Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Physical Theatre’

“Challenging Canadian Audiences, Touring as a New Mom & Celebrating the Human Body Through Performance” In Conversation with Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen on THE MERKIN SISTERS

Interview by Megan Robinson.

After being blown away by The Merkin Sisters at the 2018 Toronto Fringe, we had to chat with touring Fringe artists Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen about this anything-but-average Fringe show that they are bringing across the country. A physical comedy that is a little bit Grey Gardens with a David Lynch twist, and just a dash of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it’s an outrageous piece of theatre intended for anyone that is game.

The plot is vague, but ultimately it follows the relationship of two fallen socialites (also sisters), who are joining together to try to create the ultimate piece of art by using any means necessary. What began as a quick tongue in cheek reflection of how “we” may or may not take art too seriously, has now grown into a full 70-minute show.

This may be a new collaboration between performers and creators, Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen, but they’re already planning for part two, with brainstorming sessions underway, and the assurance that with The Merkin Sisters, anything is possible.

We spoke with Hansen and Morin-Robert about collaborating on this project, challenging your audience, and celebrating the human body through performance.


Ingrid Hansen: We met touring our own projects on the Fringe circuit, and we admired each other and partied together a little bit. Then we decided to create an experiment together. We created a piece that ended up being the ten-minute intro to this show, which we first performed at a “Women in Comedy Night” in a bar in Montreal. And we received such a big response. People were blown away, they were saying, “I dont know what I just saw, but it was incredible!” So we knew we had done something tasty that we wanted to pursue together.

Stephanie Morin-Robert: I don’t think it was intentional, like, “let’s make the craziest thing ever,” it’s just what happened because our chemistry, both onstage and offstage, kind of resulted in that.

IH: And neither of us will censor each other.

SMR: We challenge each other in that way. We keep one-upping one another.


SMR: Because we are performers coming from very different backgrounds, it’s exciting being able to learn from each other. For me, puppetry was very new, and I’d never done that so it was great for me to take that on.

IH: The most amazing thing with the two of us is there’s just no fear. An idea gets proposed and it’s never rejected out of fear. I trust Steph. I trust her artistic sensibility, and I trust that if we’re on stage together and something is going way wrong that we’ll find our way through it together.

SMR: And it’ll probably be better than what we planned. I think we’re ready to just roll with the punches and go with whatever is offered to us. Whether it’s an audience member heckling, or somebody arriving late, or the lights cutting out too early, or whatever little mistakes happen during a run of a show. And sometimes even deciding, you know, “That was a fuck up, but let’s keep that! That worked better than what we had planned!”


IH: I think if we took our work to other places in Europe it wouldn’t necessarily be so wild in comparison to the other shows. I don’t know, every show I’ve made and toured in Canada in the last ten years people have said is very weird. But I think Canadians are game to go there. Just be playful with them and you’ll be really surprised how far your audience will go with you.

And some people won’t, and that’s great. We have people walk out of our show sometimes – the odd person or two. I think it’s great that they feel empowered to walk out of the theatre for whatever reason. I think it’s a sign that you’re striving for something if you do elicit that response from some people. It’s not made for everybody. And if it was made for everybody, it would probably be kind of boring

I think people are on board for The Merkin Sisters especially because it’s super out there. This show is really challenging, but it’s also really fun and playful and absurd and surreal, so there’s the deliciousness of, “I dont know what I’m watching, but I love it.” And, “I can’t believe they went there, but oh they went there… and so much farther.”


SMR: It’s wild. I consider myself extremely lucky to have the support system I have because touring full-time is definitely a lot, especially as a new mom.

Last year I got pregnant in Orlando, so I was pregnant for our 4 and a half month tour last summer. I was performing multiple shows in multiple festivals so, any words of advice for that might be to go a little easy if you’re pregnant and a touring artist.

Baby Olive immersed in mother Stephanie Morin-Robert’s wig for show THE MERKIN SISTERS

I was just so thankful to have a performance partner and a dear friend that was so supportive. Ingrid was really helpful after the pregnancy when things got a little rocky, and I was like, “Oh gosh, am I pushing my body too much?”

I feel thankful to be able to tour and artistically stimulate myself and still plan to make new shows. My partner is also a performer. It’s really cool to have the next two years booked and to be touring and doing theatre, and doing it as a family. And when I say “family” that expands beyond just him and I and the baby; it takes a whole community for sure.


SMR: During my pregnancy, I put on like 80-something pounds. To slowly have that come on while I was performing the show just made me feel so comfortable because I was continually doing a show where I was being comfortable in my body. We did a little BC tour, and I guess I was 7 1/2 or 8 months pregnant when we did that last show.

This is the first festival where I’m back on stage and doing the show in a bathing suit since having a baby. It’s quite helpful because a lot of stuff happens to your body when you have a baby, and I feel proud to rock that, to embrace it. When I dance I feel different; parts of my body are moving differently, so much is an adjustment, but it feels great.

The most challenging part is not necessarily my body image, and being up on stage in a bathing suit, it’s energy. It’s being up at night and still strictly breastfeeding. The time commitment and the lack of sleep are definitely what I consider the hardest things.


SMR: It’s an extremely empowering show to see as a woman because we are up there, celebrating our bodies, celebrating being weird, quirky, disgusting, and we’re embracing every moment of it. And that is contagious, the same way laughter is. We’re not there spoon-feeding it and talking about it directly, but we’re up there being empowered and embracing what it is we have and celebrating it with the audience.

IH: I think it’s really liberating for people in terms of how it really celebrates everything about the human body. That’s what’s at the heart of the show for me, personally.

The Merkin Sisters

Company – SNAFU dance theatre
Created and Performed by Ingrid Hansen & Stephanie Morin-Robert

A no-holds-barred physical comedy about a strangely hilarious sibling rivalry: two fallen socialites endeavour to create the Ultimate Piece of Art, using any means necessary. This vivacious romp will charm your pants off, leaving you stunned and hungry for their return. “Visually arresting & immaculately staged, with a tender heart under its hair-raising exterior.”- Winnipeg Free Press. Imagine Bette Midler meets David Lynch and Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

Find out more:

A Chat with Lindsay Bellaire & Phillip Psutka of Theatre Arcturus on ROUGH MAGIC at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Madryn McCabe

We were thrilled to see that Theatre Arcturus had another show in this year’s Fringe after being amazed by their awe-inspiring production of Weird last year. We spoke with Lindsay Bellaire and Phillip Psutka about their rigorous process of creation and training and why Rough Magic is a perfect story to explore right now.

MM: Tell us about your show.

Lindsay Bellaire: A collision of air and earth, Rough Magic creates a vertical world to tell the story of Ariel and Caliban in a newly imagined prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s an aerial theatre piece: a play written in the style of Shakespeare (mostly in verse), with aerial silks and rope weaved into the world of the characters. Ariel, an airy free-spirited sprite, touches down and makes contact with a young Caliban, a ground-dwelling, god-worshipping mortal. Meeting between air and earth as two very different beings, they reach across the boundaries that make us fear the “other”, only to find themselves enslaved in the end, where the storm is conjured that begins The Tempest.

MM: What drives you to tell Shakespeare’s untold stories, the stories he only hints at in his texts?

Phillip Psutka: I’ve always had a passion for Shakespeare and I enjoy the challenge of meticulously researching whichever play of his that I am going off of, while at the same time having to fill in the blanks of the story that I am trying to tell myself. Also, the heightened text is a natural blend with the aerial arts in that they are both larger than life, in a way. Hearing the poetic, image-based language, while simultaneously seeing the intense physicality of the characters take to the air on the apparatus creates a world for the play where one element helps the other out – I feel that the audience can buy into the sound of the verse in an original contemporary script because of the heightened physicality… literally.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: You say that, although this is an original script, it was researched meticulously through Shakespeare’s text and other source material. What was that research process like? Why was it so important to do this research and not just create from an idea?

PP: To start off, I read through The Tempest a number of times – mainly looking for clues to the back story of Ariel and Caliban. Once I had compiled all of the info on them that Shakespeare provides, I then went back through the script focusing on the characters themselves: how they react to certain situations; what kind of language and images they use; how much they speak in verse vs. prose and, when they switch from one to another, what triggers it. It’s like detective work and that’s part of the fun of it. Because I was using the Arden, I also pulled inspiration from one of the Appendices: Robert Browning’s poem Caliban Upon Setebos, which is where I took the idea of Caliban being religious. After I was through with the “Sherlock Holmes” portion of the script development, I outlined the entire show, filling in the blanks of what I wasn’t able to discover through the research before writing the first draft. I think it’s totally valid to create something completely original even if it’s based off of another work; I just enjoy the research part of it so much. More than anything, I like that idea that an audience could watch Rough Magic and then jump right into a production of The Tempest and it would be one continuous story, for Ariel and Caliban at least.

MM: You talk about telling the story of “the other” in your play. Why is that? What do you seek to say to your audience?

PP: That, even though we may live in our own worlds, it’s important to remember that others do as well, and we can never know everything that has shaped that person or being into what they are at this moment in time. I feel that the ongoing challenge of being human is to not make assumptions about others, to stop and listen before passing judgement on their situation. I’ve definitely been guilty of saying irrational and disrespectful things to someone else simply because I had the hangeries, and if it’s that easy to trigger a short response to a situation and shut another person out, I can only imagine what it must be like to try to work constructively with a leader that wants to build a wall between their country and yours and has decided that you are going to pay for it: end of story, not interested in your opinion. I believe that there is always more to learn about the human existence and the best way to learn is to listen before speaking, which is a quality I feel the world is lacking in at the moment. I can certainly do it better myself, but little reminders every now and then are helpful. I hope Rough Magic serves as one of those little reminders.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: I can tell from your press photos that this is a very physically demanding show. What is your rehearsal and training process like? What is your development process? How did you develop your show?

LB: The physical training for our shows is ongoing, even when not in rehearsals or a creation process. Outside of our theatrical productions, the aerialists in the shows are professional performers, training acts for events and teaching aerial classes – it’s not a skill that we learn specifically for the show. The physical training is 4-5 times a week, in 2-3 hour sessions, year-round (with some time taken off for rest and recovery, of course).

The scripts are written by Phillip, usually over an intense period of 2-4 weeks, then edited, read out loud, and edited further. Then the rehearsal process begins, where it becomes a collaboration between the director (whom, at this point, gets final say on all decisions), writer, actors, aerial and fight choreographers, and composer. This is actually a very small team, with the actors doubling up as chorographers and writer. Costumes and lighting are also designed somewhere in there!

For Rough Magic specifically, the script was written first, and the rigging designed to suit the story (the decision to use silks and a rope, and how they would be hung). We were lucky enough to be able to bring Kevin Hammond (former AD of the Humber River Shakespeare co.) on board as our director for a 5+ month development process. Because we were creating out of a studio space in Muskoka, our process for this show was unique in that Phillip and myself would do preliminary work on each scene, getting it on its feet using some basic exercises and following our instincts. Kevin would make a trip up for a weekend intensive every 3 weeks to further develop and sculpt each scene, offering invaluable insight and guidance into the text, and establishing the balance between air and ground work. Our Stage Manager, Lisa Sciannella, travelled up for the last few weekends of rehearsals to work on the sound cues. Her job entails knowing our choreography and some aerial vocabulary, as her sound cues are based on what we’re doing in the air. She’s also a constant safety for us, acting as an outside eye and responding to any little aches, bumps or bruises we inevitably sustain at various points throughout the process.

The music and costumes are also an important component. The music was composed by Rachel C Leger, and was created to suit the feel of the piece (nautical), with a flavour for each moment where music is used. The choreography was created separately, and married together in the last month of rehearsal. The costumes, designed by Lisa Magill (Toronto) were actually designed before most of the show was on its feet, in order to get promo shots long before opening.

MM: What would you like your audiences to know going in to see Rough Magic?

LB: You do not need to have a thorough understanding of The Tempest, or even Shakespeare in general, to follow the story. Although it is inspired by The Tempest, and based on clues from Shakespeare’s text, we purposely created a show that can stand alone and be enjoyed for its own story. For those audience members who have studied The Tempest, there is definitely an added layer.

Rough Magic

Company: Theatre Arcturus
Playwright/Creator: Phillip Psutka
Director Kevin Hammond
Cast: Lindsay Bellaire, Phillip Psutka
Choreographer: Lindsay Bellaire
Fight Director: Phillip Psutka

Set on a mystical island, ROUGH MAGIC follows the innocent beginnings and volatile consequences of a relationship between two unlikely beings: Ariel, an airy sprite; and Caliban, a ground-dwelling mortal. An intricate weaving of theatre, aerial work and music, the show confronts ideas of freedom and otherness through a story inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

WINNER: Cutting-Edge Award (2016 Toronto Fringe)
(5 stars) “Absolutely exquisite and mind blowing in its execution.” – My Entertainment World
(NNNN) “One of the most memorable shows at the Fest.” – NOW Magazine

736 Bathurst St, Toronto

9th July – 8:45pm
11th July – 1:00pm
13th July – 12:00pm
14th July – 5:45pm
15th July – 8:00pm


t: @TheatreArcturus
f: /theatreacturus
i: @theatrearcturus

In Conversation with Julia Krauss of “Orpheus and Eurydice”

by Bailey Green

The tale has been told for centuries in many ways but in basic terms the story of Orpheus and Eurydice goes something like this: Eurydice and Orpheus fall in love. One day Eurydice enters the forest and is bitten by a snake. She succumbs to poison and dies. Orpheus enters the Underworld to find his love and with his beautiful singing, charms Hades. Hades permits Orpheus to lead Eurydice out of the underworld on one condition – that Orpheus must not look back at her. Not once. But as they walk, Orpheus cannot contain his fear. He looks back and Eurydice is lost to him forever.

Four years ago, co-directors Julia Krauss and Nicholas Walsh were living in Kitchener. After seeing a version of Orpheus and Eurydice at Ghost River Theatre in Calgary, they were intrigued by the imagery of this myth. Walsh at the time was running a youth company, and so Krauss and Walsh decided to work with teens using the myth as a jumping off point. What emerged was a story of youth and first love, pain and loss.

The piece toured for two years to high schools in Southern Ontario. “Last year, when we moved to Toronto,” Krauss says, “we wondered how and if the show would change if we worked with adult performers on it. Once you’re older, there’s a different kind of life experience.” Krauss and Walsh assembled a collective of twenty performers—young professionals who have finished their education in dance, theatre or physical theatre. “We were intrigued by what breaks a relationship apart, what will break that deal between two people,” Krauss says. “And the bodies are older, so they tell a different story.”

Walsh and Krauss are partners in life and in theatre. “We see ourselves as context keepers, the people who put the ends together,” Krauss says of their work in devised theatre. “We’re interested in collective collaboration work that shows the final product. Everyone is passionate about it, and that shows in the final project.” Walsh, a drummer with a love for basketball, has a great sense of organization on stage and a strong awareness of sound and music. Krauss describes herself as a visual person, finding imagery in bodies and their shapes. “We balance each other out in that regard,” Krauss says of Walsh. “When we first did the piece, it was a celebration of our partnership. And so it’s been really lovely to revisit it. Being in a committed relationship is not always roses and sunshine, which we can explore with an older cast because they have had similar experience.”

Julia Krauss was born and raised in Germany and left when she was 19. Two years later she came to Canada and discovered that her accent created barriers for her to get involved with theatre. “I felt reminded that I am different,” Krauss said, “and it became something I was aware of because of casting directors. But when I worked with Majdi Bou-Matar at the MT space, he is all about celebrating cultural background. The work [we were doing] was created through improv and for the first time I felt free. That was my personal entry to devised work. Suddenly I fit in and was recognized for what Majdi called my ‘German expressionism’.”

Krauss feels grateful and inspired to work with a large ensemble of courageous and open artists. “One of my mentors when I first went into devised work told me why would you rely on your own brain when you have twenty to twenty-five people in the room?” Krauss remembers. “Everyone has a voice and story, and we, as directors, keep the bigger picture in mind […] but I love the rehearsal process. It’s a beautiful thing to watch people share and offer something really vulnerable.” Krauss hopes the piece asks audiences to consider what it takes to stay in a “functioning, fluid human relationship with another person,” and consider what may hold us back from truly embracing another person.

Orpheus and Eurydice

O&E-10_10_10 ad (1)

Presented by Theatre TOnight

performed by
/ rhiannon bronnimann
/ cheryl chan
/ roberto ercoli
/ mateo galindo torres
/ vivek hariharan
/ marion henkelmann
/ julia hussey
/ sarah ignaczewski
/ mamito kukwikila
/ diana luong
/ brittany miranda
/ damian norman
/ brian postalian
/ amanda pye
/ hugh ritchie
/ shakeil rollock
/ kyle shields
/ dylan shumka-white
/ elizabeth stuart-morris
/ kathia wittenborn

directed by
/ julia krauss
/ nicholas walsh”

“two people meet.
they fall in love. and it is thrilling. it is soft.
but it is also consuming and exhausting.

orpheus & eurydice
is an invitation to reflect on past and current relationships,
to wonder what could have been,
and to embrace what is now.

through the context of the myth, it presents
an emotionally raw and
physically captivating
exploration of our desire
for connection.

The Berkeley Street Rehearsal Hall, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto

March 16 – 20, 2016
Wed Mar 16, 9pm
Thurs Mar 17, 9pm
Fri Mar 18, 9pm
Sat Mar 19, 8pm
Sun Mar 20, 8pm

20 adult / $15 student, senior, or artsworker

For more information, visit their website here.