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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.

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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.

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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

Who:
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

When:

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:

www.theatreworksproductions.com
@AgamemnonTO
#Agamemnon

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…

C&C

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.

Website: howlandcompanytheatre.com

 

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

2014 Fringe Interview – Tarrare – Suspicious Moustache Theatre

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: So, I’m here with an assortment of the cast and crew of Tarrare, being mounted by Suspicious Moustache Theatre as part of 2014 Fringe. Director Darcy Stoop is here.

DS: Hello!

RQ: Would you like to introduce the rest of these fantastic people?

DS: Of course! We have playwright Liam Volke, actor John Fray, who plays the man himself, and a set, costume, and props designer, as well as script consultant, Cat Haywood. And myself, directing and producing the whole business.

RQ: So, do you want to tell me a bit about the show? What can people expect when they come see Tarrare?

DS: For sure. It’s the story of France’s most notorious glutton. Tarrare was a real guy who lived in the last days of the revolution in France. And he probably had what we call polyphagia in modern terms, an extreme case of hunger. He could and would eat anything he could get his hands on: stones, corks, bones, at a certain point, corpses, live animals as well. His parents couldn’t feed him, so he was kicked out of his house, and he joined a travelling side show as a geek, and he was a spy for a little while. He was led around by this strange affliction that he had, and this is sort of his struggle of who he is versus what he does, and figuring out what his place is in the world. We have some really fun stuff coming onto the stage, we have a shadowbox, there are swords involved, there’s lots of live eating, of course. He was a real guy, but we only know five or six things about his life, so we’ve had to take these sparse facts and really elaborate and create the world he inhabits with all of these other characters he would have met along the way in his journey toward his ultimate end. I don’t want to say too much about that, we’ll leave some mystery behind it.

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Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz, Costumes: Cat Haywood

RQ: Liam, as a playwright, what drew you to this story?

LV: Darcy and Cat had been talking about making a play about this guy’s life for a while now, and we decided to have a go at it. I’m really interested in historical figures, lesser-known ones especially. I love the idea of someone who is, and I know this isn’t the right analogy to draw, but who is possessed by this hunger. It’s almost supernatural that way. Also, I realized in writing the play that there is so much about our language, in the metaphors and similes that we use, that is related to hunger and eating. Like when you see a puppy or a cute baby and you say “Oh, I could eat you up”. These are things we don’t think about, but they’re there in the water we swim in, they’re all around us. So, that’s something I became more aware of in writing the play. The material was so rich, even though we know so little about him. Everything we do know about him is pretty weird and brilliant. He had a short life, but the material is all there, you know?

RQ: He sounds almost mythic.

CH: Yeah, there’s a touch of Candide, definitely, in his lifespan. He always just goes from misadventure to misadventure, and he tumbles though these different cycles. So it’s fun to see together as a story. All of a sudden he decides to be a spy, and we get to take that leap with him.

DS: Yeah, it seems to be a journey of putting a person into strange circumstances and seeing what happens. It’s not exactly what’s happening here, but he’s such a strange figure, such an odd personality and remarkable individual that any situation he did find himself in became that much more fascinating and stageworthy because of the sheer fact of who he is. Even if we had his diary of, you know, “went to the market today, nothing else to report,” the sheer fact of who he is and the really fascinating historical period he lived in is enough to put up a really interesting show. One of the struggles we’ve had is having too much we want to say about this guy. We’ve had to nip and tuck and find the best bits.

RQ: So speaking of stage-worthy, Darcy, you’ve been involved in this production from its inception. It wasn’t text that you were going into blind, but it’s something you were thinking of conceptually and visually before it was put on paper, right?

DS: Yeah, especially between Cat and I. Cat’s my fiancee as well as my creative partner, so we had a lot of discussions about the fact that it’s this guy, and it’s on stage. Those are the two catalyst components. We’d work with Liam when we had a basic outline and we’d come in one scene at a time and say “How can we figure out a way to have him do this?”, or “what’s the connector pin between him being in the sideshow and him being in the army?”. There needs to be a reason for that to happen. So, it all came together like putting together a nice puzzle. We had these strong images, and we had to decide how to sew them together in a kind of Frankenstein-ish mix of bits and pieces. The company’s done original work before, but this was the first time where we had so much that’s just coming from ourselves, that we had to play and mold and shape. So, we didn’t sit down and write the beginning, then write the middle, then write the end. It was very much an episodic, piecemeal affair that fit together very nicely. I’m astonished and so grateful to everyone involved that so many of the images that floated into my head when I was thinking about this are actually on stage, and they look and feel wonderful. I’m excited to share that with people. It’s not often that you get this nice idea in your head of how something would look, then all of a sudden it’s there.

RQ: And as a performer, John, how do you approach work like this that’s more episodic, and it sounds a bit multidisciplinary as well.

JF: Well, it’s been interesting. I found that Tarrare’s voice in his head, or his drive, sort of changes as the play goes on. Certainly, he is narrating from his death, and there’s a distinct point of view he’s narrating from versus the one that he begins the play with when he’s alive. In my mind, he definitely develops in a concrete way as the play goes along, and that’s there in the writing. He matures, but he also gets worn down and beaten down and seems to disintegrate. It’s been a lot of fun, I just have to let myself disintegrate as the play goes on, haha.

RQ: Cat, when you’re designing a show like this, that takes place during the French Revolution, but that’s also a bit vaudevillian, a bit freak show…

CH: There’s definitely a touch of circus to it. It definitely starts that way and becomes a bit more militaristic as he grows up. I think that as Tarrare matures, so does, perhaps, the imagery that comes into his life. The major thing for me was creating the shadowbox as a script convention. I don’t think we could have done some of the eating tricks without it. We wanted to have a bit of mystery in the creepy but also intriguing things he’s doing behind this shadowbox. Making him a silhouette is also a great metaphor for what’s going on during the piece as well. Tarrare himself, the fact that he’s insatiable, and he’s always desiring more, and it hurts him but he can’t stop himself; it’s a great metaphor for what’s happening in the country at the time. The face of the revolution is this kind of downtrodden everyman trying to get some food. I think from the beginning, we knew that this character who’s from the lower rungs of society, who is just trying to eat, there’s a symbol there.

RQ: He has the hunger of an entire people.

CH: Yeah, I’ve often thought that that’s a way of thinking about scale. He is one guy, and it is something that really happened, but artistically, it serves to show what’s going on for an entire society. We’ve always established that as being a part of it.

LV: Something I’ve always found funny, is that he’s this outsider, this freak on the fringes of society and yet during this time period, he becomes the standard. He fits into this mob of hungry people, and the difference is that it’s an actual medical condition.

CH: Well, this is the point where we started to care about the downtrodden, and the dispossessed, and the people who’ve been disregarded. Of course, they are totally forgettable, they’re the peasantry, why would you care about whether they eat or not? And then you get to this revolution, where people finally say: “Maybe we should be eating. Maybe we shouldn’t be starving. Maybe there’s another solution”. And as Tarrare tries on these different hats, it’s almost like the country is trying them on too. France became a threat to neighbouring countries, if they can rise up and overthrow the government, will they inspire people here to do the same? I mean, the class system there is breaking apart.

DS: In theory.

CH: In theory, yes. The success he gets in being a performer, then being a spy, I think is the success that the people in general were striving for.

DS: I make this comparison without a whole lot of weight, but it’s similar to Midnight’s Children which takes the struggle of an entire nation and turns it into a very personal story. That’s the same thing that happens when you take the French Revolution and transpose Tarrare. You have a country personified by this one person whose actions don’t have a whole lot of consequence outside his personal circle, but there’s a synecdoche of what’s happening on a larger scale. There’s two stories we’re telling at the same time, though this remarkable man.

LV: This is all stuff we’re thinking about and hoping to communicate in the play, but it’s not something the audience needs to pick up on to enjoy the story, I think it’s a good story on its own.

CH: Yeah, even if you were to just look at it in terms of what we do know about him, without the historical parallels, and without our embellishments, I think it’s a story people will be really interested to see.

DS: I think one of the most encouraging parts of the process was before we had the script fully written, when we were just showing it to our actor friends and asking them what they thought about certain moments or scenes, and they were excited by the story, it’s a great story. And in terms of gathering resources, that’s worked really well in my favour! It’s a weird show that has the historical/political meaning for those that are looking for it, it has the interpersonal relationships, and it explores the idea of “come see the freak show because he’s different from you”. That’s the hook for something like this, but it’s also something I’ve always been personally interested in, trying to find why exactly we can’t turn away from car crashes and beached whales. They’re captivating. We want to see that side of the human experience.

LV: We need to admit to ourselves that we do like to do that?

DS: Yeah, we’re not above gawking.

RQ: I think that also, for people looking for it, there’s a real contemporary cultural relevance. Maybe now more than ever, there’s a culture of consumption. I was wondering if you could speak to that.

CH: I think we’re a little less ashamed now, as a society, to talk about our appetites and our needs. Humans have always been creatures of need, but now we’re actually vocalizing what we want and what we’re craving. Ambition, for example, is a hunger that’s really celebrated. That’s shown in some of the other characters in this show, Tarrare isn’t the only one who’s really hungry for something. While he has a physical hunger, others have hungers that are a little tougher to immediately diagnose. I think a lot of the characters in his world draw parallels to the types of people you’d see today.

DS: Social climbers, business climbers, people who’ll do anything to increase their status in some way.

CH: And we describe ourselves by what we consume and what we go through every day.

LV: One little tidbit of history that I found really fascinating is that when the French Revolution began, after the French populace stormed the Bastille fortress, people were quick to capitalize from it. They’d sell jewelry made from stones and metal from the Bastille and sell it on the street, sort of to say “Oh yes, I was there”. So even then, people were trying to establish the street cred of being at the French Revolution, of being a part of it.

RQ: So that’s their relationship to history in the making. They’re performing their history as you, as a company, are performing history.

LV: I think that’s what interests me in history, and it may be cliche to say this, but if you want to understand the present, you have to understand the past. That’s the great thing about Tarrare, is that it’s a lesser-known story, but it’s no less enthralling.

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Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz, Costumes: Cat Haywood

RQ: What’s the conversation you want people to be having after the show? What do you want people to argue about?

CH: I think there will probably be a dissonance in rooting for Tarrare. He transgresses a lot of moral boundaries, but he does it for a very human, understandable reason. An audience is supposed to judge the actions of a protagonist when it gets into a murky area, but I would also like them to be compelled to feel empathetic toward Tarrare at the same time. I think that’s what I’d like people to wonder about, is “Can I imagine a scenario where I’d be him?” Would I behave differently?

DS: What hungers do I have that could drive me to extremes like his, and what right do I have to judge him. How would I judge myself? We do ask identity questions as well, what you’re doing versus who you are. How we’re somewhat ruled by different appetites and desires, and how that plays into your identity or search for that. Tarrare’s opinion of himself changes drastically and repeatedly throughout the show. His condition doesn’t change, it’s all based on his attitudes toward himself. The hunger is always innately there, it’s always a matter of circumstance how it plays out.

JF: I have this image in my head throughout the play of his hunger being a beast. Sometimes he rides the beast and sometimes the beast rides him.

Tarrare

Presented by Suspicious Moustache Theatre as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival
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Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Ave, Toronto

When:
Fri. July 4 @ 1:45pm
Sun. July 6 @ 7:00pm
Mon. July 7 @ 4:45pm
Tue. July 8 @ 2:45pm
Thu. July 10 @ 11:30pm
Fri. July 11 @ 9:45pm
Sun. July 13 @ 4:30pm

Tickets:
$10 at the door (cash only) or $12 in advance (Visa or MasterCard, service charge included) beginning June 12 via http://www.fringetoronto.com, by telephone at 416-966-1062 (ext.1), or at the door.

Running time is 60 minutes.

2014 Fringe Interview – Vectors of Their Interest – Surplus-Value Theatre

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: Hello! I’m here talking to Zoë Erwin-Longstaff, director of Vectors of Their Interest. Do you want to tell me a bit about it? What can audiences expect?

ZEL: Sure! Vectors of Their Interest is a totally site-specific piece in that it was written in the place it’s going to be staged, for the place it’s going to be staged. We’re putting it up in my parents’ house. I moved home about a year ago, and that’s when I found out about the site-specific Fringe. I moved home around when it was happening and I thought “Wow, this is so great,” and it’s kind of a way to sneak into the Fringe if you don’t get pulled in the lottery. I approached my parents about whether they’d be okay with this, and for some reason they said yes, and so co-writer Ryan Healey and I were able to write this play not for any house, but for the house we actually live in. That was really cool. But, we didn’t want to do a typical domestic drama just because we have a house, so it’s about a company of three young women who have freshly graduated, who look at the prospects in this economy and feel down and out. They decide to take things into their own hands and they start a company called Viragon Capital Group, where they sell used panties online. This is all in this Annex house, and in the course of getting this company off the ground, they acquire an unpaid intern named Bowman, and he ends up doing most of the work.

 

 

RQ: You mentioned that it’s site-specific, that you wrote it there to be performed there, and there are ways that makes the process easier, but are their distinct challenges to working in a found space?

ZEL: Yeah, there are challenges. It’s very intimate, but to have four people onstage in a space that’s so small became its own challenge. There’s also the fact that we never go home. They come to my house, and then they leave. The separation between work and life is non-existent because I’m always in the space, thinking about it. There are also problems that you would never think of until you’re in the space, like people are playing basketball outside the house really loudly, or freaking out that we’re going to need air conditioning because it’s just too hot. All these things that theatres might tailor and take care of for us, all of a sudden I’m the owner of the venue so I can’t be pissed off at the terrible venue operator, because it’s me. That becomes its own host of problems. But, for the most part, it’s really nice. I’m never late for rehearsal, because they’ll show up and I’m there. And we always get coffee and fruit because it’s in my kitchen! Mostly it’s been a really good experience.

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RQ: What kind of conversation do you hope this show provokes?

ZEL: Well, when it comes to site-specific theatre, I hear a lot of people say that you have to justify it, there really has to be a reason why. I think what this play is about, in a lot of ways, is that young people are becoming really innovative in this new economy. The Fringe is a great resource, but in general, I can’t afford to rent out a theatre space. I’m doing something at my house out of economic necessity. Not that you shouldn’t use the space as much as possible, of course, but site-specific might not be just a fun gimmick, it might be all we can afford. Also, when young people walk into a theatre, they have a lot of negative connotations that unfurl with them, so that’s what I want people to take away from this experience, is that you can put on a play outside of a theatre building, and maybe it will grab people in different ways.

Then, from the actual play, I hope young people will be able to connect with the play and have that sympathy and a feeling that’s not quite cathartic or alienated, it’s just a nod to the fact that that’s how things really are right now. Even though this play goes to absurd lengths, the more we do it, it’s not that absurd. It’s a situation that I find myself and a lot of my friends in.

RQ: Both of those tie into the idea of ingenuity and resourcefulness in the face of the motto of our generation, “do more with less”.

ZEL: Exactly. A big thing in this play is “who knew young women could be making money with something that’s right under their nose”, and this idea of doing anything and being ruthless, that that can be okay. It’s also a satire because recently, there were all these articles coming out about “Why aren’t young women embracing the word ‘feminism? Why is ‘feminism’ going out of fashion?”. Then all of a sudden, we have Sheryl Sandberg come in with her Lean In book, and feminism was great again but it was equated with being a corporate climber. With the idea that if we had women at the top of corporations, it would be better for everyone, and better for feminism. But, recently, in the news, Sheryl Sandberg went to Harvard to give a speech and a group of women who were working at hotels around Harvard who weren’t unionized, who were on strike, reached out and asked her to come host a “lean in” circle and talk about women being more resourceful and working to get paid better, and she said she was too busy. So, it’s not about a collective actually trying to make things better for women, it’s about ruthless individualism, which is screwing us all the time. The play is also a commentary on that, on what we can actually do that will make it better for all of us because that’s not it.

RQ: Instead of changing the definition to fit the system that’s already in place.

ZEL: Exactly! Absolutely, yeah.

RQ: You created this production company as well, right?

ZEL: Yes, me and Ryan Healey created Surplus-Value Theatre. He and I went to school together, but it really came together after the student strike in Montreal. So it was that feeling of a collective ethos, and we came together and were so excited to be young and be in the streets, but it dissipated so fast. I guess we feel like we’re still looking for that feeling.

RQ: Where do you want to go with the company from here?

ZEL: We just want to keep putting on plays that speak to the world right now, 2014. We want to do really high-calibre stuff that is a commentary on contemporary life. I see a lot of theatre and wonder who’s programming it, and how it’s relevant to younger people and to our community. How is it commenting on the social-political zeitgeist of the time, and that’s what we’re looking to do. We have a show coming up in Summerworks, and I’m really excited about that. It’s a play I wrote called Half Girl, Half Face, and we toured that around this year, and now it’s coming to Summerworks, which is exciting. Then, after that, we have a few shows we’re working on, so we’ll see. It’s always the challenge of getting it up. That’s why the Fringe is so great, because it’s easier. You can even sneak in if you don’t get pulled in the lottery, haha.

RQ: What do you think is the importance of the festival culture in Toronto? Since we have so many, is there anything that can be improved upon? If not, what does it facilitate?

ZEL: These are my first time actually taking part in the festivals, so I’m sure I’ll have my long list of celebrations and grievances after, but I think that it’s too bad that a lot of people get stuck in the festival model. Some people only produce in the Fringe every year. Not that the Fringe isn’t great, it’s wonderful, and it democratizes it a bit that anyone can get a venue. I’m not reviewing this year, because I’m in it, but usually I get my Fringe pass and see shows, write reviews. What’s great is that you can see something fantastic followed up by something totally terrible, and that’s great. It makes it really fun.

I think in general there has to be spaces that are more accessible, that make it easier for people to put things on. Little venues like Videofag, I’m sure there are others doing that stuff. I was just at New Art Night at Videofag, and that was wonderful. I saw a show there that was just great. For me, I know that when I got out of undergrad, I was suddenly hit with the realization that it’s near-impossible to put anything on without a free space and a free room and gorgeous props. You have to get scrappy about it, you have to band together with other like-minded people. Even then, it’s really hard. We had to have a crowd-sourcing campaign so we could pay our actors. I’m really excited about that, I’ve never paid an actor before. I mean, I’ve always been in the red, so I’ve never been able to, so this is exciting. It’s also not sustainable, we just need to make it easier for artists to live.

Vectors of Their Interest

Presented by Surplus-Value Theatre as part of the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival

 

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Where: 106 Albany Ave.

When: July 02 at 07:00 PM
July 03 at 07:00 PM
July 04 at 07:00 PM
July 05 at 07:00 PM
July 07 at 07:00 PM
July 08 at 07:00 PM
July 09 at 07:00 PM
July 10 at 07:00 PM
July 11 at 07:00 PM
July 12 at 07:00 PM
July 13 at 07:00 PM

Show length: 85min.

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama

Tickets: https://www.tytixhosted.com/scripts/max/7000/maxshop.exe?STORE=FRIN

A Few Words with Alec Toller, Director of Caryl Churchill’s Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? – 2014 Playwright Project

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: So, Alec Toller, you’re putting up Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? with Circlesnake Productions for the Playwright Project.

AT: So I’ve heard!

RQ: As have I! Can you tell me a bit about the show?

AT: It is telling the story of Guy and Sam, and Sam is basically a country. Sam is the US So it’s sort of examining the world and people’s love/hate relationship with the United States through the lens of a homosexual relationship. Because of course, how else would you look at it?

Alec Toller, Director of Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?

Alec Toller, Director of Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?

 

RQ: What drew you to this show, out of all of Caryl Churchill’s writing?

AT: It was the only one I read. No, no, I’m kidding. I read a bunch and with Churchill (as with many other playwrights), when they do short work, they lean more toward the experimental, and that’s not something that I usually know how to do. With this play, although it’s still experimental, there’s a clear through-line with story and plot and characters who have wants and needs. A lot of the dialogue is very fragmented, so instead of saying something like “Hey, let’s go to the store”, they’ll say “let’s store go”. So, it’s quite weird. On top of that, the majority of it is historical or political references to things the US has done in the past seventy years in its interaction with the rest of the world. So, it’s very complex and very dense but you get these little pockets or windows of them speaking to each other and it’s just as people. That really provides this arc and through-line that allows you to hear what the political stuff is from a different perspective or a different angle that’s maybe a bit more digestible or it may be just a very confusing buffet.

RQ: Do you think there’s anything in this show that’s relevant to the current political climate?

AT: Totally! Yup! This play was actually written in 2006, so it has references to twin towers, and Guantanamo, and Iraq, so there’s very recent political stuff along with Truman doctrine stuff. Fighting communism is a very strong through-line. Also, when I did research for the show, it was very illuminating to see just how much the States (and many other countries, I’m sure) involve themselves in other countries’ affairs in very deliberate and often nefarious ways. Like the US really enjoys overthrowing governments, democratically elected or not. As long as they are communist or left-leaning, they’ll just get rid of them. They would even fund drug dealers to fight communists because communism was scarier than drug-dealing. This is well-known, the Contra affair.

Playwright of 2014 The Playwright Project- Caryl Churchill

Playwright of 2014 The Playwright Project- Caryl Churchill

 

RQ: One of the major themes in Churchill’s work is the exploitation of the downtrodden or the underprivileged, do you see that in this work, or is it more of a representation of these national and socio-economic powers?

AT: I would say that it shows in the relationship between Sam, who is the United States, and Guy, who is a person. Their relationship is definitely unequal in power. One of the main themes of the show is that whether you like what the States has done or not, they are still the biggest superpower. They are enormously influential. You just sort of have to accept that and then deal with it. Guy is definitely secondary to Sam.

RQ: So it sounds like there’s a sense of inevitability, or an unstoppable force.

AT: It certainly doesn’t celebrate or even defend some of America’s less pleasant actions but what I’ve found that it does is not even look at what they’ve done from a moral position, but just as a country that has power trying to maintain that power. When you re-contextualize that into a relationship, it gives you that perspective of “Oh, when a country overthrows another country’s government because they’re afraid of them, that’s like someone in a relationship deleting their ex-girlfriends’ numbers from their phone”, you know? It’s a way of maintaining power and control, and the ways we do that socially and politically are way more similar than we think.

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RQ: Where do you think these smaller festivals like Playwright Project fit into the Toronto theatre community? What can you get out of them that you can’t get out of the smaller ones?

AT: I’m in it for the ladies, mostly. One thing I really like about the Playwright Project in comparison to other festivals is that it does give you the opportunity to work on modern classic work, which you can’t do at Fringe or Summerworks. It’s pretty unique. Generally my interest is in doing new work, but there’s a slew of plays that we’ve all read or playwrights we’re excited by, and there’s not much opportunity to mount their work. There’s not much room in the Canadian landscape at all to do any kind of established text. Generally, the way grant funding and all of that works is really geared toward new work, which can be actually destabilizing. There was that big push from the 1960s onward to make Canadian culture a “thing”. And that push is still going on now. And it’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it is useful to drop in and look at older work. It seems like a kind of hamster wheel thing to keep focusing on new work and never revisiting work that’s even ten years old. Really great narratives drop you into pre-existing stories or unknown worlds. When you see a show about something that’s happened that year, it can be very exciting, and you feel like a part of something, but when you see work that’s twenty years old, or fifty years old, there can be a deeper sense of connection or of reducing alienation. You can realize that the things you’re experiencing are things that people have experienced forever. That is something that storytelling aims to do, and sometimes, when it succeeds, it can be more powerful with older work.

Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?

By Caryl Churchill presented by Circlesnake Productions as part of the 2014 Playwright Project

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Drunk Enough To Say I Love You? places the world’s love-hate relationship with the United States in the form of a romantic relationship. When Guy is seduced by Sam, who represents the U.S., she feels intoxicated by her but shocked by her ruthlessness. Guy must determine whether the love she feels for Sam is worth staying with her, and if she can ever leave.

Directed by: Alec Toller
Starring: Claire Armstrong, Caitlin B. Driscoll
WhereThe Downstage (798 Danforth Avenue)
Tickets: Available  HERE
Single Tickets: Weeknight Single Ticket: $10.00, Weekend Single Ticket: $15.00
Project Passes: Weeknight 2-Show Pass: $15.00 (see both shows playing on a weeknight), Weekend 4 Show-Pass: $45.00 (see all four shows playing on a Saturday or Sunday)

About the Director:

Alec is the artistic director of Circlesnake Productions and director of Dark Matter,  Special Constables (The Storefront Theatre Season), Angel City, (Playwrights Projectthe feature film Play. Alec was the assistant director on the triple Dora-nominated Laws of Motion (Small Elephant Co-op, dir. Christopher Stanton).

Company: 

Circlesnake Productions creates film and theatre work for modern audiences who have adapted to a cinematic language. Circlesnake’s plays blaze by like an action film, and its films pop with dialogue found in the theatre. We match works to their appropriate medium to best tell their story while breaking down artistic divisions. Older works return in new forms and new works borrow from the old because at Circlesnake, good stories come back.