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Creating the Ultimate Shakespeare/Horror Mashups & the Necessity of Taking Risks at the Fringe & Beyond – In Conversation with “Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre” on now at the 2016 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: I’m here with three members of the team from Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre – Scott Emerson Moyle, fight director and Lord Capulet; David Kingsmill, playing Escalus and the Chorus as well as being the production manager; and Matt Bernard, the writer and director. Do you want to tell me a bit about the show?

MB: Yes! So the tag line is that it’s a comedic-horror mash-up of Romeo and Juliet. It’s the tale of two star-crossed lovers with the added element of a chainsaw-wielding maniac, kind of taken from old horror movies. So that’s thrown in to see how the story would change, and how it would alter the fates of Romeo and Juliet.

RQ: How did this come about? What was the process?

MB: My comedy troupe Bain and Bernard did shows for the St. Lawrence Shakespeare festival, it was part of their Sunday series, and we would always parody whatever Shakespeare show they were doing. So, we’ve done Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Hamlet, A Midsummer’s Nightmare (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Desdemona Anyway). So, when we were heading back in the car from our last one, the question came up of what to do next. After doing Hamlet, I thought there’s nothing else you can do after that, but we realized we hadn’t done arguably the most known Shakespeare show, Romeo and Juliet. So the idea came up of doing Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre, and we talked about it for a while, threw some ideas out there, and that was two years ago. We were sitting on it for a while, not sure how to approach the project, but we eventually had to pull the trigger on it, do it for Fringe, and see what we could create.

RQ: What do you think it is about Shakespeare and campy horror that makes them fit together so well?

SEM: The pitch I’ve been using is that the show I’m doing for Fringe is Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre is exactly what you’re picturing when I say the title. They are two really iconic sets of visuals, and two very iconic story archetypes. They’re so incredibly different that jamming them together seems to not make sense, yet somehow you can completely picture it.

MB: It’s like Snakes on a Plane in that way. Everything you need to know is in the title.

DK: Also, I think when you say “star-crossed lovers”, Romeo and Juliet is the first thing you think of. When you say “chainsaw”, Leatherface probably pops into their head immediately. So it’s two incredibly iconic things featured in the same room at the same time.

R&J Press Photo 3

RQ: I feel like there’s a certain reverence for 80s horror that we often casually dismiss.

MB: Well, yeah, the 80s is when horror films kind of came into themselves. There was a horror movement in the 60s, but then in the 70s and 80s, that’s when the slasher flicks came in. They started getting really gory, so that’s the prime time for it. We’re taking prime horror and prime Shakespeare, and it actually fits really well.

DK: It was a time when horror was based around being horrifying, not around being a shock spectacle. These days, I think if you look at something like Saw, yes it’s horrifying but the film exists to shock you by killing people in the most brutal ways we can think of. It loses some of the actual horror element and I think it goes beyond horror into something totally different. Something like Hostel takes that further still.

RQ: Suspense and disgust?

DK: Yeah, and I think suspense is certainly a part of horror, but disgust doesn’t have to be. I mean, look at Psycho. What was it, eighty-three stabbings of Janet Leigh in the shower and you never see one connect? It’s all the mind’s image filling in blanks. I think that’s something seminal of that time, as well.

RQ: Do you think horror films from the 80s said something about us in the same way that Romeo and Juliet said something about us when it was written?

MB: There was certainly a lot of chasing in those movies, everyone was chasing someone or something. I mean, I’m not sure because those movies do scare the hell out of me. They do their job.

SEM: Actually?

MB: Oh yeah. For inspiration, I had to watch all these horror movies and I was hiding my face behind my hands! I was terrified! I’d take notes and shut it right off at the end. They really work on me. So this was a very terrifying show to write.

SEM: It might not even be a very period-specific thing. I mean, Romeo and Juliet comes out of 16th Century dueling culture and people actually looking for ways to be idiots for love. But, the reason we still do it is because it’s enduring. We all know what it is to be in love and not have circumstances support that. It’s complicated. The horror thing might be pretty enduring as well. We’re scared of isolation, and a lot of horror movies are about being alone. We’re scared of the unknown, and that’s what horror gives us.

RQ: Is there also a connection when it comes to fate? Just by virtue of being a character in a horror movie, or a character in a Shakespearean tragedy…

SEM: You are on notice. You’re not getting out alive.

DK: I read once that people write fiction as a means to experience things they normally don’t. We don’t normally experience duels. We don’t normally get chased around by a psychotic killer. We don’t normally fly a rocket to Mars. Whatever it happens to be, it’s a way to experience something beyond the normal. So, I think the manifestation of a story is the product of its time, but at the center is a wish for vicarious experience.

RQ: What do you think makes Fringe perfect for a show like this?

MB: Fringe is all about the entire community coming together in one spot. Seeing the tents go up, seeing shows all around, it’s a whole two-week celebration of throwing together a show. I think this show is perfect for Fringe because we’ve got a large team on this and everyone is bringing everything they can to the table. So for two weeks everyone works on this together, and then we all go away.

DK: It’s a space that gives you permission to try something a little crazy. The professional theatre world is becoming more and more of a place where audience members aren’t willing to take risks. Producers and companies aren’t willing to take on the risk of a show that isn’t a proven commodity, that’s doing something really different. Fringe is all about embracing that risk. You just do a thing, whatever that thing is. It can be an improvised musical, it can be a mash-up of Shakespeare and horror…

SEM: Wasn’t there someone reading a phone book last year?

DK: Something slightly crazy like that, yeah. It’s great. Normally you can only get away with that if you have a level of, I suppose, celebrity.

SEM: Yeah, major theatres would have a hard time marketing this as part of their season, but because it’s Fringe, everyone is getting really excited about it. It’s a space to get weird.

R&J Press Photo 1 (1)

RQ: Is there a way to support this kind of work for the rest of the year?

SEM: (laughs) Canadian Stage should pick us up.

MB: There’s kind of a rise in “geek chic”, or an appreciation of it. There’s a theatre company in Washington that sent an email saying “We do this kind of pop culture stuff, and we’d like to do the show”, so I’d like to see more of that in Toronto. Instead of doing classic theatre all the time, doing more fun, pop culture things to address millennials. They’re the future audiences, and they grew up with video games.

DK: There needs to be a place for things like this, otherwise theatre is going to stagnate. I saw a production of Pippin in London five or six years ago that was entirely set within a video game world. After about a third of the show, he leveled up and became more powerful before going back into the dungeon… things like this. It was so spectacularly nerdy. And they got away with it because it’s a well-known, already accepted musical. I think what I’m looking for in the theatre world is for me to be able to write a video game piece or something like that with absolutely no ties to an existing license, and still have it looked at. I think that needs to happen. We need to get to a point where popular culture merges with theatre, not just in the sense of being avant-garde but by wrapping the two things together.

MB: I think when non-theatre people hear the word “theatre”, they picture someone holding a skull, or the masks. So, there’s always going to be a sense of traditional theatre, and people exploring ways to change it. Hamlet done in the post-apocalypse… things like that. Switches on the classics. But I think there will be a rise of new material that doesn’t take on classical theatre elements.

SEM: We’re starting to see genre stuff come into its own in theatre. At Storefront a couple of years ago, they did Dark Matter. It was a hard sci-fi, Battlestar Galactica take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This year at the Humber River Shakespeare’s sonnet show, where you direct a new short play in a day, I was handed a science fiction play about three martians coming to Earth. People are writing genre fiction for theatre now.

MB: It’s hard to do in theatre.

SEM: So hard!

MB: This is actually the first Fringe show in the “horror” category. It wasn’t in the pull-down list. Just things like dramatic, comedic, physical theatre, dance, and so forth.

SEM: We should have marketed this as a dance show.

DK: I think part of the problem with it being such a niche type of theatre at the moment, is that when something succeeds well at it, then it can become an accepted type of theatre. Like, look at The Woman in Black in London. It’s probably a little less scary now than when it opened, but it’s still terrifying. If you say “horror theatre” in London, everyone immediately thinks of that. It’s the only horror show, as far as I’m aware, that has run for any length of time on the London stage. I mean, I’m British, so I do have the most experience in London, but I think that’s something that happens here, as well. When something niche succeeds, it becomes the poster boy for it a little too hard, so we can only hope it will trickle down. Sometimes it does. I mean, who would have written a science fiction play before something like War of the Worlds or Journey to the Center of the Earth came along in fiction? I think fiction tends to precede theatre by a bit, and speculative science fiction, as we know it, hasn’t been around long. A hundred and thirty years? We’ve always had mythology, but until you get to H.G. Wells and his kind, you don’t get that kind of fiction. Theatre just needs to catch up with them a little bit, and maybe we’ll see more of it.

MB: It is hard to do genre fiction like horror or sci-fi onstage because so many of the elements are done in post, or with a lot of dedicated time. Though, isn’t that kind of the fun of live theatre? Recently, I was watching Total Recall. You see the new one with Colin Farrell and it’s all bullshit. It’s all CGI. So I went back to the Arnold Schwarzenegger one and there’s some great prop work! That’s fun to do in theatre as well! Our costume designer Gwyneth Barton should really also be credited for special effects. She created gore rigged into the costumes. We can’t use liquids because it’s a Fringe show, but it’s so thrilling to see actual spines and ribs and stuff. Practical effects are really thrilling, and a huge part of the puzzle of bringing genre-based stories to the stage. I really wish we could have used blood. Next time you see this show, there will be much more blood.

SEM: Can I just say, as the fight captain and guy who would have had to help clean up all that blood, I’m grateful for the “no blood” rule. Not only selfishly, but because limitations breed creativity. The scariest horror movie you’ll see is The Changeling, and they did it by never letting you see the horror. It’s this tiny, low-budget Canadian horror film. Their big special effect is a wheelchair that can roll down the stairs by itself. They blew their budget on that thing. And yet it’s terrifying because you never see the monster. Or, look at Jaws. If they had shot it as planned with an animatronic shark, it would suck. It’s awesome because their shark broke.

RQ: You just see the barrels coming across the water.

SEM: Yeah, and lots of shark-cam. All that… It’s so iconic and it’s bred from that limitation. I think in terms of how the fights in our show work, that lack of blood made us focus more on storytelling in those violent moments. That’s always the challenge. You can choreograph spectacular fights all day and night, but it’s easy to lose track of the story in that violence.

DK: The deaths in this are spectacular, but it’s not spectacle for its own sake. It’s the end of someone’s story in the show.

MB: (laughs) Regardless, blood next time.

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RQ: Before we finish up, this show is a mash-up of Romeo and Juliet and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I wanted to name some other Shakespeare shows and see what horror movies you’d mash them up with, now that you’ve done your research.

SEM: I love this game.

RQ: Let’s start with Hamlet.

DK: Scream.

RQ: Why?

DK: When I think of horror and a play where everybody dies, that mask is the first thing that pops into my head.

SEM: I’d say Psycho because it’s an isolated dude with a really weird relationship with his mom.

RQ: That is…uncanny. What about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

DK: Cabin in the Woods, possibly.

SEM: Or Sleepaway Camp.

DK: Actually, I change my vote to Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. Those fit together really well.

SEM: Oh yeah, people only seeing half the story, and conflict coming from the dissonance. And they play the horror in it really straight, that’s what makes it funny.

MB: Or Friday the 13th, in the woods. The lake, the summer camp, that atmosphere. I’d like to mirror some of the deaths from that. Isn’t there a drill through Kevin Bacon’s neck? That would be great for the lovers.

RQ: Julius Caesar.

MB: I’d say something with zombies for that.

SEM: It is a play about an uprising where the people in power lose control and it all goes to shit.

DK: 28 Days Later.

SEM: The first half of Julius Caesar is kind of Dawn of the Dead where the power structure is crumbling and the second half is Day of the Dead where it’s all gone to shit and they’re hiding out and trying to keep it together.

RQ: There’s been a major paradigm shift and now everyone’s zombies. Alright, last one, The Winter’s Tale.

DK: What has a zombie bear in it?

SEM: Isn’t The Winter’s Tale kind of a genre mashup on its own? It’s kind of magic and kind of not. It’s kind of self-aware storytelling but there’s a point where things get real. You know what? Cabin in the Woods. That idea that there’s a sort of magic, and a higher power pulling all the strings behind it. Cabin in the Woods has the shadowy organization, The Winter’s Tale has Time come out halfway through and say “Hope you’re enjoying it! It’s been all me so far, it’s all me for the rest of the show. You’re not going to see me again but it’s all me. We’re moving the play ahead sixteen years, see you later”. Such a small amount of screen time for such a big power player in the story.

RQ: Thanks so much for your time, and have a blast with the show!

MB: Thanks!

Romeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre

Presented by Bain and Bernard Comedy as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival

R&J Chainsaw banner header w- Fringe

By: Matt Bernard and William Shakespeare
Director: Matt Bernard
Cast: Warren Bain, Scott Garland, Sarite Harris, Michael Iliadis, Brittany Kay, David Kingsmill, Scott Emerson Moyle, Rylan O’Reilly, Rebecca Perry, Victor Pokinko, Nicholas Porteous, Jeremy Lepalme
Creative team:
Matt Bernard – Writer/Director, Rebecca Perry – Producer, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – Dramaturge, Scott Emerson Moyle – Fight Choreographer, Kayla Brattan – Stage Manager, David Kingsmill – Production Manager, Andrew Clemens – Lighting/Sound Design, Gwyneth Barton – Costume Design, Akiva Romer-Segal – Graphic Design, Kayla Brattan – Assistant Stage Manager, Caitlin Cooke and Lacey Juk – Assistant Stage Managers

Nothing is more terrifying than love. When a chainsaw-wielding maniac is added into Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, it turns Verona upside-down! Find out who is (literally!) tearing our star-crossed lovers apart in this comedic horror mash-up. “Bain & Bernard have become a favourite feature at the [St. Lawrence Shakespeare] Festival.”- Ian Farthing

Randolph Academy

July 3rd at 7:00 PM
July 5th at 3:15 PM
July 7th at 9:15 PM
July 8th at 2:15 PM
July 9th at 11:30 PM
July 10th at 5:15 PM


Facebook: rjmassacre
Twitter: @RJMassacre

In Conversation with Will King on Eugene Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

Ryan Quinn: So, you are directing Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros for Seven Siblings Theatre Company. It’s an adaptation by Derek Prowse. Is it a new adaptation?

Will King: No. So what we’re trying to do is find as many contemporary hooks into the play as possible. A lot of that has been in the staging of it, making it very minimalist instead of its traditional setting. We were rather looking for locations we might find ourselves in in Toronto. The first quarter takes place in a beer garden, something you might see as a semi-interior in one of the breweries in the city. It has a local and very communal feel. So, for a show like Rhinoceros about the spread of populism and sensationalism, it has to start in a very public location. We thought it would be nice if people felt very comfortable and immersed in the setting. It feels very similar to the actual location the performers are in.

From there, it gets more private and the characters get more distant from the audience. So we see it go from public, to a semi-private office, to two different houses, one of which is a terrarium.

RQ: Why this show, right now?

WK: I think we are in an era that deals with sensationalism possibly more strongly than ever on an individual level. We know that this play was written in response to fascism and Naziism in the Second World War, but now we live in an age of facebook, and buzzfeed, a sense of self-propaganda. It’s important that we look at ourselves, and our own sense of what otherness is, and how we deal with constant sensationalism and populism.

I think there are many reasons the last Canadian election went the way it did, but one of the biggest pulls for Trudeau and the liberals was that he was the one with traditionally Canadian values. He was the everyman that we thought shared our same moral compass. So there’s definitely a sense of how politics and new ideas are sold, for better or worse.

But it’s important to me that this play doesn’t become just about the politics. I think it would be easy to slap on something about the Trump campaign and make it about that. I mean, I think people will still make connections to that extraordinary and horrifying bout of sensationalism happening in the States. But I didn’t want that to be what it was about. It’s about intersection in any kind of area, in belief, race, gender, sexuality, politics. Whatever that otherness is for the audience, it’s that otherness for the characters in the play.

RQ: This show deals with the allure of mob mentality…

WK: For sure! We’re trying to play with that theme in our physicality a lot.

RQ: So how do we reconcile that idea with the current idea that the “outsider” is more morally genuine than everyone else? Trudeau, Trump, and Sanders are all sold as outsiders. Not to say that their politics are in any way similar, but that seems to be the campaign that works.

WK: I think in this play we can eventually sympathize with the outsider, while at the same time we see them as (literally in this case, since it’s a rhinoceros) tools of chaos and destruction. I mean, for the people who join the rhinoceros, suddenly their way of living is beautiful and wonderful. I want the audience to question, you know, “why not join the rhinoceros?”. You get to roll around in the grass and be comfortable. We totally understand why it’s so easy for people to want to join them, and I think that happens politically, as well.

RQ: Tell me a bit about the rehearsal process.

WK: This was done as a ten-day intensive. That was inherently challenging and difficult. We go through a lot of work with the Michael Chekhov technique, getting on our feet and finding centers, archetypes, character bodies. We’re trying to break through the text analysis in a physical way, so we’re not banging our heads against the wall. It’s helped us find a really visceral and accessible clarity. Our next step is going to be to really focus on creating an atmosphere in a set that’s constantly being created and destroyed by the actors. We’re using chalkboard paint and different color schemes for individual worlds to really highlight that this is a world that’s constantly changing and shifting.

We also have ten challenges that were assigned to the actors, things like creating a physical rhinoceros from two or more people, or an immediate breaking into tears, things that we’ve used as tools to tell the story. I’m there to make sure the story is clear and everything fits together, but those goalposts, as it were, are there to help the actors work toward a kind of structure on their own as well.

RQ: What can you tell me about Seven Siblings and your mandate?

WK: The company was founded by Madryn McCabe, Erika Downie, and myself. The three of us started the company through the teaching certification program at the Michael Chekhov consortium in Ohio. As a company, we like to do work that sits in the realm of fantastical realism, things that are larger than life. I’d say it’s playful and visceral, and grand, but also very true to life. There’s a lot of work that can still be truthful while really going to strange and conceptual places. For us, the most important thing is joy, that’s the focus even in times of exhaustion and duress. We find that frees performers up to stop worrying about a final performance, to focus instead on the playfulness and discovery.

We want people to be able to look outside themselves and see their lives through metaphor for a while. To take something very personal from an idea that’s absurd or strange. I think we’re lucky that we can do that in the theatre.

We’ve also been trying to extend that sense of play to our promotional campaign as well, doing street-level things that lend themselves to word-of-mouth promotion.

RQ: What do you want people to talk about on the way home from this show?

WK: I hope it elicits a conversation about positive political discourse. Often when we see someone with different political views from our own, we dismiss them, but it’s valuable to have an honest debate about their views. I think that would benefit our society.

I mean, I hope they have fun, too! Without all the allegory, if you saw this show as a farce, it’s very entertaining! There’s something important at the heart of it, but something really fun and alive on the surface.

RQ: Congratulations on the show!

WK: Thanks, Ryan!


Seven Siblings Theatre presents:


Smoke Rhinoceros

A play by Eugene Ionesco
Adapted by Derek Prouse
Directed by Will King
Featuring Veronica Baron, Jim Armstrong, John Lovett, Andrew Gaunce, Erika Downie, Liz Bragg, Margaret Hild, Amrit Kaur, Mardi O’Conner
Assistant Directed by: Erika Downie
Produced by: Madryn McCabe
Production Manager: Kate McArthur
Stage Manager: Jocelyn Levadoux
Lighting Design: Parker Nowlan
Front of House: Gwendolyn Hodgson

Run Time: 90 minutes

When: June 2-5, 8pm, doors open at 7:30

Where: The Rhino Bar & Grille (1249 Queen St W).Our performance venue is on the 2nd floor.

Tickets: Artsworkers $15, General $19, At the door $20 cash


Twitter: @SevenSiblingsCo

Facebook: sevensiblingstheatreco

Instagram: @sevensiblingstheatre

Performed with Permission by Samuel French Inc.

“Picasso & Einstein walk into a bar…” – In Conversation with Will King & Dylan Evans of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: Tell me a little about the show itself and your production of it.

WK: Steve Martin (the established comedian, actor, writer, banjo aficionado) has written a play that features a young Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein at the tipping point of their careers. It takes place at the Lapin Agile, a fictional bar in 1904 Paris, where notable intellectuals and visionaries go to talk about their manifestos. It also features a wide range of characters that gravitate to that space. It expertly deconstructs the intersection between art and science, and somehow manages to remain brilliantly funny.

We’re doing it site-specific at an event space in Kensington Market called Round. When we decided to produce it, we knew we wanted to get away from a traditional performance space. We wanted our audience to see the sparks fly between the actors, and really feel immersed in their revelations. We also thought they might like a beer!


RQ: In what ways do you think this show questions how we look at art or innovation?

DE: This play challenges anyone’s personal definition of art. Einstein argues that his scientific discoveries are art, whereas Picasso dismisses these as mere equations. Steve Martin tells us that science is more than numbers: it’s a vision, it’s imagination, and then it’s trying to capture that and turn it into something calculable. We can’t dive into a black hole, or travel to other solar systems, but we can dream it. And then we can take that dream and see if we can prove it.

RQ: How do you think your choice of site-specific theatre informs or enhances the piece?

WK: I love the intimacy. Performing in the round (pun intended) just feels right.

DE: I had a very clear image in my mind of what I envisioned the space looking like. When we walked into The Round for our photo shoot I was blown away by how much the space looked like what I had imagined. I had no trouble believing that I had just entered a bohemian Paris bar circa 1904. It makes a huge difference as a performer, and hopefully for the audience too. You’re right there in the bar with us. You can grab a drink and be a fellow patron in the Lapin Agile with a host of eccentric characters. So it is definitely an engaging performance and the wonderful venue is a big part of that.

RQ: What can you tell me about Seven Siblings theatre?

WK: Madryn, Erika, and I founded Seven Siblings Theatre while gaining our teacher certification at the Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium in Kent, Ohio. We shared the same ideals of theatre, a similar process, and wanted to bring more Fantastic Realism into Toronto’s indie theatre community. We aim to help artists develop their psychophysical connection, and dig deeply into the atmospheres of each production. By the end of each process, our artists have a range of tools and exercises from the Michael Chekhov work to play with.

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RQ: Why did you choose this piece as your next production?

WK: I am adamant that everything we work on needs to present a new challenge. We’ve played with malleable classical text, highly dangerous subject matter, explosive absurdist and visual performance styles, and now we’re tapping into an immersive experience. This is one of the most playful pieces I’ve ever worked on, and the incredible duality between farce and intelligence made it a no-brainer.

RQ: If you were going to set this show in 2016, which people would be the closest parallels to the way this show characterizes Picasso and Einstein?

WK: That’s a tough one. A lot of the charm in this piece is that they’re diamonds in the rough.

DE: [In terms of banter] Stephen Hawking and John Oliver (because that first interview was too good not to have a sequel). Bill Nye and Bob Ross. Spock and Han Solo.

WK: Yeah. Einstein’s definitely the Han Solo of this show.

RQ: If you could give this show a soundtrack, what three songs would be must-haves?

The Scientist – Coldplay
The Life of Pablo (the entire album) – Kanye West (Tidal required)
Blue (Da Ba Dee) – Eiffel 65

Bistro Fada – Stephane Wrembel (watch Midnight in Paris for context)
Space Oddity – David Bowie
Sounds of Science – Beastie Boys

DE & WK:
*Bonus Track* Tubthumping – Chumbawamba


Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Presented by Seven Siblings Theatre


A play by Steve Martin

Directed by Erika Downie
Featuring Dylan Mawson, Jamie Johnson, Madryn McCabe, Will King, Erin Burley, Erik Helle, Dylan Evans, Andrew Gaunce and Maxwell LeBoeuf
Stage Manager Jocelyn Levadoux
Production Manager Kate MacArthur
Lighting Designer Parker Nowlan
Dialect Coach Margaret Hild

Run Time: 90 minutes

February 25 at 7:30pm
February 26 at 7:30pm
February 27 at 2:00pm (Matinee)
February 28 at 7:30pm

February 25-28 $25

Round, 152A Augusta Avenue, Kensington Market, Toronto, Ontario


In Conversation with The Three Men – Matt Pilipiak, Victor Pokinko, and Scott Garland of Three Men in a Boat at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: I’m here with Matt Pilipiak, Victor Pokinko, and Scott Garland; the three men of Three Men in a Boat. Written by Mark Brownell and directed by Sue Miner, it’s currently running as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival, presented by Pea Green Theatre. The show is based on the travelogue by Jerome K. Jerome. Can you tell me a little more about the show?

MP: Yeah! So it’s about three bachelors living in London around the turn of the century, it was published in 1889. They’re all upper middle-class, and as the play opens they’re discussing all of the maladies they’re sure they’re ailing with. This leads them to decide to get away from the city and go take a boating trip up the river Thames. From there, it’s a series of bad camping stories, which is a kind of universal thing we can all relate to.

VP: It’s interesting because it’s around the same time as the birth of the middle class in England. So it’s around the time people start having free time. They’re no longer working non-stop, they have days off. They have a little extra money, so they start going on these vacations. What the travelogue comes out of is that the author, Jerome K. Jerome, was publishing weekly travel tips. “How to Travel,” “How to Row the River Thames With Your Friends,” that kind of thing. So he was writing these and people were coming up to him and telling him that it was hilarious. That’s when he realized that it was funny. But it started as a serious thing.

Now, we’ve taken this and made it into this play. Mark has adapted it and we’ve just run with it. We always say that it’s like a Canadian camping story. It’s set in England in 1889, but it’s such a Canadian “escape into nature” story. But, of course, they don’t know anything. So they try new things and they don’t work out.

MP: Mark adapted the piece so well. It’s not a dialogue-based book. He’s made it so active and so theatrical. With Sue’s direction, it really comes to life in an exciting way.

RQ: This is the author’s most famous work. What do you think makes it so enduring?

MP: It’s really funny, and the humour still works today. There’s something so inherently funny because everyone’s been camping at least once, especially in Canada. You think it’s going to be so beautiful and you’re going to connect with nature, and then, of course, you realize that you’re sleeping on the ground. Weather gets involved, and the food is never what you want it to be. Everyone can relate to watching these three bumbling men deal with that.

VP: Sue Miner made a comment the other day that there’s something so joyful and triumphant about doing something civilized in nature. I think the piece really plays with the bumbling and the bad times, but there are these civilized moments, like eating pie together. These few moments of civilization within the wilderness. It’s written in a way that never keeps you in one place for very long.

SG: It’s unassuming in how it presents these things. It’s not trying to preach, it’s not trying to make too many large, grand gestures. It’s very easy to relate to, and it’s very inoffensive in terms of its relation to the audience. We’ve all slept on the ground and thought, “This seemed more novel in my brain when I was in a bed. Now there’s a root in my back, one of my friends is drunk, the other one is squirmy, and the dog won’t behave”.

MP: It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It starts with us acknowledging that it’s a silly re-telling of events that happened, and that’s all it is. If you’re looking for something else, you’re not going to find it here. We’re just going to have fun.


RQ: It sounds like it really skews that late-1800s pastoral genre of literature.

VP: Yes, but in some ways it’s still very pastoral. Matt’s character definitely speaks that way, but we achieve this sort of idyllic world with very little. But I agree that it goes against it in that there’s no real moral to this play. There’s no twist. You just get to live in this world for a little bit with these people.

SG: In the way that Sue and Mark have created it, it’s this lovely little time capsule. The minimalist set, the way the language describes so much of the action and the setting. You get this vivid idea of what punting up the river Thames would have been like at the time. It’s hilarious but it’s also very sentimentally sweet. It’s a beautiful love letter to a time and a place.

VP: He actually wrote this based on his honeymoon. Him and his new wife went rowing up the river Thames, but he decided people wouldn’t relate to her so it had to be him and his friends. And he invented a dog… (laughs) I mean, everyone can relate to the dog.

RQ: Tell me a bit about the costumes and the music. These other elements that drop us into the world.

MP: Nina Oken, who is our costume designer, put together three really incredible costumes. They’re simple but very elegant. You look at us and you’re right there in the 1800s. However, by the end, they’re starting to fall apart, they really tell a story of their own. Sleeves are rolled up, pant legs are rolled up, there’s some wear and tear.

For music, our music director Rigzin Tute arranged two songs into beautiful three-part harmonies. It uses a musical motif throughout the play.

VP: That really helps to build this trio. It really feels like guys who went to school together, who learned these songs. We have very little in terms of set, so the costumes and music definitely help flavour the world.

SG: It’s amazing how each element on its own tells such a story. From the direction, to the music, to the costumes. They really enhance and highlight the piece individually, but they also mesh together perfectly.

VP: Also the shoes! The shoes definitely do a lot.

SG: And the handkerchiefs. The handkerchiefs are a necessity.

RQ: This show already has a bit of a production history. How long have you been working on it?

VP: A long time! In July of 2014, we opened at the Toronto Fringe, at the Annex theatre. After that, we did the Best of Fringe up in North York. Then in November we ended up getting whisked away to Mumbai, India for a festival called Tata Lit Live. Apparently in India, they know the book very well, so they wanted a performance of this story at their literature festival. This past summer, we traveled to Ottawa, Bobcaygeon, and Winnipeg with it.

MP: This will be the eighth theatre we put this show up in. It’s very exciting.

VP: It’s starting to feel like home to come back to this piece every five or six months. We love to bring it to new people.

MP: It’s a hard show to do, so we can’t really get lazy with it. It’s a very non-stop, physically devised piece. We create the world with our bodies. So, it’s my gym membership.

VP: Then in August, we’re headed to the Edmonton Fringe.

SG: It’s such a blessing to be a part of a show that keeps returning to the stage. We’re all still relatively fresh from theatre school, and there you get into the mindset that you’ll do a standard production. You get three weeks of rehearsal, four weeks on stage, you’re done. Within that time you have such a journey as a performer, and by the end of it you always feel that you want more. Every time we come back to this, we discover so much more. I still have the same old script, and I can’t even understand some of my notes in it anymore.

RQ: At this point, you’re all very well-acquainted with the Fringe theatre festivals in Canada. What do you think the importance of these festivals is, and how can that be supported or enhanced?

MP: One of the things I love the most about Fringe festivals is that, at their core, they support bold, new work. To take a risk, and to potentially fail or potentially find something really great. It also gives you access to an audience that as an independent theatre artist is hard to tap into. Audiences go into it knowing they’re seeing new theatre, something that’s possibly still in development. It encourages people to take bold theatrical risks. I love going out and seeing a mixture of incredible shows and awful shows. It’s Kat Sandler who calls it the “Fringe Theatre Christmas”.

VP: My favourite thing about Fringe is also my least-favourite thing: it makes a big event out of theatre-going. For people who don’t see theatre throughout the year, it gives them a hundred and fifty shows to choose from in two weeks. They can explore and visit that. The flip side of that is that I wish people didn’t need a big event to go see theatre. The Fringe is a great thing, but I wish we had something like it every month. Then people would go see more of the variety of shows Toronto has to offer.

SG: I got into theatre because of the Fringe festivals that I attended. For Matt and I, the Edmonton Fringe was some of our formative theatre-seeing. We’re blessed enough to have been touring, but I love that even if you don’t tour, if you’re doing a Fringe, you’re not just dealing with Toronto artists. You’re not just dealing with the GTA. You’re meeting touring artists. You’re encountering creators from around the world, in some cases. The United States, Australia, Europe, Japan! We’ve met all kinds of crazy characters, but there’s a real sense of connectivity. You’re all trying to create theatre, which is a cultural exchange in many ways.

My biggest frustration isn’t with the festivals, but with everything around them. Next Stage is a great example of what to do next, because the hardest thing for me is going to a festival and seeing great theatre that doesn’t end up going anywhere. It hits a ceiling. This play, Mark was always saying, is something that could only be developed at a Fringe festival. No mandate would fit this particular project, and there are a lot of projects like that. People have an idea or concept they want to flesh out and in a Fringe, all the risk is on you. Beautiful things come from that, but some of those beautiful works die too soon, or they get forgotten.

Some people think that once Fringe is over, there’s not a lot going on. There is. All the time. There was somewhere around thirty openings in November. So Fringe is on the right track, but I feel like we have to pull up our bootstraps and work the rest of the time, as well. Because it’s great work of the purest form: people with nothing to lose going by their raw creativity. That’s when you see the most challenging and important work. You don’t have backers to please, and you don’t have a mandate to submit to. You just have pure creativity. That’s the starting point of a great theatrical movement. What’s next?

Three Men in a Boat

Presented by Pea Green Theatre as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival


Playwright: Mark Brownell
Director: Sue Miner
Featuring: Matt Pilipiak, Victor Pokinko, Scott Garland
Musical Director: Rigzin Tute
Costume Designer: Nina Oken
Stage Manager: Hilary Unger

What: Venture alongside three intrepid bachelors (and their dog) as they spend a disastrous week punting up the River Thames.
A stage adaptation of the 1889 British travelogue by Jerome K Jerome

Where: Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst St.)

January 13 07:00 PM  buy tickets
January 15 05:15 PM  buy tickets
January 16 04:00 PM  buy tickets
January 16 09:15 PM  buy tickets
January 17 02:30 PM  buy tickets

* Talk Back after the show

Tickets: $15.00








In Conversation with Wesley Colford & Nicole Power – Playwright & Performer of Heart of Steel at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: I’m here with Wesley Colford, producer, as well as writer of book and lyrics for Heart of Steel on now at the Next Stage Theatre Festival; as well as Nicole Power, who is playing Amelia in the production. The show is directed by Luke Brown and presented by Aim For the Tangent Theatre. So, do you want to tell me a little bit about the show?

WC: Sure! The show deals with a group of women working at the Sydney Steel Plant in Cape Breton during World War II. Sydney was the biggest steel plant in Canada at the time, it produced more than fifty percent of Canada’s steel during the war, and this was the first time women were allowed to work in these conditions, working in industrial labor. They were working in all sorts of positions in the plant. And it’s presented as a full musical comedy! So if that doesn’t get your toes tappin’…

The story deals with Nicole’s character Amelia who is a young lady who has grown up in Cape Breton and desperately wants to leave the small town and spread her wings a little, but is forced to stay and work at the plant in order to support her family and save their house. She goes through a huge journey, meets several other ladies who she forms a bond with and we get to see all of them grow. We see the effect of them getting more independence. We see how the war affects not just the people who’ve left, but also those who’ve stayed behind. Everything changes.

How World War II was a catalyst for change is something that’s been addressed in a lot of literature and film, but I think that from a musical theatre standpoint, this is a story that’s never been told. I think the form of the musical is a way to present that’s quite exciting. There’s a lot of fun to be had with it. The music certainly plays on the heartstrings as well as leaving a lot of room for comedy and dance.


RQ: It’s a big show with a huge cast. You’ve got a lot of musical numbers. It’s very visually expansive and exciting. What do you think is the benefit doing this for a story that wouldn’t normally get told about women in Canadian history, about the working class in Canadian history, about the Maritimes in Canadian history, or about Canadian history in general! These stories aren’t normally told in a form like this.

WC: I think it’s something that I both love and am frustrated by about Canadians is that we’re so humble. All of our achievements, all of our heroes are very understated. And I do love that, as a human. However, as a nationalist, I wish we had a little more of what the Americans are so good at. That kind of propaganda, beating the drum and waving the flag. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but I think there are so many things in our history that we don’t celebrate or know about outside of a heritage minute. So, being able to tell this story is a privilege and it’s a way to show this great history in a format that’s more palatable than an essay. It’s very accessible and fun, but there’s a lot of details that soak through.

NP: Wes, Hillary Scott, and Sam White (who were all also a part of the original production) would talk about doing the show in Sydney and having women come and speak to them who had worked at the steel plant. They were in their eighties and they never dreamed that their story would be told on any platform. So, when it’s done in such a way that celebrates women, and the work force, and the East Coast lifestyle, it’s so rewarding to be a part of. I’m from Newfoundland. I’m an East-Coaster myself and I feel that it’s a hard thing to capture, the essence of East Coast culture and mentality, the welcoming vibe. The music in this show has such an East Coast feel to it. It feels like the folk songs that everybody knows.


RQ: Yes! I wanted to ask you about the music in this show being “kitchen music”, the kind of music you’d play at a party in someone’s kitchen out East. What do you think is the importance of that in Maritime culture, to these people?

WC: Music, culture, and community are so intertwined there, that they’re the same thing. That’s something I definitely tried to do with this show.

NP: Music goes hand in hand with everybody from the East Coast, I feel. When I moved to Toronto, and I’d tell people I was from Newfoundland, they’d ask me if I played seventeen instruments, and I don’t, unfortunately!

WC: Only fifteen.

NP: Exactly. And luckily this cast is full of people who are so musically talented; who can play accordion, Rosie Dykstra can play a fiddle by ear and she’s twelve! Music at that time was so important to help people get through tough situations, and I think Wes really uses that in the show. Before the soldiers ship off to war, we have a big ol’ kitchen party. What I love about it is that it’s not a traditional musical in the sense that everything pauses and there’s a dance number, it’s more organic. It comes out of the characters, and there’s no apologizing for it, and there’s no sense of perfection in the movement. It’s very free, and I feel like it really resembles East Coast life.

WC: There really aren’t many moments where everyone is doing the same thing. At one point we’ve got twenty people onstage, but everyone exists in their own ecosystem. We’ve got highland in this corner, and there are other people doing a polka over here, there’s a chain weaving through the middle. Amanda Nuttall, our choreographer, has done an amazing job of capturing those different styles and making it very personal for each character.

I think that’s why it works to tell this story as a musical, because everything is so inseparable. The music, the lifestyle, they just make sense together.

RQ: Nicole, what can you tell me about your character, Amelia?

NP: Amelia is the oldest of four kids. Her father passed away a few years ago, and he worked at the steel plant in Sydney. We see Amelia at the beginning of the play expressing that she needs to get out of the small town. There must be something more than going to school and becoming a mother and wife. She longs for something else. But then she gets the news that she has to stay and help her family, which she’s happy to do, and working at the steel plant helps her find a new love for her home. She meets women who inspire her, shock her, who are nothing like she’s ever encountered before. I think that her journey is fueled by love: love for adventure, love for her family, love for friendships, love for experience. That’s what pulls her in so many different directions. Eventually, she decides that she does love home. It’s not the small-minded town that she thought it was. The experience propels her forward in life, but keeps her rooted at home.

RQ: This show was first produced in Sydney, where the actual steel plant is. Do you want to tell me a bit about that process?

WC: About a year and a half ago, I moved back home to Sydney to take over as Artistic Director of a brand new theatre space that was previously a church. I thought I was going back for one show, but we’ve done nineteen major productions in the last year and a half. So, when I was home and looking for ways to engage people and showcase theatre to this community that had never had a professional theatre, this was a story I stumbled on in my research. I was amazed that nobody had talked about this major social development where women came and took over for a few years. It was a very fast writing process, I put pen to paper for the first time on January 1st of last year and we opened the first production at the Highland Arts theatre on March 23rd. That was all the music being written, the book, all the rehearsals, all with community theatre performers. I was very lucky with all the talent out on the East Coast. It ended up being extremely well-received and sold out once it opened, so we brought it back through the summer, which was wonderful. Again, it was so great to see this whole community excited about something in their past that nobody was talking about. These women in their eighties were coming up to us after the show saying that they never thought they’d be acknowledged. It was very moving.

Although it was a great experience within that community, I didn’t know if it could necessarily stretch beyond that, because it is so personal. However, I was looking to do something in Toronto again, so I submitted to Next Stage, and it was accepted! I called them to make sure they knew what the show was, a two-hour musical with a forty-person cast! I was certainly scared, but very quickly we got Luke Brown on board to direct, we got a team around the project that I knew could handle it, and we got an incredible cast, a mere twenty-one actors this time. Because of my responsibilities out East, I’ve been out there most of the Fall, but I knew this show was in great hands.

I’ve known Nicole since 2007. We were in the same class in the musical theatre performance programme at Sheridan. I’m so excited to have her on board. The whole cast is amazing, and it’s been so great to have more time to work on it, and with really wonderful people: EJ Scott, Jan Smith, people who have been at Shaw, Stratford, Mirvish, Soulpepper, Charlottetown. It baffles my mind. We’ve really worked on tightening up the show. The script has benefited hugely from getting this second production, and from these people.


RQ: What are your hopes for the new year, theatre-wise?

WC: (laughs) More funding!

NP: I’m really excited to get involved in more productions of new Canadian work. I’ve really enjoyed that in the last year.

WC: I’m very privileged in my position, to have an outlet in Cape Breton to promote theatre in my hometown. I get to help people there see things they’ve not been able to see. Though it’s been great to be back in Toronto for this show. I hope to continue to be back for projects, and I’d love to travel to other parts of Canada, for that matter.

I’d love for something else to happen with this show, beyond Next Stage. I know it’s much easier in a festival setting where people will work on something just because they believe in it, but I’d love if someone else decided to work on it.

I spoke earlier about Canadians being timid to tell our own stories, and I think that’s especially true in musical theatre. Americans use that art form as a way to champion their own history, and their heroes. Canada does that in smaller ways, for example with Billy Bishop Goes to War, but we need to continue to do that or else these stories will get lost. We’ll end up consumed by Netflix, American cinema, even European cinema; and we’ll lose track of who we are. That’s something I believe in.

RQ: Thanks so much, and congratulations on the show!

WC: Thank you!


Heart of Steel

Presented as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival


Presented by: Aim for the Tangent Theatre
Book, Music, Lyrics: Wesley Colford
Director: Luke Brown
Musical Director: Marion Abbott
Choreographer: Amanda Nuttall
Featuring: Nicole Power, Jan Alexandra Smith, Eliza Jane Scott, Mercedes Morris, Rose Napoli, Greg Campbell, Hilary Scott, Richard Lam, Sam White, Amy Marie Wallace, Vicktoria Adam, Dan Abrahamson, Kenton Blythe, Hilary June Hart, Toshi Murohashi, Rosie Dykstra, Ducolon Banville, Geoff Whynot, David DiFrancesco, Benjamin Camenzuli, Courtney Fiddis
Set/Lighting Designer: Joe Pagnan

What: 1943: the boys are overseas and it’s up to Cape Breton’s female force to hold the fort! Hear the tale of the Sydney Steel Plant told through a blend of traditional East Coast Folk and ’40’s swingin boogie woogie.

Where: Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)

January 12 06:45 PM*  buy tickets
January 13 08:45 PM  buy tickets
January 15 09:45 PM  buy tickets
January 16 06:15 PM  buy tickets
January 17 06:45 PM  buy tickets

* Talk Back after the show

Tickets: $15.00





In Conversation with Sarah Kitz – Director of Agamemnon at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: Hello! I’m speaking with Sarah Kitz, director of Agamemnon. It’s premiering at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, presented by Theatreworks and the Agamemnon Collective.

SK: Hello!

RQ: So this is a new adaptation and translation by Nicolas Billon of the ancient Greek play by Aeschylus. For those unfamiliar with the original story of Agamemnon, do you want to tell me a bit about it?

SK: For sure. The back story is really important. What happens ten years previous is that Agamemnon agrees to sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigenia, in order to get a win from the gods to sail to Troy, to sack Troy, to bring back Helen. So that’s what happens at the end of the play Iphigenia. Now we flash forward ten years, it’s been a ten year war in Troy. Troy has now fallen and the men are coming home. So Agamemnon is coming back to his home and, of course, the men coming home from war are expecting to enter a soft, domestic, female space. They’re expecting to leave the war zone behind and instead they enter a different kind of war zone.

My entrance to the play, my vision of the play is that the sacrificing of this young woman is a thing that breaks the world. They are doomed from that moment. All of the soldiers die in that moment, before their bodies are actually blown up and all of the people in the community that are left behind are in a kind of death, as well. All of the things that we value like the body and life and youth and the future and the feminine, all of those things are immediately upended and devalued in the sacrifice of this young girl. So the men return from war to a broken world. That’s where we are now, and Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife and mother of Iphigenia has been plotting revenge for ten years, waiting for this moment.

RQ: So history was written at that moment ten years ago, and now Agamemnon is reaping what he’s sown.

SK: Now it’s comeuppance time, yeah.

RQ: Do you want to tell me a bit about the adaptation?

SK: Yes! So Nicolas has updated it to now, even a few years in the future. We’ve taken this classical structure and we’ve perverted it into the vulgar, base, funny, uncomfortable world of reality TV, let’s say. So, to hit on these themes we live with now, but have turned up the volume on even more so. The level of sex and violence we accept as the normal baseline in our culture is even higher. And that, again, is because of the sacrifice of this young girl, things that we value have become devalued. So, violence and extreme sexuality are everyday and not noteworthy until we see people come back into the community and register the horror show that is normality.

RQ: So with reality TV, the second we embrace that vulgarity, there’s no way to take it back in the future.

SK: Exactly. It becomes the new normal, and we just keep building up from there.

RQ: I want to know how this came about. You’ve got this great playwright. You’ve got a great cast including, but not entirely limited to, Nigel Shawn Williams, Brigit Wilson, Earl Pastko. What was the genesis of the show?

SK: Nicolas was commissioned to write Agamemnon for Theatreworks. After Theatreworks saw Iphigenia, which he did at Summerworks years ago, they approached him and asked him what he’d like to do next and he said he’d like to write this companion piece. So, he wrote it for them and they workshopped it a few years back. Then, nothing happened with it and he really wanted to put it on. He and I have been friends for quite a while and are always looking for opportunities to work together. So, when I was out in Winnipeg this summer directing Antony and Cleopatra, he called me up and said he wanted to submit Agamemnon for Next Stage, and he wanted me to direct it. He sent me the script, I read it and I was captivated. I called him back and said yes, and we immediately started excitedly planning.

Agamemmnon 11

Photo of Amy Keating by Robert Harding

RQ: A lot of Agamemnon has to do with myth-making, and the myths we create of ourselves, our culture, our history. I was wondering where those parallels are between the way myths were created by the Ancient Greeks, and the myths we create for ourselves now.

SK: There is a myth that is at the center of this show, which is unfortunately valid still. That myth is that you can purchase peace with war. Or you can purchase forgiveness with violence. That this war will be the last war. That hasn’t changed, and that is one of the central arguments of this play both in its classical original form, and in the contemporary form; and the fact that it is updated only underlines that point. It’s the idea that people who go to war are heroes. In this play, we have people who come back from war, who have seen and partaken in atrocity, and they know different. It’s the people who haven’t gone to war who treat them like heroes in some aspects. We have one character say to a returning soldier “You are a hero,” and he says “No, miss”. He’s been, and he’s seen, and he’s done.

RQ: The original myth that we bought into.

SK: And we’re still buying into it. The only way to stop that myth and stop that history is to refuse to go to war and have everyone in the world refuse to go to war. That is the only way to break that myth. Otherwise, when these warring tribes in this far away country are fighting each other, we will still feel entitled to involve ourselves in that, we’ll make an incursion into another country, blow it up, and create a vacuum of power. Then some other insurgency will step in.

RQ: When we think of war in terms of results instead of the act itself.

SK: I’d say that’s one of the other central points of this play – that in war time, violence doesn’t stay at the site of conflict. It affects all of the communities that have sent people to war. We are then living in a culture of war, and violence and sexuality reach a kind of fevered height, both at home and at the site of conflict. All adrenaline becomes the same adrenaline at that point. If you’re not fighting, then you’re playing violent video games or watching porn, because all of those things are the same. The body has no value, and there’s no intimacy, there’s only getting off.

RQ: One of the things we spoke about when you were directing Three More Sleepless Nights by Caryl Churchill was about the class divide at the center of that piece. Do you feel that’s present in this piece as well?

SK: There is a strong sense of class in a way that may be invisible, but is definitely noteworthy. In the classical Agamemnon, they’re royalty; but in this updated version we’re doing, they’ve moved way down in the world. The people we send to war now aren’t kings and presidents. The people with power, money, and status are at home or at a far, safe distance pushing a button. The people we send into physical contact are poor, dispossessed, and working class. So the family we’re looking at, the house of Atreus, were royalty ten years before the Trojan war. Now they’re blue collar at best.

RQ: What draws you toward a project?

SK: Danger excites me. Laughter excites me. People living large excites me. Words excite me. If I don’t get that physical rush reading a script, that’s a good indication that I shouldn’t do it. I’ve started to say “no” a lot, which is interesting to me. And that doesn’t mean a show shouldn’t be done, it means I’m not the person to do that show. I want a show that has something to say to us. Pure escapism is not for me. It has its place, absolutely, but I’m not the director or the actor for it. I’m also interested in politics, but I don’t want people to come to the threatre and think they’re being lectured at. However, I do believe that theatre can be a revolution. If you get people breathing in a room together, and you’re presenting an argument, it’s a challenge to the way we live our lives. That’s revolutionary ground. It’s an opening for dialogue, and it’s a dialogue that’s happening inside of a community.

RQ: As we start 2016, what would you like to see in the world of theatre this year? For yourself personally, or for the community as a whole?

SK: I would like to see more diverse voices being programmed, and that not be something specialized. That needs to be the new normal. We need to stop talking about it already and just be doing it everywhere. Diversity isn’t a genre. A show about a family is a show about a family. Whether they’re a Greek family or a Chinese immigrant family, or a family run by a mixed-race lesbian couple. It’s a family story, and that’s what we want to see. So, I’d like to see a greater diversity of voices happen.

Also, I’m really excited by what’s happening in the indie theatre scene in Toronto a lot. I love watching our generation step up and start producing the work that they want to make without waiting to be invited into larger institutions because there aren’t always enough places for everyone to be. It’s very exciting and sometimes creating outside of those boxes is the best way because you have the most control. Then when you get to move in to more institutionalized places, you’ve probably worked out kinks in your own process and in your own aesthetics, and you have a good idea of what it is you want to do, how you want to say it, and who you’re really great working with. That makes me really excited to watch happening. And they’re breaking structures of plays, too. What is a play? Do we need to follow the classical structures? I think the idea of dramaturgy can be shattered.


Presented by Theatreworks Productions and The Agamemnon Collective

What: After a ten year siege, the city of Troy finally lies in ruin. Clytemnestra waits for Agamemnon with murder in her heart. A visceral, contemporized re-imagining of the opening chapter of Aeschylus’ Oresteia by Governor General award winning playwright Nicolas Billon.

Where: Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St)

Length: 75 minutes

Playwright: Nicolas Billon (after the play by Aeschylus)
Director: Sarah Kitz
Featuring: Nigel Shawn Williams, Brigit Wilson, Earl Pastko, Susanna Fournier, Ron Kennell, Amy Keating, Zita Nyarady, Marcel Stewart, Samantha Brown

Tickets: $15.00


January 06 05:45 PM  buy tickets
January 07 09:30 PM  buy tickets
January 09 04:15 PM  buy tickets
January 10 06:30 PM*  buy tickets
January 11 08:45 PM  buy tickets
January 14 05:30 PM  buy tickets
January 15 07:30 PM  buy tickets
January 16 08:45 PM  buy tickets
January 17 02:00 PM  buy tickets

* Talk Back after the show

Connect with us:

Sarah Kitz: @Sarah_Kitz

Ryan Quinn: @MrRyanQuinn

In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_

In Conversation with Holger Syme – Adaptor & Director of The Howland Company’s upcoming workshop production of “Casimir and Caroline”

Interview by Ryan Quinn

I got the chance to speak with Holger Syme, director of Casimir and Caroline at The Luella Massey Studio Theatre, presented as part of The Howland Company’s four-day workshop weekend. Syme translated the work and adapted it with the company, and this public workshop production will run from November 19th-22nd, with talkback sessions for audience feedback.

RQ: Tell me a bit about Casimir and Caroline, which you’re directing for The Howland Company.

HS: Ah, where to start… a German director said in the 1970s that “To summarize the plot of his plays is mostly fruitless,” and I think that’s right. Casimir and Caroline, as a “story,” is about a whole bunch of people at a party: some hit on each other, some break up with each other, one has a major health disaster, one ends up in jail. But within that kind of banal, kind of mundane scenario, Horváth examines an incredibly rich cluster of questions: what does love mean in a culture in which it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish commercial and emotional relationships? What happens to desire in a consumer culture? What do you do with feelings if you have no words to give them proper expression? And, really, most broadly, how can you live a life that’s in any way ethically justifiable in a world in which everything has become consumable?

RQ: You’ve translated and adapted this text from Ödön von Horváth, and you’re directing it as well. What draws you to this particular text?

HS: Well, first of all, how astonishingly contemporary it feels. I mean, what I just said the play is “about” applies a little bit more to our adaptation than to Horváth’s original, but really only a bit — all of those themes are in the 1932 text as well, although the kind of commodity culture Horváth experienced was of course quite different from ours. He was also writing on the eve of the Nazi’s first major election victory in Germany, and that’s obviously not our political climate. But the broader economic and social picture he’s drawing on — that’s very comparable, with the unspeakable divide between rich and poor, with the widespread condition of living on the brink of social deprivation, in an existence where losing your job can mean losing everything that you think of as “your life,” and so on. So that was the text’s primary appeal: that it seemed to speak so clearly, from the 1930s, to our own moment.

But I also find Horváth’s dramaturgy extremely interesting, and his dramatic language. His plays aren’t really structured as linear narratives — they are panoramic, and that’s a very appealing structure to me. It allows for a sharp focus on character and situation, both of which make, I think, for exciting challenges for actors and directors alike; the “story” is so simple and straightforward that it forces us (makers and audiences alike) to think about the issues that are being negotiated, and it really allows for a focus on the theatrical moment: what someone is doing right now, in front of you. How they’re moving their body, how they’re acting vis-a-vis another person, what they’re saying, how they’re occupying the space. It allows the audience to watch moment by moment without having to think too hard about what happened before and what’s going to happen next.

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RQ: How was the process of adapting this text different from translating it?

HS: That’s where the language bit from earlier becomes relevant: Horváth writes in a really, really odd German. His plays read a lot like Sean O’Casey re-scripted by Pinter, if you can imagine such a thing. They’re extremely idiomatic — some dialect bits, tons of clichés, lots of 1930s pop-culture quotations, literary allusions of a not especially sophisticated kind, etc. If you translate that straightforwardly, it’ll sound awfully stilted — and partly, that stiltedness is absolutely necessary. Very few of Horváth’s characters have access to an “authentic” language: especially when they’re trying to express their deepest feelings, they sound like a Hallmark card or a self-help book. So the big challenge is not making the text sound “natural,” but finding precisely the right kind of stiltedness.

I had a first stab at that in my original translation, and then we worked very intensively, with lots of improv exercises, on finding those lines. We also felt that the gender politics of Horváth’s play were the one aspect that needed updating — his broader political perspective felt current, but his women slipped too easily into victim roles. So we made a lot of changes there, including turning two pretty marginal part-time prostitutes into corporate employees with a good deal more dramatic life. And we transformed the two older wealthy establishment figures in the original into two young overprivileged guys working in the tech industry — partly because of the Howland Company’s mandate, but also because it allowed us to focus on economic privilege more sharply, without having to negotiate generational conflicts as well.

Strictly in terms of process, the difference was that between sitting alone at home, translating the text; and spending many hours in rehearsal rooms, recording totally free and more guided improvisations, and then turning those into scenes by picking and choosing lines (alone at home). What’s really important to me, though, is that while we “adapted” Horváth’s text in the sense that we found contemporary equivalents for his own historically situated language, we are very faithfully following the original play’s dramaturgical structure. His first stage direction says that the play is set “now,” and that’s been my guiding principle: you can’t be “true” to this play if you set it in 1932 and in Munich. It’s not a history play.

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RQ: You’ve done a lot of travel, and taken in theatre in many different cultural and historical contexts. How does that inform your process as a director?

HS: That’s an incredibly difficult question. Partly, this is a research project for me: I wanted to see what happens when you bring theatrical texts and practices from other cultures into contact with actors who are trained to work in the context of our own, Canadian assumptions about theatre. But of course I’m usually “just” an audience member outside of Canada — and what you see on stage relates only in a very complicated way to what happens in the rehearsal room!

It’s definitely true that because I see so much theatre elsewhere, especially in Germany, there are things I just don’t care about that others might consider very important. And there are things that I find totally crucial that others might find silly or negligible.

RQ: Do you find that you find yourself mixing elements of world theatre with Canadian theatre practices? What would you say any uniquely Canadian theatre practices are?

HS: OK, specifics? Er… “world theatre” doesn’t really exist, as far as I’m concerned. And what I find important keeps shifting as well. But here’s a few things: there’s a kind of spontaneity in German performance that I desperately want to see more of — the ability to move while speaking, to respond immediately to anything and anyone around you (in a way that’s going to be different, often radically different, from night to night), the freedom to mess with the text quite a bit, and so on. So I’ve been pushing hard for that. I’ve tried my best to reassure my cast that whatever they think might “make sense” probably does, in that moment — and that my role really is just to tell them if it doesn’t. The impulses should come from them, and they should be empowered to offer whatever they can think of. On the other hand, I also really care about stage images — spatial relations between bodies in particular. So some moments have to be very strictly blocked. There’s a tension between those two directorial impulses.

Uniquely Canadian? I’m not sure. Certainly a focus on story — though that’s a general Anglo theatre preoccupation. A general grounding of everything in psychology, rather than, say, politics. That’s for “straight” theatre such as this — there are other, very powerful “Canadian” theatre practices, in the fields of devised theatre or movement-based theatre, but that’s not really what we’re doing.

The big challenge for me, but also the really exhilarating aspect of the work, has been to put the show on stage in a way that allows the actors to play to their strengths without giving up on my own desire to keep the project focused on politics and dramatic situation. Things like allowing a moment to keep going past what the “story” might require, because it’s interesting, or entertaining, or compelling as a theatrical moment — that’s not something I see very often around here, and it’s something I really love in German theatre. But I think it’s pretty counterintuitive to Canadian actors; I suspect it feels a bit self-indulgent to be so uneconomical. But I don’t think it is. I think it’s exciting.

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RQ: What do you think is the importance of companies like The Howland Company? Is there an eventual reshaping of the Canadian theatre landscape happening?

HS: Companies like Howland are all about creating opportunities for young actors to put thrilling, fresh work on stage — and I thinks that’s crucial if we want our theatre to remain as anything other than a social occasion (or obligation) for well-to-do people above a certain age. If I’m honest, I wish companies like this didn’t need to exist as independent outfits: I wish our larger, established institutions would make more room for this kind of work, and for these kinds of actors. There’s nothing more exciting to me in the theatre than to see actors who are still growing on stage; though it’s even more thrilling to see such actors work with very experienced colleagues, and to see those older actors having to respond to someone who’s doing things in a very different way than they’re used to. But in our current system, that’s very rare, because the young people mostly make their own work and opportunities (and can’t pay well enough to attract many more established figures), whereas actors that survive in the theatre industry for long enough to become established mostly work in a different world. There are exceptions, of course (David Ferry comes to mind as someone who frequently crosses that divide, and Soulpepper has been exemplary at integrating young performers in major roles), but it’s a real problem, and a real limitation. I hope we can figure out a way of changing that.

RQ: What do you hope people are discussing on their way back home after seeing this show?

HS: How to live. How to love. Whether to have a donut, a popsicle, or a rotisserie chicken.

RQ: As we’re heading toward the new year, what changes would you like to see happen in the Toronto theatre community next year? What would you like to see continue?

HS: Ha! See above. I always say the same thing, boringly. I want to see fewer new plays and more classics done in a new way. I want us to stop seeking inspiration on Broadway — because, seriously, why? When has thrilling art ever been inspired by rank commercialism? If we need to look for inspiration in the English-speaking world, look to London (but not the West End). Look to the Almeida and the Young Vic, and occasionally the National Theatre. Continue? To let our actors take all the risks they want. (Or would that be a new thing?) Believe more in performers and less in storytellers.

RQ: You’re the the Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English and Drama at the University of Toronto Mississauga; as well as being a Harvard Graduate. What is the relationship between the academic landscape of theatre and the performance community? Is there enough of a conversation?

HS: In short, no. But that really is a HUGE conversation topic! I’m worried about the anti-intellectual climate in many parts of the theatre world — not just here, but everywhere, really. I’m troubled by a certain kind of aloofness towards theatre people on the part of quite a few academics. I find it really unhelpful how many theatre people and academics think they know right from wrong, and think that the “others” don’t. On the other hand, I’m also always baffled by how similar some academics and some theatre makers are, in a bad way: take Shakespeare. With any given performance, you’ll have plenty of disappointed academics and theatre people who object to performance choices because they don’t reflect their own understanding of the play — but that’s not what they say. They’ll say those choices were bad, or ill-conceived, or stupid, or just “wrong.” There’s too little willingness to let a show speak for itself, to see it as simply an intriguing theatrical event that is valid and compelling in its own right, not because it “interprets” a text. And that’s true for many academics and for theatre makers and critics alike. In general, I think both academics and theatre people should take theatre itself more seriously. (And again, I could name many exceptions to all of this!)

RQ: Any parting thoughts?

HS: Brecht said that theatre had to be entertaining before it could be political. I think we’ve tried to be true to that in Casimir and Caroline — entertaining, exciting, moving, all of those things. But then, political. Or at least I hope so…


Casimir and Caroline

A workshop production

By Ödön von Horváth
Translated, Adapted, and Directed by Holger Syme
Presented by The Howland Company
Featuring: Alexander Crowther, Sophia Fabiilli, Ruth Goodwin, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Cameron Laurie, Michael Man, Jesse Nerenberg, Hallie Seline, Mishka Thébaud, Kristen Zaza.
Lighting Design: Jareth Li
Sound Design: Samuel Sholdice
Stage Manager: Jordana Weiss
Producer: James Graham

When: Thursday Nov. 19 – Sunday Nov. 22 at 8pm

Where: Luella Massey Studio Theatre, 4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto
(One block North and one block East of the Spadina/Harbord intersection)

Events: Talkbalk sessions to follow each night. All are welcome.

Tickets: $15. Buy here.



Casimir and Caroline from The Howland Company on Vimeo.

*On Sunday, November 22, presented with Casimir and Caroline as part of The Howland Company’s four-day workshop weekend , at 2pm there will also be a reading of take rimbaud, a new performance text in development by Toronto playwright Susanna Fournier, workshopped by The Howland Company.

take rimbaud

Admission will be free for this reading.

“We are all terrifying creatures these days. The Restless ones. What do the Restless seek? Comfort? Or, oblivion”

By Susanna Fournier
Presented by The Howland Company
Time: Sunday November 22nd, 2015 at 2pm
Location: Luella Massey Studio Theatre, 4 Glen Morris Street, Toronto
(One block North and one block East of the Spadina/Harbord intersection)
Tickets: Free admission