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Posts tagged ‘Toronto Musical Theatre’

In Conversation with Rebecca Perry – Creator & Performer of “From Judy to Bette: The Old Stars of Hollywood” at the NSTF

Interview by Brittany Kay

Rebecca Perry is back and at it again with her new solo show that will surely steal your hearts and sell out seats. She is best known for her sold out runs in the Toronto Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe for Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl. Her newest creation, From Judy to Bette: The Old Stars of Hollywood will be presented at this year’s Next Stage Festival from January 6th-17th and I’m thinking that it will no doubt be a crowd favourite.

Perry’s strength lies in the creation and presentation of solo shows. She is able to seamlessly transform from one character to the next by her stunning physicality and vocal manipulation. Her performances have always been incredibly engaging to watch as each new character introduced. 

Through holiday correspondence, I was able to talk creation process, inspiration and girl power.

Brittany Kay: What is this show about? How does this show differ from your other shows? How is it similar?

Rebecca Perry: From Judy To Bette: The Stars Of Old Hollywood is a power-punch of cabaret style entertainment that chronicles the life and times of Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton and Lucille Ball: four stars from the Golden Age of cinema who refused to be just another ingénue. They were trailblazers, who saw their value before anyone else did and fought for the roles that made them famous… and infamous. It’s an evening of marvellous melodies and scandalous headlines.

This is quite a departure from my previous work in that From Judy To Bette: The Stars of Old Hollywood explores the life and times of four real ladies from the last century and the positive effects that they had on their industry. The Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl shows, while based in real life experiences (at least the first one) and with much research into Jane Goodall and her work, are still fictional stories about a fictional character. However, there are two small similarities: From Judy To Bette shares: the upbeat and humorous tone of the RCSG shows and both of these shows look at strong women and their drive to better their situation. Empowerment and breaking the mold will always be themes in my solo shows.

BK: What is so attractive about one woman shows for you?

RP: I think because I can pick a major theme and run with it! I’ve seen (or acted in) shows where I don’t agree with how the women are being portrayed, or the message isn’t clear. I still very much believe theatre can be used for positive change. With solo shows, you are given the luxury of sharing your point of view and how you see the world. It’s heart-warming when somebody relates to a message you’ve hand-picked. It’s also quite fun to play multiple characters who sing and act and have lots of sass and brass, but when you get down to it, I hope people leave the theatre feeling like they can take on the world.

Photo of Rebecca Perry by Tanja Tiziana

Photo of Rebecca Perry by Tanja Tiziana

BK: What is your creation process when devising your solo shows?

RP: All three of my shows have a lot of improv moments because I like to connect with the audience, but I find that the bulk of the core script starts to write itself once I’ve decided what subject I am most passionate about (ex: women empowering themselves) and what elements of it are worth sharing on a stage, then making it into an active story. Anything I do is full of songs and various characters that illustrate what is important and fun about the message or major theme.

BK: Where does your inspiration come from? 

RP: Honestly, these women. I grew up idolizing them when I felt like I couldn’t relate to the role models in my generation.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some great ones… Spice Girls forever!… but something resonated with me in regards to that Old Hollywood charm that Bette, Judy, Betty and Lucille possessed. They paved the path for women of talent and drive, making it okay for women of Hollywood to have comedic chops or character acting skills, essentially making it okay to be more than just a pretty face. While many people today continue this message, I appreciate it from the source.

BK: Is there a major theme or message that the show centres on?

RP: Absolutely: that these four women wouldn’t take no for an answer – and look where it got them!  They knew their value before anyone else did and kept soldiering on. We could all take a page from them.

Photo of Rebecca Perry by Tanja Tiziana

Photo of Rebecca Perry by Tanja Tiziana

BK: Do you plan on touring this piece?

RP: Absolutely! We already have an expanded version that runs at 70 minutes. This is the cocktail hour version – a power punch of entertainment!

BK: You have a new director – Michael Rubinstein. Can you talk to me about his directorial style and approach to your show?

RP: Michael loves these women and what they stand for just as much as I do, so my script and his directorial ideas are collaborating seamlessly. It’s always a treat to have a director who is as passionate about the topic as you are. In rehearsal we basically nerd out together about how awesome these four women are and then channel that into the show so that we can pay tribute to them in the best way possible. We spent forever even debating over which Judy Garland songs to keep and cut from the script because we love them all!

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

RP: That they should stick to their guns. That’s what these women did. They were unapologetically themselves and 80 years later their legacies live on. So go ahead: embrace your inner Lucy, Judy, Betty or Bette.

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Who:
Featuring: Rebecca Perry with Quinton Naughton on keys
Director: Michael Rubinstein
Dramaturg: David Kingsmill
Lighting Designer: Chin Palipane
Stage Manager: Natalie Frijia
Co-Producer: Jennifer Walls

Where: Factory Theatre Antechamber

When: January 6 – 17, 2016 as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

January 06 07:10 PM  buy tickets
January 07 06:10 PM  buy tickets
January 08 08:40 PM  buy tickets
January 09 05:40 PM  buy tickets
January 10 05:40 PM  buy tickets
January 11 07:55 PM  buy tickets
January 12 05:55 PM  buy tickets
January 13 05:55 PM  buy tickets
January 14 06:55 PM  buy tickets
January 15 08:55 PM  buy tickets
January 16 05:25 PM  buy tickets
January 17 03:25 PM  buy tickets

Connect:

Twitter: @Redheaded_CSG or @rebeccaperry21
Facebook: Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl
Instagram: @Redheaded_Coffeeshop_Girl
Web: www.redheadedcsg.com

Brittany Kay: @brittanylkay
In the Greenroom: @intheGreenRoom_

A Chat with Heather Braaten – Director of Next to Normal at the LOT in Support of CAMH

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: So, I’m here with Heather Braaten, who is directing Next To Normal, running from Thursday August 29th to Sunday September 29th at The Lower Ossington Theatre. Would you like to tell me a bit about the show?

HB: Sure, it’s a completely sung-through rock musical that addresses mental health issues and the families struggling with them. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning piece. It’s not your typical musical at all. Small cast, very intimate. This is my first time working with the Lower Ossington Theatre, and it’s really interesting, what they’re doing. We’ve got a team of super-talented, professional, upcoming artists that are so fantastic and so ready to explode onto the scene. For me, as a director, I get to see all the amazing work that’s happening in this space at the LOT, and it’s an incredible opportunity for everyone involved. I mean, these huge shows, only a select few will get to do them on a Broadway scale, you don’t often see them happening on an independent level.

RQ: I mean, the logistics of putting up a show like this must be intense.

HB: Exactly! I mean, the rights for the show alone are expensive. I’ve been directing independent theatre for ten to fifteen years now, and I don’t normally get to tackle material like this.

RQ: You mentioned earlier how this was a Pulitzer Prize-winning show that’s won Tony Awards as well. What do you think makes it such a remarkable show?

HB: Well, I think that musicals just don’t approach material like this. Generally, a topic like mental illness isn’t addressed on such a massive scale. I mean, we see films, television shows, and of course books about mental illness, but theatre has a different way of reaching people. The live experience is so different than any other artistic medium. I think one of the reasons this show is so successful is that people are blown away by the honesty of it. This is family life. This is real. I think that’s the main thing about it. It’s very honest and very poignant. It really doesn’t let you off the hook, in terms of material. It doesn’t have a classic Broadway happy ending. It doesn’t resolve everything for everyone. I feel like people took notice because it’s not afraid to tackle this issue, which everyone in some way has been touched by. Before directing this piece, I had never seen it as a production, I had read it and heard it, but I had never seen it in performance. That’s why it’s been amazing to work on, because as it comes together, I start to get hit harder and harder with what it’s trying to do and how honestly it’s doing it. And we’re not going to cut it, we’re going to put the whole thing onstage for a large audience to see and have an experience together. I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at, when people go to see a show, they have a collective experience, and with this piece, that means having a massive dialogue about mental illness all at once.

RQ: So, this show requires a lot of vulnerability. It’s an emotionally, physically, and mentally violent show. How do you approach something like that as a director?

HB: I have done material like this before, but not that often. I relate it to another piece I did about the Dionne quintuplets and their struggle. It’s all about struggle, and understanding the specifics of it. In both cases, of having your family rocked by a bipolar, delusional mother who is trying to live in a separate world. So it’s interesting to approach it for a second time. I think the most important thing is creating a safe place for the actors to work in, and to indulge and experiment with where that lives in their own minds and bodies. They need to be able to experience it, then work back from there. We can’t literally have people breaking down onstage, it has to be a controlled scenario. But it has been really interesting to see these actors experience extreme emotion for what it really is, then pull it back from there to tell the story. I mean, they have a huge vocal task in this piece. You can’t perform this piece without having full control over your instrument, but at the same time, it has to be fully emotionally connected to the material. As a director, how do you make that happen? I’ve learned that early in the process, you allow it to happen in a way where it’s just let go, then you bring it back to the storytelling and the technique. This cast has been amazing to see connect to the material and to each other. It’s one of those pieces that gets more meaningful every time you see or listen to it, and I think that’s why it’s kind of developed a following. Every time you listen to it, it hits you somewhere deeper. There are a lot of layers to it.

RQ: And the LOT is working with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Heath on this piece, correct?

HB: Yes, part of the proceeds are going to CAMH, and they’re helping us get the word out that we’re doing the piece.

RQ: That’s fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, and break a leg on your run!

HB: Thanks!

Next to Normal

At the LOT in support of CAMH

Pulitzer-Prize winning rock musical, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, explores how one suburban household copes with crisis and mental illness.

Where: Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Avenue

When: August 29th – September 29th, 2013

Ticketshttp://tickets.ticketwise.ca/event/3772016

For more information, check out the Lower Ossington Website: http://lowerossingtontheatre.com/

Read out more about the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on their website: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/Pages/home.aspx

Artists Profile: Britta Johnson – She’s Funny, She’s Sharp & She’s Pushing Boundaries with Musical Theatre Big-Wigs in “Life After”

by: Hallie Seline

Britta Johnson – Three-time Playwright in Residence with the Paprika Festival featuring her piece “Life After” – A New Musical to be shown at the Paprika Festival Fundraiser April 5th in the Tarragon Theatre Back Space.

HS: If you could describe yourself in five words, what would they be?

BJ: This is a hard question.
Whoops, that was five words.
So was that. My god.
And that. I can’t stop.
“Does not follow directions well.”
There. I did it.

HS: Tell me a little bit about your piece being featured as part of the Paprika Festival Fundraiser this Friday, April 5th.

BJ: “Life After” was born during my time as a playwright-in-residence with Paprika last year. I presented just a few plot sketches and songs in last year’s festival and had the amazing opportunity to return to it this year and let it grow into a more fully realized piece of theatre. The draft is still far from completion but it’s certainly at a point where I am ready to hear it and let an audience help me decide what the next step should be.

The story begins at the funeral of a man named Frank Carter, a celebrity self-help author whose car smashed into a truck just as his book was becoming a smash hit. The protagonist is his 16-year-old daughter, Alice, who finds herself running into some questions about the very nature of her relationship with a man who meant so much to so many but seemed like a stranger to her. The show hopes to examine some questions about life and death, celebrity and fame and coming of age. At its core, it really is a comedy (even though it talks about death an awful lot) and it features ten brand new songs.

HS: Any hints as to whom these Canadian Musical Theatre “big wigs” are who will be performing?

BJ: Well, the cat’s out of the bag! The names are on the facebook event. So I won’t just hint. I’ll tell you.

I am very pleased to announce that the reading will feature Sheila McCarthy, Trish Lindstrom, Steven Gallagher, Kelly Holiff, Laura Jean Elligsen and my incredible older sister, Anika Johnson. I can’t really believe I get to work with these people (except my sister. She had to say yes. Saying no would have been really bad form. But I’m still very excited she is involved). I have been doing some breathing exercises to ensure that I don’t pass out when I first meet the cast.

HS: How did you get started with the Paprika festival?

BJ: I was in my first year of university and found myself really craving opportunities to create my own work and connect with other people doing the same. I really took for granted how many platforms you are given for your writing in high school and how many resources you have access to just by virtue of the fact that that they all exist in the same building. Suddenly I was spending my days sitting in lectures about pre-renaissance chant music and trying to figure out how the hell to use an oven while neglecting my writing and composing, two activities that were central features to my lifestyle back in my hometown.  I finally decided to seek out some programs that would help to give me the structure I needed to get writing again, found Paprika online, applied for the Creator’s Unit and never looked back. Paprika has since connected me with my now dearest friends and collaborators and has given me the chance to work with some of the most inspiring theatre professionals in the city (not to mention the fact that there are sometimes snacks at the training days, which comes in handy because I still don’t totally know how to work my oven.)

HS: What has been the most notable experience or realization that you have gained from your involvement with the Paprika Festival?

BJ: That’s so hard to answer. I have had a countless number of hugely valuable experiences during my time with this festival. Perhaps the most important thing that I have realized is that the self-doubt never goes away and that’s ok. What I mean is that I often paralyze myself with self-intimidation. “Who do you think you are?”, “Your ideas are stupid”, “Why do you write musicals? You should be in an indie band or something if you ever expect to get dates” are all thoughts that often play on loop in my head and keep me from doing anything productive, even though I know deep down that creating is a valuable way to spend time whatever the outcome may be. Through my Paprika mentorships, I have realized that there is no amount of success that will make these thoughts go away. I have worked with Leslie Arden and Reza Jacobs, two of the most incredible theatre composers in the city who struggle with the same challenges. They both have explained to me that the trick is not to expect yourself to rise above these thoughts altogether but to learn to work with them and not give them too much power. They rarely reflect the actual quality of the work and even if they do, it was worthwhile to do the work anyways. The fact that the Paprika Festival focuses on process over product is something that has totally transformed how I go about creating. My goal is no longer to create something totally amazing. My goal is to challenge myself, to find the bravery to share my ideas even when they aren’t polished, to push my own boundaries even when it scares me and to dare to be dreadful.

HS: What is the strongest advice you have ever gotten as an artist and how has it affected you and your work?

BJ: Other than the afore mentioned valuable advice about feeling the fear and doing it anyways, I have learned a whole lot about process from working with Reza Jacobs on “Life After”. Reza has consistently encouraged me to just keep churning out new material and to not get stuck trying to perfect what has already been created. “Life After” has been the first show I have ever written for which I didn’t have a plot pre-conceived when I began. I applied for Paprika last year without a clue about what to write. (I honestly don’t know why they let me in. They asked me about my ideas in the interview and I was just like “Dunno. We’ll see.” And for some reason they had faith in me. Weird.) Reza always pushes me to just keep writing. If I have a thought, write it. If I have a question, write about it. Don’t get too stuck looking at what I have and trying to sculpt it into anything before it is ready. This process has been so freeing and organic and I think the concepts in the show are more complex because I gave them the time to be fully realized without stressing about what the show “needed to be.” The draft that has resulted is at times a little chaotic but ultimately more interesting.

HS: If you could choose one artists/musician/playwright to work with in the future who would it be and why?

BJ: Steven Sondheim. No question. He is the reason I tried writing musicals in the first place. He completely transformed everything about what I thought was possible in a piece of theatre. I have to hurry up and find out where he lives though. He’s getting old.

Also Tina Fey and Victor Borge (who is no longer alive but I didn’t think we were going for realistic situations here.) I could keep going… Shakespeare, Debussy, Carol Burnett. I guess you only asked for one. Sondheim tops the list.

HS: At In the Greenroom we like to discover how artists find inspiration, especially in their downtime. Where do you look to find creative inspiration?

BJ: All kinds of places! I have an incredible community of artists around me (some of whom I live with) and daily I am inspired and challenged simply by spending time and sharing my ideas with them. More specifically, when I am stuck writing a song I usually play music that I love, try to figure out why I love it and proceed to imitate it. It’s usually just a jumping off point and the music grows into being my own voice. But sometimes it doesn’t. I won’t tell you the parts of this show that are direct imitation but they are certainly there.

HS: What is your favourite place in Toronto and why?

BJ: That’s a hard one. Is it lame to say my apartment? I have amazing roommates, nice lamps and a good movie collection. Beyond that, Kensington Market (because I am very indie), the Island, Honest Ed’s, Future Bakery, Flip Toss and Thai (No. I can’t get into food places. I’ll never stop. There are so many food places I could say.) I love so many places. I love this city.

HS: What are you passionate/jazzed about these days?

BJ: So many things! I don’t know how to answer this…. Here are some things that I like… I’m really digging a Schubert piece I’m playing on piano right now. I just discovered the show “Portlandia” which I think may be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. I’m obsessed with my friends. Honestly, I hang out with the most interesting and talented people. I have been so inspired by the other work I have seen in the Paprika Festival so far. The other two playwrights-in-residence, Jennie Egerdie and Sabrina White, are unbelievable. Remember those names. These two women are something special. I also just rediscovered Justin Timberlake’s “Futuresex/Lovesounds” and it’s taken over my life in a pretty extreme way. I’m just excited about this city and the people I know in it. A lot of really exciting work is happening. This was a poorly organized answer.

HS: It’s fantastic. Any plans for the near future?

BJ: In the immediate future, I have to figure out a way to finish off my school year without skipping town. I take procrastination to a whole new level, which makes this time of year a particular kind of hell.
Beyond that, I have a few writing projects on the back burner that I hope to invest some serious time in this summer. I will likely go visit my mom in Ireland (she moved to Ireland. How cool is that?), teach some piano lessons and keep on working on this show because it is far from completion. Honestly, I feel like I’m just getting started.
I also probably need a haircut pretty soon.

HS: What can people hope to expect from “Life After”?

BJ: I hope that people will laugh. I hope the story will ring true with the audience. I hope it will pose some interesting questions and look at loss and grief in a new and refreshing way. I hope that the music will heighten the story-telling in a way that is enchanting and entertaining. It’s hard to know what to expect. The piece is very much still in-process right now and I’m not even sure what features will be the most striking when I hear it read out loud. I look forward to learning as much as possible from having an audience in the room. I know for certain that the audience will bear witness to some dazzling performances. The cast I get to work with is world class. I also know for certain that it will make my mother cry so I will walk away feeling like I did something right. Saying that, I think my mother’s just deeply proud I kept up with piano practice and wear sensible shoes so the tears may not have to do with the writing. We’ll see.

Tickets for “Life After”, The Paprika Festival Fundraiser – $20 includes show, pre/post show receptions & talk-back.

For tickets go to the Tarragon Theatre website, call the Box office: 416-531-1827, or get them in person.

The 12 Annual Paprika Festival runs March 27th – April 6th at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space.
For complete show descriptions & a detailed calendar of their productions and events check out the Paprika Festival website: paprikafestival.com

Shows have been selling out so catch them while you can!