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Posts tagged ‘producer’

Artist Profile: Susanna Fournier

Interview by Hallie Seline.

Susanna Fournier is one of the most multifaceted artists in Canada right now. She is daring to go big, speak her mind, challenge the status quo, and continue to push to every boundary that comes her way in order to shake the world up with her art. I have been so in awe of her and her work over the past few years, seeing her drive to take on bigger projects, exploring and expanding her process, all while accepting the challenge of wearing ALL OF THE HATS in order to make her art happen. I couldn’t think of a more fierce artist to feature and I was thrilled to be able to speak with her about what motivates and inspires her, what she’s learned by daring to go BIG with THE EMPIRE TRILOGY, and what advice she would give to fellow artists trying to make it happen.


Hallie Seline: Your Empire trilogy is a massive project. Not only are there THREE PLAYS that are being produced in a year, but there’s podcasts, passports, an extensive fundraising project, partner feature drinks and online graphic novels! Tell me a bit about where your inspiration for this trilogy came from and what made you want to go BIG with it?

Susanna Fournier: I don’t know how to tell small stories. I grew up on Star Wars, Mozart’s operas, the Mists of Avalon, and Lord of the Rings. These all seemed like reasonably normal sized stories to me. 

In terms of the content, I think of the Empire as an origin story of Western modernity. I explore conflict on the macro and micro level. I write about systems of power through exploring how these systems appear in our daily lives, in our homes, our bodies, and sense of self. Current culture is stuck on a path towards destruction, I wrote The Empire to try and trace that path back. I’m not sure we can change the path if we don’t look at just how long we’ve been on it. I write in genre because I want to shake people out of their patterns, shake them out of the day-to-day and into a heightened space. When we travel our senses come alive, when we encounter a new place, new language, new culture, we pay attention in a different way. The Empire is set in an imagined world to shake us into looking at this one with more attention. 

Producing The Empire revealed to me that I’m not just interested in theatre, I’m interested in STORIES. I’m a story-teller, and I’m curious about all the ways we can tell stories. In a theatre, in a book, on the radio, in a picture or across a cocktail. The Empire isn’t just three plays, it’s a whole universe. Alison Wong, who is producing it with me, really helped me see that, and has been working closely with me to make these ideas possible. When I say, “What if we did (insert new idea)???” She’d say, “Yeah, let’s do that,” and then ACTUALLY finds a way to do it.

Playwright, Susanna Fournier, on the set of ‘The Scavenger’s Daughter’. Photo Credit: Haley Garnett.

HS: You have worn so many hats already in this project. What are some stand-out lessons you have learned while taking on the roles of: writer, producer, actor, director…

SF: As a producer: my job is to create containers for everybody else (creative team, venue, and audience) to reveal and experience the art. No matter how much you plan for the process and experience to go one way, it will inevitably go many other ways. Problem solving and your community are your biggest assets.

As a playwright, your play doesn’t exist without all the other elements: design, actors, space, audience. You bring a bunch of pages to day one of rehearsal, and then you have to let the process teach you about your play. You haven’t met your play until you all start doing it. You have to let the play speak – which might mean you suddenly feel like you don’t recognize it anymore. Be curious about it. It’s never going to be the version you see in your head. Thank god – what would be the point of doing it if you can just watch it in your head?

As an actor: you know that nightmare about having to go on and perform a show you didn’t rehearse? I just lived it for a 2 week run. You CAN actually learn a whole show 3 days before opening. You don’t need as much time to work as you think you do to make choices and commit to them. Get off book as soon as you possibly can. Imagine how much deeper your work would be if you were off book by day 1. You can do this. I dare you.

Susanna steps in at the 11th hour as the Philosopher in the first play in the EMPIRE trilogy, ‘The Philosopher’s Wife’. Photo Credit: Bernie Fournier.

HS: What has been your biggest challenge you’ve faced in undergoing this project and how have you taken it on?

SF: Raising the money to produce a whole season of theatre as indie artists and being understaffed because we don’t have the money to hire the amount of people it takes to execute a whole season of theatre. Working inside this challenge is ongoing. I’ve had to interrogate my relationship to money, to asking for it, and to keep asking for it. For instance, if you want to check out Empire Trilogy’s “A Name for A Name” campaign here, you can see how close we are to reaching our $15,000 goal and help us get there by donating today 🙂

HS: We love all of the resources Generator is putting out into the world to empower artists to make their art happen. As an artist taking on many roles, can you speak to me about your experience with the Generator Artist Producer Training (APT) program?

SF: I could not produce a project like this without the training I did with APT, and the continued support Generator is giving me as a resident company. Beyond the classes, which covered everything from budgets, to contracts, to timelines, to curation, and marketing, etc. APT and Generator gave me a community of support. Kristina Lemieux is a revolution. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone as committed to empowering artists and creating meaningful sector and social change. Generator is quickly becoming a hub for the indie artists of Toronto, and my hope is that more indie companies will begin to work together and organize around Generator. What would happen if “indie” teams formed a stronger network, what resources could we share, what kind of terms could we set when working inside and outside of more traditional institutions? What’s possible?

Actor, Josh Johnston, as Jack in ‘The Scavenger’s Daughter’. Scenic Design by Michelle Tracey. Photo Credit: Bernie Fournier

HS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

SF: Making art that runs against the mainstream is lonely. You’re going to work with great people, but it’s still going to be lonely. Make friends with your loneliness.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

SF: Women who rail against the shitty deal society “offers” them. Women who say no. Women who dance. Women who laugh at power. Women who fuck. Women who ask questions. Women who scream. Women who fail. Women who make mistakes. Women who rage. Women who transform. Women who love. Women who sing.

HS: What do you do to take care of yourself as an artist?

SF: I don’t know, I’ve had less than 25 days off since The Empire trilogy started pre-production in May 2017, but I have amazing friends and family who help me every single day and bring me food a lot.


Rapid Fire Questions:

Morning or Night Person? A lot of both lately (work)

Go-to drink? Double espresso with touch of hot water and some kind of non-cow milk. I love cocktails and vermouth but I’m not drinking much these days (see above re: work)

If you could be reincarnated as an animal what would it be? A human.

Last book you read? Heartbreaker by local powerhouse Claudia Dey

Favourite play? Jill Connell is a fucking genius and everything she writes breaks my heart and brings me back to life at the same time. Read: The Supine Cobbler, The Tall Building, Hroses.

What are you listening to right now? My gut. And early 2000’s sad angsty tunes.

Favourite place in the city? Sunnyside beach life guard tower (when I need to see the lake and remember the immensity of life).

What in your life could you not live without? Women and faith.

Current Mantra: Several mantras these days: Keep going. You can’t control everything. Let go. Trust.

Finish these sentences:

I am most creative when...I am dancing”

I feel happiest when…I am creating (which is a form of dancing)”

I feel fired up when…I am writing (also a form of dancing)”

In the Toronto theatre scene, I want to see…more radical work, more abandon (so dancing), and more leaders re-structuring institutional power (which is also a form of dancing)”


THE EMPIRE Trilogy by Susanna Fournier

Connect: 
Susanna Fournier
t: @SusannaFournier

Paradigm Productions & The Empire Trilogy
t: @paradigmprodxn
fb: /paradigmtheatre
ig: @paradigmprodxn
w: empiretrilogy.com

Get a Little bit Closer

By: Erin Reznick

I’m sitting with Caleb McMullen and Gaby Grice, the producers of Patrick Marber’s Closer, with the undeniably delicious scent of pad thai and spring rolls wafting through the air. While chatting and scarfing down Thai food, I can’t help but notice how extremely exhausted the two look. They managed to squeeze in time for an interview in between shopping for costumes and putting together props for their upcoming show. Though the dark circles under their eyes may be larger than the average person’s, so are their grins. Discussing this project with them still gets them excited even after hours and hours of arduous rehearsals.

Why did you want to produce Closer?

G: Well to be honest, it was a play that I completely fell in love with. I read it in third year and I immediately knew that I wanted to put it on. It’s an easier show to produce with there being only four people in the cast. It doesn’t need an extravagant set, the characters are amazing and I could think of so many actors who would be great for the roles.

C: It actually took me a while to sign on to this project. I had just finished producing Wolfboy a few months before Gaby came to me with Closer and it just seemed like a daunting task. It took me around six months to say yes.

G: I don’t remember hounding you that much.

C: Oh you did. You would come to me every few months or so asking me if I wanted to do it. Finally you said that you were going to do it with or without me and that really lit a fire under my butt.

G: I’m so happy you did. I don’t think I could have done this without you.

Caleb, what is it like being a director and a producer?

C: It’s really difficult because I wear so many hats that I’m the only resource I have to get things done. I’ll be working on a variety of things throughout the day, then I’ll light up a cigarette, sit in my directors chair at rehearsal for 4 to 5 hours, and then go back to working on whatever needs to be done. I’ve lost around 15 pounds putting this show on.

G: I hate you.

C: I treat myself as an employee of Mnemonic Theatre Productions and my hours are from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. As my own boss, I set deadlines and parameters for myself. I have this list of things that need to be accomplished before the show goes up and every day I work a little bit on every one until they are 100% complete. My last bullet on my list is “produce and direct Closer.” And on February 4th, after the curtain falls, I get to check that off my list. And that’s my reward.

Your theatrical trailer for Closer looks awesome. How did you decide to create that? 

C: We wanted to market the show in a new and interesting way. We also wanted it to be professionally done so I went to my friend Alex Josselyn, who is brilliant. It took us two days to film that.

G: And we’re talking 14 hour days.

C: Yes. But it was actually a really good time on set. Everyone was so cooperative and professional. And Alex let me come in while he was editing incase I wanted to put my two cents in. And I’m so happy with how it came out.

Watch the theatrical trailer below:

What advice do you have for people who want to produce their own work?

G: You really have to love what you’re doing. You have to be willing to sweat, bleed and cry for it. If you’re not going to love the show after a month or so in, you’re fucked.

C: You’re so fucked.

G: You also need to know what you’re good at and what you’re not. Know your limitations. I knew I needed someone to compliment me and Caleb is definitely good at the things I can’t do. I knew that I was willing to put my time, money and passion into this project but I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Know your scale. Know what you’re capable of but respect what’s not possible at the time.

What do you want people to take away from the show?

G: I really think people are going to relate to the show. Patrick Marber is a genius. It doesn’t matter what experiences you’ve had. There are really bold things said and done in this play, and I know people will walk away saying that they have at least thought about doing or saying those things before. It’s really interesting because all of the actors have completely different relationship statuses.  There are actors who are single, in a relationship, gay, married but it doesn’t matter. We all feel connected to the thoughts and words of these characters because they are so true. And I want the audience to feel the same way, and I think they will.

C: I want audiences to recognize that independent theatre companies are capable of producing high quality theatre. I truly believe, and am willing to say, that Closer will be an incredible production. As a producer, I strive to make a theatrical experience that cost $25 a ticket feel like it should have cost $100 a ticket. That’s why it was important to us to make a really professional trailer as well. I want people to walk away from the show with a new expectation from small, independent theatre companies.

What have you learned from being a part of this show?

G: I’ve grown so much as an actor with this show. I’m so happy I did [Hart House’s] Lysistrata when I did, but I only grew so much because I had played roles like that before. This show really took me out of my comfort zone and I had to experience a lot of new things. I learned that I can be a dramatic character. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself and I don’t want other people to pigeonhole me either.

C: I’ve learned that I want to be an artistic directer. I really feel like I want to spend the rest of my life creating new projects.

Closer runs from February 1st – 4th at the Winchester Street Theatre. For tickets and more info visit www.mnemonictheatre.com/closer 

Read another interview with and about Gaby in our Actor Profiles

Gaby Grice is In the Greenroom!

Gaby Grice joins us In the Greenroom for an interview about theatre in Toronto and her upcoming show, Patrick Marber’s Closer. The show Runs from February 1st-4th at the Winchester street Theatre. Click here to read her actor profile.