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Nominations Announced for the 40th Anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards

Congratulations to all of the nominees for the Dora Awards 2019! And thank you to everyone for an incredible season of the arts. We can’t wait to see what 19/20 brings.

– ITGR


Nominations Announced for
40th Anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards
!

Soulpepper Theatre tops General Theatre Division with 14 nominations.

The Musical Stage Company & Young People’s Theatre tie in Musical Theatre Division with 14 nods each.

Coal Mine Theatre front runner in Independent Theatre Division with 10 noms.

Canadian Opera Company leads in Opera Division with 33 nods.

DanceWorks flies highest with 13 taps in Dance Division. 

Solar Stage heads Theatre for Young Audiences Division with 10 noms.

Toronto (May 28, 2019) – At a press conference held May 28 in the Davies Takacs Lobby of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) announced 282 nominations for the 40th Anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards, which recognize excellence in professional theatre, dance and opera in Toronto. On Tuesday, June 25 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 49 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the Silver Ticket Award and the Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award will be presented.

As TAPA announced in April of 2018, all performance categories for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards for the 2018-19 season are gender neutral. All former binary male and female titles have been replaced with gender inclusive designations as applicable to “Outstanding Performance” categories. Notably, the Doras are the first professional theatre, dance and opera awards show in Canada to adopt a fully gender-inclusive policy. Other changes to the Dora Awards include new stand-alone Divisions for Musical Theatre, Opera and Touring.

For the 2018-2019 season, running May 2018 to May 2019, 108 producing companies registered 219 eligible productions. Below are some nomination highlights.

GENERAL THEATRE DIVISION:

In the General Theatre Division, Soulpepper Theatre Company heads the nominations list with 14 taps over 5 productions. Soulpepper also earns 11 nominations in the Musical Theatre Division, bringing its grand total to 25.

Soulpepper’s The Royale garners 7 nods including Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction for Guillermo Verdecchia, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for both Christef Desir and Sabryn Rock, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design for Ken MacKenzie, Outstanding Lighting Design for Michelle Ramsay and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition for Thomas Ryder Payne. Soulpepper’s Orlando sees 4 nods: Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role for Sarah Afful, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for Alex McCooeye, Outstanding Costume Design for Gillian Gallow and Outstanding Lighting Design for Lorenzo Savoini. Single taps go to The Virgin Trial for Outstanding New Play to Kate Hennig, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Lovell Adams-Gray and Wedding at Aulis for Outstanding Costume Design to Michelle Tracey.

Crow’s Theatre earns second spot overall in the Division with 10 nominations over 4 productions, 6 of them for Middletown: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction for Meg Roe, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role for Gray Powell, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for Jeff Meadows, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design for Camellia Koo and Outstanding Lighting Design for Kevin Lamotte. The Wolves, produced by The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre, sees Amaka Umeh earn a tap for Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role and Sarah Doucet one for Outstanding Costume Design. Kimberly Purtell earns a nod for Outstanding Lighting Design for We Are Not Alone and Julie Fox gets one for Tartuffe (in a co-presentation with Canadian Stage).

Obsidian Theatre follows with 9 nods over 2 productions, 7 of them for School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, tying Soulpepper’s The Royale for top spot for a production in the General Theatre Division. Obsidian also earns 1 nomination in the Independent Theatre Division for a grand total of 10 nods. School Girls taps are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction for Nina Lee Aquino, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role for Natasha Mumba, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for Bria McLaughlin, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design for Rachel Forbes, Outstanding Costume Design for Joanna Yu and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition for Reza Jacobs. Obsidian’s Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape sees nods for Outstanding Direction to Mumbi Tindyebwa and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition to DJ L’Oqenz.

Other Outstanding Production taps in the General Theatre Division go to bug (Luminato) and Secret Life of a Mother (The Theatre Centre), both of which earn 4 taps in total including Outstanding New Play for Yolanda Bonnell and Hannah Moscovitch, respectively. Bonnell is also up for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role in bug while Maev Beaty is nominated for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role for Secret Life of a Mother. Luminato’s total nomination count is 5: 4 in General Theatre and 1 in Touring, while the Theatre Centre’s grand total is 6 including 2 in the Independent Theatre Division.

Other Outstanding New Play nominees are Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman for Tarragon Theatre’s Guarded Girls (which also earns Vivien Endicott-Douglas a nod for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role) and the team of Lisa Karen Cox, Maggie Huculak, Raha Javanfar, Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava and Cheyenne Scott for Now You See Her, a Quote Unquote Collective, Nightwood Theatre and Why Not Theatre co-production.

Additional Tarragon nods include Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Virgilia Griffith for Harlem Duet, which also sees Allen Booth earn an Outstanding Sound Design/Composition tap. Stephanie MacDonald earns a tap for Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role for New Magic Valley Fun Town, bringing Tarragon’s total nominations to 5.

Other notable taps include, for Canadian Stage, Outstanding Direction to Brendan Healy for Every Brilliant Thing, and Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to Jenny Young for Romeo and Juliet. Canadian Stage’s total count in General Theatre is 3 plus 3 in Touring for a total of 6. 

MUSICAL THEATRE DIVISION:

In the Musical Theatre Division, The Musical Stage Company and Young People’s Theatre (YPT) tie in leading the pack with 14 nods each, for two productions each. Soulpepper rounds up 11 nods for its production of Rose, and David Mirvish tallies in at 9 for Dear Evan Hansen.

The Musical Stage Company’s nods comprise 10 for Next to Normal and 4 for Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life, co-produced with Outside the March.

Next to Normal nominations are Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction to the team of Philip Akin and Tracey Flye, Outstanding Musical Direction to Lily Ling, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to each of Ma-Anne Dionisio and Stephanie Sy, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to both Brandon Antonio and Louise Pitre, Outstanding Lighting Design and Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Steve Lucas and Outstanding Costume Design to Alex Amini.

Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life nabs nods for Outstanding New Musical to Anika Johnson and Britta Johnson, Outstanding Original Choreography to Barbara Johnston, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Bruce Dow and Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to Peter Deiwick.

Young People’s Theatre’s 14 nods in this division are comprised of 9 for Mary Poppins and 5 for Under the Stairs. With an additional 3 taps in the Theatre for Young Audiences Division, YPT’s total nomination haul is 17.

Mary Poppins earns taps for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction to Thom Allison, Outstanding Musical Direction to Wayne Gwillim, Outstanding Original Choreography to Kerry Gage, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Vanessa Sears, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to Jade Repeta, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Brandon Kleiman, Outstanding Costume Design to Bill Layton and Outstanding Lighting Design to Jason Hand.

Under the Stairs earns nods for Outstanding New Musical to writer Kevin Dyer and composer Reza Jacobs, Outstanding Original Choreography to Viv Moore, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Teresa Przybylski, Outstanding Costume Design to Anna Treusch and Outstanding Lighting Design to Michelle Ramsay.

The 11 nominations to Soulpepper Theatre Company for Rose are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding New Musical to writer Sarah Wilson and composer Mike Ross, Outstanding Musical Direction to Mike Ross, Outstanding Direction to Gregory Prest, Outstanding Original Choreography to Monica Dottor, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Hailey Gillis, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to each of Peter Fernandes and Sabryn Rock, Outstanding Lighting Design and Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Lorenzo Savoini and Outstanding Costume Design to Alexandra Lord.

The David Mirvish production of Dear Evan Hansen sees nominations for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction to Michael Greif, Outstanding Musical Direction to Elizabeth Baird, Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to Robert Markus, Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role to each of Allessandro Constantini and Sean Patrick Dolan, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to the team of David Korins and Peter Nigrini, Outstanding Costume Design to Emily Rebholz and Outstanding Lighting Design to Japhy Weideman.

Other notable nods in the Musical Theatre Division go to Eclipse Theatre Company for its presentation of Kiss of the Spider Woman which earns a total of 6 nominations: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction to Evan Tsitsias, Outstanding Musical Direction to Chris Barillaro, Outstanding Original Choreography to Sara-Jeanne Hosie, and Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role to each of Kawa Ada and Tracy Michailidis.

INDEPENDENT THEATRE DIVISION:

In the Independent Theatre Division, Coal Mine Theatre takes the lead with 10 nominations, 5 of them in co-production with Studio 180 Theatre for The Nether and the others spread out over three productions. Human Cargo and Saga Collectif tie for second spot with 7 hits each, both for a single production: respectively, The Runner and Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land), making each the leading production in this division. Native Earth Performing Arts follows closely with 6 nods: 4 for Isitwendam and 2 for After the Fire in a co-production with The Theatre Centre.

Coal Mine Theatre and Studio 180 Theatre’s The Nether nods are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble to Katherine Cullen, Hannah Levinson, Mark McGrinder, Robert Persichini and David Storch, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Patrick Lavender and Nick Bottomley, Outstanding Lighting Design to Patrick Lavender and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition to Richard Feren.

Coal Mine scores 3 hits with Hand to God: Outstanding Direction to the team of Mitchell Cushman and Marcus Jamin, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Frank Cox-O’Connell and Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Anahita Dehbonehie.

Coal Mine’s The Father earns Eric Peterson a nod for Outstanding Performance of an Individual while The Wonder Pageant sees Ron Pederson, Kayla Lorette, Matt Baram, Jan Carauna, Paloma Nunez, Waylen Miki and Kris Siddiqi nominated for Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble.

Human Cargo’s 7 taps for The Runner are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding New Play to Christopher Morris, Outstanding Direction to Daniel Brooks, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Gord Rand, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to Gillian Gallow, Outstanding Lighting Design to Bonnie Beecher and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition to Alexander MacSween.

The Saga Collectif 7 nods for Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land) are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding New Play to Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho), Outstanding Direction to Jonathan Seinen, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Virgilia Griffith, Outstanding Costume Design to Christine Urquhart, Outstanding Lighting Design to Jareth Li and Outstanding Sound Design/Composition to Heidi Chan.

The Native Earth Performing Arts 4 nods for Isitwendam are: Outstanding Production, Outstanding New Play to Meegwun Fairbrother, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Meegwun Fairbrother and Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design to the team of Hans Saefkow and Andy Moro with Melissa Joakim. After the Fire scores taps for Outstanding New Play to Matthew MacKenzie and Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble to Sheldon Elter, Jesse Gervais, Kaitlyn Riordan and Louise Lambert.

Other notable nods in this division include Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Augusto Bitter for Theatre Passe Muraille’s CHICHO, Outstanding Direction to Erin Brubacher for Generous Friend’s Noor and to Leora Morris for PARADIGM productionsThe Philosopher’s Wife, and Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Catherine Fitch for Leroy Street Theatre’s Her Inside Life and to Mattie Driscoll for Cue6 Theatre’s Dry Land.

As well, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble nods go to ARC for Human Animals, DopoLavoro Teatrale for If on a Christmas Night, Obsidian Theatre for Judas Noir, Aluna Theatre for Stones and Why Not Theatre for Wring the Roses. 

OPERA DIVISION:

In the Opera Division, the Canadian Opera Company’s (COC) productions lead with a total of 33 nominations over six productions, making the COC the leader in overall nominations as well. The COC’s Otello earns 8 taps, the most for a production in the Opera Division. The COC’s Otello, Eugene Onegin, Hadrian and La Bohème all vie for Outstanding Production, as does Against the Grain Theatre’s Kopernikus which, along with Eugene Onegin and Hadrian, sees a total of 7 nods and earns Against the Grain second spot in the Opera Division.

Hadrian also receives a nod for Outstanding New Opera for writer Daniel MacIvor and composer Rufus Wainwright as does Hook Up, a Tapestry Opera production in partnership with Theatre Passe Muraille, for writer Julie Tepperman and composer Chris Thornborrow as well as the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s The Monkiest King for writer Marjorie Chan and composer Alice Ping Yee Ho.

Otello garners the following additional hits: Outstanding Direction to David Alden, Outstanding Musical Direction to Johannes Debus (who also earns the same for the COC’s Elektra and Eugene Onegin), Outstanding Performance of an Individual to both Gerald Finley and Tamara Wilson, Outstanding Scenic/Projection Design and Outstanding Costume Design to Jon Morrell, and Outstanding Lighting Design to Andrew Cutbush.

Additional Outstanding Direction nods go to the team of Joel Ivany and Matjash Mrozewski for Kopernikus, John Caird for La Bohème, Robert Carsen for Eugene Onegin and Jessica Derventzis for Opera 5’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Outstanding Musical Direction nods also go to Bernard Labadie for the COC’s Cosi fan tutte and to Topher Mokrzewski for Kopernikus.

Joining the race for Outstanding Performance of an Individual are Ambur Braid for Hadrian, Angel Blue for La Bohème, Christine Goerke for Elektra, Thomas Hampson for Hadrian and Tracy Dahl for Cosi fan tutte. Johnathon Kirby wades in for his role in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

As well, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble nods go to Cosi fan tutte and Eugene Onegin as well as Kopernikus, Opera 5’s Open Chambers: Hindemith & Shostakovich, along with the Canadian Children’s Opera Company’s The Monkiest King and The Snow Queen. 

DANCE DIVISION:

In the Dance Division, DanceWorks hits top spot with 13 nominations including 5 for Blood Tides (DanceWorks / Kaha:wi Dance Theatre), 5 for No Woman’s Land (DanceWorks / Jaberi Dance Theatre) and 3 for The art of degeneration (DanceWorks / Louis Laberge-Côté). All of them are up for Outstanding Production as well as Outstanding Original Choreography: Roshanak Jaberi for No Woman’s Land, Louis Laberge-Côté for The art of degeneration and Santee Smith with Jahra Wasasala and Marina Acevedo for Blood Tides. Additionally, Louis Laberge-Côté is tapped for Outstanding Performance of an Individual while Blood Tides and No Woman’s Land are up for Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble.

The National Ballet of Canada dances into the runner-up slot with 7 nods including 5 for Frame by Frame: Outstanding Production, Guillaume Côté for Outstanding Original Choreography, Jack Bertinshaw for Outstanding Performance of an Individual, Antoine Bédard for Outstanding Sound Design/Composition and Étienne Boucher for Outstanding Lighting Design. Hannah Fischer vies as well for Outstanding Performance of an Individual for Paz de la Jolla while Anna Karenina earns a nod for Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble.

Third place goes to Red Sky Performance with 4 taps, all for Trace: Outstanding Production, Outstanding Original Choreography for Jera Wolfe, Outstanding Sound Design/Composition for Eliot Britton and Outstanding Lighting Design for Alexis Bowles.

Additional Outstanding Performance of an Individual nods go to Dreamwalker Dance Company’s Andrea Nann, nominated twice for her company’s All of Our Dreaming program: once for the piece A Crazy Kind of Hope and the other for In a Landscape. Evelyn Hart and Johanna Bergfelt are also nominated for the same for Citadel + Compagnie’s Four Old Legs and SKOW, respectively. José Maldonado earns a tap in this category as well for Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company’s El Caudal Que Yo Tengos from its show Impulso.

Joining the Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble race are Dreamwalker Dance Company for Dual Light: Brendan and Yuichiro (from All of Our Dreaming), Esie Mensah Creations for Shades, Peggy Baker Dance Projects for who we are in the dark and Toronto Dance Theatre with two entries: Slow Dance and This Shape, We Are In. 

THEATRE FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES DIVISION:

The Theatre for Young Audiences Division sees Solar Stage lead the pack with 10 nods over four productions followed by Théâtre français de Toronto and Why Not Theatre in a tie with 5 each, both for one production. Why Not Theatre’s Eraser and Théâtre français de Toronto’s Les Zinspirés: L’âge de raison each come out on top with the most nominations for a production in this Division. (With 3 in General Theatre and 1 in the Independent Theatre Division, Why Not’s total nods come to 9.)

Eraser sees taps for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction for the duo of Bilal Baig and Sadie Epstein-Fine, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble, Outstanding Achievement in Design for Maddie Bautista (sound design) and Outstanding New Play for the team of Bilal Baig, Sadie Epstein-Fine with Christol Bryan, Marina Gomes, Yousef Kadoura, Tijiki Morris, Anthony Perpuse and Nathan Redburn.

Les Zinspirés: L’âge de raison scores nods for Outstanding Direction for Chanda Gibson, Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble, Outstanding Achievement in Design to each of Simon Rossiter (lighting design) and Glenn Davidson (scenic design) and Outstanding New Play for the team of Olivia Cyr, Mariam Guira, Errine Jean Charles, Cathlin Jiaqi Han and Abigail Morin; Coached by: Krystel Descary, François Macdonald, Marie-Claire Marcotte, Pierre Simpson and Donald Woo.

Other Outstanding Production nods go to Harbourfront Centre for both We Are All Treaty People and New Owner as well as to the Wee Festival’s KNOCK! and Young People’s Theatre’s The 26 Letter Dance.

Both Shakespeare in Action’s Suddenly Shakespeare and Puzzle Piece’s The Little Prince: Reimagined garner 4 hits: Suddenly Shakespeare’s are Outstanding Direction to Michael Kelly plus 3 taps for Outstanding Performance of an Individual to each of Chris George, Alexandra Montagnese and Mussie Solomon; while Puzzle Piece’s are Outstanding New Play to Richard Lam, Outstanding Performance of an Individual to each of Kira Hall and Richard Lam, and Outstanding Achievement in Design to Anahita Dehbonehie (scenic design).

Additional taps for both Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance of an Individual go to Makambe K Simamba for b current performing arts Our Fathers, Sons, Lovers and Little Brothers which also sees Donna-Michelle St. Bernard earn a nod for Outstanding Direction for a total of 3 hits for the show.

Two Solar Stage shows also earn 3 nods apiece: Ugly Duckthing nods include Marty Stelnick for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Achievement in Design (puppetry design) as well as Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble; Treasure Island gets on board with Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble, Outstanding Performance of an Individual for Faly Mevamanana and Outstanding Achievement in Design for Marysia Bucholc (scenic design). Other notable Solar Stage nods include Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble for A Merry Munsch Pyjama Party! with the duo of Dahlia Katz and M. John Kennedy up for Outstanding Direction.

Other notable nods include Outstanding Performance of an Individual to Morgan St. Onge for Roseneath Theatre’s Head à Tête, and Outstanding Performance of an Ensemble for both the WeeFestival’s Tweet Tweet and Young People’s Theatre’s Antigone: . 

TOURING DIVISION:

Canadian Stage leads in the Outstanding Touring Production award race with 3 out of the 5 nominations: Hofesh Shechter Company’s Grand Finale, Akram Khan Company’s XENOS and Kidd Pivot’s Revisor. Also in the ring are Luminato with Teac Damsa’s Swan Lake / Loch na hEala and Aluna Theatre with Wilson Pico’s Los Materiales de la Ira y el Amor presented at its RUTAS International Multi-Arts Festival. (This award will be given out in advance at a special invitation-only reception honouring all the nominees.)

***

See the accompanying complete list of nominees. The full list is also available online at tapa.ca as of 1pm today. Of note, the following and various designers all received 3 nominations: Gillian Gallow, Jason Hand, Thomas Ryder Payne and Lorenzo Savoini.

Twitter – @doraawards : #DoraAwards   #DORAS2019                #theatreTO

SPECIAL PRIZE ANNOUNCED:

For the fifth year in a row, the Pat and Tony Adams Freedom Fund for the Arts will provide a cash prize of $1,000 each to the recipients of Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role in the General Theatre Division and Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role in the General Theatre Division

ANCILLARY AWARDS PRESENTED:

In addition, the recipients of the Pauline McGibbon Award, George Luscombe Mentorship Award and Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award were bestowed at the press conference.

The recipient of the 2019 Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award is the extraordinarily talented arts producer Sherrie Johnson who was recently appointed Executive Director for Crow’s Theatre after serving as Executive Producer at Canadian Stage for six years. The award recognizes the important work of theatre, dance and opera administrators and is named after the founders of Toronto’s Theatrebooks (1975 to its closure in 2014). The winner receives a plaque and a cheque for $1,000 through the generous sponsorship of the late Elizabeth Comper. Recipients of the LMJH Award have at least 10 years of demonstrated commitment to the performing arts, in addition to having made an impact on the industry in Toronto.

The recipient of the George Luscombe Mentorship Award is Jacquie P.A. Thomas, founding Artistic Director of Theatre Gargantua since 1992. Named in honour of Toronto Workshop Productions’ revolutionary theatre founder and artistic director, the award is administered by TAPA and comes with original artwork by Theo Dimson, a copy of the book Conversations with George Luscombe: Steven Bush in conversation with the Canadian Theatre visionary and a $500 prize. Ms. Thomas has maintained an unwavering commitment to producing original Canadian theatre and to the development and support of the artist, including young and emerging artists. A pioneer of Canadian multi-disciplinary devised theatre, she has created numerous socially relevant, award-winning works. This year, Jacquie P.A. Thomas celebrates her 27th season as the Artistic Director of Theatre Gargantua, one of the longest serving female Artistic Directors in the country.

Toronto-based scenic artist Ksenia Ivanova is the recipient of the 2019 Pauline McGibbon Award, created in honour of former Lieutenant Governor Pauline McGibbon for her support and patronage of the arts. It includes a $7,000 prize and a medal designed by Dora de Pédery-Hunt. The award is presented to an Ontario-resident professional artist in the early stages of their career who displays unique talent and has the potential for excellence. Every three years, the award goes to a designer, then to a director, and the third year to a production craftsperson. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Kesia moved to Canada in 2010 and enrolled in Humber College’s Theatre Production program. Since graduating in 2013, she has contributed scenic work to more than 100 productions across Ontario for companies such as Tarragon Theatre, the Stratford Festival, Soulpepper, Crow’s Theatre, Factory Theatre and Coal Mine Theatre. Though still in the early stages of her career, she has embraced her role as a teacher and mentor, leading her teams with a commitment to creativity that will ensure a strong next generation of theatre creators.

JON KAPLAN AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD VOTE:

TAPA’s third annual Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award in honour of the beloved, long-time NOW Magazine theatre critic will be given out at the Dora Awards show and ceremony on June 25. The Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award is co-sponsored for the third year in a row by NOW Magazine and Yonge-Dundas Square. The public is invited to choose a winner and vote for their favourite show from the list of nominees for Outstanding Production – or they can choose their own! Theatre, dance and opera fans can cast their votes online at at nowtoronto.com/jonkaplan-audience-choice-award May 31 at noon through to June 19 at 12 midnight. …The winner receives a special plaque from NOW Magazine.

***

40th ANNIVERSARY DORA MAVOR MOORE AWARDS:

On Tuesday, June 25 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 49 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the Silver Ticket Award and the Jon Kaplan Audience Choice Award will be presented. Fresh from touring his new solo show BOOMX, the incomparable Canadian theatre artist Rick Miller hosts this very special celebratory evening. A director, actor, comedian, musician and playwright, Mr. Miller is well-known across the country for his widely acclaimed one-man shows that include MacHomer, BOOM and Bigger Than Jesus (for which he won a 2006 Outstanding Performance Dora). The 40th Anniversary Dora Awards are penned by actor and writer Diane Flacks, currently starring in the title role of Nathan the Wise at the Stratford Festival, and directed by Ed Roy, recipient of Pauline McGibbon and Dora Awards for directing.

Tickets go on sale May 28 through the Sony Centre Box Office at 1 Front Street East or call 416.368.6161 x 1 or book online at the Ticketmaster website: https://www.ticketmaster.ca/event/100056B7E690656E 

In honour of the 40th Anniversary of the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, an Early Bird special price is being offered: Just $40 for both the Awards Show and After-Party! The Early Bird offer expires on Tuesday June 11 at 5pm, after which regular ticket prices will be in effect.

After June 11 at 5pm, ticket prices are:

Regular Tickets (Awards Show & After-Party) are $90.00 (+HST & Ticketmaster fees)

Student, Senior and Artsworker Tickets (Awards Show & After-Party) are $70 (+HST & Ticketmaster fees)
Pre-Show VIP Reception Tickets (includes Awards Show & After-Party) are $190 (these are only available by emailing Scott Dermody at scottd@tapa.ca to reserve)
After-Party ONLY Tickets (purchase at the door beginning 10:30pm) are $20.


40th Anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards

– Toronto’s Theatre, Dance and Opera Awards –

Tuesday June 25, 2019

Hosted by the multi-talented, multi-award-winning Rick Miller

Written by Diane Flacks, Directed by Edward Roy,

Musical Direction by Evelyne Datl, Lighting and Production Design by Andrea Lundy, Produced by Jacoba Knaapen

At the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto, ON M5E 1B2

6:00pm-7:00pm Pre-Show VIP Cocktail Reception in the Lower Lobby of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

7:30pm Dora Mavor Moore Awards Show in the Sony Centre

10:30pm After-Party in and around the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

TICKETS ON SALE May 28, 2019

For both Early Bird and Regular tickets, visit the Sony Centre Box Office at 1 Front Street East

or call 416.368.6161 x 1 or book online at https://www.ticketmaster.ca/event/100056B7E690656E 

EARLY BIRD DISCOUNT!
Awards Show & After-Party
$40 for the 40th
Offer expires Tuesday, June 11, 5:00pm

Regular Tickets (Awards Show & After-Party): $90.00 (+HST & Ticketmaster fees)

Student, Senior, Artsworker Tickets (Awards Show & After-Party): $70 (+HST & Ticketmaster fees)

Pre-Show VIP Reception Tickets (includes Awards Show & After-Party): $190
(email Scott Dermody at scottd@tapa.ca to reserve)

After-Party ONLY Tickets (purchase at the door beginning 10:30pm): $20

For information visit http://tapa.ca
Twitter: @doraawards   #DoraAwards #DORAS2019 #theatreTO

“Building on Your Work Over Time, Creating from a Place of Rage & How We Move Forward” In Conversation with Playwright Erin Shields & Director Andrea Donaldson on BEAUTIFUL MAN

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Originally performed as part of the SummerWorks Festival in 2015, Beautiful Man, written by Erin Shields, is taking on a new life at Factory Theatre, on stage now until May 26th. This feminist comedy, directed by Shield’s long-time collaborator Andrea Donaldson, promises big laughs, but also, provocation – with a narrative presented through the female gaze.

We spoke with Shields and Donaldson about this new iteration of their show, reworking the original script, creating from a place of rage, and what they find most inspiring these days.


Megan Robinson: The show was originally presented in 2015 at SummerWorks, so what was it that prompted this remount?

Andrea Donaldson: After the SummerWorks show we were really excited to find a partner to give it another life. There were some revisions that we were dreaming of, so we reached out to Nina (Lee Aquino – Artistic Director of Factory Theatre) and she was very enthusiastic. She threw it in her season and was quite generous to say, you know, “we want to be involved in the further development of it.” So they gave us a workshop last May, and now here were are. We have a brand new cast, and half of our design team is new, which is really exciting.

Erin Shields: And from a content point of view – 2015 was a very different time than right now in terms of how we’re talking about gender, gender equity, and about representation in film, television and theatre. 2015 was before #metoo. I don’t know that we’re post #metoo, but it’s been interesting for me revisiting the script in terms of that. In thinking, “okay, where are we now in this conversation?” And trying to address that with the revisions.

Ashley Botting, Jesse LaVercombe, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: Why build on this show, as opposed to tackling these questions with a whole new show? Is this show speaking both to 2015 and now?

ES: Everything I make is feminist, so I’m always engaging in my writing with “where are we now and what’s going on and what’s changed.” I don’t want to give too many spoilers away but I wrote a whole other section that is another movement in terms of this play. Part of it was editing and going back in, and some of it is completely new.

AD: And if I can add on, it feels like the impetus to write more came, yes, from responding to the world that changed in four years but in our SummerWorks production we were learning a lot dramaturgically about the piece. In that brief study with an audience, Erin and I were scrutinizing it and looking where energetically it wanted to shift and asking the question of “what next”.

MR: I guess my question is about knowing when a show is done, if there is always inspiration to go further? Was that a question you asked or was it always clear that there was more to say?

ES: When we did the first show it was very fast and furious. I wrote the show in two or three days, and then it was on stage within five months. I think even going in we knew there would be more. It felt like a workshop in front of an audience. It’s a comedy, so trying to figure that out without an audience is really challenging. We knew it wasn’t a final draft. Often when I write a play, it takes anywhere between three and six years for it to get to the stage so you often have cycles of dramaturgy and cycles of workshops or readings. Even the early days, when Andrea and I worked together on Montparnasse, we did it three times. So I think we’ve always understood that for theatre, because it’s a live art, you need that feedback from other people… certainly I do… before I’m willing to say “this is it”. How do you know it’s ever done? That’s a good question.

AD: I feel like this play is now done. I have no question around that.

Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Jesse LaVercombe, Sofia Rodriguez-byJoseph Michael Photography 107

Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Jesse LaVercombe, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: I read that the show was inspired by a sense of rage. Did working on the show allow you to process that rage, and did it make a difference for you? If so, how?

ES: Totally. Many of my plays start from a place of rage. From going, “that’s not fair” or “why is it like this?” I’ve often talked about how this came out of having a residue left in my body every time I watched popular television. I’d come away being like, “Oh, this Game of Thrones show is so great!” Then I’d be like, “Ew, all those women were sexually assaulted and I just watched it cuddling with my husband on the couch.” There’s something so weird about that. Doing this play has absolutely been cathartic. And I often heard the audience members say that after our SummerWorks production too, because it goes pretty far. There’s something I hope that is illuminating about it. I think we already know a lot of these things, but we don’t think deeply about them. We’re just so used to seeing women being raped on television, so we don’t think, “Oh my God, how many raped women have I seen in the last two months?” It’s ridiculous!

MR: What’s on your mind these days? Anything new that’s inspiring you?

ES: I’m thinking about how we move forward now. Especially with this wonderful moment we all experienced a year and a half ago, where we saw all of these giants being toppled in every industry. It felt like a real moment of triumph. It feels like, now, those massive figures have fallen and there are these gaps everywhere. And we’re looking around and thinking, what work do we still have to do, and what world do we all want to live in together? Those are very big questions. I think personally that’s where I’m at, and that’s what I’m working through with my work. And even on subjects of the play – we talked about Game of Thrones so much, and I remember seeing the first few episodes and it was all raping and fucking all the time, and really gratuitous violence against women. And in watching it now, watching this season, it’s so interesting to see how the women are treated has shifted. Even in this massive show, the female characters are super strong – the hero of the penultimate episode is an eighteen-year-old girl. When has that happened? Probably never, except in some young adult literature. But this is the most popular mainstream thing and that is who the hero is. It made me think. It made me wonder if there is change on the horizon.

Ashley Botting, Jesse LaVercombe, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: What is a traditionally male role you want to see a woman play? Since your whole thing is flipping gender roles.

AD: How do I say this… I’m curious to see what are the capabilities of the female roles that aren’t still in reference to a patriarchal perspective. So not just switcheroos. It makes me think of when I directed Romeo and Juliet and I conflated the roles of the Capulets, the mom and dad, into a single mom, and found in that combination the depth of emotional range that was not afforded to Mama Capulet. And seeing that embodied, seeing her move through that, felt like the most satisfying role, in a way, because we don’t get to see a mom who is violent to her daughter and who has really high standards for her daughter. It’s not only seeing women in particular roles, but seeing unexpected ways of embodying those roles that, especially in TV and film, are rarely afforded to women.

MR: What was a theatrical experience that made you feel really deeply seen as a female-identifying creator?

ES: I think when I see work done by my peers and my contemporaries I get really excited. I haven’t seen these plays, but I’m excited by the ambition in the work Susanna Fournier is creating. It’s imaginative, it’s poetic, it’s destructive. It makes me excited that she has been supported and celebrated for this massive endeavour. I want more of that.

AD: What’s coming for me is Rose Napoli’s Lo or Dear Mr. Wells, which Vivien Endicott-Douglas performed in. I find that there’s this great attention that playwrights are bringing to writing younger characters who are having full and complex experiences and kind of damning the critics around what that singular portrayal might be reduced down to. As a young person coming into my own sexual life, I never felt that experience was represented or understood or handled with any kind of care or imagination or sophistication.

Jesse LaVercombe, Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez-by Joseph Michael Photography 326

Jesse LaVercombe, Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofia Rodriguez. Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

MR: What’s an experience you have had recently that you could fit into your play Beautiful Man?

ES: Everyday! There are so many. The other day I went to meet a friend in a bar just down the street. And both myself and my friend are in our early 40s and the bartender kept calling us girls. And I just felt my rage. He must have been like 26 or 27. I thought to myself, “Should I say something and be like, we’re women?” He was so insistent on making me into a child. It’s a part of the popular language, but I had to ask myself if I wanted to say something and get something going with this dude or did I just want to ignore it and laugh about it with my friend afterward. Which is what I did.

AD: But it cost something.

ES: Yeah.

AD: A couple nights ago after rehearsal, Ashley (Botting), who’s in the cast, called an Uber. We were going to drop her off first and then me. And when the Uber showed up it was a guy, but there was a guy in the front seat as well. So Ashley was like, “Oh there’s someone in here, we didn’t call Uber pool, what’s up?” And the guy goes, “Yeah, he’s my bodyguard.” And Ashley and I were both doing that quiet awkward decision-making together. But we decided, no, we’re fine, we’re capable. So we get into the car and Ashley tries to make a joke about it, that doesn’t land. And we feel like there’s something sketchy going on. You know, we’re in a car with two dudes we don’t know, based on the trust of an app. So we’re kind of trying to perform normality. And then at a certain point, I was just like, “Ash, I’m going to get out with you.” It was just the whole thing of physical safety and trying to be cool, trying to not be scared, like, “I’m fine, I’m tough, I’m capable… people aren’t bad.” But then ultimately going, actually, what if people are bad, you know? That was my most recent physical safety thing.

MR: Right, but also them not helping you feel safe. There’s a world in which you would feel better if those people were conscious of how you feel and did the work to help you out.

AD: Right. So I either have to swallow that or perform that. There’s a cost to that.


Beautiful Man

Who:
A Factory Theatre Production
Written by Erin Shields
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
Starring Ashley Botting, Mayko Nguyen, Sofía Rodríguez, Jesse LaVercombe
Set Design by Gillian Gallow
Costume Design by Ming Wong
Lighting Design by Jason Hand
Music and Sound Design by Richard Feren

What:
A scathing satire about the portrayal of women in film and television, three friends take us on a whirlwind tour of an upside-down world where women are the hunters, not the hunted; the heroes, not the victims; the subjects, not the objects, all while gazing at the semi-nude Beautiful Man. You’ll never watch your favourite binge-worthy shows the same way again.

Where:
Factory Theatre – Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street.
Toronto

When:
May 4-26

Tickets: 
factorytheatre.ca

“Shaking Up Your Process, Trusting Your Instincts & Falling in Love with Theatre Again” In Conversation with writer Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman on GUARDED GIRLS at Tarragon

Interview by Megan Robinson.

When I got on the phone with playwright Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman this week to discuss her newest show, Guarded Girls, premiering at Tarragon Theatre in association with Green Light Arts, I couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. I first came across her writing when I was in grade eleven and was performing in a student production of the play The End of Pretending, which she wrote alongside her friend Emily Sugerman. It was a show that deeply affected my friends and I at the time because it so accurately depicted the emotional lives of girls our age. Needless to say, I have been a long-time fan of Charlotte’s work, so I was thrilled at this opportunity to chat with her about her writing process.

Charlotte’s newest play, Guarded Girls is a complex four-part story that brings the audience into the world of the women’s prison system in Canada. It’s a subject matter that can be hard to look at because it asks a lot of questions about our society and what we consider to be good vs bad behaviour. But despite the challenging nature of the material, she hopes the audience will keep a level of openness as they engage with it.

That Charlotte started writing a show four years ago focusing on the cycles that are hard to break between mothers and daughters is especially interesting now that she is pregnant with her first child. With opening night coinciding so closely with her due date, she says that she’s relieved to be able to now switch her focus to childbirth.

I spoke with Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman about the real-life inspiration for the show, her intensive research process, and the unique experience she had writing Guarded Girls.


MR: How did the idea come about for the show?

CCC: So Matt White, who is the Artistic Director of Green Light Arts, a Kitchener Company, was very affected by Ashley Smith’s death, a 19-year-old who died at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener. She killed herself but it was ruled a homicide because the guards did not intervene. Instead, they watched her as she died. She originally went to a juvenile detention centre because she threw crab apples at a postman, and then she sort of just ended up in the system, unable to get out. It’s a really tragic story and it brought to the news a lot of talk about solitary confinement and segregation and what that does psychologically to inmates. So Matt was interested in that and brought it to me, asking if I wanted to do something with it. I told him that I didn’t know a lot about the prison system but I’d look at it. Then, as I was working on the piece, I learned about a lot more women and so many more things that made me want to branch off more. It was originally supposed to be a one-woman show but, as I kept researching, it made me want to write a fuller piece, instead of just focusing on one particular real person.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: Tell me about the research and interviewing experience. Did you focus mostly on Grand Valley?

CCC: I did a lot of research. I met with some people who had been at Grand Valley, as well as people who had been in the system. It’s really hard to get into the prison. They are sort of starting to open it up again… They’ll go through these phases where they’ll let people in and be like, “Everything is good…” and then there will be ten years where they don’t anyone in. Or at least that certainly happened at Grand Valley. I did a lot of research of women who’d been in prison all over Canada, but Grand Valley was, in a sense, what I was particularly looking at.

MR: Were the people you interviewed surprised to be asked these questions and have someone interested in them? How did they respond?

CCC: I think so. What I got from the people I talked to was a desire to be seen and that they really did want this play to go on. There was a lot of enthusiasm for this story, for sharing what it’s like to be in prison, in Canada, as a woman. There is very little known about it. And people don’t tend to care, you know? They just think, “Well, you did something wrong…” but it’s more complicated. A lot has to do with mental health. A lot has to do with addiction. That’s mostly why people are in jail. There aren’t that many violent crimes. So if you’re looking into all of this, knowing that, it’s very staggering. Like, what are we doing to these very vulnerable people in our society? So I did get a sense that people wanted these messages out.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: It feels like a very timely show.

CCC: These have been issues for a long time but now it’s in the news. I’m hoping people will want to think more about this. One of the problems is you create these rules but there’s no one really enforcing them in the prisons. They can be, for lack of a better term, like the wild west. They can be lawless in a way, which is so crazy because the whole reason anyone is there is because they’ve broken the law.

MR: How did you find the narrative for the show? You decided it wasn’t going to be a one woman show, so how did the story start to come to you as it is now?

CCC: It was a very mysterious writing process. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t plot it out at all. I did a ton ton TON of research and then I kind of put it away and was like, “Now I’m going to go into my imagination”. Of course it was fed by all of the things I had heard and seen and read, but I started to just listen to these two characters I was exploring. Eventually, they sort of just started to reveal themselves. But it’s a very strange structure to a play – there’s four parts and they’re sort of their own segments, so you’re learning the story not necessarily in the right order. Originally I figured I’d have to change it and make it more linear but then I realized that’s just what it wanted to be. Also, I realized that the real thing I was writing about was the cycle between a mother and a daughter and what is passed on, and how hard it is to break these cycles, and how hard it is to change oneself, and then how hard it is for a system to change, or a country to change, or an institution to change. But in the play it really came down to the question: How do we not pass on the bad things that we’ve inherited? I was just really struck by how the women I met were similar to me, and because of the privilege I’ve been afforded in my life and the circumstance I was born into, I was able to avoid a lot of things that would have been pretty much impossible to avoid had it gone another way. The kinds of struggles I’ve had in my life with grief and addiction have just fallen on the right side of the line, where it so easily could have not.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: That’s so interesting because originally I wondered how you managed to not get overwhelmed with getting into the heads of these people and these experiences. I mean research and interviews help, but the other things you’ve written have been really personal, right? So it’s interesting to learn about your process of balancing all of that.

CCC: I wanted to write something really emotionally true, that was really grounded in another person’s lived experience, but very emotionally true to me, as well. Really, I just loved all the characters so much. My job is just to love them, fully, and I really did. I think, for me, this is what’s been so unique about this writing process. My husband teased me because I’d wake up every morning and I’d be so excited to write, because I just wanted to spend time with these girls, these women. And I was like, “I just have to hear more from them…” (laughs) It was really weird, I don’t usually feel like that.

MR: That sounds amazing.

CCC: It’s the only time in my life that has ever happened. It hasn’t happened since. I hope I can bring that into my other writing… just a little more mystery.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: What did a typical day of work look like when you were writing?

CCC: I’d wake up pretty early and then just go write for the whole morning. Then I would stop and edit in the afternoon. Pretty boring, but I liked writing this so much that I was so excited, even with the rewrites. Usually I’d say my writing process is a lot of procrastination until I have to do it. Not that this one wasn’t frustrating and hard and painful and all those things that writing often is. I was very affected by the research, and I was very emotional while writing this play, but I wanted to be in it.

MR: Was the main reason because you loved these characters? What was it that pulled you in?

CCC: Yeah, I really loved them. Also, I felt really free by the structure being so unusual.

At the very beginning, I had nothing written when I met with Virgilia (Griffith) and Vivian (Endicott-Douglas). I just talked to them, then the next week I brought in pages for them. It started as a two-hander, then it grew to a three-hander, then it grew to four people. I was writing for them too, so it was an incredible experience in that way. It was an interesting process of people coming in right when I needed them.

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

MR: Do you have any writing rules or strong beliefs that you come back to when you’re struggling or having a hard time?

CCC: I think what’s really hard about writing is making choices. There are just so many choices available and I think something I really try to do when I receive other people’s art is, instead of thinking if I like it or didn’t like it, I ask myself why the writer made the choice that they made. Because when you’re writing you realize you don’t make any choices just on a whim, you really think about why you’re doing something and you spend a lot of time with what you’re creating and the choices you’ve made in it. I’ve been really interested in looking at art more in that way.

And I do this with myself, as well… trusting the choices I make. This can be really hard too when sharing your art with people while you’re in process, because they have so many opinions of what could happen. Something that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that anything could happen but it’s really about looking at what you’ve chosen to happen and sticking to that when you’re instincts are telling you to. I think you have those instincts for a reason so often, so really trying to listen to them.

MR: How do you maintain your relationship with theatre and writing? Do you have to work at it or does it come naturally? Because it’s been a long relationship for you, right?

CCC: When I first started writing I was a teenager and I had grown up watching theatre and being in the theatre. So when my mum died, I was like, “I have to write a play.” Which was kind of an insane thing to do, and not what you have to do. But it was very instinctual, so I wrote a play, and then I did it and that was sort of like, “now I’m a writer”… but it didn’t necessarily feel like this choice that I made. There was a lot of conversation at the time around whether writing was therapy. You know, I don’t believe it is therapeutic to write your story. Therapy is therapy, and it was life-changing for me. But I certainly learned how to write through this traumatic experience. Then when I went to theatre school for writing, that was really great. I learned to write things that were not at all personal to me, and learned how to sharpen my voice. That was really important because it was at that point that I felt like I was actually choosing to be a writer.

But then I did sort of take some time away from theatre, partly because I had come from it at such a young age. What I love when I talk to theatre people is always the story of “why theatre?” and I always felt sort of cheap in my response. I was just sort of like, “that’s what was around me”. It didn’t feel like the beauty of those stories I’ve heard about other people discovering theatre. But I think it was actually through writing a lot and writing for film and tv and kind of moving away from theatre that made me miss it. I was able to discover my own love of it and why I actually want to write for this art form. It was like falling in love again.

Guarded Girls

Guarded Girls, Tarragon Theatre

Who:
Company: Tarragon Theatre in association with Green Light Arts
Playwright: Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman
Director: Richard Rose
Cast: Columpa Bobb, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Virgilia Griffith & Michaela Washburn

What:
A new play from Governor General’s Literary Award nominee.

The psychological destruction brought on by solitary confinement is at the heart of this wrenching and powerful new play. When 19-year-old Sid is transferred to a new prison, she finds friendship with Britt — but also forms a complicated relationship with the guard who seems to be watching their every move. Soon, it’s the guard who’s being watched, and this playful, theatrical, mysterious work heads toward its shocking conclusion.

Where:
Tarragon Theatre Extraspace
30 Bridgman Ave, Toronto

When:
March 26 – May 5, 2019

Tickets:
tarragontheatre.com

Artist Profile: Susanna Fournier

Interview by Hallie Seline.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

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

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

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


Rapid Fire Questions:

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

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

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

Last book you read? Heartbreaker by local powerhouse Claudia Dey

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

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

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

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

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

Finish these sentences:

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

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

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

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


THE EMPIRE Trilogy by Susanna Fournier

Connect: 
Susanna Fournier
t: @SusannaFournier

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

“Trauma isolates you. Theatre connects you.” In Conversation with Playwright Ellie Moon on WHAT I CALL HER and Using Art To Heal

Interview by Megan Robinson.

In our discussion regarding her newest play, What I Call Her, premiering November 16-December 8 at Crow’s Theatre, Ellie Moon is careful yet generous and endearingly enthusiastic. From her temporary home in Montreal, where she’s playing the role of Emmy in A Doll’s House, Part 2 at the Segal, Moon speaks fondly of her creative team back in Toronto, who are working hard to bring this comedy (or at least, very funny play) to life.

Her second production, following last year’s Asking For It, this new play offers theatre-goers the chance to see the young playwright’s work in a more traditional form. The show takes a look at two sisters who are struggling with different perspectives of the same story. It’s a complicated exploration of how we heal from trauma in an era in which our identities are worked out online, and so much more. After writing the first draft in one sitting (basically a miracle for a writer), What I Call Her was quickly programmed at Crow’s Theatre by Artistic Director Chris Abraham, who recently tweeted “Read this play last year, and it got right under my skin.”

We spoke with Moon about life after Asking For It, what it’s like being mentored by Chris Abraham and using art to heal.


Megan Robinson: Can you talk a little about the experience you had after Asking For It? Maybe about how you were feeling and where you were at as an artist?

Ellie Moon: Post-Asking For It, I had the biggest vulnerability hangover of my life, which was difficult, because I went right back into auditioning but didn’t really want anyone to look at me (laughs). It was a lot that I asked of myself in that project. You’re just getting to know yourself in your early 20s, and playing myself in a play, asking very vulnerable questions, it was a big deal – and I wasn’t relaxed about it. If I had known that once the show closed, much of the world would be standing up and saying “I had this sexual experience and I’m not sure what it meant, whether it was consensual, what my power was or is”, if I’d know Albert (Schultz) would no longer be running Soulpepper a few months later, I would have slept much better during the rehearsal process, but these things were completely inconceivable to me while I rehearsed this play. So, I was cripplingly terrified. The terror did relieve significantly after #MeToo broke during the run of the show, but the vulnerability, of course, persisted, and I was pretty exhausted by it all when it closed. I felt like spending a lot of time alone after the play closed, which I did, and which allowed me to write this play.

MR: This show is about healing from trauma. I’m curious to know more about what role your art plays in helping you heal or grow as a person?

EM: Theatre has connected me with the most empathetic, accepting people in my life, so that’s a big part of it. It allows me to discuss and test behaviour, to learn about and consider its impact on people, without needing to try it out (that’s not to say that I haven’t tested out some good and bad behaviour in my life anyway, though). Most powerfully, maybe, I’ve written multiple “unlikable” characters that I’ve watched artists embrace and see good in that I couldn’t see when I wrote them – and that is very healing. It’s also enabled me to connect with others with similar life experiences, or different life experiences, because at the end of the day, the experience of all lives is similar enough to unite us. Trauma isolates you, theatre connects you.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: What was the process like of writing What I Call Her? How did it come about?

EM: This is super strange and wild and hasn’t happened for me before and I don’t expect for this to happen again…But I sat down and started writing without a plan, and 7 or 8 hours later I a) moved after all that time b) ate peanut butter toast and c) read it back and went “Woah, I really like this”. It had a few development workshops this year, but the changes have been very delicate – Director Sarah Kitz contributed an important stage direction, and I added and took away some text, but not much. I don’t think the original draft would look too different from the production draft, were you to look at them side-by-side. This is not at all how I work, usually, not even a bit. It was hard to speak about this play at first, because it was so born of my subconscious. I needed to work backwards to learn how to represent it to the community and I did this by sharing it with trusted people, and discussing with them what exactly it is.

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Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: How did Crow’s get involved?

EM: I gave Chris Abraham (Crow’s Artistic Director) the play to read, just as a friend. I was looking for feedback but absolutely not expecting him to program it. He read it and said “I might have space for this at Crow’s in the season” and then, “I have space for this in the season” and suggested Sarah Kitz as director. Sarah and I actually met for coffee a year and a half ago, after we had first “met” in the comments section of your incredibly brave piece about your experiences at George Brown, which brought about meaningful change – bravo! I understood Sarah to be a deeply ethical, smart person and I was like, “yes” this is a great fit.

MR: Chris (Abraham) has acted as a mentor to you, and I’m wondering if you can share some of the vital beliefs about playwriting or theatre in general that you’ve received from him and how they’ve shaped your work?

EM: Really too many things to name – I’m incredibly grateful to Chris. Most of the language I have to speak about plays comes from Chris and that’s pretty major. I wrote Asking For It while assistant directing a production The Watershed and that was the first time I heard the word “dialectic” (and I embarrassed myself by thinking he was saying dialect at first and being like “no I think the accents are good” (laughs)). On that project and others we’ve worked on or discussed, Chris talks a lot about moving a dialectic (or argument) through action, and that idea was at the front of my mind when writing What I Call Her (as well as Asking For It, and my new plays for the Tarragon). Chris is very gifted with taking a complex idea and simplifying or distilling it, it’s partially why he is such a good director and teacher. A practice I learned from him, and that he passed on from someone else, is that I try to name in just one short phrase what my play is about – what the central argument is – as early as possible in the process of writing. Chris is also wonderfully open-minded and accepting (I mean, for example, there was zero judgement when I thought dialectic meant accents…except from me, of myself) and I am working to make that more and more part of my practice as an artist and my life in general.

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Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: Tell me about working with director Sarah Kitz!

EM: It has been absurdly wonderful to have Sarah as a collaborator on this play. From the very first conversation I had with her about the show, I was gob-smacked by how completely and fully on the same page we were. I have never had this experience before, and I don’t consider it necessary to always see eye to eye with a collaborator, but it’s just a fact that she has never said one word about the play that hasn’t made me go, “yup, exactly”. Sarah has an enormous heart to balance out her enormous brain. As well as being able to navigate every aspect of the arguments the characters make in this play, and being able to hear the lines exactly as I do, and crack the language like a code, she has always had an understanding of how this play would exist in bodies and in space. Sarah also has a stunning capacity to hold both of the conflicting truths this play presents, side by side, with enormous empathy for and acceptance of both, and an acceptance of the mystery of where these meet. As an actor herself, she is also an incredibly gifted coach and director of other actors. That has been so essential here because these roles demand an absurd amount of these actors, and I know the cast would back me up when I say that Sarah is a gift to them as their guide.

Speaking of, I can’t believe how hard we lucked out with the cast – their qualities are bang on for these parts and they are extremely gifted and can manage this highly wordy, challenging text with ease. This was something I was nervous about – this combination of the inherent qualities I saw the actors and characters as needing to have, coupled with the need for actors who are extremely proficient with text, and especially because the play needs such young actors. Your energy changes a lot year by year between 20 and 30, these are like dog years, and if these roles feel “played down” by older actors, the play is so delicate that it could tip it into satire. A big question in the play is one of responsibility and the entrance into adulthood. At what point in someone’s life do they go from behaving in a way that can be reasonably understood as being in response to their given environment, to them being active in the world, not reactive, and responsible for their conduct? It’s probably not 18, right? You’re still a kid at 18. It’s probably somewhere more between 20 and 25. So the casting, and casting as close to the right ages of these characters as possible, was very important to me. I was fortunate that Sarah agreed wholeheartedly with this, and that she adores and understands actors as she does. And of course, these fine actors (Charlie Gould, Ellie Ellwand and Michael Ayres) deserve a shout out in here, too. They have had to learn a lot of very precise, very, very wordy text and hold all that alongside the massive emotional stakes of the show. And they are also hilarious.

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Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: If you were to liken this show to something else, what would it be?

EM: I realize this is a very ballsy thing to say about my own work, to compare it to one of the great plays of the past century, but I think it’s kind of a funny, female, millennial Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

MR: What is at the heart of this show for you?

EM: How much we need validation to heal, and how difficult that is in a world where other people exist, and not just to be in service to you and your narrative, but have their own experiences of things that need validating, too. How people who are traumatized often behave in ways that destroy their credibility and make that validation very difficult to receive. How responsibility is needed for healing, but is so often arrived at through blame.

MR: What makes you want to write? What sort of things get you inspired?

EM: I’m not sure what makes me want (or more accurately, need) to write and I want to respect the mystery of that and not think too hard about it. I’m very grateful that I can do this and that I’ve had the opportunity to share so much of my writing at this point in my life. Right now, I’m definitely interested in morality and responsibility and power, but I can feel this shifting, and I want to invite it to shift.

MR: Asking For It was documentary theatre, where this one has more of a classic play structure. Do you have a preference of one form over the other?

EM: I don’t have a preference with regards to form. I want to have a diverse writing practice. I definitely notice that people give you a lot more credit as a playwright when it’s a fiction play and not docu-theatre, though, which is too bad and misguided. Docu-theatre requires an incredible amount of work, responsibility and authorship. People have a lot of bias against it as a form. They assume it’s dry, didactic, condescending. It doesn’t need to be and I have been fortunate to see so much docu-theatre that isn’t.

MR: Since being a playwright-in-residence, how has your craft evolved?

MR: I’m the Bulmash-Siegal playwright-in-residence at Tarragon and in this capacity, I’ve worked a lot this past year (and will this coming year) with Richard Rose, Jason Sherman and Joanna Falck – awesome, sharp, wise people and artists. As well as adding significantly to the language I have for speaking about plays, this residency has allowed me the space to develop plays (two of them!) over time, to take in and incorporate very precise feedback (or feedback that’s imprecise, but just as potent and useful). I’m usually one to rush to immediately apply notes, but this arrangement allows me to really hear a note, and maybe not understand immediately exactly how I will apply it, but to not be afraid of that, to sit with it and come back to it. This opportunity to not have to figure it out right away is invaluable, especially because, as I said before, your 20s feel like dog years and I feel like a different person than, like, a week ago.

MR: What’s your favourite line?

EM: ”I’m an adult: I have a reusable water bottle in my bag.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz


What I Call Her

Who:
In Association in partnership with Crow’s Theatre
CAST:
Michael Ayres – Kyle
Ellie Ellwand – Ruby
Charlie Gould – Kate
CREATIVE:
Ellie Moon – Playwright
Sarah Kitz – Director
Annie Clarke – Producer
Suzie Balogh – Production Manager
Ashley Ireland – Stage Manager
Imogen Wilson – Lighting Designer
Ali Berkok – Composer & Sound Designer

What:
Trauma, truth, freedom & the internet age
The estranged mother of 25-year old Kate is on her death-bed. A Facebook post becomes the subject of heated debate. Then, a knock on the door. A play about gaps in how people perceive and understand the world they live in, female generational rage, and the loneliness of holding onto one’s own truth.

Where:
Crow’s Theatre
345 Carlaw Ave.
Toronto

When:
Nov. 16-Dec. 8

Tickets:
crowstheatre.com

“Getting Personal, Breaking the Taboo & Being Relentless for What You Love” In Conversation with Playwright Hannah Moscovitch on SECRET LIFE OF A MOTHER at the Theatre Centre

Interview by Megan Robinson.

In her new show, Secret Life of A Mother, on now until November 11th at the Theatre Centre, Hannah Moscovitch has chosen to wrestle with the theme of motherhood by way of the personal.

As a writer whose previous work has always kept her at a critical distance, this confessional form of storytelling is a new challenge for Moscovitch, who is managing the discomfort by trusting in her technical writing skills and her knowledge of how narrative works.

Like her show, Moscovitch is both very funny and surprisingly honest throughout our conversation. And despite her insistence that she does not enjoy exposure, we managed to get her talking about her relentless creative process, the crucible of motherhood and, eventually, what makes her a good writer.

Written by Moscovitch, Maev Beaty, Ann-Marie Kerr and co-created with Marinda De Beer, Secret Life of A Mother is the result of six years of development. It’s a show that peels back the layers on two women who are friends, mothers, and artists, as they reach for empowerment by sharing and shaping their own story.


Megan Robinson: So I read that you’ve always admired auto fiction and confessional writing and I do too, Sheila Heti and her book Motherhood, for example. I’m wondering, if you love that form so much, why did you avoid doing it for so long?

Hannah Moscovitch: There’s tons of it out there that I’m really drawn to, because I think the truth has a light around it. And I don’t know what else to say about that. There’s something about the truth and the willingness to be that vulnerable and to put yourself on stage that I haven’t been willing to do…Because I’m reserved and I don’t like to be exposed. Personality-wise I’m not a good match with auto fiction. So this show hasn’t been easy. You know, there’s real shit going on in the world that’s hard and compared to that it’s fine… I mean, I made the choice to do it and I have a team of people who are doing it with me, who I trust so much and that makes all the difference in the ability to do it.

MR: Do you think it’s because it’s a harder fall from this type of work?

HM: Maybe. You know what, it probably is, but I don’t think that’s even a thing for me. I actually just don’t like the feeling of exposure. I just don’t like it. It’s really simple.

Hilariously enough, someone once said to me about switching from playwriting to TV writing, “You have to know in TV writing the author doesn’t get acclaim like playwrights do.” And I was like, “That’s fine, I’m not worried about that.” I’m just not into exposure. Not because I’m humble or awesome but because I don’t like the feeling of people knowing all this shit about me. Partly because I got so bullied in high school and after that I was like, ‘I just want to be normal and I don’t want anyone to look at me again and I want to be anonymous.’ My whole effort going forward from high school was to just blend in as much as possible.

MR: You’re definitely not doing that.

HM: I fully failed. I think this is definitely pushing me. But I wanted to be pushed, I wanted to do it.

I think it was me, actually, I sent in an email. I wrote everyone on the team a message, I was like, ‘What about if I write my own story and Maev plays me and then I can talk about Maev and her experience in that because we’re such close friends and she’ll have to talk about herself in the third person on stage. What about that as a form for the show?’ And once I said it we were all like, ‘Oh that’s it.’ But at that moment I hadn’t calculated what that would mean.

MR: I know you’re saying it’s scary and you don’t like the feeling of sharing, but was there something you enjoyed or valued from writing about yourself?

(long silence)

HM: Yeah, I think there is a kind of empowerment for sure. There’s definitely empowerment. And there’s perspective you gain from it. It has advantages, I think…

MR: You’re still figuring it out?

HM: Yeah. I think there were moments writing it where I realized that when something is taboo, if you just simply say what happened to you, it can break through the taboo because it’s that way because it’s just something that’s not spoken about. So all you have to do is say, “This is what happened to me over the course of my two miscarriages” and that is not a thing we’ve heard about a lot because there’s a tendency to hide when you’ve had a miscarriage. But the truth is, the number of women who have had miscarriages is extraordinary. Women have them constantly. I think something like 1 in 4 women have them. So it affects huge numbers of people and yet it’s not spoken about. So just to represent that experience does feel empowering. Because you’re like, ‘I’m going to say this shit and that’s going to be crazy. All I have to do is just tell you what I went through.’

MR: Is it weird to you that it is still a taboo?

HM: Yeah, but do you know why? I don’t know why miscarriage in particular is taboo. Other than that it’s ‘gross women stuff’…

MR: I think maybe it’s because it hurts? It’s not being talked about because it’s hard. Even if it is normal it doesn’t make it not hard. Even depression is taboo, because it’s hard to talk about. Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt…

HM: Like grief… It’s common for people, if they’ve had a miscarriage and that’s why they stay off work, to not say why. And I want to be clear I did the same. So when I had miscarriages I didn’t tell people why I was not coming to work. But people will often say it’s because they have cancer or a dental surgery or have been in a car accident, but they won’t say miscarriage and I can’t exactly say why. Other than that it is in that zone of gross grief-filled women stuff that people don’t want to hear about.

MR: I think it can also be us not knowing how to support people who’ve been through it, right? So you don’t say it cause no one knows how to hold it for you?

HM: No one knows what to do once you’ve said it…

MR: And now that’s the audience with this piece.

HM: Totally.

MR: I read that you have lots of ideas, more ideas than you have time for. What does it look like when you have an idea? Is it a character? Is it a question you want to answer? Does it always come about the same way?

HM: I think maybe because I’ve worked in a bunch of different mediums I’ve been forced out of my comfort zones pretty intensely. Like, I’ve worked in TV and opera and radio quite a bit as well as playwriting, and every one of those mediums has a different way in and honestly I think it’s just made me technically practiced of having various ways in. I would say before I did all that fucking around with what medium I was going to work in, I would definitely say it was through character. Through character I got everything. I’d hear a voice in my head that was saying words, that was the character, and from that voice I’d find theme. I’d find plot and narrative structure within that character’s voice. And now I think I can go any direction. I can go from theme, I can go from plot, and I can go from character.

But I think mostly people like to pick one. And I think in theatre mostly people pick character because theatre is a great medium for the interpersonal.

MR: Is there something that exists in everything you’ve written, something integral to your work?

HM: Yeah I think there are a few in varying degrees depending on the piece I’m working on… I’d say I really like extremes. I like seeing characters up against extreme circumstances that shortcut them to themselves. So I like war and genocide. I like to put people through crucibles, which they have to transform extremely because everything about who they are is called into question.

MR: Is motherhood that for you? Is it a sort of war?

HM: I’d say it’s a crucible through which everything about you is called into question. That is, I think, why people write about it or care about it. I’d say at the center of the experience of motherhood, for many women, is a crucible. If you’ve ever had any mental or physical problems, whatever thoughts you thought you conquered long ago, when you become a mother it will all come back. So any demons you haven’t faced, they’re all going to come for you, right when you become a mother. And that’s good because you’ll be forced to face things about yourself and you will learn who you are as you question your identity. So yeah, it’s like war in that way, but only in that way. In every other way it’s not.

MR: Oh god.

HM: I’d say I’ve always been interested in womanhood. That’s the other thing I go after pretty consistently in my work. Womanhood and a counter-narrative of womanhood.

MR: What is a counter-narrative of womanhood?

HM: I think anything that is authentically true about being a woman is a counter-narrative because there’s just so little out there.

MR: Do you think the bar is too low?

HM: It’s awfully low right now. Sometimes I really feel like that. I’m like, isn’t it fun for the bar to be this low…

MR: I guess there are some advantages to it…

HM: I mean it’s gross, maybe, but as a writer on the inside, I’m like ‘I can just fucking tell stories about women and it’s like, ‘holy fuck I’ve never heard that! It’s totally unconventional!’’

There’s an entire part of our culture that we’re mashing down that we were not talking about and now people are talking about it and it feels original, but seriously, it’s been happening all along… like nothing’s a surprise. It feels like the whole content of our brains is suddenly media worthy.

MR: Does that make you want to write more confessional and personal stuff?

HM: Um, yeah, I mean, within the right circumstances for sure. I do have one other project. One thing I have learned that you do need within your own material of your own life is for there to be a narrative structure. So I think that’s the limit for me. I mean I wouldn’t write about anything in my own life that didn’t have a narrative structure in it. I really do admire it when people do it, so I have to remember that when I feel all those fucking feelings while I’m doing it.

MR: Do you write things that you like?

HM: If I’m really honest, part of why I wanted to write things was because I didn’t like some of what I saw and I thought I’d like to write something that I would like. In a weird way, those pieces of mine that I feel are failures, it’s because I didn’t like it when I saw it. So I do have those. It really matters to me that I like my work and I really freak out when I don’t like my work.

MR: How do you deal with that?

HM: You know… honestly… I flip out. I drink and don’t sleep. It’s bad news. I don’t do that anymore. Now I have a son and I can’t freak out in quite the same way. But I tend to freak out and go all the way down and be in grief about it because it sucks to put something on stage that you don’t like and that you feel is contributing to the medium not being good, especially if you love the medium right? It does take me going all the way down and then it’s like, ‘Okay good. What did I do wrong? What lead to this experience of me not liking it’ and then I can track back.

MR: What do you think makes you a good writer?

HM: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that in my life…

MR: What would your best friend say?

HM: That’s easier somehow. Well, I think I’m relentless. Like, I’m fucking relentless. And I think for some people working with me, that’s going to be hard because I will not let go. But I like that quality about myself, honestly. I’m rigorous and I’m relentless. I’ll go to the wall for a 5 percent improvement. I’ll do 95 percent of the work for a 5 percent improvement, for sure. I’m in that weird category of relentless insane people who can’t let shit go.

I don’t know why I’m admitting this, maybe I’m in an admitting mood, but I think I will ultimately break everything to make a thing good. I’ll be accommodating and kind and respectful of other people’s processes and then I’ll hit previews and if it’s not communicating the way I want I will say all the things that I think aren’t working. I don’t lose my temper or anything, I don’t want it to sound like I’m a horrible person, but we’ll hit previews and I’ll say it all. And I’ll spend every minute fighting for those things until the last second the piece goes up. I hit a point where I’ll break relationships before I break the play.

MR: Is that something you would give as a piece of advice for someone else to do?

HM: I mean I think in general one of the things I’ve learned from being that way is that it’s much better to work with collaborators who are happy to hear you. One of the things I’ve learned is that, for me, I need to work with collaborators that are relentless like I am and who want to make it better and who don’t have defensiveness around making it better. And at the cost of, say, having brought in a sound designer and then realizing the show has no sound in it, and having to cut the entire sound design of a designer who just spent months working on it. So you know, it just takes a particular set of people who want to work with you. And who are willing to break their own ideas to make it better.

MR: Right.

HM: I can’t believe you asked me why I’m a good writer!

MR: Do you have your own answer, not from a friend?

HM: You know what, it’s probably just hard to answer because it’s hard to answer without talking about myself positively, which I should be able to do but I can’t for some reason.

I am good at writing. I think I’m technically good at it.

MR: Have you always been technically good at it?

HM: No.

MR: Why were you a good writer when you first started?

HM: I think that there were little fragments of observations. I think I was a natural at dialogue. I always was good at dialogue. I couldn’t structure for shit. I didn’t know plot or theme at all. Couldn’t do that. I could do character and dialogue. And if you’re a playwright, dialogue is kind of important. So I got lucky with some ability. And then I had to learn everything else.

And I put up some shows that were really bad. I put up those shows that were bad, and then I fucking waitressed and sulked for a couple of years.

MR: Did you write while you were waitressing and sulking?

HM: Yeah, but nothing good. I wrote a lot of bad things at the beginning of my career. I put some of them up at SummerWorks. There’s nothing like sitting in an audience where the audience is like, ‘This is bad,’ to make you go, either, ‘I have to work to do this better’ or ‘I’m never doing this again’. And then I spent a lot of my time trying to work out how to be a playwright by reading hundreds of plays. And I read some of them like 30 times, trying to take them apart.

MR: Which ones did you read 30 times?

HM: The Little Years by John Mighton. I read Pinter. All the Canadians, honestly: Judith Thompson, Daniel MacIvor, Wajdi Mouawad, David French… I just read them over and over. Caryl Churchill, David Mamet, Chekhov, Wilde. So I think I was relentless. And then I worked out something about how I could do it. And it’s still hard, but I think that’s the answer honestly, why I’m good at it, cause I really worked hard…

MR: Why would one work so hard at something like that? Because you loved it?

HM: I really loved it. That’s true. That’s at least part of it. I remember buying new plays and being like, “Fuck yeah.”

MR: Did you smell them?!

HM: I smelled them for sure. I was like, ‘Fuck, I get to read another Caryl Churchill, that’s the best shit.’ I was a real nerd. I think also failure has a tendency to set me on fire. Maybe not for the best reasons. And once you’ve told me I can’t do a thing, the level of self-loathing is so intense that I have to succeed at it.

Secret Life of a Mother

Who:
Written by Hannah Moscovitch with Maev Beaty and Ann-Marie Kerr
Co-created with Marinda de Beer
Core Creator and Director: Ann-Marie Kerr
Core Creator and Playwright: Hannah Moscovitch
Core Creator and Actor: Maev Beaty
Core Creator, Producer, and Stage Manager: Marinda de Beer
Scenic Design by Camellia Koo
Lighting Design by Leigh Ann Vardy
Associate Lighting Design by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Projection by Cameron Davis
Sound Design by Debashis Sinha
Costume Design by Erika Connor
Props Builder: Haley Reap
Vocal Coach: Fides Krucker
Creative Producer for The Theatre Centre: Aislinn Rose

What:
A playwright writes an exposé of modern motherhood: a confessional piece about her own darkly funny and taboo-breaking truths. One of her oldest friends, an actress, tells this story, and through it, her own motherhood secrets start to surface.

This isn’t mothers as the butts of jokes, or the villains, or the perfect angels of the house. Secret Life of a Mother reveals what two women are actually experiencing: the raw and transcendent and untold secrets of pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, and mothering. This is motherhood for the 21st century: hallucinatory, gothic, and empowered.

Where:
The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. West

When:
October 20-November 11, 2018

Tickets:
theatrecentre.org

Production Photography of Maev Beaty by Kyle Purcell

“On Taking Time, Listening & Why We Stretch” In Conversation with Director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster on THE WOLVES by Sarah DeLappe

Interview by Megan Robinson.

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, director of The Wolves, onstage now at Crow’s Theatre with The Howland Company, speaks of her process with calm and steady confidence. When it comes to directing, her approach is to give the process lots of time and to listen carefully to all collaborators. Though still a relatively new director, Courtney gives the impression in her thoughtful discussion of already having years of experience under her belt.

This is the Toronto premiere of The Wolves, a show that follows a competitive U-17 girls soccer team throughout six different games. It’s a physically demanding show, that at times required that the cast practice their soccer drills and ball handling in parks and soccer domes rather than the rehearsal hall. When it comes to unraveling the creative process, Courtney has only good things to say about her collaborators, “We have a wonderful cast and a real sense of camaraderie, and I take joy and pride in having played a part in creating that.”

We spoke with Courtney about taking one’s time with the work, and the power of theatre (and specifically The Wolves) in finding relief from the outside world.

Some days you just need a good story to escape into, right?


MR: In the marketing for this show I get the impression of teamwork and I see photos of these strong young female characters, but what is the main theme that you are personally interested in exploring as a director?

CCL: I’ve been thinking a lot about why we stretch. At the beginning of the show, they’re in a stretch circle, warming up before the game. In the show, we meet them every Saturday over six different games, and over the course of those six weeks, a lot of different things happen to these girls. They are at their most certain and confident at the beginning; they know who they are, they know what’s going to happen, they know they are the best team, and they’re all stretching together. And of course, by the end of the show, lots of different things have happened.

So, that we stretch to become flexible is what I’ve been thinking about. It’s a subtle sort of arc but hopefully by the end of the play we understand that they are learning to become yielding without losing. They are dealing with change in a way that empowers them and allows them to keep moving forward. And I just think that’s a lesson that we would all benefit from.

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

MR: I’m curious about telling these stories about groups of women specifically, because I feel like this year in theatre I’ve seen a lot more of that, not to say it’s a trend-

CCL: It’s definitely in the collective consciousness. I see it most predominantly with Shakespeare and how the various Shakespeare producers tend to produce the same plays at the same time.

MR: Are we reaching for some sort of solution or?

CCL: I just think it’s really exciting.

With our cast, the feeling in our room for me has been exceptional because when I graduated theatre school some time ago my experience was always of being one of the only young women in a show. Because there’s only one role for an ingenue, for example. It was so rare to be in a room with a lot of other women and non-binary actors of a similar age. And then adding to that, I always used to joke about just disappearing when I turned thirty-five, because it just seemed like at that time, not that long ago, there would just be no options for me. So it’s very exciting and gratifying to see that shift happening, because it does feel like, ‘Oh wow, I might have work in the future.’

And despite the depressing news cycle we’ve been in recently, it is exciting and reassuring to know that collectively we’re all recognizing that there’s been a real dearth of female stories and we’re doing our best to remedy that.

And in The Wolves you’re seeing young women talk about all kinds of things, in their outside lives they’re all kinds of different people, but the one thing is they’re really good at soccer. So we’re showing them in their position of strength and in their safe place.

I feel like that’s a shift too. We’re depicting different groups of women – they’re not mean, catty, high school stereotypes.

They are there to do one thing and that’s play soccer really well and we get a glimpse of their lives through this lens.

Photo of THE WOLVES by Dahlia Katz

MR: Does this feel like a big deal, like a turning point in your directing career?

CCL: Oh huge. It really exemplifies what The Howland Company is for, which is to give opportunities to our members that they wouldn’t otherwise get. Ruth Goodwin is the lead producer on this project and right from day one she was like, ‘Well you’re directing this’. And at various points I said things like, ‘Well, am I really qualified to direct this?’. But she’s been so encouraging. We have to stretch ourselves and we have to learn. I went into the company very specifically wanting to find opportunities to direct more. Everyone went in with slightly different goals.

It’s hard to get those directing opportunities when you don’t have a lot of experience because people need to see your work to hire you. So yes, it’s absolutely a big deal and a wonderful learning experience for me.

Heath V. Salazar & Ruth Goodwin in THE WOLVES. Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

MR: What made you want to direct? Where does that spark come from?

CCL: In university I had to learn to tone down my desire to act for everyone else, and also when I entered the professional acting world. But that desire to kind of control everything never really went away.

And then just practically speaking I think a career in the Canadian theatre world is all the more fulfilling the more you diversify. There’s no real clear stairway to success in Canadian theatre and so if you have access to a lot of different income paths and a lot of different creative outlets, I think it’s just more satisfying. Directing is just another way to create opportunities for myself and get to be an artist.

MR: What do you like about directing? What does it feel like when it’s going really well?

CCL: I love collaboration. I love being the refiner in collaboration, the person who hears a bunch of ideas from a bunch of different people and is able to say ‘Okay, this part of this idea is great, and this part of this idea is great, and let’s try it all together like this’. I like to be the filter in a way. And I just love creating a room where everybody feels seen and heard and safe and thus, creative.

Which isn’t to say that theatre is always fun. When we were in tech week, and we’re in the theatre for 12 hours, there’s just a point where fun is not a possibility anymore.

Brittany Kay and Heath V. Salazar in THE WOLVES. Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: You said you get a lot of joy in helping them be creative, and finding their own joy. How do you do that? What does that look like?

CCL: A lot of listening. Making sure we take the time, when we can, everyday to go round, check in with everybody and make sure that there isn’t stuff that is slipping through the cracks. Making sure the actors feel that they can speak up. And for me that can be a challenge. Because the challenge as a director is that there is no time, right? It’s always a rush to get it done. So on this process I’ve been really trying to deliberately slow myself down and check in and listen.

MR: I’m interested in how big a part collaboration plays in your process.

CCL: It’s huge! I feel there is a shift from the tradition of the singular director or singular genius-auteur-director, though there is certainly a place for that, into more collaborative processes in the theatre. The “no man is an island” approach to making theatre is something I’m very interested in and tend to enjoy more.

THE WOLVES. Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: Outside of theatre, what do you find inspires you? What do you draw from? Maybe from what’s been going on in the news, to keep it specific.

CCL: I don’t know if I can go there. I hide from my own incredible sense of cynicism. I can’t tell you what an escape The Wolves has actually been, with so many things going on politically in the world, that I can spend the week in a room of remarkable women and non-binary creators, with all kinds of experiences and thoughts and voices. A theatre actually sometimes feels like such a relief and escape. I have a lot of pessimism about the future of humanity!! So going and playing in the dark and telling stories to each other just feels like the best and safest thing to do… But what inspires me are brave, change-makers and storytellers. And people who listen.

MR: Can you give me a name of anyone right now that comes to mind?

CCL: Alan Dilworth, the current acting artistic director at Soulpepper. I’ve just watched him over the course of a difficult year do an enormous amount of listening. Not just listening but really receiving. He’s not just show-acting with his listening, he’s really interested. And I find his quiet patience very remarkable and inspiring.

MR: Sounds like a good leader to draw from as you step into doing this more and more..

CCL: Definitely.

THE WOLVES. Photo by Dahlia Katz

MR: Lastly, who is the best soccer player?

CCL: Oh, you are putting me in such a dangerous position. I don’t know if I can give you names. But I will say that there is a difference between being an excellent soccer player and being an excellent soccer actor. So, when people come and see the show I would say the people who are doing the best soccer acting may not be the best soccer players and vice versa.

MR: That’s a fair answer

CCL: Sometimes the challenge is more about restraining enthusiasm and strength in the show. You know, we’re in a theatre.

(All Photos Featured by Dahlia Katz)

The Wolves

Who:
The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre Production
Written by Sarah DeLappe
Directed by Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
Starring: Rachel Cairns, Aisha Evelyna, Ruth Goodwin, Annelise Hawrylak, Ula Jurecka, Brittany Kay, Heath V. Salazar, Hallie Seline, Amaka Umeh, Robyn Stevan
Set & Lighting Design by Jareth Li
Sound Design & Composition by Deanna H. Choi
Costume Design & Movement Coaching by Sarah Doucet
Stage Manager – Sam Hale
Production Manager – Courtney Pyke
Assistant Director – Rebecca Gibian
Apprentice Stage Manager – Hannah MacMillan
Assistant Lighting Designer – Scarlett Larry
Assistant Sound Designer – Cosette Pin

What:
Left quad. Right quad. Lunge. A girls indoor soccer team warms up. From the safety of their stretch circle, nine girls navigate and question the world around them with the determination of warriors. This provocative play, nominated for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, captures the profound beauty of adolescence and paints a portrait of  nuanced young women navigating the game, their lives and a growing understanding of a complicated world.

Where:
Crow’s Theatre
345 Carlaw Ave.
Toronto

When:
On stage now until October 27th
Monday-Saturday at 8pm
Matinees:
Wednesdays at 1:30
Thursday at 1pm
Saturday at 2pm

Tickets:
crowstheatre.com