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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Life, love & faith in all its messy glory – Eating Pomegranates Naked

Eating-P-N-367x500I was back at the Lower Ossington Theatre main stage again last night, this time to see Andrea Scott’s Eating Pomegranates Naked, directed for the SummerWorks production by Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu.

A group of 30-something friends unearth personal loss, sins of omission and secrets, and struggle with various crises of faith. Scott (Eli Ham) and Sera (Marci T House) navigate the cultural and religious differences that at times challenge their marriage as they struggle to have a baby, while Rushton (Awaovieyi Agie) and Anaar (Cherissa Richards) work out their lives as a new couple, and come to realize that they haven’t had a clear discussion on the baby question and may not be the match they thought they were. For all her tough-talking bravado and comparatively bohemian lifestyle, Cassidy (Susan A. Lock), the single gal in the group, longs for intimate connection and wonders whether a baby is in the cards for her. Connection, family – whether birth family or a chosen family of friends – and a desire to leave some sort of legacy are foremost in the minds of these characters.

Really nice work from this ensemble cast. House does a lovely job balancing Sera’s strength and vulnerability, assuredness and doubt; and Ham’s Scott is a good complement, the other side of Sera’s coin, bringing support and love, especially during the most fragile moments in their relationship. Agie brings a nice sense of cocky, but congenial, confidence to Rushton, a handsome and accomplished man who must come to terms with the fact that he may not be getting what he expected from his relationship with Anaar; and Richards rounds out Anaar’s pretty, dumb girl exterior with a deep longing for acceptance, fearful of rejection if she reveals herself. Lock is sharply funny as Cassidy, gradually revealing that, beneath all of Cassidy’s smart-ass quips, there lies a lack of confidence that she’ll be able to change her life for the better.

Eating Pomegranates Naked is life in all its loving, fighting, believing – and messy – glory. This is another play I had the pleasure to see in an earlier draft – in this case, as a reading at Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival 2012. During the Q&A that followed that reading, the audience learned that the title was inspired in part by friends of Scott, a couple who eat pomegranates naked for easy clean-up/stain avoidance – plus its colourful, erotic, and even biblical, reference (was an apple or a pomegranate that figured in Adam and Eve’s downfall?). In French, it’s “grenade,” a fitting word for the gasp-inducing emotional bombs that get dropped throughout the play. Revelations have the power to relieve or destroy relationships, and revealing oneself takes courage and can result in the discovery that what was wanted most, even as it slips through one’s fingers, is maybe not what was needed – or wanted – after all.

You have two more chances to see Eating Pomegranates Naked during its SummerWorks run at the Lower Ossington Theatre main space: tonight (Fri, Aug 16) at 10:00 p.m. and Sat, Aug 17 at 7:30 p.m. If you’re one of the first 25 audience members for this show, you may get lucky like I did last night and receive a gift bag with some tasty Cobs bake shop goodies.

Upcoming theatre, music, poetry & cabaret happenings this week

Hey kids! For all y’all who are coming back to your regularly scheduled programming after the long weekend: hope you had a good one. Can you believe we’re well into the first week of August already? Holy moly!

Lots coming up, my friends. Here is just a sample of what local artists and performers are up to here in Toronto this week:

StageWorks Toronto’s production of Parade runs Aug 8 – 18 at the George Ignatieff Theatre.

SummerWorks gets up and running Aug 8 – 18 at various venues. I’ve got my eye on: Delicacy, Eating Pomegranates Naked and Utopia.

The August edition of The Beautiful and the Damned on Thurs, Aug 8 at Q Space from 7 – 9:30 p.m., hosted by Lizzie Violet, and featuring Brenda Clews, Adam Abbas and Andrea Matchett, and a whole lotta talented open mic performers. Dead celeb of the month is Janis Joplin. This will be TB&TD’s last show at Q Space – new location TBD.

Songwriters Circle of Jerks is also up on Thurs, Aug 8 at Free Times Café at 8:30 p.m., featuring guest performer blueVenus.

More music at Free Times Café on Sat, Aug 10 at 8:30 p.m. with Craig Robertson, Heather Hill and Tania Joy.

The monthly cabaret/open mic extravaganza Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir says goodbye to Q Space on Sun, Aug 11 7 – 10 p.m., with feature performers sol knots, Andraya and Tania Joy, as well as some amazing open mic talent. Cabaret Noir heads to a new venue in September – new location TBA during Sunday night’s show.