by Amanda Lee
I promised Katherine Sanders I wouldn’t write up our interview in the vein of Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, talking to a glossy magazine about her fabulous career (and exquisite home). Sitting by the lake at Harbourfront Centre, where Sanders is Artistic Associate for HarbourKIDS, and clutching a water bottle, there isn’t much chance of misrepresenting the down-to-earth director and playwright.
Sanders is enthusiastic about creating real theatre for young people. She recently established Nacho Mama Theatre Company (Not Your Mama's Theatre Company, natch). And she’s probably one of the few women you’re ever likely to meet you can lay claim to playing Jesus Christ.
Like many performers in this year’s Fringe Festival, Sanders is no stranger to the Fringe experience. In 2000 she helped to create "Fairy Tale: The Choose Your Own Adventure Play" for Monster Theatre, which started at Edmonton Fringe and subsequently toured Canada. In the play young audiences got to direct the action of archetypal fairy tale characters: do we go to the ocean and meet a shark? Or the bridge and meet a troll? She also appeared at the Toronto Fringe in 2006 in Monster Theatre’s hit show "Jesus Christ: The Lost Years." It went on to sold-out runs and Best-of-Fringe awards across Canada, and was remounted at the 2008 Next Stage Festival. A two hander hero quest, Sanders played Jesus and about 25 other characters.
Sanders is back with a Fringe Kids show The Super Secret Subway Society which she describes as “a crazy, weird, hilarious adventure set right here in Toronto, on the TTC.” The play tells the story of 10 year-old Seymour who is used to riding the subway by himself; in fact he’s invented a whole imaginary game about it, using subway station names for characters and magical objects. Seymour is right in the middle of an important quest, when he is suddenly and inconceivably befriended by Amy Anderson, the coolest girl in school. And Seymour has to decide whether to let her in on his secret game.
The Super Secret Subway Society is a play about bringing imagination and creativity into everyday life, and about letting other people into your world. “In this play things are not safe. Kids talk to strangers; they act up on the subway,” says Sanders. She insists this story isn’t about trying to teach kids lessons, “It’s about breaking rules and exploring danger.” Sanders was inspired by the site of the Fringe Kids theatre productions – the Palmerston Library Theatre, where the subway runs underneath. She wanted to create a story in a setting that’s immediate and relevant to young Toronto audiences.
As opposed to an imaginary world, “in real life you wouldn’t talk to a crazy old wizard,” Sanders says. The Super Secret Subway Society mythologies the children’s own city and provides audiences with creative potential to explore where you are – you don’t always have to go off to Neverland or Narnia to experience fantasy.
Sanders has been creating theatre for young audiences for a decade now. After completing a BFA in her hometown of Calgary, she was hired for kid’s theatre straight out of school with Quest Theatre for Kids, as well as working as an Artist-in-School in Alberta. Sanders says, “I always had a youthful sensibility to my ideas and work.” She tells me some of the best theatre she’s ever seen—period—has been for young audiences. “Kids are an appreciative audience, if it’s done well it will change their life.”
Though Sanders fears she’s still a big kid who won’t grow up (“If you write for kids, you continue to think like them.”), I suspect her success in creating work for younger audiences lies in understanding their emotional nature. In a child’s world, wizards, princesses and trolls are real. And adventure, danger and discovery can be found in everyday places, all for the price of a TTC token.
In your life how are you “on the fringe?”
“I’m on the fringe of the age acceptable to be in the Fringe,” laughs Sanders.
The Super Secret Subway Society opens July 5, at the Palmerston Library Theatre, as part of FringeKids.
For more information on Nacho Mama Theatre company visit www.nachomama.ca