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NSTF Artists take it to the “Next Stage” in 2018


As one year ends and a new one begins, The Next Stage Festival is a time that we always look forward to over here at In the Greenroom. The festival offers a space for the Toronto theatre community to gather, re-connect, re-charge, and re-inspire themselves as we collectively re-focus on community, development, and growth in this first wintery month of the new year. What an incredible GIFT because DAMN it’s real cold and dreary out there and we all need a little reason to leave the house and RE-CONNECT with art, artists, ideas and create the space to experience something new!

We had the pleasure of connecting with this year’s NSTF artists to discuss their work, the importance of the festival, and we asked them to reflect on their hopes/goals/mantras for themselves as artists and for the Toronto arts community for 2018.

We hope this may help to inspire you as the year kicks off. Go out, see something new at Next Stage, and let us know what your hopes/goals/mantras are in 2018 in the comments below, or by connecting with us on facebook, twitter and instagram!

A very HAPPY NEW YEAR beauties. See you in that sweet sweet heated beer tent!

– Hallie

Hallie Seline
Co-founder & Editor in Chief

In the Greenroom


Good Morning, Viet Mom

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Good Morning, Viet Mom is a hilarious and moving solo show by me, the devilishly handsome Franco Nguyen, that explores family created through my stand-up sets and storytelling circles. From our sold-out run at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival, we’re taking it to the “next stage” with a revamped production including a new script and additional design elements and a larger creative team.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Next Stage audiences are extra crazy and dedicated. They head out in the dead of winter to see theatre…and to drink beer in a tent. They’re essentially winter camping. That fiery spirit is so important for any community. It allows for inspiration, conversation and it keeps things lit.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We’re looking forward to new voices in Toronto’s arts community. We want to see more work by and for Toronto’s unseen communities. Work that pushes the boundaries of what Toronto, Arts and Community mean. You know, stuff that’s accessible to people who work in factories and at McDonald’s. And people who regularly check World Star Hip Hop online.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

To be more honest and present, and also to make that paper, baby!

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re looking forward to seeing the work of our #NSTFunny partners – The Harold Experience and Sex T-Rex’s SwordPlay

Connect:
fb: /Soaring-Skies-Collective

For show dates, times and tickets for Good Morning, Viet Mom, click here. 


The Harold Experience

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

The Harold Experience is a completely improvised comedy show featuring some of Canada’s best improvisers and produced by Toronto’s newest improv company, The Assembly. Using suggestions and stories from the audience, the performers create an entire show with intertwining plots that come together for a satisfying conclusion. The show is based on one of improv’s oldest forms, The Harold. Typically, this form comes with some hesitance because it’s so difficult to perform, but our cast is up to the challenge of pulling it off. We’re taking it to the “next stage” by upping the polish while keeping it fun, funny, and interesting for general audiences.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

The Next Stage Theatre Festival is important because it’s the first big show for The Assembly. The Assembly is less than a year old and has made such great strides in these past months – starting with a collective of improv teams, moving into offering classes, and now, producing a show at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. Showcasing our art form and continuing to legitimize improv (and specifically this type of improv) is incredibly important to us and our community, and being part of Next Stage really confirms that.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We would love to see improv (specifically, long-form improv)! Improv exists within its own community, and our brand of improv (long-form) exists within its own even smaller community. It would be great to see more of long-form and all types of improv throughout the entire arts community.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Major goals for The Assembly include continuing to grow our classes (we currently have seven classes with almost 90 students), continuing to develop and showcase talent at our monthly shows, moving into new spaces in the city (we offer classes in three different locations and have shows at three other locations), and persevering as a very young, very niche improv company!

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re so looking forward to seeing Franco Nguyen’s Good Morning, Viet Mom (Franco is actually a member of The Assembly on the incredible team TallboyzIIMen and his show is an amazing mix of funny and touching with really cool audiovisual elements) and Sex T-Rex’s Swordplay (Sex T-Rex is so funny and their productions have their signature cinematic style, which is so cool and unique).

Connect:
fb: /theassemblyimprov
ig: @theassemblyimprov
t: @TheAssemblyTO

For show dates, times and tickets for The Harold Experience, click here. 


Birthday Balloon

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Birthday Balloon was first commissioned by Rising Tide Theatre Company in Newfoundland in 2016 and presented as a part of their festival in Trinity, NL. I read Steve Cochrane’s play and felt it absolutely needed to be done off the island, on the mainland we’ll say. I felt there was an audience here for it and a need for it to be done and so I decided to produce it. The Next Stage Theatre Festival felt like the perfect place to do such a thing. The NSTF provides a perfect platform to produce a new work. It is an extremely respected festival which provides an enormous amount of support to companies, especially ones like my new venture, Mauzy May Productions. The application fee alone of $30 instead of hundreds of dollars was such an appealing factor. The NSTF makes it possible to produce works of a high-caliber that will be seen by your respected peers because it is an extension of the Toronto Fringe which is such an institution in the Toronto community. The NSTF makes the prospect of producing affordable theatre quite plausible. The NSTF has made it possible to present Birthday Balloon with the hopes of getting an opportunity be programmed by an already established theatre company.

Birthday Balloon is a universal story of loss and perseverance, yet very specific to Newfoundland and its new identity after an economic crisis that threatened the very existence of rural NL. After the fall of the cod fishery and the cod moratorium, rural Newfoundland, as we knew it, changed drastically. We saw men, many men, leave their homes and head off to Fort McMurray, AB to try to make a living for their families. This came at a cost to many families. Through the lens of a dying marriage after a tremendous loss, Birthday Balloon tells the story of the enormous cost to one family.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

As stated above, the NSTF provides a tremendous opportunity for artists. The entire vibe, if I can call it that, since being accepted into the festival has been nothing but support and encouragement. In a word: community. My company and this production have been embraced by the Fringe and many other theatre people and companies simply by association and the festival hasn’t even started yet! I have felt guidance as an artist and received help throughout the past few months from the NSTF company, which obviously helps me, as a producer, feel really strong and positive about the production I am presenting. The sense of community with all the shows is tangible. It’s present. And it’s comforting. We are all in this together, as a community, and we want to present something special together to the Toronto theatre community at large.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

To be honest, I would like to see even more affordable opportunities, like NSTF, for independent artists, for new voices, for groundbreaking material to have a place to be seen. With NSTF, for example, it costs an audience member $15 to see a show of a high-caliber. Outside of their own personal expenses, it costs a producer $30 to have a venue, a well-known venue in the city, to present their piece. It’s a win-win situation! People in the city and outside the city get to take a chance on seeing some culture without breaking the bank. This is always appealing for an audience member and it provides so much exposure for many that wouldn’t get it otherwise.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Be brave, tell your stories the way you want to tell them. Tell the stories that you want to hear. Don’t wait for the chance, keep making it happen. Give a voice to women, a voice that is often not heard.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I am most looking forward to seeing Rumspringa Break… for two big reasons! My dear friend, Matt Murray (who wrote Myth of the Ostrich that I was in in the 2015 NSTF) wrote it AND my director, Steven Gallagher (who also directed Myth!) is directing it!

For show dates, times and tickets for Birthday Balloon, click here. 


JONNO

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

JONNO is a fictionalized retelling of a true sexual assault case that shocked Canadians back in 2014, when the news first broke about a beloved radio host’s violent and predatory behaviour towards women. The play was first produced by Echo Theatre at the 2016 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. When we initially decided to bring it to Toronto’s Next Stage Theatre Festival, we were a little worried that the story might be a little dated, and that the play’s angry and aggressive retelling of the assault might do nothing more than re-open old wounds. Little did we know that, in a matter of weeks, the media would be flooded with new sexual assault accusations and #metoo stories from countless women around the world. Our Next Stage production of JONNO isn’t just about one man and the women he assaulted— it’s about how we as a society seem to keep letting these incidents happen, and what we are going to do to hold each other accountable and move forward.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

JONNO was a difficult play to stage — both because of the show’s content, and because of today’s heated political climate. And yet, those are also the same reasons that made us feel certain that this show needed to produced HERE and NOW. Being a part of the Next Stage Festival gave us access to the resources and support that we needed to bring this work to life in a safe and accessible manner. It’s thanks to festivals like these, and thanks to the fabulous staff hard at work behind the scenes, that new and challenging pieces of theatre like this one are given the space they need to thrive.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

Theatre is great when it is bold, innovative, and urgent — but, more importantly, it is great when it kickstarts a conversation and creates a dialogue with its audiences. We are really excited to hear what people think about JONNO. We know that we as artists are fallible: we don’t expect everyone to love the work that we produce, and we don’t expect everyone to agree with the stance that we take on a particular subject. But when we create avenues for further discussion, what begins as simply criticism can morph into an opportunity for growth and change. Then, instead of simply telling or retelling a story, our art is actually paving the way for real progress. (If only EVERY production had a beer tent for its audiences to stay and chat after the show!)

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re very excited for that F word by SaMel Tanz! It promises to be another bold, dynamic, and fearless exploration of feminism, performed by a cast of talented and diverse female artists.

Connect:
fb: /rabbitinahatproductions
t: @RabbitinHatProd

For show dates, times and tickets for JONNO, click here. 


Leila Live!

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Hello, my name is Leila! I am a real-life Persian Princess and have been touring my plays Love With Leila and A Very Leila Christmas across Canada for the past three years. With Leila Live! I am presenting my very first cabaret show where I will perform monologues, dance numbers, original songs, stand up and much more.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

What a gift it is to start a new year by performing a new piece of work amongst other talented and inspiring artists?! For me, this is such a wonderful opportunity to push myself and grow – 12 nights in a row!

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

I want to see more diverse artists in leading roles (and I want to see myself in a big musical… maybe the will cast me as a Schuyler sister in Hamilton??)

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

I am currently reading ‘the subtle art of not giving a f*ck’ – I want to do that.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I am most looking forward to seeing my friend Christel Bartelse as Ginger in The Surprise – also in the antechamber space. This is the second time in the past year we are sharing a venue together!

Connect:
fb: /badgirlleila
ig: @_badgirl_leila

For show dates, times and tickets for Leila Live!, click here.


Moonlight After Midnight

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Moonlight After Midnight is a two-person love story about a couple who meet in a hotel room. They begin to role-play a relationship, but even within their play-acting, nothing is as it seems. As multiple layers of reality play out against a shifting landscape of time and space, a puzzle emerges about love, loss, and who we really are to one another. We hope the Next Stage Festival brings the show to the hearts and minds of a an audience beyond those who already comfortably attend the fringe.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Unlike the Toronto Fringe, the Next Stage Festival is curated. For those that love independently produced and created theatre, but who are uncertain about taking a chance on a fringe show in which the entire program is selected by lottery, the Next Stage offers a fantastic 10-show roster of amazing productions. For the 12-day length of the festival, the arts community of Toronto can focus on this handful of shows that represent the very best of what’s happening in the world of independent theatre.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

Intrigue, entertain, and excite by providing a window into the universal truths and enigmas inherent in the human experience.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I’m really excited to see Birthday Balloon. It looks like it’ll be a well-written & acted piece of drama about a couple dealing with, well, being a couple – which is to say: our kind of show.

Connect:
fb: /concretedrops
t: @concretedrops
ig: @concretedrops

For show dates, times and tickets to Moonlight After Midnight, click here. 


Rumspringa Break!

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

Rumspringa Break!  has been in development for two years. In 2016 we workshopped and presented the first 45 minutes of the show at the Canadian Music Theatre Project at Sheridan College. In the Spring of 2017 we returned to Sheridan with a completed draft for a second workshop, followed by a staged reading at Theatre Passe Muraille as part of Sheridan’s “Off Sheridan” initiative. In the Summer of 2017 we had the opportunity to spend ten days at Theatre St John’s for their Newfoundland and Labrador Musical Theatre Writers Retreat, allowing us to incorporate what we’d learned from the Off Sheridan presentation. We are now excited to take our show to the “Next Stage” at the festival, stepping out from behind the music stands for the first fully staged production of Rumspringa Break!

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

This festival truly gives artists an opportunity to take their work to the next level. The Toronto Fringe provides a vital platform and support system that allows us to focus on the work and to present our piece in an affordable way. When trying to produce indie theatre at a grassroots level, having the support of an organization like the Toronto Fringe is such a help. It also benefits the community because it provides theatre-goers an accessible chance to experience quality theatre for minimal expense in the coldest months of winter.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

We would love to see Canadian theatre companies continue their support of new works by Canadian musical theatre creators. We also hope the audience base for new Canadian musicals continues to grow.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

We are devoted to telling compelling stories that promote compassion and empathy. We hope to reach out to audiences who may not be familiar with contemporary musical theatre, introduce them to the art form, and let them fall in love with the medium.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We are excited for the wide variety of shows presented at the Next Stage Festival, in particular Birthday Balloon directed by the brilliant Steven Gallagher (who also directed Rumspringa Break!) and Leila Live! by the hilarious Izad Etemadi who has previously collaborated with Colleen & Akiva.

Connect:
t: @ColleenAndAkiva, @mattymurmur
#RumspringaBreak #NSTF

For show dates, times and tickets to Rumspringa Break!, click here. 


The Surprise

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

The Surprise is an immersive clown experience where Ginger, my clown, throws a party for a surprise guest, and you, the audience are all guests at the party. This is my 5th solo show, and first time working with Dora Award winner Andy Massingham. Despite 15 years as a working performer, it’s my first full-length clown show (And the only clown show in the festival!) The Surprise explores the universal experience of celebrating a birthday, as well as the fear we all have in making another trip around the sun, and the expectation of where we think we should be with every age. This show was originally created in 2011 as a birthday present to myself. It ran as a ten minute piece. After performing it at a few cabarets, I really wanted to expand it into a longer show and Next Stage felt like the perfect festival. The ante-chamber venue is so intimate, which makes it really fun.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

I think the Next Stage Festival is important because it gives artists opportunities to take their work to the next level, whether it’s a new piece or idea you are trying out, or an already existing show that now gets further development. I feel fortunate that I get 12 shows during this run, to really hone my piece and myself as an artist. Also, I think the winter months can be tough in Toronto. This is something that brings the community together for 12 days and theatre warms everyone hearts. And the heated steam whistle tent is a fun hangout.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

I think a new year is always exciting because artists are either busy creating, or taking some time to percolate new ideas. I would love to continue to see fantastic provocative work, from many diverse artists. I’d love to see more collaborations from different arts communities. A dancer teaming up with a comic or some cool project like that. I hope to see women really pushing the envelope and I think social and political issues will continue to be tackled. Most importantly in the growing trend of Netflix, and right now extremely cold weather, I’d just like to see people continue to support each other and the arts. Just get out and see stuff. Art, now, is more important than ever. So many issues to tackle, or a much-needed escape from the world.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

I’ve been so busy creating and performing over the past years that I would actually like to take some time to rest and generate some new ideas. I want to write more… just put pen to paper daily. My goal is to continue to perform the solo shows I’ve already created, to collaborate with an artist or artists I haven’t worked with before, and to continue to go out and support theatre. And to be kind to myself and be proud of what I’ve created. I need to be a kinder artist to myself. This feels like a big resolution.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

I’m most looking forward to my sidekick, double bill buddy Izad Etamadi in Leila Live! We’ve been super supportive of each other, and I’ve seen other Leila shows that are a riot. I’m happy to share the venue with him and can’t wait to see his piece. I’m also excited for SwordPlay because I couldn’t get a ticket during it’s sold out run at Fringe. So I’m so happy I can get a chance to see it now. Really, I’m going to see as many shows as I can.

Connect:
t: @cbartelse

For show dates, times and tickets to The Surprise, click here.


SwordPlay

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

SwordPlay is a swashbuckling physical comedy set in a retro video game. After performing this show in six cities across the country and earning five-star reviews and multiple comedy and theatre awards, we are so excited to take the show to the next level. We’ve given ourselves a little extra breathing room with a 75-minute time slot, spruced up the props, and added in a whole new scene, more jokes, and more swords for the Extended Cut of this fan-favourite show. 2018 marks Sex T-Rex’s 10th anniversary as a comedy troupe, and we’re thrilled to kick off this landmark year at the Next Stage Festival!

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

Sex T-Rex has participated in a total of 18 Fringe Festivals over the past decade. The Fringe has helped us cultivate our style and given us a platform for our unusual, modern approach to theatre. After all the support the Fringe offers to self-producing artists, the Next Stage Festival provides a vital platform for artists to be able to develop their work even further. This festival also offers the community an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of all that rad theatre, at affordable prices, and during the frigid time of year when laughs and heartwarming art come most in handy.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

It’s such an exciting time for the Toronto arts community right now. We’re not shying away from the important issues, and we’re seeing our art really make a difference and reach new eyes and ears. We can’t wait to see what the city’s artists have up their sleeves for the year ahead, but if Next Stage’s lineup is any indication of the excellent variety of theatre we can expect in 2018, then we’re in good shape: you’ve got your finger-on-the-pulse, issue-driven theatre (JONNO); cultural voices in storytelling (Good Morning, Viet Mom); brilliant improv comedy (The Harold Experience); a rich, layered musical (Rumspringa Break!); mind-bending romantic comedy (Moonlight After Midnight); moving drama (Birthday Balloon); stunning dance (That “F”Word); hilariously inventive one-person shows in the Antechamber (Leila Live! and The Surprise); and of course you’ve got goof-ass comedy like SwordPlay with hidden feminist and LGBTQ-positive messages (shhh, don’t tell anyone there’s some depth to our work too.)

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

In 2018, Sex T-Rex’s goal is to reach as many new audiences as possible and to lay the foundations for our first non-festival tour. Winning the B.C. Touring Council Award at the 2017 Vancouver Fringe gives us a huge leg up in this goal and will take us to the West Coast this Spring to start promoting Sex T-Rex to theatres and schools. Meanwhile, we’re pursuing fresh audiences closer to home with our new show for 2018, which weaves together three short plays under the theme of CRIMES (a film noire, a heist and a buddy cop story) and will be more digestible for sketch festivals than any of our previous, hour-long plays. And finally, alongside all of this, we’re breaking into the comic convention circuit with our delightfully nerdy improv hit D&D Live! – a staged, improvised game of the world’s most popular role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. Our resolution is to eat less red meat and our mantra is “Calidi Lapis Iocus” (Rock-Hot Jokes).

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?

We’re most excited to see our pals from the Toronto Improv Community rock The Harold Experience! We’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with a lot of the fine folks in The Assembly before, and can tell you audiences are in for some guaranteed laughs.

Connect:
fb: /sextrexcomedy
ig: @sextrexcomedy
t: @sextrex

For show dates, times and tickets to SwordPlay, click here.


That “F” Word

Tell me a little bit about your show and how you are taking it to the “Next Stage” with this festival.

that “F” word is an invigorating and comedic performance that fearlessly explores the struggles of feminism, specifically gender, class, race, body image and tradition. These issues are brought to life through a fusion of Contemporary, Latin and Hip Hop dance forms. We have taken our production to the next level by having a larger cast of dancers, exploring deeper into the themes of our show with new choreography and movement, further developed the transitions between ideas and improved the emotion and intention in all the work.

Can you speak a bit about why the Next Stage Festival is important for both artist & community?

The Next Stage Festival provided us with a theatre platform and challenged us to become more interdisciplinary. It gave us artists the opportunity to build upon and improve a previous production and the opportunity to reach a new and larger audience. It is important for the community because it offers entertainment with powerful messaging right at the beginning of the year when there is usually nothing to see during this slow, cold time of year. It gets audiences out and about and increases tourism in the city.

With the theme of “Next Stage” in mind, what would you love to see from the Toronto arts community in 2018?

Our hope for 2018 would be more funding for the arts community paired with better integration between the different genre of arts. Having festivals like the Next Stage and Toronto Fringe connecting different companies expands the community and everyone’s audiences.

What is your goal/resolution/mantra for yourself as an artist in 2018?

#weready

We have a voice, the experience and the talent and we are ready to share all of it with the world. In 2018 we are going to claim space, share what is exclusive to us with everyone.

What other show are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
The Harold Experience – we love comedy/improvisation
JONNO – similar theme to our show, different perspective

Connect:
fb:/sameltanz/
t: @sameltanz
ig: @sameltanz


Who:
The Next Stage Theatre Festival hosted by The Toronto Fringe

What:
The Next Stage Theatre Festival is the premiere winter theatre event in the city. Produced by the Toronto Fringe, Next Stage is a platform for past Fringe artists to take groundbreaking work to the next level – and a gathering place for discerning culture lovers in the city.

While some of the shows have appeared at previous Fringe Festivals, most are new works by established Fringe artists who have demonstrated the passion and tenacity to take their work to the next stage.

Where:
Factory Theatre
125 Bathurst Street
Toronto, ON

When:
January 3-14, 2018

Tickets & Info:
fringetoronto.com

 

 

 

A Chat with Sochi Fried on “Stencilboy and Other Portraits” at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Interview by Ryan Quinn

I had a cup of coffee with Sochi Fried during our lovely Toronto deep freeze to talk about Stencilboy and Other Portraits.

RQ: Would you like to tell me a little bit about the show?

SF: Sure! It’s a new play written by a woman named Susanna Fournier. She’s worked in this city as an actor, she went to National Theatre School as an actor, but she’s also been a playwright for a number of years. This is actually her first play that she started writing in high school. So it’s been a progression of ten years for this play, having it evolve and be influenced by different actors and dramaturgs. It’s the first full production of any of her work, which is really exciting. The play itself has three characters, I play a young woman named Lily who comes from the country to the city (in this world there is only the country and the city). There’s been an economic collapse, and so she’s coming to the city looking to find a very specific painter. He’s the most famous painter in this city and he’s the only state-sanctioned artist due to government cutbacks. She desperately wants to be immortalized in painting, which is what bring her there, but the first guy she meets happens to be a guy named Stencilboy. He’s an underground graffiti artist whose day job is to paint over his own graffiti that he does at night. It’s sort of a triangle between the three of them, and it goes into notions of a young generation pushing an older one out, and what traditional art is, and the value of more transient art.

STENCILBOY_BRANDON-COFFEY-L-SOCHI-FRIED-C-RICHARD-CLARKIN-R-2

Brandon Coffey, Sochi Fried, Richard Clarkin of Stencilboy and Other Portraits

RQ: So it’s this kind of self-reflective “art about art”. What do you think is so important about this kind of theatre?

SF: With any piece of theatre, there’s a certain amount of reflecting of the world around us, and this playwright is writing about what she knows, which makes it vital and energetic. Also, the gender politics of the play are very exciting. It can be really controversial, whether it’s just another old story of a young woman trying to define herself through men. Hopefully that’s not what people take from it, but then again, the question is whether or not we need to see more stories like that. So I guess why it’s important for it to be done is that it raises a lot of questions and goes into some murky, complicated territory in an interesting way. I don’t think it’s perfect in any sense, which is wonderful. It’s gritty, and strange, and it requires something of an audience. That’s always good.

RQ: What do you hope people are thinking about or discussing on the way home?

SF: I hope that they’re discussing the journey of an artist into becoming. Also the rights of an artist, what kind of stories can they appropriate, and who says what you can paint. I hope that they’re discussing what it is that would drive this woman so much to want to be desired in that way and her eventual realization that she doesn’t need that.

Playwright Susanna Fournier

Playwright Susanna Fournier

RQ: Is that what’s so attractive to you about the character of Lily? This desire and this drive?

SF: Totally. She’s aggressive in her energy. She’s very funny. She’s adventurous, ballsy, she has a lot of moxie. She calls people out on their bullshit, but she also has a lot of her own emotional baggage that she’s trying to run away from and it keeps catching up with her. She doesn’t have the skills to deal with that but as the play progresses, the experience she has allows her to grow up.

RQ: Switching gears, for the new year, what are your hopes as an artist or for the artistic community? What would you like to see in Toronto.

SF: I’d like to see more plays by women. I really would. I’d love the independent scene to support more new Canadian work. I find it surprising and frustrating the number of older American plays that keep getting put on. As an artist, I’d love to do more film. I’m also still on the hunt, I think everyone is, for collaborative partners; more really interesting, strong directors, and writers, and actors.

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Sochi Fried as Lily in Stencilboy and Other Portraits

RQ: So this is going on at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. What do you think the importance of festivals are as opposed to singular mounts in this city?

SF: Well, there’s a lot of really interesting work that I’m excited to see at Next Stage this year. A whole array. But, more in general, I think the festivals have become platforms through which plays can be seen by members of the community that have clout or the wherewithal to give them a second life or a third life. So, I think that’s the great advantage. Also it’s in January, where there’s not a lot of work for theatre artists. And there are some strange time restraints to festivals in general which are not conducive to whatever the imagination wants to create, but the restraints can be interesting and force people to get their stories out there.

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Stencilboy and Other Portraits

Written by Susanna Fournier
Directed by Jonathan Seinen
Presented by Paradigm Productions www.paradigmtheatre.com

Where: Factory Studio Theatre
When:
Thu Jan 16 7.45pm
Fri Jan 17 4.45pm
Sat Jan 18 9.15pm
Sun Jan 19 2:45pm
Tickets: 15$ http://fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/.

A Misfortune – Presented by Common Descent as part of the Next Stage Festival

Interview by Ryan Quinn

I had the good fortune to speak with Paige Lansky, associate producer of Common Descent’s production of A Misfortune, an original musical based on a story by Anton Chekhov.

Without revealing too much, the plot follows two people after going for a walk in the woods who have to reevaluate the nature of their relationship to each other. “This is about a pivotal time in the lives of these characters”. The show stars Trish Lindström, Jordan Till, Réjean Cournoyer, Kaylee Harwood, and Adam Brazier. It was written by the team of Scott Christian, Wade Bogert-O’Brien and Kevin Michael Shea, and directed by Evan Tsitsias.

“It has a really unique, beautiful musical voice,” Paige told me, ““It’s incredibly poignant and thoughtful. So much is exciting me about this show.” She told me that the strength of the voice in this show, and how confident it is in its characters and message has been nothing short of amazing to see in process.

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Paige Lansky – Associate Producer of Common Descent’s “A Misfortune”

Paige is a student of Drama Studies and Cinema Studies at University of Toronto, and it’s no exaggeration to say that she jumped into associate producing headfirst: “I sort of knew what it was about, but I had never done anything like this before. Producing is pretty much a 24-hour job, which maybe I didn’t realize.” Paige’s main job was to create and manage the KickStarter, which involved coordinating with a videographer, creating perks, and making very frequent changes to the page as new needs and ideas arose.

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WADE BOGERT O’BRIEN | Lyricist, SCOTT CHRISTIAN | Composer, KEVIN MICHAEL SHEA | Book & Lyrics

Though, after all the hard work, Paige is thankful for the Next Stage Festival for giving her this opportunity to work on a skill she had never put herself to before: “If it wasn’t for the Next Stage Festival, I would never have gotten this opportunity. These festivals are a great way to integrate young artists into the community. It’s fast-paced and accelerated, but when it’s over, you have this whole new toolbox of skills you can use. I think that in Toronto, it’s important to diversify your skills. I’ve never met anyone who just does one thing.”

A Misfortune

Presented by Common Descent
Where: Factory Studio Theatre
When: The 2014 Next Stage Theatre Festival schedule
can be found at www.fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival.

Both Sides of the Wall: Natasha Greenblatt, Political Theatre & The Peace Maker

January 3, 2013

By: Alex ‘Addy’ Johnson

Even for the most well-read and curious person, it is difficult to get your bearings when trying to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Combine centuries of history with modern-day media noise and I’m not entirely surprised that, yes, if you Google it, there is an Israeli-Palestinian Conflict for Dummies.

But when you’re feeling particularly confused and ill-informed, and you would totally read all about it on the Globe and Mail site if it wasn’t for that pesky pay wall, it might be comforting to know that you’re actually part of a greater conversation – the social discourse aimed at creating more social discourse around the issue and, hopefully as a result, more understanding.

This was the bulk of my conversation with Natasha Greenblatt, the woman behind The Peace Maker opening tonight at the Next Stage Festival.

“It’s been a difficult conversation to have,” she says. “It’s been a bit taboo. But that’s changing. Obama started to change the language around it – not quite enough in my opinion, but he started to change the language. The paradigm is shifting. It’s a good time to push that conversation.”

In 2009 (not a particularly calm time in the Middle East), Natasha went on Birthright – the free heritage trip to Israel offered to all young Jewish people. Following that she spent two months in the West Bank volunteering as a drama teacher.

“When I started out I definitely felt [the conflict] was hard to talk about. I didn’t know enough. So I went to find out more.”

I asked her if she feels she knows enough about it now.

“I know enough,” she said, “to know that I have to talk about it.”

The Peace Maker, directed by Jennifer Brewin, is the story of Sophie, a young Jewish woman loosely based off Natasha, herself, and her struggles with ‘identity and justice and the desire to ‘make-peace’ in the Middle East.’ In Natasha’s own words it was inspired by her “time on both sides of the wall.”

The Peace Maker at The Toronto Fringe

Natasha fearlessly refers to The Peace Maker as “political theatre”. I say fearlessly because, like anything with the word political in front of it, a person is bound to get some mixed reactions. And when it comes to theatre, a handful of didactic bad eggs have given the whole genre a bad rap. But I would argue things are turning around, thanks to industry contributors like Praxis TheatreDocket Theatre, Michael Healey’s Proud, and Studio 180.

“I’m very inspired by the work Studio 180 does,” Natasha says. So inspired, in fact, that she wrote a piece for the Studio 180 blog wherein she described her bike ride home from The Normal Heart, absolutely elated with the “realization that people can talk about politics on stage, and it can be emotional and interesting.”

Her blog post continued: “There is sometimes a taboo about ‘political theatre,’ a sense that it is cerebral, or boring, or only for people that know a lot about the specific politics of the play. I have, at times, felt slightly sheepish writing my ‘Israel-Palestine play’. But I now strongly believe that political theatre is really just like any theatre, and that Israel and Palestine was just where my heart was living in 2009 when I     started writing this play. And ‘political theatre’ is for everyone, as long as it’s good theatre.”

Here’s the conundrum about political theatre that has always mystified me: Good drama is personal – the playwright puts their heart into it. And politics are personal – never bring elections up at family dinner. But good drama is also about two things pulling in opposite directions, presenting various perspectives. So how does a dramatist keep that opposing tension going when their heart lies strongly on one side? Natasha admits she struggled with this.

“It was very upsetting to be living in Palestine and seeing people confined. Not able to move because of checkpoints, and in some places really oppressed because of who they were. And I was critical in general of the notion of a state that is for one group of people. But,” she continues, “of course everything is more complicated. Palestinian people will tell you about things that are wrong with their government. And ultimately I can’t convince people to think a certain way. I just have to present a theatrical dilemma and allow people to take whatever they take from it.”

I asked Natasha if she would ever consider touring The Peace Maker to the Middles East.

“I’ve thought about it,” she says. “However, it’s a play about being a North American in a place that is completely different. Sophie is the eyes of the audience. It’s about being an outsider. It can be seen as an allegory for how Canada sees itself in politics as a peace maker, and that doesn’t always work out so well.”

However, while she hasn’t completely abandoned the idea of touring The Peace Maker to the Middle East, it exists in Toronto here and now for all of us to see including (but not limited to) a full band that Natasha described as “wicked.”

With Samuel Sholdice heading up the music, the band features four high school students as well as music from the actors and the well-known Maryem Toller. All told, The Peace Maker features two violinists, a bass clarinetist, a trumpeter, an accordion, two guitars, one piano, and an additional clarinet.

“The musicians transform between Israelis and Palestinians and that function is important to me because it’s about context. So often your identity is defined by context. This person is this person because they grew up on one side of the wall and not the other. The main character believes that music can bring peace and heal everybody and then she finds out that it’s a lot more complicated than that. However, there is still something true in her vision – that music is a universal language. And people can connect to music in that moment and forget all of the baggage that they have, which consists of many things, but it’s also context.”

And now friends, I leave you with:

Natasha Greenblatt’s Top Tunes to Listen To As You’re Getting Ready to Go Out and See The Peace Maker.

– Flatbush Waltz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOys7cU_LeI

– Ammunition Hill http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM1L-ovPEOE

– Rafeef Ziadeh – We Teach Life, Sir! (Spoken word poem) http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wad5h5K38ms

– Leonard Cohen – Old Revolution http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNN0804olxw

Artist Bio:

Natasha Greenblatt  – Writer/Producer

A graduate of the National Theatre School, Natasha is an actress, writer, educator and director. She has played Anne Frank in Montreal and Hamilton, and won a Dora Award for Get Yourself Home Skyler James, a solo show by Jordan Tannahill that traveled to high schools in the GTA. She wrote and performed We Lived in a Palace, presented by SummerWorks. She is currently facilitating the Paprika Creator’s Unit and acting in the television show Bomb Girls.

They’re Back…

After a sold out run at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, Morro and Jasp are back with their one of a kind cooking show.

Playing March 21-31, 2012
Cahoots Theatre
388 Queen Street East, Unit 3
Toronto

http://www.totix.ca
http://www.morroandjasp.com