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Posts tagged ‘Feminist Theatre’

“Race, Allyship & How the Past Informs the Present” In Conversation with Audrey Dwyer, playwright & director of CALPURNIA

Interview by Bailey Green.

I sat down with Audrey Dwyer, playwright and director of Calpurnia, to discuss race, allyship and how the past informs the present. Calpurnia, co-produced by Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre, is a courageous and explosive play that takes place during a dinner party. Julie, a screenwriter, attempts to re-imagine Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird from the perspective of Calpurnia—the Finch’s maid.

Dwyer began writing Calpurnia in 2012, some time after Trayvon Martin was killed. Dwyer was playing a maid in a show, and a cast mate remarked on how strong Dwyer’s character was. The cast mate was referring to a moment in the show where Dwyer’s character was silent during a racist attack on her character. Dwyer noted how the character’s silence was put upon them and how for many women, silence and strength is not always a choice.

The conversation prompted Dwyer to look deeper into mammy culture, domestic workers and how Black women as maids serve a function in literature. She was in a writer’s unit, working on a piece that wasn’t connecting, when she had a conversation with a friend about how the past illuminates the present. Dwyer remembered reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school: “It is such an iconic book, and I wondered is there a way for me to talk about mammy culture in the present, and hearken to the past, while examining a book that is Pulitzer Prize-winning and seen as the purest example of equality of how we should be in the world?”

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.) 

Photo of Audrey Dwyer

BG: Do you feel that your relationship to the book has changed over time or do you feel those core reactions are still as strong?

AD: When I read it back in high school, I was one of the only Black people in my class and I remember feeling really isolated when conversations happened around the usage of the n word. That is one of the primary ways people analyze the book in schools, should we say the n word? And that conversation happening around me as the only Black person in my class felt shameful and embarrassing. It didn’t serve my needs and it didn’t help the racism I was experiencing while in school. Equality was another theme that was touched on and that conversation also felt awkward for me because I wasn’t being seen as an equal in that conversation. Years later when I approached the book I was flummoxed why this book was being taught in schools in this way […] The conversation about the book hasn’t changed. I think of things like how Tom Robinson was shot 17 times as he was running away from the cops… now you read that book and you’ve got young Black men in school, how is that narrative serving them? How is the narrative of a Black man seen as a violent sexual abuser, he’s innocent but he’s portrayed in that way, how does that help? In terms of rape culture you’ve got Mayella Ewell who is on the stand and she is being treated horribly by Atticus Finch. If I was a teenage girl watching that film reading the book and I had a situation I might have shared with a police officer or teacher or parent, this book tells me don’t do it.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: I was reading some Goodreads reviews last night for fun, specifically the one star reviews and I was surprised that people are still holding on to this incredibly problematic set of two-dimensional characters. One review said ‘this is a perfect example of a white guilt fantasy,’ would you agree with that statement?

AD: White saviour syndrome is definitely Atticus Finch. We can look at that lawyer and feel like he’s such a hero but when you dig through it, he was just doing his job. And you can look at what the time period was and Black men were being lynched left right and centre. Black men, Black boys, Black women, Black elderly people, the atrocities that Black people were going through were so abundant. So to have a book about a white man who was trying to save the day through the legal system definitely perpetuated that white men can save the day. I’m not entirely convinced, especially when you look at our laws, that the character of Atticus Finch actually promotes change. I think that he makes us feel good, or some of us feel good. He talks to Scout and explains to her that the men who want to lynch Tom Robinson are men who simply have a blind spot. But we can look at what happened in Charlottesville, those men with torches… can we say that they had a blind spot or can we say that they were an organized group of educated men who had a mission? Can we say that some of the alt right groups here in Toronto, do they have a blind spot or [are they] well-intentioned in their minds? And the way we teach young white people about racism, we can’t say someone had a blind spot. We have to crack that open and talk about systemic violence, power, how to stand up for marginalized people in the moment. And not just about Black people, all people. There are too many people who don’t feel like they have a voice, too many groups that don’t have a voice. And I think that To Kill a Mockingbird describing violence as ‘folks aren’t seeing straight’ is harmful.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: Absolutely, and how Atticus speaks to Scout about race reflects a culture with white children being told that everyone is the same, that you don’t see race. […] Do you show that kind of relationship in the play, with Atticus and Scout, or do you diverge from that?

AD: A lot of the characters in the play are inspired by TKAM and how they speak to each other, allyship is a huge theme. We have examples of when allyship works out and we have examples when it doesn’t work out and I definitely wanted to show all of it. In some cases, some people don’t even want allyship. I’m trying to address what it looks like when you want to help and you fail, when you want to help and you think you succeed, and when you’re helping but your help isn’t necessary. It’s so complicated. This time in our lives is full of people wanting to know how to be better, but I think the key is obviously empathy but also listening. Checking yourself and just listening, spending more time hearing where people are coming from. If you feel the anxiety that you’ve done something wrong, listen to that, why do you feel so guilty if someone is telling you a hurt or an injury they have? You will see elements of Atticus and elements of the innocence of Scout but who it comes from is also very interesting too.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: I love the trailer, and in it you mention how allyship is a hot topic and people think they know exactly what it means.

AD: Allyship is an everyday practice. Another danger in TKAM is that [it says] racism looks like X. Ignorance looks like X. And the thing is what one person finds harmful and painful, another person may not. People end up feeling like well, I’m a good person and what hurt? You didn’t hurt my friend so what is your problem? Listening and understanding that there is not one single definition.

BG: We’re at a dinner party, who are the guests? Where do we find the characters?

AD: We’ve got Julie, a screenwriter. We’ve got Thompson who is a lawyer and has his own law firm and we’ve got Mark who is Julie’s brother and Christine who is Mark’s girlfriend. Christine is also Julie’s best friend, although they are not as close as they used to be. And Lawrence is Julie and Mark’s father. And Precy is their Filipina maid.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: What did you find the most challenging in the adaptation or in the process? What challenged you the most as a writer with this piece?

AD: I think the thing that was the most challenging and at the same time the most rewarding was each character, getting into the mindset, and making them be as warm as I possibly could make them but also as flawed. When I say warm I mean everybody thinks that their intentions are good. Making characters that are authentic and recognizable […] The book, to me, has a number of stereotypes. I wanted to take those and have them be recognizable in the play without being so pointed. I play with stereotypes but they are not exactly what you expect.

BG: How was the shift from writer to director?

AD: Really good. I was quite firm with myself as a playwright/director. It’s very easy to want to make cuts but I’ve had a lot of opportunity via Obsidian Theatre and Nightwood Theatre to workshop it so I felt quite ready. One of the things that I did was make a conscious choice to work on the dialogue with the woman who is playing Precy, because I am not a Filipina woman and I wanted to make sure that I was checking my privilege as a writer. Over the drafts that I have written, I have given drafts to other theatre artists, dear old friends, and every time I have “gotten this character right” is a sign that I am probably making a mistake, and now in the rehearsal hall, it is great that I am working alongside the actor that I have chosen so that she can tell me directly, ‘I wouldn’t say that here.’ It’s a lot of fun to put it up on its feet. It’s an honour to have this opportunity and the actors are awesome.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: You’re partnering with the AMY project. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

AD: So we’re looking for some donations to help us throughout the run, and I’ve been a mentor with the AMY project for a few years over their long, long history, and I really love the AMY project. I love what they are providing to the community, I love that they’re trying to give voice to young women and non-binary youth. They give young artists the opportunity to create pieces with mentors. They are an under-served group of people who really need it.

BG: Any shows you’d like to shout out that are coming up?

AD: The Rhubarb Festival, everyone should go and see Rhubarb shows.

BG: Lastly, did you have any advice from someone you loved or a colleague that helped awaken something in the play?

AD: Kelly Thornton gave me a quote, but it’s about writing the thing that makes you the most uncomfortable and in writing Calpurnia I felt very, very uncomfortable and that if you feel uncomfortable, that your audience will also feel that and that discomfort can offer some insight from time to time:

“When starting a play, I ask myself, “What’s the last play in the world I would ever want to write?” Then I force myself to write it. I do this because I’ve found that the best way to make theatre that unsettles and challenges my audience is to do things that make me uncomfortable. I work with stories that I find trite and embarrassing, I keep the development of the text as open and unstable as possible throughout the rehearsal and performance process, and I emphasize rather than hide problems in the text and production. I’m constantly trying to find value in unexpected places. My work is about struggling to achieve something in the face of failure and incompetence and not-knowing. The discomfort and awkwardness involved in watching this struggle reflects the truth of my experience.” – Young Jean Lee

Calpurnia

Who:
Written and Directed by Audrey Dwyer
A Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre Co-Production
CAST –
Don Allison
Matthew Brown
Carolyn Fe
Natasha Greenblatt
Andrew Moodie
Meghan Swaby
CREATIVE TEAM cont-
Tsholo Khalema – Assistant Director
Anna Treusch – Set Design
Jackie Chau – Costume Design
Bonnie Beecher – Lighting Design
Johnny Salib – Sound Design
Christine Urquhart – Props Coordinator
Megan Cinel – Assistant Set Designer
Emma Welsh – Assistant Costume Designer
Christina Cicko – Stage Manager
Neha Ross – Assistant Stage Manager
Suzie Balogh – Production Manager
Adriana DeAngelis – Assistant Production Manager

What:
A classic novel turned on its head. A dinner party gone wrong.
A hilarious and provocative look at class, race and family dynamics under the roof of a wealthy Jamaican-Canadian home. As screenwriter Julie seeks to redress To Kill a Mockingbird through the perspective of Calpurnia – the Finch family maid – her tactics meet with explosive results at an important family dinner party. A brave, insightful, and outrageous new play.

Where:
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander Street

When:
January 14 – February 4, 2018

Tickets:
nightwoodtheatre.net

Connect:
t: @nightwoodtheat
fb: /nightwoodtheatre
ig: @nightwoodtheat
#Calpurnia

 

“Consent, Growing Up & Telling Difficult Stories” In Conversation with Rose Napoli, playwright of LO (OR DEAR MR. WELLS)

Interview by Bailey Green

Nightwood Theatre continues their Consent Series with Rose Napoli’s play Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells). The play tells the story of Laura (nicknamed Lo) and her teacher Mr. Wells, and is a feminist retelling of an affair between a student and teacher. Napoli began writing Lo three years ago in Nightwood’s Write from the Hip program. Andrea Donaldson, the facilitator of the program, oversaw the play from the ground up and directed the show, on stage now at Crow’s Theatre.

Napoli’s own experiences and her work with young women in schools and a juvenile detention centre inspired the work. She got to know girls who heard society tell them that their bodies were the most valuable assets they had, and how those beliefs existed in her own lived experiences as well. We spoke with Napoli about consent, vulnerability, growing up and what it takes to tell a difficult story.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.) 

Bailey Green: Youve been writing Lo (or Dear Mr Wells) for three years. What initially provoked you to write this piece and what was the development process like?

Rose Napoli: The play started years before I started writing it, 8 or 9 years ago. I was teaching in Windsor and working afternoons as a child and youth worker for at risk/in need youth and a juvenile detention centre. It’s now shut down. There wasn’t enough funding to keep it going, which is unfortunate. At the time I met a number of young women who had really complicated relationships to sexuality and consent. A lot of young women between ages 13-16, I don’t even know if they were in a position to know what they wanted and didn’t. Their bodies became currency instead of something that could give them pleasure, pride and beauty. They traded that in a lot of cases for safety. Those profound experiences, coupled with my own, made me obsessed with this issue.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas & Sam Kalilieh. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The breaking point for me came when a guidance counsellor in my school was arrested because he had been having an affair with a student who was 16-17, and [the affair had been going on] since she was in the 7th grade. Her confession was triggered by him becoming engaged to another teacher at the school. It was a horrifying time which lead me to quit teaching. I had a really hard time with how the administration handled the situation. The girl was seen as dramatizing the story, but she thought they would be together, so for her the engagement was a huge betrayal. The two teachers remained together. All of that has added to a whole lot of fire in me for a long time.

Sam Kalilieh & Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

BG: This piece contains personal subject matter, both from your own life and from the lives of young girls you have met. What was that like for you as a playwright?

RN: The play is hard for me to hear. I’ve never actually been able to listen to it without weeping. There are moments where I don’t realize that I’m the one who wrote that. Laura, played by Vivien Endicott-Douglas, thinks that now that she knows Mr. Wells in this way, maybe he’ll be the one that stays. It’s hard to listen to that as it still continues to be the reality for me. I’m 34 and I think about what I’m going to do that is wrong, sexually or not, that will confirm my deepest fear that I’m not worth sticking around for. And that’s pretty common in terms of people I have spoken with.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas & Sam Kalilieh. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I also wasn’t interested in telling a story that vilified Mr. Wells, and Sam Kalilieh, who plays him, has had a really interesting journey and a challenging time championing a predator. I don’t want to speak for him, but any time you take subject matter like this on, separating your own beliefs from the beliefs of the character is a daily struggle. But both of us and Andrea have felt that this is a deeply confused man. And therein lies the complication—it is not as simple, and yet it is absolutely black and white.

Sam Kalilieh & Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

BG: The quote written on your arm in the photo for the show (even if it costs you, you still have to share it), tell me about it and the social media campaign. 

RN: People were so creative with the #shareit campaign and I think people have craved it and wanted to talk but sometimes words are…challenging. And people came to express themselves through a photo and with a want to be a part of the conversation. The quote is in the play, something Mr. Wells says to Laura. The play is part of what Laura has written to him. He tells her as they are taking part in a creative writing club (she has an aversion to public sharing), he tells her that she has an obligation to the world to share her experience. And as she grows, she realizes that in a different way. And that’s a meta-theatrical personal line for myself, because this is not an easy thing for me to share. I feel nervous for people to see this because I don’t think it’s an easy thing to watch or even admit.

Photo of Rose Napoli by Dahlia Katz

BG: How do you feel with the run starting? 

RN: It’s wanting to shit your pants and feeling really excited and proud… there’s a lot going on. It’s a complicated time and I haven’t been that active in tech or rehearsal. I’ve been present for script evolutions but we’re talking specifics, like arguing over a comma. It’s their show now.

BG: What has it been like to be a part of the Consent Event with Ellie Moons play Asking for It and the Consent symposium?

RN: The conversations that the two plays inspire are different ones under the same heading, the consent topic we have to rewind back even further, way before the moment of no or yes. We have to think about it in how there is taking advantage of someone sexually and “no means no” and all of that. Empowering young women, not forcing them to kiss or hug family members. We send messages to children that their bodies or what they want doesn’t matter. We have to evaluate early on the message we send to young woman in particular. At the symposium we spoke about the importance of speaking about pleasure to young women. We don’t associate that as appropriate and we reinforce shame, which leads to people not being comfortable to say yes or no. I didn’t know what I wanted or what I didn’t want [when I was young], I was so confused.

BG: What would you say to your teenage self now?

RN: Oh gosh…I would tell her that she’s beautiful and she’s loved and that one day it will all make for some pretty interesting drama. I wrote a whole play for her.

Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells)

Who:
Written by Rose Napoli
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
A Nightwood Theatre production in association with Crow’s Theatre
Presented as part of The Consent Event, a play series and symposium navigating the minefield of modern sexuality.

What:
It was ten years ago that Laura was Alan Wells’ student at Northwood Catholic School. She was uncharacteristically intelligent for fifteen years old—perceptive and vulnerable—a dream student for an uninspired English teacher. Now, at twenty-five years old, Laura has written her first book. She calls it ‘Dear Mr. Wells’ and Alan is the first person she wants to read it.

A feminist retake on a student / teacher relationship, wrestling with burgeoning sexuality and consent, literature and passion, right and wrong, Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) was developed through Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip playwright’s unit.

Where:
Crow’s Theatre: 345 Carlaw Avenue

When:
October 25 – November 11, 2017

Tickets:
crowstheatre.com

Connect:
@RoseNapoli1
@nightwoodtheat
@crowstheatre

#nwLo

 

Mixing Burlesque and Greek Theatre in LYSISTRATA at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Brittany Kay

“The Fringe is a perfect platform because it is the rock and roll of theatre festivals: anything goes, so the audiences are open and up for surprises.” – Sebastian Marziali

Burlesque and a Greek classic. Both very different genres, both incredibly alike in intention. One wouldn’t normally find this mash-up in the Toronto theatre scene, but this is Fringe, right? After a sold-out opening performance, Kay Brattan’s take on Lysistrata has found the perfect place for its debut.

In this preview, we chat with writer/director/co-producer Kay Brattan, Las Vegas Burlesque Hall of Fame performer St. Stella, and performer Sebastian Marziali/El Toro about their burlesque adaptation of Lysistrata.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about the show.

Kay Brattan: Historically, Lysistrata is a story about the women of Greece uniting together in a sex strike to end the Peloponnesian war. Our Lysistrata turns the strike into a “strike-tease”, adding slam poetry, songs and strip-tease to heighten the tension of this Greek Comedy. This production is a site-specific piece of immersive theatre that is set in The Painted Lady, a bar in Toronto that is known as a burlesque venue. We’ve chosen to completely annihilate the 4th wall in this show, and present this story to its audience as a burlesque revue. We know you’re there: we want you to know that. Because everything in this play is for you. In the revue style we’re able to explore all the different types of acts that make up the wonderful world of burlesque, from the Can-Can, to Vaudevillian numbers, and the new wave of Neo-Burlesque.

BK: Where did the idea come from to mix Burlesque and Greek theatre?

KB: I studied Lysistrata in university and have always loved this play. It’s funny, playful, and can be contextualized in a way that makes it a strong piece of feminist theatre. Finding a way to marry it to burlesque was actually quite easy because by the end of the play everyone is practically naked. The characters start off in a world that’s a little more conservative and very quickly everything gets turned upside-down. As the clothes fly off, we see their everyday restrictions disappear and it’s incredibly liberating to see. For myself, this is a feeling I’ve always experienced when I watch a burlesque show. Living in a world that constantly makes women feel that our worth is judged by our waistline is daunting, so to be able to have a space that celebrates body positivity and empowers everyone to own their sexuality is exactly what I wanted to explore in this show.

Burlesque is such a big, bold, cheeky, and extravagant form of performance art, so it made sense that the women of the play use it as their tactic to aid them in this sex strike. It’s all about the tease, and not only do they use this to their advantage, they use it as self liberation. Instead of matching violence with violence, they use their femininity and cleverness to fight and win this battle.

Photo of St. Stella by Sly Maria

BK: What do you think will be really successful about this mash-up?

Sebastian Marziali: Plain and simple, burlesque finds its roots in ancient works of comedic satire such as Lysistrata. The strip-teasing style we know today was built on the foundation of making a mockery of those in power, specifically with women lampooning men and turning the tables on the power dynamic of storytelling. Early on in my burlesque career, I came across the idea that “if you get them laughing, you can shove anything down their throats,” and I feel that this show does a beautiful job of just that. It’s fuelled by raunchy, bawdy comedy and dance but upon a foundation of real honest reflection around man’s obsession with war and profit. The other beautiful part about it is the distance that we have from the ancient Greek pieces, which allows more room to play, experiment, and adapt. There is less preciousness than there is with more modern Western classics so we’ve really been able to integrate the eclectic nature of modern burlesque and cabaret, inserting music and dance styles from all across the spectrum but grounded within the structure of the story. It’s a marriage of form that you don’t need the Fates to have seen coming.

BK: The Fringe is all about daring to see something different. This piece is going to be different and definitely stand out. What would you say to Fringers that would entice them to see this show?

St. Stella: I think we are doing a very ambitious show this year. For first time producers, we took on everything and the kitchen sink! I think people will want to see this show for the extravaganza of it all; singing, dancing, striptease, feminism, political relevance, (near) nudity and site-immersion – there are a ton of themes in there for almost everyone to say “Heck yeah! I wanna see that!” I also think people are always interested to see fresh twists on the classics, particularly a text that has been given new relevance in the current political climate.

In photo (l-r): Amanda Mattar, Brittany Cope, St. Stella, Amanda McKnight, Jennah Foster-Catlack. Photo taken by David Kingsmill

BK: The Burlesque community is very real and current in the Toronto arts scene, but some people haven’t tapped into it yet. Why is that? What makes the Burlesque world different and exciting?

SS: A lot of people don’t realize that Toronto really is a leading city in the world, particularly in experimental or what we call ‘neo’ burlesque. But even with that, many people still haven’t seen a show or even heard about our community. I think there are still a ton of misconceptions about what burlesque is, which is fair because burlesque has a ton of permutations. But, the thing I love most about burlesque is that feeling that we so rarely get any more from entertainment – the raw humanity of it. It’s intimate and glamorous, a fantasy, but not fake, it can be simultaneously subversive, sexy and silly. Burlesque is a tease: it keeps people wanting more. And the coolest thing is that the ‘more’ can often be what the audience makes of it themselves; being inspired to buy a sparkly flower for their hair, or some fancy lingerie or dance in front of the mirror… Burlesque invites the audience to take the feeling of the show home with them. I’m really excited that this show might open the door to a whole new audience of burlesque fans.

BK: Why is the Fringe a perfect platform for this experience?

SM: The Fringe is a perfect platform because it is the rock and roll of theatre festivals: anything goes, so the audiences are open and up for surprises. People are at Fringe to have a good time but also to challenge their preferences and expand their scope. What better way than to be immersed in a blend of modern burlesque and Greek comedy which exists and has existed to speak directly to the masses in a way that is entertaining but also sparks curiosity and questioning of our sociopolitical structures. Also, at the end of the day, this show is first and foremost a celebration, a raucous experience that puts the action right in your lap. In the end, isn’t that what Fringe is all about? Getting crotch-deep in art!

SS: I think Fringe has this big beautiful feeling of ‘let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’. For a lot of people, it’s the only theatre they see in the year because it’s so accessible, it’s not elite. That aesthetic fits perfectly with the pathos of burlesque (and Lysistrata!) – it’s by the people, for the people. I also think that the way we have put together this adaptation has a lot to do with the Fringe itself as well – it’s a Pastiche. We rap, we sing, we take our clothes off, we dance, we climb on bar-tops – it’s no holds barred theatre, just like the festival itself!

In photo (l-r): Amanda Mattar, Brittany Cope, St. Stella, Amanda McKnight, Jennah Foster-Catlack. Photo taken by David Kingsmill

BK: You have Burlesque artists but also actors in your show. Why this choice artistically and how does this aid in the performance and storytelling of the piece?

KB: It honestly just worked out that way through the audition process, and I’m so glad it did. Having a mix of both disciplines of performers helped the show in the same way combining the two performance styles did. The burlesque performers were able to share their craft with the actors, and the actors did the same for them. The best part of this experience was just watching how much fun everyone was having. It’s a different way to approach a play, and I think that because we attracted a group of artists that were willing to explore this new side of themselves, and do they ever shine in it! Everyone’s willingness and eagerness to explore this work has been more than a delight to bear witness to and I think it’s something our audience will really enjoy to see as well.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

SM: We want audiences staggering away! Bent over in laughter and arousal with hardly a voice left (hooting and hollering is strongly encouraged). We want people leaving having had an experience desperate to come back and try the ride again from a different angle. We really take advantage of our venue using it in its entirety, which means keeping our audience right in the thick of it all (pun intended). I feel that we also want people going away with a new-found appreciation for both burlesque and theatre as platforms to bring us together in our ever more splintered lives. It’s been my mission, since being sucked into the magical world that is burlesque, to bring “traditional theatre” more into that world. After all that’s what theatre was and is meant to be, a mosh pit where we tear down the world outside and experience something wondrous together.

BK: What other shows are you looking forward to seeing in the Fringe?

SM: If you are even remotely intrigued by our show you are going to absolutely love Shirley Gnome’s Taking it up the Notch a comedian singer with the voice of an angel and the mind of a filthy sailor. So yes, I am excited about her. Also I am dying to see Mind of a Snail’s new show Multiple Organisms. Their work is so enchanting and knowing that they’re marrying that with sexuality and the human form just gets me all tingley.

BK: What are the most exciting parts about the festival?

SM: I think the most exciting part about the festival is the open and engaging interactions. Seeing giant groups of people excited to be in the same room together and take a collective dive into the unknown. Putting aside the phone and Netflix for a couple of weeks and enjoying shared experience. There’s something so necessary about this beautiful space that is created where everyone is just really excited about art and conversation.

LYSISTRATA

Who:
Company – how.dare.collective.
Playwright/Creator – Aristophanes
Starring: St. Stella, with Brittany Cope, Jennah Foster-Catlack, Sebastian Marziali, Amanda Mattar, Amanda McKnight, Timothy Ng, Jordan Shore
Directed and Adapted by Kay Brattan Choreographed by St. Stella
Costume and Props by Stevie Baker Musical Composition by David Kingsmill

What:
Lysistrata leads a rebellious group of women in a sex strike, hoping to end the war that is tearing their country apart. In this modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ classic comedy, how.dare.collective. puts a burlesque spin on this tale of resistance and desire.

Where:
The Painted Lady
218 Ossington Avenue, Toronto, M6J 2Z9

When:
July 5th, 6th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th – 7:00pm
July 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th – 2:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @Lysistrata_TO
f: /LysistrataTO
i: @lysistratato

“Performing MOUTHPIECE is a bit like running a marathon & singing an opera simultaneously.” In Conversation with Norah Sadava & Amy Nostbakken of MOUTHPIECE

Interview by Hallie Seline

I had the pleasure of chatting with the fierce artists of Quote Unquote Collective, Norah Sadava & Amy Nostbakken, the creators and performers of MOUTHPIECE. We spoke about the necessity of precision, time and digging deeper in their creation process, the importance of touring and continuing the conversation nation-wide, and finally… #traininglikebeyoncé.

MOUTHPIECE is on stage now to November 6th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, presented by Nightwood Theatre as a double bill with Anna Chatterton’s QUIVER (Keep posted for our interview with Anna).

Hallie: I was floored when I first saw MOUTHPIECE, so I’m thrilled Toronto audiences are getting another chance to see this! Can you speak about what sparked the creation of the show?

Norah Sadava: The spark that ignited Mouthpiece happened midway through making an entirely different play. Amy and I had begun working together on a piece about female relationships, but we couldn’t quite get at the heart of it without looking deeply at ourselves, and once we did that some major lightbulbs turned on for us. Once we started to dig inward we suddenly recognized our own hypocrisy, our own contributions to the oppressive heteronormative-white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, our own confusion and inner conflict regarding where and how our generation fit into the ‘women’s movement’, and how we personally could rail against the stereotypes that have been fed to us through every portrayal of women we’ve seen since the moment we were born. So we decided that we had to make a show about that instead. 

Photo by Brooke Wedlock

Photo by Brooke Wedlock

Hallie: How did you develop the piece into what it is today? 

Amy Nostbakken: Mouthpiece was developed over a period of three years. That may seem like a long time but it is a drawn-out creative process that allowed us to insist on every moment being charged with multiple layers of meaning. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every breath and swallow and shrug in this show has been thought about and has a purpose.

Hallie: I’d believe it! You two are so precise in the show. It’s incredible to watch a piece with that much detail, intention and precision. It packs a punch!

Amy: When we decided to tell this utterly personal and extremely necessary story of what it is like to be inside one woman’s head, thus tackling the theme of what it is like to be a woman today, we did not take it on lightly. And it’s complex, you know? It’s subtle and non-linear and messy and also terrifying. So a lot of time was spent going over a piece of text or movement or music and asking – “Is this honest? No, but really? Have I censored this, or molded it to fit into my pre-existing ideas of what is ‘good’ which have inherently been crafted by some dead, white man?” For us it was just too damn important a subject to rush into production.

So to answer this question technically: we developed this piece through years of research, years of digging deep and then deeper, then needling right into our very cores, years of examining our own hypocrisy and privilege, years of stripping away, and countless hours of repetition in front of a mirror.

Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava. Photo by Joel Clifton.

HS: I see you’ve been touring the show across Canada. Can you speak a bit about your experience bringing this show on the road and how it has affected you as performers and creators, and this piece? 

Norah: Taking Mouthpiece on the road has revealed to us that this conversation must be national. We can’t solely exist in our own little liberal-west-Toronto-artist bubble and preach to the choir forever. It is important to us to have our work challenged by other perspectives, other communities, other geographies, and hear responses from people from all sorts of different backgrounds. Feminism has to be intersectional or it’s not really progress at all. Of course we acknowledge that a theatre audience is already inherently biased based on the fact that they are at the theatre (have the money, time and interest to expose themselves to experimental art) no matter what town we are in. But having played this piece across the country, we can say that there are some truths that are a national (and international) matter. We’ve also learned that a bathtub can travel, and how to get the most possible free snacks on airplanes. 

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Hallie: I’ve been seeing these incredible “training” videos of you both getting yourself ready to perform the show. It’s a huge feat watching you both do this show. Can you speak about doing this training, why you’ve found it’s important and where the idea for this came about? 

Norah: Performing Mouthpiece is a bit like running a marathon and singing an opera simultaneously. When we haven’t done the show for a while it takes a lot of juice to get back into shape; this show requires a great deal of breath control and cardiovascular fitness to carry out movement and vocals simultaneously for an hour straight. So in preparation for this run at Buddies we were trying to think of the very best regimen possible. Then we remembered something that Beyoncé said…

“My father, who was also my manager, made me run a mile while singing so I would be able to perform on stage without becoming exhausted.”

Apparently he would make Destiny’s Child wake up early every morning and jog around a track while singing their whole set. So we bought a cheap treadmill and upright bike off kijiji and started doing the whole show while switching back and forth between running and biking in the front room of my house (without our fathers forcing us into it, luckily).  Sometimes we sing 90’s hits instead of the show, and in honour of the source of inspiration, Destiny’s Child is on high rotation. It seems to work. We still get tired, but because of Queen B we never lose our breath completely.  

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Joel Clifton.

Hallie: If you could have your audience listen to one song or playlist before coming to see the show, what would it be/consist of?

Amy: The idea behind the music in the show is that you are taken on a journey through an abridged history of the female voice in popular music (so inherently, the female voice filtered through a male lens…). The compositions are inspired by southern hymns, opera arias, Bulgarian choirs, the Andrew Sisters, Billie Holiday, Tina, Janis, Joni, Beyoncé…

So I would pick any female artist that you love and while you’re listening to her sing, appreciate all the hoops she’s had to jump through for you to be able to hear her. Or you could just go for Billie Holiday or Nina Simone, can’t lose.

Norah: I’d also add Millie Jackson – Go out and Get Some. She always puts me in the mood for action. 

Hallie: Describe the show in 5-10 words.

Amy: Woman wakes to find: mom dead, voice lost, womankind still under thumb of patriarchy.
(That was 14 words, but I generally try to take an extra 28% whenever I can to make up for the 28% less I make as a Canadian woman compared to my fellow Canadian men.) 

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Quick Answer Round:

Favourite line or moment in MOUTHPIECE:
Amy/Norah: The opening harmony in the dark.

Favourite place in the city:
Norah: Tie between Sunnyside beach and my kitchen table with a record playing.
Amy: Tie between Kensington Market and my bed.

What you’re currently listening to on repeat:
Norah: The new Leonard Cohen and the new Angel Olsen.
Amy: Solange

Where do you look for inspiration:
Norah/Amy: Lake Ontario, poetry

Best advice you’ve ever gotten:
Amy: It’s a tie between: “Only make good work” and from my grandmother: “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”
Norah: “Use it or lose it.”

Any advice for young emerging artists:
Amy: Only make good work and don’t hide your light under a bushel.
Norah: Only make work that you feel is absolutely necessary. Have a reason, something that you are burning to say, and the rest is just logistics and hard labour.

 

MOUTHPIECE

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Brooke Wedlock.

Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken. Photo by Brooke Wedlock.

Who:
Created and performed by Norah Sadava & Amy Nostbakken
Directed and Composed by Amy Nostbakken
A Nightwood Theatre presentation of a Quote Unquote Collective production
Presented as a double bill with Quiver

What:
WINNER, Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble
WINNER, Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Sound Design/Composition

A harrowing, humorous and heart-wrenching journey into the female psyche. In the wake of her mother’s death, Mouthpiece follows one woman, for one day, as she tries to find her voice. Interweaving a cappella harmonies, dissonance, text and physicality, two performers express the inner conflict that exists within a modern woman’s head: the push and the pull, the past and the present, the progress and the regression.

Where:
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander Street, Toronto ON, M4Y 1B4

When:
October 21 – November 6, 2016

Tickets:
tickets.buddiesinbadtimes.com

Connect:
w: quoteunquotecollective.com
t: @QUCollective
fb: QUCollective
ig: @qucollective
hashtag: #MOUTHPIECE

 

NAKED LADIES: Critiques & Assumptions, Post-Show Conversations, and How It Doesn’t Get Easier – In Conversation with writer/performer Thea Fitz-James

by Bailey Green

Thea Fitz-James came into contact with naked art in university when she read Rebecca Schneider’s The Explicit Body in Performance. She created an explicit body piece and performed it for her class. When Fitz-James told her mother (over the phone, drunkenly, in Halifax, on Valentine’s Day) that she was doing this kind of art. Her mother without missing a beat said that women take their clothes off to forget about their fathers. “That assumption really stuck with me, this daddy issues assumption,” says Fitz-James. “That all women who choose to get naked are somehow doing it for an absent male in the room. So Naked Ladies is a combination of personal and academic.”

“The people who are mean to naked ladies are afraid for them,” Fitz-James says. “In the show, I talk about my mother and her criticisms [of Naked Ladies] which are totally valid and come from love. We’re in a really good place now.”

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Naked Ladies began in December of 2014 as a 30 minute piece, part of a double bill at hub14 with theatre creator Andrew Gaboury who performed his piece totem. When Fitz-James was accepted to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe, she reached out to director Zoë Erwin-Longstaff who was immediately on board with the project. “We spent a lot of time tearing the script apart and writing new stuff, and though it is my writing, the development process was very collaborative,” Fitz-James says.

Naked Ladies has travelled to Edmonton Fringe, Cucalorus Film Festival, Adelaide Fringe and most recently to the Montreal Fringe this past June. When asked about the differences between each experience Fitz-James says, “Edmonton was very raw… there was a fresh-off-the-press kind of energy. In Adelaide I had to work harder to find my audience. It’s not just come see Naked Ladies, it’s come see my feminist solo show where I challenge your concepts about the way we imagine women.”

Naked Ladies 2 (1)

In Montreal, Fitz-James got to bring her piece home. “Naked Ladies is about the systematic abuse of women, it’s about the way we treat naked ladies — either putting them on pedestals and calling them goddesses or throwing them on the ground and calling them whores,” Fitz-James says. “So what was magical about being in Montreal was that was the site of so many of my young female abuses, things that I am now comfortable to call sexual assaults. And Montreal really picked up what I was putting down in a way no other Fringe has.”

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After a year of shows, getting naked in front of an audience hasn’t gotten easier, Fitz-James says, it has gotten harder. “There’s assumptions about this show — that it’s sexy, that it’s therapy on stage, that’s it’s some sort of personal healing for me. That somehow it is easy to do this because I am a pretty white female,” Fitz-James says. “I address some of that in the show, that I’m white, and how this show would be an entirely different show if I was a black woman. But I’m not going to tell that show because it isn’t mine to tell. I would absolutely support that show. I would dramaturge it for free.”

Fitz-James emphasizes that though the show is about women it is important for men to bear witness as well, “If you’re worried about being that creepy guy who comes to see my show, don’t be! It’s very accessible.” Naked Ladies can be for anyone who has felt outside of their own body.

Production Image 3

It is the visceral response from audiences that has been the greatest gift for Fitz-James and it is what inspires her to continue performing the piece. “The way the play lives on has been in conversations with women, and men, after the show,” Fitz-James says. “And it isn’t always men, but it is mostly men who want to give me their comments, criticisms, change me, curate me […] I had a man tell me my pubic hair was an easy way out because it hides my labia. My experience is certainly not isolated, I think it is just heightened. I think any woman doing a solo female show experiences men trying to direct them. It’s heightened when you’re naked because all of those questions of representations are already there.”

SummerWorks may be the last bash for Naked Ladies, so you don’t want to miss it!

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Who:
Directed by Zoë Erwin-Longstaff; Written and Performed by Thea Fitz-James; Projection and Lighting design by Remington North; Outside Eye by Arlen Aguayo Stewart; Stage Managed by Stephanie Taylor.

What:
A layered history of naked female bodies in performance, NAKED LADIES asks tough questions around the nature of the female body and tries to understand its contested position between stigma and celebration. It brings together personal anecdotes – both traumatic and silly – alongside art history, feminist theory, and performance art, as the performer attempts a queer reckoning the/her own body. Between the naked and the nude, between forgetting fathers and remembering mothers, past sexual stigma and personal secrets, NAKED LADIES asks why women get naked on stage. Why, where, and for whom?

“This is a bold and brilliant one-woman show — filled with more questions than answers” ★★★★★ -Edmonton Journal

“Porn, porn porn porn, men want to f you, or any person they see naked, or did you miss that class in grade ten biology?” – Doreen Savoie, concerned citizen

“Maybe that’s what you are trying to do: reach through shame to seek worthiness? belonging? love? But why can’t you do one show that I can see?” – Thea’s mom

Curator’s Note
“Nekked. Oh yeah.
Bodies. They’ve been around all this time and we still don’t know what to do with them. Why do they still trouble us? Why do they still mean so much, and in so many ways! Smart. Honest. And funny.” – Guillermo Verdecchia

Where:
The Drake Underground
1150 Queen Street West
Toronto

When: 
Thursday August 4th 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Friday August 5th 8:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Sunday August 7th 6:15 PM – 7:15 PM
Monday August 8th 8:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Thursday August 11th 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
Friday August 12th 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM

More Show Info:
summerworks.ca/naked-ladies/

Tickets: 
summerworks.ca

Connect:
web – theafitzjames.com
twitter – @theafitz