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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

Connect: 
Susanna Fournier
t: @SusannaFournier

Paradigm Productions & The Empire Trilogy
t: @paradigmprodxn
fb: /paradigmtheatre
ig: @paradigmprodxn
w: empiretrilogy.com

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“On Creative Process, Being Infatuated with All Things Theatre & Appreciating Being Brave in Different Ways” In Conversation with playwright Rosamund Small on the World Premiere of SISTERS at Soulpepper

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Playwright Rosamund Small spent much of her 2017 reading novels. One of her tasks as part of the Soulpepper Academy, under the guidance of Guillermo Verdecchia, was to find a story to adapt for the stage but it wasn’t until she read Edith Wharton’s novella, Bunner Sisters, that she knew she had the right project.

The long short story follows two sisters that run a shop together in 19th century New York City. They work together selling pieces at the front of the shop while sharing a living space in the confined quarters in the back of the shop. And when one sister is given a clock for her birthday, the story begins.

We spoke with Rosamund Small, covering everything from her creative process to her present infatuation with all things theatre-related, in light of the world premiere of her play Sisters at Soulpepper Theatre, on stage now until September 16th.


MR: What was it that you were most curious about with this story? What made you think definitely this one?

RS: It has twists and turns that were shocking to read. I mean really shocking. It’s a cliché to say things about it being a page-turner, but it really is. I think what grabbed me from the moment I opened it, is that the very first thing that happens is the older sister buys a birthday present for the younger sister, and it’s a clock. And their lives are made so beautiful by this clock. It’s the biggest deal to have a clock and to be able to know what time it is.

It brought me into it in the sense that, that’s a world; you have one counter and one bed and one clock, and that’s all you have. The stakes of that world are very high, right? The closeness to having nothing. And on the flip side, there is the joy when anything shifts for the better. It’s very extreme.

Sisters

MR: Adaptation seems like a natural fit for you, because you seem to have a history of working with things that already exist. Would you say that it felt natural?

RS: I would, and I think for some people an adaptation is ‘how do I put this book on stage’ and sometimes it’s more like an abbreviation. I thought of this as a collaboration with the material. I’d also say it’s a radical rewrite. It’s an interpretation. So I get to bring what I find curious about the story, what I find curious to add to the story, my own sense of rhythm and humour, and kind of blatantly transform things about it into what I think they should be, and what I think makes it the most dramatic. I don’t feel like I adhere to the limits of the material if I don’t want to.

MR: All of your projects seem very specific, what draws you in to a project?

RS: I was just thinking how I have the world’s weirdest resume. My resume has that I worked for the show Workin’ Moms on CBC, and worked with a ballet company. It’s just very all over the place. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way at all, I think in some ways it means I don’t know myself. But I get attracted to the most random things, and I’m very fortunate also to have support and collaboration to commit to a project for a long period of time. This play has taken a year, and it’s the shortest timeline I’ve ever worked on for a play. Vitals took two years, Tomorrowlove took over two years, so I have that time to look at source material or ideas and collaborate with people. But I need something to bounce off of. Whether I’m bouncing off realities, interviews, a novel, whatever it is, I need something to hit up against, that I can add to. That can be very helpful. Limitations are very useful.

MR: If every work you do is so different, how would you define your voice? There’s got to be something about you that makes it yours, and I’m curious if you have a definition or something you always come back to?

RS: I think it’s the search for companionship. A search for connection. Even Occupy [Performing Occupy Toronto], back in the day, I thought I was doing something about politics, and of course inherently I was, but actually, I was interested in people gathering and the impossibility and the hope that everyone will be able to connect and move forward and get along with each other. I think that brings me through all of my work.

This work is about two people who are in a way living their lives right next to each other and yet there’s a gap between them, there’s a distance between them, even though they’re physically close and they’re siblings. I find the complexities of human relationships pretty consistently compelling.

Sisters

MR: Now that you are seeing the project on its feet, how does it feel? Is it what you imagined, have they done things with it you could never have pictured?

RS: There are always things you can’t picture. I’d be really disappointed if it was exactly as I imagined it. That’s the theatre, right?

MR: What did you learn about yourself as a writer through this adaptation, something you uncovered or learned through the process?

RS: I think that less is more. I’m learning over and over again that the moments I’m going to script should not leap off the page in their completion because the actors are their completion. A play is not meant to be the full experience. Leaving those gaps and leaving those spaces for where an inhale, or a tilt of the head, or a self-conscious tug of a shirt that the actor will do without planning, is going to say more than a monologue, you know? Just reminding myself over and over that this is not for a reader, this is for someone to inhabit and observe and participate in. I mean this is Drama 101, I’m saying things that everyone learns in their first anything, but then you learn it again and again.

MR: What are you excited about with this production of Sisters?

RS: I’m excited about everything. One: that it will be beautiful. It sounds beautiful, looks beautiful. It’s also a celebration of beauty in lots of ways. These characters are interested in finding a more beautiful life and in a deeper sense of that word, in finding something glorious and celebratory and delicate about life, when they don’t have a lot of things in life that they can feel that way about. One of them goes to an orchestra and experiences that, and it’s such a profound moment for that character. I think theatre is beautiful, so there’s sort of a meta-theatrical element of seeing people engage with art on stage because the sisters are experiencing art, so we are watching them experience that.

I’m honestly really excited by the performances. It’s not a paint by numbers script, it’s a very challenging piece of work with a lot of complicated subtext, and the depth of the performances is amazing to watch. I feel like I learned so much just watching them.

While being nervous, there’s nothing I’m not excited for.

Sisters

MR: How do you feel when you look back on your work at this point in your career?

RS: I’ve obviously learned a lot, and there’s a lot of eye-rolling about bad writing habits, or self-indulgent writing habits. But there was also a time in my life where I was a certain kind of brave that I’m not now, and now I’m a certain kind of brave I didn’t use to be. I think you have to appreciate the fact that you change.

MR: What inspires you today?

RS: I’m always inspired by Anika and Britta (Johnson). They’ve got a show coming up, Dr. Silver. The word ‘immersive’ gets around a lot, but they’ve really pushed it so that it’s really a communal experience, it’s like a spiritual experience that I think speaks to their relationship with music, and I think the spiritual connection they have with music.

I’m inspired right now by a lot of books – I’m reading Miranda July’s book, The First Bad Man.

MR: Very, very crazy.

RS: It’s insane!

MR: It’s so brave

RS: It’s so brave, it’s so nice because you write something and you think ‘that’s bad, that’s insanity,’ but then you read someone else’s insanity and you think ‘that’s so great!’

I’m also in a really lovey-dove phase with art and with theatre. A friend of mine said I was a theatre mom. I’m like, ‘look at them up there just risking it all! Look at this volunteer handing out programs! The world is so beautiful, can you believe this?’

I’ve just been off the charts positive and excited for everyone and all of it, all of the time. So it’s a bit much, to be honest. I’ll probably crash soon.

MR: I love that you love theatre so much. I sometimes wonder if everyone is just going to leave for TV.

RS: I think it’s important to take breaks. I was working elsewhere, right? I was working on a television show, and while I loved that as well, and the break from that is going to bring me back to television, the grass is always greener. It was the same when I went traveling for six months. I came back and stuff I’ve been complaining about for years, I was now like, ‘this is an amazing theatre! I love this theatre. I love how cute and broken the seats are.’

But it’s nice. I’m hoping to cling to the feeling because it won’t last forever. You can’t love something that much every hour of the day. It’s just not possible and that’s all part of it.

Sisters

Sisters

Who:
Rosamund Small, Playwright
Cast:
KEVIN BUNDY, Mr. Ramy
LAURA CONDLLN, Ann
NICOLE POWER, Evelina
ELLORA PATNAIK, Puffed Sleeves Lady
RAQUEL DUFFY, Nun
KAREN ROBINSON, Mrs. Mellins

Production:
PETER PASYK, Director
MICHELLE TRACEY, Set Designer
ERIKA CONNOR, Costume Designer
KIMBERLY PURTELL, Lighting Designer
RICHARD FEREN, Composer & Sound Designer
MONICA DOTTOR, Choreographer
GUILLERMO VERDECCHIA, Dramaturg
DIANE PITBLADO, Dialect Coach
KELLY MCEVENUE, Alexander Coach
SARAH MILLER, Stage Manager
ANDREA BAGGS, Assistant Stage Manager
DAVID BEN, Magic Consultant
KATHLEEN JONES, Apprentice Stage Manager

What:
Ann and Evelina have created a little corner for themselves in New York at the turn of the century. When a handsome clockmaker comes to call, the powerful bonds of sisterhood are put to the test. Inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winner Edith Wharton’s pioneering novella, Sisters shows us hidden heroism in everyday life.

Where:
Soulpepper Theatre
50 Tank House Lane
Toronto

When:
On stage now until September 16th.

Tickets:
soulpeppertheatre.ca

Connect: 
@smallrosamund
@soulpepper

 

In Conversation with artist Tom McGee on Being a Dramaturge, Collaborating with Kat Sandler and Embracing His Own Style as Playwright & Director with FEATHERWEIGHT at the Fringe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Tom McGee is a story nerd, with a resume to prove it.

Behind every hit Theatre Brouhaha show has been McGee, working as the diligent dramaturge alongside playwright Kat Sandler. He has been there helping her craft the hilarious, dark and punchy scripts we’ve all come to expect from this ambitious company.

With their newest production, Featherweight, McGee is swapping places with Sandler. While McGee steps into the roles of writer and director, Sandler is working as both producer and dramaturge.

Featherweight is a dark comedy that promises to be as relevant as your Facebook feed and to prompt your most heated post-show debates (did you see Bang Bang?), remaining faithful to the Brouhaha mandate of creating theatre for the Netflix generation.

Brouhaha’s fast-paced shows speak to what is in the zeitgeist; this is a company that understands it is competing not only with other theatre but with all digital content. And the company has a creative process that moves as quick as their dialogue. In this age of content, it’s important to McGee that each show gets put on stage quickly, while the story is still topical. Rather than two years of development, a Brouhaha show gets more like two months (the script will get a little longer). Concerning the longevity of this style of theatre, McGee believes that it’s the memory of the play and the experience of the audience that matters more than it’s potential success in the unlikely event of a remount. Plus, at the rate Sandler and McGee can whip up a script, McGee would sooner come up with a new show that can speak to what is happening in the current moment anyway.

I got to speak with Tom to get his thoughts on the struggles of dramaturgy and learning to embrace his own writing style.


On Working with Brouhaha and Kat Sandler

Tom McGee: I’ve worked in some capacity on all of Kat’s scripts, with the exception of her long-forgotten piece Dirty Girls, which she did in the Fringe. Even Mustard and Bang Bang; I was a consulting dramaturge on both of those. Often Kat will hire me on the side because Factory and Tarragon will have their own dramaturges (who are excellent) but I’ve been working with Kat so long that our short-hand is so good. She can basically call me up and be like, “You know that thing I’m always worried about? This scene.” And I’ll be like, “Oh ya, I see what you’re talking about – how about this, this, this, and this?” And she’ll be like, “Great! Thank you! I needed that.”

As a Dramaturge, If You’re Doing Your Job Right, You’re Invisible

TM: Tom Arthur Davis, one of the guys who runs Pandemic Theatre, wrote a really interesting piece around the Dora Awards about depression and dramaturgy, “Being Nominated For An Award Made Me Suicidal,” and it’s pretty intense, but he touches on something about dramaturgy that I’ve certainly struggled with. It’s the same thing that a good editor will encounter on a film or in a novel which is; the job is to make the writer’s work as good as the writer’s work can be, and there isn’t a ton of credit in that. Aside from the writer’s indulgence at the end of the novel, that everyone usually skips, where the writer will say, “Oh my god, I can’t fucking describe how much I need my editor”, and everyone goes, “I don’t know who that is but I loved your book!”

Dramaturgy can often be that way and I struggled with that for a long time.

Kat and I are very dear friends, and she’s always been very appreciative of what I’ve done, but the first Brouhaha show we did was very, very tough.

I was producing it, and I dramaturged it, and I was a ghost. At the time I was hell-bent on being an actor, and I just helped make this company, and my name was all over the show, but I felt completely invisible. And it was really hard.

For me what ended up really helping was getting an art therapist. What I’ve been working on with her, which has been tremendously helpful, is unpacking those feelings of invisibility and how to accept personal credit when there isn’t necessarily big, flashy, showy credit. It’s definitely a struggle. Every part of the arts comes with a cost and I think this is the big one for dramaturgy.

Tom Arthur Davis summed it up in his piece, something along the lines of, your job is basically to facilitate other people’s brilliance… and that’s cool, and there’s huge satisfaction in that. Like when I can make one of Kat’s pieces click, which is what we call it: the click. It’s that moment where she’ll be like, “Great, got it, thanks,” and then she hangs up and goes and punches out like a billion pages. That feels tremendously satisfying.

Photo Credit: John Gundy. Michael Musi as Jeff in FEATHERWEIGHT

On Swapping Roles With Sandler

TM: Honestly, we’re both nerds for story so this is has always been both a job and a hobby for us. The number of times that we’re like, “Okay, we’re both really stressed. Let’s just go out and get a drink and not talk about this,” and then, of course, we end up talking about it because it’s fun!

Early on the struggle that Kat was having working as my dramaturge was she’d say, “I’m always going to try to make your script more like my scripts.” And in my head, I’m thinking Thats fucking great, your scripts are great. Let’s do that! So we had a few, not necessarily growing pains, but I had to adjust to being a little more assertive about my style and what I actually liked about my script.

I had a reading of what was supposed to be the production Featherweight script, right before we were about to go into rehearsals and it was rough. A lot of the criticisms, all fair, where people were kind of being like, “Is this what you were trying to say?” and, no one had said it outright, but it was a lot of that classic, “It’s very interesting” and I was like, “Oh shit, no one likes this…”

So I’m on the subway on the way home and Megan Miles, my wife, was like, “Do you even like this play anymore”? And I was like, “No, actually… I fucking hate it.”

I was writing some short story at the same time that was just completely bonkers and I was like, “I like this short story! It’s fun. But this play is so weighed down, and I don’t know what to do… blah blah blah.” Just admitting that got me thinking that I needed to re-write it the way I would like it to be, and suddenly it all just clicked into place! What is funny is this draft of Featherweight that’s onstage now is actually closer to the very first draft I wrote. It’s come completely full circle. Even though the characters are different, and their arguments are different, and what’s going on is kind of different, it feels more like the original because that’s when I was expressing the style I actually wanted.

Because I look up to Kat and I like Kat’s style so much I took every note as gospel. You know, my style is strange, and Kat and I have a similar tone but a different style, so I had to kind of grab hold of my own style harder for this show. Which she, again, had been advocating for the whole damn time, but just not necessarily in terms I was understanding.

Photo Credit: John Gundy
L-R: Kat Letwin as Thoth, Michael Musi as Jeff, Amanda Cordner as Anubis in FEATHERWEIGHT

A Very Brouhaha Directing Process

TM: We always work our stuff on its feet and what is on stage is wildly different than what I went in with on the first day of rehearsal. We’ve cut a bunch, we’ve changed some things, we’ve tailored it to the performers, but I’ve never run that process. I’ve always dramaturged that process, Kat’s always been the leader of that. So at first, I wasn’t sure if I could do that myself. But despite how different I am as a director and a writer, ultimately the rehearsal style ended up still being a very Brouhaha process.

That Brouhaha Style 

TM: What’s been really nice is that even just from the reviews no one has been like, “Oh this is really different from a normal Brouhaha show.” Everyone’s just taking it as a Brouhaha show, which means a lot to me. It has been many, many years, and it’s very nice to put my name and style to one of these things and have audiences respond to it in a way that I would hope for. I’ve been thinking about these audiences for a long time.

Making the Job Work for You

For me, the solution was to find ways to keep working on my own style to fill in the gaps. In this case, it was writing short stories and basically just doing things that, even if they don’t really have wide reach, they fill that need for me to be creating and developing my own voice.

I love dramaturgy. I don’t think I could make it my only output, but that’s also just me. I’ve got a really restless brain and on the one hand that’s great for dramaturgy because I always like to be chewing on something, but if I’m only chewing on other people’s stuff I tend to get restless, so it works as long as I have multiple things to sink my teeth into.

Featherweight

Who:
Director – Tom McGee
Cast – Amanda Cordner as ANUBIS
Michael Musi as JEFF
with Kat Letwin as EVERYONE ELSE
and Ammit as THE DEVOURER OF HEARTS
Producers – Kat Sandler, Tom McGee

What:
Upon dying, Jeff awakes in a bar full of ancient gods that will weigh his browser history against a feather to determine if he was a good person… or face damnation. Equal parts ‘American Gods’ and ‘Twelve Angry Men,’ FEATHERWEIGHT asks: what effect does our online life have on others? Will Jeff’s browser history damn him? Would it damn you? From the minds behind BRIGHT LIGHTS (NNNNN) and SHAKEY-SHAKE AND FRIENDS (NNNNN)

Where:
THE PADDOCK TAVERN
178 Bathurst Street
Toronto
Ontario

When:
12th July – 8:00pm
13th July – 8:00pm
14th July – 8:00pm
15th July – 8:00pm

Tickets:
Featherweight is SOLD OUT online but you can always show up early at the venue and try your luck at the door!

 

Photo of Tom McGee by James McKay

“Inspiration, Travel & Getting Personal” In Conversation with performer Clare Blackwood on BIKEFACE at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Jared Bishop.

BikeFace is a show ready to inspire adventure. Strange but true tales of writer Natalie Frijia’s solo journey across Canada are brought to life by performer Clare Blackwood, on stage now at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival. We sat down with Clare to talk about inspiration, travel and how personal this show became.

JB: When did you first learn about the story told in BikeFace?

CB: It was about two months ago. I had no Fringe plans. My friend Rebecca Perry (producer) called me out of the blue and was like “Hey, Natalie Frijia (creator) and I have this script, you are one of two people we are considering for it. Is this something you would like to be a part of?” and I was like “Oh God, yes!”

That was a couple months ago. When I read the script, I knew that this was exactly the type of story I was interested in telling. I am a solo traveller as well. Natalie’s writing really resonates with me. We have the same style of dry humour about travelling alone. It’s really nice because it makes her words really easy to speak.

It was such a pleasure to read a script that felt tailor-made for me and she didn’t even know it.

JB: How did you make the story your own?

CB: I have done a lot of travelling by myself. I have had a lot of the experiences explored in the play, I didn’t have to sit there and wonder what’s it like to be alone in the middle of the road, in the middle of the country, in a place I have never been. I have that experience, I have that knowledge and I know what it’s like to be camping in the middle of nowhere and hear noises and think “I am going to die now… glad I had a good life!”

A big theme of the play is how being a woman is different when travelling alone, the adversity it comes with and the attitudes you get from other people. It’s often quite rampant so I know what she is talking about. Men are cat-calling you on your bike or you’re being told you shouldn’t be by yourself. It is something you get all the time when you are by yourself. So this made it very personal for me.

The joy of meeting new people is so prevalent in this play. Some of the best human beings I have ever met in my life are people who I have known for a day or two. They just leave this mark on you and then they leave. You think “I will probably never see this person again but I will remember them for the rest of my life.” I think that is also a really relatable theme in this show with all of these characters. They have all left such a huge mark on her (Natalie) that she wanted to bring them to life. It was my pleasure to try to do that without ever having met them.

JB: What inspires you to travel?

CB: I am a Gryffindor. I like not knowing where I am going and I like missing trains and having to figure out alternative routes and meeting new people and camping in stupid places where I shouldn’t be camping and not planning where I am sleeping. There is just such a thrill in that.

I love seeing new things. I am a giant history nerd and I go where the history is. It’s just fun for me. I know how I travel for some people is horrifying but for me it’s fun, that’s the baseline.

I’m influenced by my family who taught me to love camping. My mom is a person who has gone skydiving and who camps by herself, so this has always been encouraged.

I have always just been a stubbornly independent person so that’s where my inspiration for travel comes from. And it’s also a nice “fuck you” to people who say I can’t.

JB: There are many characters you explore in this show, do you have a specific process for developing them?

CB: It’s funny because I have never played multiple characters on stage before. This show was a huge challenge for me. I had to draw on a whole lot of sources to create these characters. Some came a lot more naturally than others. Normally, when I create a character, I start with the voice and go from there. That’s mostly what I did for these people. If I was having trouble with the character it was because I wasn’t being specific enough in their voice.

JB: How does telling this story compare to your past Fringe experiences?

CB: My fringe experiences have been varied and wonderful. This has definitely been the easiest story to tell. My parents came to see the show Saturday and they were like, “You could have written that. That’s the story we keep waiting for you to write.” Again, Natalie and I are very similar in the way that we write and the way that we travel. So with this show, the process of creating it for me wasn’t easy, but the act of telling it and the act of engaging with the audience has been a breeze.

You don’t have to work to get people on your side with this show. They are already there. You open your mouth and the words come out and they are like, “Oh yes, I like this person.”

This has been the most personal show for me. And the one that is closest to who I am as a human.

JB: What is something important to share with people who haven’t yet seen Bike Face?

CB: I really want people to come see this show, whether you like bikes, whether you go camping, whether you have gone on an adventure. It’s a show that people have been saying really resonates with them. It’s a perfect fringe show in the sense of it will make you laugh and it will make you cry and it will make you want to go on an adventure. I think it’s such a gift as a performer to have a show like this.

And because it’s been created by this badass group of women who are really good at their jobs! It feeds the inner adventurer in everybody, which I think is so lovely.

BikeFace 

Who:
Company: Trailblazing Ladies
Playwright: Natalie Frijia
Director:Mandy Roveda
Cast: Clare Blackwood
Producer: Rebecca Perry

What:
“Like a ride down the road with the wind at your back!” (Edmonton Journal)
During the Victorian cycling craze, doctors warned women riders they would undoubtedly cultivate “bicycle faces”: becoming over-exerted, wild-eyed, un-sexed vulgarities, with nothing before them but the wide, open road. Over a century later, the Journal of Paediatric Psychology still finds that girls are four times more likely to be warned about dangers inherent in exploration and adventure. This is where BikeFace takes off! It will tickle your funny bone and above all else, ignite your thirst for adventure!

Where:
The Annex Theatre
736 Bathurst St
Toronto
Ontario
M5S 1Z5

When:
July 12th   1:45pm
July 13th   9:45pm
July 14th   2:15pm
July 15th   7:30pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Photo Notes: Photographer: Hayley Andoff Featured in Photo: Clare Blackwood

 

 

 

 

In Conversation with actor Jeff Yung on MEASURE FOR MEASURE with Shakespeare BASH’d

Interview by Bailey Green

Jeff Yung is an actor, poet, tricker and martial artist. We met in the Fall of 2015 when we performed in the Shakespeare BASH’d production of King John. This week, BASH’d returns to the Junction City Music Hall with Measure for Measure, directed by Associate Artistic Director Catherine Rainville. With Jeff taking on the role of Claudio, it was the perfect opportunity to speak with my partner about his experience working on Measure for Measure, his history with BASH’d, and why he loves performing Shakespeare for contemporary audiences.

Bailey Green: So, how are rehearsals going? How are you feeling about Opening?

Jeff Yung: Rehearsals have been going well! We’re doing runs of the show so it’s really nice to have the whole cast in the room. I feel like we’ve just gotten to the place where the whole room feels that sense of ‘there’s the show’ with all of the pieces coming together. Now it’s just about repetition, and as Catherine said, connecting the dots we’ve laid out for ourselves. I’m feeling good about opening, I think we’re in a great place and we’re ready to move into the venue and feel that shift of bringing the whole show to the next level.

BG: What did you know about Measure for Measure beforehand?

JY: Funnily enough, Measure for Measure was one of the main stage shows my graduating class did at Ryerson University. Many BASH’d alum, including Co-Artistic Director James Wallis, were in that production, so I knew the plot pretty well and how topical it would be. What’s been surprising is how I view many of the characters and circumstances so differently in light of how the world has changed since we did that school production.

BG: So for those who may not know the plot as well (myself included), whats the story and how does your character fit in?

JY: Catherine has this great way of describing Measure for Measure as a weird Shakespearean version of Undercover Boss, which is a pretty apt description. A Duke in Vienna goes away and temporarily suspends his power to Angelo, a man known to be noble, honest and good. Though it is “strewn in the common ear” that the Duke is far away he is, in fact, disguised as a Friar and moves about his city engaging with the citizens to see if giving power to a man with such a great reputation will corrupt him and bring plight upon the city. My character Claudio’s actions are the ones that call the conflict into the play. In world of Measure for Measure, pre-marital sex is illegal and punishable by death, despite the fact that nearly everyone does it. Under the Duke’s rule, no one has been charged nor punished for such an act, and in fact, brothels are common both in the city and the suburbs. Claudio has had sex with a woman named Juliet who is basically his wife, only they haven’t yet done an official marriage ceremony, so technically, they’ve committed a crime. With the Duke gone, Angelo brings back enforcement of these old laws and arrests Claudio and sentences him to death. It is at this point that Claudio asks his sister Isabella, a novice nun about to enter into the sisterhood, to make a case for Claudio’s life.

BG: What has it been like working with Catherine as a director, as most (if not all) of the BASH’d shows you’ve been in were directed by James Wallis?

JY: Yes, every BASH’d show I’ve done has been directed by James prior to this one! It has been wonderful to work with Catherine. She has a very strong vision and knows how to bring it into the room, while still being very open and flexible to trying different things. This play is complex and messy in many places and Catherine has done an outstanding job leaning into the messiness and finding ways to make it work well with the story we are trying to tell. I also feel like there are so many different energies and personalities in a cast as big as ours, each individual actor has their own unique process and needs and Catherine has been really open and patient with all of us.

Bailey Green (left), Jeff Yung (centre) in KING JOHN. Photo Credit: Kyle Purcell

BG: The last time you performed in this space was when we were in King John. How has your life changed since that show?

JY: Haha good question…My life has changed a lot since King John. I’ve moved into a new neighbourhood, become the co-caregiver of a trouble-making, loveable cat named Puck, done some pretty cool acting gigs and tried to take steps towards growing into the best (or at least better) version of myself. Through it all, the greatest privilege, honour and joy has been to have you in my life as a partner (and yes I can hear the collective groan of your readers), but truly through all of the triumphs and defeats that have come my way since that show, I am so beyond grateful that I had you to share it with. Is this too much?

BG: Im gonna keep it. So, why do you love Shakespeare?

JY: As an actor I find the challenge of making Shakespeare’s text comprehensible to a contemporary audience is one of the things I love. Every time I approach a Shakespeare show it is like having to assemble a complex piece of IKEA furniture before you can actually play around with it.

BG: Youve known BASH’d Co-Artistic Directors James [Wallis], Julia Nish-Lapidus and Associate Artistic Director Catherine [Rainville] for years now. How has working with BASH’d changed over time? What do you enjoy the most about working with them?

JY: I think one of the greatest things about BASH’d is how the heart of every show has been the same. They’ve moved to different bars and enlist the talents of many other talented individuals in the company, but at the core it’s a group of committed artists, telling their clearest and most connected version of Shakespeare’s story, in a bar. There’s something about the simplicity of that that’s immensely difficult. You really have to use the tools given to you, which is your text and your body. And then you’re in a bar, so you have to contend with the space and its limits. But I think the combination of the space and tools is what makes BASH’d shows so deep in the work, and ultimately what makes the shows really stand out and come together so well. I honestly love watching the work of the other actors. Every actor brings something different to the characters they play, and it’s incredible to see someone’s journey to craft those characters. I am very grateful to have been in a BASH’d room so many times to witness the coming together of some really great shows.

BG: Three Shakespeare roles you’d like to tackle?

JY: I’d love to play Iago, Henry V, and also maybe Coriolanus? Those are the ones for now at least, I’m sure that will change with age and experience.

Measure for Measure

Who:
Directed by Catherine Rainville
Featuring: Geoffrey Armour, Olivia Croft, Sochi Fried, Melanie Leon, Tim MacLean, Michael Man, Megan Miles, Drew O’Hara, Cara Pantalone, Lesley Robertson, David Ross, Jeff Yung
Associate Director: Drew O’Hara
Stage Manager: Darcy Haywood Stoop
Producers: Julia Nish-Lapidus, James Wallis
Marketing Design: Kyle Purcell

What:
“To whom should I complain? Did I tell this/Who would believe me?”
Shakespeare’s story of sexual politics, consent, power, and corruption is given a barroom staging at Junction City Music Hall.

Where:
Junction City Music Hall
2907 Dundas St. West, Toronto

When:
ONE WEEK ONLY
May 1-6, 2018
Tuesday, May 1 – 7:30pm
Wednesday, May 2 – 7:30pm
Thursday, May 3 – 7:30pm
Friday, May 4 – 7:30pm
Saturday, May 5 – 2:00pm
Saturday, May 5 – 7:30pm
Sunday, May 6 – 2:00pm

Tickets:
www.shakespearebashd.com
$20 online
$25 at the door (pending availability)

 

Artist Profile: Bilal Baig, Playwright

Interview by Hallie Seline.

It is an absolute pleasure to feature playwright Bilal Baig, chatting about what inspires him as an artist, the development of his current piece Acha Bacha, on stage this month with Theatre Passe Muraille and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and on writing “the story you need to tell”.

HS: What inspired Acha Bacha and how did the piece develop?

Bilal Baig: I was sexually assaulted when I was seventeen. One of the first things that was irrevocably changed after my assault was my relationship with my mother. I began to think: I’m queer, I’m not very religious, I like to fuck with gender sometimes and now I’m a survivor of sexual assault – will my mother EVER think I’m good?

I sat on this thought for about a year before I took a playwriting class with Judith Thompson at the University of Guelph and under her guidance, the first draft of the play exploded out of me in a few weeks in April 2013. That summer, I was connected to Damien Atkins, who worked as a dramaturge on the play (and is still a current mentor in my life). Through the Paprika Festival‘s playwright residency program, I met, worked with and fell in love with Djanet Sears, which resulted in an excerpt sharing of the play at the festival in April 2014, where Andy McKim was present. From that point on in the play’s developmental journey, I worked predominantly with Andy, Jiv Parasram and Brendan Healy as dramaturges.

Bilal Baig. Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

HS: I am very excited about the team working on the show. What has it been like working with these artists bringing your show to life?

BB: I am very excited about this group of artists coming together as well! There has been so much love in the room and a fiercely deep commitment to understanding the story and honoring it with such care, curiosity and empathy. I am in sincere awe of all the artists I get to work and play with every day throughout this process! So much love.

HS: What are you most looking forward to about sharing this show with audiences now?

BB: I’m really curious about what the conversations around power, sex and shame will be surrounding this play.

Bilal Baig. Photo Credit: Graham Isador

HS: I know that you’ve both developed work with the Paprika Festival and worked with them. What has been the impact of this outlet on your growth as an artist?

BB: Paprika has been instrumental in my growth as an artist. It was a playground for me (for five years!) to explore my artistic obsessions and learn from what it feels like to put your work out there when it’s not ‘ready’. Artists who I met through Paprika five years ago have become friends I collaborate with today.

HS: What is best piece of advice you’ve received either in life or in art?

BB: “Write the story you need to tell”. That was actually the prompt given by Judith, which lead to the first draft of Acha Bacha. I think I use this advice in my life as well!

HS: What inspires you?

BB: I’m inspired by genderqueer Indigenous, black, people of colour living their truth. I feel like my art is probably inspired by shitty events happening in the world that devastate/confuse/terrify/arouse me to the point where I can’t talk about it anymore and I must write it.

Bilal Baig. Photo Credit: Graham Isador

Rapid Fire Questions:

What are you watching right now? America’s Next Top Model.

If you could travel anywhere, where would it be? Fiji or New Zealand. Or Vancouver.

Favourite food: Mom’s chicken fried rice or biryani. Or pizza.

What other show are you most looking forward to this year? Trying everything in my power to catch Calpurnia before it closes. Looking forward to Prairie Nurse at Factory Theatre.

Current mantra or goal for yourself as an artist this year: You’re allowed to feel ambivalent about your work and this career you are pursuing. That is okay.

Acha Bacha

Who:
Co-Produced by Theatre Passe Muraille and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
Written by: Bilal Baig
Directed by: Brendan Healy
Featuring: Shelly Antony, Qasim Khan, Omar Alex Khan, Matt Nethersole,
and Ellora Patnaik
Set and Costume Design by: Joanna Yu
Lighting by: C.J Astronomo
Sound Design and Music by Richard Feren
Stage managed by Kat Chin

What:
For years Zaya has balanced his relationships with his religion and his queer identity. But as secrets from the past reveal themselves, and crisis strikes his family, he is torn between loyalties, culture, and time. Written by Bilal Baig, and directed by Brendan Healy, Acha Bacha boldly explores the intersections between queerness, gender identity and Islamic culture in the Pakistani diaspora. The show uses both English and Urdu to tell a story about the way we love, the way we are loved, and how sometimes love is not enough.

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto

When:
February 1-18, 2018

Tickets:
artsboxoffice.ca

Connect:
@beyondwallsTPM
@buddiesTO
#AchaBachaTO

In Conversation with playwright/director Kat Sandler and dramaturge Donna-Michelle St. Bernard on BANG BANG at Factory Theatre

Interview by Bailey Green.

We caught up with BANG BANG playwright/director Kat Sandler and dramaturge Donna-Michelle St. Bernard to discuss exploring collaboration, the stories we tell, and how sometimes it’s easy to ask but not as easy to listen.

BG: Kat, your new piece Bang Bang was commissioned by Factory Theatre. When did you start writing it and what initially inspired the piece?

Kat Sandler: Well, I had written a little bit of it at the Stratford writers retreat. When I met with Matt McGeachy and Nina Lee Aquino, they were interested in it, and decided to commission it for Factory. The show is inspired by the debate around racism, excessive force and shooting deaths by the police. And, of course, true stories and how we as artists tell those stories.

BG: How did Donna-Michelle St. Bernard come onboard? What were your initial reactions to the script Donna-Michelle?

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard: It was the summer of 2017 when we had a conversation about the play. We talked about her impetus before I looked at the script and our relative experience around the themes. When I saw the script I was surprised! I didn’t think you could do jokes with a story like this.

KS: I think there was a meeting before too! When I met with Matt and Nina, Matt said you need to meet Donna-Michelle and ask her questions. We had a beer at Tequila Bookworm and I’d like to think we hit it off! Didn’t we?

DM: We did but, at that time, I wasn’t sure if we were going to [get the chance to] work together.

BANG BANG – Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: What has challenged you the most in the writing of this play?

KS: It’s challenging to have your perspective shaken, to listen, and ask questions, and take constructive criticism, especially when it’s something outside your experience and a topic is controversial. There isn’t a correct way to write about it.

DM: And the other side of that is when you’re trying to bridge two diverse experiences. What can be assumed and what cannot be assumed and how to articulate that space between experiences.

BANG BANG – Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: Were there characters you were developing whose voices you found more challenging to find?

KS: Well, the white writer is an experience I have and I can find places for humour and truth to make him multi-dimensional. And of course, the black characters have lives I have not lived.

DM: In working in the room that Kat assembled, what you get reinforced is there is no singularity of experience. The presence of Kat doesn’t represent all white writers and my presence doesn’t represent all black perspectives. And we have gender perspectives, generational perspectives and cultural perspectives that broaden out the characters as individuals.

KS: And then the actors have agency over the things they say and where they stand. They will go deeper in the psyches than I ever will.

BG: Did you have a piece of advice that resonated with you or helped unlock something in the piece?

KS: I don’t know. I think there’s been a lot of talk about asking the questions and listening to the answers. It’s easy to ask but not easy to listen.

BG: What do you hope your audiences walk away with?

KS: I think we’ve tried to create a challenging play that shows multiple perspectives and that is entertaining!

BANG BANG – Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Karen Robinson, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

BG: How was this new territory for you both, Donna-Michelle you’ve just come from Cake and Kat you’ve written about so many different topics, what was unique about this process?

KS: I have had a lot longer to sit with the ideas from years ago, and then the actual process of finishing the script, which was a full year. I want to defer more to other voices in the room… not feeling like I need to but wanting to. And having an institution like Factory behind you in this place of risk as a writer and director, it’s been nice for my process where those two things are very deeply combined.

DM: This is my first experience of production dramaturgy. I had a lot of guidance in terms of the parameters in this unique kind of work, and I’ve had an unexpected amount of voice in this process. I feel more embedded in this than I expected. The process has been surprisingly unsurprising in the things we have had to do with all of our stories—the amount of care and the immediacy of consequences needed.

BG: Any shows or creators you would like to shout out?

DM: Forbidden, which is a commissioned work for Tapestry Opera where I’m working with composer Afarin Mansouri. It’s an experiment with Persian music and opera and hip hop that runs February 8-11.

KS: I’m a big fan of Jordan Tannahill, so Declarations at Canadian Stage.

DM & KS: And Acha Bacha!

BANG BANG

Who:
A Factory Commissioned World Premiere
Written and Directed by Kat Sandler
Performed by Sébastien Heins, Jeff Lillico, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah,
Karen Robinson, Richard Zeppieri
Set design by Nick Blais
Costume design by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Lighting design by Oz Weaver
Sound design by Verne Good
Dramaturgy by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard

What:
A white playwright uses the shooting of an unarmed young Black man by a police officer as a “jumping off point” for his hit play that is soon to be adapted into a major movie. As Hollywood comes knocking for the writer, he makes a surprise visit to the home of the officer involved. With Sandler’s trademark wit, BANG BANG traces the impact of what it means to be inspired by true events.

Where:
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst St. Toronto

When:
February 1-18, 2018

Tickets:
factorytheatre.ca

Connect:
Kat Sandler: @katsandler
Donna-Michelle St. Bernard: @BelladonnaNHP
Factory Theatre:
t: @FactoryToronto
fb: /FactoryTheatreTO 
#ftBANGBANG