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“On Creative Process, Being Infatuated with All Things Theatre & Appreciating Being Brave in Different Ways” In Conversation with playwright Rosamund Small on the World Premiere of SISTERS at Soulpepper

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Playwright Rosamund Small spent much of her 2017 reading novels. One of her tasks as part of the Soulpepper Academy, under the guidance of Guillermo Verdecchia, was to find a story to adapt for the stage but it wasn’t until she read Edith Wharton’s novella, Bunner Sisters, that she knew she had the right project.

The long short story follows two sisters that run a shop together in 19th century New York City. They work together selling pieces at the front of the shop while sharing a living space in the confined quarters in the back of the shop. And when one sister is given a clock for her birthday, the story begins.

We spoke with Rosamund Small, covering everything from her creative process to her present infatuation with all things theatre-related, in light of the world premiere of her play Sisters at Soulpepper Theatre, on stage now until September 16th.


MR: What was it that you were most curious about with this story? What made you think definitely this one?

RS: It has twists and turns that were shocking to read. I mean really shocking. It’s a cliché to say things about it being a page-turner, but it really is. I think what grabbed me from the moment I opened it, is that the very first thing that happens is the older sister buys a birthday present for the younger sister, and it’s a clock. And their lives are made so beautiful by this clock. It’s the biggest deal to have a clock and to be able to know what time it is.

It brought me into it in the sense that, that’s a world; you have one counter and one bed and one clock, and that’s all you have. The stakes of that world are very high, right? The closeness to having nothing. And on the flip side, there is the joy when anything shifts for the better. It’s very extreme.

Sisters

MR: Adaptation seems like a natural fit for you, because you seem to have a history of working with things that already exist. Would you say that it felt natural?

RS: I would, and I think for some people an adaptation is ‘how do I put this book on stage’ and sometimes it’s more like an abbreviation. I thought of this as a collaboration with the material. I’d also say it’s a radical rewrite. It’s an interpretation. So I get to bring what I find curious about the story, what I find curious to add to the story, my own sense of rhythm and humour, and kind of blatantly transform things about it into what I think they should be, and what I think makes it the most dramatic. I don’t feel like I adhere to the limits of the material if I don’t want to.

MR: All of your projects seem very specific, what draws you in to a project?

RS: I was just thinking how I have the world’s weirdest resume. My resume has that I worked for the show Workin’ Moms on CBC, and worked with a ballet company. It’s just very all over the place. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way at all, I think in some ways it means I don’t know myself. But I get attracted to the most random things, and I’m very fortunate also to have support and collaboration to commit to a project for a long period of time. This play has taken a year, and it’s the shortest timeline I’ve ever worked on for a play. Vitals took two years, Tomorrowlove took over two years, so I have that time to look at source material or ideas and collaborate with people. But I need something to bounce off of. Whether I’m bouncing off realities, interviews, a novel, whatever it is, I need something to hit up against, that I can add to. That can be very helpful. Limitations are very useful.

MR: If every work you do is so different, how would you define your voice? There’s got to be something about you that makes it yours, and I’m curious if you have a definition or something you always come back to?

RS: I think it’s the search for companionship. A search for connection. Even Occupy [Performing Occupy Toronto], back in the day, I thought I was doing something about politics, and of course inherently I was, but actually, I was interested in people gathering and the impossibility and the hope that everyone will be able to connect and move forward and get along with each other. I think that brings me through all of my work.

This work is about two people who are in a way living their lives right next to each other and yet there’s a gap between them, there’s a distance between them, even though they’re physically close and they’re siblings. I find the complexities of human relationships pretty consistently compelling.

Sisters

MR: Now that you are seeing the project on its feet, how does it feel? Is it what you imagined, have they done things with it you could never have pictured?

RS: There are always things you can’t picture. I’d be really disappointed if it was exactly as I imagined it. That’s the theatre, right?

MR: What did you learn about yourself as a writer through this adaptation, something you uncovered or learned through the process?

RS: I think that less is more. I’m learning over and over again that the moments I’m going to script should not leap off the page in their completion because the actors are their completion. A play is not meant to be the full experience. Leaving those gaps and leaving those spaces for where an inhale, or a tilt of the head, or a self-conscious tug of a shirt that the actor will do without planning, is going to say more than a monologue, you know? Just reminding myself over and over that this is not for a reader, this is for someone to inhabit and observe and participate in. I mean this is Drama 101, I’m saying things that everyone learns in their first anything, but then you learn it again and again.

MR: What are you excited about with this production of Sisters?

RS: I’m excited about everything. One: that it will be beautiful. It sounds beautiful, looks beautiful. It’s also a celebration of beauty in lots of ways. These characters are interested in finding a more beautiful life and in a deeper sense of that word, in finding something glorious and celebratory and delicate about life, when they don’t have a lot of things in life that they can feel that way about. One of them goes to an orchestra and experiences that, and it’s such a profound moment for that character. I think theatre is beautiful, so there’s sort of a meta-theatrical element of seeing people engage with art on stage because the sisters are experiencing art, so we are watching them experience that.

I’m honestly really excited by the performances. It’s not a paint by numbers script, it’s a very challenging piece of work with a lot of complicated subtext, and the depth of the performances is amazing to watch. I feel like I learned so much just watching them.

While being nervous, there’s nothing I’m not excited for.

Sisters

MR: How do you feel when you look back on your work at this point in your career?

RS: I’ve obviously learned a lot, and there’s a lot of eye-rolling about bad writing habits, or self-indulgent writing habits. But there was also a time in my life where I was a certain kind of brave that I’m not now, and now I’m a certain kind of brave I didn’t use to be. I think you have to appreciate the fact that you change.

MR: What inspires you today?

RS: I’m always inspired by Anika and Britta (Johnson). They’ve got a show coming up, Dr. Silver. The word ‘immersive’ gets around a lot, but they’ve really pushed it so that it’s really a communal experience, it’s like a spiritual experience that I think speaks to their relationship with music, and I think the spiritual connection they have with music.

I’m inspired right now by a lot of books – I’m reading Miranda July’s book, The First Bad Man.

MR: Very, very crazy.

RS: It’s insane!

MR: It’s so brave

RS: It’s so brave, it’s so nice because you write something and you think ‘that’s bad, that’s insanity,’ but then you read someone else’s insanity and you think ‘that’s so great!’

I’m also in a really lovey-dove phase with art and with theatre. A friend of mine said I was a theatre mom. I’m like, ‘look at them up there just risking it all! Look at this volunteer handing out programs! The world is so beautiful, can you believe this?’

I’ve just been off the charts positive and excited for everyone and all of it, all of the time. So it’s a bit much, to be honest. I’ll probably crash soon.

MR: I love that you love theatre so much. I sometimes wonder if everyone is just going to leave for TV.

RS: I think it’s important to take breaks. I was working elsewhere, right? I was working on a television show, and while I loved that as well, and the break from that is going to bring me back to television, the grass is always greener. It was the same when I went traveling for six months. I came back and stuff I’ve been complaining about for years, I was now like, ‘this is an amazing theatre! I love this theatre. I love how cute and broken the seats are.’

But it’s nice. I’m hoping to cling to the feeling because it won’t last forever. You can’t love something that much every hour of the day. It’s just not possible and that’s all part of it.

Sisters

Sisters

Who:
Rosamund Small, Playwright
Cast:
KEVIN BUNDY, Mr. Ramy
LAURA CONDLLN, Ann
NICOLE POWER, Evelina
ELLORA PATNAIK, Puffed Sleeves Lady
RAQUEL DUFFY, Nun
KAREN ROBINSON, Mrs. Mellins

Production:
PETER PASYK, Director
MICHELLE TRACEY, Set Designer
ERIKA CONNOR, Costume Designer
KIMBERLY PURTELL, Lighting Designer
RICHARD FEREN, Composer & Sound Designer
MONICA DOTTOR, Choreographer
GUILLERMO VERDECCHIA, Dramaturg
DIANE PITBLADO, Dialect Coach
KELLY MCEVENUE, Alexander Coach
SARAH MILLER, Stage Manager
ANDREA BAGGS, Assistant Stage Manager
DAVID BEN, Magic Consultant
KATHLEEN JONES, Apprentice Stage Manager

What:
Ann and Evelina have created a little corner for themselves in New York at the turn of the century. When a handsome clockmaker comes to call, the powerful bonds of sisterhood are put to the test. Inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winner Edith Wharton’s pioneering novella, Sisters shows us hidden heroism in everyday life.

Where:
Soulpepper Theatre
50 Tank House Lane
Toronto

When:
On stage now until September 16th.

Tickets:
soulpeppertheatre.ca

Connect: 
@smallrosamund
@soulpepper

 

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Artist Profile: Rosamund Small, Playwright of Outside The March’s “TomorrowLove”

Interview by Brittany Kay

Rosamund Small has always been the most kind-hearted and generous artist that I know in this city. Her passion and love for her craft is always apparent. She is insanely smart, courageous and incredibly funny, which always shines through in her work. We sat down over nachos to talk about her current show TomorrowLove, which opens tonight with Outside the March. We talk about the magic in site-specific/immersive work, her writing process and the much anticipated experience audiences will have in this fantastical show.

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

Rosamund Small: The show is called TomorrowLove. It’s an immersive experience with Outside the March. It’s about love and it’s set in many different versions in the very near future, where one piece of amazing technology exists. Everything else is pretty much the same as our world except for just one thing. It’s about exploring different relationships and how this one thing activates change in the way that two people relate to each other. Sometimes it ends up bringing people closer together and sometimes it pushes them further apart. TomorrowLove touches on a lot of things to do with love and identity and sometimes consent and sometimes loss. The dream is that it will be a varied experience no matter what. There’s a lot of material and the idea is that you’ll wander through this futuristic environment and find yourself in these different stories.

BK: So things are happening…

RS: Simultaneously. There are multiple things happening at the same time. I think sometimes immersive theatre is structured so that you purposefully miss things. You miss whole stories, you miss the beginning, and you miss the end. In TomorrowLove, you grasp an entire story. It’s short but it’s complete, and then there’s another one and another one. It’s quite curated and carefully put together to make sure that you get the entire narrative and then a different entire narrative.

Photo by Neil Silcox

Photo by Neil Silcox

BK: Can you talk about this lottery system the actors are going to take part in each night? There are so many layers to this experience!

RS: So many layers! It’s got a lot going on underneath in terms of how the show is put together. One really exciting thing that we came across is that I wrote all of the characters to be gender blind, so they are not necessarily man or woman. I just didn’t make that decision when I was writing it.

Typically we have really gendered stories about anything from a break up to sexual violence to anything really to do with how two people relate in a relationship. Those stories can be super valuable, but in this case I wanted to sort of push out of those ideas and explore the idea that if I didn’t know the gender of the person, how would I navigate that in the writing? The characters have genders because whatever actor is playing them inhabits their gender, but that, I think, is part of a larger piece of the feeling of the show. It’s about the self and the individual and what is innate to you and how did you end up in your life?

There is also an aspect of the show where every night there’s a lottery and the actors get assigned their roles.

BK: So the actors have to learn a lot of material?

RS: Yeah.

BK: Shit, that’s fun. Cool!

RS: That is the reaction I’m hoping for: “That’s fun!” I hope they all say that. I think it’s going to be one of those things that ends up being really fun and then really hard and you cry and then it gets really fun again. All of the actors are going to be learning about as much as Hamlet or a little more, in terms of numbers of lines

BK: Wow!

RS: They are also playing different people, so they’ll inhabit very different stories. In one sense, in a lot of theatre, you feel like you want to rehearse and rehearse until you’ve hit something, but in another way that sense of rehearsal can take away from a sort of urgency or hopefully a sense of live-ness that I think we’re finding. It’s a big risk, obviously. They’ll be rehearsed. Their scene partner will be changing. Their goals will be changing. I think the experiences intrinsically will be a little bit out of control. Where you end up is a little bit out of your control. That’s a really big theme of the show.

Photo by Neil Silcox

Photo by Neil Silcox

BK: How did you start writing this? How did this idea come to be?

RS: I started working on it about two years ago. In a way it started because Mitchell Cushman and I wanted to work on another project together. It took us a really long time to shape what that would be. We had some specific goals. We wanted to make theatre that would appeal to people that often don’t go to the theatre. That’s kind of a tenant of a lot of theatre companies, but definitely of OTM. He’s really generous and I think he really wanted to create something that was my voice. It’s not like it was going to be something that he would come up with and I would execute. He really wanted to do something that we both felt really passionately about.

We started with short stories about sex. The idea to push them into a place that couldn’t quite happen was the next thing, so then you end up in the world of technology. For me, personally, I realized that the idea of a show about technology doesn’t really interest me because I think about technology a lot in a literal way. I can think about my phone and what it means but I think this show is more of a metaphorical access point to that. The pieces of technology are very nearly possible, in fact, I think a few of them have become more possible since I’ve started writing them.

BK: What kind of technology are we talking here?

RS: One is an implant that you can get that prevents you from saying certain things that you really want to make sure you never say… so you don’t let something slip, which obviously has huge implications for relationships. Another one is you can choose to show your partner an extended montage of all of your memories. Another one is an online chatting app that actually finds you your soul mate. Another one is you can get a piece of someone’s DNA put into a little mixture and inject it into yourself so that you can experience their emotions.

BK: Why site-specific and immersive for this show?

RS: I think immersive and site-specific theatre is very magical because you immediately don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s very much how I feel about all relationships. I think how I feel about progress and technology is really surprising and personal. Immersive theatre really lends itself to heightening that experience. Sometimes people have an idea of immersive theatre being scary or that it’s going to put you on the spot or make you uncomfortable and I think, in a lot of ways, it’s the opposite of that. It’s an invitation to this world.

Photo by Neil Silcox

Photo by Neil Silcox

BK: I know a lot of your plays has been verbatim or immersive in their nature and presentation. What draws you to that kind of work? What makes you keep doing this?

RS: It’s funny because TomorrowLove is such a departure from that. This is heightened and fiction.

The draw to documentary and to interviews and to Vitals (which was fiction but really well researched) is that the world is really interesting. I would always advise writers who were stuck in their writing or were just starting to write, to think about starting there because it grounds you in the way that people actually talk and the way that things actually happen. You put so much of your heart and yourself into your documentary work but a lot of the time people don’t know that because they assume it’s more distant from you. I think, for this piece, it’s scary because it’s going to be really hard to hide that the characters and observations are going to seem like they are from me.

BK: What was your process to write this script?

RS: This is such a boring answer because it’s such a writer answer: I would just start. A lot of it is really just like improvisation except I was writing it down. I would just go. I would always go for a relationship problem or a change in a relationship or a relationship crisis and then ask how would a piece of technology either begin that or change that or heighten that? So I never made up a piece of technology and wrote the play to go with it. I started to write the story and then the necessary technology would merge into the story.

There are definitely pieces that are inspired from things that have happened to me or to people that I’ve loved. I think all writers steal shamelessly. They are much more me, honestly. They are much more from my own questions about people. Fiction is so embarrassing, somehow.

BK: The audience is invited to the Aorta? What is that?

RS:

BK: Ahh, a mystery?

RS: (she smiles.)

BK: Love that. How are your actors rehearsing this show?

RS: There has to be more than one thing rehearsing at once because there is so much material. They are all crazy pros. These artists are really, truly the real deal and really experienced, as well as being really good. They are like a crazy dream. It’s a real ensemble. So we’re reading the pieces, we’re doing the pieces, and we’re trading off because there will be more than one actor playing every part. There’s a bit of a tap in tap out mentality going on. We also have two amazing assistant directors (Llyandra Jones and Griffin McInnes) and Mitchell and myself. We’re all “do-si-do”ing the rehearsal process.

Photo by Neil Silcox

Photo by Neil Silcox

BK: Are there any fears or excitements for this show?

RS: No.

I’m joking. I’m joking so hard.

I think the fears and the excitements are always the same thing. The fear and the excitement is that I think the pieces are very vulnerable. The characters are in really vulnerable places. I feel very vulnerable. They’re really raw, sometimes in a comedic sense and sometimes in a tragic sense with really painful experiences. So the fear and the excitement is about sharing that, but that’s also such a part of theatre and such a part of love.

BK: What’s your working relationship like with Mitchell Cushman? How did you guys meet? What makes you want to continue to collaborate with him?

RS: We met at the Paprika Festival. He was working there and I was one of the oldest participants. He directed a staged reading of mine in the festival and so that’s the first time we worked together really. I think you can tell immediately when you work with someone like him that you can just trust him. You can trust him to be honest. You can trust him with your work. Actors trust him. He’s just a really sort of subtly supportive and reassuring person, you know? You also trust him because it’s so obvious how wicked smart he is.

He saw a little bit of Vitals and he asked to direct it and we turned it into Outside The March doing this huge production of it. It was incredible. It’s a very close working relationship. We’re really in each other’s business. It’s not like I write the script and he directs the show, it’s very collaborative. We argue and we compromise and we work really well together. I’m incredibly lucky to work with someone like that and to work with our whole team, as well.

BK: Why Outside The March for your show?

RS: I think the short answer is because this is the kind of work that Mitchell wants to develop with the company. I remember when I saw their production of Mr. Marmalade and it blew my mind. I was like this is the kind of theatre that I want to do.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from this show?

RS: That’s hard because you can’t really control it, no matter how hard you try. I hope they experience some empathy and have been entertained. I think entertainment is really undervalued as a quality. Not thoughtlessly, but entertained. I think it depends what kind of person you are – if you are interested in a mind-bending puzzle, you might be interested in crazy technology and its implications, if you’ve been through a break up, it might stir some things up, might make you think about your own life or it might just be an experience that you leave behind you at the door. I just hope for something.

Rapid Fire Question Round

Favourite Book: What? That isn’t fun, that’s so hard.

Favourite Play: What? What is this? Like which is your favourite parent Brittany?

Favourite Food: Pizza. Is that a boring answer? It’s why I moved to Little Italy.

Favourite Place in Toronto: The Island, Ward’s Island specifically.

What are you listening to: I’m leaning heavily into this Carly Rae Jepsen album “Emotion”. It’s like really good… Love good pop music!

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: Katherine Cullen once told me, “When you feel like you just can’t go on and something terrible has happened, it’s really important to just go to bed and wake up tomorrow.” We can fall asleep and escape and wake up and something will be recharged in us. It’s amazing.

TomorrowLove

by Rosamund Small, Presented by Outside The March

unnamed-2

Who:
Written by Rosamund Small
Directed and Developed by Mitchell Cushman

Ensemble
Damien Atkins
Katherine Cullen
Paul Dunn
Amy Keating
Cyrus Lane
Mayko Nguyen
Oyin Oladejo
Anand Rajaram

Producer – Michelle Yagi
Stage Manager – Kate Sandeson
Production Manager/Technical Director – Alanna McConnell
Scenic Design – Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting Design – Nick Blais
Costume Design – Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Composition and Sound Design – Richard Feren
Choreographer – Robert Binet

Associate Director – Llyandra Jones
Associate Director – Griffin McInnes
Associate Production Manager – David Costello
Apprentice Stage Manager – Kate Hennigar
Assistant Producer – Deanna Galati
Front of House and Group Sales Manager – Sabah Haque
Assistant Choreographer – Cassandra Martin
Production Consultant – Katherine Devlin Rosenfeld
Publicist – Samantha Eng

What:
An intimate immersive encounter that imagines the future of romantic connection.

Navigate your way through a series of simultaneously-unfolding duets, in which innovations in technology grant physical transformation, time and space travel, immortality, the extraction of the human soul, and a fridge that expands to hold infinite groceries—all in the name of love.

If you roll over in bed and reach for your iPhone, if you store more memories on your feed than in your brain, if you’ve ever longed to upgrade yourself or your partner, then welcome to TomorrowLove™.

From the creative team behind Vitals (2014 Dora Awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding New Play).

Where:
The Aorta (733 Mt Pleasant Rd)

When:
Show runs from From November 19 – December 18 (Mondays excluded)

Tickets:
Tickets: $40 General, $30 for under 30/arts workers http://tomorrowlove.brownpapertickets.com/

Connect:
w: outsidethemarch.ca
fb: /OutsideTheMarch
t: @outsidethemarch
ig: @outside_the_march

 

On Our Radar TO: Fall in Love with Toronto Theatre this Month

 

Whether it’s with your family, friends, lover, significant-other or you’re treatin’ yo self, we’ve listed our different date suggestions for these lusted-after February shows plus some February events we’re swooning over! These shows are On Our Radar, Toronto, and we think you should Fall in Love With Theatre all over again this February! 

Genesis & Other Stories

Written by Rosamund Small, presented by Aim for the Tangent Theatre

Genesis 2014 Promo Photo #1

Did the nudie promo pictures convince you yet? If you didn’t catch Genesis & Other Stories in their sold-out run in last summer’s Fringe Festival, lucky for you they have brought it back for a February re-mount in the Red Sandcastle Theatre after a revised run in the Hamilton Fringe. If you did catch it, you know you’ll want to see it again! Laugh-out-loud funny, thought-provoking and feel-good family fun… well… It’ll get you talking!

This is our On the Laugh-track to Love date recommendation.

Check out our interview we did with playwright Rosamund Small to find out more about the show. https://inthegreenroom.ca/2013/06/25/we-chat-with-rosamund-small-writer-of-genesis-other-stories/

“After his father’s death, Christopher, a theology student, leads a misfit cast of amateur actors in a production of his late father’s play: a hyper-sexed version of Adam and Eve set in 1960’s USA.  Slapstick, satire, and meta-theatre frame a surprisingly complex story about lonely people trying to fill roles that do not suit us. Christopher tries to convince everyone including himself that he is committed to his religion and its strict views on sexuality, and capable of directing and producing his father’s bizarre script. Despite everyone’s best intentions, a break up, forgotten lines, and a crisis of faith conspire to sabotage the production. The primary focus of Genesis is on laughter, but the show is only funny because of the pain and struggle of Chris and the other characters. A hilarious romp that is sure to get you thinking, whether you’re religious, theatrical, or somewhere in between.”

Genesis Promo Photo #2

“Comically disastrous… very funny. Things could only go worse if the theatre collapsed.” – Jon Kaplan, NOW Magazine

Where: RED Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen Street East)
When: February 5th-15th Wednesday-Friday 8pm, Saturdays 7pm & 9pm
Tickets: $15 at the Door, $10 in Advance at www.totix.ca or call (416) 845-9411
For more information, visit: www.aimforthetangent.com

Shrew

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, presented by Red One Theatre Collective

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Killer cast, intriguing promotional poster, “puppetry & Vaudeville charm” set in the Klondike? After being big fans of After Miss Julie, we’re excited to see what Red One Theatre brings us next and Shrew seems to be just the ticket.

This is our Rowdy Buddies at the Shakespeare Show date recommendation.

“The beautiful and gentle Bianca has no shortage of admirers, but her mother insists that she will not marry until her older sister, Katharina, is betrothed. The only problem is that Katharina is the wildest, loudest, maddest shrew in the Klondike. It’s a low-down showdown with honky-tonk, puppetry, slapstick, and Vaudeville charm, and one of these gunslingers will either go broke or strike gold.

In his directorial debut, rising Stratford Festival star and RedOne Theatre veteran Tyrone Savage gathers together Toronto’s premier emerging talents for the first time in this one-of-a-kind production.”

Where: The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor Street West)
When: February 15th – March 2nd, 2014 8pm (Sunday PWYC Matinees – 2pm)
Tickets: $19.99 Advance tickets available @ www.secureaseat.com

The Way Back to Thursday

Written by Rob Kempson, presented by Theatre Passe Muraille

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Call your Grandma, call your mother… Hell, call EVERYONE and take them to the theatre this month. Rob Kempson has written a charming, funny and moving musical about unconditional love that will have you beaming one minute and reaching for a box of tissues the next.

This is our Reconnecting With Family date recommendation.

“Inspired by the traditional song cycle form, The Way Back to Thursday is a musical about unconditional love that crosses generations, genders and lifetimes.

Cameron and his Grandmother have a special tradition – movie nights every Thursday.  Together they escape into the glamour and romance of the Golden Age of film.  But as Cameron grows, so does the distance between them.”

stage-wayback-0130_large

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson)
When: Now to February 8th
Tickets: Pwyc-$32.50. 416-504-7529

The Ugly One

Written by Marius von Mayenburg, translated by Maja Zade. Co-production by Theatre Smash and Tarragon Theatre

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Sharp, odd, hilarious and the tightest staging, design and performances that we’ve seen in one show in a while – The Ugly One is a must-see before it closes mid-February. We can’t and we won’t stop chatting about it. Theatre Isn’t Dead said it perfectly: “Non-theatre folks will dig it too. I can almost promise that.” –Blog Theatre Isn’t Dead.

We deem this our Theatrical Rejuvenation date aka. Win-over-that-friend-who-is-too-cool-for-theatre-with-the-cool-theatre-show date recommendation.

“You can’t sell anything with that face.” A razor sharp satire about getting ahead in the world. With mesmerizing speed, this award-winning work by one of Germany’s hottest playwrights catapults us into a narcissistic world obsessed with beauty, image and plastic surgery.”

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Where: Tarragon Theatre Extra Space
When: Now until February 16th
Tickets: http://tarragontheatre.com/season/1314/the-ugly-one/

Of Mice and Morro and Jasp

Created and performed by Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, presented by U.N.I.T. Productions and Factory Theatre

OF MICE

U.N.I.T. Productions is excited to announce the remount of Of Mice and Morro and Jasp!

Morro and Jasp feel the pinch of the recent economic downturn and decide to try to make ends meet by staging John Steinbeck’s classic tale Of Mice and Men. Can the clown sisters stick to the story? Will they both make it out alive? This winter, find out for yourself!

This is our Friends Until The End date recommendation.

Where: Factory Studio Theatre
When: Jan 28 to Feb 8, Tue-Sat 8PM, Thur 1PM, Sat 2PM
Tickets: $25 Regular Price / $20 Student, Senior, Arts Worker PWYC Preview Jan 28 www.factorytheatre.ca 416-504-9971

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Read our latest interview with Co-creators & performers Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee here: https://inthegreenroom.ca/2014/01/29/of-mice-and-morro-and-jasp/

Idiot’s Delight

Written by Robert E. Sherwood, presented by Soulpepper Theatre

Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster, Hailey Gillis, Gregory Prest & Dan Chameroy. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Hailey Gillis, Gregory Prest & Dan Chameroy. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

With 1920’s flair, song, dance and love amongst wartime, this is our Indulging in Delights date recommendation.

“A cast of wonderfully eccentric and international guests – countesses, arms dealers, showgirls, revolutionaries, charlatans and lovers – spend a fateful weekend in a resort hotel in the Italian Alps. While songs are sung and dances danced and loves rekindled, the dark clouds of war come rolling in.”

Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts
When: January 29th – March 1st
Tickets: http://soulpepper.ca/performances/14_season/Idiot’s_Delight.aspx

Read our latest Artist Profile with Paolo Santalucia & Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster “From Academy to Company in Soulpepper’s “Idiot’s Delight” here: https://inthegreenroom.ca/artist-profiles/

the dreamer examines his pillow

By John Patrick Shanley, presented by JR Theatre Company

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the dreamer examines his pillow is a surreal, intimate look at the beautiful and dark forces of love. The play explores the aftermath of love, whether it’s after an explosive affair between two lovers, or the dwindling, harsh lack of love from a widowed father to his daughter. Poetic, lyrical and rough – the dreamer examines his pillow is one of contemporary theatre’s finest looks at intimacy and need. It sounds to us like the perfect antithesis to Hallmark’s version of Valentine’s Day!

This is our Dark Surrealist Valentine’s Day date recommendation.

Where: The Box Toronto (89 Niagara Street)
When: February 7th-16th Fridays & Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm
Tickets: dreamer.brownpapertickets.com 

LABOUR

Written by Eric Welch and Ryan Welch. Based on the original short story by Ryan Welch with further realization by The Coyote Collective Company, presented by Coyote Collective

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LABOUR looks at the Sisyphean life of factory day-workers, who see no choices but to go to work every day, and have resigned themselves to a life of the same. For these four characters, commodification has completely changed the way they think about life, love, and happiness.

This is our Socially Conscious date recommendation.

Where: Theatre Passe-Muraille Backspace
When: February 5th to the 9th. 5th-7th 7:30pm, 8th 2pm & 7:30pm, 9th 2pm
Tickets: $20, Student/Senior $15, PWYC: Saturday, February 8th 2:00pm, Opening and Media Night: Wednesday, February 5th
Tickets available for purchase at artsboxoffice.ca or at the door. 

Events We’re Crushin’ On:

The 35th Rhubarb Festival

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Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents their 35th annual festival of new works in contemporary theatre, performance art, dance, and music. For two weeks artists transform the Buddies neighbourhood into a hotbed of experimentation, sharing new works in contemporary theatre, performance art, dance, and music with adventure-loving audiences.

New to the festival this year is a new series of Open Space Projects will animate unexpected spaces around the Buddies neighbourhood and make new artistic connections between five historic queer institutions here in Toronto.

When: February 12th-23rd
Where: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre & around the neighbourhood
Tickets: Open Space Projects & Artist Talks – Free
Young Creators Unit – PWYC
Week One Mainstage Projects – $10
Week Two Evening Passes – $20

Roar

Written & performed by Spencer Charles Smith, presented by Straight Camp

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“Roar – a solo play about beefy, burly, brawny love”

SYNOPSIS – A boy’s campy quest for furry love, Spencer will explore his unapologetic desire for ‘bearish’ men, critique the problematic spectrum of identities within the Bear community (Bear, Cub, Otter, Panda, Muscle-Bear, etc.) and hopefully deconstruct notions of hegemonic masculinity.

Above all, it’s a love letter.

This is a staged-reading of Spencer’s latest draft of Roar and he is eager to hear your feedback. A talk-back will follow the presentation. And drinks. Featuring a special pre-show presentation: “Kid: A Queer Fable”, written, illustrated and performed by Katie Sly

Where: Videofag (187 Augusta Ave)
When: Wednesday February 5th 8pm, Thursday February 6th 8pm
Tickets: PWYC (at the door)

Theatre on a Theme: Love

Conceived and Directed by Drew O’Hara, presented by Everybody to the Theatre Company

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“Six actors, 18 theatre pieces that vary in length from 10 minutes to 10 seconds. What do you get? A hilarious, heart-wrenching, fast-paced, occasionally musical, exciting night at the theatre. Following the success of Theatre on a Theme: FAILURE, the Everybody to the Theatre Company gang will bring you Theatre on a Theme: LOVE, just in time for Valentine’s Day.”

Where: Unit 102 Theatre (376 Dufferin Street)
When: Sunday February 23rd 2pm & 8pm
Tickets: http://www.eventbrite.ca/o/everybody-to-the-theatre-company-4737180757?s=20682528

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope”

Written by Ian Doescher, presented by Red One Theatre Collective and Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl

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A one-night only staged reading of the classic sci-fi epic told in the Bard’s style.

“This sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The Saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.” This is the play you are looking for. Lightsaber fights included! Themed drinks/food/entertainment too – say whaaat!

Where: The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor Street West)
When: February 7th Doors at 7pm, Show at 8pm
Tickets
: $10 in advance online www.secureaseat.com or $15 at the door. 

The Howland Company Reading Group – February:

February 9th Charles Mee’s “Big Love”, February 23rd Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem”

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“Bi-weekly, The Howland Company hosts an open event called The Reading Group, where artists are encouraged to gather, meet, reconnect and work with fellow members of the Toronto theatre community and ultimately read a play together.

The readings are a laid-back, social way to work with peers and continue to develop our craft. Scripts are provided and parts are assigned and exchanged on the fly. All are welcome to participate in reading or sit back and listen.”

Check out the history of The Reading Group, including all plays past and future, at: http://howlandcompanytheatre.com/the-reading-group/.

For event updates: https://www.facebook.com/TheHowlandCompanyTheatre

When: Sunday February 9th & Sunday February 23rd 7:30pm
Where: Location is posted on the Facebook Event page: https://www.facebook.com/TheHowlandCompanyTheatre
Tickets: Free

A SummerWorks Chat with Simon Bloom, Director of “Murderers Confess at Christmastime”

Interview by: Ryan Quinn

We sat down with Simon Bloom to discuss SummerWorks premiers, storytelling, developing new work and the exploration of intimacy and vulnerability in his latest directorial project with Outside the March, Murderers Confess at Christmastime.

RQ: I’m here with Simon Bloom, director of Murderers Confess at Christmastime, premiering at SummerWorks this year.

SB: Yeah, it’s the world premiere. It was workshopped before at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. The playwright, Jason Chinn, is from Alberta, so it has undergone a workshop there, but this is the first full-scale production of the show.

RQ: Do you want to tell me a little bit about it?

SB: Absolutely! Muderers Confess at Christmastime is three interwoven stories that all take place twelve days before Christmas, and they all deal with murder in some capacity. The play is really about people who are fundamentally unhappy with their lives who live in a fantasy, or illusion. But, by the very act of trying to live in that fantasy, both the fantasy and the reality kind of collapse in and upon themselves. I think the reason Jason chose to set the play around Christmas is that it’s such a time that we perceive as being happy, but it really tends to make a lot of people feel melancholy and sad. It’s kind of like Valentine’s Day in that way. For some people, Valentine’s Day is great. For others, it reminds them of how lonely they are. I would say that all the characters in this play are fundamentally lonely, and reaching out to find some sort of a connection.

RQ: So, you’re premiering at SummerWorks. You premiered Terminus at SummerWorks, as well as Mr. Marmalade. What is it about SummerWorks that’s attractive to a company like Outside the March?

SB: I think one of the most impressive things about the SummerWorks festival is that it kind of promotes a sort of communication between early-career artists, mid-career artists, and professional artists. It presents you with the opportunity to approach more professional artists about collaborating on a project. For example, when we did Mr. Marmalade, we asked David Storch if he was willing to do it and he said yes. Also, we’ve had the chance to work with Tony Nappo and Harry Judge, some more established local actors. I just think that this festival offers you a really strong opportunity to showcase work. Those are the two reasons why I think SummerWorks is so valuable. And, just the kinds of audiences that come out to these shows, they’re smart audiences, really critical in a good way. It’s a really exciting festival, and really well-run.

RQ: Do you find that those approaches have changed since you went in with Mr. Marmalade, that you now have people approaching you?

SB: I think that since Mitchell and I started the company as fledgling artists coming out of our undergraduate degrees and we started Outside the March, it really felt like we were on the outside looking in. We really wanted to connect with people. And, because of the success of Marmalade and Terminus, it’s really opened up opportunities for us to work with artists who have said “we really enjoyed some of your previous work”, where we could say “if there’s a place for you in our next show, we’d love to have you”. That’s been really exciting because sometimes an actor will inspire an idea for a project. So, if someone approaches us and is interested in collaborating with us, that may inspire a whole new project for the company. But, at the same time, I think it has always been important for Mitchell and I to keep a core group of people that we work with, like Amy Keating, for example. We really want to continue to foster the growth of our ensemble artists. That’s really important for us, as well.

RQ: What’s exciting to you about this show?

SB: I think one of the things that’s exciting about this show and the trajectory the company is on right now is that Mitchell and I have become very interested in developing new work. After a long period of time of doing established work, we’re starting to branch out. For example, the project we’re doing after Murderers is a new play called Vitals, which Mitchell is directing, and it was written by Rosamund Small, a Toronto-based playwright. So, that’s very exciting for us. The whole process of dramaturging and workshopping a script is very different than working on something that’s already established. It’s opened our eyes to a whole new range of new work we can develop.

RQ: Within the festival atmosphere, there’s an energy that kind of fosters that mutual growth, right?

SB: Absolutely. I think the way Outside the March dovetails with SummerWorks is that idea of ensemble. In SummerWorks, it’s the ensemble of the festival itself, and in Outside the March, it’s the ensemble of artists we want to foster. For example, Jason, who was in Mr. Marmalade, is the playwright for this one. It’s exciting to bring artists back and let them put on different hats.

RQ: So next is Vitals, any other plans?

SB: Well, we’re also touring Terminus, and we’ve been working on The Spoke, which is a live storytelling event that we do at Videofag. We get people to come in and tell stories. We just had a fundraiser for Muderers that was at a Spoke gala event. It’s amazing how intimate it is, it really cuts to the core of what we do as artists, which is tell stories. When they’re deep, personal stories that people are sharing with an audience, it feels like a really genuine shared experience.

RQ: It seems like the theme that keeps coming up is ‘intimacy’, and how to share that isolation that comes with a lack of intimacy.

SB: Oh absolutely. I think in Murderers, there’s definitely a strong sense of people who are desperately searching for intimacy, but feel trapped in their loneliness. I think what makes Jason so unique as a playwright to me is that he has a very bleak but honest and genuine sense of the loneliness in the world. It’s quite raw. It surprises me when I read his work because it reminds me that we don’t see that onstage very often. There’s a sort of authenticity to his writing and a kind of unflinching rigour to represent characters that we so rarely see onstage. It makes watching his plays unbelievably unique, and it makes the voices of his characters also unbelievably unique. It’s safe to say that I’ve never read a play like this in my entire life. For me, it’s been such an amazing, eye-opening experience, to work on something that’s so unabashed. I don’t know how many different kinds of warnings we have on the show, but it’s very raw.

RQ: It seems like we’re in love with taking big shows and putting them in intimate settings, but to take an intimate show and present it in an intimate setting, that can be a tougher pill to swallow.

SB: Definitely. I think that it’s scary in the same way that being intimate with someone is scary. It requires such an extreme amount of vulnerability. I think it gets to the centre of what’s so tough about the actor’s plight. Their vulnerability is what makes them fantastic, but it’s also what can catch them up a little bit because it’s really hard to expose yourself like that to other people. I think that’s what a lot of the characters in this play are doing, both literally and metaphorically. They’re exposing themselves to other people and I think there are consequences to that decision, and not always good ones, unfortunately. I think that, in a way, this play defies narrative structure because it doesn’t fit into the mold of the happy resolution.

RQ: “I was afraid to speak my mind, then I spoke my mind, and now I’m a hero for it.”

SB: Exactly, yeah. If there’s anything that makes the characters in this play heroic, it’s that they’re honest. There’s a kind of “flaws and all” mentality to them. There’s something really beautiful in that, in the kind of loneliness and exposure of someone who’s trying desperately to get something and not being able to get it. I’m speaking vaguely because I don’t want to give away anything that happens in the show. But, I think there’s something really exciting but terrifying about that notion. I think one of the key, key, key things in this project has been the vulnerability that’s been required from everyone involved. The actors, designers, director, just a total exposure.

RQ: How do you approach work that requires that extreme vulnerability?

SB: Professionally. I think the danger you run with a show like this is to take it home with you. While you can always let your personal experiences help support the work you’re doing in the room, you have to be careful to not let that sort of stuff affect you. Without going into specifics, there was an experience that one of our actors had in real life that was very similar to something that happens onstage, and it happened while we were rehearsing the play. The play takes place in three bedrooms, and we were rehearsing one day in her house because we didn’t have a space, and it was this odd “art imitating life” moment. There’s this liminal space between what an actors is doing onstage, and what is happening in their life, and it’s precarious, and it’s the responsibility of the director to make sure the actor always feels safe. I mean, another thing we did for this project, because it’s three different groups for three different scenes, we rehearsed each group individually before coming together as a team. I think it was important for them to reach a comfort level with their partners before we got everybody involved together. It was amazing to watch them all work together for the last time before we dove into performances, it was amazing to see how much they really became an ensemble. That’s such a beautiful moment for me, as a director. Someone once told me that the role of a director is to sit one row further back every day until they’re not in the theatre anymore, and watching them today, I could see them take ownership of the show and come together as an ensemble. I feel like Mary Poppins, like my job is done and I can slide up the bannister and go home.

RQ: You look like a proud father right now!

SB: Yeah! Well, I think the asks on this show are big, but I think everyone went there. That’s all you can really ask. I’m unbelievably proud of them. So, I’m very excited, and very interested to see what the audience’s response is to this show. It will be polarizing. We made one of our venue techs throw up! Well, just a little bit.

RQ: Haha, well, thanks very much, and break legs for your run!

SB: Thanks very much!

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Murderers Confess at Christmastime

A co-production from Outside the March and The Serial Collective
** 18 & Over **

When: August 8th-17th, 2013

Wednesday August 14th @ 5pm

Friday August 16th @ 2:30pm

Saturday August 17th @ 12pm

Where: Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Ave)

Ticketshttp://tickets.ticketwise.ca/event/3767739

For more information on the show & on Outside the March’s upcoming projects, check out their website: http://www.outsidethemarch.ca/

A Play-Within-a-Play-Within-A-Church: We Chat with Rosamund Small, Writer of Genesis & Other Stories at the 2013 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Hallie Seline

I met up with Rosamund Small, writer of Genesis & Other Stories, one of the site-specific productions that you can (and should) check out as part of the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival July 3rd to the 14th. Contrary to what the promo pictures might suggest, should you have seen them tantalizing your facebook walls and twitter accounts, she was fully clothed in a lovely summer outfit, with no cheekily-playful shrubbery keeping her modest. We talked craft beers, excessive amounts of hummus and the world of theatre school and life after on the patio of Grapefruit Moon in the Annex. And then when our hummus plate finally was left bare, we talked about the play she’s been developing for four years and is still apparently re-writing a week before show-time, Genesis & Other Stories…

Genesis Poster

HS: Let’s begin. Talk to me about Genesis & Other Stories.

RS: Genesis is a show that I actually started writing when I was really young. I started writing it when I was seventeen. I had just written my first show that I was really proud of, which is hilarious because I was about fifteen/sixteen at the time, but it had like three jokes in it and people really, really laughed and I thought…

HS: “Am I funny?”

RS: Yeah! Exactly. And I mean, you know, it wasn’t some work of genius but that was in high school and I had never really experienced that very specific high of sitting in an audience, and the moment when every body laughed, you could really know, “oh wait, they are really listening”. So I determined that I wanted to write a really balls-to-the-walls comedy. (She laughs.) It was a really long time ago when I wrote the first version of Genesis & Other Stories and did a performance of it in high school. After that, I continued to work on it for the first time through the Paprika Festival with Damien Atkins as my mentor, who, may I say, is just the most wonderful person. He has such a specific sense of humor, which makes me laugh so much all while he’s being incredibly serious. He was such an inspiring person to work with. All of this was, believe it or not, about four years ago. We did a staged reading at Paprika and the improvements I had made on the script and having done the staged reading with a really solid group of actors, meant that I felt like there was something I could clock about that success.

After that I put it away and didn’t really read it, in fact I didn’t read it for about four years. When I finally looked at it again, all I could think was, “Ah, this doesn’t make any sense. This is dreadful!” I had thought it was so funny and cleaver and then four years later you read it and you’re just like “oh god!” But still, we did a table read of it and by just sort of happenstance, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, who was in the table read playing the main character, who is actually supposed to be a man, (she was great, obviously), was really enthusiastic about it. I don’t know, just her response to it… the fact that she, who is so smart and able to analyze scripts in a very thoughtful way, still really loved it… which for someone who thought after four years that this play didn’t make any sense, it was incredibly inspiring.

So I decided that I would ‘fix’ it, and that’s why we brought it back to Paprika. We teamed up together, Vivien and I. It was really her enthusiasm that made this show go back into development. We worked on it last summer and did another staged reading in January and a production with Paprika in March and even now we are still…

HS: Re-writing?

RS: Yes.

HS: Still?

RS: Yes! Oh my gosh, the obsessive re-writing of this show is… crazy. Like it’s crazy. It’s crazy!

HS: And the show is going up in the next week?

RS: Yup.

HS: Alright!

RS: Well it’s really different now. At first it was like, new scenes and new elements, but now it’s really just about clarifying little tiny moments. I think it’s a testament to the actors and to Vivien and to the fact that we’ve all worked so long on this project together, that usually when the change happens we all think “Oh, good! There it is. That makes more sense” and everyone is on the same page about it.

The Cast of Genesis & Other Stories: Jared W. Bishop, Tess Dingman, Hayden Finkelshtain, Katie Housely, Wesley J. Colford

The Cast of Genesis & Other Stories: Jared W. Bishop, Tess Dingman, Hayden Finkelshtain, Katie Housely, Wesley J. Colford

HS: So the cast you have now, you’ve been working with them throughout your development with the show for the past year?

RS: Yes, since November, so they’ve played a really valuable part of the show’s development of where it is today. I think when you trust your actors, I mean you always have to let them try things out and see what works, but when they ultimately don’t know what they are doing, it’s incredibly helpful for the development of the script.

HS: It gives you a chance to see it fleshed out in front of you and realize when the script really isn’t working.

RS: Yes! Totally.

HS: So, let’s talk about the origin of Genesis & Other Stories. Where did the idea for this play come from?

RS: You mean, why would I write about a Christian play within a play? Well, religion and theatre, I think, are really the two obsessive, kind of crazy, kind of amazing things that I see people really dedicate their whole lives to, so I thought, why not put them together. (She laughs). For example, the idea that when you go on stage, you know, if you fail it’s just terrible and it’s often thought of as being just the worst for an actor. So I thought, well great, let’s talk about that. We have some characters who are all about that, who think “Oh I’ll just look stupid” and that fear underlines everything for them, while we have other characters who are working on this play and thinking “Well if I fail, it’s for the grace of God” and “I care about this play because it’s a part of the other thing that people really dedicate their lives to”. The idea of really having to put yourself on the line and having faith in something is a real unity between a lot of the ways that artists think and the ways that many people who are religious think.

HS: You know, I have never really thought of it like that, but it’s kind of true. It’s funny, we were discussing earlier how theatre can be a little cult-like sometimes and it can almost consume you.

RS: Totally.

HS: Well and I guess with both that and religion, there can be a fine line.

RS: Yeah, I think there is. And I also think that there is a really great parallel of following a script, you know, following text, which you don’t realize as having that kind of power. Which is so funny, because I’m a writer, and in our rehearsal room, the writer is present, you can ask me about the text. But ultimately, the writer isn’t present for most theatre and you’re just supposed to trust how you think and interpret it for your time, which is very similar to a lot of bible conversations. So for this to be a bible play, and for the characters to be arguing about how they should literally be following this bible play was just a very appealing little dynamic for me.

HS: So in a description of the show, it’s labeled as a “romp to get you thinking”…

RS: Oh my. Sounds exciting!

HS: Very! Specifically it’s described as follows: “Slapstick, satire and meta-theatre frame a surprisingly complex story about lonely people trying to fill roles that do not suit us.” Can you talk to me about the roles that humor and pain play in Genesis & Other Stories and about your thoughts on using humor to get to something a little more poignant in your writing?

RS: For sure. I mean up until very recently, and I really mean like February, I thought that comic relief was important in a dark story or it’s important to have pain and comedy next to each other, like there should be a moment of pain and a moment of comedy. We went through these drafts of Genesis & Other Stories where everything would just sort of stop, all of the ‘funny’ would stop and we would have our moment of ‘pain’, then the comedy would start again, and I’ve just really shifted my thinking on that. I think that a real comedy is pain, like it’s all mixed in together. It’s not like you inject the drama or place it in other scenes. Anything that really makes someone laugh from his or her gut is probably about pain. So I’m not equipped or interested in, at this moment in time, writing something that makes anyone in the audience want to cry. That’s not where I’m at right now, particularly. But at the same time, I don’t think comedy is a real escape, at all. It’s like facing something in a way that you feel you actually can face it. It’s the fun-house mirror version of reality, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not completely real.

So the fact there there’s a lot in the play about being in the wrong place, not being able to live up to expectations, not being able to be who you are, like there’s queer themes and gender themes and a lot of things about people being in the wrong role and then literally, on stage in a role where they don’t fit or can’t do, those situations can be funny, even though they can be awful or poignant at the same time.

Genesis & Other Stories - Promo Pic #7

HS: So you are performing at Trinity St. Paul’s United Church. Are you rehearsing in the church, as well, or are you just performing there for the duration of the Fringe Festival?

RS: We’ve rehearsed on and off a few times in the church, but we haven’t been able to be there every day.

HS: Being labeled as a site-specific show, how has being in the church with the show affected your actors or the play, itself, as you’ve said you’re still re-writing?

RS: I think it forces you to face exactly what you’re talking about, you know? I mean it makes you think, “What church is it? Where are you? What’s out the window? How old is it?” All of those hyperrealism elements come into play with site-specific and that has been really great. But it’s also meant that we can’t get away with anything cheap. I’m not interested in making fun of all religion and I’m not interested in making fun of Christianity, in particular, even. You really want to make fun of a very specific moment and a very specific character with a specific belief and so performing in an actual church has really heightened that kind of specificity for this story. In terms of the actors, I think to have them doing a play in an environment where plays aren’t really ‘supposed’ to be done, they’ve had to work so hard just to make that work, which they do, I think. It’s going to be totally theatrically valid, especially because of Vivien’s work, but it’s just because they are so used to thinking “Well, the lights will light me in a way that draws attention to me” and now it’s like, no, if you’re not good enough, no one will even know what you’re doing. So, yeah, they’ve really risen to that challenge in a fantastic way.

HS: What do you think someone can hope to get out of seeing Genesis & Other Stories that that they, perhaps, might not be expecting?

RS: I think probably that it will be really inclusive, I hope. I only say this because Performing Occupy Toronto, which was my last play, most of the response that I received from people is how they really expected it to be incredibly preachy or politically, it would be really one-sided, and I didn’t speak to anyone who felt misrepresented or angry or that their perspective was really left out of the show, so I hope that I am able to repeat that. I really hope that this play incorporates respectful perspectives from very religious people, from atheists, from somewhat religious people. I hope that will be what people can walk away with, unexpectedly, maybe… that everyone feels included. I think when you’re satirizing something, especially something like religion, or politics et cetera, it gets people’s backs up quite immediately, and I really like people to be surprised by the fact that you can have a thoughtful conversation in art and it doesn’t have to be anger-inducing. It can be thoughtful and enjoyable. I really think this is the case.

HS: Fantastic. Lastly, what song would you encourage your audience members to listen to before coming to see Genesis & Other Stories?

RS: William Tell Overture.

HS: And with that, we’ll see you at the Fringe in a church!

RS: See you at the Fringe in a church.

Genesis & Other Stories - Promo Pic #3

 
What: GENESIS & OTHER STORIES by Rosamund Small, directed by Vivien Endicott-Douglas, a production by Aim for the Tangent Theatre
 
When: The Toronto Fringe Festival – July 3rd to 14th, Weeknight and Saturday shows at 9pm, Sunday shows at 8pm
** With a special Pay-What-You-Can Preview Performance Friday June 28th at 8pm.**
 
Where: Trinity St. Paul’s United Church, 427 Bloor Street West
 
For more information visit http://www.aimforthetangent.com/genesis-other-stories/
 
Tickets: Purchase by phone or online – 416-966-1062 or http://fringetoronto.com/ 
 
Check out the trailer for Genesis & Other Stories here: 
 

Staging a Rebellion: An Interview with Docket Theatre’s Artistic Director Llyandra Jones

Staging a Rebellion: An Interview with Docket Theatre’s Artistic Director Llyandra Jones

June 19, 2012

By: Hallie Seline

Docket Theatre is an independent non-profit theatre company based in downtown Toronto. Its mandate is to “produce innovative and socially relevant work by emerging artists, while keeping theatre alive in a world overwhelmed with media entertainment”. Tocelebrate its fourth consecutive season, Docket Theatre is producing its first double-bill this summer at the Helen Gardiner Playhouse opening this Thursday. I sat down with Artistic Director Llyandra Jones moving between New Generation Sushi on Bloor to a nice sunny patio in the Annex to discuss the two plays, the development of Docket Theatre and their second show, a verbatim theatre piece called “Performing Occupy Toronto”.

Hallie Seline: You are the Artistic Director of Docket Theatre who are producing their first double bill titled Staging a Rebellion, featuring two new plays: A Farewell Party & Performing Occupy Toronto, opening this Thursday. Can you give me a quick synopsis for each show?

Llyandra Jones: Sure!  A Farewell Party is a comedy written by  Evan O’Donnell and directed by Alex Borkowski and it takes place in the 1920s. It’s kind of in the realm of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, playful and fun but a time of political and cultural change. It’s the roaring ‘20s. There are people drinking and boozin’ and jazzin’ and dancing! It’s about youth and women in that time period rebelling against the paths laid out for them and this plan of how women are supposed to be.  It’s about finding their own individual identities. It’s also a pre-cursor to the great depression, which we found relevant when pairing it with the Occupy play.

The second play is Performing Occupy Toronto, which was written and put together by Rosamund Small and directed by myself. It’s a verbatim show. The script was taken word for word from real-life interviews and footage that Rosamund retrieved when she was at the occupation rallies last year. She sorted through thirty hours of footage to put the play together. It’s not like a lot of Verbatim plays where it’s just monologues of people who were interviewed. None of the words are changed but Rosamund is actually a character in the play. The writer is almost like a guide, kind of like a liaison to help the audience really understand the Occupation. The show is about hundreds of people and we only have just fewer than twenty actors so they all play between five to ten characters each. It’s a very ensemble based show.

Both of these shows together are really interesting, and although they deal with very different subject matter, they both deal with rebellion and finding your own identity. From long before the 1920s until now, there is this struggle of people wanting to find themselves and be heard in a society that has your path laid out for you.

HS: So this company was founded in 2008 and is currently in its fourth season. As a company of young artists, tell me about how Docket Theatre was formed?

LJ: Well, it actually started as just a group of friends wanting to put on a play that Rosamund wrote. The founding members all went to Rosedale Heights, an arts high school where we all met. When we graduated and went to different universities and colleges, we wanted a way to keep us together so we decided to put on a show.

Since then we’ve had three seasons and are now onto our fourth. The first two were really low-key, just scraping by with people in the cast putting in their own money for the down payment then just getting reimbursed after ticket sales.

Last year, however, was really when we took the name Docket Theatre and we organized the hell out of ourselves. We began to find a template through which we could really get the theatre company off the ground. We moved to The Papermill Theatre in the Broadview and Danforth area. It’s a beautiful theatre in an old historic building in the Don Valley where we produced One Man Show, also written by Evan O’Donnell. This show was definitely the most complicated and tech-heavy show we had attempted, utilizing a lot of multimedia – videos, illustrations, that sort of thing. Last year, we grew in terms of the scale of the show we put on as well as our ambition with the kind of theatre we wanted to produce.

This season, we talked all year and prepared to put on our first double bill with  A Farewell Party andPerforming Occupy Toronto. When we received the submissions, it was at the same time where we wanted to make more socially relevant theatre, so I would say that now, in our fourth season, we have a much stronger idea of what our mandate is and of how we want to move forward as a relevant young theatre company.

Some of the Core Members of Docket Theatre

HS: Four years is pretty impressive for such a young theatre company. How would you say the Docket has evolved since its inception?

LJ: I would say the main evolution has been with the growth of the artists that were involved and the focus of the company. We know what we want now. People often form a company so they can put on a play and then they disband it. That’s how we started, but what really holds a company together is finding that common goal and common passion. For us it was realizing that we wanted to make more socially relevant, original theatre – something that spoke to the youth and to the people of Toronto. We’re already in discussion with some different people that want to put their plays on and are asking Docket if we would do that. So I think in the future we’ll be open to expanding and producing more playwrights’ work through larger seasons. We’ve just been growing exponentially in our size and in our resources so who even knows what’s going to happen next year.

HS: That’s exciting! On that note, in a time where more and more young artists must produce their own work, and many new young companies are starting up, have you found it difficult to stand out amongst the rest?

LJ: I feel comfortable that we are unique and that people are recognizing the work that we are doing. It’s not that we need the validation, it’s that we see people wanting to work with us and they want to see the shows we are producing and come to our events and fundraisers. Since we have around forty people involved, they all have friends that are doing other things in the city, be it other programs or are in other independent companies, so there’s this networking effect that naturally happens when you support other people’s shows and they support you. That’s why I’m really glad that websites like In the Greenroom exists and that companies like Mnemonic Theatre who are creating a theatre directory are around. It’s great when there are people trying to connect these theatre companies and utilize the fact that we are all in this together, you know? I think what we’re doing at Docket is very exciting, unique and relevant and although we’ve only been Docket Theatre for two years, we already have a following. Hopefully it just continues to expand from there.

HS: Have you found any challenges with funding, which seems to always be the major issue with the arts in Toronto?

LJ: Mainly what’s hard in Toronto is just getting butts in the seats. I mean you can get people to go toBring it On: The Musical where they charge a hundred dollars a ticket and they sell out, but it’s almost impossible to get a hundred people to come see your show for one night which would practically pay for the venue. I mean you literally have CEOs running these giant companies like Mirvish where it’s a “for-profit” company and we just want to float. We’re not even getting paid. I think that’s the most challenging part being a small company.

Creatively I’m very fulfilled but the administrative stuff kind of bogs me down because there’s just no money for it. The grants are so complicated. It’s hard, we are in a difficult spot where half of us are still students and half are graduates so we technically have too many students involved to be eligible for grants and too many graduates to be eligible for student funding.  We are really looking forward to when we are all graduated, and can hopefully start applying for grants to financially help us to do what we want.

HS:  The Occupy Movement dominated media attention last fall. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn’t have an opinion on the matter. What is it like working on a show with subject matter that can be so polarizing?

LJ: Yes, it’s actually been an incredible experience and it’s been one that’s actually been quite difficult to navigate. Before it even began, Rozy made it very clear to me that it was not an Occupy artist show, and that she was not a part of the movement and that the play does not take on either side. It does not explicitly criticize the movement just as it does not explicitly endorse it either. It literally is just performing it. Both sides are represented, the good and the bad of what happened in Toronto from October to November. The people who were the who uprooted their lives and were so passionate and fed up with the way that the world had been running that this is the way they rebelled. So it was incredible in the first place to know that I could not let my own politics get involved though I definitely have my own thoughts about it. The Occupy movement was very controversial because it’s not like all left wing people agree with it and all right wing people don’t. It kept transforming as it progressed. It wasn’t just a protest, it was a community developing.

When the Occupy first started I went out a lot to see what was happening to support it. My politics are really in line with it and I personally agree with a lot of it. But the way that it developed with the bureaucracy that evolved within it, from what I saw, the whole movement seemed to turn into a very white, male, hetero-centered movement, which was surprising to me. So I found it interesting that these patterns in our society perpetuate even in a community rebelling against that very thing.

It’s pretty hard to not let my politics get in the way but beyond that, we have the strangest kind of rag-tag group of actors from all different backgrounds with very different views. My assistant director Vivien spent a lot of time navigating that. We needed to make sure that the show wasn’t about everybody’s views. It is about playing these characters and telling their stories.

HS: I heard something about taking the cast to a protest. Can you speak a little more about that?

Core Member – Jared Bishop Amongst the Crowd at the May Day March

LJ: Right off the bat when we started there was the yearly  May Day march on May 1st, which is the international workers day organized by No one Is Illegal, Occupy Toronto and other activist groups. It was a huge protest and march, so I got the cast to come and participate. It was an opportunity where they could experience a giant march and what it was like to be in the environment that the play creates. Most of them had never been in a protest before and therefore had no visceral experience for it. I told them not to be embarrassed or shy and to just treat it like it was an improv. Go with the chants and go along with the march. It was  incredible to see them transform. They  felt so liberated and felt so much more prepared to play these characters. They had experienced a rush of being united in a group of people even though there were varying beliefs amongst us.

HS: Do you think it will be hard for an audience to put their own biases aside?

LJ: Yes.  If audience members are coming to see the play, hopefully they can put their biases aside for an hour. If they hate Occupy, they’re probably not going to come and see this play but I would love for somebody who hated the movement to come so that they could see these protesters as people, you know? There are characters in the play that seem crazy and are there because they want to wear an astronaut suit and dance around or be in a drum circle. Then there are characters who are there because they want to change the world. Everyone was respected as a community and the interesting thing is that there was no hierarchical structure. No one was the leader, which there was also some controversy around.

Hopefully, for the audience that comes, they will see that this is a story of a group of people. There’s no protagonist or single story arc. The movement and the people themselves are the protagonist so I think it’s very different than the plays people often see. It’s more like a collage. It’s incredibly new and different. I hope it can make people think and stretch their perspective. I think that any good theatre leaves you talking or questioning in a way that you didn’t before.

HS: Going off of that, I hear you’re planning a sort of discussion panel after the show?

LJ: Yes! We are launching a discussion panel after our opening show at 9:30pm. It all started off when Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, got in touch with Rosamund after the Paprika Festival’s reading of Performing Occupy Toronto.  We got so excited and thought, “Well, why don’t we do a discussion panel that she could be a part of”. We had no idea if she would actually be able to take part because she is a very busy politician, but we wanted to hear a politician’s perspective on theatre in Toronto.

HS: Any hints as to who’s involved?

As of now we have Kate Lushington (the former Artistic Director of Nightwood Theatre), and Rob Kempson (current Artistic Director of the Paprika Festival and Associate Producer for Theatre Passe Muraille). There might be some more in store, we are waiting to hear back from a whole slew of artists, activists, and politicians that we’ve got in touch with. We are hoping to involve some sort of city counselor as well.

An Almost-Full Company Shot for Docket’s 2012 Season

HS: Where do you see Docket Theatre heading in the future?

LJ: To the moon. Ha ha, that’d be great. Theatre in space! We’ve been talking a lot about where we want to go from here. We are hoping to be active throughout the whole of next year. We want an ongoing dialogue with artists as well. I would like us to have a monthly meeting where we read original plays so the playwrights get to hear their work and actors get to keep active and read. We would discuss what worked, what didn’t and why we think the play is relevant. Hopefully it will help us keep that  creative spark going throughout the year. Next year we are going to produce our usual summer show and hopefully add a show in the winter if we get enough applications. We have the manpower to do it now! We’d love to do two different shows at different times and we eventually look forward to doing a season of shows.

Our big goal is to have one space to use as a hub for artists to practice original work, share their skills and what they learn. We’d love to put on acting, playwrighting, and even design workshops! Essentially, we hope to create a space for artists to nurture their skills and help develop their art. That’s our goal.