Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Rarely Pure Theatre’

2014 Fringe Preview – Valkyrie – Rarely Pure Theatre

by Bailey Green

Sex, violence and theatre create a wicked combination. Rarely Pure Theatre presents Valkyrie, a new work by Thomas McKechnie that promises to “walk a fine line between agony and ecstasy” (says stage manager and RPT member Christina Bryson). In Norse mythology, Valkyries were immortal female warriors that chose who lived and died on the battlefield. These Valkyries are on a different mission, in a different time and sans immortality. Bradley and Erin (played by Monique Renaud and Tara Koehler) have both undergone very scarring experiences with men. They take it upon themselves to begin a Valkyrie quest to deliver justice to other men who have caused trauma to women. But this night is different. They bring a victim back to their lair. To find out what happens after that, you’ll have to see the show.

Artistic director (and the third member of the Valkyrie cast) Spencer Robson explains more about what is at the core of the piece, “it deals with spousal abuse and with sexism in multiple ways. The most interesting part about this piece, for me, is that the characters are far from heroic. You want to be able to root for them but, though every character might be justified in their actions, they are still bad people. It will be jarring for the audience. There’s justice but it isn’t what you want or expect.”

Valkyrie was born back in February of this year when the members of Rarely Pure (Spencer, Monique and Christina) met with Soulpepper Academy playwright Thomas McKechnie. “We really wanted to do an original piece at Fringe this year. Thomas saw our production of As You Like It and we had a meeting after. We asked if he would be interested in writing for us and he was,” Spencer says. “After that we bounced some ideas off him. He asked us what sort of play we would be interested in, what the traits of the actors were. Eight days later he had the first draft.” What followed were months of workshops and readings. The show’s veteran director Bruce Gooch is also a playwright, so his professional eye helped search the script for adjustments. “Bruce, and Tara who is also a playwright, aren’t afraid to stop and ask questions about the script, which is very new for me. I’m used to working with a more “finished” product,” says Spencer.

Planning has been key to finding balance in this process, especially for Robson as he juggles the roles of co-producer, artistic director and actor. “It sounds like a nightmare every time I say it out loud,” Spencer laughs, “but working with my friends who I trust and respect has really made this show possible.” He also says that taking on different roles on the production side has helped him as a working actor in the industry. “Now when I’m working for someone else, whether a theatre company or on a film set, I understand how difficult the production side is. So now I know that while I may not always understand what is going on or why a decision is made, I know that it isn’t my job to. They [the producers] spent time mulling over that decision, I just wasn’t part of their process.” Spencer continues, “I can better understand where people are coming from. It’s helped me lower my stress levels and just be immediately more comfortable.”

Rarely Pure Theatre was founded in the winter of 2012/2013 with its inaugural production “Until Our Paths Cross Again,” which was written, produced and directed by Monique Renaud. “The fact that Mo did that all on her own just really made me want to jump on board,” Spencer says of the company’s beginnings. Robson, Monique Renaud and Christina Bryson formed the company. The name comes from an Oscar Wilde quote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Now almost two years later, the company has several productions under their belt including, The Pillowman and As You Like It. As a new company their mandate isn’t yet set in stone. They are still open to experimenting as the company collaborates with new artists, like National Theatre School graduate Tara Koehler. The company is passionate about theatre and exploring work that excites them as artists. Spencer says that the commitment to each project comes naturally, “we get to choose what we want to do, the people we want to work with, the plays and themes we want to work on.” The company has sights for the future as well, determining what show, or show(s), they want to do in the fall. Another priority is the re-definition of roles within the company and investing in a better website.

But for now they’re immersed in Valkyrie, facing the powerful and dark piece head-on as opening night approaches.


by Thomas McKechnie, presented by Rarely Pure Theatre as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival



Where: Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgeman Ave, Toronto)

When: July 2-13th, 2014

July 2nd: 10:30pm

July 5th: 8:45pm

July 8th: 7pm

July 9th: 5:15pm

July 10th: 12:00pm

July 12th: 3:30pm

July 13th: 12:00pm

Tickets: $10 at the door, OR you can order online: as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival


Rarely Pure Theatre’s “As You Like It” at The Storefront Theatre until January 26th

Interview by Ryan Quinn

I had breakfast with three of the wonderful collaborators of Rarely Pure Theatre, all three of whom are working on the current mount of As You Like It being shown at The Storefront Theatre. I spoke with Spencer Robson, who is playing Orlando; Christina Bryson, playing Rosalind; and Monique Renaud, one of the company’s Artistic Directors. All three are also involved in the production of the show.

When deciding on a show after the success of their previous productions of The Pillowman, We’re Lovers, and Until Our Paths Cross Again, they decided to focus on doing classical text. “We’ve wanted to do a Shakespeare for a while, because a lot of us have worked together with this text and we had access to a lot of great resources and actors for Shakespeare”, Robson said. Bryson explained why As You Like It was the perfect choice for them commenting that “It’s a fun, high-paced show. And you need a light comedy in the middle of January”. Though, it’s not just out of love for the show itself, but it was also a matter of feasibility, explained Renaud: “Part of it is, as a non-union company, we couldn’t get any older, union actors, so this youthful show is one of the best Shakespeare plays to go for.”

There is also a kind of magic in the lack of magical elements in this Shakespeare show. For one of the light summer comedies, there are no ethereal forces at work in As You Like It. “Some of the characters are pretty extreme and big, but it’s still real. There are no faeries, or magic. It’s focused on these human beings and what they want. It’s not the forest that changes them, it’s their experiences. It’s about driving your own narrative, which is very similar to what we’re focusing on as a company.”

Christina Bryson and Katie Ribout in "As You Like It" Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

Christina Bryson and Katie Ribout in “As You Like It” Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

As far as concept, the team decided to keep it fairly simple, while flipping the usual setting of the show to make it take place in the winter. “There are actually more references to winter than summer. We added some of the songs back in. There are a lot of winter references in those especially”, Bryson explained, while Robson added: “We thought it would be a nice subtle thing we could do without it being overbearing. Also, it’s really supported by the text. A lot of the pivotal moments of character realization are described in kind of wintery terms. I mean, we’re not going to have snow falling on the audience or anything like that. It was more of a subtle atmosphere choice.”

The show is being directed by Rosanna Saracino, an experienced director who has worked with young casts many times. “It was also important for us to get an established director on board, someone to help guide us. I still feel like we’re learning a lot, but I don’t feel spoken down to”, Bryson told me. “She works with young actors all the time, so she knows about a lot of the struggles we have,” Robson elaborated. In fact, Rarely Pure populated their production with people who specialize in those different areas of production instead of letting friends and acquaintances handle offstage duties, as many young companies tend to do. “There’s a reason people have different jobs, because they’re good at it”.

Michael Hogan, Gaby Grice, Scott Garland in "As You Like It". Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

Michael Hogan, Gaby Grice, Scott Garland in “As You Like It”. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

The company isn’t content to just get lost in the shuffle, though, as they’re looking to help unite some of the disparate parts of the culture in Toronto. Robson told me that he “was talking to Caleb McMullen from Mnemonic Theatre, and he said that there are a lot of small upstart companies right now, and if we could just pool our resources and work together, we’d make some amazing work. This is kind of proof that we’re all on the same level. If you’re putting something on and people are showing up, and you’re proud of it, that puts you on even ground with the whole community. You’re all contributing to the same cause. Nobody is above each other, we’re all just doing different shows.”

For the new year, Rarely Pure is taking a bit of a paradoxical move, by both zeroing in on what they’re best at, while also expanding the scope of what the company is capable of. While still maintaining a bit of the company’s original motive that “if you have a good idea, and you want to execute it, we can help you get it off the ground,” the company is also looking into new and innovative ways to experiment with performance and theatre: “We have a Fringe spot, and a playwright to write for us, which is great. I’m hoping to start Rarely Pure Productions to do things with webseries and short films, so we’re really doing some exciting things.” Renaud asserted that while this many seem like the company is going off on a few tangents, they’re not going to lose their focus: “When we started, our mandate was a lot looser, but now we’re finding exactly what we can bring to an audience. So, next year, as a company, we’re going to be more specific and organized in our focus. We have to be more picky with what we put on because there is a lot of theatre in this city and nobody wants to see crap.”

Christina Bryson, Spencer Robson and Katie Ribout in "As You Like It". Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

Christina Bryson, Spencer Robson and Katie Ribout in “As You Like It”. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz Photography

As You Like It

By William Shakespeare, presented by Rarely Pure Theatre


When: Thursday-Sunday January 9th-26th

Where: The Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor Street West

Tickets$20 General Admission / $15 (students/arts workers/seniors 55+) / PWYC Saturday Matinee

Specific times can be found on Rarely Pure Theatre‘s page on Facebook.

Strong Shows in Small Spaces – Rarely Pure Theatre Opens The Pillowman


I sat down with Ryan Quinn and David DiFrancesco, director and actor of Rarely Pure Theatre’s The Pillowman running from Wednesday February 27th to Sunday March 3rd at the Propeller Gallery. Over hot chocolate and croissants, we talk about the show, get to know these gentlemen, discuss the benefit of strong shows in small spaces and explore the challenges and benefits when working with those you know so well. We even get a little playlist to listen to before the show!

The Pillowman – Trailer

Hallie Seline: Tell me a little bit about Rarely Pure Theatre and something that we might not know about the company?

David DiFrancesco: Rarely Pure Theatre was started around last January by a group of people from the University of Windsor. Essentially, its function is to be a hub that artists can come to when they want to put on work and Rarely Pure will help them do it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be people we have worked with either. When someone has an idea for a show they can just throw it at us and we’ll work on all of the ins and outs to help put it on.

Ryan Quinn: This is our second production with Rarely Pure Theatre and as for something you might not know, we are now doing a dinner theatre in Erin Ontario!

HS: Tell me about that.

DD: We are going up to Erin Ontario, which is just outside of Brampton to do two performances of The Pillowman before our Toronto run. It’s going to be a dinner theatre feel at an inn location. It’s a small town that doesn’t get a lot of theatre, so they are very excited to have us up there and if all goes well, it may be something that we can continue doing with Rarely Pure.

RQ: Yeah, and I think what’s interesting is that with a lot of dinner theatre, the dinner becomes part of the theatre, whereas this is going to be more like you sit down for dinner then after you see a show. It will definitely be interesting to gauge the reactions of our dinner theatre audience who may think they are coming for a certain kind of theatre and will be getting, I believe, something quite different and a little more hard-hitting and real.

DD: The Pillowman has some dark themes to say the least.

RQ: Oh yeah. Reading The Pillowman, at times, still makes me feel uncomfortable but I believe at its heart, it has a very beautiful story. That’s what captures me every time. I read it, I get caught up in it, I feel disgusted with what the characters do and with what they say, but at the end it’s rewarding and actually kind of heartwarming.

HS: What is one thing that we might not know about you?

DD: Well, this is Ryan’s first full directorial show that he’s taking up all on his own, which is really exciting.

RQ: Last year I had the chance to work with Lee Wilson, assistant directing on The Merry Wives of Windsor up at Theatre By The Bay. This year I really wanted to do some of my own work and then maybe go back to assistant directing and hopefully continue to go back and forth to really develop both skills at once.

This has been a really big undertaking but it has been incredibly rewarding so far.

RQ: I’ve also started doing a little bit of stand-up comedy.

HS: Oh, that’s fun! And what about you, David?

DD: I’ve got nothing…

We all have a good chuckle about that.

HS: We’ll leave David as a Man of Mystery. So, why The Pillowman?

RQ: It’s a show we’ve been talking about doing since we were in second-year University. It came up in Scene Study and all of us were completely taken by it. The aspect that I still love about The Pillowman is how it still surprises me. I go through the script and I write things down like ‘Ok, I know the show is about this, and trying to talk about this,’ and then I read it again and I can come out with something completely different. It is a show that poses a lot of questions and doesn’t necessarily assert answers.

DD: Because it has been such a fantasy project for us, we never thought that it was actually going to happen. One of our main actors, Davydd Cook (who plays Tupolski), moved to Greece and we just figured it was never going to happen with just the few of us but he sent us a message saying he’d be back for the Christmas holidays and a few months after so we jumped at the opportunity. We just decided that it was now or never.

HS: What has been the most interesting or the most challenging aspect about working on this play as an actor, for you David, and as a director, Ryan?

DD: I think for me, the most challenging aspect has been finding my character Michal’s mentality. Because the character is slow, having severe mental damage from being beaten by his parents for several years, it has been interesting and a challenge trying to get into his mindset, figuring out where his thoughts are coming from and really attempting to speak through the truth of the character.

RQ: For me, it has been working with people who I know so well and their processes, which I also know so well, and still making sure they challenge each other. It can be tempting to say that something is good enough or to say ‘that’s what I thought you would bring to the table’. I needed to make sure that we kept the rehearsal process fresh and challenging in hopes of achieving the best from everyone involved. And they’re so good at that, leaving the years of experience that they have with each other at the door, getting in the space and really trying to affect one another. For something that I thought would be a bigger challenge, it has turned out to be a great benefit in many ways. We can regroup quicker and dive into the material, working relationships a lot more smoothly without the reserve there is at times when actors are meeting for the first time.

DD: I think that is the most exciting part about it too. Getting to work with these guys on our own project. We’ve never gotten to work just the five of us outside of school on something we were all really passionate about. It’s great.

HS: What should people hope to expect when coming to see The Pillowman?

RQ: Well, it’s at the Propeller Gallery (Queen Street West & Ossington), which is a small, intimate space and it is a very emotionally and physically violent play, so I think that audiences can expect to be taken for quite the ride and really feel the heart of this story. Some of the best shows that I have seen in Toronto have been in small, intimate spaces with shows that pull the audience in and make them feel complicit. I think that’s really what we’re going to do with this show – make the audience question what they’re watching, question why they’re enjoying it and question the nature of violence in theatre or in art.

DD: We have commissioned a couple of artists who have devised paintings for our play and they will be showcased around the gallery for the week, as it still needs to function as a gallery space. I think with all of the elements that we’ve employed, from the actors, to the projections we’ll be utilizing throughout the show, to the images showcased in the gallery, it will make for a very overwhelming show, to say the least.

HS: If someone from the audience could have a playlist to listen to before coming to see The Pillowman, what would you recommend they include on it?

RQ: This is the best question.

Gustav Holst – The Planets Suite.
It’s just a very emotional and god-like suite. It is very intense but also very gentle at times

Aphex Twin – “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”.
This is a really great album of ambient music, which is also very slow and droning.

Set Fire to Flames – “Sings Reign Rebuilder & Telegraphs in Negative”, “Mouths Trapped in Static”
They are a group of improvisational musicians from Montreal who locked themselves in a house and starved themselves until they could write an entire album. It is the most raw, human thing I have ever heard because they just wanted to get it out there and to get out of the house, while still working to make something they could be proud of. It’s a little sadistic but it really made me think of the play.

Finally, there’s a great album by The Mountain Goats called “The Sunset Tree” or there’s a stripped-down acoustic version called “Come, Come to the Sunset Tree”, and it comes out of the lead singer’s experiences as an abused child. What I love about the album is how optimistic, child-like and full of wonder it is but always with that underlying darkness.

DD: For me, there is a song by The Tallest Man on Earth called “Kids on the Run”.
It’s about just looking back on life and not really being able to move forward, which is a lot of what my character deals with in the show.

270802_503688596348597_969923593_nHS: Now a little word association, for fun.

HS: Story-telling:

DD: The Pillowman
RQ: Danger

HS: Toronto:

DD: Crazy
RQ: Community

HS: Theatre:

DD: Awesome
RQ: Danger

HS: Pillow:

DD: Comfort
RQ: Smother

HS: Emerging Artist:

DD: Rarely Pure
RQ: Rarely Pure

HS: Favourite Spot in Toronto:

DD: The Stockyards (St. Clair Avenue West & Christie)
RQ: The Distillery District (Just south of Parliament & Front)

HS: Any last words?

DD: The seats for the show are very limited because we’re in a small art gallery and we can only fit approximately forty people, so there’s the possibility that there won’t be tickets available at the door. Advanced tickets are available at Search The Pillowman. Other than that, I’m just very excited for this show and we can’t wait to put it out there for you all.

RQ: Yeah, I’m really excited about the show. Every single person that we are working with in design, illustration, music, lighting, is so talented and so ‘on-the-ball’ with this piece. It really blows me away how beautiful the show has become and how much everyone has been able to contribute to our final product. We can’t wait for people to see it.

The Pillowman opens tonight until Sunday March 3rd.
Breakdown: Katurian the writer stays in and writes stories. That’s it. Brilliant but often grotesque tales, shaped by a twisted childhood experiment conducted by his own parents towards his brother, Michal, heard through the cracks in the wall separating the siblings. Now Katurian has been blindfolded and taken out of his home to face questioning at the hands of two brutal detectives, representatives of an ominous totalitarian state. His stories have put them on the trail of a serial child killer, and several lives hang in the balance as Katurian wrestles with his responsibilities to (and for) his art. Martin McDonagh’s play is a harrowing and blackly funny meditation on the tricky power of words to shape the world.
Where: Propeller Gallery (984 Queen W)
When: Wednesday, February 27th to Sunday March 3rd
Time: 8pm
Tickets: $10 and can be bought online here:

For more on Rarely Pure Theatre: