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On Our Radar TO: Get Stoked for Theatre this November!

Why is theatre relevant? Whether it allows you to re-connect with your inner child, be exposed to a new perspective, challenges your pre-conceptions or allows you to let your guard down, whether you’re looking for a sexy night out, a night to sing and dance with childish glee without feeling out of place, or simply looking to be entertained and connect with those around you through classic love stories and a beer in hand, these productions are On Our Radar, Toronto, and we think you should get stoked for theatre this November!

Savage in Limbo

Written by John Patrick Shanley, presented by Bob Kills Theatre

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With a newly extended run, we’ve heard nothing but exciting things about this production. Bold, brave work, exciting use of a new venue to the Toronto scene (The Downstage), and some incredible talent that must be noted!

“John Patrick Shanley is an Oscar, Tony and Pulitzer prize-winning writer of stage and screen. He is best known for the 1988 film Moonstruck, and the 2004 play Doubt, which was also adapted into an Oscar-nominated film in 2008.

Bob Kills Theatre is an experience in visceral theatre. Founded by Melissa D’Agostino and Diana Bentley, the company strives to present unique, often surreal, texts in interesting venues. With an emphasis on bold stories and the virtuosity of performance, Bob Kills Theatre aims to challenge, engage, entertain and instigate.”

Various 32-year olds seek love, sex and a way out of their dead-end lives.

Where: The Downstage, 798 Danforth

When: **Extended Run** October 22nd – Thursday November 7th 8pm.

Tickets: $20 savageintoronto.com

The Double

A TheatreRUN production presented by Tarragon Theatre

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Adapted from the novella by Dostoevsky, created and performed by Adam Paolozza, Arif Mirabdolbaghi and Viktor Lukawski, we’ve heard this production described as hilarious, whimsical, psychologically complex, haunting and magical. If that doesn’t catch your interest, maybe this delightful trailer will. Catch this gem of a remount before it closes!

“When are you no longer yourself? The anxious government clerk Golyadkin is plagued by a stranger who looks just like him but is more daring, romantic and brash. Inspired by Dostoevsky’s novella The Double, this theatrical triangle between a neurotic, his doppelganger and a stand-up bass transports us to 19th century Russian high society and Golyadkin’s labyrinthine search for his identity.

After a hit independent run last season that saw a Dora Award win for lighting design, Tarragon warmly welcomes this dark satire about our deepest fears of losing our identity.”

Where: Tarragon Theatre Extraspace

When: October 15th-November 24th

Tickets: 416-531-1827 Tarragon Box Office

Dirty Butterfly

Written by Debbie Tucker Green, presented by Bound To Create Theatre as part of Obsidian Theatre’s 2013/14 Presentation Series

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If there is one production we have been excited about for its first professional Canadian Theatre debut, it’s Bound to Create Theatre’s production of Dirty Butterfly as part of Obsidian Theatre’s 2013/14 presentation series. Since its first run at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival, we’ve heard nothing but incredible things of this arresting play by British playwright Debbie Tucker Green and after seeing its opening, this hypnotic play is not to be missed!

“This drama explores voyeurism, power and guilt by confronting the collateral damage of domestic abuse and racial economic divide.”

Where: Aki Studio Theatre, 585 Dundas E.

When: Previews Oct. 30-31st, Opens November 1st and runs to November 17th. Tues-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm

Tickets: $20-$25 Preview 15$, November 10th PWYC. www.boundtocreate.com

Moss Park

Written by George F. Walker, presented by Green Thumb Theatre/Theatre Passe Muraille

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There’s a new George F. Walker in town and with some pretty incredible young Canadian talent as its leads, local talent Haley McGee and Vancouver native Graeme McComb, and we’re into it!

“Moss Park is an intimate look at two young people as they confront an uncertain future.  In this follow up to Tough!, George F. Walker takes Bobby and Tina on a journey as they fight to map a life that doesn’t include poverty.”

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson

When: Previews Runs November 5th-16th, Tues-Sat 7:30pm, Mat Sat 2pm.

Tickets: $15-$32.50, Matinee PWYC, 416-504-7529, passemuraille.on.ca.

Alligator Pie

Featuring poetry by Dennis Lee, presented by Soulpepper

Soulpepper's Alligator Pie in rehearsal, Raquel Duffy, Mike Ross, Gregory Prest. Photo Credit: Nathan Kelly

This needed a remount in the most heart-felt way. We saw this last fall and what a treat it was to watch this talented group of artists weave the children’s poems of Dennis Lee together with heart, humour and glee-inducing creativity. This family-friendly production is definitely enjoyable for all ages on so many levels as it celebrates imagination and invention.

Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane
When: Opens November 3rd and runs to December 1st
Tickets: $23, Rush $5-$22 416-866-8666, www.soulpepper.ca

Romeo and Juliet

Written by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare BASH’d

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If you know anything about Shakespeare BASH’d it’s the long line-up of Fringe hopefuls trying to snag the last few tickets at the door of their two sold-out Fringe hits with both their 2012 production of Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing this past Summer at the Victory Café. If you managed to get your tickets early, then you got to see what all of the hype was about – a clean, story-focused Shakespeare, chalk-full of boisterous local talent, all of which you could enjoy with a drink in hand. Well BASH’d is about to present their first tragedy outside of the Fringe circuit and bring us to the incredible 3030 Dundas West in the Junction, inviting us to grab a beer (perhaps from one of the 3030’s many local craft beer selections) and reconnect with Shakespeare’s greatest story of original young love-at-first-sight.

Where: 3030 Dundas West in the Junction

When: November 19th-23rd Tuesday-Friday 7:30pm, Closing Saturday at 4pm

Tickets: $16-$21 with advanced purchase highly recommended* http://www.shakespearebashd.com/tickets.html

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Mature Young Adults

By Wesley J. Colford, presented by Aim for the Tangent

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We had the pleasure of catching this gem at the Atlantic Fringe Festival on a visit to Halifax this September and we’re very interested to see it in its next stage of development in Toronto at the intimate Videofag space. Andrea Nemetz from the Chronicle Herald expresses our thoughts on Mature Young Adults perfectly: “Everyone has been a teenager in love, or will be. …an astonishingly real look at that most complicated of emotions.”

“This tragi-comic love story continues the theatrical tradition of East Coast playwriting greats David French and Daniel MacIvor with a contemporary twist for the Facebook generation. In a world where labels and gossip fly through cyberspace like lightning, is it possible to love without giving up your identity? Can you escape the container your community places you in?”

Where: Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave.

When: November 20th-24th: 19th-22nd 8pm, 23rd & 24th 4pm & 8pm

Tickets: $15 at the door. Advance tickets available through T.O. Tix www.totix.ca

After Miss Julie

Written by Patrick Marber, presented by Red One Theatre Collective

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If you are looking for a crazy, sexy performance to spice up your life as the temperatures drop… we’re looking to After Miss Julie presented by Red One Theatre Collective. After Miss Julie is a version of Strindberg’s Miss Julie by Patrick Marber, where Marber amps up the power play between Julie, John, and his fiancée Christine to a deliciously dangerous level. The result, a steamy and at times manic and even hilarious power play amongst the class structure of 1945 England. With David Ferry as the director and a cast of some exceptional young local talent (Claire Armstrong, Christopher Morris and Amy Keating), we can’t wait to see what Red One brings to the Storefront this November.

Where: The Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor Street West

When: November 15th-30th (Preview November 14th) Tuesday-Saturday 8pm, Sundays 2pm

Tickets: $20/ Tuesdays $10/ $15 Preview)

The Sacrifice Zone

Written by Suzie Miller, presented by Theatre Gargantua

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If you’ve never been to a Gargantua performance, now is your chance to catch their world premiere of their 10th cycle of work The Sacrifice Zone. Created through their unique process, Theatre Gargantua is artist driven and works as a creative ensemble, producing projects in two-year cycles. We’re overflowing with excitement to see their latest creation, blending physical theatre, vocal soundscapes and unique storytelling and staging and we think you should be too!

“An industrial explosion shatters lives in an isolated resource town, rocking the balance of the community. While Alex and Hannah struggle with the loss of their partners, Laura and Patrick renegotiate the boundaries of a love affair, and newcomer Elly watches the emotional landscape change as arrestingly as the physical environment does. When everything is at stake, what would you sacrifice to make things right?

The Sacrifice Zone cuts right to fundamental questions of who and what are our responsibilities? And is balance, indeed justice, ever possible? Gargantua explores real world issues of individual, corporate and environmental accountability through their signature physical and critically acclaimed contemporary visual style in this gripping production based on a script by celebrated Australian playwright Suzie Miller.”

Where: Factory Studio Theatre
When: November 13th-30th Wednesday-Saturday 8pm, Saturday November 16th & November 20th 2pm.
Tickets: $19-$25, Buy tickets at www.factorytheatre.ca 

The Gay Heritage Project

Created and performed by Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn & Andrew Kushnir, presented by The GHP Collective in association with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

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We just caught a glimpse of this promo video, and we can’t wait to catch it mid-November! A collaboration between acclaimed theatre makers Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, and Andrew Kushnir, The Gay Heritage Project offers audiences a unique chance to discover, celebrate and connect to our queer heritage. Once again, Buddies in Bad Times provides Toronto with relevant, thought-provoking, socially-conscious theatre.

“Three of our country’s most gifted creator/performers set out to answer one question: is there such a thing as gay heritage? In their search, they uncover a rich history not often shared and shine new light on contemporary gay culture. The result is a hilarious and moving homage to the people who came before us and the events that continue to shape our lives.”

Where: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, near Yonge & College

When: November 17th-December 8th, Tuesday-Saturday 8pm, Saturday & Sunday 2:30pm, Preview Performances 8pm

Tickets: $20-$37

Know something that should be On Our Radar, Toronto? Connect with us through Twitter & Facebook using the hashtag #OnOurRadarTO or send us an email to inthegreenroom.ca@gmail.com. What’s on your Radar? 

Following Your Bliss with Gregory Prest & Raquel Duffy of Alligator Pie

Interview by: Hallie Seline

Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie in Rehearsal – Raquel Duffy, Mike Ross, Gregory Prest Photo credit – Nathan Kelly

Hallie Seline: Why Alligator Pie? Why Dennis Lee? How did this all come about?

Gregory Prest: Well, Soulpepper already had a working connection to Dennis through Mike Ross, another member of the Ensemble. Mike grew up writing a bunch of music to his adult poetry and children’s poetry. A few years ago he met Dennis through Soulpepper and put together a show called Civil Elegies, a one-man show that Mike wrote the music for. Dennis Lee is also a resident artist of the Young Centre so he’s around the building. It kind of seemed like an obvious choice. He was very gracious to give us the rights for us to do it.

HS: Beyond that, was there something specific about his work that made you, as the Ensemble, want to play with it?

Raquel Duffy: It was actually presented to the five of us, called the Creative Ensemble (Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross) as a suggestion. They just sort of said, how about Alligator Pie as an option to create a show? We were left with all of his books and children’s poems and started workshopping it. So although it was kind of given to us as an idea instead of us generating that idea, we just sort of took off with it! It was so fun and easy creating work with it that it just seemed natural to us. It didn’t feel forced or difficult to generate material at all. It started to flow so organically.

GP: The material itself is just so fun. I mean ‘fun’ is such a stupid word but it’s true! What I love about it is, and maybe Dennis would disagree, but it doesn’t try to teach kids anything more than just sort of reveling in the present. From the feeling of playing in a puddle to being with your sister or moments that are just fun and exciting, it’s about word play and nothing else. It’s hard to say, I just really like it. Some of [the poems] are emotional, deep and quite complicated but they’re not trying ‘to teach’.

RD: Yeah, that’s the one thing about a lot of children’s material. They really push to try and teach a lesson, at least in North America. I don’t think that’s the same in Europe at all. But it’s nice and really refreshing to be given material that you can see going a million ways.
And we are not trying to, in any way, be kids or put on that kind of character, because the voice of the text is already so present. Dennis’ voice is very clear so we’re just trying to find our own way through his poetry.

GP: That’s the big challenge: Trying to create a show for families from people five years old to the grandparents that will take them, trying to find what it is that we want to do with it and not aim too low while trying to bridge that gap. We’re not trying to create very general children’s theatre, but at the same time we want to make something accessible. It’s really trial and error. We’ll see when we get our first audience of kids.

HS: Describe a bit of your creative process and the role of ‘play’. I saw your rehearsal photos with the big glasses, the props, etc. It just looks like fun and the element of ‘play’ seems so present. Can you discuss that a bit?

Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie in Rehearsal – Raquel Duffy, Mike Ross, Gregory Prest, Ken Mackenzie and Ins Choi. Photo Credit – Nathan Kelly

RD: One of our first days in rehearsals we went to the Dollar Store, we all went our different ways and came back with these bags of, essentially crap. These became our main tools that we used. We’d start the day just by playing and run games that we would initiate ourselves.

GP: We dressed up too! It sounds ridiculous but Ken, who is a designer in the Ensemble as well, managed to put together this rack of clothes equipped with wigs and shoes and hats. So really, we just sort of played!

RD: In a lot of ways there’s no structure to it, but there is structure in the sense that someone in the group, usually guided by a poem or a song, will initiate an idea and the rest of us will play along.

GP: We’d call it ‘the kernel’. We’d bring in a kernel and say, “This is the poem, this is the kind of melody that I wrote” and people would just sort of jump on it. So initially it starts from the poem, then it gets developed through the connection to the individual, then the group plays with it, which was more exciting than five people trying to figure out what to do all at once. It gave each of the individuals of the Ensemble the space to be able to find pieces that they personally connected with amongst Dennis’ large amount of work.

RD: We would always use the phrase “follow your bliss” when going through the material to find a poem that you really connected with and have a vision for. This is so nerdy, but we’d say that we have ‘a kernel’ and once it breaks out and we’d develop it into something, we’d say “Oh the kernel popped!”

HS: What was Dennis Lee’s involvement in the collective?

GP: When we first started, we sat around with him in the room and read all of his work for children, all taking turns to read. Just hearing him read his own work was so valuable. He takes away the sort of reverence for the author that there is with theatre where often the author has long since passed. He’s more like ‘Do what you want to do. If it doesn’t work, make up a new verse.’ He’s very encouraging. We showed him two mini presentations and then he gave us notes, asking us to question certain things a little further or consider other variations. He’s been really hands-on, really supportive and has given us a lot of room, as well!

RD: Exactly. He makes suggestions but by no means is he asking us to implement them. Obviously he knows his own work really well and he’s seen a lot of different productions using his pieces so he has a lot of experience knowing what might work and what doesn’t.

HS: What stood out the most while working with his poetry as the core creative text as opposed to something from a classical repertoire like a Molière or Shakespeare?

RD: That’s a good question. I can’t separate it from us working together as a group. This is the first time it has been the five of us working specifically together in a room, though we’ve all worked together in some fashion before on different projects. I’ll just speak for myself with this one in that being able to come into a room with such an amazing group of people, being given text that holds such room for play, because it’s poetry and because Dennis has encouraged us to approach it with as much freedom as we’d like, I can’t wait to come into the room and work every day. I never feel that there is someone saying, “No, that won’t work”. Ideas are always approached with so much give. I just find it hard to comment on the experience of the creative process without connecting it to the people in the room who I’m working with. It’s been such a pleasure.

HS: A true collective.

RD: Yes! Exactly.

GP: What’s challenging and interesting about working with the poems as text is that it’s not a Molière, Shakespeare, or Eugene O’Neill, and it really is a challenge trying to connect with it as an actor and as an adult, being who we are in our lives right now. I’m also the only one out of the five who doesn’t have children all under the age of three, so that adds another aspect of your creative approach. The question is how do you keep honest about the material as an adult so you ensure that you’re not doing that bad kind of children’s theatre acting? The challenge is to stay who you are and yet be open to that child-like mentality. As an actor, it’s really interesting to make a puddle, for example, the most important thing in your world, but to not dumb it down and be an idiot. It’s really challenging to keep everything you’ve got but then reach way, way back to find that honest outlook.

HS: You had mentioned before that you are hoping to reach anyone from children from the age of five to their grandparents with this show. With such a broad target audience, how have you been working to bridge that interest gap?

GP: Well, trusting your instincts is a big thing. We perform for each other so if it’s interesting and funny for us then hopefully that will translate. It’s really tricky, to be honest. The target audience is families, which is a little generic. I was a member of the Dora jury for TYA and I saw a lot of kids’ shows. Some were amazing and some were just awful. Having one of those painful experiences sitting in the audience and seeing parents who had brought their children and were so bored was just awful. You hope to not put your own audience in that kind of position.

RD: This may not be the best analogy but my son watches a lot of Sesame Street right now and when Alicia Keys comes on and sings a song with Elmo, well my son is really into music and loves watching Elmo, but as an adult, I like sitting and listening to Alicia Keys sing and play the piano. In these skits the adults might say things that the kids are getting on a totally different level, I wouldn’t say simpler level, but I’d just say that sometimes there’s a larger, more mature joke going on that isn’t cleverer necessarily, but includes everyone. Again, as you can see, our main goal is that we don’t want to ‘dumb down’ for the kids. Both my son and I can sit, watch and enjoy everything being done because it’s creative and smart. That’s the goal.

GP: We’ve been working with actual games on stage, as well. It adds an element of ‘event’. We are actually playing a game of badminton in front of you and we are really going to try and win while we do it or we’ll do poems with a metronome and see how fast we can go. If you screw up you have to start again. There is a ‘liveness’ to it that will hopefully keep the audience engaged.

HS: With past productions like (re)Birth: E.E. Cummings in Song/Window on Toronto, Dirt and this production, there seems to be a growing presence of Collective work in the Soulpepper season. Is this a new initiative of Soulpepper and something that the company is trying to explore?

RD: Yes. I think it’s something that Albert has a lot of interest in. That and I think there is a growing interest for bringing in new works, like with Kim’s Convenience. It’s an area he really wants to explore, which is why I think he put together this Creative Ensemble.

GP: He was very frank and open in saying to us that this is an area the company would like to go in. With the experience and resources of the founding members, they weren’t really sure how to do it. This is part of the reason he has us here, to teach them how to expand. The goal would be to get projects going and then begin to get the founding members of the company involved so we are all creating work together.

HS: Have you started incorporating the founding members?

RD: We’re all really busy right now but we’ve started to do some nights where someone from the company brings in a piece of work and we help explore it. It may not go anywhere, but it’s just to open people up to different ways of looking at material and creating. For example, Nancy Palk brought in a Dickens’ piece for the Word Festival in December that she’s adapting. She brought it into the room and we spent a night with her and some other company members that had experience with collective work maybe twenty years ago that wanted to get their mind back into it. We’d love to have more nights like that.

GP: Definitely.

HS: So what can your audience expect from Alligator Pie when they come to see the show?

GP: Well the poetry is amazing. To hear Dennis Lee’s poetry is fantastic on its own. My hope is that it’ll be really fun! We have really great music so I’m hoping they will have an enjoyable time all around.

RD: I’m really proud of where we are right now. I mean we don’t have a completely finished show right now, but just what we’ve been doing with the music and the pieces we’re developing, it’s all very exciting. I think people will have a really fun time and leave feeling energized and excited.

GP: Lastly, I hope we leave our audience members inspired. Part of the design element for the show, by using odds and ends from the Dollar Store, was that we wanted to create this theatrical magic out of everyday objects. We wanted to make it accessible, creating using everyday materials, so that a kid in the audience could think, “That’s just a sheet and a garbage can. I can do that myself, at home!”

Alligator Pie – Credit: Brian Rea

 
 
Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie on stage October 26th – November 25th
 
Alligator Pie, an original Soulpepper production, brings the celebrated children’s poems of Canada’s Father Goose, Dennis Lee, to vibrant theatrical life. Soulpepper’s creation ensemble (Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross), fill the stage with music, invention and Lee’s delicious imagination.
 
Poems by Dennis Lee
 
Created by and featuring Ins ChoiRaquel DuffyKen MacKenzie,Gregory Prest and Mike Ross
 
Approximate running time 1 hour. There will be no intermission.
 
Find out more here: www.soulpepper.ca/performances/12_season/alligator_pie.aspx

Actor Profile – Mike Ross

We got to sit down with Soulpepper’s Mike Ross about his performance in the now playing Death of A Salesman.

MIKE ROSS

September 11th 2012
Interview by: Ryan Quinn

RQ: So, how has it been working on a remount of a previous production of Death of a Salesman?

MR: Well, I wasn’t in the first cast, I suppose that’s the nature of the question. I knew how little rehearsal time we had, and I like to work off-book, as much as I can anyway, from the beginning, you know, to each his own, but I find that if I’m trying to remember lines while trying to play acting beats at the same time, I find that very difficult. So, in any situation, I try to really know my lines. In this one, I kind of knew that in order to get the whole “family” vibe going and find the flow of the thing, that I needed to hit the ground running. So, I had learned my lines before we started. That made a big big difference as far as being able to slot into an energy that already existed.

The other thing is that I did the sound and composition on the original production. When you do that, you watch the play over and over again. You watch rehearsal, then you watch tech, and then previews, and so I knew not only this play but this production intimately from having done that, and that gave me a huge advantage as far as knowing how the machine of it worked, what kind of emotional drive and landing marks and anchors that the director was after. I mean, I was in the room while he was giving notes, and so I kind of knew what the goal of it was for the most part, and then it just became a matter of making it mine. Figuring out in a very short amount of time what it is to play this character in my world. Tim Campbell [the previous Happy] is a terrific actor, he’s an amazing actor, a terrific guy, but we’re different. If I tried to do what Tim Campbell did, I don’t think that’s true, and so I think that’s why I was so vigilant about knowing my lines so that it was that kind of stuff I could concentrate on. Figuring it out for me right away. If I spent too much time with the mechanics of it all, I was going to run out of time.

I’m still working it out, I mean, I’m talking to you and we just had our first preview last night. It went pretty well but I’m still working it out, you know. I’m going through everything that happened last night. it’s such an informing thing, having an audience there. It’s amazing how many times you do it and then the secondthat audience is in the room, suddenly, you’re thinking of things you’ve never thought of before. I know that directors are the same: “Oh, that doesn’t work!” or “That works way better than I thought”, or whatever. It’s not even necessarily their reaction, it’s not because they’re laughing or whatever, it’s just seeing things through a different eye, and you can’t get that experience until there’s a true audience there, it’s so funny how informing that is.

RQ: Everything gets filtered through the audience’s energy a bit…

MR: Yeah, and they’re sensing that, and it’s a whole new thing, right? Comedies are a bit scarier on first audience nights because you really are seeing whether or not it’s funny and that’s a scary thing. A play like this, though, there are funny moments but it’s okay to keep it really onstage with your acting partner and whatever happens out in the audience happens. You open yourself up to that, but you can hang in with just your guy or your family and that’s okay. Sometimes you have to rely on this stuff out here as part of the conversation, but with this you can keep it onstage as if it were a tech dress. I mean, you are inviting the audience in and that’s okay too.

RQ: So, do you want to tell me a bit about Happy and how he fits into the Loman family dynamic?

MR: Happy is…you could write a book. Willy Loman is trying to teach his sons a certain way of life, and that that way of life will lead them to success, and that in turn will give him value. One of his sons could just never fall in line with that, he tried and tried and tried (that’s Biff), and it’s led him nowhere. His other son, Happy, who I’m playing, has always bought into this philosophy, and will live his life by it. He has actually had success from living the way Willy has taught him to live. He’s had success with women, he’s had success with jobs. He’s not going to be rich, but he’s making a go of it. But, there is something missing from his life that he may not even realize was missing in the first place. I think he’s an idealist, I think Happy is happy. He’s a positive person. He’s like a dog, in a sense, he’s happiest when everybody is together, and everybody is okay. When that starts to fracture, he snaps into action. He doesn’t get sad about it, he starts to try to affect everything around him in a positive, happy way.

He hits a wall, as everybody does in this play. I mean, that’s what this play is about is the breakdown of that familial relationship. I mean, that’s the amazing thing about this play is that everybody has such a clear thrust of what they want and how they’re going to get it. You see these forces all coming at each other and yet nobody is able to get to the solution. Nobody is able to find the release point where somebody understands them, or somebody empathizes with them, or lets them go, or whatever it is that needs to happen. Willy is the one who, in the end, makes a big decision to try to fix things. There’s a gesture at the end of this  production which I doubt has ever been in any other production that speaks very largely to what has happened to the idea of success in America. Where it was when this play was written and where it is today are very similar.

Happy has fallen victim to the disease of being liked. Willy says over and over again, “be liked, that’s the key, you’ve gotta be liked”. All of us, actors especially, that’s a quest. That’s what a lot of us in the business are looking for, and that’s a dangerous thing, right? Are you working as a service? Are you an actor because it’s a service to an art, or are you working because you want to be liked? Most of the time, like it or not, the answer is because you want to be liked. That’s the thing that we all have to keep in check. All the time. I think Happy is someone who has fallen victim to that disease and will never get out of it.

So, he is carrying on the philosophy and the spirit of Willy Loman, and it’s that passing-down of this idea of what it means to be successful, what it means to become successful, how to become successful. The passing-down of that from generation to generation is a giant problem that there doesn’t seem to be a solution to until something tragic happens. Then, that’s the one thing that makes people, maybe for a second, think differently about something. But, it’s so ingrained not just in America, but in the Canadian psyche as well and today I believe it’s the same. It was the same then, it’s the same now. There is an idea of what success is that has been built into the way we all live and that may not be right. Biff is saying “I want to be outside with my shirt off where I can see the sky and I want to work hard. That’s what makes me happy but I can’t commit to that because there’s this other thing in my life that I was taught and it’s pulling me away from that all the time.” He’s constantly got this back-and-forth thing going on. We all have that.

If there were no outside influences, what would make us happy? It may not be the thing that we’re all aiming toward right now, and that’s a huge issue to address, and Arthur Miller found a way to do it. It’s the same with The Crucible, the McCarthy hearings, he found a way to address that huge issue, which is so much larger even than communism. He found a way to encapsulate that in a world that makes you think about the big picture, and that’s what he’s done with Death of a Salesman. When I feel like I have my ego in check, which is not all the time, I feel proud to be in a Miller play, because I feel like it is a service. I feel like it’s something that makes people think about their lives. The better we do it, and the more convincingly, the bigger effect it has on people. It might actually make somebody go home and pick up the phone and call their dad. Or, it might make someone stop and say “I’m going to stop striving for that second flatscreen TV in the bedroom and just be happy with what I have”.

RQ: Right, the drive to be more successful than your father. The American dream.

MR: Yeah, yeah. And you always have to keep upping that. That’s your unspoken responsibility, and if you’re not doing that, you’re not succeeding. If you’re not succeeding, you’re not happy. So, it’s the definition of success for me, you know, what is that to you? It’s like that question: if you didn’t know how old you were, what age would you say you were? If you were never taught what success was by the world, by your parents, what would make you happy? It might be planting a garden, you know? Or, who knows, maybe it would be working in an office.

RQ: It’s weird that that barometer of how successful you are is in completely the wrong place because that barometer is set by people who have already achieved that kind of economic success.

MR: And that has given them “happiness”. And maybe it’s real happiness, I’m not saying it’s not. But that’s what they believe. And that’s the thing, is that people aren’t duping each other, people aren’t saying “I know what real happiness is, but I’m going to tell you it’s this”, they believe it. “My happiness I have is because of this thing over here that I have, or that people say I have, and I fully believe that’s what gives people happiness, and so I’m passing that on to you now”. There’s no fault here. That’s why it’s such a big issue. It’s a big problem that Miller is trying to address. And, all these new age thinkers like Eckhart Tolle, you know, they’re all trying to get at it, which is such a difficult thing. It’s one thing to talk about it intellectually like we are, but when you really get down to a family it’s a lot harder. Even me, (laughs) I mean, maybe acting isn’t what makes me happy. It feels like it does. It’s best when I feel like I’m in service, but maybe there will come a time and I’ll think “you know, I need to go teach” or “I need to find a way to go be charitable and that’s what makes me happy”.

RQ: And there’s a process to becoming attuned to that, and to be receptive.

MR: That’s right! You have to clear that stuff away until finally the truth makes its way in. A lot of people never ever get to that point. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m there. It’s hard to know. And that’s what these plays do, they make you talk about these things. Whether or not you get anywhere, it’s about opening up that consciousness so that you might. Then it’s a year and a half from now, and something changes, but that was the first little piece of that. That’s why I think theatre is so importance, because our world is getting so individual with iPads, and iPhones, and believe me, I’ve got them all. But, you spend this time being engrossed or being entertained by yourself. But, you come to the theatre, and while it may not be like watching television, you are having a communal experience with other people. I think that’s a large part of what church has always been as well. I’m not saying going to church is like going to the theatre, but it’s community. You go, you’re with people that live in the community you do, you see them, you may not know them, but you’re there with them. Then you experience something together. That is something that I think the soul needs. That’s why ever since the beginning of whenever, there’s always been a sort of group thing that happens, whether it’s religion or cult or whatever. There is a part of the human spirit that needs the communal experience. The more we get into these electronic devices, and frankly, the way people are tending to just be more insular, the more there is a need for theatre.

RQ: We’re losing touch with nature and losing touch with ourselves at the same time.

MR: For sure. I think so. That’s why theatre may be hurting in some ways sometimes, but in the end it’s always going to be there. People will need that in their lives. It may even need to go away to the point where someone recognizes that the communal experience is something you need on a weekly basis or a monthly basis. You may not think you need it, but then you go there and you feel like you’ve experienced something with other people. If you can experience a great play with other people, I think you’re really nourishing yourself.

RQ: So, speaking of The Crucible, you were in four shows this year at Soulpepper. High LifeYou Can’t Take it With YouThe Crucible, and Death of a Salesman.

MR: And Alligator Pie coming up as well. It’s just been announced. We’re developing it and creating it, and it starts at the end of October.

RQ: So how has it been juggling all of these shows, all with quite different tones. I mean, the first two were comedies, I’m not sure about Alligator Pie.

MR: It’s more a creation piece of multiple disciplines.

RQ: So, completely different genres, completely different modes of working, completely different characters, how’s that been?

MR: It’s been really great. I’m very lucky that I get to try all of these things out and dive into them, and I’ve had great directors along the way: Stuart Hughes, Joseph Ziegler, and two with Albert Schultz. I’m very lucky. It’s been a challenge, though, even physically. In High Life I play a younger guy, and I had for the first time in my life a kind of…Justin Timberlake-esque haircut. It was kind of buzzed right down to nothing and I had never looked like that before so I had this kind of badass thing going on that I had never had. I still didn’t look particularly badass, but as much as I can look, you know.

Then, boom, as soon as we opened that I had to get right into building a character around this guy living in New York in the forties who played a xylophone and sold candy for a living. A totally different temperature of guy.

The Crucible was very interesting because the character I play in that has to have a story and a presence but doesn’t have a lot to say. It was an exercise in listening onstage, an exercise in being as economic as you can with as little. Joseph Ziegler says this all the time: “There is no fat anywhere in these plays. Miller backs everything up.” So, if you’ve got a beat, a one-line part in a Miller play, it’s a lot more than a one-line part in a lot of other plays. It’s a piece of the puzzle that he feels is necessary. So, attention must be paid. That was a great exercise in figuring out how to make my stake. There are twenty-four people in the show, so I had to figure out how I best fit into all that and make sure that it’s given its due.

And now, Happy, he’s been a great challenge. Not a lot of time to rehearse, but everybody in the cast was super warm and welcoming and supportive. That’s the beauty of a company like this, I’m not walking into a room with a bunch of strangers. I’ve known these people for years now, so they know what I’m going through. I can get frustrated and I don’t have to feel like I need to hide all this stuff. People know what my tendencies are as an actor and they can sort of get at that right away and stop bad habits. It’s a good thing. So, yeah, four different parts, but all of it very rewarding.

RQ: Lastly, just for kicks, what’s one role you’ve never gotten the chance to play, but you’d love to?

MR: You know, it’s funny. Biff. Biff Loman. I came from a music background, so I don’t know a lot of roles. I just don’t know them. I haven’t seen a lot of plays. I mean, there are some, Hamlet, the big Shakespeare parts, Macbeth I’d love to play. So I don’t know a lot. But I did know the Loman brothers and Death of a Salesman and Biff was the guy I wanted to play. Then they programmed it at Soulpepper and I thought “Maybe I’ll have the chance to play Biff Loman”. It’s so funny how things turn out, they went with the wonderful Ari Cohen, who is brilliant in the part, and then they do a remount, and Campbell’s not available, and so I got a chance to be Happy. And now that I’ve done it, I’m absolutely better cast as Happy than Biff. So, I guess my response to that is that I don’t think I necessarily know what’s best for me. The roles that I get that I’m surprised by, I find are often the most rewarding and satisfying. The ones I get that I really went after aren’t necessarily that. Sometimes they are but I’m getting to a point where I’m just happy to leave it in someone else’s hands and just let the chips fall where they may. I swear that all the roles I’ve gotten that surprised me were great experiences, so that’s where I’m at. I’m starting to get away from wanting to play certain parts. It’s the same with Long Day’s Journey Into Night. I’ve always wanted to play Edmund in that. They cast Gregory Prest, he’s amazing in it, so it’s kind of liberating to let that go.

RQ: Well, congratulations, and break a leg tonight.

MR: Thank you!

Pressed for Prest

By: Alex Johnson

I was late to the Gregory Prest party. My invitation got lost in the mail. The man of the hour had been winning audiences over regularly with performances in White Biting Dog, Death of a Salesman, and Ghost, while I sat at home watching Dance Moms – all of them.  With his current rendering of Edmund in Soulpepper’s Long Days Journey Into Night, I am at the party, and deep into the free champagne.

Gregory was kind enough to meet me before a Saturday night show and I came face-to-face with Gregory Prest: The Actor’s Actor. Present, eager, aware, quick to laugh and refreshingly at ease with the occasional uneasiness of the actor’s job.

 Read more in Featured Articles.

10 Toronto Theatre Things to Look Forward to in 2012

By: Alex Johnson

Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi at Soulpepper

I missed this Best New Play winner at Fringe last summer, and regretted it. I’ve always been a quiet admirer of Ins Choi (a Soulpepper Academy alumnus and an actor who manages to find why those peripheral parts are in the script, and elevate them from walk-on role to scene-stealer). At first it seems out of step that Soulpepper would add a Fringe winner to their docket of “important” and “time-tested” classics. But the Soulpepper website calls Kim’s Convenience a “Toronto classic in the making.” Props to Soulpepper for recognizing and nurturing a more localized “classic” and props to Ins Choi for writing it. It makes for a hell of a good underdog story.

Kim’s Convenience plays January 12th – February 11th at the Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts. More information available at  http://www.soulpepper.ca or  http://kimsconvenience.com/the-play/.

Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Presents Beckett: Feck It! at Canadian Stage

Illustration by Marilyn Koop

The title notwithstanding, I am surprised to find myself so excited about this show. I am not a Beckett fan, so the idea of sitting through a Beckett-themed musical evening shouldn’t sit right with me. However, I can’t help thinking that if anything can shed some light on Beckett, and possibly change my mind about him, it’s going to be the combined energies of Laura Condlln, Jennifer Tarver, Tom Rooney and a smattering of contemporary Irish composers. And who am I kidding…the title kind of clinches it. Maybe Canadian Stage will hand out more of those slightly naughty buttons like they did at Krapp’s Last Tape.

Beckett: Feck It! Plays February 17th – 25th at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs. For more information http://www.queenofpuddingsmusictheatre.com/index.php/productions/beckett-feck-it  or  http://www.canadianstage.com

Arts cuts by City Hall

It hurts our wallets, our functionality, our sense of protection and calm. But historically, Toronto always produces incredible work when our funding gets axed. The community bands together and breaks new ground, flipping a well-crafted bird to the higher-ups. Look at what happened with Summerworks in 2011. I, for one, would wish away the budget cuts if I could, but intend on embracing them when they come. Strange as it is, I look forward to seeing what remarkable things happen when we get put inside the pressure cooker.

I probably wouldn’t be so doe-eyed about it if I had the job responsibilities of Matthew Jocelyn….

Penny Plain by Ronnie Burkett at Factory Theatre

I can’t stress enough how everyone should see the work of The Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes. It ain’t for kids, though it might make you feel like one. I dare even the hardest, crustiest cynics to not be blissfully caught off guard. Seriously. If you’re totally unaffected, send me your address and I’ll mail you a Radiohead album. I’ll assume that’s what you listen to…

Penny Plain plays January 20th – February 26th at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. For ticket information (and a great video interview with Ronnie Burkett) check out  http://www.factorytheatre.ca/concrete/concrete/index.php/season-and-subscription/penny-plain/.  

Closer by Patrick Marber, Mnemonic Theatre Productions

This play made the list because I see it as a diamond in the rough. The cast is relatively unknown, the director is new on the scene; but going to this production will give you the thrill of feeling that you’ve discovered something special and substantial before anyone else has – like how I felt when I got the first Arcade Fire album weeks before it aired on Much Music. I would be very surprised if these young, up-and-coming artists weren’t on many more “Top” lists in the years to come. Not to mention, the play is infinitely better than the film – as is often the case – so exorcise Julia Roberts from your brain and go check out the real deal.

Closer plays February 1st-4th at the Winchester Theatre in Cabbagetown. For more information visit   www.mnemonictheatre.com/closer

The new “Theatre trailer” and online promotions

I get sick kicks out of sitting down on YouTube and searching for trailers and promotional videos for theatrical productions. I’ve seen some bombs, and I’ve seen some goodies (anyone remember the Jersey Shore transcripts done in the style of Oscar Wilde that promoted The Importance of Being Earnest on Broadway?). It’s interesting to see the creative ways in which people build interest for a live medium through a recorded medium, and I think that with each passing year we are going to see that creativity produce some pretty spectacular efforts. Who will have the most effective, ludicrous, sensational promotional video of 2012?

If you haven’t seen the Earnest Playbill promotions, just YouTube “jersey shore oscar wilde”. And enjoy.

The Year of the Playwright?

Is it? Maybe? Fingers crossed. I can only hope that we are moving into a revamped era where people aren’t just writing great Canadian plays, but they are being produced, watched, and taken seriously. I think that voices like Hannah Moscovitch and Anunsee Roy are showing us that the appetite for new plays is there, and following their example, more young artists are going out on a playwright’s limb. I think that very soon, the playwright will once again be a commanding force of a nature in Canadian theatre (I leave that to better people than I). 2012 is only going to bring us one step closer to that.

There are tons of great writing and creation workshops out there, so keep your ear to the ground. I’ll keep you posted through Inthegreenroom.ca as they pop up.

The Neverending Story at Toronto’s Theatre for Young People

As if this needs any explanation. If you were born in the eighties, raised in the 90s, had even a smidge of a child’s imagination, and owned a VCR…this is a big moment in Canadian theatre for you. Atreyu and Bastian and the Childlike Empress on stage together? Live?? In the flesh?? I might have to knock me down some toddlers to get to the front row. All’s fair in Fantastica, the Land of Stories.

The Neverending Story plays February 27th-March 17th at Young People’s Theatre (it was never the Lorraine Kimsa to me!) For more information, check out  http://youngpeoplestheatre.ca/en/current/theneverendingstory.cfm. There are cheapie tickets, too!

Groundling Theatre Company

Sometimes I think that every six days there is a Shakespearean start-up venture in Toronto (God knows I’ve been a part of my share). His work is like actor crack: sexy, high-stakes, showy, language that is almost edible. Everyone has an opinion on Shakespeare, and everyone wants to put their stamp on the canon. But when I heard about Groundling Theatre Company, a new Shakespeare company founded by Graham Abbey….well, I think it’s good news for all of us. Abbey knows what he is doing. He has been wrestling with the great roles and the great plays his entire career, has been mentored by the very best, and remains a staple of classical theatre in Canada. We need good Shakespeare, and I’m pleased as punch that he is helping an initiative to do just that. Although their first production isn’t slated until 2013, keep your ears clean and your eyes open and you may hear tell of something. Abbey will also be returning to Stratford for the Festival’s 2012 season. It’s a quick drive for a big treat!

For more information, you can look at their website, groundlingtheatre.com.

The Tennessee Williams Project

Something is a-brewing in the Toronto theatre scene; something built off a love for Toronto, a need for community, a sense of artistic curiosity, and a hot and heavy love of Tennessee. The details are in the works, but we at Inthegreenroom.ca will keep you posted.