2014 Fringe Artist Profile: Melanie Hrymak of Licking Knives
by Brittany Kay
Melanie Hrymak is no ordinary gal when you get in a room with her.
She exhibits a fierce confidence while radiating the warmest of hearts. That is why it was my pleasure to talk about her latest show, Licking Knives, which premiers at the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival.
BK: Can you talk a little about your show? And what were your inspirations behind it?
MH: Licking Knives was inspired by the ideas of identity and self-determination. It’s loosely based on the lives of my Ukrainian family members, and it’s a story about how a young woman travels from a farm in rural Ukraine to Paris over the course of World War II. I am very interested in how we become the people that we become: are we shaped by circumstance? Do we decide our own fate? What happens when you are forced to become someone you never thought you would have to be? Maybe it has something to do with being in my mid-20s and watching friends and colleagues really start to define their lives by going back to school, getting married, having kids, or none of the above.
BK: We’ve known each other for many years and I never knew you were a playwright!? When did this start? Can you talk to me about when and why you became a playwright?
MH: I think I am a playwright by necessity. I used to do a lot of creative writing as a child. During theatre school, where we met, I started to do some writing for various projects and a little bit for fun. I just always seem to have 2 or 3 half-finished plays on my hard-drive, and this year I decided the time had come to take the plunge and put my work out there. Also, I needed an acting job.
Artistically though, I think I became a playwright because I am often so bored by the female roles out there. I have been lucky enough to play a few really awesome male roles, which put the situation into high relief for me. There are some wonderful roles out there for women, but not enough, and certainly not enough for the number of incredibly talented actresses out there.
BK: Describe your process of creating a piece?
MH: I am a percolator. I think about the questions that I want the play to ask (which is something my very first acting teacher taught me to look for), and what the spine of the play is. I think for a long time about the characters. I walk around like them for awhile and see how it changes my view of the world. I muddle obsessively over the arc of the play. I research endlessly, particularly for this play, which is set in a historical reality that most people don’t know too much about. After I have procrastinated in every possible way, I sit down and write the thing in a relatively short period of time.
BK: What have the challenges been being both playwright and actor?
MH: Honestly, I like both roles very much. The hard part has been putting my playwright hat down and saying, okay, this is the script. I remember the first time I read the script with my actor hat on, and all I could think was “why did I do this to myself?!” Then I put on my producer hat and told everybody to get back to work.
BK: What do you want audiences walking away with after seeing your play?
MH: I hope people learn something new about this time and place. I think most people know a lot about World War II from a very Western perspective, and I hope people become interested in learning more about the other side of the war. I hope people start to wonder where women’s voices are in our history, because we don’t get to hear a lot about the female experience. But mostly, I hope people look at their own lives and question whether they are living the life they want or the one they think they have to. I think we are always growing and changing and adapting, and I think it’s really important to ask yourself if you are happy. If you’re not, no one is going to fix it but you.
Licking Knives playwright & performer: Melanie Hrymak. Photo Credit: “The Story is Mostly True” by Lauren Vanderbrook of LV Imagery
BK: What are the best aspects of this show, for yourself and for the audience?
MH: I find this show really inspiring. Yes, it deals with very dark subject matter at times, but it is a story of survival and finding your true strength. I have tried to find the humour of the situation as well, because that’s how human beings roll. We have to lift ourselves up, it’s the only way to keep going!
There is also a goat joke that I think is hilarious. I really hope someone laughs.
BK: Now about you! Where did you grow up and when did you move to the city?
MH: I am from Hamilton, Ontario. I moved to Toronto four years ago, after completing my degree at Sheridan College and the University of Toronto in Theatre and Drama.
BK: What are some of your favourite spots in the city? Places to go eat, drink, bike ride?
MH: Oh goodness. So many. I have become a true Torontonian, I am obsessed with brunch. My favourite spots are Emma’s Country Kitchen, Sadie’s, and Rose & Sons. I really love craft beer, so I tend to drink at places like Bar Hop, the Victory Cafe, and Grapefruit Moon. I am one of those people who hang out a lot in parks like St. James Park, High Park, and obviously Bellwoods. And I ride my bike everywhere. I really like biking in my neighbourhood, around St. Clair and Bathurst, but I am just so happy biking anywhere (except on Adelaide – what a deathtrap).
BK: What are you currently obsessed with? Any blogs, pod casts, films or artists?
MH: I have been so obsessed by the show that everything else has pretty much been on hold. However, I adore Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Who ever thought some of the best TV would eventually come out of Netflix?! I love binge-listening to This American Life and I have recently realized how much I admire Tilda Swinton in every single possible way (artist, filmmaker, actor, activist, human being).
BK: Who is your role model, and why?
MH: I don’t really have one. Is that terrible? I admire so many people in so many different ways. I think my grandmother was the strongest person I know. I think my dad is the hardest working person I know. I think my mother is the kindest person I know. I think Oscar Wilde was the cleverest person of all time. I wish I could be some kind of hybrid of those people.
BK: What’s your superpower?
MH: I can usually tell when someone is lying. I have learned that people generally don’t like it when you call them on this.
BK: What is some of the best advice ever given to you?
MH: Not to be an actor. No, really. It’s the hardest thing ever, and if you are bull-headed enough to ignore it, you might be bull-headed enough to succeed in the industry.
BK: Any advice for aspiring playwrights or actors?
MH: Make stuff. Go to museums. Read books. Go to art galleries. Put your phone down and talk to people. Travel. Make friends who are not playwrights or actors. Be fearless.
RAPID FIRE QUESTION ROUND:
Favourite Play: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Favourite Book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Favourite Food: Fresh bread and brie
Favourite TV Show: Firefly
Guilty Pleasure: Butter pecan ice cream
by Melanie Hrymak, presented by Headstrong Collective as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival
“Paris Streets” Melanie Hrymak. Photo Credit: Lauren Vanderbrook of LV Imagery
For more information on Melanie Hrymak and Headstrong Collective check out:
Website: www.melaniehrymak.com | facebook: Melanie Hrymak | twitter: @melaniehrymak
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace
Friday, July 4, 2014 – 10:00pm
Saturday, July 5, 2014 – 6:45pm
Sunday, July 6, 2014 – 9:45pm
Monday, July 7, 2014 – 5:45pm
Wednesday, July 9, 2014 – 1:15pm
Thursday, July 10, 2014 – 1:00pm
Saturday, July 12, 2014 – 2:45pm
Sunday, July 13, 2014 – 5:45pm
Written by Melanie Hrymak
Starring Melanie Hrymak
Sound design by Tessa Springate
Stage managed by Sarah Niedoba
Tickets: Can be purchased via http://fringetix.ca/ or by calling 416-966-1062
by Hallie Seline
HS: Tell us a bit about your show & where it came from
Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl: It’s a story that comes from the real life experiences myself and other twenty-something graduates had while working at various coffee shops in Toronto. I interviewed a myriad of graduates to see what their most hilarious, poignant or upsetting moments were while working behind the counter. And that is what this show is about, it examines the customer/employee relationship in the most hilarious of ways.
So come on down to the Toronto Fringe and meet Joanie Little, an “adorkable” anthropology graduate who decides to make the most out of her barista day job by ‘reporting’ about the humans of her coffee shop as though she were Jane Goodall herself, bushwhacking through the African jungle to observe the chimps. A tour-de-force that makes you laugh one minute and cry the next. Complete with live music, hurricanes, co-worker showdowns and a gorilla for a boss.
HS: Not only are you presenting at the Toronto Fringe, but you are doing a whole Fringe tour. Tell us a bit about where you’ve been, where you’re going and, being a Fringe vet, what’s the benefit to doing a fringe tour.
RP: RCSG has toured to six other fringes throughout Canada and the US: Winnipeg, Edmonton, Victoria, New York City, Stratford & London – this year was particularly exciting because we got a lot of love from CBC and Audience Choice in New York City!
We couldn’t be happier to finally perform it in our hometown! That was one of our initial goals! And what better place to perform it then in the Annex, one of Toronto’s fantastic indie coffee hubs! We are thrilled to be performing in The Annex Theatre, one of the two theatres at the Randolph Academy of Performing Arts – just behind the infamous fringe tent!
We really hope Toronto Fringe audiences like the show! It’s something our creative team is proud of. We have dramaturged the show with the wonderful Canadian playwright and author Ron Fromstein and are excited to see where the “updated” version of the show will take us. So far this summer we are touring to Saskatoon, Victoria, Seattle and New Orleans! And we have been offered a spot in a solo festival in New York City for summer 2015!
Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl playwright & performer: Rebecca Perry as Joanie Little. Photo Credit: Bryan Zilyuk
I’d say the benefits of doing a fringe tour are endless, you develop a Fringe touring family, lifelong friendships are forged and you start to develop a relationship with each city. You get to know the fringe staff, the media, the volunteers and what makes each city and fringe festival so special and original.
HS: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned so far touring your show to various fringe festivals?
RP: Always, always show your tech team some love. Holy cow do they have a crazy job!
HS: If you could give a new fringer or someone who is considering doing a fringe tour one piece of advice, what would it be?
RP: Be as organized as possible aka: plan in advance! The biggest thing is being ready before everyone else is. Get all your posters up and postcards out, be the person to flyer the first day of lines, know where every venue is and be a social butterfly.
HS: Why do you think festivals like the Toronto Fringe, and the Fringe festivals around Canada and the world, are so important?
RP: I’ve seen some of the most ground breaking, heart-wrenching and fascinating theatre at the Fringe. It’s no wonder some filmmakers and fringe performers are finally making a documentary about it (shout outs to Nancy Kenny, Natalie, Cory and the rest of the “On The Fringe” documentary crew!) I know Fringe gets a bad rap for having “weird” or “inaccessible theatre” but honestly that just sounds like pretentious theatre-goers trying to pigeonhole the fringe into a certain category. For every “bad” show there are 15 amazing ones. I’ve seen so many mediums of theatre excel at Fringe festivals. I think that is the only way certain forms of theatre can exist what with the declining audiences of theatre these days. For some reason the Fringe just gets everyone out!
HS: If you could entice someone in 5-10 words to come see your show, what would they be?
RP: Challenge accepted! I’ll make a little 10 word equation:
Hilarious (caffeinated) situations + indie music = my love letter to Toronto.
Short & Sweet Questions:
Favourite Coffee place in Toronto: Abbott of Parkdale
Go-to Fringe drink in the tents: CIDER!!!
What inspires you as an artist? When other artists around me are so brave. It inspires me to put my heart on the table like they do.
What’s your favourite thing about the Toronto theatre scene? That the indie scene is just as alive and kicking as the established groups.
What’s your artistic mantra?/Best advice you’ve ever gotten. “You won’t know until you try”
Written and Performed by Rebecca Perry as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival
Where – The Annex Theatre
When – July 3rd-13th, 2014
Thursday, July 3 – 7:00pm
Saturday, July 5 – 11:00pm
Monday, July 7 – 1:30pm
Wednesday, July 9 – 7:30pm
Friday, July 11 – 5:45pm
Saturday, July 12 – 12:30pm
Sunday, July 13 – 4:00pm
How can people connect with you online
facebook: Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl