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Posts tagged ‘Justin Haigh’

Embracing the Fast & Funny in the Site-Specific Fringe Show “Behold, the Barfly” – In Conversation with Justin Haigh

In the Greenroom’s Madryn McCabe sat down with Justin Haigh, writer, director and co-producer of Behold, the Barfly! playing at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival, to chat about the thrill behind how the show came together, working with a killer team, and the challenges and joys of working in a site-specific venue.

MMC: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the show?

JH: 

Behold, the Barfly! is a surreal and cerebral sketch comedy revue set in the subconscious mind of a slumbering barfly. It’s got traditional sketches, some rather dark humour (bring the kids!), some theatre of the mind, a couple of musical numbers, a Christmas pageant that is just plain ridiculous, and a loose through-line that I won’t spoil here but that I hope will add just a smidge of genuine emotion to counterbalance the sheer silliness of it all.

MMC: I’ve read that you were asked to do a site-specific show after one had dropped out. What was it like putting together a show in only two months?



JH: I got an email at the end of March (I guess that actually makes it three months from email to opening night… but still, a timeline of madness) informing me that another site-specific show had dropped out and I was next on the waiting list, and did I want to take their place? Having no script, no plan, no venue, no cast, no creative team, and no budget, I was hesitant for obvious reasons, but Sarah [Thorpe – assistant director/co-producer/actor] said, “If you don’t do it, you’ll probably regret it.” I realized she was right. The Fringe is probably the most affordable way of independently producing a show in Toronto with the bonus of having a built-in enthusiastic audience willing to take a chance on just about anything. I’ve always loved sketch comedy and had always wanted to give writing it a shot, so I figured this was the universe telling me to shit or get off the pot.

It’s been pretty non-stop ever since then. I’ve found the biggest challenge (other than the lack of sleep and absence of free time) was to have to put a lot of pieces together simultaneously that would normally be done sequentially. I was writing the script at the same time as securing a venue, working on graphics, approaching potential cast members – I even had to come up with a description for the show for the Fringe program when I didn’t even have the thing written.

Needless to say it’s been an incredibly stressful yet productive two and a half months, and we will see what audiences have to say, but I’m quite proud of what we have managed to accomplish in so little time.

Photo Credit:

Photo by Laura Dittmann

MMC: You’ve got a great cast, full of popular indie theatre actors. How did you put this cast together?

JH: 

Your question makes it sound like I put together the A-Team – which in some ways is accurate. We’ve got performers Jeff Hanson and Sarah Thorpe, who are well-known in the indie scene; Eric Miinch, Ned Petrie, Marsha Mason, and Steve Hobbs, who are known within the sketch and comedy community; Elizabeth Anacleto is a respected figure in the clown community; and Kevin MacPherson is a classically trained actor who has made his mark in the east coast Shakespeare scene. It’s a bit of a Swiss Army Knife of a cast in that sense, which I love because everyone brings something a little different to the table and makes for a more interesting production over all.

As for how we assembled it, I was already friends with half the cast, so call that the benefit of having a social circle filled with talented individuals. It wasn’t really a question of if we wanted to work with them, but just what parts they’d be good for. The other half were either actors that I or Sarah saw perform somewhere at some point and we made a note of their talent and that we should keep them in mind for future projects (that’s how we got in touch with Kevin and Marsha who I think were both kind of surprised to get messages out of the blue from someone they’d never met), or actors who were recommended to us, like Steve.

MMC: How do you find doing a site-specific show different from a more traditional theatrical venue?

JH: 

The biggest difference is the lack of tech – you are very much dependent on the concept, writing, and performance to get the idea across. In some ways this is a limitation, but I think it enhances the immediacy of the work. The less artifice on stage, the closer to a shared reality you are with the audience. There is also that magical element of seeing a room or space unexpectedly brought to life by performance; theatre in a theatre leaves no room for surprise or spontaneity, but theatre in a non-theatre setting still feels fun and oddly risqué.

Behold, the Barfly! 4 (Credit - Laura Dittmann)

MMC: You’re known for the cabarets Love is a Poverty You Can Sell 1&2. What can your audience expect from Behold the Barfly! that is similar? Or what sets this show apart from your others?

JH: Like LIAPYCS 1 & 2Behold, The Barfly! is set in a licensed establishment so one can expect the mood to be a bit more relaxed and a little more festive. We hope to give audience members more time than at a traditional venue to settle in, enjoy the atmosphere, grab a drink… maybe chat with some of the characters who will be floating around. I think the joyous atmosphere of the LIAPYCS shows and this one is the greatest common factor. I hope audiences will find the work to be intelligent but not labourious; the world is an increasingly dark and nutty place – I hope we can offer respite from it, even if it is only for 75 minutes.

What sets it apart is the fact that as a format and genre, this is totally unlike many of our past works which include Antigone and No Exit – Greek tragedy and existential drama this ain’t.

Behold, the Barfly!

Presented by Spoon VS Hammer as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

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Behold, the Barfly! 1 (Credit - Laura Dittmann)

Photo by Laura Dittmann

Who:
Written By: Justin Haigh
Company: Spoon vs. Hammer
Company origin: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Cast: The Spoon Vs. Hammer Players

What:
From the writer of the smash hit ‘Love is a Poverty You Can Sell’ (★★★★★ / NNNNN) comes a surreal and cerebral sketch spectacular featuring some of Toronto’s finest comedy talent! Peer into the pickled subconscious of a slumbering barfly and behold the wonders within: Mirth! Adventure! Mediocre Poetry! Sober contemplation of life choices! Dinosaurs?

When:
June 29-July 3 & July 5-10 @ 7pm; plus July 9 @ 3pm
12 Performances!

Where:
Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street, Toronto



Tickets:

$12, here: http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/tickets-and-passes/



Connect:
Web: www.SpoonVsHammer.com
Facebook: SpoonVsHammer
Twitter: @SpoonVsHammer
Instagram: @SpoonVsHammer
#BeholdTheBarfly

WARNINGS: Strobe Light, Nudity, Sexual Content, Mature Language

Legends, Myths and Remounts: In Conversation with Sarah Thorpe – Writer, Co-Director & Solo actor of Soup Can Theatre’s “Heretic”

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I sat down with Sarah Thorpe, writer, co-director and solo actor of Heretic, to talk about legends, myths, and doing it all over again. 

Madryn McCabe: Tell me a bit about Heretic?

Sarah Thorpe: Heretic is essentially Joan of Arc in this afterlife space, looking back on her life and the decisions she made, and questioning whether it was worth it in the end. Should she have made the decisions that she did? I wanted to frame it in that way because, obviously, Joan was killed when she was nineteen because of what she did, so every account of her story is from someone else’s perspective, someone else’s opinion… so with some artistic license, it’s her side of the story – what she was feeling, thinking, going through… I wanted to present her in a way that takes down the saintly persona that surrounds her. She’s always depicted that way in plays and in literature, and I just thought that I wanted to explore her as a regular, vulnerable human being.

MM: What inspired Heretic? Where did the idea come from?

ST: It came from a monologue from Shaw’s Saint Joan that I had done for auditions before, and I found that it really hit an emotional note with me. I thought it would be interesting to explore this emotional connection further, and explore this person. I realized that I had all these questions… What was she thinking before her execution? What was she thinking when she stepped onto the battlefield for the first time? What was going through her mind? Was she terrified? Or thinking ‘No, I’ve got this!’

MM: How much research did you have to do into Joan’s life?

ST: A fair amount of research, but I’ve certainly taken a lot of artistic license as well. Not much of Joan is known before she joined the French army and started fighting in the 100 Years War.

MM: We seem to only know about Joan of Arc the Warrior, who heard voices from God, and only just the very brief period of time when she was fighting in the war.

ST: Right! So, we know about that, and we know that she was captured and executed. But, not a whole lot is known about her life before that. We do touch on that and how she was living this life on a farm with her parents and had a simple, medieval farming existence. The 100 Years War started in the 1330s, so she was born into a period of war going on around her, born into this environment where that was sort of what they were used to. It had gone on for so long. How I interpreted the aspect of her hearing voices was her wanting so much to say ‘No, we shouldn’t put up with this. This isn’t right. We’re being occupied, and it shouldn’t be an English king on the throne. We should do something about it.’

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

MM: Do you have a writing partner, or did you tackle this story on your own?

ST: I wrote it on my own. Justin Haigh did the dramaturgy on this remount. I re-wrote the script from the original version that we did in April.

MM: I was just about to ask, how much of an overhaul has this version gotten? Is there a lot of new stuff going on? What might bring people back who have already seen it?

ST: It’s not a huge overhaul. Some scenes were rewritten, some scenes were cut completely. In doing the remount, I thought that I could write some stuff better, and go into more depth of what I could interpret into what she was thinking and feeling and going through. So, for people who saw the April production and want to come back, I would say that there’s more emotional depth, and a bit more action. It also looks completely different. We have a whole new design team. The look of the show is totally different, yet still keeps with my vision. The way I always pictured it was people coming into a space resembling a medieval tomb. It’s kept with that same idea, but in a totally different way.

MM: Did you find that things changed much in the rehearsal room as well?

ST: Rehearsal was, again, a bit different. We have the same stage manager as last year, which is great. Directing-wise-Matt Bernard directed the April production, and this time around Scott Dermody and I are co-directing. Matt and Scott have different directing styles, so it’s been different rehearsing just because of the different approaches. I feel like I’m working harder this time around! It’s not that I wasn’t into it the first time around, and I don’t know how or why, but I feel extra committed now.

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

MM: Do you find that you can easily separate all your roles as writer, director, actor, or does each one influence what the other does?

ST: I’ve gotten better at knowing when to turn off the producer brain and turn on the actor brain, or the writer brain. Certainly when I was doing the rewrites, it was really just writer brain. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. But once we started rehearsals and looked at the script from an acting perspective, I’d sometimes think ‘Why the hell would I write something that way? What was I thinking?!’ I’ve gotten better at differentiating, and what helps me is making that bit of time to focus on the different things. I have to write a little schedule… so it’s 12-1 I’ll run lines, 1-2 I’ll do a bunch of social media and post things, then I’ll look at the design that’s just been sent, and look from that perspective. And luckily, I’m sharing the directing responsibilities. I wanted to have a hand in the directing this time, as well, to have a say in the design concept but Scott really is the eyes that are making sure I’m delivering a good performance.

MM: Do you prefer this avenue of creating your own show and having so much say in the producing versus the more traditional auditioning for another company and being directed in a specific part?

ST: As an actor, this is the first time I’ve done anything like this. I hadn’t written anything outside of theatre school. I have to say that it’s really satisfying to create my own work from the ground up. As an artist, overall I’ve really enjoyed that process. I do also enjoy the more traditional process, though. There are some scripts that I’d love to tackle as a director too.

MM: What do you want people to know coming into the show?

ST: What I find exciting and compelling is that we’re introducing people to a person who is always portrayed as higher than other humans. She’s a saint, she’s holy, she’s perfect, a saviour. I find her way more interesting when we see that she screwed up sometimes and made mistakes and bad decisions and maybe she shouldn’t have done some of what she did. I find her, and I hope everyone else does, compelling to see as a vulnerable, flawed being just trying to do what she feels is right.

Heretic

Presented by Soup Can Theatre

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

Photo of Sarah Thorpe by Justin Haigh

Written and Performed by Sarah Thorpe
Co-Directed by Sarah Thorpe & Scott Dermody
Scenography – Alyksandra Ackerman
Lighting Designer – Randy Lee
Sound Designer/Production Manager – Wesley McKenzie
Dramaturge – Justin Haigh
Stage Manager – Kathleen Hemsworth

When: November 11 – 22, 2015

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave.

Tickets: $15-22, online: soupcantheatre.com phone: 416-504-7529, in person: 16 Ryerson Ave.

Connect: 

Soup Can Theatre: @SoupCanTheatre

Sarah Thorpe: @thorpe_s

In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_

Madryn McCabe: @FuriousMAD