat after the show!)

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re very excited for that F word by SaMel Tanz! It promises to be another bold, dynamic, and fearless exploration of feminism, performed by a cast of talented and diverse female artists.

fb: /rabbitinahatproductions
t: @RabbitinHatProd

For show dates, times and tickets for JONNO, click here. 

Leila Live!

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Hello, my name is Leila! I am a real-life Persian Princess and have been touring my plays Love With Leila and A Very Leila Christmas across Canada for the past three years. With Leila Live! I am presenting my very first cabaret show where I will perform monologues, dance numbers, original songs, stand up and much more.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

What a gift it is to start a new year by performing a new piece of work amongst other talented and inspiring artists?! For me, this is such a wonderful opportunity to push myself and grow – 12 nights in a row!

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

I want to see more diverse artists in leading roles (and I want to see myself in a big musical… maybe the will cast me as a Schuyler sister in Hamilton??)

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

I am currently reading ‘the subtle art of not giving a f*ck’ – I want to do that.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I am most looking forward to seeing my friend Christel Bartelse as Ginger in The Surprise – also in the antechamber space. This is the second time in the past year we are sharing a venue together!

fb: /badgirlleila
ig: @_badgirl_leila

For show dates, times and tickets for Leila Live!, click here.

Moonlight After Midnight

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Moonlight After Midnight is a two-person love story about a couple who meet in a hotel room. They begin to role-play a relationship, but even within their play-acting, nothing is as it seems. As multiple layers of reality play out against a shifting landscape of time and space, a puzzle emerges about love, loss, and who we really are to one another. We hope the Next Stage Festival brings the show to the hearts and minds of a an audience beyond those who already comfortably attend the fringe.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Unlike the Toronto Fringe, the Next Stage Festival is curated. For those that love independently produced and created theatre, but who are uncertain about taking a chance on a fringe show in which the entire program is selected by lottery, the Next Stage offers a fantastic 10-show roster of amazing productions. For the 12-day length of the festival, the arts community of Toronto can focus on this handful of shows that represent the very best of what’s happening in the world of independent theatre.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Intrigue, entertain, and excite by providing a window into the universal truths and enigmas inherent in the human experience.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I’m really excited to see Birthday Balloon. It looks like it’ll be a well-written & acted piece of drama about a couple dealing with, well, being a couple – which is to say: our kind of show.

fb: /concretedrops
t: @concretedrops
ig: @concretedrops

For show dates, times and tickets to Moonlight After Midnight, click here. 

Rumspringa Break!

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Rumspringa Break!  has been in development for two years. In 2016 we workshopped and presented the first 45 minutes of the show at the Canadian Music Theatre Project at Sheridan College. In the Spring of 2017 we returned to Sheridan with a completed draft for a second workshop, followed by a staged reading at Theatre Passe Muraille as part of Sheridan’s “Off Sheridan” initiative. In the Summer of 2017 we had the opportunity to spend ten days at Theatre St John’s for their Newfoundland and Labrador Musical Theatre Writers Retreat, allowing us to incorporate what we’d learned from the Off Sheridan presentation. We are now excited to take our show to the “Next Stage” at the festival, stepping out from behind the music stands for the first fully staged production of Rumspringa Break!

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

This festival truly gives artists an opportunity to take their work to the next level. The Toronto Fringe provides a vital platform and support system that allows us to focus on the work and to present our piece in an affordable way. When trying to produce indie theatre at a grassroots level, having the support of an organization like the Toronto Fringe is such a help. It also benefits the community because it provides theatre-goers an accessible chance to experience quality theatre for minimal expense in the coldest months of winter.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We would love to see Canadian theatre companies continue their support of new works by Canadian musical theatre creators. We also hope the audience base for new Canadian musicals continues to grow.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

We are devoted to telling compelling stories that promote compassion and empathy. We hope to reach out to audiences who may not be familiar with contemporary musical theatre, introduce them to the art form, and let them fall in love with the medium.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We are excited for the wide variety of shows presented at the Next Stage Festival, in particular Birthday Balloon directed by the brilliant Steven Gallagher (who also directed Rumspringa Break!) and Leila Live! by the hilarious Izad Etemadi who has previously collaborated with Colleen & Akiva.

t: @ColleenAndAkiva, @mattymurmur
#RumspringaBreak #NSTF

For show dates, times and tickets to Rumspringa Break!, click here. 

The Surprise

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

The Surprise is an immersive clown experience where Ginger, my clown, throws a party for a surprise guest, and you, the audience are all guests at the party. This is my 5th solo show, and first time working with Dora Award winner Andy Massingham. Despite 15 years as a working performer, it’s my first full-length clown show (And the only clown show in the festival!) The Surprise explores the universal experience of celebrating a birthday, as well as the fear we all have in making another trip around the sun, and the expectation of where we think we should be with every age. This show was originally created in 2011 as a birthday present to myself. It ran as a ten minute piece. After performing it at a few cabarets, I really wanted to expand it into a longer show and Next Stage felt like the perfect festival. The ante-chamber venue is so intimate, which makes it really fun.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

I think the Next Stage Festival is important because it gives artists opportunities to take their work to the next level, whether it’s a new piece or idea you are trying out, or an already existing show that now gets further development. I feel fortunate that I get 12 shows during this run, to really hone my piece and myself as an artist. Also, I think the winter months can be tough in Toronto. This is something that brings the community together for 12 days and theatre warms everyone hearts. And the heated steam whistle tent is a fun hangout.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

I think a new year is always exciting because artists are either busy creating, or taking some time to percolate new ideas. I would love to continue to see fantastic provocative work, from many diverse artists. I’d love to see more collaborations from different arts communities. A dancer teaming up with a comic or some cool project like that. I hope to see women really pushing the envelope and I think social and political issues will continue to be tackled. Most importantly in the growing trend of Netflix, and right now extremely cold weather, I’d just like to see people continue to support each other and the arts. Just get out and see stuff. Art, now, is more important than ever. So many issues to tackle, or a much-needed escape from the world.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

I’ve been so busy creating and performing over the past years that I would actually like to take some time to rest and generate some new ideas. I want to write more… just put pen to paper daily. My goal is to continue to perform the solo shows I’ve already created, to collaborate with an artist or artists I haven’t worked with before, and to continue to go out and support theatre. And to be kind to myself and be proud of what I’ve created. I need to be a kinder artist to myself. This feels like a big resolution.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I’m most looking forward to my sidekick, double bill buddy Izad Etamadi in Leila Live! We’ve been super supportive of each other, and I’ve seen other Leila shows that are a riot. I’m happy to share the venue with him and can’t wait to see his piece. I’m also excited for SwordPlay because I couldn’t get a ticket during it’s sold out run at Fringe. So I’m so happy I can get a chance to see it now. Really, I’m going to see as many shows as I can.

t: @cbartelse

For show dates, times and tickets to The Surprise, click here.


Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

SwordPlay is a swashbuckling physical comedy set in a retro video game. After performing this show in six cities across the country and earning five-star reviews and multiple comedy and theatre awards, we are so excited to take the show to the next level. We’ve given ourselves a little extra breathing room with a 75-minute time slot, spruced up the props, and added in a whole new scene, more jokes, and more swords for the Extended Cut of this fan-favourite show. 2018 marks Sex T-Rex’s 10th anniversary as a comedy troupe, and we’re thrilled to kick off this landmark year at the Next Stage Festival!

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Sex T-Rex has participated in a total of 18 Fringe Festivals over the past decade. The Fringe has helped us cultivate our style and given us a platform for our unusual, modern approach to theatre. After all the support the Fringe offers to self-producing artists, the Next Stage Festival provides a vital platform for artists to be able to develop their work even further. This festival also offers the community an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of all that rad theatre, at affordable prices, and during the frigid time of year when laughs and heartwarming art come most in handy.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

It’s such an exciting time for the Toronto arts community right now. We’re not shying away from the important issues, and we’re seeing our art really make a difference and reach new eyes and ears. We can’t wait to see what the city’s artists have up their sleeves for the year ahead, but if Next Stage’s lineup is any indication of the excellent variety of theatre we can expect in 2018, then we’re in good shape: you’ve got your finger-on-the-pulse, issue-driven theatre (JONNO); cultural voices in storytelling (Good Morning, Viet Mom); brilliant improv comedy (The Harold Experience); a rich, layered musical (Rumspringa Break!); mind-bending romantic comedy (Moonlight After Midnight); moving drama (Birthday Balloon); stunning dance (That “F”Word); hilariously inventive one-person shows in the Antechamber (Leila Live! and The Surprise); and of course you’ve got goof-ass comedy like SwordPlay with hidden feminist and LGBTQ-positive messages (shhh, don’t tell anyone there’s some depth to our work too.)

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

In 2018, Sex T-Rex’s goal is to reach as many new audiences as possible and to lay the foundations for our first non-festival tour. Winning the B.C. Touring Council Award at the 2017 Vancouver Fringe gives us a huge leg up in this goal and will take us to the West Coast this Spring to start promoting Sex T-Rex to theatres and schools. Meanwhile, we’re pursuing fresh audiences closer to home with our new show for 2018, which weaves together three short plays under the theme of CRIMES (a film noire, a heist and a buddy cop story) and will be more digestible for sketch festivals than any of our previous, hour-long plays. And finally, alongside all of this, we’re breaking into the comic convention circuit with our delightfully nerdy improv hit D&D Live! – a staged, improvised game of the world’s most popular role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. Our resolution is to eat less red meat and our mantra is “Calidi Lapis Iocus” (Rock-Hot Jokes).

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re most excited to see our pals from the Toronto Improv Community rock The Harold Experience! We’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with a lot of the fine folks in The Assembly before, and can tell you audiences are in for some guaranteed laughs.

fb: /sextrexcomedy
ig: @sextrexcomedy
t: @sextrex

For show dates, times and tickets to SwordPlay, click here.

That “F” Word

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

that “F” word is an invigorating and comedic performance that fearlessly explores the struggles of feminism, specifically gender, class, race, body image and tradition. These issues are brought to life through a fusion of Contemporary, Latin and Hip Hop dance forms. We have taken our production to the next level by having a larger cast of dancers, exploring deeper into the themes of our show with new choreography and movement, further developed the transitions between ideas and improved the emotion and intention in all the work.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

The Next Stage Festival provided us with a theatre platform and challenged us to become more interdisciplinary. It gave us artists the opportunity to build upon and improve a previous production and the opportunity to reach a new and larger audience. It is important for the community because it offers entertainment with powerful messaging right at the beginning of the year when there is usually nothing to see during this slow, cold time of year. It gets audiences out and about and increases tourism in the city.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

Our hope for 2018 would be more funding for the arts community paired with better integration between the different genre of arts. Having festivals like the Next Stage and Toronto Fringe connecting different companies expands the community and everyone’s audiences.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?


We have a voice, the experience and the talent and we are ready to share all of it with the world. In 2018 we are going to claim space, share what is exclusive to us with everyone.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
The Harold Experience – we love comedy/improvisation
JONNO – similar theme to our show, different perspective

t: @sameltanz
ig: @sameltanz

The Next Stage Theatre Festival hosted by The Toronto Fringe

The Next Stage Theatre Festival is the premiere winter theatre event in the city. Produced by the Toronto Fringe, Next Stage is a platform for past Fringe artists to take groundbreaking work to the next level – and a gathering place for discerning culture lovers in the city.

While some of the shows have appeared at previous Fringe Festivals, most are new works by established Fringe artists who have demonstrated the passion and tenacity to take their work to the next stage.

Factory Theatre
125 Bathurst Street
Toronto, ON

January 3-14, 2018

Tickets & Info: