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Posts tagged ‘Feminist Playwrights’

A Few Words with Sarah Kitz – Director of Caryl Churchill’s Three Sleepless Nights – 2014 Playwright Project

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: So, Sarah Kitz! You are directing Three Sleepless Nights by Caryl Churchill with Bad Joe Theatre for the 2014 Playwright Project.

SK: I am!

RQ: And this show takes place around the beginning of Margaret Thatcher’s government.

SK: It’s early in her reign of terror.

RQ: Yeah! I was wondering if you could speak to the point of view the show takes on her. She was the first female British prime minister, but she didn’t leave a fantastic legacy.

SK: Well, it’s interesting because Churchill stridently doesn’t talk about her shows. Other people talk about them, but she doesn’t do interviews. So, you’re forced to just go to the text. She is such an overt feminist, and Margaret Thatcher obviously was no feminist, even though she was holding the highest office in the land, it was all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Women did not do better under her government, and minorities didn’t do better, and underprivileged people didn’t do better. It’s a political play because of the context, but we don’t hear people discussing much politics. What we get instead is people in tenuous circumstances that are getting increasingly dangerous and just the traps closing around them. We understand because of the framing of the show that that’s largely, but not totally, Thatcher’s doing.

RQ: A society or a community in flux, and how it affects the people in it.

SK: Yeah, and not so dissimilar from now, with the economic divide widening dramatically. The people on the bottom end of that are going from a hand-to-mouth situation that’s bearable into a really precarious place.

RQ: Well that’s something I wanted to ask you about, how the world of this show parallels our own, but you just touched on it, how social classes are becoming further apart.

SK: When I chose this show, I realized that with some of her work, you can get away with not doing a British accent very easily, but I don’t think this is one of them. It’s very “London working class”, so we decided to keep that, but the resonances in people with economic hardship is so unfortunately similar to what’s happening right now that I think that will reverberate very strongly.

RQ: How do you approach something like this that’s so similar to our world now, but also so firmly planted in a certain era?

SK: I think, fortunately, with someone like Churchill, she’s so clever in her writing that you can just serve the text and know that it will resonate. The actors are really, really good, and the scenes are stand-alone but interrelated so we get a few different viewpoints going on and that’s helpful as well. It’s not just one bedroom with two people for the entire show. One of the couples has a bit more money and resources than another, so you do see some change. I don’t think it’s ultimately a very optimistic play, but I think that making art is overtly an optimistic venture, so they balance out.

RQ: What is it about Caryl Churchill that you think makes her great for a festival like this?

SK: She’s so political, and the politics in our country are so in-your-face right now that we need to have more politics in our theatre. And her political discourses are very palatable in how theatrical they are. So you can come see a political show and it will be entertaining, not didactic, though there is a lot of substance in there. Plus, since she doesn’t talk about it, as artists working on the show, you can kind of do whatever you want in the realm of working with the script you have. She hasn’t said, like Shaw, the table must go here beside the french door. You can imagine it fresh every time and that’s really exciting. I don’t know what the other directors are doing with their shows, but I imagine we’ll see four drastically different, ambitious theatrical adventures, that’s really exciting.

Playwright of 2014 The Playwright Project- Caryl Churchill

Playwright of 2014 The Playwright Project- Caryl Churchill

RQ: What do you think the place is of these small festivals in a city with a few large festivals every year?

SK: I think it’s fabulous. With the Playwright Project in particular, we get to focus in on a particular writer, one who has a broad body of work to choose from. It’s incredible immersion. Plus I think the selection body is very interesting, why we choose these shows. Part of it is practicality, what we can do on a small budget in a small space. A lot of her shows are gigantic, and nobody in this festival is doing a show with a cast of fifty. Also, though, there’s not a lot of Caryl Churchill done in this city, and what is done is put on at a very high level like Alisa Palmer did Top Girls for Soulpepper, and then she did Cloud Nine for Mirvish. If you want to talk politics, that’s a different price bracket, those tickets. So there are a lot of people in this city that don’t have access to those shows just by virtue of how much they cost. And they have to cost that much because it costs so much to put them on.


RQ: So she’s a playwright that’s speaking directly to the hardship of the lower half of society, and yet most people in that lower half can’t afford to see it.

SK: I mean she doesn’t always put her words in the mouth of the lower class, but she does have a focus on the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, the politically under-served. She is very populist in that way.

RQ: What do you hope people discuss, or think about, or argue about on the way home?

SK: I hope people argue about what the traps are, because I think there is more than one in my show. And also how familiar the refrains are that we get ourselves into in relationships. How much fine negotiation it takes to get out. Fine negotiation or revolution, explosions of the status quo.

RQ: In some senses, is the explosion ever justified, or is it ever essential?

SK: Exactly. If they’re justified, how they’re justified, and the disparity between the lip service and the execution. And if the execution ever happens, or if we stay trapped and talk about it and do nothing. If silent revolution is possible, or if that’s a lot of tongue wagging and a lot of sitting around.

Three More Sleepless Nights

by Caryl Churchill, presented by Bad Joe as part of the 2014 Playwright Project


London, 1980. Thatcher is newly in office. It’s the end of an era; it’s a new age. Late night communication breakdown. In the close quarters of the bedroom, enter people on the brink.

Directed by: Sara Kitz
Starring: Diana Bentley, Chala Hunter, Jeff Margolis, Ryan Rogerson,
Where: The Downstage (798 Danforth Avenue)
Tickets: Available  HERE
Single Tickets: Weeknight Single Ticket: $10.00, Weekend Single Ticket: $15.00 

Project Passes: Weeknight 2-Show Pass: $15.00 (see both shows playing on a weeknight), Weekend 4 Show-Pass: $45.00 (see all four shows playing on a Saturday or Sunday)

About Sarah Kitz:
A Toronto writer, director and actor, Sarah recently directed the hit show Savage in Limbo for Bob Kills Theatre, which extended its run at The Downstage. She has assistant directed Long Days Journey Into Night at Soulpepper (dir. Diana Leblanc); associate directed This Wide Night at Summerworks (dir. Kelli Fox), and has directed for Fringe, Summerworks, Here Is My Hand, Leah Posluns Theatre, One Night Stand, My Livingroom’s New Art Night, and Birmingham Readings at The Stratford Festival.
As an actor Sarah has been a member of the Stratford Festival Company and a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre, where she played Eliza in Pygmalion (dir. Chris Newton) and Fool in Lear (dir. Martha Henry). Sarah has played Olivia in Twelfth Night (Dream North); Hali in The Sicilian (Fringe); Portia in The Merchant of Venice (St Lawrence Shakespeare Company); One Woman Freak Show (Buddies/Cheap Queers).
Upcoming Sarah is directing a new play by Nicolas Billon. This fall Sarah will play Edna St Vincent Millay in With Individual Desire, currently in development with Lady Parts Theatre and Nightwood Theatre, to be presented at Groundswell.

In Conversation with Morgan Norwich and Johnnie Walker – “Scheherazade” at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I sat down with Morgan Norwich and Johnnie Walker, director and writer, in a busy café to discuss their latest production, Scheherazade playing now as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

MM: So why don’t you tell me a little bit about Sceherazade?

MN: Sure! It’s an adaptation of 1001 Nights, with the twist that the story is more from the perspective of the character of Scheherazade, who, while she is the teller of the original 1001 Nights, we don’t get to know too much about her. So we created a world where she lives in this crazy, totalitarian society where they’re killing a young woman every morning at dawn, and with a weird anachronistic, modern spin on it with lots of sex, which is also inherent to The Nights, and lots of pop cultural references. That’s about it, wouldn’t you say?

JW: Yeah. In a way I feel like we’re just unearthing the sex and violence that were totally there all along. The Nights have really been sanitized and ‘Disneyfied’ over the years. Sometimes certain bits of the stories go by so fast that you don’t take the time to think about them. But even the whole setup for the story, that there’s this king that marries a different woman every day, sleeps with her, has her killed and marries another one the next day… It’s sex, and violence and sexual violence that are so at the core of the whole thing. But if you say it quickly enough, you sort of skip them somehow. So it’s not like we’re shoving all this new sex and violence into it. It’s already there. I think we’re giving it room to breathe and say “Look at all the stuff that was here this whole time that you missed”.

MM: So was this a story that you had always wanted to tell, or was it that you set out to find a show that was the untold story? Why this story?

JW: That’s a good question. It’s been so long…

MM: How long have you been working on it?

MN: Over two years now.

JW: Yeah that would have been about fall of 2010.

MN: So even longer than that.

JW: And that was a very short, early version of the very beginning of the play that was like a little workshop. And then we came back to it the year after that a bit more seriously.

Lindsey Clark in Scheherazade. Photo Credit: Greg Wong

Lindsey Clark in Scheherazade. Photo Credit: Greg Wong

MN: We did a workshop of it with just two actors, just focusing on the characters of Scheherazade and Dunyazade, the sisters, and out of that workshop came this idea for the world of the play being this dystopian, but also very familiar, wedding-obsessed culture, and all the ideas of consumerism layered into the existing narrative. That came out of that workshop.

JW: I’ve always been into the character of Scheherazade, even just the name I like.

MM: So what about Scheherazade is appealing to you?

JW: Just the idea that there is this totally brutal regime that she’s living in, this insane tyrant running the country, and that her plan to take him down is all through art. And it’s totally pacifist. She’s just smart. She’s smarter than everyone, a really good storyteller, and she doesn’t need to come up with some… It’s a very genre show in a lot of ways, it feels very genre-ish, where it has this dystopian, almost science fiction without the science feel to it. I’m kind of a nerdy guy in a lot of ways. I like seeing a superhero movie, or we’re both fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and things like that, and in the last couple of years I have noticed seeing a lot of this stuff that, even though those shows or movies are really smart and have a lot of sophisticated things to say, it ultimately comes down to people punching each other. And that usually is the only way to solve problems. I love how that is not what Scheherazade is about. Never in part of her plan is “Oh I’ll trick him with this story, and then I’ll shoot him in the face”. That’s not what her deal is. And in the show I think we’re trying to examine “Is it possible to have that? Is that kind of resistance possible? Where does it work and where doesn’t it work? Where can a plan like that really succeed? And where can it really fail?”

MM: So is it possible to change the world through creative, non-violent means?

JW: Exactly.

MM: Is this the kind of play you guys are always looking to do? These strong female-centred shows?

MN: For the most part. I consider Johnnie to be one of the best feminist playwrights, of the male feminist playwrights for sure.

JW: Oh that’s so nice! I like that!

MN: Well I do. I always have. So another really large show that we did a few years ago was called Eight Girls Without Boyfriends which, I don’t think Johnnie realized this when he wrote it, was sort of a witte-fem inspired, cabaret piece that was also about these empowered female characters. So I don’t know if it’s something that’s always been conscious, but it’s been the kind of thing we’ve always done just because of who we are.

JW: I think both of us are really interested in feminism and gender and also sexuality.

MN: One of the other things that Johnnie and I do when we’re not doing shows is we work with an all-male burlesque troupe called Boylesque T.O. so we’ve been in the last few years exposed to the burlesque community and the gender play on it because, with the exception of me, it’s all guys in the troupe. I feel like probably a lot of my experience with both the male burlesque troupe and other female burlesque troupes that I’ve hosted with since we started doing that has informed a lot of certainly the staging of sexuality that’s gone into the show, but also, when you’re around sex-positive people all the time you get a good attitude about that kind of thing and you want to express it onstage.

MM: After having seen the show last night, I can say there’s a lot of sex in the show, but it’s funny, a lot of it is very light.

MN: Except when it’s not! And then it’s not.

MM: Right. And for the most part, when there’s sex in other plays, you can see it coming and you feel like “oh there’s going to be sex and I’m going to be uncomfortable seeing this with all these other people” and you guys just put it out there. It’s very “it is what it is” and then you move on to the next part.

MN: And so you didn’t feel uncomfortable? Oh good!

MM: And the audience loved it. They thought it was really funny. Especially, I would say, the older members of the audience. So do you usually get a good reception from people for this kind of work?

JW: Some people have actually said that this show is a departure for us in a lot of ways. That level of sexuality is not in our previous shows.

MM: So why make such a departure?

JW: We wanted to tell this story. We both came at it from different angles, and it was important to the both of us in different ways. And in the same ways also. So I think you need it for the story. When I was writing it, I didn’t throw in any orgies that aren’t in the original plot and aren’t integral to the plot.

MM: It’s funny that you say that because going into the show I thought “Oh we all know the story of Scheherazade” but apparently we DON’T really know the story. You had said earlier that it’s really the untold story. It’s been so ‘Disneyfied’, and we really know more about the stories that she tells versus the story of her.

Lindsey Clark in Scheherazade. Photo Credit: Greg Wong

Lindsey Clark in Scheherazade. Photo Credit: Greg Wong

JW: Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad are the ones that all rise to the top. And ironically, those are the stories that are in 1001 Nights where no original has been found. They were all translated in the 1800s into French by this guy Guillaume, and those three stories, which have become the most popular, no one has found the original that he translated from. So there’s a lot of speculation that he actually wrote them himself, inspired by the tales. It’s kind of hilarious that those have become the iconic stories. When you read the tales, almost every story are as good as those, as good as Aladdin. There are so many amazing ones that we don’t know. And in the show itself we have these moments. Like, right before the first orgy scene, they come on and do this sort of tasteful sexuality.They’re sort of posed in a silly way and she says, “slaves let us bathe and let us lie together” which, in the translation that we’re working from, is directly in the text. But I thought that was so sanitized. It’s a translation of a translation of a translation. Somebody has put their 20th century, prudish, Westernized idea of what that means. But really, think about that for a minute. What does ‘let us bathe and let us lie together’ mean? It doesn’t mean ‘scrub my arm and let’s have a nap’. It’s a big orgy. That’s what that means. There are these details that came out and it’s very explicit in the story that Scheherazade’s whole plan can’t start until she and the king have sex. It has to happen to complete their marriage. And it’s specific about the fact that her younger sister is in the room while that happens. In the original, she’s actually under the bed.

MN: We didn’t go that far!

JW: We even toned it down from that! But it’s one of those things that people just glide past in the text. “Oh yeah, Dunyazade was lying under the bed, then she came out with a plate of food”. No! Wait! Give that a moment. She’s in the same room as her sister while she is sort of raped by this tyrant. It’s a huge deal. And you need to give that its time. So it was about unearthing these bits. If this happened in real life, it would be a big deal. And the narrative isn’t quite letting it be.

MN: One of the things, right off the bat in rehearsal that we talked to the actors about was checking their own assumptions about the story and the world because of all of our ‘over-Disneyfied’ childhoods. We literally got to a point where everyone got one Disney’s Aladdin reference per rehearsal and then we had to shelve it and put it away. As much as so much of the play has ended up being cartoonish, which works for the kind of satire we’re doing, it didn’t help to go back to images in our heads of the Disney movie.

JW: Would you say that we’re dealing with A Whole New World?

MN: I would, but I can only say that once today! That’s the rule.

Director - Morgan Norwich and Writer - Johnnie Walker of Scheherazade

Director – Morgan Norwich and Writer – Johnnie Walker of Scheherazade

MM: Are you able to do this show because it’s part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival?

MN: Yes. Next Stage provides a lot of resources in terms of giving us the space, the box office, the technicians, stuff that’s really difficult to afford for even a small show. But when you’re dealing with a cast of eleven, plus three designers, plus stage manager, plus producer, the cost just grows and grows. Having the context of the festival is actually what has made it possible.

JW: And the cache too.

MM: So because it’s part of THIS festival, you can put on THIS play? Would you have been able to find the support, not just financially, somewhere else? Do you think you could have done this play without being a part of this festival?

MN: I don’t think something like this, even at the Toronto Fringe, we could have pulled off in the same way. Because it’s a smaller festival, we get a little bit of extra support, in terms of media stuff in particular.

JW: We were successful in some of our grant applications, and I think that’s partly because we were part of this festival. It’s a known entity. Even though it’s not that old as a festival, I think it has a great reputation. It’s a kind of risky show in a way for the performers, so to be able to hand them the script and say “we’re doing it here” is nicer than “here’s this crazy show with orgies and stuff, and we’re going to do it in a garage”.

MN: There’s a safety net, for sure.

MM: Do you have anything else in the works? Maybe want to give us a preview?

MN: This show has been so all consuming! We’ve got burlesque stuff happening immediately after, and I’ve got something in the Rhubarb Festival. But it’s going to be very weird for this to be over.

JW: We also do our show Redheaded Stepchild, that’s coming up. We have a show that we did in Edmonton last year called Amusement that we’re hoping to do in Toronto at some point. We don’t have an exact plan for that yet, but hopefully we’ll get something together.

MM: So to wrap up, in three words, why should people go see Scheherazade?

MN: Natasha [Greenblatt] in the show sent a really good email inviting someone to come that said “There are three orgies and a knife fight” so I’m going to say Three Orgies, Knife-fight. I can hyphenate that, right?

JW: I was just going to say Butts, Butts, Butts. When we got into the costumes, I realized there are a lot of butts in this play. So there’s a butt for everyone!


Presented by Nobody’s Business theatre
Written by: Johnnie Walker
Directed by: Morgan Norwich
Where: Factory Theatre
Monday, January 13th, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
Thursday, January 16th, 2014 at 5:15 p.m.
Friday, January 17th, 2014 at 9:15 p.m.
Saturday, January 18th, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.
Sunday, January 19th, 2014 at 9:15 p.m.
Tickets: $15 . For online sales, go to Tickets can be purchased by phone at 416-966-1062, or in person at the venue. For more information, go to