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.