Interview by Ryan Quinn
RQ: Hello! I’m here talking to Zoë Erwin-Longstaff, director of Vectors of Their Interest. Do you want to tell me a bit about it? What can audiences expect?
ZEL: Sure! Vectors of Their Interest is a totally site-specific piece in that it was written in the place it’s going to be staged, for the place it’s going to be staged. We’re putting it up in my parents’ house. I moved home about a year ago, and that’s when I found out about the site-specific Fringe. I moved home around when it was happening and I thought “Wow, this is so great,” and it’s kind of a way to sneak into the Fringe if you don’t get pulled in the lottery. I approached my parents about whether they’d be okay with this, and for some reason they said yes, and so co-writer Ryan Healey and I were able to write this play not for any house, but for the house we actually live in. That was really cool. But, we didn’t want to do a typical domestic drama just because we have a house, so it’s about a company of three young women who have freshly graduated, who look at the prospects in this economy and feel down and out. They decide to take things into their own hands and they start a company called Viragon Capital Group, where they sell used panties online. This is all in this Annex house, and in the course of getting this company off the ground, they acquire an unpaid intern named Bowman, and he ends up doing most of the work.
RQ: You mentioned that it’s site-specific, that you wrote it there to be performed there, and there are ways that makes the process easier, but are their distinct challenges to working in a found space?
ZEL: Yeah, there are challenges. It’s very intimate, but to have four people onstage in a space that’s so small became its own challenge. There’s also the fact that we never go home. They come to my house, and then they leave. The separation between work and life is non-existent because I’m always in the space, thinking about it. There are also problems that you would never think of until you’re in the space, like people are playing basketball outside the house really loudly, or freaking out that we’re going to need air conditioning because it’s just too hot. All these things that theatres might tailor and take care of for us, all of a sudden I’m the owner of the venue so I can’t be pissed off at the terrible venue operator, because it’s me. That becomes its own host of problems. But, for the most part, it’s really nice. I’m never late for rehearsal, because they’ll show up and I’m there. And we always get coffee and fruit because it’s in my kitchen! Mostly it’s been a really good experience.
RQ: What kind of conversation do you hope this show provokes?
ZEL: Well, when it comes to site-specific theatre, I hear a lot of people say that you have to justify it, there really has to be a reason why. I think what this play is about, in a lot of ways, is that young people are becoming really innovative in this new economy. The Fringe is a great resource, but in general, I can’t afford to rent out a theatre space. I’m doing something at my house out of economic necessity. Not that you shouldn’t use the space as much as possible, of course, but site-specific might not be just a fun gimmick, it might be all we can afford. Also, when young people walk into a theatre, they have a lot of negative connotations that unfurl with them, so that’s what I want people to take away from this experience, is that you can put on a play outside of a theatre building, and maybe it will grab people in different ways.
Then, from the actual play, I hope young people will be able to connect with the play and have that sympathy and a feeling that’s not quite cathartic or alienated, it’s just a nod to the fact that that’s how things really are right now. Even though this play goes to absurd lengths, the more we do it, it’s not that absurd. It’s a situation that I find myself and a lot of my friends in.
RQ: Both of those tie into the idea of ingenuity and resourcefulness in the face of the motto of our generation, “do more with less”.
ZEL: Exactly. A big thing in this play is “who knew young women could be making money with something that’s right under their nose”, and this idea of doing anything and being ruthless, that that can be okay. It’s also a satire because recently, there were all these articles coming out about “Why aren’t young women embracing the word ‘feminism? Why is ‘feminism’ going out of fashion?”. Then all of a sudden, we have Sheryl Sandberg come in with her Lean In book, and feminism was great again but it was equated with being a corporate climber. With the idea that if we had women at the top of corporations, it would be better for everyone, and better for feminism. But, recently, in the news, Sheryl Sandberg went to Harvard to give a speech and a group of women who were working at hotels around Harvard who weren’t unionized, who were on strike, reached out and asked her to come host a “lean in” circle and talk about women being more resourceful and working to get paid better, and she said she was too busy. So, it’s not about a collective actually trying to make things better for women, it’s about ruthless individualism, which is screwing us all the time. The play is also a commentary on that, on what we can actually do that will make it better for all of us because that’s not it.
RQ: Instead of changing the definition to fit the system that’s already in place.
ZEL: Exactly! Absolutely, yeah.
RQ: You created this production company as well, right?
ZEL: Yes, me and Ryan Healey created Surplus-Value Theatre. He and I went to school together, but it really came together after the student strike in Montreal. So it was that feeling of a collective ethos, and we came together and were so excited to be young and be in the streets, but it dissipated so fast. I guess we feel like we’re still looking for that feeling.
RQ: Where do you want to go with the company from here?
ZEL: We just want to keep putting on plays that speak to the world right now, 2014. We want to do really high-calibre stuff that is a commentary on contemporary life. I see a lot of theatre and wonder who’s programming it, and how it’s relevant to younger people and to our community. How is it commenting on the social-political zeitgeist of the time, and that’s what we’re looking to do. We have a show coming up in Summerworks, and I’m really excited about that. It’s a play I wrote called Half Girl, Half Face, and we toured that around this year, and now it’s coming to Summerworks, which is exciting. Then, after that, we have a few shows we’re working on, so we’ll see. It’s always the challenge of getting it up. That’s why the Fringe is so great, because it’s easier. You can even sneak in if you don’t get pulled in the lottery, haha.
RQ: What do you think is the importance of the festival culture in Toronto? Since we have so many, is there anything that can be improved upon? If not, what does it facilitate?
ZEL: These are my first time actually taking part in the festivals, so I’m sure I’ll have my long list of celebrations and grievances after, but I think that it’s too bad that a lot of people get stuck in the festival model. Some people only produce in the Fringe every year. Not that the Fringe isn’t great, it’s wonderful, and it democratizes it a bit that anyone can get a venue. I’m not reviewing this year, because I’m in it, but usually I get my Fringe pass and see shows, write reviews. What’s great is that you can see something fantastic followed up by something totally terrible, and that’s great. It makes it really fun.
I think in general there has to be spaces that are more accessible, that make it easier for people to put things on. Little venues like Videofag, I’m sure there are others doing that stuff. I was just at New Art Night at Videofag, and that was wonderful. I saw a show there that was just great. For me, I know that when I got out of undergrad, I was suddenly hit with the realization that it’s near-impossible to put anything on without a free space and a free room and gorgeous props. You have to get scrappy about it, you have to band together with other like-minded people. Even then, it’s really hard. We had to have a crowd-sourcing campaign so we could pay our actors. I’m really excited about that, I’ve never paid an actor before. I mean, I’ve always been in the red, so I’ve never been able to, so this is exciting. It’s also not sustainable, we just need to make it easier for artists to live.
Vectors of Their Interest
Presented by Surplus-Value Theatre as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival
Where: 106 Albany Ave.
When: July 02 at 07:00 PM
July 03 at 07:00 PM
July 04 at 07:00 PM
July 05 at 07:00 PM
July 07 at 07:00 PM
July 08 at 07:00 PM
July 09 at 07:00 PM
July 10 at 07:00 PM
July 11 at 07:00 PM
July 12 at 07:00 PM
July 13 at 07:00 PM
Show length: 85min.
Genre(s): Comedy, Drama