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Posts tagged ‘New Musical’

“From TV Pilot to Site-Specific Musical & On Keeping Open to Options and Optimism” In Conversation with Kris Hagen on LIGHTERS IN THE AIR at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Jared Bishop.

Kris Hagen, often known for his comedy or his role as ‘Sketchy Looking Dude’ on Kim’s Convenience, brings his original music to the Toronto Fringe Festival. Lighters in the Air, the first show by Dive Bar Productions, is a site-specific musical set in a bar where the mic is always open. I spoke with Kris about how the story kept developing from TV Pilot, to feature, to site-specific musical, what it’s like wearing many hats with this show and on how he lives his life by keeping open to options, optimism and surrounding himself with good people.

The show is performed in the Monarch Tavern, this is where we met to chat about the show. We move throughout the space during our conversation. We start the interview with Kris behind the bar.

Kris Hagen: Water?

Jared Bishop: Yes, please.

KH: (looking over at their stage setup) I just realized I had left the table there. I kept running into it last night. There is always something to keep it fresh every night!

JB: Wait, so last night there was a table on stage that wasn’t meant to be there?

KH: Yeah, that little table there in front of the couch wasn’t supposed to be there so last night I am like walking and talking and walking backwards and it’s like right there and I am running into it.

Kris is walking me through the space, reliving moments from the show the night before.

JB: When did you know you were going to use this space?

KH: Well, basically when I decided to put it on as a live show, I thought that this space would suit the bar in this story. I had written this as a TV pilot, this was a few years ago, and I thought if I was to film it, this would be a great place to film. And I still had this place in my mind when I decided to make it into a live show. I know the Monarch has had Fringe shows before so they were perfect people to approach. When they agreed to do it, I adapted the film script into the live show. I could really visualize the space. I just thought this setup, apart from these pillars, was perfect, but I guess there will always be something when you’re working with a different space.

JB: The pillars though, they were written into the script and they even become a character in the story. This is an example of what impressed me with your use of the space. It felt like this show couldn’t happen anywhere else. What other unexpected challenges came up for you?

KH: So apparently we have the worst lighting board in history over there and these are the lights to the bar, so there are two places to change the lights on stage. So we just thought to get the cast to do it and that became part of the story as time went on. We didn’t have to bring in any other lights except for an LED strip along the base of the bar.

JB: How long was your cast in this space before the start of Fringe?

KH: We were able to get in and do a fair amount of rehearsals here starting a month ago. Being a Fringe show with a 9 person cast, everyone wasn’t always available. It was great to have the space to work with small groups in the cast. Trying to transfer a script into a site-specific space, I have never really done that. Taking a square rehearsal space and trying to move all of that into here, it would have been a nightmare. Being able to be in here saved us a lot, it just made the show feel more polished with transitions and lighting. All of that stuff would not have been possible without earlier access to this space, so we got lucky. It was fun to problem solve in a space like this.

JB: When did you start writing the story you tell in Lighters in the Air?

KH: It was originally a TV pilot. I had all these songs I had written over the years and I hadn’t done enough with them, so I started this TV pilot idea, setting it in the Toronto music and busking scene, having each episode feature one of my original songs. From there, I adapted the story into a feature film. In terms of story, it kept shifting a little bit with each version. It evolved over time. Focusing the story in a dive bar with the final version that we have now all came to me in January and February when I knew I had to adapt it for this space. It sat in the back of my mind for about a month, and then one day within an hour I had every scene finished. It all just came to the surface.

JB: Musically, where do you find inspiration?

KH: I think I’m drawn to the idea of music being a soundtrack to life. I have tended to write more sad ballads because, when I turn to write, it is more often than not when things aren’t going that well in life. I am just home by myself and the guitar is kind of my therapist so I pick it up and start improvising songs. I think it’s very helpful. It’s helped me stay calm just having those songs and, at any time, having that ability to write.

JB: How has it been wearing all of these different hats in a production? Is it something you have done before?

KH: I have done it but not like this… maybe for a short film or web series… there was some significant effort before but not like this. I have been living off of coffee and potato chips for a month. I have lost 15 pounds, so right after this I am heading back to the Good Life. But I just feel like I got to keep going. Once you get a great cast and crew together you feel responsible to do it for them, as well. I have two great assistant directors and the cast is great. It has become very collaborative. I want to be sure to be in the scenes and present when I’m acting, so it’s good to have those eyes on the outside. And everyone gets along so well, it’s a great group.

JB: Are there other parts of this experience you feel are important to share?

KH: It’s an art-imitates-life sort of thing for me. The story is about personal relationships and how important they are in a community. The dive bar is this community, it’s in rougher times but those bonds between people persist through that. Just working with this group, I think we have imitated that. Building a community out of nothing. It’s that experience for me that’s been the most fun. We are all pleased to have met each other and to be working together. We have fun and we try to bring that energy to the audience. Hopefully we are achieving that with this show.

I have always wanted to do more with music. Did that inspire me to do this show? Or is it inspiring me to focus on the music side and record an album and do more live shows? I am not sure at the moment.

JB: Your character said the exact same thing on stage

KH: Just not sure what to do next, right? As long as you have some options and some optimism and some good people around you to work with, you can always do something.

JB: I like that, options and optimism.

KH: Yeah, you find it by pursuing things actively and pursuing relationships openly and accepting. I am trying to cultivate that in my own life. Being active and optimistic can go a long way.

Lighters in the Air

A musician named Leo returns to his former hangout, The Empty, a dive bar where the mic is always open.

Lighters in the Air will feature original songs by Hagen as well as nightly guest performances by some of the brightest talent in the Toronto music and comedy scenes, including Laura Tremblay (Jukebox Hero: The Musical; Stage West Calgary’s Legally Blonde: The Musical), Ben Beauchemin (Kim’s Convenience, Saving Hope), Ted Morris (Yuk Yuk’s, Just for Laughs, Sirius XM), and more!

The Monarch Tavern
12 Clinton St.

Company: Dive Bar Theatre
Creator: Kris Hagen
Assistant Directors: Kristen MacCulloch & Steven Holmberg
Cast: Natalia Bushnik, Balinda Corpus, Cody Crain, Anna Douglas, Rachael Fisher, Kris Hagen, Olaf Sham, Amanda Silcoff, Taylor Wittaker

Remaining Shows:
July 14th 3:00pm
July 15th 7:00pm






“A Vaudeville of Ionesco meets 30 Rock” In Conversation with David Bernstein on creating “surrealist hoedown” NASHVILLE STORIES at SummerWorks

Article by Megan Robinson

David Bernstein is sitting across from me in my living room and being delightfully self-deprecating and candid about his current production Nashville Stories at SummerWorks. “Oh, you’ve never heard of me? Well here is my original 75 minute, ten person musical! […] I’ve had to really interrogate my desire to make things this big.” He is joking but also not. He considers the production his “cold open” to the Toronto theatre scene, which is a lot for someone taking on the roles of writer, director and actor. As the opening was creeping up and nerves were beginning to take over, David lets me know he is seriously considering his therapist’s recommendation that he get Beta Blockers.

“What are those?” I ask.

“They slow down the heart,” he says.

Having studied at NYU, David is now working in Toronto where he is building his reputation for making bold and out-of-the-box choices, despite the fact that networking is not what he considers his strong suit. A performance artist, his first Canadian production Cherry Corsage was an original piece co-presented by Videofag. He is also a creative associate for the dance company Rock Bottom Movement, where he works closely and collaboratively with choreographer Alyssa Martin.

His newest beast Nashville Stories is what he describes as a “surrealist hoedown”, and is the result of seven months of work starting back in December when he and Jake Vanderham (co-writer, producer and actor) pitched it to Summerworks.

The show is inspired by Garth Brooks’ strange turn into Chris Gaines back in 1999, an event David says he knew nothing about at the time. “I liked country music but like… Shania Twain.” When Liza Kelly, costume designer, posted an article about the phenomenon on Facebook, David took the click bait and discovered his newest show.

As we discuss the event, David puts real emphasis on the incredulity of Garth’s choice. “He was the biggest selling artist of that time and he decided he was going to make himself into this weird sleazy rock star character. We use one of the songs from that album in this show and it sounds like Boyz II Men. Not only is it not what people paid to see from him, historically, it also calls into question the sort of constructed aspect of the rest of what he’d done.”

Pop culture and celebrity has been a staple in all of David’s original work so far, “Every time I find something that I want to make something about, it’s always about a real person, a celebrity, and it usually involves something about how they make their art.

His first show, which was created while he was living in New York, centered around Lena Dunham. The show was inspired by the strange results of Dunham’s rise to fame, which put a unique stamp on “the millennial creative woman trying to figure out her shit”. This archetype became its own cliché that then trapped a lot of the women he knew who were trying to make art from their own lives. And so birthed the show, Too Many Lenas.

Next up: Cherry Corsage, about Isaac Mizrahi on the shopping channel, and the very real segment where he argues about whether the moon is a star or a planet. David was a sales person, himself, when he saw the clip and was fascinated with the showmanship of sales, “Sales is just this weird extemporaneous monologue with this thing at the end where you try to get people’s money. So I was watching this person perform in this mode that I was performing in and I was thinking, “Great! I’m going to do that.”

So how does a country singer creating an alter ego as a rock star with a made up back story hit a personal chord in David’s life?

Well, the show is trying to grapple with that tension of creative fulfilment and success with that romantic, social side. David was going through a breakup, himself, and used the creative process to bolster where he was in his own life.

“When you hear about Garth’s story and you get that Wikipedia epiphany of “Oh! Chris Gaines is what he did after he got a divorce,” you get this sense, and it’s the one we end with in the show, of this bittersweet moment of somebody fixing what they thought was an inadequacy in them based on a romantic failing, with a creative change that forces them to leave something behind. Where I was socially, romantically, I could feel all those holes he was trying to fill. And feel what he would have had to push out to fill them.”

This, David says, is what’s underneath all the colourful flourishes “if you really are sinking your teeth into it.” But most of the time, the nonsense and the fun is what prevails. David’s work leaves people with questions. Mooney on Theatre reviewed Cherry Corsage and said “Despite the research, and having no clue about what on earth I just witnessed, I still enjoyed myself, and the show. It was really funny.”

Which makes sense to me even more as David unravels his creative process of scriptwriting, which starts out with a point and ends in a joke: “A lot of the script is found material. There’s a Bette Midler stand-up special, then three lines I’ve written and an inside joke from rehearsal. We stage it, then I’ll cut what was the heart of the piece, and the inside joke might stay. And then it becomes a transition for the next scene.” As a result, the final script was really only solidified a week and a half ago. “There are just too many options,” David says, about creating his own script.

Nashville Stories is ambitious and in the interview it’s almost like David is struggling to get a baby tiger to cuddle with him, as he explores the various elements of this fun and fluffy but wild-spirited piece.

There is a lot at stake, and to trust in your own vision can be hard, though David is getting better at that. “I’m not afraid of people being like “WHAT THE FUCK?” I’m afraid of bored, polite digestion.” There’s also apprehension of making those final leaps in rehearsal in order to sew it all together, “I trust the cast to get there, but it requires a real acrobatic ability from the performers. I think it’s pretty close.” Then there’s the weight of bringing in the audience: “I feel such a responsibility throwing the cast out there in front of people, so what I’m creating and the structure of the piece has to serve them. I can’t let them go out there with something I know I should’ve cut or put in a different spot. “

When I ask David a final time to give me a sense of the show or to describe it (which I’ve done a lot already and it is probably annoying) he leaves me with, “A Vaudeville of Ionesco meets 30 Rock.”

Nashville Stories

Written by David Bernstein and Jake Vanderham
Directed by David Bernstein
Produced by Jake Vanderham
Performed by Cynthia Ashperger, David Bernstein, Stephanie Cozzette, Kaleigh Gorka, Brendan Flynn, Teresa Labriola, and Jake Vanderham
Choreographed by Alyssa Martin
Costumes by Liza Kelly
Lighting Design by Eric Bartnes
Stage Managed by Scott Phyper

Garth Brooks is sad. His divorce is final, his album is not. With the help of his famous friends, Garth tries to make himself disappear. But nobody is prepared for who replaces him. Based on the infamous 1999 album The Life of Chris Gaines, performance artist David Bernstein and writer-performer Jake Vanderham conjure a surreal hoedown featuring a live bluegrass band. Surf’s up!

The Theatre Centre – Franco Boni Theatre
1115 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON

Thursday August 10th 8:30pm – 9:45pm
Friday August 11th 4:00pm – 5:15pm
Saturday August 12th 8:15pm – 9:30pm