In the semi-immersive, totally sustainable Outside the March/Starvox Entertainment/Crow’s Theatre production of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play that caused something of a sensation back in May, Colin Doyle split his time between an everyman character named Matt and a cultish, operatic, post-apocalyptic version of Homer Simpson.
We asked the Outstanding Supporting Actor nominee how he balanced those two very different tasks, what pop culture references he’d carry with him through the apocalypse and, of course, what’s his favourite Simpsons episode.
Can you remember the first theatre production you ever saw?
My father is an actor so he took my brother and I to see quite a bit. Going to see theatre was important. We lived in New York and Los Angeles so we got to see some great stuff. I remember seeing good clown work in New York, Cirque du Soliel’s first show in Los Angeles. I remember when we first moved back to Toronto seeing The Collected Works of Billy the Kid at Tarragon. A production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at Stratford had a big influence on me.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played?
I am SO fortunate. I have played a lot of the roles that I have dreamt of playing. To me, the most important thing is not the role but who I have gotten to play with. And with that, I have worked with some of the best companies and actors in this country. Playing with Outside the March and their team was definitely a dream. Working with Nina Lee Aquino, Anusree Roy and the cast and crew of Sultans of the Street at YPT(!) was special. Monday Nights and playing basketball while telling my personal story was amazing. Working with Rae Ellen Bodie and Mayko Nguyen on a show about interracial dating and basketball was awesome. I played Peter Pan twice, one of them opposite Fred Penner at beautiful MTYP. TYA shows about moving and brother relationships that had a big influence on my life and career and toured me all over North America. Sooo lucky. I can’t pick one and now I just feel like I’m name dropping. Definitely working with Outside the March and Matt was one of my most favourite things.
Do you have a dream part you’d like to play one day?
I know I am sounding like a broken record but I achieved so many of my dream parts and goals in the last little while that really my dream part is about who I would play with. I want to play with Ravi Jain and Nicolas Billon. Or do something with Rebecca Northan. I would love to be under the direction of Philip Riccio, Weyni Mengesha. I want to play with Kristen Thomson, Christine Horne, and Mayko Nguyen (again). I want to read words written by David Yee and Rosamund Small. I would love to play at VideoCabaret.
How did you get involved with Mr. Burns?
I became a HUGE Outside the March fan when they did Mr Marmalade. I saw it three times and each time would bring more people to see the show. Mitchell [Cushman] was there each time and we would talk and found that we had many similarities in what kinds of theatre we like (appropriate site specific theatre being very important). I have seen all of their shows since. Been a big fan of all of it and am happy to call them dear friends. I have volunteered, produced, donated, and just wanted to be in their company and energy. So when they were doing Mr Burns, Mitchell approached me to play the part of Matt and, without reading the script, I said, ‘Absolutely’. It was later that I found out I had to sing and dance and cannot thank Britta Johnson (singing) and Jennalee Desjardins (choreo) [enough] for ALL of their help.
In the first two acts you play a fairly normal guy named Matt. In a play that will ultimately feature big, broad characters, how do you develop a memorable everyman?
Matt was/is me. So I looked at his love of the Simpsons and his excitement and energy and put myself into it. My mom would joke when she would watch early seasons of Survivor that I would be the guy making jokes and making friends on the island first. Like making two coconuts into a cellphone. So you might not want to vote him off because he’s fun. That’s how I saw Matt. Passionate story teller who wants everyone to be ok.
The play takes on two notably different styles- more naturalistic in the first two acts, and then a kind of epic high tragedy/operatic style in the third. How did you reconcile the three different time periods and multiple styles within the same universe and a unified performance?
Matt is me. So I played him how I imagined I would be and the similarities that we both have. I know I can get really animated and descriptive and excited talking about stuff that I love and is important to me (theatre, movies, great tv shows, Raptors, etc). So Mitchell and Simon [Bloom] really allowed me to go and play within that. In the third act, Matt is dead, so really that performance is about being a good actor playing Homer and telling this important story to these survivors (the audience) of this apocalypse. So it’s unified in that both characters want to tell a good story because it’s one of the only things these survivors have and it’s important to them. Which is exactly what I, Colin, am striving for onstage.
While the play traffics heavily in comprehensive Simpsons knowledge, the characterizations in the opera performed in the third act are also quite distinct in their visions of the characters, given that a century has passed since anyone has actually seen the show. How did you choose which parts of the Homer you know from TV to keep and which parts to add in your characterization?
Great question and it was one of the things that was difficult. Add to that singing and singing in a ‘Homer’ voice. We talked a little bit about some of the things from pop culture from the past that we remember and use now. Why and how we remember? I mean even Homer Simpson has a little Fred Flinstone in him, which is a bit of Ralph Kramden. And then who heard these stories in this world to want and make it into a play? So was this someone, who heard from someone, who heard from Matt about these episodes? And how did Matt explain it and animate it? And then would that carry forward? I’m pretty convinced people will be doing ‘D’oh’ like Homer in the exact same way forever.
If a nuclear apocalypse were to happen tomorrow and we somehow lost all access to electronic media, what piece of pop culture (TV show, book, music, movie) would you have the best recall of?
Yikes. I used to know old SNL (Mike Myers era) really well.. And Seinfeld. I think maybe Back to the Future might be the thing I would know.
Are you a big Simpsons fan? Do you have a favourite episode?
I am a Simpsons fan. I was a big fan of the Cape Fear episode. I certainly have quotes that I say every now and then. A lot of them came out while in rehearsal. The Simpsons had a major influence on me and my appreciation and understanding of comedy. There was definitely a time where I would never miss an episode. Not to mention the actors and their voice work are amazing.
Tell us about working with the directors Simon Bloom and Mitchell Cushman.
Working with those guys, as I mentioned before, was definitely a goal/dream of mine. They are thoughtful, funny, super collaborative, and let you play. I didn’t know Simon very well and it was fun developing relationships and different vocabularies together. They have big visions and are always keeping in mind the experience that the audience is having. Which is something that is important to me as well. If I could (and they would allow it) I would do a show with them once a year from now until the end of my career.
Tell us a bit about working with the rest of your Outstanding Ensemble-nominated cast.
I had never acted with any of them (I had produced Passion Play so got to watch many of them work from behind the scenes) and was just so excited to be on the team. I was constantly blown away by all of them. I got to share a dressing room/table with Damien Atkins and got to listen and watch him work. I learned a lot and will forever be grateful for that time together. Listening to Tracy [Michailidis] and Rielle [Braid] sing and play was a delight. The opening scene with Katherine [Cullen], Tracy, and I was always something that I was so excitedly nervous about doing because I knew it was going to be a ride each time. Amy Keating is one of my favourite actors in the city and her work in the first act where she can’t say anything but is telling an incredible story was a great lesson for me. Sebastien [Heins] and Ishai [Buchbinder] were always so playful and full of ideas and constantly looking at new ways to play. I have thanked Britta for helping me sing and Jennalee for helping me dance. And then we had Ross, Amaka, Colin, Shakira and Liz who made the whole thing lift off. Our guardian angels. Kate and Sam were our SM’s who made sure those worlds were ready to come alive each night. Marcus [Jamin]’s puppets, when they came in, my mind was blown and I just thought ‘I have to start acting better !’
How did the production’s sustainable concept come into play?
Mitchell and Simon wanted to be off the grid and our brilliant design team (Ken Mackenzie, Nick Blais, Evan Harkai, and Lindsay Junkin) did everything in their power to make it happen and it was awesome. No company had ever done that before and I know that many people north and south of the border were excited to see if it could work. And it did. Incredible. We had live crickets! Mining lanterns from the early 1900’s. How cool is that?
Did you have a favourite moment in the production?
So many favourite moments. Looking up and seeing Damien, Rielle, and Tracy singing those final notes at the end of the show. The first time we saw our masks and costumes! Lightsaber fight! Itchy and Scratchy song. Rapping like Kanye. Having a really fast and exciteable energy for the monologue off the top and playing with Katherine’s character who had never really heard or seen the episode going a lot slower was hilarious. Working with Britta. THE PUPPETS. I LOVED coming to work everyday.
Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?
Many of them I have mentioned already. My dad, Martin Doyle, to be sure. Rae Ellen Bodie, Elley Ray Hennessey, David Rotenberg. Phil Riccio, Sasha Lukac, Mayko Nguyen, Rebecca Northan, David Craig, Pablo Felices Luna, Marjorie Chan, Mitchell Cushman, Richard Greenblatt, Lynda Hill, Leslie Silverman ,dbi young, Weyni Mengesha, Anusree Roy, Nina Lee Aquino, Aaron Willis & Julie Tepperman, my basketball collective, Jennifer Brewin, Courtenay Dobbie, Evalyn Hart, Paul Lampert, John Riven, Sergio DiZio… I mean, anyone who I have had the pleasure to work with in any capacity I have learned from in one way or another. And boy am I lucky.
I have been so lucky, my entire life, to always be in the company of great classes, people, projects. To me one of the biggest compliments I get is when other people talk about wanting to be in the show because it just looks like everyone is having a good time together and putting on a good show. It should be about sharing an experience together and telling a good story.
What are you doing now/ what’s your next project?
I am producing Outside the March Artistic Associate Katherine Cullen’s show Stupidhead. We had a successful run for SummerWorks and we are working on a tour. I am hoping the basketball show that I have been working on for the last 7 years gets to tour after a great run at The Theatre Centre. I am working with a company that I have wanted to work with for years, Modern Times Theatre Company, on their next show Death of A King which will be at The Theatre Centre March-April and then finish in San Francisco.
I’m doing a cartoon called FANGBONE that is an absolute blast and another one of my favourite things to do and be a part of. Again, an incredible team and a special place to work.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I hope I haven’t name dropped too much. I truly feel that theatre is about people and stories so how could I not be influenced by them all? And we are so lucky in this city/country to have the talent that we do.