Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Kat Sandler’

In Conversation with artist Tom McGee on Being a Dramaturge, Collaborating with Kat Sandler and Embracing His Own Style as Playwright & Director with FEATHERWEIGHT at the Fringe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Tom McGee is a story nerd, with a resume to prove it.

Behind every hit Theatre Brouhaha show has been McGee, working as the diligent dramaturge alongside playwright Kat Sandler. He has been there helping her craft the hilarious, dark and punchy scripts we’ve all come to expect from this ambitious company.

With their newest production, Featherweight, McGee is swapping places with Sandler. While McGee steps into the roles of writer and director, Sandler is working as both producer and dramaturge.

Featherweight is a dark comedy that promises to be as relevant as your Facebook feed and to prompt your most heated post-show debates (did you see Bang Bang?), remaining faithful to the Brouhaha mandate of creating theatre for the Netflix generation.

Brouhaha’s fast-paced shows speak to what is in the zeitgeist; this is a company that understands it is competing not only with other theatre but with all digital content. And the company has a creative process that moves as quick as their dialogue. In this age of content, it’s important to McGee that each show gets put on stage quickly, while the story is still topical. Rather than two years of development, a Brouhaha show gets more like two months (the script will get a little longer). Concerning the longevity of this style of theatre, McGee believes that it’s the memory of the play and the experience of the audience that matters more than it’s potential success in the unlikely event of a remount. Plus, at the rate Sandler and McGee can whip up a script, McGee would sooner come up with a new show that can speak to what is happening in the current moment anyway.

I got to speak with Tom to get his thoughts on the struggles of dramaturgy and learning to embrace his own writing style.


On Working with Brouhaha and Kat Sandler

Tom McGee: I’ve worked in some capacity on all of Kat’s scripts, with the exception of her long-forgotten piece Dirty Girls, which she did in the Fringe. Even Mustard and Bang Bang; I was a consulting dramaturge on both of those. Often Kat will hire me on the side because Factory and Tarragon will have their own dramaturges (who are excellent) but I’ve been working with Kat so long that our short-hand is so good. She can basically call me up and be like, “You know that thing I’m always worried about? This scene.” And I’ll be like, “Oh ya, I see what you’re talking about – how about this, this, this, and this?” And she’ll be like, “Great! Thank you! I needed that.”

As a Dramaturge, If You’re Doing Your Job Right, You’re Invisible

TM: Tom Arthur Davis, one of the guys who runs Pandemic Theatre, wrote a really interesting piece around the Dora Awards about depression and dramaturgy, “Being Nominated For An Award Made Me Suicidal,” and it’s pretty intense, but he touches on something about dramaturgy that I’ve certainly struggled with. It’s the same thing that a good editor will encounter on a film or in a novel which is; the job is to make the writer’s work as good as the writer’s work can be, and there isn’t a ton of credit in that. Aside from the writer’s indulgence at the end of the novel, that everyone usually skips, where the writer will say, “Oh my god, I can’t fucking describe how much I need my editor”, and everyone goes, “I don’t know who that is but I loved your book!”

Dramaturgy can often be that way and I struggled with that for a long time.

Kat and I are very dear friends, and she’s always been very appreciative of what I’ve done, but the first Brouhaha show we did was very, very tough.

I was producing it, and I dramaturged it, and I was a ghost. At the time I was hell-bent on being an actor, and I just helped make this company, and my name was all over the show, but I felt completely invisible. And it was really hard.

For me what ended up really helping was getting an art therapist. What I’ve been working on with her, which has been tremendously helpful, is unpacking those feelings of invisibility and how to accept personal credit when there isn’t necessarily big, flashy, showy credit. It’s definitely a struggle. Every part of the arts comes with a cost and I think this is the big one for dramaturgy.

Tom Arthur Davis summed it up in his piece, something along the lines of, your job is basically to facilitate other people’s brilliance… and that’s cool, and there’s huge satisfaction in that. Like when I can make one of Kat’s pieces click, which is what we call it: the click. It’s that moment where she’ll be like, “Great, got it, thanks,” and then she hangs up and goes and punches out like a billion pages. That feels tremendously satisfying.

Photo Credit: John Gundy. Michael Musi as Jeff in FEATHERWEIGHT

On Swapping Roles With Sandler

TM: Honestly, we’re both nerds for story so this is has always been both a job and a hobby for us. The number of times that we’re like, “Okay, we’re both really stressed. Let’s just go out and get a drink and not talk about this,” and then, of course, we end up talking about it because it’s fun!

Early on the struggle that Kat was having working as my dramaturge was she’d say, “I’m always going to try to make your script more like my scripts.” And in my head, I’m thinking Thats fucking great, your scripts are great. Let’s do that! So we had a few, not necessarily growing pains, but I had to adjust to being a little more assertive about my style and what I actually liked about my script.

I had a reading of what was supposed to be the production Featherweight script, right before we were about to go into rehearsals and it was rough. A lot of the criticisms, all fair, where people were kind of being like, “Is this what you were trying to say?” and, no one had said it outright, but it was a lot of that classic, “It’s very interesting” and I was like, “Oh shit, no one likes this…”

So I’m on the subway on the way home and Megan Miles, my wife, was like, “Do you even like this play anymore”? And I was like, “No, actually… I fucking hate it.”

I was writing some short story at the same time that was just completely bonkers and I was like, “I like this short story! It’s fun. But this play is so weighed down, and I don’t know what to do… blah blah blah.” Just admitting that got me thinking that I needed to re-write it the way I would like it to be, and suddenly it all just clicked into place! What is funny is this draft of Featherweight that’s onstage now is actually closer to the very first draft I wrote. It’s come completely full circle. Even though the characters are different, and their arguments are different, and what’s going on is kind of different, it feels more like the original because that’s when I was expressing the style I actually wanted.

Because I look up to Kat and I like Kat’s style so much I took every note as gospel. You know, my style is strange, and Kat and I have a similar tone but a different style, so I had to kind of grab hold of my own style harder for this show. Which she, again, had been advocating for the whole damn time, but just not necessarily in terms I was understanding.

Photo Credit: John Gundy
L-R: Kat Letwin as Thoth, Michael Musi as Jeff, Amanda Cordner as Anubis in FEATHERWEIGHT

A Very Brouhaha Directing Process

TM: We always work our stuff on its feet and what is on stage is wildly different than what I went in with on the first day of rehearsal. We’ve cut a bunch, we’ve changed some things, we’ve tailored it to the performers, but I’ve never run that process. I’ve always dramaturged that process, Kat’s always been the leader of that. So at first, I wasn’t sure if I could do that myself. But despite how different I am as a director and a writer, ultimately the rehearsal style ended up still being a very Brouhaha process.

That Brouhaha Style 

TM: What’s been really nice is that even just from the reviews no one has been like, “Oh this is really different from a normal Brouhaha show.” Everyone’s just taking it as a Brouhaha show, which means a lot to me. It has been many, many years, and it’s very nice to put my name and style to one of these things and have audiences respond to it in a way that I would hope for. I’ve been thinking about these audiences for a long time.

Making the Job Work for You

For me, the solution was to find ways to keep working on my own style to fill in the gaps. In this case, it was writing short stories and basically just doing things that, even if they don’t really have wide reach, they fill that need for me to be creating and developing my own voice.

I love dramaturgy. I don’t think I could make it my only output, but that’s also just me. I’ve got a really restless brain and on the one hand that’s great for dramaturgy because I always like to be chewing on something, but if I’m only chewing on other people’s stuff I tend to get restless, so it works as long as I have multiple things to sink my teeth into.

Featherweight

Who:
Director – Tom McGee
Cast – Amanda Cordner as ANUBIS
Michael Musi as JEFF
with Kat Letwin as EVERYONE ELSE
and Ammit as THE DEVOURER OF HEARTS
Producers – Kat Sandler, Tom McGee

What:
Upon dying, Jeff awakes in a bar full of ancient gods that will weigh his browser history against a feather to determine if he was a good person… or face damnation. Equal parts ‘American Gods’ and ‘Twelve Angry Men,’ FEATHERWEIGHT asks: what effect does our online life have on others? Will Jeff’s browser history damn him? Would it damn you? From the minds behind BRIGHT LIGHTS (NNNNN) and SHAKEY-SHAKE AND FRIENDS (NNNNN)

Where:
THE PADDOCK TAVERN
178 Bathurst Street
Toronto
Ontario

When:
12th July – 8:00pm
13th July – 8:00pm
14th July – 8:00pm
15th July – 8:00pm

Tickets:
Featherweight is SOLD OUT online but you can always show up early at the venue and try your luck at the door!

 

Photo of Tom McGee by James McKay

In Conversation with playwright/director Kat Sandler and dramaturge Donna-Michelle St. Bernard on BANG BANG at Factory Theatre

Interview by Bailey Green.

We caught up with BANG BANG playwright/director Kat Sandler and dramaturge Donna-Michelle St. Bernard to discuss exploring collaboration, the stories we tell, and how sometimes it’s easy to ask but not as easy to listen.

BG: Kat, your new piece Bang Bang was commissioned by Factory Theatre. When did you start writing it and what initially inspired the piece?

Kat Sandler: Well, I had written a little bit of it at the Stratford writers retreat. When I met with Matt McGeachy and Nina Lee Aquino, they were interested in it, and decided to commission it for Factory. The show is inspired by the debate around racism, excessive force and shooting deaths by the police. And, of course, true stories and how we as artists tell those stories.

BG: How did Donna-Michelle St. Bernard come onboard? What were your initial reactions to the script Donna-Michelle?

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard: It was the summer of 2017 when we had a conversation about the play. We talked about her impetus before I looked at the script and our relative experience around the themes. When I saw the script I was surprised! I didn’t think you could do jokes with a story like this.

KS: I think there was a meeting before too! When I met with Matt and Nina, Matt said you need to meet Donna-Michelle and ask her questions. We had a beer at Tequila Bookworm and I’d like to think we hit it off! Didn’t we?

DM: We did but, at that time, I wasn’t sure if we were going to [get the chance to] work together.

BANG BANG – Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: What has challenged you the most in the writing of this play?

KS: It’s challenging to have your perspective shaken, to listen, and ask questions, and take constructive criticism, especially when it’s something outside your experience and a topic is controversial. There isn’t a correct way to write about it.

DM: And the other side of that is when you’re trying to bridge two diverse experiences. What can be assumed and what cannot be assumed and how to articulate that space between experiences.

BANG BANG – Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: Were there characters you were developing whose voices you found more challenging to find?

KS: Well, the white writer is an experience I have and I can find places for humour and truth to make him multi-dimensional. And of course, the black characters have lives I have not lived.

DM: In working in the room that Kat assembled, what you get reinforced is there is no singularity of experience. The presence of Kat doesn’t represent all white writers and my presence doesn’t represent all black perspectives. And we have gender perspectives, generational perspectives and cultural perspectives that broaden out the characters as individuals.

KS: And then the actors have agency over the things they say and where they stand. They will go deeper in the psyches than I ever will.

BG: Did you have a piece of advice that resonated with you or helped unlock something in the piece?

KS: I don’t know. I think there’s been a lot of talk about asking the questions and listening to the answers. It’s easy to ask but not easy to listen.

BG: What do you hope your audiences walk away with?

KS: I think we’ve tried to create a challenging play that shows multiple perspectives and that is entertaining!

BANG BANG – Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: How was this new territory for you both, Donna-Michelle you’ve just come from Cake and Kat you’ve written about so many different topics, what was unique about this process?

KS: I have had a lot longer to sit with the ideas from years ago, and then the actual process of finishing the script, which was a full year. I want to defer more to other voices in the room… not feeling like I need to but wanting to. And having an institution like Factory behind you in this place of risk as a writer and director, it’s been nice for my process where those two things are very deeply combined.

DM: This is my first experience of production dramaturgy. I had a lot of guidance in terms of the parameters in this unique kind of work, and I’ve had an unexpected amount of voice in this process. I feel more embedded in this than I expected. The process has been surprisingly unsurprising in the things we have had to do with all of our stories—the amount of care and the immediacy of consequences needed.

BG: Any shows or creators you would like to shout out?

DM: Forbidden, which is a commissioned work for Tapestry Opera where I’m working with composer Afarin Mansouri. It’s an experiment with Persian music and opera and hip hop that runs February 8-11.

KS: I’m a big fan of Jordan Tannahill, so Declarations at Canadian Stage.

DM & KS: And Acha Bacha!

BANG BANG

Who:
A Factory Commissioned World Premiere
Written and Directed by Kat Sandler
Performed by Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah,
Karen Robinson, Richard Zeppieri
Set design by Nick Blais
Costume design by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Lighting design by Oz Weaver
Sound design by Verne Good
Dramaturgy by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard

What:
A white playwright uses the shooting of an unarmed young Black man by a police officer as a “jumping off point” for his hit play that is soon to be adapted into a major movie. As Hollywood comes knocking for the writer, he makes a surprise visit to the home of the officer involved. With Sandler’s trademark wit, BANG BANG traces the impact of what it means to be inspired by true events.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst St. Toronto

When:
February 1-18, 2018

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

Connect:
Kat Sandler: @katsandler
Donna-Michelle St. Bernard: @BelladonnaNHP
Factory Theatre:
t: @FactoryToronto
fb: /FactoryTheatreTO 
#ftBANGBANG

Keeping Up With Kat – Artist Profile: Kat Sandler on her Dora Award Nominated “Mustard” & Upcoming Fringe Show “Bright Lights” (and pretty much #killingit in the Toronto Theatre scene)

Interview by Brittany Kay

What a true honor it was to sit down for a coffee with fast-paced, keeps-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, sassy and fierce Kat Sandler. We spoke about her 7 Dora nominations for Mustard, her upcoming Toronto Fringe show Bright Lights, and the inspiration you can find from your everyday.

Brittany Kay: I had the best time seeing Mustard.

Kat Sandler: Thanks dude. Yeah, it was the loveliest process. We really felt like a family.

BK: And you could definitely see that on stage.

KS: Thank you.

BK: What has been your journey getting to where you are now?

KS: Total journey? From the beginning? I started as an 8-year-old organizing my cousins into plays at the cottage and like a little tyrant, I would force the girls to be boys and vice versa and all of my family to kiss each other. It went really well. They got really good reviews from my extended family, who were probably drunk, let’s be honest.

BK: Amazing.

KS: Then I went to a super academic high school, UTS, where they didn’t really have a drama program. We did get to do the Sears Drama Festival… Man, the people at that school were fucking smart. They kind of ruined me for regular people. The world mathlete winner was in that class. They’ve gone on to be crazy politicians. Our final grade 12 projects were like, make a rocket or a robot that will cure cancer and I was like, “I’d like to write, direct, produce, and star in a play.” Everyone was like, “A play? Why?” We rented out what was once called the Pour Alex, which is now Poutineville. It was a dilapidated old tiny theatre that we were way overcharged for probably because we went in and were like,“We have this money from our parents, maybe can we have this?” And they were like, “Yes, that will be $2000 a week,” and we were like, “Yes, that’s totally fair. Here’s our money.” We rented it for three days and it sold out and I was like, “Yes, now I’m a theatre wizard and I will go to Queens, I guess, and be a star.”

I thought I really wanted to act. I always wrote. I wrote fiction and short stories. I think I wrote one movie in grade 6 and one play that we did as a reading and I thought I was hot shit. (laughs)

When I went to Queens, I mostly acted and directed. The cool thing about Queens is that you kind of make your own program. It’s not a conservatory program so you can pick and choose the classes that you think will build you as an artist in the way that you want, if you want to be an artist. Then I had my own shitty company there, called 9 Lives, which I thought was so clever because my name is Kat. No one will ever come up with a better company name than 9 lives. (laughs) That was another one where they were like you have to do a directing scene for your final project and I was like, “Cool, can we just rent a theatre and I’ll do a full-on production of The Goat, or who is Sylvia? And then I graduated and I was like, “Fuck that, I’m going to be an actor. I think I want to be really famous and be an actor.” And then, basically, I didn’t do that great of a job at that. I worked a lot with Theatre Gargantua who I think are really amazing, which is crazy because I had no business doing physical theatre at all. I can move and I can sing so I think I just duped them for 4 years.

BK: How did Theatre Brouhaha come to be?

KS: In that after school time period, my really close friend Tom McGee (we were valedictorians together at Queens), and I spent a lot of time going to theatre. We thought it was great but it wasn’t really geared at our generation and yet at the same time, people keep saying, “Oh your generation doesn’t see enough theatre and that’s why it’s dying.” Why would we see it if you don’t market it to us and talk about subjects that don’t excite us as young people? This is when I was 22/23 and the weird thing about our generation is that we remember pre and post Internet, so there was all of this technology and pop culture that just wasn’t talked about as much.

We also live in this golden age of television content. There’s so much constant access to incredible stories, wonderful characters, beautiful story arcs, fast-paced high-stake plots. It’s an embarrassment of riches of art that we get to see for free or for 9.99 a month. It’s kind of ridiculous to expect people to come and see something live when you don’t have to. You have to give them the incentive to do that. And this is how Theatre Brouhaha came to be.

And what is Brouhaha? What is that? It’s kind of like a hot fun mess. It’s a commotion. It’s something that makes you sit up and take notice. I remember one reviewer that was like, “Theatre Brouhaha pretends to have the same mandate that every new theatre company does which is challenging the audience and creating something new,” but we really thought we were, which, of course, we weren’t. We weren’t re-inventing the wheel. I don’t want to go see a play, I want to have an experience. I want to go to an event. I want to go to a party. We always used to say that if we could make something appeal to my sister’s douchey ex-boyfriend, then that would probably be great because that guy does not want to go to theatre. I think that’s where Brouhaha started. The very first show we ever did was LOVESEXMONEY – those are things that we, as people, think about and it’s also a bang-on title. It was about this girl who was selling her virginity online. We rented out the Factory Theatre. I remember a tech being there and asking us, “What are you hoping to do here?” and we said, “We’d like to break even.” He just laughed, like a full on belly laugh at us for, like, a long time. We had a really smart producer, Taylor Graham, who sold it through Groupon around Valentines Day and we sold out.

20120102_nextstage3

Gwen Cumyn and Scott Clarkson in LOVESEXMONEY

We just kept trying to create theatre by putting audiences first. If I come up with an idea for a show and I can’t sell it to you in a sentence, just like the way you would with a TV log line then how can I expect people to come? Tell me what it’s about and why I shouldn’t go home and watch Breaking Bad because I know that shit is going to be amazing. What’s the hook? And once there’s the hook, what’s the image? What’s the situation? I guess since 2012, we’ve done 10 shows, and because we never really have any money, we don’t really have a responsibility to anyone but our audiences, and ourselves, which is hard and also awesome. It means we get to do exactly what we want and the only confines are how much time we have for rehearsal and everyone’s schedules.

BK: So how would you categorize what you do?

KS: I’m a playwright and director mainly and slowly moving to television. I’m making some TV moves maybe? Is that the cool way to say it? People keep saying why don’t you do TV? But you can’t just like do it. You have to know what you want there and go at it smart. For a while, I didn’t know what my voice was and now I know what it is and I know what I want to talk about and how I want to do it and what my style is. I think that’s what TV wants. They want original voices. You can go and be in a room and mimic someone’s style but to have your own is a bigger deal… I hope.

BK: What kind of stories do you want to tell?

KS: I mean, the same stories. I’m fascinated by people. I’m so inspired by actors. I have a list on my phone of just shit that I hear people say. Now people tell me too. They’re like, “I overheard this thing that I thought maybe you could use in a play.” Great, give it to me. I want it. For me, usually, I start with a situation. What’s something that is inherently interesting?

BK: Where else do you find inspiration for your work?

KS: TV. Film. Everywhere. The Internet. You can’t make up the shit that happens in real life. No writer could write Trump. Now they will, but you can’t make that guy up, it’s too good. The shit that he says is unreal. It’s such beautiful dialogue. And it’s real. It’s crazy. It’s totally nuts. It’s taking a moment in real life and then jotting it down and maybe using it for something later.

BK: What’s your process for writing? How do you keep motivated?

KS: If I don’t have a deadline, I won’t do it. I write to produce, usually. I don’t have pet projects that have been sitting in my life for 10 years. There’s a couple we can’t afford to do because there’s too many people. I’ll want to do a thing at a certain time, and then I’ll come up with the thing. The thing will be based around who’s available and what I’ve seen in the news.

I also never know the ending when I begin writing. It’s only when I get there. I almost don’t like knowing. I find that if I know, then the audience knows. If I know what happens, then I’m going to telegraph what happens. If I don’t, then I’m writing to get to what happens. It’s like when you can’t put down a good book because you’re like, “What the fuck happens in here?” My process is all over the place. It’s a brouhaha. And there’s usually whiskey involved.

BK: That’s the way to do it.

KS: The first script is always garbage. It’s just a diarrhea throwaway script and slap an ending on it and sometimes I don’t even write one. I just write ‘insert end’. Then I’ll read it with people and that’s where the process starts for me. The audience is so important to me. The first people who read it are the first audience you get and I think that actors are horribly underused. Everyone has an actor friend that wants to read a new script. Actors read more plays than everyone. They’re great at focusing on a character so that I can say, “Does it make sense when your character says that?” When I’m thinking about six characters, they are only thinking about one. I like more opinions and feedback. You can’t be precious and have hurt feelings, which, of course, we all do anyway. I think ultimately more brains are better as long as there is one brain at the end that says, “No, no, no, yes to that.”

Bright Lights in this year’s Fringe is about an alien abduction support group. I like writing and directing together because, for me, I’m never done working on the script. I don’t usually write a lot of stage directions because I know I’ll just figure it out. It’s such a collaborative process in the room with the actors, which is why casting is 98% of my job. Who do I want to be locked with in a room? Our group for the Fringe is the most punch-upy room I’ve ever been in. Everyone’s a writer. Everyone is funny. We talk about jokes, like where is the second beat of the joke? You definitely can’t overwork comedy but comedy is work. Which is so crazy. Comedy is way harder than drama. I also think there’s comedy in everything. It’s when we chose to let it out.

9611193_orig

Photo by John Gundy. L-R: Peter Carlone, Heather Marie Annis, Colin Munch, Amy Lee, Chris Wilson

BK: Do you ever have a dramaturge?

KS: Tom McGee is my long lifetime dramaturge. He asks me important questions. Stories have to be a conversation. I know some people can do it in a vacuum and I can’t. I’m a social writer.

BK: So you’re nominated for 7 awards at the Doras for your play Mustard that just premiered at the Tarragon. Congrats lady! Very exciting! Talk to me about the creation of Mustard.

KS: Yeah, it’s fucking crazy. It’s nuts. I’m happy for everyone. I think I wanted to write a play about an imaginary friend for a long time because I had one. I was really fascinated by the idea of where they went when they go away. My father created this character for me as a child and one day, when I was hurt, I cried out for that character instead of him. My dad sent that friend away and I never saw him for a long time because my dad was jealous of his own creation. Where do they go when we don’t need them anymore?

When I was in the Tarragon unit, they wanted something that fit their mandate. I thought this play would fit because it’s about family and belonging and addiction. I thought it would work and I wrote it and they picked it.

BK: How do you feel about the Dora nominations?

KS: I feel great. I think it’s interesting that people have been saying that this is my first professional production. Okay… but when you start charging people money for your stuff, that’s kind of when you are a professional. I think that independent and professional theatre doesn’t need to be so far a part in terms of the way people look at them. I think that creating that animosity between the two worlds is kind of unnecessary. In truth, out of the twelve plays that I’ve written, Mustard is only the third that has been eligible for the Doras. Either we were too rushed to get our shit together to invite Dora jurors or couldn’t afford to pay the fee to apply to TAPA. A lot of people don’t know that you pay to have those people come. You pay for your TAPA membership, which is totally valid. It’s funny because last year at the Doras they made a joke about how their independent jurors had to see one billion plays and only half were written by Kat Sandler, and I was like and none of them were eligible.

It’s really nice to get a nod. What’s amazing about these Doras, is that so many people in the indie community are nominated, which is really awesome and all for incredibly deserving work. So yeah, of course it feels nice to get to go as a nominee and not as a presenter.

BK: What are you going to wear?

KS: I’m coming straight from rehearsal. If it’s going to be this hot, I will probably wear a whisper of a dress so that I’m not gross and sweaty. So glamorous. I’ll wear the smallest amount that I can decently get away with.

BK: Flawless. Talk to me about your team involved with Mustard.

KS: Anand Rajaram and Sarah Dodd are both nominated in their category for best actor and actress. We were so lucky with the cast. They were so incredible. Ashlie (Corcoran) (nominated for direction) gave me a lot of control and choice in the casting. It was really easy to work with her and she was super flexible and so creative and totally brilliant. I thought that way about the cast too. You throw in our two clowns (Tony Nappo and Julian Richings) and Paolo (Santalucia) bearing his bum all over the place, it just all worked magically. Michael Gianfrancesco is nominated for both set and costume design. The set was so beautiful. I couldn’t handle it. In truth, in my entire Toronto career, no one’s ever put that much money into a set, because I wouldn’t put that money into a set. For Mustard to be cool and imaginary, the house had to be so real. He did such an incredible job and it was just tacky enough.

mustard-2.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x760

Anand Rajaram and Sarah Dodd in MUSTARD at the Tarragon Theatre

BK: What are you most looking forward to at the Doras?

KS: I think it’s the feeling of the community being there. You know so many people and for all its bitchiness at times, the Toronto theatre community really loves itself and each other. We really are truly supportive when someone does something good or when they’re trying to do something good. What’s also nice is you get to see everyone dressed up and not in rehearsal clothes. It’s nice to not be in booty shorts and a disgusting t-shirt with Cheetos dust falling all over the place. Everyone is drinking and happy to be there.

BK: Tell me more about your fringe show Bright Lights opening this week.

KS: Bright Lights is about an alien abduction support group that accuses their leader of being an alien. As we’ve been working on it I’ve realized it’s kind of a comment on the absurdity of law and justice and how we view it as a society. My whole family consists of lawyers and judges out west. When we fight as a family, the arguments are so ridiculous. You can’t come into that house and not get torn apart. I think that a lot of that worked its way in and because we have such hilarious, funny people it’s really coming off the page. I wanted to work with this crew of people since I started doing Fringe. I saw Morro and Jasp and was like, “Holy shit. They’re so funny.” Peter and Chris are amazing with their sketch and improv and Colin and I are buddies from way back.

It’s totally ridiculous but always about something and always with heart.

We all love Fringe so much. We feel comfortable there. It’s given us so much. My career started at Fringe with Help Yourself. It’s like the Doras. The fringe tent is Theatre Christmas!

BK: Any advice for emerging artists?

KS: Just do it. Always. Just fucking do it. You won’t know if you’re any good at it or what to do until you do it. That was our whole thing with Theatre Brouhaha. We’re just going to do plays until someone takes notice or we just shouldn’t do them anymore. Also, listen and ask for help. The worst thing that could happen is someone can say no.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite movie: Princess Bride

Favourite book: Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes

Favourite food: Charcuterie

Favourite play: I don’t know if I can choose.

Favourite musical: My cool answer would be Book of Mormon but the little kid that ran around in her living room would say: Les Miserables.

Favourite place in Toronto: All of Toronto, Toronto is my jam. Maybe not the dark gross alleys, but the ones with graffiti are good. I like Cabbagetown.

Favourite place that you write: I write in the Dark Horse in the east end, but I’ll write anywhere that has coffee or where there are people.

Advice that you live by: Make opportunities don’t take opportunities.

Bright Lights

13450989_10153754293478063_4541379426678751704_n

Who:
Written By: Kat Sandler
Company: Theatre Brouhaha
Director: Kat Sandler
Cast: Amy Lee, Heather Marie Annis, Chris Wilson, Peter Carlone, and Colin Munch.
Dramaturg: Tom McGee

What: From Kat Sandler, Theatre Brouhaha, and the creative minds behind the Fringe smash hits Punch Up, Morro and Jasp, Peter n’ Chris, and Shakey-Shake & Friends comes a new dark comedy about survival, trust, and an alien abduction support group thrown into chaos by the suggestion that someone in their midst may not be as human as they seem.

Where: Tarragon Theatre Mainspace

When:
buy tickets  June 29th at 10:30 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 8:45 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 3:30 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 6:30 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 12:00 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 6:00 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 11:30 PM

 

Connect:
Website: TheatreBrouhaha.com
Twitter: @TheatreBrouhaha

Tarragon Theatre’s Playwrights Unit: An Introduction with Dramaturg Andrea Romaldi

by Bailey Green

I sat down with Andrea Romaldi, Literary Manager at the Tarragon, to discuss the 2014 Playwrights Unit. This piece is the first of an ongoing series of profiles on the members of the Unit. A playwright profile will be launched each month leading up to the play reading week at the Tarragon in November.

The Tarragon Playwrights Unit 2014 announcement arrived in my email inbox earlier this year. The playwrights? Rachel Blair, Alexandria Haber, Jessica Moss, Kat Sandler and Evan Webber. These five talented individuals will spend a year working on one of their own projects in collaboration with dramaturg Andrea Romaldi. But what exactly is this unit and how does it function? I contacted Andrea Romaldi to learn more about the process. All five playwrights generously agreed to participate in this series of features. I hope other writers or artists will find connection in these pieces. The writer’s profession is a solitary one. But the Playwrights Unit, just like In the Greenroom, encourages community.

The Unit has been in existence since 1982. The last four units have been primarily under the dramaturgical care of Andrea Romaldi. Artistic Director Richard Rose passed the reins a few years ago as demands of Tarragon’s season became more insistent. Rose returns to the process in November to direct the play reading week. Andrea Romaldi began working at Tarragon in October 2007 after completing internships with Maureen Labonté at Shaw Festival and Brian Quirt of Nightswimming. Romaldi was part of the inaugural Festival of Ideas and Creation at CanStage and worked with the Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival for a several years. And her joe job? Teaching as an artist in schools and working at the ROM’s summer camps.

The Unit meets in January, May and September with a day or half day dedicated to each play. The playwrights attend each meeting and give feedback to each other on their work. After the meetings, the writers return to their drafts until the next meeting. “Writing is a very lonely profession and so when people have the opportunity to work with others, they don’t take it lightly,” Romaldi says of the dedication of playwrights to the unit.

14563

In between Unit meetings, writers have the opportunity to meet with Romaldi who dramaturges their work. She offers feedback, suggests new avenues to explore or requests revisions. Romaldi adapts to each writer’s process, “some people take me up on meetings, some don’t. Part of that is how people create. Some glean what they need from the readings or discussion and some people require constant checking in to feel supported. Everyone’s process is unique.” In her many years of experience, Romaldi recognizes the sensitivity required in dealing with artists and the varied challenges each playwright faces. In the past, Romaldi has worked with a variety of challenges such as writing a play in real time or writing a play out of chronological order. Many plays require the challenge of an extensive research process. This can stunt the writer when they come to actually putting words to paper. Breaking out of the comfort zone is also a common challenge, “many playwrights cut their teeth doing a certain kind of play, for example a one person show or an episodic play,” says Romaldi. “When playwrights challenges themselves it will always challenge their process.” Other playwrights struggle with their material and fears of what others might think of them if they create unlikeable characters or tackle difficult subject matter. “Write the play you need to write,” Romaldi encourages.

The selection process is very challenging for Romaldi. She invites six playwrights a year to join the Unit. “People who are brand new to writing want to work at the Tarragon, however they often don’t have enough experience,” Romaldi says of many writers who contact her through the Tarragon website. “I direct them to places or institutions where they can develop their skills.” Romaldi says she often comes across new writers typically at festivals like SummerWorks, Fringe and occasionally Rhubarb (Rhubarb shows are often more performance art/creation based). Romaldi also draws from Tarragon’s RBC Playwriting Competition and the Theatre Creators Reserve. The Unit is open to working with alternative creators however, “the unit has a very specific infrastructure which is geared towards playwright-driven, text-based plays,” Romaldi says. The budget often can’t accommodate paying creators for the extended rehearsal period required with a collective creation or movement-based performance. “We do make offers to people who work in a less conventional way than I think people perceive of Tarragon,” Romaldi says, “they [the creators] just have to be more flexible with their needs.”

When asked what she looks for in selecting the playwrights for the unit Romaldi replied: “At Tarragon we’re looking for plays whose primary focus is exploring the human condition. We’re not looking for plays with a single perspective, an easy hero and an easy villain. Our plays ask people to look at themselves and others with complexity and compassion. No matter how good a character tries to be there’s always something that eats at them. It can cause them to do thing we may not admire, but that we are forced to understand.”

Romaldi also listed several basic qualities: strong dialogue, a clear understanding of drama and above all that scripts are written for the theatre (as opposed to the mediums of film or poetry).

The level of experience varies within the unit. Romaldi looks for playwrights who have put a play through the production process, whether it was at a small indie venue or at the Fringe. The experience of putting original work through rehearsals with actors, meetings with designers and performances with audiences is crucial to growing as a playwright. Romaldi looks for a diverse group in terms of age, skills, and experience, “some people are well beyond the minimum, some have experience in film and television want to return to theatre, some have had experience in cities outside Toronto and so perhaps Tarragon isn’t familiar with their work.” Each playwright comes into the unit at a different stage in their plays’ development. Some plays may have been in the works for years while others may have only gained an ending the night before.

Romaldi’s advice for young writers and emerging artists? “Read and see as many plays as possible.” Be analytical, but generous, and always speak about plays in compassionate terms and “respect the integrity of the creators.” Romaldi notices that writers commonly have a lot of talent but are afraid to claim their confidence. Romaldi searched for the right words to describe what she feels is essential for life as an artist, “I am allowed to be a writer. It doesn’t make me inferior or superior, it just makes me who I am. Building up the idea of the ‘nobility of the artist’ won’t help. Part of what artists are offering people is a piece of themselves. It’s complicated and it’s not easy. But at some point you just have to accept that this is who you are and this is what you are meant to do.”

Be sure to check back over the next few months to follow our Tarragon Playwrights Unit Feature as we meet with each of the playwrights.

Follow our writer Bailey on Twitter: @_BaileyGreen