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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

Who:
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

What:
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.

Where:
Factory Theatre – Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street.
Toronto

When:
May 4-26

Tickets: 
factorytheatre.ca

“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

Who:
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

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

Where:
FACTORY THEATRE – MAINSPACE
125 Bathurst St
Toronto
Ontario
M5V 2R2

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

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

“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 www.theredressproject.org) – 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

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

What:
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.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

When:
March 15-April 1, 2018

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

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

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

What:
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.

Where:
Factory Theatre – Studio Theatre
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

When:
March 1-18, 2018

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

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!

BANG BANG

Who:
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

What:
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.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst St. Toronto

When:
February 1-18, 2018

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

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