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Artist Profile: Anusree Roy – Playwright & Performer of “PYAASA” at Theatre Passe Muraille until March 27th

Interview by Brittany Kay

I was lucky enough to sit down with my own personal mentor and friend, Anusree Roy, to talk about her upcoming production of Pyaasa opening today at Theatre Passe Muraille. In her dressing room, we spoke about the discipline it takes to be an artist in this business, the challenges of a remount, and her deep gratitude for Theatre Passe Muraille.

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: Tell me a little bit about your show?

AR: Pyaasa is set in present time in Calcutta, India and it’s a play I wrote starting in 2006… so 10 years ago. It’s something that I’m coming back to, which I’m really excited about.

Untouchability is something that is constitutionally banned. Doctor B. R. Ambedkar, who was an untouchable himself, put forth this constitutional change. You can’t practice untouchabililty, but in India it’s very widely practiced. It’s changing, absolutely, but the caste system still very much exists.

When I wanted to write a play, I wanted to look at the world, that world, the caste system world, acknowledging my social location in the system, which is a higher caste person. We had untouchable people clean our toilets all the time and we treated them really badly and I treated them really badly because that’s the environment of the society you were raised in. Pyaasa is a journey about this beautiful young girl named Chaya and her life story in ten days, beginning to end of the show. She’s a girl who’s young, bright and wants to go to school desperately. That’s all she wants. It’s a fun show and it’s a heartfelt show. It’s also a sad show and a truthful show.

BK: It’s just you on stage. Is this is a one character show, or a show with many characters?

AR: I play four characters. Chaya, Chaya’s mother Meera, this other servant lady named Kamala, who both work for Mr. Bikash. So it’s 2 women, 1 man and 1 girl.

BK: Why the title Pyaasa?

AR: Pyassa means thirsty. There’s a lot of water and water nuances all through the play. The name came to me. It wasn’t something, where I was sitting there going what should I name my play? I just thought of it because subconsciously I was aware of the amount of water in the show. I think if I were to analyze why the way it works in the caste system, in the villages that are in the rural areas, our water tank is sacred because I’m from the higher caste and your not and you can’t get water from mine. There are a lot of disputes about water, which is a necessity in life. So when you cut something off that’s a necessity in life, it becomes even more important. The name came to me and I stuck with it. It’s allowed us to kind of really look at the play through that lens.

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: There was a lot of development with this play in its first edition. What were the steps and processes it went through? Before this remount, how did it come about?

AR: In 2006, Thomas (my director), David (the designer of the show) and I were doing our masters together. I was having sushi with Thom and I was telling him about my life story back in India and telling him story after story about my past.

At one point I was talking about the untouchables, the caste system, and how it’s abolished but how it still exists and he stopped me and said, “There’s a play there. You know there’s a play there right?” I was like “yeah, okay.” And he insisted on saying, “No, there’s a play there and you have a three week deadline to get me a first draft.” I’m doing my masters and I have sixteen papers due, but he just kept on saying, “Get me a first draft in three weeks.” So in three weeks, I gave him the first draft and ironically, 90% of that first draft is what’s in the show today.

BK: If anyone can work under pressure, it’s you.

AR: It just came together. I felt so passionate about it. When you play a solo show, it’s not about how good your storytelling is, it’s all about how distinct each character is. Thom and I, while creating the show, did a lot of that character work. David, Thomas and I created a company together and we did our first one-night-only here at Theatre Passe Muraille. TPM was in a financial strain at the time and whatever money we raised, we gave it to them. We wanted a production space, so it seemed like a fair trade.

BK: That’s amazing. And ballsy.

AR: We just did it. We did it fearlessly and we did furiously and we did it in good faith. The universe was there. The play won 2 Doras for Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Writer and as a result of that, it just escalated. Suddenly we had a touring agent. TPM, beautiful Andy McKim, contacted us and said he wanted to produce the play and put in his very next season. That was his first season programming as an Artistic Director here. It just grew and grew. Our touring agent took us to many places: Vancouver, Ottawa, Victoria, and many others. It became our golden child. Honestly, it wasn’t something that we spent years labouring over. We just did it in good faith, really hoping it would bite and it did. And of course our awards helped us marketing-wise. That was the trajectory of the show.

For the last five years, the company is no longer together, but we’re all very good friends. Our lives have taken us very different places. David is doing a PhD, I’m more into film/television and theatre, and Thomas is the AD of Theatre New Brunswick. We’ve split as people but our core is the same. So when TPM contacted us to do the show again, we said of course, of course.

BK: What are the challenges and excitements of remounting a show?

AR: Challenges? It’s one person. I haven’t done a solo show in five years. It’s a lot of work. It’s A LOT of work. It’s kind of keeping your body in shape and your mind in shape. I feel like an athlete, you know what I mean?

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: Oh for sure! It’s a whole marathon from beginning to end.

AR: Exactly. My meals are planned. My workouts are planned. Everything is very scheduled to save energy for those 5 hours of rehearsal and those 45 minutes of show. It’s a very intense show.

BK: What about the excitements? Anything you are looking forward to this time around?

AR: The excitements? It’s coming home to the boys. That’s what it feels like. TPM feels like home and the three of us are coming home.

BK: Why TPM initially?

AR: At the time, we knew it wasn’t doing well financially and we needed a space. So our proposal to them was, if you give us a space for one night, we’ll give you all the money we make. We didn’t know that it would grow. People stayed that night and said, “No no no no! This can’t just be one night. You have to do this show many, many, more times.”

TPM has always felt like home. It has supported me so much in my career, especially Andy McKim, huge shout out to him! My father calls him my theatre dad, because it’s true. He gave me that initial push you need as a creator when you’re 25. He gave me that. He really gave me that.

BK: That’s a lovely answer.

AR: It’s true.

BK: Because it was created in 2006, why does this story need to be told to audiences today?

AR: Because it’s still relevant. Judith Thompson, in one of the earlier versions, came to see the show and she asked me “Why is it relevant for a Canadian audience?” I found that really fascinating and at the time I didn’t have an answer for her. She told me to look at the homelessness in Toronto – look at the way we treat street people here, as if they don’t exist. People with mental health issues, they’re doing their thing and we’re just walking by.

We, as a society, practice classicism in the most heinous way. We do it. All of us do it. I’ve done it. I do it constantly because when you’re in a rush, you’re going, and you don’t want to give a panhandler money. There is a division in class that we practice. How is that different from the play I’m doing that’s set in India? It’s not really. I am segregating you and someone is segregating someone in India. It’s the exact same thing.

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

AR: The truthful answer to that would be prayer. I have a very good, solid relationship with prayer and meditation. I really quiet myself when I need to think as to where the character is going and what their journey is or what the story will be. I’m writing a play for Nightwood Theatre right now called Trident Moon. It’s a ten person show and so I have to come up with characters for that and their journey. How do you sustain yourself for a three-year mark as it’s taken me three years to write the play. It’s prayer. It’s quieting yourself. Finding it inside of you, versus outside. Those things are true and I know that because I practice it.

BK: How do you commit to this kind of work?

AR: Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. There is no shortcut to success. I truly believe it. My mom always tells me that. It’s with everything. You wake up and you do the work. You don’t think about it. You don’t whine about it. You don’t wait for the inspiration to hit you. You don’t wait for Monday. You don’t wait for your soul to be ready. It is ready. Get up. Write. That’s it. I really practice it. You set your times, for me it’s four hours. Whatever it is in the day you decide to write, you turn everything off; your phone, the internet. You sit wherever you’re sitting, and you write. Do the job. Do not whine. Because the more you sit and wait for the clock to strike 12 and the inspiration to hit, it’s never going to happen. That’s not reality. You live in a state to be inspired. You’re not sitting there, waiting for inspiration to show up to write. That’s bullshit. That is bullshit. What I learned as a young writer, and I’m really grateful for it, is that discipline and inspiration are two separate things.

Success comes to people that work hard and opportunity arrives. That’s it. They work hard. You just do your job and let the world take care of itself. There’s a lot of glamorizing of what it is to be inspired in order to write. I do not prescribe to that. I prescribe to the discipline route. You will write shit, don’t get me wrong on that. There are days when everything you’re writing is shit. That’s the process. And then when you get there and it’s not shit. If you write everyday, something will be good. One day something is good and whatever is not, you throw away. But you wrote, versus sitting and waiting.

BK: You are absolutely right.

AR: You have to train like an athlete.

BK: Do you have a definition for success or what it means to be successful for you?

AR: That my parents are proud of me? I don’t know… (she laughs) I think my nine-year-old self wants me to make my parents happy. I don’t think that will ever go away. But my adult self is very goal orientated, in everything in my life. I strive to achieve them. But how do I define success? Going to bed in gratitude, knowing that I achieved my goals… but mainly to make my parents happy.

BK: How do you wear so many different hats, especially in this production? How do you divide your time?

AR: Priority and sacrifice. I have to make sacrifices for things that I want to do. I don’t socialize a lot, because I don’t have time. When I do socialize, I don’t do other things. It’s just knowing that whatever you’re doing is all you’re doing. Wearing so many hats has taught me that time becomes very valuable, so I have to make time for my partner. He is extremely important to me. I can’t have him feeling like I’m neglecting him because of work and I can’t neglect my work. It’s always a balance. One thing that I do fail miserably at is how to answer back to emails on time. I’m consistently behind. I get about thirty emails a day and I cannot get below the fifty-email mark. I feel like everyday my inbox goes up to a hundred and four emails and I get down to fifty but I can’t go past it. It just doesn’t happen.

BK: What about playwright versus actress in this show?

AR: When I’m a playwright in the show that’s all I’m doing, and I don’t care what actor Anusree feels. When I’m actor Anusree, I have to not care what playwright Anusree thinks. I have to do the job.

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: What are your goals and plans for the next five years?

AR: I would like to make a transition to television where I write for TV and produce. Here is why; write this down. DON’T skip this…

I want to see the stories of my people on screen. Television is an incredible medium and I am deeply inspired by what I’m watching, but I do not watch our stories of people of colour on the screen. It’s important that a medium that has such a wide reach, share our stories, that we are more than the secondary characters… We are more than that! That’s something I want to do. Of course, I want to keep doing theatre. There’s no question about that. I have to. It feeds my soul. But television is something I want to make a transition to simply because I want to, because the medium is good and the writing is so good for TV. I want it to have stories from my people.

BK: Do you have advice for emerging artists?

AR: I’ve talked about this before, but I really, really believe in discipline. Do the work! Don’t participate in Facebook debates. Don’t participate in this convoluted need to please. Don’t participate in bringing each other down. Do YOUR work and the rest will follow.

I have a red folder, which my mother told me to start in 2006 that houses all of my rejection letters and all of my acceptance letters. To this day, I get rejected from things constantly, as I get accepted to things constantly. That’s how our business works. But it houses all of it to keep me on track and keep me grounded and focused on the work, because if I just save the rejection letters that doesn’t serve. If I just saved the acceptance letters, that’s not true. Because I house all of them, it makes me realize how much it actually takes to be an artist.

My true advice, honestly, is do the work. If you’re an emerging artist, contact every senior artist that inspires you and ask him or her to meet and take them out for coffee. Have conversations with them. Ask them if you can help them. You’ll be amazed at how approachable they are. Fear gets you nowhere. Fear is boring. You have fear. We all have it. So if you’re scared, it’s not going to serve you. You think a senior artist is not scared? We’re all equally scared because we’re just people sitting on a rock spinning through the universe doing nothing really. My best friend Barbara came up with that and I thought that was the most profound thing I ever heard because it’s true.

The more you do the work, the more it cultivates work. Then you’re more interesting and people are more interested. Ask senior artists what their trajectory and transitions were because they’ve all done the work. Ask to work with them. You’re going to be amazed at how many say yes because they’ve been through it or they’re going through it in their career right now. I’ve been fortunate to be in the business for the last ten years but I’m a complete newbie in the television world. I don’t think you’re ever not emerging if you’re constantly in a state to learn.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Food: Mom’s cooking

Favourite Movie: Oh no! I can’t tell you, it’s too embarrassing. For Drama, it would have to be House of Sand and Fog. For ridiculousness, it would be Two Weeks Notice.

Favourite Book: Fall on your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald

Favourite Play:  Crackwalker by Judith Thompson

Favourite place in Toronto: Annex.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: “Apply to everything”, from Thomas Morgan Jones. It even applies to life, not just career – Apply yourself. Or in terms of your career – Apply to everything. Best advice he ever gave me in 2006 and now we’re working together again.

PYAASAPYAASA TPM Cover Photo DRAFT C

Who:
A Theatre Passe Muraille Production

A Celebratory Remount of the 2008 sold-out TPM run, launching TPM’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Play Series, featuring the original creative team:

Written and Performed by Anusree Roy
Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones
Production Design by David DeGrow

What: “Life is not easy, Chaya… but you have to believe in it.”

Set in Calcutta, Pyaasa (meaning “thirsty” in Hindi) tells the story of Chaya, an eleven-year-old untouchable who dreams of nothing more than learning her times table. When Chaya’s mother begs a woman from a higher caste to give Chaya a job at a local tea stall, Chaya’s journey from childhood to adulthood begins and ends over ten days.

A moving and heartfelt play, Pyaasa illustrates with subtlety and nuanced truth the inequalities and injustices that persist through the Indian caste system. But it also speaks to us about the inequalities and injustices that are all around us here in our own community.

Anusree Roy is a Resident Playwright with Theatre Passe Muraille.

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto.

Tickets: Pay-What-You-Can Saturday & Sunday 2pm Matinees, $17 Under-30, $20 Artsworkers, $28 Senior, $33 General Admission
passemuraille.ca/pyaasa

When: March 3-27, 2016
Tuesday to Saturday Evening – 7:30pm
Saturday & Sunday Matinee – 2:00pm

Connect with us!
Spread the word: #PyaasaTO
Anusree Roy – @i_write_plays
Theatre Passe Muraille – @beyondwallsTPM
In the Greenroom – @intheGreenRoom_
Brittany Kay – @brittanylkay

The Sex Ed Curriculum, Plays in Threes & Making a Statement with a Dildo – In Conversation with Rob Kempson, Playwright/Director of SHANNON 10:40

Interview by Brittany Kay

Brittany Kay: Tell me about your title character Shannon and SHANNON 10:40?

Rob Kempson: Shannon, the character, was born out of my work as a teacher and meeting students who don’t feel like they are welcomed in the environment of school. I’ve taught in a lot of settings where they are welcomed and that is truly amazing, like if you look at an arts school, for example, and the amount of students who are queer or questioning or in some of sort in-between place with their sexual identity or gender identity, those schools tend to be leaning towards a more supportive side. What was most interesting to me were kids who are incredibly confident with their sexuality and are able to talk about it openly, and the way that other kids in school respond to that kind of confidence and power. I was not one of those kids. After creating Shannon, I started thinking about myself as a queer teacher and the challenges associated with that in this day and age. I thought putting those two people on stage together might create an interesting dynamic.

BK: What has been your inspiration for writing this show?

RK: I’m producing two plays of mine this year. SHANNON 10:40 is the first one before the holidays and the second one is called Mockingbird, which will be in the Next Stage Theatre Festival in January 2016. They are part of a series that I’m calling The Graduation Plays. I think that I tend to work in threes. I kind of get obsessed with an idea for a little while and hang out with that idea in my brain. I’ve been teaching for a long time and so I’ve obviously always thought about school settings but for SHANNON 10:40 and Mockingbird, it was just their time in my brain to come into being. I was ready for them to exist. Jokingly, 2014 was the year of Grandmas for me. I did a musical that was about a grandma (The Way Back To Thursday) and then I did a piece at Hatch that featured three grandmas (#legacy). I don’t think my grandma phase is over, perhaps, but I’d like to think that now I’m on to my school phase.

Once I get interested in a given environment or topic, I want to explore that from a lot of different places before I’m done with it and sometimes you can’t fit all of that into one play, so it becomes two plays.

BK: Is there a third one in your series?

RK: I think there’s a third play… and I think I know what it’s about. I certainly didn’t imagine I would get into Next Stage this year and also get to produce SHANNON 10:40 this year, so the fact that they are being presented so close together is very exciting. I feel really lucky.

BK: Why the title of the series – The Graduation Plays?

RK: I always thought of them as a series and then a smart publicist friend of mine told me that I needed to name it as a series if it’s going to be one. Of course, initially what came to my mind was the Education Plays and I thought, “well that sounds stupid,” and then I thought that that’s not actually what this is about. It’s about all of us as an education community but also us as a world advancing in some way. Getting to somewhere that we weren’t before. That’s what graduation is in theory and I think I imagine these plays to both showcase characters and situations that challenge what we expect and challenge what we understand to be acceptable.

I think that there are so many examples of students taking back power because they need to act out, they need to say they’re not happy, they need to stand up for themselves… there’s a lot of different reasons. The term ‘graduation’ is kind of about all of that – it’s about moving forward and understanding something new. Both plays have that sort of characteristic to them.

BK: How has teaching, being in a school environment, and around these types of students influenced your writing?

RK: I feel so lucky that I get to work as an artist educator and as an artist because those two streams for me are incredibly important in my life, in my career, and they ultimately inform one another. So things that I’m working on in my artistic practice often end up infiltrating my work as an artist educator and vice versa. Things that happen in my practice as an artist educator always make their way into my writing. There’s this real sort of back and forth between those two parts of my brain.

Hallie Seline as Shannon in SHANNON 10:40

Hallie Seline as Shannon in SHANNON 10:40

BK: Why 10:40?

RK: Oh, because that’s the time of Shannon’s guidance appointment. She’s going to a guidance appointment at 10:40. It’s not like 4.48 Psychosis or anything crafty. It’s literally the time of her guidance appointment. The timeline is all about the school day and 10:40 is midway through second period, it’s right before lunch and she’s been called out of class to come to this guidance appointment. There’s a very different kind of day for students because school starts so early in the morning and ends so early in the afternoon.

BK: This play is very timely and appropriate for what some are calling The Education Crisis that is going on.

RK: Yes. It’s not really brain surgery though… Oh, the world changes but we’ve done the exact same thing for a very long time? If we expect to be relevant and expect to connect with our students and we expect to have our education system actually do anything for the community that we live in, it needs to change with the world. The bureaucracy that prevents it from doing so is, in fact, the problem. We need to be able to respond quickly with curriculum development. We need to give teachers enough autonomy to be able to work with the curriculum in an innovative and progressive way, but we also need to be able to support them as they make those choices. The message of Shannon 10:40 is definitely political in scope in the sense that a teacher, Mr. Fisher, is dealing with this desire to be a progressive forward thinking teacher and he’s not receiving the support that he needs to in order to do that effectively. Shannon is a student who’s caught in the cross-fire, not feeling represented in her school, not feeling represented in her classes that she has to take and, therefore, feeling oppressed. She is feeling like she is the victim of oppression in her everyday life as a student and so, of course, she’s going to do something to change that, because she has to.

I think the play is about students figuring out a way to state their case, to share their message, to say what they need to say—and students don’t always do that in the most appropriate way. That’s what it’s about: a student taking back the power and fighting the oppression of that system.

BK: Tell me you’re inviting Kathleen Wynne because this is so timely around what is happening right now in the world of education.

RK: I do have dreams of doing so. I’m definitely inviting some folks who are into education pedagogy and hoping we’ll be able to have a discourse around that.

BK: I think that’s what theatre is about… that, often it needs to reflect what’s happening in our day-to-day.

RK: I agree. I also think that we don’t give students tools to talk about or react to oppression, but we then oppress them. If we’re not teaching them how to react to that in a way that’s appropriate, how can we expect anything but outbursts, outrage and acts of defiance because they need to be heard. They need to say what they feel.

I think the last great bastion to knock down in a school setting is really around sexual and gender diversity and it’s way better than it used to be. It’s not like we aren’t making progress but it’s when in that progress that we need to recognize we’re never done… We still need to work. We still need to continue and develop.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with from SHANNON 10:40?

RK: Hopefully, a new perspective in their toolkit when they’re thinking about the way that education works in this province. And, also, that they got to see a show with a dildo in it! We haven’t even said that—Shannon brings a dildo to school.

Rapid Fire Question Period:

Favourite movie: Sister Act 2.

Play: Impossible to choose… You Are Here by Daniel MacIvor?

Musical: Elegies.

Food: Cheese.

TV Show: Please Like Me.

Book: Favourites are so hard… I don’t like the commitment… The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Best advice you’ve ever gotten or something you live by: This is where I find myself. You have to be happy where you are.
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Who: Written and Directed by Rob Kempson
Featuring Qasim Khan and Hallie Seline
Set and Costume Design by Anna Treusch
Lighting Design by Oz Weaver
Sound Design by Daniel Maslany

When: Wed‐Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm

Where: Videofag, 187 Augusta Avenue, Toronto

Tickets: $20 or $15 for Artsworkers/Students. Plus a $10 Halloween ticket treat for Saturday October 31st at 8pm.
Available at shannon1040.bpt.me

Connect with us:

Rob Kempson – @rob_kempson #shannon1040

Brittany Kay – @brittanylkay

In the Greenroom – @intheGreenRoom_

 

*Disclaimer: Please note the editor’s personal involvement in the show has not affected the editing and content of this piece. The views of this interview are that of the interviewer and the subject.

In Conversation with Michael Ross Albert, Playwright of “For a Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard” at the NSTF

Interview by Brittany Kay

Like a long distance pen pal, I had the pleasure of corresponding with the talented and compassionate playwright, Michael Ross Albert, whose show, For a Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard, is playing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. We spoke of hockey, where and what we call home, and our constant quest to find out where we belong. 

BK: Tell me a bit about yourself. Where you’re from? Your journey to where you are now? 

MRA: I’m from Toronto originally and I started writing plays when I was in high school. I was a participant in one of the first iterations of the Paprika Festival many many years ago. I also used to act, and did that a bunch in university, which hammered home the feeling that I really preferred to be on the other side of the footlights. I was accepted into an MFA Playwriting program at the Actors Studio Drama School in New York, so I moved to the city and started training alongside some wicked talented Method actors. I kept writing plays and putting them on. When I graduated, my friends and I co-founded Outside Inside and started producing under that banner in a bunch of different festivals. And then, my Visa expired and instead of hiring a lawyer, I moved back to Toronto and started re-discovering the city as an adult for the first time. Now, it’s a real joy to be able to produce a play of mine in this particular festival with a cast and creative team who I’m proud to call friends.

BK: What inspired this play? 

MRA: In the summer of 2012, I was very interested in the idea of home. I was in the process of moving back to Canada, but was putting on a show in New York at the same time. So, I was sleeping on people’s floors, either in my mom’s basement or my old roommate’s living room. I didn’t really know where I belonged; I was unclear as to where “home” was (which is something customs agent ask you a lot when you cross the border fairly regularly and don’t have a job).

One night, in Queens, I happened to run into an old friend of mine. We started nostalgically rehashing these minute details about our shared past, like the time this funny thing happened to so-and-so, this piece of graffiti that had stuck in both our minds. Those small but very clear memories had become almost like personal talismans against… something. Adulthood, maybe. There we were, so far removed from our youth, so completely unsure of what was going to happen next in our lives, so far away from this place we hardly even thought about anymore. And those small details were the ones that still, somehow, burned very brightly. As directionless as we were at the time, these very personal but, otherwise, forgettable memories were quite comforting. I thought it was sad, but I also thought it was pretty funny. And that’s how the play was born.

Also, after years of crafting “well-made plays” at school, I wanted to rip a kitchen sink out of the wall.

Geoffrey Pounsett & Daniel Pagett in For A Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard

Geoffrey Pounsett & Daniel Pagett in For A Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard

BK: Are there familial ties from your own life to this play? 

MRA: Not really, but there are shadows of myself in each of the characters, and aspects of my own family members and our dynamics that must have influenced the relationships in the play. But not in any glaringly autobiographical way. It’s fiction for sure.

BK: After watching the show, I assume you’re a huge hockey fan? How did hockey influence your life and this play? 

MRA: I like hockey a lot. I can’t help getting swept up in it, especially if the stakes are high, like during a playoff game. What Jim Warren’s production of this play does very well, I think, is that it sets up the characters themselves as the opposing teams in a hockey game. They’re members of a family pit against one another in this very fast-paced, high-stakes competition. But, unlike hockey, even in this combative family, there’s no clear winner. In fact, probably, everyone in this play is a bit of a loser. But that’s because they don’t want to be pitted against each other. In fact, they really really love one another.

BK: What’s your favourite team? 

MRA: The Leafs.

BK: Why do you think the NSTF is important for the Toronto arts community and Toronto as a whole?

MRA: The festival is curated and they program new works that appeal to various demographics. Their programming is diverse, which brings people who wouldn’t necessarily see theatre into that tent. Each show is completely different from the others. Tickets are inexpensive, so for the same price as a movie, audiences can see really high quality indie theatre, or dance, or comedy. And, the festival literally brings arts-minded people closer together, huddled in that very cozy beer tent. January can be a very depressing month in a cold city and, if nothing else, NSTF gives you an excuse to tear yourself away from Netflix vortexes and be part of a community.

BK: What is your favourite part about the NSTF tent? 

MRA: It’s not the beer. It’s meeting, getting to know, and commiserating with all of the other NSTF artists, whose excellent work I’ve gotten to experience in the festival. The beer is pretty good, too.

BK: What inspires your stories? Where does your inspiration come from when you write?

MRA: I think, first and foremost, I want to write characters that actors would like to play. I think that’s the constant. Apart from that, I have no idea where the inspiration comes from most of the time. Overheard dialogue on the street, stories I’ve been told, phrases, songs, memories. Anything that surprises me.

BK: Do you have a favourite place to write?

MRA: Anywhere private with a window.

BK: What do you want audiences to walk away with?

MRA: I hope they’re able to see themselves and their loved ones in these characters. And I hope they know that, even in those moments when life sucks, they’ve got worth and they mean something to someone else.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Best show you saw in 2014: Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at Unit 102

Favourite play: Either Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov or A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee

Favourite actor: Phillip Seymour Hoffman comes to mind

Major influence: Edward Allan Baker

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: From a writing standpoint: “Cut into the action as close to the conflict as possible.” From a producing standpoint: “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing in the first place.”

For a Good Time, Call Kathy Blanchard

by Michael Ross Albert, presented by Outside Inside as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival

Entire-Cast

Game Four, Stanley Cup finals. Lawrence is having a breakdown. Sky’s been kicked out of his house. Amanda’s career is going nowhere. Mary won’t leave the living room until someone wins the Stanley Cup. And they’re all preparing for a devastating loss, both on the ice and at home. But, Lawrence has a plan to fix his family for good. A tragic comedy about heartbreak, hockey, and the places we used to call home.

Tickets – $15

Connect: Outside Inside @OutsideInsideCo

Where: Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst St.)
Length: 75 mins

Playwright Michael Ross Albert
Director Jim Warren
Featuring Jennifer Dzialoszynski, Daniel Pagett, Geoffrey Pounsett, Caroline Toal

When:

Wed Jan 7 – 8:15pm
Fri Jan 9 – 10:00pm
Sat Jan 10 – 4:45pm
Sun Jan 11 – 4:30pm – followed by a Talkback at The Hoxton
Mon Jan 12 – 9:30pm
Thurs Jan 15 – 7:30pm
Fri Jan 16 – 7:00pm
Sat Jan 17 – 2:30pm
Sun Jan 18 – 6:15pm