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Posts tagged ‘Susanna Fournier’

Artist Profile: Susanna Fournier

Interview by Hallie Seline.

Susanna Fournier is one of the most multifaceted artists in Canada right now. She is daring to go big, speak her mind, challenge the status quo, and continue to push to every boundary that comes her way in order to shake the world up with her art. I have been so in awe of her and her work over the past few years, seeing her drive to take on bigger projects, exploring and expanding her process, all while accepting the challenge of wearing ALL OF THE HATS in order to make her art happen. I couldn’t think of a more fierce artist to feature and I was thrilled to be able to speak with her about what motivates and inspires her, what she’s learned by daring to go BIG with THE EMPIRE TRILOGY, and what advice she would give to fellow artists trying to make it happen.

Hallie Seline: Your Empire trilogy is a massive project. Not only are there THREE PLAYS that are being produced in a year, but there’s podcasts, passports, an extensive fundraising project, partner feature drinks and online graphic novels! Tell me a bit about where your inspiration for this trilogy came from and what made you want to go BIG with it?

Susanna Fournier: I don’t know how to tell small stories. I grew up on Star Wars, Mozart’s operas, the Mists of Avalon, and Lord of the Rings. These all seemed like reasonably normal sized stories to me. 

In terms of the content, I think of the Empire as an origin story of Western modernity. I explore conflict on the macro and micro level. I write about systems of power through exploring how these systems appear in our daily lives, in our homes, our bodies, and sense of self. Current culture is stuck on a path towards destruction, I wrote The Empire to try and trace that path back. I’m not sure we can change the path if we don’t look at just how long we’ve been on it. I write in genre because I want to shake people out of their patterns, shake them out of the day-to-day and into a heightened space. When we travel our senses come alive, when we encounter a new place, new language, new culture, we pay attention in a different way. The Empire is set in an imagined world to shake us into looking at this one with more attention. 

Producing The Empire revealed to me that I’m not just interested in theatre, I’m interested in STORIES. I’m a story-teller, and I’m curious about all the ways we can tell stories. In a theatre, in a book, on the radio, in a picture or across a cocktail. The Empire isn’t just three plays, it’s a whole universe. Alison Wong, who is producing it with me, really helped me see that, and has been working closely with me to make these ideas possible. When I say, “What if we did (insert new idea)???” She’d say, “Yeah, let’s do that,” and then ACTUALLY finds a way to do it.

Playwright, Susanna Fournier, on the set of ‘The Scavenger’s Daughter’. Photo Credit: Haley Garnett.

HS: You have worn so many hats already in this project. What are some stand-out lessons you have learned while taking on the roles of: writer, producer, actor, director…

SF: As a producer: my job is to create containers for everybody else (creative team, venue, and audience) to reveal and experience the art. No matter how much you plan for the process and experience to go one way, it will inevitably go many other ways. Problem solving and your community are your biggest assets.

As a playwright, your play doesn’t exist without all the other elements: design, actors, space, audience. You bring a bunch of pages to day one of rehearsal, and then you have to let the process teach you about your play. You haven’t met your play until you all start doing it. You have to let the play speak – which might mean you suddenly feel like you don’t recognize it anymore. Be curious about it. It’s never going to be the version you see in your head. Thank god – what would be the point of doing it if you can just watch it in your head?

As an actor: you know that nightmare about having to go on and perform a show you didn’t rehearse? I just lived it for a 2 week run. You CAN actually learn a whole show 3 days before opening. You don’t need as much time to work as you think you do to make choices and commit to them. Get off book as soon as you possibly can. Imagine how much deeper your work would be if you were off book by day 1. You can do this. I dare you.

Susanna steps in at the 11th hour as the Philosopher in the first play in the EMPIRE trilogy, ‘The Philosopher’s Wife’. Photo Credit: Bernie Fournier.

HS: What has been your biggest challenge you’ve faced in undergoing this project and how have you taken it on?

SF: Raising the money to produce a whole season of theatre as indie artists and being understaffed because we don’t have the money to hire the amount of people it takes to execute a whole season of theatre. Working inside this challenge is ongoing. I’ve had to interrogate my relationship to money, to asking for it, and to keep asking for it. For instance, if you want to check out Empire Trilogy’s “A Name for A Name” campaign here, you can see how close we are to reaching our $15,000 goal and help us get there by donating today 🙂

HS: We love all of the resources Generator is putting out into the world to empower artists to make their art happen. As an artist taking on many roles, can you speak to me about your experience with the Generator Artist Producer Training (APT) program?

SF: I could not produce a project like this without the training I did with APT, and the continued support Generator is giving me as a resident company. Beyond the classes, which covered everything from budgets, to contracts, to timelines, to curation, and marketing, etc. APT and Generator gave me a community of support. Kristina Lemieux is a revolution. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone as committed to empowering artists and creating meaningful sector and social change. Generator is quickly becoming a hub for the indie artists of Toronto, and my hope is that more indie companies will begin to work together and organize around Generator. What would happen if “indie” teams formed a stronger network, what resources could we share, what kind of terms could we set when working inside and outside of more traditional institutions? What’s possible?

Actor, Josh Johnston, as Jack in ‘The Scavenger’s Daughter’. Scenic Design by Michelle Tracey. Photo Credit: Bernie Fournier

HS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

SF: Making art that runs against the mainstream is lonely. You’re going to work with great people, but it’s still going to be lonely. Make friends with your loneliness.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

SF: Women who rail against the shitty deal society “offers” them. Women who say no. Women who dance. Women who laugh at power. Women who fuck. Women who ask questions. Women who scream. Women who fail. Women who make mistakes. Women who rage. Women who transform. Women who love. Women who sing.

HS: What do you do to take care of yourself as an artist?

SF: I don’t know, I’ve had less than 25 days off since The Empire trilogy started pre-production in May 2017, but I have amazing friends and family who help me every single day and bring me food a lot.

Rapid Fire Questions:

Morning or Night Person? A lot of both lately (work)

Go-to drink? Double espresso with touch of hot water and some kind of non-cow milk. I love cocktails and vermouth but I’m not drinking much these days (see above re: work)

If you could be reincarnated as an animal what would it be? A human.

Last book you read? Heartbreaker by local powerhouse Claudia Dey

Favourite play? Jill Connell is a fucking genius and everything she writes breaks my heart and brings me back to life at the same time. Read: The Supine Cobbler, The Tall Building, Hroses.

What are you listening to right now? My gut. And early 2000’s sad angsty tunes.

Favourite place in the city? Sunnyside beach life guard tower (when I need to see the lake and remember the immensity of life).

What in your life could you not live without? Women and faith.

Current Mantra: Several mantras these days: Keep going. You can’t control everything. Let go. Trust.

Finish these sentences:

I am most creative when...I am dancing”

I feel happiest when…I am creating (which is a form of dancing)”

I feel fired up when…I am writing (also a form of dancing)”

In the Toronto theatre scene, I want to see…more radical work, more abandon (so dancing), and more leaders re-structuring institutional power (which is also a form of dancing)”

THE EMPIRE Trilogy by Susanna Fournier

Susanna Fournier
t: @SusannaFournier

Paradigm Productions & The Empire Trilogy
t: @paradigmprodxn
fb: /paradigmtheatre
ig: @paradigmprodxn

A Chat with Sochi Fried on “Stencilboy and Other Portraits” at the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Interview by Ryan Quinn

I had a cup of coffee with Sochi Fried during our lovely Toronto deep freeze to talk about Stencilboy and Other Portraits.

RQ: Would you like to tell me a little bit about the show?

SF: Sure! It’s a new play written by a woman named Susanna Fournier. She’s worked in this city as an actor, she went to National Theatre School as an actor, but she’s also been a playwright for a number of years. This is actually her first play that she started writing in high school. So it’s been a progression of ten years for this play, having it evolve and be influenced by different actors and dramaturgs. It’s the first full production of any of her work, which is really exciting. The play itself has three characters, I play a young woman named Lily who comes from the country to the city (in this world there is only the country and the city). There’s been an economic collapse, and so she’s coming to the city looking to find a very specific painter. He’s the most famous painter in this city and he’s the only state-sanctioned artist due to government cutbacks. She desperately wants to be immortalized in painting, which is what bring her there, but the first guy she meets happens to be a guy named Stencilboy. He’s an underground graffiti artist whose day job is to paint over his own graffiti that he does at night. It’s sort of a triangle between the three of them, and it goes into notions of a young generation pushing an older one out, and what traditional art is, and the value of more transient art.


Brandon Coffey, Sochi Fried, Richard Clarkin of Stencilboy and Other Portraits

RQ: So it’s this kind of self-reflective “art about art”. What do you think is so important about this kind of theatre?

SF: With any piece of theatre, there’s a certain amount of reflecting of the world around us, and this playwright is writing about what she knows, which makes it vital and energetic. Also, the gender politics of the play are very exciting. It can be really controversial, whether it’s just another old story of a young woman trying to define herself through men. Hopefully that’s not what people take from it, but then again, the question is whether or not we need to see more stories like that. So I guess why it’s important for it to be done is that it raises a lot of questions and goes into some murky, complicated territory in an interesting way. I don’t think it’s perfect in any sense, which is wonderful. It’s gritty, and strange, and it requires something of an audience. That’s always good.

RQ: What do you hope people are thinking about or discussing on the way home?

SF: I hope that they’re discussing the journey of an artist into becoming. Also the rights of an artist, what kind of stories can they appropriate, and who says what you can paint. I hope that they’re discussing what it is that would drive this woman so much to want to be desired in that way and her eventual realization that she doesn’t need that.

Playwright Susanna Fournier

Playwright Susanna Fournier

RQ: Is that what’s so attractive to you about the character of Lily? This desire and this drive?

SF: Totally. She’s aggressive in her energy. She’s very funny. She’s adventurous, ballsy, she has a lot of moxie. She calls people out on their bullshit, but she also has a lot of her own emotional baggage that she’s trying to run away from and it keeps catching up with her. She doesn’t have the skills to deal with that but as the play progresses, the experience she has allows her to grow up.

RQ: Switching gears, for the new year, what are your hopes as an artist or for the artistic community? What would you like to see in Toronto.

SF: I’d like to see more plays by women. I really would. I’d love the independent scene to support more new Canadian work. I find it surprising and frustrating the number of older American plays that keep getting put on. As an artist, I’d love to do more film. I’m also still on the hunt, I think everyone is, for collaborative partners; more really interesting, strong directors, and writers, and actors.


Sochi Fried as Lily in Stencilboy and Other Portraits

RQ: So this is going on at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. What do you think the importance of festivals are as opposed to singular mounts in this city?

SF: Well, there’s a lot of really interesting work that I’m excited to see at Next Stage this year. A whole array. But, more in general, I think the festivals have become platforms through which plays can be seen by members of the community that have clout or the wherewithal to give them a second life or a third life. So, I think that’s the great advantage. Also it’s in January, where there’s not a lot of work for theatre artists. And there are some strange time restraints to festivals in general which are not conducive to whatever the imagination wants to create, but the restraints can be interesting and force people to get their stories out there.


Stencilboy and Other Portraits

Written by Susanna Fournier
Directed by Jonathan Seinen
Presented by Paradigm Productions

Where: Factory Studio Theatre
Thu Jan 16 7.45pm
Fri Jan 17 4.45pm
Sat Jan 18 9.15pm
Sun Jan 19 2:45pm
Tickets: 15$