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Posts tagged ‘Michelle Alexander’

Q&A with Darwin Lyons and Michelle Alexander, co-directors of Well Born

Interview by Bailey Green

BG: What about the script stood out to you?  

Michelle Alexander: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the obvious answer: a woman haunted by a talking plastic baby. Can’t say I’ve ever come across that in a script before. As a director I’m most drawn to scripts that mess with audience expectation, i.e. scripts that make you think they’re a straight-up comedy and then stab you right in the gut when you least expect it. Celeste has taken subject matter that could easily be written as high drama and made it something special using her unique, twisted sense of humour and unapologetic approach to deep, uncomfortable, human truths.

BG: At the beginning of the play, where do we find the characters? Where are they, what obstacles are they facing?

Darwin Lyons: At the beginning of the play Elizabeth is five months pregnant. She and her husband Chris have just received the results of a test that tell them that their baby has a 50% chance of being born with some sort of incapacity. Elizabeth was adopted and never knew her birth mother and the results of this test make her question if she can handle the struggles of being a mother. Thankfully, she has a talking plastic baby to bounce ideas off of. Oh wait, that’s not so helpful. Elizabeth happens to be someone who likes to control everything, and she wants things to be perfect (I wonder what that’s like? Kidding… I know exactly what that’s like). This play is really the journey of Elizabeth trying to figure out how to accept the real version of life, even if it’s messy.

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

BG: What has the experience of co-directing been like? How do you navigate shared responsibilities and balancing a common vision of the production?

MA: Co-directing is the woooooorst. Never do it. KIDDING! Co-directing has its challenges, but with the right ‘match of minds’, two heads can truly be better than one.

Working in tandem with another director really forces you to ‘put the art first’ rather than your own ego. When you’re directing solo it can be easy to convince yourself your idea is definitely right and definitely brilliant. The act of bumping that idea up against someone else’s creative vision really forces you to evaluate whether or not it is the best choice for the story of the play.

How do we navigate co-directing? Honestly, I almost think of it like we are co-parenting a play-baby. Yeeeep, I said it! To raise our play-baby as best we can we have to commit to full, open communication, compromise and trust. If we get frustrated with one another we just throw our focus towards what decision will foster the growth and well-being of our play-baby.

*Side bar: I now fear the title of this interview will be ‘Michelle and Darwin made a Play-Baby.’

DL: Like all worthwhile endeavours and relationships co-directing with Michelle is awesome and also hard. The challenges come from the fact that we need to be really keyed into each other and communicate really well. We both work really long hours at many jobs, but we always take 30 seconds at the end of each rehearsal to check in with each other. We have an almost sign language type code—you good? Yes/no? Do we need to have a bigger chat? The joy of co-directing is that two brains are better than one. I believe that the more life experience to bring to the creation of a story the better it will be. Michelle and I have worked together a lot, and we know that our strengths and weaknesses really compliment each other. I don’t know what co-directing with someone else would be like, but I do know that what makes this collaboration work is that I trust her implicitly, I agree with her aesthetic, I think she’s incredibly smart and talented, and I know that we will be able to talk through any challenges.

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

Photo of Sophia Fabiilli by Darren Goldstein

BG: What has been the most challenging aspect of the process?

DL: This play jumps time, space and logic. Reading Well Born for the first time I loved how I felt like I was right inside of Elizabeth’s brain. It made me so excited because I feel like I get lost in my fantasy world and memories, it’s cool to see that reflected in a story. However staging that can be a bit of a challenge. How would you communicate to an audience that one second your in someone’s fantasy, then memory, then worst case scenario nightmare, then back to reality? Thankfully we have an amazing design team that is willing to really collaborate with us to help the vision of the show come to life.

MA: I’m an actor as well as a director, so I think my greatest strength as a director is working with actors, figuring out their characters, their moments. Staging is a whole other ballgame. Even thinking about staging complicated scene transitions or ‘fancy blocking’ gives me sweaty armpits. Celeste’s play requires a lot of fast scene transitions, many locations and some serious ‘theatre magic’. That has been the biggest challenge: How to fulfill the staging of this play in a fluid way while staying within an indie theatre budget.

BG: What has brought you the most joy in this process?

DL: Last week I ran into a friend and was telling her about the show and she launched into a story about how she struggled with something similar when she was pregnant. After sharing these intimate details from her life she sat back and said, “Sorry, I guess I just really needed to get that out.” It’s great to work on a story that people seem hungry for. I rarely hear women given the platform to talk about the real struggles and fears of being pregnant. I think the most important part of art is that it allows people an opportunity to say, me too! It allows them space to have their experiences shared, or for us to learn about an experience we might not have had. I love being a part of stories that are honest and also rarely told—this story is both. A huge benefit of that is that this story has attracted a wonderful team of actors, designers and production people to work with. Seriously, you would want to hang out with all of them if you got the chance to.

MA: The people! The cast and creative team working on Well Born are not only insanely skilled at what they do, they also work incredibly well as a team. Working on a new play is like following a moving target: the script is constantly changing, the design shifts as the script shifts, actors are given a new scene one day and then have it taken away the next… I know, you’re probably thinking ‘This is your joyful part of the process Michelle?!’ It is! Because when the whole team leaves their ego at the door, rolls up their sleeves and comes in with an attitude of ‘let’s find the guts of this thing!’ it’s not just ‘rehearsing a play’ it’s creating something new together. 

BG: What excites you the most about emerging female playwrights in Toronto? 

MA: That more and more are emerging every day! At Nightwood I get to read a lot of scripts by emerging female writers, and I must say, there are a lot of badass plays by women coming down the pipe! I’ve seen a lot of great scripts in the past few months that aren’t afraid to stand behind a strong point-of-view; that aren’t afraid to be messy and uncomfortable and that aren’t afraid to be funny! Celeste’s play is an example of the incredible, fierce and funny female writers in this city!

(Note: this Q&A has been edited for length and clarity)


#WellBorn2016 produced by SoCo Theatre in association with Truth ‘n’ Lies Theatre



Mother-to-be Elizabeth is haunted by her inconclusive prenatal test results, the fact that she never knew her biological mother… and a talking plastic baby. Deeply personal and darkly comic, Well Born is a twisted dramedy about otherness, acceptance, and facing your fears by emerging playwright Celeste Percy-Beauregard.


Artscape Youngplace, Studio 109 (180 Shaw St.)


Thursday March 3, 8pm
Friday, March 4, 8pm
Saturday March 5, 2pm
Saturday, March 5, 8pm
Sunday March 6, 8pm (Closing)


$25 general admission | $20 arts worker | PWYC on Sat Jan 27 at 2pm


*RSVP to the Facebook event to stay in the loop!


In Conversation with Sophia Fabiilli – Adaptor & Performer of The Philanderess in the 2015 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Hallie Seline

I had the pleasure of chatting with the Fabulous Fabiilli. I call her that as 1 – her twitter handle is FabFabiilli and I want it to catch on and 2 – she’s inspired me to think that should be her superhero name. Currently wearing the many hats of adaptor/writer, producer, actor etc. etc. in her show The Philanderess in this year’s Fringe Festival, Sophia shares her inspiration for the adaptation, the strength of her team around her and some very good advice for surviving the ever-necessary evil of wearing those multi-tasking shoes in indie theatre. #FringeFemmeTO power!

HS: What inspired you to adapt George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer for the 21st century?

Sophia Fabiilli: Want to know my little secret? I didn’t have a project when I applied for the Fringe (gasp!). I was trying to find the perfect play to produce, but nothing felt right and my gut told me I was trying too hard. So, I sat down in my front of my bookshelf and said: “What do you really like, Sophia?” (out loud, alone, and creepily in my apartment). And there was my copy of Shaw’s Plays Unpleasant. I loved working on a scene from The Philanderer in theatre school and I realized what I really like are plays that make me laugh and make me think. I’m also very passionate about the representation of women on stage and in the media, so thought it would be interesting to re-invent the play with a woman at the centre of a modern love triangle, while trying to let Shaw’s smart, funny, and witty writing inspire my own. Then I realized this idea would involve writing a PLAY, so I went around telling myself I couldn’t possibly do THAT. Then, I finally told someone the idea, they said “DO IT”, and I started writing (and I haven’t slept a full night since).

What resulted is a weird, little farce. Our tagline is “Open relationships, ballsy sexcapades, and weeping men… What would Shaw think of that?”. Laugh? Cry? Throw rotten tomatoes from the grave? Come see the show and tell me what you think over a Steamwhistle after.

HS: You have a great group of artists working on this play. What was it like bringing something that you had been working with so intimately as an adaptor to the team you have around you?

SF: My amazing director/dramaturg/work wife, Michelle Alexander, was the first person I asked to help me with this project and I will sing her praises to anyone willing to listen. It’s been her and I since the get-go and we have slowly built our mighty little team together.

HS: What’s it been like?

SF: As an actor and producer: AWESOME. Work with great people. They’ll make you look like you know what you’re doing.

As a writer: AWESOME. And, to be honest, a little overwhelming. If you hire smart actors, they will ask hard questions about your weird little play baby, which in the moment is challenging, but in the long run is invaluable. There were a few humbling rehearsals where discrepancies were pointed out and questions were asked and I had to go back to my laptop and figure it out. Overall though, everyone’s profesh (that’s how I say professional without sounding pretentious); they all know what they’re doing and they’re all invested. I’m extremely lucky to be working with them.

HS: As you mentioned, you wear many hats for this production – adaptor, writer, producer, actor – what was your experience taking on so many roles in this show and do you have any words of advice for others who are or might one day be in the same kind of multitasking shoes?

SF: Full disclosure: writing, acting, and producing this show is by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It is as difficult as everyone tells you it is (Michelle and I answer each other’s calls “Hello! Panic Attack Central” which gives you an idea of what our lives have been like leading up to opening).

Even now that we’re open, I’m STILL working on trying to separate my different roles, but things always come up! For instance, once we started rehearsals, I was trying really to “hang up my writer hat”, but then… the ending needed a major rewrite. And then… the show was too long. And then… it was still too long. And then… it was still too long… Layer in a never-ending producing to do list and slaying my demons as an actor, and… yes, Panic Attack Central really should have been the name of my theatre company now that I think of it.

So, here’s my humble advice:

1) Just like in real life, wearing more than one hat isn’t a “good” idea. But wearing multiple hats in this crazy biz is often unavoidable, so: prioritize and carve out time in your schedule for the creative things. Often there are harder deadlines for the producer things and will take priority sometimes (okay, a lot of times), make time for the creative stuff (for writing, learning lines, warming up for your show)… because chances are the creative part is probably why you’re producing your own show in the first place.

2) Ask for help. This one is so hard! It’s hard to trust other people with your weird play baby (no one understands her like you do). Surround yourself with awesome people and let them help you. My stage manager, Laura Paduch, offered to take on producer-y things from the get-go and I will forever love her for that. I also ended up bringing on my awesome co-producer, Vikki Velenosi, who keeps forcing me to give her items off my to do list, which she then magically accomplishes. I will love her forever, too. And then there is my small army of friends who I call for advice, for help postering, or for free therapy sessions. Oh, and Mom built my set. So, yes, I would definitely recommend having handy (and retired) parents.

3) Think less, just do it. This became my weirdo Nike-inspired mantra. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed. Do one thing at a time. Make a to do list and start checking things off. Just do it.

4) Budget extra time. For everything. Yep.

5) Take care of yourself. Take breaks. Take your vitamins. Sleep. Eat well. Call your mom (especially if she built your set).

Please note: I did not do these things unless we count eating Nutella off a spoon at 2am as “eating well”.

6) Remind yourself to enjoy the process. Half way through rehearsals I realized I was stressing so much about making a play. A PLAAAY. Even though I am totally the CEO of Panic Attack Central, making theatre isn’t heart surgery, so I tried my best not to stress about it like it was (and failed, but this sounds like excellent advice, doesn’t it?).

HS: Tell us about your favourite aspect of the Fringe Festival.

SF: The lottery system. “Breaking into the scene” is really daunting and can feel impossible, but anyone can get into the Fringe! It doesn’t matter what’s on your resume!! I just love that. And the beer tent is pretty fun, I guesssss…..

HS: Describe The Philanderess in 5 words.

SF: Silly. Sexy. Weird. Ridiculous. Unicorn.

HS: We’re loving the #FringeFemmeTO hashtag you ladies started! As Femmes who are Fringing, any other shows you think we should check out?

SF: It caught on! Woohoo! I feel like an old lady who got her DVD player to work! Honestly, I have a very on-again/off-again relationship with Twitter, but this really is evidence of its power to connect people.

So many #FringeFemmeTO shows to see and so little time! Here are just a few in no particular order:

In Case We Disappear, Bout, Hanger, Adventures of a Red Headed Coffee Shop Girl, Morro and Jasp do Puberty, Waiting for Alonzo

The Philanderess

Presented by Truth ‘n’ Lies Theatre as part of The 2015 Toronto Fringe


Meet Charlotte. She has a PhD in feminist philosophy, just asked her lawyer boyfriend to be her life partner, and authors a wildly famous blog about sleeping with men on the side. She has it all!
Until one of her lovers – and his entire family – crash her engagement party.
An outrageous, sexy, fast-paced farce inspired by G.B. Shaw’s ‘The Philanderer’!

By: Sophia Fabiilli
Company: Truth ‘n’ Lies Theatre
Company origin: Toronto, Ontario
Director: Michelle Alexander
Cast: Amos Crawley, Seth Drabinsky, Jakob Ehman, Sophia Fabiilli, Deborah Tennant and Suzanne Bennett
Creative team:
Stage Manager: Laura Paduch, Co-producers: Sophia Fabiilli and Vikki Velenosi, Designer: Laura Gardner, Fight Director: Nate Bitton

Where: Annex Theatre

July 02 at 07:00 PM  buy tickets
July 04 at 11:00 PM  buy tickets
July 06 at 01:30 PM  buy tickets
July 08 at 07:30 PM  buy tickets
July 10 at 05:45 PM  buy tickets
July 11 at 12:30 PM  buy tickets
July 12 at 04:00 PM  buy tickets

Warnings: Sexual Content, Mature Language


Connect with them: @truthnlies


Connect with us: @intheGreenRoom_