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.
Written & Performed by Graham Isador
Directed by Tom Arthur Davis & Jivesh Parasram
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.
Stop, Drop, and Roll (Located Above Rancho Relaxo)
300 College St, Toronto, ON M5T 1R9
May 24th-27th and May 31st-June 3rd
All shows at 8pm, with an additional performance June 3rd at 4pm
Door tickets are Pay What You Want
Advanced tickets are $15
Very limited seating. Only 25 seats per night.