SOULO Theatre Fest: Hilarious & touching stand-up origin story in Finding Funny

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After seeing the Soulo Salon at SoulOTheatre’s 2016 edition of the SOULO Theatre Festival, I stuck around at Red Sandcastle Theatre to see Daniel Stolfi’s Finding Funny.

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Daniel Stolfi in Finding Funny

Set within the framework of an evening at a comedy club, Stolfi becomes a one-man line-up, playing the whole cast of characters, including himself. The awkward, uncomfortable host Mark Tipps tells bad jokes (all written by Manuel, who he keeps hidden in the back) and it’s a relief when he finally gets the guest performers onstage: an Italian comic with an intimidating wise guy edge; a fumbling razzle dazzle gesturing magician; a delightful classical clown music act; and a gay spoken word storyteller of few words and big, loaded facial expressions. In between acts, Stolfi (as himself) paces in the green room, trying to keep his overwhelming anxiety and the threat of explosive diarrhea in check as he tries to get his comic mojo back. He’s up last and hates his material – and is desperately grasping for the now elusive funny.

It is in these moments where the true magic happens. In the midst of all the self-doubt and self-torture, Stolfi finds himself back at the place where it all began: as a six-year-old in the schoolyard playground. This is when someone told him he was good at something. And this is where the first joke happened. And it wasn’t about himself or the glory of performing – it was for his audience. This is when he got the comic calling.

Stolfi shifts adeptly between sharply drawn characters, each one representing a facet of the entertainment industry in all its light, dark and seedy glory. The result is a funny, moving and extremely engaging and entertaining performance.

A hilarious and touching stand-up origin story in Finding Funny.

Finding Funny was a one night only performance, but no worries – there’s more SOULO Theatre Festival happening at Red Sandcastle Theatre this weekend (May 28-29). The fest includes solo show performances and workshops, see the full schedule here; and get your advance tickets/passes online here. Advance tickets strongly recommended; it’s an intimate venue and a very popular festival.

You can keep up with SoulOTheatre on Twitter and Facebook.

 

SOULO Theatre Fest: Four personal, poignant journeys told with courage & humour in Soulo Salon

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SoulOTheatre kicked off its fourth annual SOULO Theatre Festival on Thursday night at Red Sandcastle Theatre, hosted by the super positive, energetic and welcoming A.D. Tracey Erin Smith.

Last night’s early evening performance Soulo Salon included four solo shows by performers who’ve done Smith’s 10-week soulo show class – short, personal stories of adversity, growth and hope, told with candor, trust and humour.

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Morgan Joy

The Life Boat. Morgan Joy brings a playful, kid playing dress-up vibe complete with alter ego puppets: the child-like, positive Dot and the abrasive, negative grown-up Gloria as she plays captain, cruise director and entertainer in her life boat. Filled with artifacts of her family history, the life boat is a metaphor for her life – and as the water gets higher, the positivity becomes increasingly desperate just as hard truths are avoided. Until. Let go. Float. A beautiful, poignant journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Bedazzled. Silvi Santoso arrives in Canada as an excited newcomer with her husband and two children, with another on the way, taking on the challenges of learning a new language, searching for a place to live as doors close in her face and eventually getting a dream job as a federal food inspector as she works a can-do attitude. And when a double personal tragedy becomes too much to bear, despite all her positive personal milestones, she tackles that as well. The storytelling is part autobiography, part stand-up comedy – and Santoso brightens up her darkest moments, using comic songs and narrative, bedazzling her life and her outlook. Taking depression and blinging up its ass so it doesn’t hide her inner light.

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Silvi Santoso

Fat Shamed by My Mom. Amish Patel makes lemonade in his story of struggling with body image. A funny, engaging and warm storyteller, his personal history tour includes conflicting and confusing cultural takes on eating and body fat: in India, it’s a good thing, a sign of health and prosperity – but in Canada, it’s a source of disdain and disrespect. A chubby tween with boy boobs, his dream of being an actor is snuffed out in a moment of body shaming from his mother, and as he grows into adulthood, he adopts some unhealthy means of coping. Part confessional, part stand-up storytelling, Patel is frank and courageous as he trusts the audience with his revelations and personal evolution.

Amish Patel - Headshot
Amish Patel

#grateful. Nicola Elbro’s story of love, loss and gratitude as she makes her way from heartbreaking break-up to post-break-up sexy times with an “amenity” in her new apartment, aka hot Brit dude in her building, and getting back out on the dating scene (in a hilarious dance club scene) while she works with young superhero cancer patients at Sick Kids Hospital as she pursues an acting career. And even harder than the conflicting emotions of meeting her ex to clear out their shared storage unit are the moments when the kids are not okay – and some of them don’t get to go home. As you’re struggling with trying to keep it together, falling apart may be just the thing to help you mend. A lovely, tender and sharply funny performance.

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Nicola Elbro

Four storytellers. Four personal, poignant and funny journeys. Four brave, engaging and committed performances.

The Soulo Salon was a one night only performance, but no worries – there’s more SOULO Theatre Festival happening at Red Sandcastle Theatre this weekend (May 28-29). The fest includes solo show performances and workshops, see the full schedule here; and get your advance tickets/passes online here. Advance tickets strongly recommended; it’s an intimate venue and a very popular festival.

You can keep up with SoulOTheatre on Twitter and Facebook.

Come back to the cowbell blog this afternoon – I also saw Daniel Stolfi’s hilarious Finding Funny at the SOULO Theatre Festival last night.

Raw, honest & irreverently funny with no apologies – Troublemaker @ SOULO Fest

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Rebecca Northan is a big ‘ole Troublemaker

You can’t say you weren’t warned. Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre opened the 2015 SOULO Theatre Festival last night at Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum with a gala performance of the Toronto premiere of Rebecca Northan’s Troublemaker. And what a celebration it was!

Opening to a packed house with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputation” blasting from the speakers, Troublemaker is Northan’s first autobiographical piece, taking us from her childhood and young adulthood in Calgary ‘hood Rundle to present day by way of memory, personal anecdote, family history, and pop culture and fairytale-inspired storytelling. Her brother’s cat Misty becomes her own personal Mr. Miyagi in her pursuit of bad-assery, she finds a kindred spirit for neighbourhood shenanigans, and discovers her inner dragon – the instigator, the heart of troublemakery – and finds a way to embrace it.

Northan’s performance is brave, frank and without apology. Engaging and entertaining, yet vulnerable and truthful, the audience can’t help but be her partner in crime on this journey.

Troublemaker is a raw, honest and irreverently funny piece of storytelling, full of magic, sardonic whimsy and sharp insight. Keep your eyes open for future productions.

A bit of SOULO Fest trivia: Northan directed Smith’s solo show mega hit The Burning Bush (Toronto Fringe 2006).

While you’re waiting for the return of Troublemaker, Northan’s own mega hit improv show Blind Date returns to T.O. this season at Tarragon Theatre (Sept 8 – Oct 4). I saw the show once, eight years ago at the Spiegel Show at Harbourfront – and loved it! I fell in love with Mimi and with Northan’s work. I’d love to go on a date with Mimi sometime. Sadly, she only dates dudes.

You can keep up with Rebecca Northan’s shenanigans on Twitter. And you must check out her humourous, insightful and honest TedxYYC talk examining state of fear behaviour, the rules of improv, her eureka moment connecting her experience performing Blind Date with how we behave when we’re madly in love, and the value of the arts in society:

SOULO Fest continues until May 24, with workshops and panels, and the remainder of the solo shows taking at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

SOULO_2015_POSTER-FINAL-668x1024Here’s the line-up:
A Tension to Detail (Gerard Harris)
A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare (Zabrina Chaves)
Fractured (Nicola Elbro)
The Archivist (Shaista Latif)
Love with Leila (Izad Etemandi-Shad)
Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl (Rebecca Perry)
Lost in Lvov (Sandy Simona)
Killer Quack (James Brian Judd)

The solo show schedule also includes a PWYC Masterclass Showing.

Check out the Shows page for details on dates/times.

Advance tickets are available online. Reservations are strongly recommended – these shows get only one performance each, so book ahead to avoid disappointment.

SoulOTheatre’s SOULO Theatre Festival is coming (May 21-24)!

2015-soulo festBig treat coming up for you theatre fans: Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre are back with an awesome line-up of solo shows with the 2015 SOULO Theatre Festival!

Running May 21 – 24, SOULO Fest opens with a gala performance of Rebecca Northan’s Troublemaker at Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum. Workshops and panels, and the remainder of the solo show run take place at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Here’s the line-up:
A Tension to Detail (Gerard Harris)
A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare (Zabrina Chaves)
Fractured (Nicola Elbro)
The Archivist (Shaista Latif)
Love with Leila (Izad Etemandi-Shad)
Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl (Rebecca Perry)
Lost in Lvov (Sandy Simona)
Killer Quack (James Brian Judd)

The solo show schedule also includes a PWYC Masterclass Showing.

Check out the Shows page for details on dates/times.

Advance tickets are available online. Reservations are strongly recommended – these shows get only one performance each, so book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Progress is coming! Final, revised lineup announced for international fest of performance & ideas Feb 4-15

ProgressLogoTransparentSummerWorks announced the updated lineup for the inaugural SummerWorks/Theatre Centre production of Progress: an International Festival of Performance and Ideas, running February 4-15 at The Theatre Centre. Progress is curated by SummerWorks, The Theatre Centre, Why Not Theatre, Volcano Theatre, Videofag, FADO Performance Art Centre, Dancemakers, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Canada’s National Arts Centre English Theatre.

“Progress is bringing together a series of essential conversations being had by some of our city’s vital thought-leaders in performance. This is a festival led by a collective desire to collaborate in how we think about performance in Toronto and the result is a staggeringly unique and diverse program of work.” – Michael Rubenfeld, SummerWorks Artistic Producer

New to the lineup is Novorossiya: No One’s Land (Ukraine), by Pavel Yurov and Anastasiya Kasilova, directed by Pavel Yurov. Here’s the full final roster of shows for this exciting and intriguing new international performance fest, which will also include workshops and community dialogue:

Novorossiya: No One’s Land (Ukraine) – Curated and presented by SummerWorks
Reading performed in English, translated from the original Russian and Ukranian.
A documentary-style piece based on writer/director Pavel Yurov’s experience as he was taken into captivity by pro-Russian separatists. “Part journalistic experiment, part theatre, this remarkable project asks the painful question: how did the place Yurov once called home become his captor?”

Marathon (Israel) – Curated by SummerWorks, and co-presented with The Koffler Centre for the Arts, supported by Spotlight on Israeli Culture, the Embassy of Israel and the Israeli Consulate (Toronto).
Performed in English – a North American English-language premiere.
Three runners, running in a circle in a physical, psychological and emotional marathon in a deep dive into the Israeli consciousness. “Combining dance, text, theatre and grueling physicality, Marathon uses the autobiographical stories of the performers to reflect a state of constant emergency. Who will survive? And how?”

The Messiah Complex 5.0 (Canada) – Curated by Videofag
Performed in English.
A performance-lecture, multidisciplinary work that incorporates ritual, the piece uses the Harlow experiments – which were used to study infant/mother relationship by placing newborn monkeys with cloth and wire surrogate mothers – as a jumping off point for an examination of religious evolution. “The multidisciplinary work culminates in the creation of hybrid images, videos, diagrams and texts from pop culture, ancient religion, Freudian psychoanalysis, archaeology, queer theory and anthropology.”

D-Sisyphe (décisif) (Tunisia) – Curated by Volcano Theatre, generous support from Why Not Theatre and The Goethe Institute.
Performed in Arabic with English subtitles – North American premiere.
A construction worker, alone and estranged from his family, a social reject and deserted by God, ruminates about his life as he spends the night alone at the construction site as he tries to find hope in the ruins of his life. “Tunisian actor, dancer and playwright Meher Awachri performs his acclaimed interpretation of the ancient myth of Sisyphus, offering insights into contemporary Arab society and the idea of what revolution entails – all through spoken word and choreography.”

Margarete (Poland) – Curated by SummerWorks, supported by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto.
Performed in English or Polish.
Sixteen audience members. One creator/performer. Sitting down to have coffee or tea. “With humour and irony, [Janek] Turkowski recounts his experience uncovering and constructing stories based on a set of private 8mm films he discovered at an outdoor market in Berlin. The performance is a reflection on the lost and found, through memory and the legacy of silent film.”

Cine Monstro (Brazil) – Curated and presented by Why Not Theatre, with the support of Department of Canadian Heritage
Performed in Portuguese with English subtitles.
A Portuguese-language adaptation of Daniel MacIvor’s Monster. “Brazilian actor and director Enrique Diaz … transforms himself into a series of MacIvor’s characters, from a young boy who tells the story of the neighbour who hacked up his father in the basement to quarrelling lovers or a filmmaker who never completed his epic film, these characters are separate yet eerily related.”

Silent Dinner (Ireland/Canada) – Curated and presented by FADO Performance Art Centre
Performed in English and ASL.
Over the course of an eight-hour performance, 10 people – “a combination of Deaf, CODA (children of Deaf adults) and hearing artists, performers and non-performers from Toronto” – make and eat dinner in silence. After the show, the audience is invited for dessert and a chat with creator Amanda Coogan and colleagues; ASL interpretation will be provided.

But wait – there’s more! Workshops, discussions and panels:

Make. Make Public. – Curated by Dancemakers (workshop)
Creation workshop led by Dancemakers curators Emi Forster and Benjamin Kamino, with people “from any artistic background, with any level of experience are invited to join in collaborative, dance-derived processes.” The public will be invited to see the result and engage in a talkback.

Dancemakers will also curate Dance as Metaphor, Language and Lens, a conversation featuring Progress artists Aharona Israel and Meher Awachri, and Dancemakers’ resident Zoja Smutny.

The Republic of Inclusion – Curated by Alex Bulmer and Sarah Garton Stanley
Part of The Collaborations at Canada’s National Arts Centre English Theatre
“Alex Bulmer and Sarah Garton Stanley call for a rigorous and provocative discussion about the state of inclusion in our theatre community. A conversation for theatre makers, audiences, leaders, funders, all those in the performance world, and those who are being left out. Progress: it’s about accessing the arts and about the arts being accessible.” The event will be live-streamed through http://www.SpiderWebShow.ca

Workshop: Intelligent Body and Seeing Through Movement

Additional artist talkbacks and panels to be announced.

Check out the trailer:

A marvelous evening @ Mini-Soulo Festival, ft. Bits & Pieces by Diane Flacks & Katie Ford

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Diane Flacks & Katie Ford (front), Tracey Erin Smith (back) – photo by Shy Alter

Last night’s program for Tracey Erin Smith and SoulOTheatre’s Mini-Soulo Festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre was a multipurpose, big fun event that combined theatre fundraiser, love-in and new solo works.

Smith played auctioneer throughout the evening, calling out fabulous items that included a ukulele lesson from Jodi Pape (who serenaded us before the festivities began), one night’s rental at Red Sandcastle Theatre, a photo shoot with Shy Alter and a surprise last-minute offering of a year’s membership at Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, courtesy of Savoy Howe.

Solo show class student Sara Armstrong kicked off the night’s performances with her show Tripping on the Way out of Town. Featuring personal stories of her life, spanning childhood memories to experiences of sexuality, and bookended with camel rides, Armstrong’s show is unflinchingly frank, and a strong commentary on the assumptions and expectations of others. Peppered with humour and dance breaks, the serious subjects are matter-of-fact and avoid the slide into maudlin. Funny and poignant, keep an eye out for Armstrong and this piece.

For the main event, Diane Flacks and Katie Ford performed a reading of their two-person solo show Bits and Pieces, which received dramaturgical support from Smith. Part stand-up, part monologue, part dialogue between two good friends, Flacks and Ford take us on a trip of life, love and resilience.

From the opening back and forth on everyday things we should just stop doing, to personal experiences of fear and courage, the piece is equal parts autobiographical, inspirational and motivational. Whether performing in character, like Flacks’ hilarious self-involved but present hot yoga instructor, or presenting personal anecdotes – Ford’s musings about a fledgling relationship and whether to keep it at a safe arm’s length or dive right in, and both share heart-wrenching accounts of experiences with death – Flacks and Ford make us laugh, cry and think.

Ultimately, Bits and Pieces is about finding your authentic self, getting back up when you get knocked down – and just staying present. Life really is too short after all. And what if, like Ford’s dog Ollie, you thought the whole world was your friend?

Bits and Pieces is a funny, moving, joyful ride through life’s experiences, and a reminder to stay present and not give up. A work in progress, I look forward to see where Flacks and Ford go with this piece. In case you missed it, check out the cowbell interview with Flacks and Ford.

The Mini-Soulo Festival wraps up this afternoon (Sun, Nov 30) with workshops and a public reading at Red Sandcastle Theatre. Congrats to Smith and SoulOTheatre for winning NOW Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award for Best Small Theatre Company!

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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.

Interview with Kat Leonard & Arlene Paculan on WonderFest 2014 event

POSTERwonder96Kat Leonard and Arlene Paculan are both amazing solo artists in their own right. Together, they are Musedy Tag Team and half of the Four Winds Collective (with Heather Hill and Meghan Morrison), performing music with heart and humour, and they are the force behind LMG Productions, spreading empowerment through art through their Wonder Women, Super Men and now WonderFest events. Leonard is also a well-known Johnny Depp fangirl and Paculan, like me, shares his birthday. I interviewed these two lovely and talented ladies over email about their work together and their upcoming WonderFest 2014 event on April 6 at Revival Bar in Toronto.

LWMC: So tell us about how you met and how you came to start working together.

AP: I met Kat at a Valentine’s Show. It was called No Sweetheart Required, so she calls it an anti-Valentine’s Day show. It was so amazing because I immediately was drawn to her and was curious as to what she was all about. We started talking about what we did in the arts world. I found out that we both put shows on and I asked her if she’d like to participate in one that I do in the future – not having heard any of her work, I was trusting my instincts that she was incredibly awesome. After I saw her perform “Jockstrap,” that solidified my assumption! Prior to meeting her, I was in the process of starting Wonder Women and asked her to join the line up and she’s been a part of the event ever since! And now she’s Artistic Director for the company!

KL: … We hit it off and within mere moments decided we should embark upon doing shows together. We were both individually relieved as we stood backstage listening to the other perform their piece, because we had agreed to collaborate before even hearing the other perform. We’re both allergic to eggplant so it must have been fate!

LWMC: And how did LMG Productions, Wonder Women and the evolution to WonderFest come about?

AP: LMG Productions was something I came up with in 2010 – just a little production company that I could use to put on little concerts around the GTA. It was initially called Lene, Mean, and Green because of my name and my favourite colour is green. Kat came on board in 2012 to help out with the growing Wonder Women events. Soon she came up with the idea of changing it to ‘Let’s Make Good’ because of the direction our shows were going.

Wonder Women started to showcase female songwriters with different genres and to grow our audience base. After four Wonder Womens where it was solely music, we teamed up with This Girl Friday, which is run by a talented poet and graphic designer, Lizzie Violet [link]. Lizzie brought on the idea of having music and spoken word in a show. From then, Wonder Women and Super Men (all male showcase) combined creates ‘WonderFest’ which celebrates all types of art forms.

KL: … I was happy to be a performer in that first concert and to become Artistic Director of the series and production company. We worked together to create events that would eventually include Super Men and also workshops to nurture creativity and healthy self-esteem. We really endeavoured to develop a strong community that would encourage and promote the arts and self-empowerment. WonderFest was born. Because we were endorsing positivism we felt it was important to have a production name that reflected the same, so we went about brainstorming something with which we could retain the LMG moniker. Like a flash of enthused lightning, the name Let’s Make Good blasted into my brain as Arlene and I sat there doing just that, making good, and munching on Crispy Minis. 🙂

LWMC: In addition to your individual projects and work with LMG, you play together as Musedy Tag Team and in the Four Winds Collective What can you tell us about the experience and dynamics of performing solo, in a duet and in a group?

KL: Solo: I love it! Performing solo is empowering and freeing, though I tend to engage audience members in my act quite often. 😉 It is freeing that I can go off track and discover new moments without throwing anyone else off, and it’s also liberating to not worry that my behaviour is partly representing a bigger group. Having said that, there is no sweeter pleasure than sharing the stage with others, and sparking a unique and dynamic energy.

Musedy Tag Team: I love it love it!
I feel truly blessed to create and perform with Arlene in Musedy. She is the perfect yin to my yang and the class to my sass. A duet is a special relationship because you’re able to really get to know the other person and create a solid foundation of confidence upon which you can play and take risks. Musedy Tag Team is one of my favourite things to do and it is on my “to do more” list. Stay tuned for our upcoming Musedy Tag Team Mashup Madness show that’s in the works for being in the works! 🙂

Four Winds: I love it love it love it love it!! There is something absolutely enchanting about working in a group that works; it leads to endless discoveries and gifts. I really feel there is something magical about this collection of gals. We are eclectic and complementary, a songstorm of musical forces intertwined for the greater good. 🙂 I completely trust and admire each one of them musically and as best buds. When I play with Heather, Meghan and Arlene I feel safe yet thrilled, and a buzz of love adds to the rhythm of every performance. Incidentally, Four Winds will be performing our first original song at this year’s WonderFest!

AP: It’s SO much fun to do different projects with my best friend, Kat Leonard. Whether it’s LMG events, or duos, or even with more artists, like Four Winds, it’s really easy, extremely fun, hilarious and productive to work with Kat. I feel like we both have the same vision in promoting ourselves through these different projects and I’m really excited to see where it goes!!! We even toured to Halifax together on the VIA Rail, and travelled to LA to get a taste of the film and music scene.

LWMC: On Sunday, April 6, WonderFest takes over Revival Bar. What’s happening at this year’s fest?

KL: So much talent and fun is happening! Along with visual art displays, WonderFest starts this year at 2:00 with an inspiring workshop led by Niki and Madette: A Capella Jam and Synergy Sessions come together to lead us in musical improvisation. All levels of experience wanted! At 4:00 there will be networking and face painting until doors open at 6:00 for the variety show taking place 7:00 to 9:00. Music, comedy, dance, spoken word, art; we are so very excited for this fun-packed day!

AP: This is from our press release (Thanks Jeff Costigan!)
This year’s event promises to build on the popularity and success of previous years – empowering people of all ages and backgrounds to use creativity and art in their everyday lives. The one-day event will take place on Sunday, April 6th at the Revival Bar in Toronto (783 College St.). The art-packed schedule includes a musical workshop, networking, and a culminating concert featuring musicians, poets, visual artists, and comedians (welcome to everyone from all levels, as spectators or participants). Tickets for the concert are $10 in advance, and $15 at the door. Advance tickets can be found at: https://wonderfest2014.eventbrite.ca/

Event Schedule:

2-4pm: Synergy Jam Workshop
A Cappella Jam + Synergy Session team up for a flash mob style jam session. Come sing, play, and leave feeling inspired! All styles, traditions and levels are welcome.

4-5:30pm: Networking

7-9pm: Concert (doors open at 6PM)

LWMC: And what do you hope participants and audience will take away from this year’s event?

AP: I really hope that people leave feeling inspired and empowered by what they learned and what they got to experience by performances and art work. The goal is to encourage people to tap into their creative side again, whether it’s to make an interesting spreadsheet or a lovely homemade dinner.

KL: My hope is that everyone who experiences WonderFest will discover a new artist and friend, will explore something fresh about themselves, and will find the freedom and power in nurturing a community of healthy risk-takers. I hope that every person walks away from WonderFest with a sense of empowerment to pursue the wildest of their dreams and the minutest of everyday miracles.

LWMC: Any other upcoming gigs or projects you’d like to shout out?

AP: Saturday April 12, 2014
with Miquelon Rodriquez, Sarah Giles, and Edward Monzon
The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W., Toronto)
9pm – 11pm * FREE

Sunday April 13th, 2014
Village Vinyl (2925 Lake Shore Blvd West, Toronto)
2pm – 5pm * FREE

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share?

AP: Life with more cowbell ROCKS!! Thanks Cate for having us on your blog again!

KL: If I may be so bold, I want to thank you for being such an important and loving member of our WonderFest community. We adore you completely!

LWMC: Aw! Thanks, ladies!

You can also check out Kat Leonard and Arlene Paculan on their YouTube sites:

Kat on YouTube   Kat on Twitter

Arlene on YouTube   Arlene on Twitter

I highly recommend coming out to experience the inspiration and music talent at this year’s WonderFest! Come on back after April 6 – I’ll be posting a slideshow of the WonderFest concert!

musedy elbows
Arlene Paculan & Kat Leonard

 

 

 

Interview with actor/writer & Red Sandcastle Theatre impressaria Rosemary Doyle

Pretty Red Dress less definedEarlier this month, I had the big wacky fun pleasure of attending Red Sandcastle Theatre’s annual holiday musical panto #DICKWHITFORMAYOR and his …Cat (you can read that blog post here), and it dawned on me that theatre owner/A.D. Rosemary Doyle would be an excellent interview subject for the blog.

Actor/playwright/theatre impressaria Rosemary Doyle runs Red Sandcastle Theatre, a storefront theatre space located at 922 Queen St. East in the Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto (near Queen/Logan, right next to the Ed’s Real Scoop). Red Sandcastle Theatre is very much a part of the neighbourhood mosaic, where local businesses support each other and the atmosphere has a cozy community feel to it. The theatre’s tag line reads “Anything is Possible” and is described as “so off-Broadway, we’re in Leslieville.” I interviewed Rosemary Doyle over email, about her life in theatre – both as a performer and as a producer – and Red Sandcastle Theatre.

LWMC: It’s been nearly three years since you started Red Sandcastle Theatre, but you started off your life in theatre – quite young – as an actor. Tell us a bit about those early years acting, particularly in theatre.

RD: Yes, I was quite young. It’s hard to pick a starting point really. When I was really little I would sing or dance ballet on the long sofa coffee table my parents had. They were terrified I would take a plunge though the picture window. I did all the school plays, starting in kindergarten, I remember I was Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web in grade school, and got fan mail and love letters from girls in other schools, it was very confusing. When I was eight, I was a finalist in a Talent Show at the Grande Theatre, I sang “Memory” from Cats and “Danny Boy,” and Brian Jackson, a notable conductor, played the piano for me. I still think they were weird choices of love and loss for a little girl. At 12, though, I played Annie in Annie at the Kingston Grand Theatre, to over 800 people a night, and that was it – I was hooked. Any thoughts of being a dermatologist or a cartographer went away. From then until now, I’ve done at least five shows a year. The Red Sandcastle’s been averaging about 42 a year or more. Not all mine, of course, but I am quite hands-on in adding value to any shows that come to the Red Sandcastle and I’m proud of them all. I’ve been really thrilled with the talent and exuberance that the Toronto theatre community is displaying these days.

LWMC: What made you decide to open a theatre space? And how did you come to find the storefront space (a former pottery store that also held classes) at Queen/Logan?

RD: I’ve wanted to have a space forever. In fact, with the magic of Facebook my old high school drama teacher, Gord Love, congratulated me on finally having “My Theatre.” I was reminiscing with my dear friend Allan Day, to years ago, sitting down at the Chinese Laundry Cafe in Kingston and making plans for what we were going to call “The Tiny Theatre” and that was in the 80s. But what made me take the plunge in May 2011, I was newly single, for the first time in 18 years, and I was frustrated that at the time there were no spaces in which theatre artists could do their work and not lose their shirts. I had been doing shows at the Bread and Circus. Jackie English, one of the owners, was a friend of mine, but it had closed, and it seemed to me the waiting lists and money involved for even the extra spaces of the theatres around town were, to a small company, a lot of money. I wanted to open a space that could support theatre artists to play. I have always thought of a theatre as the theatre artist’s canvas, and sure, we can make art without a canvas, but it’s easier with one. I wanted to be able to support that, for other people and myself. I wanted a space where you could talk to me and hear, “Yes,” rather than “No.” So my motto has been “Anything is Possible” and I have tried to stick to that. I guess it was a good idea, as many other spaces have opened since then, so much so that in under three years the Red Sandcastle is thought of as established! So funny!

The space at Queen and Logan was serendipitous. I have lived in Leslieville since the early 90s and plenty of spaces had come up that I had wanted to turn into theatres, but life happens. You get married, have children, you’re busy, but you keep thinking about this idea. Various opportunities come up and your spouse thinks they are a waste of energy and money and too risky, and you agree because you don’t really have any capital to do them properly. But then time passes, you save your money for a dream that may or may not happen, and then life keeps happening and suddenly one day you’re single again. You’re thinking about what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, or at least the next year, so you’re sitting in another cafe, this time called Sophie’s, pouring your feelings into a coffee and a journal and you look out the window and a for rent sign comes up across the street. You tell Sophie to hold on a second, you’ll pay for the coffee when you come back. Paul, your neighbour, says he’ll cover it for you, and you go and you see the space. A lovely woman named Helen, whose been running her creative project in there for 16 years and is retiring now, shows you around and you think… it CAN work. What’s the difference this time? Well, apart from the proximity to parking and the good sight lines, you’ve been single for two months and the only benefit you can see of being single at this time is there’s no second opinion telling you it can’t work. Finally, you can spend your savings the way you want to, there’s no one to say no. I truly believe that every overnight sensation is years in the making. The trick is to bank cash when you aren’t doing exactly what you want so you can pounce on opportunities when they arrive.

LWMC: And how did you come up with the name Red Sandcastle Theatre?

RD: R.E.D. (Rosemary Ethel Doyle) are my initials, and Sandcastle is to represent the ethereal and fleeting nature of theatre, like a sandcastle, you build it and then it’s gone, but that’s no reason not to build it. A friend suggested the second bit while we were drinking Veuve Clicquot in the window of the space on the first day I took over the lease, and was thinking “WHAT DO I DO NOW??” I had just given the landlord all my money, an entire year’s rent up front, and he had given me three keys, like the three beans Jack got for his mother’s cow. It’s funny, I found out about two years into running the place that Helen, the previous occupant’s middle name was Ethel, so 922 Queen Street East has been curated by artistic woman named Ethel for going on 20 years now.

LWMC: It’s amazing that you were able to find a space in your own neighbourhood, not far from home. What’s it been like, navigating being a single mom and running a theatre, on top of your acting and writing work?

RD: I’m not going to lie, I’m very busy. But I wouldn’t have jumped into this life if the theatre wasn’t around the corner from my home and my boys. I was at a crossroads, as a single mom should I be giving up this profession to get something more steady for my boys? But what else could I do? And wouldn’t that have taken me away from them more? As my own boss, I can be there for them when they need me. Every morning, I get up early and carpool my son and three other kids to school, I’m still doing my little job at Dundas School for the nutrition committee, and I’m here when they come home for dinner the same as before. If I’m at the theatre, I’m just five minutes away if they need me. They are 16 and 11 now, and my ex and I have been great about being there for the kids as our top priority. I think it’s good that I am busy, I can only imagine what I would have been like doing nothing or working at a job I hate! The theatre has given me lots of opportunities to write, and the ability to put the plays on. With my “PLAY IN A WEEK” Camp for summer break and March break, I write a play based on what the troupe of kids want on the Monday and we put the play on on the Friday. Often my boys are in the camp too. It’s been great fun; I’ve written about 23 shows in the past two years, I even write them for birthday parties. Last August long weekend, I launched the “1,000 Monkeys Playwriting Festival,” which was an idea I wanted to do, thought up that first day with the Veuve. We had 17 playwrights create new works in 24 hours while they stayed overnight at the theatre. My friend Kate teased me once “If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know.” This busy-ness has only added to my creativity, and my boys are pleased that I am happy and not bugging them all the time right at the age they don’t want to be bugged.

LWMC: You’re featured in Red Sandcastle Theatre’s upcoming production of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane (directed by Wes Berger, running Jan 23 – Feb 1). Tell us a bit about the play and how you came to produce it at Red Sandcastle.

RD: What a fierce Irish play this is! Martin McDonagh spares no punches. Lynne Griffin and her husband Sean Sullivan and I were sitting in yet another cafe, this time Mercury – are you detecting a trend here? And we were saying that we would love to do something together. Lynne suggested Beauty Queen of Leenane; she said she could play the mother and I the daughter. Perfect, I thought, as Lynne is a sparkly eyed, red-head, just like my mom. Sean would play the love interest. I knew an Irish actor, Paul Kelly, who would be perfect as Sean’s brother. Then when I mentioned the play to Wes Berger, he replied that he loved it, and I said he’s in luck as we didn’t have a director yet! It’s a strange and beautiful fit to have such caring, lovely, people working on a show where people are so purposely cruel. Maybe it resonates with the Irish in me (my parents live south of Dublin), as I find it good and interesting going to these dark places (I guess that explains an 8-year-old’s “Danny Boy”) and Lynne’s so amazing. Every moment of her is delicious! Sean and Paul are a delight, and Wes is like a reverse therapist, mining all my gunk for truth… he assures me it will be cathartic, I think maybe he just wants a really good show. 😉

LWMC: What else have you got coming up at the theatre?

RD: That’s a dangerous question! So let’s stick to January, February… in the middle of Beauty Queen of Leenane’s run from Jan 23 – Feb 1, we have the monthly Jill’s Living Room, an open mic singing night which happens the last Monday, we also have on Jan 21 FANCY PANTS and Slacks and Co., an improv/open comedy night which is run by Kelly Fanson. It happens twice a month or so. GENESIS .. and other Stories opens the first week of Feb, on the 10th of Feb the Illustrated Men are doing a show. Jody Terrio is doing a children’s show on the Family Day Weekend, Jackie English is doing Jane Shield’s one woman show SORBET AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and then we are back to Jill’s Living Room on the 24th, and then Michael Ripley premieres his new play Letters to Saint Rita, which will run Feb 25 to March 2. Also, there are classes, Tracey Erin Smith’s Soulo Class which runs starts Feb 2 and Beth Laing’s weekly acting classes, and Allan C. Peterson’s Weekend Method Acting Class, which runs Jan 25th and 26th, as well as rehearsals for various companies. It’s great to keep the place hopping!

LWMC: Any other projects coming up for you?

RD: After Beauty Queen, I will be directing Sorbet and the Single Girl; this is a remount of a production we did at the Bread and Circus, and that was a remount of a show I did, where I played the part and toured the play to TISH in NYC and we are in the planning stages of an all-woman cast of Julius Caesar. I’m not sure who they want me for, but perusing the email, we seem to be getting together some of the ladies I did a Fringe Richard the Third with. I hope I get to sword fight again. But I am open to projects anywhere.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share with folks?

RD: If anyone is interested in the “PLAY IN A WEEK” Camp, or the 1,000 Monkeys Playwriting Festival, or just wants to do something, call me. I’m always up for a coffee: 416-845-9411, Oh and ‘like’ the Red Sandcastle Theatre on Facebook, or follow me @RosemaryEDoyle on Twitter, and then you’ll know what’s up, probably around the same time as I do. Thank you so much Cathy, Cate.

LWMC: I answer to both. 🙂 Thanks, Rosemary!

Rosemary Doyle was also featured as the Mom in the Jeremy LaLonde short dark comedy film Out, which screened during TIFF 2013. Check out the trailer:

You can see Doyle performing live in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, running Jan 23 – Feb 1 at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen St. East, north side, just east of Logan). I’ll be there this Thursday for opening night – stay tuned for the scoop on this show.