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Posts tagged ‘Pressgang Theatre’

Artist Profile: Chris Ross-Ewart, Sound Designer & Composer

Interview by Hallie Seline

“listening more critically and sensitively might be what saves the world” – Chris Ross-Ewart

I first met sound designer and composer Chris Ross-Ewart in the ultimate Toronto Summer Theatre setting – a Fringe tent (or rather this year’s Fringe “rink”) conversation. We got to speaking about making art and sound and all of the weird and wonderful ways you could do a one person show, which is where I found out about his upcoming project at the SummerWorks festival. It was a pleasure to re-connect with him to chat more about his show Explosions for the 21st Century, exploring sound as a character, and after completing his MFA at the Yale School of Drama, what he’s observed about making art in the States compared to Canada.

HS: Where did the idea for this show come from?

Chris Ross-Ewart: I was commissioned to create a 10 minute performance using only sound for a festival about a year ago. The response was positive and I was encouraged to turn it into a full length show.

HS: You describe the show as using sound design to explore your anxieties towards contemporary culture. What is it about sound that you are drawn to as a primary means to explore and communicate in your work?

CRE: Most political and cultural discourse occurs online these days, which confines our conversations to words, ideas, and abstractions.

I am curious how a more sensory approach to understanding and discussing the world might actually be more valuable. I’ve found many contemporary issues seem to have a very tangible connection to sound, and many people ignore the importance of sound both in how it is made and how it is heard. As I hope to prove in the show, listening more critically and sensitively might be what saves the world.

HS: After having completed your MFA at Yale, can you speak to me a bit about your experience training in the States and what you observed about making art in the States compared to Canada?

CRE: The US truly wears its heart on its sleeve, in the best and worst ways. Opinions and values are expressed very loudly and publicly, in a way I was not used to. This leads to both an amazing amount of artistic expression, and also a terrifyingly in-your-face political and cultural antagonism that we don’t see much of in Canada. It’s an inspiring country but extremely exhausting.

HS: What, in your work, do you find yourself currently drawn to explore?

CRE: I’m interested in how sound can be its own character; a living, breathing creature in the room. Technology is taking stories away from shared collective experiences into more personal ones. I’m interested in both sound that counteracts this, by pulling us back into the larger world around us and sound that enhances intimate and private experiences.

HS: What have you been inspired by lately?

CRE: I just saw the O’Keeffe exhibit at the AGO. I loved seeing her life’s process, how she evolved, how she dealt with critics, how she found the places she needed to thrive. It’s always inspiring to see someone grow and struggle and inquire continuously for decades.

HS: Current mantra or best piece of advice you are currently living by?

CRE: Don’t be a victim of your own good taste.

HS: What are you listening to right now?

CRE: Jeff Beck…and my neighbour’s birthday party.

HS: Describe your show in 5-10 words:

CRE: A TED talk on the side of the highway.

HS: Lastly, what are some other shows that you are looking forward to this SummerWorks?

CRE: the last chance you’ll ever have, The Only Good Indian, Icône Pop

Explosions for the 21st Century

Who:
Company: Pressgang Theatre
Written, Designed, and Performed by Chris Ross-Ewart
Directed and Dramaturged by Graham Isador

What:
With field recordings, audio effects, and a well timed air horn, Explosions for the 21st Century uses sound design to explore contemporary culture. The result is part lecture, part stand up, and part existential crisis. Written and performed by Chris Ross-Ewart, the show is an erratic, real time, exploration of why we make sound and how we listen.

Where:
The Theatre Centre BMO Incubator
1115 Queen Street W, Toronto, ON

When:
Friday August 4th: 8:00pm – 9:00pm
Saturday August 5th: 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Sunday August 6th: 9:45pm – 10:45pm
Tuesday August 8th: 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Wednesday August 9th: 9:30pm – 10:30pm
Friday August 11th: 7:45pm – 8:45pm
Saturday August 12th: 4:45pm – 5:45pm

Tickets:
summerworks.ca

Connect:
chrisross-ewart.com

A Chat with Storyteller Jillian Welsh on NO PLACE in the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Brittany Kay

Jillian Welsh is very, very funny… just TRY not to laugh at her answers! She’s no stranger to the storytelling community with appearances on the RISK podcast and CBC’s Love Me. Her new show NO PLACE explores her relationship to her family and trying to find her place. 

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your show.

Jillian Welsh: In my real life I always thought that I would sing at my grandmother’s funeral, but holy drama Batman — things got complicated. This show takes place the hour before her funeral in a church and explores all of the secrets that made it so damn complicated.

BK: Why is a show like NO PLACE perfect for the Fringe? Why your show, over the 159 other shows?

JW: Oh man, don’t choose me over things. I mean come see this show, please come see it, but I advise the Derrick Chua method; see as many things as you possibly can. There are so many incredible artists this year.

BK: What are the fears and excitements around doing a solo show?

JW: What if I have to pee? What if I can’t hold it?

BK: Why the title NO PLACE?

JW: I buried that answer deep in the play, come solve the mystery, yeah? #nancydrewyou (…into coming to my show).

BK: How did you come to storytelling?

JW: I was working in a bar and Graham Isador kept trying to talk to me while I was busy moving around some rubber chickens. I told him to shut up and hold my cock, then he asked me to tell a story onstage.

BK: What draws you to storytelling as a performer? What makes you keep coming back to this medium?

JW: I keep trying to live a normal life, but fail miserably.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

JW: Their coats, umbrellas and water bottles. I hate cleaning up after people.

BK: Are there other shows you are planning to see in the Fringe?

JW: ALL THE THINGS!

But for sure:

Dear Uncle Wish because I love Samantha Chaulk’s brain, Life Records 2: Side B because Rhiannon Archer is just so damn hilarious and She Grew Funny because the director (Chris Earle) is life partners with my director (Shari Hollett) and they gave me free sandwiches.

BK: You’ve been in the Fringe before. What are your favourite parts about the festival?

JW: The tent, marijuana and consensual sex.

No Place

Who:
Written and Performed by Jillian Welsh
Directed by Shari Hollett
Stage manager: Ada Adler
Produced by Pressgang Theatre as a part of the Toronto Fringe Festival

What:
Josephine knows she should sing at her grandmothers funeral. Or at least say something, anything at all. But somehow between Manhattan and rural Ontario all the music got lost and now all the right things to say can only turn out wrong.

Where:
St. George the Marytr (The Music Gallery)
197 John Street (beside the OCAD building/behind the AGO)

When:
July 6th – 8:00pm
July 7th – 1:00pm
July 8th – 8:00pm
July 9th –   8:00pm
July 10th– 8:00pm
July 12th– 8:00pm
July 13th– 8:00pm
July 14th– 1:00pm
July 15th– 8:00pm
July 16th– 8:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

“Two Truths and a Lie… Oh, and a Can of Spam” – In Conversation with Storyteller Graham Isador

Interview by Brittany Kay

I had the joy of sitting down with Graham Isador, one of the creators and storytellers of Two Truths and a Lie, opening this week as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival. We spoke about the fundamentals of the show, the Storytelling community in Toronto, and how sometimes what we really need is just a feel-good performance where we can sit back and laugh.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your show Two Truths and a Lie?

Graham Isador: Rhiannon Archer, Helder Brum and myself tell three outrageous stories, one of which is completely fictional. The goal of the performance is to trick the audience into thinking that all of them are false or all of them are true and at the end somebody has to guess which one is the lie. If they guess right, they win a can of Spam.

BK: A can of Spam?

GI: A can of Spam.

BK: Alrighty! So there is audience participation?

GI: Ish. Do you hate audience participation?

BK: Some people do. It really depends on my mood that night.

GI: Well it’s very limited audience participation. We’re probably going to single someone out. They don’t have to do anything other than picking out which story is fake. It’s basically a fun storytelling show.

BK: Are there different stories each night?

GI: We are switching them up. So each one of us has a lie story and a truth story and, depending on the night, we decide before the show who’s going to tell what.

BK: Where did the idea for this show come from?

GI: Well it’s like the party game, right? It was just kind of a very easy, recognizable format to put the stories in and hopefully entertain some people. Helder, Rhiannon and I have all had pretty successful solo shows throughout the past year. Rhiannon’s Life Records sold out a complete Fringe run at the Backspace of Theatre Passe Muraille. Helder did very, very well with the show called Born with a Tale and I did a show called Situational Anarchy in this past SummerWorks Festival. We put together a proposal because we wanted to work together to do some sort of storytelling thing with the Fringe and this is what we had come up with for the Next Stage Festival.

BK: Where do these stories come from? Do we know what the stories are about?

GI: Nope. We’re not putting that out there. We’ve discussed what we’re going to use. Alternates included a story Rhiannon refers to as the Legend of Mudbutt, the time Helder ate a pepper so spicy he questioned his place on the space-time continuum, and a time that I became a pallbearer for a man I never met. But what we’ve come up with to share is a lot of fun. Or if it’s not, we lie until it is!

BK: What’s the process to craft and rehearse these stories? Do the three of you work together?

GI: I mean, we are all performers who are constantly doing shows. I perform probably once or twice a week. Rhiannon and Helder both perform more than that because they are stand-ups, so we’re always working on new material and always putting out different stuff. It’s the kind of material that we’ve sort of perfected, or are trying to perfect, at different shows through the city. It’s honing those skills down down down until we’ve got those tight 5-8 minute pieces to be able to give to the people.

BK: What’s your rehearsal process like?

GI: (whispers) There isn’t one. Hahaha…

Testing out the stories at different shows is kind of like our rehearsal process. They’ve been developed in front of a live audience to figure out what jokes are working. We said to each other, “Come up with 8 minutes, don’t go over that 8 minutes, and we’ll figure it out the night of.” We’re in the antechamber space. It’s a half hour. It’s fun, low-key and easy for the audience.

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Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

BK: Why is this show’s concept important right now for Toronto audiences?

GI: I think, first and foremost, this is just a show that we hope is entertaining. It’s going to be a fun half hour and a cool night out with your friends. It’s not one of those things where there are bigger through lines or emotional arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy finding morals to stories and bigger truths to that stuff, but there’s also times where you want something a little dumb and hopefully people like it.

This is honestly a night where we are telling jokes. We want to entertain some people and send them home happy. It’s a feel-good event in the winter.

BK: How did you first start working with Rhiannon and Helder? Did you know them through the storytelling community? 

GI: I did a show with Rhiannon called Raconteurs, which is a monthly event that happens at the Tranzac Club. It’s a big storytelling event, which brings in about 100 people. We both admired each other’s work and wanted to be in each other’s shows. I run Pressgang out of the Garrison, which has become a little bigger with about 80-100 people per show. Rhiannon and Helder’s is called Fire Side, it happens at Dufferin Grove Park when the weather permits. We sit around a campfire and tell stories to each other.

BK: That’s wicked.

GI: Yeah, it’s free. People might have cheeky beers… It’s nice. It’s a good way to do things.

BK: I want to go to that.

GI: It’s awesome. We have marshmallows. People bring dogs. It’s a really fun show to do.

BK: What about director Tom Arthur Davis?

GI: Oh, we don’t need to talk about him.

BK: Hahaha. How is he as a director?

GI: Terrible. Just useless. I give him no credit for anything I’ve done.

No, no. We’ve known each other since University. We went to UofT together. We didn’t talk to each other for the first year and then eventually we started giving each other the head nod when we would see each other on campus. We became friends once when we got really drunk together at an improv jam in a basement. We lived together for a while and worked on various projects. He was the co-director for my SummerWorks show. We co-directed for a play I wrote called Served that happened at the Fringe two years ago. He’s been a part of Pressgang Storytelling on and off since its inception like 5 years ago. He’s genuinely the most talented director I know in this city and a total garbage human being.

BK: Nice. Good. He’ll like this.

GI: Yeah, no I love him like a brother. He’s excellent. He’s very, very good. So it was one of those things where we thought for the little rehearsal time that we had, we needed an outside eye to make sure we weren’t being too self-indulgent. Tom is good at being an outside eye and good at telling me when I’m being too self-indulgent, which is more or less all the time. So it’s a great fit.

BK: Haha. Love that. Anything else we should know about Two Truths and a Lie

GI: The goal of this show is to make people laugh. I can’t speak to my own talents but I think that Rhiannon and Helder are some of the funniest people in this city. In terms of up-and-coming comedians, they have both performed on JFL42 this year and they both have up-and-coming projects (that they’re not allowed to talk about) but are going to be very, very big deals in the spring time. It’s the recognition of talent and being able to catch them before they’re going to be a huge deal in this city and I’m really glad that a hack like me can come along for the ride.

BK: What do you hope audiences will walk away with?

GI: I hope they just go, “Wow, that was outrageous and remember when that happened?” and that they giggle at some stuff and then relay this information to their friends.

BK: What are 3-5 words that would describe your show?

GI: Just the best party.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite…
Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums
Book: Permanent Midnight.
Play: Swimming to Cambodia.
Food: Tacos
Place in Toronto: Top steps of Castle Loma.
What are you currently listening to: Jeff Rosenstock/Frank Turner/Converge.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Try and say as little as you can. 

Two Truths and a Lie

 

truths

Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

Who:
Presented by Pressgang Theatre
Created by Graham Isador, Helder Brum, and Rhiannon Archer
Director Tom Arthur Davis
Featuring Graham Isador, Helder Brum, and Rhiannon Archer

Where: Factory Theatre Antechamber

When:
Wed      January 4th – 9:40 pm
Thurs   January 5th  – 6:10pm
Fri         January 6th  – 8:40pm
Sat         January 7th  – 7:40pm
Sun       January 8th  –  5:40pm
Mon      January 9th  –  8:25pm
Tues     January 10th – 7:55pm
Wed      January 11th – 5:55pm
Thurs   January 12th  – 8:40pm
Fri         January 13th  – 6:40pm
Sat         January 14th  – 5:00pm
Sun        January 15th  – 4:25pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com