There's another Fringe Festival in town (gasp!) The Hamilton Fringe is on NOW and Amanda Lee caught up with Two Weird Ladies who not only recently bombed the Toronto Fringe, but are not tackling The Hammer.
by Amanda Lee
"Two Weird Ladies Bomb the Fringe" recently rocked the Toronto Fringe and has moved west to ‘The Hammer’ for a run at the Hamilton Fringe Festival.
Written by comedy duo Laura Salvas and Mandy Sellers, the sketch show is a labyrinth of eccentric comedy spun from reality, insanity, awkwardness and rage. As it says on the packet, it’s a “fun, fast-paced show designed to self-destruct in 60 minutes”. Toronto-based Salvas and Sellers have been performing together for two years now in over 50 shows, after meeting at Toronto’s Second City Conservatory program. The comedy pair are relaxed and casual in their interactions, playfully teasing each other like sisters. It’s not hard to imagine Salvas is the more uptight, organized big sister; while Sellers is the younger sibling who goofs around and considers Salvas to be ‘the pretty one’. (Seller’s headshot on their website credits her as, “Mandy Sellers, uglier than Laura”).
Before forming Two Weird Ladies, Sellers and Salvas both have an impressive amount of experience in stand-up comedy, having performed in a number of other sketch troops. Sellers was also nominated for the Canadian Comedy Award for Best Female Improviser in 2011. The pair had already created some of their material that went into "Two Weird Ladies Bomb the Fringe" when they entered the Toronto Fringe lottery. Unlike a typical sketch show, Sellers and Salvas structured their show with some cohesion. The duo says they decided to write the show with an overarching story line, in with the sketches flows seamlessly. Salvas said, “We decided early to create a beginning, middle and end to their show.” Two Weird Ladies played with ideas such as Sellers being a terrible sketch partner and literally ending each scene with a bomb. “Which is so cheap,” Sellers interject. “And everyone dies!” At that point Sellers thought, “Wow! That’s the through-line for our show.” Sellers admits to being of an improviser in the duo, who would happily improvise an entire show, while Salvas is more the writer. In "Two Weird Ladies Bomb the Fringe" the pair struck a happy medium – though there isn’t a static script, there is a structure and flow in place.
Two Weird Ladies say their sketch comedy often originates from an idea based on their own experience, such as the skit ‘Blind Date’ where in the show the Two Weird Ladies stress out preparing for a blind date together.
“I did go on blind date once and had a roommate who was beautiful,” says Salvas. “I was so worried that everything was wrong with me. And when we did meet, he was hideous,” she laughs. The couple exaggerate the situation in their writing, asking, “What things can we list that are wrong with us?”
Unlike other comedy troops the couple have performed in, Salvas and Sellers write their material together. They can be found sitting side-by-side in a coffee shop over their laptops, rifting back and forth. Salvas says, “If it makes us laugh, it goes in.”
Salvas and Sellers’ own comedy partner heroes are Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch. The Two Weird Ladies’ first experience of working together was on a Fey and Dratch sketch at Second City. “We got to play people we respect,” says Sellers, who is also a big fan of Fey’s 'Bossypants' and cites what Fey has to say in her book about improv. The couple attribute their successful partnership is due to sharing a
comedic sensibility. “Similar, but different enough,” says Salvas. And the Two Weird Ladies admit they have a similar work ethic, are driven and ambitious—which is evident given each of them hold down full time respectable jobs by day, while creating their Fringe show by night. They also organized a unique fundraiser, 'Two Weird Ladies Sell Out!' where they duo auctioned off the opportunity for people to use their name as the “whore-faced bride” or “the guy who got banged in the bathroom at prom”.
Two Weird Ladies say they’d like to take their show to other fringe shows around Canada, as well as to their hometowns, and their goal is to write another show together. “Our next show will be 'Two Weird Ladies Go Shopping',” Salvas says deadpan. “Where we just going shopping. Just shopping. No jokes.”
Salvas and Sellers don’t set out to write specifically with a female audience in mind, but a lot of their material is inspired from their lives, “and inherently things women can relate to,” says Salvas. Two
Weird Ladies admit neither of them is “super girly” (but do confess to being “very nerdy”). Sellers is a self-confessed ‘comedy nerd/ music nerd/TV nerd’ “Just nerd,” she admits. “I know a lot of obscure facts about things.” While Salvas has an impressive knowledge of 'Saved by the Bell'. The couple throw quirky popular culture references into their work, such as a nod to 'Back to the Future' and 'Star Wars'.
"Two Weird Ladies Bomb the Fringe" the first Fringe experience for both Salvas and Sellers and their first time receiving so many reviews for their work. “In so many episodes of 'Murder She Wrote' where someone gets terrible review, they die,” says Sellers. “It felt like that.” Sitting there and hitting the refresh button on their computers obviously paid off. The talented comedy duo have not only received positive reviews from the critics, but also found themselves on this week’s cover of Hamilton’s weekly newspaper, View.
Saturday July 28th – 7:00pm
Sunday July 29th – 1:00pm
Smith is passionate about sharing the story of The Hero's Journey. She shared her own story in her recent Fringe hit, "snug harbor", and teaches the technique to others through her workshops with SoulOTheatre.
"snug harbor" marked Smith’s return to Toronto Fringe, following the 2007 play, "The Burning Bush!"
The award-winning comedy has gone on to play across Canada and off-Broadway and tells the story of a female Rabbinical student who teams up with exotic dancers and becomes the world's first
In "snug harbor", Tracey Erin Smith takes her audience on ‘The Hero’s Journey’. The one-woman play is a deeply personal story of Smith coming to terms with her father’s suicide. Smith first shared her story about her father’s suicide when she met CBC producer, Alison Northcott. Northcott interviewed her for the 2010 documentary, "Left Behind", which examined elder suicide, and accounts for approximately 12% of all suicides in Canada.
Smith is open and honest about her own journey and about her father’s life—and death. Smith explains elder suicide, such as in the case with her father, can be about financial terror. “My father was four months behind on his rent on his apartment, his car about to be taken away. His girlfriend—the one who ‘had his heart’—had already moved out,” she says. “Before he died he knew it was over.”
In "The Hero’s Journey" – as outlined by mythologist and writer, Joseph Campbell, a person goes forth from everyday life into a new and strange world, where mysterious forces are encountered and victory is won. This is the journey Smith takes her audience on through her play. Smith tells her audience, “The hero’s journey is the blueprint I’m using here to share my story. One that asks: what do you do when the unthinkable happens?” Smith shares each stage of her own personal journey with the audience – from
being tossed out of ‘The Ordinary World’ through to ‘The Return with the Elixir’. Smith fills in the story with scenes of her relationship with her father – camping together, partying together, as well as the details of his suicide. Smith tells her audience at the beginning of the play,
“This is a story about hope.”
Smith was invited to present "snug harbor" at the Santa Fe Solo Performance Festival last September, where it had its world premiere. Performing at Toronto Fringe, Smith had family and friends, as well as close friends of her father, come see the show. “It has been very healing all round,” she says. “snug harbour" forced me to look at other things – his childhood, great memories. We were very close.”
Smith reflects her how her father’s life is now of service to others. “What an amazing legacy.”
Smith teaches The Hero’s Journey as a writing template through her SoulOTheatre workshops. She explains, “It is usually an invisible structure used for playwrights to hang their own story.” But in "snug
harbor" Smith has drawn the curtain back to show the construct; she wants her audience to come along on the journey, “Otherwise they are just viewing it like at a zoo or a museum. I don’t
want them looking at something, I want them beside me.”
Smith held a talk show after each of her performances at Toronto Fringe. It gave the audience an opportunity to ask questions, talk about how suicide has affected their own lives, or in some cases talk about their own attempt. “There aren’t many taboos left but this is one,” says Smith. Her hope for "snug harbor" is it reaches a wider audience. Smith would like tour the show to places that need it, not necessarily in a theatre setting. She already has plans to remount 'snug harbor' in the fall of
2012 in Toronto.
Smith created SoulOTheatre, 10 years ago. The program was designed to help actors and non-actors create their own one-person show by transforming raw material from their life-journey into solo performances. Participants in Smith’s classes have gone on to perform their shows professionally. SOULO, which premiered at Fringe Toronto and was directed by Smith, was created out of Smith’s workshop. Staring Terrence Bryant, DJ Edwards and Marco Bernardi, SOULO tells their stories of coming out, based on Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign.
Smith has taught her techniques through SoulOTheatre privately and at Ryerson and says participants have ranged from 18 - 86. Smith tells me, “I want to do it until I can’t talk anymore.”
In her workshops, Smith teaches her participants the process for finding the gold and turning their stories into 10 minute monologues. Smith talks about one woman who wrote about the cancer that had returned. She told Smith, “I only lose weight when I have cancer.” To which Smith replied, “That’s the title of your show!” She says, “It is really about creating a community or congregation
with theatre.” For participants of SoulOTheatre their performance is the final step – it is bringing back home their gift to the audience. “The beautiful irony is this is the most vulnerable thing you’ll do and the most empowering thing you’ll do.” says Smith, “Because you fought your fucking ass off, you survived, you earned it.”
For more information on SoulOTheatre visit www.soulo.ca
Smith is holding a weekend intensive workshop July 27-29, 2012 in Toronto
and August 17-19, 2012 in New York.
"snug harbor" played at Fringe Toronto and will return to Toronto in the fall.
Discovering that Julia Lederer has a delightfully quirky nature didn’t really surprise me. Researching Lederer before our interview, I stumbled across her blog and a post for her list of new reality shows. Julia, you had me at ‘Survivor: Child. Think Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games.'
Lederer employs that same imagination in creating an entire functionality for GoogleShrink™, an on-line therapist that features in her Fringe Festival smash, "With Love and a Major Organ". Written and starring Lederer, (along with Robin Archer and Martha Ross) "With Love and a Major Organ" is an original romantic comedy about a woman who literally gives her heart to a stranger on the subway.
Lederer says "With Love and a Major Organ" started off as a love letter she wrote for The Walrus magazine competition (“I didn’t win,” she says). However, the playwright did submit her “Dear Stranger…” love letter to Theatre Passe Muraille’s CRAPSHOOT!, an event for emerging artists. She continued to develop the work with TheatreKairos, a writer’s circle, facilitated by industry peers. Lederer was paired up with Aynsley Moorhouse, (who is Artistic Associate for QuestionMark-Exclamation Theatre, along with Lederer) and read her initial draft of the play at HotScrawls.
Lederer says "With Love and a Major Organ" examines, “our ability to connect in a way that is tangible and real.” She explains, “People have such a fear confrontation, I think it’s easy to avoid saying what we think to people directly.” Lederer points out how much control we now have in how we communicate with others – such as Facebook, Twitter, texts. “To actually pick up the phone and talk to a person is scary. And because connection with people can be such a scary thing; it is easy to by-pass.”
The playwright says she loves playing with metaphors in her work. In an earlier play, "Boxed In", Lederer literally wrote herself into a box for the duration of the play. Originally performed at Tarragon as part of whaleriders, then for Hysteria! at Buddies at Badtimes, Lederer’s character was a young in a cardboard box on Yonge Street. She says that not only allowed her a shell of security on-stage, but also raised questions - “Was she homeless?”
Lederer completed a Masters in Dramatic Studies at University of Toronto, where she studied both acting and directing. Most recently she returned to Toronto after an 11-month acting conservatory at HB Studios in New York, which allowed her to concentrate solely on the techniques of acting. Lederer says everything she studied up until her time at HB Studio was intellectual oriented. “Acting is instinctive,” she says, “and infinitely fascinating and infinity challenging.” It was also a perfect opportunity for Lederer to explore the off-Broadway theatre scene. “It’s so exciting. I loved that there are 40 things you are dying to see all at once.” Lederer says her acting course included international students from around the word, which she found liberating. As part of her course, Lederer wrote a monologue that posed questions which didn’t necessarily have answers. She says she found her acting cohorts from Europe responded to her work with saying, “We don’t need to know the answer.” Lederer reflects while in North America we have a need to understand things clearly.
Lederer has been involved in Toronto’s indie theatre scene in multiple capacities—as Artistic Producer of Paprika Festival, assistant director for Hannah Moscovitch’s "The Russian Play" and for "More Fine Girls", where Lederer met Martha Ross, who plays Mona, George’s mother who seeks on-line therapy from GoogleShrink™ in Lederer’s play. Assistant directing gives Lederer, “the opportunity to see how other actors work.”
Recently Lederer piloted the television series Upstaged with creator Jacquie Pepall, the BAM Players put on a ‘socially relevant’ production of "Beauty and the Beast". Exploring the eccentric world of community theatre, Lederer says the cast includes Morro & Jasp, who—in true clown tradition—never dropped out of character, even while being directed.
For now, the talented artist is enjoying great success with her whimsical story of giving your heart away to a stranger.
How in your life are you “on the Fringe?”
Lederer describes a Venn diagram where the ‘human universe’ exists in one circle, and ‘my universe I live in’ in the other, with some overlap. She explains, “I exist on the fringe of my understanding of things. I have so many fundamental questions… that’s why I’m a writer.”
STOP THE PRESSES!
"With Love and a Major Organ" has been selected to be a part of The Best Of The Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival, with three performances:
Wednesday July 18th @ 7pm
Thursday July 19th @ 9pm
Saturday July 21st @ 3pm
Toronto Centre for the Arts, Studio Theatre, 5040 Yonge Street. Visit www.tocentre.com for more information.
For more information on With Love and a Major Organ visit www.questionmarkexclamation.com
Visit Julia Lederer’s blog at www.questionexclamation.tumblr.com
There’s a calm and collected energy about Westoll. On meeting her, you can tell she’d be great in a crisis.
Kathryn Westoll is the Managing Director of Fringe Toronto, a position she has held for two years. She is well-suited for the role with thirteen years experience as a Stage Manager. The question isn’t which theatres in the city have Westoll Stage Managed for; but rather which hasn’t she? Her experience includes working on productions for Nightwood Theatre, Young People's Theatre (formerly Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People) , Tarragon Theatre, Volcano, Soulpepper, Canadian Stage, Factory Theatre and SummerWorks.
Westoll describes her role as Managing Director essentially as the logistics person for Fringe Toronto. She is the liaison person for the 1,200 artists who make up this year’s Fringe Festival and responsible for coordinating the theatre venues and suppliers—everything from porta potties, to tents and of course, beer.
Most importantly, Westoll has the daunting task of scheduling the entire festival – 155 shows – which she admits can be “a logistical nightmare.” She explains, “There is the model, then… there’s the reality.” When an artist asks to reschedule a particular show, it can mean Westoll rejigging multiple other shows to accommodate that request.
What Westoll says makes her good at her job is the ability to be incredibly organized, multitask and stay calm under pressure. Though she does admit, “Sometimes I yell at the computer. A lot.” Often artists involved in the festival are usually very focussed on their own works and part of Westoll’s job is to expand their vision to the festival as a whole.
Westoll studied drama and English at Queens University. When she didn’t get a role in the third-year play, she took on the position of Stage Manger instead. “I realized that was my skill set,” says Westoll, who then went on to the National Theatre School to study technical production.
After having her daughter three years ago, Westoll wanted to be there for her child and not have “someone else put her to bed for 6 weeks” while stage managing a show. Working as a Managing Director for a visual arts organization, Westoll desperately missed being part of the theatre community (though she also admits to being a bad audience member – noticing if a prop isn’t right, for instance.) When her current position came up at Fringe, Westoll says, “everyone and their dog told me to apply. And here I am.”
Westoll attributes her success in her career partly due to her maternal nature - providing support to artistic personalities and offering a practical brain, instead of an emotional one. Westoll also credits her parents. Her mom instilled in her the ability to balance a budget (and was a bookkeeper for a convent in Oakville for many years), while her dad said to do whatever you want for a living, even if it’s hard.
Like a good Stage Manager, the Managing Director brings organization and cohesion to the Fringe. “I create the environment where the magic happens.” says Westoll. “I still do that in this job – provide the environment where people can safely tell their stories. “
How in your life are you “on the Fringe?”
“Probably in high school, I was a member of the music department. I was on the periphery of being popular.”
Playwright, actor and singer Heather Sande embodies what Fringe Toronto is about: the opportunity for an artist to create their own work and a platform in which to stage it. And don’t let her movie-star looks fool you. Sande tossed her hat into the ring in applying for the Toronto Fringe and took on the challenge of writing her first play (which she also produced and stars in) with tenacity and commitment.
In "Driving Home", Katherine (Sande) and Derek (Daniel Baumander) and are trapped in a car, where Derek is forced to reveal a secret he’s been keeping. Meanwhile, Katherine is also dealing with the news that her estranged mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Confronted with their new reality, the couple begins questioning their relationship and themselves.
Once her name was drawn from the Fringe Festival lottery, Sande started this play as a dialogue between two characters. She mustered the courage to send it to a couple of dramaturges. “I got a massive kick in the ass,” says Sande. “My work was sent back with a million questions. That told me it wasn’t working.”
One of the people Sande approached was Toby Malone, a dramaturge who has worked at Soulpepper. “He was so generous with his time,” she says. “He gave me some good advice on how to edit and make major revisions.”
Feeling like her back was against the wall in delivering a script, Sande tells me, “I just had to figure it out.” And figuring it out meant breaking down each scene and posting that on her wall. The playwright would shuffle her chair along and look at that scene: the major events; what each character wants; and what they did to get it. Write, then shuffle her chair along to the next scene.
It was the run up to her marriage earlier this summer and reflecting on past relationshipsthat initially inspired "Driving Home". I thought, ‘Wow. Some things are over now. Like getting dumped,’” Sande says.
Though her first draft was largely autobiographical, Sande took the play through various incarnations, adding the character of Katherine’s estranged mother who is dealing with Alzheimer’s. Though this is very much a work of fiction, Sande could draw on her own experience of having a family member with Alzheimer’s. “It’s tragically poetic. People don’t get better,” she says. “Katherine’s mother might live for another 10 years, but she might not know who she is.”
The overreaching theme that emerged in the play says Sande is one of forgiveness. “We are taught to we must be forgiving, but how do you? When you’re really hurt?” Katherine’s broken relationship with her mother and how it impacted the character was something Sande had to imagine. Growing up in small town Ontario (“there’s not even a traffic light”) she has a close relationship with her own family. “I was so conflicted,” she explains. It felt it was a betrayal.”
The experience of producing for the Fringe has changed Sande, who tells me one of her acting roles was in a cross-Canada tour of Max and Ruby. “I was in a big bunny head!” she laughs. “Now I’m an emerging artist. So many more options available to me that was there before.”
How in your life are you “on the Fringe?”
Sande responds, “In true self-deprecating style, ‘I’m on the Fringe of believing I can actually do this.’”
"Driving Home" plays at Tarragon Extra Space as part of the until July 15. For more information visit, www.drivinghometheplay.com
by Amanda Lee
There’s a quality in Pip Bradford that reminds me of Tigger; pouncing with enthusiasm, energy and joy. “I love Fringe with a passion you would not believe,” she says. “It’s the community; it’s a way of engaging artists.”
Already involved in the Fringe as a ‘25th anniversary planning committee intern’ (“The longest title ever existed,” says Bradford), she took a leave from her position of mainspace theatre technician at Tarragon Theatre for the role of Youth Outreach Coordinator at Fringe Toronto. Despite working as a technician for a theatre renowned for its production values across Canada, Bradford was looking to evolve as a person, and to utilize her people skills.
“There are only so many ways I can hang a lamp,” she says.
The Toronto Fringe’s Youth and Artist Outreach offers programs that strengthen the theatre sector and equip up-and-coming theatre makers with the tools they need to succeed in their creative endeavors. Bradford explains there are three levels of youth outreach at Fringe festival:
10 youth from the Paprika Young Artists Festival are mentored in a production showcase at the Toronto Fringe Festival.
10 x 10 x 10 is an amazing outreach program where 1,000 free rush passes are distributed to youth community groups, such as the YMCA, across the GTA. The program is a way of engaging young adult audiences in theatre.
Bradford is perhaps most excited about The 100. In this new initiative, 100 youth are given free, all-access VIP pass to the Toronto Fringe Festival. Bradford calls The 100 “The rootin’est tootin’est band of young theatre entrepreneurs in Toronto.” The 17-25-year-olds are taken out of the rehearsal hall and into the real world. They’re given an opportunity to look at the business of doing theatre, and listen to theatre professionals, including Ashley Ballantyne of Canadian Stage, on areas such as guerrilla marketing, and online promotions. The 100 recently took what they’ve learned to create a flash mob event. Dressed as elderly (and slightly stuffy) theatre goers, the 100 took to the streets of Toronto protesting how cheap Fringe theatre is.
Inspired by DaPoPo Theatre’s monthly Café DaPoPo in Halifax, Bradford has also arranged for The 100 to perform daily at the Fringe Club, where they are literally offering a menu of theatrical delights. Patrons can order up a sonnet, a monologue, a dance or a song from the talented 100 participants. “My dream was to spend all day, every day at the Fringe Club,” says Bradford. “I need bigger dreams!” she laughs.
And like the other talented women I’ve talked to for Arts 9-5 Fringe Edition, this isn’t her first Fringe experience. Bradford worked on a show for Fringe in Halifax “Reflections on Giving Birth to a Squid” at Fringe Halifax, which also toured across Canada. For Bradford, part of the magic of Fringe is the opportunity to see amazing plays without the ‘bells and whistles.’ Bradford explains instead a couple of actors are likely to find themselves on a bare stage with LED flashing finger lights. “It’s about the inventiveness of the space and the shows,” she says.
As well as being a passionate supporter of the next wave of theatre makers, and one fine theatre technician, Pip Bradford is also the new millennium’s answer to Emily Post. On her blog, Tips From Pip, she posts well-mannered and practical etiquette. I couldn’t leave without asking her for a Tip From Pip when it comes to Fringe.
“Be early,” Pip says without hesitation. “For everything.”
In your life how are you “on the Fringe?”
“I’m not a person interested in filling a box. It never occurred to me I couldn’t be a theatre technician and a Youth Outreach Coordinator.”
Visit www. For Tips From Pip: http://tipsfrompip.tumblr.com/
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