One of Circlesnake Productions’ newly minted Artistic Producers, Mikaela Dyke deserves much of the credit for Outstanding Production nominee Slip‘s success, as part of the Outstanding New Work-nominated writing team and as the dead body on the floor that kicks off the action (spoiler alert: she eventually stands up and acts and it’s awesome). Mikaela’s back to playing dead in Circlesnake’s remount of Slip on stage until April 2 at the Tarragon Workspace. Click Here to get tickets.
What have you been up to since the 2014 Nominee Interview Series?
Where to start? I’ve done more projects with Circlenake- Dark Matter was the one we were talking about in 2014. And then there was Slip after that. But before that, I co-wrote, and shot a webseries, which is coming out soon. And then I also did shows in Newfoundland – I did two shows for the charity team Broken Earth, which is a team that goes down to Haiti and works with the hospitals there to build up healthcare infrastructure since the earthquake. I did a one-woman show called Jewel, which is based on the Ocean Ranger disaster. And I’m on an episode of the Beaverton; I think I’m on episode 10 or something. The show is very funny. I like it a lot. I think everyone who’s on it is doing a really good job. That’s what I’ve been doing. It’s not a lot, mostly working on that webseries. I was the editor for it, so I did the editing and colour correction and special effects. It’s a lot more than I was expecting.
How did you get into that? That’s a very specialized set of skills.
I went to school in the States for a year at Smith College, and then while I was there a friend and I found out that there was a closed circuit campus TV station. So we created a weekly show to go on that station. It was a satirical news show. It is very bad. It was right when George Bush was running for re-election. Howard Dean was in the race. It was a weird time to be in America. But we made 9 episodes and then I moved back to Newfoundland and got hired by the anthropology department, because of my experience, to edit documentaries there. And then the guy who hired me for that job (which was on-campus job, like 10 hours a week) Derek Norman- he’s an amazing editor, he taught me everything I know- he recommended me for a job at the CBC and then I did some editing at the CBC in Newfoundland. So it’s always a skill set I had. That would have been when I was like 17-18-19-20, those years.
And when we were shooting this [webseries]- it’s very strange, the pacing of it; it’s very Tim and Eric-y, so there’s a very specific feel that the pace of it had to be and, when we sat down to edit it, I was like “I can just edit it!” And then all the other stuff also fell into my lap like colour and stuff. But it was nice in that I got to learn new skills, and also I’m very proud of it. When it comes out, I think it’ll be loved by some people and hated by a lot more, and that’s all I ever want [laughs], to evoke a strong reaction in people.
How did you get involved with Slip?
I got involved with Slip because I was involved with two other Circlesnake shows. That’s kinda what happened. Alec [Toller] was like “I want to do another show, and I would like to do it based on the space that we find”. We found a couple of different ways to approach shows- I think Special Constables they wanted to do an action adventure show, Dark Matter they wanted to adapt Heart of Darkness. So Alec came to me and was like “let’s go see this space and figure out what kind of show we want to do based on that”. So we went to the Box theatre, which is an old coffin factory. It’s very creepy. There’s brick walls and a weird hatch door in the wall at the back. I really like it, it’s a cute little space, but we went there and were like “oh, a murder would happen here”. We actually had to cancel a show because of a shooting. It wasn’t in the building that Slip happened, but it was across the street.
That’s upsetting. I’m glad I didn’t know that.
It was fine. It was over by the time the matinee happened. Obviously.
Because shootings are short?
It happened at 5 a.m. and they closed down the whole block so we were like “our matinee is cancelled today”. But we picked the correct thing to do in that space, I think, which was a murder. We thought that a procedural would be a good way to explore a genre that isn’t done very often on stages. So we just brainstormed some ideas.
Tell us about the collective creation process and how your perspective helped to shape the piece.
It’s always so different with each group of people. And this one was no different in that it was very different. We were all involved at different periods of time. We started in I want to say November or late October, and it was me and Alec and Danny [Pagett], and we kind of sat down and said “who do we want to cast, what kind of show do we want to make?” We figured out the cast, and then we started improvising the show. But, because, in a procedural, there is the thing that actually happened, and then there’s all the red herrings and other clues and stuff that need to exist in order to make the show interesting, we had to write the play version of what actually happened first. We did a lot of improv around what could possibly have happened, and then we took the story that we ended up cobbling together from that, put that on the floor, and were like “okay, what’s the story of people discovering this story?”
So I was there for most of the original story creation, and then I had to go home to Newfoundland to do a show. The beginning of December until the first week of January, I was doing that solo show in Newfoundland. We’d done a draft of the script and then I went away and they had a different draft of the script when I came back. So I came back and then we had a week and a half to rehearse and then we put it up. It was nice because we’d already built the characters in the original improv thing so coming back into it it was just like “okay, do I still have this character inside me, what’s changed, what do I need to do for this specific script?” You have to give it to Alex [Paxton-Beesley] and Danny and Anders [Yates] and Paloma [Nuñez]: they’re all super pro, so stepping into that environment is like “I don’t need to worry too much, I just need to follow their cues”.
When did you determine you were going to play the victim?
I don’t know. Pretty early. I think after we cast everyone. It was like “we’re going to move forward, Alex is gonna be the cop, I’m gonna be the victim, Danny’s gonna be another cop, Paloma’s gonna be the chief- we’ll go from there and then come up with other characters”. And then Anders as my character’s brother was one role that we developed a lot in the first draft and then we were like “it’s not enough; he’s not coming back enough” so Anders developed the coroner character, which is one of my favourite characters of all time – he’s so funny in that role. But, yeah, it was pretty early in the process.
The writing nomination for Slip is shared between the entire ensemble plus the director. Tell us about working with those people.
I mean, they’re all stars in their own right. I’d never met Alex before we started the show. She was the only one I hadn’t met, and she is a dream. She’s a really lovely human being who’s very upbeat. Working on a show that’s really dark, you do kind of need release valves, and Alex and Danny together, they’re like brother and sister. They’re very funny to watch because they are very good at pushing each others’ buttons in a very specific way that is hilarious. But I didn’t know Alex that well, and the improvised rehearsal process can be really tough. So, sometimes you go into it and you’re just like “I hope the people I don’t know aren’t going to, like, I don’t know, make me cry” – but in a bad way. They’re allowed to make you cry if it’s part of the scene, but I don’t know if they’re going to be into it or not, because it’s a weird thing. I think improvising rehearsals is strange to people who have never seen it. Alex is so expert at those intense scenes so it was a real treat meeting her and getting to work with her.
Danny I’ve known for a long time, so it was just like “oh, Danny”. Although I don’t think we’ve ever actually worked on anything together, so that was really refreshing and nice, to actually get a chance to work with him and not just, like, drink with him late at night.
Paloma I’ve done improv stuff with before, and Anders I’ve done some improv stuff with before. Anders was in Peak Falls which was a Tony Ho show through Bad Dog a while ago; it was super nice to work with him there, but it wasn’t a lot. They’re both people who I hold a lot of respect for, and whose absolute skill at improvising I find unreal. So that was really nice. We had a lot of hard improv scenes in development- in that they were very intense and very emotional, and then we had to whittle them down for the show and just present the core of these like 10 or 15 minute improvs in the span of like 2 or 3 lines- so it felt very safe, knowing that I had those two actors on stage with me. I never felt like I was going to do something and it was going to fall flat, because they would support me.
Funny story! The first show that we did that wasn’t a preview- I’m lying on the floor 40-ish minutes in the show; that’s really hard on your body in ways I was not expecting- in that the first show, we held the door a little bit and when I got up from the floor, my leg was numb and I didn’t know it and I collapsed, like really hard. I was so thankful that Paloma was there, because she literally saw what happened in one moment, and was like “are you okay?”. It works with the scene, thankfully, but I was like “yep!” and took her hand and we went on with the scene. But that whole time, my leg was numb and giving out, so I was just very fortunate to have a scene partner who could not only cover for me but make it look like that was absolutely planned from go. And, after the show, too, I was like “I think I need to go home; I think it really made me injure myself”. I’m fine, obviously, I’m totally okay, but it was nice to have somebody like Paloma on stage and somebody like Anders on stage to trust in scenes where anything can happen, things can go really bad.
Tell us about working with Alec Toller as a director.
Alec Toller is a gem. He’s a gift of a human. I feel very fortunate Alec wants to work with me and then double fortunate that he wants to work with me on a continuing basis. I’m coming on as an Artistic Producer with Circlesnake; it’ll be me and Alec and Josh [Browne] for the coming year. Which I’m very excited about. This is gonna make Alec blush and maybe throw up because it’s too sweet, but he’s got such an open heart that’s like you can read everything he’s thinking on his face very readily, which is nice because he never really thinks what you’re doing is bad, he’s just unsure about it. So, working with him, you know when he’s like “I don’t know”, he just doesn’t know. And he’ll let you work through things until he’s made a decision or until you find something that helps you work, which is such a luxury. It’s so nice to be able to go into something and be like “I’m not sure what this scene is about, I’d like to try it three ways” and he’ll be like “yeah!” And you might try it two ways and he’s like “I really like that way, so maybe let’s not waste time and do the third” and that’s okay too. He’s a real gem. I think anyone who’s worked with him will say something mean and then maybe say also that he’s good.
We only get to see your character’s life in snippets because it’s all flashbacks, because you start dead. How much backstory and relationship development did you do with specifically Paloma and Anders’ characters that the play only shows pieces of?
We did so much and we tried a bunch of different things. You kind of see that in the show in that there’s a couple of scenes that get played several times and they’re different. We see Anders a couple of times and he’s different in those different scenes. We came up with so much and we had different relationships between us. We tried on a couple of different relationships and a couple of different characters before we found ones that we really stuck with. I think that’s the benefit of these shows sometimes. It is just snippets in the show, but I think the grounding work that we do beforehand really comes through when you see us. We’re not saying what the tension is but you can still feel it. It’s still in there.
What are you most excited to explore in the upcoming remount?
Great question. Paloma unfortunately can’t join us for the remount so we’re casting someone new [Nicole Stamp]. I’m really excited for that. I’m very excited to take a look again at the structure and see what we’ve built bones for that we can now put some flesh on, and really bring people in a little bit closer to those stories. And see if there’s any fat stuff we can just trim off to fit in some more.
I’m very proud of this show. It’s very hard to write a murder mystery. I think we did it well. I think the twist is hard to see coming. You don’t know until you put it in front of people, so I’m excited that we get to do that again and see if we can make it as good the second time around.
Do you have a favourite moment in production?
When I stand up off the floor and I’m like “oh God I get to stretch!” [laughs]. I love the interrogation scene. Yeah, hands down. I think it ties together really well. And Alex is doing a brilliant job at playing two scenes at once. That’s an insane thing to be able to do and she’s doing it so so well. So that’s I think maybe my favourite moment that isn’t just literally physical.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I’m excited to see what happens at the awards. I always like going and I think it’s a great way of discovering new companies for me. I’m not very well-versed in the Toronto theatre scene, for a number of reasons, but it’s nice for me to be able to go and be like, “oh, that’s an indie company whose work I think I would really like going forward”.