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Posts tagged ‘Madryn McCabe’

Talking Connection, Reality and Structure with Rebecca Applebaum, Director of REALITY THEATRE at SummerWorks

Interview by Madryn McCabe

MMC: Tell me a bit about the show.

Rebecca Applebaum: Reality Theatre is unlike any other show I’ve ever seen or been a part of. It has four storylines all split in two and it’s almost structured like a palindrome, which I love. Every storyline is different: in length, in how the characters relate to each other, in the worlds that they live in, and in many other ways as well. With each story having two separated parts, there’s a sense that time has passed in each world while we’ve been away from them watching the others. And we get to tune back in just at the right moment.

MMC: What drew you to this show?

RA: I casually mentioned to Julia (Lederer, playwright of Reality Theatre) that I wanted to be a director during a period of time when we were working intensively together on two projects. She casually replied that I could direct her next play (I know, Right!?) And then she sent me the script for Reality Theatre. I read it and thought it was great. And as I’ve spent more and more time with the script, from that initial reading, to auditioning actors, to rehearsal, to performance, I’ve found myself discovering more and more how truly brilliant the writing is—how insightful, how hilarious, and how truthful it is about human vulnerability, relationships and our need for connection, as well as how misguided we often are in our attempt to figure out what to do with our lives.

MMC: Reality Theatre is made up of eight, smaller plays. How do they all connect with each other and what was it like directing eight smaller plays as opposed to one long one?

RA: A couple of themes that connect the plays and come to mind right now (and there are many) are human fallibility and the absurdity of a lot of human endeavor (be it an online quest to find a YouTube guru or selling your soul for eternal youthfulishness). And then on another side of that coin, there’s the process of facing reality after not looking at it for so long. And of course, the plays are all connected by Julia’s unique and wonderful voice, language, and ingenious comedic sensibility.

In terms of directing different plays within one piece, one of the first things that I started thinking about was how to differentiate each world. I started thinking about how each world could have a distinct relationship to the space of the theatre. So that was my initial approach to how to stage the show. One of the worlds plays with distance, one plays with vastness, another with confinement, and another with connectedness.

MMC: The plays talk about maintaining human connection in a world where communication technology is always evolving. Some would argue that all of these different technologies are better for connecting with each other, while others find it impersonal. How do you feel about all of the different ways we are able to communicate with each other? How did that affect your approach to directing?

RA: The pair of plays that are most clearly about our relationship to technology are both written with the three characters on stage together but in their own technological silos—connected but disconnected, staring intently at their screens or interfaces but blind to their surroundings. Seeing them all together like that let’s us see ourselves in relationship to each other despite the isolation we often inadvertently impose on ourselves. And with all of Julia’s brilliant humour and it being in a theatre with people laughing all together, I think it grounds us back in a shared reality and places us in a collective experience that gives us some space and perspective on our relationship to technology.

MMC: This year’s SummerWorks programming is based on the question “how do we come together?” How does Reality Theatre fit into that idea, or answer that question?

RA: Theatre is how we come together! Also, all the stuff I’ve mentioned about how the play shows us our need for human connection and brings us to an experience of shared reality.

MMC: Is there anything you want to tell the audience before they see Reality Theatre?

RA: Some trivia that people might be interested in:

  1. Originally the show was written for two men and one woman. We cast the show with two women and one man and completely changed how the roles were distributed between the actors.
  2. This may be obvious, but my generally very observant friend didn’t see it, so I thought I’d mention it just in case: the set’s backdrop (designed by Christine Urquhart) references and is a recursive copy of the exposed archway over the Factory Mainspace stage (which is usually covered by masking).

Reality Theatre

Who:
Company: QuestionMark-Exclamation Theatre
Directed by Rebecca Applebaum
Written by Julia Lederer
Performed by Akosua Amo-Adem, Krista Morin, and Andy Trithardt
Set Design by Christine Urquhart
Costume Design by Brandon Kleiman
Lighting Design by Claire Hill
Sound Design by Andy Trithardt
Produced by Stephanie Jung

What:
Reality and fantasy blur for a woman playing a spoon in Beauty and the Beast. A man reconsiders a contract signed in blood. And the world wide web disappears into thin air. Reality Theatre is a fast moving collection of short, interwoven plays that explore our anxieties about change, the acceleration of technology, and maintaining human relationships in a world quickly becoming less human.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON

When:
Saturday August 12th 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Sunday August 13th 8:00pm – 9:00pm

Tickets:
summerworks.ca

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“The Zombie Apocalypse, Bunker Necessities, and What the Post-Zombie World Would Look Like” – A Chat with Clare Blackwood on WELCOME TO THE BUNKER! at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Madryn McCabe

We spoke with Clare Blackwood, co-writer/performer of Welcome to the Bunker! at the 2017 Toronto Fringe. We chatted about why she chose to go for the post-apocalyptic zombie genre, what she would bring to the bunker if/when the zombie apocalypse happens, and what audiences should prepare for when they enter The Bunker this Fringe.

MM: Tell me a little bit about your show.

Clare Blackwood: Welcome to the Bunker! is an immersive post-apocalyptic zombie comedy set deep “under” the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. Katie, a zombie rights millennial activist, and Todd, an antisocial Gen-X prepper, have holed up in Todd’s bunker after North America has been overrun by the undead and left for…well, dead by the rest of the world. Naturally, Katie has decided that the best thing to do in this situation is to collect as many survivors as possible and bring them down into the bunker, in order to create a harmonious new society when the whole “zombie thing” has died down (pun very much intended). Together, they’ll take each audience of survivors through a very enthusiastic-yet-half-assed apocalypse orientation… that is, unless that scratching in the walls gets any louder…

MM: Why a post-apocalyptic zombie show?

CB: Why not? was my very first response, but I have a feeling you’re looking for more intelligent stuff than that. I’d like to say that with all the chaos that’s going on in the US and abroad, that intelligent theatrical commentary about how the world may very well become a post-apocalyptic wasteland sooner than we think was what we were going for when deciding what to do for Fringe, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s because I’m a giant zombie-obsessed nerd who thought the idea of two weirdos doing PowerPoint presentations about the end of the world was hilarious beyond all reason. However, there are wonderful motifs to explore in the genre, and it was interesting to use it to explore the themes of loss, generational tension, and hope for the future, in the midst of an absurd Armageddon scenario. Zombies have been used forever to make parallels to modern society’s worries and problems, and this play is no exception.

Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes. Photographer: Max Telzerow.

I originally had an idea for a show about two very polar opposite people stuck in a zombie bunker together over a year ago, when I first considered entering Fringe. However, I had dismissed the idea as unfeasible and too silly (I know, what a ridiculous concept, right? IT’S FRINGE!) and decided to do something else for the Festival. It wasn’t until a series of unforeseen events led me to having to abandon that particular show that I remembered I had this apocalyptic idea in my back pocket. So I followed my nerdy heart and found an incredible team of people ready to take on the zombies head-on. I think we’ve managed to make the zombie apocalypse fun for not only über nerds, but anyone who likes to have a silly, awesome time at the theatre.

MM: What’s your favourite zombie movie/game/TV show and why?

CB: Why must you make me choose one, you temptress?! Okay, so in terms of zombie movie, I would definitely say 28 Weeks Later. I’ve always preferred the fast-moving “infected” to the slow, shambling undead. Mo’ carnage, mo’ fun. Most people prefer the original 28 Days, and it’s admittedly a better movie, but I love Weeks because it’s just non-stop zombie mayhem goodness. In terms of video games, the original Left 4 Dead will always hold a special place in my heart. I will never tire of it. In theatre school, whenever I was super busy, headshotting the undead hordes was the best stress reliever ever. And lastly, I tried to get into The Walking Dead, but was turned off of it in the first few episodes because of the lack of the aforementioned zombie carnage. Call me bloodthirsty, but less bickering and more katana fights, please.

MM: If you could bring three things into your bunker, what would they be and why?

CB: 1) The Lord of the Rings extended edition trilogy.

2) My cat, Gandalf. He would be extraordinarily displeased with me if I didn’t, and would probably find a way in anyway and then barf on all my irreplaceable belongings.

3) My Orlando Bloom waifu body pillow. (Just kidding! Or am I.)

…Wow, that list accidentally ended up being super Tolkien-heavy. I hope you don’t think I’m a nerd. Oh my god.

Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes. Photographer: Max Telzerow.

MM: What do you think the post-zombie world will look like? After all the carnage, and you emerge from your bunker, what do you think the world will be like?

CB: I step out of the bunker and into the free air. My auburn locks have grown in the years underground, yet despite the lack of shampoo and personal hygiene it has somehow become even sexier and more luscious. My clothes are ripped, yet flattering on my figure that has somehow not become scurvy-ridden and emaciated due to lack of proper nutrition underground. There have been so many beets. So many. I look around, getting a look at a crumbled Toronto I haven’t seen in three long years. The New World Regime has done quick work. I have heard stories of the clashes between the rebels and the Winterfist Government on the bunker radio, but it is clear the military has won the War. Its factions are marked on the jackets of my fellow, similarly-beautiful survivors: the Foragers. The Warriors. The Diplomats. Conform to the characteristics of your faction or be killed. That was the law here, ever since we had won the fight against the Walkers a month ago. Now, I face my biggest challenge yet – to choose between my best friend, Graeden, and the strange, yet enticing man I had shared all those years in the bunker with – Paeder. Together, we would overthrow the dictatorship and bring peace to a land ravaged from the zombie hordes…

Oh wait. My bad. That’s from my upcoming YA dystopian zombie trilogy. Forget that happened. Let’s move along.

MM: What should your audience prepare for as they enter your bunker? What do they need to know going in?

CB: They should get ready for one hell of a ridiculous(ly fun!) immersive ride into the apocalypse! No additional preparation needed. Come in with an open, nerdy heart and be ready to laugh, because we’re going to chat you up and have a party. We can’t wait to have you as our guests down here in the bunker. And don’t worry, we’ll keep you all safe… hopefully.

Welcome to the Bunker!

Who:
Company – Portius Productions
Playwright/Creator – Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes
Director – Alison Louder
Stage Manager – Justine Cargo
Cast – Ryan F. Hughes, Clare Blackwood

What:
Zombie apocalypse got you down? Grab your prep kit and your fellow survivors and join us underground to start your new life! Say goodbye to foraging for rations, sneaking through abandoned cities, and those pesky marauding death cults! Say hello to life in the bunker, where we will guide you through adjusting to your new surroundings. Generator power! Protection from the elements! Nearly fully figured out chemical toilets! Free canned beets while supplies last!* Join us for your orientation today!

*BEETS ARE GONE

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto

When:
9th July – 9:45pm
11th July – 8:30pm
12th July – 4:45pm
13th July – 6:15pm
14th July – 3:30pm
15th July – 1:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @bunkertofringe
f: /bunkertofringe

 

A Chat with Lindsay Bellaire & Phillip Psutka of Theatre Arcturus on ROUGH MAGIC at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Madryn McCabe

We were thrilled to see that Theatre Arcturus had another show in this year’s Fringe after being amazed by their awe-inspiring production of Weird last year. We spoke with Lindsay Bellaire and Phillip Psutka about their rigorous process of creation and training and why Rough Magic is a perfect story to explore right now.

MM: Tell us about your show.

Lindsay Bellaire: A collision of air and earth, Rough Magic creates a vertical world to tell the story of Ariel and Caliban in a newly imagined prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s an aerial theatre piece: a play written in the style of Shakespeare (mostly in verse), with aerial silks and rope weaved into the world of the characters. Ariel, an airy free-spirited sprite, touches down and makes contact with a young Caliban, a ground-dwelling, god-worshipping mortal. Meeting between air and earth as two very different beings, they reach across the boundaries that make us fear the “other”, only to find themselves enslaved in the end, where the storm is conjured that begins The Tempest.

MM: What drives you to tell Shakespeare’s untold stories, the stories he only hints at in his texts?

Phillip Psutka: I’ve always had a passion for Shakespeare and I enjoy the challenge of meticulously researching whichever play of his that I am going off of, while at the same time having to fill in the blanks of the story that I am trying to tell myself. Also, the heightened text is a natural blend with the aerial arts in that they are both larger than life, in a way. Hearing the poetic, image-based language, while simultaneously seeing the intense physicality of the characters take to the air on the apparatus creates a world for the play where one element helps the other out – I feel that the audience can buy into the sound of the verse in an original contemporary script because of the heightened physicality… literally.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: You say that, although this is an original script, it was researched meticulously through Shakespeare’s text and other source material. What was that research process like? Why was it so important to do this research and not just create from an idea?

PP: To start off, I read through The Tempest a number of times – mainly looking for clues to the back story of Ariel and Caliban. Once I had compiled all of the info on them that Shakespeare provides, I then went back through the script focusing on the characters themselves: how they react to certain situations; what kind of language and images they use; how much they speak in verse vs. prose and, when they switch from one to another, what triggers it. It’s like detective work and that’s part of the fun of it. Because I was using the Arden, I also pulled inspiration from one of the Appendices: Robert Browning’s poem Caliban Upon Setebos, which is where I took the idea of Caliban being religious. After I was through with the “Sherlock Holmes” portion of the script development, I outlined the entire show, filling in the blanks of what I wasn’t able to discover through the research before writing the first draft. I think it’s totally valid to create something completely original even if it’s based off of another work; I just enjoy the research part of it so much. More than anything, I like that idea that an audience could watch Rough Magic and then jump right into a production of The Tempest and it would be one continuous story, for Ariel and Caliban at least.

MM: You talk about telling the story of “the other” in your play. Why is that? What do you seek to say to your audience?

PP: That, even though we may live in our own worlds, it’s important to remember that others do as well, and we can never know everything that has shaped that person or being into what they are at this moment in time. I feel that the ongoing challenge of being human is to not make assumptions about others, to stop and listen before passing judgement on their situation. I’ve definitely been guilty of saying irrational and disrespectful things to someone else simply because I had the hangeries, and if it’s that easy to trigger a short response to a situation and shut another person out, I can only imagine what it must be like to try to work constructively with a leader that wants to build a wall between their country and yours and has decided that you are going to pay for it: end of story, not interested in your opinion. I believe that there is always more to learn about the human existence and the best way to learn is to listen before speaking, which is a quality I feel the world is lacking in at the moment. I can certainly do it better myself, but little reminders every now and then are helpful. I hope Rough Magic serves as one of those little reminders.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: I can tell from your press photos that this is a very physically demanding show. What is your rehearsal and training process like? What is your development process? How did you develop your show?

LB: The physical training for our shows is ongoing, even when not in rehearsals or a creation process. Outside of our theatrical productions, the aerialists in the shows are professional performers, training acts for events and teaching aerial classes – it’s not a skill that we learn specifically for the show. The physical training is 4-5 times a week, in 2-3 hour sessions, year-round (with some time taken off for rest and recovery, of course).

The scripts are written by Phillip, usually over an intense period of 2-4 weeks, then edited, read out loud, and edited further. Then the rehearsal process begins, where it becomes a collaboration between the director (whom, at this point, gets final say on all decisions), writer, actors, aerial and fight choreographers, and composer. This is actually a very small team, with the actors doubling up as chorographers and writer. Costumes and lighting are also designed somewhere in there!

For Rough Magic specifically, the script was written first, and the rigging designed to suit the story (the decision to use silks and a rope, and how they would be hung). We were lucky enough to be able to bring Kevin Hammond (former AD of the Humber River Shakespeare co.) on board as our director for a 5+ month development process. Because we were creating out of a studio space in Muskoka, our process for this show was unique in that Phillip and myself would do preliminary work on each scene, getting it on its feet using some basic exercises and following our instincts. Kevin would make a trip up for a weekend intensive every 3 weeks to further develop and sculpt each scene, offering invaluable insight and guidance into the text, and establishing the balance between air and ground work. Our Stage Manager, Lisa Sciannella, travelled up for the last few weekends of rehearsals to work on the sound cues. Her job entails knowing our choreography and some aerial vocabulary, as her sound cues are based on what we’re doing in the air. She’s also a constant safety for us, acting as an outside eye and responding to any little aches, bumps or bruises we inevitably sustain at various points throughout the process.

The music and costumes are also an important component. The music was composed by Rachel C Leger, and was created to suit the feel of the piece (nautical), with a flavour for each moment where music is used. The choreography was created separately, and married together in the last month of rehearsal. The costumes, designed by Lisa Magill (Toronto) were actually designed before most of the show was on its feet, in order to get promo shots long before opening.

MM: What would you like your audiences to know going in to see Rough Magic?

LB: You do not need to have a thorough understanding of The Tempest, or even Shakespeare in general, to follow the story. Although it is inspired by The Tempest, and based on clues from Shakespeare’s text, we purposely created a show that can stand alone and be enjoyed for its own story. For those audience members who have studied The Tempest, there is definitely an added layer.

Rough Magic

Who:
Company: Theatre Arcturus
Playwright/Creator: Phillip Psutka
Director Kevin Hammond
Cast: Lindsay Bellaire, Phillip Psutka
Choreographer: Lindsay Bellaire
Fight Director: Phillip Psutka

What:
Set on a mystical island, ROUGH MAGIC follows the innocent beginnings and volatile consequences of a relationship between two unlikely beings: Ariel, an airy sprite; and Caliban, a ground-dwelling mortal. An intricate weaving of theatre, aerial work and music, the show confronts ideas of freedom and otherness through a story inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

FROM THE CREATORS OF ‘WEIRD’
WINNER: Cutting-Edge Award (2016 Toronto Fringe)
(5 stars) “Absolutely exquisite and mind blowing in its execution.” – My Entertainment World
(NNNN) “One of the most memorable shows at the Fest.” – NOW Magazine

Where:
RANDOLPH THEATRE
736 Bathurst St, Toronto

When:
9th July – 8:45pm
11th July – 1:00pm
13th July – 12:00pm
14th July – 5:45pm
15th July – 8:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @TheatreArcturus
f: /theatreacturus
i: @theatrearcturus

From Windsor to Toronto & Working as a Collective – Performer Erik Helle on “Elektra” at the 2016 Fringe

Madryn McCabe had the opportunity to talk to Erik Helle, who is performing in Stichomythia Theatre’s Elektra at the Toronto Fringe Festival 2016, about bringing the show from Windsor to Toronto, timeless classics and working as a collective. 

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

EH: When the king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, returned from the Trojan War, he took the Trojan princess Cassandra as a trophy bride. Upon their arrival home, they were both killed in their bed by Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover Aegisthus. Because of a prophecy that her son Orestes would one day kill Clytemnestra for her deeds, the daughter of the broken family, Elektra, snuck Orestes away to save him from any further harm she feared Clytemnestra would cause him. The play begins seven years later as Elektra walks the streets mourning her father and cursing her mother. This is now her daily routine as she waits in grief for Orestes to return again one day to avenge Agamemnon’s death.

Our play is being performed at Artscape Youngplace, the first Toronto Fringe show to be hosted there. It will be in an intimate space and staged in the round and accompanied by live music. We have a very simple lay out as the story of Sophocles and particularly this translation of John Barton and Kenneth Cavander is overwhelmingly powerful.

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MMC: I see that this is a remount of a previous production that was mounted in Windsor. How has the show changed since its first performance? Do you think there’s a difference between a Windsor audience and a Toronto audience?

EH: We have some new cast members so, of course, their choices and vision are going to change the images and blocking of the play. It’s not a carbon copy of the original and we’ve clarified some things as well as made some thematic changes.

When it comes to the Windsor audience, the easiest community we had to reach out to was at the school. We had performed it as a side project after classes and we had peers, friends, family and a whole pool of people that we could reach that were enthusiastic and supportive. But it can be a little difficult to reach out to the arts community in Windsor for a number of reasons. What is great about Toronto is that the whole city is an incubator for artists and their works. A lot of it comes down to accessibilty. Toronto is a well-connected city with lots of theatres, galleries and concert halls all across it. You are never too far from stumbling into something, it seems. Windsor isn’t connected the same way. You have to seek it out to find what you are looking for. There isn’t as much chance of stumbling into a show. The less regular it is, the less casual theatre-goers there will be. It is getting better though. The city is going through changes and I think that after we left there were more artistic buds getting ready to flourish. The community wants it to grow, so it should be a matter of time.

MMC: Elektra is a traditional ancient Greek play. How do you think modern audiences will respond to it? Have you adapted the show at all for modern theatre-goers?

EH: The play, like most of the classics, is timeless. It’s humans dealing with humans. The message and themes centre around human emotion and trauma. The focus isn’t on political, technological, or social movements. When you watch this play, it’s like a soap opera. A really messed up family and their domestic dispute. That’s what there is to love about a play like this. It is about people at their wits-end and what choices they make because of it. That translates across the history of the human race. The emotions of rage, anxiety, loneliness, or joy of these ancient characters are the same that we people feel today. When it comes to subject matter, there is nothing to adapt about the play. The text is heightened but it would be the same story no matter what.

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MMC: You talk strongly of the repercussions of past deeds to a person’s life now. What about that resonates with you? How do you balance the desire for justice against the desire to move on?

EH: I like to think that people think about this a lot – about what in their past is going to come back and bite them, or even come back and help them. What we’ve done in the past can determine so much of our future if that is what you choose to live in. Elektra lives there. She lets the events of her history overwhelm her judgment and that is what creates her present state as well as her future. Other characters have let it go and chose not to let that dictate their lives. They choose rather to make an adjustment in their present to stop a cycle of violence. These other characters, like Chrysothemis or Agisthus, who aren’t even all that alike in character, are connected by this philosophy instead. It is really the majority of the characters that want the violence and cycle of hatred to stop. Some out of selfishness, some for more wholesome reasons. All it can take for things to escalate and continue is an angry and headstrong person like Elektra, locked in tradition or stubbornness or unshakable values. She looks to satiate an immediate blood lust, rather than prevent more heartache. She has no long-term plan.

MMC: This show is being produced as a collective. What was it like rehearsing and exploring the play as an ensemble without a designated director?

EH: It takes a lot of patience and communication and open-mindedness.  A process like this is not something the cast has ever done before. It comes down to that rule of improv to say ‘yes, and’ rather than ‘no, stop.’ So there are a lot of visions in the room but so much of the excitement comes from discovering where we are thinking the same things or how we can combine ideas. Or that wonderful moment when the whole group says together “Yes that’s it!” and we just springboard into a new discovery.

Elektra

Presented by Stichomythia Theatre as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

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Who:
By: Sophocles, translated by John Barton and Kenneth Cavander
Company: Stichomythia Theatre
Company origin: Windsor and Toronto/Ontario
Cast: Alice Lundy, Daniela Piccinin, Erik Helle, Eric Bleyendaal, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho, Alyson Parovel, Elizabeth Kalles, Cara Rodger, Grant Gignac.
Creative team:
Will Jarvis – Original Sound/Music Composition

What:
I walk, I dance, I weep. My father’s skull was split with an axe, seven years ago. The House of Atreus now ruled by the selfsame hands that murdered him. O, Apollo, hear me! Let the cruel actions of those that slither through our Kingdom feel the wrath of the Gods. Their bloody retribution must come. Until justice is restored, I will not rest.

Where:
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St, Toronto

When:
June 29th – July 3rd at 9pm
July 5th – July 9th at 9pm

Tickets:
Available online: 
http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/shows/elektra/
Fund What You Can Page: 
https://fwyc.ca/campaigns/elektra-sophocles-translated-john-barton-and-kenneth-cavender-2

Connect:
Twitter: @ElektraToronto

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

Women in Theatre, The Canadian Canon & Finding Humour in Dark Subject Matter – In Conversation with Tyler Seguin, director of The Trial of Judith K

Interview by Madryn McCabe

I had a chance to talk to Tyler Seguin, director of The Trial of Judith K., presented by Thought for Food about humour in dark subject matter, women in theatre and the Canadian canon.

MM: Tell me about the Trial of Judith K.

TS: It’s a modern, Canadian take on Franz Kafka’s The Trial, set in 1980s Vancouver, with a female protagonist. It’s fast, funny, sexy, dark and violent.

MM: What made you want to direct this show? What drew you to it?

TS: The first thing that drew me to The Trial of Judith K. is the way it mixes comedy and darkness. As a person, I’m interested in big ideas and strong political statements, but as an artist I’m not really interested in didactic storytelling. Judith K. deals with some serious issues like legal disenfranchisement, the security state, oppressive cultural norms and the objectification/exploitation of women, but it does so with humour, which makes it all the more powerful. Laughter opens people up and disarms them, allowing the “Important Statement” to slip into their minds unnoticed.

We’re all breathing more freely with a new PM in the House, but we chose this play during peak Harper years. And despite the “sunny ways” of Trudeau, Bill C-51 is still on the books, and every single time I open the paper there’s another example of a Kafkaesque justice system at work in Canada, not to mention the rest of the world.

I’m also looking for opportunities for strong visuals with elements of movement and physical theatre. As far as I’m concerned, theatre isn’t a realistic art form and I am frustrated by plays that pretend to be a verbatim representation of the real world. The Trial of Judith K. revels in its theatricality.

Stephanie Belding. Photo by John Gundy

Stephanie Belding. Photo by John Gundy

After The Memo, it was important to us that the next project be a play with a stronger female voice. The Trial of Judith K. is written by a woman, with a female lead and more women than men in the cast. It’s also an older Canadian script, which appealed to us. The Trial of Judith K. was nominated for major prizes including the Governor General’s Award and the Dora for Best New Play, but it hasn’t been revisited professionally since 1989. It feels like we’re a community obsessed with creating new work, but are we really developing a Canadian canon if a script is only performed once?

MM: What do you feel is the role of theatre companies when it comes to representing the Canadian canon, even if that company’s mandate isn’t specifically to develop or showcase Canadian playwrights?

TS: There’s room for all kinds of theatre and nobody should feel beholden to anyone else’s idea of what theatre “should be.” But it seems that companies are either “new work” or “classics” and when they say “classics” it’s British, or American classics. People are now starting to explore the European canon, but very rarely do we see previously-produced Canadian plays. We were so happy to see Factory produce a whole season of previous hits, and Passe Muraille is starting a celebration series this year. But generally TPM and Factory produce seasons of entirely new work. Great! We need to develop new work, but that’s 8-10 plays that will probably only be seen once and then forgotten. And that’s just two local theatres – how many more new plays are being produced across the country? And what does that do to playwrights? If you’re not constantly producing something new, you’re yesterday’s news. And they’re being expected to put in years and years of development for a show that’ll run for possibly 5 weeks. That’s no way to create a history. Part of the problem is with our funding models. The major granting bodies are very interested in supporting the development and presentation of new work and we were actually told that since we were choosing to do an older play that we needed to make a stronger case for why we wanted to produce it.

MM: There are themes in Judith K that are similar to your last production, The Memo. Both discuss the absurdity of bureaucracy, and the down-the-rabbit-hole way of navigating it. Is Judith K a deliberate follow up to The Memo?

TS: Yes and no. Yes, there are a lot of similarities to The Memo – both stories essentially deal with one person’s fight against “The System” – but we weren’t deliberately looking for a thematic follow-up to The Memo. We wanted to find a play that would meet certain parameters: female protagonist, more women than men, Canadian, and ideally something that would let us get back in touch with the Czech community who were so incredibly supportive of The Memo. We read several plays and eventually we started looking at Kafka. There are several stage adaptations of The Trial but when we discovered Sally’s play, not only were we able to check off all the boxes, but we were excited by the material itself.

MM: The Trial of Judith K is based on Franz Kafka’s The Trial, making the protagonist a woman and setting it in the 1980s. What do you think that brings to the story?

TS: There’s an added layer of the patriarchal nature of “The System” and its inherent misogyny. In the world of Judith K. anyone can get caught up in the system, but when a woman is the accused, her body becomes part of the negotiation. The men who offer to help her, want something physical/sexual in return. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling and disturbing.

Stephanie Belding, Scott McCulloch. Photo by John Gundy

Stephanie Belding, Scott McCulloch. Photo by John Gundy

MM: I hear the design elements are very important to the show as well. Can you tell me about that?

TS: Since the show takes place in several locations, we needed a set that was flexible enough to create multiple looks using the same few pieces. We are also somewhat limited by being in the TPM Backspace – the stage is tiny. However, it has a lot of height, which we’ve also taken into consideration with our set. We wanted to evoke a sense of claustrophobia – that everything towers over Judith. We were also looking at ways of incorporating the 80s (when the play was written) and the 20s (when the novel was originally published). Expressionism blossomed in the 20s and neo-expressionism popped up in the 80s so there’s actually a lot of similarities – geometric shapes, large shoulders, the use of light & shadow are all elements we’re integrating into the design. Many music videos from the 80s owe a lot to German expressionist films. Once we started looking for the connections, they were incredibly obvious.

As well, our sound designer is playing with songs that straddle both eras while also highlighting the distinctions, such as contrasting the synth-sounds of the 80s with scratchy phonograph recordings from the 20s.

MM: Why do you think The Trial of Judith K was written as a comedy instead of a moral-imbuing drama?

TS: The source material is actually quite comedic. Kafka is funny. He’s taken on this aura of “serious writer” but his work is full of humour. We found this with The Memo as well – it’s something about the Czech psyche, they’re able to take awful, depressing situations and find the humour in them. We spoke to Sally Clark and apparently the original commission for Judith K. was a serious drama about a hostage situation and that it was the original director, Morris Panych, who suggested it should be a comedy.

MM: How do you manage the comedy with such dark and, sometimes disturbing, subject matter?

TS: We’re definitely walking a tightrope with this show. Terrible things happen throughout – assault, torture, murder, and execution are all in the story and we don’t want anyone to think that we’re taking it lightly. People should be disturbed. Our ideal tempo is “Funny – Funny – Funny – Disturbing – Funny – Funny – Funny – Is that funny? – Why did I laugh at that?” Laughing at disturbing material doesn’t mean we’re making fun of it. Humour is a powerful tool and a coping mechanism. If we can laugh at something it ceases to have power over us. So while the show has a sheen that is heightened comedy – the characters are based in Commedia, and the style is almost farcical – we are actually using this stylization to comment on some pretty horrible situations.

MM: Is there anything that you want our readers to know about the show?

TS: It feels like we’ve been talking a lot about the show’s big ideas and issues and while those are important, we want your readers to know that The Trial of Judith K. is just as funny as it is smart. Sally Clark says the overriding principle of staging this play should be “louder! faster!” The show feels a little like a sitcom run amok – the situations are wacky, the characters are outlandish and the jokes pile up on top of each other. The material can also edge into the grotesque, and the nihilism runs deep, but first and foremost it’s a comedy. Until it isn’t.

The Trial of Judith K.

Presented by Thought for Food Theatre

Scott McCulloch, Stephanie Belding. Photo by John Gundy

Scott McCulloch, Stephanie Belding. Photo by John Gundy

Who:
Directer: Tyler Seguin
Assistant Director: Tamara Vuckovic
Fight Director: Siobhan Richardson
Set Design: David Poholko
Costume Design: Miranda VanLogerenberg
Lighting Design: Jareth Li
Sound Design: Alex Eddington

Starring:
Stephanie Belding
Toni Ellwand
Patrick Howarth
Andrew Knowlton
Helen Juvonen
Scott McCulloch
Cara Pantalone

What: A sexy, funny, and thought-provoking adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial returning to Toronto stages. 

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave.)

When: January 28-February 14, 2016

Tickets: www.artsboxoffice.ca

Connect:

thought4food.ca

@thought4food
@TylerJSeguin

@intheGreenRoom_
@FuriousMAD

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