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“Collaboration, Self-Advocacy & Finding Inspiration in the Details” In Conversation with Kevin Wong & Julie Tepperman on New Musical Development with THE PREPOSTEROUS PREDICAMENT OF POLLY PEEL (Act 1) at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Brittany Kay.

Kevin Wong and Julie Tepperman are no strangers to the Fringe Festival. Their constant dedication and innovation to the Toronto theatre scene had us already very excited about their new musical in development The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Act 1), now running at the Tarragon Theatre. Seeing that only act 1 was being presented at the Fringe, it further peaked our interest and we were eager to chat with them about what it takes to develop a new musical and to discuss the nitty-gritty of how this process actually works. We were very lucky to catch the two busy creators to chat about development, collaboration, self-advocacy and finding inspiration in the details.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about the show?

Kevin Wong: You go.

Julie Tepperman: No, you go…

JT: We can do one word at a time?

KW: That would be terrible. I’m not doing that.

(Laughter)

KW: Polly Peel is our developmental production of just the first act of what will be a two act musical. It’s a piece that follows the Peel family in the wake of the loss of the father, Paul Peel. In particular, we examine their processes of dealing with his loss through the eyes of his imaginative, biology-obsessed young daughter Polly. Very early on in the piece, she announces this theory that her dad is not dead, but that instead he is this frog she finds in the ravine at the moment of his death. Chaos, heartbreak and healing ensue.

BK: Where did this piece start? How did the beginning of this development first take shape?  

JT: Here’s the history in a nutshell: Mitchell Marcus, the AD of The Musical Stage Company back in the Fall of 2015 blind-matched-made us. We’d both done their Noteworthy program, but in separate years, which is the playwright-composer-librettist speed-dating workshop. He thought we would make a good match for Reframed, which is the next level of Noteworthy, where they pick three writer/composer teams to pick a painting in the Richard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery of the AGO and write a 25 minute musical that would be workshopped with Director of New Play Development, Robert McQueen. We had three actors, an orchestra, and a series of workshops over about an eight month period. Ultimately, they were performed and loosely staged in front of the paintings.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: How did you choose the painting that would inspire you to write the musical? Why did this painting speak to both of you? What was it about the painting?

JT: We decided we would go to the AGO separately and then meet for coffee and talk about our top three paintings. We picked some of the same paintings, but I picked The Young Biologist. It was by a London, Ontario painter named Paul Peel, who actually got quite famous moving as a young man to study art in Paris. The Young Biologist is actually of his son Robert as a three-year-old looking down at this frog who’s hardly visible in the corner of this painting. To me, it felt really exciting that there is a sort of exchange going on between the frog and the boy. The title made me think about death and how a science obsessed child might reconcile and grapple with the death of a parent, and this notion of where the personality or the soul goes when the body dies. Coincidentally at the same time, I had heard a podcast about child grief bereavement centres and camps that are all around North America. I kind of pitched this idea to Kevin. At first, I wanted to write the outline of a one act musical that was maybe a TYA show and we’d pick 20 minutes to do for the AGO piece. (to Kevin) Somehow I convinced you though, and what I didn’t tell you at the time was that if you didn’t say yes to this, I wasn’t going to do the project. There’s nothing else that inspired me as much.

(Laughter)

BK: What was is it that convinced you Kevin?

KW: A lot of the portraits were just singular subjects and it was Julie’s point about there being two subjects in it, which was rare. She asked me what I thought about what the relationship between the son and the frog was? I hadn’t noticed the frog originally. When I did, I thought now there’s an interesting a relationship to write about. We started talking about who the frog was and who the boy was and what they were to each other. Because of the podcast Julie was listening to, there was a lot of child grief in the discussion. That was sort of the starting point.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: Match making is an interesting way to begin what has become a lengthy collaboration. What makes for a good collaboration? What makes for good partners in development?

JT: (To Kevin) I googled the hell out of you. We knew of each other but hadn’t met.

KW: I also admired Brantwood. I had no idea who she was, but she had fabulous hair when I saw her standing by the exit…

JT: …and I’m also really smart right?

KW: …and then I met her and I was disappointed ever since.

(Laughter)

KW: No. Nooo! It was very clear that Julie’s imagination and her detailed work on characters and what motivates them was very, very precise and specific and immersive. And I was really interested in working with that.

JT: We laugh about the same things a lot.

KW: We have a raunchy dark sense of humour that we share.

JT: We procrastinate in the same way. We like food.

KW: More than that, the two of us are very committed to telling a story of the same voice. We are very up in each other’s business and on each other’s grills all the time. If a character says something that I try to fudge so that it could rhyme, Julie will usually pick out the sentence that isn’t true to what the character is feeling at that moment. And vice versa, if I know there is a moment in the spoken dialogue that they could sing better, then I might ask Julie to cut that or to save it.

JT: I also like that you’re not married to this idea/format of scene-song-scene-song. Our structure is non-traditional, and whether it works or not, the Fringe will be a huge learning curve for us.

KW: The older stereotype of what a musical is, is that it’s modular and chunky. The composer sticks a song in and the book writer writes around it and then a scene happens and then a song happens. Our process on this show is sort of the opposite. It’s very lateral and very integrated. 

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: What did the Reframed series do for the first incarnation of this piece?

KW: The blessing of Reframed was that there was a finite gestation period and a hard deadline in sight because you knew no matter what you did, 20 minutes of your material was going to be mounted in April 2016. 20 minutes allowed us to figure out how a story breathes, why it sings, what music is doing in the piece and what the emotional heart and core of that is.

BK: What happened next with it?  

KW: Our process in Reframed was a bit different in that we were the only ones who knew that this piece was going to be a longer full two act piece. Our way in, was to find a couple of scenes that sort of could be strung together but something that we knew we were always going to expand. After Reframed, we then got the opportunity to workshop a little bit more at the In Tune conference in Vancouver. We wrote a little bit more material, added in a new character and did 45 minutes in front of a different audience.

BK: And after that?

KW: We were looking for another opportunity to expand. Those opportunities to have audiences actively responding to what you have written so far help keep you from going off the rails into your own head. You can get so close to a piece that you can’t see the forest for the trees anymore.

BK: I love that saying.

KW: You get too close to it. It’s like saying the word the over and over again, it doesn’t mean anything after a while. And so when The Paul O’Sullivan for Musical Theatre deadline came around, I suggested to Julie that we apply because even though self-producing at Fringe is very exhausting, if we were to win, the prize money would be helpful. The opportunity would be really helpful and it would be another deadline that we could use. I robbed myself of sleep putting together some demos and we wrote a little bit more material and applied. We were very lucky and are thrilled to have won that prize because it gave us this opportunity and now it’s 85 minutes of a first act.

JT: There’s no other way to do it. We would have gone on endless coffee dates and written slowly.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: Why just one act? People obviously know what they’re getting when seeing the title but what would you say are the pros and potential negative perceptions of presenting just this one act?

KW: Luckily the Fringe is a great environment to try something. The audience comes in with an expectation that the material is very new in its form. Even if we wanted to do two acts we couldn’t because the longest slot is only 90 minutes. Writing-wise we had to be realistic with how far we were really going to be able to get. It’s possible that some things in this one act may end up in act two. We may have put some things in the wrong order… we’ll discover that. At some point you have to stop generating material and allow the actors to just do what they’re going to do without constantly changing it on them.

JT: It’s manageable. We grappled with wanting to give people a good Fringe experience, but also authentically explore what we want to explore, so I don’t think we’ve over-written it on purpose just to fill a 90 minute slot, but to learn about it.

KW: In a way, the pressure of just doing one act was helpful because if you did the full the story, you would expect naturally that the audience would walk out with some degree of emotional catharsis or completion. But because we’re just doing one act, it actually made us tighten the loop on our narrative storytelling. We’ve still got to send the audience out the way you would feel at the end of a very finessed intermission. Even if it’s to be continued, something has to happen enough that you feel like you have gotten somewhere you’re satisfied with.

JT: And then that there’s a hook and a feeling of what is going to happen next. We have a sense of the arc of act two, but it’s going to be a puzzle to figure out. I hope the audience response is that they want more. It doesn’t feel complete because it is not resolved and there’s a new bit of information we give right at the end.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: What is the Fringe doing for the next stage of development? What’s next for Polly after the Fringe?

KW: What we’re going to learn from the Fringe is monumental because theatre is such a live medium that you really need that audience in some way to understand how something is landing and how your storytelling is coming across. Following that, we’re going to meet again and we’ll have plenty of rewrites and changes from what we did present. You inevitably get plenty of things wrong… you can’t get everything perfect.

JT: We know that there are things in there that are not working, just through our writing, lack of time, lack of resources, working on a Fringe budget.

KW: Once we finish the Fringe, we’ll start re-drafting. I think we have to work quickly. I think not losing the momentum will be important. Maintaining momentum in the actual writing is the best way to avoid letting fear become inertia because even with a piece that exists already, if you leave it too long it becomes scary and then you don’t touch it anymore.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: What do you do when something isn’t working? How do you look at it from the outside and fix it when you are on a time crunch?

JT: Some stuff we have to let go and know we will address it later. 

KW: What we did very early on is we had a read of the script that wasn’t a finished version with the entire cast. That gave us a huge amount of information and we made a list of priorities of what we were going to tackle before we got into the rehearsal room.

As we got into the room, it sort of is like a funnel in that the big bulk rewrites don’t happen. The huge conceptual rewrites are smaller and smaller. There’s a point at which you are just adjusting lines and lyrics and cutting.

JT: Lots of cuts. I feel like 90% of what I’ve written overall has been cut. It’s almost like a pathway of getting to the right place. Even now we’re being really nit-picky, which I guess is a good thing. Our actors have been so positive and supportive to the rewrites we have done and have even made suggestions the closer they’ve gotten to the characters.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: Do you have advice for other theatre makers that are creating new musicals?

JT: Give yourself time.

KW: Learn how to collaborate. The temptation, even for your first piece, is to want to do everything alone so that you can show you can do a lot of things. Learning to collaborate is a very difficult, ongoing case-by-case process because every single collaborative team is different. Your product is almost always invariably better if you find the right collaborator, than if you try to do something on your own. It also enables you to really hone your skill set on your specific craft. Sometimes you need that extra eye calling you on your bullshit.

JT: …or your habits. Be rigorous with the collaborators you choose to be in the room with. Create the kind of room you really want to create. Don’t be shy about that. Trust everyone’s expertise. If something doesn’t feel right or go well in terms of how you are collaborating, address it early or it becomes ingrained and systemic. There’s nothing worse than being fearful about when to speak. I’ve been in gross rooms where that is the culture. Life is too short and there’s not enough money to justify feeling like we’re walking on egg shells all the time, especially when it started from a place of curiosity, imagination and love.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from Polly?  

KW: I hope they hold their loved ones a little closer to them. We take so much for granted and life is fragile and I think there’s something about that at the heart of the piece.

JT: I’d say also that imagination is courage. I think that’s what Polly and her frog have been teaching us from the beginning and that there… this sounds very cliché… but there isn’t one singular way to grieve. You said this early on Kevin, but we think this is about a family that doesn’t realize they need each other. This might help people reflect on their own situation and family.

The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Act 1)

Who:
Company: The Polly Peel Collective
Playwright/Creator: Kevin Wong (Music & Lyrics) & Julie Tepperman (Book)
Director: Aaron Willis
Cast: Troy Adams, Alan Cui, Donna Garner, Faly Mevamanana, Richard Lee, Hannah Levinson, Ben Page, Jessica Sherman

What:
‘… Polly Peel (Act 1)’ explores a family grappling with death through the eyes and imagination of a biology-obsessed eleven-year-old girl. Originally inspired by acclaimed Canadian painter Paul Peel’s ‘The Young Biologist’, an early incarnation was presented in 2016 at the AGO as part of The Musical Stage Company’s ‘Reframed’.

Featuring a moving story, a funny and poignant musical score, and some of Canada’s top musical theatre talent, ‘… Polly Peel (Act 1)’ showcases a rare in-development look at a new Canadian musical. Frogs. Family. Forgiveness. RIBBIT!

Winner of the 2018 Paul O’Sullivan Prize for Musical Theatre.

Where:
TARRAGON THEATRE – MAINSPACE
30 Bridgman Ave
Toronto
Ontario
M5R 1X3

When:
7th July – 5:15pm
9th July – 1:00pm
10th July – 10:00pm
11th July – 7:00pm
13th July 3:30pm
15th July 5:15pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

 

 

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LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT: Authenticity, Why Site-Specific & Fine-Tuning – In Conversation with creator/performer James Smith & director Mitchell Cushman

Interview by Brittany Kay

Sitting down over coffee and grilled cheese, my conversation with James Smith and Mitchell Cushman was a true joy. We spoke about the intricacies of putting on a site-specific show, the authenticity you need in storytelling and the very personal world audiences are invited into in Lessons in Temperament.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about the show?

James Smith: For years now I’ve wanted to do something with some stories I have from growing up because I have three older brothers, all of whom have some kind of mental disability. Growing up, that was very normal for me because it was just my world. But something I’ve learned in the meantime is that I actually have a pretty unique insight into mental illness because of the way I was raised around it. So I thought it would be interesting to be able to offer that insight to people. I never knew how I wanted to frame that in a theatrical setting and then a couple of years ago I started tuning pianos and I was struck by the kind of imperfections of that process. Tuning is all about compromise and spreading out this dissatisfaction so it’s not noticeable in any particular spot of the piano. I thought that was a good metaphor to life, how minds work, and the way I was growing up trying to facilitate all these different relationships with my brothers and their minds. I thought maybe it would be interesting to do a show where I tune a piano and tell stories.

Outside the March is Mitchell Cushman’s company and they were doing something last year called Forward March, where you could submit show ideas anonymously and get some funding so I submitted this show idea. Then one day I got a call from Mitchell and he said, “Is this your anonymous submission about piano tuning?”

Mitchell Cushman: I mean the application was pretty specifically related to things I knew about James.

JS: I was like, “Yeah, nice guess.” He said, “We’re not going to fund you because I feel like this doesn’t need any money,” but he suggested we apply for SummerWorks.

MC: The nature of Forward March was to fund larger projects that would maybe develop over a couple of years and this felt like something that urgently could and needed to happen sooner. SummerWorks seemed like a really great foray for that. I’ve directed a couple of other shows at SummerWorks and at least one other site-specific show at this festival, so it seemed like a really good home.

BK: What can SummerWorks do for this show? Why this festival right now?

MC: The cool thing about SummerWorks, over the time that Michael Rubenfeld ran it, it’s sort of evolved from a theatre festival to a performance festival and has more connections to performance art or live art and multidisciplinary work. A lot of the unique things about this show, and while not being a musical, owes something to music, it’s very much steeped in storytelling, and it’s presented in a very non-traditional way. I think there’s a lot of audience at SummerWorks hungry for that.

BK: What was the process in creating this show?

JS: Well, I wrote for a while… a lot of different things – a series of short stories that didn’t really feel right for the show. I just spent a lot of time writing, trying to find the voice of the show and then we went into our first day of rehearsal and I had about 45 minutes of kind of written down spoken word. We went through that and we kind of found, through rehearsals, that the best approach seemed to be pretty sincere, honest storytelling as opposed to pre-written short story type snippets. We started honing in, right away at the beginning of rehearsals, a way to keep it really natural. We’ve written down very little since we started. We’ve mostly made cue cards of things and organized the stories into a structure that makes sense to us. It was less about writing and more about creating the flow of the story.

MC: We put tons of post-it notes on walls. James, if he wanted to, could create a four-hour show on the same subject.

JS: Yeah, our main problem is having way too much material.

BK: That is a beautiful problem to have. 

MC: There are so many memories and different aspects of James’ family or extended family that could be explored, so it’s been a process of trying to zero in on what fits with the tight focus of the piece.

BK: Why choose site-specific for this show? Why change locations for each performance? 

JS: You could feasibly do this show in a theatre with a piano on a stage, but I kind of wanted to keep the authenticity of actually tuning a piano, then leaving it tuned for a family to use, and then moving on to the next one. Throughout the run of the show, I feel like I’m making some tiny impact on the community in terms of leaving it slightly more in balance.

MC: If we did it in a theatre, every night we’d have to un-tune the piano.

JS: This feels more authentic.

MC: Especially now that we’ve been in all of the venues doing practices, I think it’s a very intimate show. I think that these locations will really support that intimacy because we are really in people’s private living spaces for very small groups of audience.

 

BK: How does the audience find out where they are going?

JS: It’s a secret because working with 8 different venues brings up a lot of logistical issues. People backing out or people wanting to change their capacity or their time or date, so if we had announced all of the locations right away, we would be constantly changing it and updating it.

MC: It also helps protect people’s privacy a little bit and all of their addresses.

JS: So 24 hours before each performance, Summerworks will email everyone who has bought a ticket letting them know where to go.

MC: They’re all in the general vicinity of SummerWorks, between the Queen and Dufferin area.

BK: Building from that, how does being at these unique different locations heighten the experience for your audience coming to see the show? What does it do for them?

JS: I think it sets up just a different experience for them right away in terms of going to theatre. I think it’s stretching the idea of what theatre is and what it can do.

MC: The show is really based in reality. I mean, James is telling a series of stories, all of which happened. I think by walking into someone’s house and having a real piano that actually needs to be tuned just supports the reality of the piece. Early on James was asking me if anyone else could perform this show and I don’t really think so partially because you’d need James’ skill set of being a performer and also being able to tune pianos. Even if someone could, I think it would be strange because it’s based so much on James’ personal experience.

BK: Let’s talk about site-specific and immersive theatre. What do they mean to both of you in terms of this show and more broadly speaking?

MC: I was actually thinking about this last night because I was writing an e-blast for this show. I was thinking about if this is a site-specific piece or immersive. I described it as a site-specific show. To me, I guess, it’s definitely site-specific in the sense that the location we’re performing in is going to radically inform what the piece is and we’re going to do this show 8 different times in 8 different spaces and it’s going to be 8 different shows. It would be a very different show if we did it in a traditional theatre. I think it would be a less activated experience. If we did it in a traditional theatre, I don’t think the space would have as much of a role on this show as it will when we perform it.

I guess when I think about immersive theatre, I think about the audience taking on a little bit more of an active experience, not necessarily physically active. That wouldn’t be the first word I would use for this show, but you could probably make arguments about parts of it being immersive too. I don’t know, what do you think James?

JS: I agree with what you said. The idea of immersive or site-specific theatre didn’t really exist until I met Mitchell. I had only done more standard types of theatre. Mitchell and Julie Tepperman asked me to do Brantwood at Sheridan, which was my first experience with immersive theatre.

MC: James was the musical director for the show, which was a monster task.

JS: After that, Mitchell hired me to do Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play as well, which was site-specific in a way.

MC: That was a show that was probably on the borderline of immersive. I think there we really took over a space and radically transformed it. We did it in an old adult movie theatre in the east end. We really tried to transform what that space was to make it look post-apocalyptic and make the audience really feel like they were taking shelter in that place to weather out the apocalypse. We did that show without using the grid electricity and so that added to what made it immersive.

There’s sort-of set criteria to what people expect a theatrical experience to be and it’s trying to challenge some of those pre-conceptions. One of the cool things on that show, because we didn’t have any electricity, the sound design became really interesting. James held the major part in it – he was like a foley artist. He was popping balloons to signify gunshots. He worked in collaboration with Samuel Sholdice who did the sound design. We needed the sound of crickets in the first act and so, without electric sound, we got real crickets in cages living in the ceiling. We made jokes like “Can we hear that at 50%?”

temperament-photo-2

BK: That is amazing. What are the challenges, not only with Lessons in Temperament but with site-specific as a genre of theatre?

JS: Well, for this show I thought it would be a lot easier but because I’m inexperienced, I quickly learned that…

MC: Everything’s more complicated.

JS: I didn’t plan on having a producer. I thought this would be a small thing that I could handle on my own. Handling the logistics of the spaces was the hardest part because you have to think about audience capacity and whether or not we can hang lights. It became this kind of never-ending and always-expanding list of things that had to be done that a producer would normally do.

BK: Cue Sarite Harris.

JS: Exactly. I was trying to write the show and I found the only thing I was doing was writing emails.

MC: Even if you’re trying to do a piece and take it outside of a theatre, what you’re actually doing is trying to create a theatre inside of a space that isn’t a theatre. There are certain things like tech, seating capacity, audience comfort, and health and safety that are givens in a theatre… you don’t have to deal with that. When you go into a space that isn’t a theatre, your work has to start so much earlier in terms of figuring out things auxiliary to the actual presentation. In this case, when you’re in different locations every night, that’s just doing that work over again, all the time. Site-specific is very time consuming.

BK: Where did these sites come from?

JS: One we got off of Bunz Trading Zone on Facebook. A couple of friends and friends of friends gave us places.

BK: What about your working relationship with each other? How have you collaborated and worked together? 

MC: It’s horrible…

(they laugh)

JS: I really couldn’t have done this without Mitchell. He’s working, not just as the director, but as the developer of the piece, as well. He’s helped me organize my thoughts and my stories into something that is theatrically effective. I think, without him there with all of this info inside of his head, I would have never gotten past the stage of confused writing. I really needed him to kind-of put this into a world that would actually serve an audience properly. Mitchell is really smart and knows what’s good, so I can know that and trust him.

MC: I do know very little about music and music theory. I’ve been the ground zero test case for the most musically ignorant audience member. I can hear things better than I can two weeks ago! I’ve never had the opportunity to work on a show like this. I’ve been doing more new work development in the last couple of years and worked on a couple of solo shows, which is always interesting. You’re sort of getting a window into their brain. Given the subject matter and how this show is based so much around James’ memories and experiences, I’m just really… I’m thankful to be working on it. James has taken me and the other members of the core creative team into a very personal bubble, where the work has been living. One of the things I love about directing, and I don’t come from a performance background, is that you get to work with people and help them do something that you could never do and that’s tenfold on this experience. James has such a unique range of skills that are so far outside of what I would ever be able to do. It’s so fascinating to collaborate with him.

BK: That was a really nice answer guys. 

MC: We practiced outside.

JS: We’re going to hug later.

MC: I think we both came into this with a notion to fly by the seat of our pants. I think the show will continually evolve until our closing night. We have the freedom to do that. SummerWorks is a great place for experimentation. I think if either of us were too stressed about it being perfect right now, it would be less of a productive working relationship.

BK: What about the rest of your team?

JS: Nevada Lindsay Banks, our assistant director, has been so helpful. Just to have someone else in the room, who has this information in their head has been really great. She’s been there since the beginning kind-of helping as we’ve organized this piece. She’s always able and willing to chime in with something I’ve forgotten or Mitchell has overlooked. Just to have that third eye, kind-of taking care of things has been so beneficial.

MC: Nevada was one of the performers in Brantwood. She’s got really great instincts and also comes from a musical background. It’s helpful to have her to work with. Nick Blais is doing the design.

JS: He’s brilliant, I can’t believe he’s doing the show. He’s so good and so committed to it and he’s coming to all of these site visits and putting so much time into it. He’s so excited about it and I respect him so much as an artist. I feel so lucky.

MC: We’ve done a lot of site-specific stuff together and he’s one of the Outside of the March resident designers. He’s just got an amazing balance of a really creative mind and a really practical mind and you need that when doing these kinds of shows. He’s a truly unique talented dude who can kind of do it all. Kate Sandeson is our stage manager and we’ve both worked with her before. She can really work in non-traditional environments. Her calling the show will be moving dimmers connected to her binder while she’s sitting behind the piano with earplugs. She’s going to have a unique experience in every venue.

BK: What do you want audiences to walk away with at the end of this piece?

JS: I want people to feel like they’ve gained some insight into mental illness that is not textbook information or information a psychiatrist would give them. I want to offer a perspective that is very normalized and simple and understanding.

MC: There is a beautiful metaphor that James has created in this show. The show will start with him taking out a screwdriver and opening up these pianos. You get to see the piano exposed and the inner workings of it. Over the course of the show, you learn about what makes a piano work and how to keep it in tune. It’s something that most people don’t know about, but it’s an incredibly intricate process and it’s fascinating how this thing works and what gets in the way of it working. I think that’s a great metaphor for what goes on inside our brains and how many things in the world that we sort of interact with and accept, without really knowing what the underpinnings are. Beyond pianos, it makes me think about that.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite Movie
MC:
The Big Lebowski
JS: Sandlot

Favourite Play
MC:
King Lear.
JS: The Seagull.

Favourite Musical
MC:
Hamilton but really Into the Woods.
JS: Sweeney Todd.

Favourite Food
MC:
The grilled cheese I just ate.
JS: Cherry cheesecake my mom makes.

Favourite Spot in Toronto
MC:
Trinity Bellwoods Park.
JS: Skyline Diner.

What music are you currently listening to?
MC:
The cast recording to Hamilton.
JS: Joel Plaskett Ladida

Advice you live by?
MC:
Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing, try to do the thing only you can do.
JS: Don’t ever argue with an idiot, they’ll drag you down to their level and defeat you with experience.

Lessons in Temperament

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Who:
TuneSmith Productions
Written and Performed by James Smith; Directed and Developed by Mitchell Cushman; Sound Design by James Smith; Production Design by Nick Blais; Stage Management by Kate Sandeson; Assistant Directed by Nevada Banks; Produced by Sarite Harris, James Smith, and Mitchell Cushman.

What:
Every piano is unique in its imperfection — in its flawed relationship to the sonic world. It’s impossible to perfectly tune a piano, so the job of a piano tuner is to tame this imperfection into an even balance, an even spread of dissatisfaction. This balance is known as Equal Temperament: a game of constant compromise and a lesson in disappointment.

Every mind is unique in its imperfection. In Lessons In Temperament, James Smith tunes pianos in various public and private spaces throughout Toronto while exploring theories behind Equal Temperament as well as his three older brothers’ mental illnesses: obsessive compulsive disorder, autism, and schizophrenia. Smith attempts to grant balance to the instrument that has, throughout his life, kept him grounded and kept him company, while reflecting on the discord that runs through his family. Each performance takes place in a different venue, gathered around a different piano. Part autobiographical story-telling, part performance art, part tune-up, this site-specific show offers a unique theatrical experience, and a singular glimpse into the lives of those living with troubled, beautiful, distempered minds.

Because our venues are site specific, we want to give you our patrons as much prior knowledge as possible. For allergy purposes, the performances on August 10th, 12th, and 14th have dogs as well as one cat on the 10th. Please note that the pets will not be at the performances.

Curator’s Note
“‘This working-through of the resistances may in practice turn out to be an arduous task ….’
– Freud

It’s a lovely performance metaphor: the tuning of pianos, the tuning of our hearts and minds, our lives. It’s might be a Sisyphean task but: ‘the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill one’s heart’. (Camus)” – Guillermo Verdecchia

Where:
Secret Location

When:
Wednesday August 10th 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
Friday August 12th 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
Sunday August 14th 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM

More Show Info:
summerworks.ca/lessons-in-temperament/

Tickets:
Sold out in advance but limited tickets at the door.

Connect: 
twitter – @tunesmithprod
instagram – @tunesmithproductions

 

“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/