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Posts tagged ‘Storytelling’

“From Glam Rocker, to MMA, to TV Personality, to the 2018 Toronto Fringe with ENJOY THE HOSTILITIES” 5 Questions with Robin Black

Interview by Hallie Seline.

We were excited to get the opportunity to chat with Robin Black, who has had quite the journey going from glam rocker, to mixed martial artist, to television personality, and who now adds Toronto Fringe storyteller to his list of titles. We discussed his greatest challenges both mentally and physically, his personal philosophy that kept him moving forward, and why he decided to share his story with the Toronto Fringe this summer in Enjoy the Hostilities.

HS: What an incredible journey you have already had at this point in your life! Is there a singular philosophy that you carried with you to each of your very different ventures?

Robin Black: I have a goal of getting better at something every day. I think I started thinking this way as a Martial Artist at a young age, and I apply that thinking to everything. I can get a little better at my job, a little better at editing my art, a little better at being a good husband, a little better at yoga.

This ‘growth mindset’, the idea that wherever I apply effort I will grow, has been a part of the way I’ve approached every venture in my life. It’s also a theme in our show Enjoy the Hostilities.

HS: What was harder on your body and mind: being a rock star or being a fighter?

RB: Traveling and playing rock music in a C-List Glam Rock band was definitely more damaging to my body, my relationships and my physical and mental health.

Fighting is very, very tough mentally and physically but it is rooted in healthy things; training your body and mind, getting better every day, overcoming obstacles, striving to achieve goals.

Rock and roll can be viewed, performed and expressed this way too but we had a more grungy, drug-and-alcohol-fueled interpretation of being rock performers.

Both are tough. Both damaged my body. Both were mentally stressful and challenging. Both probably took years off of my life.

HS: What experience has offered your greatest challenge and if you were faced with it again, would you deal with it in the same way?

RB: Failure is hard, and I fail a lot.

When you fail in a fight you’re so naked and alone, both metaphorically and literally. It is a very pure form of failure. It’s incredibly painful.

I would not change a thing, these setbacks are what creates your strength and resilience and ability to be stronger in your future.

What you end up wishing you could change is the PREPARATION before the failure, but you cannot, the time has passed.

So the lesson you end up learning from failure has to be lessons about preparation so that, next time, you will increase your chance of success.

HS: If you could now try any other profession at this moment, without limitation, what would it be and why?

RB: I spend my days studying Martial Arts and sharing what I find with an audience. Sometimes I tell stories. I commentate combat for people watching on television. I love what I do. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

But if something pops up that I’d rather be doing? I’ll pursue it immediately and deploy all of the passion and persistence necessary to make it happen. That’s what I always do and I’m sure I will do it again.

HS: What made you want to turn your life’s journey into a Fringe show at this time in your life?

RB: I’m not rich, I’m not famous, but I have honestly lived a life of passion and adventure.

In the process, I’ve learned some pretty cool things that I really wanted to share with people.

I also really wanted to work on something with Graham [Isador, co-creator & director] and this was so fun to build and it’s been so fun to express.

It just all came together so beautifully and I’m just so stoked for people to see it at the Fringe.

Enjoy the Hostilities

Who:
Company: Pressgang Theatre
Playwright/Creator: Robin Black and Graham Isador
Performed by Robin Black
Directed by Graham Isador

What:
Have you ever woken up in the middle of a cage fight? Have you ever overdosed backstage in a concert hall? Have you ever tried to out-drink a two time world Sumo champion? Robin Black has. It’s kind of been his job. In Enjoy The Hostilities, Robin Black (TSN, MUCHMUSIC) uses humour, storytelling, and punch drunk philosophy to share his journey from glam rocker, to mixed martial artist, to television personality. Co-written by Graham Isador (VICE, Soulpepper Playwright Unit), the show offers audiences advice on how to make the most out of almost making it.

Where:
The Bovine
542 Queen Street West
Toronto
Ontario
M5V 2B5

When:
4th July – 6:00pm
5th July – 6:00pm
8th July – 6:00pm
9th July – 6:00pm
10th July – 6:00pm
11th July – 6:00pm
12th July – 6:00pm
15th July – 6:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @robinblackmma
ig: @robinblackmma

Inside Fringe: In Conversation with Sam Mullins on creating & re-visiting “Weaksauce” at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Article by Megan Robinson

Sam Mullins, writer and performer of Weaksauce, has come a long way since his first solo-show, Tinfoil Dinosaur, which opened at the Winnipeg Fringe in 2011. “I’ve never vomited from nerves except for that day […] I tried to drop out of the festival. I wanted to just go home. I was like, I can’t do it.” Mullins relives the memory as he sits across from me at the Theatre Centre, the day after opening Weaksauce at the 2017 Toronto Fringe. “It’s one thing to be running your show in your living room and it’s another thing when the whole city shuts down for the Fringe.”

Though Mullins is much more comfortable as a writer and would like nothing more than to stop performing (for all the enjoyment, there is so much anxiety) he assures me he is not about to quit. Instead, he spins it into a positive. “Nervous energy is a good thing for me on stage. It’s really easy to be vulnerable on stage when you feel really vulnerable. I don’t have to pretend.”

Weaksauce is the story of firsts in Mullins’ life: first time away from home, first love and first love triangle. It’s his contribution to his favourite genre; romantic coming-of-age. And the goal for the show? Storytelling that is efficient while still being as fun as possible. Drawing from influences like Mike Birbiglia and Tig Notaro, Mullins says, “If you can make people laugh for 45 minutes and have a couple moments of poignance, like Tig and Mike can do—I just feel like there’s such great power in it. It lifts it above standup and storytelling, it’s like this hybrid.”

The show, which played at the Toronto Fringe in 2013, remains about 90% the same as the script Mullins wrote “in like a weekend” after a busy summer touring a show with his good friends, Peter and Chris. Faced with only a week to create a whole new show for the final festival of the tour, they all headed to Sam’s family home in Vernon BC. “It was like a writers colony,” Sam recalls, grinning. “Peter and Chris in one room working on their show and me in another.”

This is where Weaksauce came to be, under the guidance of “guru” Elizabeth Blue who was also in attendance of this retreat. “She was like drinking and floating on a tube in the lake and we’d go out on the dock and be like “Lizzy! I need to read you a new draft! […] She was the biggest help ever. She gave me so many great notes. Her fingerprints are all over the show.”

With no formal director for Weaksauce, Mullins tends to ask friends for help when he thinks he needs it. On opening day of Weaksauce, he brought in Johnnie Walker (playwright of Redheaded Stepchild) to help clean up the staging a bit (after offering Walker a hundred bucks for the favour). “Johnnie has a real nose and eye for staging and blocking and character choices, and all those things are after-thoughts for me. I’m just obsessed with what the piece of paper is.” An obsession that means after Mullins has spent his time enjoying the little breakthroughs and finding the perfect line, he often hands the script off to his performer self at the last minute.

From reading through Mullins’ website, it’s clear he some good thoughts for writers. He holds true to advice from his friend and performer James Gangl that what you write about should scare the shit out of you. Mullins writes about loaded topics, stories of angst and embarrassment are where he has found his best stuff. So though there is an importance to first processing an experience, Mullins says, “you can’t be fully over it […] I love going back and working through these things. It’s fun revisiting these old times and places and people and seeing it through your eyes now, and seeing how it is different.”

What’s different for Mullins and for Weaksauce this time around? With more standup experience, he’s better at recognizing opportunities for jokes. He is in a larger venue this year than he was in 2013. Oh, and he’s engaged (!!).

When I ask if there is a connection between getting married this summer and bringing back Weaksauce he nods. “Yeah, when we got engaged and I wanted to remount one of my old shows, I was like it would be really fun to revisit falling in love for the first time in the context of me getting married. And Weaksauce was always my favourite,” Mullins says. “As I’m thinking about my vows and thinking about our journeys to each other this was a really fun thing to think about and immerse myself in […] To remember what it was like the first time that you thought you found your person. And, you know, how all of the failed relationships along the way… they weren’t failures, they were what lead us to each other.”

Weaksauce

Who: Sam Mullins (Writer/Performer)

What: A coming-of-age comedy of first times, second chances and third wheels. ★★Canadian Comedy Award Winner for Best One-Person Show★★ “Weaksauce is first-rate theatre. Fresh, funny, and heart-poundingly alive.” – NOW

Where: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, 79A Saint George Street.

When:
July 11th 6pm
July 13th 9:15pm
July 14th 12pm
July 15th 3:30pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @SamSMullins
f: /sammullinscomedy
w: samsmullins.com

A Chat with Storyteller Jillian Welsh on NO PLACE in the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Brittany Kay

Jillian Welsh is very, very funny… just TRY not to laugh at her answers! She’s no stranger to the storytelling community with appearances on the RISK podcast and CBC’s Love Me. Her new show NO PLACE explores her relationship to her family and trying to find her place. 

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

Jillian Welsh: In my real life I always thought that I would sing at my grandmother’s funeral, but holy drama Batman — things got complicated. This show takes place the hour before her funeral in a church and explores all of the secrets that made it so damn complicated.

BK: Why is a show like NO PLACE perfect for the Fringe? Why your show, over the 159 other shows?

JW: Oh man, don’t choose me over things. I mean come see this show, please come see it, but I advise the Derrick Chua method; see as many things as you possibly can. There are so many incredible artists this year.

BK: What are the fears and excitements around doing a solo show?

JW: What if I have to pee? What if I can’t hold it?

BK: Why the title NO PLACE?

JW: I buried that answer deep in the play, come solve the mystery, yeah? #nancydrewyou (…into coming to my show).

BK: How did you come to storytelling?

JW: I was working in a bar and Graham Isador kept trying to talk to me while I was busy moving around some rubber chickens. I told him to shut up and hold my cock, then he asked me to tell a story onstage.

BK: What draws you to storytelling as a performer? What makes you keep coming back to this medium?

JW: I keep trying to live a normal life, but fail miserably.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

JW: Their coats, umbrellas and water bottles. I hate cleaning up after people.

BK: Are there other shows you are planning to see in the Fringe?

JW: ALL THE THINGS!

But for sure:

Dear Uncle Wish because I love Samantha Chaulk’s brain, Life Records 2: Side B because Rhiannon Archer is just so damn hilarious and She Grew Funny because the director (Chris Earle) is life partners with my director (Shari Hollett) and they gave me free sandwiches.

BK: You’ve been in the Fringe before. What are your favourite parts about the festival?

JW: The tent, marijuana and consensual sex.

No Place

Who:
Written and Performed by Jillian Welsh
Directed by Shari Hollett
Stage manager: Ada Adler
Produced by Pressgang Theatre as a part of the Toronto Fringe Festival

What:
Josephine knows she should sing at her grandmothers funeral. Or at least say something, anything at all. But somehow between Manhattan and rural Ontario all the music got lost and now all the right things to say can only turn out wrong.

Where:
St. George the Marytr (The Music Gallery)
197 John Street (beside the OCAD building/behind the AGO)

When:
July 6th – 8:00pm
July 7th – 1:00pm
July 8th – 8:00pm
July 9th –   8:00pm
July 10th– 8:00pm
July 12th– 8:00pm
July 13th– 8:00pm
July 14th– 1:00pm
July 15th– 8:00pm
July 16th– 8:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Call for Submissions: How Fiercely Fringe Are You?

We’re compiling the most epic Toronto Fringe preview and we want to hear from all of you boss Fringe babes why you are the most #FiercelyFringe and why Toronto NEEDS to see your show.

 

Find out more about how to submit here! 

Artist Profile: Vanessa Smythe, storyteller / actor / spoken-word-performer-of-many-colours, on her new show “Lip Sync Sleepover”

Interview by Brittany Kay

Vanessa Smythe is one incredibly unique performer. She combines poetry, music, spoken word and storytelling into a memorable and mesmerizing experience. I feel very grateful to have sat down with her to discuss her new show, Lip Sync Sleepover, which opens tonight at Streetcar Crownest.

“It can be scary being vulnerable with parts of your life that you’re still sorting out.” – Vanessa Smythe

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

Vanessa Smythe: I think the show is ultimately inspired by my fascination with childhood, wonder and the kind of magic you see in the world when you’re a kid and how it gets harder and harder to see that magic as you get older. It’s the search between those two places of childhood magic and the realities of being an adult.

BK: Why the title, Lip Sync Sleepover?

VS: The title was a strong impulse I had. I didn’t really fully understand why that was what it was called. Growing up I loved to do lip syncs. They represented ultimate happiness and joy for me. Sleepovers were what I (and maybe not on a conscious level) associated with true love and intimacy and companionship. It spoils the show to talk too much about that. It’s kind of a clue about what we go after as young people and how that changes as we get older.

BK: How did you get into storytelling, spoken word and poetry?

VS: Let’s see… I’ve always considered myself a storyteller since I was a kid. I remember a professional storyteller came to my classroom when I was in grade one and she told a ghost story and I was like, “Oh My God. That is just the most powerful thing,” and so I wanted to do that. When I was little I was always making up routines and filming them with my dad’s video camera. I was just drawn to different ways of creative expression, which sort of evolved into what I’m doing now. I was really into poetry for a while and this show has some poetry in it but colloquial storytelling is a lot of the show, which is new for me.

BK: What is your process when creating these shows?

VS: I’ll typically make up stuff out loud and record myself and then listen to it later, or make a video. I’m very private initially. I usually don’t share any of my stuff with anyone else until very late in the process. I’ll rent a venue like Free Times Café and I’ll have a mini show and test out new pieces in front of an audience. There’s not a lot of attention paid to structure at the beginning. It’s mostly just following impulses and then seeing if any of these pieces might belong together.

BK: Then how do you structure it down to be a coherent piece?

VS: I have struggled with that in the past, which is why I’m really excited to be collaborating with Mitchell Cushman on this. He’s developing and directing the piece.

BK: What’s it been like working with Mitchell?

VS: Mitchell was the first person to sort of give me a chance, I think, as a solo performer. Crow’s Theatre did this site-specific one person show festival a couple of years ago where we took over parts of Leslieville. Mitchell put me in. I was kind of a wild card, like nobody knew who I was, and I don’t know if anyone still knows who I am.

(Laughter)

Mitchell felt like he saw something unique about what I was doing and what inspires me to do what I do. Right away, I have trusted him as somebody who seems to really understand how I work and how I can be pushed further. We’re exploring movement as a device in this show, which I’ve always wanted to do but never have known how. He is offering some of his own really good instincts about how some of these pieces can bridge together to become something that belong together. He has such a great balance. His fingers aren’t all over the piece, but at the same time he’s able to dare me to try different things, which is very hard to find, so I’m grateful.

BK: What inspires you to do what you do? Why storytelling?

VS: I love stories so much. I think stories are sacred and magical and I think that they remind us of who we are and who we are to each other. I remember doing a residency at Banff for their spoken word program and the mentors were really amazing. It was the first time I worked with d’bi.young anitafrika and she led this series of workshops where she talked about the role of the storyteller in the village. Your responsibility as a storyteller can be to protect what is sacred and nurture a place for it. On a deep level I really believe that. I try to remember that as all of the details and variables can kind of distract you; you care about if people come or if it’s good, but I try to as much as I can to go to that initial impulse. I feel that if I have any chance of making something genuine or honest that’s where it has to come from.

BK: Are there any fears or excitements about presenting your own stories and work?

VS: Yes, there are certainly things that scare me. Almost everything in my shows is inspired from true things that have happened to me. It can be scary being vulnerable with parts of your life that you’re still sorting out. I think you have to be really clear with yourself about what your intentions are because if you want some kind of validation or even laughter or acknowledgment from your listeners, you have to be very careful why you want that and what you actually might be seeking. I try to be as a clear as I can about what draws me to each piece and who it’s for because if you can connect to why you’re doing it, then no matter if it’s received or not, you can sort of still be a bit protected by your knowledge of whatever that impulse was. It keeps you a bit supported because otherwise I feel like it can be slippery.

BK: Excitements?

VS: I like feeling like I can have a one-on-one conversation with the audience. I try to really be present and breathe in the room and meet the energy of whoever is there. Which is exciting and thrilling and kind of unpredictable.

BK: You also have a background as an actor and as a performer you sit somewhere in the middle of storyteller and actor. I find that incredibly unique. How did you get there and what kinds of things helped and guided you into this work?

VS: I know it’s kind of a hodge-podge. Sometimes you can feel a bit lonely because I’m not sure where I fit necessarily but I think that there’s also something cool about that, as well.

The most formative things in my training? I have a big dance background, so I’ve always been interested in physical language and live performance from a theatrical standpoint. I did my undergrad in philosophy, which really got me passionate about writing and writing poetry. I think ever since my undergrad, I’ve kind of had a very specific impulse about what draws me to storytelling and why I might try to do it and commit a life to it. Then it’s just fun to get inspired. A lot of my influences are musicians. I don’t try to pay attention to where I belong because you can kind of get a little bit stuck in your own notions of yourself. I just try to un-obstruct myself as much as I can. I try not to worry too much about the categories.

BK: Most of the time, you’re working and creating alone. Is there something that motivates you to create?

VS: I find usually, whether I realize it or not, whatever I’m making is probably what I need to hear. If I listen in the right way (and not to everything you make, sometimes it can be a lot of garbage too) if you’re lucky you can maybe kind of understand something about what you’re going through or something that teaches you where you are in this moment. That can be really nice. Even though it’s lonely, it’s kind of a way to be more okay with wherever you’re at, which makes you feel less alone I think… in the best of times… sometimes.

(Laughter)

BK: How is your storytelling different from when you are portraying a character in a play?

VS: It gets hard. My favourite acting coach will have you do an exercise when you’re rehearsing a scene with him of making you do the scene in your own words. I like that because I feel like it stimulates both my writer brain and my actor brain. I can access the material in a way that I don’t have to work so hard to access when it’s my own stuff. I get used to starting with an understanding of the person I’m portraying. That’s something that helps me bridge that difference. I do think there is an exciting thrill of portraying somebody that’s not you. There is maybe more permission you give yourself to go further with certain choices, so I try even in my solo show to dare myself in the same way as if I had a disguise on. You talk to a lot of actors who will describe that feeling of freedom when they put on another mask, they can say and do anything.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

VS: I hope people feel more connected to the things that they care about. I hope they feel more connected to the people they care about in their lives. I hope that they have a bit of fondness when they imagine the child-like version of themselves because that’s sort of what we’re championing in this new piece.

Rapid Fire Questions

Favourite Food? Greasy Breakfast.

What music are you listening to? Modest Mouse’s new album.

Favourite place in Toronto? I love the waterfront. I love to find streets that I have never walked down before. Anywhere when it’s warm out.

Favourite musical? The Phantom of the Opera. Once.

Favourite play? The Encounter by Simon McBurney

Favourite book? I like Miriam Toews.

Favourite movie? Lots.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten? My mom telling me to “make your bed every morning.” And my other advice, just to be kind.

Lip Sync Sleepover

Who:
Created & Performed by Vanessa Smythe
Developed & Directed by Mitchell Cushman, With Support from Crow’s Theatre

What:
What day of childhood do you wish you could live again? What would you tell your 7-year old self, if you could write and send her a letter? In this new solo show, and in her “spellbinding combination of storytelling, stand-up comedy, poetry and song – all at the same time”, Vanessa Smythe takes us back to childhood in this poignant, funny, deeply personal celebration of the people we dreamed we’d be – and the memories that remind us of who we truly are. A celebration of life’s tricky disappointments – and its enduring, understated joy.

Where:
Streetcar Crowsnest (Scotiabank Community Studio)
345 Carlaw Ave (Dundas and Carlaw)

When:
Two Nights Only: Thursday May 25 8:30pm & Friday May 26 8:30pm

Tickets:
$20 crowstheatre.com

Connect:
t: @vsmythe