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“Embracing Embarrassment, Renouncing Shame & Starring in Your Own Musical” In Conversation with Katherine Cullen & Britta Johnson on STUPIDHEAD! A Musical Comedy

Interview by Hallie Seline

Knowing that Stupidhead! A Musical Comedy was returning to the stage after loving it at the Summerworks Festival, I was excited to sit down with funny ladies Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson to chat all about it. We appropriately met in the Theatre Passe Muraille greenroom and spoke about how the piece has developed for this first professional production with TPM, Katherine’s inspiration to communicate her experience with dyslexia through her dream of being in a musical, and finding freedom in renouncing shame and owning where you’re at, epic life fails and all.

Hallie Seline: Tell me about the show and how it has developed from workshop to festival to first professional production.

Katherine Cullen: Stupidhead! is a sort of musical/standup comedy style/storytelling show about me growing up with dyslexia. I had this idea a couple of years ago and I started to write, let’s call them proto-songs when I was alone and bored and unemployed. And then videofag gave me the opportunity to do a workshop presentation of it, about three years ago now. So I went to Britta (Johnson), maybe a week before the workshop, (laughing) not even… and asked if she would help me with the song aspect of it – to help me add accompaniment. When we did that first workshop of it, we were exploring different ideas and forms.

When it came time to do the Summerworks Festival version, we really decided to make it more of a musical. The theme around that version was much more like… birthday party, piñata, musical, which is still very different from what it has grown to now.

Britta Johnson: The story of it now is that we’re trying to make Katherine’s dream of being in a musical come true so, you know, it has lighting, full songs and all of that. But I also think in the process of continuing to write and develop the songs, because that’s all I can speak to, we’ve tried to keep the essence of those early ones from the workshop in the fold of its current form. Where it isn’t necessarily about a perfect polished song, it’s about how to honestly step into each one, as herself and what song serves this character.

Photo of Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson by Michael Cooper.

KC: Yeah, this character, me, has no musical training and doesn’t know anything about singing, or pitch, or what makes a good song, or… anything. Anything I’ve picked up over the last few years has literally been because of working with Britta and forcing myself by saying, “I need to learn to hit that note!” So we put those parameters out there from the beginning and it allows the space to really fuck up and not hit the note, and know that it’s still going to be okay. I feel like I’m allowed to not be this polished musical theatre singer because that’s part of the conceit.

BJ: Yeah! I feel like part of the conceit is to joyfully and whole-heartedly step into doing something that you don’t feel you’re good at. That’s really important in this show.

HS: Which is so wonderful because we so rarely or just don’t do that. So often we feel like we have to wait to be perfect before we show it or do it.

KC: Exactly. I feel like this show has a kid-like mentality of being like “I don’t know? That looks fun! I will do that in front of people,” you know what I mean? It’s trying to get back to that place where you don’t second-guess yourself and you don’t self-edit and there isn’t that sort of judgmental voice being like “Oh, no. No. No. That’s ridiculous. Don’t do that.” It’s more like “That sounds like a great idea! I will try it.” (laughing) You know?

BJ: As someone who gets to watch it over and over again, it really looks like Katherine as a kid playing pretend in her room. The songs go everywhere from a full three-and-a-half-minute-long, emotional, perfectly rhymed song, to what I picture as her as a kid looking in the mirror and playing pretend. There’s room for all of it.

KC: Yeah, it’s like if this show had a spirit animal right now it’s that little girl in that viral video who wobbles into the room for her birthday party. She’s just having a hippity-hoppity day. Because, why not?

I mean, there are darker themes that are in the show that are being probed now in a way that we didn’t really probe when we were at Summerworks. One of the songs expresses how you need darkness to have light and I think I’m exploring a child-like freedom of expression but also those kind of adult things in the world or in our lives that make us feel like we can’t or that beat us down, make us feel like we’re losers or “less than”. I think that there is a real conversation that the show is trying to have between those two and trying to kind of make peace with it.

And part of having a hippity-hoppity day is saying “I don’t need those chains. I don’t need to think of myself as a bad loser. I can just be a person because we’re all just people and we’re all fine here, so why not just have a jazzy time?”

BJ: And that the imperfection isn’t something to overcome and get to the other side of. That’s why hearing you sing these songs is so moving. If it’s just something that you invite into the picture, and own, you can have a hippity-hoppity day with the dark parts and the light parts and the parts where you fail and the parts where you make an ass of yourself and it’s still just as hippity-hoppity! (they laugh)

Photo of Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson by Michael Cooper.

HS: Amazing. You mentioned from the beginning you were writing songs for this and you have also said that you have never been in a musical. So what was the idea behind making this piece of yours a musical?

KC: One thing that I do really like about musicals is that there’s this element that you get to express something extra or express something that you can’t satisfy just in dialogue. There’s this component to the expression that is sort of special or heightened and that isn’t in the realistic way that we express ourselves on a day-to-day basis. I feel that there is something also about dyslexia that has that. My experience with it and how I experience the world has been so sort of topsey turvey and that has been very difficult for me to explain to people. To me, it just makes sense that then to be able to communicate that experience that I would need to burst into song.

Photo of Katherine Cullen by Michael Cooper.

HS: What is something that you hope the audience takes away or experiences while they are here?

KC: I think this play is so much about, you know, just not feeling alone in the parts of yourself that you feel don’t totally fit in. So I hope it speaks to people from that perspective, that they feel like their humanity is seen, you know? And that it’s cool to laugh at the shit that you do that’s silly as opposed to being ashamed of it.

I think the show is really about renouncing shame, in a lot of ways.

BJ: I just feel that if the audience has half as much fun as I have sitting at the piano, laughing and crying along with Katherine, I think that we will have done our job.

Photo of Katherine Cullen by Michael Cooper.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Food:
KC: Probably sushi.
BJ: Burritos, no question.

Favourite Musical:
KC: Jesus Christ Superstar
BJ: West Side Story.

Where do you get inspiration?
KC: Hmm… I think usually when I watch something really funny and it just makes me feel like there’s a lot of possibility in the world, when I see something super funny.

BJ: Probably the people around me. Watching people I love and respect… or don’t, you know (laughs) struggle with the same stuff I do.

KC: Watching people I hate…

BJ: Watching people I hate and delighting in their failure (laughing)

HS: That inspires me!

KC: Don’t edit that…

BJ: That’s the end of the interview. “Britta Johnson, who kind of glommed on to the interview, talks a lot about the people she hates…” (laughing)

The Best Advice You’ve Ever Gotten or That You’re Currently Living By:
KC: My dad always says “Have faith in the future” and I don’t totally know what that means but I kind of like it. Have faith in the future. Why not?

BJ: I don’t know… There’s never going to be a moment where you’re like, “Now I’ve got it”, so don’t wait for that moment. You’re still doing it even if that “moment” doesn’t come.

KC: Yeah, you’re always doing the best with what you’ve got at any given moment.

BJ: Also I think my sister once told me that my hair always looks better than I think it does… which has also really helped me lately… (laughing)

Describe Stupidhead! in 5-10 words… together:
KC: … It’s a… fun,
KC & BJ: hippity-hoppity day
BJ: that embraces the honest struggle of simply…
KC & BJ: beeeing aaa..llliiv?—huuuman!

HS: Brilliant. Thank you!

 STUPIDHEAD! A Musical Comedy

Who:
A Theatre Passe Muraille Production
Written & Performed by Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson
Original Music by Britta Johnson
Original Lyrics by Britta Johnson and Katherine Cullen
Directed & Dramaturged by Aaron Willis
Additional Dramaturgy by Andy McKim
Set & Costume Design by Anahita Dehbonehie
Lighting Design by Jennifer Lennon
Associate Producer: Colin Doyle

What:
Stupidhead! is a comedy musical about having dyslexia. It’s also about how being a human is really embarrassing… like all of the time. The winner of Best New Performance Text at the 2015 SummerWorks Festival, Stupidhead! returns to Theatre Passe Muraille’s Mainspace with brand new material and brand new songs.

In Stupidhead! performer/playwright Katherine Cullen shares true stories about her dyslexia, the way she interacts with the world, and the way the world interacts with her. Cullen’s script – directed by the Dora nominated Aaron Willis and accompanied by lyricist/musician Britta Johnson’s original songs – makes for a show that is painfully funny, brutally honest, and totally relatable for anyone who feels like they do things a bit different.

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
16 Ryerson Ave.
Toronto ON.

When:
March 16 – April 2, 2017

Tickets:
passemuraille.ca/stupidhead/

Connect:
w: passemuraille.ca/stupidhead/
t: #StupidheadTO
@KatinkaCullen
@johnsonbritta
fb: StupidheadMusical
TheatrePasseMuraille

 

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Artist Profile – Jesse LaVercombe of Love Me Forever Billy H. Tender at Videofag

Interview by Hallie Seline

HS: Who is Billy H. Tender?

JL: Billy is the popstar of his generation, and the play is about his infamous concert on January 31st, 2021. Before his unorthodox transformation into contemporary folk music, however, he collaborated regularly with producer DJ Jeh, and his production company, Front Row Fleek Freak, was sponsored by major players like Neosporin, Chef Boyardee, the State of Israel, Teen Physique Drinking Water, and Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Krunch. His mother, Stella Virginia Tender, was a Canadian stage actress until she accepted her position in the department of Post-Audience Theatre Theory and Semiotics Department at the University of Guelph. Billy’s younger brother, Hal, is fifteen and is his number one fan, A-1-since-day-1.

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HS: What was your inspiration to write this piece?

JL: Minaj’s “Anaconda” music video was pretty important, in all seriousness. As was DJ Khaled’s “Hold You Down”.

I spent seven months off the grid in 2014. I was living on this pirate ship that sailed the American East Coast performing opera and circus (it’s a long story…), but reintegrating into urban life was tough, and there’s this feeling of anxiety or loneliness I’d feel when I’d spend a couple of hours absorbed in Facebook… It reminded me of insomnia, and a lot of this play is trying to figure out and give some catharsis for that feeling.

I also wanted to write a show where I could wear a dress, but that element has been cut for a long time now.

HS: Tell me about working with director Adam Lazarus and dramaturg Guillermo Verdecchia.

JL: Both Adam and Guillermo are stupidly generous and infuriatingly smart, and they really like to make fun of each other.

HS: Can you speak about the role of music in the show?

JL: It’s big. Adrian Shepherd, in addition to building an already complicated sound design, has created basically a whole album of pop music, and it rocks.

HS: If your audience could listen to a song or a few before the show, what would it/they be?

JL: Check out our music videos on our Facebook page

“Hey Adrian, can you make, like, a Skrillex song?”

“Sure.”

And three days later he sent us Show Ü My Love”

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Short Answer Round:

HS: What music are you listening to right now?

JL: I’m giving a second listen to the audiobook So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. It’s great. He also narrates it and his voice is comforting and it’s about all my nervous system can handle right now.

HS: Favourite place in the city?

JL: Golden Patty in Kensington Market has been very good to me these past few weeks.

HS: Best advice you’ve ever gotten?

JL: “I don’t believe anything you’re saying. Act better” – Adam Lazarus

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Who:

Written and performed by Jesse LaVercombe

Directed by Adam Lazarus
Dramaturgy by Guillermo Verdecchia

Music by Jesse LaVercombe and Adrian Shepherd
Sound design by Adrian Shepherd
Design by Shannon Lea Doyle and Kelly Anderson
Cheography by Neeky Dalir
Stage Managed by Alexa Polenz
Producer: Curtis te Brinke

What: “I want to tell you about a day. January 31st, 2021. It wasn’t that long ago, I believe.

It was a salient day, at least in North America. I felt it on the Internet and in the weather and in my tummy. It was like the zeitgeist finally saw itself in the mirror, and it wasn’t sure whether to fight or flirt, so it kind of did both and just ate itself. It was a Sunday, clear skies but cold.”

– Hal Tender
(second son of Stella Virginia Tender [former Canadian stage actress, now research assistant in the U. of Guelph’s Post-Audience Theatre Theory and Semiotics Department], younger brother of the one, the only, Billy H. Tender) FB event here.

Where: Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave

Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2469896

When: Jan 5 — 12, 2016
Jan. 5th @ 8pm – SOLD OUT
Jan. 6th @ 8pm
Jan. 7th @ 8pm
Jan. 8th @ 8pm
Jan. 9th @ 2pm and 8pm
Jan. 10th @ 2pm and 8pm
Jan. 11 @ 8pm
Jan. 12 @ 8pm

Connect with us!

Spread the word: #billyhtender

Jesse LaVercombe – @jesselavercombe

Videofag – @Videofag

In the Greenroom – @intheGreenRoom_

Hallie Seline – @HallieSeline

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

Interview by Brittany Kay

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

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

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

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

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

BK: Is there a third one in your series?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallie Seline as Shannon in SHANNON 10:40

Hallie Seline as Shannon in SHANNON 10:40

BK: Why 10:40?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapid Fire Question Period:

Favourite movie: Sister Act 2.

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

Musical: Elegies.

Food: Cheese.

TV Show: Please Like Me.

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

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

When: Wed‐Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm

Where: Videofag, 187 Augusta Avenue, Toronto

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

Connect with us:

Rob Kempson – @rob_kempson #shannon1040

Brittany Kay – @brittanylkay

In the Greenroom – @intheGreenRoom_

 

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

SummerWorks 2014 Artist Profile – Erin Fleck: Playwright, Performer, Puppeteer – Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales

Interview by Hallie Seline

Hallie Seline: Could you talk a bit about your show Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales playing now as part of the SummerWorks 2014 Juried Series and where you got the inspiration to write it?

Erin Fleck: Growing up, I remember my parents, grandparents and important adults in my life telling me fairy-tales, fables and other stories to teach me about the world. In many cases, they were lessons outlining morality, how to be a good person to others, or how to find my place in the world. Which, according to them, and me, was going to be something important, something for the history books. We all are the heroes of our own story, right?

I remember most of the stories told to me by my parents tending to frame life as a positive adventure, where things always work out in the end, even if the journey gets hard along the way. Good things happen to “good” people, and “bad” people get what’s coming to them… or at the very least they learn something and become better people.

But when you grow up, it becomes very apparent that this isn’t the case most of the time. Of course, there can be a lot of beautiful things to celebrate in life, but things don’t always work out, even for the nicest, most caring, well-intentioned people out there. And people who do evil things don’t always have to answer for them.

(And to add another level to that, ideas of what or who is “good” or “bad” are never that cut and dry.)

Life often throws you disappointments, unwanted responsibilities, lowered expectations, and in some cases, tragedies that you have to survive. I think this realization also coincides with an age where most people consider us too old to sit down, curl up and have someone read aloud to us from a book of treasured tales.

So, I started writing the Tales with that idea in mind. People who are trying to be heroes in their own stories, but end up having the heroism or that poignancy snatched away by circumstance. But I still wanted the telling of their stories to capture the magic and whimsy of the tales I loved as a kid. And also, I didn’t want to lose the sense of surviving those things, and keeping on, because we do that every day.

HS: You have quite the team of creative people working on it with you (sound designers, puppet makers, video artists etc.) Being the playwright, what surprised you the most while developing the show to its current version?

EF: Honestly, the amount of enthusiasm, passion and resourcefulness that all of the artists have, who’ve been involved with the development since the beginning. I love the show and the stories, but there was a part of me in the early stages that thought, who besides me is going to care about this whimsical and sad little world, that is actually a huge logistical undertaking? And to have so many talented people throw themselves into it has been overwhelming and wonderful.

We had Jordan [Tannahill] and Will [Ellis] at Videofag back in January (where we did the first workshop) saying “We will give you space, make this thing happen”. My director Maya [Rabinovitch] heard my ideas about a puppet show in a blanket fort and what I was trying to create as an experience with this show, and thought “Ya, let’s just go for it. We’ll deal with logistics later.” Our designer Roxanne Ignatius has been living with 100 yards of blankets for the last few months to build a tent big enough for the LOT Studio space. Sarah Fairlie, who runs Caterwaul with me, and is the puppet designer and main builder, has designed five puppet shows and a stop motion film in the last eight months. The puppeteers and narrators that have come on board, are all incredibly talented and busy actors and performers, and they’ve just taken whatever has been thrown at them, and given back insight into the stories that has been so helpful to me as the creator. And since she’s come on board, Pip [Bradford], our stage manager and technician, somehow managed to look at our five shows worth of puppets, a 25 x 30 foot tent, four projectors and a puppet screen and say “Why yes, we can get that ready in 25 minutes before curtain, no problem, Erin.”

Erin Fleck & Maya Rabimovitch Photo by: Juni Bimm

Erin Fleck & Sarah Fairlie. Photo by: Juni Bimm

HS: What are you most excited for the audience to experience with the show (We’re really excited about this blanket fort that you can watch in!)

EF: We opened on Thursday, so I’m cheating a little bit with this question. We’d just gotten the tent up and set up all of the inside seating and puppets, and I was waiting behind our shadow screen as the audience was let in. And all I could hear were people reacting to realizing that they were walking into a giant blanket fort built for them. They were pointing out details to each other, exploring the space, identifying knickknacks, wondering what everything was going to mean to the show they were about to see. Having that off the top of the show really sets the performance for me. We’re doing five different puppet shows in and around the audience. Sometimes you can see us as puppeteers and narrators and sometimes you can’t. Having the audience already curious, already engaging with the space, really sets the tone for how we want to engage them with the stories. It really is a “these stories are sad, but we’re all in this together” kind of environment for that 60 minutes.

HS: Why do you think festivals like SummerWorks are so important to the Toronto theatre scene?

EF: I’m a playwright who creates new work primarily, and I’m also a puppeteer. Having a festival that focuses on supporting artistic risk and innovation on stage, while encouraging their audiences to do the same, provides artists with a relatively safe space to create, develop and showcase their work. Those opportunities aren’t always so available with such a high level of exposure for that work.

HS: Best advice you’ve ever gotten.

EF: This was about being a writer:

No one cares about your work as much as you do. So make sure you’re doing it. People will invest in it, and you, only if you believe in it and put it out into the world for others to see.

HS: Favourite place in Toronto.

EF: Toronto Island. Hands down.

HS: Where do you look for inspiration?

EF: I write a lot from personal experience, but I’m also a pretty big history, literary, folklore nerd, so I find as a writer I’m often trying to weave those things together. It harkens back to the inspiration for the show really. It’s the attempt to find the epic in your own personal narrative.

HS: Tell us in five to ten words why you think someone should come see the show? 

EF: We’ll make you sad, but we’ll hold your hand through it.

HS: If the audience were to listen to a song or soundtrack before coming to see the show, what should it be?

EF: I’ve had a lot of music playing during the writing and building of this piece. (You need it when you are exacto-knifing bristol board for hours on end!) In fact, on our production blog I was tracking an “Unintentionally Depressing Soundtrack” If you’re interested, it’s here: erinmaefleck.tumblr.com

But in terms of a go-to for the writing of the Tales, I always came back to this:

Just Another Diamond Day – Vashti Bunyan

 

Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales

Written by Erin Fleck, Directed by Maya Rabinovitch presented by Caterwaul Theatre as part of the 2014 SummerWorks Festivalstatic.squarespace

Puppet Design by Sarah Fairlie and Erin Fleck
Video Art Direction by Sarah Fairlie
Musical Direction by Brad Casey
Set Design by Roxanne Ignatius
Lighting Design by Pip Bradford
Performed by Glyn Bowerman, Sascha Cole, Talia DelCogliano, Erin Fleck, Marcus Jamin, Jordi Mand, Michelle Urbano, Brian Webber

Where – The Lower Ossington Theatre Studio

When -Thursday August 7, 8:30pm
Saturday August 9, 8:00pm
Sunday August 10, 12:30pm
Monday August 11, 9:00pm
Wednesday August 13, 4:00pm
Thursday August 14, 10:00pm
Saturday August 16, 6:00pm
Sunday August 17, 7:00pm

Buy Tickets: tickets.ticketwise.ca/event/UnintentionallyDepressing

More about Caterwaul Theatre:

www.caterwaultheatre.com

Twitter: @catrwaule

 

On Our Radar TO: Fall in Love with Toronto Theatre this Month

 

Whether it’s with your family, friends, lover, significant-other or you’re treatin’ yo self, we’ve listed our different date suggestions for these lusted-after February shows plus some February events we’re swooning over! These shows are On Our Radar, Toronto, and we think you should Fall in Love With Theatre all over again this February! 

Genesis & Other Stories

Written by Rosamund Small, presented by Aim for the Tangent Theatre

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Did the nudie promo pictures convince you yet? If you didn’t catch Genesis & Other Stories in their sold-out run in last summer’s Fringe Festival, lucky for you they have brought it back for a February re-mount in the Red Sandcastle Theatre after a revised run in the Hamilton Fringe. If you did catch it, you know you’ll want to see it again! Laugh-out-loud funny, thought-provoking and feel-good family fun… well… It’ll get you talking!

This is our On the Laugh-track to Love date recommendation.

Check out our interview we did with playwright Rosamund Small to find out more about the show. https://inthegreenroom.ca/2013/06/25/we-chat-with-rosamund-small-writer-of-genesis-other-stories/

“After his father’s death, Christopher, a theology student, leads a misfit cast of amateur actors in a production of his late father’s play: a hyper-sexed version of Adam and Eve set in 1960’s USA.  Slapstick, satire, and meta-theatre frame a surprisingly complex story about lonely people trying to fill roles that do not suit us. Christopher tries to convince everyone including himself that he is committed to his religion and its strict views on sexuality, and capable of directing and producing his father’s bizarre script. Despite everyone’s best intentions, a break up, forgotten lines, and a crisis of faith conspire to sabotage the production. The primary focus of Genesis is on laughter, but the show is only funny because of the pain and struggle of Chris and the other characters. A hilarious romp that is sure to get you thinking, whether you’re religious, theatrical, or somewhere in between.”

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“Comically disastrous… very funny. Things could only go worse if the theatre collapsed.” – Jon Kaplan, NOW Magazine

Where: RED Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen Street East)
When: February 5th-15th Wednesday-Friday 8pm, Saturdays 7pm & 9pm
Tickets: $15 at the Door, $10 in Advance at www.totix.ca or call (416) 845-9411
For more information, visit: www.aimforthetangent.com

Shrew

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, presented by Red One Theatre Collective

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Killer cast, intriguing promotional poster, “puppetry & Vaudeville charm” set in the Klondike? After being big fans of After Miss Julie, we’re excited to see what Red One Theatre brings us next and Shrew seems to be just the ticket.

This is our Rowdy Buddies at the Shakespeare Show date recommendation.

“The beautiful and gentle Bianca has no shortage of admirers, but her mother insists that she will not marry until her older sister, Katharina, is betrothed. The only problem is that Katharina is the wildest, loudest, maddest shrew in the Klondike. It’s a low-down showdown with honky-tonk, puppetry, slapstick, and Vaudeville charm, and one of these gunslingers will either go broke or strike gold.

In his directorial debut, rising Stratford Festival star and RedOne Theatre veteran Tyrone Savage gathers together Toronto’s premier emerging talents for the first time in this one-of-a-kind production.”

Where: The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor Street West)
When: February 15th – March 2nd, 2014 8pm (Sunday PWYC Matinees – 2pm)
Tickets: $19.99 Advance tickets available @ www.secureaseat.com

The Way Back to Thursday

Written by Rob Kempson, presented by Theatre Passe Muraille

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Call your Grandma, call your mother… Hell, call EVERYONE and take them to the theatre this month. Rob Kempson has written a charming, funny and moving musical about unconditional love that will have you beaming one minute and reaching for a box of tissues the next.

This is our Reconnecting With Family date recommendation.

“Inspired by the traditional song cycle form, The Way Back to Thursday is a musical about unconditional love that crosses generations, genders and lifetimes.

Cameron and his Grandmother have a special tradition – movie nights every Thursday.  Together they escape into the glamour and romance of the Golden Age of film.  But as Cameron grows, so does the distance between them.”

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Where: Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson)
When: Now to February 8th
Tickets: Pwyc-$32.50. 416-504-7529

The Ugly One

Written by Marius von Mayenburg, translated by Maja Zade. Co-production by Theatre Smash and Tarragon Theatre

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Sharp, odd, hilarious and the tightest staging, design and performances that we’ve seen in one show in a while – The Ugly One is a must-see before it closes mid-February. We can’t and we won’t stop chatting about it. Theatre Isn’t Dead said it perfectly: “Non-theatre folks will dig it too. I can almost promise that.” –Blog Theatre Isn’t Dead.

We deem this our Theatrical Rejuvenation date aka. Win-over-that-friend-who-is-too-cool-for-theatre-with-the-cool-theatre-show date recommendation.

“You can’t sell anything with that face.” A razor sharp satire about getting ahead in the world. With mesmerizing speed, this award-winning work by one of Germany’s hottest playwrights catapults us into a narcissistic world obsessed with beauty, image and plastic surgery.”

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Where: Tarragon Theatre Extra Space
When: Now until February 16th
Tickets: http://tarragontheatre.com/season/1314/the-ugly-one/

Of Mice and Morro and Jasp

Created and performed by Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, presented by U.N.I.T. Productions and Factory Theatre

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U.N.I.T. Productions is excited to announce the remount of Of Mice and Morro and Jasp!

Morro and Jasp feel the pinch of the recent economic downturn and decide to try to make ends meet by staging John Steinbeck’s classic tale Of Mice and Men. Can the clown sisters stick to the story? Will they both make it out alive? This winter, find out for yourself!

This is our Friends Until The End date recommendation.

Where: Factory Studio Theatre
When: Jan 28 to Feb 8, Tue-Sat 8PM, Thur 1PM, Sat 2PM
Tickets: $25 Regular Price / $20 Student, Senior, Arts Worker PWYC Preview Jan 28 www.factorytheatre.ca 416-504-9971

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Read our latest interview with Co-creators & performers Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee here: https://inthegreenroom.ca/2014/01/29/of-mice-and-morro-and-jasp/

Idiot’s Delight

Written by Robert E. Sherwood, presented by Soulpepper Theatre

Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster, Hailey Gillis, Gregory Prest & Dan Chameroy. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Hailey Gillis, Gregory Prest & Dan Chameroy. Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

With 1920’s flair, song, dance and love amongst wartime, this is our Indulging in Delights date recommendation.

“A cast of wonderfully eccentric and international guests – countesses, arms dealers, showgirls, revolutionaries, charlatans and lovers – spend a fateful weekend in a resort hotel in the Italian Alps. While songs are sung and dances danced and loves rekindled, the dark clouds of war come rolling in.”

Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts
When: January 29th – March 1st
Tickets: http://soulpepper.ca/performances/14_season/Idiot’s_Delight.aspx

Read our latest Artist Profile with Paolo Santalucia & Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster “From Academy to Company in Soulpepper’s “Idiot’s Delight” here: https://inthegreenroom.ca/artist-profiles/

the dreamer examines his pillow

By John Patrick Shanley, presented by JR Theatre Company

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the dreamer examines his pillow is a surreal, intimate look at the beautiful and dark forces of love. The play explores the aftermath of love, whether it’s after an explosive affair between two lovers, or the dwindling, harsh lack of love from a widowed father to his daughter. Poetic, lyrical and rough – the dreamer examines his pillow is one of contemporary theatre’s finest looks at intimacy and need. It sounds to us like the perfect antithesis to Hallmark’s version of Valentine’s Day!

This is our Dark Surrealist Valentine’s Day date recommendation.

Where: The Box Toronto (89 Niagara Street)
When: February 7th-16th Fridays & Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm
Tickets: dreamer.brownpapertickets.com 

LABOUR

Written by Eric Welch and Ryan Welch. Based on the original short story by Ryan Welch with further realization by The Coyote Collective Company, presented by Coyote Collective

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LABOUR looks at the Sisyphean life of factory day-workers, who see no choices but to go to work every day, and have resigned themselves to a life of the same. For these four characters, commodification has completely changed the way they think about life, love, and happiness.

This is our Socially Conscious date recommendation.

Where: Theatre Passe-Muraille Backspace
When: February 5th to the 9th. 5th-7th 7:30pm, 8th 2pm & 7:30pm, 9th 2pm
Tickets: $20, Student/Senior $15, PWYC: Saturday, February 8th 2:00pm, Opening and Media Night: Wednesday, February 5th
Tickets available for purchase at artsboxoffice.ca or at the door. 

Events We’re Crushin’ On:

The 35th Rhubarb Festival

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Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents their 35th annual festival of new works in contemporary theatre, performance art, dance, and music. For two weeks artists transform the Buddies neighbourhood into a hotbed of experimentation, sharing new works in contemporary theatre, performance art, dance, and music with adventure-loving audiences.

New to the festival this year is a new series of Open Space Projects will animate unexpected spaces around the Buddies neighbourhood and make new artistic connections between five historic queer institutions here in Toronto.

When: February 12th-23rd
Where: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre & around the neighbourhood
Tickets: Open Space Projects & Artist Talks – Free
Young Creators Unit – PWYC
Week One Mainstage Projects – $10
Week Two Evening Passes – $20

Roar

Written & performed by Spencer Charles Smith, presented by Straight Camp

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“Roar – a solo play about beefy, burly, brawny love”

SYNOPSIS – A boy’s campy quest for furry love, Spencer will explore his unapologetic desire for ‘bearish’ men, critique the problematic spectrum of identities within the Bear community (Bear, Cub, Otter, Panda, Muscle-Bear, etc.) and hopefully deconstruct notions of hegemonic masculinity.

Above all, it’s a love letter.

This is a staged-reading of Spencer’s latest draft of Roar and he is eager to hear your feedback. A talk-back will follow the presentation. And drinks. Featuring a special pre-show presentation: “Kid: A Queer Fable”, written, illustrated and performed by Katie Sly

Where: Videofag (187 Augusta Ave)
When: Wednesday February 5th 8pm, Thursday February 6th 8pm
Tickets: PWYC (at the door)

Theatre on a Theme: Love

Conceived and Directed by Drew O’Hara, presented by Everybody to the Theatre Company

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“Six actors, 18 theatre pieces that vary in length from 10 minutes to 10 seconds. What do you get? A hilarious, heart-wrenching, fast-paced, occasionally musical, exciting night at the theatre. Following the success of Theatre on a Theme: FAILURE, the Everybody to the Theatre Company gang will bring you Theatre on a Theme: LOVE, just in time for Valentine’s Day.”

Where: Unit 102 Theatre (376 Dufferin Street)
When: Sunday February 23rd 2pm & 8pm
Tickets: http://www.eventbrite.ca/o/everybody-to-the-theatre-company-4737180757?s=20682528

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope”

Written by Ian Doescher, presented by Red One Theatre Collective and Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl

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A one-night only staged reading of the classic sci-fi epic told in the Bard’s style.

“This sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The Saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.” This is the play you are looking for. Lightsaber fights included! Themed drinks/food/entertainment too – say whaaat!

Where: The Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor Street West)
When: February 7th Doors at 7pm, Show at 8pm
Tickets
: $10 in advance online www.secureaseat.com or $15 at the door. 

The Howland Company Reading Group – February:

February 9th Charles Mee’s “Big Love”, February 23rd Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem”

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“Bi-weekly, The Howland Company hosts an open event called The Reading Group, where artists are encouraged to gather, meet, reconnect and work with fellow members of the Toronto theatre community and ultimately read a play together.

The readings are a laid-back, social way to work with peers and continue to develop our craft. Scripts are provided and parts are assigned and exchanged on the fly. All are welcome to participate in reading or sit back and listen.”

Check out the history of The Reading Group, including all plays past and future, at: http://howlandcompanytheatre.com/the-reading-group/.

For event updates: https://www.facebook.com/TheHowlandCompanyTheatre

When: Sunday February 9th & Sunday February 23rd 7:30pm
Where: Location is posted on the Facebook Event page: https://www.facebook.com/TheHowlandCompanyTheatre
Tickets: Free

On Our Radar TO: Get Stoked for Theatre this November!

Why is theatre relevant? Whether it allows you to re-connect with your inner child, be exposed to a new perspective, challenges your pre-conceptions or allows you to let your guard down, whether you’re looking for a sexy night out, a night to sing and dance with childish glee without feeling out of place, or simply looking to be entertained and connect with those around you through classic love stories and a beer in hand, these productions are On Our Radar, Toronto, and we think you should get stoked for theatre this November!

Savage in Limbo

Written by John Patrick Shanley, presented by Bob Kills Theatre

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With a newly extended run, we’ve heard nothing but exciting things about this production. Bold, brave work, exciting use of a new venue to the Toronto scene (The Downstage), and some incredible talent that must be noted!

“John Patrick Shanley is an Oscar, Tony and Pulitzer prize-winning writer of stage and screen. He is best known for the 1988 film Moonstruck, and the 2004 play Doubt, which was also adapted into an Oscar-nominated film in 2008.

Bob Kills Theatre is an experience in visceral theatre. Founded by Melissa D’Agostino and Diana Bentley, the company strives to present unique, often surreal, texts in interesting venues. With an emphasis on bold stories and the virtuosity of performance, Bob Kills Theatre aims to challenge, engage, entertain and instigate.”

Various 32-year olds seek love, sex and a way out of their dead-end lives.

Where: The Downstage, 798 Danforth

When: **Extended Run** October 22nd – Thursday November 7th 8pm.

Tickets: $20 savageintoronto.com

The Double

A TheatreRUN production presented by Tarragon Theatre

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Adapted from the novella by Dostoevsky, created and performed by Adam Paolozza, Arif Mirabdolbaghi and Viktor Lukawski, we’ve heard this production described as hilarious, whimsical, psychologically complex, haunting and magical. If that doesn’t catch your interest, maybe this delightful trailer will. Catch this gem of a remount before it closes!

“When are you no longer yourself? The anxious government clerk Golyadkin is plagued by a stranger who looks just like him but is more daring, romantic and brash. Inspired by Dostoevsky’s novella The Double, this theatrical triangle between a neurotic, his doppelganger and a stand-up bass transports us to 19th century Russian high society and Golyadkin’s labyrinthine search for his identity.

After a hit independent run last season that saw a Dora Award win for lighting design, Tarragon warmly welcomes this dark satire about our deepest fears of losing our identity.”

Where: Tarragon Theatre Extraspace

When: October 15th-November 24th

Tickets: 416-531-1827 Tarragon Box Office

Dirty Butterfly

Written by Debbie Tucker Green, presented by Bound To Create Theatre as part of Obsidian Theatre’s 2013/14 Presentation Series

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If there is one production we have been excited about for its first professional Canadian Theatre debut, it’s Bound to Create Theatre’s production of Dirty Butterfly as part of Obsidian Theatre’s 2013/14 presentation series. Since its first run at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival, we’ve heard nothing but incredible things of this arresting play by British playwright Debbie Tucker Green and after seeing its opening, this hypnotic play is not to be missed!

“This drama explores voyeurism, power and guilt by confronting the collateral damage of domestic abuse and racial economic divide.”

Where: Aki Studio Theatre, 585 Dundas E.

When: Previews Oct. 30-31st, Opens November 1st and runs to November 17th. Tues-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm

Tickets: $20-$25 Preview 15$, November 10th PWYC. www.boundtocreate.com

Moss Park

Written by George F. Walker, presented by Green Thumb Theatre/Theatre Passe Muraille

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There’s a new George F. Walker in town and with some pretty incredible young Canadian talent as its leads, local talent Haley McGee and Vancouver native Graeme McComb, and we’re into it!

“Moss Park is an intimate look at two young people as they confront an uncertain future.  In this follow up to Tough!, George F. Walker takes Bobby and Tina on a journey as they fight to map a life that doesn’t include poverty.”

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson

When: Previews Runs November 5th-16th, Tues-Sat 7:30pm, Mat Sat 2pm.

Tickets: $15-$32.50, Matinee PWYC, 416-504-7529, passemuraille.on.ca.

Alligator Pie

Featuring poetry by Dennis Lee, presented by Soulpepper

Soulpepper's Alligator Pie in rehearsal, Raquel Duffy, Mike Ross, Gregory Prest. Photo Credit: Nathan Kelly

This needed a remount in the most heart-felt way. We saw this last fall and what a treat it was to watch this talented group of artists weave the children’s poems of Dennis Lee together with heart, humour and glee-inducing creativity. This family-friendly production is definitely enjoyable for all ages on so many levels as it celebrates imagination and invention.

Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane
When: Opens November 3rd and runs to December 1st
Tickets: $23, Rush $5-$22 416-866-8666, www.soulpepper.ca

Romeo and Juliet

Written by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare BASH’d

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If you know anything about Shakespeare BASH’d it’s the long line-up of Fringe hopefuls trying to snag the last few tickets at the door of their two sold-out Fringe hits with both their 2012 production of Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing this past Summer at the Victory Café. If you managed to get your tickets early, then you got to see what all of the hype was about – a clean, story-focused Shakespeare, chalk-full of boisterous local talent, all of which you could enjoy with a drink in hand. Well BASH’d is about to present their first tragedy outside of the Fringe circuit and bring us to the incredible 3030 Dundas West in the Junction, inviting us to grab a beer (perhaps from one of the 3030’s many local craft beer selections) and reconnect with Shakespeare’s greatest story of original young love-at-first-sight.

Where: 3030 Dundas West in the Junction

When: November 19th-23rd Tuesday-Friday 7:30pm, Closing Saturday at 4pm

Tickets: $16-$21 with advanced purchase highly recommended* http://www.shakespearebashd.com/tickets.html

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Mature Young Adults

By Wesley J. Colford, presented by Aim for the Tangent

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We had the pleasure of catching this gem at the Atlantic Fringe Festival on a visit to Halifax this September and we’re very interested to see it in its next stage of development in Toronto at the intimate Videofag space. Andrea Nemetz from the Chronicle Herald expresses our thoughts on Mature Young Adults perfectly: “Everyone has been a teenager in love, or will be. …an astonishingly real look at that most complicated of emotions.”

“This tragi-comic love story continues the theatrical tradition of East Coast playwriting greats David French and Daniel MacIvor with a contemporary twist for the Facebook generation. In a world where labels and gossip fly through cyberspace like lightning, is it possible to love without giving up your identity? Can you escape the container your community places you in?”

Where: Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave.

When: November 20th-24th: 19th-22nd 8pm, 23rd & 24th 4pm & 8pm

Tickets: $15 at the door. Advance tickets available through T.O. Tix www.totix.ca

After Miss Julie

Written by Patrick Marber, presented by Red One Theatre Collective

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If you are looking for a crazy, sexy performance to spice up your life as the temperatures drop… we’re looking to After Miss Julie presented by Red One Theatre Collective. After Miss Julie is a version of Strindberg’s Miss Julie by Patrick Marber, where Marber amps up the power play between Julie, John, and his fiancée Christine to a deliciously dangerous level. The result, a steamy and at times manic and even hilarious power play amongst the class structure of 1945 England. With David Ferry as the director and a cast of some exceptional young local talent (Claire Armstrong, Christopher Morris and Amy Keating), we can’t wait to see what Red One brings to the Storefront this November.

Where: The Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor Street West

When: November 15th-30th (Preview November 14th) Tuesday-Saturday 8pm, Sundays 2pm

Tickets: $20/ Tuesdays $10/ $15 Preview)

The Sacrifice Zone

Written by Suzie Miller, presented by Theatre Gargantua

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If you’ve never been to a Gargantua performance, now is your chance to catch their world premiere of their 10th cycle of work The Sacrifice Zone. Created through their unique process, Theatre Gargantua is artist driven and works as a creative ensemble, producing projects in two-year cycles. We’re overflowing with excitement to see their latest creation, blending physical theatre, vocal soundscapes and unique storytelling and staging and we think you should be too!

“An industrial explosion shatters lives in an isolated resource town, rocking the balance of the community. While Alex and Hannah struggle with the loss of their partners, Laura and Patrick renegotiate the boundaries of a love affair, and newcomer Elly watches the emotional landscape change as arrestingly as the physical environment does. When everything is at stake, what would you sacrifice to make things right?

The Sacrifice Zone cuts right to fundamental questions of who and what are our responsibilities? And is balance, indeed justice, ever possible? Gargantua explores real world issues of individual, corporate and environmental accountability through their signature physical and critically acclaimed contemporary visual style in this gripping production based on a script by celebrated Australian playwright Suzie Miller.”

Where: Factory Studio Theatre
When: November 13th-30th Wednesday-Saturday 8pm, Saturday November 16th & November 20th 2pm.
Tickets: $19-$25, Buy tickets at www.factorytheatre.ca 

The Gay Heritage Project

Created and performed by Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn & Andrew Kushnir, presented by The GHP Collective in association with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

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We just caught a glimpse of this promo video, and we can’t wait to catch it mid-November! A collaboration between acclaimed theatre makers Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, and Andrew Kushnir, The Gay Heritage Project offers audiences a unique chance to discover, celebrate and connect to our queer heritage. Once again, Buddies in Bad Times provides Toronto with relevant, thought-provoking, socially-conscious theatre.

“Three of our country’s most gifted creator/performers set out to answer one question: is there such a thing as gay heritage? In their search, they uncover a rich history not often shared and shine new light on contemporary gay culture. The result is a hilarious and moving homage to the people who came before us and the events that continue to shape our lives.”

Where: Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, near Yonge & College

When: November 17th-December 8th, Tuesday-Saturday 8pm, Saturday & Sunday 2:30pm, Preview Performances 8pm

Tickets: $20-$37

Know something that should be On Our Radar, Toronto? Connect with us through Twitter & Facebook using the hashtag #OnOurRadarTO or send us an email to inthegreenroom.ca@gmail.com. What’s on your Radar? 

A SummerWorks Chat with Simon Bloom, Director of “Murderers Confess at Christmastime”

Interview by: Ryan Quinn

We sat down with Simon Bloom to discuss SummerWorks premiers, storytelling, developing new work and the exploration of intimacy and vulnerability in his latest directorial project with Outside the March, Murderers Confess at Christmastime.

RQ: I’m here with Simon Bloom, director of Murderers Confess at Christmastime, premiering at SummerWorks this year.

SB: Yeah, it’s the world premiere. It was workshopped before at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. The playwright, Jason Chinn, is from Alberta, so it has undergone a workshop there, but this is the first full-scale production of the show.

RQ: Do you want to tell me a little bit about it?

SB: Absolutely! Muderers Confess at Christmastime is three interwoven stories that all take place twelve days before Christmas, and they all deal with murder in some capacity. The play is really about people who are fundamentally unhappy with their lives who live in a fantasy, or illusion. But, by the very act of trying to live in that fantasy, both the fantasy and the reality kind of collapse in and upon themselves. I think the reason Jason chose to set the play around Christmas is that it’s such a time that we perceive as being happy, but it really tends to make a lot of people feel melancholy and sad. It’s kind of like Valentine’s Day in that way. For some people, Valentine’s Day is great. For others, it reminds them of how lonely they are. I would say that all the characters in this play are fundamentally lonely, and reaching out to find some sort of a connection.

RQ: So, you’re premiering at SummerWorks. You premiered Terminus at SummerWorks, as well as Mr. Marmalade. What is it about SummerWorks that’s attractive to a company like Outside the March?

SB: I think one of the most impressive things about the SummerWorks festival is that it kind of promotes a sort of communication between early-career artists, mid-career artists, and professional artists. It presents you with the opportunity to approach more professional artists about collaborating on a project. For example, when we did Mr. Marmalade, we asked David Storch if he was willing to do it and he said yes. Also, we’ve had the chance to work with Tony Nappo and Harry Judge, some more established local actors. I just think that this festival offers you a really strong opportunity to showcase work. Those are the two reasons why I think SummerWorks is so valuable. And, just the kinds of audiences that come out to these shows, they’re smart audiences, really critical in a good way. It’s a really exciting festival, and really well-run.

RQ: Do you find that those approaches have changed since you went in with Mr. Marmalade, that you now have people approaching you?

SB: I think that since Mitchell and I started the company as fledgling artists coming out of our undergraduate degrees and we started Outside the March, it really felt like we were on the outside looking in. We really wanted to connect with people. And, because of the success of Marmalade and Terminus, it’s really opened up opportunities for us to work with artists who have said “we really enjoyed some of your previous work”, where we could say “if there’s a place for you in our next show, we’d love to have you”. That’s been really exciting because sometimes an actor will inspire an idea for a project. So, if someone approaches us and is interested in collaborating with us, that may inspire a whole new project for the company. But, at the same time, I think it has always been important for Mitchell and I to keep a core group of people that we work with, like Amy Keating, for example. We really want to continue to foster the growth of our ensemble artists. That’s really important for us, as well.

RQ: What’s exciting to you about this show?

SB: I think one of the things that’s exciting about this show and the trajectory the company is on right now is that Mitchell and I have become very interested in developing new work. After a long period of time of doing established work, we’re starting to branch out. For example, the project we’re doing after Murderers is a new play called Vitals, which Mitchell is directing, and it was written by Rosamund Small, a Toronto-based playwright. So, that’s very exciting for us. The whole process of dramaturging and workshopping a script is very different than working on something that’s already established. It’s opened our eyes to a whole new range of new work we can develop.

RQ: Within the festival atmosphere, there’s an energy that kind of fosters that mutual growth, right?

SB: Absolutely. I think the way Outside the March dovetails with SummerWorks is that idea of ensemble. In SummerWorks, it’s the ensemble of the festival itself, and in Outside the March, it’s the ensemble of artists we want to foster. For example, Jason, who was in Mr. Marmalade, is the playwright for this one. It’s exciting to bring artists back and let them put on different hats.

RQ: So next is Vitals, any other plans?

SB: Well, we’re also touring Terminus, and we’ve been working on The Spoke, which is a live storytelling event that we do at Videofag. We get people to come in and tell stories. We just had a fundraiser for Muderers that was at a Spoke gala event. It’s amazing how intimate it is, it really cuts to the core of what we do as artists, which is tell stories. When they’re deep, personal stories that people are sharing with an audience, it feels like a really genuine shared experience.

RQ: It seems like the theme that keeps coming up is ‘intimacy’, and how to share that isolation that comes with a lack of intimacy.

SB: Oh absolutely. I think in Murderers, there’s definitely a strong sense of people who are desperately searching for intimacy, but feel trapped in their loneliness. I think what makes Jason so unique as a playwright to me is that he has a very bleak but honest and genuine sense of the loneliness in the world. It’s quite raw. It surprises me when I read his work because it reminds me that we don’t see that onstage very often. There’s a sort of authenticity to his writing and a kind of unflinching rigour to represent characters that we so rarely see onstage. It makes watching his plays unbelievably unique, and it makes the voices of his characters also unbelievably unique. It’s safe to say that I’ve never read a play like this in my entire life. For me, it’s been such an amazing, eye-opening experience, to work on something that’s so unabashed. I don’t know how many different kinds of warnings we have on the show, but it’s very raw.

RQ: It seems like we’re in love with taking big shows and putting them in intimate settings, but to take an intimate show and present it in an intimate setting, that can be a tougher pill to swallow.

SB: Definitely. I think that it’s scary in the same way that being intimate with someone is scary. It requires such an extreme amount of vulnerability. I think it gets to the centre of what’s so tough about the actor’s plight. Their vulnerability is what makes them fantastic, but it’s also what can catch them up a little bit because it’s really hard to expose yourself like that to other people. I think that’s what a lot of the characters in this play are doing, both literally and metaphorically. They’re exposing themselves to other people and I think there are consequences to that decision, and not always good ones, unfortunately. I think that, in a way, this play defies narrative structure because it doesn’t fit into the mold of the happy resolution.

RQ: “I was afraid to speak my mind, then I spoke my mind, and now I’m a hero for it.”

SB: Exactly, yeah. If there’s anything that makes the characters in this play heroic, it’s that they’re honest. There’s a kind of “flaws and all” mentality to them. There’s something really beautiful in that, in the kind of loneliness and exposure of someone who’s trying desperately to get something and not being able to get it. I’m speaking vaguely because I don’t want to give away anything that happens in the show. But, I think there’s something really exciting but terrifying about that notion. I think one of the key, key, key things in this project has been the vulnerability that’s been required from everyone involved. The actors, designers, director, just a total exposure.

RQ: How do you approach work that requires that extreme vulnerability?

SB: Professionally. I think the danger you run with a show like this is to take it home with you. While you can always let your personal experiences help support the work you’re doing in the room, you have to be careful to not let that sort of stuff affect you. Without going into specifics, there was an experience that one of our actors had in real life that was very similar to something that happens onstage, and it happened while we were rehearsing the play. The play takes place in three bedrooms, and we were rehearsing one day in her house because we didn’t have a space, and it was this odd “art imitating life” moment. There’s this liminal space between what an actors is doing onstage, and what is happening in their life, and it’s precarious, and it’s the responsibility of the director to make sure the actor always feels safe. I mean, another thing we did for this project, because it’s three different groups for three different scenes, we rehearsed each group individually before coming together as a team. I think it was important for them to reach a comfort level with their partners before we got everybody involved together. It was amazing to watch them all work together for the last time before we dove into performances, it was amazing to see how much they really became an ensemble. That’s such a beautiful moment for me, as a director. Someone once told me that the role of a director is to sit one row further back every day until they’re not in the theatre anymore, and watching them today, I could see them take ownership of the show and come together as an ensemble. I feel like Mary Poppins, like my job is done and I can slide up the bannister and go home.

RQ: You look like a proud father right now!

SB: Yeah! Well, I think the asks on this show are big, but I think everyone went there. That’s all you can really ask. I’m unbelievably proud of them. So, I’m very excited, and very interested to see what the audience’s response is to this show. It will be polarizing. We made one of our venue techs throw up! Well, just a little bit.

RQ: Haha, well, thanks very much, and break legs for your run!

SB: Thanks very much!

murderersplash

Murderers Confess at Christmastime

A co-production from Outside the March and The Serial Collective
** 18 & Over **

When: August 8th-17th, 2013

Wednesday August 14th @ 5pm

Friday August 16th @ 2:30pm

Saturday August 17th @ 12pm

Where: Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington Ave)

Ticketshttp://tickets.ticketwise.ca/event/3767739

For more information on the show & on Outside the March’s upcoming projects, check out their website: http://www.outsidethemarch.ca/