Interview with Diane Flacks & Katie Ford – coming to Mini-Soulo Festival with Bits & Pieces

LobsterComing soon to several theatre spaces around Toronto: Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre present the Mini-Soulo Festival (Nov 27-30), with workshops at Red Sandcastle Theatre, and performances at Factory Theatre, Panasonic Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Featuring in the Mini-Soulo Festival on Nov 29 at Buddies in Bad Times is a staged reading of the play Bits and Pieces, written and performed by Diane Flacks and Katie Ford, with dramaturgical support from Smith.

Emmy, Gemini and Dora-nominated writer/performer Diane Flacks is no stranger to writing and performing in solo shows (her own shows Myth Me, By a Thread, Random Acts, and Bear With Me, as well as writing Luba, Simply, Luba for Luba Goy) or intimate two-handers (her work with Richard Greenblatt on Sibs and Care). Flacks is also a featured parenting columnist in the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, as well as on CBC radio, and her book Bear With Me, What They Don’t Tell You About Pregnancy and New Motherhood was adapted into a solo show, which she toured across Canada and performed at the Winnipeg Comedy Fest. Most recently, she’s been working as a writer/producer on the critically acclaimed NBC/Global sitcom Working the Engels. Flacks is Nightwood Theatre’s 2014 playwright in residence, developing Unholy, a play about women and religion; and her new two-act drama Waiting Room will have its world premiere at Tarragon Theatre January-February, 2015.

Best known for her work on hits like the film Miss Congeniality and TV sitcom Family Ties, writer/producer Katie Ford more recently wrote the Emmy-nominated TV movie Prayers for Bobby. Starting out as a stand-up comic at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto, Ford went on to become a playwright – and her play Out in America was produced in New York and Los Angeles, where it was voted as one of the best plays of the year by the L.A. Times. Ford is currently the executive producer of Working the Engels.

I had the opportunity to interview Flacks and Ford about Bits and Pieces – here’s what they had to say:

LWMC: Hi, Diane and Katie. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me about Bits and Pieces, and its upcoming reading at the Mini-Soulo Festival.
KF: My pleasure.
DF: Me too!
LWMC: Bits and Pieces is described as a “two-person, one-person show.” What is the show about?
DF: We’re calling it a theatrical conversation. Two stories that echo and reflect each other, and end up pushing each other to reveal something unexpected. Just like one of those great, surprising conversations with a good friend.
LWMC: And what can you tell us about the genesis of Bits and Pieces, and how the two of you came to work together on it?
KF: Diane and I are good friends and when I moved back to Toronto a couple of years ago, I wanted to write a show for her to do – a one-person show. At the same time, I started performing again (I had been a stand-up at the beginning of my career at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto). Diane and I both performed onstage for a benefit and each did a monologue about ‘fighting;’ it was so fun to be onstage with her – there was such an ease and camaraderie there, I for sure wanted more of that. So we just started developing pieces – writing separate pieces for ourselves that we would read the other and then the other one of us would develop a piece that would be compatible.
DF: And I adore Katie’s writing and performing voice, and wanted to see more of that! We have a unique chemistry and we both are interested in similar themes. We are both provocateurs, but funny. And nerds. It’s such a joy to share a stage with someone you admire and who has your back.
LWMC: Diane, you’ve written and/or performed in several solo shows over the years, as well as some lovely two-handers and intimate smaller cast shows, including a very successful run of Lois Fine’s Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week at Buddies recently. How has that experience informed the storytelling for Bits and Pieces?
DF: A friend of mine says that he always ends up writing to his obsessions. After all these years, I still write and act about the things that obsess, outrage or tickle me. When normal people are disturbed by something, they go to therapy or directly try and resolve it. People like me try and make art out of it. Or at least make people laugh.
LWMC: Katie, you’re more known for your work behind the scenes, creating, writing and producing for some notable hits in film, television and theatre. What’s it been like for you as you prepare to act in this piece?
KF: I know – it has been a lot of years writing/producing and not stepping on stage. But it has been great – having spent many years doing stand-up, when I got back on stage it felt like home. I also took an improv class with Kate Ashby, which was amazing – worked with great women in that class. Bold, funny and they have your back – what more could you want? So it’s been nice. It’s not really acting, as I don’t consider myself an actor, it’s more stand-up pieces with a literary bent.
LWMC: Writing and performing a piece can be a challenge in terms of division of labour, time and energy. Have the two of you been continuing to write and re-write as you rehearse – or are you focusing more on performance at this point? How has the process unfolded as you create this piece?
DF: We’re constantly re-writing! It’s really fun to approach this both as writers and performers at the same time. And of course, it’s much easier to have perspective on someone else’s work than your own. And since these two pieces are echoes or reflections of each other, in a way, when we help re-write each other, we help ourselves, if that makes a weird kind of sense. We really don’t have to worry about division of labour. It’s a labour of love.
KF: True dat.
LWMC: And how did you come to join forces with Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre?
KF: Tracey came to see us do the first performance of this piece. And she was so amazing and so receptive, and really saw what we were trying to do.
DF: She’s also fascinated by solo performance and stretching the boundaries – this is a pretty good example of that. She’s got great vision and is so generous.
LWMC: Is there anything else you’d like to share about Bits and Pieces?
KF: Really just that I can’t wait to share it. And share the stage with Diane. And that it is a work in progress…but fun, hopefully.
DF: I have a feeling there might be snacks…
LWMC: Anything else you’d like to shout out?
KF: I love the name of your blog/mission statement of “Life with more cowbell.” Nice.
LWMC: Thanks! And thanks again for chatting with me. All the best with your final prep for this performance of Bits and Pieces – and break legs at the reading!

mini-soulo festYou can register for the Mini-Soulo Festival workshops online and follow SoulOTheatre on Twitter.

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Toronto Fringe: A funny, charming ‘what if’ tale of Dorothy & friends in Emerald City – A musical play

emerald_cityEver wonder what happened to Dorothy and the Oz gang after she returned to Kansas? Well, wonder no more. Baby Gumm Productions presents Darren Stewart-Jones’ Emerald City – A musical play (based on the beloved Wizard of Oz characters by L. Frank Baum) at the Tarragon Main Space as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

As our story opens, life is not so much fun for Dorothy (Christie Stewart), Scarecrow (Christopher Vergara), Tin Man (Matthew Fuller) and Lion (Dillan Chiblow), as each struggles with his/her life problems. And Glinda (Rory Bray), once Dot’s BFF, is too busy with her new career as a super model to spend time with her friend. As the show progresses, we follow Dorothy and her trio of intrepid Oz pals through a group therapy session with the invisible Dr. Oz, as – through song and dance – their troubles and secrets are revealed.

This is a lovely cast with an impressive set of pipes. Stewart’s Dorothy is a go-getter, full of gumption and hope, and pondering her situation as a modern-day single gal. Vergara brings a wonderfully endearing presence and physically to Scarecrow; Fuller’s Tin Man is sharply handsome and warmly supportive, struggling with staying real and logical, but finding it difficult to mask a broken heart; and Chiblow is adorably anxious as Lion, sweet and cuddly in a leopard print onesie. And Bray nails material girl Glinda, delivering her vocals with the trademark vibrato.

With shouts to music director Nicole Byblow, choreographer Allison Beula and designer Henry Keeler’s fabulous modern-day costumes.

Emerald City is a funny, charming ‘what if’ tale of Dorothy and her Oz friends.
Running until July 13 at the Tarragon Main Space, you can check for exact dates/times for Emerald City here.

 

Toronto Fringe: Sharp-witted, informative & moving story of the fight for the lumpectomy in Radical

radical.web_-250x250So what if I told you that, up until the 70s, radical mastectomy was the go-to procedure for Stage One breast cancer (e.g., a pea-sized tumor)? You’d likely be a bit shocked, puzzled and possibly enraged. Right? I know I was.

Playwright/oncologist Charles Hayter’s play Radical – developed and presented as a reading at Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival in March, and currently running in the Toronto Fringe Festival – tells the true-life story of Dr. Vera Peters, a Princess Margaret Hospital oncologist who fought for an alternative procedure, the lumpectomy, where only the tumor is removed.

Directed by Edgar Chua, Radical has a fine cast: Jane Smythe gives a very strong performance as the sharp, wry-witted and kind workaholic Peters; and Susan Q. Wilson is a picture of efficiency and protective concern as Peters’ nurse colleague Helen. Sheila Russell is a force to be reckoned with as the feisty, good-humoured, no-bullshit feminist activist Professor Rose Levine – who is more than happy to lock horns with Jerrold Karch’s cantankerous, arrogant and narrow-minded Chief of Surgery Dr. Fowler. And Jeff Yung is endearing and gutsy as the put-upon, forward-thinking young surgeon Frank.

Peters is eventually forced to make some critical treatment decisions herself when she gets her own diagnosis. But throughout the course of this play, we see that her push to examine the efficacy of, and ultimately implement, the lumpectomy wasn’t just a struggle for women’s health/rights, but for all patients’ rights – striving to afford patients the compassion, respect and decision-making power they deserve within the health care system. Hayter’s play gets to the heart of the Hippocratic oath maxim “Do no harm;” it must extend to treatment procedures – providing a good outcome, while keeping the possible negative impact on the patient in mind.

On a personal note – as someone who’s had a hinky mammogram result, a negative biopsy and ongoing mammogram follow-up to keep an eye on the suspicious particles – I’m very glad and grateful that Peters’ work resulted in the possibility of keeping my breast, should the need for surgery come to pass.

Radical is a sharp-witted, informative and moving telling of Peters’ fight for the lumpectomy.

Running until July 13 at the Tarragon Main Space, you can find exact dates/times for Radical here.

Toronto Fringe Festival – I’d also highly recommend…

Here are a few other Fringe shows I’ve seen and would recommend:

Radio:30 – I missed the original run of this show (1999) and was so glad to catch it this time around, thanks to the suggestion from Alumnae Theatre pal Brenda Somers as we met up over brunch last Friday. Chris Earle may be older, but he’s still got game. This play is hilariously funny and remarkably poignant at the same time. Running at the Tarragon Main Space.

Peter ‘n Chris Explore Their Bodies – Peter and Chris come highly recommended by – pretty much everyone – so I very happily accepted my pal Kat Leonard’s offer to get advance tickets to see this show. Sketch comedy meets hysterical storytelling, as Peter and Chris go on a journey inside Chris’s body to take on an unknown enemy who has turned Chris into a hypochondriacal mess. Running at the George Ignatieff Theatre.

A Young Lady’s Guide to Vivisection – Had my pal Lizzie Violet and I at “vivisection.” A highly entertaining and informative look at female medical students taking part in the first co-ed program at Queen’s University. Energetic, fun ensemble cast – love the cross-casting of female actors playing male characters and one male actor playing a female character. Running at Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre.

Still looking to get out to more shows this week, so I’ll be back with further Fringing adventures soon.

Choosing to collide in love – Stop Kiss

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Stop Kiss program – Left to right: Kate Ziegler & Melissa Hood (photo by Shaun Bensen)

Saw Gun Shy Theatre’s Toronto Fringe production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss at the Tarragon Main Space last night. Directed by Shaun Bensen, and featuring a stand-out cast, it’s a play I was familiar with, but only on the page. And I was very glad to have gone out to see it.

Set in present day New York City, Stop Kiss reveals the evolution of the relationship between two young women, who start out as the friend of a friend of a friend, then become friends and more, their love put to the test when violence shatters a beautiful moment.

Bright-eyed and fresh off the plane from St. Louis, teacher Sara (Kate Ziegler) and jaded, long-time NYC resident and traffic reporter Callie (Melissa Hood) at first appear to be polar opposites, but find they have more in common than they first thought. And you know what they say about opposites.

Benson has a lovely cast for this production. Leads Hood and Ziegler do an especially good job with Callie and Sara’s unfolding attraction, bringing humour, conflict and sexual tension – not to mention the excited nervousness of entering strange new romantic territory – with nuance and honesty. And when that relationship is threatened by violence and misunderstanding, both fight and persevere – in scenes that are both infuriating and heartbreaking to watch. Can love really be stronger than fear? Callie, especially, finds herself having to choose between facing situations head-on or swerving to avoid them.

Fantastic work from the supporting cast. As the men in Callie and Sara’s lives, Stefano DiMatteo’s George (Callie’s friend with benefits) is a loveable guy’s guy from the block and Mark Paci’s Peter (Sara’s ex from St. Louis) is a stand-up, loyal, if not misguided, friend. Anthony Ulc brings a nice combo of hard-nosed warmth to Detective Cole; Trish Adams is delightfully kooky as witness Mrs. Winsley; and Ronnie Rowe’s nurse is the affable professional you want on your side.

This production is nicely staged for the time and space shifts, with minimal set, and the sound design incorporates ambient city sounds, pop music and moments of the attack, which we never see. And the ending… well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Stop Kiss continues its Fringe run at the Tarragon Main Space until Sunday, July 14. Click here for the date/time details.

So much fun coming up!

Thought I’d take a moment to post about some ongoing/upcoming arts events.

Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival (NIF) continues this week with the Week Two program and reading (March 13-17), with Week Three program/reading running the week after (March 20-24).

Quick note on Saturday’s Week One reading of Falling: We had a packed house, with an audience who responded very positively and had some great feedback for playwright Jamie Johnson. Shouts to Jamie, co-artistic directors Pat McCarthy and Carolyn Zapf, director Ed Rosing, AD/SM Jake Simpkins, dramaturge Diane Forrest, sound designer Rick Jones, and fellow cast members Carys Lewis, Cora Matheson, Ruth Miller and Kristen Scott! And a big thanks to all the folks who came out to support the play, including friends and family – some of whom trekked in from Ottawa, Burlington and Hamilton. xo

The next edition of The Beautiful and the Damned is Thursday, March 14 – 7 p.m. at Glad Day Bookshop. Host DM Moore introduces feature performers Greg “Ritallin” Frankson, Gerald Hannon and Andraya Smith, and some amazing open mic folks.

The next Songwriters Circle of Jerks is coming up on Thursday, March 14 – 8:30 p.m. at Free Times Café, featuring Brian Cober, Hugh Wilson, Marcus Walker, Nelson Sobral and Nick Verona.

Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival opens Friday, March 15 and runs until March 24 at Berkeley Street Theatre – check out the cool promo vid for the fest.  Features a new play by one of my favourite playwrights: Judith Thompson’s Who Killed Snow White? Also check out Nightwood’s annual International Women’s Day Celebration FemCab on Wednesday, March 20.

Speaking of my favourite playwrights, check out ongoing productions of works by Hannah Moscovitch (Double Bill) at Tarragon Theatre (till March 24) and Theatre Brouhaha’s production of Kat Sandler’s Rock at Storefront Theatre (till March 23).

And while you’re at it, check out the March programming and workshops at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Canadian Music Week (CMW) is coming up hard and fast (March 19-24) – so check that out. Just a selection of some artists I know who will be performing: Angela Saini, blueVenus, Meghan Morrison, Jessica Speziale, Tin Star Orphans

But wait – there’s more! Bella’s Burlesque Birthday Bash: DIRTY THIRTY DANCE PARTY is coming up on Thursday, March 28 at Lee’s Palace – 8:30 p.m. Bella Fox hosts a night of burlesque, music (including High Heels Lo Fi), dancing – it’s going to be a blast. Next day is Good Friday, so lots of you will be able to sleep that one off.

All the more reason for me to get over this stupid head cold, which I’ve had since last Thursday.

Beautiful, raw, vulnerable & erotic – Nightwood & Seventh Stage’s Stockholm

Out in the lobby of the Tarragon Theatre before seeing Stockholm last night, I was chatting with a couple who were going to see The Real World? in the main space – and when I mentioned that I was going to see Stockholm, they wondered if the title referred to the capital of Sweden or the syndrome. In this case, it’s both.

The Nightwood Theatre/Seventh Stage Theatre co-production of Bryony Lavery’s play Stockholm, directed by Seventh Stage A.D. Kelly Straughan (formerly the Assoc. A.D. at Nightwood), is currently running in the Tarragon Extra Space.

Lindsay C. Walker’s set gives us an initial glimpse at the life of Todd and Kali. The ultra modern kitchen is pristine white and perfectly symmetrical except for the narrow white stairway to nowhere stage left (in the action of the play, leading to the attic). The pre-show music, designed by Verne Good with some original composition as well, is a mix of industrial and pre-fab jazz – the kind of music that you’d hear in the background at the latest hot spot resto.

When the house lights go down and the stage lights come up (design by Kimberly Purtell), both light and sound are disorienting, a focused glare and cacophony of voices, tinny and alien, as Todd emerges. He’s lost his wife Kali after they left the movie theatre. Throughout the play, Todd and Kali speak of themselves – and their relationship – in the third person, narrating their lives with a cool cinematic, and somewhat smug, detachment. Their life together is perfect: they are taking in the entire Ingmar Bergman canon, they have booked a trip to Stockholm and today is Todd’s birthday, and the celebration will be culminating in a quiet, romantic dinner at home that Todd will cook himself, complete with two bottles of expensive champagne, which Kali has purchased as a surprise.

The first sign that there are problems in the Garden of Eden is the discovery of a letter for Todd from his mother – Kali does not hide her disdain for the woman and thus begins her slow boil. Both harbour extreme feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt, emerging in brief monologue-like moments outside the present action: Todd (Jonathon Young, who Sanctuary fans will recognize as Nikola Tesla) feeling pressure to make things perfect and happy, and Kali (Melissa-Jane Shaw) madly in love but grappling with a deep jealousy of Todd’s exes  – “retro jealousy” Todd calls it – their pain expressed physically, as well as in the text.

What is remarkable about the staging of this production is the use of choreographed movement (courtesy of choreographer Susie Burpee), wordlessly presenting the exact tone and emotion of the moment – from playfully putting groceries away in perfect synchronous union to the re-enactment of their first meeting to sex, where the movement becomes primal, raw and erotic. And fight director Casey Hudecki (who Lost Girl fans will know as Anna Silk’s sword double) choreographed the more violent moments, as the temporary facade of the couple’s perfect world crumbles in the face of jealousy and distrust.

The sleek beauty of Todd and Kali’s modern reno of an old home mirrors the toxicity that lies beneath the exterior of their relationship. Once a mess of a place, they renovated it themselves with the help of Todd’s architect friend and transformed it into their dream home, a high point of pride and satisfaction. Kali retreats up the stairs to their finished attic space with Todd’s cell in an effort to keep him from calling his parents – and her jealousy is pricked to life when she snoops through his messages. And later in the play, the unfinished cellar – a crawl space, really – is evoked as they crouch in front of the kitchen island, along with horrific things both hidden in the past and glimpsed in the future.

Shaw and Young are magnificent as Kali and Todd, executing the intricate movement, dance and fight choreography with apparent ease – and breathing a complex life of love, humour, raw passion, co-dependency and vulnerability into these characters.

As the house lights come back up, the audience files out to “#1 Crush” by Garbage (which some will recognize from the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s film William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet) – a song that perfectly matches the beautiful and terrible life dance we’ve just witnessed between these two characters.

Stockholm runs in the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until June 3, so you best get on it before it’s gone.

For more info on Seventh Stage Theatre, check out their website: www.seventhstageproductions.com/theatre

For details and reservations info, please visit the Nightwood Theatre website: http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/stockholm