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Posts tagged ‘Mental Health’

A Chat with Charlie Kerr, co-writer and actor in AFTER WRESTLING

Interview by Bailey Green

We got to chat with Charlie Kerr, co-writer and actor in After Wrestling, on stage now at Factory Theatre. We spoke about his collaboration with co-writer Bryce Hodgson, how he navigates working with two different creative hats, and on ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Bailey Green: How did you and co-writer Bryce Hodgson meet? When did you start writing together and what’s your process like as co-creators?

Charlie Kerr: Brycey and I met when we were ten and twelve years old. I was home schooled until the fifth grade when I started public school. Bryce and I were actually both in the program for kids with learning disabilities together. As we grew up, we played in punk bands together and have always been collaborating on one thing or another. In 2014 he suggested we write a play together and something clicked. Two plays later, it’s still the same process of getting in a room together, talking things through and trying to make each other laugh.

After Wrestling – Charlie Kerr – photo by John Gundy

BG: What was the genesis behind After Wrestling? Was there a particular event or incident that inspired the story or did it grow from exploring broader themes?

CK: Yeah, Bryce and I had a friend die by suicide about seven years ago, and it shaped our lives in a really unique way. One day Bryce came to me with this concept for a play of a young man named Hogan whose life is falling apart because his best friend died by suicide and his sister, Leah, who is forced to take care of and live with her wacky, grieving brother. And from there it just grew and evolved.

BG: What has the transition from co-writer to performer been like for you?

CK: Anthony Shim, who also stars in the play, took me aside pretty early on and told me not to be a writer on stage and that was incredible advice. I really took it to heart. So yeah, during the rehearsal process I had to let go of the fact that I co-wrote the thing and approach the character like anything else I would act in. It’s been incredible and surreal to do it for an audience because I have been saying Hogan’s lines for like three years now.

After Wrestling – Leah Osler, Gabe Grey – photo by John Gundy

BG: There’s been a shift in the conversation around mental health in the last few years. Do you feel the stigma is lessening? What do we still need to focus on?

CK: It was less than a hundred years ago when Sigmund Freud first suggested that human beings’ best bet for dealing with their mental problems was talking through them, until then hypnotism was the gold standard for mental health issues. So I believe we are progressing bit by bit everyday. Like, I am twenty-six and when I was a kid struggling and I was self-harming and having panic attacks all the time, I had no idea what was going on. I just thought I was bad at dealing with life. I had no concept that I had a chemical imbalance that could be treated. Ten years ago. there was not nearly the open mental health discussion there is today. While writing this play, I took a mental health first aid course. I think getting educated the best you can on the subject is one of the most productive things you can do. I mean, in all walks of life we need to focus on empathy love and kindness. Something I think we should focus on is the stigma against getting medication. That stigma, in my opinion, is particularly toxic because for some loved ones of mine it makes the difference of life and death.

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

CK: I hope they laugh and I hope they are entertained. And ideally I would hope they would leave having compassion for those who struggle with mental health issues and empathy for those who are grieving a death of someone close to them.

After Wrestling – Gabe Grey, Leah Osler, Charlie Kerr, Anthony Shim – photo by John Gundy

BG: Tell me about Blood Pact Theatre and about partnering with Storefront and Factory Theatre.

CK: Blood Pact Theatre was created and founded by Bryce, Libby Osler, Bri Proke and I. We created it in Vancouver and put up our first play that Bryce and I wrote in 2015. And then we brought our company out to Toronto for our second show after it was selected from Storefront’s open submissions and that turned out to be a great partnership. Then last year Factory Theatre asked Storefront if they could recommend any plays for their new season and they suggested After Wrestling. That’s the coles’ notes version, at least. But yeah, it’s an incredible team! We couldn’t be happier to work with this many talented kindred spirits. It’s a dream-come-true.

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

CK: Sorry, I have such After Wrestling tunnel vision right now because we just opened so all I can really shout out is like Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, which I binged on netflix and loved. I saw Kat Sandler’s Bang Bang on my day off, which I thought was cool and made me laugh. Black Boys looks really good, Bunny looks awesome. I have seen two shows that Unit 102 put on and I love their work. The thing is Toronto is a city filled with great culture and a vibrant theatre scene. So you can’t really go wrong!

After Wrestling

Produced by Blood Pact Theatre with the generous support of Storefront Theatre in association with Factory Theatre
Written by Bryce Hodgson and Charlie Kerr

When your best friend kills himself and Facebook stalking your ex-girlfriend just ain’t what it used to be, look no further than rolling in duck feces and living in the park. Unfortunately for Hogan, his sister and the cops don’t share his same enthusiasm for DIY self-help.

After Wrestling is a slacker-comedy turned suicide-mystery that finds itself in a booze- and grief- fuelled magic realism debate on love, life, and after-death.

Factory Theatre – Studio Theatre
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto

March 1-18, 2018


“No one story is the same. No one mental health case is the same.” In Conversation with director Brittany Cope for GREEN IN BLUE

Interview by Brittany Kay

BK:  Tell me a little bit about the show you directed – Green in Blue:

Brittany Cope: Daniel and Curtis are two strangers who were destined to meet on this one bench at Woodbine Beach. Both are going through a personal crises and both unknowingly end up helping each other. Curtis fails to help Daniel in his biggest time of need, which results in personal tragedy. After having thought about everything Daniel told him that night, Curtis is changed. He tries to express his gratitude to Daniel’s mother, only to be shut down. Daniel saved Curtis’ life, now Curtis must try to keep Daniel’s legacy alive.

BK: This play has been performed before? What has the development been, if any, from its first installment?

BC: This play was first performed as a staged reading last summer and then we [Greenlight Theatre] produced a workshop production in Windsor, ON last fall. As far as development goes, the major changes we’ve made this time around have taken place in little character nuances. We’ve focused on clarifying responses and making sure only the words that need to be said on stage are actually spoken. The second act has changed the most. We wanted to really understand these two characters [Daniel and Curtis] and their views on mental health; why they think the way they do about the main actions in the play.

BK: Why the title, Green in Blue?

BC: Green in Blue actually comes from a Miles Davis song titled Blue in Green which we use in the show. It was flipped around because of a line one of the characters says in the play (you’ll have to come see the production to figure it out!)

BK: Why this piece right now?

BC: This piece is important right now because it looks at mental health and suicide in a different light. With shows like 13 Reasons Why becoming so popular and inciting conversations about the “correct” ways to look at and discuss suicide, I think it is important to open ourselves up to new and different perspectives. No one story is the same, no one mental health case is the same, so instead of judging, I think it is important to be open to a wide scope of experiences.  

BK: This is Greenlight Theatre’s first production. Are there future productions in the works? What sets you apart as a company?

BC: The goals for the future of Greenlight Theatre are simple: We want to continue creating new Canadian work by emerging artists. This mandate seems straight-forward and seems to be what we hear all the time in audition postings, but we really want to focus on the emerging artist aspect of it. We want to give these artists the opportunity to work at a professional level when they produce their work. Just because you’ve applied for several grants and never received one, doesn’t mean that your show doesn’t deserve to be seen. We want to foster those opportunities. As for the near future, we are hoping to put up another show later this fall and we will be hosting our annual Backyard Play-Reading Evening this summer to hear new work and hopefully find some collaborators for the future!

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

BC: I want our audiences to walk away with questions. I’d like everyone to question their own ability to listen to others instead of focusing solely on themselves. I think we all need to question our pre-conceived notions of how people “should” cope with the issues surrounding mental health and suicide. What would it be like in those final moments? The suicide in this play isn’t the climax of our story – it’s about the people who are affected by it.

BK: Describe the show in 3-5 words.

BC: Dark, quick, witty, thought-provoking.

by Duncan Rowe
Directed by: Brittany Cope
Featuring: Kevin Doe, Kasia Dyszkiewicz, Stacey Iseman and Duncan Rowe
Produced by: Emma Westray

Daniel and Curtis are two strangers who were destined to meet on this one bench at Woodbine Beach. Both are going through a personal crises and both unknowingly end up helping each other. Curtis fails to help Daniel in his biggest time of need, which results in personal tragedy. After having thought about everything Daniel told him that night, Curtis is changed. He tries to express his gratitude to Daniel’s mother, only to be shut down. Daniel has saved Curtis’ life, now Curtis tries to keep Daniel’s legacy alive.

Beach United Church
140 Wineva Ave., Toronto, ON
(a wheelchair accessible venue)

May 11-13, 2017 at 7:30pm

Tickets are $20 cash at the door, or you can buy $15 advanced tickets at

fb: /GreenlightTheatreProductions
ig: @greenlighttheatre

Exploring Modern Tragedy and the Importance & Impact of Stories about Mental Health in the Theatre – In Conversation with “Salt” Playwright Erin Vandenberg

Interview by Hallie Seline

We spoke with the lovely Erin Vandenberg, playwright of Salt, about her curiosity in exploring how we experience and express tragedy, the impact of telling a story through the theatre, and the necessity to talk about mental health and addiction. You can catch the world premiere of Salt, on now until September 28th, at Alumnae Theatre (show details below).

Hallie Seline: Tell me a bit about the play and what inspired the piece?

Erin Vandenberg: Salt explores the impact of mental illness and addiction on two teenage sisters and their alcoholic mother.

I was re-reading several translations of Euripides and thinking about how we experience and express tragedy – whether that be intense personal tragedy or horrific societal injustice (or both at once, as is often the case). The elegance of the classical Greek play doesn’t feel right for today somehow, but still grabs me personally. In the middle of that, I came across a headline about two sisters who committed a crime as a response to a lifetime of coping with their mother’s alcoholism. From the outside, the fact that they would take such desperate action is shocking, but I didn’t feel shocked. I felt the opposite, that in the face of certain circumstances the sisters’ response was all too understandable, and that was part of the tragedy of it all for me. We don’t talk enough about mental illness and addiction. We would rather simply be shocked when someone dealing with those issues acts out and then move on.

I started Salt from there. I didn’t have a lot of details about the girls involved (they were young offenders and thus protected). I also decided not to research the real story, which I believe involved co-conspirators and a social media element. I was more interested in what might it be like for two girls to grow up with an alcoholic mother, what was happening day-to-day in the home. What was happening for the mother too – alcoholism is a disease. I placed them in a situation with limited access to resources as well. How do you cope through that? Every character is in pain in the play and fumbling to deal with that, particularly when it becomes obvious that the pain is unrelenting. I have some insight into what that feels like from my own experience with depression.

From left: Cosette Derome and Lucy Hill in a scene from Salt. In the bg from left: Philippa Domville and Stephanie Jung. Photo by Robert Harding.

From left: Cosette Derome and Lucy Hill in a scene from Salt. In the bg from left: Philippa Domville and Stephanie Jung. Photo by Robert Harding.

HS: Why were you drawn to present this story in the theatre? 

EV: I’m drawn to theatre in general because there’s something so visceral when you have a real live human being in front of you, enacting a story. You don’t have a screen between you. You don’t have to conjure the story up from words alone.

For Salt specifically, there’s an element of storytelling inherent in the piece – all the characters tell each other and themselves stories in order to cope. But the stories alone cannot sustain them and they begin to fail as coping mechanisms. And there’s such an opportunity to show that breakdown in the theatre. In the play, one of the characters makes landscape scenes out of construction paper as her way of telling herself stories, and we have the opportunity to get to see those creations in the production in a deeply theatrical, larger than life way; seeing them like that adds to the impact. Design brings so much and can carry so much of the narrative, and that is really interesting to me as a writer. That words alone don’t have to do all the work.

Lucy Hill as Petal in "Salt. Photo by Robert Harding

Lucy Hill as Petal in “Salt”. Photo by Robert Harding.

HS: Can you speak about the development of this piece and how your mentors have influenced your work?

EV: This piece would not be where it is without Briana Brown, my director and dramaturge. Before her, I had been writing mostly on my own, with some sporadic, one-off workshop readings sprinkled through the process. Workshop readings are definitely helpful, but it’s different when you can get someone’s sustained support. It becomes an ongoing conversation, and to be able to have that with someone who not only understands the territory the play explores but who is perched just outside of my process is really illuminating. She also gets me really well, and the relationship we’ve established (really quickly too) makes me feel not so lonely, the way so much of the writing process necessarily is. Briana and all of our cast and design team ask really sharp questions and finding my way to answering them has brought a new clarity to the piece. They are all downright heroic, and it’s wonderful to be able to work with so many other artists. Writers in other forms don’t get that in the same way as playwrights.

HS: What is the best advice you have ever gotten?

EV: Find out who you are without the depression. The psychiatrist who diagnosed me with clinical depression told me that. That was tough. It’s not necessarily related to my artistic practice, but it opened something up for me – I am not the disease. When you are inside it, it’s so easy to get lost. I’m still figuring out who I am without the depression.

Also, always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. Then, always be a unicorn. I think that’s pretty solid. (The internet tells me this can be attributed to Elle Lothlorien from her book Alice in Wonderland, which appears to be a romance novel…)

HS: What is your favourite place in the city?

EV: My bed. Especially when I’m reading or napping there with my cats. I made my peace with the fact that I am not cool long ago.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

EV: Books. Conversations. Paintings. History. Nature. Anything that both gets me out of my own head and resonates with me on a gut level.

I also find that I find inspiration through the work – the act of writing, forcing myself to sit there with a piece and think through it, breeds inspiration. I find I often can’t answer questions about my work in person, I can only do it through the next round of re-writes.

HS: If your audience could listen to one song before the show, what would it be?

EV: Asking for Flowers by Kathleen Edwards. I’ve been listening to it every time I sit down to work on the play. Part of the chorus is “Don’t tell me you’re too tired, 10 years I’ve been working nights.” Which pretty much sums up how I feel about living with depression, how frustrating and exhausting it can be. I am not the disease, but it’s something that I wrestle with every day, just like the characters in the play.


Presented by Lark & Whimsy Theatre Collective


Written by Erin Vandenberg
Directed by Briana Brown
Featuring: Philippa Domville, Cosette Derome, Lucy Hill, Geoffrey Armour and Stephanie Jung
Set & Costume Design by Anna Treusch
Lighting Design & Production Manager – Gabriel Cropley
Sound Design by Lyon Smith
Stage Manager – Laurie Merredew
Assistant Stage Manager – Deanna Galati
Publicity Consultant – Katie Saunoris
Consulting Producer – Lisa Li
Assistant Producer – Brittany Kay
Produced by Chris Baker and Erin Vandenberg

When Lilias returns home after a year at school, she finds her mother Vivian increasingly fixated on Great Aunt Rose ‐ a figure Lilias believes never existed ‐ and her sister Petal virtually engrossed in a construction-paper fantasy world. Faced with an ever‐deteriorating family situation, Lilias struggles to chart a course that protects herself and Petal from Vivian’s abuse. But as tensions run high, the roles of abuser and victim become blurred.

Alumnae Studio Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street

Tuesday, Sept 20 – 7:30pm (Opening)
Wednesday, Sept 21 – 1:30pm & 7:30pm
Thursday, Sept 22 – 7:30pm
Friday, Sept 23 – 7:30pm
Saturday, Sept 24 – 1:30pm & 7:30pm
Sunday, Sept 25 – 7:30pm
Tuesday, Sept 27 – 7:30pm
Wednesday, Sept 28 – 7:30pm (Closing)


facebook – @larkandwhimsytheatre
twitter – @Lark_and_Whimsy
hashtag – #SaltPremiere


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

Interview by Brittany Kay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BK: What was the process in creating this show?

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

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

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

BK: That is a beautiful problem to have. 

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

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

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

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

JS: This feels more authentic.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

MC: Everything’s more complicated.

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

BK: Cue Sarite Harris.

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

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

BK: Where did these sites come from?

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

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

MC: It’s horrible…

(they laugh)

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

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

BK: That was a really nice answer guys. 

MC: We practiced outside.

JS: We’re going to hug later.

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

BK: What about the rest of your team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite Movie
The Big Lebowski
JS: Sandlot

Favourite Play
King Lear.
JS: The Seagull.

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons in Temperament


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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Location

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

More Show Info:

Sold out in advance but limited tickets at the door.

twitter – @tunesmithprod
instagram – @tunesmithproductions


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: