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Posts tagged ‘Graham Isador’

“WHITE HEAT, Online Trolls & The Hustle of Writing” In Conversation with Graham Isador

Interview by Megan Robinson.

This year will be the fifth time that accomplished storyteller, Graham Isador, is presenting his work as part of the SummerWorks Performance Festival. Isador is well-known for his successful one-person shows, but, with White Heat, he’s written a traditional play that he hopes will succeed in having a life beyond the festival.

Based on real events, Isador’s new play draws on his insights from working as a culture writer and journalist (most notably for Vice, GQ, and CBC), as well as the challenges and dangers that many of his co-workers and friends have faced in their careers as journalists. In our interview, Isador continues to grapple with the seriousness of online harassment, wondering how we can determine the severity of a threat, and the problem of assuming it’s all just talk. It’s this curiosity that drove him to write the show, which is about a journalist who becomes targeted by an alt-right podcaster. The story of White Heat is relevant and thought-provoking, exploring what can happen when online threats become a reality.

We spoke with Graham about his ambitions for White Heat, dealing with online trolls, and the hustle of writing.


MR: Why SummerWorks?

GI: Laura (Nanni) has been pretty pivotal to my career in a lot of ways. It’s funny, I don’t really know her that well but I have immense respect for what she does and the dramaturgical questions she’s always asked about my work has elevated it in a way that has been super beneficial for how I think about my work and the way I want it to move forward. I think I owe SummerWorks a lot for anybody recognizing my work in theatre. So there’s that. And it’s a very conscious choice, to be completely transparent about it. This is the first time in the last couple years that I’ve put on a show that hasn’t been a one-person thing. This is me sort of shooting my shot. I understand why maybe my stuff hasn’t been programmed in the past, because it didn’t really fit within the context of theatre seasons or what not, but it’s sort of a chance to be like, ‘this is the crew I’ve assembled who are very talented, the script is good and relevant, and I want to get it seen by artistic directors’. I’m extremely proud of the crew we’ve put together to elevate this story and SummerWorks is a showcase, at this point, to be able to hopefully get it programmed somewhere else.

MR: When you wrote those other shows, did you think a theatre might pick them up? So is this you sort of like, acquiescing and saying, ‘okay no one wanted that so I’m going to play your game’ a little bit?

GI: I think that the stories I’m wanting to tell, on a personal level, is why I wrote those one-man shows. And because every once in a while I’ll get an ache and I’ll think I want to be an actor, but that’s not true. I don’t really want to say other people’s words or remember other people’s lines and be accountable in that way. But I do have a need to be on stage once in a while, so the one-man show is sort of a way to get that out of my system so I don’t embarrass myself in front of our community trying to be a different character than myself.

White Heat is built out of the fact that, in the past year, there’s a handful of colleagues, mutuals on twitter, and friends who are journalists who have been put on neo-Nazi kill lists. If I have an article that’s a hit, for a week someone will tell me to get hit by a bus, or that they’re going to beat me up, or that I’m a fag. So I started thinking about the relationship between those two things, and the people behind those comments. The extreme examples of all this is not stuff that has happened to me. The stuff I deal with in terms of harassment on a daily basis is peanuts compared to what a lot of my colleagues who are writing hard news deal with. But I wanted to be able to talk about what the reality is for me in those situations, as well as what the reality is when I’m having beers with friends and we’re talking about this stuff – that harassment part of our daily lives. And it’s all a joke and it’s all online until somebody gets shot.

The offices at Vice Montreal last year were occupied (for a lack of a better word) by bikers from the alt-right who came to the office because of an article that was written and offered threats to the Vice Montreal writers. A couple weeks after that, there was a shooting in Maryland at the Capital Gazette where five journalists were shot and a handful of others were injured because of things they wrote.

I mean I write about bars and buffets and abs and dumb culture shit and I get some of this as a blowback but the reality is that it’s feeling, even for me, a little more dangerous and a little more real lately. So it was like, ‘this is the story that I need to tell’, and I didn’t feel like doing it as a one-man show because it couldn’t really do justice to all the stories. It allowed me to dig into the themes and dig into the realities of what that is for friends, without having the burden of it all being 100% factually accurate.

Photo of Tim Walker in WHITE HEAT by Graham Isador

MR: So your play is about the most extreme case, the really violent and the more political version of it, but what you experience is mostly the bullying and the trolls?

GI: Yeah and I’m not a victim in this situation. I choose to put myself out there in a lot of these ways but it’s just interesting to me that it’s a reality of these things. And as the temperament of society changes, this becomes politicized regardless of what I do.

MR: What do you mean?

GI: Well, by writing for the CBC, by writing for Vice, people have narratives about what those institutions are. So it doesn’t really matter what I’m writing, I become an enemy to them based on this thing. I’m very fascinated with the idea that anything that gets written or anything that reaches a certain level of critical mass just becomes fodder for countless vile comments towards you. And what is it that we’re doing that it’s now just a by-product of doing work like this and what does it say for the larger societal context?

MR: Has it ever made you want to stop writing? Have you ever had an article go up and felt like you needed to take a break from it or take a pause?

GI: The only time that it’s kind of given me pause, at this point, is when it’s starting to affect people who aren’t me. I chose this, right? No one is telling me to write stuff.

MR: But you can choose it without knowing what it’s going to feel like.

GI: I think that’s true but I’ve also been doing this for seventeen years. I started writing about bands when I was thirteen. I kind of know what’s what at this point. One of the things I’ve been trying actively to do when I’m writing true personal stuff is get other people out of it as much as I can. Then it only becomes about me and not my friends or partners or whatever else, because they didn’t ask for this in the same way that I did. So that’s when I think about stopping. And then there’s times when you’re having a day that’s particularly hard for whatever reason, and then an article pops up that calls you names. And I engage with that stuff. I read the comments. I know you’re not supposed to.

MR: Why do you read the comments? What do you get out of it?

GI: Well if someone was saying something about you, wouldn’t you want to know?

MR: Personally, not always, no. Because it can still get under your skin even if you know they don’t have anything worthwhile to say, right? I guess you probably have thick skin, but I definitely have thin skin.

GI: I don’t know if I do. I go back and forth with it. I think part of anything with performance, with writing, with whatever, is a certain desire to make sure that your opinion is relevant. There’s a certain arrogance that goes along with it. To be like, ‘look, what I’m telling you is important and you should pay attention to me.’ I don’t think I would do this work in theatre, in journalism, if I didn’t feel that way. I think that’s the manifestation of why I do this stuff in the first place: I want my ideas to be important to other people, and I have something to say. Which also means that I am curious how people respond to that. It’s part of my temperament that I engage with those types of things. And sometimes I take them more seriously than others.

MR: How long has it taken you to write the play?

GI: Three months? I pitched this with an idea, and probably about two monologues and SummerWorks was interested in the themes and interested in some of the people that I’ve been working with. Jill Harper, who is directing it, is pretty incredible – she won a Dora for Pool (No Water). Tim Walker is mostly known as a comedic actor but this gives him a chance to show off his drama chops. And there’s Makambe Simamba – I think if this were a year from now I would not be able to work with her because she’d be booked for something huge. She’s going to be a really big deal.

MR: I’m curious what your end goal is. You do so many different things – is there one thing you’re reaching for more than anything else?

GI: No, I just kinda want attention… No, all this is the same thing to me. It’s all storytelling. Producing, writing, photography, all of it. It’s just the way to communicate ideas that are important to me. I look at who my heroes are, people like Jon Ronson or Anthony Bourdain, who are able to dabble in all this different stuff. All of it is facilitating this one idea that their life is also their art. There isn’t this big barrier between what I am and what I do and what I’m trying to bring to the world. Bourdain was a huge hero of mine. There was like eighteen different things that guy did and it was all playing to this bigger idea of using food to be able to talk about human experience and culture. For me, it’s how do we use all these different mediums to say, ‘these things are important’. More recently, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can use those same avenues that I have to be able to tell stories of people who may not be able to have their own voices. So that responsibility is something I’ve been thinking about recently. I’m exhausted all the time but I also don’t do anything I don’t want to do.

MR: I see your name popping up online all the time, and every time I see another article come up, I’m so curious about how you’re so productive… you seem overwhelmingly productive! How many articles did you write last year?

GI: Sixty. Maybe more. This year I’ve done fifty-four.

MR: That feels like a lot. Does it feel like a lot to you?

GI: Yeah. I think at some point in the next couple years I’ll be able to calm down and focus myself to do less. But right now the reason I get to do stuff is because I keep doing stuff. It’s a hustle, right? And like, if you want these things for real, that’s what you do. But there’s something to be said, definitely, for taking your time and thinking about these things, but I’m not talented in the same way. I’m a worker, and I have a little bit of talent, I’m decently smart, but the difference between me and a lot of other people is that I will continue to keep doing things until I get better at them. There’s a handful of other writers in this city who I know are better writers than me but the difference is that I try to do it absolutely every day and by doing that you just gain enough experience to keep growing and growing and growing. Between all these things I can make an okay living for myself, just barely. I don’t want to do anything else except write. So I just write all the time.


White Heat

Who:
SummerWorks Performance Festival with Pressgang Theatre
Written by Graham Isador
Directed by Jill Harper
Performed by Makambe Simamba and Tim Walker
Sound Design by Christopher Ross-Ewart

What:
A revealed identity leads to an impossible decision.

Journalist Alice Kennings grapples with how to act after uncovering the identity of an alt-right podcast host calling for violence against the media. Based on real events, White Heat is a play about all the things we justify to ourselves. Written by Graham Isador (VICE, GQ) and directed by Dora Award winner Jill Harper (Pool No Water).

Where:
Longboat Hall at The Great Hall
103 Dovercourt Road, Toronto, Ontario

When:
Sunday August 11th8:30pm – 9:45pm
Monday August 12th9:30pm – 10:45pm
Wednesday August 14th6:00pm – 7:30pm

Tickets:
$15/$25/$35
summerworks.ca

Connect:
@presgang 

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“From Glam Rocker, to MMA, to TV Personality, to the 2018 Toronto Fringe with ENJOY THE HOSTILITIES” 5 Questions with Robin Black

Interview by Hallie Seline.

We were excited to get the opportunity to chat with Robin Black, who has had quite the journey going from glam rocker, to mixed martial artist, to television personality, and who now adds Toronto Fringe storyteller to his list of titles. We discussed his greatest challenges both mentally and physically, his personal philosophy that kept him moving forward, and why he decided to share his story with the Toronto Fringe this summer in Enjoy the Hostilities.

HS: What an incredible journey you have already had at this point in your life! Is there a singular philosophy that you carried with you to each of your very different ventures?

Robin Black: I have a goal of getting better at something every day. I think I started thinking this way as a Martial Artist at a young age, and I apply that thinking to everything. I can get a little better at my job, a little better at editing my art, a little better at being a good husband, a little better at yoga.

This ‘growth mindset’, the idea that wherever I apply effort I will grow, has been a part of the way I’ve approached every venture in my life. It’s also a theme in our show Enjoy the Hostilities.

HS: What was harder on your body and mind: being a rock star or being a fighter?

RB: Traveling and playing rock music in a C-List Glam Rock band was definitely more damaging to my body, my relationships and my physical and mental health.

Fighting is very, very tough mentally and physically but it is rooted in healthy things; training your body and mind, getting better every day, overcoming obstacles, striving to achieve goals.

Rock and roll can be viewed, performed and expressed this way too but we had a more grungy, drug-and-alcohol-fueled interpretation of being rock performers.

Both are tough. Both damaged my body. Both were mentally stressful and challenging. Both probably took years off of my life.

HS: What experience has offered your greatest challenge and if you were faced with it again, would you deal with it in the same way?

RB: Failure is hard, and I fail a lot.

When you fail in a fight you’re so naked and alone, both metaphorically and literally. It is a very pure form of failure. It’s incredibly painful.

I would not change a thing, these setbacks are what creates your strength and resilience and ability to be stronger in your future.

What you end up wishing you could change is the PREPARATION before the failure, but you cannot, the time has passed.

So the lesson you end up learning from failure has to be lessons about preparation so that, next time, you will increase your chance of success.

HS: If you could now try any other profession at this moment, without limitation, what would it be and why?

RB: I spend my days studying Martial Arts and sharing what I find with an audience. Sometimes I tell stories. I commentate combat for people watching on television. I love what I do. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

But if something pops up that I’d rather be doing? I’ll pursue it immediately and deploy all of the passion and persistence necessary to make it happen. That’s what I always do and I’m sure I will do it again.

HS: What made you want to turn your life’s journey into a Fringe show at this time in your life?

RB: I’m not rich, I’m not famous, but I have honestly lived a life of passion and adventure.

In the process, I’ve learned some pretty cool things that I really wanted to share with people.

I also really wanted to work on something with Graham [Isador, co-creator & director] and this was so fun to build and it’s been so fun to express.

It just all came together so beautifully and I’m just so stoked for people to see it at the Fringe.

Enjoy the Hostilities

Who:
Company: Pressgang Theatre
Playwright/Creator: Robin Black and Graham Isador
Performed by Robin Black
Directed by Graham Isador

What:
Have you ever woken up in the middle of a cage fight? Have you ever overdosed backstage in a concert hall? Have you ever tried to out-drink a two time world Sumo champion? Robin Black has. It’s kind of been his job. In Enjoy The Hostilities, Robin Black (TSN, MUCHMUSIC) uses humour, storytelling, and punch drunk philosophy to share his journey from glam rocker, to mixed martial artist, to television personality. Co-written by Graham Isador (VICE, Soulpepper Playwright Unit), the show offers audiences advice on how to make the most out of almost making it.

Where:
The Bovine
542 Queen Street West
Toronto
Ontario
M5V 2B5

When:
4th July – 6:00pm
5th July – 6:00pm
8th July – 6:00pm
9th July – 6:00pm
10th July – 6:00pm
11th July – 6:00pm
12th July – 6:00pm
15th July – 6:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @robinblackmma
ig: @robinblackmma

“Community, Hedonism & a Reminder of Why We Do What We Do” In Conversation with Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Director of GRAY

Interview by Bailey Green

It was a pleasure to sit down with director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster to chat about Theatre Inamorata’s upcoming production of Gray. Gray, set in modern-day Toronto, was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Playwright Kristofer Van Soelen re-imagines Dorian’s world, altering the genders and relationships of the characters. The cast and crew are predominantly female-identified. Gray begins when Jane sculpts Dorian and creates a work of pure beauty. But when a gallery owner named Opal introduces Dorian to the hedonism and chaos of the arts world, everything changes. As time passes, the sculpture incurs the damage that Dorian inflicts on herself and others. Gray explores art, beauty, sexuality and female identity.

Bailey Green: When were you brought on board with Gray?

Courtney Chng Lancaster: Well, I helped Theatre Inamorata looking at a different script more than a year ago and spent a little bit of time with them to see if that was a project they wanted to move forward with. Though that specific project didn’t end up working out, when they were ready to produce Gray, Michelle Langille called and asked if I wanted to direct and I said yes. 

BG: What were your initial reactions reading the script?

CCL: I thought it was fantastic and very brave. It’s a really wild adaptation. Set in the present day, the fundamental themes remain the same but a lot has been changed. Kris has really taken a wide open approach and it was really brave and made me completely terrified when I read it. [The play has] a large amount of people and spans a lot of years, so it made me nervous.

BG: Were you part of the development process, as well, and is the script still growing in rehearsal?

CCL: Kris is such a wonderfully open playwright. There was a process before I came on board, with a number of drafts before. I came into a reading six months ago and suggested some changes and a new draft came from the input from everyone in the room. And then [we had] a two-day workshop at the beginning of the summer. We’re still tweaking things as we go, seeing where we need more information and where can we trim back. Kris is wonderful. 

BG: What was your relationship to Dorian Gray (if any) before this project?

CCL: Very little. I barely remembered it, actually. I’d read it in high school. It’s quite fun, and so gothic. It’s a very dark verging on melodramatic story, which is quite pleasurable to play with on stage!

BG: How do you think a modern setting in Toronto enhances some of the themes of the play?

CCL: I think we can all relate in the theatre world to the wonderful strength of our community. In the original, the big temptation and the ultimate downfall comes from hedonism that overwhelms Dorian and becomes his drug. Kris has translated that into the dangers of getting pulled into the hedonistic part of the art world. [In the play] Dorian is not an artist but spends all her time going to these parties and is part of the scene. It explores how great the community can be, but also when does it become detrimental to the work? When is it all too much?

BG: Would you say that themes of addiction and alcoholism come up as well?

CCL: It goes hand-in-hand. Graham Isador recently wrote an article in Vice about addiction and how artists are so prone to that. When we were rehearsing and starting to link scenes together, we realized how much they drink in every scene. We need so many wine glasses in this show. A drink is a lure, an avoidance, a temptation, a polite offering. So I would say [addiction] is an unspoken theme, for sure. It’s not overt, but the audience can assume there are drugs. They’re the last ones at the party and as my grandma used to say, nothing good happens after 2am. [They have] that fixation on being at the centre of things and never taking time for yourself, always being out and socializing.

BG: And how social media really enhances the performative nature of living like that, because there’s the drive to show it to everyone else.

CCL: I’m glad you mentioned social media, because now we’re performing online how we’re out, keeping up appearances. At one point during the play Dorian celebrates having broken a threshold of followers. And it becomes the work, she has to display her hedonism, as well, lest she lose interest.

Rehearsal Photo of Tennille Read and Mamito Kukwikila taken by producer/performer Michelle Langille.

BG: What has been the most challenging aspect of working on this show?

CCL: Purely practically, I have never directed something with this number of people before. It’s a lot of bodies, and it’s been a wonderful challenge. I’m learning a lot about blocking and the physical positioning of people on stage. And how to tell what is a massive complex gothic story on an indie theatre budget with really compelling storytelling without slashing props. We don’t want to distract but it is a big tale to be telling with a minimal aesthetic onstage 

BG: What has brought you the most joy?

CCL: When it works. We’ve just finished the 3rd week of rehearsal now, and they are all wonderful team players. You have your exciting discoveries of the first two weeks, then the shiny-ness starts to wear, and then you think “Do I really know what is happening?”, “Do I really know what I’m doing here?”, the mud and the mire… it’s a hard slog, but it has been a great journey figuring out when it works.

BG: What has Gray made you reflect on in your own life?

CCL: Remembering what is important, reminding yourself why you’re doing it. I forget that on a regular basis. What you’re actually interested in as an artist. It can be very easy to be distracted by accolades and excitements, press and parties, and then to feel empty when that stuff isn’t coming anymore. So to remember why you’re an artist and what it’s about.

Rapid Fire Question Round: 

Favourite coffee shop: We’re rehearsing near Dupont and Ossignton, so right now I would say Contra Cafe, they make a really great latte. 

Current neighbourhood: We moved from the west side to Riverdale, and it’s been lovely.

What are you reading: This is so embarrassing but gardening books – Let it Rot! It’s about compost.

What are you listening to: Jason Isbell, despite how SOME people don’t appreciate him, aka my husband.

Next show on your calendar: Soulpepper’s Waiting for Godot and then Picture This. Oh and Michael Ross Albert’s Miss at the Assembly Theatre space, I’m a big Michael Ross Albert fan.

Gray

Who:
Company: Theatre Inamorata
Written by Kristofer Van Soelen
Directed by: Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
CAST: Tennille Read, Michelle Langille, Ximena Huizi, Mamito Kukwikila, Edward Charette and introducing Sydney Violet-Bristow
Set and Costume Design: Lindsay Woods
Lighting Design: Steph Raposo
Sound Design: Andy Trithardt
Stage Manager: Hannah MacMillan
Producer: Michelle Langille
Associate Producer: Emma Westray

What:
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”

When Jane meets and sculpts Dorian, a naive and exquisitely beautiful woman, it is perfection – until Dorian is swept into the hedonistic and morally ambiguous world of contemporary art. As Dorian becomes more and more self-involved and destructive, the sculpture begins to absorb her acts of cruelty, while Dorian’s youth and beauty are intact. An examination of beauty, aging and self-indulgence, Gray contrasts the themes of the classic novel with our modern world. Featuring a predominantly female-identified cast and creative team, Gray takes a hard look at female identity and the implications of our society’s obsession with beauty.

Where:
The Commons | 587a College Street, Toronto, ON

When:
Wed. Sept. 20 – 8pm (PREVIEW)
Thurs. Sept 21 – 8pm (OPENING)
**Fri. Sept. 22 – NO SHOW**
Sat. Sept. 23 – 8pm
Sun. Sept. 24 – 2pm & 8pm
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Wed. Sept. 27 – 8pm
Thurs. Sept 28 – 8pm
Fri. Sept. 29 – 8pm
Sat. Sept. 30 – 8pm
Sun. Oct. 1 – 2pm & 8pm

Tickets:
$25 General | $20 Seniors/Students/Arts-Worker | $15 Preview
theatreinamorata.com

Connect:
Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster: @courtneyvl
#Gray17
t: @TheaInamorata
i: @TheatreInamorata

Artist Profile: Chris Ross-Ewart, Sound Designer & Composer

Interview by Hallie Seline

“listening more critically and sensitively might be what saves the world” – Chris Ross-Ewart

I first met sound designer and composer Chris Ross-Ewart in the ultimate Toronto Summer Theatre setting – a Fringe tent (or rather this year’s Fringe “rink”) conversation. We got to speaking about making art and sound and all of the weird and wonderful ways you could do a one person show, which is where I found out about his upcoming project at the SummerWorks festival. It was a pleasure to re-connect with him to chat more about his show Explosions for the 21st Century, exploring sound as a character, and after completing his MFA at the Yale School of Drama, what he’s observed about making art in the States compared to Canada.

HS: Where did the idea for this show come from?

Chris Ross-Ewart: I was commissioned to create a 10 minute performance using only sound for a festival about a year ago. The response was positive and I was encouraged to turn it into a full length show.

HS: You describe the show as using sound design to explore your anxieties towards contemporary culture. What is it about sound that you are drawn to as a primary means to explore and communicate in your work?

CRE: Most political and cultural discourse occurs online these days, which confines our conversations to words, ideas, and abstractions.

I am curious how a more sensory approach to understanding and discussing the world might actually be more valuable. I’ve found many contemporary issues seem to have a very tangible connection to sound, and many people ignore the importance of sound both in how it is made and how it is heard. As I hope to prove in the show, listening more critically and sensitively might be what saves the world.

HS: After having completed your MFA at Yale, can you speak to me a bit about your experience training in the States and what you observed about making art in the States compared to Canada?

CRE: The US truly wears its heart on its sleeve, in the best and worst ways. Opinions and values are expressed very loudly and publicly, in a way I was not used to. This leads to both an amazing amount of artistic expression, and also a terrifyingly in-your-face political and cultural antagonism that we don’t see much of in Canada. It’s an inspiring country but extremely exhausting.

HS: What, in your work, do you find yourself currently drawn to explore?

CRE: I’m interested in how sound can be its own character; a living, breathing creature in the room. Technology is taking stories away from shared collective experiences into more personal ones. I’m interested in both sound that counteracts this, by pulling us back into the larger world around us and sound that enhances intimate and private experiences.

HS: What have you been inspired by lately?

CRE: I just saw the O’Keeffe exhibit at the AGO. I loved seeing her life’s process, how she evolved, how she dealt with critics, how she found the places she needed to thrive. It’s always inspiring to see someone grow and struggle and inquire continuously for decades.

HS: Current mantra or best piece of advice you are currently living by?

CRE: Don’t be a victim of your own good taste.

HS: What are you listening to right now?

CRE: Jeff Beck…and my neighbour’s birthday party.

HS: Describe your show in 5-10 words:

CRE: A TED talk on the side of the highway.

HS: Lastly, what are some other shows that you are looking forward to this SummerWorks?

CRE: the last chance you’ll ever have, The Only Good Indian, Icône Pop

Explosions for the 21st Century

Who:
Company: Pressgang Theatre
Written, Designed, and Performed by Chris Ross-Ewart
Directed and Dramaturged by Graham Isador

What:
With field recordings, audio effects, and a well timed air horn, Explosions for the 21st Century uses sound design to explore contemporary culture. The result is part lecture, part stand up, and part existential crisis. Written and performed by Chris Ross-Ewart, the show is an erratic, real time, exploration of why we make sound and how we listen.

Where:
The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street W, Toronto, ON

When:
Friday August 4th: 8:00pm – 9:00pm
Saturday August 5th: 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Sunday August 6th: 9:45pm – 10:45pm
Tuesday August 8th: 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Wednesday August 9th: 9:30pm – 10:30pm
Friday August 11th: 7:45pm – 8:45pm
Saturday August 12th: 4:45pm – 5:45pm

Tickets:
summerworks.ca

Connect:
chrisross-ewart.com

A Chat with Storyteller Jillian Welsh on NO PLACE in the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Brittany Kay

Jillian Welsh is very, very funny… just TRY not to laugh at her answers! She’s no stranger to the storytelling community with appearances on the RISK podcast and CBC’s Love Me. Her new show NO PLACE explores her relationship to her family and trying to find her place. 

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

Jillian Welsh: In my real life I always thought that I would sing at my grandmother’s funeral, but holy drama Batman — things got complicated. This show takes place the hour before her funeral in a church and explores all of the secrets that made it so damn complicated.

BK: Why is a show like NO PLACE perfect for the Fringe? Why your show, over the 159 other shows?

JW: Oh man, don’t choose me over things. I mean come see this show, please come see it, but I advise the Derrick Chua method; see as many things as you possibly can. There are so many incredible artists this year.

BK: What are the fears and excitements around doing a solo show?

JW: What if I have to pee? What if I can’t hold it?

BK: Why the title NO PLACE?

JW: I buried that answer deep in the play, come solve the mystery, yeah? #nancydrewyou (…into coming to my show).

BK: How did you come to storytelling?

JW: I was working in a bar and Graham Isador kept trying to talk to me while I was busy moving around some rubber chickens. I told him to shut up and hold my cock, then he asked me to tell a story onstage.

BK: What draws you to storytelling as a performer? What makes you keep coming back to this medium?

JW: I keep trying to live a normal life, but fail miserably.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

JW: Their coats, umbrellas and water bottles. I hate cleaning up after people.

BK: Are there other shows you are planning to see in the Fringe?

JW: ALL THE THINGS!

But for sure:

Dear Uncle Wish because I love Samantha Chaulk’s brain, Life Records 2: Side B because Rhiannon Archer is just so damn hilarious and She Grew Funny because the director (Chris Earle) is life partners with my director (Shari Hollett) and they gave me free sandwiches.

BK: You’ve been in the Fringe before. What are your favourite parts about the festival?

JW: The tent, marijuana and consensual sex.

No Place

Who:
Written and Performed by Jillian Welsh
Directed by Shari Hollett
Stage manager: Ada Adler
Produced by Pressgang Theatre as a part of the Toronto Fringe Festival

What:
Josephine knows she should sing at her grandmothers funeral. Or at least say something, anything at all. But somehow between Manhattan and rural Ontario all the music got lost and now all the right things to say can only turn out wrong.

Where:
St. George the Marytr (The Music Gallery)
197 John Street (beside the OCAD building/behind the AGO)

When:
July 6th – 8:00pm
July 7th – 1:00pm
July 8th – 8:00pm
July 9th –   8:00pm
July 10th– 8:00pm
July 12th– 8:00pm
July 13th– 8:00pm
July 14th– 1:00pm
July 15th– 8:00pm
July 16th– 8:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

“Punk Rock, Remounts & SITUATIONAL ANARCHY” In Conversation with storyteller Graham Isador

Interview by Brittany Kay

It’s always the best chatting with storyteller/artist Graham Isador so we were thrilled to catch back up with him about remounting Situational Anarchy, which was runner-up for outstanding production at the 2016 SummerWorks Festival. We spoke about Against Me, punk rock, remounts, and why it’s important to keep doing what means something to you.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a bit about the show?

Graham Isador: Situational Anarchy is a storytelling show about how punk rock is the most important thing in the world. It’s also a show about how punk rock is the stupidest thing in the world. The show is framed as an open letter to Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer and frontwoman of the band Against Me. It chronicles my times growing up in the Southern Ontario Music scene, my obsession with her band, and the frustration I felt when Against Me signed to major label Sire Records (a division of Warner Records). While the framing device has to do with music, the show is a series of stories about the compromises we make and the things we leave behind as we get older.

BK: What was your initial draw into Against Me!?

GI: I found Against Me in my adolescence. Like a lot of creative types, my teen years were spent in turmoil. I didn’t have a lot of friends. My creative inclinations – which mostly consisted of unreadable poetry and a penchant for eyeliner – made me stand out from my peers. Those differences often lead to violence both psychological and physical. Against Me’s music offered refuge. I could sing along with tracks that celebrated my outsider status. The band introduced me to punk rock and gave me a place to belong. They mattered to me in that overwhelming, heartbreaking way, things can matter to you as a teenager. But it was more than just that.

There is a saying that my friend Frank has: If you grow up and your favorite band was Oasis it means you liked a band called Oasis. If you grew up and your favorite band was Minor Threat, it means you liked a band called Minor Threat and had a certain opinion about how the world was supposed to function. To me, and to a lot of my friends, punk rock is more than just shitty music played very loud. It’s a set of ideologies and values. Those ideologies and values shaped the person I am today.

BK: Why do this again? What was successful about it the first time around?

GI: Theatre is such a ridiculous medium. Situational Anarchy has been celebrated as the most successful thing I’ve done in my career, we were awarded runner-up for outstanding production at the 2016 SummerWorks festival, but we only did three performances. A couple of hundred people saw the show. I’m grateful to everyone who bought a ticket. I’m also grateful for the praise we were given. But I’d like more people to see what I do. This is a chance to do that.

I don’t think it’s up to me to decide what was successful about the show. I just get up there and try to do the best job I can. Without giving too much away, people have told me they enjoyed the depictions of how awkward growing up can be, what depression can do to people, and the nature of the things we love. Also there are jokes.

BK: What was the creation process for this show? How do you rehearse/structure a show that is based in storytelling?

GI: I started writing this show because it was impossible not to. When Against Me signed to a major label it felt like a personal affront. It hurt my feelings. I was sad and I was pissed off and despite knowing that those emotions might seem laughable to others – why should a band being on the radio throw your life into a tailspin? – it’s still how I felt. I couldn’t not talk about it. I’d be at a house party and I’d talk about Against Me. I’d be at Thanksgiving dinner and I’d talk about Against Me. I’d be interviewing another band for my job and it’d turn into an interview about Against Me. It was all getting to be a bit much.

When I was at Soulpepper a first draft of the script was created as a part of the playwrights unit. I performed different versions of the story at smaller stages across Toronto and it kept getting longer. When we got into SummerWorks last year, I brought on longtime collaborators Tom Arthur Davis and Jiv Parasram to help me shape the story into an actual play. They’re both wizards with that type of thing. They were a crucial part of taking my anecdotes and making them into something palatable. If anyone enjoys the show that is as much to do with their work as it is to do with mine.

BK: Why is this story important for you? Why is this something that is close to your heart

GI: Growing up there are so many times when we have to question whether the things we believed in as youth still matter to us as adults. I devoted my life to mediums which people at best ignore and at worst actively dislike. But I do it because these things are important. They mean something to me and if I do my job then this show will make them mean something to other people. I need them to be important to other people because otherwise what’s the point?

BK: Why the title?  

GI: It is a clever play on words.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

GI: That punk rock is the most important thing in the world. And that punk rock is the stupidest thing in the world. We are also donating the proceeds of the show to Trans life Line and Gender is Over. They are two organizations helping trans at risk youth and hopefully people will know we tried our best to help them.

 Situational Anarchy

Who:
Written & Performed by Graham Isador
Directed by Tom Arthur Davis & Jivesh Parasram

What:
Situational Anarchy is 100% true. Sort of.

For the past thirteen years Graham Isador has been in an on again/off again relationship with transgender rockstar Laura Jane Grace. The relationship is characterized by two main factors:

1. Laura Jane Grace is the lead singer, lyricist, and front woman for the punk rock band Against Me.
2. Laura Jane Grace does not know that Graham exists.

Framed as an open letter to the singer, Isador chronicles his teenage years spent in the Southern Ontario punk scene, sharing stories of Internet message boards, strip mall record stores, and concerts in basements and backrooms.

Situational Anarchy is a one-man storytelling show about the growing pains of adolescence and the inevitable heartbreak of teenage conviction.

Where: 
Stop, Drop, and Roll (Located Above Rancho Relaxo)
300 College St, Toronto, ON M5T 1R9

When:
May 24th-27th and May 31st-June 3rd
All shows at 8pm, with an additional performance June 3rd at 4pm

Tickets:
Door tickets are Pay What You Want
Advanced tickets are $15
Very limited seating. Only 25 seats per night.

All proceeds from the show (after expenses) will be donated to TRANS LIFE LINE/GENDER IS OVER.

Connect:
w: http://www.pandemictheatre.ca/situational-anarchy/
fb: /pandemictheatre
t: @presgang

“Two Truths and a Lie… Oh, and a Can of Spam” – In Conversation with Storyteller Graham Isador

Interview by Brittany Kay

I had the joy of sitting down with Graham Isador, one of the creators and storytellers of Two Truths and a Lie, opening this week as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival. We spoke about the fundamentals of the show, the Storytelling community in Toronto, and how sometimes what we really need is just a feel-good performance where we can sit back and laugh.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your show Two Truths and a Lie?

Graham Isador: Rhiannon Archer, Helder Brum and myself tell three outrageous stories, one of which is completely fictional. The goal of the performance is to trick the audience into thinking that all of them are false or all of them are true and at the end somebody has to guess which one is the lie. If they guess right, they win a can of Spam.

BK: A can of Spam?

GI: A can of Spam.

BK: Alrighty! So there is audience participation?

GI: Ish. Do you hate audience participation?

BK: Some people do. It really depends on my mood that night.

GI: Well it’s very limited audience participation. We’re probably going to single someone out. They don’t have to do anything other than picking out which story is fake. It’s basically a fun storytelling show.

BK: Are there different stories each night?

GI: We are switching them up. So each one of us has a lie story and a truth story and, depending on the night, we decide before the show who’s going to tell what.

BK: Where did the idea for this show come from?

GI: Well it’s like the party game, right? It was just kind of a very easy, recognizable format to put the stories in and hopefully entertain some people. Helder, Rhiannon and I have all had pretty successful solo shows throughout the past year. Rhiannon’s Life Records sold out a complete Fringe run at the Backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille. Helder did very, very well with the show called Born with a Tale and I did a show called Situational Anarchy in this past SummerWorks Festival. We put together a proposal because we wanted to work together to do some sort of storytelling thing with the Fringe and this is what we had come up with for the Next Stage Festival.

BK: Where do these stories come from? Do we know what the stories are about?

GI: Nope. We’re not putting that out there. We’ve discussed what we’re going to use. Alternates included a story Rhiannon refers to as the Legend of Mudbutt, the time Helder ate a pepper so spicy he questioned his place on the space-time continuum, and a time that I became a pallbearer for a man I never met. But what we’ve come up with to share is a lot of fun. Or if it’s not, we lie until it is!

BK: What’s the process to craft and rehearse these stories? Do the three of you work together?

GI: I mean, we are all performers who are constantly doing shows. I perform probably once or twice a week. Rhiannon and Helder both perform more than that because they are stand-ups, so we’re always working on new material and always putting out different stuff. It’s the kind of material that we’ve sort of perfected, or are trying to perfect, at different shows through the city. It’s honing those skills down down down until we’ve got those tight 5-8 minute pieces to be able to give to the people.

BK: What’s your rehearsal process like?

GI: (whispers) There isn’t one. Hahaha…

Testing out the stories at different shows is kind of like our rehearsal process. They’ve been developed in front of a live audience to figure out what jokes are working. We said to each other, “Come up with 8 minutes, don’t go over that 8 minutes, and we’ll figure it out the night of.” We’re in the antechamber space. It’s a half hour. It’s fun, low-key and easy for the audience.

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Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

BK: Why is this show’s concept important right now for Toronto audiences?

GI: I think, first and foremost, this is just a show that we hope is entertaining. It’s going to be a fun half hour and a cool night out with your friends. It’s not one of those things where there are bigger through lines or emotional arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy finding morals to stories and bigger truths to that stuff, but there’s also times where you want something a little dumb and hopefully people like it.

This is honestly a night where we are telling jokes. We want to entertain some people and send them home happy. It’s a feel-good event in the winter.

BK: How did you first start working with Rhiannon and Helder? Did you know them through the storytelling community? 

GI: I did a show with Rhiannon called Raconteurs, which is a monthly event that happens at the Tranzac Club. It’s a big storytelling event, which brings in about 100 people. We both admired each other’s work and wanted to be in each other’s shows. I run Pressgang out of the Garrison, which has become a little bigger with about 80-100 people per show. Rhiannon and Helder’s is called Fire Side, it happens at Dufferin Grove Park when the weather permits. We sit around a campfire and tell stories to each other.

BK: That’s wicked.

GI: Yeah, it’s free. People might have cheeky beers… It’s nice. It’s a good way to do things.

BK: I want to go to that.

GI: It’s awesome. We have marshmallows. People bring dogs. It’s a really fun show to do.

BK: What about director Tom Arthur Davis?

GI: Oh, we don’t need to talk about him.

BK: Hahaha. How is he as a director?

GI: Terrible. Just useless. I give him no credit for anything I’ve done.

No, no. We’ve known each other since University. We went to UofT together. We didn’t talk to each other for the first year and then eventually we started giving each other the head nod when we would see each other on campus. We became friends once when we got really drunk together at an improv jam in a basement. We lived together for a while and worked on various projects. He was the co-director for my SummerWorks show. We co-directed for a play I wrote called Served that happened at the Fringe two years ago. He’s been a part of Pressgang Storytelling on and off since its inception like 5 years ago. He’s genuinely the most talented director I know in this city and a total garbage human being.

BK: Nice. Good. He’ll like this.

GI: Yeah, no I love him like a brother. He’s excellent. He’s very, very good. So it was one of those things where we thought for the little rehearsal time that we had, we needed an outside eye to make sure we weren’t being too self-indulgent. Tom is good at being an outside eye and good at telling me when I’m being too self-indulgent, which is more or less all the time. So it’s a great fit.

BK: Haha. Love that. Anything else we should know about Two Truths and a Lie

GI: The goal of this show is to make people laugh. I can’t speak to my own talents but I think that Rhiannon and Helder are some of the funniest people in this city. In terms of up-and-coming comedians, they have both performed on JFL42 this year and they both have up-and-coming projects (that they’re not allowed to talk about) but are going to be very, very big deals in the spring time. It’s the recognition of talent and being able to catch them before they’re going to be a huge deal in this city and I’m really glad that a hack like me can come along for the ride.

BK: What do you hope audiences will walk away with?

GI: I hope they just go, “Wow, that was outrageous and remember when that happened?” and that they giggle at some stuff and then relay this information to their friends.

BK: What are 3-5 words that would describe your show?

GI: Just the best party.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite…
Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums
Book: Permanent Midnight.
Play: Swimming to Cambodia.
Food: Tacos
Place in Toronto: Top steps of Castle Loma.
What are you currently listening to: Jeff Rosenstock/Frank Turner/Converge.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Try and say as little as you can. 

Two Truths and a Lie

 

truths

Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Pressgang Theatre
Created by Graham Isador, Helder Brum, and Rhiannon Archer
Director Tom Arthur Davis
Featuring Graham Isador, Helder Brum, and Rhiannon Archer

Where: Factory Theatre Antechamber

When:
Wed      January 4th – 9:40 pm
Thurs   January 5th  – 6:10pm
Fri         January 6th  – 8:40pm
Sat         January 7th  – 7:40pm
Sun       January 8th  –  5:40pm
Mon      January 9th  –  8:25pm
Tues     January 10th – 7:55pm
Wed      January 11th – 5:55pm
Thurs   January 12th  – 8:40pm
Fri         January 13th  – 6:40pm
Sat         January 14th  – 5:00pm
Sun        January 15th  – 4:25pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com