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Posts tagged ‘Political Theatre’

A Chat with Ryan Robertson & Peter Hodgins of Two Chips Theatre’s “Copy”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

We sat down with Ryan Robertson and Peter Hodgins of Two Chips Theatre Group to discuss their current production of Copy.

RQ: Tell me a bit about the show!

RR: Sure! It’s a workplace show, a comedy/drama. It has a few themes. Firstly, it’s about people who are frustrated about their job, who are not achieving what they want to achieve. The tension between men and women, and between generations of people. So, it’s a comedy, but with a lot of darkness in it as well. We see these characters superficially at the beginning, and then they reveal a bit more about themselves and open up.

RQ: So, you wrote this piece, you’re directing it, and you’re performing in it as well.

RR: Yes. By default, essentially. When you’re a new theatre company in Toronto, it is difficult. I wanted to start from scratch because, as a writer, if you want to put a play up you normally have to go about it certain ways and work with different companies; and you end up with so many oars in the water that your play can be something totally different than what you started with. I also really wanted to have the final say on my cast and whatnot, I mean, for example, Peter is absolutely perfect for his role, and everyone else is fantastic as well. I find that better than the collegiate approach where you have a lot of people involved. These guys are as much a part of it as I am, but I never feel compromised.

PH: (laughs) Yeah, there’s not much in the way of food at rehearsal.

RR: I mean, we got a lot out of it. We do find that there are no egos at this level in the game, when you’re starting at the bottom and working with people who are like-minded.

PH: It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s going to be more fun as time goes on.

RR: Yeah, we have plans to keep going with some of this same core group and with the same kind of mentality. We really want to go back to the idea of the independent repertory company. We don’t do it for money, though I know a lot of people don’t, but we really want to do our own plays, I find that really interesting.

RQ: Do you feel like new original Canadian work is something the independent scene needs more of?

PH: For sure, I mean, Shakespeare is great. Don’t get me wrong. But, I see casting notices for it all the time and I can’t help but think “Who’s going to see that? They must have already seen it three or four times”. Part of it is that there’s no royalties. These plays are all free, and so young companies don’t have to pay a writer. So, it’s good to find new original stuff, which, for the most part, you have to write and create and perform yourself.

RR: When you come forward with something original, some people want to come forward and try to change it, to say “this isn’t right, that isn’t right, etc.”. Okay, we have to put up a few bucks ourselves, but if people really want to support new plays, they have to go to them. I hear a lot of people complaining about the same shows being done over and over, but then they don’t go out and see original plays.

PH: Yeah, we really need this stuff. And I’ve spoken to Ryan about making this into a film because we’ll all be ready for it, and we all love it.

RR: The thing about original plays is, as well, that because you are the creator, it’s a journey. I saw it on the page, I’ve seen the characters brought to life. There’s no need to put a “new spin” on a character because they’re completely new. What’s also important to me is that everything should be natural. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of being a wee bit pretentious. It’s a workplace play, so it has to be kind of earthy. I don’t mean to use the word pretentious, that has a negative connotation, but I mean that as well as depicting higher class things, it should reflect ordinary life. Even in the plays about ordinary people, there’s probably a bit too much wordiness at times. This is a much more down-to-earth workplace show.

RQ: That’s something else I wanted to touch on. This show deals with the minimum wage. So, because of that, it’s inherently political, as well as being comedy. Is that true?

RR: When I spoke to other writers when I was younger, they’d say “never preach”. You find a way to explain big issues with humour or in a way that doesn’t condescend. I’ve tried to do that with all the characters. Characters are more interesting that way, I think, when they don’t have these grand speeches planned.

PH: As long as it’s real. If you accurately portray a segment of society, it’s going to be political.

RQ: What do you want people to be discussing on the way home? What do you hope it leaves an audience with?

RR: I would hope people would get from it that in a way we’re all divided by our employers, and we’re all slaves to our mortgages and our dreams, but we’re fragmenting as a society. If we all got together and understood each others’ pain, we could do a lot better. We are divided, and we do worry about ourselves too much, and that hurts society. After the show, we’d like to talk to the audience, see what they got out of it, right?

PH: Yeah. I agree.

RR: But I do agree that when we attack these things, we have to do it with humour, with a little seriousness thrown in.

RQ: I think it was Shaw that said “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you”.

RR: Exactly. That’s perfect.

RQ: And Peter, as a veteran performer, how did this project come about for you?

PH: I believe I found it on Mandy, actually. So I sent in my application and I erroneously asked if I could read the whole script. I guess that was a bad thing to do. So I didn’t hear anything for a while.

RR: So I went back to Peter after a couple cast changes, I wanted Peter from the start, and I sent him the script, and I guess he liked it. I tried to write something where everyone’s involved and has something to do, and consequently everyone in it seems to really enjoy doing it, so I hope that translates to the audience.

RQ: What’s exciting about this show for you, Peter?

PH: Well, this is my first time on a live stage, actually. I’ve done mostly acting in film and directing film, so that’s what’s exciting for me. Mail Room John is a very misunderstood guy, and I feel like that myself pretty often.

RQ: So both of you must have had an interesting time with approaching the work on day one. Peter, with it being your first time doing live theatre; and, Ryan with putting up your own work. How did you approach that?

RR: Well, I try to be a benign dictator. Every member of the cast has ideas and I wanted to avoid ego as much as possible. So, it’s been a real collaboration. We’ve had a lot of fun and I think that’s going to show through when we do it. It’s worked out exactly the way I wanted it to.

RQ: Going forward, what are your hopes for this company?

RR: Well, if people show up to this one, there will be more shows. I think it’ll be good because we don’t plan to stick to a certain group of actors, and everyone feels like a part of it. PH: Now that we have a great location, we can just keep doing it.

RR: It’s important that people come out because we ain’t made of money. We back it as much as we can, but we’re not a professional comedy. We’re just tailoring it to entertainment, not money.

RQ: Well, that’s become the new standard, hasn’t it? Independent companies doing professional-level work?

RR: Right, and you need to get dedication out of people because they are giving their time, so it has to count.

PH: I think it’s guaranteed we won’t make any money.

RR: If we break even, we’ll keep doing shows.



Written by Ryan Robinson, presented by Two Chips Theatre Group
Directed by Ryan Robinson
Featuring Alene Degian, Brian Stapf, Madryn McCabe, Peter Hodgins and Ryan Robinson
Where: Sterling Studio Theatre, 163 Sterling Road, Toronto, Ontario, M6P 0A1
When: March 18-22 8pm, doors open at 7:30pm
Tickets: Advance tickets $15+service fee, At-the-door tickets $15 cash only
Concessions available, cash only
For more information:

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

January 3, 2013

By: Alex ‘Addy’ Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Peace Maker at The Toronto Fringe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now friends, I leave you with:

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

– Flatbush Waltz

– Ammunition Hill

– Rafeef Ziadeh – We Teach Life, Sir! (Spoken word poem)

– Leonard Cohen – Old Revolution

Artist Bio:

Natasha Greenblatt  – Writer/Producer

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