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Posts tagged ‘Richard Greenblatt’

In Conversation: Magic, Music, Mimmo & Mona: Theatre Rhea’s OREGANO

Interview by Shaina Silver-Baird

In Conversation with:
Rose Napoli (playwright/ “Mona”)
Matthew Thomas Walker (director)
Diane D’Aquila (“La Strega Nera”)
Richard Greenblatt (“Mimmo”)
Beau Dixon (composer/sound designer)
of Theatre Rhea‘s OREGANO by Rose Napoli.

Shaina: How would you describe Oregano? What’s the show about?

Diane: There are moments in your life that define you. Often death is one of them. And this play is what grows out of that. For every death there’s a birth – it can be metaphoric. But I think when those moments happen, you not only have to face them, but you learn something about yourself. You learn to accept who you are. The play is about all that, in the format of a fairytale.

Rose: In the face of death, one finds their voice. We take that literally in this play, because we talk a lot about the power of the voice. Mimmo is the little boy with a special voice, and Mona is a young woman who wants to be a writer. So it’s very much about the importance of your own voice in connection to the people that shape you.

Shaina: What was your inspiration for writing the play, Rose? 

Rose: The last time I ever saw my dad was 12 years ago. It was his birthday. It was late and it was after an opening of a show. And he stayed up and waited for me and we had a very strange conversation. We were sentimental in a way that we weren’t usually. And in a way, a lot of the things he was saying to me (I didn’t know it at the time), were veiled preparations for me to live without him. I remember we said we loved each other, which we also didn’t do often. I went to bed and I thought: I’m never going to see him again. And he died shortly after that.

I think it was because of that moment, even though the realization came later on, that I started to believe in magic. And I started to believe that there are things that are bigger than us. And family is one of them. So, with Oregano I was writing my dad’s life and his death from my imagination. It’s not autobiographical in the sense that it’s not my exact relationship with him and it’s not the exact way he died. But this is the way I imagined it to be.

Shaina: Matt, you often work in a site-specific format. How are you finding the experience of creating for the Storefront, which is more of a classic black box? 

Matt: It’s definitely different and site-specific is something I’m going to have to branch away from any time I’m working in a space where I can’t control all of the factors. So I’ve been getting advice in terms of how other directors work in this situation. We hired a great set designer – Jenna McCutchen – she offered a world and I started using that. I refer back to her designs, the space she’s created, constantly and that offers information much the way a site-specific venue would. I use that for inspiration. Even though we don’t have all the time in the space that I would like, it’s our constraint and it guides the show. We’re using it expressively, much the way I like to do working in site-specific venues. It’s just a different way of working, but the space is still at the forefront of my mind all the time.

Rose: We’re also using it in a very different way than I’ve seen this space used before.

Matt: That’s something we all decided was very important to us from the get-go. We wanted to see this space used differently than audiences are accustomed to at The Storefront. We wanted to try to change people’s experience when they arrive at this venue.

And I think we are on track to do so. I think it’ll be magical.


In Rehearsal – Rose Napoli & Richard Greenblatt

Shaina: Diane and Richard, I know you’ve worked across the country, across the continent, in huge theatres. What continues to attract you to indie productions?

Richard: The script. I’m interested in working on stories, on characters, on scripts – either as a director, or as an actor – that interest me. I also love working on new work and working with younger people who’re coming up. I do a fair amount of it, like Late Company, which we did a few years ago and are remounting this year. So you choose the project mostly based on the script; secondarily on who else is involved and certainly not for the money. If a project is interesting, and the people are too, then you go for it. I mean I didn’t know Rose, I didn’t know Matthew…

Shaina: But they’re pretty awesome.

Richard: Really?! And Diane I’ve known forever, but we’ve never worked together.

Diane: I have worked a lot of my life in big, huge, honking theatres where a lot of time’s wasted and a lot of egos get in the way. For me it’s returning to my roots. I started with The Free Theatre and Tarragon – they WERE the indie theatres in the 70s and late 60s. The Free Theatre had a dirt floor – it was FREE when I played there. So for me, it isn’t about the money, it’s about getting back to basics, it’s about working with people that I have respect for, that I want to work with, that I haven’t had the chance to yet. It’s about the challenge. And this is more challenging than some of the other stuff I get often in the big box theatres.

Shaina: What has been the biggest challenge?

Matt: The collaboration has been lovely. We have actors who have worked all across our country in these big theatres and I love that they’re coming back to work with us in indie theatre. It’s really refreshing and it’s really invigorating. So that hasn’t been a challenge.

With independent projects, it’s always scheduling. That’s always a challenge because everyone’s always doing so much. But for some reason, when you set that as the challenge that needs to be faced from the get-go, it just makes it easier. You embrace it and you approach that creatively with a good spirit and everyone has to invest fully when they’re here. That’s absolutely been the case.


In Rehearsal – Diane D’Aquila & Richard Greenblatt

Shaina: Beau, what attracted you to the project? What’s the experience been like for you adapting this story to music?

Beau: To echo what Richard said, it’s first and foremost about the story. The most difficult thing, but it’s also the most enjoyable and challenging, is using sounds to make sure that the audience is in the world of the fairytale. I really have to marry the sounds with the text. That’s one of the magical things about theatre: using sounds, the different frequencies, the pushing of air (as I like to call it), to create a world. When you have accomplished actors, and a story that really speaks for itself, you don’t want the music to get in the way. So there’s a real push and pull that’s happening between the sound and the text. And once you get that tension and release with the sound, and once the audience is engaged and thrown into that world, it IS magical.

But the real struggle is making it believable – making the audience feel that they too are using their creative brains and are immersed in that world without feeling forced into it.

Shaina: What was the initial inspiration to make the play so musical? 

Rose: In the play, Mona, the main character, has the chance to meet her father as a young boy – a young boy who Richard plays. He plays himself from 8 years old all the way to his 50s – his whole life really. This boy has a very special ability with his voice. When he sings, he can relax the people who listen to his music so deeply, that they reveal their deepest fears.

There was always meant to be a component that brought us back in time – there are many memories in the play. The music is the thing that brings us to the different time periods in the play.

And then that concept went to the next level having Beau on board, a composer who is so versed in MADE scores. You can see his set up down there – he is making music with the strangest things! So why not take it a step further, to embrace the magic of this play and have the sounds (the rain, the thunder, all of the soundscape in the show) happen live rather than through a soundboard.


In Rehearsal – Rose Napoli & Diane D’Aquila


Richard: Doing that also enhances the magic of the theatre itself. And the reason theatre is magic is because it IS imagination. And what the play is about, in a lot of ways, is the imagination, and how you can create your life as you imagine it, to a certain degree. You can certainly deal with things in your life through the way you imagine them.

If you want to make magic in the theatre, you do it by showing what’s up the sleeve. You don’t try to hide it, because we can’t do it that well in the theatre. You can do that on film, you have CGI, but we don’t. So you can make magic by saying: “imagine this is the planet earth in my hand,” and then you smash it. And everyone goes along with it because the theatre is essentially naïve. To see Beau create a storm sequence by using a tarp and a weird can with a string attached to it, is far more magical than the most realistic sound you can tape and play back over a sound system.

Diane: And you know, you get these huge budgets at these big theatres and all of a sudden it goes into another medium. To be able to use your imagination with nothing is more efficient. It’s better story telling, than when you keep throwing money at a play. Because eventually the audience thinks: “What a small battalion! They brought 50 people onstage and I don’t believe it.” But with two or three people making a lot of noise with a good folio I go: “Well there’s an army!”

There isn’t enough money in theatre to achieve what the imagination can. 

Shaina: If you could have anyone in the audience to see this show, who would it be?

Rose: My dad.


by Rose Napoli, presented by Theatre Rhea at The Storefront Theatre

Oregano2 copy

On stage at The Storefront Theatre

Previews – Wed. March 11 – Thurs. March 12

Opens Friday March 13 – Sunday March 22


Artist Profile: Sara Farb, Playwright & Performer of personal piece R-E-B-E-C-C-A at Theatre Passe Muraille

Interview by Brittany Kay

I had the utmost pleasure of sitting down with long time friend, Sara Farb, to discuss her new play, R-E-B-E-C-C-A, which opened this week at Theatre Passe Muraille. We shared our “somewhat” fondness of our suburban bubble and the journey into realizing that theatre is the fundamental lifeline that keeps us going.

Throughout the laughter and reminiscences, I couldn’t help but marvel at this woman. She is one of wit, talent and has created a truly remarkable play that shares a one of a kind story.

Brittany: How did you get to where you are now?

Sara: I’m originally from North York, so technically I’m from Toronto but my entire childhood was in Thornhill. A huge part of my childhood was spent at a community theatre program called Charactors Theatre Troupe. I went to Earl Haig Secondary School in the Claude Watson arts program as a drama major and then decided to go to the University of Toronto to get a normal person degree, because I’d been working as an actor and didn’t want to remove myself for too long. University was a constant struggle. I ended up doing really well, but it took me six years to finish. I don’t regret it for a second. It was a really good balance to exercise, especially entering a life where you know multitasking is sort of essential if you want to remain sane. 

For a while, I was working as an editor for on an online publication and the acting wasn’t really happening. At the age of 24, I made a decision to leave the business. 

Brittany: What made you come to that choice?

Sara: It was mostly musical theatre that I was doing and that’s already such a marginalized part of the arts community. What I offered was too astray from the norm that the musical theatre arts community is so devoted to here in this country. You know, not necessarily to its detriment, but very few risks are taken in casting. It was really hard to establish myself in any real momentous way. In like bits and pieces sure. It was just too much of a struggle… too frustrating.

I’ve always had an affinity for words and for literature and I had dabbled in online journalism. I decided that if I’m going to be unsatisfied in a profession, it might as well be one that is more lucrative, yields better results and where the competition isn’t as ferocious. I made the promise to myself that after I had a show in Halifax, that was going to be it. I enrolled in these courses to be an editor and my entire life perspective was going to be flipped after the show. This new re-focus would be in the middle and theatre would be its orbit. That’s the way it looked.

Brittany: That must have been an incredibly hard moment in your life.

Sara: I remember having this watershed conversation with my boyfriend where I felt like I was getting a divorce. I needed a clean break. It was such a huge decision and so monumental in my life. But the second I let it go, it just all came at me like I was a magnet. It was so crazy, but also very informative. I’m not an avid believer in cosmic anything but that’s the closest thing I can think of, of any universal involvement in ones’ life, it seemed. It’s inexplicable. So I decided to ride the wave, but I still didn’t take my foot out of the writing door.

It was evident that I obviously wasn’t ready to let go entirely. Eventually, it led to being asked to come in to audition for Stratford because they needed an immediate replacement. I got the part and that was sort of a no brainer.

Brittany: Well…obviously.

Sara: And so now I’m an actor. The feeling that this isn’t permanent never goes away. This always feels like a temporary fix and that’s why I still write and that’s why I’m very keen on exercising other skills. I am not delusional and I don’t in any way, shape or form think that this is going to stay as good as it’s been forever. That’s simply not realistic.

It’s important to pour everything you have into what you’re doing, but if that’s all you got then I think that’s a serious problem in this industry.

Sara Farb in R-E-B-E-C-C-A. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Sara Farb in R-E-B-E-C-C-A. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Brittany: Let’s switch gears and talk about the play. How did this play come to be? What was the development process? 

Sara: The last possible year I could participate in the Paprika Festival, I decided to submit. I had sort of been musing about what a play about my sister would even look like because I didn’t really want it to just be a family drama. That wasn’t it. I was kind of more interested in people’s perceptions of people with disabilities and how they might be wrong, especially in my very specific experience with my sister. I know that it’s easy to look at someone like her and feel an overwhelming sense of pity, but in reality she’s actually probably the happier of the two because she’s not aware of the minutia of day-to-day struggle. It just sort of felt like a really interesting place to start. It developed into a 20-minute piece that examined her day-to-day existence. It built a foundation for the development and growth of the play to where it exists now – with a Rebecca that is portrayed in the present and a hypothetical Rebecca.

Rebecca was born prematurely and there’s been speculation in her life that her developmental delay has to do with that. It’s a theory. That sort of coincided with the big question of what you do with legal adulthood even though there’s no comprehension of what that is or any real way of manifesting that with someone who is a perpetual child. What would a hypothetical Rebecca, who was brought fully to term, look like if she were turning eighteen? The play looks at both of those worlds on each of their respective birthdays.

Brittany: How did it come to Theatre Passe Muraille?

Sara: Rob Kempson, who ran Paprika at the time, invited me to participate in the “Old Spice” program, which invites Paprika alumni to further develop their work with a mentor of their choice. Until then, there were a couple years where the development of the play was kind of dead and I didn’t really know what to do with it. This program really sort of kicked me in the ass and it was more due to Rob’s insistence that I applied because I was on the fence about it. It’s just been a really long line of very supportive people, encouraging me to do something about it. So I had my pick of mentors and Richard Greenblatt had been very interested in the play back when I was first doing it with Paprika, so I invited him to be my mentor and dramaturg. It was a really great match. I really owe this to Rob, who brought it to the attention of Andy McKim. It’s been very much on his radar for a very long time.

Brittany: Talk to me about you relationship with your sister.

Sara: It’s very very close in the way that it is. There are few people that she feels comfortable showing all of her colours to, a part from my mom. I may be the next person in line who knows as much about the parts of Rebecca. Her life and my life will really be fused for our entire lives. I adore her to no end. It’s very protective.

Brittany: Like any other older sister would be.

Sara: Pretty much. Obviously there are significant parts of sisterhood missing. It’s like having a four-year-old sister forever. That has its benefits and its costs, but I’ve never wished her to be anything else. I’m pretty aware that I’d probably be a different person if I had an ally in my sister. That’s sort of fodder for why one writes a play like this.

Sara Farb in R-E-B-E-C-C-A. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Sara Farb in R-E-B-E-C-C-A. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Brittany: You play two Rebeccas in this play. Can you speak a bit about the two of them?

Sara: The characters’ names in the script are May and July. May is the Rebecca that exists and July is the hypothetical one if she were brought to full term. May is a pretty true to life representation that I’ve been able to master after all the time spent with my sister. It’s a little more articulate than she actually is, but it communicates what I perceive to be her thoughts and feelings. July Rebecca comes from the question of what someone would do if they had the deep feeling that they weren’t supposed to exist. The kind of person July is, is the direct opposite of May who’s fully unaware of her existence. Time is not a concept to May. July’s existence is constant. It is not supposed to have happened to her and therefore it’s always there.

Brittany: What has it been like being both playwright and actor?

Sara: It’s been extremely challenging. Richard gave me a week grace period of allowing the playwright into the room and then the playwright had to leave. It had to just be about performing the play. It’s mostly now about getting 80 minutes of theatre from beginning to end without worrying too much. Being able to treat the words like someone else wrote them is strange. Every now and then I’ll come across something and think, “I can’t believe I wrote that.” I’m trying to shelve those opinions. Not having an opinion on the writing has been a really difficult thing. 

Brittany: Richard Greenblatt has been a part of so much of this process. How has it been having him as your director?

Sara: It’s been outstanding. He’s such a champion of thought-provoking, unusual stories and his commitment to this one is humbling. Anytime my confidence has waivered, he’s there to slap me out of it. He’s just got such a keen eye for developing new work and his dramaturgy skills are unbelievable. I just feel so lucky. The whole team are masters in their field and the fact that they assembled because I wrote this play is a really gratifying thing to feel.

Brittany: Who does this play speak to? Speak for?

Sara: It’s an examination of our experience with people with developmental delay and what we project onto them. How we try to fit them into our world when they necessarily might not want to fit into it. The way they operate may be preferable or more natural. It’s sort of a look at everyone’s struggle of the idea and less about what somebody who is disabled struggles with. They could be the happiest people in life but because we know what they can’t do, that’s immediately a reason for pity.

As well as I know Rebecca this is all largely hypothesized. I’ll never truly know exactly how she feels about certain things because there’s a huge lack in ability of communicating. Even for me to impose all of this on her is sort of the point of what I’m trying to get across.

Brittany: What do you want audiences walking away with?

Sara: All I want is for them to be affected. I want them to like the play. I want it to not suck (she laughs).

It’s important to come to terms with these things and how we approach certain ideas and how much we force ourselves onto everything. How something isn’t necessarily a certain way because you feel a certain way about it.

The notion of the ease with which any one of us could have ended up with a genetic disorder. How easy it is for all of that to not go according to plan. If it does go according to plan is that necessarily better?

Rapid Fire Questions:

What is your favourite…

Book: Of Human Bondage.

Movie: Recently, Whiplash.

Place to write: Revel Caffe in Stratford.

Place in Toronto: I really like walking along Bloor Street.

Food: Lately it’s been Korean food. I cannot get enough kimchi into my mouth.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Don’t give up, get ready.


Written and performed by Sara Farb. Directed and dramaturged by Richard Greenblatt. A Theatre Passe Muraille production.

RBC TPM Cover Photo

Tickets: PWYC-$33  – Buy here.
Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
Length: 80 min
When: On now until March 1st.

Connect: Sara Farb @SaraFarb
Theatre Passe Muraille @beyondwallsTPM
Brittany Kay @brittanylkay