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Posts tagged ‘Lower Ossington Theatre’

SummerWorks 2014 Artist Profile – Erin Fleck: Playwright, Performer, Puppeteer – Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales

Interview by Hallie Seline

Hallie Seline: Could you talk a bit about your show Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales playing now as part of the SummerWorks 2014 Juried Series and where you got the inspiration to write it?

Erin Fleck: Growing up, I remember my parents, grandparents and important adults in my life telling me fairy-tales, fables and other stories to teach me about the world. In many cases, they were lessons outlining morality, how to be a good person to others, or how to find my place in the world. Which, according to them, and me, was going to be something important, something for the history books. We all are the heroes of our own story, right?

I remember most of the stories told to me by my parents tending to frame life as a positive adventure, where things always work out in the end, even if the journey gets hard along the way. Good things happen to “good” people, and “bad” people get what’s coming to them… or at the very least they learn something and become better people.

But when you grow up, it becomes very apparent that this isn’t the case most of the time. Of course, there can be a lot of beautiful things to celebrate in life, but things don’t always work out, even for the nicest, most caring, well-intentioned people out there. And people who do evil things don’t always have to answer for them.

(And to add another level to that, ideas of what or who is “good” or “bad” are never that cut and dry.)

Life often throws you disappointments, unwanted responsibilities, lowered expectations, and in some cases, tragedies that you have to survive. I think this realization also coincides with an age where most people consider us too old to sit down, curl up and have someone read aloud to us from a book of treasured tales.

So, I started writing the Tales with that idea in mind. People who are trying to be heroes in their own stories, but end up having the heroism or that poignancy snatched away by circumstance. But I still wanted the telling of their stories to capture the magic and whimsy of the tales I loved as a kid. And also, I didn’t want to lose the sense of surviving those things, and keeping on, because we do that every day.

HS: You have quite the team of creative people working on it with you (sound designers, puppet makers, video artists etc.) Being the playwright, what surprised you the most while developing the show to its current version?

EF: Honestly, the amount of enthusiasm, passion and resourcefulness that all of the artists have, who’ve been involved with the development since the beginning. I love the show and the stories, but there was a part of me in the early stages that thought, who besides me is going to care about this whimsical and sad little world, that is actually a huge logistical undertaking? And to have so many talented people throw themselves into it has been overwhelming and wonderful.

We had Jordan [Tannahill] and Will [Ellis] at Videofag back in January (where we did the first workshop) saying “We will give you space, make this thing happen”. My director Maya [Rabinovitch] heard my ideas about a puppet show in a blanket fort and what I was trying to create as an experience with this show, and thought “Ya, let’s just go for it. We’ll deal with logistics later.” Our designer Roxanne Ignatius has been living with 100 yards of blankets for the last few months to build a tent big enough for the LOT Studio space. Sarah Fairlie, who runs Caterwaul with me, and is the puppet designer and main builder, has designed five puppet shows and a stop motion film in the last eight months. The puppeteers and narrators that have come on board, are all incredibly talented and busy actors and performers, and they’ve just taken whatever has been thrown at them, and given back insight into the stories that has been so helpful to me as the creator. And since she’s come on board, Pip [Bradford], our stage manager and technician, somehow managed to look at our five shows worth of puppets, a 25 x 30 foot tent, four projectors and a puppet screen and say “Why yes, we can get that ready in 25 minutes before curtain, no problem, Erin.”

Erin Fleck & Maya Rabimovitch Photo by: Juni Bimm

Erin Fleck & Sarah Fairlie. Photo by: Juni Bimm

HS: What are you most excited for the audience to experience with the show (We’re really excited about this blanket fort that you can watch in!)

EF: We opened on Thursday, so I’m cheating a little bit with this question. We’d just gotten the tent up and set up all of the inside seating and puppets, and I was waiting behind our shadow screen as the audience was let in. And all I could hear were people reacting to realizing that they were walking into a giant blanket fort built for them. They were pointing out details to each other, exploring the space, identifying knickknacks, wondering what everything was going to mean to the show they were about to see. Having that off the top of the show really sets the performance for me. We’re doing five different puppet shows in and around the audience. Sometimes you can see us as puppeteers and narrators and sometimes you can’t. Having the audience already curious, already engaging with the space, really sets the tone for how we want to engage them with the stories. It really is a “these stories are sad, but we’re all in this together” kind of environment for that 60 minutes.

HS: Why do you think festivals like SummerWorks are so important to the Toronto theatre scene?

EF: I’m a playwright who creates new work primarily, and I’m also a puppeteer. Having a festival that focuses on supporting artistic risk and innovation on stage, while encouraging their audiences to do the same, provides artists with a relatively safe space to create, develop and showcase their work. Those opportunities aren’t always so available with such a high level of exposure for that work.

HS: Best advice you’ve ever gotten.

EF: This was about being a writer:

No one cares about your work as much as you do. So make sure you’re doing it. People will invest in it, and you, only if you believe in it and put it out into the world for others to see.

HS: Favourite place in Toronto.

EF: Toronto Island. Hands down.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

EF: I write a lot from personal experience, but I’m also a pretty big history, literary, folklore nerd, so I find as a writer I’m often trying to weave those things together. It harkens back to the inspiration for the show really. It’s the attempt to find the epic in your own personal narrative.

HS: Tell us in five to ten words why you think someone should come see the show? 

EF: We’ll make you sad, but we’ll hold your hand through it.

HS: If the audience were to listen to a song or soundtrack before coming to see the show, what should it be?

EF: I’ve had a lot of music playing during the writing and building of this piece. (You need it when you are exacto-knifing bristol board for hours on end!) In fact, on our production blog I was tracking an “Unintentionally Depressing Soundtrack” If you’re interested, it’s here:

But in terms of a go-to for the writing of the Tales, I always came back to this:

Just Another Diamond Day – Vashti Bunyan


Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales

Written by Erin Fleck, Directed by Maya Rabinovitch presented by Caterwaul Theatre as part of the 2014 SummerWorks Festivalstatic.squarespace

Puppet Design by Sarah Fairlie and Erin Fleck
Video Art Direction by Sarah Fairlie
Musical Direction by Brad Casey
Set Design by Roxanne Ignatius
Lighting Design by Pip Bradford
Performed by Glyn Bowerman, Sascha Cole, Talia DelCogliano, Erin Fleck, Marcus Jamin, Jordi Mand, Michelle Urbano, Brian Webber

Where – The Lower Ossington Theatre Studio

When -Thursday August 7, 8:30pm
Saturday August 9, 8:00pm
Sunday August 10, 12:30pm
Monday August 11, 9:00pm
Wednesday August 13, 4:00pm
Thursday August 14, 10:00pm
Saturday August 16, 6:00pm
Sunday August 17, 7:00pm

Buy Tickets:

More about Caterwaul Theatre:

Twitter: @catrwaule


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

Interview by: Brittany Kay

An interview for CP24

An interview for CP24

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

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

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

BK: Have you worked together before?

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

ADR: Oh it’s astronomical.

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

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

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

BK: Yes! So then Shrek happened…

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

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


BK: Talk to me about your director Seanna Kennedy?

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

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

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

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

MN: He’s got fifteen ballads!

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

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

photo 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BK: And for the audience?

MN: I think, “I got you Beat.”

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

Photo Credit: Seanna Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 1

Andrew Di Rosa and Michelle Nash as Shrek and Princess Fiona


Favourite Musical

ADR: Into the Woods
MN: The Last Five Years

Favourite Book

ADR: The Hours
MN: Harry Potter… duh!

Favourite TV Show

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

Guilty Pleasure

ADR: Subway
MN: Red Bull

Best Advice You’ve Ever Gotten

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

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

The Lower Ossington Theatre presents Shrek The Musical


When: On now until October 19th
Where: Randolph Theatre, 736 Bathurst Street

A Chat with Heather Braaten – Director of Next to Normal at the LOT in Support of CAMH

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: So, I’m here with Heather Braaten, who is directing Next To Normal, running from Thursday August 29th to Sunday September 29th at The Lower Ossington Theatre. Would you like to tell me a bit about the show?

HB: Sure, it’s a completely sung-through rock musical that addresses mental health issues and the families struggling with them. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning piece. It’s not your typical musical at all. Small cast, very intimate. This is my first time working with the Lower Ossington Theatre, and it’s really interesting, what they’re doing. We’ve got a team of super-talented, professional, upcoming artists that are so fantastic and so ready to explode onto the scene. For me, as a director, I get to see all the amazing work that’s happening in this space at the LOT, and it’s an incredible opportunity for everyone involved. I mean, these huge shows, only a select few will get to do them on a Broadway scale, you don’t often see them happening on an independent level.

RQ: I mean, the logistics of putting up a show like this must be intense.

HB: Exactly! I mean, the rights for the show alone are expensive. I’ve been directing independent theatre for ten to fifteen years now, and I don’t normally get to tackle material like this.

RQ: You mentioned earlier how this was a Pulitzer Prize-winning show that’s won Tony Awards as well. What do you think makes it such a remarkable show?

HB: Well, I think that musicals just don’t approach material like this. Generally, a topic like mental illness isn’t addressed on such a massive scale. I mean, we see films, television shows, and of course books about mental illness, but theatre has a different way of reaching people. The live experience is so different than any other artistic medium. I think one of the reasons this show is so successful is that people are blown away by the honesty of it. This is family life. This is real. I think that’s the main thing about it. It’s very honest and very poignant. It really doesn’t let you off the hook, in terms of material. It doesn’t have a classic Broadway happy ending. It doesn’t resolve everything for everyone. I feel like people took notice because it’s not afraid to tackle this issue, which everyone in some way has been touched by. Before directing this piece, I had never seen it as a production, I had read it and heard it, but I had never seen it in performance. That’s why it’s been amazing to work on, because as it comes together, I start to get hit harder and harder with what it’s trying to do and how honestly it’s doing it. And we’re not going to cut it, we’re going to put the whole thing onstage for a large audience to see and have an experience together. I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at, when people go to see a show, they have a collective experience, and with this piece, that means having a massive dialogue about mental illness all at once.

RQ: So, this show requires a lot of vulnerability. It’s an emotionally, physically, and mentally violent show. How do you approach something like that as a director?

HB: I have done material like this before, but not that often. I relate it to another piece I did about the Dionne quintuplets and their struggle. It’s all about struggle, and understanding the specifics of it. In both cases, of having your family rocked by a bipolar, delusional mother who is trying to live in a separate world. So it’s interesting to approach it for a second time. I think the most important thing is creating a safe place for the actors to work in, and to indulge and experiment with where that lives in their own minds and bodies. They need to be able to experience it, then work back from there. We can’t literally have people breaking down onstage, it has to be a controlled scenario. But it has been really interesting to see these actors experience extreme emotion for what it really is, then pull it back from there to tell the story. I mean, they have a huge vocal task in this piece. You can’t perform this piece without having full control over your instrument, but at the same time, it has to be fully emotionally connected to the material. As a director, how do you make that happen? I’ve learned that early in the process, you allow it to happen in a way where it’s just let go, then you bring it back to the storytelling and the technique. This cast has been amazing to see connect to the material and to each other. It’s one of those pieces that gets more meaningful every time you see or listen to it, and I think that’s why it’s kind of developed a following. Every time you listen to it, it hits you somewhere deeper. There are a lot of layers to it.

RQ: And the LOT is working with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Heath on this piece, correct?

HB: Yes, part of the proceeds are going to CAMH, and they’re helping us get the word out that we’re doing the piece.

RQ: That’s fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, and break a leg on your run!

HB: Thanks!

Next to Normal

At the LOT in support of CAMH

Pulitzer-Prize winning rock musical, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, explores how one suburban household copes with crisis and mental illness.

Where: Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Avenue

When: August 29th – September 29th, 2013


For more information, check out the Lower Ossington Website:

Read out more about the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on their website: