Interview with Andrea Scott on upcoming Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife @ SummerWorks

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Andrea Scott is an award-winning Toronto-based actor, playwright and producer at Call Me Scotty Productions. Her plays have appeared in the New Ideas Festival and SummerWorks (Eating Pomegranates Naked and Better Angels: A Parable – the latter is also featured on Expect Theatre’s PlayMe podcast), in a Mixed Company Theatre touring production (Frenemies) and, most recently, at Solar Stage (Princesses Don’t Grow on Trees). Next up for Scott is a SummerWorks production of Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife, which “explores feminism, slut shaming and the power dynamic that exists between the genders as viewed from Mata Hari’s prison cell in 1917.”* Andrew Lamb is directing, and the cast includes David Christo, Lisa Karen Cox, Kimwun Perehinec and Paula Wing.

LWMC: Hi, Andrea. Thanks for taking the time to talk about Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife – and thanks for giving me the opportunity to read it first. Things have been cooking for you lately, with Expect Theatre for the PlayMe broadcast of Better Angels and a recent production of Princesses Don’t Grow on Trees at Solar Stage. Quick side question: What’s your experience been shifting between writing for adult audiences to younger audiences?

AS: Less swearing. Or maybe more, now that I think about it. When I write for children, I have to be very conscious not to give the children my ‘adult’ voice. I have a habit of using big words or a vocabulary that is rather expansive. Children are so smart and observant, and when they say something insightful, it takes adults by surprise. That is a challenge to write because you don’t want people to hear it and say, ‘Oh, that’s just a clever adult putting their words into the mouth a child.’ I remember feeling that way after reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

LWMC: Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife features Mata Hari as the central figure. How did you become drawn to her story?

AS: I was asked to be in a reading of Harriet’s Daughter by M. NourbeSe Philips in the 2013 AfterRock Festival produced by b current. The character I played was obsessed with Mata Hari, so in order to understand my character better, I researched who she was in history. I thought I knew who she was and was surprised to learn that there was little to no hard evidence that led to her execution. What was clear was that she was very open about her sexual appetite, enjoyed showing her body, and entirely unapologetic. A woman like that could only be trouble in 1917.

LWMC: The action shifts back and forth between Mata Hari’s cell, in the hours before her execution in 1917, and a present-day university women’s studies course that includes a lecture and discussion about Mata Hari. What made you decide to structure the play in this way?

AS: I was very excited about this woman’s story and when I would tell people about Mata Hari, I came to realize that most didn’t know who she was at all. The professor conceit came out of the desire to inform and educate the audience. Early drafts had him directing the lecture at the audience, but Marjorie Chan, AD at Cahoots Theatre, felt it would be more dynamic to have another character with which the professor could interact. Nobody knows what Mata Hari’s last hours were like, so this is an imagining. What is known is that she had two cellmates and was never informed of an execution date. Right up until the guard showed up at her cell, she believed she would be released. She seemed unaware that an espionage charge was a guaranteed death sentence when over 50,000 French soldiers had been slaughtered at the Battle of Verdun.

LWMC: The play draws some sharp social and feminist parallels, and the discussions of gender, sexuality and colour – and even ownership – between Mata Hari and her cellmate are mirrored to some extent in the debates between the professor and his female student in the present day. What do you hope the audience will take away from these perspectives?

AS: That, unfortunately, slut shaming between women is just as bad as when men do it and it has always existed. That even in prison there exists a hierarchy entrenched because of racism and privilege. Mata Hari, who was a Dutch citizen, looks at her cellmate Helene and asks her where she is from even though Helene is clearly French. There were many black people in France, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of evidence of this fact in French plays or literature. Alexandre Dumas’ work was being read in French prisons and he was a black man. Race and gender politics have always been around but now we have a more open society where one can discuss it without reprisal (hopefully).

LWMC: And was there anything that surprised you as you were doing the research for the play?

How little things have changed regarding military protocol if you are identified as a threat to national security. Mata Hari was taken into custody, interrogated repeatedly, denied access to her lawyer on many occasions, had her correspondence intercepted, and essentially convicted for being a sexual woman. Several years after her execution a prosecutor on the case admitted that they did not have enough evidence to kill a cat.

I also touch on the precarious employment issue plaguing university professors. I was completely unaware of how little they make, their poor treatment, and the assumption that once you’re a professor you’ve got it made. It was a bad situation 10 years ago and now it’s even worse as universities move towards operating on a business model treating education as a commodity.

LWMC: You’re currently crowdfunding for the production on Indiegogo. Tell us about that. And what other ways can folks support Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife?

AS: I recognize the impetus to simply split the box office after a SummerWorks show and make a little bit of money beforehand in order to pay for supplies, but I really want to pay my team for their skills. I did a Fringe show many years ago, and after 5 weeks of rehearsals and 7 shows, I was paid something like $20 and I was like, ‘Nah, Man!’ My base amount is $500 per person, so usually I need about $5,000 in the business account by July so that I can pay for rehearsal space, marketing, insurance and contingency items. By the time the show has had a run and the box office is reconciled, I’ve usually made enough to give everyone that $500 in September. This year, I’m being way more ambitious by applying for grants because rather than $500 (which breaks down to $100/week/member), I’d like to pay them $600 a week, which approximates the Indie 2.1 contract. We’ll see. It may be nuts and everyone will simply get $500, but I had to try.

If people don’t have the funds, I’d just like them to re-post the link or talk about the play. Nothing can replace good word of mouth.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?

AS: The tiny play I wrote for Wrecking Ball #18 last July has been expanded into a full length piece called All Most Be Longing, and there will be an excerpt read at Factory Theatre Wired in June.

LWMC: Cool! I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word? Specious

What’s your least favourite word? Scumbag

What turns you on? Intelligence with a sense of wit

What turns you off? Self-centred behaviour with lack of awareness of other’s feelings

What sound or noise do you love? The sound of birds in the morning

What sound or noise do you hate? CNN on all the time.

What is your favourite curse word? Fuckery said with an English accent

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Professor

What profession would you not like to do? Labour lawyer on the side of the companies

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? You did alright. Here’s a dirty martini with extra olives.

Thanks, Andrea!

Don’t Talk to Me Like I’m Your Wife will run during SummerWorks 2016 (Aug 4 – 14). Take a look at the YouTube fundraising video:

 

 

* Call Me Scotty Productions website

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SummerWorks: A compelling morality tale of modern-day slavery in Better Angels: A Parable

Akosua Amo-Adem in Better Angels - A Parable
Akosua Amo-Adem in Better Angels – A Parable

I first had the pleasure of seeing Andrea Scott’s Better Angels: A Parable in an early production at the 2014 New Ideas Festival, so I was excited to see how the piece had evolved for the SummerWorks production, directed by Nigel Shawn Williams and currently running at the Theatre Passe Muraille (TPM) Backspace.

Akosua Mansa (Akosua Amo-Adem) is a young woman from Ghana who moves to Toronto to work as a nanny/maid in the home of Leila (Sascha Cole) and Greg Tate (Peyson Rock). Wide-eyed with excitement over her new job, the prospect of living in a new place and her first plane ride, Akosua welcomes this change and adventure in her life. Leila and Greg are friendly and welcoming – with Leila fastidiously in charge of the household; she’s left her corporate job to work on a novel, and the house must run like clockwork. Greg is low maintenance by comparison, if not a bit clueless about the household routine, and often working after hours – and we come learn that he has other things occupying his mind. Soon, though, Akosua finds things are not so easy-going in the Tate house, as she finds herself working without pay for several months, then having to choose between getting paid and going home for a visit during the Christmas holiday (which, as a Muslim, she doesn’t celebrate). And Leila successfully manages to manipulate day-to-day activities so Akosua has no unaccompanied access to the outside world – and she’s taken possession of Akosua’s passport. Rather than wallow in her misfortune, Akosua uses her intellect and power of observation to turn her situation around.

Williams and Scott (who both also provide voice-overs for the play) have assembled an outstanding cast for this production. Amo-Adem is a delight as Akosua, giving us a young woman embarking on a great adventure who is animated and excited, yet solidly possessing of strength and resolve. This exuberant young woman is no push-over; she may be new to her position and to Canada, but she is nobody’s fool, and unapologetically asserts her rights when she finds herself being cheated of freedom and wages. Cole does a lovely job with Leila’s complex layers; tightly wound and controlling, and extremely entitled, but desperately lonely – and with a jealous streak. She does a remarkable job with the backhand compliments and ethno-cultural faux pas, which serve to highlight that, while Leila is interested in – and even attracted to (Greg is half black) – the black community and culture, she views it as “other” and sees black people as stereotypical “exotic” creatures, and has little to no respect for, or understanding of, their history and lived experience. Rock does an amazing job conveying the multifaceted aspects of Greg; he is largely absent from his marriage and has a laissez faire attitude towards the household – his interest in the goings-on in his home only piqued when he feels his position is threatened. Beneath the affable, good-natured, hard-working husband exterior is a man squirming with inner conflict and secret passions.

Better Angels: A Parable is nicely bookended, with Akosua’s personal anecdote at the top of the play about a getting a childhood lesson in the unfairness of the world, and her closing piece of storytelling about the West African spider god Anansi turning the tables on Death.

With shouts to the set (Laura Gardner, who also designed costumes) and lighting (Jennifer Lennon) designers for the beautiful and evocative spider theme used in this production. The yellow fabric placed web-like floor to ceiling and along the floor, and the lighting effect on the wall of Akosua’s tiny attic room – all in all, highly effective and imaginative design and staging for this production, especially on so small a playing space.

Better Angels: A Parable is a compelling morality tale of modern-day slavery and a young woman’s action to regain her freedom.

Better Angels: A Parable continues at the TPM Backspace until Aug 16 – check here for exact dates and times. Advance booking or early arrival at the box office strongly recommended – they had a full house at yesterday’s performance.

SummerWorks 25 is coming!

sw_logo1Hey kids! I’ve been away from the blog for a bit, busy with summertime family and social gatherings, and getting some R&R in before the next big wave of events. And can you believe it’s August already?

Being August also means it’s time for SummerWorks, a juried, multidisciplinary performance festival which opens tomorrow (Thurs, Aug 6) and runs until Sun, Aug 16.

Like Toronto Fringe, SummerWorks uses multiple spaces/locations and each show runs at different times throughout the fest – check the 2015 festival schedule for what’s happening when and where; venues include The Theatre Centre, Factory Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille, among others.

SummerWorks turns 25 this year, hence the SummerWorks 25 moniker – so that’s not a typo you’re seeing in the Twitter #SW25 hashtag.

I’ve decided to go minimalist this year and focus on theatre performances. I picked up my media pass yesterday – and here’s what I’ve booked so far:

An Evening in July
Better Angels: A Parable
Face Value: West
Lac/Athabasca
The Living
The Tall Building
Tough Guy Mountain: a play

To be confirmed:
Seams

So what are you planning on seeing at SummerWorks this year?

Reminder that cowbell is an unpaid, part-time, one-person operation; in addition, I don’t have time off my f/t office job during SummerWorks, so I’ll see as much as I can. If you’re working on one of the productions this year and if I can’t make it to your show, please keep in touch for your next production.

Lost youth, family secrets, modern-day parable & silence speaking volumes in New Ideas Week Two program

NIF2014-banner-1024x725Back at Alumnae Theatre for the Week Two program of the New Ideas Festival last night – and this is a very strong program, featuring four excellent – and very different – plays.

The Living Library, by Linda McCready and directed by Stacy Halloran is a delightfully funny two-hander about a young woman who comes to the library to take advantage of the Living Library Program to borrow a “living book” for a career conversation. Ann Marie Krytiuk is a treat as the energetic and driven, but lost, Sylvia; and Scott Moulton is marvelous as her interview subject, senior policy analyst Tom.

Better Angels: A Parable, by Andrea Scott and directed by Pomme J-Corvellec, uses both multi-media and traditional storytelling to great effect to present a modern-day morality tale. Akosua Mans (Keriece Harris), a young woman from Ghana who dreams of a better life in Canada, takes a job as a housekeeper/nanny for Toronto yuppies Leila (Hilary Hart) and Greg Tate (Daniel De Pas), and becomes their domestic prisoner. Caught in their own web of malicious machinations and deceit, the Tates’ plans go terribly awry. Harris does a lovely job as Akosua, shifting from wide-eyed, dreamy naiveté to wisdom and taking power over her situation as an immigrant domestic worker in a bad situation. Hart does a great job with Hilary’s conflicting emotions – domineering, controlling and tightly wound, but sad and lonely, and longing for connection; and De Pas brings a nice balance to Greg’s seemingly easy-going nature, all the while burning with unresolved passion underneath. Excellent use of projection for the set; it was very cool to see the cursor draw it on the canvas curtain as the stage was set, and the close-ups of Akosua’s face really draw the audience to her as a person – not an ethnicity, a skin colour or a service worker, but a person.

The Shimmering Odessa Building or Whatever, by Judith Upjohn and directed by Zoë Erwin-Longstaff, takes us on an unusual road trip of aimlessness, anomie and literature with three intelligent, hip and tech-savvy young women – all set against the backdrop of a scorched earth ravaged by climate change. Outstanding work from the cast: Sharon Belle (Writer/Iris), the driver, both coolly detached and lyrical; Tiana Asperjan (Cali), the cynical wise-cracking, but sensitive, friend riding shotgun; and Janice Yang (Wiki-Wendy) as the teenage backseat tag-along with an encyclopedic mind, who breaks her long silences with salient information and data.

Brockfest, by Joan Burrows and directed by Eric Benson, is a delightful family comedy. Siblings are reunited at Kitty’s (Liz Best) celebration of “not being American” anymore, where secrets are revealed and that nun’s got her eyes on you. Excellent ensemble cast on this one. Best brings the funny as the stressed out and excited guest of honour, also hosting this gathering; and David Borwick is hilarious as her sweet, but somewhat clueless, husband Cal (not to mention very handsome in uniform). Justen Bennett is both deliciously impish and neurotic as Kitty’s brother Les, and John Marcucci is adorably charming as Les’s partner Paul. And Andrea Lyons is perfectly hysterical as Kitty’s and Les’s sister, Sister Leona, who’s taken a vow of silence. Best. Entrance. Ever.

Lost youth, family secrets, modern-day parable and silence speaking volumes – all in all, a seriously outstanding program of short plays. Week Two closes on March 23, so you only have a few more chances to catch it: twice today and tomorrow afternoon.

The Week Two reading is this afternoon: Charles Hayter’s Radical, directed by Darcy Stoop.

The New Ideas Festival continues next week (Mar 26-30) with its Week Three program and reading. Reservations are strongly recommended as this is a popular festival.

Call 416-364-4170 or visit the Tickets page on the Alumnae website.