Photo of Erin Jones by David Fitzpatrick.
Erin Jones is a writer, actor, playwright and emerging director who has performed in theatre and independent films across the GTA. After debuting her first play, Lovingly Yours, Olive in the Next Stage Community Booster Series at Toronto Fringe, she returns to this year’s digital festival with her new play Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday, produced by Wonder Jones Productions. She also supports the performing arts behind the scenes with publicity, articles, newsletters, social media, grant writing, governance, photography, director hiring committees, and Respect in the Workplace committees.
I asked Jones about Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday and the process of producing a digital theatre production.
Full disclosure: This project is near and dear to my heart; I had the honour of participating in the play development readings, and was invited to join the final cast for this Toronto Fringe 2021 On-Demand digital production.
Hi, Erin. Thanks for taking the time from your super busy schedule to talk about your upcoming Toronto Fringe digital production Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday. Tell us about Wonder Jones Productions and its creative vision.
Wonder Jones Productions was born out of a love for theatre! It began as a support to other theatre groups to promote live theatre and keep it alive. It evolved when I realized that I should be using it to promote my own projects. The creative vision is to tell untold stories that are relevant, positive, respectful and inclusive. A key guiding principle is to write stories that accurately reflect our community and our Canadian history. This means creating rich roles that engage many people, including BIPOC, ACPI and LGBTQ+ artists.
And what inspired you to write Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday and the themes it addresses?
I think many planets aligned the day that I began writing this play. I was inspired to write about a positive future, and I had recently finished another script that delved into science fiction. I enjoyed writing that story so much that I decided to keep exploring futurism, science fiction and the supernatural. My original goal was to explore Black Canadian history, and I realized I can continue to do that while exploring these genres. It was also inspired by a desire to preserve the memory and legacy of those we have lost—to give voice to those who may no longer be able to speak for themselves. The story explores how four people each deal with love, grief, forgiveness and healing with elements of intrigue, mystery and surprise. While they go on a very unusual Twilight Zone-type journey, their stories are relatable.
I wrote Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday especially for the Toronto Fringe Festival. They decided to go with a digital platform this year, to promote safety in light of the pandemic. They encouraged productions that could be delivered in a digital platform.
So, with all of these elements combined, I was inspired to write a play that could be safely rehearsed and performed remotely.
Due to COVID-19 health and safety measures, the development, rehearsal and recording process all needed to be done virtually—in this case, via Zoom. What was that process like for you, director Megan Gibson and the cast?
Theatre is amazing in that there are several moving parts and, somehow, we manage to pull it all together and create a show! This process required a lot of risk-taking, steep learning curves, planning and experimentation. Where to begin?
I workshopped the play to receive feedback and fine-tune it. This was an incredibly important step. I encouraged actors, writers, producers, and trusted colleagues from diverse backgrounds and lived experience, to give me feedback on the script. This was critical. Some playwrights don’t do this and it can result in characters that lack authenticity.
Casting was another important piece. It was essential that we cast respectfully to honour the diversity of the characters. This had a few challenges, but that was mainly due to scheduling conflicts and tight deadlines. Overall, this was a terrific opportunity to work with very talented actors that reflect our diverse Canadian diaspora.
Figuring out what technology to use and how to use it was important. This was a big learning curve for all of us, since we were used to in-person rehearsals, blocking, etc.
Planning the rehearsal and filming schedule was another step in the process. “Digital blocking” was a new skill! We all had to become our own technician, stage manager, prop handler and set designer! We worked collectively to figure out our settings, cameras, eye line, lighting, practical special effects and more. The key was to be flexible and work with what we each had. This was fascinating to watch how we each evolved with this.
Rehearsals and recording were cleverly planned so that we could honour live theatre while working digitally. What audiences may not realize is that the play was performed in real time. While the actors were in different locations, they still performed as an ensemble. Most of the effects were practical.
Post-production was another key aspect. Luckily, I worked with an editor, and we added sound and effects. This was another huge learning curve. It is hard to explain, but it was just as much work as all the previous phases!
You wrote the play with the digital Fringe in mind—and the play is set in a Zoom chat, so lends itself very well to this format. What creative opportunities and challenges did you encounter as a result of this hybrid stage/film production?
As theatre artists, we are used to being with each other in person. Using a virtual conferencing software is challenging because each person has a different computer, settings and internet services. We had to figure out how to work with those limitations. One of the biggest challenges was seeing each other on a screen. The actors had to look at their cameras rather each other. It was an adjustment to act to the camera rather than another person. However, the cast was terrific and they adapted beautifully.
How do folks get to see Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday?
With the Fringe On-Demand series, audiences will access content on Fringetoronto.com with the purchase of a membership pass. Tickets will go on sale July 7, 2021.
Now for the fun part: James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire. What’s your favourite word? I don’t really have one, but the word “grand” comes to mind.
What’s your least favourite word? I cannot repeat those! Anything profane that I won’t want my Grandma to hear.
What turns you on? Good manners.
What turns you off? People who have no integrity.
What sound or noise do you love? Ocean waves.
What sound or noise do you hate? Snoring.
What is your favourite curse word? I don’t like curse words. 🙂
What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Running a blank on this one. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a ballerina, scientist and movie star all at the same time.
What profession would you not like to do? Not sure. I just don’t want to get like some who doesn’t put their whole self into their work and become bitter.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Welcome. You are safe and loved. And don’t worry, your childhood pet cats are here too!”
Anything else you want to shout out?
I want to give a shout out to the cast and creative team. The actors gave their all. The director skillfully pulled out great performances! The video editor brought ingenuity. The student volunteers brought creativity. The Toronto Fringe Team brought knowledge and resources to support us. And finally, our loved ones who brought the inspiration.
Four bereavement group friends meet via EtherWebb on Easter Sunday to embark on an unexpected and mystical virtual adventure of memory, revelation and closure. Written by Erin Jones, directed by Meg Gibson and edited by Marcus Kage; and featuring Georgia Grant, Olivia Jon, Erin Jones, Dayjan Lesmond, Cate McKim, Twaine Ward, Jamie Joong Watts and Paula Wilkie.