Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Nightwood Theatre’

“Fempocalypse 2018” In Conversation with Lauren Wolanski on Nightwood Theatre’s Young Innovator’s Unit’s Upcoming Event

Interview by Bailey Green

We had the pleasure of chatting with Lauren Wolanski, one of the artists in Nightwood Theatre’s 2017/18 Young Innovator’s Unit about their upcoming event, Fempocalypse 2018. We spoke about the importance of welcoming mentorship that challenges you, partnering with Sistering for their event, and the importance of “finding your people” and advocating for the value of your work.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Bailey Green: What was your first memory of Nightwood Theatre? do you remember a show you saw produced by Nightwood that stood out for you?

Lauren Wolanski: I was in university working on a project for my professional practice class. We were asked to get in contact with a theatre company that we admired and interview them (classic theatre school assignment, right?) Truthfully, I saw it as the perfect excuse to get in touch with women who I was, and still am, huge fans of. I was nervous as hell. But from the get-go the team at Nightwood proved to be incredibly approachable and generous with their time. Beth Brown spoke with me on the phone and answered all of my questions about the inner workings of the company, from their season selection to their emerging artist and community outreach.

Kelly Thorton also came to visit my class to do a workshop. I had the chance to work with her on a monologue I had prepared and I’ll never forget it—she was candid, honest, brazen and persistent. She was able to really challenge me while at the same time convince me that I was capable of more, which is something that’s rare to find in a mentor.

Asking for It, written by Ellie Moon and presented as a part of the Consent Event at Nightwood this past fall, completely blew my mind. Here was a young woman, no more than a few years older than me, doing a show that really spoke to what we needed to hear NOW. It covered all the things I’ve wanted to talk about, but never had the guts to. It was relevant and daring and deeply personal. It changed my perception about the possibilities for women on stage, and reminded me that audiences do in fact want to listen to our experiences as young women—that our perspectives are valuable and not to be overlooked.

BG: Tell me about your experience in the Nightwood Theatre’s Young Innovators Unit, what’s the process been like? How often have you met throughout the year and how is your time together spent? 

LW: The Nightwood Young Innovators Unit is a group of young emerging artists, ranging from producers to stage-managers and playwrights to actors, that are being trained by the team at Nightwood to be ambassadors for Canada’s National Women’s Theatre. After our first meet up, the staff at Nightwood asked each of us what our interests were so that they could notify us when any related opportunities arose. In this sense, it is a completely individualized program that lends itself to the particular skills you wish to nurture. So, that could mean that you get asked to help Kelly Read with applicants in the audition room for the Lawyer Show, or that you spend the day assisting in the Groundswell Festival, when the Write From The Hip artists share their work in front of an audience for the first time. The variety of opportunities they offer to us is so vast. And what’s best is that they’re always just an email away if we ever want to touch base and go for coffee.

We meet about once a month for workshops with different team members from the company to learn about the essential skills to running a theatre company. Some of the workshops focus on development, marketing, grant writing and more. Of course, we are also tasked with planning Fempocalypse, which is the event we are currently in the thick of preparing for. Nightwood has given us a space, tons of guidance in regards to curating and organizing this event—but they’ve pretty much given us the freedom to take the reins on this project. And when we hit little technical bumps, the company helps us get back on track. It’s our special project to navigate on our own, and I love that Nightwood is giving us total liberty to create this thing!

I also love that I feel like a valued artist at Nightwood. When I’m in the company’s presence, I never feel like I’m being schooled, per-se, even though I am in a sense. I don’t ever feel the pressure of being one of the youngest, or least experienced one in the room. I always feel accepted and encouraged by the team at Nightwood, and that feeling of true support is not always something you’re lucky enough to find in this industry.

BG: With part of the Young Innovator’s Unit focused on learning how to run a theatre company, what was one the most valuable insights or pieces of advice you received during your time in the unit?

LW: Kelly said something along the lines of, ‘yes, this is about making art but this is also a business’. We women have to be able to make a living off of the work we do. And I think that’s incredibly important to keep in mind. In order to do good work, we have to have the means to do it in the first place. So as much as we young dreamers like to believe that networking, marketing and funding aren’t as important as the art, and that passion alone is enough to fuel our careers, that’s not necessarily so.

Another piece of advice we got that I found of particular use was to find your people. Theatre is so much of a collaborative process, and it’s important to find the people who share a passion for telling the stories that you want to tell.

BG: Fempocalypse 2018 is coming up tomorrow on March 9th, how did the group decide or discover the quote that inspired the theme of this year’s cabaret? Courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own Michelle Obama

LW: It was really important to us that this be an uplifting night of celebration. It seemed appropriate then, that we choose a quote that would elicit a similar response. As much as we’re all frustrated, saddened, and frankly just pissed about the work that still needs to be done, we’re optimistic that bringing artists together to share words of hope will put the Toronto community on the right path this year. We want to celebrate how far we’ve come, and the amazing group of people we have brought together that will help lead the way into a better future. ARTISTS, lead the way!

BG: You have some incredible folks performing at the cabaret, could you give me a sneak preview of any of the acts?

LW: Yes yes yes! We’re SUPER excited to have such an amazing line up of female-identifying or gender non-binary artists this year. Up-and-coming Somali-Canadian writer Fatuma Adar will be sharing a musical piece that she wrote (Music by Fatuma and Alexa Belgrave) which we are SO looking forward to seeing. We’re also going to be screening Julianna Notten’s film Erins Guide to Kissing Girls. We also have Brefny Caribou, a Cree-Irish Canadian actor, creator, and writer, who will be performing a piece. Honestly, I want to list all of the artists we have because they’re all so darn amazing and talented and inspiring… but you’ll just have to wait! I can promise you however, that it will be a night full of diverse artists from all kinds of artistic disciplines—and that we are incredibly excited to be hosting all of them!

BG: The cabaret will raise money for Sistering, a local Toronto agency for at risk homeless or precariously housed women, can you tell me more about the work they do?

LW: As Canada’s only 24/7 women’s shelter, located right here in Toronto, Sistering has a lot of important work to do for the women in our community. Not only does Sistering warmly welcome any woman at any hour of the day with a meal, a place to sleep and clean clothing—Sistering focuses on providing women with the support they need to find jobs and suitable housing in Toronto. A doctor, mental health professional and counselor are available on a regular basis, and staff are at the ready to help any woman with resume and job application assistance. Sistering goes as far to offer women work experience on location in the kitchen and other in-house facilities. 

A few of us Young Innovators, Bryn Kennedy, Justine Christensen and Samantha Vu, had the chance to visit Sistering to speak with some of the hardworking staff, including Fund Development Associate Marian Lupu, to tell us more about the far-reaching initiatives and programs that Sistering takes on. First, we were taken to the Inspiration Studio: A space for the women to hone their artistic skills, whether it be beading or pottery, in regular workshops with artistic professionals. We had the chance to see some of the impressive, beautiful work that the women are making at Sistering on a daily basis, which then go on sale for purchase. Beyond the work that they are doing on-site, spending countless hours making approximately 10,4000 harm reduction kits per year and providing an array of recreational social gatherings, Sistering is also fighting for the rights of these women within the broader Toronto landscape. Sistering staff publically advocate for more harm reduction shelters, programing and greater funding for the opioid crisis in our local government and social action rallies.

We’re really excited to be hosting a Sistering staff member at the event so that our guests can experience learning more about Sistering first-hand. If people can’t make it to the event and would still like to get involved, we’re encouraging everyone to check out their volunteer opportunities here. If you’d like to honour a woman in your life while contributing to this incredible cause, you can also check out this page.

BG: What or who are you currently drawing inspiration from?

LW: SO MUCH. There is no denying that there has been a major shift this past year. A lot has happened that has made us stop, re-evaluate, and reconfigure the direction we’re heading in. People across the globe are no longer willing to stay silent. We get our inspiration from the galaxy of voices that ignite change. That includes the incredible artists we have invited to this event, and the powerful staff at Sistering who work endlessly to better the lives of our women. It is the presence and impact of these fierce, determined and unabashed people—their words, their songs, their art, their hearts and their actions—that have made this event such a pleasure and ease to produce.

We hope to see everyone there to celebrate how far we’ve come.

Fempocalypse 2018

Who: Nightwood Theatre’s 2017/2018 Young Innovators Unit cordially invites everyone to FEMPOCALYPSE 2018:

What: LET’S CELEBRATE. BECAUSE THERE’S A WHOLE LOT TO CELEBRATE.
International Women’s Day. Let’s hear it for our sisters, right?

A cabaret night that is jam-packed with performances from an array of female-identifying or gender non-conforming artists, covering a range of different viewpoints and experiences that respond to the following prompt: “Courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own” – Michelle Obama.

After an incredibly successful event last year, with over one thousand dollars in proceeds being raised for Native Women’s Association of Canada, Fempocalypse will return this year under the leadership of the this year’s Young Innovators.

FEATURING WORK FROM: Monica Garrido, Parmida Vand, Ansley Simpson, Mayumi Lashbrook and Lisa Emmons, Form Contemporary Dance Theatre, Belinda Corpuz, Brefny Caribou, Emma Houlahan, Athena Kaitlin Trinh, Fatuma Adar, yes the poet, Julianna Notten, Claren Grosz, Allison Price and Becky Johnson, and Gay Jesus.

When: Friday, March 9th starting at 8:00 p.m. Doors at 7:30pm

Where: Ernest Balmer Studio in the Distillery District.

Tickets: Pay-What-You-Can donation in support of SISTERING: a local, multi-service agency for at-risk, socially isolated women in Toronto who are homeless or precariously housed. A representative from the organization will be present at the event to tell you more about the amazing work that they do and how we can get involved. All proceeds from the night will be given to this fantastic organization that is changing the game for women across Toronto.

“Race, Allyship & How the Past Informs the Present” In Conversation with Audrey Dwyer, playwright & director of CALPURNIA

Interview by Bailey Green.

I sat down with Audrey Dwyer, playwright and director of Calpurnia, to discuss race, allyship and how the past informs the present. Calpurnia, co-produced by Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre, is a courageous and explosive play that takes place during a dinner party. Julie, a screenwriter, attempts to re-imagine Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird from the perspective of Calpurnia—the Finch’s maid.

Dwyer began writing Calpurnia in 2012, some time after Trayvon Martin was killed. Dwyer was playing a maid in a show, and a cast mate remarked on how strong Dwyer’s character was. The cast mate was referring to a moment in the show where Dwyer’s character was silent during a racist attack on her character. Dwyer noted how the character’s silence was put upon them and how for many women, silence and strength is not always a choice.

The conversation prompted Dwyer to look deeper into mammy culture, domestic workers and how Black women as maids serve a function in literature. She was in a writer’s unit, working on a piece that wasn’t connecting, when she had a conversation with a friend about how the past illuminates the present. Dwyer remembered reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school: “It is such an iconic book, and I wondered is there a way for me to talk about mammy culture in the present, and hearken to the past, while examining a book that is Pulitzer Prize-winning and seen as the purest example of equality of how we should be in the world?”

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.) 

Photo of Audrey Dwyer

BG: Do you feel that your relationship to the book has changed over time or do you feel those core reactions are still as strong?

AD: When I read it back in high school, I was one of the only Black people in my class and I remember feeling really isolated when conversations happened around the usage of the n word. That is one of the primary ways people analyze the book in schools, should we say the n word? And that conversation happening around me as the only Black person in my class felt shameful and embarrassing. It didn’t serve my needs and it didn’t help the racism I was experiencing while in school. Equality was another theme that was touched on and that conversation also felt awkward for me because I wasn’t being seen as an equal in that conversation. Years later when I approached the book I was flummoxed why this book was being taught in schools in this way […] The conversation about the book hasn’t changed. I think of things like how Tom Robinson was shot 17 times as he was running away from the cops… now you read that book and you’ve got young Black men in school, how is that narrative serving them? How is the narrative of a Black man seen as a violent sexual abuser, he’s innocent but he’s portrayed in that way, how does that help? In terms of rape culture you’ve got Mayella Ewell who is on the stand and she is being treated horribly by Atticus Finch. If I was a teenage girl watching that film reading the book and I had a situation I might have shared with a police officer or teacher or parent, this book tells me don’t do it.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: I was reading some Goodreads reviews last night for fun, specifically the one star reviews and I was surprised that people are still holding on to this incredibly problematic set of two-dimensional characters. One review said ‘this is a perfect example of a white guilt fantasy,’ would you agree with that statement?

AD: White saviour syndrome is definitely Atticus Finch. We can look at that lawyer and feel like he’s such a hero but when you dig through it, he was just doing his job. And you can look at what the time period was and Black men were being lynched left right and centre. Black men, Black boys, Black women, Black elderly people, the atrocities that Black people were going through were so abundant. So to have a book about a white man who was trying to save the day through the legal system definitely perpetuated that white men can save the day. I’m not entirely convinced, especially when you look at our laws, that the character of Atticus Finch actually promotes change. I think that he makes us feel good, or some of us feel good. He talks to Scout and explains to her that the men who want to lynch Tom Robinson are men who simply have a blind spot. But we can look at what happened in Charlottesville, those men with torches… can we say that they had a blind spot or can we say that they were an organized group of educated men who had a mission? Can we say that some of the alt right groups here in Toronto, do they have a blind spot or [are they] well-intentioned in their minds? And the way we teach young white people about racism, we can’t say someone had a blind spot. We have to crack that open and talk about systemic violence, power, how to stand up for marginalized people in the moment. And not just about Black people, all people. There are too many people who don’t feel like they have a voice, too many groups that don’t have a voice. And I think that To Kill a Mockingbird describing violence as ‘folks aren’t seeing straight’ is harmful.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: Absolutely, and how Atticus speaks to Scout about race reflects a culture with white children being told that everyone is the same, that you don’t see race. […] Do you show that kind of relationship in the play, with Atticus and Scout, or do you diverge from that?

AD: A lot of the characters in the play are inspired by TKAM and how they speak to each other, allyship is a huge theme. We have examples of when allyship works out and we have examples when it doesn’t work out and I definitely wanted to show all of it. In some cases, some people don’t even want allyship. I’m trying to address what it looks like when you want to help and you fail, when you want to help and you think you succeed, and when you’re helping but your help isn’t necessary. It’s so complicated. This time in our lives is full of people wanting to know how to be better, but I think the key is obviously empathy but also listening. Checking yourself and just listening, spending more time hearing where people are coming from. If you feel the anxiety that you’ve done something wrong, listen to that, why do you feel so guilty if someone is telling you a hurt or an injury they have? You will see elements of Atticus and elements of the innocence of Scout but who it comes from is also very interesting too.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: I love the trailer, and in it you mention how allyship is a hot topic and people think they know exactly what it means.

AD: Allyship is an everyday practice. Another danger in TKAM is that [it says] racism looks like X. Ignorance looks like X. And the thing is what one person finds harmful and painful, another person may not. People end up feeling like well, I’m a good person and what hurt? You didn’t hurt my friend so what is your problem? Listening and understanding that there is not one single definition.

BG: We’re at a dinner party, who are the guests? Where do we find the characters?

AD: We’ve got Julie, a screenwriter. We’ve got Thompson who is a lawyer and has his own law firm and we’ve got Mark who is Julie’s brother and Christine who is Mark’s girlfriend. Christine is also Julie’s best friend, although they are not as close as they used to be. And Lawrence is Julie and Mark’s father. And Precy is their Filipina maid.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: What did you find the most challenging in the adaptation or in the process? What challenged you the most as a writer with this piece?

AD: I think the thing that was the most challenging and at the same time the most rewarding was each character, getting into the mindset, and making them be as warm as I possibly could make them but also as flawed. When I say warm I mean everybody thinks that their intentions are good. Making characters that are authentic and recognizable […] The book, to me, has a number of stereotypes. I wanted to take those and have them be recognizable in the play without being so pointed. I play with stereotypes but they are not exactly what you expect.

BG: How was the shift from writer to director?

AD: Really good. I was quite firm with myself as a playwright/director. It’s very easy to want to make cuts but I’ve had a lot of opportunity via Obsidian Theatre and Nightwood Theatre to workshop it so I felt quite ready. One of the things that I did was make a conscious choice to work on the dialogue with the woman who is playing Precy, because I am not a Filipina woman and I wanted to make sure that I was checking my privilege as a writer. Over the drafts that I have written, I have given drafts to other theatre artists, dear old friends, and every time I have “gotten this character right” is a sign that I am probably making a mistake, and now in the rehearsal hall, it is great that I am working alongside the actor that I have chosen so that she can tell me directly, ‘I wouldn’t say that here.’ It’s a lot of fun to put it up on its feet. It’s an honour to have this opportunity and the actors are awesome.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

BG: You’re partnering with the AMY project. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

AD: So we’re looking for some donations to help us throughout the run, and I’ve been a mentor with the AMY project for a few years over their long, long history, and I really love the AMY project. I love what they are providing to the community, I love that they’re trying to give voice to young women and non-binary youth. They give young artists the opportunity to create pieces with mentors. They are an under-served group of people who really need it.

BG: Any shows you’d like to shout out that are coming up?

AD: The Rhubarb Festival, everyone should go and see Rhubarb shows.

BG: Lastly, did you have any advice from someone you loved or a colleague that helped awaken something in the play?

AD: Kelly Thornton gave me a quote, but it’s about writing the thing that makes you the most uncomfortable and in writing Calpurnia I felt very, very uncomfortable and that if you feel uncomfortable, that your audience will also feel that and that discomfort can offer some insight from time to time:

“When starting a play, I ask myself, “What’s the last play in the world I would ever want to write?” Then I force myself to write it. I do this because I’ve found that the best way to make theatre that unsettles and challenges my audience is to do things that make me uncomfortable. I work with stories that I find trite and embarrassing, I keep the development of the text as open and unstable as possible throughout the rehearsal and performance process, and I emphasize rather than hide problems in the text and production. I’m constantly trying to find value in unexpected places. My work is about struggling to achieve something in the face of failure and incompetence and not-knowing. The discomfort and awkwardness involved in watching this struggle reflects the truth of my experience.” – Young Jean Lee

Calpurnia

Who:
Written and Directed by Audrey Dwyer
A Nightwood Theatre and Sulong Theatre Co-Production
CAST –
Don Allison
Matthew Brown
Carolyn Fe
Natasha Greenblatt
Andrew Moodie
Meghan Swaby
CREATIVE TEAM cont-
Tsholo Khalema – Assistant Director
Anna Treusch – Set Design
Jackie Chau – Costume Design
Bonnie Beecher – Lighting Design
Johnny Salib – Sound Design
Christine Urquhart – Props Coordinator
Megan Cinel – Assistant Set Designer
Emma Welsh – Assistant Costume Designer
Christina Cicko – Stage Manager
Neha Ross – Assistant Stage Manager
Suzie Balogh – Production Manager
Adriana DeAngelis – Assistant Production Manager

What:
A classic novel turned on its head. A dinner party gone wrong.
A hilarious and provocative look at class, race and family dynamics under the roof of a wealthy Jamaican-Canadian home. As screenwriter Julie seeks to redress To Kill a Mockingbird through the perspective of Calpurnia – the Finch family maid – her tactics meet with explosive results at an important family dinner party. A brave, insightful, and outrageous new play.

Where:
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander Street

When:
January 14 – February 4, 2018

Tickets:
nightwoodtheatre.net

Connect:
t: @nightwoodtheat
fb: /nightwoodtheatre
ig: @nightwoodtheat
#Calpurnia

 

“Consent, Growing Up & Telling Difficult Stories” In Conversation with Rose Napoli, playwright of LO (OR DEAR MR. WELLS)

Interview by Bailey Green

Nightwood Theatre continues their Consent Series with Rose Napoli’s play Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells). The play tells the story of Laura (nicknamed Lo) and her teacher Mr. Wells, and is a feminist retelling of an affair between a student and teacher. Napoli began writing Lo three years ago in Nightwood’s Write from the Hip program. Andrea Donaldson, the facilitator of the program, oversaw the play from the ground up and directed the show, on stage now at Crow’s Theatre.

Napoli’s own experiences and her work with young women in schools and a juvenile detention centre inspired the work. She got to know girls who heard society tell them that their bodies were the most valuable assets they had, and how those beliefs existed in her own lived experiences as well. We spoke with Napoli about consent, vulnerability, growing up and what it takes to tell a difficult story.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.) 

Bailey Green: Youve been writing Lo (or Dear Mr Wells) for three years. What initially provoked you to write this piece and what was the development process like?

Rose Napoli: The play started years before I started writing it, 8 or 9 years ago. I was teaching in Windsor and working afternoons as a child and youth worker for at risk/in need youth and a juvenile detention centre. It’s now shut down. There wasn’t enough funding to keep it going, which is unfortunate. At the time I met a number of young women who had really complicated relationships to sexuality and consent. A lot of young women between ages 13-16, I don’t even know if they were in a position to know what they wanted and didn’t. Their bodies became currency instead of something that could give them pleasure, pride and beauty. They traded that in a lot of cases for safety. Those profound experiences, coupled with my own, made me obsessed with this issue.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas & Sam Kalilieh. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

The breaking point for me came when a guidance counsellor in my school was arrested because he had been having an affair with a student who was 16-17, and [the affair had been going on] since she was in the 7th grade. Her confession was triggered by him becoming engaged to another teacher at the school. It was a horrifying time which lead me to quit teaching. I had a really hard time with how the administration handled the situation. The girl was seen as dramatizing the story, but she thought they would be together, so for her the engagement was a huge betrayal. The two teachers remained together. All of that has added to a whole lot of fire in me for a long time.

Sam Kalilieh & Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

BG: This piece contains personal subject matter, both from your own life and from the lives of young girls you have met. What was that like for you as a playwright?

RN: The play is hard for me to hear. I’ve never actually been able to listen to it without weeping. There are moments where I don’t realize that I’m the one who wrote that. Laura, played by Vivien Endicott-Douglas, thinks that now that she knows Mr. Wells in this way, maybe he’ll be the one that stays. It’s hard to listen to that as it still continues to be the reality for me. I’m 34 and I think about what I’m going to do that is wrong, sexually or not, that will confirm my deepest fear that I’m not worth sticking around for. And that’s pretty common in terms of people I have spoken with.

Vivien Endicott-Douglas & Sam Kalilieh. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I also wasn’t interested in telling a story that vilified Mr. Wells, and Sam Kalilieh, who plays him, has had a really interesting journey and a challenging time championing a predator. I don’t want to speak for him, but any time you take subject matter like this on, separating your own beliefs from the beliefs of the character is a daily struggle. But both of us and Andrea have felt that this is a deeply confused man. And therein lies the complication—it is not as simple, and yet it is absolutely black and white.

Sam Kalilieh & Vivien Endicott-Douglas. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

BG: The quote written on your arm in the photo for the show (even if it costs you, you still have to share it), tell me about it and the social media campaign. 

RN: People were so creative with the #shareit campaign and I think people have craved it and wanted to talk but sometimes words are…challenging. And people came to express themselves through a photo and with a want to be a part of the conversation. The quote is in the play, something Mr. Wells says to Laura. The play is part of what Laura has written to him. He tells her as they are taking part in a creative writing club (she has an aversion to public sharing), he tells her that she has an obligation to the world to share her experience. And as she grows, she realizes that in a different way. And that’s a meta-theatrical personal line for myself, because this is not an easy thing for me to share. I feel nervous for people to see this because I don’t think it’s an easy thing to watch or even admit.

Photo of Rose Napoli by Dahlia Katz

BG: How do you feel with the run starting? 

RN: It’s wanting to shit your pants and feeling really excited and proud… there’s a lot going on. It’s a complicated time and I haven’t been that active in tech or rehearsal. I’ve been present for script evolutions but we’re talking specifics, like arguing over a comma. It’s their show now.

BG: What has it been like to be a part of the Consent Event with Ellie Moons play Asking for It and the Consent symposium?

RN: The conversations that the two plays inspire are different ones under the same heading, the consent topic we have to rewind back even further, way before the moment of no or yes. We have to think about it in how there is taking advantage of someone sexually and “no means no” and all of that. Empowering young women, not forcing them to kiss or hug family members. We send messages to children that their bodies or what they want doesn’t matter. We have to evaluate early on the message we send to young woman in particular. At the symposium we spoke about the importance of speaking about pleasure to young women. We don’t associate that as appropriate and we reinforce shame, which leads to people not being comfortable to say yes or no. I didn’t know what I wanted or what I didn’t want [when I was young], I was so confused.

BG: What would you say to your teenage self now?

RN: Oh gosh…I would tell her that she’s beautiful and she’s loved and that one day it will all make for some pretty interesting drama. I wrote a whole play for her.

Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells)

Who:
Written by Rose Napoli
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
A Nightwood Theatre production in association with Crow’s Theatre
Presented as part of The Consent Event, a play series and symposium navigating the minefield of modern sexuality.

What:
It was ten years ago that Laura was Alan Wells’ student at Northwood Catholic School. She was uncharacteristically intelligent for fifteen years old—perceptive and vulnerable—a dream student for an uninspired English teacher. Now, at twenty-five years old, Laura has written her first book. She calls it ‘Dear Mr. Wells’ and Alan is the first person she wants to read it.

A feminist retake on a student / teacher relationship, wrestling with burgeoning sexuality and consent, literature and passion, right and wrong, Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) was developed through Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip playwright’s unit.

Where:
Crow’s Theatre: 345 Carlaw Avenue

When:
October 25 – November 11, 2017

Tickets:
crowstheatre.com

Connect:
@RoseNapoli1
@nightwoodtheat
@crowstheatre

#nwLo

 

“Collaboration, Mentorship and Intertwining Art & Activism” In Conversation with Melissa-Jane Shaw, director of LELA & CO.

Interview by Hallie Seline

It was a complete honour and pleasure to chat with my ever-inspiring friend and mentor Melissa-Jane Shaw about her latest project directing Lela & Co. We spoke about collaboration, intertwining art and activism, and the necessity and power of mentorship in this community, both as a woman and an artist. Lela & Co. is on stage now at the Theatre Centre until October 8th.

HS: Tell me a little bit about the show and what it has been like directing this piece.

MJS: Lela & Co. gives space for a woman to tell her story of being sex trafficked by her husband, during a time of war. Beginning with memories of her childhood, Lela dives headfirst into her haunting and harrowing story with bravery, tenacity and even humour. I hope it will be a satisfying 100-minute theatrical experience, as well as a moving and motivating piece of activist art. Directing Lela & Co. has been both rewarding and hard. It’s a tricky piece and requires careful handling. It has really tested my directorial chops. While I don’t want to let the audience off the hook with the play’s challenging content, I also want to avoid gratuitous voyeurism. I hope I’ve kept that balance.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

HS: What has it been like collaborating with Discord and Din Theatre?

MJS: Well, just as Seventh Stage is really MJ Shaw, Discord and Din is really Jenna Harris, and collaborating with Jenna has been wonderful. As a co-producer, she’s incredibly hard-working, professional and level-headed. As an artist, she’s very smart and conscientious, open to taking risks and is always thinking beyond the rehearsal walls. It’s been a great collaboration, especially considering we didn’t even know each other before we started working on this show together.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

HS: Can you speak to me more about the local charitable organizations that you have aligned the show with and about the link you are making between art and activism?

MJS: Our hope is that Lela & Co. leaves the audience with a sense of “so what can I do?” We would like to capitalize on that feeling by having a local related charity present after each show for a talk-back and provide the opportunity to get involved and/or donate. We are partnering with freethem.ca, onechild.ca, ConvenantHouseToronto.ca and WhiteRibbon.ca. We are also having several school groups in for educational workshops and talk-backs. Our larger mission is to get the subject-matter of Lela & Co. beyond the walls of the theatre.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

HS: That’s incredible to hear! What’s next for yourself and for Seventh Stage Productions?

MJS: Seventh Stage will continue to develop its musical production Wendy, Darling, which is a contemporary feminist look at Wendy’s (of Peter Pan) life once they grow up. I will move onto a couple of choreography gigs and launch my dance fitness program FITPOP, a class designed to bring out everyone’s inner dancer. On a personal front, my husband and I will continue the next steps of our fertility journey. Hopefully this time next year I’ll either have a big belly or a babe in arms.

HS: What shows are you most looking forward to seeing this season?

MJS: Oh jeez… well, I’m excited to see my friend Rosa Laborde’s show Marine Life at The Tarragon. Looking forward to Nightwood’s Asking for It, which is a very compelling subject-matter to me. I’ll also see Musical Stage Company’s Life After. Otherwise, I’m a pretty terrible theatre-going planner.

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

HS: What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten/What is your current mantra that you’re living by?

MJS: Stop bullying the universe! If something is too hard or you are putting more in than you’re getting out, then it’s time to let go. I have a tendency to muscle through things and work harder than I need to. This is my approach at working ‘smarter’ and letting the right things come to me, rather than me always reaching out.

HS: I would love to hear you speak a bit about Mentorship. You have been such an amazing mentor to myself and to some of my colleagues, as well. Did you have a mentor who made an impact on your life and why do you think mentorship is important in this community?

MJS: Thank you. I have been blessed to have several incredible young women come into my life. The mentorship really is mutual: the mentor gets mentored as well. Debra Goldblatt (founder of rock-it promo) was an amazing mentor and still continues to be an excellent resource. Derrick Chua (you all know him!) has been a long-standing theatre mentor and supporter of mine. Larissa Mair (casting director) provided me professional opportunities and support that gave me a leg up. My goal is to empower women via whatever opportunities and guidance I can provide. We are stronger working together to gain our rightful half of the pie.

HS: 100%! Thank you. Where do you look for inspiration?

MJS: I am inspired by great theatre, film and TV. I’m a news junkie, which also gets me riled up and can be a good source to fuel my fire. While I’m creating work, however, I find these sources can also stimulate my critical mind, which is not always helpful. Ideas seem to flourish best for me though music, yoga, art, reading and nature. These things still my restless mind and give me space to create.

HS: I love that balance. What is your favourite place in the city and why?

MJS: Parkdale. The mix of hipsters and refugees and fancy families and Tibetan monks, encompasses the diversity that is the life source of Toronto. There are also tons of good hang-out spots and it’s close to the lake.

HS: Please describe the show in 5-10 words.

MJS: Harrowing reveal of one woman’s escape from sex-slavery

Lela & Co

Who:
Written by Cordelia Lynn
Produced by Discord and Din Theatre in association with Seventh Stage Productions
Director: Melissa-Jane Shaw
Performed by: Jenna Harris & Graham Cuthbertson
Scenographer: Claire Hill
Lighting Designer: Jazz Kamal
Sound Designer: Verne Good
Associate Producer and Educational Coordinator: Brittany Kay

What:
First produced in 2015 at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Lela & Co. is a timely and gut-wrenching play about women’s worth in a capitalist world.

Based on a true story, Lela & Co. gives space for a woman to be able to tell her story of being brought into sex trafficking by her husband during a time of war. Starting off as a seemingly innocuous telling by Lela of her childhood, Lela & Co. dives headfirst into this while also exploring “truth” in storytelling, who gets to tell whose story, and the resiliency of the human spirit.

Where:
The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street West

When:
September 21st-October 8th, 2017

Tickets:
$15-$30, PWYC Sundays (additional high school student and group pricing)
http://theatrecentre.org or by calling 416.538.0988

Connect:
seventhstageproductions.com
discordanddintheatre.com
t: @MJShawB @DiscordandDin @seventh_stage #LelaCoTO

“A woman in front of a microphone, a master of ceremonies of her story.” In Conversation with Anna Chatterton, creator/performer of QUIVER

Interview by Hallie Seline

I had the chance to speak with prolific Toronto playwright Anna Chatterton, creator/performer/master-of-all of QUIVER. We discussed her inspiration for the piece, the importance of collaboration, taking risks, and allowing her new pieces to breath, grow and adapt with her over time.

QUIVER is on stage now to November 6th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, presented by Nightwood Theatre as a double bill with Quote Unquote Collective’s MOUTHPIECE.

Hallie: This is an incredible set up for a show with one performer. How did the idea for the show and then the idea for the need of this specific performance format come about?

Anna Chatterton: This story is inspired by my teenage self. When I was fifteen my older sister moved out and my mom would, at times, spend many nights at her boyfriend’s house. While I was welcome to join them, I was often alone at home. I was close to my dad but he lived in B.C., so we would talk on the phone a lot, but it was different than having him in the same city. Though I could take care of myself, it was pretty lonely. I remember a lot of silence, coming home to silence, waking up to silence.

Quiver was born out of that memory of feeling lonely, the dynamics in our single parent family and my teenage angst and anxieties. This play is a fictional account of that period in my life, and I am playing a fictional and dramatic version of myself, my sister, and my mother. I should point out that my sister and mother are actually very different than I portray them in the play – thus, fiction. The protagonist Maddie is closest to reality and myself, though I exaggerate parts of her for dramatic effect.

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

Hallie: Can you speak about how the play was developed? 

Anna: I originally began writing the play to be a solo show but then I started to write scenes so I thought, okay I guess this is a regular three-person play. Then I started becoming really interested in sound art, and wanted to learn more about creating live vocal effects for a theatre play. Luke Brown at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton asked me if I had a play for their studio series and I started to think Quiver might actually be the right fit as a solo play working with sound in the forefront. My partner Jim Ruxton, who is an electronics engineer, did some research and found a vocal processor that could pretty much do anything. When I approached Andrea Donaldson to direct Quiver, and told her what I wanted to do she said, “I love it – a woman in front of a microphone, a master of ceremonies of her story.” Then we hired sound designer Mike Rinaldi to help me actualize my sound dreams and we created a workshop production for Aquarius.

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

We talk about this show as being like a radio show that you watch happening live. I think the technology serves this story as the audience is always aware of me, the creator/performer, manipulating sound in front them while telling this intimate tale about a broken family. This woman (me, the performer) needs the technology to help tell the audience this story and I am totally in control of the storytelling.

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

Hallie: This is your 4th premiere in Toronto this year! Can you speak to your creation process and how you like to work and how you decide when a piece is ready to premiere?

Anna: I can write fairly quickly initially but I like to have a lot of time to sit with a piece, to come back to it again and again. I believe in the long process, often I will take up to three to four years before I feel a piece is ready to premiere. I like to allow a play/libretto breathe, as I change, grow, learn, and then let the pieces I am writing to change accordingly. I feel that ideally all plays or operas should have a workshop production, as that is the best way to see a piece, to learn what works and what doesn’t work in front of an audience (who understands they are watching a work in process), and then rewrite it before a premiere.

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

I really like collaborating. If I am writing a play, I like working with directors fairly early in the process so we can share our visions and dreams and thoughts and I can let those dialogues and notes guide the next drafts of the play. I also often work with my company Independent Aunties (with evalyn parry and Karin Randoja), where we create our plays together from the ground up and in the studio, evalyn and I co-write and act in the plays, and Karin dramaturges and directs. In opera the composer and I will come up with the story idea together and then I write the libretto, and the composer will set my text to music. 

Photo by John Lauener

Photo by John Lauener

Hallie: What would you like to see more of in Toronto Theatre?

Anna: More Risk. Allowing ourselves to fail in order to learn. Experimenting as artists, not playing it safe.

Hallie: Any advice for young emerging artists?

Anna: Have patience, and put in the work. It takes a long time to make good art. Ask for what you want, don’t expect to be asked.

Quiver

_mg_0711-johnlauener

Who:
Written and Performed by Anna Chatterton
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Produced by Nightwood Theatre
Presented as a double bill with Mouthpiece

What:
“A brilliant and brave play.” – JUDITH THOMPSON
A single mother and a rebellious teenage daughter collide when a love interest comes between them, leaving 14 year old Maddie caught in the crossfire. Armed with little more than a microphone, laptop and vocal processor, writer-performer Anna Chatterton crafts and controls a sonic landscape in a masterful performance. A dark, delicious comedy about a passionate and imperfect family.

Where:
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander Street, Toronto ON, M4Y 1B4

When:
October 21 – November 6, 2016

Tickets:
tickets.buddiesinbadtimes.com

Connect:
t: @a_chatterton
#Quiver