Preview Questionnaire: The Music Man

12 Sep

the-music-man-3-resizedEver wanted to literally step into a classic musical? Theatre lovers will soon have that chance with Talk Is Free Theatre‘s immersive and ambitious production of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man, which will transform downtown Barrie, Ontario into the song & dance filled streets of River City, Iowa. With audiences being whisked from one city site to another to witness the whimsical tale amongst unsuspecting local residents, as well as a cast of more than 60, including barbershop quartet and full brass band, this promises to be a production to remember.

We had the pleasure of talking with Talk is Free’s Artistic Producer, Arkady Spivak, who conceived this bold staging:

One of your best known productions is Sondheim’s dark and brooding Assassins. The Music Man, by contrast, far more cheerful and wholesome. What drew you to this piece?

My job is to provide a pertinent platform to the company of artists. I actually think Assassins is easier to produce better than The Music Man. When you assemble a company of classically trained, singing actors of high caliber, you know they will put everything they have into a piece like Assassins for many reasons (great parts, rarely done, always pertinent). We have also done a number of esoteric plays and musicals – Anyone Can Whistle in Concert, Floyd Collins, Sunday in the Park with George, and more accessible but troublesome Napoleon in Concert, Darling of the Day as well as over 20 Canadian musicals from many major established writers. It’s easy to mobilize great talents to do those shows.

Someone dared me to do The Music Man. I thought it a major joke first. How would I invite total commitment from the artists I love? I tried to think of a way to do it that would add something new to what others did before us. And I fell in love with the show I barely tolerated in the past.

The Music Man is often celebrated and lampooned by contemporary pop-culture, including The Simpsons and Family Guy. In your opinion, what is it about this work that keeps it alive when so many other musicals from the same era have faded into obscurity?

Oh it is a good show, damn it. When something is as good and successful it is the first thing to be parodied. Let’s say it’s a good thing.

Tell me about the unique staging of this production. What prompted this idea?

Upon reading the libretto I wondered what the show was about. To me, it’s about transformation – personal and that of an entire community. I soon knew that the way to do that show was actually to transform the community. That, and the fact that most characters are running away from the things they are chasing, made me want to move the audience and the action. And because it celebrated a sense of community – we wanted to involve children, non professional adults and celebrity cameos into the story. All in all, it’s a 60 person show. It’s pretty much an entire city playing a city.

What have the greatest challenges related to this staging been? What have been the most positive surprises or discoveries?

The greatest challenge is the unknown factor for everyone. No two performances will be the same from an aesthetic point of view. When it gets dark, who is on the street, whether it rains (and we have all sorts of contingencies).  As we are performing in a living city, some people walking through the scenes will not know they are in a show.

The biggest challenge is for the cast. Acting is volatile. Singing is even more volatile. Singing around unsuspecting pedestrians, without anything to hide behind makes it even more volatile. You can imagine what kind of brave actors this required. And the creative team have been consistently superb.

The greatest surprise is about how excited people get when they hear singing even though it totally interrupts their work or passage to wherever they need to go. Commercial musicals pay thousands for a chorus like this. We just blatantly use unsuspecting pedestrians.

The size of your cast and creative team is just as notable. Tell me about the experience of working with, and the desired effect of so many “moving parts”.

We were onsite today for the first time. We all found this liberating. No one solves more challenges better than the talented artists. They should be on every corporate board.

You referred to “unsuspecting local residents”. How do you feel the citizens of Barrie will react to this production?

Who doesn’t like to be a star?

If you had to pick a favourite number from the show, what would it be?

I like how we staged and reinterpreted Marion the Librarian especially. It’s sexy and satirical, in equal measure.

Any plans/daydreams to mount other shows in a similar manner and scale?

Here you are, attending my wedding and asking me what my next one will look like.

The Music Man opens this Wednesday, September 14th. Tickets (which are expected to be in high demand) and more info can be found on the Talk is Free website here.


Preview Questionnaire: Life Records

19 Aug

tumblr_inline_oaz5x84IRf1re4fig_540Last year, writer, comedian, and story-teller Rhiannon Archer caught the attention of the many with her critically-lauded Fringe show, Life Records; a musical and biographical trip through some of Archer’s most memorable life moments. Good news for those who missed it: Archer, with the support of Pressgang Theatre, is presenting a revamped edition of the show at Bad Dog Theatre. In anticipation of this remount, we had the pleasure of asking Rhiannon a few questions about her show and the themes that inform it.

Tell me a about your show.

Life Records is a comical, heartwarming and honest solo show about the songs that make their way into our life and become the “soundtrack” to our memories. This eclectic show is filled with true stories and the songs that bring them to life. From poetic revenge for a bully to merciful theft – laugh, cry, and reminisce with these classic hits from a silly life.

Do you feel the piece has evolved since your 2015 Fringe Production?

I am not sure if it has evolved but I have. When I did Life Records in the 2015 Fringe, I was 4 months pregnant. So you can imagine I am a changed person. I feel I am more relaxed and less scripted. I have learned to embrace myself and be true to myself. However, I have swapped out some stories because I feel I have more fun telling the new ones.

Why do you feel music plays such an important part of our emotional memories?

It plays an important part because music can affect your mode or tone instantly.  A melody can make you feel something faster than words I feel. And since music is everywhere and sometimes we have no control over it, I feel its a great tool to convey the randomness and silliness of life.

What’s on your playlist right now and how is it reflective of your life?

Ha ha! I really have 2 playlists going. 1) All the music that go along with my 8 month-old’s toys and 2) My son’s night time sleepy music which is Andrew Bird, Chris Bathgate, Wilco, Ella Fitzgerald……. and Raffi.

What’s your #1 guilty pleasure song?

Ugh…… Sorry by Justin Beiber. My sister in law got me hooked and ugh I just love it.

Life Records only runs three nights (August 19th, 20th, and 21st) so catch it while you can! Details are available at


Summerworks 2016 Kudos

12 Aug

It has been our modus operandi for some time now to support and highlight what we feel are above-average festival productions with capsule reviews of said productions. Since we are only able to attend a handful of Summerworks productions this year, we are taking a slightly more informal approach, and highlighting whatever elements of those limited shows we feel deserves kudos:

Daughter-400x500Adam Lazarus’ Magnetic Misogyny: The co-creator and solo performer of the provocative and cringe-inducing Daughter, starts off sweet enough but gradually reveals the dark underbelly of his character. Theatre is often guilty of preaching to the choir, so a work like Daughter, which uses a seemingly innocent father-daughter relationship to explore the inner workings of the so-called woman-hating man from his sole perspective is a bold and distinct choice. His performance is so dedicated that one feels a genuine disgust for him by the end of the 60 minutes. Thanksfully a post-curtain call addendum makes it very clear that Lazarus himself does not share his character’s worldview – even if he is unsettlingly convincing.

DontTalktoMeLikeImYourWife-400x530Andrea Scott’s Two-Sided Argument: Writer Andrea Scott’s Don’t Talk to me Like I’m Your Wife is ostensibly about alleged WW1 spy and seductress Mata Hari, but it is Scott’s use of the iconic figure as a means to discuss historic and modern feminism, its evolution and definition, that stands out as her work’s greatest takeaway. This discussion plays out as a present-day conversation between a progressively-minded white male history professor (David Christo) and a female student of colour (Lisa Karen Cox); it’s dense and intellectual, and manages to present a remarkably well-rounded summary without betraying a strong bias towards any single argument or point of view. It’s the kind of artful and pointed ambiguity that practically demands post-show discussion among audience members.

412ignobletruths-400x500MyNightmaresWearWhite-400x267Thomas McKechnie and Grace Thompson’s Comedic Bravery: McKechnie and Thompson, the writer/performers of  4 1/2 (ig)noble truths and My Nightmares Wear White respectively, each put their raw personal battles front and centre; McKechnie shares the realities of living with depression, while Thompson evokes the challenges of surviving a debilitating auto-immune disease. Where they share common ground is in their use of humour to tell their stories; while each is essentially tragic at its core, their ability to lace their performances with comedic moments creates an artful balance that is demonstrative of the resilience of these two remarkable artists.

InUteroOut-400x267The Three-Dimensionality of IN UTERO OUT: From experimental shadow-puppet company, Drawing with Knives, IN UTERO OUT is a pensive docu-theatre examination of human birth. The piece itself is thoughtful and accomplished, but it is the multitude of creative ways in which the company add literal depth to what is often a very two-dimensional medium of story-telling that makes it stand out aesthetically.


Summerworks Preview Questionnaire: 4 1/2 (ig)noble truths

2 Aug

412ignobletruths-400x500Your Name: Thomas McKechnie

Your Production: 4 1/2 (ig)noble truths

Your Role: Writer/Performer

Tell me a bit about your show: 4 1/2 (ig)nobles truths is a performance lecture on clinical depression. It’s not a educational pamphlet that your doctor gives you. It is an attempt to be something more and different than that. The language of medicine halts at the provable. In the theatre we start with the ineffable, the metaphorical, the spiritual. The show is an attempt to express depression, not how it is, but how it feels, what it’s like. It’s an attempt to take the screaming, incoherent, anger and fear inside of me and give it enough form that it can be understood. To name it. There is a belief in certain folk customs that if you know the true name of a demon you have power over it. The show is trying to “Name” depression.

What else are you excited to see at this year’s festival? Trompe la Mort; or Goriot in the 21st Century, No Fun, Plucked, Naked Ladies, This is August

One of the great challenges of the independent performing arts is arguably to reach and engage the general public. If logistics and budget weren’t a consideration, what would be the craziest scheme you could think of to attract new theatre-goers?

Free tickets for everything. Theatre that pays equity wages, that has a meaningful design budget, that has sufficient rehearsal time often doesn’t come anywhere near recouping. What’s the point in charge $20 for a ticket in order to make 10% of your budget in ticket sales. Make everything free, let folks who don’t have access otherwise see theatre. Let people who think they know what theatre is from one bad experience in high school see what theatre can be.

Summerworks pieces are often socially and politically minded. If you had to write a musical about Donald Trump but could not include any part of his name in the title, what would it be called?

I refuse to answer this questions as it will simply add one more hit to his name online which I don’t need on my conscious.

Summerworks Preview Questionnaire: Daughter

1 Aug

Daughter-400x500Your Name: Jivesh Parasram

Your Production: Daughter

Your Role: Co-Creator

Tell me a bit about your show:

You know those friends you have? Pretty nice guys… but something’s just not right. Daughter is about a guy like that. He’s done so many bad things in his life, and gotten away with it. But he loves his Daughter, and just wants to do right by her. But so what? Does that mean he’s changed?

Despite all the privilege men maintain – do they actually need to change? Where are the consequences for not changing? Boys will be boys, right?

We stopped asking the question – why is this a thing? Focusing more on how is this a reality?

What else are you excited to see at this year’s festival?

There’s a lot. Certainly I’m biased on Situational Anarchy by Graham Isador, which Pandemic is co-producing and I’m collaborating with Tom Arthur Davis on the Direction.

Gabriel Dharmoo’s Imaginary Anthropologies. Absolutely must see. I saw this at PuSh this year, and it was 100% my Jams.

Keith Barker’s This is how we got here put on by Continuum and New Harlem – Keith is a phenomenal writer when it comes to speaking with real heart.

Andrea Scott’s piece Don’t talk to Me Like I’m your Wife – A piece about Mata Hari, plus I’m always interested to see Andrea’s work.

Bleeders – This is a big collaboration including d’bi young & Waleed Abdulhamid (who both worked Emancipation of Ms. Lovely with Ngozika & Pandemic last year)

Mr Shi and His Lover, this is the first Mandarin performance at Summerworks. Super psyched for that. I’ve yet to get to see Njo Kong Kie’s composition work yet, despite the fact that we run into each other literally everywhere.

Extremophiles, Georgina Beatty’s new piece. I heard the concept. Read the concept. It’s amazing.

Two Indians by Falen Johnson – I saw an early version of the idea at Wrecking Ball a while back. It was awesome then, so as a full play I can’t wait.

The Unbelievers by LACE productions. I’ve had a chance to check out a couple early workshops and it was great then. Shadi Shahkhalili is performing in it, and I had a great time working with her while we were workshopping They Say He Fell at Canadian Stage.

Naked Ladies – again, I read the concept. I loved it. I’ve heard amazing things about this show.

4/12 ignoble truths – Great subject matter. Great team. We were joking with them that based on the promo image he should join up with us and we can have 3 shows covering every bodily fluid possible.

In UTERO OUT – I saw some of the images from these folks. It’s some stellar shadow work. And I LOVE shadow work.

And a lot of the ancillary stuff that Joe Recinos and SLIP is putting on. A lot of it is very forward thinking. The Pecha Kucha in particular.

Did I list everything? There’s a lot. Those are even just the ones off the top of my head. I’m making my full list tonight. It’s really a solid line up.

One of the great challenges of the independent performing arts is arguably to reach and engage the general public. If logistics and budget weren’t a consideration, what would be the craziest scheme you could think of to attract new theatre-goers?

Well if we wanna get full out unbridled – it would be a travelling cart and pony show. All the time. I remember when I was a kid in Trinidad, this South Asian Dance company rolled in and put on this amazing Ramayana performance with just flood lights and these massive cut outs as props. I loved it. My family very much has been in the thick of that style for a while, though not for theatre per say. More as Pandits and religious singers. I think if I could have a ton of cash I would focus on just that. The art, and the ritual of art, should ideally be free or as accessible as possible – so, I’d bring it to communities. Roll up with the necessities and do the show in a courtyard. Or backyard. Or side of the road. Wherever, really.

But if we’re talking not unlimited money, I’d dedicate a lot of the time to finding like minded organizations working on organizing around the themes we’re exploring. It’s kind of like what we’re doing with the White Ribbon Campaign on Daughter. Ultimately we were against just fundraising so we wanted a portion to go to an organization that was proactively doing the vital work that we can only touch on through the art. We’ll be continuing to collect for them throughout the show.

Further to the ideal though. We’d wanna work with them to find the right times to do it, and provide necessary transport and accessibility options. Next time hopefully, since this is still a workshop production, so I’m glad that Adam Lazarus has started the conversation.

Summerworks pieces are often socially and politically minded. If you had to write a musical about Donald Trump but could not include any part of his name in the title, what would it be called?

I’d rather not even throw that guy any more attention than he gets. But if I had to, I’d probably go with something like Xenophobic Ignorant Neoliberal Contradiction: a musical tragedy

Summerworks Preview Questionnaire: Plucked

30 Jul

Plucked-400x600Your Name: Rachel Ganz

Your Production: Plucked

Your Role: Writer

Tell me a bit about your show: Plucked is about a farm where women turn to chickens and men farm their eggs. It experiments with comedic absurdities and music balanced with a dramatic narrative riddled with truths, weaving in the audience’s involvement while keeping them a little afraid. The show questions the female relationship to fear as it toys with our minds, bodies and family lives.

What else are you excited to see at this year’s festival? 4 1/2 ignoble truths by Thomas Mchecknie and Adam Lazarus’ Daughter are my two must sees.

One of the great challenges of the independent performing arts is arguably to reach and engage the general public. If logistics and budget weren’t a consideration, what would be the craziest scheme you could think of to attract new theatre-goers?

I’d use social media to write a play throughout the city, implementing various institutions as site specific destinations for “events” or shows. It’d almost be like Pokemon Go but it’d be the entire city implemented in a fictional drama, carried by Facebook personalities. I’ve written a small Facebook play once before (Engaged, September 2015) but I often fantasize about making it bigger, drawing in young crowds who are implemented off site beforehand.

Summerworks pieces are often socially and politically minded. If you had to write a musical about Donald Trump but could not include any part of his name in the title, what would it be called?

This Ending Won’t End

Summerworks Preview Questionnaire: Situational Anarchy

29 Jul

SituationalAnarchy-400x267Your Name: Graham Isador

Your Production: Situational Anarchy

Your Role: Writer/Performer

Tell me a bit about your show: Situational Anarchy is a storytelling show about why punk rock is the most important thing in the world. It is also a show about why punk rock is the dumbest thing in the world. The show chronicles my personal history with the band Against Me, who were an anarcho political act that abandoned their morals for a major label recording contract.

What else are you excited to see at this year’s festival? I am looking forward to seeing Adam Lazarus’ Daughter that should be a funny and mind bending piece. I am looking forward to Thea Fitz-James’ Naked Ladies, we’ve been some shows together and she’s a really quick witted writer and a warm performer. No Fun, the Iggy Pop dance piece, also looks…fun.

One of the great challenges of the independent performing arts is arguably to reach and engage the general public. If logistics and budget weren’t a consideration, what would be the craziest scheme you could think of to attract new theatre-goers?

I don’t think it’s about budget, I think it’s about most people’s inability or unwillingness engage and create community. You want more people to come to your show? Give them something they can see themselves in, make it affordable, and let them drink a beer while they’re watching it. Make yourself accessible to talk afterwards, and let them know you appreciated them coming out. We’re entertainers, and there are a bunch of different ways you can entertain people. You can make them laugh, make them cry, make them think, whatever. But if you lose sight that what you’re doing is entertainment than you deserve those empty seats.

Summerworks pieces are often socially and politically minded. If you had to write a musical about Donald Trump but could not include any part of his name in the title, what would it be called?

Springtime for Hitler

Summerworks Preview Questionnaire: Trompe La Mort, or Goriot in the 21st Century

29 Jul

Trompe-La-MortorGoriotinthe21stCentury-400x600Your Name: Anthony MacMahon

Your Production: Trompe La Mort, or Goriot in the 21st Century

Your Role: Writer

Tell me a bit about your show: An anarchist holds the world’s secrets on a hard drive. Developers try and disrupt stagnant markets, missed connections, and freedom of speech. A venture capitalist finds his profit in the rubble. Trompe La Mort is a digital age thriller that explores what happens when your work life, relationships, and ideas are reduced to data processed in an app. It’s a visual extravaganza. It’s an auditory feast. It’s a debate for and about the end of history. The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.

What else are you excited to see at this year’s festival? 4 1/2 ignoble truths, Osia, Naked Ladies, Plucked, The Unbelievers. And more that I’m sure I forgot. When it comes to seeing Summerworks shows, I’ll attend a Chua’s dozen.

One of the great challenges of the independent performing arts is arguably to reach and engage the general public. If logistics and budget weren’t a consideration, what would be the craziest scheme you could think of to attract new theatre-goers?

It’s a three part marketing strategy, inspired by the show. 1) Mine the metadata of thousands of Torontonians to see which of them would be most interested in the show. 2) Send an Uber to potential audience members. 3) Fill the Factory theatre with Pokemon lures. (That’s how Pokemon go works, right?)

Summerworks pieces are often socially and politically minded. If you had to write a musical about Donald Trump but could not include any part of his name in the title, what would it be called?

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House. There’s a patter song called China. There’s an aria called The Art of the Deal. And the first act finisher is called Build The Wall.

Fringe Picks 2016 – Part 2

9 Jul

It’s the final weekend of the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival! Here are a few more productions that left us impressed:


Credit: Joe Della Posta

Orson Welles / Shylock
This polished production written and directed by Matt Chiorini, and performed by Chiorini, Drew Gripe, Brittany Fayle, and Vincent Randazzo is a true Fringe gem. It recounts the colourful life of film and theatre legend Orson Welles, capturing and illuminating both his larger-than-life persona and ego in vivid detail. Using his obsession with the Merchant of Venice, and more specifically the classic “outsider” character of Shylock, as a thematic framework, the production manages to create a cohesive through-line that ties the brisk 70 minutes together in elegant and meaningful fashion. Both the staging and performances are expertly done, with each of the performers taking on the titular role at different at points of his life to create a particularly three-dimensional portrait of the mercurial legend.


peter_cannot_quite_reach_parisRomeo and Juliet Chainsaw Massacre
This send-up of the Shakespeare classic may be goofy and gruesome good fun, but there is nothing amateurish or half-hearted about this production. Writer/Director Matt Bernard does a great job of blending the familiar story with the tropes of the slasher-horror genre, and manages to highlight some of the original work’s logical fallacies to great comedic effect – especially that of a scene-stealing illiterate servant. The sizeable and stellar cast is a who’s-who of comedic talent who deliver hilariously overcooked performances. Kudos also goes to the production team for some surprisingly vivid and detailed costume reveals.


fullsizerender_1Tonight’s Cancelled
Second City and Canadian show-biz veterans Jason DeRosse and Stacey McGunnigle’s hilarious sketch revue is not only tight, smart, and performed with impressive energy, but also surprisingly heartfelt. Their choice to eschew traditional transitions and black-out gags in favour of mini-monologues that paint the not always rosy reality of working in the performing arts adds a layer of meaning to the work that elevates it as a whole. Many of their characters and sketches also share this tinge of melancholy, such as a brilliant bit about two new parents who cannot help but feel guilty for having brought a white male into the world.

Fringe Picks 2016!

6 Jul

Here are a selection of the best shows we’ve seen at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival so far! Due to the personal time constraints of ArtsVox’s editor, this year’s capsule reviews will be particularly concise in order to be able to post them in a timely manner. It should be noted that the brevity of the reviews themselves is not a reflection of the quality and effort evident in these remarkable shows.

Credit: John Gundy

Credit: John Gundy

Bright Lights
Fringe fixture, prolific hit-machine, and recent Dora Award winner Kat Sandler is back with Bright Lights, an insightful and darkly funny look at the ideas of belief and trust through the lens of a motley support group of alien abduction survivors. In classic Sandler fashion, things aren’t always as they first appear and the mood doesn’t stay copacetic for long. Sandler has assembled an all-star cast including the members of Peter n’ Chris and Morro and Jasp, and Colin Munch; it’s a pleasure to watch them stretch their dramatic legs – especially Peter Carlone whose stern and straight-faced character is such a departure from his usual stage persona. The only caveat is that Sandler has crafted a story with multiple and significant character arcs and a 60 minute Fringe slot makes the emotional journeys feel slightly shoe-horned. Here’s hoping for an extended director’s cut.

bizcardPeter Vs. Chris
If you haven’t seen a Peter n’ Chris show yet – what have you been doing with your life? Not enjoying it to the fullest, clearly. This pair have been together for eight years and have evolved into one of the great comedy duos whose instincts and chemistry are impeccable. Rather than offer up another pal-based narrative, the pair play off their status as stalwarts by cranking up the rivalry and offering up a very meta-contest as to which one is funnier. As with most of their shows, the lines between improv and scripted material, and performer and audience are blurred to remarkable effect. Kudos to them for continuing to stay fresh, innovative, and just as funny as ever.

Credit: Dahlia Katz

Credit: Dahlia Katz

Cam Baby
This ‘Best New Play Winner’ from indie darling Jessica Moss uses a very 21st century premise – that of an Airbnb apartment secretly rigged with hidden cameras to broadcast the intimate moments of the women who rent the rooms – to put the modern concepts of intimacy, privacy, and the sharing of information under the microscope. Despite the ostensibly salacious premise, the work – smartly and energetically directed by Charlotte Gowdy – is full of heart and manages to navigate the subject matter’s grey areas thoughtfully. Ashley Botting, who many will remember from her time as a Second City mainstage player – gives a standout performance as Clara, one of the women under surveillance; easily vacillating between convincing vulnerability and strength. Beau Dixon is also memorable for his turn as Ezra, an intimidating and socially awkward suitor who embodies the role of our digital society’s “invisible man”.

Credit: Hayley Andoff

Credit: Hayley Andoff

Everything Else is Sold Out
Sketch troupe Dame Judy Dench, who had a sleeper hit with last year’s That’s Just Five Kids in a Trench Coat, return with another smart and quirky revue, this one directed by Paul Bates. There’s a well-balanced blend of conventional comedy (like a modern take on the Witches of MacBeth) and odd-ball comedy (like a bit about a swinging bachelor with terrible taste in music who is definitely not a vampire) which makes for a an engaging and very funny 60 minutes. Often what elevates their best scenes from good to great are little surreal touches that aren’t central to the premise but makes their fictional world just that much more vivid.

Credit: Sharon Murray

Credit: Sharon Murray

Remember what we said about Peter ‘n Chris and not enjoying life to the fullest? Same applies to Sex-T-Rex. This remarkable physical theatre / comedy troupe have established themselves as the purveyors of must-see spectacles that wow and elicit big laughs in equal measure. Their latest offering, Wasteland, is no exception – skewering the post-apocalyptic genre figuratively and an endless stream of baddies more literally. As with all their shows, they are able to paint vivid and epic scenes using nothing more than hardware store scraps and artfully homemade costumes. Oh, and their soundtrack is pretty damn sweet too.