by Amanda Lee
Kelly Straughan’s interest in theatre emerged at an early age. Her mother took her to see "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown" at the tender age of three. “I sobbed all the way home,” Straughan recalls. “I want to do that!” she told her mom on the way home from the play. Her mother hoped to placate Straughan’s dreams of the stage by telling her, “You have to be six.”
Growing up in Sudbury Ontario, Straughan bide her time until she finally turned ‘of age’ (her mom thought she’d have forgotten all about theatre by then.) At just six-years-old, Straughan auditioned—successfully—for a role in "Music Man". “You will do theatre beyond reason and better judgement,” Straughan tells me. It’s that sort of tenacity and passion that has likely lead her to her current role as the new Executive Director of Fringe Toronto.
Straughan’s varied career took her out of Sudbury and in 2000 was performing in the original Mirvish production of "Mama Mia", cast alongside Camilla Scott. From there she soon found herself landing roles in musical theatre. Looking to take a different direction, Straughan went back to school and gained her Masters in Theatre Directing at UBC which, she says, really got her into her passion for directing.
Straughan went on to become an accomplished playwright and director, with a successful history with Fringe Toronto. Richard Rose, Artistic Director of Tarragon, was in the audience of her 2007 Fringe show, "Timebomb". Rose had been thinking of creating a new position of Associate Artistic Director and called Straughan soon after to offer her the gig. Straughan tells me, “At the time I had a one-month old baby.” Straughan worked around her new family and took the role as Tarragon Theatre’s inaugural Associate Artistic Director, a position she held for three years. She then went on to become Associate Artistic Director at Nightwood theatre, where Straughan continued to develop her artistic leadership.
In her new role as Executive Director, Straughan combines her artistic sensibility with sensible administrative skills. (Honed, she says, during a stint as a legal assistant.) Straughan calls the Fringe “a big ol’ summer festival” and is excited to be in a role that affords her the ability to affect audiences and the theatre climate. Fringe is also a leading off point for so many artists and their careers. “The Fringe is unjuried and uncensored.” says Straughan. “It is vital to the health of art and gives people a place to test an idea, without going bankrupt trying to stage it themselves.” In addition to the 10-day event, Straughan explains Next Stage festival and Creation Lab, a place the theatre community can call their own, are some of the ways Fringe Toronto helps empower local artists.
Q: 'In your life how are you ‘on the Fringe?’
(Laughs) “I have a very strong internal compass,” says Straughan, citing the decision to have a child in her late 20’s, when her peers were still considering that kind of life change, as an example. “Regardless of what happens outside of me, I can gauge really quickly what is right for me. I feel with each move I get closer and closer.”
Fringe Toronto runs from July 4 – 15, 2012
For more information visit www.fringetoronto.com
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