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Posts tagged ‘Paolo Santalucia’

“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

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“Making Improv Magic, The Value of Play & Working with Colin Mochrie” In Conversation with Liz Johnston & Mimi Warshaw on ENTRANCES AND EXITS at the 2018 Fringe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

The concept of Entrances and Exits, a new farce on stage now as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, is a complicated one. To make things more complicated, it’s also entirely improvised!

This impressive and unscripted farce is split into two parts; with the first twenty minutes playing out in the living room with a series of entrances and exits into and out of the bedroom and then restarting a second time with the same scenario, but set in the bedroom. This requires that the cast do an instant replay of sorts; filling in the blanks of the story, hitting all the main plot points, and eventually culminating with a satisfying resolution. And hopefully they can make us laugh along the way.

Somehow, the cast pulls this off without any planning and with very minimal mid-show discussion.

We sat down with actor, improviser, Bad Dog Theatre Company member and Entrances and Exits co-creator Liz Johnston and Howland Company member and E&E production manager Mimi Warshaw to figure out how they make that improv magic happen, some common misconceptions about improv, and, of course, what it’s like working with Colin Mochrie.


Megan Robinson: What does a rehearsal look like for this type of improvised show?

Mimi Warshaw: Paolo (Santalucia, the director) brought a lot of his acting training into it and was really interested in playing with characters, discovering characters and trying on some clown work. So that was the beginning, just to play. That helped to know how everyone worked. That was the focus of the first half.

The last month and a half was about finding the show. And it grew in pieces. There was a lot of, “Let’s play with one room, then the next room, now let’s see what happens if we flip the set.”

A lot of playing and coming back and saying, “How did that feel? What worked? What can we do better?”

MR: Is there anything not improvised? What might be consistent throughout the show? The characters? Anything?

Liz Johnston: You really don’t know what will happen.

MW: I’ve seen maybe a dozen versions, maybe more, and no two shows have been the same.

MR: How much do you play for each other and how much is for the audience?

LJ: The audiences have been really generous, so I think we’ve been playing a lot for the audience. The thing about improv is that you also get the joy of making each other laugh. There are so many fabulous moments where someone will say something, and you just can’t help it. And the audience feels kind of in on it because they know it’s improvised. That’s really joyful. That’s what I love more than any kind of theatre, where you can really have everybody be on the same page, and they can be like, “I know exactly why this is funny. I was here for every part of it.”

MR: What is a myth or misconception about improv?

MW: I firmly believe that people think improv is just people going up and being funny. But I think good improv is funny because it’s recognizable. When I’m at an improv show, there’s always somebody who gives a suggestion like, ‘we’re in a volcano at the end of the earth.’

And I’m like, ‘we’ll never be there so…’ Maybe it would be funny, but I’m more interested in seeing somebody in a bakery having a traumatic moment and seeing the comedy in that.

I don’t know if it’s a misconception, but I like seeing reality on stage, and I think there’s comedy in that. I think that’s funnier than just a bunch of jokes.

I also think people are terrified of doing improv because they think they aren’t funny…

LJ: Another thing is that it’s nice to have people now recognize that there really are different styles of improv, that are all valuable.

So you can go to an improv show and have big laughs and fast scenes and big characters and enjoy that just as much as going to see something like this longer narrative unfold and have unexpected turns, more dramatic moments, and have them both be beautiful and both be improv.

I don’t want to run into a trap here… I love short-form improv. I love games (an easy thing to describe it as is what you see on Whose Line Is It Anyway). There’s so much joy in that, and there’s so much talent in being able to do that well. It’s truly harder than anything else. So I never want to say those aren’t worth as much as a long-form unscripted piece of theatre.

MR: So farce is very slapstick and physical. How do you improvise that sort of thing? Or do you?

MW: It’s not just physical, it leans towards the improbable, leans towards the ridiculous, so it doesn’t need to be grounded to reality. And we definitely do that. As much as there’s still truth, it still has that sense of play.

The other thing I’ve been told about farce is it doesn’t need to have to have a moral. It can just be a really beautifully fun and hilarious time.

LJ: I always forget we have so many different definitions we’ve gone through describing what farce is, but again leaning towards the improbable.

Like: There’s a dead body in the other room, this is true, what else is true? It’s not about calling the cops or trying to figure out what happened. It’s us trying to be like, “Okay, there’s a body in the other room, but we also have to make sure everything’s fine for the party.”

We like the fact that as much as it is ridiculous, it’s all stuff that could happen. It’s all about the foibles of humanity and the relationships between people and it takes those tensions that might already exist, those love affairs that exist, and heightens them to the point of the ridiculous.

MR: Must be fun!

LJ: It is nice to escape a little bit. Which is not to say that we don’t deal with the issues of what’s going on in reality, but because it is so focused on just relationships between individuals and how silly and absurd they can be, it is a bit of an escape to get to go there and just live in that ridiculous and joyful place.

MR: Have you ever showed up to rehearsal and been in the shittiest mood and not been able to find that joy?

LJ: I had one where it was an 11 pm show, and I had just done D&D Live!, which is another show that I LOVE, and it’s so funny and also improvised. I’d done that earlier in the day and I’d done another show, so I came to do the 11pm show, and I was so zonked. I could not find my energy. But it’s the same thing that happens for any performer; the audience starts to come in, you have the cast around you, you put on your costume, and you’re like, “This is the best thing ever! What’s next?”

So it’s a nice medication for tiredness.

MR: Some of the best questions can come from inside the process. Do you have a question you’d like to ask each other about your experience within the show?

MW: Liz, when you’re standing backstage, and you’re like, “I need to figure out what I’m bringing to this scenario”, what’s that process like? How do you feel in that moment?

LJ: I don’t know. I really don’t think about it. I like to just go on stage. That’s the kind of classic improv thing: if you can really get used to just trusting yourself to go onstage.

Just open the door, going, “Here we are! What happens next?”

MW: In the show, how much awareness do you have of the bedroom when you’re in the living room?

LJ: I usually have an idea of what I think is going on. And everybody is so good at having their own ideas.

We talk about this in improv, it’s called “group mind” where everyone sort of ends up on the same page without discussing it at all.

The number of times that will happen with this show… I mean, it’s the magic of it!

MR: So the magic of it is a surprise to the improvisers too? I know as an audience member, that’s how it feels. Those moments feel…

LJ: Totally, you come back, and you’re just like wow! It feels so wild.

MR: What about pushing boundaries?

LJ: You check in. You talk about it, whether it’s physical touching or subjects you can touch on that may be a boundary. Even just one night, with my nose bleeds, and I was like, “Listen, guys, it might happen. I have tissue in my pocket. I’m okay, it’s okay.” And any of those types of conversations, you just need to have them. And we’ve had those. Any good cast will talk about it constantly.

MW: There are moments where people will say things, and we’ve had this in rehearsals, where somebody will take a dive, and be like, “I’m going to propose something…”

But our cast is really supportive and really knows each other and so they’re able to support them. And that’s what I love about improv – you can do something, and guaranteed, five people will say we’ve got your back, we’ve got you, we’ll take care of you.

There have definitely been moments where you need to be risky, but these people handled that with such care, and such responsibility, they made it so safe.

LJ: Anyone who is making a faux pas, it’s coming from a place of fear.

The biggest thing in improv is you need to go on stage making a choice to make everyone else look as good as possible so if you can do that, if everybody is doing that, then everybody is going to look great. You’re setting up everyone else to succeed. You can’t do that if you’re undercutting them or sacrificing them for a laugh or commenting on something for the sake of the audience.

MR: Lastly, tell me about working with Colin Mochrie!

LJ: He’s just the most generous man.

It’s such a generous thing to do; to know your name will lend fame, or excitement to someone’s show. He does that so willingly and generously.

He did this exercise with us, which is really difficult. Everyone was struggling to keep up and we started playing with the format of the game so it got faster and went backwards and forwards, so fast! But Colin was having no trouble, just breezing through it. Everyone know’s how funny he is and how sharp, but good lord the man is fast. And so present. We’re so excited to have him on the show!

Entrances and Exits

Who:
Presented by The Howland Company in association with Bad Dog Comedy Theatre
Created by Liz Johnston & Ruth Goodwin
Director: Paolo Santalucia
Starring: Ghazal Azarbad, Conor Bradbury, Nigel Downer, Dylan Evans, Ruth Goodwin, Liz Johnston, Connor Low
Designed by: Christian Horoszczak
Production Manager: Mimi Warshaw

What:
A completely improvised play based on the structure of traditional farces we love like “The Norman Conquests” and “Noises Off”.

Where:
FACTORY THEATRE – MAINSPACE
125 Bathurst St
Toronto
Ontario
M5V 2R2

When:
13th July – 7:30pm
14th July – 9:15pm
15th July – 12:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

2014 Fringe Preview – 52 PICK-UP with The Howland Company

Interview by Bailey Green

I interviewed Paolo Santalucia, James Graham and Ruth Goodwin about The Howland Company’s inaugural show for the Toronto Fringe, 52 PICK-UP written by TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi. The show tells the story of a relationship, from coming together to falling apart. The Howland Company chose to have a rotating cast of four different couples (two male/female couples, one male/male and one female/female) who each perform two shows over the run.

Bailey: Tell me about the show in simplest terms, what is it about? What’s unique about it?

James: Well it’s about the whole duration of a relationship from beginning to end. The story is told in 52 scenes, some are three pages and some are ten seconds long. Each scene is written on a playing card. At the beginning of every show the actors throw the cards up into the air and then they play out the show in the order that they pick up the cards. If it was a standard production of this show, with two actors for the whole run, each show would still be unique because scenes would be highlighted in a different way with each different order. But The Howland Company is doing something a little different with this piece.

Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster & Ruth Goodwin

52 PICK-UP: Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster & Ruth Goodwin

Ruth: 52 PICK-UP is about falling in and out of love. The structure of it is unique (being in a different order every night) but the play stands out because of how relatable it is. Each scene is written like a conversation that any of us could have had with a significant other. TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi have really touched on the universal moments (good and bad) that many couples face. And for that reason, its random order makes so much sense. It’s almost like playing back your memories of a relationship. They come to you in moments or flashes – sometimes when you least expect them to and that’s kind of how 52 PICK-UP works.

Paolo: For co-director Courtney [Ch’ng Lancaster] and I, part of what we wanted to do with this piece is heighten the super-changeable aspect of each relationship. Each night would already be so different and so we thought why not push that further in a theatrical way? Each relationship in and of itself is different, so we thought let’s embrace that and cast multiple groups of people to highlight some different kinds of relationships. The scenes range from the first meeting to the first fight to the first time sleeping together. So what does that mean when it’s two men who just slept together for the first time, what does it mean when you’re actually watching a couple in real life act out a version of their relationship onstage together and what do these scenes mean for two women? It takes the play out of a context of “this is how men and women are in relationships.” It removes that aspect from the production and doesn’t allow the audience to make universal assumptions of how men and women behave. The play itself doesn’t actually go there, it remains open-ended while highlighting the reasons why people come together and fall apart. TJ and Rita, the playwrights of 52 PICK-UP, actually said that no one has done this to the play before and they were excited about that exploration.

Bailey: What has the experience of the rehearsal been like?

James: Well I just get to parachute in and have a blast every week or so and just try to keep my head above water. I think Paolo can speak more to that.

Paolo: It’s been really exciting and very scary for lots of reasons. Each person brings to the table their own set of experiences and absolute truths about relationships. Everyone in the company has a relationship to relationships. [For example] some people are talking about financing a home for the first time, or people are in the midst of moving in together or people are coming out of a relationship or beginning a new one. There’s a variety of experiences that people can speak to with this play.

Ruth: The process has been scary. Scary. And also… scary! There’s a lot to cover…and no order. It’s also been a lot of self-reflection on relationships in general. It’s kind of hard not to put yourself in your character’s shoes. We jump around in the story so much. Some scenes are so short that you really have to define what each moment means to you. Luckily we have really supportive directors who are patient with us.

Ruth Goodwin & Alex Crowther

52 PICK-UP: Ruth Goodwin & Alex Crowther

James: One of the great things about this project is that the actors can all jump into these scenes and this world very easily. We can identify very clearly with this subject matter. On some level that is one of the reasons the Howland Company was formed, for a group of young actors to find plays and projects that spoke to experiences that as artists in our mid-to-late twenties we can step in and offer something (without always having to tear our hair out.)

Paolo: Yet at the same time it is incredibly challenging. The only thing Courtney and I can attribute it to is studying for an exam. On the day you know there’s a task you’re going to have to complete and the variables on that task are going to be something you can prep for. You’re going to know what the questions might be about just as you’re going to know what the scenes are. But the way they’re presented to you and what your emotional response will be in the moment? There’s no way to prep for that. All we can do is help the actors and in turn help ourselves.

Some scenes have one line in them and they’re only spoken by one character. But that doesn’t mean the inner life for the other character is any less intense. For example there’s one scene where the woman calls the man, he picks up the phone and she hangs up. With each couple we’ve explored what that scene means at different moments in the show. We spent a lot of time on text work. Each couple created a timeline for themselves so they had a linear progression of this play for themselves. Each group is different, some scenes that people have at the beginning of the relationships others have at the end. What James and I have as our storyline, and what it’s based on for two men, is completely different than what for example Ruth and Alex are finding as a man and a woman coming together. A man and a woman have had many relationships of this kind and this is just one along the way that really sticks out for them whereas for us [James and I], and with Courtney and Kristen, we’re exploring that it’s the first time for one of the lovers that they have been in a same sex partnership. The text lends itself to that. Rehearsal has been really like four different plays.

James: It makes the run an experience. One of the things we discussed is how are people going to review this play, because of the way that it is structured? It didn’t bother us because one of the challenges is that we’re offering a whole experience, as opposed to each individual show or couple being self-contained. The experience of the whole seven shows is the experience of 52 PICK-UP. Whether you see one, two or all four couples if you’re a Fringe all-star, you will get your own experience of the show. That’s where our focus is and we hope, for those that do come more than once, to hear about their experiences!

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Full cast of 52 PICK-UP featured in their YouTube campaign. Click here to watch.

Bailey: Tell me about The Howland Company, how you came together and for what purpose?

Ruth: James and I met in high school doing awkward tween theatre. When we both moved back to the city after school we decided to start something that we both wanted to be a part of. That’s how The Howland Company’s Reading Group got started. Then James brought Paolo in—who he met doing slightly more sophisticated tween theatre—and we each approached actors in the city that we wanted to work with to invite them to join us.

James: We began to recruit people and each of us went off and looked for people of a similar mind, people who wanted a chance to work, work together, a chance to make theatre about our generation, which spoke to us more, and hopefully contribute to a new generation of Canadian stories. And what does that mean? Not that we’ve figured it out, by any means, but to join the conversation. Most of all we wanted people who were willing to be patient. We wanted to create something with long-term aspirations. The idea was that we would take our time to build an ensemble and establish a relationship with the community. We wanted to start a dialogue between the next generation of theatre companies and hosting the play reading series every two weeks was part of that. We had no idea what we were going to do for our first show and then this show just fell into our laps. That patience has really paid off.

Paolo: How do we as a group of young actors take these artistic tools and keep working without always saying what’s the next production? What’s the next thing? It’s not about the production, it’s about how do you contribute to the community and use your artistic voice to further the conversation. 52 PICK-UP is absolutely about hopes and fears for the future.

James: What happens from here remains to be seen. On the simplest level, we’re a group of young actors who wanted to make work together, to find a community where we could practice our craft, take risks and contribute our voice.

52 PICK-UP

Presented by The Howland Company as part of The Toronto Fringe

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52 PICK-UP: Cameron Laurie & Hallie Seline

Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster & Paolo Santalucia

Where? Tarragon Extra Space

When? July 3rd-13th, 2014

Tickets: Can be purchased via http://fringetix.ca/ or by calling 416-966-1062

 

Follow The Howland Company:

Twitter:
#52PickUpHC @TheHowlandCo
Facebook:TheHowlandCompanyTheatre
Website: http://howlandcompanytheatre.com/
Youtube: The Howland Company

 

Follow In the Greenroom writer Bailey Green:

@_BaileyGreen

 

 

 

Artist Profile: Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster & Paolo Santalucia – From Academy to Company in Soulpepper Theatre’s “Idiot’s Delight”

Interview by Hallie Seline

I sat down with Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and Paolo Santalucia to discuss their journey from the Soulpepper Academy, to graduation, their ongoing involvement in the Soulpepper Company and their current show Idiot’s Delight on now at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

HS: Tell me a bit about yourself and your relationship with Soulpepper and the Academy.

PS: My name is Paolo Santalucia and I’m a 2012 graduate of the Soulpepper Academy. Before that I trained at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College’s joint Theatre and Drama Studies program and after training at the Academy for a year and a half, I started working with the Soulpepper company.

CCL: I’m Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster. I’m originally from Nova Scotia, did my undergraduate at UBC in Vancouver and after that I did the Citadel/Banff Professional Theatre program and then the Soulpepper Academy with Paolo. We are also both part of the founding members of The Howland Company.

HS: So tell me a bit about your experience in the Soulpepper Academy and your relationship with Soulpepper since graduating. 

PS: Well, the Academy was amazing for so many reasons. I think, for me, in retrospect, what it promoted in me and what took me by surprise the most is the fact that at the end of the day what the Academy was doing was… of course it was focused on theatre and of course it was really rigorous, but at the end of the day it felt like what they wanted was to instil sort of a larger sense of what it meant to be an artist. It showed me the potential responsibility of artistry and the ways to contribute as an artist beyond my work on stage, that there is a bigger picture. This company was founded to contribute to the arts in Canada and at the end of the day it is something that I, as a Canadian Artist, can also continue to contribute to. They did things like take us to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), the movies, seeing plays elsewhere as a group. They weren’t afraid to take us out of the Soulpepper context. What it did was allow me to realize the larger things at work and the amazing arts community there is in this city. In retrospect, for me, that was the most significant part of the training – learning about just how much goes into becoming a ‘good actor’ and how much being a good artist is about being someone who appreciates, understands and has love for so many different art forms even beyond the theatre in the city and Canada.

HS: So that was part of the Academy training? Taking you outside of Soulpepper to art galleries, films, different plays…

CCL: Yeah, to expose you to as many different artistic stimulants, including people too, bringing in fantastic Canadian artists to spend some time with us.

PS: I am so thankful for the encouragement that we got in the Academy to explore other aspects of our artistic selves. I’ve never been in a situation where that’s been as encouraged and not only encouraged but it’s been necessary. It’s what will make myself as an artist, and what will make our contribution that much more sustainable… if they come from a place of appreciation for the millions of aspects that go into the arts in this country.

CCL: Well from a practical point of view, there’s no place else in the country, I think I can say, where you would have the opportunity to be in rehearsal and practice the same way that dancers and musicians are in practice all of the time. I mean you don’t meet a professional pianist who doesn’t practice for hours a day to keep himself in shape. But when you’re an actor, you’ll have periods of time where you’ll be working on a contract, working on that one show, which is one kind of practice, one kind of rehearsal, but the rest of the time you’re very often stumbling to try to pay your rent and working your ‘joe’ job while still trying to read plays and stimulate yourself. While we were in the Academy, we had a living wage for the whole time we were here and we were told to focus on art and your craft and develop yourself. It’s a very rare thing, that kind of opportunity.

HS: Idiot’s Delight marks the professional debut of this year’s Soulpepper Academy actors. Can you talk of the benefits of being both taught and working along side Soulpepper Company members?

CCL: It’s great to be in the rehearsal hall with the current Academy actors because this is also being treated as a learning experience for them and they are also, brave souls that they are, they are also still taking Academy classes in the mornings, rehearsing the show in the afternoon… so they are resilient! But because it’s a learning experience for them, I find Albert [Schultz] who is directing, is taking his time with things. We have a slightly more extended rehearsal process so he can take his time and explain the mechanics as we go. Therefore with his decisions as a director, he’s taking the time to explain them, allowing everyone more of an opportunity to learn. So we get to take advantage of this learning opportunity just as much as the Academy does!

Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster, Hailey Gillis, Gregory Prest & Dan Chameroy. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

PS: It’s amazing to watch people in process. I love that. When the process is, as Courtney was saying, this exposed and part of the rehearsal is actually part of exposing that process as a learning exercise, everyone in the room benefits. I feel like that’s really exciting. There’s such a strong sense of company here. Albert said on the first day of rehearsal, “This marks the first show where the number of Academy involvement (post-graduate and current Academy members) actually outnumbers the other members of the company.”

CCL: Not just in the acting department but in the design, the assistant stage management etc.

PS: It’s the first time that that’s happened and I can only imagine what that means for him but for us what’s incredible is that it just sort of promotes that stronger sense of company. It makes you feel like you’re supported and a part of something that is just a little bit bigger than just the play. It’s really exciting because, again, it doesn’t really happen that much. To continue to support these kinds of programs and to continue to bring these generations of programs back in contact with one another, we’re very lucky here to get to be a part of, learn from and see that kind of evolution. It’s a really cool place to rehearse from.

HS: It seems like there is a lot of multi-generational collaboration and support within the company, the Academy grads and current Academy members.

CCL: And there’s a common working language that has been developed through the shared training. Part of the Academy is that you have founding members of the company coming in to teach you, so already they have a shared language, which they then impart on the students as well as the different artists who are coming in and out. When you get into the rehearsal hall, you already have a level of understanding and intimacy that usually takes weeks to develop when you’re starting a new project.

PS: That common language is actually a huge benefit. It’s amazing listening to when you see senior members of the company trying to piece through something, the specificity of how they work together, you can connect it to the broader common language that you’ve been taught in the academy and watch it work in such intricate, specific ways. You feel like you can engage with these actors who have so much more experience, which can seem sometimes quite intimidating I can imagine coming in fresh, not knowing them and not having worked with them before, but in this situation it’s really cool because you feel like you can go up to someone like Albert [Schultz] or Diego [Matamoros] and tell them about a part in the work you’re having an issue with and they can either teach you or speak to you through an established common language. That’s really exciting to have that multi-generational connection through your working relationship I think.

Raquel Duffy, Paolo Santalucia & Diego Matamoros. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

HS: What is the best advice you have ever gotten?

CCL: Albert will always say, “Listen” and he’ll say “Big thoughts. Bigger thoughts” and it’s almost too simplistic but that’s kind of what it boils down to. And “It’s not about you. It’s always about the other person”. And those are the kind of things that you always forget, the simplest things. It’s not about me, it’s about the other person…

PS: “Think on the line”…

CCL: Yes! Exactly. And then when you’re having a moment where you think “I’m terrible today” you stop and think, “Why am I terrible today? Oh it’s because I’m obsessed with myself today”. (laughs) It’s not about me. Instead I need to be listening to the other person because it’s about them.

PS: I think it was the first huge thing that I remember hearing in the Academy, in our first week, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. We were doing scene study and our teacher at the time said, “My favourite actors, and what I think are really good actors… a good actor never lies on stage.” And I don’t think that I had ever really heard that said in that way before. I had never heard of acting being spoken of with that much truth before. And the amount of work that goes into communicating that much truth. It really struck a chord with me at that moment in this place.

CCL: I think for a long time, when I first started, I had a perhaps romantic idea that being an artist and being an actor required a certain amount of constant self-flagellation and it took people, in the Academy, saying “You’re really hard on yourself. That’s not very useful,” to learn to let that go and just focus on the work and the other person and listen and keep going. I think as actors we think that there is very little in our control and sometimes that turns inward and we think “What am I doing wrong? I need to be better. I look silly when I stand like this. Etc” But all of that just gets in the way. That was a big lesson for me. Learning to let go of always trying to fix yourself and just focus on the work.

PS: Again, to add on to that, I learned to go through a checklist. When I’m stuck I’m either not having big thoughts, I’m either not thinking on my line, I’m either not listening or I’m not trying to affect my scene partner. I go through that checklist and usually I’ll find out where my problem is.

CCL: And it’s like a muscle, to build it you have to practice and that’s what the Academy offered to us. A place to practice and practice and practice.

HS: What’s your favourite place in Toronto?

PS: Just by Lakeshore, out past what’s called Mystic Point, there is a lighthouse. You can only get there by biking west of the Humber river. You bike over this path that curves around the island and right at the tip of the island is the lighthouse. I found it one day by accident when I was trying out a new bike path and it was stormy and the wind was blowing over lake Ontario. And it’s the only place that I’ve found where the lake looks as big as it is to me. It’s one of my favourite spots in Toronto.

CCL: When I moved here from Vancouver, I guess two and a half years ago now, gosh, I struggled with the lack of the obvious natural beauty in Toronto because Vancouver is like, ostentatiously beautiful in places, so it took me a little while to discover that Toronto has some really beautiful pockets and they are all the more charming for being a little harder to find. So there’s a new park I’m loathed to tell people about, but it will be overrun soon enough anyway, just by the DVP called Corktown Commons, which is just south of King by the DVP, south of Eastern I guess, and it’s a beautiful new little park. They’ve tried to include the indigenous plants and swamps, incorporate them into this beautiful park that also has paths, trails and playground equipment that I totally play on. So I’d say that place and the Riverdale Farm are my two current favourites. Beautiful, hidden spots.

HS: If you could entice someone to come see Idiot’s Delight in five to ten words, what would they be?

CCL: I’ll go first. Showgirls in sequins, singing, sexy-sex-sex, poignant, funny, sad and beautiful.

PS: It’s a sexy, beautiful, topical, war-play you’ve never heard of.

CCL: And it has a cast of twenty-four which you rarely see! We look forward to seeing you there.

Idiot’s Delight

Dan Chameroy & Raquel Duffy. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

By Robert E. Sherwood
Presented by Soulpepper Theatre

What: A cast of wonderfully eccentric and international guests – countesses, arms dealers, showgirls, revolutionaries, charlatans and lovers – spend a fateful weekend in a resort hotel in the Italian Alps. While songs are sung and dances danced and loves rekindled, the dark clouds of war come rolling in.
Sherwood’s mad-cap romance won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1936.
Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts
When: January 29th – March 1st
Ticketshttp://soulpepper.ca/performances/14_season/Idiot’s_Delight.aspx

For more on the Soulpepper Academy, check out their website: http://www.soulpepper.ca/artist_training.aspx