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Posts tagged ‘Toronto Fringe’

“Challenging Canadian Audiences, Touring as a New Mom & Celebrating the Human Body Through Performance” In Conversation with Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen on THE MERKIN SISTERS

Interview by Megan Robinson.

After being blown away by The Merkin Sisters at the 2018 Toronto Fringe, we had to chat with touring Fringe artists Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen about this anything-but-average Fringe show that they are bringing across the country. A physical comedy that is a little bit Grey Gardens with a David Lynch twist, and just a dash of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it’s an outrageous piece of theatre intended for anyone that is game.

The plot is vague, but ultimately it follows the relationship of two fallen socialites (also sisters), who are joining together to try to create the ultimate piece of art by using any means necessary. What began as a quick tongue in cheek reflection of how “we” may or may not take art too seriously, has now grown into a full 70-minute show.

This may be a new collaboration between performers and creators, Stephanie Morin-Robert and Ingrid Hansen, but they’re already planning for part two, with brainstorming sessions underway, and the assurance that with The Merkin Sisters, anything is possible.

We spoke with Hansen and Morin-Robert about collaborating on this project, challenging your audience, and celebrating the human body through performance.


MEET CUTE

Ingrid Hansen: We met touring our own projects on the Fringe circuit, and we admired each other and partied together a little bit. Then we decided to create an experiment together. We created a piece that ended up being the ten-minute intro to this show, which we first performed at a “Women in Comedy Night” in a bar in Montreal. And we received such a big response. People were blown away, they were saying, “I dont know what I just saw, but it was incredible!” So we knew we had done something tasty that we wanted to pursue together.

Stephanie Morin-Robert: I don’t think it was intentional, like, “let’s make the craziest thing ever,” it’s just what happened because our chemistry, both onstage and offstage, kind of resulted in that.

IH: And neither of us will censor each other.

SMR: We challenge each other in that way. We keep one-upping one another.

THE COLLABORATION

SMR: Because we are performers coming from very different backgrounds, it’s exciting being able to learn from each other. For me, puppetry was very new, and I’d never done that so it was great for me to take that on.

IH: The most amazing thing with the two of us is there’s just no fear. An idea gets proposed and it’s never rejected out of fear. I trust Steph. I trust her artistic sensibility, and I trust that if we’re on stage together and something is going way wrong that we’ll find our way through it together.

SMR: And it’ll probably be better than what we planned. I think we’re ready to just roll with the punches and go with whatever is offered to us. Whether it’s an audience member heckling, or somebody arriving late, or the lights cutting out too early, or whatever little mistakes happen during a run of a show. And sometimes even deciding, you know, “That was a fuck up, but let’s keep that! That worked better than what we had planned!”

WEIRD WORK, AND POLITE CANADIAN AUDIENCES

IH: I think if we took our work to other places in Europe it wouldn’t necessarily be so wild in comparison to the other shows. I don’t know, every show I’ve made and toured in Canada in the last ten years people have said is very weird. But I think Canadians are game to go there. Just be playful with them and you’ll be really surprised how far your audience will go with you.

And some people won’t, and that’s great. We have people walk out of our show sometimes – the odd person or two. I think it’s great that they feel empowered to walk out of the theatre for whatever reason. I think it’s a sign that you’re striving for something if you do elicit that response from some people. It’s not made for everybody. And if it was made for everybody, it would probably be kind of boring

I think people are on board for The Merkin Sisters especially because it’s super out there. This show is really challenging, but it’s also really fun and playful and absurd and surreal, so there’s the deliciousness of, “I dont know what I’m watching, but I love it.” And, “I can’t believe they went there, but oh they went there… and so much farther.”

TOURING AS A NEW MOM

SMR: It’s wild. I consider myself extremely lucky to have the support system I have because touring full-time is definitely a lot, especially as a new mom.

Last year I got pregnant in Orlando, so I was pregnant for our 4 and a half month tour last summer. I was performing multiple shows in multiple festivals so, any words of advice for that might be to go a little easy if you’re pregnant and a touring artist.

Baby Olive immersed in mother Stephanie Morin-Robert’s wig for show THE MERKIN SISTERS

I was just so thankful to have a performance partner and a dear friend that was so supportive. Ingrid was really helpful after the pregnancy when things got a little rocky, and I was like, “Oh gosh, am I pushing my body too much?”

I feel thankful to be able to tour and artistically stimulate myself and still plan to make new shows. My partner is also a performer. It’s really cool to have the next two years booked and to be touring and doing theatre, and doing it as a family. And when I say “family” that expands beyond just him and I and the baby; it takes a whole community for sure.

JUMPING BACK IN (AND WEARING A BATHING SUIT)

SMR: During my pregnancy, I put on like 80-something pounds. To slowly have that come on while I was performing the show just made me feel so comfortable because I was continually doing a show where I was being comfortable in my body. We did a little BC tour, and I guess I was 7 1/2 or 8 months pregnant when we did that last show.

This is the first festival where I’m back on stage and doing the show in a bathing suit since having a baby. It’s quite helpful because a lot of stuff happens to your body when you have a baby, and I feel proud to rock that, to embrace it. When I dance I feel different; parts of my body are moving differently, so much is an adjustment, but it feels great.

The most challenging part is not necessarily my body image, and being up on stage in a bathing suit, it’s energy. It’s being up at night and still strictly breastfeeding. The time commitment and the lack of sleep are definitely what I consider the hardest things.

PEOPLE LEAVE THE THEATRE WITH AN EXTRA LITTLE SPARKLE

SMR: It’s an extremely empowering show to see as a woman because we are up there, celebrating our bodies, celebrating being weird, quirky, disgusting, and we’re embracing every moment of it. And that is contagious, the same way laughter is. We’re not there spoon-feeding it and talking about it directly, but we’re up there being empowered and embracing what it is we have and celebrating it with the audience.

IH: I think it’s really liberating for people in terms of how it really celebrates everything about the human body. That’s what’s at the heart of the show for me, personally.

The Merkin Sisters

Who:
Company – SNAFU dance theatre
Created and Performed by Ingrid Hansen & Stephanie Morin-Robert

What:
A no-holds-barred physical comedy about a strangely hilarious sibling rivalry: two fallen socialites endeavour to create the Ultimate Piece of Art, using any means necessary. This vivacious romp will charm your pants off, leaving you stunned and hungry for their return. “Visually arresting & immaculately staged, with a tender heart under its hair-raising exterior.”- Winnipeg Free Press. Imagine Bette Midler meets David Lynch and Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

Find out more: 
snafudance.com

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“From TV Pilot to Site-Specific Musical & On Keeping Open to Options and Optimism” In Conversation with Kris Hagen on LIGHTERS IN THE AIR at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Jared Bishop.

Kris Hagen, often known for his comedy or his role as ‘Sketchy Looking Dude’ on Kim’s Convenience, brings his original music to the Toronto Fringe Festival. Lighters in the Air, the first show by Dive Bar Productions, is a site-specific musical set in a bar where the mic is always open. I spoke with Kris about how the story kept developing from TV Pilot, to feature, to site-specific musical, what it’s like wearing many hats with this show and on how he lives his life by keeping open to options, optimism and surrounding himself with good people.

The show is performed in the Monarch Tavern, this is where we met to chat about the show. We move throughout the space during our conversation. We start the interview with Kris behind the bar.

Kris Hagen: Water?

Jared Bishop: Yes, please.

KH: (looking over at their stage setup) I just realized I had left the table there. I kept running into it last night. There is always something to keep it fresh every night!

JB: Wait, so last night there was a table on stage that wasn’t meant to be there?

KH: Yeah, that little table there in front of the couch wasn’t supposed to be there so last night I am like walking and talking and walking backwards and it’s like right there and I am running into it.

Kris is walking me through the space, reliving moments from the show the night before.

JB: When did you know you were going to use this space?

KH: Well, basically when I decided to put it on as a live show, I thought that this space would suit the bar in this story. I had written this as a TV pilot, this was a few years ago, and I thought if I was to film it, this would be a great place to film. And I still had this place in my mind when I decided to make it into a live show. I know the Monarch has had Fringe shows before so they were perfect people to approach. When they agreed to do it, I adapted the film script into the live show. I could really visualize the space. I just thought this setup, apart from these pillars, was perfect, but I guess there will always be something when you’re working with a different space.

JB: The pillars though, they were written into the script and they even become a character in the story. This is an example of what impressed me with your use of the space. It felt like this show couldn’t happen anywhere else. What other unexpected challenges came up for you?

KH: So apparently we have the worst lighting board in history over there and these are the lights to the bar, so there are two places to change the lights on stage. So we just thought to get the cast to do it and that became part of the story as time went on. We didn’t have to bring in any other lights except for an LED strip along the base of the bar.

JB: How long was your cast in this space before the start of Fringe?

KH: We were able to get in and do a fair amount of rehearsals here starting a month ago. Being a Fringe show with a 9 person cast, everyone wasn’t always available. It was great to have the space to work with small groups in the cast. Trying to transfer a script into a site-specific space, I have never really done that. Taking a square rehearsal space and trying to move all of that into here, it would have been a nightmare. Being able to be in here saved us a lot, it just made the show feel more polished with transitions and lighting. All of that stuff would not have been possible without earlier access to this space, so we got lucky. It was fun to problem solve in a space like this.

JB: When did you start writing the story you tell in Lighters in the Air?

KH: It was originally a TV pilot. I had all these songs I had written over the years and I hadn’t done enough with them, so I started this TV pilot idea, setting it in the Toronto music and busking scene, having each episode feature one of my original songs. From there, I adapted the story into a feature film. In terms of story, it kept shifting a little bit with each version. It evolved over time. Focusing the story in a dive bar with the final version that we have now all came to me in January and February when I knew I had to adapt it for this space. It sat in the back of my mind for about a month, and then one day within an hour I had every scene finished. It all just came to the surface.

JB: Musically, where do you find inspiration?

KH: I think I’m drawn to the idea of music being a soundtrack to life. I have tended to write more sad ballads because, when I turn to write, it is more often than not when things aren’t going that well in life. I am just home by myself and the guitar is kind of my therapist so I pick it up and start improvising songs. I think it’s very helpful. It’s helped me stay calm just having those songs and, at any time, having that ability to write.

JB: How has it been wearing all of these different hats in a production? Is it something you have done before?

KH: I have done it but not like this… maybe for a short film or web series… there was some significant effort before but not like this. I have been living off of coffee and potato chips for a month. I have lost 15 pounds, so right after this I am heading back to the Good Life. But I just feel like I got to keep going. Once you get a great cast and crew together you feel responsible to do it for them, as well. I have two great assistant directors and the cast is great. It has become very collaborative. I want to be sure to be in the scenes and present when I’m acting, so it’s good to have those eyes on the outside. And everyone gets along so well, it’s a great group.

JB: Are there other parts of this experience you feel are important to share?

KH: It’s an art-imitates-life sort of thing for me. The story is about personal relationships and how important they are in a community. The dive bar is this community, it’s in rougher times but those bonds between people persist through that. Just working with this group, I think we have imitated that. Building a community out of nothing. It’s that experience for me that’s been the most fun. We are all pleased to have met each other and to be working together. We have fun and we try to bring that energy to the audience. Hopefully we are achieving that with this show.

I have always wanted to do more with music. Did that inspire me to do this show? Or is it inspiring me to focus on the music side and record an album and do more live shows? I am not sure at the moment.

JB: Your character said the exact same thing on stage

KH: Just not sure what to do next, right? As long as you have some options and some optimism and some good people around you to work with, you can always do something.

JB: I like that, options and optimism.

KH: Yeah, you find it by pursuing things actively and pursuing relationships openly and accepting. I am trying to cultivate that in my own life. Being active and optimistic can go a long way.

Lighters in the Air

What:
A musician named Leo returns to his former hangout, The Empty, a dive bar where the mic is always open.

Lighters in the Air will feature original songs by Hagen as well as nightly guest performances by some of the brightest talent in the Toronto music and comedy scenes, including Laura Tremblay (Jukebox Hero: The Musical; Stage West Calgary’s Legally Blonde: The Musical), Ben Beauchemin (Kim’s Convenience, Saving Hope), Ted Morris (Yuk Yuk’s, Just for Laughs, Sirius XM), and more!

Where:
The Monarch Tavern
12 Clinton St.
Toronto
Ontario

Who:
Company: Dive Bar Theatre
Creator: Kris Hagen
Assistant Directors: Kristen MacCulloch & Steven Holmberg
Cast: Natalia Bushnik, Balinda Corpus, Cody Crain, Anna Douglas, Rachael Fisher, Kris Hagen, Olaf Sham, Amanda Silcoff, Taylor Wittaker

Remaining Shows:
July 14th 3:00pm
July 15th 7:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

 

 

 

“Making Improv Magic, The Value of Play & Working with Colin Mochrie” In Conversation with Liz Johnston & Mimi Warshaw on ENTRANCES AND EXITS at the 2018 Fringe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

The concept of Entrances and Exits, a new farce on stage now as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, is a complicated one. To make things more complicated, it’s also entirely improvised!

This impressive and unscripted farce is split into two parts; with the first twenty minutes playing out in the living room with a series of entrances and exits into and out of the bedroom and then restarting a second time with the same scenario, but set in the bedroom. This requires that the cast do an instant replay of sorts; filling in the blanks of the story, hitting all the main plot points, and eventually culminating with a satisfying resolution. And hopefully they can make us laugh along the way.

Somehow, the cast pulls this off without any planning and with very minimal mid-show discussion.

We sat down with actor, improviser, Bad Dog Theatre Company member and Entrances and Exits co-creator Liz Johnston and Howland Company member and E&E production manager Mimi Warshaw to figure out how they make that improv magic happen, some common misconceptions about improv, and, of course, what it’s like working with Colin Mochrie.


Megan Robinson: What does a rehearsal look like for this type of improvised show?

Mimi Warshaw: Paolo (Santalucia, the director) brought a lot of his acting training into it and was really interested in playing with characters, discovering characters and trying on some clown work. So that was the beginning, just to play. That helped to know how everyone worked. That was the focus of the first half.

The last month and a half was about finding the show. And it grew in pieces. There was a lot of, “Let’s play with one room, then the next room, now let’s see what happens if we flip the set.”

A lot of playing and coming back and saying, “How did that feel? What worked? What can we do better?”

MR: Is there anything not improvised? What might be consistent throughout the show? The characters? Anything?

Liz Johnston: You really don’t know what will happen.

MW: I’ve seen maybe a dozen versions, maybe more, and no two shows have been the same.

MR: How much do you play for each other and how much is for the audience?

LJ: The audiences have been really generous, so I think we’ve been playing a lot for the audience. The thing about improv is that you also get the joy of making each other laugh. There are so many fabulous moments where someone will say something, and you just can’t help it. And the audience feels kind of in on it because they know it’s improvised. That’s really joyful. That’s what I love more than any kind of theatre, where you can really have everybody be on the same page, and they can be like, “I know exactly why this is funny. I was here for every part of it.”

MR: What is a myth or misconception about improv?

MW: I firmly believe that people think improv is just people going up and being funny. But I think good improv is funny because it’s recognizable. When I’m at an improv show, there’s always somebody who gives a suggestion like, ‘we’re in a volcano at the end of the earth.’

And I’m like, ‘we’ll never be there so…’ Maybe it would be funny, but I’m more interested in seeing somebody in a bakery having a traumatic moment and seeing the comedy in that.

I don’t know if it’s a misconception, but I like seeing reality on stage, and I think there’s comedy in that. I think that’s funnier than just a bunch of jokes.

I also think people are terrified of doing improv because they think they aren’t funny…

LJ: Another thing is that it’s nice to have people now recognize that there really are different styles of improv, that are all valuable.

So you can go to an improv show and have big laughs and fast scenes and big characters and enjoy that just as much as going to see something like this longer narrative unfold and have unexpected turns, more dramatic moments, and have them both be beautiful and both be improv.

I don’t want to run into a trap here… I love short-form improv. I love games (an easy thing to describe it as is what you see on Whose Line Is It Anyway). There’s so much joy in that, and there’s so much talent in being able to do that well. It’s truly harder than anything else. So I never want to say those aren’t worth as much as a long-form unscripted piece of theatre.

MR: So farce is very slapstick and physical. How do you improvise that sort of thing? Or do you?

MW: It’s not just physical, it leans towards the improbable, leans towards the ridiculous, so it doesn’t need to be grounded to reality. And we definitely do that. As much as there’s still truth, it still has that sense of play.

The other thing I’ve been told about farce is it doesn’t need to have to have a moral. It can just be a really beautifully fun and hilarious time.

LJ: I always forget we have so many different definitions we’ve gone through describing what farce is, but again leaning towards the improbable.

Like: There’s a dead body in the other room, this is true, what else is true? It’s not about calling the cops or trying to figure out what happened. It’s us trying to be like, “Okay, there’s a body in the other room, but we also have to make sure everything’s fine for the party.”

We like the fact that as much as it is ridiculous, it’s all stuff that could happen. It’s all about the foibles of humanity and the relationships between people and it takes those tensions that might already exist, those love affairs that exist, and heightens them to the point of the ridiculous.

MR: Must be fun!

LJ: It is nice to escape a little bit. Which is not to say that we don’t deal with the issues of what’s going on in reality, but because it is so focused on just relationships between individuals and how silly and absurd they can be, it is a bit of an escape to get to go there and just live in that ridiculous and joyful place.

MR: Have you ever showed up to rehearsal and been in the shittiest mood and not been able to find that joy?

LJ: I had one where it was an 11 pm show, and I had just done D&D Live!, which is another show that I LOVE, and it’s so funny and also improvised. I’d done that earlier in the day and I’d done another show, so I came to do the 11pm show, and I was so zonked. I could not find my energy. But it’s the same thing that happens for any performer; the audience starts to come in, you have the cast around you, you put on your costume, and you’re like, “This is the best thing ever! What’s next?”

So it’s a nice medication for tiredness.

MR: Some of the best questions can come from inside the process. Do you have a question you’d like to ask each other about your experience within the show?

MW: Liz, when you’re standing backstage, and you’re like, “I need to figure out what I’m bringing to this scenario”, what’s that process like? How do you feel in that moment?

LJ: I don’t know. I really don’t think about it. I like to just go on stage. That’s the kind of classic improv thing: if you can really get used to just trusting yourself to go onstage.

Just open the door, going, “Here we are! What happens next?”

MW: In the show, how much awareness do you have of the bedroom when you’re in the living room?

LJ: I usually have an idea of what I think is going on. And everybody is so good at having their own ideas.

We talk about this in improv, it’s called “group mind” where everyone sort of ends up on the same page without discussing it at all.

The number of times that will happen with this show… I mean, it’s the magic of it!

MR: So the magic of it is a surprise to the improvisers too? I know as an audience member, that’s how it feels. Those moments feel…

LJ: Totally, you come back, and you’re just like wow! It feels so wild.

MR: What about pushing boundaries?

LJ: You check in. You talk about it, whether it’s physical touching or subjects you can touch on that may be a boundary. Even just one night, with my nose bleeds, and I was like, “Listen, guys, it might happen. I have tissue in my pocket. I’m okay, it’s okay.” And any of those types of conversations, you just need to have them. And we’ve had those. Any good cast will talk about it constantly.

MW: There are moments where people will say things, and we’ve had this in rehearsals, where somebody will take a dive, and be like, “I’m going to propose something…”

But our cast is really supportive and really knows each other and so they’re able to support them. And that’s what I love about improv – you can do something, and guaranteed, five people will say we’ve got your back, we’ve got you, we’ll take care of you.

There have definitely been moments where you need to be risky, but these people handled that with such care, and such responsibility, they made it so safe.

LJ: Anyone who is making a faux pas, it’s coming from a place of fear.

The biggest thing in improv is you need to go on stage making a choice to make everyone else look as good as possible so if you can do that, if everybody is doing that, then everybody is going to look great. You’re setting up everyone else to succeed. You can’t do that if you’re undercutting them or sacrificing them for a laugh or commenting on something for the sake of the audience.

MR: Lastly, tell me about working with Colin Mochrie!

LJ: He’s just the most generous man.

It’s such a generous thing to do; to know your name will lend fame, or excitement to someone’s show. He does that so willingly and generously.

He did this exercise with us, which is really difficult. Everyone was struggling to keep up and we started playing with the format of the game so it got faster and went backwards and forwards, so fast! But Colin was having no trouble, just breezing through it. Everyone know’s how funny he is and how sharp, but good lord the man is fast. And so present. We’re so excited to have him on the show!

Entrances and Exits

Who:
Presented by The Howland Company in association with Bad Dog Comedy Theatre
Created by Liz Johnston & Ruth Goodwin
Director: Paolo Santalucia
Starring: Ghazal Azarbad, Conor Bradbury, Nigel Downer, Dylan Evans, Ruth Goodwin, Liz Johnston, Connor Low
Designed by: Christian Horoszczak
Production Manager: Mimi Warshaw

What:
A completely improvised play based on the structure of traditional farces we love like “The Norman Conquests” and “Noises Off”.

Where:
FACTORY THEATRE – MAINSPACE
125 Bathurst St
Toronto
Ontario
M5V 2R2

When:
13th July – 7:30pm
14th July – 9:15pm
15th July – 12:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

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

 

 

 

 

“Collaboration, Self-Advocacy & Finding Inspiration in the Details” In Conversation with Kevin Wong & Julie Tepperman on New Musical Development with THE PREPOSTEROUS PREDICAMENT OF POLLY PEEL (Act 1) at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Brittany Kay.

Kevin Wong and Julie Tepperman are no strangers to the Fringe Festival. Their constant dedication and innovation to the Toronto theatre scene had us already very excited about their new musical in development The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Act 1), now running at the Tarragon Theatre. Seeing that only act 1 was being presented at the Fringe, it further peaked our interest and we were eager to chat with them about what it takes to develop a new musical and to discuss the nitty-gritty of how this process actually works. We were very lucky to catch the two busy creators to chat about development, collaboration, self-advocacy and finding inspiration in the details.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about the show?

Kevin Wong: You go.

Julie Tepperman: No, you go…

JT: We can do one word at a time?

KW: That would be terrible. I’m not doing that.

(Laughter)

KW: Polly Peel is our developmental production of just the first act of what will be a two act musical. It’s a piece that follows the Peel family in the wake of the loss of the father, Paul Peel. In particular, we examine their processes of dealing with his loss through the eyes of his imaginative, biology-obsessed young daughter Polly. Very early on in the piece, she announces this theory that her dad is not dead, but that instead he is this frog she finds in the ravine at the moment of his death. Chaos, heartbreak and healing ensue.

BK: Where did this piece start? How did the beginning of this development first take shape?  

JT: Here’s the history in a nutshell: Mitchell Marcus, the AD of The Musical Stage Company back in the Fall of 2015 blind-matched-made us. We’d both done their Noteworthy program, but in separate years, which is the playwright-composer-librettist speed-dating workshop. He thought we would make a good match for Reframed, which is the next level of Noteworthy, where they pick three writer/composer teams to pick a painting in the Richard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery of the AGO and write a 25 minute musical that would be workshopped with Director of New Play Development, Robert McQueen. We had three actors, an orchestra, and a series of workshops over about an eight month period. Ultimately, they were performed and loosely staged in front of the paintings.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: How did you choose the painting that would inspire you to write the musical? Why did this painting speak to both of you? What was it about the painting?

JT: We decided we would go to the AGO separately and then meet for coffee and talk about our top three paintings. We picked some of the same paintings, but I picked The Young Biologist. It was by a London, Ontario painter named Paul Peel, who actually got quite famous moving as a young man to study art in Paris. The Young Biologist is actually of his son Robert as a three-year-old looking down at this frog who’s hardly visible in the corner of this painting. To me, it felt really exciting that there is a sort of exchange going on between the frog and the boy. The title made me think about death and how a science obsessed child might reconcile and grapple with the death of a parent, and this notion of where the personality or the soul goes when the body dies. Coincidentally at the same time, I had heard a podcast about child grief bereavement centres and camps that are all around North America. I kind of pitched this idea to Kevin. At first, I wanted to write the outline of a one act musical that was maybe a TYA show and we’d pick 20 minutes to do for the AGO piece. (to Kevin) Somehow I convinced you though, and what I didn’t tell you at the time was that if you didn’t say yes to this, I wasn’t going to do the project. There’s nothing else that inspired me as much.

(Laughter)

BK: What was is it that convinced you Kevin?

KW: A lot of the portraits were just singular subjects and it was Julie’s point about there being two subjects in it, which was rare. She asked me what I thought about what the relationship between the son and the frog was? I hadn’t noticed the frog originally. When I did, I thought now there’s an interesting a relationship to write about. We started talking about who the frog was and who the boy was and what they were to each other. Because of the podcast Julie was listening to, there was a lot of child grief in the discussion. That was sort of the starting point.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: Match making is an interesting way to begin what has become a lengthy collaboration. What makes for a good collaboration? What makes for good partners in development?

JT: (To Kevin) I googled the hell out of you. We knew of each other but hadn’t met.

KW: I also admired Brantwood. I had no idea who she was, but she had fabulous hair when I saw her standing by the exit…

JT: …and I’m also really smart right?

KW: …and then I met her and I was disappointed ever since.

(Laughter)

KW: No. Nooo! It was very clear that Julie’s imagination and her detailed work on characters and what motivates them was very, very precise and specific and immersive. And I was really interested in working with that.

JT: We laugh about the same things a lot.

KW: We have a raunchy dark sense of humour that we share.

JT: We procrastinate in the same way. We like food.

KW: More than that, the two of us are very committed to telling a story of the same voice. We are very up in each other’s business and on each other’s grills all the time. If a character says something that I try to fudge so that it could rhyme, Julie will usually pick out the sentence that isn’t true to what the character is feeling at that moment. And vice versa, if I know there is a moment in the spoken dialogue that they could sing better, then I might ask Julie to cut that or to save it.

JT: I also like that you’re not married to this idea/format of scene-song-scene-song. Our structure is non-traditional, and whether it works or not, the Fringe will be a huge learning curve for us.

KW: The older stereotype of what a musical is, is that it’s modular and chunky. The composer sticks a song in and the book writer writes around it and then a scene happens and then a song happens. Our process on this show is sort of the opposite. It’s very lateral and very integrated. 

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: What did the Reframed series do for the first incarnation of this piece?

KW: The blessing of Reframed was that there was a finite gestation period and a hard deadline in sight because you knew no matter what you did, 20 minutes of your material was going to be mounted in April 2016. 20 minutes allowed us to figure out how a story breathes, why it sings, what music is doing in the piece and what the emotional heart and core of that is.

BK: What happened next with it?  

KW: Our process in Reframed was a bit different in that we were the only ones who knew that this piece was going to be a longer full two act piece. Our way in, was to find a couple of scenes that sort of could be strung together but something that we knew we were always going to expand. After Reframed, we then got the opportunity to workshop a little bit more at the In Tune conference in Vancouver. We wrote a little bit more material, added in a new character and did 45 minutes in front of a different audience.

BK: And after that?

KW: We were looking for another opportunity to expand. Those opportunities to have audiences actively responding to what you have written so far help keep you from going off the rails into your own head. You can get so close to a piece that you can’t see the forest for the trees anymore.

BK: I love that saying.

KW: You get too close to it. It’s like saying the word the over and over again, it doesn’t mean anything after a while. And so when The Paul O’Sullivan for Musical Theatre deadline came around, I suggested to Julie that we apply because even though self-producing at Fringe is very exhausting, if we were to win, the prize money would be helpful. The opportunity would be really helpful and it would be another deadline that we could use. I robbed myself of sleep putting together some demos and we wrote a little bit more material and applied. We were very lucky and are thrilled to have won that prize because it gave us this opportunity and now it’s 85 minutes of a first act.

JT: There’s no other way to do it. We would have gone on endless coffee dates and written slowly.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: Why just one act? People obviously know what they’re getting when seeing the title but what would you say are the pros and potential negative perceptions of presenting just this one act?

KW: Luckily the Fringe is a great environment to try something. The audience comes in with an expectation that the material is very new in its form. Even if we wanted to do two acts we couldn’t because the longest slot is only 90 minutes. Writing-wise we had to be realistic with how far we were really going to be able to get. It’s possible that some things in this one act may end up in act two. We may have put some things in the wrong order… we’ll discover that. At some point you have to stop generating material and allow the actors to just do what they’re going to do without constantly changing it on them.

JT: It’s manageable. We grappled with wanting to give people a good Fringe experience, but also authentically explore what we want to explore, so I don’t think we’ve over-written it on purpose just to fill a 90 minute slot, but to learn about it.

KW: In a way, the pressure of just doing one act was helpful because if you did the full the story, you would expect naturally that the audience would walk out with some degree of emotional catharsis or completion. But because we’re just doing one act, it actually made us tighten the loop on our narrative storytelling. We’ve still got to send the audience out the way you would feel at the end of a very finessed intermission. Even if it’s to be continued, something has to happen enough that you feel like you have gotten somewhere you’re satisfied with.

JT: And then that there’s a hook and a feeling of what is going to happen next. We have a sense of the arc of act two, but it’s going to be a puzzle to figure out. I hope the audience response is that they want more. It doesn’t feel complete because it is not resolved and there’s a new bit of information we give right at the end.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: What is the Fringe doing for the next stage of development? What’s next for Polly after the Fringe?

KW: What we’re going to learn from the Fringe is monumental because theatre is such a live medium that you really need that audience in some way to understand how something is landing and how your storytelling is coming across. Following that, we’re going to meet again and we’ll have plenty of rewrites and changes from what we did present. You inevitably get plenty of things wrong… you can’t get everything perfect.

JT: We know that there are things in there that are not working, just through our writing, lack of time, lack of resources, working on a Fringe budget.

KW: Once we finish the Fringe, we’ll start re-drafting. I think we have to work quickly. I think not losing the momentum will be important. Maintaining momentum in the actual writing is the best way to avoid letting fear become inertia because even with a piece that exists already, if you leave it too long it becomes scary and then you don’t touch it anymore.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: What do you do when something isn’t working? How do you look at it from the outside and fix it when you are on a time crunch?

JT: Some stuff we have to let go and know we will address it later. 

KW: What we did very early on is we had a read of the script that wasn’t a finished version with the entire cast. That gave us a huge amount of information and we made a list of priorities of what we were going to tackle before we got into the rehearsal room.

As we got into the room, it sort of is like a funnel in that the big bulk rewrites don’t happen. The huge conceptual rewrites are smaller and smaller. There’s a point at which you are just adjusting lines and lyrics and cutting.

JT: Lots of cuts. I feel like 90% of what I’ve written overall has been cut. It’s almost like a pathway of getting to the right place. Even now we’re being really nit-picky, which I guess is a good thing. Our actors have been so positive and supportive to the rewrites we have done and have even made suggestions the closer they’ve gotten to the characters.

Photo Credit: Sam Gaetz

BK: Do you have advice for other theatre makers that are creating new musicals?

JT: Give yourself time.

KW: Learn how to collaborate. The temptation, even for your first piece, is to want to do everything alone so that you can show you can do a lot of things. Learning to collaborate is a very difficult, ongoing case-by-case process because every single collaborative team is different. Your product is almost always invariably better if you find the right collaborator, than if you try to do something on your own. It also enables you to really hone your skill set on your specific craft. Sometimes you need that extra eye calling you on your bullshit.

JT: …or your habits. Be rigorous with the collaborators you choose to be in the room with. Create the kind of room you really want to create. Don’t be shy about that. Trust everyone’s expertise. If something doesn’t feel right or go well in terms of how you are collaborating, address it early or it becomes ingrained and systemic. There’s nothing worse than being fearful about when to speak. I’ve been in gross rooms where that is the culture. Life is too short and there’s not enough money to justify feeling like we’re walking on egg shells all the time, especially when it started from a place of curiosity, imagination and love.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from Polly?  

KW: I hope they hold their loved ones a little closer to them. We take so much for granted and life is fragile and I think there’s something about that at the heart of the piece.

JT: I’d say also that imagination is courage. I think that’s what Polly and her frog have been teaching us from the beginning and that there… this sounds very cliché… but there isn’t one singular way to grieve. You said this early on Kevin, but we think this is about a family that doesn’t realize they need each other. This might help people reflect on their own situation and family.

The Preposterous Predicament of Polly Peel (Act 1)

Who:
Company: The Polly Peel Collective
Playwright/Creator: Kevin Wong (Music & Lyrics) & Julie Tepperman (Book)
Director: Aaron Willis
Cast: Troy Adams, Alan Cui, Donna Garner, Faly Mevamanana, Richard Lee, Hannah Levinson, Ben Page, Jessica Sherman

What:
‘… Polly Peel (Act 1)’ explores a family grappling with death through the eyes and imagination of a biology-obsessed eleven-year-old girl. Originally inspired by acclaimed Canadian painter Paul Peel’s ‘The Young Biologist’, an early incarnation was presented in 2016 at the AGO as part of The Musical Stage Company’s ‘Reframed’.

Featuring a moving story, a funny and poignant musical score, and some of Canada’s top musical theatre talent, ‘… Polly Peel (Act 1)’ showcases a rare in-development look at a new Canadian musical. Frogs. Family. Forgiveness. RIBBIT!

Winner of the 2018 Paul O’Sullivan Prize for Musical Theatre.

Where:
TARRAGON THEATRE – MAINSPACE
30 Bridgman Ave
Toronto
Ontario
M5R 1X3

When:
7th July – 5:15pm
9th July – 1:00pm
10th July – 10:00pm
11th July – 7:00pm
13th July 3:30pm
15th July 5:15pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

 

 

In Conversation with Briana Brown and Rob Kempson on Co-Directing ROBERT at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival

Interview by Hallie Seline.

When finding out about Robert by Briana Brown, running at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival, I was very intrigued to find out that it was being co-directed. In a position that is so traditionally singular and with the current conversations around power dynamics in the rehearsal hall, I was eager to catch up with co-directors Briana Brown and Rob Kempson to discuss what drew them to share this leadership role, the value of artistic respect and trust in your directing partner, and the advice they would pass along to others wanting to explore this alternative directing structure.

Hallie Seline: Where did you get the idea to co-direct this piece? 

Briana Brown: We both adjudicate at the high school NTS Drama Festival (formerly Sears) during the winter, and this year there seemed to be a number of co-directing teams. I was initially skeptical and asked them a lot of tough questions about their process and responsibilities, but in the end was wooed! Their experiences sounded so positive, and the logic made so much sense, I was really interested to experiment myself. Rob is the only person I could ever imagine doing this with, and I’m so happy he was game to try.

Rob Kempson: There are few people on this earth who I would ever consider sharing the role of director with; Bri is one of those people. So when she asked me to work on this piece with her, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity. She has such a brilliant mind and she is such an understanding and compassionate artist.

HS: What discussions need to happen before and during the process to make sure you both are on the same page? 

RK: Luckily, Bri and I tend to share a brain. We actually joke about it often, because it’s scary how regularly we have the same thoughts at the same time. So while we have had a number of meetings throughout the process to make sure that we’re on the same page, we are almost always on that page. During shared rehearsals, we would take moments outside of the rehearsal hall to touch base, and decide who would be doing the primary communication with the actors. However, often during our notes sessions, we would have the same or similar notes, so it was pretty easy to give our notes together.

BB: I concur.

Janelle Hanna and Chris Baker in ROBERT

HS: What has been the benefit of having two directors on Robert?

BB: Reassurance. Directing can be such an isolating role, and under this model, you always have a partner. When I was feeling something wasn’t working, or I couldn’t figure something out, Rob was able to both validate my experience and often confirm he was finding it challenging too. We were then able to discuss potential solutions frankly, and vulnerably, in a way one wouldn’t do with designers and actors, because you need them to have faith that you have all the answers.

I also loved watching Rob work with the actors. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in an assistant directing role, which is the only time you’re really privy to watching a director work when that is the only thing holding your focus. I also knew exactly what our challenges were, which was not an insight I had when in those AD roles, and so it was fascinating to watch him work. I picked up a lot of things that I know I’ll integrate into my process going forward.

RK: I love watching Bri direct as well. She is so wise, and offers such unique insight in all of her work. Bri speaks to actors fully–meaning the weight of the piece as a whole infects every note she offers. It gives the actors such a great understanding of a moment in the context of the work as a whole. It’s brilliant, and so different than my standard practice.

More broadly, the major benefits of working together on this piece are related to authorship. Bri is not proprietary with her writing, and so she is open to making big directorial choices to compliment the words on the page. This means that when we rehearsed, we were able to play with big open minds. It has led to some inventive choices that highlight her brilliant words, and that I would have never thought of on my own.

Janelle Hanna and Chris Baker in ROBERT

HS: And on that note, have you come across any challenges in having two people leading the process?

BB: I’d love to hear an honest response from the actors about whether we were as in sync from their perspective, as we believe we were.

I also think knowing we were sharing the weight and responsibility sometimes slowed us down a little, mostly before going into rehearsal.

RK: I also think that we almost checked in with each other a little too much… as in, we felt like we needed permission before following an impulse. So it meant that we’d say yes and thank you and okay before even trying something to see if it worked in the first place.

HS: Would you say you each have specific strengths or blind spots that compliment each other in your work? 

BB: In this particular iteration, Rob was great at noticing my blind spots as a playwright. He is more focused on physicality than I am, which was amazing to have in the room. We are, however, both exceptional choreographers.

RK: I think what Bri means is that I am a brilliant choreographer, and she is very limited in her appreciation of truly expressive movement.

HS: Have you learned some key lessons while co-directing that you’d pass on to others wanting to try this? 

BB: We have known one another for over 10 years, and have worked together in a number of capacities, so entering into this we knew that we shared a number of core values when it comes to storytelling. I can’t imagine embarking on this under any other circumstances. You need to appreciate your co-director artistically, and trust them as a human. Ego doesn’t have a place in this process. If you’re directing because you like to be the All Powerful Voice in the room, you will end up in conflict.

RK: Ego cannot have a place in most true collaboration. But when you’re collaborating on the same job, it really cannot enter the space. Bri is so good at that, and I need to work on it. It’s good that I wasn’t able to be bossy all the time. It makes me a better artist, and ultimately, it makes this production better.

HS: Tell me a bit about this show Robert, on assembling your team and what you’re excited to share with Fringe audiences? 

BB: At the core of this team is the group that put on Bad Baby: Rules Control the Fun at last year’s fringe. We’ve switched roles around a little bit, and we have invited some exceptional new artists into our process, including Rob.

RK: I’m excited about so many things: it’s site-specific, it’s funny, it’s a little dramatic, the venue is beautiful, Bri’s play is amazing, I’m co-directing a play that has my name as it’s title… etc. etc. Should I go on?

Robert

Who:
Company: Lark & Whimsy Theatre Collective
Playwright: Briana Brown
Directors: Briana Brown & Rob Kempson
Producer: Erin Vandenberg
Cast: Chris Baker & Janelle Hanna

What:
Kat and James are waiting for their father to die. Not exactly estranged, but certainly not close, the two struggle to make conversation until James reveals the worst secret he possibly could. From the team behind the 2017 Fringe hit “Bad Baby”, Jessie-nominated playwright Briana Brown (Almost, Again) delivers laughs and heart in her new award-winning play about identity and loss. With a set of bagpipes.

Co-directed by Briana Brown & Rob Kempson (Maggie & Pierre, Mockingbird), produced by Erin Vandenberg (Salt), and featuring Janelle Hanna (Prairie Nurse, Bad Baby) and Chris Baker (Deadmouse: The Musical).

Where:
ST. GEORGE THE MARTYR
197 John Street
Toronto
Ontario

When:
5th July – 8:00pm
6th July – 8:00pm
7th July – 5:00pm
7th July – 8:00pm
10th July – 8:00pm
11th July – 8:00pm
12th July – 8:00pm
13th July – 8:00pm
14th July – 5:00pm
14th July – 8:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com