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In Conversation with Erika Downie, director of Seven Siblings Theatre’s THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY

Interview by Hallie Seline

HS: Tell me a bit about the show:

Erika Downie: Imagine an advertisement for anything during the 50s and then introduce Salvador Dali mixed in with Picasso and sprinkled with Banksy and you have The Play about the Baby. It is naturalism turned upside down, the identity of individuals questioned and the dream world of a young couple’s “Eden” shattered, but always returning to hope.

HS: What drew you to Albee?

ED: His writing. The way he approaches character, and the arc of this play in particular was and is exciting. There is always something new to discover in Albee, every page can be approached with such different views that it’s exciting to see what will unfold. But I am most drawn to Albee’s approach to humanity, how he captures character in crisis with humour and play, but mostly with honesty and truth.

HS: This is one of Albee’s lesser known later plays. What drew you to direct the show for Toronto audiences now?

ED: Identity and the question of who you are and why and when you became you. We as a society are saddled with questions of identity and for some it’s very easy to proclaim who you are and for others… not so much. Albee discusses identity in a fundamental manner, you are who you are because of your lessons, your tragedies, your wounds. You grew from out of these moments and I thought it was very poignant to come to understand this and share this with our Toronto audiences.

HS: Edward Albee straddles the line between naturalism and absurdism in a really interesting way. There seems to be a tension between the two. How does working with the Michael Chekhov technique lend itself to performing this play?

ED: The Michael Chekhov technique lends itself to any play. Even in the “not so well written” plays Chekhov will help develop the best aspects of that play as best it can. For Albee’s The Play about the Baby is so well written that the marriage between Albee and Chekhov fell naturally into place. The focus was character relationships and through Chekhov the actors developed with such a solid foundation in character that the text lifts off the page and wraps itself around the audience forming a relationship between actor and audience, audience and playwright.

 

HS: What are you most looking forward to with presenting the show at The Rhino?

ED: Intimate spaces help bring the idea that the audience is in the living room of a young couple, The Rhino lends itself to this and puts the audience right in the action of the play.

HS: Describe the show in 5-10 words.

ED: Wounds children wounds, without them who are you?

HS: If your audience could listen to one song or soundtrack before coming, what would it be?

ED: Beethoven’s sixth.

The Play About The Baby

Who:
Presented by Seven Siblings Theatre
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Erika Downie
Featuring Scott McCulloch, Judith Cockman, Will King, Nora Smith
Stage Managed by Emma Miziolek
Set Design by Stephen King
Produced by Madryn McCabe

What:
A young couple has just had a baby. They are madly in love, and have the perfect life. Their bliss is suddenly interrupted when they are visited by an older man and woman. A truly strange turn of events transpires, setting off an evening of manipulations and mind games that ultimately question reality.

Where:
The Rhino
1249 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ontario, M6K 1L5

When:
May 18 8:00pm
May 19 8:00pm
May 20 2:00pm
May 20 8:00pm
May 21 8:00pm

Tickets:
May 18-21 Artsworkers $20, General $25
sevensiblingstheatre.ca/the-play-about-the-baby/

 

 

Inside a “Creepy Fantastical Cloud of Sly Slickity Evil” – A Chat with Julian R. Munds on his new show THE GOOD DOCTOR HOLMES AND HIS CHILDREN OF GOD

Interview by Hallie Seline

Julian R. Munds might be one of my favourite people to have a great conversation with about theatre and life. He speaks his mind, he’ll challenge me and he always makes me laugh. It was such a pleasure to chat with him about this newest play, The Good Doctor Holmes and His Children of God, about working with powerhouse Denise Norman as the challenging title role of Dr. Holmes, and on the importance of carving out a space for yourself to be the artist you want to be. Be sure to catch The Good Doctor Holmes and His Children of God on stage now only until May 21st in the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. All performances are Pay What You Can. 

HS: How did you find this piece of history and what made you want to turn it into a play?

Julian R. Munds: I first became aware of the Pitezel case through am episode of Supernatural years ago. You know, that show that for some inexplicable reason is still on the CW. In the episode, the ghost of “America’s First Serial Killer” was haunting some building and the Winchester brothers had to stop the ghost. Anyway, the ghost was apparently the ghost of HH Holmes and I stored it in my brain. A few years later while pouring over old Toronto newspapers, I noticed that HH Holmes figured prominently in a lot of them. And I discovered that he was caught in Toronto. I then went on a search for the location. I am a very hyperactive person and need to keep myself occupied with many different projects lest I become downtrodden or bored. It is then I know I am not working on a challenge.

One of the projects was finding the original location of arrest. It was difficult to find. St. Vincent Lane, the place that Holmes was caught, has both moved and been renamed. There’s a lot of reasons for this. The government of Toronto “The Good,” for instance, feeling that the city’s reputation as a crime mecca covered in mud and runoff from the pork slaughterhouse – which it was in the early 1900s – was not a good one. They decided to do their best to cover up all the crime in the city. One thing they did was to erase St. Vincent Lane from existence. Move it two blocks from it’s original location and try to forget the horror discovered there in 1894. I had to go through tons of old maps to find it. Sat in the reference library and Toronto Archives for eons.

This rabbit hole opened up and I started to gain as many documents as possible connected with the arrest, the subsequent investigation, the personal accounts, and even a picture or two. For instance, I have a full facsimile of the notebook of Frank Geyer (the original investigator) sitting on my desk as we speak.

At the same time as I was doing this, I was also working on a sketch of a new play called “Bob, the Monster.” A play that investigates some ideas I was working on around the value of life, especially the value of a person who has been named guilty of heinous acts, and I discovered that both purposes could be combined. Eight drafts later, a one week workshop, another four drafts and BOOM: The Good Doctor Holmes & His Children of God. A Historical Fantasia, in that it is inspired by true events but I use the themes of the original event to investigate modern problems. Institutional Misogyny, Racism, Quackery, Anti-Intellectualism, and general alienation.

Photo of Denise Norman. Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

HS: We can’t wait to see Denise Norman take on this challenging role. Can you tell me a bit about working with her and what you’re most excited about to see her bring to the role?

JM: Denise came to me as a fluke. In my undergrad at the University of Toronto, when I was “training” as an actor, and I’ll explain the quotes in a moment- Denise was one of my professors. She was one of the odder ones I must admit. A voice and movement teacher, her class was more about generally just fucking around. But what I remember most is the general relaxation or understanding that there is no finished product in the world. Everything is in a constant state of flux and doubly so in the world of theatre. This is
why theatre still exists. It is the only art form, aside from live music – particularly instrumental music – that can change from performance to performance. It’s why people go. They don’t go to be educated. They don’t go to be entertained. They go to experience. Theatre is about taking an environment, interaction, moment and expanding it into a full experience. Denise Norman is one of the first people that helped me realize this.

Fast forward to this past April. The original actor in the role of Holmes got sick. Dropped out. And Denise Norman applied. By far this role was made for her. There is something anchored and unexpected in the work she does on stage. She has fought hard to continue working on the stage and it is evident by her work there. Every moment she fights. And in a cast populated by fighters, John Chou, Suzanne Miller, and Jack Morton – a literal fighter – I’ve seen it – she stirs the place to create a hurricane. The designers Christine Urquhart, Lin-Mei Lay and Adrien Shepherd-Gawinski provide the lightning to her thunder. Adrien literally provides thunder. Also Virginia Cardinal – the best Stage Manager I know… I value her work so much.

HS: What drew you to become a playwright and what are you most interested in exploring in your work at the moment?

JM: Is that what I am? A playwright? I am not sure that I’m comfortable with that title. It implies that I sit at a pad of paper and pour dialogue onto a page then allow someone else to come along and bring it alive on stage. “There must be a kitchen sink here or a gun here” I’m not that guy. I’ve always thought of myself in much the same way one thinks of Zaphod Beeblebrox of Douglas Adams – “he’s just this guy, you know?” When I graduated from school I found myself launched into a world that did not want me. Tons of people are being cranked out of these institutions of higher learning now being told that they must do something this way to get a good mark. It gets beaten into brains. If you don’t fall inline then boom! You are not a human worth caring about. I came out of school broken – confused on who or what I was – ready to be taken advantage of to work in underpaid precarious work.

I had trouble reconciling myself to it. Then I decided, through the help of some faithful family, my mother, my two sisters, my wonderful nieces, and the old lady cat — who hit me a lot when I was depressed –that I needed to make a change. If the world didn’t want me – then damn it – I’ll make a corner that’s all mine. I began creating theatre that day. I don’t create plays. I tell no stories. I create experiences. Sounds. Feelings. Smells. Ideas. Don’t come to my plays expecting to learn about a subject. Read a book, see a doc, go to a lecture for that. My plays — for lack of a better word – are about being a part of something. I want you to come out of “Holmes” and feel shell shocked. Like you’ve gone through something.

That’s what I like to explore. How can I use all the tools of the theatre and art to leave an impact on the audience. The “Randoms” who walk through the door wondering what the hell did they just walk into? That’s my jam.

Photo of Denise Norman & John Chou. Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

HS: Why did you decide to make the full run Pay What You Can?

JM: Insane. I know. But also worthy. Modern Canadian Theatre Institutions are like Janus, the two faced god. Out of one mouth moans a complaint on how no one is coming to the theatre, while in the other, is a demand to charge people more money for less satisfying shows. No one is listening to the fact that people don’t see a worth in going to the theatre. It offers them nothing. So theatre is worth nothing. Simple economics. Now, to rekindle a passion for the theatre we have to gamble. We have to start with nothing and build up a model that is more relevant. I decided, with my collective’s endorsement, to go ahead and find out what people thought the experience is worth to them. If they like it, they pay more. If they don’t have the cash, they tell a friend who pays. There is nothing but win. We have to give up old top heavy things to find that spirit again. This is my way of trying to do that. She exists! She’s just broke.

HS: Describe the show in 5-10 words:

JM: Creepy Fantastical Cloud of Sly Slickity Evil – with kickass design.

Rapid Fire Questions:

Favourite place in the city?
Outside of it. I don’t care for the city. I’m only here because this is where the art is. I love the countryside. Huron County. Anna Mae’s in Millbank. Best pie, a coffee, and they have this stuff called broasted chicken. But all right. I’ll play along. Kos patio in Kensington. I sit with the birds and eat pancakes.

Favourite play?
What a nutty question. Impossible for me to answer. I’ll give you my top five. Look Back in Anger by John Osborne, Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee, The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco, One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace.

If you could go for a beer and a chat with any playwright (alive or dead) who would it be and what beer would you order?
I don’t think I’d like to personally meet any of my favorite playwrights. I like to know them through their work. If I met them I would see them for what they are. Meat sacks with problems. I’d have trouble after that. I wouldn’t mind having an Absinthe with Antonin Artaud though. Imagine the nuttiness. I’d invite David Mamet to a drink, tell him to stop writing, and basically how he’s ruined a generation of male actors by telling them it’s ok for a male to yell obscenities at a woman for two hours and call it art. There is nothing more upsetting and vomit worthy in my mind than David Mamet.

Where do you look for inspiration?
I don’t look for it. I stumble on it. I read around 10 books a week. Listen to countless podcasts. Go for long walks. And talk to people all around my life. You find inspiration in the weirdest place. One of my plays was created after I could not stop a fire alarm from going off. Another, was created because I once saw a woman with a cell phone shut a door in the face of a downtrodden fellow smoking an unlit cigarette.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten or mantra you are currently living by?
“It doesn’t matter if you are the smartest guy in the room. The most good looking guy in the room. Be the last guy in the room.” – Michael Caine

“Life is meaningless but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good Yorkshire pudding.” – Peter O’Toole

“Nothing is written. All things can be changed..” – Thomas Edward Lawrence

“Quantity not quality” – anon

“If you can lose your backup job, may as well do the thing that makes you fulfilled.” – Jim Carrey

The Good Doctor Holmes and His Children of God

Who:
Playwright: Julian R. Munds
Dr. Henry Howard Holmes – Denise Norman
Benji/Carrie Pitezel – Suzanne Miller
Frank Geyer – John Chou Guard,
The Shadow – Jack Morton

Direction: J.R. Priestley
Scenography: Christine Urquhart
Sound and Composition: Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski
Designers: Lin-Mai Lay, Julie Skene
Stage Management: Virginia Cardinal

What:
In 1894 the bodies of two little girls were discovered in a Toronto basement by an eccentric, mild mannered, private detective. This was the beginning of a nightmare.

Julian R. Munds’ new play puts us in touch with one of the most prolific serial killers in history: Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Holmes — a doctor, pharmacist, sometimes cannibal — constructed a hotel in Chicago for a singular purpose: to destroy human life. Charged in the deaths of nine individuals, Dr. H. H. Holmes is thought to be connected with more than two hundred disappearances during the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

In “The Good Doctor Holmes..”, Munds takes us into the interrogation room, puts HH at the forefront, in all his genius and all his horror, and weaves a labyrinthine fantasia that is sometimes an episode of Columbo and sometimes a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.

“We are asked to look into the eyes of a devil but what is found there is not what we expected. “ – Chris Tester, The Actor’s Podcast

With aid from the Quantico Behavioral Archive, personal journals of Carrie Pitezel, and using a modern perspective, this show drags the forgotten “Pitezel Children Case” from the shadows of the past and makes us question whether Toronto is truly “The Good.”

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto

When:
May 11-21, 2017

Tickets:
By Phone: 416-504-7529
Online: artsboxoffice.ca

“Embracing Embarrassment, Renouncing Shame & Starring in Your Own Musical” In Conversation with Katherine Cullen & Britta Johnson on STUPIDHEAD! A Musical Comedy

Interview by Hallie Seline

Knowing that Stupidhead! A Musical Comedy was returning to the stage after loving it at the Summerworks Festival, I was excited to sit down with funny ladies Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson to chat all about it. We appropriately met in the Theatre Passe Muraille greenroom and spoke about how the piece has developed for this first professional production with TPM, Katherine’s inspiration to communicate her experience with dyslexia through her dream of being in a musical, and finding freedom in renouncing shame and owning where you’re at, epic life fails and all.

Hallie Seline: Tell me about the show and how it has developed from workshop to festival to first professional production.

Katherine Cullen: Stupidhead! is a sort of musical/standup comedy style/storytelling show about me growing up with dyslexia. I had this idea a couple of years ago and I started to write, let’s call them proto-songs when I was alone and bored and unemployed. And then videofag gave me the opportunity to do a workshop presentation of it, about three years ago now. So I went to Britta (Johnson), maybe a week before the workshop, (laughing) not even… and asked if she would help me with the song aspect of it – to help me add accompaniment. When we did that first workshop of it, we were exploring different ideas and forms.

When it came time to do the Summerworks Festival version, we really decided to make it more of a musical. The theme around that version was much more like… birthday party, piñata, musical, which is still very different from what it has grown to now.

Britta Johnson: The story of it now is that we’re trying to make Katherine’s dream of being in a musical come true so, you know, it has lighting, full songs and all of that. But I also think in the process of continuing to write and develop the songs, because that’s all I can speak to, we’ve tried to keep the essence of those early ones from the workshop in the fold of its current form. Where it isn’t necessarily about a perfect polished song, it’s about how to honestly step into each one, as herself and what song serves this character.

Photo of Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson by Michael Cooper.

KC: Yeah, this character, me, has no musical training and doesn’t know anything about singing, or pitch, or what makes a good song, or… anything. Anything I’ve picked up over the last few years has literally been because of working with Britta and forcing myself by saying, “I need to learn to hit that note!” So we put those parameters out there from the beginning and it allows the space to really fuck up and not hit the note, and know that it’s still going to be okay. I feel like I’m allowed to not be this polished musical theatre singer because that’s part of the conceit.

BJ: Yeah! I feel like part of the conceit is to joyfully and whole-heartedly step into doing something that you don’t feel you’re good at. That’s really important in this show.

HS: Which is so wonderful because we so rarely or just don’t do that. So often we feel like we have to wait to be perfect before we show it or do it.

KC: Exactly. I feel like this show has a kid-like mentality of being like “I don’t know? That looks fun! I will do that in front of people,” you know what I mean? It’s trying to get back to that place where you don’t second-guess yourself and you don’t self-edit and there isn’t that sort of judgmental voice being like “Oh, no. No. No. That’s ridiculous. Don’t do that.” It’s more like “That sounds like a great idea! I will try it.” (laughing) You know?

BJ: As someone who gets to watch it over and over again, it really looks like Katherine as a kid playing pretend in her room. The songs go everywhere from a full three-and-a-half-minute-long, emotional, perfectly rhymed song, to what I picture as her as a kid looking in the mirror and playing pretend. There’s room for all of it.

KC: Yeah, it’s like if this show had a spirit animal right now it’s that little girl in that viral video who wobbles into the room for her birthday party. She’s just having a hippity-hoppity day. Because, why not?

I mean, there are darker themes that are in the show that are being probed now in a way that we didn’t really probe when we were at Summerworks. One of the songs expresses how you need darkness to have light and I think I’m exploring a child-like freedom of expression but also those kind of adult things in the world or in our lives that make us feel like we can’t or that beat us down, make us feel like we’re losers or “less than”. I think that there is a real conversation that the show is trying to have between those two and trying to kind of make peace with it.

And part of having a hippity-hoppity day is saying “I don’t need those chains. I don’t need to think of myself as a bad loser. I can just be a person because we’re all just people and we’re all fine here, so why not just have a jazzy time?”

BJ: And that the imperfection isn’t something to overcome and get to the other side of. That’s why hearing you sing these songs is so moving. If it’s just something that you invite into the picture, and own, you can have a hippity-hoppity day with the dark parts and the light parts and the parts where you fail and the parts where you make an ass of yourself and it’s still just as hippity-hoppity! (they laugh)

Photo of Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson by Michael Cooper.

HS: Amazing. You mentioned from the beginning you were writing songs for this and you have also said that you have never been in a musical. So what was the idea behind making this piece of yours a musical?

KC: One thing that I do really like about musicals is that there’s this element that you get to express something extra or express something that you can’t satisfy just in dialogue. There’s this component to the expression that is sort of special or heightened and that isn’t in the realistic way that we express ourselves on a day-to-day basis. I feel that there is something also about dyslexia that has that. My experience with it and how I experience the world has been so sort of topsey turvey and that has been very difficult for me to explain to people. To me, it just makes sense that then to be able to communicate that experience that I would need to burst into song.

Photo of Katherine Cullen by Michael Cooper.

HS: What is something that you hope the audience takes away or experiences while they are here?

KC: I think this play is so much about, you know, just not feeling alone in the parts of yourself that you feel don’t totally fit in. So I hope it speaks to people from that perspective, that they feel like their humanity is seen, you know? And that it’s cool to laugh at the shit that you do that’s silly as opposed to being ashamed of it.

I think the show is really about renouncing shame, in a lot of ways.

BJ: I just feel that if the audience has half as much fun as I have sitting at the piano, laughing and crying along with Katherine, I think that we will have done our job.

Photo of Katherine Cullen by Michael Cooper.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Food:
KC: Probably sushi.
BJ: Burritos, no question.

Favourite Musical:
KC: Jesus Christ Superstar
BJ: West Side Story.

Where do you get inspiration?
KC: Hmm… I think usually when I watch something really funny and it just makes me feel like there’s a lot of possibility in the world, when I see something super funny.

BJ: Probably the people around me. Watching people I love and respect… or don’t, you know (laughs) struggle with the same stuff I do.

KC: Watching people I hate…

BJ: Watching people I hate and delighting in their failure (laughing)

HS: That inspires me!

KC: Don’t edit that…

BJ: That’s the end of the interview. “Britta Johnson, who kind of glommed on to the interview, talks a lot about the people she hates…” (laughing)

The Best Advice You’ve Ever Gotten or That You’re Currently Living By:
KC: My dad always says “Have faith in the future” and I don’t totally know what that means but I kind of like it. Have faith in the future. Why not?

BJ: I don’t know… There’s never going to be a moment where you’re like, “Now I’ve got it”, so don’t wait for that moment. You’re still doing it even if that “moment” doesn’t come.

KC: Yeah, you’re always doing the best with what you’ve got at any given moment.

BJ: Also I think my sister once told me that my hair always looks better than I think it does… which has also really helped me lately… (laughing)

Describe Stupidhead! in 5-10 words… together:
KC: … It’s a… fun,
KC & BJ: hippity-hoppity day
BJ: that embraces the honest struggle of simply…
KC & BJ: beeeing aaa..llliiv?—huuuman!

HS: Brilliant. Thank you!

 STUPIDHEAD! A Musical Comedy

Who:
A Theatre Passe Muraille Production
Written & Performed by Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson
Original Music by Britta Johnson
Original Lyrics by Britta Johnson and Katherine Cullen
Directed & Dramaturged by Aaron Willis
Additional Dramaturgy by Andy McKim
Set & Costume Design by Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting Design by Jennifer Lennon
Associate Producer: Colin Doyle

What:
Stupidhead! is a comedy musical about having dyslexia. It’s also about how being a human is really embarrassing… like all of the time. The winner of Best New Performance Text at the 2015 SummerWorks Festival, Stupidhead! returns to Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace with brand new material and brand new songs.

In Stupidhead! performer/playwright Katherine Cullen shares true stories about her dyslexia, the way she interacts with the world, and the way the world interacts with her. Cullen’s script – directed by the Dora nominated Aaron Willis and accompanied by lyricist/musician Britta Johnson’s original songs – makes for a show that is painfully funny, brutally honest, and totally relatable for anyone who feels like they do things a bit different.

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
16 Ryerson Ave.
Toronto ON.

When:
March 16 – April 2, 2017

Tickets:
passemuraille.ca/stupidhead/

Connect:
w: passemuraille.ca/stupidhead/
t: #StupidheadTO
@KatinkaCullen
@johnsonbritta
fb: StupidheadMusical
TheatrePasseMuraille

 

Artist Profile: Peter Fernandes, Actor

Interview by Hallie Seline

It was a complete joy to connect with the wonderful and uber-talented young actor Peter Fernandes and chat about acting and what he is currently working on. We discussed what drew him to acting as a kid, how Passing Strange has impacted him both as an artist and as a young black man, and about how now, more than ever, it is extremely valuable for an audience to touch base with their relationship and their biases towards music and art. You can catch Peter rocking out on the stage in the Toronto premiere of Passing Strange at the Opera House from now to February 5th.

Hallie Seline: First things first – what drew you to acting?

Peter Fernandes: My parents had me and my siblings start singing for community events at a very young age, so performing was always an important part of growing up. For theatre specifically, I had just moved to Edmonton and auditioned for the grade 6 production of The Wizard of Oz. I was so nervous at the audition that I got cast as the Cowardly Lion. There was a scene where I had to faint and on the first night we performed, when I fainted I heard the audience laugh. I said to myself “Yeah, I want to do that again.” So from then on I kept looking for opportunities in the community or through theatre school programs to perform.

HS: And now here we are, performing at the Opera House! Tell me a bit about your current show Passing Strange.

PF: Passing Strange is a semi-autobiographic musical created by Stew and Heidi Rodewald. Through a range of Rock, Punk Rock, Gospel and Blues, it follows a black youth through Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Berlin during the 70s on his journey to find “the real”. It looks at his relationship to music, his identity, blackness and family. It’s also about someone looking back at their choices and reflecting on how they became the person they are today.

rpm-aus-o-passing-strange-2017-1131

Peter Fernandes, Sabryn Rock, Divine Brown, Beau Dixon, Jahlen Barnes, Vanessa Sears, David Lopez. Racheal McCaig Photography.

HS: Why is it your favourite musical at the moment?

PF: I remember seeing it on Broadway and being immediately blown away by it. I hadn’t seen anything like it and the music made everyone in that theatre jump up and rock out, which was also an unfamiliar sight. Both as an artist and a young black man, I found myself finally being able to relate to a piece in a way that I hadn’t before. Youth’s journey made me reflect on my own relationship to family, and my identity, and then, to top it all off, it had exhilarating music – it was a real rock show.

rpm-aus-o-passing-strange-2017-1132

Divine Brown, Sabryn Rock, Peter Fernades, Beau Dixon, Vanessa Sears, David Lopez, Jahlen Barnes. Racheal McCaig Photography.

It’s also one of those musicals that I have revisited often: First on Broadway, then multiple times through the soundtrack, the filmed version and now finally being involved in the Canadian premiere. Each time it has had a profound effect on me. Your relationship with this piece will change each time you see it. The way you connect to this musical grows as you grow and reflect on the stupid or profound choices you made as a teenager.

rpm-aus-o-passing-strange-2017-1025

Sabryn Rock, Jahlen Barnes, Peter Fernandes, David Lopez, Beau Dixon. Racheal McCaig Photography.

HS: What has surprised you the most about the show that you’ve discovered while working on it?

PF: Naively, I thought I knew this show inside and out – that I knew everything at the core of the show. But the entire cast discovers new things the more we delve into the piece and the more we give time to the words, thoughts and ideas that Stew and Heidi have infused into the music.

There’s an incredible section in the show that continues to move me. The Narrator describes someone’s words “washing over [you] like a Bach Fugue … you know how when the music goes right over your head and straight into that part of you which is most beautiful.” That’s what happens to you in this musical. Despite having seen the original and listening to the soundtrack over and over again, this still happens to me. Sure you’ll be able to come back to it later with more understanding, and you’ll be affected differently, but some things will still only exist in this indescribable place for you.

Because of the stellar cast and creative team behind this production, every rehearsal gives you the opportunity to hear something new and that’s the best kind of surprise you can ask for when you’re working on a show.

rpm-aus-o-passing-strange-2017-1077

Sabryn Rock, Peter Fernandes, Vanessa Sears, David Lopez, Jahlen Barnes. Racheal McCaig Photography.

HS: Why do you think Passing Strange is important for audiences right now?

PF: It is incredibly important to give opportunities to underrepresented communities on the stage, and this show provides the unique chance to explore a black story and black storytelling in a way that audiences have not seen before. It breaks down a lot of the barriers and biases that have been created about our identities and about the way people create.

Now, more that ever, it is extremely valuable for an audience to touch base with, not only their biases, but their relationship to music and art. Passing Strange gives you the chance to do that.

rpm-aus-o-passing-strange-2017-1013

Vanessa Sears, David Lopez, Divine Brown, Jahlen Barnes, Peter Fernandes, Sabryn Rock, Beau Dixon. Racheal McCaig Photography.

HS: If your audience could listen to one song or album before coming to see the show, what would it be?

PF: Album – “Woodstock: Music from the original soundtrack and more” (If you don’t have time to listen to it all before the show, I would focus on Jimi Hendrix)

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite spot in Toronto: Rooftop at Spadina and Bloor overlooking the Annex.

What are you listening to right now? The Two Dope Queens Podcast.

What is one song that you wish you wrote? “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim.

Who inspires you? My Parents.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: On risk-taking: “The answer is always no if you never ask.”

Describe Passing Strange in 5 words: Music is a freight train OR Love is more than real.

Passing Strange

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Who:
Co-Produced by Acting Up Stage Company & Obsidian Theatre Company

directed by: Philip Akin
music directed by: Bob Foster
choreographed by: Kimberley Rampersad
starring: Jahlen Barnes, Divine Brown, Beau Dixon, Peter Fernandes, David Lopez, Sabryn Rock, Vanessa Sears
set & lighting design: Steve Lucas
sound design: Peter McBoyle
costume designer: Joanna Yu
production manager: Adrien Whan
stage manager: Jessica Severin
apprentice stage manager: Jordan Guetter

What:
Passing Strange is a bold coming of age story told through sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. In the late 1970s, a black teen is driven from Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin in search of himself and a place to call home.

Fusing punk rock, R&B and soul, and performed at Toronto’s preeminent music venue the Opera House, Passing Strange is unlike any musical you’ve seen before. Winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical and three Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, don’t miss the show that has been universally applauded for its originality, authenticity, and powerful score.

Where:
The Opera House
735 Queen Street East
Toronto, Ontario
M4M 1H2

When: 
January 24-February 5, 2017

Tickets:
online: tickets.ticketwise.com
by phone: 1-888-324-6282

 

*Featured Image of Peter Fernandes by Nathan Kelly

In the Greenroom’s Next Stage Theatre Festival Favourites

We couldn’t think of a better way to start 2017 on a high note than with a jam-packed festival of new theatre, dance, music, storytelling and improv; watching artists take their work to the ‘next stage’; and, of course, some good beer tent times re-connecting to old friends and meeting new ones!

We wanted to share some of In the Greenroom’s Festival Favourites, with the hopes of inspiring you as you begin your final NSTF scheduling. We’ve chosen something different, something new, something bloody and something true… maybe.

Be sure to share your favourite festival moments!

Connect with us on:
twitter: @intheGreenRoom_
facebook: @ InTheGreenroom.ca
instagram: @inthegreenroom
#NSTFestivalFaves


Something Different: MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS

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Go to MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS if you want: something different… completely different!

It’s hard to find just one word to describe MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS. Wild, weird and wonderful, this show is bold, hilarious, absurd, athletic and completely fun! There’s nostalgia. There’s glitter. There’s incredible “wow-did-they-just-do-that” dancing, blow-up props, Garden State references, singalongs, and bags of milk! Yup, it’s a total trip and the more we think back on everything we experienced during MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS, the more we smile.

**We also recommend reading the program note on the work by choreographer Alyssa Martin either before or after for an even deeper appreciation of the piece.

What:
Join dance-theatre renegades Rock Bottom Movement for a hallucinatory romp through millennial nostalgia and classic indie film. Choreographer Alyssa Martin conjures a gleefully glitter-soaked pop-culture mashup featuring 90’s singer-songwriter karaoke and athletic dance breaks.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 06:45 PM
January 12 at 07:30 PM
January 14 at 09:00 PM
January 15 at 05:15 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something New: Songbuster, an improvised musical

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Go to Songbuster if you want: something new… every time!

Songbuster, an improvised musical is perfect if you’re looking for heart-wrenchingly hilarious ballads about _____ (You fill in the blank!) At this fully improvised musical, audience members get to choose the subject matter of the play! On opening we witnessed an entire saga about comicon that we won’t soon forget. We especially loved the improvised flamenco duet… Enough said!

What:
Fast paced, ridiculous and always entertaining, the cast creates an hour-long musical from suggestions provided by the audience. This dynamite cast has been seen in mainstage musicals and comedy clubs around the country and knows how to make you laugh one moment and break out your jazz hands the next.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 07:00 PM
January 12 at 05:30 PM
January 14 at 06:00 PM
January 15 at 01:45 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something Bloody: Blood Ties

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Go to Blood Ties if you want: something bloody…fun & musical!

Witty, charming and funny dialogue, plus beautiful songwriting with clear and engaging narrative sung throughout, Blood Ties is a bloody fun musical. Hats off to their thoughtful and clever costume design and a special shout-out to performer Jeremy Lapalme!

What:
Sheila’s uncle shoots himself in his bathroom on the eve of her wedding, and when her three best friends arrive in town to celebrate they are instead faced with the task of cleaning up the considerable mess left behind. This flagship musical show by Dora-nominated team Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston has previously been a hit at SummerWorks, the Edinburgh Fringe, and on BBC America’s ‘Orphan Black.’ Based on true events.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 12 at 05:15 PM buy tickets
January 13 at 10:00 PM buy tickets
January 14 at 02:00 PM buy tickets
January 15 at 07:00 PM buy tickets

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something True (or False… either way there’s Spam!): Two Truths And A Lie

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Go to Two Truths and a Lie if you want: something true… or false! Regardless, someone is going home with a can of SPAM after this truly feel-good, laugh-out-loud, intimate storytelling show, so how could you miss it?

Though filled with lies and liars, Two Truths and a Lie promises to be filled with hilarious laugh-out-loud moments for a truly feel-good time in a cozy venue. These three talented storytellers transport us to horrifying yet still somehow endearing moments in their lives, and whether you can figure out who the ultimate liar is or not, a can of Spam is up for grabs, so… who wouldn’t want that?!

What:
Each night of the festival, Graham Isador (Situational Anarchy), Helder Brum (Born with a Tale), and Rhiannon Archer (Life Records) will regale audiences with three unbelievable stories…one of which is completely made up. After the critical successes of their honest and funny solo shows, these veterans of Toronto’s storytelling scene are coming together to make you laugh while lying to your face.

Where:
Factory Theatre Antechamber (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 05:55 PM
January 12 at 08:40 PM
January 13 at 06:40 PM
January 14 at 05:40 PM
January 15 at 04:25 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


We hope this inspires you to kick off your weekend NSTFestival schedule planning and be sure to see something you wouldn’t normally! This list is just the beginning.

There’s 10 shows that have each been selected to offer something different. Be bold. See something on a whim! That’s what the festival spirit is all about. You never know what you might be surprised by.

Happy Closing, NSTF! We’ll cheers you in the beer tent!

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