Interview by Hallie Seline
HS: Tell me a bit about Mockingbird at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.
KR: “January is the new July” is the motto of the Next Stage Festival this year and that could not be more true; both for good and environmentally dubious reasons… But to focus on the positive, Mockingbird is a World Premiere of Rob Kempson’s second ‘high school’ play where we’re dropped into the secret and mysterious world of an English teacher’s office at a high school. We meet a varied cast of teachers, all with their particular roles to play in the claustrophobic room they retreat to for some respite from the teenagers they’re teaching. We soon discover that everyone’s favourite colleague, Jon Foster, is having a relationship with a student, and the delicate balance of harmony is quickly disrupted.
HS: Can you speak to me a bit about your character in the show?
KR: Alexandra Lee is a young woman with a very clear sense of right and wrong. She is ambitious and dedicated to her chosen profession in a way which she does not extend to her personal life. Jon Foster, her delightful gay best friend of 10 years, provides her with all the companionship she needs and working at the same school has been a dream come true. An aspiring novelist, Alex is searching for something, which when the show begins, is out of her grasp.
HS: It’s so wonderful to see such a large cast on our Canadian stage. What has been your favourite aspect about working with such a large, diverse cast, which features a rich range of talent in experience, background and age?
KR: Having so many rich personalities in the same room creates a dynamism which is electric. Previous to the first day, I knew a few of the cast members to say hello, but I didn’t really know anyone very well. Starting rehearsals almost felt like that first day in September when you go back to school and meet your new class mates, but the beauty of the theatre is that we then got to play together. I laughed harder in these rehearsals than in any I recently recall and not always at the appropriate time.
HS: Why do you think this story needs to be shared with audiences now?
KR: We live in a very progressive community here in Toronto and in the past few decades I think that the value of ‘rules’ has eroded. Very few professions carry an unbreakable code of conduct; doctors, lawyers, and many would argue teachers. How do those two concepts coexist? How do we marry our progressive society with an unbreakable code? How do we navigate those grey areas of life? That seems to be the crux of where so much of life exists, so we need to ask ourselves those questions.
HS: It’s just the beginning of a brand new year, which always feels like it opens up the potential for new possibilities. What do you hope to see this year in the Toronto/Canadian theatre community?
KR: Before moving to Toronto, I lived in London and New York. What struck me when I moved here was the lack of Canadian stories on our stages, in contrast to the prominence of British or American stories I witnessed in those cities. In Toronto I think that varies year to year, but that is always my hope as I go into a theatre; show me something about the world I live in, and the country if possible. Sorry to be a bother. Thanks 😉
Short Answer Questions:
What are you listen to lately? Alabama Shakes. I’m obsessed.
Where do you look for inspiration? In the theatre, in books, in friends, and in nature. I live near High Park and it never ceases to amaze me.
What is your favourite place in the city? Withrow Park, the AGO, or the Islands. That’s a tough one.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? “Follow your passion, because you’re lucky to have one.”
Describe Mockingbird in 5 to 10 words: Drawing lines means picking sides.
Presented by timeshare as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival
Playwright/Director: Rob Kempson
Featuring: Tess Degenstein, Beau Dixon, Margaret Evans, James Graham, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Esther Jun, Andrew Moodie, Rahnuma Panthaky, Andrew Pimento, Kaitlyn Riordan, Paula Wing
Producer: Lisa Li
Set/Costume Designer: Brandon Kleiman
Lighting Designer: Michelle Ramsay
Sound Designer: Lyon Smith
What: When we first meet the English department at Finch Park Collegiate, rumours are flying about a teacher-student relationship. Two days later, Mr. Foster has been removed from the school and everyone is trying to make sense of what has happened. An exploration of what happens when innocence meets authority, and the grey area between right and wrong.
Where: Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St)