Actor/Artistic Producer Jennifer Neales has assembled a company of talented creators, producers and mentors to create an exciting new theatre project, set to premiere at Red Sandcastle Theatre April 22-24. #HERstoryCounts is an indie Canadian production, presenting a series of autobiographical monologues that bring to life personal stories of “endurance, strength, loss, survival, and love that push the boundaries of what is often expected of womyn on stage. . . Real stories told from each of our different perspectives.” I asked Neales about the project and the team behind it.
LWMC: Hey, Jennifer – thanks for taking some time out to talk about #HERstoryCounts. What can you tell us about the genesis and inspiration for this project?
JN: It’s such a pleasure for me to talk about #HERstoryCounts. It is absolutely my most favourite project to date. The project began to take form at the end of 2015. I had just come back from tour as an actor in trey anthony’s play ‘da Kink in My Hair: Girls in Red Lipstick Tour, which taught me about standing in my truth even in the face of adversity, and trey, her partner Janet, and I went to see an incredible piece of theatre called Nirbhaya #endthesilence curated by Nightwood Theatre. This piece of theatre sparked in me something that I didn’t know was there. It ignited a fire in my belly so hot that I had to create something. #endthesilence. Wow. Womyn’s voices are still being silenced all over the world. Here. In Toronto. In our families. Within our educational system. In judicial institutions. EVERYWHERE.
In the middle of January, Matthew Jocelyn announced the 2016-17 season for The Canadian Stage and there was not one person at the creation level (creators, writers, directors) who identified as a person of colour. And, the response to the outrage that so many of us felt was that they would be “casting diversely.” For myself, and so many other theatre artists, that was no longer good enough. What we REALLY need is diversity of perspective. That’s when I knew my production would be #HERstoryCounts. Our inaugural production features womyn from all different backgrounds writing their own stories. Real stories from lived experiences.
LWMC: And what made you decide to choose a monologue format?
JN: I chose to use a series of monologues because in this way, each of the womyn, who are all so wonderfully different, could tell their own stories. I wanted this production to be more than just one voice, to have more than just one writer.
LWMC: You have an impressive group of creators, producers and mentors for the launch of this project. Who’s onboard with you – and how did they become involved?
JN: I am so grateful to every single womyn who is on board with #HERstoryCounts. Creating their own work is Evangelia Kambites, Susan A. Lock, Sundance Nagrial, Janet Romero-Leiva, Tennille Read, Ordena Stephens-Thompson and Kelly Wilk. I have worked with or have seen these womyn on stage, and have always been impressed with their talent and their commitment to telling the story in front of them. I personally asked for these womyn. The mentors I have on board are trey anthony, who has hired me on a number of occasions to act in her shows in Toronto and on tour, and is a very dear friend; Anusree Roy, whose work has always inspired and excited me, and someone who has always been so kind to me; and finally, Melanie Hrymak, (also a creative over-seer) who I have worked with only once before, but whose work I have followed since that time, and someone I consider a friend. My Stage Manager and fellow artistic over-seer is the accomplished Franny McCabe-Bennett, my Assistant Stage Manager and Assistant Producer is the fabulous Jenna Borsato, and my last artistic over-seer is Melissa Major, an accomplished playwright, theatre company owner, and performer.
LWMC: #HERstoryCounts gets its inaugural production April 22-24 at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Is this going to be the first of many such productions?
JN: Yes, I see #HERstoryCounts as a movement. Here in Toronto, all over Canada, and hopefully on tour internationally. My goal is to have different voices on stage, different perspectives on stage for each production.
LWMC: You’re crowdfunding for this production on Indiegogo. Are there any other ways folks can support #HERstoryCounts?
JN: YES!!! Word-of-mouth is how most things get done, and for #HERstoryCounts it is no different! Spread the word! I would be so honoured if people would share the link with their networks – reach out to anyone and everyone who has any sort of pull and knows the worth of supporting womyn in theatre.
LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?
JN: I would like to give a massive shout out to screen-writer, director and producer Kate Johnston, who offered her assistance in preparation for the Indiegogo Campaign video pitch script. I would also like to acknowledge my amazing friend and digital producer Meg Norton, who made the filming and editing that much easier by offering her advice and know-how.
Finally, I want to say thank you to each of the incredibly brave and astounding womyn working on this project with me. Their courage and enthusiasm has caused such beautiful things to happen already. This is not a show you want to miss. These are womyn everyone should know, and work with.
LWMC: I’d like to finish with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire. What’s your favourite word?
JN: Bugger-face (my wife is British 🙂 )
LWMC: What’s your least favourite word?
JN: The mispronunciation of supposedly – “suposably”
LWMC: What turns you on?
JN: My wife. 😛
LWMC: What turns you off?
JN: Accepted ignorance.
LWMC: What sound or noise do you love?
JN: The two gentlemen playing the violin and the accordion so often at Yonge and Bloor station.
LWMC: What sound or noise do you hate?
JN: Metal scraping across flooring.
LWMC: What is your favourite curse word?
LWMC: What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?
JN: Professional horseback rider.
LWMC: What profession would you not like to do?
JN: Any profession where you have to carry/use weapons.
LWMC: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
JN: You did good, girl.
LWMC: Thanks, Jennifer. All the best with #HERstoryCounts. Look forward to seeing it at Red Sandcastle.
JN: Thank you so much!
Keep an eye out for #HERstoryCounts at Red Sandcastle Theatre (Apr 22-24); in the meantime, give the project a like on Facebook.