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In Conversation with Holger Syme – Adaptor & Director of The Howland Company’s upcoming workshop production of “Casimir and Caroline”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

I got the chance to speak with Holger Syme, director of Casimir and Caroline at The Luella Massey Studio Theatre, presented as part of The Howland Company’s four-day workshop weekend. Syme translated the work and adapted it with the company, and this public workshop production will run from November 19th-22nd, with talkback sessions for audience feedback.

RQ: Tell me a bit about Casimir and Caroline, which you’re directing for The Howland Company.

HS: Ah, where to start… a German director said in the 1970s that “To summarize the plot of his plays is mostly fruitless,” and I think that’s right. Casimir and Caroline, as a “story,” is about a whole bunch of people at a party: some hit on each other, some break up with each other, one has a major health disaster, one ends up in jail. But within that kind of banal, kind of mundane scenario, Horváth examines an incredibly rich cluster of questions: what does love mean in a culture in which it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish commercial and emotional relationships? What happens to desire in a consumer culture? What do you do with feelings if you have no words to give them proper expression? And, really, most broadly, how can you live a life that’s in any way ethically justifiable in a world in which everything has become consumable?

RQ: You’ve translated and adapted this text from Ödön von Horváth, and you’re directing it as well. What draws you to this particular text?

HS: Well, first of all, how astonishingly contemporary it feels. I mean, what I just said the play is “about” applies a little bit more to our adaptation than to Horváth’s original, but really only a bit — all of those themes are in the 1932 text as well, although the kind of commodity culture Horváth experienced was of course quite different from ours. He was also writing on the eve of the Nazi’s first major election victory in Germany, and that’s obviously not our political climate. But the broader economic and social picture he’s drawing on — that’s very comparable, with the unspeakable divide between rich and poor, with the widespread condition of living on the brink of social deprivation, in an existence where losing your job can mean losing everything that you think of as “your life,” and so on. So that was the text’s primary appeal: that it seemed to speak so clearly, from the 1930s, to our own moment.

But I also find Horváth’s dramaturgy extremely interesting, and his dramatic language. His plays aren’t really structured as linear narratives — they are panoramic, and that’s a very appealing structure to me. It allows for a sharp focus on character and situation, both of which make, I think, for exciting challenges for actors and directors alike; the “story” is so simple and straightforward that it forces us (makers and audiences alike) to think about the issues that are being negotiated, and it really allows for a focus on the theatrical moment: what someone is doing right now, in front of you. How they’re moving their body, how they’re acting vis-a-vis another person, what they’re saying, how they’re occupying the space. It allows the audience to watch moment by moment without having to think too hard about what happened before and what’s going to happen next.

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RQ: How was the process of adapting this text different from translating it?

HS: That’s where the language bit from earlier becomes relevant: Horváth writes in a really, really odd German. His plays read a lot like Sean O’Casey re-scripted by Pinter, if you can imagine such a thing. They’re extremely idiomatic — some dialect bits, tons of clichés, lots of 1930s pop-culture quotations, literary allusions of a not especially sophisticated kind, etc. If you translate that straightforwardly, it’ll sound awfully stilted — and partly, that stiltedness is absolutely necessary. Very few of Horváth’s characters have access to an “authentic” language: especially when they’re trying to express their deepest feelings, they sound like a Hallmark card or a self-help book. So the big challenge is not making the text sound “natural,” but finding precisely the right kind of stiltedness.

I had a first stab at that in my original translation, and then we worked very intensively, with lots of improv exercises, on finding those lines. We also felt that the gender politics of Horváth’s play were the one aspect that needed updating — his broader political perspective felt current, but his women slipped too easily into victim roles. So we made a lot of changes there, including turning two pretty marginal part-time prostitutes into corporate employees with a good deal more dramatic life. And we transformed the two older wealthy establishment figures in the original into two young overprivileged guys working in the tech industry — partly because of the Howland Company’s mandate, but also because it allowed us to focus on economic privilege more sharply, without having to negotiate generational conflicts as well.

Strictly in terms of process, the difference was that between sitting alone at home, translating the text; and spending many hours in rehearsal rooms, recording totally free and more guided improvisations, and then turning those into scenes by picking and choosing lines (alone at home). What’s really important to me, though, is that while we “adapted” Horváth’s text in the sense that we found contemporary equivalents for his own historically situated language, we are very faithfully following the original play’s dramaturgical structure. His first stage direction says that the play is set “now,” and that’s been my guiding principle: you can’t be “true” to this play if you set it in 1932 and in Munich. It’s not a history play.

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RQ: You’ve done a lot of travel, and taken in theatre in many different cultural and historical contexts. How does that inform your process as a director?

HS: That’s an incredibly difficult question. Partly, this is a research project for me: I wanted to see what happens when you bring theatrical texts and practices from other cultures into contact with actors who are trained to work in the context of our own, Canadian assumptions about theatre. But of course I’m usually “just” an audience member outside of Canada — and what you see on stage relates only in a very complicated way to what happens in the rehearsal room!

It’s definitely true that because I see so much theatre elsewhere, especially in Germany, there are things I just don’t care about that others might consider very important. And there are things that I find totally crucial that others might find silly or negligible.

RQ: Do you find that you find yourself mixing elements of world theatre with Canadian theatre practices? What would you say any uniquely Canadian theatre practices are?

HS: OK, specifics? Er… “world theatre” doesn’t really exist, as far as I’m concerned. And what I find important keeps shifting as well. But here’s a few things: there’s a kind of spontaneity in German performance that I desperately want to see more of — the ability to move while speaking, to respond immediately to anything and anyone around you (in a way that’s going to be different, often radically different, from night to night), the freedom to mess with the text quite a bit, and so on. So I’ve been pushing hard for that. I’ve tried my best to reassure my cast that whatever they think might “make sense” probably does, in that moment — and that my role really is just to tell them if it doesn’t. The impulses should come from them, and they should be empowered to offer whatever they can think of. On the other hand, I also really care about stage images — spatial relations between bodies in particular. So some moments have to be very strictly blocked. There’s a tension between those two directorial impulses.

Uniquely Canadian? I’m not sure. Certainly a focus on story — though that’s a general Anglo theatre preoccupation. A general grounding of everything in psychology, rather than, say, politics. That’s for “straight” theatre such as this — there are other, very powerful “Canadian” theatre practices, in the fields of devised theatre or movement-based theatre, but that’s not really what we’re doing.

The big challenge for me, but also the really exhilarating aspect of the work, has been to put the show on stage in a way that allows the actors to play to their strengths without giving up on my own desire to keep the project focused on politics and dramatic situation. Things like allowing a moment to keep going past what the “story” might require, because it’s interesting, or entertaining, or compelling as a theatrical moment — that’s not something I see very often around here, and it’s something I really love in German theatre. But I think it’s pretty counterintuitive to Canadian actors; I suspect it feels a bit self-indulgent to be so uneconomical. But I don’t think it is. I think it’s exciting.

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RQ: What do you think is the importance of companies like The Howland Company? Is there an eventual reshaping of the Canadian theatre landscape happening?

HS: Companies like Howland are all about creating opportunities for young actors to put thrilling, fresh work on stage — and I thinks that’s crucial if we want our theatre to remain as anything other than a social occasion (or obligation) for well-to-do people above a certain age. If I’m honest, I wish companies like this didn’t need to exist as independent outfits: I wish our larger, established institutions would make more room for this kind of work, and for these kinds of actors. There’s nothing more exciting to me in the theatre than to see actors who are still growing on stage; though it’s even more thrilling to see such actors work with very experienced colleagues, and to see those older actors having to respond to someone who’s doing things in a very different way than they’re used to. But in our current system, that’s very rare, because the young people mostly make their own work and opportunities (and can’t pay well enough to attract many more established figures), whereas actors that survive in the theatre industry for long enough to become established mostly work in a different world. There are exceptions, of course (David Ferry comes to mind as someone who frequently crosses that divide, and Soulpepper has been exemplary at integrating young performers in major roles), but it’s a real problem, and a real limitation. I hope we can figure out a way of changing that.

RQ: What do you hope people are discussing on their way back home after seeing this show?

HS: How to live. How to love. Whether to have a donut, a popsicle, or a rotisserie chicken.

RQ: As we’re heading toward the new year, what changes would you like to see happen in the Toronto theatre community next year? What would you like to see continue?

HS: Ha! See above. I always say the same thing, boringly. I want to see fewer new plays and more classics done in a new way. I want us to stop seeking inspiration on Broadway — because, seriously, why? When has thrilling art ever been inspired by rank commercialism? If we need to look for inspiration in the English-speaking world, look to London (but not the West End). Look to the Almeida and the Young Vic, and occasionally the National Theatre. Continue? To let our actors take all the risks they want. (Or would that be a new thing?) Believe more in performers and less in storytellers.

RQ: You’re the the Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English and Drama at the University of Toronto Mississauga; as well as being a Harvard Graduate. What is the relationship between the academic landscape of theatre and the performance community? Is there enough of a conversation?

HS: In short, no. But that really is a HUGE conversation topic! I’m worried about the anti-intellectual climate in many parts of the theatre world — not just here, but everywhere, really. I’m troubled by a certain kind of aloofness towards theatre people on the part of quite a few academics. I find it really unhelpful how many theatre people and academics think they know right from wrong, and think that the “others” don’t. On the other hand, I’m also always baffled by how similar some academics and some theatre makers are, in a bad way: take Shakespeare. With any given performance, you’ll have plenty of disappointed academics and theatre people who object to performance choices because they don’t reflect their own understanding of the play — but that’s not what they say. They’ll say those choices were bad, or ill-conceived, or stupid, or just “wrong.” There’s too little willingness to let a show speak for itself, to see it as simply an intriguing theatrical event that is valid and compelling in its own right, not because it “interprets” a text. And that’s true for many academics and for theatre makers and critics alike. In general, I think both academics and theatre people should take theatre itself more seriously. (And again, I could name many exceptions to all of this!)

RQ: Any parting thoughts?

HS: Brecht said that theatre had to be entertaining before it could be political. I think we’ve tried to be true to that in Casimir and Caroline — entertaining, exciting, moving, all of those things. But then, political. Or at least I hope so…

C&C

Casimir and Caroline

A workshop production

By Ödön von Horváth
Translated, Adapted, and Directed by Holger Syme
Presented by The Howland Company
Featuring: Alexander Crowther, Sophia Fabiilli, Ruth Goodwin, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Cameron Laurie, Michael Man, Jesse Nerenberg, Hallie Seline, Mishka Thébaud, Kristen Zaza.
Lighting Design: Jareth Li
Sound Design: Samuel Sholdice
Stage Manager: Jordana Weiss
Producer: James Graham

When: Thursday Nov. 19 – Sunday Nov. 22 at 8pm

Where: Luella Massey Studio Theatre, 4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto
(One block North and one block East of the Spadina/Harbord intersection)

Events: Talkbalk sessions to follow each night. All are welcome.

Tickets: $15. Buy here.

Website: howlandcompanytheatre.com

 

Casimir and Caroline from The Howland Company on Vimeo.

*On Sunday, November 22, presented with Casimir and Caroline as part of The Howland Company’s four-day workshop weekend , at 2pm there will also be a reading of take rimbaud, a new performance text in development by Toronto playwright Susanna Fournier, workshopped by The Howland Company.

take rimbaud

Admission will be free for this reading.

“We are all terrifying creatures these days. The Restless ones. What do the Restless seek? Comfort? Or, oblivion”

By Susanna Fournier
Presented by The Howland Company
Time: Sunday November 22nd, 2015 at 2pm
Location: Luella Massey Studio Theatre, 4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto
(One block North and one block East of the Spadina/Harbord intersection)
Tickets: Free admission

“Start, Stop, Continue” for 2014: A Conversation Starter for the Theatre Arts Community of Toronto

Our feature initiative “Start, Stop, Continue for 2014: A Conversation Starter for the Theatre Arts Community” is back featuring the following voices: D. Jeremy Smith of Driftwood Theatre, Tina Rasmussen of World Stage, Holger Schott Syme of dispositio.net, Claire Armstrong of Red One Theatre Collective, Nina Kaye of Unspoken Theatre and Drew O’Hara & Jade Douris of Everybody to the Theatre Company. Read more in our features!

A Note from Editor in Chief – Hallie Seline:

2013 was an exciting year and 2014 has started with no shortage of encouraging moments for the Toronto theatre/arts community. We saw small venues develop and prosper across the city with national recognition from the Globe and Mail, and we saw the community come together showing support and strength in numbers, whether it was to stand behind Buddies in Bad Times Theatredemanding more questions when their Rhubarb Festival was suddenly denied funding, or by getting down and dirty to help get indie venue The Storefront Theatre back on its feet after amajor flood. Amongst these exciting moments, there is no shortage of challenges we are also knocking up against. Be it funding, debating the relevance of theatre on CBC Radio, or the concern that with the growing number of independent theatre companies that we may be spreading ourselves too thin, thus generating the every person for themselves attitude, we believe that there is a lot of discussion to be had about where we stand as a theatre arts community and where we should hope to go next.

I feel like this is an exciting pivotal time in the Toronto theatre arts scene and after having received immense feedback from our first instalment, my hope is to continue to develop this dialogue with another group of theatre artists (from different theatrical backgrounds, emerging to more established etc.) about their thoughts on the state of theatre in Canada, specifically Toronto, right now.

This is a discussion starter in which our participants identify what they think the Toronto theatre scene should Start, Stop and Continue to help theatre in Toronto prosper. This is just the beginning of the conversation. Help us to make this conversation grow to involve as many diverse voices across our community as possible and hopefully this will help us all move forward in 2014 in a supportive and productive way.


Hallie Seline
Co-founder & Editor in Chief

Artist Profile: Kelly Penner and Hallie Seline – Reconnecting with the Classic Tale of Love-at-First-Sight as the Title Roles in Shakespeare BASH’d Romeo and Juliet, November 19th-23rd

Interview by: Brittany Kay

We sat down with the smart and sexy duet, Hallie Seline and Kelly Penner, who play the title roles inShakespeare BASH’d upcoming Romeo and Juliet, running this week, for one week only, November 19th-23rd. We discussed what it’s like approaching such iconic roles, working with BASH’d, on-stage chemistry and their thoughts on Canadian Theatre and its utilization of young artisits.

BK: Are you feeling the pressure of filling such iconic roles, in arguably one of the most timeless tragedies?

KP: Well yeah, you do feel the pressure. There’s the iconic movie versions… and Leonardo Di Caprio played Romeo, and they just did it at the Stratford Festival… So yeah. It’s there, it’s big. But the first thing to do, is to forget all of that and approach it like any other part. You try to figure it out for yourself.

HS: I’m trying to be like EVERYONE in one performance. Watch out! (she laughs) Sure, I would say there’s a pressure, however James Wallis, our director, was really great in advising us to approach the text with fresh eyes. There are definite ways in which we have heard these iconic words being performed. We are trying not to fall into those familiar patterns. Instead, we’ve been focusing on telling the story, what you’re saying and who you’re saying them to. I’m trying to make choices for myself and for the story.

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BK: Have you looked to any other actor’s portrayal for inspiration?

KP: Sure, I’m inspired by other Romeos I’ve seen, but I’m trying to figure Romeo out as myself like any other part that I’ve read for the first time, which is difficult because it is one of those plays that we think we know, and have so many other portrayals that have kind of defined the characters for us.

HS: And everyone will have an opinion on how it should be said or what they think Romeo and Juliet should be like. All you can do is stay true to yourself and your interpretation of the characters and the story that you and your cast are trying to tell.

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BK: Talk to me about your rehearsal process?

KP: Once a week for a month we’d get together by scene and we would literally just go through the lines to make sure we were all clear with interpretation and meaning. We didn’t work on intention at all during this text work. It was just strictly for clarity of meaning. James had done an enormous amount of background work on certain words and phrases as well, which was incredible to work with as a starting off point. It was good to have that table work behind us so we could go into our blocking rehearsals really knowing what we were saying, giving us more freedom to play.

HS: Afterwards we were all really prepared to focus on our arguments and our scene partners and the story as a whole. James thinks Shakespeare is best when it’s story based. No bells and whistles just clear storytelling, which was a great way to approach our rehearsal process.

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BK: You have to fall in love every night. How has it been working with each other?

HS: Look at him! I may throw up in my mouth every time I think of kissing him (she laughs) … but seriously, you can start with this one, Kelly.

KP: You don’t want to start? You started?

HS: Nope. You take the lead, Romeo.

KP: The chemistry is…. good! These two characters fall in love instantly. And they are intensely in love. I didn’t know Hallie at all before, other than a “hi, hello” in public. We just tried to get to know each other, become friends. It made the intimacy on stage a lot easier and helped it to develop a lot faster. Ultimately, the chemistry on stage comes from listening and playing off each other. The chemistry is also in the language, let alone in the heart and the body. Really listening and taking in what the other person is saying, using each other’s words, and creating poetry together is where it mainly stems from.

HS: Ditto.

KP: That’s all you’ve got? Ditto? (he laughs)

HS: Well, I’m into that answer! It all comes from trust and feeling comfortable in the scene and in rehearsal with your partner. It’s really about what Kelly said… becoming friends. We are completely playing off each other. You know basic scene principles are that you are trying to affect your partner and you are fighting for what you want from them. In our scenes, that is what it is. We have fun.

BK: How did you get involved with Shakespeare BASH’d?

HS: I had seen both of their past productions in the Toronto Fringe, which were hugely successful and just so enjoyable as a spectator. I took a liking to what the company looks for in Shakespeare, performance and theatre in general. It was fun and laid-back, and in a bar, so you could have a drink during it, which is always nice. It was great, thought-provoking, fun, quality work with so much young local talent. I contacted them when I found out they were auditioning for Juliet and it’s been an incredible experience working with them!

KP: When I was in second year at theatre school at Windsor, I was cast in a production of As You Like It in Brampton. In that production there were many of the cast members of this Romeo and Juliet.  Because of that production, I met James through this network of guys and gals. We’ve connected through our love of Shakespeare and I’ve been working with them ever since.

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Shakespeare BASH’d Mission Statement: To present Shakespeare’s plays as they were written: with simple staging, clear and specific language with an emphasis on the words and characters telling the story.

BK: So you’d say you connect with what the company represents and stands for?

KP: I do. James and Shakespeare BASH’d idea of the text and story being the primary point of focus is why we clicked in the first place. Staying true to it is so important. They always start with such an intense textual analysis of the words in these classic stories and this what I like about them the most. It is also a room that I love working in. It’s such a fun, playful, vibrant room filled with young talent. You get easy access to trying and experimenting and being wrong and trying something completely different.

HS: What’s interesting is our ages range from 20s to roughly 40s give or take. It’s not just a group of 24 year olds, which I feel makes a difference. The room is filled with an incredible group of giving and intelligent performers with a wealth of experience and such variety in process. We all learn from each other constantly. It’s a room where you have the ability to develop your own approach to the work. The cast and crew are incredibly supportive. I feel like I’m coming into my own as an artist in terms of my process because of influence of this group of people.

BK: You are both playing leading roles that are meant to be young in age, and for the Toronto standard, you could both be described as young performers. Going off of a recent article to surface in Toronto, from Holger Syme’s blog dispositio, do you think the Toronto theatre industry has a youth problem? From your experience, do you think there is enough opportunity being given to young performers?

HS: I think it depends on the production. If it’s a choice to utilize an actor that’s different than what is written in the text, then that’s a specific choice. Being in the rehearsal room with all these relatively young performers and theatre makers, and from what I’ve seen of the independent theatre community, I find that there’s a lot of strong, intelligent, bold, exciting, thought-provoking artists out there, who I think should be given the opportunity to show and share their work and who are just as valid in themselves as artists to be seen on the major Canadian theatre stages and in the spotlight, as many 30+ artists are. Beyond that, I think that when you are a young artist with an opportunity for a role of this scale, it is a huge learning opportunity for yourself as an artist and not at some cost to the production. Personally speaking, to have this role of this scale at this time, has been a huge benefit in my development as an artist. I think it’s doable and there should be more trust given to younger artists. Furthermore, I think there needs to be more opportunity for all ages to work together.

KP: I do wish for more of that. For some professional companies they want the sure-fire thing, and often times that means going with someone older that they know rather than take a chance on a more age-appropriate actor with a shorter resume. In terms of theatre and the story, if they have the right spirit or if you look younger than you are and it’s not noticeably distracting, then I don’t mind it. But sometimes I see productions and it dawns on me that this actor is a man, playing a boy but they’re doing things in a manly way which really just seems inappropriate for the character and it will draw me out. I do wish we could find a way to get more young people on stage.

HS: I’ve seen a 35 year old playing a 15 year old and if the essence is appropriate then power to you. Do it!

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BK: Is Shakespeare BASH’d production of Romeo and Juliet different in anyway? Any specific concepts or time periods?

HS: James has been really clear in not putting a time period or a concept to it. I mean… it’s already a tragedy being put on in a bar! There is definitely a lot of comedy to it, but that alone is quite unique and will be interesting. But mainly, he wanted to focus primarily on the story and the relationships of such a classic play.

KP: The costumes are neutral colours but there are jeans and running shoes, but then we have swords.

HS: … and the sword fights are awesome! They are sexy and exciting… Get excited for those!

KP: We really wanted it to be about the story and not have any kind of heavy concept distract from that. Just from the work I’ve seen in rehearsal, I think, and hope, people will really take to it.

Rapid-Fire Question Round

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BK: Favourite Movie:

KP: On the Waterfront
HS: Hook

BK: Favourite Play:

KP: Othello
HS: Vimy by Vern Thiessen

BK: Favourite Musical:

KP: Into the Woods
HS: Cats! Of course… (she laughs) or definitely Next to Normal

BK: Favourite Actor right now:

KP: Ben Whishaw
HS: Carey Mulligan

BK: Favourite food:

KP: Cannelloni
HS: Nachos

BK: Guilty Pleasure:

KP: My pink cardigan. I love it but I never wear it out!
HS: Candy, Real Housewives of Orange County or Beverly Hills… yup.

BK: Best advice you’ve ever gotten:

KP: BLT-Breathe, Listen, Trust
HS: Don’t take yourself out of the part. They hired you for a reason or they are seeing you for a reason. The more of yourself in the part, the better.

BK: Advice for other young artists:

KP: Let it go. There are so many factors out of your control. Leave it in the audition room. You’d go crazy if you try to figure out why you didn’t get cast. Have fun!
HS: Be true to yourself. Also, James said this to me in rehearsal when I was trying really hard to find the right arc to one of the scenes. He said “If you’re looking for perfection, it doesn’t exist, and if it does, it’s boring. It’s just a play… Put into it what you can and don’t beat yourself up over it. It will be interesting” I think that’s great, especially for younger artists to be reminded of coming out of theatre school training. And yes… like Kelly said, have fun!

Romeo and Juliet

by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare BASH’d

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When: One week only, Tuesday, November 19th-Saturday, November 23rd, Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday (Closing) at 4pm
Thursday, November 21 includes an after-show dance party with Silent Shout’s DJ ARP 2600 – http://silentshout.ca/
Friday, November 22 includes an after-show dance party called “Much Ado About Mixing” with DJs Slamlet and Rockthello.

Where: 3030 Dundas West, in the Junction

Tickets: Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday – $16, Thursday & Friday – $21 (including after-show dance party admission) http://www.shakespearebashd.com/tickets.html

Artist Profile: It’s Not Easy Being Green… But It Feels Pretty Great – Michelle Nash and Andrew Di Rosa of The Lower Ossington Theatre’s Shrek The Musical

Interview by: Brittany Kay

An interview for CP24

An interview for CP24

We sat down with Michelle Nash and Andrew Di Rosa to talk about life after theatre school, the impact of theatre for children and their dream roles coming to life in The Lower Ossington Theatre’s current production of Shrek The Musical.

BK: This isn’t the first time the two of you have met?

MN: No. We went to the joint Theatre and Drama Studies program at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College but we were in two separate years.

BK: Have you worked together before?

MN: We worked in the University’s Erindale Fringe one act festival in a musical actually. But we’ve come such a long way since then.

ADR: Oh it’s astronomical.

BK: What about life after theatre school? What has happened between graduation until now?

MN: It’s been a year and a half since I’ve graduated. I’ve been doing a lot children’s theatre. This is the first big tech heavy, cool show I’ve gotten to do. It’s been pretty amazing being out of school. You settle into life. I feel like I’ve learned more about acting this past year, because of life experience and the practicality that allows you to apply what you have learned from school to the real world. The more shows that I do, I find, the better I get and the more comfortable I get when things go wrong, which they always do. That’s theatre for you.

ADR: I’ve just graduated. Right out of school I got a feature film from Theatre Ontario, which I did in August. That was a huge step for me because I came out of school trained heavily for theatre. I remember the director had to pull me aside and say “Hey, this is a movie now… take it down a bit.” That was a tough struggle trying to navigate those two mediums but coming back into the theatre world with Shrek was like home territory for me. It’s been such an incredible feeling.

BK: Yes! So then Shrek happened…

ADR: When I found out the LOT was doing Shrek The Musical, it was a done deal. I walked into that room and I was like “I have to get this part and I will do anything for this part!” It’s one of my dream roles.

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

BK: And it’s one of your dream roles too, Michelle!

MN: Yeah, it’s funny. We used to talk about Shrek in school, and we were obsessed. It’s just so funny that it actually happened in such a great way.

BK: When I saw the casting I was like “I die…this couldn’t be more perfectly suited to the two of you”. 

ADR: And we swore we would play these parts together. Like a joke. One of those “Michelle, one day it would be cool to be the Shrek to your Fiona.” And then literally a year later I get to fall in love with her every night.

BK: And how is the falling in love? How’s being on stage as friends together?

ADR: It’s amazing. It’s business as usual

MN: It’s easy. We both trained at the same school and know where each of us is coming from. We both just feel it. It’s almost like a scene study every night.

BK: What is the play like? People might expect it to be like the movie. How does it differ? Will their expectations be altered when they see it?

ADR: The character development is so much stronger than in the movie. You are much more invested in the characters. The songs really do that.

MN: The fairy tale characters are so minor in the movie, but in the musical, they’re very relevant. They are completely three dimensional and fleshed out.

ADR: They carry the message of the story. There are so many characters you gloss over in the movie, which is the opposite in the play.

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BK: Talk to me about your director Seanna Kennedy?

MN: She specializes in children’s theatre, but this show is more than that. This show is really for the kids and she really catered to that. We have such a good team coming together to create the show. With us two, she knew how much we loved the roles and let us explore our ideas. She gave us such creative freedom.

ADR: Because we know the roles so well, we got to play with them. I feel so close to Shrek. I know who he is and what he wants and where he’s going and that’s important to an actor.

MN: The only thing I struggle with secretly is the dancing. I don’t tap…well now I do! I’m so glad Seanna took a chance and gave it to me.  I think she knew that as an actor, I could do justice to the role.

ADR: The show for me is tremendously difficult. There are some tough songs.

MN: He’s got fifteen ballads!

ADR: Literally the second act is like ballad after ballad. Plus I’m doing a Scottish accent. Plus I have a mask on my head.

BK: Yes, oh my gosh the make up! Tell me about the make up process? It looks so intense.

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MN: We had to get our facemasks done. Mine is a transformation in three minutes with a different wig, fat suit and a prosthetic nose. Andrew’s is a whole other story.

ADR: They pull on a skin tight, foam rubber head that only exposes my eyes, cheeks and mouth. They spray paint my face green. For the first couple of times, I was a little scared. Later on, they drilled holes in the ears for better sound but it wasn’t enough. So I wear a transponder with earphones throughout the whole show and I hear everything! It’s like mini monitor.

MN: And he can’t even take them out during the whole show.

ADR: The sacrifices I’ve made for that head piece are so worth it because of how incredible it looks. I walk out on stage sometimes and people applaud. They’ve done a fantastic job with the costumes and puppetry in this show.

BK: What are the best aspects of this show, for yourself and for the audience?

ADR: The song right before Act One intermission called “Who I’d Be”. It’s the song that made me fall in love with the musical.

MN: “Morning Person” is the song that made me fall in love with Shrek and I’ve used it for many auditions. Getting to do a song you do for auditions on stage is such an interesting experience. It’s such a difference to do it full out with props… it just completely comes to life, making it so satisfying to perform.

BK: And for the audience?

MN: I think, “I got you Beat.”

ADR: That’s the one that really gets the audience. It’s the moment when you feel that everyone is with you.

MN: The song has farting and burping in it and once that happens people understand what the show is. It’s always a guaranteed laugh.

ADR: You can feel the energy in the whole room.

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

MN: Also “Freak Flag!” That song is one of my favourites in the show. All the fairy tale characters just come alive.

ADR: It’s also that message that’s prevalent throughout the show – that you can be different. Embrace yourself.

MN: There was one kid opening night that had down syndrome and during that song he just stood up and started dancing! It was an incredible moment for all of us on stage and in the audience.

BK: The kids have to make the show for you. I’m sure they wait for you at the stage door.

ADR: They love the show. They appreciate every aspect of it. There was this one boy who asked for every single character by name at the stage door wanting their autograph.

BK: Kids are so affected by theatre and it’s incredible to see how much of an impression it makes on them.

ADR: It’s what makes it worth doing this show every night.

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BK: Being an emerging artist, do you have any advice for your fellow actors?

MN: I think we’re still trying to figure it out ourselves.

ADR: Personally, holding back on getting an outside job right away helped me focus more. It gave me time to go out to every audition. Not having any anchor to a job is what helped me get these roles. I was always ready and willing with anything that came my way.

MN: I have the opposite experience. I have a lot of jobs. I think it’s funny, sometimes I wish I didn’t have all of these jobs, but truth be told, living in Toronto is expensive! You gotta eat. Thankfully, I have jobs that understand what I do  and give me time off when I need to do a show. But it’s hard. My advice is: Be accepting of the fact that for however long it takes you, you’re kind of going to be in the shits for a bit. You are going to be working so many jobs, but you can take things out of every experience. With serving, for example, you learn from all the different types of people that surround you and as an actor I’ve grown from that. Also, I don’t even have an agent yet.

BK: Which is so interesting because you’re always working!

MN: It just hasn’t been my focus right now because I’ve been so busy with shows. I take any opportunity that comes my way. And I’m still alive. I have a roof over my head, which is all I really need. Young actors need to understand that you’re aren’t going to have a lot of money for a while.

ADR: You’re going to have to work hard. Network. Listen to others. Pay attention. And be unknown for a very long time, which is a different feeling coming out of the small community that is theatre school. In this industry, even if you think you’re the greatest…you still have to put in the work.

MN: Even with the LOT, I’ve done five shows with them. This is first time I’ve had a lead. I’ve had to work hard and dedicate myself.

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Andrew Di Rosa and Michelle Nash as Shrek and Princess Fiona

RAPID FIRE QUESTION ROUND:

Favourite Musical

ADR: Into the Woods
MN: The Last Five Years

Favourite Book

ADR: The Hours
MN: Harry Potter… duh!

Favourite TV Show

ADR: The Sopranos
MN: The Real World Challenge or Top Chef…Love my Reality TV.

Guilty Pleasure

ADR: Subway
MN: Red Bull

Best Advice You’ve Ever Gotten

MN: My drama teacher in high school told me, you’re going to be poor and in debt anyways so you might as well choose where you want to go. I kind of live by that.

ADR: Holger Syme from our university, UTM… He said go out there and see other people’s work. People won’t come see yours if you don’t see theirs. That’s how our community is going to thrive, by supporting each other.

The Lower Ossington Theatre presents Shrek The Musical

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When: On now until October 19th
Where: Randolph Theatre, 736 Bathurst Street
Tickets: http://tickets.ticketwise.ca/event/3769538