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

Interview by Jared Bishop.

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

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

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

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

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

JB: How did you make the story your own?

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

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

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

JB: What inspires you to travel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BikeFace 

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

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

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

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

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

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

 

 

 

 

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

Interview by Hallie Seline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BB: I concur.

Janelle Hanna and Chris Baker in ROBERT

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

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

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

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

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

Janelle Hanna and Chris Baker in ROBERT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

“From Glam Rocker, to MMA, to TV Personality, to the 2018 Toronto Fringe with ENJOY THE HOSTILITIES” 5 Questions with Robin Black

Interview by Hallie Seline.

We were excited to get the opportunity to chat with Robin Black, who has had quite the journey going from glam rocker, to mixed martial artist, to television personality, and who now adds Toronto Fringe storyteller to his list of titles. We discussed his greatest challenges both mentally and physically, his personal philosophy that kept him moving forward, and why he decided to share his story with the Toronto Fringe this summer in Enjoy the Hostilities.

HS: What an incredible journey you have already had at this point in your life! Is there a singular philosophy that you carried with you to each of your very different ventures?

Robin Black: I have a goal of getting better at something every day. I think I started thinking this way as a Martial Artist at a young age, and I apply that thinking to everything. I can get a little better at my job, a little better at editing my art, a little better at being a good husband, a little better at yoga.

This ‘growth mindset’, the idea that wherever I apply effort I will grow, has been a part of the way I’ve approached every venture in my life. It’s also a theme in our show Enjoy the Hostilities.

HS: What was harder on your body and mind: being a rock star or being a fighter?

RB: Traveling and playing rock music in a C-List Glam Rock band was definitely more damaging to my body, my relationships and my physical and mental health.

Fighting is very, very tough mentally and physically but it is rooted in healthy things; training your body and mind, getting better every day, overcoming obstacles, striving to achieve goals.

Rock and roll can be viewed, performed and expressed this way too but we had a more grungy, drug-and-alcohol-fueled interpretation of being rock performers.

Both are tough. Both damaged my body. Both were mentally stressful and challenging. Both probably took years off of my life.

HS: What experience has offered your greatest challenge and if you were faced with it again, would you deal with it in the same way?

RB: Failure is hard, and I fail a lot.

When you fail in a fight you’re so naked and alone, both metaphorically and literally. It is a very pure form of failure. It’s incredibly painful.

I would not change a thing, these setbacks are what creates your strength and resilience and ability to be stronger in your future.

What you end up wishing you could change is the PREPARATION before the failure, but you cannot, the time has passed.

So the lesson you end up learning from failure has to be lessons about preparation so that, next time, you will increase your chance of success.

HS: If you could now try any other profession at this moment, without limitation, what would it be and why?

RB: I spend my days studying Martial Arts and sharing what I find with an audience. Sometimes I tell stories. I commentate combat for people watching on television. I love what I do. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

But if something pops up that I’d rather be doing? I’ll pursue it immediately and deploy all of the passion and persistence necessary to make it happen. That’s what I always do and I’m sure I will do it again.

HS: What made you want to turn your life’s journey into a Fringe show at this time in your life?

RB: I’m not rich, I’m not famous, but I have honestly lived a life of passion and adventure.

In the process, I’ve learned some pretty cool things that I really wanted to share with people.

I also really wanted to work on something with Graham [Isador, co-creator & director] and this was so fun to build and it’s been so fun to express.

It just all came together so beautifully and I’m just so stoked for people to see it at the Fringe.

Enjoy the Hostilities

Who:
Company: Pressgang Theatre
Playwright/Creator: Robin Black and Graham Isador
Performed by Robin Black
Directed by Graham Isador

What:
Have you ever woken up in the middle of a cage fight? Have you ever overdosed backstage in a concert hall? Have you ever tried to out-drink a two time world Sumo champion? Robin Black has. It’s kind of been his job. In Enjoy The Hostilities, Robin Black (TSN, MUCHMUSIC) uses humour, storytelling, and punch drunk philosophy to share his journey from glam rocker, to mixed martial artist, to television personality. Co-written by Graham Isador (VICE, Soulpepper Playwright Unit), the show offers audiences advice on how to make the most out of almost making it.

Where:
The Bovine
542 Queen Street West
Toronto
Ontario
M5V 2B5

When:
4th July – 6:00pm
5th July – 6:00pm
8th July – 6:00pm
9th July – 6:00pm
10th July – 6:00pm
11th July – 6:00pm
12th July – 6:00pm
15th July – 6:00pm

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

Connect:
t: @robinblackmma
ig: @robinblackmma

“Working with Youth, Audience Participation & The Extraordinary Things in Life” Eliza Martin and Neil Silcox on HARVEY & THE EXTRAORDINARY at the 2018 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Bailey Green.

We sat down with theatre creators Eliza Martin and Neil Silcox to discuss the upcoming site-specific Fringe show Harvey & the Extraordinary, written and performed by Eliza and directed by Neil. Harvey and the Extraordinary explores the joy and heartbreak of childhood from the perspective of an 8-year-old girl named Mimi. We spoke about working with youth, audience participation and the extraordinary things in life.

BG: How did you started working together?

Eliza Martin: I saw Neil in a production of King Lear at Hart House Theatre. He played Edgar, but more importantly I was captivated by his performance as Poor Tom.

Neil Silcox: I pretended to be a cat.

EM: I thought the cat was exemplary. Neil was friends with Jeremy Hutton, who was director of Toronto Youth Theatre at the time and then Neil came in as AD on Into the Woods, which I was in. And my first words to him were, “Did you play a cat in King Lear?”

NS: We worked together on that show, and then I directed Rent at TYT. And then I coached Eliza going into theatre school auditions, and then Eliza went to TDS [Theatre and Drama Studies] from whence I am also an alumnus. Thus a friendship was born! A year and a half ago, Eliza reached out to me with a new script she was developing, which became Harvey & the Extraordinary. Last summer we did a workshop of it over two days at the end of July in a garage that had belonged to my friends Jeff and Sarah. We thought this is perfect for the Fringe – it has a lot of give and take with the audience, it’s fun and the garage is about 200 metres from the Fringe patio, which doesn’t hurt.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: What did you learn from your workshop last summer?

EM: The piece has so much audience interaction, it’s such an integral part of the show, that we were interested in their experience and perspective on plot and characters. They had really great thoughts on storyline and what they might need clarified

NS: In some ways it’s a mystery piece in that the character of Mimi is an 8-year-old and is something of an unreliable narrator. So part of our job is to pick apart what she says to piece together the more objective reality. And some of the audience in the workshop didn’t do that and we were able to identify some ways to drop some clearer hints and guide the audience. As a director it was interesting to see the context of the show in that specific space because it is a garage in an alleyway in the heart of the city with the back door open. There was a kind of give and take with the city, which is really beautiful. And Mimi is a Torontonian kid so she has a rapport with the city. We had everything from cars driving by to people throwing firecrackers.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: What was it like interacting with an audience and where there any surprises that it brought?

EM: I was very surprised at how much I felt like they enjoyed participation and I feel a lot of that was because Mimi is a child. You feel like you get to support her in a lovely way and it makes them feel comfortable. Even though audience participation can sound scary, for myself included, there’s something really special about the relationship between Mimi, a child, and the audience, because you feel as though you are helping her with her performance. It cuts away some of the embarrassment that people sometimes experience in audience participation. That was really gratifying to discover and I look forward to continuing to explore that relationship

NS: It’s that quality that we always look for, that Mimi is always thrilled and excited by what she gets, so it’s accessible audience participation. No one ever gets anything wrong, no one is the butt of the joke. It’s a small show – we seat 19 people. In the workshop we had 2 performances and we filled it full of people quite close to us, professionally and personally. Those audiences had an understanding of who Eliza is and who I am and the work we do, so I’m really excited to have strangers in who will have fewer presumptions about who we are and the work we do.

BG: Eliza, what drew you to create a solo show?

EM: A solo show forces you into creative storytelling. What excited me is that I found I did my most creative work when I didn’t have other actors up there with me. I had to find ways to create for myself what was needed in the story. I began doing it because I wanted a way to control my own work and work on something without sort of waiting for the phone to ring. It seems like a simple answer but that’s what started it — as a way to have a project for myself. I fell in love with it as I did it and I fell in love with other people’s solo projects and being amazed at what they did and how they told their stories until it was a rabbit hole I fell down in an exciting way.

Photo Credit: Neil Silcox

BG: How did working with children and young people influence this show?

NS: I’ve been teaching theatre now for 20 years, and I started with people who are about Mimi’s age, 8 or so, at a YMCA in London when I didn’t know anything. Since then I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of kids […] Randy Pausch wrote a book called The Last Lecture, in it he talks about teaching football as an educational head fake. You tell young people that you’re teaching them to play football but you’re really teaching them a bunch of other things and my philosophy of teaching youth theatre was the same thing. When you first get into theatre, we think of it as a putting on of someone else. But the beauty in theatre is about showing who you are, it is a revelation of self. It’s very personal work that Eliza does in her writing and in her performance. In rehearsal, we talk about our histories and who we were as children and how our current anxieties are similar to those young people and in Mimi.

EM: I had that experience working with you as a youth, so that’s interesting. We think we’re putting something on, when really we’re giving ourselves the freedom to express. We do talk a lot about our own personal stories and one of the reasons I reached out to Neil was not only because he’s a wonderful friend and mentor, but I feel like we share this similar sense of humour that I was interested in writing and working with in the piece. And it’s Mimi’s humour, it’s this lovely humour that I find comes from communicating with children. I love the way they talk about their lives and the discoveries they make and every day is so new and interesting. I had a little boy say to me once, “The inside of my neck is itchy” and he meant his throat but I thought it was clever that he would describe it as that. There are a few Mimis in my life and I bring in their stories and reference them often.

BG: What are three extraordinary things currently giving you life?  

EM:

  1. Samosas.
  2. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer – I’m telling everyone and their mother to read it. It’s about the exchange between audience and performer. Palmer reflects on her time as a street performer and the gift of art and human connection.
  3. Fresh cut flowers.

NS:

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – a beautiful way to shift my perspective and extremely compelling writing. It’s a great example of an old axiom about writing where you write for something extremely specific and in that it will be accessible to everyone, and if you try to write something accessible to everyone, no one will care. So Ta-Nehisi, writing for his son, a young teenage Black man in America in 2015, that specificity made it clear where there was room for the reader.
  2. Parks and Recreation – I’m watching it for the first time and it is really good. There’s a purity to each character, like a bell tone.
  3. This War of Mine – It’s a video game that is not exactly fun, but extremely compelling. The game asks what you have to do as a civilian to survive war. It’s crushing, because you can’t survive without making some awful choices. I’m interested in how different mediums find emotions that you can’t find in other media, and a video game can find guilt in a way I don’t know if a book or movie can.(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Harvey and The Extraordinary

Who:
Written & Performed by Eliza Martin
Direction by Neil Silcox

What:
Harvey & The Extraordinary invites you to follow the trail of painted cardboard signs and join eight-year-old Mimi and her hamster Harvey for their professional and not-so-silent debut!
With big dreams to join the circus, Mimi sets out to put on her very own mime show (in her garage) for a special guest of honour. Harvey & The Extraordinary explores the joy and heartbreak of childhood and what it means to maybe, just maybe, be simply ordinary.

Where:
GARAGE ON COLLEGE PLACE
181 Markham Street
Toronto
ON
M6J 2G7

When:
4th July – 7:00pm
5th July – 7:00pm
6th July – 7:00pm
7th July – 7:00pm
8th July – 7:00pm*
10th July – 7:00pm
11th July – 7:00pm*
12th July – 7:00pm
13th July – 7:00pm
14th July – 7:00pm

*Relaxed Performance

Tickets:
fringetoronto.com

 

“Parenting, Marriage, Punctuation and Onions” In Conversation with Actor Jennifer Villaverde on MUSIC MUSIC LIFE DEATH MUSIC

Interview by Bailey Green.

We spoke with Jennifer Villaverde after she spent the morning in the wandelprobe for MUSIC MUSIC LIFE DEATH MUSIC: An Absurdical, written, directed and composed by Adam Seelig and produced by One Little Goat Theatre Company. Hearing the band for the first time is an exciting part of the process, and Villaverde noted the flourishes of each instrument and how percussion can so skillfully create a mood or feeling. MUSIC MUSIC LIFE DEATH MUSIC is about three generations of a family and their attempts to communicate and connect. Villaverde plays DD, who is both a mother and daughter within the show. We spoke about parenting, marriage, punctuation and onions.

Bailey Green: This is your first production with One Little Goat and Adam Seelig, can you tell me more about working with this company?

Jennifer Villaverde: The first week or so I spent a lot of time getting to know Adam as a director and his approach to the piece. And it’s also very personal, I had to be sensitive because it’s different when you’re working with someone who wrote the piece, you don’t want to screw up the line. Adam has been so patient with us. He’s a very different writer, he’s really a poet, and it’s reflected in how he structures the text on the page. Visually, it’s very different. His style of writing has no punctuation, he likes to leave it open to be interpreted on the page. So for me, to see a sentence without structure and fractured, it was a bit of a learning curve. I discovered that I rely so much on punctuation so for it to be so open was a bit jarring. Where is my next thought emotionally? It was a lot of discovering on our feet, but he [Adam] writes very musically, looking at the words on the page as not quite notes, but with rhythm.

Jennifer Villaverde

BG: Who is DD? Where is she in her life when we meet her?

JV: My character DD is like a lot of women who is married with a teenage child and everything is changing. Her child is no longer a baby, but she wants her child to be a baby because there’s a certain dependence in that. The easy love is slipping away and it’s a bit scary for her so she’s hanging on to what was, even though she can’t because aging happens, time happens… She has a great relationship with her husband. She’s very lucky, it’s a true partnership and they rely on reach other and look to each other for support. They’re a tag team. And DD is also every woman who has that tension with her mother. ‘I’m a grown up Mom, I make my own decisions Mom’ because she [DD] wants her child to be a baby forever but she feels the opposite with her mom [B is played by Theresa Tova].

BG: This is a show about a family. How do their dynamics relate to your own family and how do they differ?

JV: I love my mother very, very, very, much but you know, I remember growing up and telling her ‘I’m not 15 anymore’ and growing older and having to repeat that ‘I’m not 15 anymore, I’m 20, I’m 30, I have my own child,’ I have to remind her that I am an adult and it’s okay for her to relinquish that motherly control that she has developed. It helps that she doesn’t live in the city, but I will always be her firstborn child, her baby and we both have to be okay with that. And it’s okay if she wants to baby me and I can just let her sometimes.

As for how we differ… I don’t have a teenage son, I have a five-year old daughter. She’s five going on fifteen. Maybe I’m a bit scared of when that time is going to come. We were just talking about it the other day, my husband and I, [about] mourning the loss of a child to their teens and going to high school and knowing how mean people can be. And we have no idea how we’ll negotiate that as a family. We have a 5-year-old and we know how to do that. But we have no idea what the world is going to be like ten years from now, for her. Now, we have social media and it drives all our lives. So what is that social media going to be in 10 years?

BG: What has been the most challenging part of this process?

JV: Absorbing and memorizing has been really hard. There is a lot of repetition of words or actions. I can’t forget these repeated words, it’s very important that it is repeated a certain number of times. Mom and mom and mom after these lines. I put a lot of pressure on myself, so it’s purely technical and saying it out loud to get it. I can memorize much easier when I am standing and moving around, it’s in my body. I don’t know why, other than the stakes felt really high to have it perfect. But Adam was really really patient with us, and I wasn’t the only one having trouble, so we are all in this together, and it’s almost there!

BG: Can I ask about the onions in the production photo, or would that be giving away something special and secret in the show?

JV: The onions in our show… it’s not so much of a secret… it symbolizes family tradition and honouring family tradition. It’s not like something most people celebrate, like Halloween for example. This tradition is specific to this one family and they honour that. It’s the feeling when families have this weird little thing and then you realize other people don’t do that. We’re not allowed to forget where we came from.

BG: Do you have any shows or artists you would like to shout out?

JV: I just saw Ma Raineys Black Bottom and it was just spectacular. It was so moving and such an important show to produce and to see on a stage and to see as a person of colour and to see other people of colour up on stage. To see a new story and not the same old story. I just saw Fun Home and I loved it so much. I’m excited to see La Bête, really great people in that, people I love so much. Frame by Frame by Lepage and Côté, I’m so excited by that collaboration.

(Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Music Music Life Death Music: An Absurdical

Who:
Presented by One Little Goat
WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND COMPOSED BY
Adam Seelig

STARRING
Richard Harte (One Little Goat’s Antigone: Insurgency, Talking Masks, Ubu Mayor)
Theresa Tova (NOW Magazine Top Theatre Artist of 2017, Tough Jews, The Jazz Singer)
Jennifer Villaverde (Soulpepper’s Animal Farm, Dora Nominee for YPT’s Hana’s Suitcase)

AND INTRODUCING
Sierra Holder (Sheridan College, Class of 2018)

FEATURING LIVE MUSIC BY
Joshua Skye Engel (guitar)
Tyler Emond (bass)
Lynette Gillis (drums)
Adam Seelig (piano)

music director Tyler Emond
set & costume designer Jackie Chau
lighting designer Laird Macdonald
stage manager Laura Baxter
publicist Ashley Belmer
assistant producer Annie MacKay
executive producer Derrick Chua

What:
“Toronto’s enterprising One Little Goat” (New York Times) presents the world premiere of MUSIC MUSIC LIFE DEATH MUSIC an “absurdical” with live music exploring the unexpected dynamics between three generations of family: a grandmother, her daughter, son-in-law and teenage grandson.

Featuring a cast and artistic team of multi-Dora Award nominees/winners. From the company that brought you the acclaimed Ubu Mayor and The Charge of the Expormidable Moose.

Where:
Tarragon Theatre Extraspace
30 Bridgman Ave, Toronto

When:
May 25 – June 10, 2018
Tue-Sat 8pm | Sun 2:30pm

Tickets:
Adults $35 | Seniors $30 | Arts Workers $25 | Students $20
Sundays all tickets $20

To purchase, phone the Tarragon box office at 416-531-1827 (no service charge) or online at tickets.tarragontheatre.com

 

In Conversation with Emerging Directors Ty Sloane, Bryn Kennedy & Kevin McLachlan on the 2018 Paprika Festival Directors’ Lab

Interview by Bailey Green.

This month, the Paprika Festival heads into its 17th year as the Paprika Directors’ Lab enters its 3rd year. The Directors’ Lab provides the opportunity for emerging directors to work with an experienced mentor and this year, the three directors had multidisciplinary artist Clare Preuss as their mentor. We sat down with emerging directors Ty Sloane, Bryn Kennedy & Kevin McLachlan to learn more about their experience participating in the Lab. We spoke about finding your voice, discovering your process and drawing inspiration from your peers.

Bailey Green: What drew you to Paprika?

Bryn Kennedy: As a young artist there’s not a lot of opportunities to take on a leadership position and put on a full production, while still having the support of mentorship. This is a festival that is helping you though the stages… it’s a unique opportunity. Mentorship and leadership, so there’s support and a challenge in that.

Kevin McLachlan: Direction is something I have always loved doing, even informally. Even as a kid, I was always the one organizing our mock battles against invisible armies. I’m currently in my final year of Musical Theatre at Sheridan College, and a teacher reached out to tell us about the festival and, being at the peak of the age range, I thought that it wasn’t an opportunity to miss. The more I read about it, the more we’ve participated in the program, the more awareness I’m getting and the more I can plant roots in such a rich theatre community. People are genuinely interested in your success and well-being. It has been a really amazing experience.

Ty Sloane: It’s a really rich opportunity in that you’re with other young emerging artists, you’re with folks who are still learning and struggling. Directing terrifies me. A lot of mentors have been like ‘you should direct’ and I’m like ‘no no no’. But I’ve tried to approach this year as an artist to challenge myself and seek what may not feel comfortable, and [for me] that was directing. I love it.

Photo of Ty Sloane by Neil Silcox

BG: Can you tell us a bit about working with your mentor Clare Preuss?

KM: We got paired with Clare, and she kind of got one of the hardest jobs in the world. Not in helping us, but how do you help someone make art? There’s no easy recipe on how to create something. But she has shared her patience and understanding of the industry and her own process with such a clear passion for the work and has extended all sorts of tools she has.

TS: She calls them games. What’s the game we’re playing? What’s the game of the show? How do you adjust the game? And I love that because games sounds a lot easier and a lot more open and she’s really done a great job of providing ways for the three of us to learn from each other and from her, and to adapt whether it’s a game or an approach.

BK: She comes from a performance background and so do all three of us, and so a lot of her process that she has been reminding us about is making a rehearsal hall that feels comfortable and safe to do work in and how do you keep that going. It’s about setting the rules for the game, not in a way that limits anyone, but in a way for all of us to feel safe. She’s been really good about meeting us all where we are at.

Photo of Bryn Kennedy by Neil Silcox

BG: What kind of theatre do you want to create?

TS: I am obsessed with Theatre of the Absurd, and breaking the conventions of what it means to put on a production. For the work I want to do, I like to talk about the really intimate stuff. I myself am a queer, mixed-race, mixed-gendered person and I want to talk about those things and explore them and unpack them.

BK: I am really interested in work that lives in the emotional reality of the characters as opposed to the physical or literal world around them. How do we bring the inner experience to the outer world? I started directing because I wasn’t seeing the kinds of stories on stage that I wanted to see or wasn’t feeling like there were characters who represented the person that I am as a young woman and the friends that I have.

KM: I’m completing my fourth year at Sheridan Musical Theatre so for myself Musical Theatre was an accidental gateway. I was not the kid that knew every show and sang the score to them and I’m still often exposed for my lack of knowledge in the music theatre world. Like the Gene Kelly quote, ‘if all it takes for someone to laugh and smile is to sing and smile and do a dance, then I’m happy to be a song and dance man’. That’s a simple way and a somewhat privileged way to look at it but I have always loved to make people laugh. I’m also struck by the kinds of questions that don’t have answers.

Photo of Kevin McLachlan by Neil Silcox

BG: Tell us a bit about the pieces you have chosen to direct.

TS: My piece is called Witness of Obsession and Desire and asks what stops you as a lover from leaving a relationship. It’s told from the perspective of Quinn telling the lover, which is the audience, about their experience falling in love with two people at the same time and learning about their own sexuality and polyamory. [It’s about] what it means when you think that the stories about the people who you’re in love with is actually about you and your journey into loving yourself.

BK: I’m directing Vitals by Rosamund Small. As a paramedic Anna meets people on the worst day of their lives, every call she receives is an emergency, but when professional trauma starts to slide into personal tragedy, she finds herself fighting for her own life. It’s an exploration of mental health in the medical community and we have a kick-ass all female team.

KM: My piece is based on the questions of playing God and how can you make a ‘right choice’ in a decision where there isn’t one… My mother is a retired hospice worker. She was a hospice worker for 20 years and I was inspired by her experience with grief in a work setting and in her own personal life,  and how she had to make that decision with people about to continue or discontinue someone’s end of life care. I’ve written an original piece called Fragments that looks at, in such a situation, how can you decide whether or not someone should continue or discontinue living and what are the moments that we define ourselves?

BG: What have you learned from working with each other?

BK: From Ty and Kevin I have learned to live longer in the process part. I tend to jump straight to product, ‘let’s block this!’ And for me it’s checking boxes instead of sitting in this world and exploring it. When we did our training days and got to direct in front of each other, I was just so in awe of how they (Kevin and Ty) trust the process. I was able to see how the end result will be richer by having patience with yourself and the performers as you move through creating something together

KM: I feel I’ve learned applicable hands-on things but I’ve been so inspired by seeing Ty and Bryn take on work that is so deeply personal to them. To see anyone step up to something that challenges them is inspiring. They have both been so open with the place they’d like to arrive but they can turn to me and ask if I’m freaking out like they are. These are people I would happily work for or alongside in the future in any capacity but also these are people I would just hang out on the weekend with.

TS: In the last year, I have met a lot of directors and artistic directors but having worked with Koovy [Kevin] and Bryn, they bring a genuine honesty and it moves me and inspires me and makes me feel that I can be as honest with my collaborators. They bring such magic to the work that they do, they hold space for people for learning and for them to learn to in the process. Greatest directors group I have ever been a part of.

The Paprika Festival

What:
Paprika Festival is a youth-led professional performing arts organization. We run year round professional training and mentorship programs that culminate in a performing arts festival of new work by young artists.

—We generate opportunities for young artists to lead their own creative process with the support of their peers and professional mentors.

—We set the stage for young artists to have their voices heard in a setting that is supportive and also dependent on critical response.

—We ensure that young artists are well equipped to find employment in diverse cultural industries and to become our successors.

Where:
Native Earth’s Aki Studio, located in the Daniels Spectrum at 585 Dundas Street East, on the south side of Dundas, just east of Parliament Street.

When:
May 14 – 20
Full Schedule here.

Tickets:
paprikafestival.com/festival-2018/tickets/

“Being a Teenager, Accepting Our Past & Self-Producing” In Conversation with Thalia Kane and Tamara Almeida on THE ’94 CLUB

Interview by Megan Robinson.

We sat down with playwright/actor Thalia Gonzalez Kane and actor Tamara Almeida to discuss their current production of The ’94 Club, playing now until May 12th at the Tarragon Extraspace. Inspired by real events, this exciting new play takes a look into the lives of four teenage girls, as they face the realities of growing up in a small-town and struggle to come to terms with their sexuality.

The ’94 Club may focus on female stories (it passes the Bechdel test) and have an all-female cast and crew, but at the end of the day, the themes are inherently universal.

“It’s about friendship and love and heart and compassion,” Kane explains.

“And self-discovery,” Almeida adds.

Not only is this Kane’s playwriting debut, it’s also what she considers her coming out play, which gives us even more to love about this self-reflective story. Doing our best to avoid any spoilers, we discuss what it was like to be teenagers, how to accept our past, and the triumphs of self-producing.

Megan Robinson: In your press release, you talk about self-reflection and telling stories from our past to make for a better future. First off, can you tell me a challenge that you may have faced in portraying teenagers and getting into that mindset again?

Tamara Almeida: It sounds silly but I love Lana Del Ray, and there’s this one line that she says about innocence lost. I keep going back to that. That I don’t know better yet. The part of me that knows how to protect myself now would never do some of these things. So a big part of playing a teen is going back to a time when you live on impulse and have fewer boundaries because you don’t know better.

Thalia Gonzalez Kane: We know better now, but it’s hard going back to a time when you threw caution to the wind and, also, to not judge yourself for that. It’s a struggle that came with the writing as well; some scenes were too self-aware. The fact is, it’s very easy to blame young people for things they do wrong or to accuse them of being a slut or to accuse them of being promiscuous but you can’t because they are too young to understand what that means and what that is. They need to learn over time. I think getting over the judgment of our characters was a challenge.

TA: I think it’s interesting in the same way that when I’m 50, I’m going to look back at something I did in my twenties and be like, I would never do that thing now, you know?

MR: Or even last week… I know better.

TA: Yeah! Like I know now not to drink that much tequila. But you don’t know that before you know that. I think that is cool to explore – before we knew, what did we do? That’s what I keep trying to go back to.

TGK: And just avoiding playing too young.

TA: And they’re smarter than we give them credit for. At fifteen-years-old, you’re already cunning and sophisticated and manipulative.

Photo Credit: Angela Besharah

MR: Can we talk about the differences between relationships as teenagers versus as adults, and what you wanted to explore about these relationships in your writing?

TGK: The relationship between the girls in the show is so sweet and beautiful. I found in writing that female friendship at that age is so pure and I think we lose a lot of that as we grow older. It starts to become about what do you do and what do I do and how do we help each other? And you do have those friends, and I have them, where you love each other, and that’s all you have, and you don’t need anything else. But, as teens, the love is so strong. You would do anything for one of your best friends, and you don’t question it. I mean part of the reason the club really gets going is because they don’t want to let anyone down and not be part of something that one of the girls has suggested. The scene where the club gets created is so sweet. “We are going to do something new together!” And they’re going to do it together. And that’s the point.

TA: I think the love is so pure at that age and that it really just comes from impulses a bit more. Whereas my friendships today are because I really want them, you know they mean something. We are a little more cautious about who we keep in our lives.

TGK: You have to make time now. In high school, you have lunch time and classes, and there are so fewer responsibilities.

TA: I wonder if we didn’t have to pay bills and have these responsibilities if it would be the same. I don’t know.

Photo Credit: Angela Besharah

MR: You’re self-producing the show. Can you tell me why you decided to do it this way?

TGK: A lot of people suggested SummerWorks and Fringe, and I didn’t love the idea of that much of a loss of control – not being able to choose the venue or choose my time slot. I don’t know how to say it… I didn’t want to just be a part of something. It felt too important to me. Also, doing indie theatre, I’ve worked on so many shows for free and I did it gladly but I think that it is becoming a problem because it’s just so expected. So with this show, one of the things I really wanted to make sure of was that every artist was paid a weekly salary. I thought in order to do that, I could self-produce and control it.

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of experiences working with other theatres and learning from brilliant people so I was able to slowly figure out what works and what doesn’t and how to hire people and how to set up scheduling and stuff. It felt important as my first one to do it properly and suffer perhaps at times financially or mentally. But it feels very worth it.

MR: You said you’ve been lucky enough to do this because of all your experiences. Could you give three pieces of advice to someone out there who wants to put on a show that doesn’t have the same resources or experiences you’ve had?

TGK:
1. Ask.
People are so much more willing to talk than you realize. I’ve been able to foster relationships and valued friendships with people who I’ve just asked to have a coffee with and to pick their brain. Or just to ask them about themselves and their lives. From that I’ve been able to get so much experience. And with people reaching out to help. The amount of people who have offered to help me with this has been a bit surreal.

2. Commit yourself to fully doing it.
It’s terrifying but I wouldn’t have it any other way, because if this falls flat on its face and it’s a complete disaster, at least I’ll have put everything into it and I can feel really good and really proud of that.

3. Appreciate how lucky you are to do it.
We are so lucky to be in a city that supports indie theatre, and supports live theatre, and supports artists and young artists. It’s not out of the ordinary for someone to write a play and put it on.

MR: Tamara, when did you first read the script?

TA: Another cast member had conflicts and Thalia and I had met in a class so she sent it my way after it was complete and once the cast was set. I read it that night and messaged her back at 4 AM and was like “YES! I love it”. At first, it made me really uncomfortable.

MR: Can you unpack that for me?

TA: Yeah, high school is an interesting time. Some people love looking back… I didn’t. This just kind of struck a chord with the parts that I hadn’t uncovered again since leaving, the parts that are a little bit darker. Like who I was and the role I played in some of my friendships at that time, that maybe I haven’t wanted to be fully honest with even myself about. And it was interesting because the first time I read the script I thought it was a bit darker than what I was expecting. Then I read it again and I had a lot of compassion.

The biggest thing for me once I read it was asking: can I put myself aside and my ego aside and tell the truth about that girl? Because that girl exists.

MR: And that was hard because the girl reminded you of yourself?

TA: Yeah. I think… yeah. I mean all the girls do. The universality of Thalia’s writing is that all the girls are relatable. The reading was also kind of healing for me. To be able to go back and think about it and realize I’m not that person at all anymore. So let’s just open it up and really tell the truth and really go there. Let’s make sure these people feel uncomfortable.

Photo Credit: Angela Besharah

MR: Thalia, in writing it and now performing it, are you hoping for the audience to feel uncomfortable?

TGK: Yeah. I think it will cause people to reflect on themselves. One of my main goals is that I hope it will make people take a moment to look at how we treat others. And reconsider the next time they see a sixteen-year-old girl with a short skirt on and call her a slut, or say she’s asking for it. Because there is so much more to these people. In the play there are things you learn about the girls, and there are reasons that they act in certain ways and these are human reasons that we’ve all faced. There’s a big love story and that’s a universal love story. People can identify with those feelings of being so in love with someone who you have no idea what else to do about it except for proclaiming it.

But yes, people are going to feel uncomfortable when they see the show but it’s also healing in certain ways.

MR: And what is it exactly that will make them so uncomfortable?

TA: I think just looking at sexuality at such a young age. I think we don’t talk about it, other than sexualizing young women, we don’t talk about what that’s doing to them. The discovery of sexuality…

TGK: … and how misguided that is. No one tells them.

MR: Except your friends?

TA: Yeah, and then you rely on your experienced friend because you’re like, please tell me why that felt so good, what was that? And then, what happens if you have the wrong person leading the train, and that can derail…

TGK: In the show, each girl has their own thing that they have to confront. And it’s hard and what’s hard is that it’s the reality of a lot of people’s circumstances. There isn’t really an answer in the end, it’s just presenting the realities of our world that we don’t really look at.

TA: With this situation, you have some young girls who found themselves in trouble, which maybe could have been avoided if they were guided a little bit differently. And that’s accountability. Maybe we’re all complicit in what’s happening.

TGK: If the adults in their lives weren’t too scared to talk to them about what the realities of growing up are at that time, or when they’re curious, to talk to them and not just to sweep it under the rug.

THE ’94 CLUB

Who:
Written by: Thalia Gonzalez Kane
Cast: Tamara Almeida, Jeanie Calleja, Shaina Silver-Baird, Thalia Kane, Lily Scriven
Directed by: Monica Dottor

What:
After starting a dangerous game that rapidly spirals out of control, a group of teenage girls quickly begin to learn about the struggles that come with womanhood as they strive to come to terms with their own sexuality.

Based on true events, THE ’94 CLUB explores gender politics, sexuality, coming of age, queerness and the harsh realities of growing up in a small town. As our society grows into one of openness and understanding, it is important we hear these stories of oppression and pain. It is important we acknowledge our past and work to amend the future. Without self-reflection, we will not be able to better ourselves and our world.

“It’s just a game. I’ll tell you the rules and then we can play…”

When:
May 1st-May 12th
Tue – Sat 8pm, Sun 2:30pm

Where:
Tarragon Theatre Extraspace, 30 Bridgman Ave

Tickets:
$15 Previews, $22 Artsworker/Student, $30 Regular
tarragontheatre.com