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Posts tagged ‘Next Stage Theatre Festival’

“The Importance of Champions, Striving for that Spark & The Barriers and Biases Female Playwrights and Directors Continue to Surmount” In Conversation with Ali Joy Richardson on Writing and Directing A BEAR AWAKE IN WINTER at Next Stage 2019

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Ali Joy Richardson, the playwright and director of A Bear Awake in Winter, a new play premiering at the Next Stage Festival from January 10-20, is no stranger to the Toronto Fringe. For many years, the summer festival has provided what she considers a “perfect sandbox” for her personal projects. This year, however, with a show that’s larger in scale (a cast of seven, a runtime of 75 minutes, plenty of instruments) she’s ready to take on a new challenge. Next Stage is a step up in more ways than one; it’s also her first time being both writer and director of a show.

With inspiration drawn from plays like The Wolves and Concord Floral, this funny but dark play follows a high school band class in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in 2007, taking a sharp look at bullying and the high stakes of adolescence.

We got to talk with Richardson, who’s only five years out of theatre school, about owning her roles as director and playwright, her creative opportunities thus far, and how the #MeToo movement inspired her new show.


MR: What was it for you that allowed you take yourself seriously as a writer in the last year? Was it a particular moment or a conversation with a friend? What did that look like? 

AJR: Directing aligned very quickly with the part of me that is organized and responsible and I approached the role of director in a very nurturing way. But I have this internalized notion that the role of the writer is kind of wild and dynamic and that there’s a sort of wildly creative side to the person generating the words and the world. It took me a really long time to believe that people would take me seriously in saying that I am both of those things. And all of that can exist in one woman, and especially a young woman.

The internal conflict for me was: am I allowed to be both? Can I be the person with the sticky notes and the highlighter who knows what time everyone needs to be where and be the one writing really good jokes?

MR: So you felt capable of doing both and ready to do both, but it was more of an external thing of how people would receive you?

AJR: Yeah. I thought one would dilute the other in someone else’s eyes. So for me, a really big turning point was getting into Nightwood’s Write From the Hip Unit. That was major. And I did a residency with Canadian Stage, as well. I was in their 2018 RBC Emerging Artists Program and their Director Development Residency. I got into that as a director and then about halfway through I was like, “Hey, can I work on something that is my own play?” And the two women running the programs, Lynanne Sparrow and Taliesin McEnaney, right away were like, “Absolutely. We picked you for you. So whatever you want to do, we are excited about.” So that was huge. To get that green light from Nightwood and from the folks who were supporting me at Canadian Stage, who obviously saw all parts of me and welcomed all parts of me and started to build my courage to do both.

MR: That makes me wonder about people who don’t get that green light from others. How do they generate that sense of validation?

AJR: I mean I totally agree with you, and I think it speaks to the importance of diversity within those leadership roles, within organizations, so there is someone to green light the person that they see themselves in. Because I think it’s human nature that we will always champion people who make us think of ourselves. For better and for worse. And so I was really lucky to cross paths with people who I suppose I had a kind of kinship with in those roles.

MR: I think we can say that things are shifting. Even that opportunity, I wonder if even five years ago you would have had it. Where do you see those shifts happening?

AJR: I mean, this is a well-known example, I was really inspired seeing Kat Sandler directing her own work on some of the major stages this year. Seeing her play Bang Bang at Factory, I sat in the front row and I must have looked wild to the actors on stage. I was grinning so hugely. But with every beat of that show, this little barometer of courage was rising in me. That was huge.

I graduated from theatre school five years ago and during that time, I’ve been working Front of House at Theatre Passe Muraille, where D’bi Young had a show a couple of years ago. She is another person that continuously breaks out of every mould that I find myself internalizing. She is also a constant reminder for me that an artist can be many, many things.

MR: Okay, so some people have opened doors to you, and I’m curious what doors you see that are still closed that you wished were open? 

AJR: I think the myth about directing your own work has got to go. I think we need to trust that artists know when they should be in both of those roles in a room, and to give people that agency to know themselves and know their work. I don’t think every show will be served by this but I think many will be and I think that people sometimes mistake it for a lack of trust in other creators.

MR: Particularly as a female playwright, what sort of limitations have you been working to push past?

AJR: I think comedy. I love comedy and it’s a thing in all of my work. I think we trust men much quicker as someone who understands what is funny in a room – as directors, writers and actors. I watch other women have to fight tooth-and-nail to be trusted in comedy. So, particularly as writers, I think that’s a big one.

I’ve also had some great conversations with Michaela Di Cesare, a celebrated playwright from Montreal who plays the character Flute (the young woman at the centre of the story). We talk a lot about the double-edged sword women have to dodge about whether or not your writing is inspired by your own life. If a man writes something from his own life it is seen as interesting and valid and if he writes fiction it is seen as interesting and valid but we haven’t sorted that out yet when it comes to women writers. For women, I feel like it is still a lose-lose situation, where if it is inspired from life they dismiss it as not really writing, but they also make that constant assumption about the work.

In Photo: Andy Trithardt, Hershel Blatt, Natasha Ramondino, Andrew Di Rosa, Bria McLaughlin, Danny Pagett, Photographer: Neil Silcox

MR: Your show is influenced partly by your life though right? Your experiences in band and in that community? 

AJR: Yes, every puzzle piece of this show absolutely comes from my life, but the finished puzzle is not a true story.

MR: Let’s talk about the writing of it. Did you always know you wanted to write this show? 

AJR: So I was writing a play over the last year called Fool, during my time at Nightwood. Fool is set in medieval times, and this is the play I cheated on Fool with (I think a lot of writers do that). There was one night where I was feeling constrained by the rules of the world I was writing in and I just really wanted to hang out with people I knew.

The first scene of the show, which is a classroom scene, is the first scene I wrote. It was late at night and I just started writing the voices of these kids because they are so familiar to me. They are me and they are my friends from home and they are my sister. The voices came right away. They started talking and they didn’t stop. And I know it’s such a cliché. This is the first time in my life that I actually felt that cliché, which I’ve always kind of rolled my eyes at, but I really felt it on this play. So there’s a violent conflict midway through the play, and I wrote up to that moment of violence. That came in a rush, and then I hung out there for a while, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. It was really interesting because I wrote up to that point about a week before the #MeToo hashtag happened, and then the second half came quite quickly after that dialogue had started. 

MR: What brought you to write that violent act?

AJR: For me, that moment has always been a sort of provocation for the audience. Especially right now, I think we are asked to empathize with men who misread situations and act in a regrettable way and I’m really interested in finding out what happens if a woman reads a situation and reacts a certain way, will the audience feel that her reaction was out of proportion in some way, or will they extend that same empathy to her?

MR: Sometimes we write things to reframe experiences or live out a fantasy or an idea of a situation, and I don’t want to put that on you, but I am curious to know whether there is an element of that in this.

AJR: In this, that moment of violence came from frustration. People in my life responded to my frustration with cat-calling, or men following me at night, by saying I should just punch them or kick them in the balls or tell him to fuck off, as if those are accessible and easy solutions that aren’t going to come with a whole other world of troubles. I started to wonder what would happen if the next time I felt afraid I did just hit back in a big way? I don’t think that would go well for me in this world. It was also around the time I started to take boxing classes, and something about that started to cook in my head. As I learned to hit someone safely, I started to wonder what would happen if someone did fight back, in a moment of feeling a threat. So it’s certainly not a personal fantasy, but it was a kind of obsessive thought experiment.

In Photo: Natasha Ramondino, Bria McLaughlin, Hershel Blatt, Andrew Di Rosa, Andy Trithardt, Danny Pagett. Photographer: Neil Silcox

MR: Can we talk about supporting yourself in the arts in Toronto, and just like, how you do it? How do you do the job of a director and playwright here? Because you seem to be doing a lot! 

AJR: So first, I will say, I’m enormously privileged to come from a family who has means and who is there if I need them. I don’t rely on that support but, as an artist, knowing it’s there and to have that is an enormous privilege in terms of managing my mental health. Just knowing there is a safety net there if you needed it. I think it’s important to be honest about that.

MR: Do you think you’d be a playwright if you didn’t have that safety net? 

AJR: That’s a really good question and it keeps me up at night. I have a little fear in me about that. I don’t know the answer. Of course I want to think I would be but I also hold myself to a really rigorous standard around that. My life would definitely look different, I think.

MR: I do just want to say that the arts are so valuable, you know? And I don’t think there should be any weird guilt or shame around it, you know if you’re like, “I’m doing this just because I can” I just think, “Well thank God somebody can.” I just want to say that. 

AJR: (Laughs) Thank you. And like every artist I’ve worked a million different jobs, and done many strange gigs from standardized patient work to working for a nannying agency. So I’ve had a plethora of different side hustles. And finding ones that didn’t drain the life force I need to make art, that was key for me. It might not give you a mountain of joy but it can’t suck out the thing you need to make your art.

MR: What keeps you motivated? 

AJR: The feeling I have when I see or read something that makes me go “Oh my god, I didn’t know someone else knew that or felt that”. That spark, every time that happens, makes me want to put stuff like that out in the world.

Also, I come from a family of really, really hardworking people, none of whom are in the arts. And honestly, when I hear my sister talking about training to do an Ironman, I’m like, “you know, I can probably get up at six and write a few more pages.”

A Bear Awake in Winter

at the 2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival

In Photo: Andrew Di Rosa, Michaela Di Cesare
Photographer: Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Playwright & Director: Ali Joy Richardson
Cast: Michaela Di Cesare, Andy Trithardt, Andrew Di Rosa, Bria McLaughlin, Danny Pagett, Natasha Ramondino, Hershel Blatt
Assistant Director: Bryn Kennedy
Stage Manager: Lucy McPhee
Sound Designer: Neil Silcox
Lighting Designer: Steph Raposo
Producers: Ali Joy Richardson & Bryn Kennedy

What:
2007. Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. A high school band class. A new teacher from Toronto wants to be an inspiration to his jaded students but is afraid to come out to them. A boy bullies a girl in insidious ways until she takes matters into her own hands. An act of violence at a school dance fractures the community. This is a dark, funny, and difficult story about the fight to stand up for yourself.

Where: 
FACTORY THEATRE – MAINSPACE, 125 Bathurst St, Toronto

When:
Jan 11 – 9:45pm
Jan 12 – 3:45pm
Jan 13 – 1:30pm
Jan 15 – 8:45pm
Jan 16 – 12pm
Jan 18 – 7:30pm
Jan 19 – 5:45pm
Jan 20 – 7:30pm

Runtime:
75 Minutes

Tickets: 
fringetoronto.com/next-stage/

 

 

 

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“Freelancing, Finding Balance in Collaboration & Taking Ownership in Creating Opportunities” In Conversation with Annie Clarke and Emma Westray on Co-Producing CANNIBAL by Thom Nyhuus at Next Stage 2019

Interview by Brittany Kay.

Producers are some of the hardest working people in our business. What they lack in sleep, they gain in the never-ending pursuit of fully realizing a production.

Both Annie Clarke and Emma Westray are two producers who are no strangers to our theatre community. They have been part of such incredible shows and projects in the last year and they’re only gaining momentum. Their next play, Cannibal by Thom Nyhuus, is part of this year’s Next Stage Theatre Festival. We chat about what it’s like to be female producers, the balance and strength they find in collaboration and how they are able to prioritize stories about women. (Thank you for your tireless efforts to make sure the work gets seen. You are truly wonder women) 

Brittany Kay: Women have been at the forefront of today’s theatre scene. What has it been like to be female producers amongst the current theatrical climate? Do you find yourselves wanting to work with certain companies?

Annie Clarke: Most of the producing I’ve done for theatre – beyond just one-night-only events – has happened in the past year, so in a way I feel like my only producing experience is in the context of this climate. I think a big thing that it means is that I don’t need to explain my interest in, and prioritization of, women’s stories. But of course if it’s easier than ever to have that focus, it also means that we are standing on the shoulders of so many women who have fought for space for our voices on the stage (and off it), so I have a lot of gratitude for those who have paved the way for where we are right now. I definitely gravitate towards artists and companies who share those priorities, both in the work that I do and the work that I pay to see.

Emma Westray: I think the conversations that are continuing in our community about women in theatre and representation in theatre have forced me to reflect on my responsibilities as a producer, specifically in the role of hiring artists and putting together a team at the early stages. Sometimes working at the independent level, it can feel like you don’t have the power or resources to change the culture at large, but I’ve realized that every project I work on is an opportunity to set an example for my peers. Every time I work with collaborators to create a safe and respectful work environment, and every time I make a thoughtful effort to hire a diverse, representative team of artists, it shows audiences and peers alike that it is possible and it is necessary. I love being a producer because it gives me the chance to give opportunities, not only to women, but also to BIPOC, LGBTQ+ folx, and other marginalized artists, and now more than ever my priority is to work with companies who are like-minded in this regard.

Photo of Justine Christensen, Michael Ayres by Haley Garnett

BK: Do you find the project or does the project find you? How do you know which projects are the right ones and who/what is worth your energy to invest in? 

AC: I feel very lucky because I have not really “applied” for any of the producing work that I’ve done – it’s come to me through relationships I’ve built. From what I hear from my peers, that’s not uncommon, and I think it just comes from a place of knowing that no one is it in for the money, very often we’re in it for the people, so if we know people who are as passionate as we are and will work as hard as we will, that’s who we end up asking to come on board a project. Every project is a passion project in indie theatre, right? That being said, it took me years to build the network and knowledge of the indie community in Toronto that has enabled me to work as a producer. And I was, and am, very privileged to have been able to devote a lot of time to unpaid work, volunteer work and just general network-building when I first moved to Toronto three years ago.

In terms of deciding which projects to take on, I think I’m still learning about that. I’m definitely still learning what my capacity is. I feel like I say no to things and yet I also constantly feel like I’m too busy to function, so surely there’s a balance to figure out there! The projects I’ve worked on have mainly been motivated by the people involved, but I don’t think you’re going to do a good job producing a play if you don’t genuinely love – let alone like – it. Things I’ve thought about in the past when projects have come up have been: do I love this script? Will I get to work with people I’ve been wanting to work with? Will I be able to learn a lot from a mentor (e.g. Assistant Producing)? Will I be able to stretch my limits and do things I haven’t been able to do before?

EW: I have been fortunate enough to have all of my producing work thus far come to me from the incredible network of people I have met since moving to Toronto nearly 5 years ago. There is something interesting in the way that projects find their way to you when you’re the right fit. Whether it’s something you’ve always wanted to work on, or peers that you’re excited to collaborate with, I’ve learned that trusting my gut when a project feels like it “clicks” is the best way for me to know that I should pursue the opportunity. I am fortunate enough to be a graduate of Generator’s Artist Producer Training program, which has linked me to a group of alumni who are always hearing about and sharing producing opportunities. For this, I am very grateful!

There isn’t really a science to how I choose projects. That buzzing excitement you feel when you sit down with an artist for the first time and hear them explain an idea, or you read a first draft of a script, is how I know that I want to be a part of the team. Conversely, I can say that the few times that I have worked on a project because I thought I should, despite not feeling connected to it, are the times where I found myself not doing my best work and just getting it done because it was a job. Knowing that difference has helped guide me in choosing what I take on as a producer, and it has helped me build a resume of work that I am truly proud of. I choose the passion project that could take years to develop instead of the remount of a classic play everyone has seen before.

Photo of Annie Clarke, Thom Nyhuus & Emma Westray

BK: What has it been like working together? 

AC: I have been fan-girl-ing Emma for the past year, and I have been delighted to find that working with her is even more wonderful than admiring her from afar. We joke that we have been co-parenting Cannibal – I was knee-deep in another show, What I call her, in the fall, so Emma was taking the lead, and then I took over when she went to Europe for three weeks (although she did far more work from Europe than one would have thought possible, probably because she is a real-life superhero), and now we are inching towards the finish line together. It’s been kind of like a months-long game of hot potato. Honestly it’s made me think I should never produce alone again. Just having someone to bounce ideas off of, share panic with, and remind you not to work yourself into the ground, is more valuable than I could have dreamed of.

EW: The amount that we had interacted on social media as a myriad of different theatre companies over the years made it kind of laughable that we weren’t acquaintances in real life. Annie has claimed several times that working together was a way for her to learn more about producing from me, but I am constantly in awe of her leadership and vision for this project. I am a big fan of producing partnerships, and Annie and I fell into a rhythm very early that made it easy to share the role. There is something about a female partnership that feels particularly comfortable in that there has been empathy and compassion built into every stage of this process. Not to say that isn’t possible outside of working with women, but it felt as though it was a given that there would be support and encouragement not because there had to be, but because we cared enough to take care of each other while taking care of the rest of our team. It has been a dreamy process and I would do it again in a heartbeat! 

BK: What has it been like working with an all female creative team? Was the assembly of this creative team a conscious choice?

AC: My personal mandate is to work on stories that put women at the forefront. I also am in love with working with women. Can’t get enough of it. One of the great things about being a producer, depending on what stage in the process you come on board, is the ability to put a team together. Deciding whose voices you’re showcasing, how you’re showcasing them, who’s sitting at the table – that is some kind of power, even when you’re talking about a teeny tiny indie show. I know that at this stage in my career it won’t be possible to be in that level of driver’s seat for every project, but I am so proud of the team we assembled for Cannibal. As Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster (our director) puts so eloquently, “I love competent people!”

EW: I don’t think anyone in my life would have a hard time telling you that feminism is a driving force of my personality, and also my work. I prioritize creating opportunities for women, but I also think that we are spoiled in our Toronto theatre community with talented women in all kinds of roles, so it wasn’t difficult hiring women to fill so many of the positions on our team. It had already been decided when I joined the team that the director would be a woman. Beyond that, the priority was, and always is, to build a team that can service the needs of the script and the director’s vision, and in this case our director Courtney was able to communicate her ideas to Cosette [Pin] and Julia [Kim] and they understood and wanted to join in bringing that vision to life. We also had two female stage managers (Lucy McPhee and Julia Vodarek Hunter) who were able to work together, and with Courtney, to create a safe and welcoming rehearsal room for our actors. It’s exciting to hire these women not only to give them the platform to share their skills and talents, but to give them a chance to collaborate with each other.

Left to right: Joella Crichton, Michael Ayres, Justine Christensen, Thom Nyhuus. Photo by Haley Garnett.

BK: What has it been like working with a male playwright on a play that has a predominantly female POV?

AC: Thom Nyhuus, the playwright, is an absolute dream collaborator – he is so open to feedback and perspectives that differ from his own, and yet he has such a clear vision for the play. In addition to the work he did with our dramaturg, Paolo Santalucia, he also spent a lot of time working on the script with Justine Christensen, who plays Bridget, over the spring and summer, before we started rehearsals. The intention was always to have a woman director, and I still can’t believe that Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster said yes, but we are beyond lucky to have her. We wanted her voice not only in the room, but shaping the room, and she has done the most beautiful job throughout the entire process.

EW: I would also add that when talking about #MeToo, and how we move forward in order to give women a platform to speak and share their stories, that there is also a conversation about what role men will play in pursuing equality. In the same way that we talk about men needing to be allies and how they need to work alongside us to make equality a reality. It was refreshing reading Cannibal knowing that it was Thom’s first play and discovering a female-driven plot featuring two complicated, yet very different, female characters. Bridget Walker is in every scene and the story is hers. I think having male playwrights who want to write interesting stories that feature women, women who are recognizable in their intricacies and flaws, is valuable in the pursuit for more female representation. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities that come from artistic collaborations where artists are open to hearing feedback and learning about one another in order to craft the best story.

Photo of Justine Christensen by Haley Garnett.

BK: You are both freelance producers with multiple jobs on the go like so many of us. What are the ways you manage your time and properly prioritize each project so that they equally get the proper attention? 

AC: I would say that I’m still aspiring to properly prioritize each project so that they each get the attention they deserve. Basically for the past year I have felt like I’ve been in triage mode, so it’s been about which deadline is the most pressing, which fire needs putting out today. I do a lot of planning out my time in detail (iCal is my best friend), but then inevitably things come up and some things just end up landing at the bottom of the priority list. One thing I’ve tried to do is to identify when each project gets to be priority number one (I tend to think of this in terms of, what does my number one focus have to be this month? What about next month?) When Thom and I found out we got into Next Stage, I was absolutely thrilled, but then a new contract came my way in August and I knew that I was over-capacity, which is where Emma came in! There is no way we could have done this show without an Associate Producer, and I am unbelievably grateful to her for her patience and her willingness to give us her time because, like so many of us, it is in seriously short supply.

EW: I definitely wouldn’t claim to be an expert in time management! I am fairly new to being able to consistently work as a freelancer, so I’m still learning how best to manage the different projects I’m working on in order to be productive, but also so I can avoid burning out. My best tip would be to take the time for yourself to look at each of your projects at a distance, by which I mean zooming out and creating a plan from start to finish so that you can identify what you’ll need to do, when you’ll need to do it, and when it needs to be your priority. I would say the biggest lesson I’ve learned recently is being honest with myself when I’m in over my head and addressing it before it becomes a major issue. In the arts sector, we’re aware that everyone is making do with the few resources they have, so it can be hard to admit to the people you’re working with that you need more: more time, more funding, more access, more support. The thing is, if you don’t ask for what you need, no one will know that they should be trying to give it to you. It seems simple, but it’s been a huge game changer for me! Any good collaborator will do what they can to make adjustments so that you can be productive instead of feeling overwhelmed.

BK: Any advice for upcoming producers? 

AC: Know what kind of theatre you want to be a part of putting into the world. That doesn’t mean you’ll get it right every time, or that every project will be birthed into the world exhibiting the beautiful intentions with which it was conceived, but you have to know what you care about. Also: talk to other producers and theatre makers. Read programs, and figure out who’s doing work you love. Send your programs to the Toronto Theatre Database so that we can all help make that resource as rich as possible! See theatre. And get training. I work at Generator so this is me disclosing my bias, but they have incredible workshops geared towards producers throughout the year, as well as an annual Artist Producer Training program. When I first moved to Toronto I was pretty sure it was to act and do nothing else, so I am very grateful to programs like Nightwood Theatre’s Young Innovators and Toronto Fringe’s TENT (Theatre Entrepreneurs Networking and Training) program for opening my eyes to what else was out there, and how I could use my other skills to make theatre.

EW: I think the best thing about producing, but also the most frustrating thing when you’re first starting out, is that there is no one way to produce. For the longest time, I felt like if someone would just send me their blueprint for producing, it wouldn’t feel like such a big task every time I started something new. The more experience you get, and the more you interact with different artists and collaborators, the better you’ll be at knowing how to identify and provide what a project needs. This goes for pretty much anything you’re interested in pursuing, reach out to people doing work that you are interested in and ask if you can take them for coffee. Finding mentors can be hard, but it is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself and your career.

Photo of Emma Westray and Annie Clarke by Haley Garnett.

BK: Why should we come and see your show? 

AC: Cannibal is a very, very good play. It is sharp, surprising, thrilling, and utterly unexpected. Thom says that, with Scrap Paper Theatre, he wants to make plays that his brothers won’t sleep through. As someone whose own brother gave up on theatre after seeing me in a very ill-advised one act in 2006, I can really get behind that. And yet, for all of its watchability, Cannibal does not sacrifice depth. I’m really interested in what it’s exploring about womanhood, intimacy, motherhood, love, debt, and what happens when we make art out of life.

EW: There is something about Cannibal that sneaks up on you. It happened when I first read the script last year, and it has happened every time I’ve seen it since. It is not what it appears to be, or at least, it is much more than it appears to be. I love complicated, unraveling, imperfect women and this play delivers one in Bridget Walker, and another in her best friend Liza. I love Thom’s writing, and my favourite part of the script is the depiction of female friendship. It doesn’t have a pink, frilly ribbon tied around it – it’s messy and raw, and it is the core of the emotional relationships, despite the presence of romantic relationships in Bridget’s life.

Cannibal

At the 2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival

Photo of Justine Christensen by Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Company: Scrap Paper Theatre
Playwright: Thom Nyhuus
Director: Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
Producers: Annie Clarke & Emma Westray
Cast: Michael Ayres, Justine Christensen, Joella Crichton, Thom Nyhuus
Dramaturg: Paolo Santalucia
Sound & Lighting Designer: Cosette Pin
Set & Prop & Costume Designer: Julia Kim
Stage Managers: Lucy McPhee (Rehearsal), Julia Vodarek Hunter
Intimacy & Fight Choreographer: Scott Emerson Moyle

What:
When you survive the unsurvivable, who do you become? Bridget Walker has written a play about the abduction of her son and it’s a smash hit. Critics are raving, but those closest to her are sent reeling. ‘Cannibal’ explores grief, the cost of sharing your story, and what it means to be indebted to someone you love.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio – 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON, M5V 2R2

When:
Thurs. Jan. 10 (9:30pm), Fri. Jan. 11 (5:00pm), Sat. Jan. 12 (6:45pm), Sun. Jan. 13 (8:45pm), Tues. Jan. 15 (8:30pm), Thurs. Jan. 17 (9:15pm), Sat. Jan. 19 (6:00pm), Sun. Jan. 20 (3:00pm).

Runtime:
90 minutes

Content Warnings:
This show contains strong language, sexual content, and discussions of mental illness, grief, and coping with losing a child.

Tickets:
General Admission – $15.00
Buy tickets or passes in advance online: www.fringetoronto.com or by phone: 416-966-1062

In the Greenroom’s Next Stage Theatre Festival Favourites

We couldn’t think of a better way to start 2017 on a high note than with a jam-packed festival of new theatre, dance, music, storytelling and improv; watching artists take their work to the ‘next stage’; and, of course, some good beer tent times re-connecting to old friends and meeting new ones!

We wanted to share some of In the Greenroom’s Festival Favourites, with the hopes of inspiring you as you begin your final NSTF scheduling. We’ve chosen something different, something new, something bloody and something true… maybe.

Be sure to share your favourite festival moments!

Connect with us on:
twitter: @intheGreenRoom_
facebook: @ InTheGreenroom.ca
instagram: @inthegreenroom
#NSTFestivalFaves


Something Different: MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS

manic-2

Go to MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS if you want: something different… completely different!

It’s hard to find just one word to describe MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS. Wild, weird and wonderful, this show is bold, hilarious, absurd, athletic and completely fun! There’s nostalgia. There’s glitter. There’s incredible “wow-did-they-just-do-that” dancing, blow-up props, Garden State references, singalongs, and bags of milk! Yup, it’s a total trip and the more we think back on everything we experienced during MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRLS, the more we smile.

**We also recommend reading the program note on the work by choreographer Alyssa Martin either before or after for an even deeper appreciation of the piece.

What:
Join dance-theatre renegades Rock Bottom Movement for a hallucinatory romp through millennial nostalgia and classic indie film. Choreographer Alyssa Martin conjures a gleefully glitter-soaked pop-culture mashup featuring 90’s singer-songwriter karaoke and athletic dance breaks.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 06:45 PM
January 12 at 07:30 PM
January 14 at 09:00 PM
January 15 at 05:15 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something New: Songbuster, an improvised musical

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Go to Songbuster if you want: something new… every time!

Songbuster, an improvised musical is perfect if you’re looking for heart-wrenchingly hilarious ballads about _____ (You fill in the blank!) At this fully improvised musical, audience members get to choose the subject matter of the play! On opening we witnessed an entire saga about comicon that we won’t soon forget. We especially loved the improvised flamenco duet… Enough said!

What:
Fast paced, ridiculous and always entertaining, the cast creates an hour-long musical from suggestions provided by the audience. This dynamite cast has been seen in mainstage musicals and comedy clubs around the country and knows how to make you laugh one moment and break out your jazz hands the next.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 07:00 PM
January 12 at 05:30 PM
January 14 at 06:00 PM
January 15 at 01:45 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something Bloody: Blood Ties

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Go to Blood Ties if you want: something bloody…fun & musical!

Witty, charming and funny dialogue, plus beautiful songwriting with clear and engaging narrative sung throughout, Blood Ties is a bloody fun musical. Hats off to their thoughtful and clever costume design and a special shout-out to performer Jeremy Lapalme!

What:
Sheila’s uncle shoots himself in his bathroom on the eve of her wedding, and when her three best friends arrive in town to celebrate they are instead faced with the task of cleaning up the considerable mess left behind. This flagship musical show by Dora-nominated team Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston has previously been a hit at SummerWorks, the Edinburgh Fringe, and on BBC America’s ‘Orphan Black.’ Based on true events.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 12 at 05:15 PM buy tickets
January 13 at 10:00 PM buy tickets
January 14 at 02:00 PM buy tickets
January 15 at 07:00 PM buy tickets

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


Something True (or False… either way there’s Spam!): Two Truths And A Lie

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Go to Two Truths and a Lie if you want: something true… or false! Regardless, someone is going home with a can of SPAM after this truly feel-good, laugh-out-loud, intimate storytelling show, so how could you miss it?

Though filled with lies and liars, Two Truths and a Lie promises to be filled with hilarious laugh-out-loud moments for a truly feel-good time in a cozy venue. These three talented storytellers transport us to horrifying yet still somehow endearing moments in their lives, and whether you can figure out who the ultimate liar is or not, a can of Spam is up for grabs, so… who wouldn’t want that?!

What:
Each night of the festival, Graham Isador (Situational Anarchy), Helder Brum (Born with a Tale), and Rhiannon Archer (Life Records) will regale audiences with three unbelievable stories…one of which is completely made up. After the critical successes of their honest and funny solo shows, these veterans of Toronto’s storytelling scene are coming together to make you laugh while lying to your face.

Where:
Factory Theatre Antechamber (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 11 at 05:55 PM
January 12 at 08:40 PM
January 13 at 06:40 PM
January 14 at 05:40 PM
January 15 at 04:25 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com


We hope this inspires you to kick off your weekend NSTFestival schedule planning and be sure to see something you wouldn’t normally! This list is just the beginning.

There’s 10 shows that have each been selected to offer something different. Be bold. See something on a whim! That’s what the festival spirit is all about. You never know what you might be surprised by.

Happy Closing, NSTF! We’ll cheers you in the beer tent!

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“It’s the scariest performance I do. But it’s also why I love this job.” – A Chat with Kristian Bruun on SONGBUSTER – an improvised musical

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

I had the joy of chatting with Kristian Bruun, one of the artists performing and creating nightly Songbuster – an improvised musical on now at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. He spoke about the need to put on more musical improv in the city, how they prepare for a performance that is always changing, and how this is both the scariest kind of performance and why he loves his job. 

Shaina Silver-Baird: How did Songbuster start? What was the inspiration for creating a fully improvised musical?

Kristian Bruun: It started with Stephanie Malek and Josh Murray in the summer of 2015. They both wanted to see more musical improv represented in the city and went out to all the people they thought would not only bring top talent, but also be fun to perform with. We all love musicals, and the excitement that comes from improvising one is unlike anything else. Originally, we were just doing a couple shows for Blockbuster Week at Bad Dog and Big City Improv Festival and it just grew from there.

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SSB: How did you get involved?

KB: Stephanie approached me and said she was putting a group together. How could I say no? I’ve worked with some of the cast before (like Nug in Evil Dead! The Musical) and it seemed like a fun project.

SSB: Is it scary going out on stage not knowing what’s going to happen?!

KB: Always. It’s the scariest performance I do. But it’s also why I love this job.

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SSB: How do you prepare/rehearse for an improvised musical?

KB: We run songs, scenes, mini versions of shows. We work on different varieties of songs and song structures. We revisit classic story arcs found in musicals, and character archetypes, and always go back to the basic foundations of storytelling. It always helps having an expert eye to guide us and this year we’ve been working a lot with Carly Heffernan, who is brilliant and always sharp with her notes.

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SSB: You did this show before at the Fringe Festival. Will this version be any different?

KB: Not really. Of course, we hope we’ll be even tighter as a group. We love these chances to do a run of shows because we always learn so much from night to night. It’s improv, so every show will be wildly different and wonderfully weird.

SSB: Do you have any favourite moments from the last run?

KB: We had a musical take place on the moon that got very randy. Everybody was making out and grinding on each other. The audience really got their money’s worth that night. Yeah. That was fun.

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SSB: Many people know you from your TV/film work. How is this style of performance different? What are the challenges and are the two related for you?

KB: This is a type of performance where I’m left to my own creativity and that of my cast mates. No script, not much of a plan… It’s so open and nerve-wracking and fantastic! It’s a complete rush being on stage with no script (also a common theme in my nightmares). I sometimes get to improv on set, but here the world is our oyster and we shuck the hell out of it.

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Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite play you saw this year: Obsidian Theatre’s stunning production of “Master Harold”… and the Boys.

Favourite movie: Swiss Army Man.

What’s on repeat on your iTunes: The Hamilton Soundtrack.

Favourite food: Roti.

Most embarrassing moment (or the most embarrassing one you’ll tell us): Anytime someone recognizes me I turn beet red, get all shy and start flop sweating. I walk away embarrassed every time. Thank god it doesn’t happen too often…

Describe Songbuster in 5 words: Musical appears before your eyes.

Songbuster – an improvised musical

songbuster-1

Photo by Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Songbuster Inc.
Created by the Ensemble – every night!
Featuring Tricia Black, Kristian Bruun, Ashley Comeau, Alexandra Hurley, Stephanie Malek, Josh Murray, Nug Nahrgang, Nicky Nasrallah and Connor Thompson
Musical Director Tom King

What:
Fast paced, ridiculous and always entertaining, the cast creates an hour long musical from suggestions provided by the audience. This dynamite cast has been seen in mainstage musicals and comedy clubs around the country and knows how to make you laugh one moment and break out your jazz hands the next.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 06 at 09:00 PM
January 07 at 04:00 PM
January 08 at 08:00 PM
January 09 at 09:00 PM
January 11 at 07:00 PM
January 12 at 05:30 PM
January 14 at 06:00 PM
January 15 at 01:45 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

“To Clap or To Boo… What would The Claque do?” – In Conversation with Mark Brownell & Victor Pokinko on CLIQUE CLAQUE

Interview by Brittany Kay

I got to sit down with playwright Mark Brownell and actor Victor Pokinko of Clique Claque, premiering at The Next Stage Festival. We talked about who and what the “Claque” are, the potential timelessness of period pieces, and the importance of the festival model as a way of producing theatre.

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

Mark Brownell: We’ve been working on the show for about two years. Last year we did Three Men in a Boat and our time machine kind of got stuck in the late 1800s in the 19th Century. Clique Claque is set in Paris and the topic is one that I have wanted to do for a long time. It’s focusing on a thing called the Paris Claque. They were essentially professional clappers who make money promoting or booing various shows. At the time, theatre was never more popular but they had a problem promoting the new shows, same as they do today. So they decided to create and hire the Claque. It started in Paris around the 1830s and kept growing and growing until the point where you couldn’t have a new opening or a new play or opera or musical piece without the Claque. They became a part of the theatre. Then, after a certain point, people started to question why that was and why these people were getting paid to do to fake an audience, essentially. Clappers would say that they are definitely part of the business. Everybody else started to think that wasn’t the case. So it’s kind of a turning point in the Claque’s existence, where people started to turn their backs on the Claque.

Victor Pokinko: The Claque also served this nefarious purpose. Actors would be able to hire the Claque to boost their own performances and convince the greater public that they were doing something better than they were. At the same time, they would be able to sabotage their competition by sending them to their counterparts and either boo, or stay completely silent during comedies, or do something to simply sabotage them and make the public think they must not be that good if no one’s clapping.

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Victor Pokinko & Thalia Kane

MB: They had several different types of applause, cheering and booing where they would talk in between the acts about the show, so it became a real art. They really perfected it. Claques have been around a lot longer; it goes back to ancient Greeks. It was at its height in the 1800s and then it started to die off as the theatre started to die off with the introduction of film and stuff like that. It still kind of existed but sort of mutated into things like laugh tracks in television.

BK: Amazing, I never knew about that.

VP: We briefly mention Wagner in the play. Wagner is responsible for the house lights going down in theatre, before that it was just lit everywhere. And that benefited the Claque because the leader of the Claque would stand behind a pillar, where they would actually give hand signals. They were these strange, elaborate, almost like an umpire in baseball, for what the Claquers should do. We made these signals for ourselves to applaud or laugh etc. So one of the reasons Wagner wanted to bring the house lights down was to foil the Claque so they couldn’t see these signals and they would have to react genuinely.

MB: That’s sort of the basis around when we meet the characters and what they are doing. It’s set up like a melodrama simply because in melodrama at the time, your fortunes would gain with virtuous activity or they would diminish with rotten activity. Most of the characters in this play are rotten and wicked and they are punished for it. Some aren’t. It’s definitely good versus evil. It’s quite a dastardly group of characters and the opposite of Three Men in a Boat.

BK: Why are you inspired by the 19th Century? Where did this inspiration first come from to write about this specific movement in theatre history? 

MB: We’ve had a lot of success in the past with period pieces. It’s liberating. To tell you a secret, it never goes out of date because with so many contemporary plays, you write them or you see them and then the situation changes. Oddly with historical drama, because it’s already happened, because it is already dated, you can play with it and it remains popular. Our historical dramas are amongst our most popular shows that get redone. I also teach Theatre History so I’m constantly kind of learning about new eras. We’re stuck in the 19th Century because it was amazing. For artists, it was immaculate. We just love doing these period pieces because it deals with the familiar and it deals with the alien at the same time. That’s really fascinating to me. We also have a very physical style and that fits very well into this time period.

BK: Three Men in a Boat was a very stylized, physical type of storytelling. Is that the case with this show?

MB: Three Men in a Boat was a style called spoken décor, where the three men and their bodies are the show. This is more along the lines of a classic melodrama, which is a different style, of course. We don’t have huge sets or anything like that. It is still quite stripped down and our director Sue Miner is very, very used to that. We were into the Poor Theatre before Grotowski.

BK: hahaha.

VP: There are a few segments where my character is led through the catacombs of Paris. How do you make the winding sewers and tunnels of Paris without the Mirvish budget? Moments like that, we snap into a physical style and then snap back out into this melodrama.

MB: The cast is very strong. We have a great mix of (they’ll kill me for saying this) older actors and young actors/emerging artists who we love working with. We’re mixing Victor and Thalia Kane with Michelle Langille, and then two gentleman Ron Kennell and Robert Clarke, who are veterans and really wonderful. The cast chemistry is really important and we like working with people who we’ve enjoyed working with before, as does everybody.

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Robert Clarke

BK: How is your working relationship with Sue and Mark coming to a new show?

VP: This is my second show with both of them and my third with Sue. It’s great. I was sort of thrown into Three Men in a Boat. That was a whirlwind of a rehearsal process and then we grew and grew as the show developed. This one feels like a new beginning – a fresh, wonderful adventure. There’s a lot of me in this character.

MB: I’ve written the character for him. Sometimes you write with actors in mind and it’s rare that they are able to do it given everybody’s crazy schedules. I wrote every one of these characters for the actors playing them. I know their quirks.

BK: Oh yes, and Victor has none…

VP: (Laughs) My character is a Polish Canadian piano playing man named Victor with big ears and a distinctive laugh.

BK: That’s not you at all.

VP: Yes, it’s a real stretch. (Laughs) Our relationship has grown in a very big way. We joke a lot in rehearsal and there is a common vocabulary we all use. It’s lovely to simply jump into that work and know exactly the style we’re going for and know the vernacular.

MB: You get into a rhythm and a language together. We’re working as a tight ensemble. We really enjoy working that way.

BK: Why is this story important for audiences today?

MB: I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s important because in any one of our period plays, there’s a reflection of the modern. The time that we’re setting it in, is at a time when Modernism kicks in and the 20th Century is around the corner. We’re in the 21st Century now, but people’s motivations are the same. The wickedness is the same. Melodrama has a bad rep. People think that Melodrama is over the top acting. It’s not that. If you really study Melodrama, it’s a sort of style that survives to this day. If you look at any Hollywood film, the manipulation of the audience is still there but it’s grown more sophisticated and subtler. You have music to pull the heartstrings. Go to a Stephen Spielberg film and find your tear ducts starting to go. Take away the sound, take away the orchestra, and sometimes you’ll see a lot of bad acting.

The laugh track has fallen out of favour, but you have things like The Big Bang Theory, which is the perfect example. Take the laugh track out of that show and sorry, but it’s not that good. We’re still cueing people constantly with music, laughter, and the chatter. It’s still with us, so I think that’s the biggest message. That said, we don’t use the Claque in this production but the audience is co-opted a bit to behave as the Claque.

VP: I think it’s a big commentary on what theatre was and has become. In a cool way, it gives an inside look into what theatre was historically. For the non-theatre people, it shows a bit of an inside look at what it is that we are struggling for and struggling against constantly.

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Thalia Kane

BK: Why does Pea Green Theatre keep coming back to the Next Stage Festival?

MB: This is our third Next Stage. We started in ’88, so it’s been a long journey. Over that time, the pie that’s available for funding from grants etc. has shrunk significantly. Our way of producing and creating theatre has changed over the years simply because there is less money available and we have to raise money in different ways. But also, for the economics of theatre itself, the festival model is very, very strong. If you’re smart and don’t have a cast of 20, you can actually make money on the Fringe tour. The Next Stage Festival, is the next step in that. The last 4 of our shows that have come up through the festival circuit have gone onto larger productions. That’s why Next Stage is important because it is literally the next stage for the work.

BK: A good stepping-stone.

MB: And that’s what it is supposed to be. Larger theatres are now plucking shows out of the Fringe. They’re taking from the festival circuits. The Festival model is the way to go. The days of licking stamps and sending off scripts to the mainstream theatre doesn’t exist anymore.

BK: What has Next Stage done for you as an actor Victor?

VP: I like festivals and they are great opportunities. Big companies come out to Next Stage and can see your work. It’s a weird thing to talk about exposure, but Next Stage is great because there are only 10 shows and people attend and really care about it. It’s nice to know there is a large artistic reach for the art we are making and wanting to share.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from Clique Claque?

MB: Primarily to be entertained.

VP: It’s nice to be transported when watching a period piece. You’re going to enter this other world. I’m excited, as an artist, to explain the Claque and this part of history. As an audience, it’s always exciting to feel like you’ve experienced history and to walk out having learned something. Hopefully, I want them to walk out with a sense of involvement in that.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Movie
VP: La Vie en Rose MB: Babette’s Feast

Favourite Book
VP: Pass! MB: A Wizard of Earthsea

Favourite Play
VP: Our Town or House OR The Goat MB: Les Liaison Dangereuses

Favourite Food
VP: Coffee MB: The whole hawg from the Bar-B-Barn in Montreal.

Favourite Place in Toronto
VP: Christie Pitts MB: Cherry Beach

Best advice you’ve ever gotten
VP: Don’t take yourself seriously. MB: Be nice to people on the way up because you’re going to meet them on the way down.

Clique Claque

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Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Pea Green Theatre Group
Written by Mark Brownell
Director Sue Miner
Featuring Robert Clarke, Thalia Kane, Ron Kennell, Michelle Langille, and Victor Pokinko

What:
Clique Claque marks Pea Green’s return to the festival after last year’s Dora-nominated hit Three Men in a Boat. Clique Claque is a dastardly period comedy/ melodrama set in 1880’s Paris. Madame Clothilde is the “Chef de Claque” – the overseer of a motley group of professional “clappers” who manipulate audience applause for cash. Together with her detestable husband she seeks to control the life and fortunes of every performing artist in Paris.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 06 at 09:30 PM
January 07 at 08:30 PM
January 08 at 04:00 PM
January 09 at 06:45 PM
January 11 at 08:45 PM
January 13 at 05:00 PM
January 14 at 06:30 PM
January 15 at 02:45 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

“Exploring Archetypes, Storytelling & Country Music that isn’t about Football” – In Conversation with Matthew Gorman, writer of WESTERN, a play with music at NSTF

Interview by Hallie Seline

I spoke with Matthew Gorman, writer of Western, a play with music, at the Next Stage Festival, to discuss exploring the Western genre in the theatre, using music as a driving force in storytelling and the excitement of watching the NSTF grow over the years.

Hallie Seline: Tell me a bit about Western, a play with music.

Matthew Gorman: Western started as a retelling of a Johnny Cash song. It’s actually written by Sting, but Johnny’s version is the good one. It’s a song about a boy accidentally shooting a man and being hanged for it. I had initially intended it to be a solo piece and just follow along with the plot from the song but as I got going, I started to like the people around that story more and more. After trying a few versions of the script, we hit on the idea of a theatrical campfire, where a story was shared between the characters and the audience rather than having it presented in a more traditional fashion. This gave us more space to breathe and see what parts of the story needed telling and what needed showing.

HS: What drew you to explore the Western genre in a theatrical setting with this piece?

MG: I like archetypes. You know a bad guy is a bad guy because he’s the bad guy. People have expectations of characters in a western, so you don’t need to spend time explaining who everyone is. The sheriff is the sheriff. You’re playing with the form those characters take.

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HS: The show is described as being “a play with music”. What kind of role does the music play in the show and why was it important in the creation of the piece?

MG: Any good campfire has music playing. You pass around instruments and people take turns sharing a song. When we initially approached Gord (Bolan) about providing some music for an early staged reading, we thought he’d maybe play a few Hank Williams songs between scenes. When he showed up, he’d scored the whole thing and written a few originals. His presence in that reading showed us that he could be a featured part of the story, a driving force that influences the characters, rather than just accompaniment. We called it a play with music because it wasn’t a traditional musical, it’s a play where people sing sometimes.

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HS: What are you most looking forward to this Next Stage Festival? (aside from the presentation of your piece, of course.)

MG: I was a bartender at the first couple Next Stage Festivals, so I’m always looking forward to how the feel of the whole festival grows every year and things change.

HS: If your audience could listen to a song, album or playlist before coming to see Western, what would you recommend?

MG: People should listen to lots of John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Bonnie Prince Billy, Neko Case, some Gillian Welch. Any country music that isn’t about football.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Western Film: The Proposition. Nick Cave wrote all the music, it’s great.

What are you watching these days? I’ve been on tour most of the fall, so a lot of Netflix. I watched a bunch of Penny Dreadful. It was amazing and terrible and cheesy and great and Simon Russel Beale is always delightful.

Where do you look for inspiration? Art galleries, always.

Favourite place in the city? We’ve been members at the zoo for years. We almost got married there. It’s the best.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten? Write whatever you want, let someone else worry about how to stage it.

Describe Western in 5 words: A campfire where people die.

Western, a play with music

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Photo by Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by The Harvey Dunn Campfire
Text by Matthew Gorman
Music by Gordon Bolan
Director Geoffrey Pounsett
Featuring Mairi Babb, Gordon Bolan, Brendan Murray, and Caroline Toal

What:
Part myth, part campfire song, this show is a reckless chase through an imagined western landscape. Nance wants a son, Reach wants a home, Dirt wants release, Jenet wants her brother, and Rabbit just wants to run. Join these acclaimed indie theatre artists ‘round the fire for a story about family, blood, and claiming what’s yours.

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 05 at 06:30 PM
January 06 at 05:15 PM
January 07 at 07:30 PM
January 08 at 04:15 PM
January 10 at 06:30 PM
January 12 at 07:15 PM
January 13 at 08:45 PM
January 14 at 02:15 PM
January 15 at 03:30 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

“It’s Funny. It’s Feminist. It’s a Sexy Thriller, Horror Musical!” – In Conversation with Anika Johnson & Barbara Johnston on their flagship show Blood Ties at NSTF

Interview by Hallie Seline

It’s a complete joy to connect with Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston of Johnson & Johnston, the power duo boss ladies behind Blood Ties at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. We spoke about where the inspiration for their horror musical came from, why they keep coming back to their flagship show after 10 years, and why the Next Stage Festival is like a big community party. 

Hallie Seline: This is your flagship show as Johnson & Johnston. How did the two of you meet and start creating together?

Anika Johnson & Barbara Johnston: We met as acting students at Ryerson Theatre school and wrote the first draft of this show for a festival of student work in our fourth year.

HS: So Blood Ties is based on a true story? How did you come across it?

J&J: One time Barb was stuck on a long car-trip with her family and her mom talking about this crazy day when her uncle shot himself in his bathroom and she and her friends had to clean up the mess.

HS: And what made you think “This has to be a musical!”?

J&J: Duh.

HS: This will be the fourth time presenting Blood Ties, right? The Next Stage Festival is all about bringing the work to the next level. What are you hoping for/exploring with this run of the show?

J&J: The first draft of Blood Ties was the first thing we ever wrote together, almost 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve written a whole bunch of other things, but for some reason we keep coming back to this one. In some ways, it’s the work that most unabashedly represents our taste – it’s funny, it’s feminist, it’s a horror musical, it’s a sexy thriller – and we’re excited to revisit it now as more seasoned writers and share a work that’s had some time to develop and grow.

HS: The festival is celebrating its 10th Anniversary and it’s been growing every year! Why do you think it’s so important for the theatre community and for the city for festivals like this to exist and be supported?

J&J: New work needs an audience, both for exposure and development. It’s hard for theaters to risk programming or developing a new show, especially a new musical, which takes years to finish. In a festival like Next Stage, we get the opportunity to fully realize an idea and then try it out in front of an audience – and audiences get the opportunity to see professional work from artists who may not otherwise have a platform. Plus, a festival is an event – like a giant family reunion. It brings the city together and builds community, which is so important. It’s a party. And we love to party.

HS: If your audience could listen to a song, album or playlist before coming to see Blood Ties, what would you recommend?

J&J: Maybe the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides’? But actually.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Horror Film: Scream and Fatal Attraction.
Favourite Musical: Sweeney Todd.
What you’re listening to right now: Current faves that made their way into Blood Ties somehow: Kimbra ‘Settle Down’, The Rolling Stones ‘Miss You’, Martha Wainwright ‘I am a Diamond’.
Where do you look for inspiration? For this show, classic 90’s sexy thrillers and the lives of ourselves and our friends.
Favourite place in the city? This month, we’re really into karaoke at the Duke on Queen East.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten? It’s not going to look the way you thought it would.
Describe Blood Ties in 5 words: The things we never mention.

Blood Ties

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Photo of Anika Johnson & Barbara Johnston by Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Edge of the Sky
Playwrights Johnson & Johnston
Director Ann Merriam
Featuring Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnston, Jeremy Lapalme, Carter Hayden and Kent Sheridan
Musical Director Jeffrey Newberry

What:
Sheila’s uncle shoots himself in his bathroom on the eve of her wedding, and when her three best friends arrive in town to celebrate they are instead faced with the task of cleaning up the considerable mess left behind. This flagship musical show by Dora-nominated team Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston has previously been a hit at SummerWorks, the Edinburgh Fringe, and on BBC America’s ‘Orphan Black.’ Based on true events.

Where: 
Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

When:
January 04 at 08:15 PM
January 05 at 07:00 PM
January 07 at 04:15 PM
January 08 at 06:30 PM
January 10 at 08:45 PM
January 12 at 05:15 PM
January 13 at 10:00 PM
January 14 at 02:00 PM
January 15 at 07:00 PM

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com