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Posts tagged ‘Indie Theatre’

“The Actor’s Process, the Future of The Storefront & Working with Canadian Theatre Legends on George F. Walker’s THE CHANCE” In Conversation with Claire Burns

Interview by Brittany Kay

I got to sit down with one of Indie theatre’s fiercest ladies, Claire Burns, and chat about her role in George F. Walker’s The Chance on stage now at The Assembly Theatre. We spoke about working with Canadian theatre legends, her processes on and off the stage, and the future of The Storefront Theatre.

Brittany Kay: What has been your journey to where you are now?

Claire Burns: I had a really good teacher in Elementary school who did big musicals so I got involved at the early age of ten. One of my first roles was Fagin in Oliver!, pretty mature role for a ten-year-old. I then did musicals all through high school. From there, I went to UofT and got my Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History, but at the same time I was in the UC Follies. That drama club led me to projects at Hart House with people I still know and work with. And then I went to George Brown for classical theatre training.

BK: You caught the acting bug?

CB: I started to get really jealous of all my friends who were in theatre. I had to give it a go or else I was going to live with regrets. No regrets, right? After George Brown, I’ve just been working. I did a couple professional gigs at the Blyth Festival and the Grand Theatre. Since then I’ve been playwriting and acting in a lot of independent stuff, including projects at The Storefront, which I was running for the last three years. In the last year and a half/two years I’ve gotten more into directing.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

BK: How did you get involved in this show?

CB: I met Anne van​ ​Leeuwen, who is the head producer for Leroy Street Theatre and the Artistic Director of The Assembly Theatre, through the Indie scene with the shows she did at Unit 102 and at The Storefront. She’s a wonderful person and I totally support everything they’re doing with The Assembly Theatre.

George F. Walker and Wes Berger (our director) work together a lot. George wrote this new play and wanted Wes to direct it. Wes contacts Anne to be in the show and she asks who’s producing it. He said “I dunno” so she’s like “I will!” The other casting happened. Wes and I worked on a project together called The River You Step In, which is an independent film that will be coming out later this year with Astrid Van Wieren and Wes asked me to audition for this show from that.

BK: Can you tell me a little bit about the show and the character you play?

CB: My character’s name is Jo and my mother Marcy, played by Fiona Reid, are down on our luck. Marcy owes a lot of money and I’m potentially going to jail. She finds a cheque for $300,000 made out to cash in our couch left there by a guy I slept with. Comedy ensues. What could we possibly do with this cheque? Opportunity-comes-knocking type of thing.

It’s a very well written play. My character has a lot of angst. She’s living with her mom. She lost custody of her daughter, who’s six because she has a drug problem. She’s a bit quick to anger, but her mom is insane. It’s a very cool role. Deep but fun.

BK: Why this story right now?

CB: I think it’s really relevant that it’s in Parkdale, with all the MetCap buildings and the rental control issues. People are getting kicked out of their spaces because they can’t afford basic living expenses because of minimum wage. I think it’s very current. This play is part of a larger series that George has written that takes places in one of those apartments (if you think of the apartments on Jameson). The fact that it’s about that demographic and being done in a storefront space that is within that neighborhood, I just think that there are so many levels of relevancy.

BK: What draws you to the play?

CB: I love that it is only three women on stage.

BK: YAS!

Photo Credit: John Gundy

CB: You just don’t see that kind of representation on stage very often. What drew me to it was the comedy of it, the quick turns of the script, the fact that it’s George F. Walker! I was just like oh my god. The fact that I studied him in theatre school and now I’m meeting him and I get to ask him questions about acting. I think it’s been an amazing process to be working with Fiona Reid, as well.

BK: What is it like working with those legends of Canadian theatre?

CB: George has written such a fast-paced script and I love the way he works because sometimes I’ll improv or I’ll paraphrase my lines, (which I’m not proud of because I was taught to in fact learn them) but sometimes with lines it just comes out of my mouth better, you know? Because it’s so contemporary, he’s not precious about his script. He’s like, “No, no if that feels better, change that.” It’s a really live rehearsal process. He likes when we add things in. He’s got such funny, great ideas. That’s been awesome.

I really like Wes. I really like working with Wes. Wes always says it’s like jazz. We know it really well, but then we get within it, we can kind of play little notes within the play. I really like that too, because as an actor, I never like to do everything the exact same way every night. There are always little nuances. Each night can feel different. He gives us the permission to walk on that tightrope and just really commit to the moment, the moment, the moment. The play is also in real-time, which is really fun.

Fiona Reid is a goddess. She is generous. She is so kind and welcoming and humble and talented. She really asked questions about the script that I think I would have been embarrassed to say. I would have not asked because I would’ve felt like I was holding up the process or maybe I should have figured that out in my homework. Having her in the room really empowered me. We were able to figure out details and plot specifics together. I like to work that way.

We can build the moments together and took the time to do so. She’s fantastic and so specific. She’s really fun in the dressing room. She knows how to dance!

BK: Why do Indie audiences need a voice like George F. Walker’s?

CB: I don’t think George is writing his plays for the upper middle class. I think he’s really writing plays that speak to a more economically disadvantaged audience. Indie is that. It doesn’t have the same kind of restraints. I think it’s great that Indie theatre can have such an established playwright play to their crowds. I hope Indie audiences come out to this play. It’s hard not to think about the producing side of things while being in a show too.

Photo Credit: John Gundy

BK: Which leads to my next question…you wear so many different hats all of the time. How do you juggle and stay sane?

CB: I don’t know… I tend to work on projects when people ask me. As it turns out, a lot of those projects end up being generated by me and by the people who I’ve worked with at Storefront and collaborators that I know. How do I stay sane? I stopped drinking, which is really helpful for me. It allowed me to understand that sleep is really important.

I still party and stay up late, but sleep and regular sleep has kept me saner. It’s interesting that you ask about staying sane. Running Storefront was always, always on the go and now that we don’t have a space, I’m able to breathe a bit more. I’ve had time to write. I’ve gone through some recent life things that have also been able to propel me to write more. With acting, friends will ask. Directing wise, I’m trying to figure out how to climb the ladder of that career. Producing is another bag and I’m trying to get better at how to raise money. And then there’s what I actually do to make money, which has now been more community outreach. Unlike the bar or restaurant industry, it allows me to work from home.

BK: What is the future of Storefront?

CB: I really think there’s going to be a backlash on digital technology and people are going to be seeking a space where you can go to experience something particular. So I think storefront theatres are going to be needed in the country. The future is getting the business model down. We can’t rely on government funding in a way that Tarragon, TPM, and Factory did in the 80s. We have to figure out a new model. We can take the model from the Chicago Storefront Theatre movement where they’re all nightclubs with theatres in the back. The model we want to adopt are spaces that can become party spaces at night. We’re not looking for a space because you have to have money before you even get the space. I am looking for people to join our board. People like Jen Agg from the Black Hoof, her views on feminism in the restaurant industry are super relevant to the theatre industry. There needs to be subsidization on a municipal level. The city needs to give some sort of incentive to landlords to rent to artists for less, give them a tax break or something because the real estate in this city is crazy if you’re not for profit. It’s definitely not dead. We’re also producing. We’re producing a co-pro with Factory and Blood Pact Theatre called After Wrestling. Then we’re doing a Feminist Fuck It Festival in April, which will feature female identified performers and writers.

BK: Yessss. What an amazing name. I want to come!

CB: Right! FUCK IT.

(Laughter)

And we just got funding from the Canadian Heritage to present work in 2018/2019. The presenting and the producing will keep happening, while working towards finding a space.

BK: Any other upcoming projects for you?

CB: We are working on a new adaptation of I Love You Baby Blue with Paul Thompson and Clare Preuss. We want to honour TPM’s 50th Anniversary since it was first done there. I’ve been working on a play called Teeswater. It’s a town near Blyth, Ontario. It’s where my family moved to in the 1700s from Scotland. It’s a trilogy, but the one I want to focus on is about my great-aunt Margaret, who was a lesbian and lived with a woman. I want to explore what a queer relationship was in the 1940s/50s.

BK: Do you have advice for emerging artists?

CB: Diversify your skills now! If you’re an actor and you want to be an actor 80% of the time, learn about production management or lighting design. Stay relevant. You’ll meet so many different people doing different kinds of jobs. Then you’re just already networking.

BK: Sound advice. What do you want audiences walking with?

CB: I just want them to think that it is so much fun. This play, anyone can enjoy it.

Rapid Fire Question Round

What music are you listening to? Tom Petty

Favourite movie? The Wizard of Oz

Favourite book? I’ve read 33 books this year and they’re all of my favourites. I just read a book called A Little Life. I read all the time. You’d have to pick a genre and we’d go from there.

What are you watching on Netflix? Mindhunters

Last Play you saw in Toronto? Lukumi by d’bi.young anitafrika at Tarragon.

Favourite Musical? Rocky Horror Picture Show

Food? Mannings or Sour Cream

Best place in Toronto? Kensington Market, Parkdale, Gladstone Hotel and The Beaver

Best advice given to you/mantra? My mantra today is don’t be a low priority to somebody. For this industry, is don’t take anything personally and don’t be jealous, it’s not worth it.

THE​ ​CHANCE

Who:
Written by​ ​George​ ​F.​ ​Walker
Directed​ ​by​ ​Wes​ ​Berger

Where:
THE​ ​ASSEMBLY​ ​THEATRE-​ ​1479​ ​Queen​ ​St.​ ​W

When:
October​ ​14-28th,​ ​Tuesday-Saturday​ ​8pm

Tickets​:
brownpapertickets.com

Talking Canadian Stories & the Upcoming Production of AGENCY with actor Ben Sanders

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

Shaina: What’s different about working on a new play like this that’s never been done before, compared with something that has been in the theatre canon for awhile?

Ben Sanders: It’s very liberating when you don’t have to worry about the burden of a precedent for your character. Rather than doing the ten thousandth Mercutio, I get to be the very first Peter Gottschild (my character in Agency). There’s a great freedom that comes with that. My impulses and choices are brushstrokes on a fresh canvas.

Shaina: What is a ‘Canadian’ story? Would you say this is a Canadian play?

Ben: Canadian stories are anything dreamed up in the mind of a Canadian (including brand new Canadians) or anything set in Canada. Aside from some of our indigenous stories, just about all Canadian stories involve relationships to other countries. Agency is set in Germany, and features all German characters, but it also has a whole lot of the heart and soul – and some of the heritage – of Eva Barrie, a Canadian artist.

Photo of Eva Barrie & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Photo of Eva Barrie & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Shaina: What’s been the biggest challenge and biggest joy in tackling your character so far?

Ben: We’re playing with time and memory in the play. Sometimes my character is onstage as a part of someone else’s memory, rather than really being there. So I can’t be too picky about my “reality”, or my circumstances. The biggest joy, so far, is the crackling dialogue – Eva’s lines just roll off your tongue. Makes my job easy!

Shaina: Describe the show in 5 words.

Ben: Suspense. Surveillance. Betrayal. Obsession. Turtlenecks.

Photo of Earl Pastko & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Photo of Earl Pastko & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Shaina: Do you think it’s important for the other characters to explore the past as they do? At what point is this exploration positive and at what point is it detrimental to get trapped in the past?

Ben: Everybody’s got skeletons in the closet… everybody. So if you want to dig into your own past, or your family tree, you’ve got to do so with empathy, and brace yourself for unseemly discoveries. A family history is just a story we’ve been told, usually edited and revised for our benefit by people who care about us. Do you really want to challenge that story? It takes a lot of courage and offers little reward. But, then again, some stories demand to be told, and don’t ask politely.

Photo of Earl Pastko & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Photo of Earl Pastko & Ben Sanders by Greg Wong

Shaina: Did you have to do any research into the specific events of 1980s Berlin to tackle this play? What was the most interesting fact your discovered?

Ben: The extent of the surveillance state was pretty astounding, especially the network of “Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter” – informal collaborators. These were not official Stasi agents, just ordinary people feeding the authorities information on their acquaintances. Friends reported on friends; family reported on family. Once the wall fell, and it all came out in the open – once the hundreds of thousands of shredded files were pieced together by hand – reconciliation was not easy.

One of the most moving stories was of a woman who was devastated to learn, after the wall fell, the names of all the friends that had been reporting on her behind her back. At the end of her research into her file, she was reminded that she, also, had briefly informed on her friends, and completely forgotten about it. Surveillance and betrayal were just a part of everyday life.

Photo of Earl Pastko, Ben Sanders & Eva Barrie by Greg Wong

Photo of Earl Pastko, Ben Sanders & Eva Barrie by Greg Wong

Shaina: There is so much going on in the city right now, why should people come see this play? What will they get here that they won’t get anywhere else?

Ben: Eva Barrie is a major new talent. Her writing is totally engrossing: it’s got an impressive technical complexity – lots of tasty plot – but also a very natural, relatable tone that will catch you off-guard. And she’s written a terrific role for Earl Pastko to act the hell out of. Which he does.

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Photo of Earl Pastko, Ben Sanders & Eva Barrie by Greg Wong.

 

About Ben Sanders:


headshot-ben-sanders

Ben Sanders is a Toronto-based actor. He has performed at the Shaw Festival for seven seasons, appearing in 14 productions, including The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with the Key to the Scriptures, The Sea, Major Barbara, Cabaret, Our Betters, French without Tears, Misalliance, Serious Money, and four world premieres: Michel Marc Bouchard’s The Divine: A Play for Sarah Bernhardt, Peter Hinton and Allen Cole’s musical version of Alice in Wonderland, Lisa Codrington’s adaptation of The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, and Michael Healey’s reimagining of On the Rocks. He also performed with The Grand Theatre (A Christmas Carol, Dry Streak, Playwright’s Cabaret) and with Toronto’s Praxis Theatre (Objections to Sex and Violence, Tim Buck 2). In 2015, he was named one of NOW Magazine’s Top 10 Theatre Artists of the year, and the My Theatre Awards Performer of the Year. He trained at Ryerson University.
Up next, Ben will be back at the Grand Theatre in The Lion in Winter.

Agency

A New Play by Eva Barrie

agency-banner

Who:
Presented by Yell Rebel
Written by Eva Barrie
Directed by Megan Watson
Dramaturged by Thomas Morgan Jones
Featuring: Earl Paskto, Ben Sanders & Eva Barrie

Set & Costume Designer: Karyn McCallum
Lighting Designer: Mikael Kangas
Sound Designer: Lyon Smith
Stage Manager: Théa Pel
Technical Director: Tamara Vuckovic
Design Assistant: Echo Zhou
Producer/Production Manager: Noah Spitzer

What:
In the height of the Cold War, Hannah’s father is killed as her family makes a desperate escape out of East Berlin. Years later, she reads her father’s Stasi files and unearths a 25 year old mystery. The only one who can help her solve it: the man who spied on her father. Demanding answers and getting far more than she bargained for, Hannah takes a trip into the past.

Where:
The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West

When:
November 10th – 20th
Tuesday – Saturday 7pm
Saturday/Sunday 1pm

Tickets:
General Admission: $22.00
Arts-worker/Student $18.00
PWYC Performances: Nov. 10th (7pm), Nov. 12th (1pm), Nov. 13th (1pm) & Nov. 19th (1pm)
tickets.theatrecentre.org

Connect:
w: yellrebeltheatre.com
fb: /yellrebeltheatre
t: @yellrebelTO

 

In Conversation with Joshua Browne & Alec Toller on “The Queen’s Conjuror”

by Bailey Green

In the 16th century, John Dee—alchemist, scientist and magician—met an erratic, emotionally disturbed scryer named Edward Kelley. Dee believed Kelley had the ability to speak to angels and that this could help Dee unlock secrets beyond man’s understanding. A tumultuous partnership was formed between the two men and their wives. These flawed, complex relationships are explored in Circlesnake Productions’ new play, The Queens Conjuror, written by Joshua Browne and Alec Toller.

Director and writer Alec Toller came across John Dee on Wikipedia after he’d used the word ‘thaumaturgy’ on a date. John Dee is often considered the original wizard archetype. Dee is said to perhaps have inspired the characters of Prospero and Faust. Toller was captivated by Dee’s story and reached out to Joshua Browne. Browne, who had worked with Circlesnake Productions on Dark Matter and Angel City, says he was on board from the word ‘wizard.’

“The relationship between John Dee and Edward Kelley is really fascinating,” Browne says. Browne plays the character of Edward Kelley, “Edward Kelley was a scryer, a channel for the voices of angels. John Dee actually turned to the occult for knowledge because he reached a point in his work where he believed the knowledge of man would not get him closer to God.” Shortly after Dee and Kelley began working together, Edward and Joanna Kelley moved in with John and Jane Dee. The two couples lived and travelled together for years before the relationships began to fracture. “It wasn’t satisfying to write Kelley off as crazy or psychotic,” Toller says. “But he was very emotionally disturbed and we look at how that affects all of the relationships there.”

johndeeforqueen

John Dee with the Queen

The initial drafts of The Queens Conjuror by Toller and Browne, provided a historical baseline for improvisation with the company of actors. Feedback was instrumental when it came to writing the characters of Jane Dee and Joanna Kelley. According to Dee’s writings, Jane was integral to his work. Their relationship was quite egalitarian for the time. By contrast, all that is known of Kelly’s wife Joanna is that he despised her. “We have one man’s opinion of her,” Toller says. Browne and Toller emphasize that a central focus of this piece was ensuring that Jane and Johanna’s voices were heard.“We had to invent them,” Toller says of writing Jane and Joanna. “We explored the gender dynamics involved in the world they were living in, but it is a challenge because how do we show what the reality was without reinforcing it? We wanted to write something that is not going to ring as these women being two props for the ‘larger story’ of these men.”

john_dee_ashmolean

John Dee

Browne speaks of the risk and vulnerability involved in working on this process, “This feels like a risky show to me… I have tons of fear surrounding this show! It’s about the 16th century with very little in the way of budget[…] It’s about these contentious relationships and personal things, and how do you do that without making the play a soap opera or historical drama? And how do you write women and facilitate women writing themselves? How do you represent the patriarchy without reproducing it? As two white, male writers, we had to get our actors’ opinions and involve women in the conversation. We can acknowledge our privilege and ask how can we be better.”

In the rehearsal room Toller and Browne transitioned into their roles as director and performer, respectively. Both Browne and Toller speak of gratitude for their company of actors (Tim Walker, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Sochi Fried, John Fray) whose contributions helped The Queens Conjuror change and grow. The collaborative nature of the rehearsal process is at the core of Circlesnake’s mandate: “It’s really important when we’re engaging artists and actors who are all very talented,” Toller explains, “that they don’t just walk away with the small money you get from a profit share and maybe a fun rehearsal/show process, but that there’s an ownership there. They’ve helped make this together and it’s important that these actors get the most agency and a sense of pride in the show they made with us.”

The Queen’s Conjuror

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Who:
Directed by Alec Toller
Written by Alec Toller & Joshua Browne

Featuring Tim Walker
Joshua Browne
Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah
Sochi Fried
John Fray

What:
John Dee was a 16th century adviser to Queen Elizabeth, and a scientist and magician when those two professions were indistinguishable. The Queen’s Conjuror follows John Dee as he tries to decipher an enticing but ominous vision which he hopes will provide critical information that will impress the QueenElizabeth enough to gain her patronage. To do this, Dee enlists the help of Edward Kelley, a scryer, medium, and possible charlatan. Kelley proves to be as brilliant as he is disturbed, and Dee must work through the wretchedness of Kelley’s soul and his erratic behaviour to access his revelatory visions and gain the Queen’s support. The show explores the complexity of intimacy, the dangers of vulnerability, and the necessities of both for the alchemical transformation of the soul.

Where:
The Attic Arts Hub
1402 Queen St E

When:
Nov 3 – Nov 20
Wed – Sat, 8pm
Sun 2pm

Tickets:
$30
$20 Student/Arts Worker
queensconjuror.brownpapertickets.com

Connect:
fb: /Circlesnake
t: @Circlesnake
w: circlesnake.com

In Conversation with Will King on Eugene Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

Ryan Quinn: So, you are directing Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros for Seven Siblings Theatre Company. It’s an adaptation by Derek Prowse. Is it a new adaptation?

Will King: No. So what we’re trying to do is find as many contemporary hooks into the play as possible. A lot of that has been in the staging of it, making it very minimalist instead of its traditional setting. We were rather looking for locations we might find ourselves in in Toronto. The first quarter takes place in a beer garden, something you might see as a semi-interior in one of the breweries in the city. It has a local and very communal feel. So, for a show like Rhinoceros about the spread of populism and sensationalism, it has to start in a very public location. We thought it would be nice if people felt very comfortable and immersed in the setting. It feels very similar to the actual location the performers are in.

From there, it gets more private and the characters get more distant from the audience. So we see it go from public, to a semi-private office, to two different houses, one of which is a terrarium.

RQ: Why this show, right now?

WK: I think we are in an era that deals with sensationalism possibly more strongly than ever on an individual level. We know that this play was written in response to fascism and Naziism in the Second World War, but now we live in an age of facebook, and buzzfeed, a sense of self-propaganda. It’s important that we look at ourselves, and our own sense of what otherness is, and how we deal with constant sensationalism and populism.

I think there are many reasons the last Canadian election went the way it did, but one of the biggest pulls for Trudeau and the liberals was that he was the one with traditionally Canadian values. He was the everyman that we thought shared our same moral compass. So there’s definitely a sense of how politics and new ideas are sold, for better or worse.

But it’s important to me that this play doesn’t become just about the politics. I think it would be easy to slap on something about the Trump campaign and make it about that. I mean, I think people will still make connections to that extraordinary and horrifying bout of sensationalism happening in the States. But I didn’t want that to be what it was about. It’s about intersection in any kind of area, in belief, race, gender, sexuality, politics. Whatever that otherness is for the audience, it’s that otherness for the characters in the play.

RQ: This show deals with the allure of mob mentality…

WK: For sure! We’re trying to play with that theme in our physicality a lot.

RQ: So how do we reconcile that idea with the current idea that the “outsider” is more morally genuine than everyone else? Trudeau, Trump, and Sanders are all sold as outsiders. Not to say that their politics are in any way similar, but that seems to be the campaign that works.

WK: I think in this play we can eventually sympathize with the outsider, while at the same time we see them as (literally in this case, since it’s a rhinoceros) tools of chaos and destruction. I mean, for the people who join the rhinoceros, suddenly their way of living is beautiful and wonderful. I want the audience to question, you know, “why not join the rhinoceros?”. You get to roll around in the grass and be comfortable. We totally understand why it’s so easy for people to want to join them, and I think that happens politically, as well.

RQ: Tell me a bit about the rehearsal process.

WK: This was done as a ten-day intensive. That was inherently challenging and difficult. We go through a lot of work with the Michael Chekhov technique, getting on our feet and finding centers, archetypes, character bodies. We’re trying to break through the text analysis in a physical way, so we’re not banging our heads against the wall. It’s helped us find a really visceral and accessible clarity. Our next step is going to be to really focus on creating an atmosphere in a set that’s constantly being created and destroyed by the actors. We’re using chalkboard paint and different color schemes for individual worlds to really highlight that this is a world that’s constantly changing and shifting.

We also have ten challenges that were assigned to the actors, things like creating a physical rhinoceros from two or more people, or an immediate breaking into tears, things that we’ve used as tools to tell the story. I’m there to make sure the story is clear and everything fits together, but those goalposts, as it were, are there to help the actors work toward a kind of structure on their own as well.

RQ: What can you tell me about Seven Siblings and your mandate?

WK: The company was founded by Madryn McCabe, Erika Downie, and myself. The three of us started the company through the teaching certification program at the Michael Chekhov consortium in Ohio. As a company, we like to do work that sits in the realm of fantastical realism, things that are larger than life. I’d say it’s playful and visceral, and grand, but also very true to life. There’s a lot of work that can still be truthful while really going to strange and conceptual places. For us, the most important thing is joy, that’s the focus even in times of exhaustion and duress. We find that frees performers up to stop worrying about a final performance, to focus instead on the playfulness and discovery.

We want people to be able to look outside themselves and see their lives through metaphor for a while. To take something very personal from an idea that’s absurd or strange. I think we’re lucky that we can do that in the theatre.

We’ve also been trying to extend that sense of play to our promotional campaign as well, doing street-level things that lend themselves to word-of-mouth promotion.

RQ: What do you want people to talk about on the way home from this show?

WK: I hope it elicits a conversation about positive political discourse. Often when we see someone with different political views from our own, we dismiss them, but it’s valuable to have an honest debate about their views. I think that would benefit our society.

I mean, I hope they have fun, too! Without all the allegory, if you saw this show as a farce, it’s very entertaining! There’s something important at the heart of it, but something really fun and alive on the surface.

RQ: Congratulations on the show!

WK: Thanks, Ryan!

 

Seven Siblings Theatre presents:

Rhinoceros

Smoke Rhinoceros

A play by Eugene Ionesco
Adapted by Derek Prouse
Directed by Will King
Featuring Veronica Baron, Jim Armstrong, John Lovett, Andrew Gaunce, Erika Downie, Liz Bragg, Margaret Hild, Amrit Kaur, Mardi O’Conner
Assistant Directed by: Erika Downie
Produced by: Madryn McCabe
Production Manager: Kate McArthur
Stage Manager: Jocelyn Levadoux
Lighting Design: Parker Nowlan
Front of House: Gwendolyn Hodgson

Run Time: 90 minutes

When: June 2-5, 8pm, doors open at 7:30

Where: The Rhino Bar & Grille (1249 Queen St W).Our performance venue is on the 2nd floor.

Tickets: Artsworkers $15, General $19, At the door $20 cash http://www.sevensiblingstheatre.ca/rhinoceros/

Connect:

Twitter: @SevenSiblingsCo

Facebook: sevensiblingstheatreco

Instagram: @sevensiblingstheatre

Performed with Permission by Samuel French Inc.

In Conversation with Sex T-Rex – Presenting their Double Bill at the Storefront until March 27

by Bailey Green

I had the pleasure of speaking with Sex T-Rex performers Seann Murray, Kaitlin Morrow, Conor Bradbury and director Alec Toller about their double bill, on now at the Storefront Theatre (Danny Pagett and Julian Frid were unable to stay for the interview but are also performing.)

It began with a quote from the movie Predator, “this stuff [chewing tobacco] will make you a goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus.” And then one night, before an improv set, the announcer shortened the improv troupe’s name from Sexual Tyrannosaurus to Sex T-Rex, and it stuck. Performer Conor Bradbury laughs at the memory, “Hey, when someone’s right they’re right! There’s no need to be precious about your comedy.”

The group came together during their time at George Brown back in 2007-2008. Many elements of theatre school didn’t resonate with the actors but when they got together in stage combat class, then things really came alive. “It’s a triumvirate of violence really,” director Alec Toller jokes about the history of Sex T-Rex shows. “All of our action shows are centred around violence,” performer and producer Kaitlin Morrow adds. “Callaghan! was a lot of punching, Watch Out Wildkat is shooting and then Swordplay, which was loosely inspired by Princess Bride, has to do with, well, swords!”

Photo Credit: Cindy Lopez

Photo Credit: Cindy Lopez

This double bill features Watch Out Wildkat! and Swordplay: a play of swords. “Even though we have done Wildkat in 4 cities and Swordplay in 2, we’re still riffing, especially in rehearsals,” Morrow says. “You can always feel when it happens,” Bradbury adds. “There’s this unspoken ‘keep it’ feeling when someone makes a good joke.” Toller says that the group strives for clarity above all else, “We do so much mime, and fake action movie stuff that we’re always fighting to be so precise.”

Toller directs the group’s scripted shows (they also do improv shows) which are written plays with a sketch origin. “It’s very collaborative,” Toller says. “It functions more like a collective, so basically I’m the person not on stage… where I belong… but my job is to manage what everyone wants to get out of it. This show is a remount, so we’re trying to improve as we go, punch things up, and that can be challenging because we have an existing structure but we don’t have an audience.”

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Writer, producer and performer Seann Murray speaks to the group dynamic saying, “It’s very rare that we have camp A and camp B disagreements. Instead, we usually have eight ideas with each person having three and a half small ideas each.” Bradbury adds, “It’s almost like we’ll have one person who is camp A and one who is camp B, and everyone else just isn’t helping. But it always works out for the best. To have a bit of argument in the room means people care about the product.” Morrow adds, deadpanned, “So we just punch each other in the face until someone gives in.”

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Photo Credit: John Gundy

Murray writes the scripts for the group and describes the process:

“The first step is we identify the genre we want to work in. Then we watch movies and chat about the tropes we want to hit, what we want to see [in the show] from the genre. So it’s not just regurgitation, we want to honour the genre. Once we’ve consumed a bunch of media and batted ideas around, I write the script and we workshop it throughout the process. We often wind up with a small chunk of the script left, we stay true to the character and story more or less, but as Alec [Toller] said, there’s lots of really funny improvisers on the team so we’ll take a scene, work through it and put it back into the script.”

The group considers audience feedback invaluable. They often take their shows to Montreal Fringe before performing at Toronto Fringe. Montreal Fringe offers them the opportunity to try out new material and improve their work. “We change something after basically every show, we find something else we’ve never done before,” Bradbury says.

Photo Credit: Sharon Murray

Photo Credit: Sharon Murray

Morrow, the only female performer of the troupe, tells me how that for years she dealt with crippling nightmares centred around improv. Subconsciously, she wanted to get up and perform but she was terrified. Now, with 19 shows under her belt, she has realized that a bad set isn’t the end of the world and that the joy she feels from performing far outweighs the fear. “The first time I went up to improvise was for Shane Adamczak’s secret show Captain Spaceship in Montreal Fringe,” Morrow remembers. “He just assumed I was in the show because I was a part of Sex T-Rex, and when I tried to back out, he told me I couldn’t because there were no other women in the show. So I didn’t sleep for about a week, and then somehow I was backstage and then I was onstage and I did it. The relief was amazing, and you know, it wasn’t even bad!”

Watch Out Wildkat! & Swordplay: A Play of Swords

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Presented by Sex T-Rex
When: March 11th -­ March 27th, Wed­-Sun
Watch Out Wildkat! @ 7:30 PM & Swordplay @ 9:00 PM
Sundays @ 2:00 PM
Where: The Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor Street West
Tickets: $20 for single show, $30 for both shows
Available at http://thestorefronttheatre.com/events/swordplaywatchout-wildcat/
Connect: sextrexcomedy.com

“Surreal and Trashy” – In Conversation with Ali Joy Richardson, director of STILL by Jen Silverman

by Bailey Green

I have read other plays on the subject of a stillborn child…but none with language both surreal and trashy, none as funny, and none as moving.” – Marsha Norman (‘night, Mother)

Ali discovered STILL while searching through the Toronto Reference Library for a play to direct. She knew she wanted to direct a piece written in the last ten years and that preferably the play would be by a female playwright. While scanning through titles on the shelves, she saw the cover of STILL — the shadow of a baby in a stairwell. She read the character list: Morgan, a professor, Dolores, a sometimes dominatrix, Elena, a midwife and Constantinople, a giant dead baby. “I remember being uncomfortable because I kept laughing out loud in the library and then crying in public,” Ali remembers. “I knew I had to pick this script.”

STILL cast

Ali reached out to Annemieke Wade, Alicia Richardson, Julie Tepperman and Christopher Allen. Annemieke Wade’s reply: “I’m in and I’m pregnant,” Ali says. “So I said take a couple weeks, read the script and then she [Annemieke] reached out again and she was in. I was so, so glad.” Annemieke came on board to play Morgan, the professor who we find stuck in the womb of her own basement, wearing the clothes she wore when she delivered her stillborn child.

We find the giant dead baby, Constantinople, hitchhiking after escaping from the morgue. Constantinople is in search of his mother. “Christopher Allen’s physicality is so perfect, he is so tall and playful,” Ali says. “And the minute he speaks in the shows or moves it’s just bubbles of joy […] I asked him if he had any questions or worries about being a manifestation of a stillborn baby on stage and he said, ‘hm, nope.’ So he’s been so open to everything.”

Binocular full group

Alicia Richardson, who plays Dolores, said during table work that there are no heroes in the play. “No one fixes it,” says Ali. But the characters bring the audience into their world and deal with the subject matter with honesty, humour and candor. “Jen [Silverman] never lets you sit for too long. There’s permission to laugh,” Ali says. Dolores, the play’s self-made dominatrix, is kinky, funny, queer and unafraid to reinvent herself. Elena, played by Julie Tepperman, is the midwife who goes between Morgan and Dolores. It is through their dialogue we discover that Elena is under investigation for her practice. The stories intertwine and jump from basement to dilapidated hotel room.

For Ali, one of the greatest joys in directing this piece has been the opportunity to dig into fresh, challenging, unique female characters without the need to reinterpret due to dated or insufficient text. “The female characters are written beautifully and the relationships between women are really high stakes and complicated,” Ali says. “So to not have to fight against writing is so exciting.”

Note: STILL was inspired by a memoir called Ghostbelly, written by writer and professor Lisa Heineman in Iowa. Lisa was 46 when she gave birth to her stillborn son at home with a midwife. She wrote a brilliantly honest and heartbreaking memoir about her experience of grief and healing. If you’d like to read more about the collaboration behind STILL, please visit: http://howlround.com/authors/jen-silverman-elizabeth-heineman

STILL

Still Poster 1

Who:
Directed by Ali Joy Richardson, featuring Julie Tepperman, Annemieke Wade, Alicia Richardson & Christopher Allen

What:
STILL is the story of a professor, her midwife, a dominatrix, and a baby who never got to be. Morgan’s son was born dead, Dolores is pregnant with a child she doesn’t want, and failed midwife Elena seeks either redemption or a career change. All three women confront their fears, desires, and each other, while Morgan’s baby is running out of time to find her.

Where:
Unit 102 (376 Dufferin Street)

When:
March 4 – 13, 2016

More details: http://www.binoculartheatre.com/still

Tickets: http://still.brownpapertickets.com/

 

Q&A with Darwin Lyons and Michelle Alexander, co-directors of Well Born

Interview by Bailey Green

BG: What about the script stood out to you?  

Michelle Alexander: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the obvious answer: a woman haunted by a talking plastic baby. Can’t say I’ve ever come across that in a script before. As a director I’m most drawn to scripts that mess with audience expectation, i.e. scripts that make you think they’re a straight-up comedy and then stab you right in the gut when you least expect it. Celeste has taken subject matter that could easily be written as high drama and made it something special using her unique, twisted sense of humour and unapologetic approach to deep, uncomfortable, human truths.

BG: At the beginning of the play, where do we find the characters? Where are they, what obstacles are they facing?

Darwin Lyons: At the beginning of the play Elizabeth is five months pregnant. She and her husband Chris have just received the results of a test that tell them that their baby has a 50% chance of being born with some sort of incapacity. Elizabeth was adopted and never knew her birth mother and the results of this test make her question if she can handle the struggles of being a mother. Thankfully, she has a talking plastic baby to bounce ideas off of. Oh wait, that’s not so helpful. Elizabeth happens to be someone who likes to control everything, and she wants things to be perfect (I wonder what that’s like? Kidding… I know exactly what that’s like). This play is really the journey of Elizabeth trying to figure out how to accept the real version of life, even if it’s messy.

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

BG: What has the experience of co-directing been like? How do you navigate shared responsibilities and balancing a common vision of the production?

MA: Co-directing is the woooooorst. Never do it. KIDDING! Co-directing has its challenges, but with the right ‘match of minds’, two heads can truly be better than one.

Working in tandem with another director really forces you to ‘put the art first’ rather than your own ego. When you’re directing solo it can be easy to convince yourself your idea is definitely right and definitely brilliant. The act of bumping that idea up against someone else’s creative vision really forces you to evaluate whether or not it is the best choice for the story of the play.

How do we navigate co-directing? Honestly, I almost think of it like we are co-parenting a play-baby. Yeeeep, I said it! To raise our play-baby as best we can we have to commit to full, open communication, compromise and trust. If we get frustrated with one another we just throw our focus towards what decision will foster the growth and well-being of our play-baby.

*Side bar: I now fear the title of this interview will be ‘Michelle and Darwin made a Play-Baby.’

DL: Like all worthwhile endeavours and relationships co-directing with Michelle is awesome and also hard. The challenges come from the fact that we need to be really keyed into each other and communicate really well. We both work really long hours at many jobs, but we always take 30 seconds at the end of each rehearsal to check in with each other. We have an almost sign language type code—you good? Yes/no? Do we need to have a bigger chat? The joy of co-directing is that two brains are better than one. I believe that the more life experience to bring to the creation of a story the better it will be. Michelle and I have worked together a lot, and we know that our strengths and weaknesses really compliment each other. I don’t know what co-directing with someone else would be like, but I do know that what makes this collaboration work is that I trust her implicitly, I agree with her aesthetic, I think she’s incredibly smart and talented, and I know that we will be able to talk through any challenges.

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

BG: What has been the most challenging aspect of the process?

DL: This play jumps time, space and logic. Reading Well Born for the first time I loved how I felt like I was right inside of Elizabeth’s brain. It made me so excited because I feel like I get lost in my fantasy world and memories, it’s cool to see that reflected in a story. However staging that can be a bit of a challenge. How would you communicate to an audience that one second your in someone’s fantasy, then memory, then worst case scenario nightmare, then back to reality? Thankfully we have an amazing design team that is willing to really collaborate with us to help the vision of the show come to life.

MA: I’m an actor as well as a director, so I think my greatest strength as a director is working with actors, figuring out their characters, their moments. Staging is a whole other ballgame. Even thinking about staging complicated scene transitions or ‘fancy blocking’ gives me sweaty armpits. Celeste’s play requires a lot of fast scene transitions, many locations and some serious ‘theatre magic’. That has been the biggest challenge: How to fulfill the staging of this play in a fluid way while staying within an indie theatre budget.

BG: What has brought you the most joy in this process?

DL: Last week I ran into a friend and was telling her about the show and she launched into a story about how she struggled with something similar when she was pregnant. After sharing these intimate details from her life she sat back and said, “Sorry, I guess I just really needed to get that out.” It’s great to work on a story that people seem hungry for. I rarely hear women given the platform to talk about the real struggles and fears of being pregnant. I think the most important part of art is that it allows people an opportunity to say, me too! It allows them space to have their experiences shared, or for us to learn about an experience we might not have had. I love being a part of stories that are honest and also rarely told—this story is both. A huge benefit of that is that this story has attracted a wonderful team of actors, designers and production people to work with. Seriously, you would want to hang out with all of them if you got the chance to.

MA: The people! The cast and creative team working on Well Born are not only insanely skilled at what they do, they also work incredibly well as a team. Working on a new play is like following a moving target: the script is constantly changing, the design shifts as the script shifts, actors are given a new scene one day and then have it taken away the next… I know, you’re probably thinking ‘This is your joyful part of the process Michelle?!’ It is! Because when the whole team leaves their ego at the door, rolls up their sleeves and comes in with an attitude of ‘let’s find the guts of this thing!’ it’s not just ‘rehearsing a play’ it’s creating something new together. 

BG: What excites you the most about emerging female playwrights in Toronto? 

MA: That more and more are emerging every day! At Nightwood I get to read a lot of scripts by emerging female writers, and I must say, there are a lot of badass plays by women coming down the pipe! I’ve seen a lot of great scripts in the past few months that aren’t afraid to stand behind a strong point-of-view; that aren’t afraid to be messy and uncomfortable and that aren’t afraid to be funny! Celeste’s play is an example of the incredible, fierce and funny female writers in this city!

(Note: this Q&A has been edited for length and clarity)

WELL BORN

#WellBorn2016 produced by SoCo Theatre in association with Truth ‘n’ Lies Theatre

wellborn

What:

Mother-to-be Elizabeth is haunted by her inconclusive prenatal test results, the fact that she never knew her biological mother… and a talking plastic baby. Deeply personal and darkly comic, Well Born is a twisted dramedy about otherness, acceptance, and facing your fears by emerging playwright Celeste Percy-Beauregard.

Where:

Artscape Youngplace, Studio 109 (180 Shaw St.)

When:

Thursday March 3, 8pm
Friday, March 4, 8pm
Saturday March 5, 2pm
Saturday, March 5, 8pm
Sunday March 6, 8pm (Closing)

Tickets:

$25 general admission | $20 arts worker | PWYC on Sat Jan 27 at 2pm

*PURCHASE TICKETS ONLINE HERE!

*RSVP to the Facebook event to stay in the loop!